April 28, 2012

Inhumanoids, episode 6: "Cypheroid"

Hector Ramirez, host of 20 Questions, airs a report on the Inhumanoids, recapping the events of the previous five episode while, along with the rest of the media, grilling Earth Corps about their methods and the assistance they received from other mysterious creatures (the Mutors, who Earth Corps is trying to keep under wraps). It's also revealed that Blackthorne Shore is serving a 5 year sentence in The Glades, a swamp-based prison, where his cellmate is Dr. Herman Mangler, a geneticist "who was convicted of creating nightmare creatures in his private lab." Ramirez ends on the lingering question of what happened to the missing piece of Tendril.

Earth Corps is wondering the same thing. Aross town, in a junk yard, the sample grows into a new Tendril and goes on a rampage. The police try to take him down and fail. Earth Corps rushes to the scene, subdues Tendril, and prepares to destroy him once and for all with a laser canon. They're interrupted by Senator Masterson, who, as chairman of the Wildlife Committe, demands Tendril be protected and placed in a zoo. Before Earth Corps can object, four choppers swoop in and carry Tendril off in a net.

At Tendril's new pen, Senator Masterson has Cypheroid, a complex computer system, brought in to try to communicate with the monster. When it doesn't work, Masterson leaves in a huff. Later that night, Cypheroid, who's tired of being a slave to humanity, frees Tendril in exchange for the monster taking the computer with and following all of its orders.

At Earth Corps HQ, our heroes fume at the news and argue about how to handle it. Then they notice their computer system is smoking. They jump away just before it explodes, but Dr. Bright is injured and rushed off to the hospital. Elsewhere, Cypheroid and Tendril raid an electronics warehouse and the computer guides the frustrated simpleton into assembling a new housing unit. Which is missing one final component.

Earth Corps (minus Bright), descends into the Earth and are quickly ambushed by Tendril. He just bats the heroes away and runs off with their Terra Scout. Earth Corps regroups and activates a tracer on their stolen vehicle, but Cypheroid, now fused to the Terra Scout and independently mobile, has found the tracer and uses it to lure Earth Corps to a cavern beneath a giant lake. Tendril lies in wait, smashing open the ceiling and dumping the entire lake's worth of water on top of them. Earth Corps and their Trappeur are swept along through tunnels on a wet and wild ride.

Cypheroid approaches the Granite kingdom and demands Metlar be released to her custody. When negotiations quickly prove fruitless, it cuts through with firepower, turning several Granites at gunpoint and taking out one half of Magnokor. Per a "bargain" Cypheroid struck, Metlar is now free to leave with it as long as no violence is committed against the city. As they walk away, Cypheroid pitches its master plan to make itself and Metlar the most powerful beings on the planet. But Metlar doesn't share the top spot with anybody and beats Cypheroid into obedience.

Cypheroid enacts the next phase of its plan. It contacts Blackthorne at The Glades, then has Tendril rip up into the complex, setting all the inmates free. Blackthorne brings Dr. Mangler along, but the other man slips and falls into a swamp where toxic waste has been discarded. Blackthorne promises to return for the struggling man as he runs off.

Earth Corps washes up in an underground cavern and sets about recovering their trapped Trappeur. Metlar shows up, and we realize Cypheroid is playing all side with a plan for Metlar to kill Earth Corps and Blackthorne to harness Metlar, but Blackthorne shows up early (in a new suit), and attacks Metlar while Earth Corps is still unharmed. Liquidator destroys Cypheroid with a blast of acid and Tendril arrives, freeing Metlar by knocking aside Blackthorne, who runs away. Earth Corps beats a hasty retreat as well.

At their HQ, Earth Corps stews over a victory that feels a lot more like a loss. Meanwhile, Blackthorne is still in the caverns, running like hell while Metlar gives chase.


Throughout the entire five-part pilot series, we've been lamenting the lack of actual Flint Dille. Sure, his name was in the credits, but where was the bold, zany, cynical, mischievous Dille who caught us completely off guard with crazy plot twists and left us laughing with absurdist satire in his sequel follow-up show, Visionaries? Yes, this is an earlier work, but his episodes of Transformers and G.I. Joe were even earlier, and his style was already present. Well here, my friend, here we finally have a Dille episode that's so saturated with all that Dille goodness that it's leaving a mutating runoff in the nearby swamps.

How does he choose to recap the events of the opening mini, which was serialized almost a year earlier? By digging out Geraldo Rivera spoof Hector Ramirez, a stock character who'd previously appeared in G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Jem and the Holograms, and present it as a news special attacking Earth Corps about what really happened over those days of devastation. It sets in motion the debut of a recurring gag where Auger hurls his shoe at a tv, then a radio, whatever source delivers the views of a media digging for a story in the wrong direction.

And then there's the piece of Tendril, casually discarded as a harmless piece of trash, which arises as a brand new Tendril in the middle of a junk yard. Earth Corps leaps into action, but what happens? Senator Masterson shows up and wants to keep the creature alive and unharmed, complete with lines to the media about how much he cares for and respects wildlife. Me thinks someone has an upcoming election.

And then we get The Glades, a swamp based prison where they dispose of toxic waste in the surrounding swamps, a plot element there for no other reason than to turn Mangler into a mutant when he falls in. And not only do you have to love a character named Dr. Mangler, but the way he's cheekily introduced as a geneticist caught making nightmare creations in his lab. In that one sentence, they immediately tell you everything they have planned for this character, saving Dille on having to build up to it and winning more applause from me for its blunt, absurd honesty.

This show is hilarious. The plotting is all over the place, but the semi-irreverent manner in which it's delivered skates over the weak points by presenting them in a way that makes me laugh.

And let's talk about GLaDOS Cypheroid. The introduction - a super computer brought in to try to talk to Tendril - is completely random nonsense, but it's presented as completely random nonsense on the part of Masterson, so it works. And I love Cypheroid, who's tired of being a slave to the computations of human kind, and who wants to be free and to use its intellect to rule the world as it sees fit. It does so in a way that makes a lot of sense: first, get Tendril, the muscle, to free you and give you the means (stolen parts, Terra Scout) to become independently mobile. Then go after Metlar, a powerhouse who can help you conquer the world. When that doesn't work, go after Blackthorne, who can harness the powerhouse after the powerhouse take out your enemies. This is brilliant. And of course it doesn't work because the ever eager Blackthorne jumps into things too early. This one computer, who just wanted to be free and make something of itself, creates such a meticulous nightmare for everyone that I was genuinely stunned to see Cypheroid destroyed. With Blackthorne and Metlar already at odds, making it a triumvirate with Cypheroid sticking around would have been a blast to watch, especially since it has just as much sway over Tendril as Metlar does. And I love how perfectly the voice actress (is it Susan Silo?) slips into the part of a machine who wants to be respected, dammit. Great character, shame to see it go so soon.

Speaking of Blackthorne, what the hell is up with his new suit? Like Auger's, it looks too organic, too alien, in comparison to the heavy machinery look of the others. I prefer his old look.

I really dug this episode. It's completely out there, one of the craziest damn things I've seen in a long time, but unlike the opening 5-parter, this feels intentional. I love how Sandra continues being a part of the team, and how Bright is forced to step aside. I love the garbage men arguing over what to do about Tendril. I love Hector Ramirez not realizing the camera is on right away. I love the Russians proudly declaring their victory over the Inhumanoid threat. I love the idea of dropping an entire lake on the heroes. I love the Granites trying to maintain their dignity while capitulating at gunpoint. I love Tendril scratching his head while he looks at computer components and wonders where in the hell the tab A is that's supposed to go in the where in the hell is slot B. I love Auger being an asshole who checks Bright for a pulse, then complains when he finally finds one. I love everyone, hero and villain alike, turning tail and running the hell away from each other at the end.

I really, really dug this episode. Everything I loved about Visionaries - the crazy world building, the bold challenging of kid show conventions, the hilarious humor - has finally found itself front and center here, and I can't wait to see what the next episode brings.

A few thoughts:
  • Typically, people are supposed to eject from a helicopter before it explodes. If the pilot is thrown out by the explosion, he's not going to be so alive as his parachute drifts towards the earth.
  • If they were going to redesign anyone's armor, couldn't they have given Sandra a makeover? She still looks like she's in a bland prototype model that lacks the distinction of the others.
  • I love hearing the opening theme orchestrated in the style of the closing credits music. It's so cheesy, but surprisingly rousing.
  • How did Hector get all that footage he was using in his special?


My fellow Super Saturday scribe Nathan will tell you that my memory can be a little suspect from time to time, but as I was watching this week’s episode, several things felt very familiar to me. Norman mentioned Hector Ramirez, who is an old friend from one of my favorite G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episodes, “Twenty Questions”, written by the great Buzz Dixon. I love that his inclusion here creates a tacit connection with other Sunbow properties, and it’s neat to think that Jem and Holograms might be playing a gig just down the road from Earth Corps HQ while the Joes battle Cobra in some exotic location half way around the globe. Beyond Ramirez, “Cypheroid” feels like an episode of G.I. Joe to me. From the laser-wielding police officers (replacing laser-wielding soldiers), to the last second (or, as Nolan mentioned, after the fact) parachutes emerging from exploding helicopters, to the maximum security prison hidden deep within the everglades, to the total implausibility that it wears on its sleeve like a badge of honor. It lacks the same sort of accessibility and sugar-rush energy, but it’s definitely a kindred spirit. I think that’s at least partially why I enjoy this episode, but there are other, more important, reasons why it works better than the previous five.

For one, the choppy storytelling from the patched together serials is gone, replaced by a more traditional arc. Before, each “episode” built to a series of never ending cliffhangers and false climaxes before ending on yet another false cliffhanger. The result here is a bit more satisfying, though the hasty retreat and subsequent easy escape of our heroes at the end feels like a cop out. There's absolutely nothing stopping Metlar from pursuing them. Quitters never win, dude. Not to mention, having an episode end without a clear winner is like having a porn end before the money shot. Honestly I don’t care who wins, I just want the loser on their knees dripping in defeat.

Also improved are the characterizations of the Inhumanoids. Neville mentioned the great moment where a confused Tendril tries to figure out how to piece together some components, which adds a little personality to the henchman, and the generic “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” persona of Metlar is dropped in favor of something more subtle and cunning, and he also gets a few good one-liners. Hopefully they manage to do something with D’Compose when he finally makes an appearance, because his constant shrieking was the reason God invented the mute button. I also really like the self-serving piety of Senator Masterson and the darkly sinister promise of Dr. Manglar.

Unfortunately, our heroes remain as bland as ever, except for Auger, whose misanthropy is oddly endearing when compared to the oatmeal-like personalities of his compatriots. I think what Dille is trying to do here is create the Earth Corps in the mold of the Fantastic Four; heroes as media celebrities with a dysfunctional family dynamic. Unfortunately, Dille took Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm, and mashed them together to create Auger, and what’s left are three Reed Richards. The imbalance is like a teeter-totter with Wilford Brimley on one seat, Peter Dinklage on the other. It’s kinda funny to look at, but it doesn’t move.

More and more I’m convinced that this is, and will be for its remaining episodes, a series at war with itself. Not only are the concepts gruesome, but Dille is attempting to skirt convention even as he drives headlong through it. The results thus far have been uneven, but at least now, with the shackles of the previous format removed and a few solid tweaks in place, it seems to be finding its footing. I’m sure my partner Noah agrees.

Tune in next Saturday as we dive into another Inhumanoids adventure with "The Surma Plan".


Angie Tusa said...

Okay, what did I miss? Why is Tony calling Noel by a different wrong name repeatedly? :)

NoelCT said...

As Tony mentions just before he dives into the misnaming, I often tease him for his poor memory. I'd been especially mischievous about it behind the scenes the week we put this one together, so he was taking a friendly jab in return. :)