Alien Nation #25: Body and Soul

Newcomer mutants escape from a secret CIA/Overseer project. Matt and Cathy learn to have sex with each other.
SLAGS LIKE US: There is prejudice on both sides against Newcomer/human relationships, just as there is about mixed race couples. The fear of dilution/assimilation is also an issue with exogamous couples where one language/culture might be lost over the generations (at least, that's something that happens here, and Alien Nation has that quality that everyone thinks it's really about them). We also see a same sex couple in Cathy and Matt's interspecies sex class, and Newcomer attitudes are apparently entirely devoid of homophobia. The controversial surgeon general chastised for her views on sex matters alluded to in the episode as representative of Americans' prudish attitudes is Jocelyn Elders, who advocated for the distribution of contraceptives in schools, and who resigned amidst controversy in '94, the year before this movie came out.

REVIEW: I'm far less interested in the A-plot than I am the various subplots of Body and Soul. Most notably, Matt and Cathy's relationship and taking it to the next, more intimate, level. A nice and subtle touch is that Cathy's picture is now on Matt's desk. Not only are they a couple, but Matt doesn't feel self-conscious about it at the office. Where there's still some awkwardness is what to do about sexual intercourse, since humans and Newcomers have a completely different physiology and culture, and part of the culture gap is that Newcomers are very open about sex (so, French-Canadians then), while Anglo-Saxon Matt doesn't think it bears discussing. He certainly doesn't want to go to sex ed classes! And yet, with Newcomers' disproportionate strength, real damage can be done to a human partner. I'm happily surprised that while there's humor in this set-up, the relationship is NOT played for laughs, but manages a certain degree of eroticism, especially the final scene, when they're truly in synch, that evokes alienness with odd camera angles. It's rather beautiful, and while one might wonder why Cathy does not respond in kind when Matt tells her he loves her, the crucial point is that he opens up to her emotionally, with a tenderness he usually seeks to hide from us.

If human-Newcomer relations seem to progress through Matt's evolving attitudes, society does not necessarily follow suit. Buck, the most Tanctonese of Tanctonese, rebels against the assimilating threat of human-Newcomer coupling, and even takes part in demonstrations that look a lot like the picketing of abortion clinics. This opens up a discussion about where political opinion ends and hurtful "hate" behavior begins, and whether the minority "race" is right to want to protect its gene pool/culture. There are no easy answers, but Buck does respond to Matt's embracing of Tanctonese ways. It's when he respects Cathy's Tanctonese attributes, and stops trying to make her fit his human ideal, that he can be accepted as a member of the community.

So the plot... I guess I just don't find the idea of genetically-engineered Newcomer mutants on the run all that interesting, but it does raise some good questions, even if they're (for now) red herrings. Twins who are halves of one Tanctonese, the featured mutants are beings with a symbiotic bond, one the intellect, the other the body. The mystery that hovers over them at first is whether the "child" is a human-Newcomer offspring, and while that would have pushed suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, it does make the point that the genetically "adaptable" Newcomers could, in time, become genetically compatible with humanity. So Buck's fears aren't necessarily groundless (though when it comes to the survival of the species, barren exogamous couples aren't helpful either). If my interest in those characters is low, the movie does produce a chilling villain in the mysterious CIA man Benson who's weaponizing alien tech and taking out hits on those who get in this way. Our heroes go off-book in this one, just about the only way they could take care of a government conspiracy without fear of reprisal. Love the bit where Matt calls in all his favors and surrounds the Francisco home with an army of cops. George, in defense of his family, once again goes hardcore on the villain's ass, leaving his paralyzed from the neck down (grisly!) and begging for his life as the whole damn secret facility (an idea based, I think, on the possibility of reusing expensive spaceship sets from Dark Horizon) explodes. As a resolution, it's all a bit facile (not much security to deal with, etc.), but with one movie a year(ish) to work with, there's not much space to play things slowly.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It's all about Matt and Cathy and the ramification of Newcomers and humans coupling. The A-plot serves as thematic fodder, sure, but isn't anywhere near as interesting.


LondonKdS said...

As I remember, the big reason that was used to force Elders to resign was not contraceptives, but her suggestion that children should be told in school that it was completely fine to masturbate.

Siskoid said...

I wasn't sure, and it's not my country anyway so even my memories are probably based on SNL sketches or something, so I researched it on Wikipedia. It wasn't very clear on the reason for her leaving the position, so you may well be right.


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