Alien Nation #13: The Red Room

George and Matt run afoul of a Newcomer brainwashed by the government to act as an assassin.
REVIEW: In an episode where the cops need to be psychologically evaluated, it is thematically consistent to explore, once again, the Newcomer anxiety about giving up control to someone else. As we've seen, some can't get used to personal freedom, but others, like George, have been traumatized by the slavery experience and are forever unwilling to give in. So while George is very interested in the science of psychology - something his people do not have and surely, a byproduct of human egotism - he is annoyed to discover he is a "control freak" (which makes sense for someone who wasn't afforded control over his life) and dead set against being hypnotized as a means to unlock memories that could blow a case wide open. The programmed assassin also explores this idea, and Tom Dugan brings a lot of pathos to that role with very little screen time exactly because being controlled is, in itself, a deep form of trauma for these people.

While George has flashbacks to something unspeakable (I'll get to that in a minute), we're also shown a few of the other cops' dreams and anxieties. Captain Grazer is, of course, humiliated in his bizarre little skit. Matt, for his part, imagines himself alone in a room while all his friends are in another, having fun. He's unable to connect with them; his emotional isolation, and how, perhaps, Cathy can bring him out of it, is continuing subplot. And a fairly well-handled one as well; I like how there's no answer or resolution to this by the end of the episode, but rather, a question left hanging.

So it's unfortunate that I can't get into the plot of this episode - despite, also, the comedic touches and dynamic action beats - because it's one of the worst examples of Alien Nation's biggest weakness. I'm talking about the use of coincidence as a motor for story lines. It's pretty hard to believe that the double murder the guys have been assigned is connected to the break-in at Cathy's lab, and that her eye-patched colleague is also the villain of the piece. But that's the kind of writing I'm already expecting from the show. What takes it over the top completely is that George was, in fact, one of the Dart Project's guinea pigs, drummed out because he had ethical blocks that prevented him from killing. That's one coincidence too many, especially since George was ALREADY haunted by being forced to play Tanctonese Roulette, as per The Game, an episode that ends with the same kind of poetic justice as this one. They've got to stop making each case super-personal for the characters, because it adds up in an all-too convenient way. Throw in a miscast government agent to play Big Brother and you've lost me altogether.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A good mystery with good action, character and comedy bits. The writing just takes too many shortcuts.



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