October 26, 2014

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, episode 9 "The Intruder"


Power and Hawk have taken the dropship out on a supply run, bringing food and medical aid to a pocket of refugees in the desert. While both are away from the dropship, survivalist Andy Jackson sneaks up, cracks the locking code, and slips in while his partner, Jim Mitchell, keeps watch. Power and Hawk return to the dropship before Jackson can slip back out, so he hides and rides along.

Lord Dread is amused as he observes this through a drone, and sends Blastarr after Jackson as he may soon be privy to the secret location of the Power Base. Dread is then chided by Overmind for his flickers of emotion, which are too "of the flesh" for comfort. Dread promises to further dedicate himself to the machine before shaking off the prying questions of Lacchi, who secretly reports right back to Overmind.

The dropship lands and Jackson finds himself in the Power Base, poking around to see what goodies he can find and overhearing Pilot asking Mentor about the meaning of "love". The moment Jackson tries to contact Mitchell, the transmission is picked up and jammed, and an "intruder alert" signal starts blaring. He's quickly captured by Power.

Mitchell tried tracking his friend, but is left lost in the woods. Biodreads suddenly swarm in, capturing and torturing him. Blastarr starts playing with speech patterns until he's got a perfect imitation of Mitchell's voice down.

Tank and Scout want to kill Jackson to keep the location of their base a secret, especially after his boastful claim of wanting to see if they were good enough fighters to join him, but Jackson knows full well that Power won't take a human life. A distress call comes through, in the voice of Mitchell, and the team Powers On to go help, but Jackson stops them. He says that, while this sounds like his friend, the call isn't using their codewords, meaning it's an impostor. Jackson begs them to take him with, as he and Mitchell were Special Forces in the war and staged the breakin in the hopes of impressing the Soldiers so they could join up instead of scraping along with guerrilla tactics. Power doesn't entirely believe him, and straps a remote-trigger grenade to his wrist, but agrees to bring Jackson with.

Jackson arrives at the meeting spot to find a groggy Mitchell, surrounding Biodreads, and Blastarr demanding to know the location of the base. Power, Tank, and Scout suddenly open fire from the woods while Hawk and Pilot fire down from the sky. The Soldiers gradually win, especially after Tank knocks Blastarr out with multiple hits from a laser bazooka.

Our heroes drop Jackson and Mitchell off at a safe distance, Power saying he doesn't trust them enough to let them on the team, but he'll take a gamble at trusting Jackson with the Power Base's location, freeing the man of the grenade.


Tony

From the start, there's something just inherently listless about "The Intruder". Burdened by an already uninspired premise and a lazy script, it lacks the snap and energy we've come to expect from even the most mediocre episodes of Captain Power. Even the usually dependable actors seem to be going through the motions, and it's hard to blame them. No one save for guest star Andy Flatman is given much to do, and while he does the most with what he's given, Flatman isn't the sort of horse you hitch your wagon to, you know what I mean?

"The Intruder" clearly wants to be a mystery, but there's never one scintilla of tension or doubt. Had they made more of an effort to make Jackson and Mitchell's intentions more ambiguous, maybe this episode could've been a triumph of execution over originality. Instead, we as an audience are put in a position where we're waiting for the heroes to catch up to us. That's always a recipe for failure in drama.

The best example of the ineptitude of this episode is the handling of the tension between Tank and Jackson. Early on, Tank becomes the de facto guard dog for Jackson, always there with grunt or a shove when Jackson "gets out of line". It's clear that Tank doesn't trust Jackson, so naturally you'd expect some pay-off where the latter proves his worth or saves the former, right? Not here. It just goes nowhere, like the rest of this episode.

Action has been one of the real hallmarks of the series so far, but what little we get here is dull and ham-fisted. When Blastarr - who clearly seems to have leaped the suddenly absent Soaron in Lord Dread's robo-henchman pecking order - does finally show up, it's just for a quick and clumsy circle jerk of a shootout. I will say that I do like Blastarr and find him more menacing than even his boss, who has once again reverted to being a homebody. Speaking of Lord Dread, that whole OverMind/Lacchi spy plot sure has gone nowhere fast, hasn't it?

Perhaps it's no coincidence that "The Intruder" is directed by Jorge Montesi, a since very prolific TV director who helmed the equally uninspired previous episode, "And Study War No More". I see that he directed four more episodes of Captain Power, which fills me with equal parts dread (not that Dread) and curiosity.

One final note. I'm not digging Power's suddenly translucent face visor. I know it seems like a small point, but being able to see Dunigan's eyes changes the whole look of the character.


Noel

I'm pretty much in agreement with Tony on this one, but before I get to the negatives, I do want to praise how, as with the last episode, Straczinsky always makes sure little moments of backstory or character are trickled into even the most fillery of fillers, so as to give them at least some resonance. Here, we get a much cleaner look at the dynamic between Lord Dread and Overmind, and how one can think of himself as a ruler and world-shaper all he wants, but he's still in service to another who can take it all away if he doesn't get his few slivers of emotion in check. Also, I like that we're building on Pilot from the last episode, that she's now digging through other works of philosophy and expression, filling herself with the education she was denied as a Dread Youth. Yeah, having the one female member of the group going all aflutter at the concept of love is a bit of an obvious eye-roller, and I'm sure we can guess who she's pining for (it ain't Hawk, as much as he'd probably like to believe), but it's still a nice moment that shows actual progression from episode to episode. Pilot hasn't really had a spotlight feature of her own like the others, but I'm down with the gradual build of this arc. We also get to see a bit more of the Power Base, especially that impressive matte painting of the massive hanger.

But otherwise, as Tony said, the episode is listless. The story is pretty pointless and doesn't tell us anything we don't already know. I like the brief hints of a moral dilemma, as our heroes wonder if they should kill Jackson just to keep the location of their base under wraps, but it doesn't go anywhere. Not only in their failing to resolve the setup with Tank, but that there's still no real reason to trust Jackson other than Power's just squeamish about having to make any tough choices. I'm not saying kill the dude, but at least either leave the grenade on (albeit with the secret revelation that it's a dud and they've just got him chipped with a tracker) or follow all the rainbows of trust in the end with Power stepping onto the dropship and leaving us on the line "Pack up what we can, we blow the base in an hour. Hawk, make sure location beta is set for our arrival." In a series that's pretty frank about the realities of humanity in a tight pinch, the ending we instead get, while positive, still lacks the bite we've gotten in some others. Barry Flatman isn't bad in his guest turn as Jackson, but he's not given much to do of any interest, and what kind of a cool scoundrel name is "Andy Jackson" anyways?

And yeah, the direction of Montesi does nothing to punch things up. I was impressed with that single handheld shot in the last episode, and he does have a few nice moments here - especially Blastarr stomping towards Jackson like ED-209 - but a lot of it is very flat and dull, with prolonged pauses and shots that hold far longer than they need to. For as little running time as they get to tell their stories, its disappointing to see an episode where you could easily shave 5 minutes out.

So yeah, a clunker of an episode. I was almost going to disagree with Tony over the lighter tint of Power's visor, as I think there are some moments where the additional visibility helps the performance, but they need to adjust the cut of the lens so it looks less bulbous and clumsy, and not tint it that urinal yellow-brown shade of the massive sunglasses my mom used to wear in the 80s.



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

3 comments:

Tony Williams said...

or follow all the rainbows of trust in the end with Power stepping onto the dropship and leaving us on the line "Pack up what we can, we blow the base in an hour. Hawk, make sure location beta is set for our arrival."

This.

There was a real missed opportunity here to show that tough choices have consequences. Power spares Jackson's life and thus stays true to his core beliefs, but there has to be a cost or it's meaningless. It also just feels more true to the spirit of the show than some sort of thumbs-up, freeze frame ending.

cartoonfan959 said...

Andy Jackson was scheduled to become a Power Team member at beginning of season 2 ,

may had been an interesting dynamic with Tank :D

NoelCT said...

Please hold off on spoilers for beyond where we are in the series. We'll be getting into all the season 2 stuff later.