Learning of a pending attack on an underground resistance group led by their friend Cypher, Captain Power and the Soldiers investigate, only to find the entire populace infected by the Styx virus. Most are comatose and what few are conscious suffer from a hallucinatory drive to attack their own friends. Cypher himself is struggling to shake off the madness as he and Power work to clear out as many as they can. Watching the scene through a Drone, Lord Dread has his forces close in and attack. Our heroes blast their way through, only recovering a small group of survivors. Hawk has a brief skirmish with Soaron, then joins the others at the Power Base.
Running some tests, our heroes find out Cypher's people were infected through a tainted water supply. Which clicks with Hawk as he remember Tank taking a swig from a canteen he found on site. Tank had been ordered to get some rest after appearing fatigued and snappy, and when Hawk and Pilot go to check on him, he's in full on Styx madness, fully Armored and armed as he roars and opens fire on them.
Running through all the Project New Order info they've gathered so far, Mentor projects that a Dread missile installation is planning to fire the virus into the regional water table. Cut to Dread, as yep, this is the plan and he orders the launch.
With all other Soldiers needed on this mission, Hawk is left to take on berserker Tank on his own, which doesn't go well when Tank gets the drop on him, pounding him to crap, then blasting away Hawk's Power Armor. Just as Tank moves in for the kill, reason starts slipping back into his brain. He backs away and Powers Off.
The rest of the Soldiers sweep the base, blasting away outer defenses while, on Dread's order, the commander fires the missiles. Power and Scout storm the entrance with a hoverbike and bazooka, forcing their way in. As they split up, Scout attempts to slip into the command center in the guise of Lord Dread, but Blastarr happens to be there and instantly starts blasting at the impostor. Power converges and the fight is ferocious and relentless, but Power manages to down Blastarr with the bazooka, with a final shot to the head for good measure. Our heroes make it to the controls where they remote detonate the missiles just before they hit.
Back at the Power Base, Tank is safely tucked in his bed where sedatives will knock him out until the virus runs its course.
Like Haley Joel Osment, "And Madness Shall Reign" started off promisingly enough, but then it just got awkward.
"I see dumb people."
Me too, Haley, and apparently they wrote this episode.
All of the ingredients for a good episode are here. A delirious Tank stalking the darkened corridors of the Powerbase; deadly rockets on countdown, ready to poison the water supply. But once again, good ideas fall victim to poor execution. In particular, I'm disappointed in how they handle Tank's story. What could be a tense and spooky hunt for a deadly prey that you don't want to harm is instead a clumsy and over-too-quick bit of rock 'em, sock 'em robots. Why they didn't milk this more I have no idea. On the other side, Power and Scout's sabotage mission is about as exciting as watching your drunk uncle George try and open a jar of pickles at a 4th of July picnic. Scout is by far the least featured member of the team, which is a shame because he not only has a sense of humor (a trait foreign to everyone here in Futureville, save for perhaps Tank and his groan-inducing one-liners), he also has the coolest power with his suit's holographic mimic technology. But he's once again wasted in a thankless sidekick role, his one shining moment coming when Blastarr sees through his Dread hologram and blasts him in the chest.
As for Lord Dread, he's back to being an inaction figure, relegated to his hi-tech La-Z-Boy for the bulk of the episode. Worse, the writers seem determined to mine some comic relief out of having Lacchi constantly irritate Dread like a kid pestering his Dad while football is on. Needless to say, it didn't work.
And I haven't even mentioned Cypher yet. Why? Because I don't know who in the Hell he is or what he's doing. I know he and his group are supposed to be resistance fighters of some sort, but we don't even get a thumbnail of information about them. I did get a few chuckles out of how bad the extras were as they suffered through their bouts of "madness", though.
This is the sort of episode where you zone out early and are jarred out of a daydream by the sound of the end credits theme blaring through your speakers, forcing you to have to go back and re-watch it. Not that that happened to me or anything.
After two weeks of middling misfires, the show regains its footing with another solid episode. We open dark, with yet another refuge hit by Project Styx, leaving its victims sprawled out like corpses. Sure, they're not really dead and the effects will only last long enough for Dread's forces to come in and Digitize everyone, but the imagery they're playing with is hardly subtle, with the dank lighting, people keeled over left and right, Power and his Soldiers checking pulses and looking at one another with grim shakes of their heads, and the few fighting off the plague gibbering in corners as hallucinations drive them to madness. This is genocide, pure and simple, laid before children in an 80s Saturday morning action show, and it's stunning and impressive to behold.
The A-plot gets of to a bit of a forced start, what with the canteen Tank finds being such an obvious plot device that it should be flickering with red light like the chest of a Biodread, but when it kicks into gear, with a fully Armored Tank howling as he blasts through his own friends, it's some damned impressive stuff, with a solid performance from good ol' Sven-Ole, some intense direction by Jorge Montesi (his third ep for the show, and best so far), and Peter MacNeil bringing some lightness to Hawk's pursuit of his comrade, which helps keep things from becoming too overbearing. There's some great moments in there, like the look Hawk gives when asked if he can handle Tank on his own, or when he goes to check on his fallen buddy only for an uppercut to fly up and knock him out of frame. And when he's plugged with Tanks massive cannon and his Power Armor dissolves, it's one hell of an "oh shit!" moment before he's finally able to get through to his buddy.
The B-plot, where most of the action lies, actually feels like an integrated part of the story and a sound way to keep all the other soldiers busy for half the episode. The missile launch to poison the water supplies is big, exciting, builds just as much off the first act of the story as the A-plot does, and even slips in some great moments of its own to keep it interesting. Like the base commander whom IMDb tells me is named Overunit Wilson, yet another in a line of human colluders I'd love to know more about. Or Captain swooping his hover bike in with a bazooka-toting Scout on his back, wondering if this is the best idea even as he rains hell from the sky. Or Scout trying his old Lord Dread impersonation, only to be greeted in the next room by a raging Blastarr who instantly sees through the disguise and starts blasting the crap out of everything. It's a furious battle and I love how our heroes barely make it through.
There are a few clunky lines of dialogue in Larry DiTillio's script, but this is otherwise a great example of how this series should be handled, weaving the character drama in and out of the action, letting both the A- and B-plots hold their own while still playing off the same issues, and letting the required action time contribute to the telling of the story instead of distracting from it. Add to that some solid direction (the hectic shots of fallen Dreads piling atop one another as the Soldiers mow them down is glorious) and some great performances all around (aside from a Gaumont-ian "Nooooooooo!" closeup of Lord Dread which adorably fails to sell), and this is an entertaining return to form. Not among the top episodes we've seen so far, but definitely a good one.
If you'd like to watch along with us, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is available on DVD!