Twilight Zone – Voices in the Earth (07/10/87)

“Spectroscopic readings indicate that the atmosphere is in perfect chemical equilibrium.”  OK, what but do these figures mean?  They can’t be percentages because they don’t add up to 100%.  Whatever they are, Carbon Dioxide seems to be winning in a rout.  Sensors show no life, not even “simple amino acids in the oceans.”

Tuvok — wait, what?  Tim Russ, anyway — asks “There was a name for this one in one of the old languages wasn’t there Professor?”  Professor Knowles [3] says, “Yes, Earth.  They called it Earth.”  If any of these guys is named Adam, I’ll scream.  Even though that’s the kind of simplistic cornball story I secretly love — so really, there’s just no winning with me.  There were very smart guys working on this show.  Why would they use such a clunky, illogical line anyway?

  1. The crew is from Earth.  They all seem to be from English speaking countries.  The captain actually is English.  They are still speaking English.  How is it an old language?
  2. Wouldn’t history classes in 2987 teach about Earth since it was, you know, the unambiguous origination point of the entire human race; the one thing we could all agree on?
  3. Wouldn’t science classes use it as an object lesson on the importance of ecological awareness?
  4. Hey, Tuvok, did ya get on this ship not knowing what the destination was?  No wonder you got lost in the Delta Quadrant.

The ship lands and the crew gets out to explore the sepia colored planet.  Captain Jacinda Carlyle says, “There’s not much left after 1,000 years, is there?” as they walk through the incongruously intact city.  To be fair, the overhead shot as they landed showed much more destruction.  Presciently, the Twin Towers are gone.

Carlyle says all artifacts have been stripped from Earth.  Knowles says he is looking for  “feelings, a sense of place, what it must have been like to live here when the skies were blue.”  This is the first space flight funded by Hallmark.  Carlyle tells him to take a good look because in 4 days, mining vessels will begin tearing the planet apart looking for precious metal, minerals, and loose change.Knowles goes off exploring by himself even though Carlyle is played by the lovely Jenny Agutter.  He finds an old record store which puts the abandonment of Earth somewhere between 2001 and  2006.  He places a CD in a player.  Some other bloggers have a beef that the CD player still works, but whaddya gonna do?  Ghostly images of hipster customers appear, browsing through the vinyl LPs.  As Knowles heads for the door, a pale figure in a boxy suit appears and says, “Are we not men? Remember us, Professor.”  Then, like all record store customers, he disappears.

Knowles goes back to the ship.  Carlyle asks the historian how Earth got in this condition.  What Knowles says:

They used refrigerants that slowly ate away the ozone layer.  They burned the tropical rain forest to make way for farmland, using the ashes for fertilizer.  Entire species simply vanished forever from the Earth.  By the time they poisoned the whole biosphere, they had the technology to leave it behind.   So they fled into space, and cast the Earth aside like a half-eaten apple . . . You know the irony?  The Earth today is almost exactly as it was millennia ago, before the very first rainfall.  And for millions of years, there had been no rain.  Then when the Earth cooled enough, rain fell, delivering nutrients to the ocean, and life emerged.

That’s pretty good, but what he should have said was:  “Hey, there’s M*F*ing ghosts over at Tower Records!”

This is a great looking set, but is really a good location for a record store? It is the window at the bottom right. It looks more like where you would buy a Mogwai.

He goes back to the record store without telling anyone about his discovery.  Many more ghosts appear.  A transparent woman says, “We’ve been waiting so long.”  A translucent old man says, “Why did you leave us?”  A see-through girl says, “Are you back to stay, all of you?”  Their leader explains, “We’re the ones you left behind.  All the souls that ever were.”  [1]  The old man explains that humans are their children; they wish to see see their children grow up.  The souls are unable to travel in space, thus they are doomed to stay on the Earth.  The leader asks Knowles to convince others that Earth still contains life of a sort.”

Knowles brings Carlyle back to the record shop to prove the existence of the souls, and that Michael Jackson wasn’t just a myth .  He finally tells her what he has seen, but she is skeptical.  When they get to the store, it is as empty as a Sears (I got tired of the record store references).  He shouts for the souls to appear, but they do not come.  As soon as the pair leaves the building, hundreds of souls appear.

That night, the leader enters the body of Professor Knowles, when Jenny Agutter is just a few feet away (this should in no way be considered a rape-joke; it is barely a -joke).  He tears a table leg from the deck and goes to the bridge.  He begins clubbing the computers like a baby seal, but the crew restrains him.

Knowles goes back to the building and shouts to the souls, “You cowards!  Show yourselves!”  They reappear, and the leader explains.  They can’t travel in space in this form.  But if they can possess the crew as he did with Knowles, they might be able to make the journey.  He admits he doesn’t know what would happen to the crew’s bodies as a result of this prolonged possession.  Oh the irony, of using them up like they did to the Earth and casting them aside.

As the ship is about to lift off, the crew hears thunder.  It is beginning to rain for the first time in 1,000 years, which is typical since Al Gore DXII [2] just said rain was a thing of the past.  They are even beginning to pick up signs of life in the oceans.  A crewman says, “It is as if something is accelerating evolution somehow.”  There is even a small patch of vegetation under the ship.  Well until they take off, when it will be burned to a cinder.

This transformation was fore-shadowed as the souls were earlier revealed to have some ability to manipulate their environment.  They weren’t sure what the risk would be to them, however, if they did it on a global scale.  This is why Knowles called them cowards.  It all wraps around pretty nicely, certainly better than I am describing it.

The episode also looks great, hence the larger pictures.  The only minor quibbles I could make are about the space-suits and the ship.  The suits are a little silly — not the Reynolds Wrap numbers they wear outside, the casual gear in the ship.  And there are a few shots of the ship after landing where I can’t even figure out if the POV is from above or the side; but that could be the low-quality DVD.

Martin Balsam (Knowles) gets most of the screen time and shoulders most of the story.  He handles it as effortlessly as you would expect from a guy who has been doing it 112 years.  Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run, American Werewolf in London) is not given much to do, but is a classy and elegant as always.  The rest of the crew are fairly non-descript except Tim Russ who has the mustache of a 14 year old boy.

A welcome, all-too-rare, stand-out episode.  There is one more episode left in the season.  From what I’m reading online, it does not get better in season 3.  But what do a bunch of bloggers know?

Other Stuff:

  • [1]  That would be over 100 billion souls, so Earth must be getting pretty crowded.  Also, everyone seems to be from the latter days of Earth; and the suburbs.  What was the cut-off?  Did some Cro-Magnon get to come, but his dad didn’t?
  • [2]  Other than kings, why do you never hear about anyone higher than a rare IV?
  • [3] If my last name were Knowles, I would tell everyone my nickname was Grassy.

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