Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

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Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Commander Koenig on Sat Nov 14, 2009 3:26 am

Next episode up for discussion, Matter of Life and Death. Thoughts, feelings, views, ideas about this episode, plot, script, dialogue, science etc.

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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Andrew Kearley on Sat Nov 14, 2009 7:18 pm

The first thing that strikes me about this episode is how clever the title is. The phrase "a matter of life and death" is often used to indicate a serious situation - and it's also the title of a famous film by Powell and Pressburger - here by dropping the indefinite article from the beginning, and just having "Matter of Life and Death", it subtly alters the meaning of the phrase and makes it especially relevant to the episode.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by ggreg on Sat Nov 14, 2009 9:11 pm

Not a big fan, not a bad episode mind you, it still has that moody/mysterious ambience about it that makes almost, almost any S1 episode watcheable.

The thing I most dislike about it is the reset ending.

It doesn't seem to have much of interest going on.

The thing I remember most is about it is "H-E-L-E-N-A..."

So, overall, an ok, filler episode, tolerable for fans of the first series, but not a lot to offer otherwise.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Andrew Kearley on Sun Nov 15, 2009 5:23 am

Some interesting ideas here. It plays fast and loose with the concept of antimatter, really just taking the name (which sounds cool, let's face it Very Happy ) and the idea that matter and antimatter will annihilate each other - and launching from there. Particles and their antiparticles annihilating each other with a release of energy is not really what we're seeing here. I don't mind that particularly because the concept is still intriguing. I think what we're seeing here is more like a form of existence that is inherently opposed to our form of existence. Perhaps a better name for it would have been "anti-life" or "anti-reality".
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by CHAS1999 on Sun Nov 15, 2009 9:23 am

MOLAD is not on my top favorite list of Y1. I did like Victor's roll in the episode.

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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Andrew Kearley on Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:11 am

I have to admit, the first time I saw this, the false ending bothered me a little - I'm not a great fan of the "it was all a bad dream" type of storyline, which Gerry Anderson seemed to love - it pops up in most of the puppet shows (about five different times in Stingray alone) and even in UFO. Space: 1999 at least manages to do it with some kind of integrity in this episode and "War Games".
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by CalgaryAlphan on Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:28 pm

I agree with Andrew that the "reset" ending is tackled with integrity. It's never bothered me in either "MOLAD" or "War Games". I think that "MOLAD" is a very strong episode for Helena Russell, and Barbara Bain is very impressive at conveying a wide range of emotions throughout, as well as depicting the state of shock that Helena is in through part of the episode. It's as much focused on her as "Breakaway" was focused on Koenig. It's also a very emotional episode, quite sad really, with themes such as wish fulfillment. It's also a retelling of Milton's "Paradise Lost", and as Shakespeare said, "All that glisters is not gold."
I am always bothered by Richard Johnson as Lee Russell. I find him extremely stiff and stilted in the role. And, of course, if Johnny Byrne had had more time to work on the script, it might have been better.
But at least one reviewer in the 70s praised this episode and script when he wrote: ‘The script is by Art Wallace and Johnny Byrne – they deserve an Emmy nomination at least.’ (That was Dick Alder in the Los Angeles Times, 9 January 1976)
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Andrew Kearley on Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 pm

Richard Johnson's performance is a bit stiff, but in some ways I think that's part of the point. He's not Lee Russell anymore, but he's been transformed into this completely different sort of life. Somehow, sensing Helena on the Moon, he's able to project himself onto the Eagle, and takes on a form that appears to be the recognizable Lee Russell. The reason he's so stiff is because, really, he's not alive, in the sense we understand, he's not human. But he's able to draw some sort of life energy from Helena to at least project himself into our world, to try and communicate and warn the Alphans away. All the business with the thermographic plates is about that - the instruments can't read him as alive when Helena's not there.

This, I think, is also key to the ending. The most important line is when Lee tells Helena to leave, and says: "I'll give you the strength." The reverse then happens, Lee imbuing Helena with some measure of energy from the form of life that he now is.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by CalgaryAlphan on Sun Nov 15, 2009 6:07 pm

I agree Andrew, but the problem with the argument that his stiffness is part of the point, and identifies him as something "other" than Lee Russell, or adapted, or alien, is that surely Helena or some of the other Alphans would realize how stiff he was. THat he wasn't himself... but they don't.

And therein lies the problem with his performance, or the script not pursuing the angles of his strange behavior.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Senmut on Sun Nov 15, 2009 6:08 pm

YES! Excatly. Lee is no longer "Lee" as Helena knew him. Even if he had been, he's been through alot, and like returning vets with combat stress, in some ways he never could be the same man.
I also liked the fact that Helena kept such control over herself, throught. She SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO wants Lee to be with her, and it can never be. The wordless scene, where we see tears in her eys as Terra Nova drifts away says more than a great novelist could in many pages.
I just wish they had called the planet "Meta". That would have made more sense.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Commander Koenig on Tue Nov 17, 2009 10:56 am

This is very much a Barbara Bain episode and I think she plays the grieving widow/hopeful wife very well indeed. You can see how very much she longs for this man to be her Lee, from the moment she first sets eyes on him in the Eagle - see how her hands shake when she touches his face. John of course is pretty doubting at first, but she gently puts him straight with the line "I know my own husband". Once again, when a doubtful John points out that Lee has been dead for 5 years, she says "He's been presumed dead". I think she knows deep down that it can't possibly be her husband, yet she wants it to be him so much. I think Barbara Bain portrays this emotional tug-of-war just right, balancing the hopeful wife and the logical doctor.

Some question whether this episode should be seen later in the series, one of the reasons being the state of the relationship between John and Helena. I think although this episode shows an obvious concern and growing affection between the two characters, it seems to me it is first and foremost a concern of a commander for a member of his crew, (though John sitting on her bed and holding her hand is rather touching!).

Whilst I do find Richard Johnson's 'He...le..na' and his stiffness a bit strange, I think he plays this right in the context of the story. We as viewers are left wondering, is this guy really Helena's husband, or some alien force. The stilted dialogue, the character looking at his reflection in the mirror, they're all subtle clues. Lee Russell himself is not quite sure of his reason for being there, he is finding his way just as we as viewers are.

The scene where Victor and Helena speak to John about Lee Russell and possible annihilation is quite telling. It seems that John has made up his mind and nothing, not even the prospect of annihilation, will stop him. Even when Victor contacts John just as the Eagle is about to take off and tells him that Lee's body has disappeared, he still ignores the warnings. Seems a little out of character for Koenig.

More thoughts later.

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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by SPACE 1899 on Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:20 pm

I remember John looks really jealous of Lee in this episode - great display of angst Smile
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Senmut on Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:59 pm

He's playing Koenig as very Human, and very fallible. Once again, a great performance.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Magnus Greel on Mon Nov 23, 2009 7:00 am

On last viewing, I decided that the significance of this ep. within the series was as the crew's dealing with the initial desperation and controlled panic over their new situation. That's why it doesn't belong later in the series. Who wouldn't see just empty death ahead, considering that they're on an uncontrolled trajectory through a universe that to their knowledge so far, has no intelligent life or life at all (Helena didn't believe in the Ultra monster, maybe not even Koenig...), on a base that can survive for awhile on its own, but which was never designed to be cut off from civilization and supply ships. Their weapons are negligible. Then the first life-supporting planet comes along... I'm almost surprised they didn't make a mad dash for the Eagles the second they saw it.

The last scene seemed purposeless to me for years, but now I realize that it was a processing of what they'd just been through, and how they'd reacted. They'd put sense and caution aside, ignoring all warnings from the one guy who knew the situation, but as it turned out, they don't really need to rush for the Eagles the next time they see a planetary lifeboat. Things aren't that hopeless, even when Kano lets slip how unoptimistic his numbers really may be. Hang in there, don't panic, we've got a decent shot at survival.

Reset endings are always potentially irritating, but without them on Sp:99, we wouldn't get those amazing hopeless scenarios being played out right in front of our eyes. I agree that they're as well-handled on Sp:99 as was possible. It even might add to the sense of unreality, of natural laws being radically different.

It occurred to me while waiting for the posting screen that anti-matter, if handled in a scientifically accurate way, is probably dull as dirt. It may be compelling only if you screw with accuracy... but once you do, it's one of the most compelling SF ideas ever. Star Trek changed mutual particle annihilation to total universal armageddon, but that moment when the potential of their matter-anti-matter collision was revealed is a moment that will echo throughout my entire life.

It also occurs to me that it's a sufficiently mysterious area, still, what large amounts of anti-matter arranged into planets, trees, and people would be like. There's plenty of room there for writers to play around with. Life and existence in a matter universe are mysterious enough... start talking about an anti-matter reality, and you can get as mystical as all get-out, as far as I'm concerned! The only definitely inaccurate thing that I can think of is that Lee R didn't explode the moment he set foot on an Eagle.

Great sense of everything being... "wrong", in a way that we can't hope to understand.


Last edited by Magnus Greel on Mon Nov 23, 2009 7:11 am; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : spelling)
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by cmdrkoenig67 on Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:30 am

Andrew Kearley wrote:I have to admit, the first time I saw this, the false ending bothered me a little - I'm not a great fan of the "it was all a bad dream" type of storyline, which Gerry Anderson seemed to love - it pops up in most of the puppet shows (about five different times in Stingray alone) and even in UFO. Space: 1999 at least manages to do it with some kind of integrity in this episode and "War Games".

I'm not a fan of "bad dream" episodes either, but to me, the ending is much less of a "bad dream" than War Games was, since in War Games it was all illusion...In the case of MOLAD, everyone really dies...Just whoever/whatever Lee Russell became allowed him to reset things to the way they were (or at least, help Helena to do it).

Dana
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by cmdrkoenig67 on Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:43 am

I also think the writer/director and Barbara portrayed Helena in the right way at learning of Lee's second death...Numbness...Would she really grieve again after 5 years?

Dana
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by s99fan on Thu Dec 10, 2009 4:24 am

I suppose that is a very individualistic answer. Some would grieve, not doubt. Look to the British Queen Victoria as an example. Others move on with their lives. I have always thought the 'numbness' was a delicate interpretation and that BB played it well, although it takes a mature audience with life experience to appreciate the subtlety.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Magnus Greel on Thu Dec 10, 2009 7:57 pm

Lately I like Helena's lack of cliched, predictably woman-ish emotional reactions. And in a way, Sp99 is all about events that the human mind/soul doesn't know how to process, because they're outside human experience. Helena sees her dead husband ressurrected, then killed again, then ressurrected again.... that could cause you to become emotionally disconnected in general. There's just no appropriate response.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Andrew Kearley on Fri Dec 11, 2009 9:58 am

cmdrkoenig67 wrote:
Andrew Kearley wrote:I have to admit, the
first time I saw this, the false ending bothered me a little - I'm not
a great fan of the "it was all a bad dream" type of storyline, which
Gerry Anderson seemed to love - it pops up in most of the puppet shows
(about five different times in Stingray alone) and even in UFO. Space:
1999 at least manages to do it with some kind of integrity in this
episode and "War Games".

I'm not a fan of "bad dream"
episodes either, but to me, the ending is much less of a "bad dream"
than War Games was, since in War Games it was all
illusion...In the case of MOLAD, everyone really dies...Just
whoever/whatever Lee Russell became allowed him to reset things to the
way they were (or at least, help Helena to do it).

Dana

Oh yes, I have to agree. That's why I've said the key line of
dialogue is when Lee says: "I'll give you the strength." It's a
kind of reflection of the earlier mystery of how Lee can be alive when
all the instruments say he's dead.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Andrew Kearley on Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:58 pm

Is that planet made of anti-matter? That seems to be the simplest
solution, of course, but in that case the Eagle would be probably be
annihilated as it descended through the atmosphere, or certainly when
it touched the ground, and an equal mass of the planet would be taken
out as well. This clearly doesn't happen. (Now, it's not
uncommon for sci-fi of the period to do completely unrealistic things
with anti-matter. If you've ever seen the contemporaneous Doctor
Who story "Planet of Evil", you'll know the sort of thing I
mean.) But that's one reason why I tend to gravitate towards the
more philosophical concept of what I've called "anti-reality" - in
other words, a state of reality which science hasn't discovered yet (!)
that cannot exist in conjunction with our normal state of
reality. But it seems to be a slowly-increasing mutual
contamination - it's not just an instant annihilation. Obviously,
it affects the Eagle and Alphans who land on the planet, but it also
seems to affect the base and even the body of the Moon itself, despite
it not actually touching the planet - so the contamination is able to
transmit across a vacuum, and seems to get worse the longer the Moon is
in the planet's vicinity. This "anti-reality" appears to exhibit
some of the properties of conventional anti-matter - notably the
reversed electrical charge, which is what alerts Victor to the danger
that anti-matter might be involved. It's probably significant
that it's Victor who talks about anti-matter. If that was the
real nature of the danger, presumably Lee would have just told
them... (And note that when Helena asks Lee outright if he has
become anti-matter, he doesn't really confirm it. Just a shrugged
comment: "if you like"...)

It's interesting to note that when the idea of (what we now call)
anti-matter was first theorized in the 1930s, some scientists then
called it "contra-terrene" matter - which means quite literally
"against earth-like" - which seems almost a more philosophical way of
describing it, and perhaps inspired the way the writers of this
episode were thinking about it.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Andrew Kearley on Fri Feb 26, 2010 2:08 pm

Or here's another thought: perhaps the planet is in a different quantum
state - or more precisely, perhaps it shifts between different quantum
states. The "anti-reality" condition I've previously postulated
might actually shift between one state where it's inimical to normal
matter, and another state where it can co-exist with it. Hence
the Eagle can land, the Alphans can walk around, perform their tests,
drink the water, etc - at least for a while - until the planet shifts
into its opposite state, and things start to get gradually worse until
the final cataclysmic results. (And as Lee says, that's only the
beginning - it will get much worse.) So there's actually a
quantum superposition here: two different outcomes of reality - one in
which the Moon passed by the planet without ill effect, and one in
which the presence of the Moon and the Alphans caused the adverse
effects.

When Lee gives Helena "the strength" to reverse the effects, he's
allowing her (temporarily I suspect) to shift the quantum state of the
planet back, effectively to choose the outcome where the Moon and
planet co-exist without damaging each other. Presumably this is
an ability that the lifeforms on the planet possess, but obviously
something that's only possible for a short period - long enough for the
Moon to drift past the planet's influence, but no more than that.
Hence the continued danger should the Alphans try to stay on the planet
- there would come a point beyond which it would be impossible to
sustain the co-existing state.

I like this, it makes the conclusion more than just a "bad dream" ending.
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by DukeDexter on Mon Sep 20, 2010 3:48 pm

I've often thought there was a vague nod to Solaris in the episode with a loved one reappearing in the vicinity of a new planet. But I haven't managed to watch the original Solaris without nodding off so I may be wrong. Laughing
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by SPACE 1899 on Wed Sep 29, 2010 3:28 pm

DukeDexter wrote:I haven't managed to watch the original Solaris without nodding off

Agree with you there - I quickly lost patience with the amount of screen time with nothing happening - and ended up using the fast forward on the remote control to whizz through it Very Happy
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Re: Discussion of Matter of Life and Death

Post by Senmut on Wed Dec 08, 2010 10:36 pm

Andrew Kearley wrote: But it seems to be a slowly-increasing mutual
contamination - it's not just an instant annihilation. Obviously,
it affects the Eagle and Alphans who land on the planet, but it also
seems to affect the base and even the body of the Moon itself, despite
it not actually touching the planet - so the contamination is able to
transmit across a vacuum, and seems to get worse the longer the Moon is
in the planet's vicinity.


Depending on it's position, the Mon might well be "touching" the planet in a way. We know that Earth's atmosphere extends thousands of miles out into space, although in a highly attenuated state. If Alpha passes close enough, particles of the rarified exosphere might, due to radiation pressure from the planet's sun, stream out into space, and impact the Moon. The longer the Moon remains in range, the more it is contaminated.
Make sense?
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