Alien Nation #14: The Spirit of '95

Political shenanigans from Purists and Newcomers alike during a crucial referendum on alien voting rights.
SLAGS LIKE US: Though the characters reference the suffragette movement that led to women's voting rights, the situation has much more in common with the Civil Rights movement that led to African Americans getting the right to vote and the struggles that followed. Clay's congressional hearing at the end is obviously inspired by the Iran-Contra Affair hearings; there was a lot of taking the 5th in that too. Matt getting involved in the fight to ban chemical weapons "6 or 7 years ago" (i.e. in 1988 or 1989) was probably in reaction to what is considered the worst chemical attack/massacre in history, when thousands died in Halabja, Iraq, in March of 1988, which would have been recent history for the show's writers. And of course, any similarities between the Purists and the Tea Party are purely coincidental, or rather, because they're using the same playbook. Or should that be capitalized to Playbook?

REVIEW: Among the show's core themes is Americans taking certain things for granted and seeing them with fresh, Newcomer eyes. That's the narrative reason for Matt's cynicism, though in the case of his attitude towards democracy, his contempt at least wasn't bred from life-long apathy. Democracy betrayed a younger Matt, leading to a distrust of the government. It's doubtful he even votes anymore, whereas George and Susan would like nothing better. Newcomers have a thirst for something humans don't care nearly as much about, and yet, avariciously keep for themselves. That's how privilege works, doesn't it? Though the show is, as per its set-up, concerned with the crime of the week, what makes it interesting is how the Newcomers are transforming Western society (and vice-versa). Glad to see such a strong focus on the struggle for the Newcomers' civil rights, and that, realistically, it's not going to happen overnight.

It makes complete sense for Susan and Buck to get involved in the cause too. For one thing, the family has always been shown to be politicized, and George takes his responsibility as token Newcomer detective very seriously. They are relatively well-to-do compared to many Newcomers, and Susan would have the free time and resources to commit to the movement. Buck is a patriot and a rebel, and better for him to channel his energies in the political process than gang activity. And if they don't transform American attitudes in a day, they do make inroads (32 States voting for the Alien Voting Amendment), and closer to home, Matt goes from cynical to hopeful, and as president of his tenants' association, from unwilling shirker to responsible adult. His role models are George and Cathy, people who don't see democracy and service as a chore.

If there's a weakness in the episode, it's inevitably the crime of the week. Not that it's badly done, but that's where the show becomes slightly cartoony. The movement leaders of course stage their own kidnapping to foster sympathy, and the evil Purists of course get their hands way dirtier than any Koch brother ever has. There has to be a mystery for the boys to solve, and the culprits must be caught and tried. That's the nature of the cop show. The main cast's reactions to all this are what keep it afloat, but the verisimilitude of the political and character elements IS mined somewhat by the plot's simplistic structure.

THE MOVIE LEGACY:
The right to vote for Newcomers is an issue that's been dangling since the film.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- This is the kind of stuff I like to see in Alien Nation, transforming American society by looking at how it was done before.

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