TV discussion

TV Rewind… Space: Above and Beyond 1×15 – ‘The Angriest Angel’

“The instant his existence was confirmed, every action, every breath of my life became horrifyingly clear. He’s out there tonight, sending our women, our men, to that cold, dark place. And nothing, nothing will stop him until I face the moment.” – Colonel T.C. McQueen

People who don’t like science-fiction often assume that it’s all robots and rubber aliens, far-fetched campness or incomprehensible tech-speak. And whilst these things do exist within the sci-fi field, to dismiss science-fiction as only these things – as mere silliness – is to wholeheartedly miss the point. Because so much of science-fiction boils down to a study of humanity, and an examination of what it means to be human, often by seeing through the eyes of someone who isn’t human, or at least not human as we currently know it.

Colonel Tyrus Cassius McQueen (James Morrison), commander of the 58th Squadron, and an In Vitro born into indentured servitude, is one such someone. Formerly of the 127th Squadron, The Angry Angels, McQueen is ‘The Angriest Angel’ of the episode title. When his squadron died he lost his family, and although he has found a new family in the 58th, they are his children rather than his peers. Colonel McQueen is a man who, above all, endures, and yet ‘The Angriest Angel’ finds him asking himself ‘Who am I?’, and questioning the purpose of his own existence. He is furious at the loss of life caused by Chiggy von Richthofen, and feels that his own defining moment – the moment when he can answer ‘Who Am I?’ – will come when he ends this Chig’s reign of terror.

Concluding the Chiggy von Richthofen storyline from the previous episode, ‘The Angriest Angel’ is, in some ways, the flipside of ‘Never No More’. Whilst Vansen’s (Kristen Cloke) story was of the love that she rejected, regretted, and then lost forever, and the coming together of comrades in battle, McQueen’s tale is of a man rejected by his wife, living without love, and determined to act alone to defeat the enemy, no matter what the personal cost. And yes, McQueen destroys Chiggy von Richthofen, but there is the thought too that this is a symbolic battle with his own demons, as well as a literal one with the alien Red Baron.

McQueen is certainly willing to break the rules to get the job done, and it is somewhat disturbing to see him torture Silicate Elroy-El (Doug Hutchison), in a scene that flips Elroy-El’s torture of Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente) in ‘Choice or Chance’. All of the Silicates are a little unnerving, in the way that something not quite human can be unnerving, but Hutchison really goes all out in playing Elroy-El as creepy and unhinged as possible. In a nod to Hutchison’s now-iconic role as Eugene Victor Tooms on The X-Files, we see a shot of an air vent just before Elroy-El is caught, squeezed into a small space below the floor.

Glen Morgan and James Wong have engaged in some precise planning of Space: Above and Beyond’s ongoing plot, planting hints and clues about where the story might be heading throughout, but you’ll need to be paying attention in order to catch them. ‘The Angriest Angel’ picks up on threads that were left hanging in episode nine, ‘Choice or Chance’, when the 58th were rescued from the penal colony on Kazbek. In that episode we caught a glimpse of the mining facility, saw a case with contents unknown being loaded into the rescue vessel, and right at the end watched Aerotech’s Sewell (Michael Mantell) open the case to a strange red glow… Six episodes later we find out that this red material is the impossible dream: a self-perpetuating fuel that creates more energy than it expends. Sewell boasts that this ‘Sewell Fuel’, the property of Aerotech, ‘will change the nature of the conflict’ and that the war ‘will no longer be fought over galactic territory but over Sewell Fuel’.

Aerotech have not, thus far, been painted as the good guys, and there have been rumours and accusations throughout the series that far from the Chigs being the aggressors in this war, it was humanity that invaded their territory first. Silicate Elroy-El says as much when he is torturing Wang in ‘Choice or Chance’. And in ‘Eyes’, Presidential candidate Nicholas Chaput (George DelHoyo) tells West (Morgan Weisser) that Aerotech knew about the Chigs right from the start. Could it be that this war was started by Aerotech, and that it all comes down to them making money? It is suggested by Elroy-El that the Chigs have been watching humanity for a very long time, and if this is true, then the question is – how? As the series progresses onwards and upwards, there are episodes that reach a plateau where the viewer wants to pause and ask questions, and this kind of engagement, when an audience can have faith that answers will be forthcoming, is a sign of excellence on the part of the writers.

Surprisingly, the poignant moment in this McQueen-centric episode is when Lieutenant Kelly Winslow (Tasia Valenza) suddenly meets her end at the hands of Chiggy von Richthofen. Winslow has been a recurring character in the show, and was a likeable member of the 58th.  Apparently she was introduced with the intention that she would be killed off in this episode, and it is a fitting warning that, in a show about war, no character is safe from an untimely death.

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