Space: 1999 “Breakaway” (part 5 of 6)
Fade in on Dr. Russell examining Koenig in sickbay. He’s fine, the moon’s fine, everything’s fine. Russell feels the need to give him a lecture about how stupid he was for going out there. “We’re looking for answers, Commander, not heroes.” It’s a great line. Or at least, it would have been if spoken by an actual actress.
Koenig answers, “I didn’t know you cared.” Yes, this is the start of a very mild series-long will-they-or-won’t-they romance. It’s a lot like Booth and Brennan on Bones, but only if the female part was played by actual bones.
Bergman is holding a burned-out circuit board, and he comes (very slowly) to the conclusion that it’s exceptionally high magnetism, not radiation, that’s been giving people tumors. Wow. And all this time, I thought they were going to discover a monolith.
Bergman, Koenig, and Russell have a very, very long conversation during which they worry that Area Two might explode from magnetism, too. They decide to send an unmanned Eagle out to check. They show the empty cockpit of an Eagle, and then everybody at Main Mission watching it. Pornstache is flying it with a little model airplane remote that they built into his desk. Bergman is leaning against the wall, Koenig is brooding, all is normal.
Eventually, Pornstache lands the Eagle. Martin Laundau chooses to whisper the line, “Easy does it.” I’m beginning to suspect that Landau was deliberately making strange acting choices just to see if anyone would call him on it.
The ship tries to land, but suddenly everything goes haywire. All of the instruments (including the oscilloscope) go nuts. The puppeteer starts swinging the model all over the place. The Eagle crashes smack into the middle of Area Two.
If you’re keeping track, that’s the second big, expensive spaceship that they’ve crashed in five minutes. The rate at which the Alphans lose these things is the stuff of legend. Over the course of two seasons, no less than twenty-four Eagles will be lost. To put that in some sort of perspective, Voyager only lost seventeen shuttles, and that was over seven years.
The Eagle crash causes Area Two to explode, blasting the moon out of orbit, and stranding the Alphans with no way to get home. Nah, I’m kidding. Nothing happens.
After brooding for a bit, Koenig tells Pornstache to call earth and declare “Emergency Code Alpha One”. I don’t know what all the NASA codes were back in 1999, but I assume this one means something along the lines of, “Baruch Hashem, we are getting the hell out of here! Tell the Red Cross to get out some blankets and soup! We’ll be there in four hours! Over.”
Koenig looks off into the middle distance in three-quarters profile. “We’re sitting on the biggest bomb man’s ever made.” Clearly, Commander, you’ve never seen Viva Laughlin.
Emergency Code Alpha One turns out not to mean that anyone’s evacuating or anything. It appears to be a pretty laid back emergency code overall, because the next thing that happens is an Eagle lands and Commissioner Simmons shows up on base.
Simmons, looking to all the world like he just finished playing Richard III at a Renaissance festival, confronts Koenig. They just sort of stare at each other for a while. And that’s the scene.
In Main Mission, Bergman tries to tell Simmons the score. The heat is rising at Area Two. “It contains 140 times the amount of waste in Area One.” Remember that. It’s 140 times the size of Area One. That’s like going from the Leeds, Alabama Flea Mall and Antique Center to the Mall of America.
Bergman suggests they start pulling waste out of Area Two and dispersing it over a wider area. He adds, “We do have limited time.” You think? According to earlier dialogue, it took five years to get that much nuclear waste into Area Two. And they did it at a rate so fast that Simmons didn’t want to stop for a single day. So unless “limited time” is Alpha-ese for “eight months”, they’re boned.
Speaking aesthetically, the next minute is beautiful. It’s insane, but beautiful. Eagle shuttles are prepped and launched. They fly in formation over the moon. They lower winches down, pick up cylinders of nuclear waste, and fly them away. It’s not entirely convincing—there’s no motion blur, and the lighting is too uniform—but that’s like complaining that the 1930 Packard Eight didn’t have airbags. It didn’t. It was a death trap. Never drive one. I have forgotten my point.
And I still don’t understand what they’re doing. I can’t stress this enough: we, the audience, know the moon is going to blow up. That’s what this show is about. So all of this is nothing more than padding. This episode could have been all of three lines long:
Staff: We’re an assortment of civilians who have had it easy and aren’t prepared for either your style of leadership or any hardships we may be forced to endure.
Moon: [Blows up.]
We go back to another minute of model spaceships picking up model cylinders slowly. They show a shuttle flying a container of waste over the moon, and then it just drops it. The thing falls twenty feet and hits the surface with a thud. Don’t ask me; it’s not my plan. My plan would have Batman in it.
Back at Main Mission, they’re all keeping careful track of things. They talk about the magnetic field and navigational computers, and Koenig, for some reason, tells Carter to take a ship into orbit to report on how things look from up there. I’m assuming that report will read, “Very, very small.”
Carter lifts off in his Eagle. He’s wearing his spacesuit, as all Eagle pilots do, but he doesn’t have his helmet on. Alas, his lack of a helmet ends up having nothing to do with anything. Did they just stick this in there as an homage to 2001, or is Carter really that incompetent of an astronaut? As always, choose the answer that offends you least.
We hit a commercial break, for whatever ridiculous things people bought 35 years ago. Cigarettes made out of baby seals or something. When we come back, an exterior shot indicates time has passed. In Main Mission, Simmons smugly confirms that all levels are holding steady. He thinks they have things under control and adds, “I have to say, it does look pretty promising to me. Well done.”
So, after having taken five years to build up all that waste, how long has it been, exactly? Ninety days? A month? A week, even? Nope. It’s apparently been a couple of hours. This whole episode takes place in the space of four days, and the fourth day isn’t even over yet. Things happened fast in 1999. The Clinton impeachment hearing was 17 minutes long.
To his credit, Koenig flips out on Simmons yet again. “Wake up, Commissioner,” he glares, glaringly, “If this goes wrong… there will be no survivors.” You know, Koenig yells at Simmons a lot. How did he even get his job? If I were Simmons, I would have picked somebody who was a lot nicer to me.
Maybe that’s what Simmons is actually thinking right now. We never find out, because this is Simmons’ last scene in the entire episode. Even though the idea of a bureaucrat stuck in space with military people is an interesting one, we won’t see Simmons again until episode 10, where he acts like an ass and obligingly dies.
It is at this moment that the moon, tired of waiting, blows up.
The blowing up looks pretty much the same as the previous blowing up, with lightning crackling through the… void of space. Is that even possible? One of the lightning bolts hits a shuttle, and the astronauts flip a few buttons in panic before they die. Main Mission calls the other Eagles back to base, figuring that three crashes in four days is probably sufficient.
There are a series of smaller explosions, and then a huge white fireball. In orbit, Carter is momentarily blinded.
Main Mission then feels the brunt of the explosion, demonstrated by everyone suddenly pretending to be thrown to the right. A stuntman gets tossed through a window, and then another stuntman falls over a railing, and this episode goes up another point on my Sci-Fi Cliché Analysis Meter. If an alien woman shows up wanting to learn about human love, it’ll just break the thing entirely.
Incidentally, in the second season, they add an alien woman who wants to learn about human love.