A mutated form of influenza is sweeping through the Passages. Mentor synthesizes a vaccine, but due to limited resources, is only able to produce a few vials of it. Pilot hatches an idea for her to raid a medical lab guarded by the Dread Youth, a place she's more than familiar with from her time as a member. The others are reluctant, as she'll be going in solo with limited resources and no Power Armor, but ultimately agree.
Pilot suits up in her old uniform and the others drop her off at a rendezvous point, where they spend several minutes "quietly" blowing the crap out of a Dread patrol unit, then Pilot slips in.
She creeps around, drills lots of things, takes out some guards. She's suddenly jumped by Erin, a fresh Dread Youth, who takes a blaster shot to the leg during their fight. Pilot ties Erin up and inspects her wound, then carries on with her mission. More creeping and drilling and taking people out, and Pilot gets her hands on some fresh vials and makes her way out. But not before grabbing a first aid kit.
On her way back, Pilot treats Erin's wounded leg, appealing to the buried humanity of the girl and revealing their mirrored origins.
Alarms fire off and Pilot scrambles out of there with Dreads in pursuit. Soaron even swoops in, taking on Power in a midair battle. Tank flies in with one of their gliders to retrieve his comrade, but Erin has gotten free and holds Pilot at gunpoint. Pilot doesn't stop, though, climbing on the glider and inviting Erin to come with. All Erin can do is watch as the Soldiers fly off.
The Soldiers get the vials to the doctors, and Pilot ponders.
I really, really want to like this episode. We finally get Pilot into the spotlight, forcing her to re-don the uniform of the Dread youth and go on a solo infiltration mission. This should be awesome and deep and thrilling.
First of all, we've complained in the past about the mandate to have a certain amount of action per episode, leaving them with a limited amount of time to tell a story, but rarely in the series have I felt it as much as we do here. Instead of weaving the action into the narrative, we have Power and his troops taking on Dreads just because they're there, then getting into a big sky battle with Soaron that has nothing to do with the story. There's no tying them into the themes, no pulling the Dread Youth Erin into the thick of things so she can actually see how each side carries themselves on the field. They just break for action, then she stumbles in. There's so much more that could have been done to liven the tension, like have Power take on commandos as a diversionary tactic, or have a chase where Pilot and Tank are trying to get out of there with fully alerted forces pouring behind them. Instead of tying the focus of the episode, Pilot, into the climactic battle, they instead make it all about Power and Soaron and having to show off their vehicles again.
Even then, what small stretch of story we get is really dull and uninvolving, which surprised me given this was penned by Christy Marx, who's usually a fantastic character writer (on top of Jem, check out the mostly great Conan the Adventurer toon from the early 90s she was also head writer on). There are some good scenes between Pilot and Erin (a young Laurie Holden!), especially the bit where Pilot parrots Erin's decreasingly devoted anthem to Dread. And I was shocked by the bit where she illustrates Erin's humanity by holding up a blood-smeared hand. I don't have a clue how that made it to air, but bravo to them as it's a good visual punch.
But sadly, that's all we get as Jessica Steen continues playing Pilot as the ultimate in buttoned-up reserve. There's no real interaction between she and her comrades aside from suiting up for the mission, and even her speeches to Erin sadly fail to move me any more than earlier moments have, like her and Tank looking at the Bible quote or asking Mentor about love. Maybe it's because there's so much frustration in waiting for some something to actually happen as she's prowling around corridors. Don't get me wrong, Pilot is a boss at infiltration, but this all suffers from the same lax, flatly framed direction of Otta Hanus which we also called out last week. I just wasn't able to connect with much of anything.
There is a good nugget of a story in there, a couple nice scenes, and the emotional punch it leads to does have some strength, but even then, the final encounter where Erin follows after Pilot feels forced and unneeded, and ultimately doesn't take either character any further than they were when we last some them together.
Overall, it's a misfire of an episode, where they had something specific they wanted to do, but didn't know how to get there and ultimately ran out of time to think about it before having to put something to film. It feels rushed, unfocused, and underthought, which is surprising given some of the talent involved.
A few extra thoughts:
- A handful of chemical vials isn't enough. Thankfully they were able to steal all of those... handful of chemical vials. Remember, the problem wasn't that they didn't have a cure, they just didn't have materials to mass produce it. I don't know how this changes the situation.
- You'd think Pilot was a Timelord given all the uses she gets out of that screwdriver in her satchel. Not to mention the signs of her Vulcan heritage in that nerve grip she takes down a guard with.
- Was this really the best episode to pause not once, but twice to show off the glowing throwing stars our heroes wield?
- There's not much to see beyond a nice matte painting and some cots, but I like that we finally get our first glimpse of the Passages.
- "How did you know this girl wasn't going to shoot you?" "I wasn't." Those lines don't fit one another and look like a revisions flub nobody corrected. Makes me wonder about the rest of the overall draft they shot. May have just been that ending scene, though, as it also has a delivery fail on "She's out there, my young twin."
I played little league baseball growing up, and when we won, the coach took us out for ice cream as a reward. But when we lost, he would make us line up and then pace back and forth, comparing our play to the sexual acumen of his ex-wife as he swigged his fifth or sixth Schlitz Gold of the afternoon. These days, my Nephew plays soccer, and whether they win or lose, they go share a Capri Sun with the opposing team and then take their trash over to the recycling bin together. And everyone gets a trophy, even the 0-14 Andersonville Asthmatics.
I guess what I'm getting at is that, when I was growing up, there was no such thing as a reward for good effort. You won and got ice cream or you lost and got berated by a divorced, unemployed alcoholic with a prostate the size of a grapefruit. So with that in mind, I can't in good conscience give "Gemini and Counting" a pass just because it tried hard.
Yes, once again it's a daring premise, with the Hitler Youth/Nazi parallels and the mature story line, but the execution is sloppy and ham-fisted. Where's the tension? The internal struggle? Pilot breaks into Dread's highly guarded medical lab and meets about as much resistance as she would sneaking into the Men's room at her local Target. And while Jessica Steen does a commendable job of showing the trepidation of having to put on that uniform again and reenter that world, I wanted to see her struggle with her demons, or face temptation to rejoin her former comrades. Have her stumble upon some Dead propaganda and let her eyes glaze over for a moment. Something. The "I'm right, you're wrong" debates with Erin are pure vanilla, and we never once see Pilot's resolve slip. If you're going to take that approach, at least let us see Erin's world view challenged and watch her struggle as the ground shifts beneath her. Instead, Pilot's humanistic platitudes bounce off of Erin's ideological armor and then we leave her with a "Some day, maybe, you'll understand," with no real indication that she will. Where's the drama in that?
Last week, I mentioned the lack of a B story in this series, and never is that weakness more apparent than it is here. Once again, the focus is on one character and the rest are relegated to being "We'll keep 'em busy" canon fodder. I get that a certain amount of action was required to make the toy/show synergy work, but surely they could've come up with action sequences that worked a bit more organically with the plot. They've done it before ("The Mirror in Darkness" comes to mind).
This is a very middling episode that could have been so much more. No ice cream for the Soldiers of the Future this week.
If you'd like to watch along with us, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is available on DVD!