Alien Nation #9: Contact

An astronomer is murdered as part of an Overseer plot to sell humans and Newcomers into slavery.
SLAGS LIKE US: There are restricted clubs where the "dress code" bars entry for Newcomers, much like a lot of country clubs did not let non-White and non-Christians from joining (I probably shouldn't even be using the past tense there). Though there are humans playing at being Tanctonese at Cathy's party, tension between the species is also on display, notably in one guest's story about fascist cops beating a Newcomer for driving a Porsche (this kind of thing would seem a common story even today), though Matt has his own Newcomer-in-the-"wrong"-car story that reinforces his own racist attitudes.

REVIEW: Murder at CETI! This episode plays triple duty and succeeds quite well at all three tasks - it's exciting police drama, thoughtful in its exploration of themes, and sets up a lot of what is to come. In that order then... A murder investigation takes us off Matt and George's usual streets and into a swankier, cleaner part of L.A., where suspects are more likely to lawyer up and physical intimidation is so unnatural, it's actually more likely to produce results. The murder is well-staged, dots of blood mirroring the red dots of the victim's star chart, and the mystery being less of a whodunit than a whydunit. It's been a while since we've had this much racial tension on the show, but it plays a part in blocking the investigation or at least making it question George's place on Earth, even as the threat of returning to slavery is exposed. The Overseers appear to be even more dangerous than we might have believed, not content with pushing other Newcomers around, but preparing everyone on Earth - Newcomer and human - for eventual slavery. If only they can contact their "owners", which is where CETI-type projects come in.

Though heavy on the police element, Contact's subplots serve the characters quite well. For one thing, it addresses Matt's anger issues and gives them a clearer origin. Coming from an abusive home, abandoned by the only family member who ever offered him an alternative (a now dead uncle), and - when it comes to his racist streak - having lost colleagues in violent Newcomer action, all of that explains, if not excuses, his behavior. But he rejects his past, and those values too, which is why he entertains the possibility of a romance with Cathy, and finds it hard to watch George take racism in stride. It's a nice moment when George tells him he's harder on him because he's worth the effort, whereas douchy maitre d's are not. That makes Matt accept Cathy's invitation to a party (which he ruins); he does want to resist those urges. Reject his history is very much part of Contact's theme, which contrasts Matt's attitude with the Newcomers who have no real history. Most don't remember the planet they came from, they don't have a shared "popular culture", and have no artifacts to remind them of the people they've lost. Cathy rather sweetly uses constellations as "family photos", to remind her of what she's lost - of the people who are gone, but what she's lost of herself too.

With no past, they must look to the future, which is Susan's reaction to the situation. She wants to have another baby, a child of Earth. She wants to CREATE a history for her family, one grounded in their new home. With that, the show makes a certain promise. After 8 episodes, viewers may thing they've got a handle on the Newcomers' culture and biology, but we don't know anything, really, about their reproductive cycle. Even Contact holds a few revelations about the Newcomers, like the fact they have a physical need of UV rays. Of course, George and Susan's new baby isn't the only promise the episode makes. There's also the matter of whether or not the Overseer signal got through to the alien probe. That it did would seem the most exciting answer, though I expect to wait a while for it. It's too early yet to disrupt the status quo that much.

THE MOVIE LEGACY: While the show's Francisco is far edgier and angrier than the movie's, here he opts to take a lot of the verbal abuse and indignity much in the same was Mandy Pantinkin's Francisco did.

- Looking back at what makes the characters who they are, and looking ahead to what they may become, Contact fires on all cylinders.



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