Space: Above and Beyond Review #9: Choice or Chance
Originally aired November 26, 1995
Continuation of “Hostile Visit,” in this episode a captured 58th faces imprisonment, torture and execution at the hands of the Silicates who are working with the Chigs. But the Silicates made one mistake; they didn’t capture all of the 58th.
“Choice or Chance” is another great episode of SAaB after a few disappointing ones. In “Hostile Visit,” the 58th took a captured Chig bomber, attacked one of their planets and were shot down after delivering their payload. “Choice or Chance” opens with an escape pod from the wrecked bomber literally crashing into the planet with most of the 58th injured and Cooper Hawkes and TC McQueen being the only two who are able to escape into the wilds of Chig held territory.
Those who can’t get away are captured by the Silicates who are allied with and are running the Kazbek Penal Colony for the Chigs. There, it’s revealed that the Chigs have taken prisoners from their attacks on human colonies and Nathan West finally finds Kylen, his girlfriend missing since the pilot episode.
“Choice of Chance” deals with the POW experience soldiers sometimes face. Much of which here is culled from the experiences from the Vietnam War and especially experiences from, what’s all but a footnote now, the first war in Iraq. Paul Wang is separated form the other survivors and is tortured by a Silicate named Elroy. Like POW fliers of the first Iraq war who after being beaten had to give canned taped testimonials on how they thought the war was wrong, Paul must do the same at the hands of Elroy.
Played by Doug Hutchison who’s had a career at playing bad guys from The X-Files to The Green Mile and even Lost to name a few, Elroy is terrifying as a soulless machine who literally has no limits when it comes to forcing Wang to do and say what he wants. Interestingly enough Elroy was originally a model of robot to act as a comedian with a catch phrase, “Your boy Elroy!” before the Silicates rebelled against the human race.
With the Silicates that you can kill them, as the 58th did to many of them in “Dark Side of the Sun” and Wang does to Elroy at the end of the episode. But since they’re machines with many models that all look alike much like cars you can meet virtually the same Silicate later on that looks and acts basically the same as ones you’ve met before but is a different robot off the production line. Elroy returns in a few episodes later in the season.
The other members of the 58th do have a bit of story from McQueen and Hawkes going “Rambo” on the Silicates, Shane Vansen and Vanessa Damphousse being held together and doing the old “we’ll pretend to fight so we can trick the guards to get out” routine and Nathan West escaping the prison along with captured colonist girlfriend Kylen who isn’t who he thinks she is. But what holds this episode together is the Wang/Elroy story.
Looking at this episode now what’s odd with it, but was a staple of similar shows of that same period, is that while the characters go through some substantial change in this episode — Wang is pushed past his limits with Elroy and is a different person when he returns to the Saratoga, Nathan West goes through turmoil to the point where he questions his whole reasoning behind why he’s a Marine — but by the next episode most of this growth and change is totally forgotten and we’re onto the next adventure.
Paul Wang’s service number is 9483034828.
Elroy’s full name is “Elroy-L 1327.”
The Chigs nickname for humans is “Red Stink Creatures.”
McQueen was a POW during the AI War.
‘T.C.’ McQueen: “It’s frightening how much pain an in-vitro…a human body can stand. You’d like to believe the body would break before the will. I held out three days. Once when they were doing stuff to me I heard screaming. It sounded far-off. I remember thinking, that poor bastard. What must he be going through? Then, when I came to, I realized the screams were coming from me.”
Elroy: “This war is being run by a bunch of Harvard white guys.”
Elroy: “Your boy Elroy!”
Paul Wang (About Elroy): “Hey eyes were like the living dead. They’ve got no souls.”
The Chig bomber is shot down by a missile and its escape pod falls from space and crashes into the ground and not one of the 58th are killed in all this mayhem?
How does Commodore Ross know that the place the 58th are being held is called the “Kazbek Penal Colony?” We only know it’s name from an on-screen title. I suppose this info could be common knowledge, but it seems like the Saratoga is pretty far behind the lines for Earth forces to know this sort of information.
The Chigs reveal another awesome piece of technology here — they’re able to perfectly duplicate a person and mimic their speech and mannerisms. To the point that one of the main characters is fooled by someone he’s known for years. It would seem that if the Chigs had this sort of tech they could quietly infiltrate our ranks and destroy us from within. But, unless memory fails me, much like the weapon in “The Enemy” this would never be seen again.