January 18, 2015

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, episode 16 "A Summoning of Thunder, Part 2"

As Lord Dread, Lacchi, and Soaron close in on Captain Power at the memorial, Dread flashes back to the day Stuart Power arrived at Volcania for his final confrontation with Lyman Taggert. Taggert casually has his old friend at gunpoint as he invites Stuart to join Overmind, use his talent and invention to quicken their cause in rebuilding a new world. Stuart has none of it, tearing it all down as murder, that all the machines will be is a tomb to the old world it destroys.

At the Power Base, Hawk strolls into the command center looking for Stuart, but instead finds Mentor, who activates a farewell video in which Stuart reveals to his friend Project Phoenix and the Power Suits. Hawk wants to use one to go after his friends, but as they haven't been tested yet, there's a good chance it'll kill him. Hawk does it anyway, shaking off the pain of his first Power On as he jets out.

After a confrontation where he first meets Soaron, Jonathan Power is led into the room where his father and Taggert continue their debate. All Taggert says he wants is for Stuart to let Overmind touch his mind, see what the experience is like for himself. Stuart is willing to do so, but only if Jonathan is released. Before that can happen, Hawk has arrived and is blowing his way through everything thrown against him until Soaron swoops in, leading to an extended dogfight.

Taggert is no longer merely satisfied with Stuart's surrender, he wants the location of the Power Base, too. Stuart promises to do so, but he's really just edging Taggert away from the door so Jonathan can make a break for it, which Taggert quickly realizes. Saddened, he says they'll just have to digitize Stuart and execute Jonathan as an example. Stuart pounces, knocking off the shot and tackling his old friend to the floor. Jonathan grabs the gun and races into the hall, taking down as many Biodread troops as he can.

While Stuart and Taggert continue their struggle, Jonathan grabs a communicator and heads up to a balcony where he calls in Hawk. Inside, a terminal is damaged, and Stuart and Taggert know it'll soon explode. Stuart decides to stay, to keep Taggert pinned there and hopefully end this war by taking the both of them out. When the explosion fires off, it almost knocks Jonathan to his death, too, but he's saved by Hawk and they fly back to the Power Base.

What's left of Taggert is fished out of the wreckage by Overmind and rebuilt into Lord Dread. None of the machines around him understand the pain of his loss of self, so he buries it, giving in to their coldness.

Back in the present, Dread continues to close in on Power, watching the man's tribute to Stuart on screen. Dread decides to send Soaron off and let Power go, himself landing at the memorial plaque and leaving behind a music box Jon and Stuart once gave Lyman as a gift.


What's interesting about this episode is how it recontextualizes the entire series, which till now has been a struggle between Captain Power and Lord Dread, to actually being a struggle between Stuart Power and Lord Dread, with Captain Jonathan merely being a legacy extension of his father. I was under the impression that Jonathan had made the Power Suits (a closer listen reveals the opening titles say "master of" not "maker of"), but nope, that was all Stuart. I thought Mentor had been made by Jonathan in memory of his father, but no, Stuart made that, too, crafting the computer's hologram so a piece of himself will always be left guiding his son. Stuart made the Power Base, Stuart established the resistance to the war, Jonathan is merely the ripple rolling out from that initial splash. Which isn't to dismiss Jonathan as a character, but we see just how much Stuart meant to both the boy and the world, and that's a legacy Jon fights to live up to, and a loss he still fights to overcome. I've got more to say about Jonathan, but we'll save that for later.

Instead, let's shift to the other side of this ongoing struggle, Lyman Taggert, aka Lord Dread. We've already seen he's a complex figure who believes he's doing the right thing, even as he struggles with doubt and regret, as well as an overseeing lord of a computer to whom these flickers of emotion are seen as a constant weakness. In some ways, Dread and Overmind are equals, running this world together, but they're often at odds, with the brutality of Overmind's cold logic often butting against the quiet hope of Dread's aspirations, to the point where Overmind has largely won. Dread wants to shape the world, but it'll ultimately be shaped by Overmind in the same way Lyman was. In this episode's flashbacks, Lyman is still so human in his persistence of his plot, so desperate to make things work and gain the assistance and approval of Stuart, but still stubbornly refusing to admit how wrong he is. He uses Digitization as a defense, to say most of the people he's been accused of killing aren't actually dead, their minds preserved in a more "pure" state. Which Stuart throws right back in his face, pointing out those who didn't survived to be Digitized, as well as the living hell that is Digitization as those minds are swirling about inside Overmind, tapped into and fiddled with by its whims. This plays into deeper themes in the series as Dread has begun moving away from Digitizations with the creation of Blastarr, who will just go in and mow down anyone in his path. Whatever shreds of guilt which remain in Dread are slowly being chipped away, even as we see entire swaths ripped away here.

Seriously, the sequences between David Hemblem and Bruce Gray are fantastic in their staging and acting. Taggart casually leaning on a chair, a gun hanging loose in his hand. He doesn't want guards overhearing this conversation, but isn't stupid enough to face his former friend unarmed. Stuart's rising passion and fury as he confronts Taggart's tactics and refusal to take part in them, even leaning down and scowling right into the other man's face until the barrel of the gun rises between them and backs him off. It's the closest we've seen Dread physically get to another human, and as it comes with a condemnation of his inhumanity, he forces it away. Dylan Neal still sucks, but when Jon's added to the scene, it deepens the tension as Taggart starts using the boy as a focus for his threats while Stuart tries shifting the conversation aside so the boy can edge closer to the door. And when it kicks into the full on action they were required to tilt their running time towards, it feels earned, like the genuine eruption the conflict has been building towards as Jon kicks into hero mode and fights his way to the exit, while Stuart refuses to leave, pinning down a struggling Taggert in the face of a looming explosion he hopes will consume them both and bring this all to an end. It fails, though, killing Stuart, but leaving just enough of Taggert alive to be rebuilt by Overmind as Lord Dread.

Back to Jonathan, Dylan Neal's performance aside, I do love the scene between Jon and Soaron, as the Warlord is sent to retrieve the boy, but ends up being pulled into a philosophical aside about how he's a machine capable of thinking. And how he thinks all the time, as he flies and as he fights, and there's this looming thing in the back of his thoughts that he doesn't fully understand. We know what it probably is: guilt, a conscience, humanity. But Soaron, even as he borders on facing this sliver within himself, casts it aside in anger as he roars at Power to forget everything he's heard. This is Power's strength as a character. His father gave him the tools, but Power has the ability to find the good, the strength in people and inspire them to take a stand and fight for what they believe in. We haven't seen the actual stories of conversion, but we know similar things have happened with Pilot, to whom he gave a new cause as she fell out of the Dread Youth, and to Tank, who found order and compassion to quell the anger he used to unleash, first as a genetically altered soldier, then as a brutal raider. Power has an ability to find that glowing nugget in even the darkest of people, and to see him find it in Soaron, I'm blown away. It's rejected, but we know that nugget is still there and could still be dug after in the future, opening a whole new well of potential for this villain.

And even without knowing it, Power still brings out what shreds are left in Dread as, bearing down on the memorial with every intention of raining down hell from above on the lonely man mourning his father, Dread is instead inspired to let the son go and leave a tribute of his own to his fallen friend. I'll admit this is the weakest part of the episode, as the music box is a tired device (do love the clunky yet relatably human joke engraved on the back of it) and I'm not sure why he brought Lacchi along. I'll be interested to see if this leads to any fallback from Overmind in the next episode or two, but the moment doesn't quite work and ends abruptly. Still, I like the double meaning of him producing a reminder of his humanity, but also finally parting with it and leaving it behind.

Before I close, we also need to take a moment to again praise Peter MacNeill as Hawk, the loyal friend and adviser to two generations of the Power family. Again, it's surprising how much of this important origin Jonathan plays no part in, as it's Hawk who first learns about the suits, first comes to grips with Mentor, and first puts his life on the line with that initial Power On, which will permanently bond his suit to him, a process which he's told has a 50/50 shot of leaving him dead. The transformation is a painful one, with him clenched in a scream, and then we hold on him coming to on the floor and slowly dragging himself to his feet. He survived this sacrifice for his friends, then faces the next as he single-handedly storms Volcania and takes on Soaron in their first of many mid-air skirmishes. Yeah, it still has the weak bluescreen overlays this show has been plagued with, but it's still great seeing the two right hands clash for the first time after gaining so much insight into both. And when the fateful explosion goes off, both are flying side-by-side to rescue those they know were trapped within.

Damn, this is a powerful episode. The bluescreen effects are bad, the final moments a bit clunky, but there's so much power, so much meat to this episode, and they nail more than enough to make this a classic. Straczynski has done some deep and powerful stuff in the past, but mostly in moments amidst the action. Here, the head-to-head philosophical battle of Stuart and Taggert is an early sign of the debates we'll see at the heart of Babylon 5, and what action there is acts as a punctuation to those conflicts, not the highlight for those to support.

This is an amazing episode and has me charged and ready to dive into the final stretch of the series. We've got one disc left in the DVD set, and I'm hoping to get at least a couple more episodes living up to what we get here.

A few extra thoughts:
  • Paused and counted when the Power Suits roll out on hangers. There's seven hanging there, leaving two yet to be filled. No spoilers, please.
  • Love the bit where a nervous Hawk asks for a "good luck" from Mentor, but also the honest moment where it's followed by Mentor showing no flicker of emotion or reaction to what could have been Hawk being killed by the Power On. It's a great contrast between the machine and the man, Stuart, he's based on, further cementing Mentor as merely a shadow left behind.
  • Seriously, how great are David Hemblem and Bruce Gray. Hemblem's posture, his hurt scowl. Especially love the false bluster of the line "I could burn you to the ground right now, Stuart," instantly cut down by, "Then you do it. Or is it easier to have those machines out there do the killing for you?" I could quote entire swaths of this episode, but I'll leave it there.
  • Jonathan picking up a slain Biodread and using it as a shield against others. Badass.
  • Just realizing that young Jon's introduction in Part 1, where he's ridiculously good at doing pull ups, was just there to show why he doesn't drop to his death when the explosion knocks him off the balcony.


If memory serves, I compared "A Summoning of Thunder, Part 1" to a ball of stale Play-Doh containing a few deeply hidden tasty raisins. I've since forgotten what in the Hell that was even supposed to mean, but in the interest of synergy, I'm going to tweak it and use it again for this review. "A Summoning of Thunder, Part 2" is like a few tiny balls of stale Play-Doh hidden deep within a bunch of tasty raisins.

First, let's talk about the tiny balls. No, not Lord Dread's (Hey-oooh!), I'm talking about the stale Play-Doh. Really, my only complaints are carryovers: Dylan Neal and the flying effects in the Hawk/Soaron battle. Thankfully, Neal isn't given much to do here save for tumble around and engage in fisticuffs, and he actually handles the physicality quite convincingly. If not for his propensity for delivering his lines like a kid whining to his mom for a toy at the super market, his good looks and physical talents may have earned him a shot as a prime time action hero. I could easily see him paired with a chimpanzee in a revival of B.J. and the Bear or playing opposite a talking car in Son of Knight Rider. As for the flying special effect, like your Aunt Helen twerking at your Cousin's wedding, this is starting to get embarrassing. I make allowances for the budget, format, and era, but they're aiming for the moon here and hitting Wisconsin.

As for the tasty raisins, there are several. I love the confrontation between Stuart Power and Lyman Taggert. In his review of Part 1, Noel said that "Taggert doesn't want to be the villain, people just won't accept that he's trying to save them and make everything better, which makes him all the more complicated of a baddie." I can't say I got that from Part 1, but I certainly do from Part 2. Perhaps it's the fact that, this time, Taggert and Power are face-to-face, bouncing their ideals off one another with a conviction I find immensely compelling. George Lucas only wishes he'd handled the similar debate between Anakin and Obi-Wan' final showdown in Revenge of the Sith this well. Hemblen and Gray really shine here. The physical stuff is a bit clumsy, but the drama works so well that I don't even care. I also really enjoy learning more about the creation of the Power Suits, seeing the birth of Lord Dread, and watching the conflict play out on Hemblen's face as Dread ultimately spares Captain Power's life.

This is a magnificent episode, and though I still stand by my review of Part 1, I realize this could not exist without it. If I could make a suggestion, it would be to watch both parts back-to-back as a single episode. It's definitely something I plan to do in the near future.

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

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