November 2, 2013

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion, episode 3 "Valley of the Stones"

His men and beasts desperate for a brief rest, Dargon agrees to stop at a nearby inn/tavern run by a slovenly man named Ranko, whom Pinsor recognizes as the former magistrate of the Valley of Stones, who was deposed for being corrupt. Just as Ranko tries to angrily defend himself, Spidrax's forces raid the place. Our heroes fight valiantly, but with their insectoids locked in the stables out back, they're at a disadvantage, and Pinsor is taken captive with the threat to stop their pursuit if they want to see their friend alive. Out back, Ranko is paid off by Spidrax for having laced the Sybionian insectoids' hay with a potion which prevents telebonding.

Our heroes regroup, with Ranko passing off guilt over locking the stables to Spidrax's forces. When the creatures are let loose, Pinsor's mount, Battle Beetle, freaks out at the absence of his rider, and with the others unable to calm him, they're forced to gas and chain up the beast. When their attempts at telebonding fail, Ranko says it's a result of some energy in the surrounding area, and offers to lead them to the only other exit point in the Valley of Stones, where they can hopefully catch Spidrax.

Despite the protests of his men and the continued panicked cries of Battle Beetle, Dargon puts his faith in Ranko, who feigns a twisted ankle and points them down a path, at the end of which is tunnel blocked with a giant stone. Moving the obstruction, they end up freeing a Serpentoid (basically, a two-headed Godzilla), and they struggle to stand against its rampage. It eventually moves on to the central village in the Valley of the Stones, the destruction of which is the main goal of Ranko's vengeance.

As the village burns, our heroes manage to blind the beast with a pair of sheets and, with the help of Battle Beetle, knock the Serpentoid to the ground where they lash it down. They help the villagers put out the flames, then turn Ranko over to their custody. The villagers thank our heroes by giving them special shoes with which they can traverse the Quicksand Swamp, a short cut to the Forest of Mist, where Spidrax's forces are currently marching. Spidrax decides they don't need Pinsor anymore, so has him staked down and coated with nectar outside the pit of the Culderax, a large, carnivorous centipede.

The telebonding inhibitor is wearing off, allowing Battle Beetle to lead the heroes to Spidrax's camp. During the big fight, they save Pinsor and finally recover the map to the Hyve... only for a flaming arrow to send it up in flames as the Symbionians then find themselves menace by the slavering jaws of the Viper Vines.


I imagine that the only thing comparable to waking up one day and finding yourself the pro-Sectaurs half of a blog team is being hired to serve as Carrot Top's publicist. I gave this rather unremarkable cartoon a few lines of tepid praise and suddenly I'm the Super Saturday Sectaurs apologist? It's not fair! You see, this was supposed to be Noel's gig. He was the one who always found the silver lining in Inhumanoids, Robotix, and Visionaries, while I tried to come up with new and interesting ways to compare the latest episode to a bowel movement. But this time, he juked left instead of right, and now here I am left holding the pom-poms. So, with all of the enthusiasm I can muster, I welcome you to this week's episode, "Valley of the Stones".

There's an old saying that goes, "Nothing is certain except death and taxes." I think we can now add a third certainty to that list, and it's, "Spidrax will attack the Sectaurs at the beginning of each episode." I like action, but this repetition is starting to feel lazy and uninspired. And enough with the battle cries already! They sound like someone threw a senior citizen into a washing machine on spin-cycle, for Pete's sake. At least this time it all sets up an interesting scenario in the form of the Gollum-like Ranko. Finally, an actual story! I wish I could say that it lives up to its potential. I also wish I could say that my Johnson is so large that I can use it as a belt. Sadly it isn't and it doesn't. The journey I was hoping for, the one filled with traps and danger as the double-crossing Ranko tries to off our heroes through a variety of clever means, never materializes. As with the Web Widow or the slavers, the writers introduce an interesting idea only to cut it short so they can cram in more generic insect action. And in a cartoon in desperate need of compelling characters, we get Ranko, someone with a past - a personality! - only to have his "arc" end with a quick, lazy whimper.

*throws away pom-poms*

I can't defend this show anymore. I won't defend it. Blah, blah Forrest of Mist. Blah, blah Valley of Stones. Blah, blah Hyve. What good is building a world if you don't use it and populate it with interesting characters? All of this action could be so much more fun if they just gave us a reason, any reason, to care. Hell, they even make the map totally moot by having the Sectaurs recover it only to surmise that Spidrax has likely memorized it by now. The fact that the heroes then lose it again is also moot, as they haven't needed it to this point. All they have to do is keep following Spidrax. I can't recall the last time I watched something this poorly plotted and thought out which didn't have the name George Lucas attached to it.

Frustrated. That's what I am right now. At first, I had fun with this show, but this was one missed opportunity too many. With only two episodes to go, our best hope now is that, once they reach the Hyve, there's a reveal waiting for us that will raise the stakes and breathe some life back into this show. I can't say I'm very optimistic at the moment.

By the way, I'm obligated to tell you that Mr. Top will be appearing at the fabulous Luxor hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada November 13th and 14th. Tickets are going fast, but good seats are still available.

  • Is it just me or is Zak a bit of a tool?
  • Here's a fun drinking game for this episode: do a shot every time that Ranko tells the Sectaurs that telebonding won't work.
  • First there was the Sea of Blood. Then there was the Sea of Acid Rain. Now we have the Valley of Stones and the Forest of Mist. Do ya reckon Symbion has a Springfield?


As I've expressed the last two weeks, one of my major problems with the show (was initially going to say "biggest" problem, but this series is chock full of equally big problems) has been its inability to actually tell a story. Yes, it's a mini-series pilot, but the quest everyone is on is simple enough to break into individual legs of the journey. Which they have done, they just haven't properly allowed each leg to exist as its own story. In the first episode, the introductory chapter, time is spent on a side journey to the Widow of the Web, time which could have been used to more deeply introduce the characters and the struggle of this world. Additionally, because the Widow of the Web was shoe-horned in as a first leg obstacle, it didn't get to properly develop into a story of its own beyond the three minutes we're teased with. In the second episode, we get two legs. In the first, we have the whole giant bee's nest and the Sea of Acid Rain, none of which has any time to really be developed as a part of this world beyond being quick flashes of stuff just there for the sake of being stuff. And by the time we get to the Slaver story, everything has to be rushed through because we didn't get time to let it breathe, leaving our hero looking like a dick for not saving the day.

Tony, remember those first episodes of Inhumanoids, as well as the entire runs of Robotix and Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines? How they were kind of choppy, random, and scattered because, instead of watching an actual half-hour episode, we were watching 7-minute shorts which were just strung along for half an hour? That's what the first few episodes of Sectaurs have felt like to me, a series of chapters containing a series of chapters. Even as individual parts of a whole, those individual parts haven't really been whole parts unto themselves.

Episode 3 is different. This is the first one in the set where we actually get a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end, that has room to breathe, room to develop, room to give us some actual characters and themes and some actual meat for our chewing teeth to latch onto. It's not much, mind, but it's still a big step up. The anchor point of this episode is Ranko, the deposed magistrate of the Valley of Stones. He's now a tattered and bitter tavern keep, so it's no surprise when he's paid off by Spidrax to sabotage the Symbionians, and then covers his ass by playing a friend as he leads our heroes not only into a trap, but into the means through which he'll get revenge on the townsfolk who kicked him out of power. As predictably constructed as it is, it's a great moment where Dargon ultimately chooses the guidance of Ranko over Battle Beetle, with the insectoid left chained in defeat. And I also like how the situation escalates from a mere trap to an apocalyptic revenge scheme threatening to wipe out an entire populace.

One could argue - after the way Tony and I disagreed last week over what counts as world-buliding and what's just random shit - that stuff like the Serpentoid, or the quicksand swamp, or the Viper Vines count as random shit. I'll admit they have no real development beyond being there (with the exception of the Serpentoid, which the people of the Valley are aware of and apparently have some history with), but all are properly integrated and essential plot elements instead of just being there to keep our heroes busy for a few minutes. The quicksand swamp is quickly traversed (though not without the loss of supplies) through a means which allow the Valley residents to further our heroes along out of thanks. The Serpentoid battle goes on a bit long, but as I mentioned earlier, it elevates beyond being a mere trap by being a legitimate threat to the entire Valley which pulls us into a climax. And the Viper Vines are the final note on a decent cliffhanger.

And seriously, this is a good cliffhanger, especially after Episode 2 let us down by ending on the exact same beat as episode 1. Here, things have actually changed. Our heroes have recovered the map, only for it to be destroyed as they find themselves enveloped by peril, giving Spidrax a legitimate upper hand instead of the false upper hands they kept taping to his shoulders. My interest has finally been piqued and I'm actually, yes, looking forward to next week's episode.

Now, all this gushing shouldn't be read as this being a great episode. It's the best we've seen so far, but one only need look at the last two posts to see what that so far has been like. Oure heroes are still completely devoid of personality as no character stands out with actions none of the others wouldn't have been incapable of doing. There's a lot of potential for development as Pinsor and Battle Beetle struggle with their severed telebond, but we not only never see this from Pinsor's end of things, but beyond the moment I mentioned above of Dargon listening to Rankor over Battle Beetle, the insectoid's dilemma doesn't ultimately play much of a part in things, leaving this an interesting thread that ultimately doesn't pan out for all it's worth. To be fair, it's not like the threads I had issues with in the first two episodes, as I do think it is nicely tied into the broader story of this chapter, they just couldn't figure out how to execute it properly.

On the plus side, some great moments do pop up here and there. When they're attacked in the tavern, our heroes have this great quick-cut closeup montage of their various weapons being drawn. And I absolutely love the moment where Pinsor is staked to the ground before a slavering centipede monstrosity, only for him to glare his moustache at it and say "Back in your hole!" And without batting a mandible, it slithers right back in and lets him be. As as an extra bit of frosting on that cake, Pinsor gives his thanks by shoving one of Spidrax's goons head-first down that hole. Did Pinsor just up and kill a dude by feeding him to a monster? We'll never know because we cut away while legs are still flailing, but I'd like to think so.

Overall, a good episode. It's entertaining, the story hooked me early and kept my interest till the end. I still care nothing about these heroes, but they do rouse me with some nice moments. The world is starting to take a little more shape as they settle down with spectacle and focus on actually crafting a plot. I'm not saying it's great entertainment, nor that I'm fully won over to the series, but this is the first week of this Showcase where I'm not bored and struggling to remember enough of what I just watched to have something to say.

We'll be back next weekend with another Sectaurs adventure: "Trapped in the Acid Desert".


Tony Williams said...

True to form I zig, Noel zags. We're really not that far apart, though. I think you pounced on the obvious improvements, and I think I let my self get set up for something more than it ultimately delivered.

I will agree--and I didn't acknowledge this in my post, as I was too busy making Carrot Top jokes--but yeah, good cliffhanger for once.

NoelCT said...

And just to clarify, when I say this is a good episode, I'm grading on a very deep curve in terms of what we got in the last two installment. Things are improving, but this is still far from actually being a good series. :)

Tony Williams said...

I know at this point all praise here is relative :p.