Masters of Science... Episodes

2007, TV Show

Masters of Science Fiction Episode: "The Awakening"

Season 1, Episode 2
Episode Synopsis: “The Awakening” features Terry O'Quinn as a retired U.S. military UFO investigator called back when troops in Iraq are unable to identify “corpses” that don't seem human...or dead. Eye contact with them causes instant catatonia, but their victims aren't traumatized. “It's like they're in a state of bliss,” says a stumped military doctor. Based on the 1970 short story “The General Zapped an Angel” by Howard Fast (“Spartacus”). Lt. Granger: Elisabeth Rohm. The President: William B. Davis.
Original Air Date: Aug 11, 2007
Guest Cast Hiro Kanagawa: Capt. Oguchi Adrian McMorran: Medic Julian Christopher: Gen. Mackenzie Doron Bell: Kirby William B. Davis: President Terry O'Quinn: Skynner Malcolm Stewart: Col. Dingham Dean Marshall: General's Aide Elisabeth Rohm: Lt. Granger Johannah Newmarch: Assistant

"The Awakening" Season 1, Episode 2

Like the characters in tonight's episode, we can live in the hope that "The Awakening" remains the weakest installment of this series. In fact, we might even wonder why this arguably religious fantasy was included in a series devoted to science fiction at all; more importantly, we can wonder why, if this obviously heartfelt production was to be included, they executed it so poorly, with so many goofy little details that pull the viewer out of the drama. Based, presumably rather loosely, on Howard Fast's short story "The General Zapped an Angel" (the producers were so concerned that the not-exactly-surprising ending would be given away that they credited the story in the opening as "The General Zapped... "), it's squarely in the tradition of attempted mystical uplift in science fiction drama. As I mentioned in my first post, Howard Fast is best known for his historical fiction, the field to which he contributed most often and most importantly; like sf, historical fiction is a field that can lend itself easily to commentary on the human condition, and too often writers who don't usually write science fiction do so only when they have a point they want to make, often too bluntly. I fear that this was the case with Fast's story, published in 1970 and probably written at the height of the Vietnam War. The adapters for this episode have done nothing to sharpen the blunt instrument, in applying the story to the present day. (I haven't yet read Fast's story, so the fault might rest solely with the adapters.) We begin with a helicopter crash in the Iraqi desert, and an ensuing face-off between a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi militant, who soon find themselves telepathically linked, then nearly catatonic in what's described by the U.S. military scientists they're delivered to as a "state of bliss." The object that struck the American copter turned out to be a "cocoon" protecting a humanoid from, among other things, attempts at scanning the shell's contents, but not from collecting cells from the creature within (which has human-style chromosones, except it lacks the sex-selection pair, so no XX nor XY), nor does it keep the lab's scientists from pulling up an eyelid on the creature, which allows a light-beam to shoot into the eye of the human who does so, and make of that person another blissed-out near-zombie. It turns out, we are told, that this is only one of many encased creatures falling in clusters around the world, and soon they are communicating through the entranced humans, using phrases from various religious traditions to demand an end to all war, with vague threats of destruction if this is not done. The threats are backed up with large images of the Sun hanging over, again we are told, all the world's major cities. (We are shown an image of the Earth with about a dozen little suns hovering over various spots.... The creatures or our characters apparently have very stringent criteria for a "major" city.) The "experts" include a young military lieutenant who's also a physicist and NASA volunteer (played by Elisabeth Röhm, unfairly maligned for not enlivening some of the dullest dialogue ever given an actor on Law & Order), and a retired military UFO investigator (Terry O'Quinn, a veteran of The X-Files movie, Millennium and Lost). They are called in to have philosphical discussions and report back to the president (William B. Davis, thus making this both an X-Files reunion and the second Masters of SF to feature a feckless U.S. president; make of that what you will). The retiree pines for his wife, lost to him via the human form of mad-cow disease; the president is terrified by both the alien threat and the methodical but unconvincing way his nuclear arsenal is being disarmed by the creatures, which is represented by arrow gauges in one missile silo, labeled "U-235," "U-238" and with the names of other isotopes, as if the warheads needed to have their oil changed every six months. Other world leaders threaten the president from their individual TV screens in the situation room, while one remarkably polymathic translator relays all the messages from the French, Chinese, Russian and other non-Anglophone dignitaries. Happily, having been dismissed by the president, O'Quinn's character goes back to the lab to make eye contact with the angel, which allows him to commune with his wife and also puts the president and all the other world leaders, for no obvious reason, in telepathic contact with the retired military officer and the angels. So all is right with the world.... But, and you can intone this in your best or worst Serling or Shatner imitation, for how long? There's a long tradition of religious science fiction, going back even further than C.S. Lewis and including Arthur C. Clarke, James Blish, Philip Dick, Rudy Rucker and on to younger writers today, and arguably including the popular Christian post-Rapture novelists. But too often, however seriously intentioned the religious belief or the speculation in the work, one can suffer in the face of the other. And entirely too often, as with this drama, what we get is, again, a well-intentioned but ineffective sermon. As Ranger99 noted in a comment about the pilot episode, it was more like 12 Angry Men than sf.... There's a lot of serious sf that's a lot more like 12 Angry Men than like fanciful adventure fiction, and sf of many other sorts as well, including sf drama that actually says less than, say, The Day the Earth Stood Still, a 1950s film based on a 1930s short story by Harry Bates. It's a pity when it comes from folks who've already proven they can do better. Some updates: I noted in my recap for the pilot episode how well John Kessel's "A Clean Escape" would adapt to the stage. This had not escaped Kessel's attention; his own dramatic adaptation of the story was first produced in 1986. The lack of promotion from ABC has paid off how one might expect: According to the ratings reports I've seen for that pilot on Aug. 5, Masters of Science Fiction managed to come in second in its timeslot, but well behind a 48 Hours true-crime rundown on CBS and only barely ahead of an NBC Top Chef episode. Spread the word if you choose to, folks: At least the next two episodes look like they'll be livelier. show less
Like the characters in tonight's episode, we can live in the hope that "The Awakening" remains the weakest installment of this series. In fact, we might even wonder why this arguably religious fantasy was included in a series devoted to science fiction at all; more importantly, we can wonder why, if this obviously heartfelt production was to be included, they executed it so poorly, with so many goofy little details that pull the viewer out of the drama.Based, presumably rather loosely, on Howard Fast's short story "The General Zapped an Angel" (the producers were so concerned that the not-exactly-surprising ending would be given away that they credited the story in the opening as "The General Zapped... "), it's squarely in the tradition of attempted mystical uplift in science fiction drama. As I mentioned in my first post, Howard Fast is best known for his historical fiction, the field to which he contributed most often and most importantly; like sf, historical fiction is a field th... read more

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Premiered: August 04, 2007, on Space
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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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