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Masters of Science Fiction #1: A Clean Escape
directed by Mark Rydell
written by Sam Egan, from a story by John Kessel
principal cast: Judy Davis, Sam Waterston, Stephen Hawking

Masters of Science Fiction #1: A Clean Escape
A review by Steven H Silver

The first episode of Masters of Science Fiction, a long delayed anthology show which is finally scheduled to have four episodes aired on ABC in August, is an adaptation of John Kessel's "A Clean Escape," originally published in Asimov's in 1985. This adaptation, which stars Judy Davis as Dr. Deanna Evans and Sam Waterston as Robert Havelmann, is essentially a duel of wits between two individuals.

The set up for the story has Dr. Evans questioning Havelmann in a nicely appointed office. It is clear from the beginning that Havelmann is at best disoriented, not aware of his own situation or why he is in the office. Evans's aggressive questioning almost immediately give the viewer sympathy for Havelmann's plight.

As the story progresses, details of Havelmann's life are unearthed, either in the questioning, a variety of flashback sequences (filmed as overexposed pieces), or on the rare occasions when Evans leaves the room to interact with her colleagues. The most important pieces of information are that Havelmann is, or was, a major defense contractor and that he may have had something to do with a great evil. Despite this, his character remains sympathetic throughout, even as the details would indicate sympathy towards Evans is more warranted.

In fact, the core of the film comes down to a question of the appropriate punishment when the perpetrator of a crime legitimately has no recollection of the atrocity committed. Although the writer, Sam Egan, raises the issue, he fails to provide an answer within the context of the story, leaving the decision up to the viewer, but harming the story with the ambiguity.

The sets, while basic, are lavishly designed. While many of the sets… a cafeteria… a picnic table… an office building… apparently were filmed on location, the main set, Dr. Evans's office is a believable set, luxuriously appointed, and provides a sense of safety that is essential for the conflict between the two main characters.

"A Clean Escape" is intelligent science fiction and satisfying despite the ambiguity included by the screenwriter. It may disappoint viewers who expect science fiction to be all about space ships and special effects, but for those who approach the show with knowledge of the genre or an open mind, it will be rewarding.

Copyright © 2007 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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