In the mountains, a family is struggling to get by on what rats they can trap, as they await a promised signal from Captain Power to come rescue them away to the underground networks. A flare streaks into the sky, and there's the armored Captain, promising them safety. Then he fires another flare, signalling Soaron, who swoops down and digitizes the lot, except for teenage Fal and his blind grandfather, who hadn't yet arrived, but witness the horror. In Volcania, Lord Dread praises Jason, a human operator loyal to the machine Overmind, for the success of the ploy of disguising himself as Power.
In their dropship, the real Captain Power and his Soldiers ponder about mysterious coded frequencies they've been detecting and settlements they've set out to clear only to find them abandoned with no signs of struggle. They detect one of the dissipating flares, but just as they swoop in, they have a skirmish with Soaron. He's blown off and they're forced to land for repairs, so Power sets out alone to investigate.
He comes across Fal, promising to take the boy away to safety, but the angry younth instead sends a chunk of rebar into the side of his skull. Power comes to, chained in a room as Fal and other survivors of the ploy blame him for the digitizations of their families and take lots on whether or not to kill him. The verdict is guilty, but Power frees himself just enough to Power On and take control of the situation. They expect death, but he instead proves himself by listening to their stories and helping them hatch a plan.
Having learned of another pocket of survivors, Jason shows up in his Power garb, only to be lured into a battle with the real Power. Jason is backed by a squadron of Biodreads, but Power still fights through and sets about dismantling Jason, tearing the man's fake armor off, kicking his ass, and snarling in his face. But he won't kill Jason. Power made the promise to never take a life to his father years ago and won't betray it. Fal and the refugees have another plan.
Power fires a flare into the sky and Soaron arrives, thinking the man is Jason. The real Jason is bound and dressed in refugee garb, and is coldly digitized by the machine. Power then reveals the ruse and blasts Soaron into a retreat. At Volcania, Lord Dread is disappointed in the failure of his human lackey, and has Soaron upload his substance directly into the Overmind.
Hey, Tony! Three in a row where Lord Dread is on his feet for a stroll. :)
The basic idea for this episode, having a flunkie of Dread dress up as Captain Power, seems a bit silly on the surface, but holy heck do they do a lot with it. Power is a genuine symbol of trust and security in a world where those are rapidly becoming alien concepts. We've seen multiple episodes now where he and his team will sweep in, find a pocket of refugees, and help them to the underground network where some form of civilization is maintained. I doubt it's some dream world, but it's better than the dire straights we've seen some of these people in. It's brilliant, especially this early in the series, to suddenly subvert that ideal, where Power shows up with promises of safety, and the next thing you know, you're being digitized at the end of Soaron's cannon. The people are now disillusioned, ready to take their own heroes down, even kill if they can get the chance.
And for Power, everything he stands for and symbolizes is being stripped away by some punk playing pretend. Tony was won over a few episodes ago, but this is the one that finally sold me on Tim Dunigan as our stalwart Captain. When he's confronted by the angered people, you can see the confusion and anger he has to push through in order to gain order in the situation. He keeps his cool, only lashing out to keep from being executed, but then he's in full square-jawed mode as the people realize they might have the situation wrong. And then he's taking on Jason, and their battle is glorious. The Captain has truth and justice on his side, and even when Jason and Biodreads are gunning away at him like Murphy in the first act of Robocop, he still maintains his gusto, turning the tables and unleashing his rage. I love the moments of him stripping Jason of his unearned mockery of a disguise, first blowing away the armor plates with lasers, then tearing what's left with clenched fists. And then Power is snarling right in Jason's face, ready to destroy this perversion of what he stands for, before remembering and honoring his old pledge to never take a human life.
At the Showcase, we haven't seen a hero go this dark since that episode of Street Hawk where Jesse Mach howled in fury as he opened his machine guns on a dock full of goons, and while this moment doesn't go quite so far, it still goes to lengths rarely seen in children's entertainment pre-Batman: The Animated Series. And it must be said, he doesn't cross the line. Power unleashes his rage, but only until he's edging right up against that line, reminding both us and himself where its boundaries lie, before he pulls back and settles himself. And then we get the gleeful end of donning Jason in yet another disguise so he can be fed to the digitizations of his masters.
My only real issues with the episode are that the action scenes which, while well choreographed, do continue to run on a little long and pad things out more than they need to, and someone, be it Straczynski or his co-writer this ep, Marc Scott Zicree - who also wrote that annoying teen in "Pariah" - tried way too hard with the slang and rural lingo, to the point where Power himself is having to decipher what people are saying to him. It's an unneeded element, doesn't have a natural enough flow to it to sell, and the group of actors delivering it are not up to the task of compensating with their talents.
Otherwise, a damn strong episode, even more powerful, for my money, than the touchingly tragic love story we had last week. And props also to Jag star David James Elliott as Jason. He has a perfect square-jawed appearance to match the armor, and I love his cold dedication to Lord Dread, and cocky laziness later on after several successful hauls. This is the second human we've seen who sold out to the Empire, and it'll be interesting to see how they continue to develop this thread.
Welcome to the party, Tim Dunigan! After weeks of serviceably stiff performances that earned him the nickname "Captain Viagra" from me, both Tim Dunigan and his heretofore straight-arrow character kick it up several notches in "The Mirror in Darkness", an uneven but edgy episode that still manages to be, for me at least, the most purely entertaining yet.
I was, to put it mildly, giddy when Dunigan/Power goes into full-on Dirty Harry mode here. I didn't think he had it in him. I was wrong. He takes it to the bleeding edge of how badass he can believably be, but he never falters. That said, this is not the Captain Power I want each week. Beyond Dunigan's performance, what makes this turn so powerful is that it is totally out of character. Power is typically so calm that it really adds to the dramatic punch of the story to see him pushed to the brink. If he were to act this way all the time, it would eventually lose its edge, but used selectively, it's a nice reminder that there's an actual human being underneath that armor.
Dunigan's Captain Power impersonating counterpart, David James Elliott, is also good, not to mention familiar. You probably recognize him as one of the stars of the long running show J.A.G.. I wonder if this is one of those situations, like George Clooney's appearance on Street Hawk, where he'd initially auditioned for the lead role, but lost out and was later cast as a guest star? It's easy to picture Elliott in the title role, and a few days ago, I might've actually said that he would be a better choice than Dunigan. Here, Elliott plays the human sellout Jason with a smarm that really works well juxtaposed against Power's righteous anger. I'd say he also qualifies as the most famous guest star to date. Not exactly a hard distinction to earn, but nevertheless, he's the leader in the clubhouse. Less successful is the performance of Colin O'Meara as Fal. He has a few good moments, but otherwise he often comes across like he just stepped out of a failed audition for Children of the Corn IX. But he practically looks like De Niro compared to the other guest stars. They're awful. I mean, really awful. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 awful. Thankfully, they're dispatched quickly.
Once again, the action is occasionally clumsy, with the good Captain giving us a few rather dodgy Errol Flynn style moments, but with Power's rapid-fire laser pistol (Noel, help me, is this a new feature?) blasting away and epic music blaring, it's a heck of a lot of fun. It helps that it's not just mindless *pew* *pew* *pew*. High stakes always give weight to the action, and thus Power's ham-fisted heroics are far more entertaining than all of the slick action Michael Bay can cram into his 3-hour long Transformers snooze-fests.
"The Mirror in Darkness" isn't the deepest or best written episode, but its simplicity works to its advantage, giving us an epic, guns-blazing showdown that I believe the show desperately needed.
If you'd like to watch along with us, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is available on DVD!