Main cast: Greg Kinnear (Mr Cotrell), Jack Gore (Charlie Cotrell), Mireille Enos (Mrs Cotrell), Shannon Merrill Brown (Rotko), Jack Lewis (Dylan Peretti), Zakk Paradise (Henry Peretti), Alana Arenas (Detective Fernandez), Terry Kinney (Mr Dick), and Marc Grapey (The Principal)
Director: Michael Dinner
The Father Thing, based on Philip K Dick’s The Father-Thing, is a pretty faithful adaptation, all things considered, although sadly, this one removes the observations on racial and social tapestry of the 1950s that would still be very relevant today. Oh well, maybe this show only deals with a safe kind of virtue signaling – one that doesn’t rock the boat too much.
Just like many other episodes in this series, the script also by director Michael Dinner attempts to pad up the episode – understandable, as the source material is a short story. Mr Dinner does one thing right away – he fleshes out the relationship between the boy Charlie Cotrell and his father so much so that, when the meteor shower strikes and the resulting alien invaders pull an Invasion of the Body Snatchers on people, it hits especially hard when Charlie suspects that his father has been replaced by one of the pod people-types.
Jack Gore is fortunately not too annoying as a brat actor here, and his chemistry with Greg Kinnear results in a Hallmark-like perfect father-and-son bonding that, while ordinarily cheesy, ends up generating plenty of feels when the father begins to act increasingly cold and even cruel to the son. It’s a most painful kind of betrayal, because it’s the type that hurts the most on a most fundamental level, so perhaps it is a blessing that Charlie witnesses his father being physically attacked by the alien. That thing isn’t his father, and he can find some solace in that.
However, the same issue that affects the short story also affects this episode. The whole thing would have been so much more viscerally hard-hitting if it had left readers or viewers wondering whether there had actually been any alien in the first place. Charlie is a boy, and a young child is often confused, even threatened or frightened, by their parents’ behavior. His parents are on the verge of breaking up, and given how many young kids can barely understand issues affecting the grown-ups such as divorce, the story can be easily be seen as a confused and unreliable narrative from Charlie’s point of view. He loves his father and believes that the man will always be around for him – he will not be able to understand why his father would leave his mother and him. The father could be viewed then as being a completely different person – possessed by an alien, perhaps, according to a kid’s fanciful imagination.
Hence, it would be a heartbreaking denouement if Charlie had “vanquished” the alien only to realize that there is no alien, only adults behaving in ways that confuse and hurt their children.
Then again, perhaps I can’t blame Michael Dinner for making a somewhat mostly faithful adaptation of a source material – he does a great job here. Giving the story layers of poignant, sentimental feels between the father and son only makes the resulting alien invasion tale rise from being some overdone fare to a hard-hitting sci-fi drama. If only more episodes in this series had been like this!