By Paula R. Stiles
Recap: “Take Me to Your Leader“, the season two finale of Life After People, takes new looks at some old standbys: Washington D.C. and NYC. The presidential dog, Bo, stands in for the animal kingdom. The White House, Monticello, Versailles, the Imperial Palace in China, and the United Nations complex represent the “buildings go boom” faction. Meanwhile, a parade of famous dead-leader bodies processes through the episode, including the likes of Ulysses S. Grant, Woodrow Wilson and Mao Zedong. Present-day xamples include places like Hunter’s Point in San Francisco, a military base where massive and reckless radiation experiments were conducted during the Cold War.
Review: I was a tad skeptical of the idea for this one, at first. It felt like a retread of the Greatest Hits of the past two seasons, with famous buildings crashing and burning all over the world. But this went pretty nicely for a few reasons. First, they pulled out all the stops on the CGI. That dynamic image of the White House a decade after humans, for example, with the living eagle in the foreground, is really nice. We also got some buildings that we don’t normally get (the Imperial Palace and Versailles). I thought they could have done more with the former, but they did Versailles pretty proud. When we were going through it several years back, a friend of mine referred to Versailles as “an obsessive-compulsive’s paradise.” She was so right that I laughed out loud. Every single surface of the inside of that building is covered with some kind of decoration. The details are beautiful, but the totality of it makes your brain hurt. Still, the show treats the successive images of the rococo decay really well. I was especially intrigued (and surprised) by the discussion of the construction of the mirrors using large amounts of mercury. Unsurprisingly, the mercury, even suspended in a solid state, retards some of the organic encroachment, since it’s poisonous.
This is another nice thing about “Take Me to Your Leader” that makes it a satisfying season ending: the writers went to great lengths to research some cool and offbeat details. There are the mercury mirrors of Versailles and also the discussion of the various renovations of the White House (and how they affected its longevity). Grant’s Tomb suffers an eccentric fate due to tree growth and encroachment. We find out that Bo’s Portuguese Water Dog is claimed by some to be the oldest dog breed. And while this isn’t the first time Life After People has flooded either D.C. or NYC (though that kind of water imagery never gets old for me), the episode goes into a bit more detail on what that would look like – underwater detail, to be exact.
As with last week, I feel as though the series is improving over season one, which felt played out toward the end. I look at this season and I like a lot of where the showrunners have gone. But I also see some things where they could still go. For example, they’ve hardly touched the Southern Hemisphere (the Sydney Opera House doesn’t nearly cover it). Africa’s gotten few look-ins. Tell me about Timbuktu or the Great Zimbabwe. Would the grasslands advance again over the Sahara? Like that.
Also, what about the South Pacific or the Indian Ocean? Indonesia, Micronesia, what would happen there? How would the great statues of Easter Island fare? How about Machu Picchu? Would the lake waters reclaim Mexico, the rainforest smother the cities of Central America?
Also interesting would be changing things up a bit. Aside from an ice age or two, the weather in a Life After People has been surprisingly peaceful. And the skies are downright friendly. What, no death comets (yeah, I’m watching Mega Disasters, which is popcorn science, while I write this review. Sue me)? Or volcanoes like the ones that destroyed Thera or Krakatoa? Throw some more variables into the mix. If convenient earthquakes can be recruited to bring down particularly sturdy buildings (like the Taj Mahal), I see no reason why other rare disasters can’t occur, too. Now that the show has the basics down, it can play with its scenario some more.