The opener for season 2 had a direct impact on the future. No, I don’t mean Qarlo Clobregnny being from the future, but this is the episode that made writer Harlan Ellison go after James Cameron for plagiarism. He claimed Cameron copied the idea for The Terminator. In some ways, I can see that, but it is a bit tenuous. Both feature a soldier from the future coming back and having an impact on the present. The Terminator was about a machine that is sent back to save a woman. Soldier has a man from the future grow to trust a married man who happens to have a wife and kids. Yeah, like I said, I can see it… if I squint real hard.
But this is an interesting hour of television. It has more to do with the evolution of language than anything remotely science fiction. Qarlo spends his first few days in captivity saying “Nims qarlo clobregnny prite arem aean teaan deao” (Credit to Wikipedia for helping me find how to spell his words.) I figured out the first bit on my own: “name’s qarlo”. The rest was gibberish, but we learn he’s saying his name: Qarlo Clobregnny, followed by his rank: private, followed by his serial # (well, letters): RM EN TN DO. Qarlo is a soldier and only offering what any soldier is trained to offer: name, rank, and serial number. The episode goes deeper into language showing how the language changes over time which is a fascinating subject. Michael Ansara, my favorite Klingon, plays the part like a gladiator of a terrible tomorrow where love has been bred out of our vocabulary. It’s an incredible performance, really, filled with subtle nuances and looks that really made me respect Ansara even if he looked a bit caveman-like. (No offense to cavemen. I know how Geico got in trouble with the Neanderthals for such a slur…)
The episode also speculates on more than just the change of language over time. Qarlo opens the story with lighting a cigarette; he takes it out of the package and strikes it against the side of the pack; a strangely efficient method that makes me wonder why we never copied that idea. Interestingly, it’s a cigarette that Kagan, the linguist, offers that starts the friendship between the two men. Ah, nothing like offering someone cancer to kick off a friendship, huh? Kagan is an interesting man too. It takes him no time to identify that Qarlo might be from “some-when” else. Paul Tanner is played by the overacted Tim O’Connor, last seen being a jerk in The Moonstone. (And far into the future, a friend of Buck Rogers!)
While the episode marked a strong opening for the second season, it has a lot of odd things that I scratched my head over. First, when the episode starts, there are two gladiators in the field, both armed with guns. They run into battle, straight towards one another. Perhaps they were unfamiliar with the concept of guns, but they didn’t have to charge each other like they were playing “chest-bump frenzy”. Neither is aiming his gun, and they both run right at each other like long lost lovers forgetting that they were both holding a gun! Then they get their lesson in another future movie, Ghostbusters when they learn not to cross the streams! As soon as that happens, both men fall into a temporal rabbit hole. Qarlo makes it to the 20th century intact, but his enemy seems to be frozen in place able to move all but his feet, so he struggles in place for a while. I couldn’t help but wonder: was he standing there the whole time? If so, that was at least 5 weeks without food or water. Also without being found! One has to assume it’s just the 1960’s visual that makes it look like he’s stuck in one place for all that time, or it’s no wonder he’s so aggressive! I’d call him hangry!
Of great shock to me was the drawing, for it deserves a title. Paul shows Qarlo a map of the solar system… no, let’s be honest. He gives the man a picture that shows the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. He tells Qarlo “we are here” (reminiscent of ET, since we’re in future-movie mode). When asked where he’s from, Qarlo points to Earth. Tanner doesn’t buy it, not because there’s an entire universe, but because it’s the same planet Tanner points to. So he has Qarlo draw it. Any kid could do better, but Tanner, because he’s a few coupons short of a popup toaster, take the kid-friendly drawing to a friend at some Astrophysics lab to plot the planets based on the picture and determines that it’s a map of the solar system from 1800 years in the future. I need to show some astronomer some of my pics from when I was a kid. I can’t wait to see where I’m from… This is hands down the most bizarre thing in the episode.
On the funny side, when the enemy breaks into Paul’s house, creating a door to the back yard that wasn’t there before, the two men fight and get vaporized. Paul, his wife, and kids all see it so Paul’s wife quickly averts the children’s eyes from the burn mark on the carpet. Sorry, Mrs T, it’s too late; the kids saw it happen. Or was it the ruined carpet that was bothering you? Who could blame her? Burn marks on the carpet are terrible, forget the smoldering hole in the side of the house.
If nothing more, the episode nailed one thing with perfect accuracy. When Qarlo first arrives at the Tanner household, he sees a cat. He runs over and calls it “C.O.” thinking he can communicate with it, like they do in his time. Well, friends, I have a cat, and he does think he’s the Commanding Officer of this house. All cat’s think they are the CO. The Outer Limits may be full of the strangeness but boy howdy did it get that right. Oh gosh, I have to go… I now return control of the keyboard to my CO; he’s meowing and wants food… ML
The view from across the pond:
We’re back, and we start with an amazing sci-fi landscape of the future. It’s a shame that so little of the story takes place in the war zone, because it’s a remarkable set. For once, we also have sci-fi battle armour that is quite convincing as well, mainly because it is kept relatively simple: just a chest plate and a helmet that plays recorded messages. Where the vision of the future is lacking is the matchless cigarettes, which existed in the 20th Century anyway. How about a future where cigarettes don’t exist at all? That would make more sense, especially when the writer is showing us beings who are cloned for one purpose. Cloning them with an addiction to nicotine, which could impede their performance in battle, would be an odd thing to do.
Speaking of the writer, my heart sank when I saw it was written by Harlan Ellison, who also penned one of my least favourite Star Trek episodes, The City on the Edge of Forever. Soldier initially had me wondering if the man had only one story: future humans come back to the 60s. But it soon develops into a very different story to City, and actually vastly superior.
Qarlo and his enemy are sent back from the future by bolts of lightning, and I suppose we’ll just have to accept that. It’s a contrivance to get us to the main thrust of the story, which is Qarlo’s interactions with contemporary humans. At first he is received with depressing predictability: shot at without any attempt at communication, and then locked away. He has the misfortune to arrive in the US, and that seems to be the way of things for anything different, at least according to most sci-fi. Oddly he is imprisoned in a padded cell but is allowed to keep his armour on, and the poor chap is still wearing the same clothes weeks later. When he eventually moves in with Kagan’s family, I’m surprised Kagan didn’t have to introduce him as “my smelly friend”, while his kids held their noses.
You have to turn off your brain for large parts of this episode, and just accept bizarre leaps of logic, such as any father being willing to bring a trained killer home to live with his kids, but the point of it all is the connection that builds between Kagan and Qarlo. Given enough time and understanding, Qarlo ceases to be a threat to Kagan.
“You are not enemy.”
It is left open to our interpretation as to what exactly is happening here. Qarlo is a clone and as Kagan points out he may not possess human emotions such as “hate, or love, or compassion”. So it’s hard to say for sure whether he is starting to think of Kagan as a friend, at least on a subconscious level. It may also be a simple matter of recognising that Kagan does not pose a threat. In a very interesting scene, Qarlo stops himself from striking Toni, and in that moment he seems to be experiencing the emergence of some complex emotions that are buried deep inside him. This all relies on the performance of Michael Ansara, which is absolutely stellar throughout the episode. In the hands of a lesser actor, Qarlo could have been a very wooden and boring character, but Ansara’s performance is nuanced enough to avoid that ever happening.
Frustratingly, Ellison’s limitations as a writer rear their ugly head again at the end of the episode. He concluded City without a much-needed third way. This is worse. He concludes Soldier by just ending it. Having raised some interesting questions, he avoids answering any of them by abruptly killing off Qarlo, which doesn’t even have the saving grace of being an emotional moment because it is so sudden. His enemy is kept bizarrely floating in the sky for weeks or even months, and then eventually turns up and pow, that’s it. It’s a lazy resolution.
One thing that made perfect sense though: both Qarlo and his enemy try to report to the cat. Will cats take over in the future and become our leaders? It wouldn’t surprise me one little bit. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Cold Hands, Warm Heart