February 22, 2015

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, episode 20 "New Order, Part 2: The Land Shall Burn Them"

The satellite is still plummeting towards Volcania. Dread orders a still-regenerating Soaron to throw everything he has at it, including himself, but the satellite still plows through and collides with the central spire. Lacchi is malfunctioning from blows, and Overmind is stunned as it experiences pain for the first time, leaving Biodreads throughout scrambled and confused. Dread is unharmed and the plasma storm of Prometheus is still set to launch.

Our heroes land, Power On, and storm the complex, blasting the hell out of everything as they make their way to the command center. Hawk is sidelined by an Overmind blasting off his armor, but Tank rescues him and they fight their way back to the dropship. Power, Pilot, and Scout are sidelined by Blastarr, but they blow him up by electrifying a floor panel with high voltage.

Our remaining heroes crash the command center. Pilot and Scout are shot down, but while Power and Dread tussle, Scout comes to (Pilot's fine, as well) and uses a terminal to hack into Prometheus and cause that station to overload and explode before it can fire the plasma. Dread runs away and Overlord starts breaking through the hacks, so our heroes take off. Project New Order has been defeated.


On paper, this is a fantastic episode. Our heroes finally take the fight straight to Volcania, first by punching it with a satellite which rips apart a defiant Soaron (great scene), leaves most of the Biodreads scrambled in confusion, and has Overmind mystified at his first experience of what pain feels like. These are all great beats, followed by our heroes storming the castle, blowing the shit out of everything, Hawk carrying on the fight even though his suit is blown out, Tank has a massive bazooka, Pilot blows Blastarr to pieces, and then we get an epic faceoff between our titular hero and his long time nemesis.

This should be amazing. It isn't. And I blame that entirely on Otto Hanus. Hanus is the most prolific director for the show, helming a whopping 9 episodes of the 22 episode season. He's also the one I've most consistently chided for flat compositions, awkward staging of dialogue sequences, and action scenes that lack any movement or energy. I honestly find his direction of this two-parter, this half especially, to be some of his laziest work on the show, which is a crying shame given how much the script is giving him to work with. And we sadly don't have a situation like "Flame Street" or "Sound of Thunder" where there's still enough weight to what's happening to overcome how it's being presented, probably because this is a story light on character and thick on action, so the actors aren't allowed to carry it themselves in spite of the direction. The exception is David Hemblem as Dread, who still has enough gravitas to pull me in with moments like Dread taking in the destruction around him and dedicating himself further to seeing his plan through, or punching a malfunctioning Lacchi, or seeing Power's infiltration and sneering "He dares."

But the rest of the episode is full of great moments that still fail to sell properly. Like all the Hawk/Tank banter, the worst being over a bowling gag. Or all of the Blastarr stuff, where the photography is so badly composed the CG model feels far more out of place than usual, complete with shots where actor eye lines are wildly off, something this show has been really great about in the past. And that climax, where Dread and Power are face-to-face, which should be an amazing punch of epic power, is so clumsily staged, actually leaving me confused half the time as to what's going on, and ends so abruptly that it did nothing for me, especially when Lacchi suddenly appears with a gun in hand. And no, you shouldn't just be able to use those blasters to harmlessly shoot the guns out of villains' hands, which happens multiple times throughout the episode. The worst being when Tank uses his massive bazooka to knock a gun from an Overunit's hand. Dude's entire arm should have blown off!

Regardless of how epic and exciting the script to this episode was, the direction was just a very shittily executed job, and Otto Hanus should feel bad for it. It's something which just shouldn't have happened, like getting Vince Colletta to ink Jack Kirby's astounding run of The Mighty Thor. Which isn't to say there aren't a few decent bits in there, like the effects shots of the dropship landing and taking off, which doesn't look like the typical cut-n-paste effects they usually go with. Or Power and Scout egging on a raging Blastarr. Or Soaron's valiant if misguided sacrifice. And there's a nice bit where all our heroes gather and Power On, and it's such a heroic title screen shot of them all together in their armor that I couldn't help but smile. And Pilot's helmet! I mentioned a few episodes ago that I'm glad someone finally gave her more headgear than a pair of sunglasses, and I'm glad to see it's stuck around.

But overall, this episode is a firecracker that had every component in place to make for one hell of a big bang, but because that one guy failed to place the fuse properly, it ultimately fizzled.


Noel, you hit on a number of ways in which "New Order: Part 2 - The Land Shall Burn" is a total less than the sum of its parts, and for the most part I agree with you. But for me, there was a much larger issue that kept this episode from clicking, and that's the total and complete lack of drama. I don't know how familiar our readers are with cartoons of the 80s, but there's a formula to them that goes a little something like this:

The villain(s) hatch a plan, and for a while - say, two acts or so - it works brilliantly. For the bulk of this time, the bad guys run circles around our heroes, making them look like helpless fools at every turn. But when it comes time for the final showdown, suddenly the villains loose about 50 IQ points, and their seemingly insurmountable lead is surmounted and then dry-humped into fist-shaking defeat.

The problem I had with "New Order: Part 1-2" is that it's more or less an entire two-part episode that feels like the third act of one of those cartoons. Maybe that's because we're winding down the season, so for Lord Dread's master plan, it's third act stupid time. Still, it's hard to figure why anyone here thought that a two-parter where our heroes lay such a complete beat-down on the villains would make for compelling TV.

I kept waiting for Dread to pull some sort of mechanized rabbit out of his hat, but it never came. He just sat there on his throne and meekly watched as everything he'd built crumbled around him. Every single thing he tried just bounced off our heroes like a Nerf ball. It was pathetic to watch.

I'm absolutely certain that, with two more episodes left, this is all set up for Dread pulling some sort of Khan activating the Genesis device before spitting out a pithy Shakespeare quote and (figuratively) dying moment, but why not tease that at the end? As it stands, this was like watching someone play a video game on the easy, easy setting.

  • Noel, I noticed Pilot's gear upgrade as well. It also appears that after starting off with a totally opaque face lens, and then switching to an almost amber one, they settled on something in between for Power. I like this one much, much better. You can still see his eyes, but he doesn't look like he's wearing a pair of Blu-Blockers.
  • Sven Ole-Thorsen is trying his barrel-chested best, but his one-liners - never great to begin with - have taken a sharp decline of late.

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


NoelCT said...

I do agree with you for the most part about the lack of drama, Tony. I do still feel these episodes could have soared in the hands of a director more capable of action, and don't want to entirely fault the scripts here, but yes, there are issues on paper which could have been improved on.

First, dialogue. Specifically, one-liners. Primarily, Tank. You tore into last week for making his lines all about his "pah-tee", and sure enough that's what he's still focused on. Which made me snicker now that you've pointed it out, so applause to you, sir. :)

Secondly, there's no weight, no loss to the heroes. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say someone should have died... but someone should have died. Made the victory bittersweet, leave our heroes triumphant but not in a way they'd slap themselves on the back over. Hell, if they had killed Pilot leading into the cliffhanger, imagine how much that fury would drive the others as they storm the palace. Or if they'd taken out Hawk here, leading to a desperation as they enter that control room and face Dread. Something needed to happen.

Third, playing on what you say here, this episode is almost an inverse of the formula, where the heroes' plan works brilliantly for two acts, then they get to the control room and suddenly become idiots as they're felled by Lacchi of all people, then Power gets hit a few times with a stick before Dread skips out the door and runs away scott free, with our heroes unable to do anything more to take out him or Overmind. Their victory feels hollow as the build leads to a fizzle of a climax.

There were two episodes dropped from the production schedule - both written by the late Katherine Lawrence, which is a shame as she was good and I'd love to see her take on the series - and I'm wondering if this was so they could slip in an extra finale beyond the finale. Because let's be honest, this is a finale. They wrap up the major plot thread, have an ultimate confrontation with the baddie, significant things blow up. Most shows would end their season right here. Instead, we've still got two more chapters to go, so I'm wondering if they weren't fully satisfied with these beats and felt they needed to go a little further before leaving it up in the air.

Not to dive too deep into fanfic speculation, but you know what I would have done? Have them capture Dread at the end of this ep and blow up Overmind and the rest of Volcania. And in the following two-parter, as he's locked away in the Power Base and Jon tries to appeal to the humanity of Taggert buried within, Dread somehow wires himself into the Base's network, corrupting Mentor into a new Overmind and claiming the base as the new foundation of his empire as the heroes are chased out, cliffhanging us till season 2. John sees the last image of his father turned into the creation that man tried to put down. Dread is now in an uneasy alliance with a cold machine glaring at him with the visage of his old, dead friend. Power has lost all the resources and legacy his father built for him and now has to forge new resources on his own.

I very much doubt what we're going to get will have anything to do with this. Though that's not to say I'm not curious. I trust in Straczynski and do want to see where he actually goes with things. I'm thankfully not one of those "my head canon trumps all" type of folks. :)

Ross said...

For my money, the big problem with this episode is that it's got practically the same plot as last week: thye fly the jumpship up to a Dread stronghold, shoot their way in, and then scout bangs on a computer until the countdown reaches one, whereupon something explodes in a model shot. (Come to think of it, that's also half the plot of "And Madness Shall Reign" too)

@NoelCT: You're absolutely right about there being no weight or loss to our heroes. It almost feels like there might have been a draft where Hawk does die; unless my ears are mistaking me, when they power on at the beginning, Hawk lies to Jon about how badly he's hurt. (His suit warning gives a different number than the one he says) That feels like the sort of thing you do to set up something more serious than him having to limp back to the ship with Tank.

Have you read the original series bible? Because your fantasy version of this episode isn't too far off from an early concept for the hypothetical third season arc.

NoelCT said...

Yeah, and when the others come to Hawk's aid, he has a line about "guess it wasn't as wrong as I thought it was" or something.

I have not read the bible, though will be doing so. Been trying my best to avoid spoilers for what was intended beyond as that is something we'll be covering near the end. I'm not surprised someone else had similar ideas. It would be a bold twist, but isn't out of place with the elements they've set up.

Tony Williams said...

Noel, I caught Tank's "Pah-tee" line as well, and my arm is still a little sore from patting my self on the back.

Ryan, you're absolutely right, it's a complete rehash. Last week's episode felt odd because it was more like the second half of a two-parter. But I took that as a defeat that was supposed to make Dread desperate and that much more dangerous in part 2. Instead it seemed to steal his mechanical mojo.