Alien Nation #18: Real Men

George gives birth prematurely during a case involving psychotic steroid users.
SLAGS LIKE US: There are two ugly racist moments that may echo the African-American experience. One is the jerky Zimmer character's gorilla reference, which equates an entire race with apes. The other is Matt's old friend Nick wanting to touch Newcomer skin, like a naive child asking to touch a black person's kinky hair; entirely offensive from an adult. Looking at the plot, the late 80s would have been a high point in the media attention on steroids in professional sports, and socially, men were being asked to get in touch with their feminine sides more than ever before. Both concerns are explored in the episode.

REVIEW: The fact that George is now pregnant challenges human notions of gender, sometimes comically - as in George's laugh-out-loud breakdown at the police station - but mostly seriously, as Matt's macho posturing takes a hard beating from the realities of his partner's situation. In the background, an A-plot that shows bodybuilders using an illicit Newcomer hormone to compete with the aliens' strength, and in the background, Matt's macho pal from Detroit, putting the moves on Cathy. Everything conspires to make Matt (and the audience) question the physical, psychological and cultural nature of masculinity and femininity, and as loathe as George would be to admit, he HAS been infected by human ideals of manliness and, in fact, puts his baby in danger for pride's sake.

Now, the plot isn't anything special, with the roid-raging monster cast for his musculature, not his acting, and the mystery pretty obvious. The guest characters are made of cardboard, with the steroid user right out of SNL's Hans & Franz sketches, the pusher a racist jerk of the highest order, the crucial witness a tedious Jewish stereotype, and Matt's pal a "wild and crazy" irritant with a ponytail. They are in service of the plot and themes, but that's about it. In the latter's case, we never do find out if he sleeps with Cathy, but the incident pushes Matt to finally admit some feelings for the woman. It's hard for him to open up, because "real men" don't talk about their feelings. Because Newcomers have none of our society's normative attitudes, what a man should be is called into question, and may not translate.

So when Matt is forced to deliver George's baby, all the pride and machismo goes out the window, and the scene we get is rather sweet even though some audiences would be cued to repulsion or adolescent snickering. Two grown men, bare-chested, keeping an animatronic alien baby warm by cuddling is a scene that shouldn't work on network TV in 1990 (Fox, no less). But it does. It's charming, touching and expresses the theme of the episode perfectly. After that, Matt is freed to not only open up to Cathy, but practice his knitting in public. Earlier in the episode, they had not been so equal in his mind, and his fantasies made him the white knight to Cathy's victim. But as Susan reminds George, Newcomer females are in no way weak and helpless - that's a human bias, one we still struggle with today, sadly.

The film's crime story involved a drug that made its users super-strong, but it was solely for Newcomers, not humans.

- A must if only for baby Vessna's birth and the rich thematic context she was born into. Might have reached High if not for the guest cast dragging it down.



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