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Seattle Post Intelligencer
22 April 2005
'Revelations,' popes and 'Locusts' -- what in heaven's going on?
By MELANIE McFARLAND
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER TELEVISION CRITIC
Chance, fate, whatever you want to call it, there's something remarkable going on in the universe. You may write it off as coincidence when the world witnesses a pope's passing days before the debut of "Revelations." But then, when the inaugural Mass of his replacement is scheduled to air the same day CBS premieres "Locusts" -- that would be 9 p.m. Sunday on KIRO/7 -- it makes you wonder if the universe is trying to tell us something.
Maybe not the universe per se. Broadcast networks still smarting from the Federal Communications Commission's lash and the religious conservatives wielding it, definitely.
We were all made to suffer earlier this week when flustered reporters on commercial and cable news networks stammered to fill the air. If you stuck with CNN Tuesday morning, this is the sort of enlightenment you received: "We believe from this live picture now that that might be black smoke. It started out a little whitish gray. Now it's turning black. And if it indeed is black smoke, is what I'm being told right now, that it indeed is black smoke, that means that no pope has been chosen," said a desperate Betty Nguyen. Repeat that phrase ad infinitum, and those within hearing range will get the gist of it.
Then the bells finally rang, delivering her, CBS's bewildered Bob Schieffer and all the rest from worthlessness. "Habemus Papam!" Fox News' golden banner declared, before shifting gears to "We have a New Pope!" for anyone other than priests or attorneys.
Then, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger appeared, and news mouths quickly backtracked from previous discussions about his conservatism and the fact that he has nicknames such as Panzer Cardinal to seize the mass "joy" of the moment.
Pope Benedict XVI's selection is likely to have profound ramifications on American politics, even if you didn't hear many of them discussed during this news event. When vast numbers of viewers were tuned in, correspondents sacrificed weighty reporting for sentimentality. What we gathered from the coverage was that he's a nice guy who speaks English fairly well and was forced into the Hitler Youth in World War II, but deserted.
Perhaps, in those first minutes of announcement afterglow, I missed references to the former cardinal's statements in the preconclave Mass, in which The Associated Press reported he said, "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
In his view, the jackbooted thugs in this dictatorship include gays, theologians and the group most relevant to Sunday's disaster flicks, feminists.
Just a reminder: Last week, "Revelations" gave us a Catholic nun spewing angrily about how physicians wanted to unplug a girl in a persistent vegetative state not because there was nothing more they could do, but for the greedy purpose of harvesting her organs.
Now, we have "Locusts." Not "Bees," "Spiders" or other bugs that have been known to kill people, but the Bible's most frightening critters, biogenetically enhanced by arrogant, imperfect science.
The locusts in question reproduce quickly, are immune to all insecticides and can travel 300 miles a day, heralding their arrival with a castanetlike clacking and devouring everything in their path. Even meat.
And the woman doing her fighting best to save us is Dr. Maddy Rierdon, played by Lucy Lawless. As in "Xena: Warrior Princess."
Interesting choice. As Lawless proved time and again in her previous lead role, she knows how to work schlock like this into something that is, if not great, at least palatable. Give her a character with a title -- in this stinkpile, she plays undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture -- and Lawless embodies all the accompanying struggles. She's steady, firm, vulnerable and aware she's open to assault from all sides.
Here a woman putting career first is tantamount to sacrificing a goat on a pentagram. Maddy's husband berates her for not wanting to stay home with him and start making babies. Along the way she finds out some news that should make hubby happy, but doesn't. Meanwhile, Maddy's male cohorts in government want to see her take the fall for an experiment linked to her department that she didn't authorize. So much for being a feminist icon.
Libertine, progressive attitudes, not evil grasshoppers, are at the root of "Locusts' " evil. How's this for a response to all that rampant, moral relativism? If you're a black couple sharing a sleeping bag during a camping trip, sayonara. Have bust, will wear low-cut blouses to work? Peace out, Peaches. Even divorce is a no-no, as we see when a dad who has his kids making cracks about their mom and her new boyfriend while picking oranges, only to be interrupted by a descending bug horde. A senator references Scripture, as does a geeky office drone and a TV reporter. Science, and the clumsiest Department of Defense goons on Earth, may have been the disaster's catalysts, but the Hand of God certainly goosed this disaster on its way.
But then, "Locusts" tries to have it both ways. In the end, women save us from disaster, not men, and not a huffy, trigger-happy general all too willing to stop the threat using a scorched-earth solution. Everybody, even the killjoys at the FCC, gets an ending they can accept, one that ameliorates the realization that they have just wasted two perfectly good hours of their lives watching this dreck.