Pilot and Power are in the dropship, Hawk scouting ahead, as they all search for the Wardogs, a troop of guerrilla fighters building a reputation for giving the Biodread empire hell. Sure enough, the Dogs are currently laying waste to a convoy of Dreads who fell into their ambush. Just as it seems the Dreads will gain an upper hand, Hawk spots the fight, swooping in and finishing the Dreads off. The Wardogs mistake his Power Armor for that of their cybernetic enemies and shoot him out of the sky, but he survives the blast and knocks them into a standoff as he explains they're all on the same side. Just as it seems like it'll sour further, the Wardogs' leader, Colonel Vi, shows up... and beams as she recognizes Hawk, an old buddy and fellow soldier from the Metal Wars.
Falling back to the Wardogs' cave stronghold, Hawk and Vi catch up, leaning of what each has lost. He tries to recruit them to the resistance, but Vi feels the war has been too deeply lost, and she and the Dogs are just gathering what supplies they can before heading north in search of Eden 2, some fabled paradise where they can hide away in peaceful retirement. She asks Hawk to come with. They're alerted about an approaching craft, but it's just the dropship, and Vi lets Hawk get in touch with Power and guide them in. Sadly, Power has no more luck at convincing Vi and the Wardogs to abandon their plan, even after pointing out much of the area between them and the possibility of Eden 2 is held by Dread. Power and Pilot need to head back out to help Tank and Scout, but Hawk sticks back. However, his further attempts are curtailed when Vi gets all made up in a beautiful gown she's been saving for a special occasion, and the two pull into a kiss with a winking dissolve hiding you know what.
Throughout this, Tank and Scout have discovered a Biodread station with possible ties to Project New Order. They maintain surveillance, unaware they've been spotted by one of Lord Dread's drones. Dread has Soaron go in and seemingly evacuate the base, leaving it as open bait. Our heroes fall for it as, when Power and Pilot arrive, they all move in and set bombs around the central data bank, only for Dreads to pour in and leave them trapped inside as the timer ticks down.
At the Dogs' cave, word comes in that all Dreads between them and their escape are shifting east to where the Soldiers are trapped. This is the best opportunity the Wardogs will have to seek out Eden 2, but Hawk refuses to join them and abandon his friends. He Powers On and takes off, but is quickly sidetracked by an aerial battle with Soaron. Just as Hawk is on the ropes, the Wardogs show up, blowing Soaron into a retreat, and deciding they can wait to leave until after they give Dread something to remember them by. So they swarm the base, blow away guards, and set the Soldiers free, everybody scurrying out just as the place blows.
The Soldiers and Wardogs say their goodbyes and part ways, Hawk and Vi sharing one more kiss for the road.
I was so pleasantly surprised by this episode opening with a bang with none other than beloved and prolific character actor Graham Greene. I mostly know him for his warm comedic roles (which isn't to knock his excellent dramatic work in any way), yet here he is going full on Rambo in a war zone, with greased up bare arms whipping around a massive laser canon as he blows the crap out of Biodreads. He overplays a few bits of dodging fire that was added in post, but for the most part, he's doing a magnificent job as Cherokee leads his guerrilla strike force (also including Jane Luk as the wonderfully acerbic Keiko) into action, and I love the further punch of them thinking the fight has been won until another Dread sudden bursts up from within a tank with a massive cannon of his own. And then the story really kicks into gear as Hawk swoops in to save the day, only to be blown out of the air by friendlies who've never seen Power Armor before and think it's something Dread kicked up, leading to a great scene of a sneering Hawk chewing Cherokee and the others out while also trying to establish bonds in the hopes of winning them over to the Power Team side. These first few minutes are fantastic. Exciting, rich, laying in neat characters and a nice conflict I want to see explored.
Then things go wrong.
I don't dislike the character of Commander Vi, and in fact think Kate Trotter does a wonderful job of playing her, and she and the Wardogs are set up so spectacularly you could almost believe they've been living a wonderful spin-off show week to week, going on who knows how many adventures we just haven't been privy to but could be just as enthralled by as we are with the good Captain and Co. Hell, they're such classic guerrilla fighters they even have a dude with a beret. A beret! I want to see the episode spotlighting beret dude and learn his story! I also love the idea of Vi and Hawk being old war buddies. Not old lovers, but old buddies, the best of friends, who are taken back to those good old days by seeing each other again. No, they had to make it a romance. Within a few minutes, they're making flirty eyes, pecking cheeks, then she's suddenly in a beautiful evening gown, complete with jewelry and hair that she had absolutely know means of sculpting so spectacularly in their hideout cave, and the two are making out before a cutaway where you know they totally bone.
I don't like this. I mean, no, there's nothing wrong with a dude who lost his wife to a horrible tragedy again finding love, and even finding it with an old friend he suddenly becomes closer to. My problem is they brush off that memory of the old wife pretty damn quick, and make it more about trying to lure Hawk away to this fabled Eden the Dogs are planning to retire to, and this romance just pushes everything else in the story aside. We get no more of them bonding over old war stories. Cherokee and the other fighters suddenly fall into the background, aside from him making the same weak joke twice about how he's got to get him some of that Power Armor. And Eden 2 doesn't actually factor into the plot at all. Where is it? Is it even real? Will they actually find anything when they get there? I'm guessing this might tie into a season 2 plot (don't tell us, we'll see when we get there), but it feels like the story we start with isn't where we end up going. And we're also suddenly focusing on just a random outpost station which Lord Dread uses to randomly lure our heroes into a random trap just to have another action scene. Which isn't even all that good as Tank bursting through a wall or Scout disguising himself as Lord Dread are momentary reminders of their powers without actually doing anything, and I've just become so frustrated by this point that even the expected ending of the Wardogs rallying for a final victory doesn't do much for me.
It's also worth pointing out that this episode is a bit out of place. I typically like doing shows in production order, but I wasn't able to find a clear listing of those numbers, so we're going with the aired order which has "Wardogs" at episode 10. It's obviously an earlier episode, what with none of the recent developments at Volcania (Blastarr and Lackki) being referenced, and Project New Order being this thing the Soldiers have heard about but know no specifics of. The DVDs place this as episode 2, which also doesn't feel entirely right to me. That was also an ep by Larry DiTillio featuring a romance plot where a hero meets an old flame in the middle of a battlefield, their attempts to reconnect end in a bittersweet fashion, and they blowing up the same entrance set of a Dread station. Put simply, it's way too repetitive to have these two back to back. I think Wikipedia's placement of this as 3 is better, but still not enough distance from the first ep, yet sliding it around is tricky because we've got that other Hawk-centric story of "Pariah" to dance around.
I'll leave it to the die-hard fans and producers to bat around episode order, but I just want to acknowledge that, yes, we do know this isn't where this episode best fits, but again, as I don't have production numbers, aired order seems the best way to go for the purposes this project.
Overall, it's a letdown for me. Such a strong, exciting opening, fizzling out before it can really get a story rolling. It's not that it's a badly made ep, and I do applaud them for nailing a battle-hardened guerrilla team and putting some obvious sex in there, I just feel the story is mis-focused and loses track of what first grabbed my attention in favor of stuff I don't find nearly as interesting.
"Wardogs" is, if nothing else, a prime example of this show's grudging approach to compromise and total lack of pandering to its supposed target audience. Once again, it's not the violence that I find surprising, it's the mature storyline and relationships. I can see a studio or a toy company hoping to lure a kid in with the promise of a lot of "Biff!" "Bang!" "Pow!", and that sort of thing was certainly the subject of a lot of controversy in the deregulated age of 80s children's TV, but I can't believe the stuff with Hawk and Vi made it past the suits. Last time I checked, old people romance doesn't sell a lot of toys. I was floored that this was the crux of the story. It's painfully melodramatic, but MacNeill and Trotter approach it with enough sincerity to help wash it down. Oh, and implied sex. Yep, you read that right. It's so obvious that I got up and grabbed a box of Kleenex out of habit. Hell, that sort of thing would've been controversial on a prime time sitcom of the era. Amazing.
Despite the impressive commitment to telling a mature story, "Wardogs" is otherwise a bit of a clunker because it ultimately fails to tell an interesting one. The problem is that it's all a bit perfunctory, with both sides spinning their wheels in a story that ultimately doesn't mean anything outside of Hawk and Vi. With Hawk the focus, the rest of the team pretty much bides their time waiting to get in on one of the many objectiveless, consequence-free firefights. The inclusion of the Wardogs helps to mix this up a bit, and it's cool to see Graham Greene pop up in an early role, but it's mostly just shrugworthy stuff, with Dread and co. at their most generic.
Had a battle-weary Hawk been genuinely tempted to join Vi and the Wardogs in the quest for Eden II - and with the way Vi looked in that dress, no one would've blamed him - maybe it would've given this episode the dramatic thrust it was lacking, not to mention help pull Power and the rest of the gang into the story in a meaningful way. But as it stands, "Wardogs" is an episode that's certainly commendable, but not recommendable.
If you'd like to watch along with us, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is available on DVD!