The fourth episode of Amazing Stories, the second to last of a short streaming season, is both compelling and disappointing.
Last week’s episode, Dynoman and the Volt, has been the high point of the series so far and suggested – at least to those engaged in television palmistry – that the series was building up to a strong finish, that suggestion suggested by the fact that the fifth and final episode is based on the most high profile property the series has engaged in, a comic titled The Rift.
The subject of that comic (interdimensional “rifts” and a team that runs around cleaning them up) itself suggests an expensive, effects-laden episode. We’ve also been told that this particular rift involves a WWII pilot flying into our present day. Pilots, World War II, space and time shifts are all familiar elements in the Spielberg universe, which again suggests the final episode is receiving loving attention, and, finally, from news reports early on we were informed that this was the first episode to go into production, while it is the last to air, which carries its own set of suppositions along with it. (Either they saved the best for last or there have been ‘issues’ with it.)
Were this an anthology of stories, we would expect the strength of the stories to ramp up – open with a grabber, stick a highlight in the middle and close with a killer. Dynoman and the Volt delivered on that middle highlight.
What you don’t want are stories in between that middle and ending that kill the crescendo. You hit the middle and then plateau until the ending.
Signs of Life appeared to meet that requirement; director Michael Dinner (Justified, The Wonder Years, Sneaky Pete) knows well how to draw an audience in and keep them on the edge of their seat, wondering what’s going to happen next.
And we do and we are wondering what is going to happen next as during an electrical storm [SPOILERS HERE ON] Sara (Michelle Wilson who, interestingly, has no listing for this episode on IMDB and is a Tony nominated actor), victim of a car accident who has been in a vegetative state for 6 years, suddenly awakens from her coma. But, like many who awaken from comas in genre shows, Sara is not Sara, at least not to her daughter (Sasha Lane (Hellboy, American Honey) Alia, who had to give up on her dreams in order to support herself during her mother’s coma.
The doctors assure Alia that memory is often lost, that six years have passed so some disconnects are not unusual at all and that, really, mother and daughter are two people really meeting each other for the first time. Alia accepts this as an operating hypothesis but does not seem to fully accept it; some of her mother’s behaviors are odd and upsetting, but Alia does her best to try and reconnect.
Enter the mysterious stranger – Wayne (Josh Holloway – Lost). He seems to know Sara somehow. Turns out he’s a coma reawakener too. Sara and he sneak off to investigate a mysterious building together and speak cryptically about time frames and opportunities; Sara lies to her daughter that she’s attending a support group.
Meanwhile, Cody (Jacob Latimore – The Maze Runner), Alia’s boyfriend and protector, gets into some trouble with his dealer and urges her to leave town with him, but Alia still has hopes of getting her mom back and is therefore conflicted.
Eventually (as we have long suspected), it turns out that the coma survivors are not survivors, they’re husks, meat suits for inscrutible aliens who are under a time constraint to rescue their third companion and then somehow use radar dishes to return to their homeworld. (Flashy flashy)
BUT! This is Amazing Stories, the genre series about the importance of FAMILY, the series about human connectedness, of aliens willing to sacrifice themselves so that families can once again be together (E.T. anyone?).
Sara’s alien stays behind, even knowing that the others will come for her – staying behind is just not allowed.
Then we learn why Cody’s little side plot with the drug dealer was shoved into the script – so that the drug dealer would have an excuse to shoot meatimal mom, which would set up alien mom to save real mom so that mother and daughter could once again live happily ever after together. (Ummm, what happens to Cody? Maybe he was an alien too, cause he disappears just like they did, but without the special radar dish effects.)
The opening of this episode showed real promise; the mood really draws the viewer in and opens them up to receiving whatever transpires, but the rest of the episode, under, over or poorly acted in places (odd expressions, voice inflections, body language not matching the presumed emotional content) dissipates that initial sense of wonder and intrigue, leaving us with a hokey, time worn, hidden aliens among us and one of them rebels to do the right thing story.
Other critics are praising the “dark grittiness” of this episode as a return to expectations for the show. One can only presume that the reviewers making such statements are relatively young and inexperienced with genre as the base story used here is so cliche it has a listing in the “do not buy” section of the SF/F story editor’s manual; there’s little action – only a single gun shot fired, no car chase but a car stop instead – that even without the spoilers above you’ll know exactly what is going to happen next.
I sure hope the next and final episode is better than this.
You can read my other reviews of the series’ episodes here: