In the second episode of the short-lived 1985 cult series Otherworld, “The Zone Troopers Build Men,” young Trace Sterling (Tony O’Dell) is conscripted into the Zone Troopers, and sent off to basic training.
His worried parents attempt to rescue him from a life-time of involuntary service, but Trace realizes something important about himself at the 13-week boot camp: the training he receives is valuable. It changes him.
Soon, the sheltered Trace is undergoing rigorous training at the draconian hands (and torch…) of merciless Perel Sightings (Mark Lenard), the equivalent of a drill-sergeant. But where this new Z.I.T. (Zone Trooper in Training) differs philosophically from his mentor is in weighing the importance of compassion and loyalty. Perel sees such qualities as weaknesses, but Trace knows they are strengths.
Military service is about being part of a hierarchy and following orders, but too often people forget true service is also about becoming a fully-realized, capable individual…one who knows when orders are wrong, and will do something about that fact.
Trace clearly benefits from the skills he learns in the Zone Troopers, but that fact doesn’t change the truth that the organization – no matter its revered “Hall of Heroes” – takes its marching orders from a corrupt and cruel state. Trace is able to separate the commendable ethos of the Zone Troopers (“proficiency, pride and prowess“) from the unfit command structure that deploys it.
Written by Coleman Luck and directed by Richard Compton, “The Zone Troopers Builds Men” also does a fine job of reminding viewers that “this is not the United States. They don’t look at things the way we do,” as Hal Sterling comments.
On the creepy and oddball side, this episode features a wonderful and bizarre interlude in which Trace is led through a Zone Trooper museum, and there are all of these weird, totally-unexplained wax figures — heroes of the Unification Wars — displayed there.
You get the feeling the creators of the series had some interesting history in mind there, and I love when Otherworld heads off on these unexplored weird tangents.