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Masters of Science Fiction #4: The Discarded
directed by Jonathan Frakes
written by Harlan Ellison and Josh Olson, from a story by Harlan Ellison
principal cast: John Hurt, Brian Dennehy, James Denton

Masters of Science Fiction #4: The Discarded
A review by Steven H Silver

The final episode of Masters of Science Fiction, airing on Saturday evenings in August on ABC, is "The Discarded," based on Harlan Ellison's short story "The Abnormals." Perhaps because the adaptation of the story for the screen was performed by Ellison (along with Josh Olson), "The Discarded" is clearly the strongest of the quartet of episodes aired during the show's run.

Starring John Hurt and Brian Dennehy, "The Discarded" focuses on a spaceship full of mutants who have been exiled from Earth and live a nomadic life going from planet to planet, none of which will accept them. Life on the spaceship is hardly idyllic, as is established at the very beginning of the story when a strange pounding noise occurs even as people are seen relaxing to soft piano music and the camera provides a tour of the various mutations affecting the inhabitants.

Bedzyk (Brian Dennehy) claims to be a regular passenger on the ship, but as his friend, Samswope (John Hurt) points out, Bedzyk is the de facto captain. Between the two of them, the men discuss the needs of the ship and provide leadership and guidance, along with the de jure captain, Harmony Teet (Lori Ann Triolo). When a rocket launches from Earth on an intercept course, Harmony Teet turns to Bedzyk for leadership.

The rocket carries Curran (James Denton), who represents a humbled Earth, now in need of the discarded. The episode then shows the conflict between the masses on the space station, led by Samswope, who see the chance to breathe fresh air again, and the cautious Bedzyk, who finds himself at odds with the general population, but is still able to fall back on his undesired leadership role.

It is this conflict between Samswope and Bedzyk that provides the meat of the episode. Ellison's story looks at the role of the ruled and the rulers. Should the rulers only reflect the will and desire of the ruled or should they bring their own experiences to the table. Although the episode ends with a quote from Eric Hoffer, a quote from Irish politician Edmund Burke, "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion," might be more appropriate.

In any event, the writing and acting in "The Discarded" is significantly better than in the earlier four episodes. The special effects and setting will certainly assuage those who think that science fiction needs spaceships and aliens, but, as with the best science fiction, it is the ideas examined in "The Discarded" which really provide the show with its power.

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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