Picking up where the last episode left off, Blackthorne is running like hell from the enraged pursuit of Metlar. In another cave, Earth Corps tracks down the rogue Tendril 2 and kills him with a missile. They decide to head to the Granites so they can put an end to the original Tendril, unaware that he just burst his way free from his imprisonment.
In Russia, military leaders stew over the news that Metlar and Tendril are once again free and decide to enact Operation: Surma, where noted military hero and chess master Anatoly Kiev, and an unnamed KGB officer, will drill a tunnel to Infernac (the elemental core from past episodes) which they'll then flood with water from a dam on the surface. They hope the mixture of heat and cold will cause Infernac to explode, wiping out everything beneath the Earth's crust.
Just before being nabbed by Soviet Police, one of the members of the meeting leaks word to a US spy. In the White House, the President is briefed. The explosion resulting from Operation: Surma could potentially crack the planet in half, ending the world as we know it. They know they can't talk the Russians out of it and there's nothing that can be done militarily in time, so the President decides to call Earth Corps. Unfortunately, Auger initially mistakes the call as a crank and hangs up.
Blackthorne, accompanied by a group of hired thugs, returns to the everglades prison from which he escaped, draining the swamp and finding the skeletal remains of Dr. Manglar, his unfortunate cellmate. While inspecting the Dr.'s skull, Mangler's face suddenly appears, telling Blackthorne to find D'Compose.
The Russian forces - decked out with tanks, helicopters, and a massive drilling vehicle - arrive at the Granite city. After debating the meaning of these invaders, the Granites decide to try opening a line of communication to see what's what. Anatoly wants to keep the situation peaceful and talk, but KGB orders his commander to order the men to fire, on the threat of treason. They do so. The Granites put up a fight, but are eventually driven back by the heavy firepower.
Blackthorne and his men poke around Big Sur National Forest at night. They're attacked by Redwoods, but fight off the Mutores with chainsaws and flamethrowers just long enough for Blackthorne to break the amber prison holding D'Compose. D'Compose d'composes two Redwoods, chasing the others away, then follows Blackthorne back to his headquarters. D'Compose dips his hand into the vat of toxic swamp mud containing Dr. Manglar's remains, bringing the scientist back to life as a skeletal mutation so hideous that even D'Compose shudders away from it in repulsion.
The Russians arrive in the chamber filled with crystal stalactites, but Earth Corps is waiting for them, setting off a bomb that rains down crystal chunks and destroys half the vehicles. The Russians push through, though, and get the heroes at gunpoint. Herc tries to reason, telling the Russians about the consequences of Surma, but KGB orders his men to take aim and prepare to execute Earth Corps.
Metlar shows up, attacking everyone with his statue soldiers. The Russians lose more vehicles, but push through. Earth Corps is pinned down, their vehicles heavily damaged. Before Metlar can press his attack, Magnokor shows up and his two halves once again lock Metlar in place. Earth Corps figures only the power of Metlar can save the day and tries to reason with Magnokor, but the Mutore refuses to free the Inhumanoid. So Earth Corps takes out the two halves with rockets and Metlar laughs at the strange bedfellows war can create.
The Russians are approaching the gate leading to Infernac, guarded by a massive stone Colossus. Despite doubts Anatoly is having about the mission, KGB quickly blows the shit out of the Colossus, then destroys the gate, finishing a clear path for the water on the surface to take to Infernac. The dam is blown and a river empties into the upper chambers of the cave.
Metlar shows up and KGB orders Anatoly to take the Inhumanoid out with their final missile. Instead, Anatoly causes the rocket to stray off harmlessly, then tosses KGB a sock to the jaw. KGB and the other Russians run off as Metlar pulps their drilling vehicle, but Anatoly lingers behind. Metlar and Earth Corps work together to build a wall of stones over the destroyed gate, Metlar sealing the barrier with magma. He then decides to take care of two birds with one stone by dropping lava on Earth Corps. Liquidator manages to cool the lava, but not before it envelops them.
Metlar is set to head for high ground, but Anatoly is in his path in the last of the Russian tanks, threatening to blow open the barrier if Earth Corps is not rescued. Metlar begrudgingly sets the chunk of lava up on a high ledge, crumbling it so Earth Corps can free themselves, then retreats to safety. Having saved the day, Anatoly sends the heroes a salute as the wall of water appears and rushes towards him... but he and his tank are lifted to safety by Magnokor, despite the Mutore still being pissed at having lost Metlar.
The American and Russian governments have their meetings and put their own spins on how the situation played out. In the Granite city, Earth Corps thanks Anatoly and promises to turn the tank he stood his ground in into his own Exploration Suit.
Sandra suddenly worries about her brother, and back in Blackthorne's lab, the d'composed Dr. Manglar hisses out "Thus begins the Cult of the Undead."
Greetings fellow Showcasers! I’m writing this week’s review from the Denny’s in Branson, Missouri where world famous comedian Yakov Smirnoff is about to clock out from his shift.
“Yakov! Yakov, over here. First of all, thank you for joining us. I know you must be tired after rushin’ around all evening to keep those tables clean.”
“. . . .”
“Right. Anyway, I thought since this week’s episode of Inhumanoids brings the Cold War back front and center, who better to help me with the review than America’s favorite Soviet satirist.”
“You pay, yes?”
“Um, yeah. I...”
“Yeah. Five dollars a joke, like we agreed.”
“Price now ten.”
“Te-- Okay, ten. Why don’t you start us off.”
*Ahem* “In America, you watch cartoon. In Soviet Russia, cartoon watch you!”
The first thing I noticed this week is that even though we’re now into the second standard episode of the series, Inhumanoids retains a bit of its previous serialized nature. This was also true of Dille’s next animated series (and one of our previous Showcases), Visionaries. While that may be fairly commonplace today, in the 80s it was anything but. This is a bold storytelling choice that rewards loyal viewership with a richer experience, but also risks confusing and alienating new viewers. Not unlike my reviews.
“Yakov, what do you think about the decision to serialize the stories?”
“When I first come to America, I was in bar watching TV. I say to bartender ‘I don’t understand this.’ And he say to me, ‘Is soap opera. Is serialized.’ And I say ‘Soap and cereal together. You can get clean and eat at the same time? What a country!’ ”
Plot-wise, this week’s episode feels very familiar. My Showcase partner, Ned, likes to make fun of my memory, but I actually remembered that back during the “Evil that Lies Within” mini-series, Metlar had a plan destroy the Earth’s core using missiles, which he thought would accomplish... something, but in reality would destroy the Earth. That batshit crazy scheme led to similar uneasy alliances, double-crosses, and tense countdowns. This isn’t a wholesale repeat, but it’s part of a larger mosaic of redundancy that seems to plague this series. I’ve lost count of how many times the climax has involved Magnokor or Blackthorne holding a pissed off Metlar in a magnetic field while Earth Corps scurries around battling a screeching D’Compose and Tendril watches black market Swedish snuff pornography and sniffs Poppers. Wait, forget that last part. I’m thinking of Snorks.
“Yakov, what do you have to say about the redundancy so far?”
“You have Poppers?”
“No, dude, I don’t.”
“But the bear... he is hungry.”
“He... he needs to be fed.”
“Just give us a joke, okay?”
“In Soviet Russia, comedians Jonesing for a fix kill second rate blog writers with questionable grammatical skills.”
“It’s a good thing there’s no one like that here, right? Okay, look, here’s your thirty bucks. Thanks for stopping by. Maybe I’ll see you on Craigslist some time. Yak--"
“Yakov Smirnoff, everybody. What a country. What a comedian.”
With Yakov’s moped disappearing into the dusky shadows of the encroaching Branson evening, my Grand Slam breakfast getting cold, and Carla, the attractive-in-a-young-Kathy-Bates-kind-of-way waitress promising to show me what a “Branson Banzai” is when her shift ends in ten minutes, I think it’s time for a “What I liked/didn’t like” list.
What I liked:
- Blackthorne pulling Dr. Manglar’s skull from the swamp. It’s arguably the most graphic example yet of how this show doesn’t pull its punches. The fact that Manglar’s disembodied “spirit” somehow remained and that he was subsequently resurrected by D’Compose doesn’t change the fact that he was in fact killed in an explicit and terrifying way.
- Some balance is given to the portrayal of the Soviets in the form of the levelheaded Anatoly.
- Though the basic story here is a bit weak, the ending sets a number of potentially interesting plots in motion.
- The one minute coda at the end of the episode does a better job of establishing the personalities and functions of the Earth Corps team than the all of the episodes thus far combined.
- Again, the general dull aesthetics associated with setting so much of the action underground.
- Dille doesn’t seem to know what to do with Bright. Initially, his role appeared to be as the Wang to Auger’s Chung, but in the last episode, he was sidelined early and here he’s just sort of... there. It’s almost as if Dille dislikes him almost as much as Auger does.
- Worst. Reagan. Impression. Ever.
Here's what I'll agree with Tony on: this episode is a retread. A mission to the Earth's core, fighting the monsters, dealing with Granites, threatening Infernac with destruction... we've seen it all. But not like this. This time, the Russian mission is a dark mirror of Earth Corps original expedition, with the discovery and hope now replaced by brutality and ignorance as KGB (my nickname, not the show's - he's literally just never named) plows through all opposition to see the great mission of his motherland through to the end. It's brutal how he cuts through the Granites, dismissing them as savages, then orders the execution of Earth Corps, but it's softened by a tongue firmly planted in Dille's cheek as the gung-ho attitude of the Soviets is cranked up to ridiculous degrees, we get the great meeting of the military leaders and the police closing in on the spy, and people shouting left and right lines like "The Soviets are getting away!" or "I will have to destroy the Russians myself!" Both of which are said back to back, now that I think about it. Anyways, it's so knowingly silly and 80s and over-the-top that one can't help but laugh at it. And, yeah, Dille balances that one side of Cold War Soviet stereotyping with Anatoly, constantly in a struggle between the reality of the situation and the orders of his motherland, who finally takes a stand and saves the day. While Metlar and Earth Corps ultimately saved the world, Anatoly saved Earth Corps, meaning he kept the show alive for a few more episodes and will now be getting his own mech suit out of it. So yay!
Though, yes, in the midst of all this satire, the Ronald Reagan impersonation from the unseen President is really quite awful.
But I love the story. It's silly. It covers some of the same ground as the initial mini, but it's exciting, funny, and I love the new spin as this alternate exploration tips the hand of the central conflict of the show and suddenly all our stars - Earth Corps, Inhumanoid, and Mutore alike - has to band together to save themselves from mutual destruction. I mean, sure, it's weird that Metlar sees the destruction of Infernac as so devastating when he himself was trying to destroy it a mere two episodes ago, but that was by missile and this is by steam, so I'm willing to handwave the difference in terms of how it would affect the surface. He just wanted a volcanic wasteland, not a dead planet cracked in half. Ultimately, I love how we get to see everyone play off of one another, especially Earth Corps all slumped over having to take out Magnokor in order to set Metlar free, and Metlar turning on the heroes in the end, only to be all ".... Dammit!" when Anatoly turns the situation back on him.
As Tony points out, this series does take some bold steps into serialization which were very much ahead of its time. The entire Russian plot comes as a result of the attack on their base in episode 5 and was foreshadowed by a news report in episode 6. Dr. Bright and the vehicles are noted as being back in working order after they were beaten up in the last episode. And then there's the Blackthorne plot, which literally picks up right where the last episode left off, with the man being chased through the catacombs by a raging Metlar.
Once he gets free, we're back to the threads of the last episode as Blackthorne, in a disturbingly noble gesture for him, stays true to his promise to return for Dr. Manglar who, as Tony mentioned, wasn't mutated when he fell in the toxic waste - he was full on killed, which is extremely bold for an 80s toon. In an episode where we have Russian soldiers parachuting out of destroyed choppers and fleeing smashed tanks with no damage to their person, we also have this man who was alive the last time we saw him now being a dirty skull with worms wriggling in the eye sockets. Yes, the argument can be made that they got away with it because he comes back from the dead, but look what he comes back as. A skeletal, veiny monstrosity with a spinal chord tendril for an arm, hissing about the Cult of the Undead. This is some freeky ass imagery, and I love that Dill acknowledges how far he's gone by having even D'Compose shutter in horror at the sight.
Where this thread goes, as well as the promise of Anatoly getting his own suit, I don't know, but I'm damn curious to find out come next week. I'm sorry Tony, but I loved this episode. It was crazy, but in a very aware and intelligent way which perfectly balanced the horror of Blackthorne's plot with the silly war games of the Russians. While, yes, the basic thread is familiar, it is so in a way I find clever and refreshing as it has some fun with the conventions it's already established.
A few thoughts:
- I was wondering how they'd ultimately handle two Tendrils running around, and never expected one to be out-and-out killed in a very quick, casual manner by Earth Corps.
- Seriously, what the hell is this new armor Blackthorne has? Are those giant chicken feet on his hands? I don't even. I don't get what was wrong with his first suit. I thought it looked great!
- And I thought they were called Environmental Suits, but this episode goes with Exploration Suits. Huh.
- Adding to the horror of the Blackthorne thread is the great Big Sur scene. Yeah, there's some humor in the form of hired goons who have no idea what they've signed on for, but the image of the Redwoods being brutally cut through with flamethrowers and chainsaws is a striking one.
- It's worth noting that the serialization of this series may have bit it in its ass. The reason shows weren't serialized back in the day is they didn't often air in the order they were made. Instead of airing 7th, like it was meant to, this episode aired 12th, just before the final episode, meaning those loyal viewers who stuck through the initial airing may have been left with some head scratching.
- I agree with Tony that, other than Auger and Sandra, Earth Corps remains painfully devoid of personality. Herc is the stalwart leader, Liquidator the wiseass, and Bright the brains, but these aspects have been so underplayed that they have no distinction. As for Auger, I love the revelation that he hung up on the President, thinking it was a crank call.
Tune in next Saturday as we dive into another Inhumanoids adventure with "Cult of Darkness".