Alien Nation #27: The Enemy Within

A grotesque mutant Newcomer created by Tenctonese "Unclean" threatens the city. Matt and George deal with problems in their respective couples.
SLAGS LIKE US: It is a racist point of view to think of members of an ethnic minority as "all the same". So of course, the Newcomers have their own ethnic groups/social classes, and the Eeno are on the lowest rung of their society, to the point where they are hated as "savages" and "animals" none of the other Newcomers want to associate with. To use a terrible example in our own history, many Westerners may think of black Africans as "all the same" (or at least not be able to tell one ethnicity from another), but tribal genocides like the one in Rwanda in the early 90s tell us this is a rather narrow point of view. Humans are quite good at using differences to justify all manner of horrific words and actions. In a less extreme example, we would consider the next town over to be rednecks, or whatever, a kind of local patriotism/nationalism that translates into everything from friendly rivalry and ugly bigotry (I live in an city that my grandparents from up north told me was full of "dirty people", for example, evoking a level of poverty that is in no way generalized... economies have changed since they were young, but it doesn't excuse the comments).

REVIEW: This one is all about reversals. Chief among them is that after getting used to the Newcomers being the victims of racism, it's revealed they have their own underclass, the Eeno (or "unclean"), who are treated much worse. Sure, as the lowest slaves on the totem pole, they picked up garbage, waste and corpses, and had to eat from all three to survive, but the attitudes we see are so ingrained that they must've been an oppressed minority on Tencton from before. That's how the Overseers selected them for the worst duties, and why they can be recognized on sight (not that this viewer can spot - pun not intended - the difference). Remarkably, the lessons Matt has learned over the course of his relationship with George must now be taught BACK to George. But it's only when his daughter - a young person who didn't learn to stigmatize the Eeno - rejects his bigotry that George starts to realize he's in the wrong. When Emily is then attacked for associating with an Eeno girl - a harrowing sequence involving a saltwater gun - he can deny his bias no longer, and makes a change. It's a bit extreme - with Eeno soon invited to the house, etc. - but the moment when he gives the Eeno the "love touch" is rather touching.

The A-plot has a reversal of its own, as the creature created by the Eeno to give themselves some power (I'm a bit fuzzy on the plan) rather obviously turns on them. I'm not a big fan of the whole Queen Mother thing. We've had mutant Newcomers before, but this one is all sorts of disgusting, and tonally, doesn't quite mesh with the rest of the series. Good action finale, and as usual, director Kenneth Johnson uses the extra time and money to create interesting shots, but the gross horror element still feels like it doesn't belong. From a "nuts and bolts" point of view, the movies are quite good at reiterating information for the uninitiated (so Emily must be attacked with salt water because the finale will use salt water as a weapon, for example), but Alien Nation isn't really about the "monster of the week" because the real monster is ourselves. Trying to do Alien (without the Nation) all of a sudden is a jarring misstep. Buck's heroism in this episode is appreciated nonetheless, and will have consequences down the line.

The twinned subplots about marital strife are much better, though I wish it wasn't the women who freaked out for nothing in each case, if only for the sake of variety. After all, women in Newcomer society are the Alphas, and only their exposure to human culture has turned them into uncomfortable Betas. And therein lies the reversal. Susan is finding George isn't very inventive in bed these days, and it's a human who puts two crucial thoughts in her head - that he might be having an affair, and that she should too. When Albert asks George to fertilize his wife (since he can only catalyze her), everyone thinks it's a great honor, but Susan, infected with wrongthink, gets angry. Love and reason prevail eventually. For Cathy, the problem is moving in with Matt rather than the traditional opposite for her culture. Her nesting rubs him the wrong way, but he's surprisingly patient and supportive nevertheless. She takes her relationship mistakes much more seriously and overwhelmed, goes off to hide in a hotel room most nights to be alone. Matt's solution is pretty sweet. If you reverse the male/female roles - and the story wants you to, even including a sequence where Susan goes to a strip club - you can start to see what the episode is getting at.

THE MOVIE LEGACY: The watery finale that melts a monstrous version of a Newcomer is right out of the film.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An ill-fitting plot doesn't take away from the show's central theme that explores "otherness" in new combinations.


Timothy Brannan said...

Yeah the ending left me going "wait, didn't we see this already?"


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