Masters of Science... Episodes

2007, TV Show

Masters of Science Fiction Episode: "A Clean Escape"

Season 1, Episode 1
Episode Synopsis: In John Kessel's 1986 short story “A Clean Escape,” a psychiatrist (Judy Davis) questions a distinguished-looking man (Sam Waterston) with a memory lapse that troubles her considerably more than it troubles him. In fact, he doesn't even admit to it. Mark Rydell (“On Golden Pond”) directed the drama, which is set in the not-too-distant future.
Original Air Date: Aug 4, 2007
Guest Cast Peter Hall: Nick Tom Butler: Geslow Allison Hossack: Kelley Sam Waterston: Havelman Robert Moloney: Pierce Judy Davis: Dr. Deanna Evans Peter Bryant: Dr. Gavin Burkely Duffield: Will

"A Clean Escape" Season 1, Episode 1

Well, as John Kessel (the author of the short story adapted for this first broadcast episode of the series) advised us, the acting by Judy Davis and Sam Waterston in "A Clean Escape" was excellent; it was particularly good to see Waterston away from the harness of Law and Order (and he even got to be the U.S. president in this one, as opposed to district attorney or ADA for NYC). Good performances are crucial in this kind of context; as several have noted elsewhere, this was largely a two-character drama, one which with not much revision could be nearly as powerful as a "legitimate" theater/stage play, particularly given the stark and sweeping ethical dilemmas involved: personal responsibility, the (necessary?) abuse of (always corrupting or at least reason-distorting?) great political and military power, real and metaphorical losses reinforcing one another as the drama plays out. Literary sf (along with other forms of fantastic literature, such as fantasy and surrealist fiction) and stage drama both lend themselves to this kind of concrete metaphor even more than, say, most film or contemporary mimetic or "realist" fiction... in the latter, the need to replicate enough reality to allow the audience to accept the story being told can crowd or obscure the point or points the artists want to make... and, conversely, the stylization of stage drama and fantastic fiction, if they're in any way ambitious, can lead to a certain preachiness. Certainly, much of the more ambitious television science-fiction drama has attempted, with greater or less deftness and sophistication, to impart Heavy Messages (Rod Serling's too-often one-punch scripts for The Twilight Zone come to mind)... all art tries to say something about something, but sometimes letting the message trump the artistry can be an utter bore or, possibly worse, unintentionally hilarious. This episode, thanks to those performances, good scripting and source material, and decent direction, manages to avoid those pitfalls, but I can foresee complaints from those who find it too schematic an indictment, or even no longer relevant to the post-Cold War world (the short story was published in 1985, after all, when "Star Wars" suddenly was also the derisive nickname for potential space-based anti-missile weapons... which could easily become weapons against all sorts of targets). One could wish that it was merely an outdated concern, in a world still rife with nuclear weaponry and various sorts of ambitious fanaticism. Alynda Wheat, reviewing this episode for Entertainment Weekly, probably speaks for a number of people when she suggests she'd "rather be scared by stuff that (probably) can't happen"; of course, she's therefore asking for something other than a science-fiction series, since the distinguishing factor between sf and other fantastic fiction and drama is precisely that it is meant to be about things that could conceivably happen. Little details in the episode certainly helped keep it grounded, even the way Waterston stumbles backward onto a chair when his character is threatened with a pistol... it isn't an obviously choreographed dance, as it often is in "action" films (or as in a Dick Van Dyke or Chevy Chase comic scene), nor does he simply fall back into the chair as if this was the fifth take and he knows exactly what's supposed to happen. He convincingly stumbles, doesn't quite fall. I was reminded of the old adage about the commercial networks being resistant to drama that was too good and would cause viewer resentment of the commercial breaks; the breaks certainly interfered with pacing of this episode, which will play that much better uninterrupted on DVD (or might've on cable, had this series joined its sibling Masters of Horror on Showtime). The ads also had another jarring effect: Some of the dialogue is delivered in whispers or at least hushed tones, including that coming into or going out of the breaks, which didn't go that well with the much-louder pitches for yogurt and laxatives (ABC's confusion about this series seems to have been reflected in their odd mix of sponsors as well, ranging from denture adhesive to X-Games promos, while failing to promote any of their sf or fantasy drama series aside from Cavemen, nor seeking much in the way of sf or fantasy film or electronic-game advertising, a natural "synergy"). Several people have wondered why Stephen Hawking has been employed to deliver opening and closing narration for the series; aside from the odd novelty of a having as "host" a man who remains alive and able to communicate only with the help of recently developed technology, and one who is famous for attempting to bridge the gap between the cutting edge of physics and cosmology and science-popularization work such as the book and film A Brief History of Time, I suspect that the nostalgia for the hosts of yesteryear (Boris Karloff for Thriller among others, Alfred Hitchcock for his anthology show, Serling for his series, et al.), and the radio anthology-show hosts that preceded and inspired them (and inspired the comic-book "hosts" of such influential titles as Tales from the Crypt), has become less a matter of fondness than of expectation... how can you have an anthology show without a host? Certainly all the network series of any duration seem to have them, to give the nervous executives if not the audience someone to hang onto from week to week (never mind that Police Story did fine without one... that was in the 1970s, who remembers?... or Monsters... that was a low-budget syndie series, they could afford to gamble...). Odder still, for this episode, Hawking wasn't seen, only his voice synthesizer was heard, giving us no real reason to know, aside from his onscreen credit, that it was his electronic voice we heard. Perhaps this, too, is a bit of metaphoric fun on the part of the producers. In the Philadelphia area and probably elsewhere, the closing images were squeezed to make way for a lottery drawing, while an ABC promo rushed on the heels of the closing narration... for another "reality" series, with viewer-supplied content, no less. Just in case ABC hadn't made the message clear enough already. (And if you liked this episode, you might well like... Death and the Maiden.) show less
Well, as John Kessel (the author of the short story adapted for this first broadcast episode of the series) advised us, the acting by Judy Davis and Sam Waterston in "A Clean Escape" was excellent; it was particularly good to see Waterston away from the harness of Law and Order (and he even got to be the U.S. president in this one, as opposed to district attorney or ADA for NYC). Good performances are crucial in this kind of context; as several have noted elsewhere, this was largely a two-character drama, one which with not much revision could be nearly as powerful as a "legitimate" theater/stage play, particularly given the stark and sweeping ethical dilemmas involved: personal responsibility, the (necessary?) abuse of (always corrupting or at least reason-distorting?) great political and military power, real and metaphorical losses reinforcing one another as the drama plays out. Literary sf (along with other forms of fantastic literature, such as fantasy and surrealist fiction) an... read more

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Premiered: November 11, 2007, on Space
Rating: None
User Rating: (21 ratings)
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Premise: A sci-fi anthology featuring adaptations of stories by noted writers Harlan Ellison, Robert A. Heinlein, Howard Fast and John Kessel. From IDT Entertainment (Showtime's `Masters of Horror').

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