Displaced Persons

I watched the sci-fi series The Crossing which ran for 1 season in 2018. It’s great. I have no hesitation in saying it is superior to The Dark, and the fact that it got cancelled straightaway just assures its perfection as it didn’t lose its way in an overloaded 3rd season after change of writers. A show this good shouldn’t stick around to compete with its own fanfic, the correct thing is to retreat away to join the same zone as The Prisoner and Sapphire And Steel, which never made the mistake of explaining themselves.

We start with the startling image of many humans floating underwater, with no submerged wreck nearby.

One of the swimmers is a woman who pulls a child to the surface after giving her a vital mouthful of air, and then drifts away, apparently drowned for her moment of self-sacrifice.

Soon local sheriff Jude Ellis is called out to examine a body on Thorn Beach, near his domain of Port Canaan in Oregon. It’s the little girl, and after getting her resuscitated him and his buddy cop realise they’ve got a load of bodies washing up.

Homeland Security roll up to take control. Of the 450 bodies at sea, only 47 have survived, and they’re telling a strange story.

These people have time-travelled back to our time (“the Long Peace”) from the year 2187 to escape a hellish world in which what’s left of the current human race (the “Commons”) are being oppressed and exterminated by the post-human overlords called “Apex”. Apex have superpowers of physical strength and agility, as well as hypersensitive hearing (which makes them susceptible to high-frequency sound). They’re superintelligent and are also immune to the terrible virus that killed many Commons and paved the way for their rise as genetically-engineered ubermenschen. There are Resistance units fighting back against Apex, some with fiercesome reputations and their own snazzy tattoos; they also kill collaborators, but are losing out. The only thing Apex want from the Commons is to abduct any children identified as “neurodiverse” (“we’re called ‘autistic’ in this time” one of them explains later), who are nurtured to do brain-intensive analytical tasks such as memorising and interpreting all of previous human history. The Apex also have their own written language which looks a bit like Korean, but it’s not clear if they speak in different sounds since the only Apex-only meeting we see is all in English. They seem to be quite humourless and bureaucratic people.

The hundreds of Commons had to leave 2187 in a rush which is why the transit was not “calibrated” properly and they ended up out at sea. The woman we saw saving the girl at the start is Reece, and she gets rescued later by a trawler, but quickly makes it back to land. Few people mess with her for long, as she is in fact an Apex, but one who succumbed to old-fashioned emotions and couldn’t bring herself to kill the Common baby found when she was inspecting another Resistance cell that had died of viral infection. Instead she’s been mothering it by herself, and when the authorities got after her she joined up with the time-exodus she knew about because her squad was investigating the rumours around it.

I say one good thing about the Apex: they bring back the idea that people in the future should smarten up and have their own proper fascist-at-Debenhams work outfits instead of being a bunch of slobs like the crew of the Nostromo.

All the Commons in 2187 are wearing hand-me-downs of early 21st century clothes, maybe fashion just never moved on during the rise of Apex.

Homeland soon decide to move the 47 survivors to an old summer camp up up in the mountains while they consider what to make of the story they’ve been given. One of these guys has an extra twist: he knows there was an earlier migration of some other Commons who came back before. Of course when he gets taken to discuss this with chief Craig Lindauer, he realises that Lindauer is one of the previous migrants, and that they all succeeded in the plan to infiltrate important positions in 21st century USA from 2008 onwards so they could try to prevent the rise of Apex. Lindauer uses his position at Homeland to keep a lid on the 47, but meanwhile the other conspirators have to grasp that they haven’t succeeded in changing history and they need a new plan.

The new plan is to exterminate all the millions of people who have the genetic marker that makes them precursors of the Apex. Meanwhile, the 47 at the camp will be killed off with a quick-acting toxin which will be administered to them as a “full-spectrum vaccine”, and their lives and deaths will be explained away as that of a mad apocalyptic cult who carried out a mass suicide.

All this time old Sheriff Jude is trying to keep up with Reese, who is fighting to get back to her daughter, who will die of the virus unless she has some bone marrow from her adoptive Apex mummy. Around him other people are trying to make sense of the newcomers, and the fact that one of them has a locket with a photo of a local wild boy in it. The wild boy has been going off the rails ever since him and his parents were in a car crash swerving to avoid all the time travellers who appeared in 2008. Everything is connected.

Great things about The Crossing:

  1. It’s a megamix of every mad idea going on right now, including ones that weren’t current in 2018. “Pandemic” is mentioned, and the idea that deadly injections could be given to the gullible as vaccinations. We have secret cabals fighting other secret cabals to prevent them imposing an oppressive order on the ordinary folks. The original time travel squad who went back to 2008 came ready to assume identities in the tech-intelligence complex, with knowledge of events so they could rise swiftly and also assassinate targets around the world. The existence of conspiracy theorists and their websites is also a fact in this world and is exploited to move the plot along.
  2. The women and minorities are strong up front and not simply standing to one side as loyal lieutenants of any Alpha white males. Ellis ended up as Sheriff of the small town because he was busted out of his SWAT team back in Oakland because he testified against his boss for corruption and lost the case, and split up from his family so they wouldn’t be intimidated (he also had to clean-up from the painkiller addiction he developed). Lindauer also ends up limp when he’s in the room with the other futurelords.
  3. Some fab car chases and action sequences, used sparingly and well-constructed.
  4. The fact that Homeland Security have many installations detaining migrants across the US, and that most of them contain more than 47 people with less chance hope of getting processed quickly, is mentioned several times. “Blackwater” are also mentioned for providing some of the fighting men who try and fail to capture Reese.
  5. Plenty of scenes about the pain of the Commons who had their children taken away, and been separated from loved ones left behind or lost in the water.
  6. Ellis does a quote from Caddyshack as one of his attempts to bond with his son.
  7. The bit with the Town Hall meeting has a great Jaws reference with the nails-on-the-blackboard… does that count as a reference, when the character would be doing it as a knowing Gen X thing… or is he too young for that?
  8. Dr Sophie Forbin… notice her name. Same as the guy in The Forbin Project. I spotted it right away and I wasn’t surprised at all by the plot twist she ends up in.

Things that aren’t so great/don’t make sense:

  1. When did “the Long Peace” start and end exactly, and from whose perspective was it peaceful? Ultimately this is a US-only universe.
  2. I shouldn’t complain, but the only British voice is a Bad Scientist working for Lindauer, who gets the bad ending he deserves.
  3. Everything to do with DNA and genetics mentioned in this story is of course complete garbage, reaching its nadir when Bad British Scientist says he can’t take a tissue sample from Reese because her cells are imploding or some nonsense. If I were Lindauer I would have shot him on the spot myself for insulting us with that piffle.
  4. How did Paul know his wife was rich and successful in 2018 if he wasn’t appraised of the plan for her to become a success in tech venture capital?
  5. If the original 2008 crew arrived with enough info to assume existing identities (without which they wouldn’t have been able to hit the ground running and get high-flying careers faster than a Harvard grad on a ton of coke) how come they didn’t know about all these other problems that would at least have left some record against the identities they assumed? The super-memory girl at the detention camp knows all of history written in Apex, and it mentions Jude Ellis a lot, so she much have the story already.

The last point leads in to the biggest problem about these people: why do they think they “failed to change the future” when the obvious effect of doing that would be to erase their own mission? They seem to be fundamentally stupid, and the obvious answer (which we would have explored in seasons 2 and 3, and with diminishing returns in 4 and 5) is that they were in fact being manipulated or directly run by the Apex themselves to bring about their own origin story… which is what seems to happen. A better plan would be to lay traps or weapons caches in 2018 that could be used in 2188, or raise an army to go forward again in time, as happens in the dreary joyless The Tomorrow War, which was shorter than The Crossing but felt longer.

Exactly how the Commons are living in 2187 is hard to make out. They are able to carry out highly advanced research into science which the Apex superbeings haven’t got round to doing themselves, it seems. Social mores haven’t changed a great deal in 150 years, they don’t find our clothes too unusual. They are familiar with laptops and other devices even when puzzled by the amount of time humans spend on their smartphones instead of enjoying the wonderful freedom they have all the time in small town America. It’s like they’re from much closer in the future, and have merely forgotten a few things about this decade.

But all those threads could be twisted further in the unmade future seasons, since everything we’ve seen so far could be turned on its head and then turned again. Odd similarities with The Dark: both “Noah” and “Eve” are names of characters trying to manipulate history, and there is a locket going back and forth in a loop of time travel. Two other series this has similarities with are Flash Forward and The Event, the latter in particular with its storyline of strangers-in-our-midst and secret detention camps that can’t be closed because it would be too much trouble. I do remember seeing the first season of The 4400 long ago, but not much else about it. It was so long ago I rented it from Blockbuster Video. I bet people in 2187 wouldn’t know what that means. Hardly anyone remembers in 2021.

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