June 2, 2012

Inhumanoids, episode 11: "Primal Passions"

Over a patch of jungle, a squadron of American jet fighters swoop in, investigating reports of a large creature. Squadron leader Brad Armbruster discovers and is attacked by Sslither - still accompanied by Blackthorne Shore - and his jet violently crashes. A rescue crew arrives at the wreck and doubts anything could have survived, but they hear Armbruster call out from the cockpit that he's still in there.

At Infernac, Metlar berate D'Compose and Tendril for recent betrayals, threatening to give them both an acid bath. He offers them one last chance to participate in the capture of Earth Corps.

Earth Corps suits up for another expedition in the mantle, to test out a new formula they've designed as a weapon against the Inhumanoids. While exploring the crop fields of the Langastoids - those slug/armadillo creatures from a few episodes back - several locals approach Earth Corps, begging for help against Tendril, who is attacking their city. Our heroes race in to help, but Metlar and D'Compose are also there, the entire incident being a setup that ends with Earth Corps caged and at the mercy of the Inhumanoids.

Liquidator decides to give the formula a try, spraying all three Inhumanoids. Instead of the weapon they hoped it would be, it turns out they've inadvertently made a love potion. Tendril and Metlar fawn and frolic and skip off. D'Compose pines for Sandra and, at her request, removes the cage. Earth Corps immediately attacks and escapes, leaving D'Compose trapped under the cage in their stead.

In a city, a pretty young lady is attacked and eaten by Tendril. A dashing blond Herc rushes in to save her, but trips. "Cut" yells director George Landisberg, revealing this to be a film set, the giant, blocky tendril to be a large puppet, and lead actress Stella Blaze to be safely inside. Landisberg goes on a tirade, but then the real Tendril appears and Landisberg suddenly wants his crew to "capture the moment!" They all run instead, including the technician for the Faux Tendril, so Stella takes the controls. She tries to fight Tendril off at first, then starts playing along when she notices his clumsy flirting with what he thinks is another of his own kind. He takes the puppet, Stella still inside, down to his lair.

Hector Ramirez is reporting from the base of the Statue of Liberty, where Senator Masterson is announcing his run for presidency before a crew of supporters who increase the enthusiasm of their cheering once they're reminded they're getting paid. Metlar suddenly shows up, planting a big, wet kiss on the Statue of Liberty, who he then drags down into the Earth.

Liquidator and Sandra are taking a night off from things and share a dance at a posh ball. D'Compose shows up, d'composing Sandra back into the giant ghoul she became in the pilot mini. They both turn on Liquidator, who barely manages to escape, leaving D'Compose and D'Sandra to waltz into the night.

Learning about the Tendril and Metlar incidents on the news, Herc, Bright, and Auger realize the formula was a love potion. Liquidator bursts in, telling them of Sandra, and they all suit up.

At Infernac, Metlar assembles his statue army to witness the Statue of Liberty being brought to life. The moment she awakens, she kicks into nagging house wife mode, insulting his legions, calling his place a dump, and telling Metlar to do something about his paunch and find her a tv. He's more than happy to do so.

In Tendril's lair, Stella keeps sweet talking the monster while he shows off his bubbles and exercise routines. Herc and Bright argue over who gets to rescue the beautiful actress. Bright wins the debate and saves her while Herc is stuck dangling in front of Tendril as a distraction. Just before leaving the giant puppet, Stella locks its controls so that it walks into a pool of acid and melts away. While Tendril mourns the loss of his love, Stella and Bright stare into one another's eyes and ask if they believe in love at first sight.

At Skellweb, an orchestra of zombie creatures with bone instruments plays a twisted waltz while D'Compose and D'Sandra dance and dance. Auger uses a strobing flare to stun the two, then he and Liquidator use the Trappeur to grab D'Sandra by the ankle and drag her out of the city, D'Compose desperately pursuing until Liquidator halts him with a spurt of glue. Outside the city, they break open the roof of a cavern, sunlight pouring in and reverting Sandra back to her human form.

At a hospital, Earth Corps meets with Brad Armbruster, who lost his ability to walk in the crash, but will now be able to do so with an Explorer Suit made from his downed jet. They look to the tv where Hector Ramirez and Senator Masterson are themselves suited up for an exploration into the Earth to rescue the Statue of Liberty. At Infernac, Metlar is doing situps in the background while the Statue of Liberty munches on rocks and catches that news story on tv.

"Well, this oughta liven things up around here."


"Primal Passions". Now this is more like it! I’m not sure why it’s suddenly live-action, or why Earth Corps is all female, and I really don’t know why Auger is sticking a pickle up Herc’s... wait a second. This isn’t Inhumanoids! I guess that’s what I get for typing in “Primal Passions” and then hitting the “I’m feeling lucky” button.

Later, after putting away the lotions...

After finishing the latest episode of Inhumanoids, one thing is clear: Sunbow didn’t have a drug testing policy for their writers. This is a Saturday morning cartoon as imagined by Cheech and Chong. An episode where Weird and Strange get married and have a baby they name You Ain’t Seen Shit Yet. It’s odd. I mean really odd. Not to mention sloppy, over-stuffed, and silly. So why did I enjoy it so much? Probably because I’ve divorced myself from high expectations at this point. This episode may seem tonally and narratively incongruent to the ones before it, but I didn’t particularly enjoy most of those anyway. Frankly, I don’t care what the stories are about from here on out, just that they be entertaining, and this was. When Tendril was pillow talking to his mechanical counterpart, I was rolling. When he was lamenting its demise, I actually felt sorry for him. And how can you not love a story where an amorous monster from the deep barges into a political rally, makes out with the Statue of Liberty, and then throws her over his shoulder and carries her back to his lair?

Fun antics aside, there is one thing that does continue to bother me about this show. There’s so much that’s introduced, set up, and then abandoned only to have them introduce, set up, and then abandon something else. For instance, what ever happened to Tank and Magnokor? What’s going on with The Granites and The Redwoods? Where are Nightcrawler and Gagoyle? World building needs to be done slowly, carefully, layer by layer. This is just a deluge of characters and stories that under-whelm by being over-whelming. It feels like meddling on Hasbro’s part to me. An effort to get as many characters (toys) on screen as possible. By all accounts, they were pretty good about such things with the G.I. Joe animated series, but in that instance, it was the toy line (which debuted three years before the daily series) that made the cartoon a phenomenon. Here, the idea was for the cartoon to help push the toys and I think you can see the effects on the storytelling.

Passionate thoughts:
  • D’Compose is definitely voiced by Chris Latta in this episode, but he’s altered his delivery, toning down the Cobra Commander/Starscream rasp that kept slipping in before.
  • The name Brad Armbruster may not mean anything to you unless you’re a huge G.I. Joe geek, but it’s the birth name of Ace, the original fighter pilot for the Joe team. His inclusion here as the downed pilot is yet another connection between the various shows of the Marvel/Sunbow universe.
  • Sandra and... Liquidator? Really? Huh.
  • After several episodes with nothing to do, it was nice to see Bright spring into action, not to mention get the girl.
“Primal Passions” is certainly a funky detour, but it’s a nice sorbet between the more gruesome dishes the series normally serves up.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden craving for pickles.


This is one of those episode that, for the entirety of its length, had me sitting here wondering just what in the hell I was watching. But in a good way. A way that had me rolling with laughter and applauding the bold inventiveness of this show and the twists it takes. Let's go one love story at a time...

I still don't get how d'composed people can suddenly inflate to gigantic sizes, but it's already been established, so I'll move on. This was a fantastic callback to the earlier episode where Sandra lost herself in a ghoulish zombie form, and the image of she and D'Compose dancing amidst a dead city to the waltz of an insect corpse orchestra was haunting and Tim Burton-esque in all the right ways. Even before we get to that scene, I love D'Compose pining over Sandra and wanting to give her the "gift" of his decay so she can be his for all eternity. It's creepy to the extreme and she essentially becomes the victim who gives in to her stalker, and if this episode is missing anything, it's her reaction at the way events went once she returns to human form. Would she feel angry? Violated? Sad? We get nothing. She comes to and we cut to a new scene, because I'm guessing such a reaction would be too much weight for this silly show to deal with.

Then there's Tendril and Stella Blaze. I love how she's an extremely intelligent and resourceful woman, instead of the ditzy bombshell her director's ego wants her to be. I love how the Tendril puppet is so obviously a giant puppet, with seams and wires and joints clearly visible. I love how pathetic Tendril's clumsy flirtations are "Wanna get down, baby? Wanna get down?" This chapter is hysterical, right down to the way Stella essentially becomes a phone sex operator, keeping her client going while rolling her eyes and waiting for it to be over. Once Earth Corps shows up, you get the great debate over who gets to save the girl, with Bright being clever and ultimately ending with the longingly locked eyes. Unfortunately, Tendril is kind of forgotten in the climax. Once the puppet is gone, he doesn't have much of a reaction at all aside from roaring at Earth Corps and... that's it. He just snarls at them and we cut away. He doesn't mourn, he doesn't attack, he just goes out with a strangely timed roar.

And then there's Metlar. This chapter opens with the hilarity of Senator Masterson pulling out all the dirty political tricks in his bid for the presidency, completely overshadowed by Metlar making out and running off with the Statue of Liberty. This iconic symbol isn't just stolen, it's debased, which is a bold move for a kids show. When he gets her back to Infernac, I love the other female statues he's brought to life (his harem?) snidely gossiping about "what makes her so special?" or "she only wants him for his lava". And when she comes alive, wham, she's instantly henpecking him over every little thing. Instead of him being all "To the moon, Alice!", we get the hilarious image of Metlar drooping his ears and giving in to her every command. What's especially great is that this chapter doesn't end. The last image of the episode is her still being the new master of the household, with her man doing his best to shed his gut for her, and Ramirez and Masterson setting out to rescue her in what is sure to be one hell of a bungle in next week's episode.

So, yeah, I really, really love this episode. As for Tony's complaints that too much stuff is dropped, I disagree. What's great about the villains not being an actual team is that not every episode has to feature every single one of them. The Gagoyle is gone, Tony. Dropped into a deep magma pit. Manglar was completely foiled, so he's probably licking his wounds and prepping for a comeback. Blackthorne briefly appears with Sslither, who is gradually making his move towards the States for an upcoming plot. As for the heroes, Magnokor doesn't get along with anybody, so his absence is sticking pretty true to his character. The Redwoods and Granites only ever show up when, like the Langastoids of this episode, their own territories are threatened. Tank just had a big episode where he learned the folly of trying to take out Infernac, and is probably stewing over his next move.

You see, what I actually appreciate about this show is that everyone - every faction and even people within those factions - has different goals and ideas and, no, they don't all work together unless those goal intersect in some way. You say that makes things a cluttered mess, but I, while not totally disagreeing with you on the actual execution, say that makes things richer and all the more interesting as every week brings about a new grouping of characters that are almost always working at odds, even when working together. Hell, the only characters that function as an actual group, Earth Corps, are the least interesting aspect of the show and only really stand out when they divide. So, yes, the execution is messy, but I don't have a problem with this idea as a concept, and I'm glad it's something Dille better perfected in Visionaries.

However, I will grant you that Ace Brad Armbruster was completely tagged on. Him losing his ability to walk and Earth Corps building him an environmental suit to compensate should have been a fully developed arc instead of introducing him with a crash, then next seeing him as he thanks Earth Corps for what they've done for him. We never see the journey between the two points, which could have made for one hell of an episode as we have a character whose disfigurement at the hands of Inhumanoids gives him a very personal reason to join the fight against the creatures. I'm with Tony in feeling like this was shoehorned in at the behest of Hasbro/Sunbow's desire to expand the toyline. And the Langastoids are something I can't defend because, while the way they roll into discs is kinda cool, they're one race too many and nothing they do in this episode couldn't have instead been done by a Granite village.

Ultimately, I really love this episode. I think it's more cleanly constructed than the last few, with a great central concept that makes for bunches of silly fun. It's nonsense, but it's nonsense that fully embraces it's nonsensicalness and runs like hell with the same devotion of D'Compose charging after the love that's just been snatched from his claws. I hold this up as an ideal of what this series is like at its best, and absolutely cannot wait to see what happens with the Masterson expedition in the week ahead.

Some thoughts:
  • The actor playing "Herc" is wearing a thong. Wow. I don't believe I've ever seen so much posterior skin on display in an 80s American cartoon.
  • George Landisberg is a name that would still be pushing quite a few buttons at the time of this episode's release because, while George Lucas had nothing to do with anything, John Landis and Steven Spielberg were still locked in the middle of the legal and criminal backlash following the big helicopter-stunt-gone-bad incident in Twilight Zone: The Movie which left their lead and two children dead. While Spielberg ultimately wasn't held responsible, Landis became synonymous for a while with over-the-top directors who let their egos and thirst for spectacle get the better of them.
  • I love love LOVE how they've put up a net in front of the tv so Auger can no longer wreck a set by hurling his shoe at it.

Tune in next Saturday as we dive into another Inhumanoids adventure with "The Masterson Team".

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