Now this is how you start an episode! A helicopter comes in low over a snowy landscape, approaching a small government (?) installation. Just like The Thing, only better — no one is shooting at a dog.
The helicopter lands and two men go through a blast door which houses an elevator. As they go down, Lt. Ben Conklin remarks on how deep the bunker is. General Eiger is surprised at first, but says, “That’s right; I keep forgetting you are a last-minute replacement for Samuelson.” So we are to believe that Ben is trusted with the fate of the planet, in a project managed by the general, where Ben is the sole US employee . . . and the general can’t be troubled to keep the names of his army-of-one straight? I didn’t need the (?) above — it’s a government installation alright.
The elevator stops at 11,000 feet, paradoxically the site of a Strategic Air Command  control room. Eiger tells him the elevator doors will be welded shut, but that he will have food and air to last a year. He shows Ben the reason for this project — photos taken of an alien armada heading toward earth. It has not yet been determined whether they are hostile or friendly. There is a distinct Trial by Fire vibe, and that is a good start.
Eiger tells Ben, “This bunker is a doomsday device, able to annihilate the entire planet.” There is a red button which is the titular dead man’s switch. If Ben fails to press the button after an alarm, the world will be destroyed. His food and air will run out after a year. If he has not been relieved by that time, he will die, the button will not be pushed, and the earth will be destroyed to save it from the aliens.
Some time later, Eiger contacts Ben by video phone and has him test the equipment. There is a retinal scanner and palm print analyzer so that none of the other zero people welded into the top-secret, 2-mile deep bunker at the South Pole will try to destroy the earth. But better safe than sorry — however, it might have been a morale-builder to assign him a code name more optimistic than DeadMan1. Even more depressing, the scanner says, “Authorized: Dead Man” confirming his likely fate and not even getting his code name right.
On monitors, Ben sees the four other people sharing his job. Donald in South Africa, Gwen in Australia, Hong in Asia, and over on the Spice Channel, Katya the hot commie. After their first hellos, a loud alarm blares telling them they have 30 seconds to respond. Ben hits the button first and the earth is saved.
They discover that all have spent time in isolation which prepared them for this task. Donald was a political prisoner, Ben and Katya were in missile silos, and Hong has been alone mostly because he’s an asshole. Gwen is more of a watcher than a do-er.
Eiger comes on their monitors. Earth has begun communicating with the aliens. They say they are on a scientific expedition, but Eiger believes the large ships are full of colonists. I’m surprised the producers didn’t emphasize this by having the American member of this project be Native American. But then they would have had to cast a Native American, and how often does that happen?
Nothing important happened today.
Ben has a very good dream, then a very bad dream, but both were pretty great.
The alarm sounds again. Katya is busy on a treadmill and wearing a black sports bra so can’t be troubled to save the world (but is making it a better place). Donald and Gwen are off-line. Hong gets to his button first, but it doesn’t stop the alarm. Ben is able to stop it. USA! USA! Hong opens the control panel to see if he can repair his button, and his monitor goes out.
After a month, Hong comes back on line and Eiger checks in. The aliens have passed Mars.
The aliens have arrived. Unfortunately, the lowest-bid contractors got there first. Hong overloads his bunker by using a short-wave radio. The ventilation system goes haywire and he dies. Donald freezes to death in Africa. The aliens break into Gwen’s bunker and kill her.
After Katya dies, Ben and I have no reason to go on. The alarm sounds. With his life support systems failing, his team dead, rescue overdue and no contact from Eiger, he does not push the button. At the last second, Eiger comes on the monitor, and Ben pushes the button. Eiger says humanity took staggering losses, but has prevailed. He was incommunicado because “the leadership was in hiding” which sounds about right. But all is not as it seems — there is a nice wrap-up that I won’t spoil.
The suspense was not as relentless as Trial by Fire. Here there were several scenes of a long distance romance between Ben and Katya to break the tension. Unfortunately, some of this was just padding to reach 45 minutes for syndication. However, there was a great 35 minute episode here, and that’s good enough.
I rate it 8.5 Cloverfield Lane.
-  The seal says it is the United Nations Strategic Air Command, not United States.
-  This might actually be her role. Gwen is a clinical psychologist, Hong is an electrical engineer, and Donald is a priest. Katya is a soldier, but has no unique skills other than full, luscious lips and a smokin’ body. But then, Ben has no special skills either; well, I guess Gwen and the priest need some eye-candy too.
-  IMDb trivia says this “appears to be stock footage from The Thing”. Thanks for nailing that down. To their credit, they did update “MacReady . . . appears to be Jerry Garcia” to “MacReady . . . Kurt Russell.”
-  Hong and the misanthropic jerk in Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium . . . Asians seem to have a type in TZ.
- At one point, Katya says 5,000 Rubles = $1 US Dollar. It is worth $86 now, so I’m dubious about that figure in 1997.
- Couldn’t work it in above, but: Dude living underground, put there by a dubious authority figure, told to have no communication with the outside world, a slave to a deafening alarm system on a timer, being observed by other stations, pushing a button to save the world. There’s a real Desmond vibe here.