December 7, 2014

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, episode 11 "Flame Street"

Disguised as monks, Captain Power and the Soldiers slip into Tech City, a dank den of cyber punks and those lost in VR stimulation. Lord Dread has allowed it to stay active because of the data that manages to skim through the CyberWeb he and Overmind are tapped into.

Our heroes are swooped on by a twitchy conman and dealer named Zone Boy, who's skeptical when they ask to see the notorious Mindsinger. Zone Boy brings them to the basement of a nightclub, then ducks away to rat them out to Lord Dread for a hit of neural charge.

Mindsinger shows. She runs a terminal where Dread troopers periodically jack into the Cyberweb, and Power wants to jack in himself in the hopes of accessing any data they may have left behind pertaining to Project New Order. They meet her price, so she jacks Power in. Just as Blastar and Dreads show up, opening fire on the night club and clearing out the patrons so they can pin down the Soldiers inside. Hawk, Tank, Pilot, and Scout all Power On and a shootout begins.

In the CyberWeb, Power is quick to uncover the data file, but Overmind has taped into his neural presence and uploaded Lord Dread to the same matrix. The two have a showdown, Dread's cybernetic mind giving him the advantage as he throws images of dead friends at Power, and starts breaking down the man's reality perceptions and prodding for the location of the Power Base.

But when Dread summons the image of Power's father, it instead turns on him, a dream that renews the Captain's hope and bites at the Lord's guilt. But even as they clash and Power bombards Dread with images of the horrors the world has become, Dread still clings to his hope that this is just a passing phase of the new world he's helping to usher in. But then the old Dread, the human Dread appears before him and he realizes how wrong he may be. He loses the grip on his emotions and falls out of the neural link, finding himself in his throne room facing the disapproval of Overmind, and coldly clinging to the rhetoric he's been spouting all these years.

With no end to the shootout in sight, Pilot constructs an EMP pulse, which fires and shorts out Blastarr, his Dread troops, and all electronics in the area, even the Soldiers' Power Armor. Thankfully, Power had just disconnected, as he saves Mindsinger from the threats of a gun-brandishing Zone Boy. She gets her payment, Power and the Soldiers have their info, the day is saved.


By the mid-90s, when the internet and the iconography and nomenclature of its subculture had breached the mainstream, the influence of seminal Cyberpunk works like William Gibson's Neuromancer, as well as Japanese anime, were everywhere. But in 1987, such things were still a rather niche domain. So to see it pop up here, and in such loving detail, is a really pleasant surprise.

Though not the series' most generically entertaining episode, "Flame Street" is far and away the most technically and dramatically impressive yet. The production value of the series - always commendable for its era and genre - reaches new heights here. The sets are imaginatively designed and richly detailed, and little touches, such as walls plastered with Xerox copies of illustrations of the robot from Metropolis, show just how much thought was put into creating this tiny corner of Captain Power's post-apocalyptic world. With obvious nods to the aesthetic created in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, it really does achieve a rather impressive, immaculate reality that completely immerses me in its world like never before.

The story and script are also strong, putting Power front and center for perhaps the first time. I think Noel and I would both agree that Tim Dunigan isn't one of our great thespians, but he does a solid job here, holding his own against the more seasoned David Hemblen. Guest stars Laurie Patton and Brock Johnson are also a step above the Canadian dinner theater actors who have populated past episodes.

As with most episodes, the characters who aren't featured are relegated to a series of *pew* *pew* *pew* shootouts. I know the shootouts were mandatory so that kids could participate at home, but I really wish that, instead of just being flotsam and jetsam, they could be part of an actual B story, with their own goals and arcs. There's always a battle between art and commerce with such endeavors, but there are more skillful ways to handle it than this.

As I said before, this isn't the most entertaining episode, but in terms of story, performance, and production value, "Flame Street" is now the new benchmark for the series going forward.


Alert: we have a full on cyberpunk episode, with slang-spewing youths in leather and mohawks plugging things straight into ports on their skulls and a dank city streets barely lit by the cold glow of a neon haze. This is Tech City, and we're here to surf the CyberWeb. How amazingly silly and perfectly late 80s cyberpunk is that! :D

Let me admit up front that this isn't a great episode. The dialogue and direction are really clunky, with some plot elements getting lost in the slang, and a good chunk of the big climactic action scene is just two sides shooting at each other for 5 minutes from fixed positions. Seriously, until Pilot has her idea to rig up an EMP, there's nothing going on in that scene but constant shooting, and no, I won't give them having Tank move to a different position as doing much to liven things up. There's also not much to the story. They show up, plug Power in, have a standoff, then leave, with so little focus put on the goal of their mission that you'd be more than forgiven for not even catching what it was the heroes were hoping to find in the first place.

Otherwise, I really enjoy this episode. There's not much to it, but they make the most of what they have, and find great little moments to heighten the cyberpunk aesthetic, like a video phone where you plug in through your brain and only speak through your thoughts, or a tweaker in an alley freaking out as he sees Blastarr stomping into the city. Oh yeah, I said tweaker, as they're going full on drug themes here with people paying one another in mental stimulation, shown through glaze-eyed people in the middle of shuddering highs. How this made it to air in a children's show I'll never know, but kudos to them. Hell, they even have our heroes first enter town disguised as robed monks chantings prayers to the machines!

Though much isn't done with her, Mindsinger is also a neat presence, with her striking cage of a shirt and hair tousled out with so much spray I hope it doesn't ignite when she jacks in. Laurie Patton gets the look and attitude down perfectly, and I would like to have seen her return. Not so much Brock Johnson as Zone Boy, but he does what's needed for his role.

The big centerpiece of the episode is absolutely the virtual fight between Lord Dread and Captain Power. It starts off a little cheesy and cheap on the visual side, but when it starts hammering away with surprisingly tense concepts and twists, there's more than enough power to make up for their visual limitations. Like when Dread is bombarding Power with images of his dead father and friends, and twisting his perception, prodding him to believe his entire fight has been an implanted memory and this is all just a dream. The onslaught Dread and Overmind are capable of in this situation makes perfect sense, given one is a full machine and one is permanently bonded to mechanics. And yet Power still has will, still has enough heroic gusto to push through and start hitting Dread with what he fears most: himself as a human being questioning the choices he made. As cheaply shot as it is, the image of Dread and Power smashing at one another with staffs really sells because they've built so much emotional weight behind it. And Dread is once again left being reprimanded by Overmind, reminded of just how human and emotional he is in this world of machines he helped to make.

That stretch alone makes this a worthy episode. There's other stretches that could have used more work, some deeper planning and coordination to go with the great production design, but once the story gets where it's going, it nails the landing and has me charged for next week.

A few stray thoughts:
  • When the Dreads are marching into city, love how they saved money on Blastarr with a cardboard silhouette with glowing eyes rocking back and forth behind the troops. Obvious, but clever.
  • I have no clue what a "Comsino" is. I also have no clue what a "Consensual Stimulation Grid" is. I don't care, I love nonsensical cyberpunk terminology.
  • You've got a deactivated Blastarr RIGHT THERE and you do nothing to blow him up or disassemble him!?

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


Tony Williams said...

They show up, plug Power in, have a standoff, then leave, with so little focus put on the goal of their mission that you'd be more than forgiven for not even catching what it was the heroes were hoping to find in the first place.

*raises hand* Guilty

cartoonfan959 said...

"You've got a deactivated Blastarr RIGHT THERE and you do nothing to blow him up or disassemble him!?"

he is biomechanic , even if you fully destroy him he will regenerate after a while so its rather pointless , he can't be just disassembled like a normal machine , the episode in which he was created clearly showed he wasn't just "assembled" on a factory like ala Terminator

NoelCT said...

That episode also showed there weren't any parts left to make more of him, and destroyed the entire process through which he was made, so no, I don't see how they wouldn't be able to just take him apart. Him having organic components doesn't make those organics immortal, especially if they no longer have a functional machine to keep them alive. Him having an ability to self regenerate/repair damage doesn't hold up if the entirety of him is taken apart. He's not Wolverine.

NoelCT said...

It wasn't until the episode ended that I caught them drop a line about "Project Styx", and I caught their earlier mention of looking for New Order files when I went back for the synopsis. In fact, them mentioning Styx has me wondering more about the order of the episodes, since "And Study War No More" was all about them encountering and uncovering the Styx phase of New Order.

I agree with you about the action scenes. They need to be treated like a good musical number, in that they can't just grind the story to a stop, they still need to actively drive the narrative, or at least have a narrative of their own. Some episode are good at this. While "Wardogs" was week last weak, I thought there was a good pace and flow to the action scene, and they kept the characters involved and building. Here, it felt like they didn't know what to do, so they just left everyone standing there.

cartoonfan959 said...

I think that episode showed there wasn't any energy !! not parts

I consider them more of bacteria type creatures unless you somehow fully destroy it, it will simply regenerate

NoelCT said...

They're not bacteria, they're human tissue. Human tissue doesn't work that way. And if it wasn't about a lack of parts, why is Lackki so tiny and slapped together?

While it makes no sense, I got that the technique was more about bonding mechanics and organics into a single thing, meaning you can't just strip out the organics from Blastarr and transfer them somewhere else. And he dug his way out of a flaming furnace of a pit, so he's obviously durable, but that doesn't mean he can't be destroyed, and this afforded the heroes a perfect opportunity to try and I don't by them passing it by.

I'm not saying you're wrong, just that I don't agree with you, and honestly, the show plays a bit vague and loose with the details, so until they give me more to go on, I'm sticking with my take. And I'm leaving it there, as I don't want this to turn into a nerd fu pissing contest.