Outer Limits – Hearts and Minds (02/06/1998)

A squad of soldiers is positioned outside of a factory.  Their scanners read an “infestation” in the Pergium factory.  And infestation is the right word as their enemy is are is giant bugs.  At the captain’s signal, they begin streaming laser blasts in from half a mile away which doesn’t seem all that effective.  The fire from the distant rifles is deadly, but must be targeted on the individual bugs.  What they really need are missiles, rocket-launchers or a really big shoe.

Since the satellites aren’t in range, the squad must go in to confirm the bugs have been squashed.  They all “juice-up” by taking hits of an antibiotic that prevents them from getting cooties from the enemy.

They enter the factory and find 11 bleeping dead alien bodies in a hallway.  How exactly did they die inside the factory from those laser shots?  Ricochets?  Lt. Rosen takes a blast to her vest, but is able to kill the last alien.

The squad then travels through caves to the munitions plant.  En route, Rosen discovers the bullet damaged her juicer so she has not been getting her antibiotics or roughage.  If they encounter an alien, she is guaranteed to die, but she bravely goes on.  They do find one, but she is able to shoot him from a distance.  She has trouble focusing and feels like a murderer.

This group of people is more bland than the Alien: Covenant crew.  While the men are merely dull and all need a shave, the two women are indistinguishable.  Both are dressed in black with short dark hair and black berets.  Both have dark eyes and a microphone coming out of their helmet.  In addition, most of the scenes are not well-lit, so you just have a group of uninteresting, interchangeable grunts.

Turns out Rosen — I guess the other woman has a name, but I have no idea what it is — swapped the antibiotic in their juicers with Folger’s glucose to prove it was a ruse.  So they fear they are not only vulnerable to the alien cooties, but diabetes as well.  One of the dudes — who also probably has a name — puts a gun to her head.  She says the juice was actually a drug to make them fight and to hallucinate the enemy as aliens.  She believes the man she killed was with the Asian, not alien, coalition.  The government is behind this to protect the profits of Big Pergium.

To prove her theory, she leads the squad to meet the enemy.  When they see the enemy, they are indeed humans although the scene is so darkly lit, the effect is diminished.  Having always been targeted by this group, of course, the Asians run from the American squad like they were a giant fire-breathing lizard.

They try to make nice with an Asian worker left behind.  They lay down their rifles.  The Asian coalition returns, however, and lights their asses up.  Of course, they are on the same juicing drug as the American coalition, so see them as attacking monsters.

C’mon, Vulcan wasn’t that close in the Star Trek reboot!

It took me two viewings to appreciate this episode.  After the first, I considered it to be a slow, padded-out slog.  A day later, however, I appreciated it much more.[1]  The characterization, as mentioned before is pretty slim, but there are many other elements to make up for that weakness.  Some of them might be looked upon as cliches or standard tropes, but there is a reason they are used so much.

The grunts question the mission.  I’m sure this has gone on forever, but in the modern era it invokes memories of Viet Nam.  When I hear them talking about the corporate Pergium profits, I hear Mr. X taking about Bell Helicopter, General Dynamics and Brown & Root.  So it goes.

It can’t be an accident that the enemy here was the Asian coalition — especially since I can’t remember a single Asian actor in The Outer Limits up to now other than Jade.  It was an interesting parallel to the Japanese being portrayed as non-human in WWII propaganda.

The other outstanding element was the settings and set design.  From the canyons of the opening scenes, to the caves, to the factories, everything just looked great.

Original Assessment:  Episodes like this are why I can’t do this 365.  So some good does come out of them.

Revised Assessment:  Despite some interchangeable characters, the ideas and production design won me over.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I was actually willing to drop $15 more bucks to give Alien: Covenant the same opportunity, but it only lasted 2 weeks at my theater.[2]
  • [2] Sorry, AMC & Regal, I’ve been spoiled by comfy recliners and booze at the theater.  Mostly the booze.
  • Title Analysis:  Another Viet Nam reference.  A neat little encapsulation of how their hearts will change now that their minds are clear.  You know, if they hadn’t all been killed.
  • The fictional Pergium was also mentioned in the original Star Trek.
  • [01/06/18 UPDATE] The Men Against Fire episode of Black Mirror has the same plot device where soldiers are drugged to see the enemy as monsters.  It is better executed there, but the overall story is better here.

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