EPISODE REVIEW: Survivors: “Episode 5” (Episode 5)

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Muslim Boy is walking through the woods, and comes across some campers led by a visionary prophet guy. He takes them back to the house, where his new-age mumbo-jumbo doesn’t win him any friends, but as one of his party is extremely pregnant, they decide to let ‘em stay until the baby is born. Psycho Killer is getting busy with the Ambitious-yet-Skanky girl, who seems to like him, whereas he’s just using her to scratch an itch. Rich Idiot, meanwhile, feels a bit outclassed by Suburban Mom’s making it with a homeless caveman last week, so he makes it with a homeless hippie chick following a prophet around. (Score! In your face, Suburban Mom! Who’s the bigger freakshow now?)

Things turn creepy(er) when the hippie chick’s boyfriend turns up, sharing her with Rich Idiot so as to…I don’t know what, really…spread the gene pool around? Take pictures for the internet because he keeps forgetting the amateur porn industry died in the plague? Who knows. She says she wants to have babies, but her boyfriend is clearly capable of having babies on his own, so why she wants to have ‘em with Rich Idiots and random carnival workers isn’t quite clear. I’m assuming she just thought the whole ‘spreading the gene pool’ thing around her boyfriend wasn’t really cutting it in the ‘man’ department. Or maybe she’s just a trollop. It’s England: who can tell?

Anyway, the Very Pregnant Lady goes into labor, and since there’s still a half hour to kill in the episode, there are, of course, complications. Pretty Underused Doctor Lady does nothing, but eventually Psychokiller talks her into helping out, which she does, though she gets a soliloquy about how her girlfriend died in the plague. Psychokiller hears this, and is utterly repulsed. Evidently, unlike most violent offenders doing hard time, he’s a bit Spartan. No, wait, they were all screamingly gay. Bad choice of words. Let’s say he was rather puritanical, and the whole ’gay’ thing repulses him. He confronts Pretty Underused Doctor Lady, who says she’s not actually gay, she’s a bicycle. Psychokiller isn’t really mollified by this - it’s obvious he likes her a lot - but once he realizes she’s “Been with blokes” he realizes he’s got a chance and calms down.

This is almost a good scene. Psychokiller’s very real sense of betrayal is well-played, and Pretty Underused Doctor Lady’s admission that she doesn’t know if she’s gay or not, she just fell in love with a girl, and doesn’t know what the hell it all means was likewise well played. There’s the appropriate sense of confusion there. Her anger at his anger, quickly changing when she realizes his anger is because he cares about her is also well done. Then they blow it two separate ways in rapid succession: 1) With him deciding it’s all ok if he still has a chance to get some and 2) her suddenly going all PC and preachy when she says “I don’t fall in love with men or women, I fall in love with people.” Oh, groan! Is there any greater betrayal than instantly dropping from genuine drama to bumpersticker slogans? Well, yes, the “It’s all just a training exercise” thing is worse, but this is still a pisser. Totally betrayed the first half of the only really good scene in the episode.

Anyway, Prophet quickly turns out to be a paranoid schizophrenic because, of course, you can’t have any religious leaders ever depicted in the media as being honest, decent, hardworking folk of moral stature. He kidnaps Pretty Underused Doctor Lady, and they beat it out of there. The Suburban Mom Commune gives chase, and Psychokiller shuts Prophet down in a suitably rapid badass way, but stops short of killing him when Pretty Underused Doctor Lady asks him to.

Prophet’s throng breaks up, with Hippie Chick and Whipped Boyfriend heading off to find a new way to live, possibly with creepy Sister Clarice from Caprica, who seems to be into similar stuff. Prophet’s girlfriend - with the new baby - decide to stay with him, and not give him the drugs Pretty Underused Doctor Lady prescribes because “I can’t take God away from him.” Suburban Mom’s commune leaves, pretty clearly anticipating Prophet to wig out and kill both mother and child in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, in the bolted-on Mysterious Doctors-In-A-Lab subplot, they’re rounding up survivors and killing some of them to check for various…scientific…things, molecules no doubt, which might help them in their goal of doing whatever the heck it is they’re doing. One of them sees a broadcast of Suburban Mom’s message from the Children’s Museum commune.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

I’ve been thinking about why this show doesn’t work for me. I mean, yeah, there’s the obvious drudgery of the boring stories, the flat direction, the near-total absence of music, the mostly dull characters (Excepting Psychokiller and Greg), the lackluster writing, and the drama-free drama. But, really, if I cared about *good* TV, I wouldn’t be much of an SF geek, now would I? I mean, I watched Dr. Who in the ‘Eighties, so, clearly, I’m not looking for Andrei Tarkovsky here, now am I?

I had a lot of time to think tonight during the episode, since the story didn’t really require much attention, and it occurred to me that while they’re always set in the future, postapocalyptic stories are all about the past. They’re a kind of wish fulfillment, mostly based on an inaccurately glamorous view of the past, in which everyone lives a more simple, natural existence, and yet women all somehow manage to keep their legs shaved, men never have beards, and no one ever dies of cholera. Sure, Road Warrior is set in a blighted future after a nuclear war, but what it *really* is is a revividus of the wild west. It’s a spaghetti western version of cowboys and Indians, with the gay bikers substituted for the Indians. It is not a cautionary tale of a future gone wrong, no matter how much directors and writers and stars might delude themselves otherwise. It is, instead, a desire to escape the present, a desire to have a more comprehensible life with cleanly drawn lines between good and evil, success and failure, heroism and cowardice, life-affirming refinery personnel, and life-denying gay bikers in leather pants with the butts cut out of ‘em.

Seriously, if you grew up in the ‘80s, you know what I’m talking about. Who among us *didn’t* occasionally pray for a nuclear war so we could get out of the Algebra II test on Monday? Admit it!

So then my problem here is twofold:

1) If the appeal of a postapocalyptic story is a return to a less ambiguous time, then loading the show with morally ambiguous people kind of sabotages that appeal, right? Granted, if you go Spaghetti Western, you can sidestep some of that, but not all of it, and this show is *not* a Spaghetti Western, let me assure you of that.

2) When you think about it, the only postapocalyptic stories that have been popular in the US are ones involving deserts and shootouts and cars instead of horses, generally. In essence, they’re retro-future westerns. Westerns are part of our cultural vernacular. Even if you’ve never seen one - and a disturbing number of people haven’t - you still kind of get it just by osmosis. The appeal of the subgenre is a return to a simpler time, and what’s more simple-yet-exciting-and-cool than a western?

But returning to the past in England isn’t…well…it’s simple, but it’s not at all exciting, nor is it cool. There’s no ‘wild’ aspect to it. From the point of view of an American, all of England seems like a really nice park in a ritzy suburb. There’s no ‘survivalist’ aspect to it, the living seems too easy. Now, I’m not saying it *IS* easy, I’m sure there’s lots of tough aspects to it. I mean, heck, you could drop me in the middle of a really ritzy suburb park and I’d be dead in 24 hours, tops. But it *appears* easy to Americans. There’s no grizzly bears, nothing rugged about it, no rattlesnakes, no native peoples trying to force you out, no hot wind from the west, no endless open plain that stretches on to infinity, with a vista that forces a man to look inside. None of that.

Frankly, it seems rather nice. A bit too nice.

So that’s my take on it.

Rich Idiot got the best line of the night: He’s a Muslim who said giving aid and comfort to Prophet’s group was “The Christian thing to do.”

Next week is the season finale. I’m not sure if they’re going to launch right into season 2, or give it a break.

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