March 8, 2015

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, episode 22 "Retribution, Part 2"

Power visits Pilot in her quarters, where they reminisce over her Dread Youth cap and how far they've come together. She's about to tell him something, but they're interrupted by Scout calling in that it's time to head out for their latest mission. They head out to meet Locke, who slips them a chip full of stolen data, and also claims Cypher has been captured and gives them the route of where he'll be transported over the next hour. Troopers attack, but our heroes fight them off and leave Locke behind with thanks. An Overunit appears, thanking Locke for setting up a double cross, for which a steaming Locke gives him a sock to the jaw before storming off.

After sharing a moment where Power says he wants to continue their interrupted conversation later, he sends Pilot off on a hoverbike to check the chip back at the Power Base while he and the others carry on with the Jumpship. The portal gate is opened and they fly through... only to find Blastarr and a phalanx of Troopers in a heavily armed battle craft waiting for them on the other side. The Jumpship is crippled and lurches to a hard landing, and all Power can do is watch as the Dread craft flies through to the location of the Power Base.

Pilot is surprised when Mentor says the data chip is empty, but doesn't have time to question it before the Power Base is suddenly rocked by explosions and warning sirens. Blastarr and Dread Troopers are swarming the halls, going room by room and blowing the hell out of everything in sight. Power calls, ordering Pilot to set the base to destruct and get out of there. Against his orders, she takes a few extra minutes to grab the remaining Power Suits and load a copy of Mentor onto a backup drive.

Powering Up, she fights her way back to the hoverbike, but by then, Blastarr has taken out Mentor and the automatic destruct sequence cuts off. Pilot lashes the suits and backup drive to the bike and sets the autopilot to carry them off to a rendezvous point, then runs right back in.

Power and the others finally get the Jumpship in working order, but by the time they arrive, Pilot's had her armor blasted off by Blastarr, and is coughing up blood as she locks herself in a secondary control center and sets up the manual destruct procedure. Power is screaming at her to get away, but she says she loves him as Blastarr bursts into the room and Pilot tells the Warlord to go to hell as she hits the switch.

Power and the others watch in horror as the mountain explodes.

Dread gloats in his victory, even as Overmind tells him the time has come for him to enact the procedure to remove the last of his flesh self. He's led off by Troopers.

Power and the others rendezvous with the hoverbike, still locked in the heat of their loss. Remembering the good times with Pilot, with Jennifer, they swear revenge.


I'm conflicted. Not just on the death of Pilot, but the episode as a whole. Let's focus on Pilot first.

For the most part, I don't get it. I'm not going to totally say Pilot received a Fridge death, though her loss is obviously targeted to create the most emotional impact for Jonathan Power, which is a main tenant of that trope critique. Which in itself has been a clumsily executed thing which, while their moments of romance have held a certain sweetness, are played from both sides with such rigidity that actual chemistry has been hard to bleed through, best emphasized by the early sequences of this episode where they're trying to lay the romantic tension on thick and it's just completely failing to exude.

On top of being a highly questionable decision due to her being a love interest and the only woman regular on the show, I also don't understand it given that she's probably the most captivating of the characters purely from a backstory standpoint, and while it could be argued she's reached certain climaxes of an arc, it still feels as though the lingering effects of her time as a Dread Youth has plenty of room left to explore. And the way she goes out doesn't make all that much sense, as blowing out a single console shouldn't be enough to stop the destruction sequence of a computer strung throughout the complex. And of course they have her coughing up blood from severe internal injuries just to say she's a goner anyways, so might as well go out a hero. There's a lot of it that feels awfully forced instead of the tragic conclusion of a naturally building series of events.

All that said, it's still really freakin' powerful. What he lacks in romantic tension Tim Dunigan more than makes up for in his panic at watching enemy forces storm the base where his love is all alone, and he and his team are completely incapable of following. And the back and forth of them staring into the audiences eyes as they say their final goodbye, holy shit was it heartbreaking. Pilot does goes out fighting, single-handedly blazing through an entire complex of Dreads, saving the suits and Mentor, and never faltering when she realizes the place still needs to go up manually. This doesn't explain why they even need to blow the base, as again, she's saved the suits and the main Mentor unite has been completely fried by Blastarr, who's doing a pretty darn good job blowing the entire place to smithereens on his own. But she still runs in, racing right past Blastarr, who guns her down before she drags herself to the destruct button and tell him to go to hell. It is really damn bold stuff. It's not entirely successful, but it does have weight and it does have impact.

Pilot started cold and underexplored, but as we got into her history and realized just how much humanity she'd been deprived of, it gave so much weight to the little moments of her experiencing new little things everyone else takes for granted. And here, she goes out the hero, saving what little she can of what our heroes have fought for, in total contrast to cold service of the Machine (further contrasted by her saving the good machines of the suits and Mentor). Honestly, I don't know what character you could have swapped in there which would have had the most impact. Hawk, probably, given his past with both generations of the Power clan, but it still wouldn't be the same and, being the mentor figure, he's an obvious target. Scout hasn't gotten nearly enough development to have that punch, and I don't trust the acting abilities of Sven-Ole to make his goodbyes all that meaningful, so I can see why it was Pilot. I still doesn't agree with it, especially the execution of a lot of it, but I do get it. I still wish, if they insisted on it, that they could have moved her death earlier in the last two-parter, following her victorious strafing run, to give that storyline the weight and desperation it needed, leaving Jonathan reeling in the beginning here as he now has to see his entire base taken from him. It still would have had issues, but it feels even less right as is and that's the best I can come up with to give it some extra oomph.

The rest of the episode is mixed. It's great seeing Locke again, but the action scene following isn't all that great and his heel turn doesn't have as much impact as it could. As with the last episode, I did read the script to this one, and this scene has an extra bit where we learn Locke turned in order to keep his children safe and guarantee them all safe passage away. I get the impulse to keep things more ambiguous for room down the road, but him suddenly punching the gloating Overunit no longer makes that much sense, especially in how he gets away with it. There's other small changes, like a few beats of the action scenes, like dropping a comedy bit where Tank is keeping chalk tallies on a wall of his kills, which wasn't that funny. Or having Power and his men attacked while the Jumpship is crippled on the ground.

There's two major changes. The first is the final fate of Lord Dread. As I said last time, the plot of him agreeing to the procedure which would strip him of the last of his flesh is not in the original scripts. It's an interesting inclusion here, though I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, partially because I haven't yet seen what direction they were actually planning to go with his next stage (we'll get there, so no spoilers). I wonder if it was David Hemblem getting tired of the makeup and asking for some way he could just change it to a purely vocal performance, over a puppet or a CG model or something on a monitor. Had this gone on, I'd certainly miss the gravitas of his physicality, quietly both tired and driven, both wasted by the knowledge of what he's done yet still fully believing in his choice to do it. Not that they couldn't pull off something awesome, but it just wouldn't be the same.

The other big change is the final beat. On paper, it's several days later, as Power and his surviving men gather at that one scenic tree where they place another plaque next to that of Jonathan's father, and say their goodbyes. I prefer the filmed alternate, with them caught still charged in the frenzy of the immediate moment, but with all hope of action having passed and them having no choice but to land and regroup. The loss is still fresh, still sinking in and stabbing as deep as it can, and Dunnigan's intensity is again perfectly delivered. They did fumble earlier, with the shot on the Jumpship of everyone reacting just as the mountain blew, holding a static wide shot as Tim gives it all he has and everyone else just sits there. They really needed to stage it better than they did, which is why I'm glad we still get this last scene to swoop in and save it, especially with its little montage of Pilot memories.

Overall, an episode with greatness in it even though I don't find it entirely great, which is a fitting capper to this series overall, I guess. Tony, what say you?


Noel, the Power/Pilot romance was handled so clumsily over the course of the season that I often found my self searching the end credits for the name George Lucas. It's like no one involved had ever experienced human courtship before. Worse, it came and went at awkward times, often feeling tacked on and out of place, like someone garnishing a hamburger with a cherry. At first I chalked this up to a simple case of hero/heroine hookup, but now I see that there was a bigger reason for it. Not necessarily a better reason, but at least it existed beyond just being a lazy trope.

Like you, I have mixed feelings about killing off Pilot. As you said, she's the most developed and most interesting character by a wide margin. She's also the only woman of the group. Those two facts alone trump any reason you may have for killing her off. Sure they're able to mine some emotional rock here, but is that worth killing off arguably your best character?

On the flip side, someone had to die. Whatever else one may say about Captain Power, for a kid's show, it doesn't pull any punches. So to stay true to its creed, and to put it into the audience's head that no one is safe, one of our heroes had to go. But was Pilot the right choice? Yes, the "romance" angle certainly gave the writers a way to advance Power and nudge him into the shadows a little bit in a hypothetical Season 2, but at what cost? In my opinion, Hawk is the better option here. He's the oldest member of the team, a mentor to all of the characters, and frankly no one is likely to miss one middle aged white dude. By removing Hawk, our young heroes have to stand on their own two feet. Imagine if at the end of Star Wars Vader had killed Leia and Obi-Wan had survived. That's what happens here. Noel's right, he's the obvious choice, but clichés become clichés for a reason.

As far as execution goes, I'm surprised by how affected I was by Pilot's death. I give a lot of the credit - and I can't even believe I'm about to say this - to Tim Dunigan. The typically Viagra-like Dunigan really sells the material. I think he realized how important this was, appreciated the opportunity to do something besides spout hero speak, and really goes for it.

The episode as a whole is a commendably tense, at times even white-knuckle, affair. There's a palpable sense of dread (no pun intended) hanging over the events, and it does what any such season ending episode should do. It raises the stakes for the next season.

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 ultimately agree with you, Tony, that Hawk would have been the better one to lose here. On top of the base, he's another tie to Jon's father that would be ripped away, as well as free Jon from the watchful eye of a mentor figure.

Alas, I read that it was Steen who asked to go, so I guess the issue is ultimately moot. Would have been cool to just drop her from the main cast, but have her go off and lead a group of other reformed Dread Youths or something, popping up a couple times each season. Alas.

Lidiya Angelova said...

Exactly, the whole ending circles around Jessica Steen's decision to leave the show after season 1. Which decision I truly don't understand. Looks like she cannot remain committed to a long-term project which is a pity because she's truly awesome and people like her work and get fond of her and sick and tired of her getting killed in every other decent series (not having in mind Earth 2 and Heartland. Sorry but I don't think these two were the best shows she could permanently join. And it's not like Earth 2 didn't get cancelled after the first season).
Basically, my point is that CP could be a great show in the long run. But only with Jessica in it. Taking her out of the team and being just a guest and not a regular would be lame. Besides, keeping her away would hardly find plausible grounds given her feelings for him.
The delicate moment is that if they knew there would be no season 2, they could spare the fans' feelings and come up with a different ending. We would not be about to see another episode ever again, so why all the heartbreak caused by her death? But they did not know. And, honestly, I cannot see how they would sustain an entire season without someone really good at acting, like Jessica. Cause the guys themselves cannot handle this depth of character, apparently. Or even if they could, she would always be missed, given her presence in season 1.
In general, I think it was a bad timing and some poor management decisions for the CP series, as a whole. Great idea but poor script. Also, the strings attached to Mattel, which actually buried the show. And finally, hiring a lead who explicitly asked to be let go of at the end of the first season without having a clue that this would become the most loved character on the show.

Ross said...

I think it's easy enough to understand why Jessica left given how woefully underserved her character is in all but two or three of the scripts. The real mystery is why Maurice Dean Wint didn't bow out as well. The obvious parallel is with Denise Crosby in Star Trek at the same time: the writers never quite seemed to know what to do with her or how to write to her strengths.

Ironically, from the few details you can pick up about the character of "Ranger" who was supposed to be Pilot's replacement, I can't help thinking that Jessica Steen would be a much better fit for that character than she was for Pilot. Everything else she's done seems to suggest that playing a more forward, emotionally open character would suit her a lot better than the ultra-reserved character who's still learning how to interact with people on an emotional, human level.

NoelCT said...

In terms of why they went with death instead of her just leaving, and why Maurice stayed, we get into that a bit in our season 2 post. He had a major character arc lined up, and they Pilot's death to propel Power's emotional arc. The later of which still doesn't prevent it from feeling as cheap as it did because yeah, she had a whole lot more story to tell with probably the most intriguing character backstory of the bunch. Still, I do feel the execution of the sequence was well done, fridgey though it is.

And I understand not only why she left, but why they did it in a way where she wouldn't just slip back in from time to time or rejoin down the road. Steen was offered a role in Wiseguy, a major prime-time show that she'd have to travel down to the States for and sign a multi-season contract. Alas, her character didn't stick beyond the first season, and by then, Power was already cancelled.

I don't know about Steen being a better fit for Ranger, Ross. I agree she was underserved, but the way Steen blended wide-eyed youth with the steely edge of her character's past was a perfect fit for me. The impression I get from Ranger was she was supposed to be more rowdy and reckless, a Han Solo type. Steen could definitely pull that off, but I don't know to the extend of topping Pilot. Plus, I didn't really like what we learned about the Ranger character, so already it doesn't have the same hook as the basic pitch of who Pilot is.

Lidiya Angelova said...

As I come to think of it, maybe a great depth of characters was not aimed at, in the first place. Guess the series was meant basically to serve selling the toys and had aimed to have more commercial orientation than some really meaningful plot. After all, skipping the intro and the closing scripts, we were left with what, some 18-19 minutes per episode. Barely enough for some powerful deep storyline to be developed. And, in view of this, I think that actually Pilot and Power got most of the screen time. In some episodes Hawk, also, but Tank and Scout were in fact much more overlooked. This only given the scarce length of the episodes. There is no doubt that there could be much more character development under different circumstances.
As for Jessica, she was quite talented, even in her 20s. But with those looks of her back then, I cannot imagine her playing some cocky chick...Somehow, it suited her to play innocent sweethearts. I cannot imagine her in a role different than the one she had in CP and then Sing (which is much more different that the one she had in Trial and Error). But it was back then, later she proved she could be a real tough cop :)
By the way, I have seen Maurice most recently in Haven, loved this show. And he was pretty good, too.