Broke into the Old Apartment (Captain Power: The Intruder)

It is November 15 and 16, 1987. Tiffany retains ownership of the top spot on the charts. John Mellencamp also charts with Cherry Bomb, though at this stage in his career, he’s John Cougar Mellencamp, because, I am not making this up, people thought that “John Mellencamp” was not a sufficiently manly name for a rock star. Also working their way up the charts are Belinda Cougar Carlisle (Heaven is a Place on Earth), Fleetwood Cougar Mac (Little Lies), and Debbie Cougar Gibson (Shake Your Love). Since last we met, the BBC aired a condom commercial, which everyone thought would be the end of the world but wasn’t. Anthony Kennedy has been nominated to the US Supreme Court, which nobody thought would be the end of the world but was. Someone paid fifty-three million dollars for a Van Gogh painting. The Running Man opens in theaters. And there was a snow storm that got me out of a day of school. When I woke up, my dad pretended that the air outside had frozen solid and we’d need to chip our way to the toolshed with ice picks to get the shovels we’d need to shovel the driveway.

The Ferengi return for this week’s episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, “The Battle”, and I’ll damn it with faint praise by saying it’s better than “The Last Outpost.” I mean, it’s an okay watch, but the whole plot hinges on the fact that the profit-obsessed always-lawful-evil race shows up out of nowhere, says “Hey, we found this weapon you used years ago to kill a bunch of our people. We thought you’d like it back for free with no strings attached,” and no one finds this sufficiently suspicious that they do anything about it until it is way too late even though their captain almost instantly starts acting very very mind-controlled. It’s also another one of the episodes that makes everyone hate Wesley Crusher, because he’s a smug git about it when he takes a sidelong glance at some scan data and is thereby the only person to realize that Picard’s being mind-controlled.  And for that matter, the “Picard Maneuver”, proof of Picard’s tactical brilliance, turns out to be “Warp straight at the ship you want to shoot at, and then shoot them.” The Picard ManeuverI mean, the allegedly clever thing is that because you are breaking the speed of light, the ship you’re attacking sees two of you. Because Picard is the first person clever enough to realize what “faster than light” means. (Earlier in the episode, he switches off a tractor beam, shocking everyone by realizing that, in accordance with Newton’s laws of motion, the ship they were towing is just going to maintain a constant velocity and therefore stays right where it was alongside them. And this is supposed to make us suspicious that he’s being mind controlled. This is the second time that “Has a basic understanding of eighteenth century science” is used to hint that someone is being mind-controlled this season). And the reason the whole thing works, close as I can tell, is that when the other ship sees two of you, one far, at the place you have been the whole time so far, and one near which just appeared, they will shoot at the far one and not bother trying to evade the near one… Because they are stupid or something I guess. Data comes up with a countermeasure that involves scanning for trace gases for some reason, since I guess that travels faster than light? I don’t know. There’s nothing I’ve ever seen or heard that explains why the much simpler countermeasure is “There are only two of them. It’s the one that just appeared out of nowhere.” I don’t know. Star Trek was never known for its science. They wanted Picard’s clever tactical maneuver to involve leveraging the concept of outrunning your own image, which, yes, is a cleverly scienceish thing to do, but in practice, it’s way less clever than “Fighting Game Boss Who Makes False Images of Himself Where You Have To Realize Only The Real One Casts A Shadow,” because there’s only two images, they don’t move, and it’s always the new, closer one.

Sorry about that. I just wanted to vent. Anyway, the corresponding Captain Power episode is “The Intruder”. This is an episode which was clearly supposed to be iconic: it’s the first introduction of Private Chip “TNT” Morrow. Except that at the moment, he’s Private Andy “TNT” Jackson, but nevermind. Chip slash Andy was slated to become a recurring character, joining the team in season 2 as part of a cast expansion that would have presumably paired him against a new fire-themed Bio-Dread, so that we could finally play a proper game of elemental roshambo. And then none of that happened, so we’re left with a story that suffers from being clearly meant to be more interesting when considered from a perspective that no one ever got the chance to see it from.

This is unfortunate, because left to its own devices, “The Intruder” is a pretty thin episode propped up by a few strong performances. The bare-bones of the plot are these: an independent resistance fighter wants to join the Power Team, so he stows away on the Jumpship and breaks into the Power Base, giving Cap and Company a quandary about how to ensure the secrecy of their location. Getting from that sentence to twenty-two minutes is mostly a matter of faffing about with character-driven antics. Now, some of these are from our heroes, and that’s good — nine episodes in, these folks are still largely ciphers. But the lion’s share of the screen time goes to the plucky guest star who we’re never going to see again.

So let’s talk about Andy Jackson. Chip Morrow nee Andy JacksonRight away you can see what they’re going for with this guy. He’s a slightly comic character, all confidence and pluck and not-quite-charm. He’s a fairly straight attempt at the “loveable rogue” archetype, the sort of guy who doesn’t believe in rules, or in shaving, who shoots first, and is usually named “Jack (eg. Jack Sparrow, Jack Harkness, Jack-of-all-Trades, Jack Dalton, Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, Jaques Chirac, etc.)“, and gets the heroes into trouble because he’s been manipulated into participating in some unscrupulous scheme involving hidden Inca gold or something. The strongest Science Fiction precedent is Han Solo, but he’s really an old pulp adventure serial archetype, and Andy Jackson is more Lone Star than Han (Though the character he reminds me of most is Jack Dalton from MacGyver). As I said, upon his return in season 2, the character was to be renamed “Chip Morrow”. I have no idea why; there’s no indication that “Andy Jackson” is an alias, and it doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense that it would be — it would make sense for him to be using a code name of some sort, but you’d expect him to drop the pretense with Cap and Company by the end of the episode, and there’s also no good reason that he’d used an ordinary sort of name as his code name rather than something more Top Gunny like “Maverick” or “Goose” or, for that matter, “TNT”. Now that I mention it, the idea that he’s a demolitions expert is also something that isn’t addressed at all in this episode. If anything, his skills seem to be specifically in infiltration. But, of course, that’s Scout’s schtick. Maybe someone looked up President Andrew Jackson’s history vis a vis displaced refugee peoples and decided it was in slightly poor taste to name a resistance fighter after him.

Andy and JimChipandy and his comic relief sidekick Jim (Yes, despite being a deliberately silly character himself, he’s got his own comic relief sidekick) are spying on Cap and Company as they deliver supplies to a refugee camp, once again leaving me unclear on how this apocalypse is supposed to work anyway. Apparently sometimes Cap takes refugees to the passages, and sometimes he leaves them where they are, and sometimes he does their grocery shopping for them. Leaving Jim to lookout duties, Chipandy slips over to the ship and, as close as I can tell, tries to defibrillate itBreaking into the ship. It starts out as a nicely ambiguous scene, with Andy and Jim keeping their conversation vague enough that you don’t know what their deal is. Even better, we’re first introduced to them via a POV shot through Jim’s binoculars’s cheap photoshop filter. All we know at this point is that these two are coding heavily “rogue” and they’re trying to do something naughty to the jumpship.

Unfortunately, they kind of ruin it by cutting back to Volcania, where Lord Dread is watching the whole thing through one of his own drones. Because the world is seriously only about the size of your average football field in this show and at any given time anywhere in the world, every named character in the show is either physically present or watching remotely. I mean seriously, if it takes this little effort for Dread to find the Jumpship, which is parked just outside a refugee colony, how has this war been going on for fifteen years? Dread’s trying to “establish a pattern” to Cap’s movement. I have no idea. They could have made this scene work if Dread’s dialogue had been a little more ambiguous, but instead he kind of lays it plain for us that Chipandy isn’t working for him. He does, however, consider his presence “propitious”, so he sends Blastarr to… Sector 3. Nope. Still no idea where that is, except perhaps that it takes Blastarr approximately the same amount of time to reach it from Volcania as it takes Cap and company to fly back to the Power Base via wormhole.

Chipandy manages to hack his way into the Jumpship just ahead of the returning heroes and hitches a ride back to the Power Base as Dread goes off to Overmind’s boudoir for some negging. Dread apologizes for all the fail they’ve experienced in the past few episodes, and Overmind responds by accusing him of being too emotional. Dread apologizes and promises to do better, then goes outside and gets all bitchy at Lakki, who he’s decided is spying on him for Overmind. Despite the fact that Dread and Overmind are supposedly mind-linked and anyway, Overmind can presumably see and hear Dread at all times anyway because Dread spends like 90% of his time in the room with him. But nevermind. Lakki is all like “I live to serve,” the literally immediately goes off to rat Dread out to Overmind.

At the Power Base, Andy slips out of the Jumpship when no one’s looking. There is a brief comic interlude where he nearly triggers the Jumpship’s self-destruct sequence in the process. Comic relief in eschatological media is always a dicey proposition. You do want to lighten things up from time to time because you risk audience burnout. But if you tack too far in the direction of silly, it very quickly gets tacky and the mood starts to break down. This one just doesn’t work. It’s like we become a different show for a minute. The soundtrack even provides some Mickey-Mousing for Andy during this scene.

I do like the soundtrack, though. I actually bought the soundtrack album Captain Power Soundtrackwhen it was released a couple of years ago. Until this watch-through, I didn’t think too much of the music. It seemed a little too generic, a little too upbeat, and a little… I guess “cheap” is the best word for it. Television soundtrack music was largely unremarkable for most of the history of TV, I think, at least in the US market. You had theme tunes, which usually worked on the same sort of emotive logic as advertising jingles, but that was about it. Once again, I have to refer to where J. Michael Straczynski’s going to go over the next few years, because Babylon 5 changed things for TV Science Fiction Soundtracks when it featured an actual orchestra and real instruments and leitmotifs and character themes and suchlike. And as a cultural antecedent, Star Trek the Next Generation feels much more modern than Captain Power due to their choice to adopt the musical style of the Star Trek feature film franchise (TNG’s theme song is, in fact, a cover of the theme from Star Trek the Motion Picture. I always wished someone would do a Trek series using a modernization of Alexander Courage’s original theme music, but at this point, it’s just as much a stylistic outlier from the canon of Trek music as “Faith of the Heart”).

Retired Mega Man boss Gary Guttman is clearly writing music in an older, more “One guy with a MIDI keyboard” model of soundtrack composition. But having acknowledged that, it kind of works, especially in light of what we were saying last time about Captain Power being a more firmly ’80s vision of where Science Fiction TV should go. The incidental music as Andy is futzing with the self-destruct controls in the Jumpship feel really properly TOS-era Star Trek; you could easily imagine it accompanying Harry Mudd trying some sleight of hand. Only without the intense desire to punch Harry Mudd and the writers responsible for him.  Maybe Cyrano Jones is a better choice. Actually, there’s something kind of vaguely Cyrano Jonesish about Chipandy overall, really.

Power Base HangarThe destruction of the Jumpship averted, Chipandy emerges into the hangar, where Dylan is really pleased when he’s able to make out the shape of the Power Jet XT-7 docked atop the Jumpship. Because this show’s sense of geography extends to interior design, it seems like he walks from there directly to the command center, as he almost walks in on Pilot, who is asking Mentor about this Earth Thing Called Love.

I am actually serious here. Pilot, who’d been “in the rust on a survey mission” during the first scene (presumably to justify the ship being unattended when Andy broke in), summons up Mentor, who appears in his tube delivering a quote from Tennyson, seemingly for no reason other than to ham it up. I mean, he tries to play it off like she’d asked him a question, but that doesn’t really work in context. Then Pilot asks Mentor about love. Pilot asks about love Pilot has really gotten the short shrift from the scripts so far — she’s really only had one noteworthy scene in the entire series, and her upcoming character focus episode is going to be one of the more threadbare ones — but Jessica Steen does a good job of making use of what little the script gives her. She’s adorably awkward in this scene. For his part, Bruce Grey plays it perfectly straight; oblivious to her obvious discomfort, he simply asks for a clarification: Parental, Brotherly, Platonic, Friendship, Camaraderie, or Lovers. Pilot selects “lovers” with all the confidence of a teenager buying drug store condoms, and I’m impressed that they had the option, yet still went with a specifically sexual form of love when they could have chickened out and gone with “Romantic” (Even if the exact wording is a bit awkward, as all the other terms Mentor uses are adjectives).

Chipandy undermines the moment a bit with a goofy grin, but has the discretion to leave her to her lesson. What he does not have the discretion to avoid is calling his sidekick from the hallway, thus breaking radio silence, alerting Pilot to his presence, and, presumably, sparing us a very awkward scene of Mentor explaining where babies come from. She calls Cap on the video phone and they round up the gang to search the place, which only takes about ten seconds because Andy is not very good at hide and seek.

InterrogationAfter a commercial break, the Power Team tries very unconvincingly to act bad-ass as they casually talk about murdering Andy because he knows too much. Andy finds this no more convincing than we do and just smugs at them for a while, though he does eventually give up that he’s a former “Earthforce Marine” who’s been fighting Dread “in his own way” since the apocalypse, and his invasion of the Power Base was intended as a sort of “audition” to join the Power Team. Meanwhile, Blastarr locates and roughs up Chipandy’s buddy Jim. We are treated to a few seconds of Blastarr parroting back Jim’s protest of “Get stuffed!” while he learns to impersonate Jim’s voice so he can call the Power Base and beg Andy to return quickly. Fortunately for Jim, Blastarr, ahem, “Needs his bodyI wish I could quit you,” so Jim is spared from immediate death or digitization.

“Jim”‘s incredibly unconvincing message is received by the Power Gang, who of course immediately believe it and power up, leaving Chipandy to just kinda sit there and watch, restrained by no more than a stern glower from Tank and his own reaction shot of childish delight at getting to see the whole-team-power-up-sequenceAndy's Delight. They apparently plan to fly off to the rendevous coordinates and just kinda leave Andy unattended in their base, because they’re all very resistant to the idea of taking him along for the ride. But Chipandy is adamant: he’s noticed that Jim’s vague, soulless message is an obvious decoy, and persuades them to let him call back in order to demonstrate that “Jim” isn’t willing to give their Seekrit Password. He also makes some vague threats about how unwilling he will be to let it stand if his partner gets killed on his account.Andy looking skyward The scene is framed a little oddly, cutting back and forth between a medium two shot of Tank and Cap and a close up on Andy’s face. It’s hard to place where the two of them are relative to each other, except that Andy is looking up in all of these shots, as though Cap is at least two feet taller than he is. Now, Tim Dunigan is quite tall, but it’s not like Barry Flatman (who plays Andy) is diminutive. (Hm. Barry Flatman. Gary Guttman. Gary Goddard. Now I’m wondering if I’ve ever seen all three of them at the same time, because boy do those sound like aliases.)

Also, at one point, he shouts, “Blast it!”, and much like a few episodes ago when they forced Tim Dunigan to threaten to “Shove it down his throat,” it rings really false. You can see in Flatman’s eyes that it took them about sixteen takes for him to make it come out “Blast” instead of “Damn.” It’s a treasonous look. He knows that word doesn’t go there. Whatever acting chops he has are telling him that Andy Jackson, or Chip Morrow, or whoever the hell he is, just is not the sort of loveable rogue who uses the phrase “Blast it!” when his partner’s life is on the line. This show wants to be better than it is. It’s fighting for it.

Before flying into the obvious trap, Tank, now inexplicably powered down (I mean, it’s explicable in that during the previous scene, Cap had ordered them to power down once the Jumpship was ready to launch. But, like, why did they power up in the first place? They seem to do this a lot, which is weird given how short the battery life on those suits was in the first few episodes.), straps a remote-operated grenade to Andy’s wrist so that Cap can execute him if he feels the need, which is a totes legitimate threat and not just padding. We’re meant to believe that their plan is to send Andy out unarmed and alone to confront Blastarr. For his part, Blastarr has had Jim drugged and left out in a field. And he’s standing in front of him, hiding or something? I don’t know. Honestly, the logic of this scene is hard to follow. Andy smugs at Blastarr, Blastarr demands he give the location of the Power Base, Andy basically just shouts “Okay, shoot now,” and Cap’s team starts shooting. It’s a fairly well-balanced fight scene, with everyone getting screen-time, but of course, since it’s a Blastarr fight scene, it suffers a lot from composition, mostly just cutting back and forth between mid shots of someone shooting off-screen. Tank and BlastarrThe one nice exception is a western two-shot right at the climax of the fight where we see Tank standing behind Blastarr just before he incapacitates himBlastarr with his laser-bazooka.

After foolishly deciding to just leave Blastarr where he fell and, say, tearing his unconscious body to pieces and scattering them to the four corners of the earth, Cap removes Andy’s explode-o-wrist and tells him that, having given his application all due consideration, he does not believe he’s a fit for the position they have open at this time, but he’s welcome to apply again in the fall. This is the first time Cap’s mentioned the possibility of adding a sixth ranger, though. Later, they’ll say that there are seven power suits, but at this stage, either Cap’s miscounted, or he’s read ahead in the script and knows why you only get six Soldiers of the Future out of seven Power Suits. Chipandy and a patched-up Jim are sent on their way with a hearty handshake and, I assume, the full understanding that Blastarr is just going to track them down and torture them for information as soon as he wakes up.

This episode is pretty weak, and that’s a disappointment after the last few. I can certainly understand them wanting a bit of a lighter one after the last few, but we seem to be back in the domain of “Things happen for no reason like clockwork in order to drive this empty caravan of a story to its authorially-mandated end,” that plagued the first half-dozen episodes. The major redeeming factor here is the character study of Andy. Barry Flatman hasn’t been in much else that I’m familiar with — most recently, he’s had a recurring role on Fargo — but he’s had pretty steady work, so I assume he’s a generally competent actor. And unlike some of the other guest stars we’ve had, his performance here isn’t a black mark on his resume (Even if he leaves this Goddard-production off of his professional resume on the Goddard Agency website). His performance is solid, aiming for and pretty much hitting a sort of “Han Solo in his funnier scenes” character, albeit with the rougher edges filed off.

Unfortunately, it’s kinda like he burns off all the acting for the entire cast. Tank’s reduced to a few unconvincing threats, Hawk and Scout have barely any presence at all. Only Pilot is spared; I think these are her best scenes so far — she gets a little reprise at the end so she can fidget really wonderfully when Andy suggests she ask Cap to help her with those studies he’d eavesdropped on. Cap is particularly wooden this episode. He shows a grand total of one emotion in the entire thing, and it’s just to get a bit angry during one of the “Threaten Andy” scenes. In fact, he’s so flat and emotionless, I’m halfway convinced that it’s one of those deliberate clever-juxtapositions the showmakers have been doing: mirroring Dread’s spat with Overmind about his lack of emotional control with Cap’s creepy robotic emotionlessness.

So in all, it’s mostly harmless. Andy’s fun to watch and all. As a little break from the recent tension, it would have worked better a little bit later in the season — placed here, it feels a bit like a regression rather than a respite. In terms of foreshadowing a future character, it’s just weird; aside from authorial fiat, there’s nothing we know about Chip “TNT” Morrow to suggest that he’s the same character as Andy Jackson. And frankly, that’s a good thing, since TNT’s character arc was meant to be “He wants to bone Ranger, she does not want to bone him, so he keeps trying Urkel-style to win her over through manipulative nagging and subterfuge.” Do. Not. Want. It seems more likely that Chip “TNT” Morrow was originally conceived as a totally separate character, not related to the guest star of this episode, and hastily tweaked to align with a one-off season 1 character. Perhaps they only decided to make Chip the same character as Andy after deciding to cast Barry Flatman again. But what’s this episode for then, if the character as introduced here wasn’t actually the one we were meant to see join the team next season? My best guess is that, in reverse to what I said before, they did plan to have “Andy Jackson” return when this was made, but something prompted them to heavily revise the character. But I can’t imagine what that was. Maybe they’d originally planned to have both Andy and Chip as separate recurring characters, but merged the two to keep the cast smaller.

This is definitely another episode for the “What in the world kind of show does this want to be when it grows up?” pile. Structurally weak, cinematographically weak, everyone but Barry Flatman and Jessica Steen way off their respective games, with a bare-bones plot and no advancement of the overall storyline. Fluff and filler that I’d be faster to forgive if there hadn’t been so much fluff and filler already. Really, just watch the scenes with Pilot in them and fast-forward the rest.

4 thoughts on “Broke into the Old Apartment (Captain Power: The Intruder)

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