War of the Worlds – episode 1.16, “The Meek Shall Inherit”

Ann Robinson returns again as Sylvia Van Buren

Needless to say, as we sat down to watch this one I was paying close attention to the credits to see if John Colicos was going to be in it. Sadly, he’s not, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing him again soon. However, there were two pleasant surprises. One is that Ann Robinson once again returns as Sylvia VanBuren, this time in a more prominent role. The other is that this episode was penned by the legendary D.C. Fontana of Star Trek fame. So even though I was disappointed that Quinn wasn’t back, I had a feeling this episode would at least be above average. And it was.

The aliens decide to target Earth’s communication systems, figuring that would be a good way to disrupt the opposition. In one fell swoop, they knock out long-distance communications throughout much of North America, causing some explosions and killing a few people in the process. It’s probably the most effective attack they’ve pulled on the show thus far. But it’s only one strike, and to continue the assault, they’ll need a mobile power source. So they dispatch a team of three to obtain a vehicle with a generator large enough to run their equipment.

Diana Reis offers up a memorable guest appearance as the homeless Molly.

The trio decides to steal the bodies of some homeless people in the Portland area who have access to a lot where a bunch of tractor trailers are kept. But there’s a witness to the body-snatching – Molly, another homeless person. She goes in search of help and winds up at the care center where Sylvia lives. The staff is mean to her and Sylvia, in a rare lucid moment, steps in to take Molly under her wing. Later, when Sylvia has an episode and the staff is rough with her, Molly witnesses the event and decides she and Sylvia would be better off elsewhere. She also overhears Sylvia screaming about aliens, so she figures she can be open with her about what she saw.

When Blackwood gets word that Sylvia has gone missing, he loses his shit and instructs the team to drop everything and aid in the search. He has Norton hit the web while he and Suzanne pound the pavement in the Portland area.

Meanwhile, Sylvia and Molly arrive at the spot where the body-snatching took place. There’s little of value that can happen here, but Sylvia does sense that something bad happened here, which gives Molly some measure of validation. They head for the truck depot where Sylvia manages to score some bread for the both of them.

Sylvia delights in new experiences and bonds with her new friend.

Around this time, the aliens are having problems of their own. They’re harassed by a mean-spirited security guard who doesn’t want them hanging around the depot. And they can’t kill him – at least not yet – without attracting unwanted attention. The bodies that the aliens thought would allow them to operate under the radar have in fact become a liability because they’re “unwanted.” Eventually, though, the time is right and they eliminate the security guard, leaving them free to complete their mission.

After lots of false starts, Blackwood and Suzanne get a lead on where Sylvia might be. It’s a long shot, but they decide to try the truck depot, since lots of homeless people go there for handouts.

Molly happens into the wrong place at the wrong time and the aliens kill her. Sylvia witnesses it and is both horrified and terrified. The aliens chase her and it looks hopeless, but Blackwood and Suzanne arrive just in time and take her to safety. She tells them the aliens are here, they call Ironhorse for backup, and the whole thing is wrapped up pretty quickly. But not without a personal cost to Sylvia.

Poor Molly comes to an untimely end.

Coming on the heels of the rip-roaring adventure of the previous episode, there was probably no way this one wasn’t going to feel like a let-down. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that this was a different but no less effective story. It emerged as something of a heartbreaking look at the bleak lives of the homeless, and the death of Molly after such an empty existence really hit home. Guest characters die all the time on this show, but it’s usually a joke at best or boring at worst. But this time it actually had an impact. Even the aliens experience the unforgiving cruelty of a society that views some lives as having no value. The whole episode is set against a snowy winter backdrop and you can almost feel the biting cold. It’s perhaps an obvious choice, but an effective one.

Ann Robinson really shines in this episode, from her quiet compassion when she first meets Molly, to her quivering terror as an alien wearing her friend’s face tries to kill her, to sheer childlike joy at a new experience: “I’ve never ridden in a truck before!” Up to this point she’s been little more than a plot device, but in this episode she gets to be a person. That’s nice to see.

Even the usually bland Team Blackwood thrives under Fontana’s skilled supervision. Other writers have tried to write playful banter for these characters, but it’s always forced and tacky. But in this episode it flows naturally and is actually funny. The core group, usually wooden and dead, is suddenly alive and believable. The value of a writer who knows what they’re doing cannot be underestimated.

So that’s two in a row. Does this mean the producers finally realized they needed actual writers to deliver a quality show? Will this winning streak continue? I guess we’ll see.

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