Alien Nation #26: Millennium

On the eve of the new Millennium, a cult offers a shortcut to enlightenment using a Tenctonese artifact.
SLAGS LIKE US: Racism wasn't a particular component of Y2K hysteria in the real world, as it is here. The episode is more interested in consumer culture and how traditionally poor minorities could start overspending when they start getting more opportunities. Matt accuses George of having made Detective Two because of affirmative action, playing the role of the "oppressed majority", an absurd point of view that perhaps resonates even more loudly today. The ugliest racism on show is still probably the boy who wants to "shag a slag", seeing Emily's "difference" as a sexual trophy.

REVIEW: Setting the tele-film the last week of 1999 makes it about the future, a future most of the characters seem very impatient to get to. Buck wants enlightenment without working for it, Emily can't wait for her allowance to come in, Matt cheats on his Detective Two exam, Albert uses manure to make his garden grow faster, and so on. It also gives the production permission to insert more references TO the future than usual (it takes place 4-5 years in the objective present's future, after all). That's interesting, but dates the program more than anything. As a piece of futurism, Alien Nation has sometimes managed a miraculous prediction (George Stephanopoulos did become a newsman, for example, but we're still waiting for Tori Spelling), but it mostly misses the mark. The show usually doesn't go far enough (its computer tech looks especially primitive, for example), goes too far (software that writes essays for you?) or else its future becomes a kind of satire (I especially enjoyed Fox cancelling a show in the middle of its pilot due to Super-Nielsen ratings technology). Obviously, Newcomer tech and culture will have changed the course of pop culture history - Millennium and Body and Soul both featured some cool pop and rock tunes in the Tenctonese language - but it's sad to hear kids like Emily and her new boyfriend play dull synthscapes in the post-grundge era. Ugh.

The story itself is a sequel to Generation to Generation, or "the one where everybody wants a box that either fries you alive or gives you a look at Tencton". Another such box - or "portal" - has been stolen from a shrine, and is being used by scam artists to sell humans and Newcomers alike seeking enlightenment a full VR experience. Except it's dangerous when used by those who let their demons take control of the simulation, and people are winding up dead or insane. To get some answers, Matt and George will take an effective and satisfying procedural route, though putting Buck in harm's way does make the case a little more personal. Once again, it becomes a matter of "everyone wants the box", and even Captain Grazer plans to take it out of the evidence locker so friends of his can copy its technology and use it for VR amusement parks. Lovely moment when Matt, potentially in on the deal, tries to sell the blasphemous idea to Cathy and she fires back with a hilarious "Godland". Mostly, the A-plot is a chance for some cool 90s CG (which means it's not particularly cool, though I'd say it's better than, say, a Sliders episode's), a couple of nice and well-shot stunts, and for George to save his son and restore some peace to his household. Otherwise, it's a lot of borrowed spirituo-babble (the shrine elder stole everything from Bruce Lee - "Be the water" and all that), too many mentions of Polly Wannacracker (the kind of pun that works once, but not on a crucial character), and doomsday cult villains that aren't particularly interesting.

The main subplot is a human boy's seduction of Emily, and shows various kinds of impatience. Emily, like her father, is racking up the bills, and can't wait for money to come in before spending it. When a new synth player becomes the key to getting closer to a boy she likes and who seems to like her, she goes so far as to shoplift to get all the accessories she needs. In there somewhere is her impatience to grow up, though there's no taboo or problem with Newcomer females being sexually active at her age. Sadly, it turns out the boy in question just wants to add a spot-shaped notch to his bedpost, and were it not for her super-strength, would have walked into date rape. It's enough that we know it could have happened to make the audience feel queasy, but I'm still glad it doesn't. The show is generally too light for such an unbearable event to occur. When we next see Emily, she's in a bathrobe, cuddling with her mother, and that's all we need to know that she did talk to her parents and is dealing with what happened to her. (Compare to the cult leader who wishes to kill the human race because some humans spat on her when she came out of quarantine.) Most certainly, the celebratory New Year's Eve montage at the end would not have been possible had the subplot gone any further.

THE MOVIE LEGACY: That "Sikes" sounds like the word for "shit head" in Tenctonese hasn't been mentioned in a very long while; it originated in the film.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A good mix of comedy and drama, but it doesn't feel as substantial as the previous two films, and even the "sequel" doesn't really play fair, retconning much of what we learned in Generation to Generation to suit its plot.

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