Alien Nation #11: The Game

A sadistic and lethal Overseer game makes a comeback on Earth.
SLAGS LIKE US: In their nightmares and survivor's guilt, the Newcomers may mirror Jews who made it out of concentration camps alive.

REVIEW: Given the title, I thought this episode would feature that basketball-like game the Newcomers play. Then I thought it would be about underground cage matches. The truth is much darker than either of those. It seems the Overseers forced slaves into playing a kind of Tanctonese roulette with a salt-water cannon. George was forced to play and will forever associate the game with the Day of Descent when the Newcomers were freed because it interrupted a game in which he faced one of his dearest friends. Worse still, George lost a brother to the game. After spending some time figuring out why Matt is so angry and giving him some catharsis, the show finally gets down to doing the same for George. His hatred for the Overseers is much more personal than it at first seemed, and his particular boogeyman, Koulak, is a worthy foe, if only by virtue of being played by the late, great Andreas Katsulas.

Take away George's personal investment, and the plot is pretty standard, right down to the "important character the audience has never met turns out to be the key to the whole thing" coincidence and the "knock out your partner so he can't help you and get into trouble too" trope. Standard until the end, that is, because George's duel with Koulak manages to transcend the over-familiarity of the plot. He goes Batman on his ass, with whirring machines and cash raining down, setting up a symbolic terrain for his poetic justice, and then of course doesn't go as far as the villain thinks he will, but geez, if it doesn't look like he might. Great bit of suspense. And once it's all done, the sad relief and tiredness in George at his Descent dinner is such a quiet, emotional performance, I couldn't help but get a little misty-eyed.

To keep things from getting too heavy, the Day of Descent celebrations offer some background silliness as well. Every family chooses a "revered one" called a "[click]Dork", which leads to some amusing linguistic confusions (you should hear what we Francophones call seals, the kind that gets clubbed). Matt is a Dork, but so is Albert's pigeon, the latter situation giving Captain Grazer his weekly humiliation (but also a chance to show some humanity). Cathy is still in the picture, now consistently on Matt's arm in social situations, and George and Susan host enough events to give her two such opportunities in The Game (I thought it followed on from Three to Tango at first). I think we're due to see more of the kids soon, though they do have their small parts here - Emily does interpretative dance and tap (she's going to be a star of the stage, that one), and Buck feels transformed from his rebellious early episodes (but could he fall off the wagon?). Other touches of humor here and there elevate the drama as well.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The show doesn't mind going dark, and Eric Pierpoint is slowly becoming the actor to watch.

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