The Tripods: (1984) France, September 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 10

I believe that John F. Kennedy said it best when he once wrote: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” I chose this quote in particular because it best illustrates the central dilemma of this episode of BBC’s Tripods.

In case you’re following along at home, the previous episode of Tripods showed our intrepid trio “laying low” for a while in a French vineyard. They were seeking shelter so that Will could recover from a Tripod abduction and the resulting amateur surgery required to remove a tracking device crudely clamped onto his torso. Much like the time spent at the Chateau earlier in the year, the gang is finding it hard to leave the relative comfort of the vineyard, even though Tripods seem to be everywhere. We see the gratuitous long tacking shot of Tripods walking around in the distance, and considering the way the boys evaded them in the last episode, they are probably close by because they are looking for them.

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One thing became clear in this episode, and it is that teenagers are really stupid when they get hormones pumping through their systems like a rush of Nitrous through the engine of a sports car. It’s hard to not want to punch both Henry and Beanpole at the beginning of this episode. They are having fun and chatting up cute girls and constantly telling Will to “lighten up!”. This is a complete 180 degree reversal from the chateau where Will was “livin’ it up” and the boys wanted a one way ticket out of Dodge. Winter is soon to be there, and Will understands that they need to make it to the mountains ASAP.

Luckily we don’t see too much bickering between the boys, but the animosity is there. Will is jealous about what happened last episode regarding the “love of his life” Eloise. He took part in a village Olympics sort of festival, and lost to a cheating ball of jealousy that chose his love interest as the town tribute to the Tripods. She now gets to live in the Tripod city far away from Will, because if the Duke couldn’t have her nobody could. Will now sees everyone else having googlie-eyes at girls and feels like crap about it.

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The mother of the house, Madame Vichot, pulls the boys aside to show them a collection of art and other wonders from the past that they may have never seen. This sort of stuff is mostly lost to time and frowned upon by the Tripods and those that support them. We find out that she is showing them this a trade of sorts, she is suspicious why a french boy (Jean Paul aka Bean Pole) is traveling with two boys that are obviously from somewhere in England. They let it spill that they are on their way to the White Mountains, a place we discover is somewhere in the French or Swiss Alps. If this wasn’t red flag number one that they are too comfortable, our buddy the Blackguard-in-law Danielle starts nosing around to figure out who these “travelers” are, and it’s just a matter of time before his superiors want answers as well.

The reason that Madame Vichot is so worldly and interesting is that she is some sort of “Vagrant”, whose capping was not fully completed or failed. If you recall a “capping” is the process by which the Tripods place a mind-control device on every person of a certain age, and vagrants are those that cannot be capped or are rendered insane by the process. While she isn’t crazy, the Vineyard mistress is very distraught by the fact that she has ambition, hopes, and can still dream – all things that other capped adults simply cannot do.

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She talks to Will about his guilt about what happened to Eloise, and the fact that he seems to be redirecting all of his angst towards Henry an Beanpole. This seems to level Will’s head a bit, and by the end of the episode he seems mostly angst-free for the most part.

The boys get a new set of traveling clothes, maps, and travel documents to aid them on their journey, and eventually set off. Unfortunately, it seems that Danielle was basically trying to trap them with the documents, as he is seen stalking the boys at the end of the episode.

If you’ve missed any reviews in this series, please feel free to click the “Tripods” banner on the main page – It’s all there! Tune in next week for my review of episode 11!

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The Tripods: (1984) France, September 2089

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AKA Season 1, Episode 9

Many medical professionals go to school for upwards of eight to ten years to hone their craft as a practicing physician. Intricate procedures like doing surgery are skills that one must spend countless hours to perfect in order to keep the patients alive and well. In a post-apocalyptic dystopia nobody is that lucky, and your only bet might be the gangly guy with glasses who seems smarter than everyone else.

When faced with a foreign object embedded into his flesh, Will has to make that very choice – letting Beanpole dig a hunting knife into his side to remove what can only be assumed to be a Tripod tracking device. To really send the gravity of the situation home, one of the last things beanpole says to Will is- “you better find something to bite on.” This is, of course, as he sharpens his knife on the wall of a dirty underpass they are hiding in.

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Once again Will becomes a bit of a liability to the group as he recovers from his amateur surgery. Not since a handful of episodes ago has the team been so vulnerable to an attack with Tripods basically crawling all over them. Beanpole steps up and formulates a plan involving this tracking device, their new horse, and a straw dummy fashioned to look vaguely human. The tracking device is stuck in the dummy, the dummy placed on the horse, and the whole shebang is sent off into the wilderness or as far away from the boys as they can get it.

One of the many things I like about the characterization of Beanpole is that he is a formidable genius, but it’s not too over-the-top. Some shows have guys in these sorts of survivalist situations that rub two pine cones together and produce cold fusion somehow or another. Characters like McGyver come to mind, and even though I loved that show as a kid, his genius was a little far-fetched at times. Beanpole is more realistic in the way that he attacks the trios problems, and whether it be cutting into somebody to retrieve a weapon or creating a dummy to distract the baddies – it’s exactly the sort of stuff one could imagine a sheltered genius doing with very little materials.

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Once this plan is executed, flawlessly I might add, the guys find themselves once again in the company of French citizens with an injured Will needing a place to rest (sound familiar?). This time they are taken in by a group of young girls and their mother and father, a headmistress of sorts and a farmer. Unlike the previous aristocratic family, these guys run a vineyard and live off of the land. They of course get cleaned up, fed, and are expected to work a little bit in exchange for the hospitality.

I noticed that this show has a silly way of making French people suddenly all start speaking English, and it first popped up in the “Chateau arc”. Basically when these girls realize that Will and Henry are not French (Beanpole is) they proclaim that “from here on out, we will all be speaking English”. This is from the perspective of hospitality within the show, but it’s real purpose to to keep the whole thing left un-subtitled for English speaking TV audiences. Let’s face it, if this were to really happen Beanpole would be translating for Will and Henry, and everyone else would be speaking French. Drawing attention to such a problem almost makes it more silly than just having everyone magically speak the same language.

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Basically, this episode and the next episode exist solely to give Henry a romantic fling so that Will isn’t the only “Mac Daddy” of the trio. This entire story-line is absent from the original books, so I’m not too sure if this was added in as a “filler” of sorts or to balance the story out a bit. It becomes fairly clear that this family is keeping the boys around in the hopes that their enormous family of young girls will suddenly all get married and move on. Will is still hurt from what happened  to Eloise just days prior, and wants no part of this. Henry however goes on and starts to fall in love with one of the older daughters.

Will and Henry basically flip sides on their previous views on relationships during this adventure, and come across as huge hypocrites. Henry suddenly has googly eyes whenever he thinks about staying at the house – to the point that he suggests they wait there all winter. Will, on the other hand, suddenly doesn’t trust anyone and wants to leave ASAP.

We don’t see them bicker too long, as their decision is basically made for them later in the episode during a banquet for the oldest daughter. They are all set to meet her fiance, and a young “Blackguard” walks in the door! if you forgot who those guys are, just think of Nazi Gestapo officers working for the Tripods. They also have dumb hats!

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As we roll into episode 10, the boys are on the verge on yet another daring escape, and with Will at less than 100%, that’s not going to be easy at all. Luckily, this story is wrapping up pretty fast and we don’t have 4-5 more episodes of Henry falling in love to deal with, sad that he gets the short end of the stick all the time.

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, August 2089

AKA Season 1, episode 8

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“What I can’t have, nobody else shall have!”

 

This is the ONE sentence that sums up this particular story-arc‘s mini-villain pretty well. This was, of course, Duc Du Sarlat‘s answer to Will’s simple question of “why Eloise?” pertaining to the previous episode’s climax. For those not following along at home, this general “D-bag” referred to as The Duc Du Sarlat basically cheated in order to win a prestigious athletics tournament, and was given the chance to name his own “Queen of the Tournament”. He, of course, chose the love interest of his rival, his former fiance until Will showed up. This was purely in spite, and generally because he wasn’t getting his way.

You may be thinking “I’ve seen this trope a million times before, if she’s got to marry that slime ball, Will should just…” Wait right there…Eloise wasn’t betrothed to Sarlat, no that would be easy, she won a one-way trip to the Tripod home city never to be seen again. This sort of villainy is great, because a lot of genre fiction villains fall into the problem of being “too cool to be bad”and end up being either anti-heroes or reformed villains turned heroes in the end. Unless my assumptions are completely off here, Sarlat is destined for none of that. He seems to be taking a page out the the playbook of other notable fictitious bastards (non-literal) and doing everything in his power to be vile and unlikable.

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Duc Du Sarlat is your classic literary”resenter” villain, he’s that guy that stands behind the hero and feels bad because the hero of the tale is getting good things, and he’s losing a bit of his prestige. In previous blogs, I’ve generally compared him to a Game of Thrones character named Joffrey, but If I mill over the whole thing, he’s more like Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy. Not only is he a colossal jerk, but he’s also pretty pathetic and isn’t even cool enough to be a real villain. If he were to get killed, that would almost be too good for him.

Will gets tired of his new social pressures sans-Eloise and slips out under cover of nightfall during a fancy banquet. This is really no shock since he was planning an escape anyway, but the way he leaves is sort of depressing. While riding a horse around the French countryside, in an inky cover of darkness, he stumbles onto a lurking Tripod and is taken prisoner by it’s huge metallic tendrils.

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The next morning, Will wakes up as if nothing had happened. He wasn’t capped, and it definitely wasn’t a dream, so he is puzzled why he is so lucky. After meeting back up with Henry and Beanpole it all becomes clear – the Tripods have planted a tracking beacon into his skin like a wildlife conservationist would do to a fish. Not only are they following the boys, the tripods seem to be using them to gather Intel on other like-minded people.

One quibble I had with this episode was that more than a few of the exterior scenes were nearly pitch black. I sometimes get privately annoyed when movies and TV shows film “night-time scenes” in broad daylight then lay a cheesy “oh look how dark it is!” filter over the whole thing. It usually looks like the movie is being filmed with sunglasses over the camera. Here we see why they do that, as many scenes during Will’s escape are almost entirely pitch black. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s riding a white horse, I’d think that my TV suddenly stopped working. These scenes do work in that once will almost rides his horse into a Tripod, it’s lights cast an creepy green tinge to everything that gives an other-worldly feel.

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One of the recurring themes of this show is the loss of civilization due to The Tripods, and our heroes coming to terms with a past that is so distant to them that they are completely ignorant to it. We saw a bit of this is a previous episode involving the boys walking through a Parisian shopping mall and nearly getting themselves killed with various weapons like guns and grenades.

This time we see them come face to face with a marauding Tripod trying to corner them in a small shack that the boys are using as a safe house. Henry has a great idea: starting a fire will cause smoke to surround them, and they should be able to escape through said smoke. Next thing you know, the boys have started a huge fire and are chucking all the wood they can find onto it. The camera pans over the back wall to reveal a HUGE stockpile of various petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline and kerosene! This is where they innocently discover an easy way to get a Tripod off their backs – an explosion!

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With that out of the way, this episode is the first that really starts to look into the nature of the Tripods themselves. The boys ponder if it’s a huge creature or if it’s merely a vessel by which something drives around the countryside. It’s still a while before we get the answer, but at least Will and the gang are starting to discover what they can do to defend themselves against this monstrous walkers, even if it takes the might of a while storeroom of gasoline to do the trick.

All in all, this was a solid episode, and a great injection of much needed action piped into the show after the characters were running around a stuffy chateau for the better part of four episodes. Now Will has nothing to distract him from the goal of reaching the White Mountains as fast as they can, and barring more Tripods, nothing can stop them.

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The Tripods (1984) – The English Channel: July 2089 AD

tripods-title-card(aka season 1, episode 3)

Large naval vessels require manpower, and in many cases such manpower is hard to come by. In a world over-run by large marauding Tripods, sailors must be in short supply as traveling around could be seen as too much freedom. Two runaway boys are the perfect target for naval impressment, and guess who I’m talking about – That’s right, it’s Will and Henry! When we last left the boys, they were under the impression that they had been kidnapped onto a ship on its way to Africa rather than their planned destination of Europe. It turns out they weren’t on the wrong ship after all, but Captain Curtis is not the saint that Ozymandias spoke of. He takes their money and offers little help other than safe passage, a fact that both Will and Henry resent. Good thing he can deal with the Tripods’ henchman, as we get to see them a whole bunch this time around.

Episode three marks the first real appearance of the show’s resident Nazi-like dirt bags – The Blackguards. Blackguards are humans that keep an eye on other humans, reporting anything suspicious to their three legged overlords. Clad in black robes and utterly silly headwear, the Blackguards are almost cartoonish in their villainous ways. Just think of all those scenes in all the World War II movies you can think of where a pale-faced German guard asks someone to see their “papers”, that my friends is the Blackguards. That isn’t to say that they are comical or ineffective, they are creepy as hell and the sheer sight of one makes you cringe whilst watching the show. It seems that anytime anything is going well, at least one Blackguard is waiting to ruin it.

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This episode also marks the first appearance of a new main character named Jean-Paul or “Bean Pole” as he is nicknamed almost immediately. Bean Pole is a tall, skinny French boy that sees himself as somewhat of a genius. When we first see him, he is wearing a pair of crude eyeglasses that he has fashioned himself. It seems he has avoided “capping” for more than a year by simply pretending to be deathly ill each time he is supposed to have the deed done. He knows that once he is capped, he will no longer invent things, or be creative. He is tasked with guarding Will and Henry in their Blackguard cells, but secretly plots to help them (and himself) escape. The three do their best re-enactment of the climax of The Shawshank Redemption and venture into the unknown.

I enjoyed this episode because the “adventuring party” is finally fleshed out with Bean Pole. My one quibble is that his English “accent” is too perfect considering he is supposed to be a Frenchman. I guess one can chalk it up to the same logic that made Sean Connery a Spanish man, Kevin Costner Robin Hood, and Patrick Stewart a Frenchman from space. Sometimes the best actor isn’t whatever nationality he is supposed to be. Returning to my tired Lord of the Rings analogy from last time, we have characters in the same vein as Sam and Frodo finally meeting their Gandalf. If only Bean Pole was secretly some sort of wizard, those Tripods wouldn’t stand a chance!

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Obligatory purchase links:

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

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