Contents: Overview - Backplot - Questions - Analysis - Notes - JMS
Dr. Franklin asks Sinclair to intermediate with an alien family who, because of their religious beliefs, refuse to allow surgery that would save their dying child. Silvana Gallardo as Dr. Maya Hernandez. Jonathon Kaplan as Shon. Tricia O'Neil as M'Ola. Stephen Lee as Tharg.
Sub-genre: Drama P5 Rating: 7.74 Production number: 105 Original air date: April 27, 1994 Written by David Gerrold Directed by Richard Compton
Word finally came back from our liaison with PTEN. "Number one, this is absolutely against the demographics on the show. Number two, no studio or network executive in his right *mind* would EVER approve this story in a million years. Number three...it's a hell of a story, I love it, let's do it."
This has been emblematic of our relationship with PTEN: they've left us alone, and are trusting us in our storytelling. We want to go right out to the very edge, and they're letting us, which is wonderful. They've been, and continue to be, terrific to work with.
If the end of this particular story doesn't absolutely floor you, nothing will.
What was interesting was one comment he made, which echoed almost verbatim something D.C. Fontana said when she came by the stage: that the atmosphere on set, with the crew, the cast, the production people is exactly the same as it was on the first season of the original Star Trek.
You don't think that "Believers" was SF. Tough.
No, it didn't have warp gates, or tachyon emitters, or lots of technobabble...it was about people. And the dilemmas they face.
Part of what has screwed up so much of SF-TV is this sense that you must utterly divorce yourself from current issues, from current problems, from taking on issues of today and extrapolating them into the future, by way of aliens or SF constructs. And that is *precisely* why so much of contemporary SF-TV is barren and lifeless and irrelevant...and *precisely* why such series as the original Star Trek, and Outer Limits, and Twilight Zone are with us today.
Like Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry and Joe Stefano and Reginald Rose and Arch Oboler and Norman Corwin and a bunch of other writers whose typewriters I'm not fit to touch, my goal in part is to simply tell good stories within an SF setting. And by SF I mean speculative fiction, which sometimes touches on hard-SF aspects, and sometimes doesn't. Speculative fiction means you look at how society changes, how cultures interact with one another, how belief systems come into conflict. And as someone else here noted recently, anthropology and sociology are also sciences; soft sciences, to be sure, but sciences nonetheless.
It's been pointed out that TV-SF is generally 20-30 years behind print SF. This whole conversation proves the point quite succinctly. In the 1960s or so, along came the New Wave of SF, which eschewed hardware for stories about the human condition set against an SF background. And the fanzines and prozines and techno-loving pundits of hard-SF declared it heresy, said it wasn't SF, this is crap. And eventually they were steamrolled, and print SF grew up a little. Now the argument has come to settle here. Well, fine. So be it.
I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who said that SF is anything I point to and say, "That's SF." Go pick up a copy of "A Canticle for Liebowitz," one of the real singular masterpieces of the science fiction genre, and it won't fit the narrow criteria you've set up for what qualifies as SF by your lights.
There is a tendency among the more radical hard-SF proponents to stamp their feet and hold their breath until they turn blue, to threaten that unless the book changes or the field comes around or the series cottens to *their* specific, narrow version of what SF is -- and that definition changes from person to person -- they'll take their ball and their bat and go home. Fine and good. And the millions who come to take their place in the bleachers and on the field will get to have all the fun.
Some of our episodes will fit your definition of SF. Some will not. This worries me not at all.
I think David's script walked a very fine line and really didn't endorse either side. (I've had people send me email upset because we showed that the parents were right, and others because we said the doctor was right, and others because neither was right and the ambiguity bothered them.)
"You know," Tevya says, "you're right too."
A good story should provoke discussion, debate, argument...and the occasional bar fight.
Funny...I seem to recall this little story in the Old Testament about how a good and wise man was asked by god to sacrifice his own son, to himself kill his own child, and he was willing to do it, and was only stopped by god saying, in essence, "April fool."
There is a wonderful short story, which we adapted for Twilight Zone, called "The Cold Equations," where a small shuttle is going from point A to point B. There is enough fuel for the shuttle, and one pilot, and no more. The ship is bringing medicine to save 500 colonists. A young girl has stowed away on the ship to see her brother. She's discovered. If the pilot does nothing, the ship won't arrive, and he and the girl will die, and the colonists will die. If he sacrifices himself, she won't be able/won't know how to guide the ship to its destination. The only way out is to ask her to enter the airlock so he can space her and continue the mission. And that's what happens. You can't argue with math.
Sometimes, there are no-win scenarios. And what matters then is how your characters react, what they do and say, and how it affects them. That, really, was the thrust of the episode. And to go back to your question, "Who on earth is going to side...."
The operative word in your question is "Earth." No, no human is going to side with them (although I'd point out in the Bible that there is the story of Abraham, who was quite willing to murder his own son at god's request). They're not humans. They have a wholly different mindset, cultural background and belief system. People ask for ALIEN aliens, then judge them by human standards, and feel it's wrong if they don't behave like humans. These didn't. That's who and what they are. If humans side with them, or accept them, doesn't enter into it.
To support your thesis, you bring up the "Cold Equations" alternate ending of the pilot cutting off both his legs to make up the weight differential. Lemme explain something to you. I was there. When we turned in the script, by Alan Brennert, MGM went nuts. "You can't have a sympathetic young woman commit suicide! It'll kill the ratings!" So they (the studio exec) suggested various "fixes." One was that instead of stepping willingly out the airlock, the pilot shoots her and has to deal with the guilt. (This by them is a *better* idea?) The other was the notion of the guy cutting off his legs to make up the weight.
First and foremost, it was a dumb idea because he'd be in no shape to pilot the ship. Second it wouldn't be enough weight. And finally, the very *nature* of "The Cold Equations," what the very TITLE means, is that there are some occasions in which the choices are stark, and there is NO way around them. If the ship has X-weight, and the fuel is for Y weight, and Y is less than X, then you've got a problem that can only -- ONLY -- be resolved by someone walking out the airlock. (And yes, they tried dumping things, but the ship is lean, not much to get rid of.) That's why it's the COLD equations; not the LUKEWARM equations.
I fought like hell to retain the original ending, and won. (You probably read about this, btw, in my articles for TZ Magazine.) This is studio-think, let's find a nice, unthreatening, safe, middle-ground where we can resolve this without anybody being upset, threatened or offended by the story. I'm sorry, but life sometimes hands you hard choices, there ARE either/or scenarios, in which nobody really wins, and SF should be exploring those as well as the fuzzy feel-good stories. It's time SF grew up a little, damn it, and started confronting hard questions that can't always be resolved by reversing the polarity on the metaphase unit.
It is, at the same moment, gratifying and annoying to have someone around who's smarter than I am....