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Sunday, January 22, 2006

1.43 --- Quarantine

Directed by : Martha Coolidge
Written by : Alan Brennert (story by Philip DeGuerre and Steven Bochco)
Starring : Scott Wilson, Tess Harper, Larry Riley
First aired : 7th of February, 1986.

Matthew Forman (Scott Wilson, The Exorcist III, The Last Samurai), a military engineer specializing in combat satellites, is awakened from his cryogenic sleep three centuries after being frozen in, due to inoperable cancer. The world he finds outside, however, does not look futuristic at all - horse carriages, simple housings and clothes, a setting eerily reminiscing Israel from biblical myths.

His perception of the future drastically changes once he's "operated" on - a team of four citizens, led by Sarah (Tess Harper, Amytiville 3D, The Jackal), succesfully removes his tumours without instruments or anything. Sarah explains that the human race is now much more advanced, and that they possess telephatic and shape-changing skills.

After recovering from his surgery, Matthew is introduced to Joshua (Larry Riley, A Soldier's Story), leader of this community, who takes him to the "computer" room - a cryogenic chamber with genetically mutated simians who store all the information in their enlarged brains - in order to explain him why was he unfrozen. There, Matthew is informed that a meteor is heading to Earth, and would cause huge trouble if it would hit. Joshua is estimating that some of Matthew's armed satellites are still up there, and that maybe he could destroy the big rock before it hits. Matthew also learns that the world as he knew it got destroyed in an all-out nuclear war 20 years after his freezing, and that the remaining humans - now mere 200,000 of them - decided to shun technology for good.

Matthew agrees, and the citizens assemble him a ragtag computer, parched together from last remaining pieces from centuries ago. He manages to connect to one of his satellites, and sets it up to blast the rock. But when the rock nears atmosphere, it changes course and deaccelerates. Matthew is at first amazed, however he soon realizes he has been tricked. The "scanner", Irene, reveals him what's really up there - a space shuttle, bearing USA flag on it, on its way back from deep space.

Joshua explains Matthew that those are the people who started the war in the first place - politicians, military personell, etc., and are carrying nuclear warheads with them. Matthew refuses to believe into that and tries to cancel their destruction, but Sarah quickly removes a key chip from his computer, and the satellite blows the space shuttle up. The ensuing explosion reveals the fact that there were, indeed, nukes on board, and Matthew is relieved. With the dirty work done, he can begin his life anew, and the first thing he does is something he longed to do all his life - explore the universe, thanks to Irene, who telepatically transmits him the images of it.

***

Made in the 80s, right in the middle of Reagan administration and Cold War shenanigans, The New Twilight Zone was somewhat of a liberal stronghold on primetime TV. Many episodes so far had leftie leanings, but none quite this much as Quarantine, a strong, potent story of nuclear fallout and dealing with it. Writers Philip DeGuerre and Steven Bochco, along with TZ regular Alan Brennert who adapted their story for this teleplay, waste no time branding the politicians and army chiefs worst scum ever. This is only reiterated in words of Joshua, who simply condemns them as criminals. And contrary to 98% of all sci-fi stories, Earth in 24th century looks more like Earth in 24th century BC.

Scott Wilson leads a solid cast, who all perform on a decent enough level. What does harm this episode somewhat are occasionaly dodgy special effects - most notably, the simian chamber, which initially is presented as a complex set with realistic looking "pods", only to be replaced by a oh-so-obvious matte painting. Why, beats me. Also, how did Sarah, who never saw a computer in her life and minutes before struggled to recognize what is a light pen, knew exactly which chip to remove in order to stop the cancellation ?

Those are all minor gripes though. Quarantine's message is still ringing today, and this is a good episode, worthy of the "Twilight Zone" name.

Comments on "1.43 --- Quarantine"

 

Anonymous John said ... (5:53 AM) : 

I really enjoyed this episode.

I wondered about the "pod" scene, too. Why replace it with a horribly fake matte? I'm sure it had to do with budget, but it really hurt the episode's credibility.

When I watched this episode on DVD not too long ago, it reminded me of a "Sliders" episode. In the "Sliders" episode, they 'slide' into a universe where a giant meteor is heading for Earth. There is nothing they can do, because in their universe, atomic power was never discovered. Or, as they find out, the discovery was kept secret to protect this Earth. They agree to help the people build a missile that will destroy the meteor, but they will not leave that knowledge with the people. However, as they are leaving, we see one of the men putting a copy of the blueprints into his jacket.

A very good "Sliders" and a very good New TZ!

 

Anonymous chogokinman said ... (12:12 AM) : 

I agree With horrible SFX which decrease the story's power.
The 3-D effects are ridiculous (like a NES, ahahah...).
But the story was interesting, and it is a good lesson for us.

Voici une histoire interessante plombée par des effets spéciaux pitoyables : Une matte-painting faite par un gamin de 5 ans et des effets spéciaux 3-D dignes d'un amstrad cpc 6128...
Dommage car le fond était intéréssant.

Ma note : 3/5

 

Blogger Li Nalis said ... (12:03 PM) : 

I don't think Sarah struggled to recognize the light pen as you suggested. I think she was just very reluctant to touch it, as "our" technology represents death to her and her people.
Also, I'm not sure she would need to know what to remove from the computer to stop him. Taking almost any part out would probably do the trick.
one last thing is that you didn't mention the extreme guilt felt by the main character even after he realized they were carrying nukes. (Of course with my suspicious nature, if they could make him see an asteroid, they could make him see a nuclear blast, right?)

 

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