“Shuffle up the Wild Cards. And deal ’em!”
‘…Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best’ is an absolute heartbreaker of an episode, and an utterly shocking conclusion to not just the season but the show itself. It begins with an apparent real possibility of peace, and ends in death and despair. It is bleak, and cruel, with barely any moments of hope. And that, sadly, is the nature of war. Or, to be more specific, the nature of war profiteering.
Because one of the possible interpretations of the story arc, taking into account the hints and rumours dropped throughout the series, and the statement from the alien ambassador that his race sent a warning message to stay away from their territory, is that Aerotech deliberately ignored their transmission, and started the war merely in order to profit from it. Which is pretty horrific. But that’s just one reading. There are a number of things in this episode that come off as entirely ambiguous, and open to interpretation, and are still hotly debated by fans of the show, even today.
After last week’s cliffhanger, with the huge reveal of what the Chigs look like under their armour, we go into the final episode with the assumption that the 58th have seriously f*cked up but they don’t know it yet, and that the peace talks are probably all a ruse. There is a growing uneasiness on the faces of the Wild Cards as they hear from Colonel McQueen (James Morrison) what the Chig looks like, and once Vansen (Kristen Cloke) reveals what happened on the Chig moon they are in some serious hot water. But actually, once the peace talks get – briefly – underway, it appears that the information that the 58th inadvertently passed on to the enemy might genuinely end the war. Until AeroTech get involved.
AeroTech, from the start, have come off as shadowy and sinister. They clearly have a lot to hide, and not all of it legitimate. That the alien ambassador has specifically requested that AeroTech director E. Allen Wayne (Richard Fancy) be present at the peace talks, is surprising and troubling to him. And, it turns out, a really bad idea. He deflects and distracts and disagrees with everything the alien ambassador says, protecting himself and his organisation at the expense of peace for humanity.
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The aliens – the Chigs – have throughout the series been extremely ‘othered’. They have been named after a parasite, called ‘monstrous’ and ‘things’, and had their every difference deliberately emphasised. After such conditioning it is perhaps unsurprising that the alien ambassador’s statement that they originate from the same place as humans, that “We are you”, provokes shock and anger. What is surprising is the extreme level of vitriol and abuse spewed by Mr Wayne, and one has to ask whether he is truly and justifiably outraged because of what he knows (that the rest of us don’t know) about the situation, or whether his reaction stems from racist/speciesist hatred, or – perhaps worst of all – whether he is merely further inciting hatred in order to continue to profit from the war, and to save his own butt. It’s a further shock when the alien ambassador crashes furiously through the glass of his atmosphere chamber and, in a not undeserved move, shivs Wayne. And then a bomb goes off. Or does it? It’s still unclear.
There are many loose threads left hanging, many ambiguities of language, intention, and information, throughout the series but especially in this final episode. Were the peace talks legitimate? Did AeroTech deliberately start the war? Is capitalism the enemy? Are we the bad guys? Is that even really what a Chig actually looks like, or is it just the same unknown alien that the 58th met down on the moon, set up as a Chig in some kind of deception? Everyone has an opinion, but it’s likely that only the show’s creators, Glen Morgan and James Wong, really have the answers, if they even remember what they are twenty-some years later. We’ll probably just have to accept that we’ll never know.
Further open to debate is who lives and who dies in this episode. Because in terms of main character death, ‘…Tell Our Moms’ is something of a bloodbath. Maybe. Wang is, short of a transporter beam, almost certainly dead. McQueen? It doesn’t look good. Damphousse? Vansen? Probably. Maybe. (Although I think we can all get behind the #VansenLives hashtag on Twitter.) In 40 short minutes we move from the 58th discussing whether (and how) they’ll stay together if the war is over to a final shot of West and Hawkes lying on bunks opposite one another, shell-shocked and quietly bereaved. It leaves the viewer with the same sense of ‘what the hell just happened?’ as the surviving characters, and with no second season in which to find solace, we just have to accept it and move on. (Or still be cross about it 20 years later. You know how these things go.)
The one joyful thing that this episode does give us is Nathan West’s reunion with his long-lost love, Kylen Celina, and for that we should perhaps we grateful. Nathan and Kylen’s story is where the series began, and throughout she has represented his faith, as well as what the 58th, collectively, are fighting for. It would have been all too easy for the writers to kill her off once they knew that the show wasn’t getting a second season, but it would have been the wrong thing to do. She might be less important to viewers than the characters who do die in this episode, but she is a symbol of hope, and she has to survive. It would have been too much to deprive West of a reunion with her, short-lived as it might be, as she is torn away from him again and shipped back to Earth. It’s not quite the ending to their story that we, or they, might have hoped for, but it’s something. There is an incredibly touching moment, just before she leaves, where she holds West’s photo-tag – this potent symbol of hope and belief, that has been handed around the 58th – and tells him “I believe in all of you”. Which might just bring a tear to the eye.
No one really gets what they wanted in this finale. Everyone is cheated out of something. Life. Ambition. Closure. But the 58th go out doing the right thing, and in spite of its bleak ending, we can all be thankful that this well-crafted, forward-thinking, dream of a TV show was made. It vastly stands the test of time, and is wholly watchable, with much of it remarkably relevant to the events of today. Space: Above and Beyond is a creation of which Glen Morgan and James Wong, as well as the entire cast and crew, should still be extremely proud.
Maybe one day it will find its way onto a streaming platform, and pick up a whole new generation of admirers. Maybe one day it will get rebooted and recast and – well, I’m sure we’ll all have something to say about that. But until that time perhaps we should follow the advice that Kylen gave to Nathan in the pilot episode: “Maybe we have to find another dream”.
Semper fi, my friend. Always faithful.
You can find our entire TV Rewind of Space: Above and Beyond here.