Space: Above and Beyond Review #12: Who Monitors the Birds?
Originally aired January 7, 1996
Cooper Hawkes is selected to go on a top secret mission away from the rest of the 58th with a reward of being released from his obligations to the Marines if the mission is a success. But even if Hawkes is able to pull off the impossible, where will he go if he leaves the only home he’s ever known?
“Who Monitors the Birds” is another episode I think of when I think of Space: Above and Beyond, and watching it again I was surprised just how well this episode has held up over years. There’s almost no dialog in “Who Monitors the Birds” and everything’s told through action. But I’d guess that even in an episode with very little talking we learn more about the Cooper Hawkes character here than we had in the previous 11 episodes.
In this episode, Hawkes is picked among the rest of the 58th by Major John R. Colquitt (the always wonderful Dale Dye) to land on a Chig planet and assassinate one of their leaders. Since Hawkes is really only in the Marines since it was either joining up or going to prison Colquitt offers him an immediate honorable discharge from the Corps if their mission is successful.
Much of “Who Monitors the Birds” plays out after the two have landed, done the deed with Hawkes on the run from the Chigs. During their escape Colquitt was killed and Hawkes wounded and he spends much of the episode drifting in and out of consciousness. When he’s out the episode flashes back to his past from Hawke’s being selected by Colquitt to all the way back when he was a relative newborn being taught at some sick and twisted combat school for Invitro kids.
I think it would be easy in “Who Monitors the Birds” to either place more emphasis with Hawkes on the run from the Chigs or more emphasis on his past since inevitably one is more interesting than the other. But here episode writers, who were series creator Glen Wong and James Morgan, were able to balance the story so what’s taking place in the past is just as important/interesting as what’s taking place in 2064.
In flashbacks we learn that Hawkes is really just six years old since Invitros are born in adult bodies. Originally the Invirtos were made to be soldiers in wars that regular humans didn’t want to fight and in “Who Monitors the Birds” we get a glimpse of one of a school setup to indoctrinate the Invitro kids. The kids are told that they’re “released from the burden of choice” and taught how to kill people in preparation for war.
Elements of this sort of classroom training were almost certainly taken from the book The Forever War that has as similar scene at the start of that novel. But watching “Who Monitors the Birds” again I wondered if the series Dark Angel (2000) that also took this same scene from the book The Forever War to open that series also borrowed the idea of the trainees being genetically engineered kids from SAaB too?
On the planet in 2064 Hawkes is able to incapacitate one of the Chig soldiers who seemingly offers him a memento from his armor as a peace offering which Hawkes reciprocates. We also see that same Chig taking in some of the vistas of the alien planet they’re on too. Which will later on come into play as we start to see the Chigs not as some dirty alien species set on galactic domination but more of a sentient race with hopes and needs of their own.
After the two seperates Hawkes ambushes and kills a Chig patrol of which the friendly alien just happens to be a member. Which begs the question; were the Chigs out hunting Hawkes or were they out looking to help him?
As Hawkes tries to escape from the Chigs who are hunting him we also meet what I’ll call Lady Death played here by Kristen Cloke. Lady Death is a creepy spirit that seems to haunt Hawkes as he’s on the run. Is she part of Hawkes’ consciousness trying to warn him of the approaching Chigs or is she some real spirit trying to steal his soul to the afterlife? We never find out for sure and that adds to much of the unease of Lady Death’s appearance in this episode.
Cooper Hawkes service number is “948-98-01-01446” and his Invitro Registration Number is “866/8557-44-051553.”
John R. Colquitt’s service number is “723-449-6021” and his blood type is b-negative.
Cooper Hawkes was born in either 2057 or ’58 and is six years old at the time of this episode.
The episode takes place in 2064 meaning that the SAaB episodes are playing out in real time since they started in 2063.
The first eight minutes of the episode have no dialog other than an opening narration.
There is a group called the “Fleet Imagery Interpenetration Unit” in the Marines.
We learn that the episode takes place in January but Hawkes’ watch says it’s November. Which I can’t imagine would be set wrong with him being a commando.
Hawkes says he’s six years old at the start of the episode, but an onscreen graphic has his birthday being 2053 making him 11.
On screen slides in progression –
“You have been alive eight months.
The monitors are pleased with you.
To be monitored is to be free.
Spared the agony of decision.
Released from the burden of choice.
Invitros need only react.
To react how America want you to react.
America loves you.
One day you will return her love.
And defeat those trying to harm her.
Terrorists. Silicates. Subversives.
Today’s lesson will now begin.
There are seven 687 ways of killing a human being.
Method number one…”
Cooper Hawkes: “Monitor, who monitors the birds?”
Monitor: “I monitor the birds.”
Cooper Hawkes: “Who monitors you?”
Lady Death: “Until we meet again.”