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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

3.16 --- The Cold Equations

Directed by : Martin Lavut
Written by : Alan Brennert (story by Tom Goodwin)
Starring : Terence Knox, Christianne Hirt
First aired : 7th of January, 1989.

Thomas Barton (Terence Knox, Tour of Duty) is a rescue mission pilot, currently shuttling over some medicines and supplies to a colony somewhere far away in another galaxy. His ship is fitted with enough fuel and materials to last one journey, a fact which becomes a nuisance once Thomas discovers there is a stowaway aboard the ship, whose mass makes the trip impossible to finish.

The stowaway is a young girl called Marylin (Christianne Hirt), who boarded the ship in order to visit her brother who is stationed at the planet Thomas' ship is flying to. The problem, though, is that as noted above, the ship can't reach its destination with that much extra mass on board. The solution is even more ugly - standard procedures call for a quick execution of the stowaway, with the ejection into outer space the final act.

Marylin is shell-shocked upon hearing this, and Thomas isn't exactly at ease himself, knowing that either she dies, or both of them, as well as the numerous colonists awaiting the medicines onboard, die instead. Thomas tries to reduce the ship's mass by gathering all excess weight he could find into one pile, but their dash of hope evaporates upon finding out that the assembled goods are not even half the neccesary weight.

It is becoming obvious that Marylin will have to "take one for the team", so she asks if she can speak with her brother through the vidphone before condemning herself. After some delay, her brother phones in, only to hear the horrible story himself. He is devastated by the news, but Marylin comforts him, saying she will always be with him in some shape of form. Her conversation finished, Marylin announces she's ready and steps into the airlock. Thomas reluctantly ejects her, then walks back to his cockpit, where emotions finally overflow him as he begins to cry.

***

"The Crime and Punishment" through the Twilight Zone, one might say. The Cold Equations is universally regarded as one of the rare season 3 highlights, and while I do admire the story, which has a lot going for it, I just didn't really think it was a great TZ episode. In essence, it was a pretty straightforward story, with the only "twist" mailed in somewhere around the third minute - the rest deals with Marylin coming to terms that she'll be dead before the ending credits. Of the two leads, Hirt leaves a better impression - Knox just feels too distant, and his tears in the end wind up looking forced and stilted. The sets and special effects aren't too shabby, which is a bonus considering the shoestring budget 3rd season was shot on. Overall, I rate it "good", not "great".

This episode caused quite a ruckus back in the day, as CBS freaked over the ending, finding it horribly inappropriate Marylin offs herself. According to Alan Brennert (via Zicree and his companion), the studio heads offered alternative solutions, ranging from "Marylin cuts off her limbs" to "Thomas shoots her in cold blood", but the production team stood its ground, and CBS finally backed off.

Comments on "3.16 --- The Cold Equations"

 

Anonymous Farmer Ted said ... (10:02 PM) : 

So far, this is the only episode I remember from Season 3, probably because I was always annoyed that there was no way he could find 100 or so lbs of weight to toss to save her...not to mention that they really have a tight tolerance on those ships with regards to fuel. The ending was cool though, because they didn't do the clich├ęd ending with the guy offing himself to save the girl.

 

Blogger Scummie said ... (12:36 AM) : 

Controversy about this episode's ending isn't uncommon - the original short story had the same criticisms. One writer even made a briefly-popular short story called The Cold Solution to counter this plot's ending.

Personally, the problem with this plot is that, in order to make sure the only possible ending is the Sad Ending, the plot has to throw up quite a few impossibly difficult roadblocks in order to get to that intended intending. The crafts that landed on the Moon had three fuel cells, and could land and come back with two of them inoperable. But this world's spaceships have ONLY the amount of fuel required, and not a DROP more? It's no different than doors in computer games that are locked simply do get the player to walk around the area.

 

Blogger Kensington said ... (5:15 AM) : 

Unless I'm mistaken, there's one fundamental problem with this episode that ruins the whole story.

Why was the extra weight only revealed after it was too late to turn around? Why didn't the ship's computers know there was a stowaway immediately? Wouldn't they have known about the extra weight as soon as they took off?

It makes no sense, and consequently, the entire scenario is contrived.

 

Blogger Li Nalis said ... (12:30 PM) : 

Yes they should have known about the extra weight before he left which makes the story 'contrived.' But it doesn't matter. I think the point of the story is to demonstrate that facts of reality are facts and all the wishing in the world can't change those facts. Very little fiction can live up to close logical scrutiny. If you wrote one that did, it would be very boring.

 

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