November 16, 2013

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion, episode 4 "Trapped in the Acid Desert"

Our heroes fight off the Viper Vines, but Zak collapses, poisoned from a bite. He tells the others to go on without him, but they decide to sidequest to a healer, the Medicine Beetle atop Mount Sectaur in the heart of the Acid Desert. Spidrax is pleased at this news and sidequests himself to keep attacking the heroes while they're at their weakest. Our heroes keep winning.

Our heroes camp for the night in the ruins of Kornap, a fortress which was once home to Pinsor before it was razed by Crawla, leader of the Laser Bugs, the Bandits of the Acid Desert. Pinsor was the only survivor of that day.

Crawla and his bandit hideaway are attacked, his forces quickly conquered by Spidrax, who orders them to attack our heroes. Because of the heated, acidic air of the desert, none of our heroes' Insectoids can fly, but the Laser Bugs can, giving them a strong advantage as they swoop down and open fire. None of the blasts hit our heroes, instead destroying all of their canteens as they're left to suffer in thirst as they keep trudging through the desert.

As our heroes near Mount Sectaur, they're attacked again by the combined forces of Crawla and Spidrax. Dargon falls into a sinkhole and the others heroes are thrown after, landing in an oasis filled with water... and water filled with a giant, carnivorous beetle and her hungry offspring. As they chase our heroes around, one falls into a pit of quicksand and shares distressed cries with its mother. Dargon rescues the half-pint, and the mother leaves our heroes alone as they find a way back to the surface.

Our heroes reach Mount Sectaur, but are once again ambushed by Crawla and the Laser Bugs. Dragonfly musters enough energy to fly Zak to the peak, and the others fight their way up as best they can. When Pinsor finally squares off against Crawla, the cowardly bandit begs mercy and sends his forces into a retreat. Reaching the peak, our heroes find Zak fully cured by the Medicine Beetle, and as they're without a map to the Hyve, she tells them to seek out the Shadow Master at the Citadel of Shadows. To do so, they must ascend the dreaded Northern Cliffs of Mount Sectaur, which our heroes are in the midst of doing when a cliffhanger throws an avalanche at them.


Lord, I'm just sitting here with my face in my hands, trying to pick my jaw off the floor. It was so gaped at the dulling emptiness of this episode that it fell off part way through, crawled into a cushion, and went to sleep.

This episode is bad. I mean BAAAAAAAAAD bad. I can't even process just how frequently it became a hollow noise echoing around the plates of my skull. Any good will that had been earned by my very mild enjoyment of the last installment has been pretty thoroughly shat upon here.

.......... Gah. I'm still just staring at the memories of what I thought happened. Give me a minute or thirty.



Okay, here's what I liked about the episode. Pinsor has a really strong backstory. It's such a minute part of the episode that it goes by in a blip, and the final confrontation between him and the lead bandit dude is sudden and muted, but the glimpses of the past are very strong and surprisingly dark for a mid-80s show.

This episode also rolled out of me three very strong laughs, at least one of which seemed intentional. That would be when one of the hero bugs shoots out a grappling hook, snagging one of the Laser Bugs, and unceremoniously splats the villain into a rock. As for the likely unintentional hilarity, the first moment came when the giant, carnivorous beetle sees her youngling in the pit of quicksand, and the two are howling at each other in desperation, literal tears foaming at the edges of their eyes. I know this is supposed to be a big hero moment as the good guys make peace with what's threatening them, but it's so adorably cheesy that I couldn't stop laughing. The final laugh came at the top of Mount Sectaur, when Zak emerges from the cave with a beautiful woman at his side, and she says she "drained" the poison from him. It's never elaborated on beyond that, so forgive the snickerings which ensued.

But that's it. That's the entirety of the positive response I had to this episode. The rest of it is just a dull, slogging mess of random nonsense and false drama, and had all the entertainment value of throwing crap at a wall. No, wait, that actually has some entertainment value as you get to watch the sudden splat that forms. This episode was what came after, as you watch the chunks of turd slowly slide their way down, some reaching little clumps on the ground, the others slowly drying in the sunlight as lumpy streaks awaiting a rainy day or a hose.

Remember the Episode 2 discussion I started about how there's a difference between world-building and just throwing random crap at the viewer? This episode is one of those "I rest my case" example. We have the Acid Desert, which gives up acid clouds in its acid heat that makes it impossible for our heroes to fly... none of which is really all that different from the normal heat created by a normal desert. Then there's the Laser Bugs, the Bandits of the Acid Desert, who are such dead shot sharpshooters that they can take out every single canteen in our heroes' troupe, but they can't, I don't know, actually shoot our heroes? No? Please, won't somebody shoot these heroes! Then there's Mount Sectaur, a monument so important to this race of beings as to be named after them... even though it's located in an inhospitable wasteland so thoroughly avoided by everyone that you have to wonder why there's even bandits here when there's nobody around for them to loot from. This would be like us having a Mount Human in the middle of the Sahara. It makes no sense! And then all of our heroes are thrown down a pit with comical gradualness, a sinkhole which only just opened, and yet the lead bandit knows all about the underground oasis it leads to, as well as the giant, carnivorous beetles which inhabit the waters. And why is there a gorgeous beetle lady at the top of Mount Sectaur who can heal poisoned wounds through... "draining"? And then there's the whole setup of the Shadow Master at the Citadel of Shadows, which is reached by climbing... the exact same mountain they're already at the top of? No, seriously, we have a shot of them standing at the very peak and there's nothing left above or around them. This is Mount Sectaur. They have climbed Mount Sectaur. And for the next leg of their trip... THEY HAVE TO CLIMB MOUNT SECTAUR.

None of this makes any sense, none of this adds any depth to the world or paints it in a richer texture. It's all just bullshit. And it's bullshit breezed past us at a flailing trot as we jerk from poorly choreographed action scene to poorly choreographed action scene, and I was just left stunned by it.

It's worth pointing out that Dan DiStefano and Janis Diamond, the team who wrote the last three episodes, weren't responsible for scripting this turgid pile. No, blame for that goes to Ted Field, who only has a handful of credits from the time on the likes of Punky Brewster, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Dink, the Little Dinosaur. All of which I am now even more eager to avoid revisiting.


In between the Carrot Top jokes and bowel movement references, I spent much of last week's review complaining about unfulfilled potential. No, not my own. That would've taken a lot more than four paragraphs, trust me. It was about how Sectaurs once again set up a potentially interesting scenario only to glance over it in favor of its increasingly monotonous action sequences. Of course, the intent here was to sell action figures. And what do kids do with action figures? Well, they sure as Hell don't have them sit around and have deep philosophical discussions. So perhaps what we have here is a conflict of interest between commerce and art, with the added handicap of format and medium. That's a recipe for mediocrity, and Sectaurs has thus far served up three heaping slices of it. Could this week's episode finally make and then actually deliver on a promise? It could, but it doesn't. Not entirely, anyway.

The title pretty much tells you all that you need to know about this episode, as our heroes are indeed trapped in an acid desert. What that is, exactly, geologically speaking, is never fully explained, but at least here it goes beyond the superficial world building we've talked so much about, where the writers simply take an ominous sounding element and add it to a location (the fact that they've already gone back to acid within the span of only four episodes is a discussion for another time). Unlike the Lake of Blood or the Sea of Acid Rain, we get to spend a lot of time in the Acid Desert, and it has a back story that actually relates to our characters. Not only does it give Pinsor's character a little meat on its bones, it adds a really nice menace to Crawla (again, spelling?) and his Laser Bugs.

Unfortunately it never really goes any deeper than that, and Pinsor never gets a proper moment of truth with his former tormentors. Double-you tee eff? Worse, the "know no mercy" Crawla proves to be a complete coward. So, let me get this straight. You set up a backstory with Pinsor and this week's guest villain, and then you don't give it any real resolution? This is the kind of thing that makes this show so frustrating. Good ideas like this, or like Ranko last week, are completely shuffled aside in an effort to scoot things along to the next stop on the "Hyve or bust" tour.

And let's not forget about Spidrax (even if the writers have). He began with such promise. Not because he's layered or particularly interesting, but because he seemed to be genuinely dangerous. But for the last few episodes, he's been relegated to hatching schemes against the Sectaurs and watching them fail from afar. At this point, I half expect him to try and blow up Dargon and company with dynamite from the Acme corporation.

I'm struggling, I mean really struggling, to find something positive to say about this episode. I guess I could mention that they finally introduce a non-barmaid female character, but to be honest, when Zak excitedly introduces her by saying, "This lady is the Medicine Beetle!" I was laughing too loudly to hear any of her dialogue. At least she didn't have a gratuitous ass shot.

I don't suppose this episode is any worse than the previous three, it's just that the frustration is accumulating and tipping the scales in favor of "Fail".

  • Seriously, Laser Bugs?
  • I will give credit to this series for not shying away from terms like "death" and "kill". Seems like a small thing now, but you didn't hear words like that on Master of the Universe, G.I. Joe, or My Little Pony. Okay, maybe on My Little Pony.

We'll be back next weekend with another Sectaurs adventure: "Battle of the Hyve".


Strannik said...

Maybe Mount Sectaur is where the original experiment that caused Symbion lifeforms to mutate into their current state. We know from the opening theme that, during the initial change, there were explosions, and that the landscape changed since then. Maybe there was a nuclear/biological explosion that turned the city we see in the beginning into the mountain and made the surrounding landscape uninhabitable?

I can't explain the two climbs of Mount Sectaur thing. My No-prize powers end at weird redundancies.

And I continue to find it hilarious that Tony keeps finding himself playing devil's advocate for this show. There is only so much he can do, but boy are those valiant attempts

NoelCT said...

Maybe Mount Sectaur is where the original experiment that caused Symbion lifeforms to mutate into their current state.

.............. I will accept this. :)

Tony Williams said...

Maybe Mount Sectaur is where the original experiment that caused Symbion lifeforms to mutate into their current state.

In just two lines you put more thought into that than anyone associated with this show :).

And I continue to find it hilarious that Tony keeps finding himself playing devil's advocate for this show. There is only so much he can do, but boy are those valiant attempts

Devil's advocate sparked an idea. I challenged my self to make two lists; one ticking off the positive attributes of Sectaurs, the other of Satan. Satan won 3-2.