October 20, 2014

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, episode 8 "And Study War No More"

Apologies for the delay in getting this post up. Expect a few more weekends without in the near future, as we've got trips and surgeries coming up that need to be focused on. We'll get through it all and be back on schedule soon. Promise. :)


While crossing through the desert on his retractable tank tread feet, Blastarr encounters a giant boulder in his path. He roars, blasts it to dust, and continues on.

Swooping over another part of the desert, Power and the full Soldiers team land and cloak their dropship, and Power On as they investigate odd energy signals emitting from a cave. They're ambushed, but blow through the Biodreads and press on. Inside the cave, they find a pristine, flourishing sanctuary full of fauna and running on geothermal energy, so much so that there's an entire surplus of power. It began as a research facility, but following the Metal Wars, stately scientist Miles set it up as a hidden paradise called Haven, and runs it with his pretty young aide, Chelsea, who quickly catches the eye of pretty young Scout. Miles promises them freedom to explore or leave as they see fit, though tells Chelsea in private that they need to keep the Soldiers there for the greater good.

The team splits off.

Pilot and Tank discover a plaque quoting Isaiah 2:4. She's drawn to the philosophy, which Tank recognizes as being from the "Good Book", something she never learned about during her time as a Dread Youth. Finding a locked door, they break in to find barrels bearing the mark of the Styx phase of Dread's Project New Order. They're captured.

Scout keeps trying to charm up Chelsea, and she keeps smiling off all questions, but shows more and more strain each time, until she finally pulls him aside to tell him something. They're interrupted by Miles.

Power and Hawk hung back in the computer center, looking through records and energy readings, Miles joins them, leading in Scout and Chelsea. Another door opens and there's a platoon of Biodreads, leading in Pilot and Tank at gunpoint. A hologram of Dread appears and it's revealed this was all a trap, and that Haven exists in peace only because they work for Dread and supply him with their boundless geothermal energy and house his toxins.

Our heroes Power On and blow their way through the Dreads. Power learns about the chemical drums and decides to blow the place. Miles is pleading with them, but Chelsea broadcasts the evacuation order to the citizens and everyone beats a retreat as Biodreads pour in. Our heroes don't get far before running into Blastarr, an unmovable force who won't stop his pursuit. He digitizes Miles, but Power temporarily takes him down with a thermal grenade to the ceiling.

Our heroes return to the dropship, where Chelsea and the other survivors will be escorted to the Passages. Tank gives Pilot the plaque bearing the quote, which he pried off the wall. As Power ponders the force of Blastarr they just faced, we cut to the monstrous machine, roaring beneath the earth amidst flaming geothermal energy.


Noel

For the most part, this episode is pretty blah. We've seen this story before, especially among far too many episodes across the Star Trek and Stargate franchise, where our heroes find a seemingly utopian safehaven free of war and crime, only to discover some corruptive element beneath the surface or for the populace to sell them out to the baddies in order to maintain their own safety. Despite hearing this is an entire community, we only ever see two people, neither of whom are particularly compelling actors, clad in the appropriated robe fashion and paper-walled garden setting of Asian culture despite neither of them being Asian. As expected, Scout's youthful vigor falls for the pretty young woman, Power is suspicious, and Tank is throwing around oneliners left and right, albeit ones clashing with Sven-Ole's deadpan, accented delivery. It's a bland setup and pretty obvious from page one where it's going to go.

Things do pick up in the second half, thankfully, as Biodreads pour in and chase our heroes around, and Blastarr shows up to blow the shit out of everything. It's not so much that the story becomes more interesting, as there's a great dynamic freneticism to the direction that really cranks up the excitement. There's a fantastic done-in-one handheld shot of all our heroes pouring into a hallway, spreading out and covering the branches in every direction as Miles clutches and pleads at Power, who ignores him as he asks Chelsea for the hidden way out, and then lasers fire in, our heroes rush off, and Biodreads pour in from all halls. It's wonderfully staged and shows the skilled hand that would make Jorge Montesi the long running TV directorial vet he is.

Blastarr also does a great job distinguishing himself from Soaron, as while the gliding bot will survey before a pinpoint attack, Blastarr is such a straight line tank that, if you send him in a direction, he'll blow up a mountain just because it's between him and his target. There's such a rage to him, which Lord Dread trumps up by constantly reminding Blastarr that Power is the one who interrupted his creation, who destroyed his brothers and sisters before they could come alive. The CG still has its awkwardness, but I like that the only way the heroes can stop him is by pinning him in a cave-in, where we still see him roaring in fury in a wall of flames as we know he won't be stuck there for long.

There's other nice moments, like the revelation that Pilot was a rescued member of the Dread Youth, and she and Tank bonding over the titular bible quote. It's a bit much to have him yank it off the wall for her to take home, but there's a warmth and sincerity to his talking of the Good Book and what it meant to him as he exposes her to philosophies she was denied. It was a good moment, even for an atheist like myself, because it was about people and ideas, and the bond between soldiers in a war where such quiet moments are few and far between. I also like the concept of a geothermal station that has this massive surpluss of power they're taking in, though I wish more could have been made about the struggle between Dread and the Soldiers over who gets to control and tap into this power. That would have been a much more interesting thread than the false utopia we instead dwell on.

Overall, it's an okay episode, with some strong action* and nice character beats, but the focus of the story misses the mark and the romance between Scout and Chelsea is obvious and uninteresting.

* - Regarding the action sequences, as wonderfully staged as they are at times, I've found them a little aggravating due to their length, as they often just keep going on and on for minutes at a time. I think I understand now that that's a requirement of the toyline crossover, as those are the parts where the kids are supposed to whip out those vehicle light guns and interact with the screen, and minimizing what is supposed to be the main showcase of the franchise just isn't an option. As long as they make it fun for the duration, I'm willing to sit through it. The opening one we get here is a mixed bag with its focus on Tank, who gets some catchy quips and hero moments, but really should have lost all power in his armor after taking on multiple full blasts from a laser bazooka.

I'm betting this is also where the rapid-fire Tony pointed out a couple episodes back comes from, in that they were probably running into problems coordinating the motions of people pretending to fire off shots with the sparks of the impact squibs, especially since shots need to be held in order for the glowing chest bits to fully register with the toys. So they just shifted to rapid fire so people hold a stance and wait a few seconds before the sparks fly. I get it, though I'll admit it does remove some motion and excitement from the editing of the scenes.


Tony

After three excellent episodes in a row, "And Study War No More" represents a bit of a creative flatline for Captain Power. That's not to say that it's bad, merely that it lacks the ambition and emotional resonance of the previous three. It's a testament to how good this show has been that this episode merely rates as a shrug, because there's really not much to pick on here. It's biggest crime may be that it feels like filler material, and to be honest, I was anticipating this. We all know that you can't always throw the ball deep downfield in a 22 or 24 episode season. Occasionally you have to run up the middle for a short gain. Despite this, "And Study War No More" still has a couple of notable reveals and entertaining elements.

I enjoyed the interaction between the gentle giant Tank and the coolly efficient Pilot. They're so different in every sense, yet they compliment each other really well in their few scenes together. But what really excites me is the reveal that Pilot had once been a member of the Dread Youth! This isn't expanded upon here, but I'm really looking forward to learning more about her past and how she came to fall in with Power and company. It could also serve as a bond between Pilot and Tank, as the latter's guilt over his own past has already been documented (See "Final Stand").

"And Study War No More" also marks our first good look at Dread's new robotic henchman, Blastarr. Where fellow henchman Soaron is clever and cunning, Blastarr is brutal and lethal. He's the Terminator. ED-209. Gordon Ramsay. Though his CGI rendering leaves a lot to be desired, I still find him to be the first truly frightening threat that our heroes have faced. I also like that they don't defeat Blastarr, but instead merely escape and are left to ponder if this new threat represents a dark turning point in their war against Lord Dread.

Lastly, I have to make mention of the use of squibs here. I don't know if it's unique to this episode or if I just hadn't noticed before, but when a laser blast connects with its target, it's followed by a very impressive shower of sparks. Not just a few sparks and a puff of smoke, we're talking the Fourth of July here. This may seem like a minor thing to call attention to, but it adds a real dynamism to the show's many, many firefights.

As filler episodes go, "And Study War No More" isn't too bad . And with the promise of some juicy details to come, I'm actually more excited than ever to watch the next episode.



If you'd like to watch along with us, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is available on DVD!

2 comments:

cartoonfan959 said...

[quote] I've found them a little aggravating due to their length, as they often just keep going on and on for minutes at a time. [/quote]

MATTEL imposed via contract that in every episode there must be at least 7 minutes of shooting scenes which means the writers are left with only 14 min for story...

I always found Blastarr much more sinister and creepy than Sauron

GarrettCRW said...

Sounds like a classic Mattel overreaction to their belief that Filmation was why She-Ra and BraveStarr failed.