Destruct that ship, General!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "The Invisibles" (2/03/1964)




“The Invisibles”
Season 1, Episode 19
Originally aired 2/03/1964

"It's all happening so fast, so much faster than I expected. All over this rich, great country, hosts in all the right places... Men in places so high... no one would believe how high they are!"


Three unassuming and anonymous men named Planetta, Castle and Spain are recruited to join the Society of The Invisibles, a secret organization conspiring to take over the US government --- and presumably the world after that --- by exposing key government officials to parasitic organisms which take over and control their actions. Each of them will be assigned different targets in different cities. The men are inoculated against accidental possession by the parasites, but Castle’s inoculation fails, rendering him deformed and unable to move forward.

Spain and Planetta are cleared for duty, however, and each are assigned separate targets in different cities, with the explicit instructions that they are not to contact one another (they’ve made a pact, however, to meet up secretly after their respective targets are infected). Spain is actually an undercover government operative investigating the Invisibles, and plans to use Planetta as an unwitting contact point between himself and his GIA (Government Intelligence Agency) superiors.

Spain’s assigned target is Senator Hilary Clarke in Washington D.C. He secures a job chauffeuring Clarke’s wife thanks to Oliver Fair, an Invisibles agent posing as Clarke’s aide. Just as Spain’s inoculation wears off, he’s shocked to discover that Clarke is already a member of the Society, and that the parasite he’s been hiding in his room is actually intended for him. He manages to sneak off, incurring a broken ankle in the process.



Almost delirious with pain, he makes his way to a nearby water treatment plant where he’s learned Planetta has been stationed. He reveals his true identity, at which point Planetta reveals his target for infection: Spain! Planetta releases the parasite, which eagerly comes after Spain as he feebly attempts to crawl away. GIA agents arrive on the scene and shoot Planetta (and the parasite) in the nick of time.



RANDOMONIUM

“The Invisibles” is another original teleplay from series producer Joseph Stefano, who as far as I’m concerned never wrote a bad Outer Limits script (I was going to cite the mediocre “Moonstone” as the exception, but he only helped mapped out the story, so that one doesn’t really count). Here he’s firing on all cylinders, crafting a tale rich in duplicitous intrigue, a riveting variation on the espionage adventure genre. The story would work equally well if the methodology involved was simple brainwashing versus extraterrestrial parasitic possession, but the inclusion of the crabby little beasts never feels grafted on or out of place. All the story elements flow nicely together and, like many other TOL episodes, could be expanded quite easily into a feature-length film. 




The power duo of Gerd Oswald and Conrad Hall is on hand for yet another heady cocktail of stellar directing and gorgeous noirish photography, and some of their staging and lighting evokes their previous triumphs, particularly “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork.” The dark hallway leading into the Invisibles complex is every bit as foreboding as the one leading into The Pit (the Energy Being’s domain). The storage lockers with screened windows, inside which the parasites lie in wait, look a bit like miniature Pits. Both episodes employ the same low-angled view as the villains (Senator Clarke here, Doctor Bloch) smugly level pistols at the heroes and subsequently lose themselves rhapsodizing about their respective dastardly plots. Both episodes depict their protagonists pushed to their limits and screaming in primal and abject fear (Spain as the parasite chases him down, and Stu Phillips as the Energy Being approaches him).



Sad to report, “The Invisibles” is the last time we’ll get to enjoy the power trio of Stefano, Oswald and Hall… until the very end of the season, that is, when all three will gloriously top themselves (impossible as it may seem) with “The Forms of Things Unknown.”


The Society of The Invisibles’ plot is an interesting mash-up of similar conspiracies depicted in earlier episodes. Here we have the strategic replacement of government officials from “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” crossed with the parasitic alien possession angle of "Corpus Earthling." It never feels derivative, however; in fact, the deft blending of already-explored concepts is highly successfully. I’ll just declare for the record, right here and now, that “The Invisibles” (which first premiered 50 years ago tonight) is one of my favorite episodes of the entire series, definitely in my top ten (I’ve stated in these pages that I don’t rank the episodes, which is true; however, I think I can pretty easily identify my ten favorites). 

As Governor Hillmond (or, if you prefer, the Ruler of the Society of The Invisibles) explains, the parasites were “conceived in the nothingness of space, sired by a satyr of cosmic energy, formed by the coming together of sick nameless nuclei that had waited a billion, billion years for that precise ungodly moment. We fell to Earth, and the velocity of that fall quickened the seed of intellect, at the same time that it stunted the evolution of our primitive form.” Damn, that’s almost poetic.

Hillmond indicates that the victims “suffer to the edge of death,” and that they’re “never the same again.” The hosts appear to still be human with no outward molestation, which begs the question: how much of their inner selves remain intact? Is the human mind obliterated, leaving a hollow shell occupied by a creature that mimics its victims? Or is it a shared, more symbiotic type of possession? Is the host aware of what is happening from moment to moment, but powerless to stop it? Would a host survive if the parasite vacated? 

Successful attachment results in the parasite fusing on a molecular level with the host’s spine, and is therefore not visible (at least when the subject is clothed; it’d be interesting to see a host’s naked back). “Improper” attachment results in the host becoming a hunchback (as it does with Castle, and did at some past point with the unnamed recruiter), but the mechanics of this unfortunate possibility are never addressed. Does the parasite miss its mark in those cases, and instead fuses with the host’s shoulder? The parasite is still present (hence the hunch; say that fast three times), but in what capacity is it controlling the host (if at all)? The recruiter is sufficiently creepy, but Castle just seems a bit… well, a bit mentally challenged after the ordeal. 


Speaking of the recruiter, check out time stamp 20:45, in which the doctor is demonstrating the attachment procedure to the new recruits. As he warns them that “defective attachment can result in deformity,” he looks directly (and a bit disgustedly) at the recruiter’s hump. I defy you not to pity the recruiter as you watch his face crumble a bit. Poor bastard.



The parasites look like a cross between a giant isopod and a crab. They aren’t terribly fast, and I’m a lot bigger than them, but I’d absolutely run like hell if one was coming toward me. I do love those little crustaceous feet, clacking anxiously like typewriter keys…. reminds me a bit of Clark Nova, the bug/living typewriter in 1991’s Naked Lunch, David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William C. Burroughs’ 1959 novel.


The casting of Neil Hammond and George MacReady as key political figures in the conspiracy is inspired, as both actors bring a sense of menacing gravitas which, in both cases, eventually dissolves into near-orgasmic, impassioned reverie as they grovel to their alien masters. Both pull it off beautifully (both have wonderful voices too; particularly Hammond, who will employ it to great effect next week in “The Bellero Shield”).



I detected some interesting homosexual undercurrents in the episode, particularly between Spain and Planetta. Ha! You thought I was going to point out Richard Dawson’s reading of Oliver Fair, didn't you? Well, okay, I’ll start there: Fair (who may as well be wearing a neon sign to advertise his sexual orientation) is blatantly trying to seduce Spain when he asks if they can talk privately in Spain’s “little room” (Spain hilariously rebuffs him with a pointed “Why?”). But the real sparks occur when Spain and Planetta are alone: the two immediately adopt dominant and submissive roles upon arriving at the training complex. Naked from the waist up, they endure the probing of the hungry (amorous?) parasites as their inoculations are tested (talk about bareback!). The parasitic invasion of the flesh --- which, as far as we can see, only targets men --- could be interpreted as a metaphor for sexual penetration.


Come to think of it, Naked Lunch (the film, not the book) was positively seething with homoerotic undercurrents… I wonder if Cronenberg was at all inspired by “The Invisibles.”


AURAL PLEASURE

In his Outer Limits Companion, David J. Schow reports that Dominic Frontiere’s score for “The Invisibles” is composed of new, somewhat-reorchestrated renderings of cues from previous scores. He mentions “The Architects of Fear” and “The Man Who Was Never Born” by name; however, those aren’t the only episodes represented here: we also hear several selections from the more recent “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” as well as the old favorite “It’s Here” from “The Human Factor.” Upon closer examination, the various cues do in fact sound at least somewhat different from the original recordings. Of particular interest is “A Father’s Search” from “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” (heard at the top of act three), which  is significantly slower and more ominous in its new rendering. Have a listen:

video

It’s worth mentioning that “The Invisibles” was the last score Frontiere recorded for The Outer Limits,* so in a way it serves as a nice greatest-hits-retrospective type of thing (the rest of season one will be scored with existing cues, with the notable exception of “The Forms of Things Unknown,” which we’ll address in early May). Unfortunately, the new(er) recordings don’t appear to have survived the ensuing half-century, as “The Invisibles” is conspicuously absent from La La Land Records’ comprehensive soundtrack set, which reportedly includes everything that still exists. I suppose it’s fortunate that a rehashed score is lost versus an entirely original one, but still…. well damn, I wish we could have it; in fact, I wish we could everything, every single bit of music Frontiere ever laid down, for both The Outer Limits and Stoney Burke (I’m a neurotic completist when it comes to these things).

One place the lost music might be found is on the original negatives. In their Definitive Edition DVD release of The Twilight Zone, Image Entertainment was able to provide isolated music tracks for many of the episodes because they were harvesting image and sound from the original camera negatives (which they did again for the subsequent blu-ray editions, yielding even more isolated music) and, thanks to these releases, the vast majority of the Twilight Zone scores are easily obtained. While I’d be thrilled to get The Outer Limits remastered in high definition for blu-ray, I’d be doubly thrilled if isolated music tracks were included as supplemental content. Seriously, I’d donate a kidney, maybe even a lung. I’d offer my first born, but she’s 21 now and out of my control entirely.

Anyway --- the “Invisibles” score (or lack thereof) aside, La La Land Records’ three-disc Outer Limits soundtrack collection is an absolute must-own for any fan of the series (or of great dramatic music). It can be had for a measly $15.98 plus shipping, so grab it before it’s gone forever (they can’t last forever at that price).










DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Don Gordon is excellent as GIA Agent Luis B. Spain in the first of two Outer Limits starring roles (he’ll return in March in “Second Chance”). He’s also a two-time Twilight Zone veteran (“The Four of Us Are Dying” and “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross,” the latter of which just turned 50 a couple of weeks back... and costars two-time TOL alum Gail Kobe).


Gov Lawrence K Hillmond (a.k.a. the Ruler of the Society of the Invisibles) is brought to life by George MacReady in the first of two Outer Limits appearances (he'll return in "Production and Decay of Strange Particles" in April). He also appeared on The Twilight Zone the same year ("The Long Morrow," which just turned 50 a few weeks ago).


Thanks to the fact that TV shows are shot in a different order than they are shot, Neil Hamilton (General Hilary J. Clarke) appears in two consecutive episodes (this week's "The Invisibles" and next week's "The Bellero Shield"). He's probably best remembered as Commissioner Gordon on TV's Batman (1966-68).


Richard Dawson (Oliver Fair) is certainly a familiar face, but not because of any other genre appearances. Dawson was the original host of TV’s long-running game show Family Feud, which I watched regularly as a kid (not so much these days; I'm not a big Steve Harvey fan).


Dee Hartford plays Mrs. Clarke in her only TOL appearance. She also appeared on The Twilight Zone the same year ("The Bewitchin' Pool," that venerable series' final episode) but, more importantly for our purposes, returned to the Daystar fold for "Fanfare for a Death Scene," the pilot episode of their Stryker series (which never got picked up). And yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and call her a TOL Babe.


The Invisibles Recruiter (the unfortunate hunchbacked fellow) is played by Walter Burke, who will return in "The Mutant" in March. He also appeared in "The Big Tall Wish" on The Twilight Zone.


The cast of "The Invisibles" includes a trio of Stoney Burke veterans. First, William O. Douglas, Jr. (Henry Castle) appears in "The Weapons Man" of that pre-TOL Daystar series (here on The Outer Limits, he was also the Andromedan alien in "The Galaxy Being," the Ghost of Private Gordon in "The Human Factor," and Aabel of Eros in the upcoming "The Children of Spider County"). The unnamed Doctor is played by John Graham, who popped up in SB's "The Wanderer." Finally, the undercover GIA agent at the power plant is played by Len Lesser, who appeared on SB twice ("Bandwagon" and "Kincaid").


HOME VIDEO RELEASES


For Columbia House's mail-order VHS club, “The Invisibles” was paired with “O.B.I.T.” (another favorite of mine). The episode was also sold individually in stores... but hey, there’s something strange about that cover. That's definitely Don Gordon’s face, but he never wears a plaid shirt and cardigan sweater in the episode. It’s actually the outfit worn by Tony Mordente (Planetta), so it seems MGM opted to do some creative Photoshopping (or maybe a manually cut-and-paste job, since digital image editing was in its infancy at that time) for some unknown reason.

Personally, I would've gone with a shot of Spain with the Parasite on his naked back (as seen in act two), since it’s a much more iconic and memorable moment. I guess it's not quite as dramatic, but...



“The Invisibles” was left out when 28 (of the 49 total) Outer Limits episodes were released on LaserDisc between 1990 and 1995, which must’ve pissed more than a few collectors off. However, MGM acquitted itself with the 2002 release of the entire first season on DVD (the second season arrived in 2003), but made the unfortunate choice to use dual-layered, double-sided discs (DVD-18s), which are prone to eventual failure. MGM announced that the series would be released again (in three volumes, with the longer first season split in half) on DVD in 2007, which raised the hopes of at least one fan (yeah, it was me) that the series would either be remastered in high definition (as Image Entertainment had done with The Twilight Zone two years earlier) or, at the very least, repressed on standard, reliable DVDs. Those hopes were unceremoniously dashed when it was revealed that inside the pretty new slim packaging were the same exact same discs from five years earlier. The three volumes were collected into one omnibus package in 2008. And now, six years later, MGM still hasn’t revisited the series for a blu-ray release. I’d love to think that new high definition masters are being created as I type this, but I have absolutely no reason to put faith in MGM at this point.

It therefore pains me to recommend that new fans watch the series for free on Hulu versus shelling out money for the DVDs. The streaming versions look about as good as the DVDs if you have a halfway decent internet connection and, since the DVDs have virtually no supplemental features (and again, they’re pressed on DVD-18s, which will likely fail at some point), so you aren’t losing anything. Hulu has all 49 episodes, so knock yourself out, kids.


TRADING CARD CORNER

Along with the Helosian (“O.B.I.T.”) and the Crystalline Parasite (“Corpus Earthling”), the Invisibles Parasite was suspiciously absent from Topps’ 1964 Monsters from Outer Limits card series. The Rittenhouse series ignored it as well, which leaves us with the 1997 effort by DuoCards. Their 81-card offering was split between the classic series and the (dramatically inferior) Showtime series (as well as select reprints of the classic Topps cards). The classic portion focuses exclusively on the first season; however, a “season two preview” card indicates that a second set was planned (but unfortunately never materialized). New series aside, it’s actually a thoughtfully-conceived and nicely executed set. The first dozen or so cards feature color behind-the-scenes pics (which I bet we’ll also see in the upcoming The Outer Limits at 50 book from David J. Schow), followed by 32 cards depicting each season one episode. “The Invisibles” is card #33.



MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT

The Invisibles Parasite would've made a great Sideshow Collectibles action figure, with poseable legs and anterior claws, and rendered in 1/1 scale (like their Zanti figures and their Twilight Zone Invader), but it unfortunately never happened. Maybe it would've been too big, I dunno. It’s a damn shame, though. In fact, it’s a damn share that the line ended so soon. 


However, all hope is not lost: like most Outer Limits aliens, the Invisibles Parasite was immortalized in a resin-and-metal model kit from Dimensional Designs (DD/OL/AP-22), sculpted by Ken Ito. Ito was also responsible for the excellent Ichthyosaurus Mercurius model (from “Tourist Attraction”), and his work here is similarly impressive. Google Images didn’t yield any Mr. Enamel shots this week but, fortunately, Ito himself has a painted specimen on display on his website, and it’s pretty amazing.



Check out that underside! Not that anybody’s gonna display it flat on its back, but it’s nice to know one has that option. DD lists the kit as being 1/8 scale, which is clearly a mistake, since that would make it about the size of a Cadbury Cream Egg. Ito’s site indicates that it’s actually 1/2 scale, which sounds much more likely (though a full-on 1:1 life-sized parasite would've been awesome). If you've got assembly-and-paint skills (I don’t), and would like your very own Invisibles Parasite (I do), $59.95 plus shipping and you’ll be golden, baby.


Milton Bradley released four Outer Limits puzzles in 1964, and the Invisibles parasite was depicted on one of them (he's up there in the upper right corner). These puzzles, oddly enough, command huge sums these days.  


THE WRAP-UP

Thoroughly riveting and highly entertaining,"The Invisibles" marks yet another resounding success for The Outer Limits. It ends on a semi-optimistic note, as we presume that Spain's survival and Fair's apprehension will equal the beginning of the end for the Society of the Invisibles' nefarious plans... but as Senator Clarke pointedly observes, their conspiracy goes all the way to the top. In this age of polarizing politics and economic upheaval, would it be such a stretch to imagine an alien influence is behind it all, engineering humanity's ultimate destruction?

As I watched the State of the Union Address last week, I gazed at the televised triangle of Vice President Biden, Speaker of the House Boehner and President Obama, and I couldn't help wonder... which of them might be an Invisible?





















....perhaps all three...?




* Frontiere recorded the score for “The Forms of Things Unknown” a month after “The Invisibles” session. However, it was intended primarily for the pilot episode of The Unknown (a series which never made it to air), so I don’t count it as a true Outer Limits score. La La Land Records agrees with me, since it’s not on their TOL soundtrack (they released it separately, on a different Frontiere soundtrack, as The Unknown). So there.




10 comments:

  1. Cool blog; OL - so much to savor. The models & other regalia here, info - way interesting. OL sure stands tall, a monument to the whole tradition it represents - post-war scifi cinema cycle founded 1951 (DAY EARTH STOOD STILL).

    This one's a flawed fave whose high points triumph. Its 'bear' effects give me few praises to sing. Especially after wildly effective monster effects we got in other 1st seasoners (even a 2nd, KEEPERS). Like DAY OF TRIFIDS maybe. Great, except - the trifids themselves, weak link. Especially when they walk, for good analogy here.

    Still, INVISIBLES rates high on my scale. Intrigue-based OLs, 'MISSION IMPOSSIBLE intel community' angle (IINHERITORS, SPIDER COUNTY etc) are faves.

    OL story details left untold so often serve well, as blanks for hungry imagination to fill. E.g. how in heck these top secret scientists got that little Thetan. With no conclusive answer possible, such glaring riddles add never-ending depth.

    Fog written-in is true blue to the style of OL's precedents. What planet Klaatu came from: pure fog, dramatically tantalizing. The effect heightened by hints like - only a couple hundred million miles away?!? (as Klaatu tells) In our own solar system - an implication not spelled out (between the lines).

    INVISIBLES has two WOW moments of understated max jolt, in Act 2. 1st - scene we learn us viewers have been infiltrated. Taken along on a covert op, unawares. Spain's 'Rebel Without Cause' persona cover worked so well, we never suspected him as other than a bum. No more than did the Society recruiting him.

    Except as turns out, maybe the Soc really WASN'T so fooled. Only acting 'useful idiots' - precisely to entice GIA into such an attempt - unwittingly; thus giving the Invisibles a chance to infiltrate GIA. A delicious subtlety, when Geo says: "If we seem too trusting, don't be deceived ..." It finally struck me, was he hinting (to Spain): "Hah hah, fooled you with that talk about lowlifes not being hosted, on account of they're not important enough ..."

    For Invisibles, 'unimportance' wouldn't solve a security risk from not having bum agents under direct parasite control. Hardly 'Best Practices' for an inevitability so virile or viral, or whatever. And maybe that's the point. How else might Invisibles lure GIA (not realizing the trap, as baited) into making such an attempt?

    The 'non-hosting' of bums comes out, subtly, as a sneak set-up. Trap wouldn't be baited otherwise. There'd be no opening for a Spain caper, unless he retains his mind, control of his own will, as hosting would disallow.

    2nd, even higher impact point - is the uncertainty of plight Spain now finds himself in - when 'boots' turns up as demonstration corpse. What about the recorder, has it fallen into wrong hands? How blown is Spain's cover, how badly breached the entire operation? The look on his face, last shot ...

    Many subtleties to savor. But - can anyone address a murky INVISIBLES story riddle I've never seen mentioned, spanning two locations: the 'camp' and the 'plant.' Never mind WHY Spain goes to the plant looking for Planetta, when (as we learn) he's actually on his way to HQ.

    Granting him his reasons, whatever they be - what really boggles is HOW?

    How on Gilligan's Planet does Spain think, know or whatever - that Planetta's even AT that location in the 1st place ? (!?!?)

    I tried rationalizing - oh, so the plant IS the camp. Same place. And far as Spain knew, Planetta hadn't yet been sent elsewhere. Last known whereabouts to Spain, would be the 'camp/plant' (as I tried to make it).

    Tried telling myself - why or wherefores aside, THAT's how Spain knew to find Planetta there. But it really doesn't work - they're not same location in the story.

    Can anyone shed any light? Me no understand ... Must calculate, but cannot.

    No big deal, just sayin' ... A cool cool show.

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  2. Spain learns that Planetta is also located in Washington D.C. when he calls his superiors from the phone booth in act three (time stamp 29:50). It's easy to miss.

    Great post, Brian!

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  3. Craig -- thanks for yet another excellent blog that increases our excitement about the episode. Brian Akers comment is also really good.

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  4. This is one of my top 5 favorites! I think it is a well-written and well-acted episode.

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  5. One of my favorite moments is when General Clarke and Governor Hillmond release an impassioned plea and promise of faith to the aliens. Both actors, George MacReady and Neil Hamilton, do a great job of being manipulative bad guys who each suddenly breakdown, to praise their masters.

    There is another favorite scene when Spain, who has suffered a painful ankle injury, tries to escape an alien in hot pursuit. The alien moves along very slowly, complete with partially visible strings, that tug it along as Spain crawls in desperation. I am always amazed at how big a sucker I am for those special effects strings.

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  6. Craig - thanks for directing me to that little detail, the phone booth scene. Wonder how I missed that. Dopey me ... shazbatt-faced with delight and appreciation. That little clue you tossed me really ties loose ends together - further enriching my enjoyment of this great OL.

    I never cease to dig how this series treats viewers not as children, or couch potato idiots needing every detail spelled out for them - but rather as perceptive and intelligent. Not only able to 'get it' - but enjoy that much more for understated telling of the tale.

    This flashes me back to DON'T OPEN TILL DOOMSDAY. Took me forever to figure out what was going on at a certain level of the story. Simply because - I didn't recognize a face in a newspaper photo, shown briefly - Dr. Mordecai Spazman (as identified in the accompanying story headline) - as the actor we saw in the opening scene - a sort of 'greek bearing gift' type.

    I don't know how many viewings before I spotted that. And realized how it all 'tied in' (as they say on DRAGNET) to the hitherto bewildering storyline. Which I nonetheless enjoyed, even without 'getting it' ... But its much richer after cluing in ... stuff only gets better.

    So. Cooler and cooler. Thanks again C (a shout out to Adrian too)

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  7. Well written, well shot, well acted...probably the absolute best episode of anything show ever. Yeah I'm biased but this is the episode to watch if you have never watched The Outer Limits in your life. Don Gordon turns in an incredible performance as Spain. Neil Hamilton's over acting ,in the scene where he reveals the master plan to Spain, is marvelous and I could go on for days about the other actors. It just was an incredibly engaging episode and scares the living shit out of me even today. It is hard to believe "The Invisibles" and "Tourist Attraction" came out of the same season.

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  8. Oh, of the 3 of them, I'd say John Boehner is the invisible. He's the evil one, after all. :)

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  9. About Dee Hartford--there's another sci-fi connection; she appeared in two episodes of "Lost in Space" (unless kiddie sci-fi doesn't count).

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  10. Well, I'm still on my OL binge. And now that I've seen them ALL again the past 6 months, I'm watching the BEST ones again and again. (To me, BEST ones means 10 or 15 episodes of this great series!) So I've probably watched INVISIBLES about 8 times the past many months. Can't put this darn episode away! (Same with Corpus Earthling and several others).

    All in all, this is a fantastic episode. Boy, the music is such an important part of this series. First season, you just can't beat the music.... 2nd season ain't so bad either, but it IS weaker... You just can't beat first season OL episodes. This one is creepy as heck. Oh yeah, nice blogging my friend!

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