Old Soldiers Don't Die, They Just Get Digitized (Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future: The Abyss)
Before we get started, those of you who are into that whole Facebook thing (It's a fad. It will pass) and have found this at all interesting, you should, I think the term the kids use these days is "stalk", Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future on Facebook. If you are into "The Twitter", you should, I think the term is "twat" @Capt_Power_2011. I honestly can't tell if these are the official feeds of the group responsible for the upcoming DVD release, but if they're not, no one is. They've got some neat stuff there, including an interview with Gary Goddard and Tim Dunnigan, who have both aged rather gracefully, about the never-before-seen behind-the-scenes documentary footage that will be on the upcoming DVD.
Also, buy the damned DVD. It's available for pre-order at Walmart, Amazon, and many other fine retailers. It's already on my wishlist, though it remains to be seen if I'll preorder and thus ensure that it arrives on my doorstep the day it's released, or if my wife will make me wait until Christmas, because it's kind of a dick move to buy yourself a present at the beginning of December. (Seriously though, I'm getting one before New Year's. My son is not going to grow up watching off-air VHS copies of this show which are a quarter-century older than he is).
And now, on with the show...
It has come to my attention, through a careful survey of the facts, that your previous presentation may have been, shall we say, misplaced.
Ah. Yes. That.
You claimed that "Wardogs" was the second episode of the series. However, my research clearly shows that it first aired on the Twenty-Second of November, some two months after "Shattered".
Right. As I mentioned before, these episodes, particularly in the first half of the season, were only very loosely ordered. I mentioned that "Shattered" doesn't really feel like a solid choice for a first episode. In fact, the pilot for the series was "Pariah", which is still two episodes off. "Wardogs" was indeed aired tenth, but we do have a clue to the fact that this was not its original intended position, which you no doubt have already observed.
The opening line of "Wardogs" is "Database Journal 47-5 mark 13." Now, we don't have any kind of confirmation for how or even if these numbers directly map to dates, but I'm inclined to guess that "47-5 mark 13" is future-speak for "May 13, 2147". In aired order, episode 3, "Final Stand", is dated 47-7 mark 1 -- July 1, 2147. That would place "Wardogs" two months before "Final Stand". The episode I'll be reviewing this week, "The Abyss", has only one date mentioned, and it's "99-7 mark 3" So... This one is set fifty years after the rest of the season? Either Cap is using a different dating system for his personal journal, or he misspoke. In either case, best guess, this episode takes place on July 3.
Because I couldn't find dates in most of the episodes, I'll defer to captainpower.com to provide the dates which appear in this table:
|Episode||Stardate||Aired Order||Stardate Order||My Order|
|Fire in the Dark||47-4.17||5||4||6|
|The Mirror In Darkness||47-7.12||6||11||7|
|And Study War No More||47-9.14||8||16||9|
|Gemini and Counting||47-8.10||12||13||12|
|And Madness Shall Reign||47-8.16||13||14||13|
|A Summoning of Thunder, Part 1||47-6.14||15||7||15|
|A Summoning of Thunder, Part 2||47-6.14||16||8||16|
|The Eden Road||47-10.15||17||17||17|
|New Order: The Sky Shall Swallow Them||47-11.26||19||19||19|
|New Order: The Land Shall Burn||47-11.26||20||20||20|
|Retribution, Part 1||47-12.15||21||21||21|
|Retribution, Part 2||47-12.15||22||22||22|
My ordering is basically the same as the aired ordering, except that I've moved "Wardogs" up to episode 2, because Wardogs is the episode most blatantly aired outside of its intended position. This is also basically what Wikipedia does, except that they reverse "The Abyss" and "Wardogs". I make no attempt to defend this beyond "That's what order my ancient copies are in."
So, with that settled, this week we have "The Abyss". Stardate 99-7.3. Let's check the capsule summary from TheTVDB.com...
A brief transmission reveals the location of secret military base, still manned and functioning. But when Power and Hawk go to investigate, they're attacked and captured, ending up scheduled to be executed as spies and traitors as Dread's forces close in on the location...
So... Cap and Hawk meet up with a surviving regiment from the pre-apocalypse armed forces, and are mistaken for enemies, and-- Really? Really?
It would seem so.
Okay, seriously? I have distinct memories of this show being clever and mature and having a rich storyline. And they pull this? It's the same damned setup as last time!
You did just explain that these three episodes would not have originally aired in this order.
So that makes it better? We're up to three episodes and one and a half plots! Okay. Fine. Let's get on with the slow desecration of my childhood memories that is...
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
Episode 3 (or 2. Or 10. Whatever): The Abyss
By J. Michael Straczynski
The first thing you'll notice about this episode is that it is the only episode of the series whose title card is not enclosed by unwarranted scare quotes. Or more likely not, since most people don't notice that sort of thing. But I noticed. Oh how I noticed.
We open on a soldier emerging from under a giant metal waffle. He narrowly avoids a leftover Blake's 7 Prop and is just able to switch on a transmitter before he's caught by a gang of soldiers led by General Briggs, played by Michael J Reynolds, a man who has made his career playing... Pretty much different variations on the Briggs character, with the occasional foray into "Stuff we wanted Ray Walston for but couldn't get him." He summarily decides that the soldier, Price, has turned traitor and He points a gun at him in a "I'm going to shoot you now" sort of way, and then we cut away.implied-shoots him.
Back at the Power Base, Cap and Hawk sit around the TARDIS console, monitoring radio frequencies, when they suddenly pick up morse code from "Nope. No idea how geography works in the futureSector 42". When the signal cuts off suddenly, Cap decides that there's no time to alert the others, as surely this is a distress call from a surviving military unit who are in trouble. He and Hawk rush over to the Power Booth and, three episodes in, for the first time in the series, we get to see the full proper transformation sequence. Which seems to involve holding hands.
As Cap and Hawk hop on their hoverbikes to greenscreen their way to Sector 42, we cut to Lord Dread in Volcania. Dread is doing his daily reading from the Book of Computers, This is not me being flippant. He actually prefaces it with a cite.Chapter 4, verse 1:
And the Machine was given unto man. The Machine was perfect of mind and elegant of form. And the Machine said, "This is my gift to my people, that they may throw off the bonds of flesh."
Good to know that Dread's obsession with perfect, logical machine perfection, taken to its logical end, results in him writing quasi-religious scripture aping a stilted, archaic form of English specifically to sound like a five-hundred-year-old translation of a two-thousand-year compilation of a collection of four-thousand-year-old documentation of the cultural and superstitious practices of a nomadic bronze-age civilization.
Man, this machine logic is weird.
Overmind interrupts Dread because it's picked up the transmission as well, from sector 14. So Dread uses a different map system than Power. Great. I am never going to sort these out. Anyway, just like in the other two episodes, it appears that Lord Dread receives a personal notification of every single thing that happens anywhere on Earth, and Dread is basically doing nothing of any pressing importance at the time. And, just like before, Dread's immediate reaction is to order Soaron to go take care of it, and Soaron is just sort of flying around and having a good time when the call comes in.
Actually, I'm not clear what Dread orders Soaron to do. When Dread tells him to go "neutralize" the "disturbance" in sector 14, Soaron asks, "Shall I terminate current operation?" and Dread answers "No, my sentry: finish the task at hand, and then await further orders." So... Dread orders Soaron to go to sector 14 and neutralize the disturbance, but not to stop what he's already doing, and to finish what he's already doing, and then stop and wait for more orders. So.. Did he order Soaron not to go to sector 14? Or to go to sector 14, but finish what he was already doing first? Or... Look, for all that "The Machine was perfect of mind and elegant of form," jazz, Dread's management skills leave a lot to be desired.
And by the way... First it's night, then it's day (Cap had given the time as 0300 hours), then it's night, then dawn. Given that we know the Power Base is in Colorado and Volcania is in Detroit, this would seem to imply that Sector 42 is on the east coast, though dialogue later will suggest otherwise. Also, possibly that the earth rotates the wrong way.
Once we eliminate as impossible any scenario where the rotation of the earth has been reversed, we are left with the possibility that latitude is the key discriminator among these locations; during certain parts of the year, a location a few degrees closer or further from the equator could have a significant impact on the time of sunrise and sunset. Furthermore, it is inherently likely that Captain Power, being a military man is giving times in the Greenwich time zone. And indeed, we can not be certain of the location of the strange metal bird-man at all.
Ah, but in that case, the time would be closer to ten at night eastern time, and, if I'm remembering rightly, seven in Colorado. Which would account for the daylight the first time we see the hoverbikes, but it would hardly explain how eight to ten hours would have passed on the east coast.
In that case, I submit that you must consider one additional possibility.
What's that then?
The director just didn't care.
Touche. Shortly after Cap and Hawk land, General Briggs's soldiers descend upon them and in a few minutes, a band of infantrymen who haven't seen action in years are able to disarm and incapacitate the Future's Last Hope For Survival. Because the damned Power Suits run on three triple-A batteries.
Cap wakes up strapped to a chair in the General's underground lair. As a shortcut to let us know that General Briggs has come unglued, he does the cliche Crazy Military Guy act, where he takes everything Cap says as evidence against him: "We came here because we received a distress signal," Cap says. Briggs responds "Aha! So you admit you were exchanging unauthorized signals with a known traitor!" Briggs also asserts that he has a duty to protect his men and keep them safe until he receives orders from the president. Cap proves that he hates America by revealing that there isn't any US government any more, and Briggs takes this as further evidence of Cap's traitorous intent, especially as "You should be using your training, manpower and supplies to help people instead of hiding in this hole in the ground," is exactly the same sort of commie-socialist-nazi-kenyan propaganda the treasonous soldier had been spouting before the general offed him.
The general storms off, leaving behind a soldier whose name I do not recall, but who I will call "Colonel Will-Eventually-Order-The-Men-To-Safety-While-The-General-Has-A-Breakdown", or "Col. Weotmtswtghab". Cap points out that the General is plainly insane, sowing a seed in Col. Weotmtswtghab's brain.
In the next room, the soldiers are showing their resolve, even under these conditions, to still stand by traditional US military regulations and procedures, and are therefore torturing Hawk with an electric torture machine. Hawk, not being one to take crap from anyone, tells his interrogators to get stuffed. The general enters with a copy of Hawk's permanent record, and, finding that he's the sole survivor of his original unit, accuses him of, what else, treason. He further asserts that the fact that Hawk knew Dread before his transformation proves that he's actually a Dread spy.
There is a certain flaw in the General's reasoning
Yeah. It rhymes with "He's sad as a catter."
To show how evil he is, every time Hawk tries to answer, the torturer zaps him instead, proving that the torture isn't actually about getting information, but is 100% about the torturer getting his rocks off by making Hawk suffer. Which, for the record, is always what torture is about.
The general decides that he's satisfied himself that Hawk and Cap are "obviously" spies, and orders them executed. Hawk expresses his displeasure as only he can.
After a commercial break, we return to Briggs's office. Col. Weotmtswtghab comes in, hoping to dissuade the general from offing Cap and Hawk, but the general launches into rambly story about how the reason we lost both Vietnam and the fictional 2127 South American Vietnam Analogy War was because the anti-war movement had better songs than the pro-war movement, and if only it weren't for guys like Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, we'd have totally won the Vietnam Analogy. When Col. Weotmtswtghab finally gets a word in, he protests the general's decision, which prompts a little outbursts of mental instability where the general gets all shouty and threateny about the idea of someone daring to question his orders. The General reiterates that he wants the prisoners executed by 1800. So this is 15 hours after the first scene now.
We cut back to Soaron, who is standing on a pile of debris, apparently having finished whatever he was doing that morning. Dread orders him to proceed to the transmission source and rendezvous with a unit of troopers. So... I guess Dread really did mean "Finish what you were doing, then call me back, and then I will order you to do the thing I just told you I was going to order you to do."
Hawk is tossed in a cell with Cap, and Hawk makes some threats he can't back up about what he'll do if Cap has been hurt. Because, y'know. I seriously don't want to ship these two, but they just make it so darned easy. Corporal Exposition rattles off "He's strong never met anyone like him he'll survive not that it'll make much difference." And if you think there should have been punctuation in that sentence, you and I feel differently from the director.
Once alone, Hawk and Cap discuss their chances for survival, and Cap hits on the crazy idea of trying to plug his discharged suit directly into the high-voltage cable running up the wall. There is some awkward technobabble while Cap speculates that the Power Suit's "modulation system" might "kick in with the charge" and protect him from otherwise certain electrocution. I remembered this scene even decades later, and it's got a nice MacGyver feel to it. As Soaron and the Bio-Mechs approach, alarms go off in the base and the soldiers are forced into combat. These soldiers who were able to effortlessly disable two members of the Future Force are easily p0wned by Soaron and the Imperial Storm Troopers.
Realizing the imminence of their danger, Cap succeeds in pulling down the power cable, He's wearing his TRON-suit underneath, so no, fangirls, no exciting shirtless Tim Dunigan for youtakes off his top, peels off the collectable Captain Power Decal from his chest, and plunges the sparking cable into his breastplate, throwing him across the room and leaving him in a crumpled heap on the floor. We cut away as Hawk futilely tries to awaken his friend. Oh no! Captain Power has killed himself! There's no chance now!
Quite impossible, given the length of episode remaining
Well yeah. Like I said before. In the next scene, Cap just gets up and is perfectly fine. No injuries from the electrocution, nor anything from having been hurled across the room into a cinderblock wall. But before that, we show the general in his office. The realization that all is lost is too much for the old man, and he just sort of frets around shouting that it's not his fault and that he doesn't know what to do. Fortunately, Col. Weotmtswtghab picks up a microphone and Orders The Men To Safety While The General Has A Breakdown.
Fully restored, Cap powers on, and then casually offers the electric cable to Hawk. I really regret that we cut to Cap blowing up bio-mechs, because I think Hawk would have had some fantastic facial expressions for being electrocuted and thrown across a room. Instead, we get to watch Cap, who earlier was easily dispatched by the infantry, clean the floor with the bio-mechs. So, infantry beats Captain Power, Mechs beat infantry. Power beats mechs. It's post-apocalyptic roshambo!
Inside, Col Weotmtswtghab announces that he's gotten most of the men to the escape tunnels, and begs the general to escape with them. The general has regained enough composure to go down with the ship, formally turning his command over to Col. Weotmtswtghab and making his last order to get the men to safety, then he sits in the corner and sings "It's a long way to Tipperary" until Soaron walks in, calls him a pathetic fool, and digitizes him.
I guess Soaron decides it's not worth pursuing the other soldiers, as we cut to a dogfight in the sky between him and Hawk, which goes the way it always does: one shoots, then the other, back and forth until Hawk catches Soaron in the chest with his nerf missile, causing the Bio-Dread to go spinning off.
On the ground, Cap gets himself surrounded with his power running low. Again. The sultry computer voice in the suit informs him that there's no escape. Cap is showered with weaponsfire, and channels Dirty Harry for a second, rasping out "You want to party? Let's party," before revealing a previously unmentioned jetpack, which he uses to jump over the Bio-Mechs, so he can shoot them while they sort of look around, confused. Another tense moment diffused by "Cap suddenly remembering that he knows how to shoot things."
He calls Hawk in to give him a lift to safety, which he does, by swooping in, grabbing Cap around the waist, and flying away. Our episode ends on the two of them fleeing to safety.
So what becomes of the surviving soldiers? Do they join up with Captain Power and his men?
Nope. Never seen nor heard from again. I like to imagine that due to improper ventilation, they all die in the escape tunnel from radon poisoning.
And General Briggs?
Gone. They never pull him out of storage or anything.
And what of the remaining members of the team?
They were off in "Sector 7" doing a recon mission. Not mentioned again in this episode.
I see. It is tempting to draw certain conclusions from the ending of this story.
Why should we draw conclusions? The writers didn't.
Ah, I think you see what I am alluding to. From the evidence here, I am inclined to conclude that the writers just didn't care.
On the face of it, yes. But don't forget: this episode was written by J. Michael Straczynski, a writer whose qualifications shouldn't be in any doubt.
Even a fastidious writer might find himself operating at times with less than full enthusiasm. For example, at the moment I personally care so little for the consequences of this analysis that I have been forced to consume quite a considerable amount of cocaine merely to remain awake.
Fair point, but I think that while it might seem that the writers didn't care, this episode in fact shows clear signs of executive meddling. Consider: this episode is significantly more action-oriented than the others we've seen. There are two major set-piece battles which take up more than a third of the episode's entire run-time. We have a scene early on with Soaron which does nothing to advance the plot, and is essentially reiterated in full later. No, I think that the logical conclusion here is that word came down from on high to increase the amount of action in this story, and that expansion crushes out a lot of the finer details. The episode ends in what's essentially the middle of a scene, and the most logical reason I can think of for that is that any attempt to tie up the plot neatly at the end was cut to add a few extra seconds to the fight scenes.
There is a certain lack of cohesion between the action sequences and the narrative segment of the story.
Right. This episode feels very much like it's meant to be a character study of General Briggs, demonstrating how the pressure of his position has made him paranoid and dangerous. But it's hamstrung by the short running time. We never really get a sense of the forces that have come to bear on the general, so he comes off as just being an obstinate asshole. When Captain Power accuses him of cowardice, we're supposed to understand that the general isn't really a coward, but a brave man overwhelmed by his situation -- but without seeing more of the general in action, there's nothing to take us there.
As in "Wardogs", one of the major flaws of this episode is the near complete failure of the scenes we actually get to see to instill any sort of emotion in the audience with regards to the guest characters. I have by now started to build an investment in Cap and Hawk -- more Hawk than Cap, really -- but this story wants us to care about the soldiers, and I just don't. Out of the entire unit, the only two whose names I can even remember are Briggs and Price -- and Price is the guy who dies in the first scene. The only other character who makes any impression at all is "Guy who tortures Hawk". And let's face it, if you want me sympathizing with someone, you probably shouldn't show them committing torture. This could have been fixed if they'd depicted the soldiers as reluctant to zap Hawk, only doing it under direct prompting from the general. That would also have served as a good way to show how desperate and unstable the general was. But, just like in "Wardogs", all of that is cut short in favor of more action sequences.
The action looks great. It's fun and paced well, though, as always, it feels perfunctory. We do the "Cap seems to be hurt but isn't" thing again. Hawk and Soaron have a dogfight again. "Cap is cornered by mechs, but escapes by the simple expedient of shooting at them" again. These feel very much like mandates handed down from the studio execs.
If this show were remade today as an adult drama, all these problems could be fixed and the elaborate stories they set up could be brought to fruition. Heck, as an hour-long show, you could tell these stories well, and still have time for fifteen minutes of action scenes.
And this would make a brilliant story in that format. Unlike our last two outings, the plot doesn't hinge on something chock full of troubling implications -- we do have the General's rant about Vietnam, but that really serves less as a political statement than as a statement about the general's state of mind.
I'd be remiss, of course, if I didn't point out the other big glaring issue in this one: Three of our five regular cast members aren't here at all. Now, in a half-hour show with a moderate-sized ensemble, you have to expect that not everyone will play a significant role in every story, but so far, we've had one episode that was a character-focus episode for John, one that was a character focus episode for Hawk, and one that's a Bromance episode for the two of them. Scout, Tank and Pilot have had at most a half-dozen lines each so far in the entire series. I guess if you want your unfortunate implications, there they are: three episodes about the white North American men, with hardly anything from the woman, the African-American, or the European.
It does get better, though. Next week is a Tank-focused episode, and after that... Well, actually, after that it's another Hawk episode. I kinda get the impression that at some point during development, the writers decided that Hawk was a more interesting character than Cap, and decided they'd make the show be about him instead, even if Captain Power had to retain top billing for legal reasons.