I can’t control the beast that is my anger (Captain Power: And Madness Shall Reign)

It is January 17 and 18, 1988. Earnest Byner fumbles at the 3-yard line, losing the AFC championship for the team which would later become the Baltimore Ravens. The top song on the charts is George Harrison’s cover of “Got My Mind Set On You”, which old-me is ashamed of young-me for liking so much. Compared to last week, Elton John, Tiffany, and The Bangles have entered the top ten with “Candle in the Wind”, Not-“I Think We’re Alone Now”, and “Hazy Shade of Winter” respectively.

Earth*Star VoyagerDisney’s The New Adventures of Winnie The Pooh premieres on The Disney Channel, which is at this stage in its history, a commercial-free premium network. At the moment, my family has a weird cable package which consists of the broadcast DC and Baltimore stations, plus, for some reason, CBN, which is going to start evolving into The Family Channel (now ABC Family) later this year; it’ll be another year or two before we get the rest of basic cable, to say nothing of the pay channels (Most of which we eventually get through the happy accident of the cable company not really having their act together and turning on the premium channels for everyone on the block whenever anyone subscribed). The New Adventures is a far more mundane and traditional Winnie-The-Pooh adaptation than the Disney Channel’s previous attempt, Welcome to Pooh Corner, an early 80s series done in live-action with animatronic-faced costumes, which is sort of magnificently bizarre and creepy and totally worth watching. Sadly, only about a dozen of the possibly more than a hundred episodes were ever released in home video format, and even fewer are still findable today. In broadcast-Disney, The Wonderful World of Disney airs the first half of a failed pilot called Earth*Star Voyager, a not-very-good show about a space ship crewed for no good reason by children with a plot that is actually surprisingly similar to Star Trek Into Darkness (I’m serious; the plot boils down to “Evil Admiral wants to build a super-giant-warship, so he strikes a deal with a renegade to help build it, and sends off the flagship deliberately under an inexperienced commander planning for him to fail”). For absolutely no reason, I keep running into people who remember this show, though I personally do not. Although it was nominated for two Primetime Emmys (Sound editing and mixing), it is almost entirely forgotten, and Disney would prefer everyone forget it ever happened, the usual fate for TV shows with asterisks in their titles. TVTropes helpfully describes it as “The Mickey Mouse Club meets Star Trek.

Speaking of Star Trek, this week’s episode of Star Trek The Next Generation is “Datalore”, a story which is very important for introducing Data’s off-switch. And also his evil twin brother, I guess, but that’s really just an excuse to let Brent Spiner have some fun and ham it up for a change. It’s kind of a weak episode, made all the weaker for the fact that Wesley Crusher once again has to save the day by being the only one who can tell when Data is secretly replaced by his moustache-twirling evil twin. Seriously, it feels like a recurring theme this season is “No one but Wesley Crusher pays a damned bit of attention to how their co-workers are behaving.” But at least it’s a weak episode that lays the groundwork for much better episodes later, including the Augment arc of Enterprise.

Captain Power this week is a big episode for Hawk and Tank. That’s a pleasant change after a sequence of episodes that have leaned more heavily on Cap and Pilot, though I do note with some derision that Maurice Dean Wint still hasn’t gotten a character focus episode yet.

Toronto Subway in the dystopian future of Captain PowerWe open in a Toronto Subway, where Cap and company (Minus Pilot, of course; can’t waste Jessica Steen on non-character-focus episodes) are trying to warn “Cypher” that they’ve intercepted some Dread plans involving his resistance group and an evil experiment. While Cap and Scout forge ahead, Tank and Hawk hang back so that Tank can down the contents of a random canteen he just finds lying around. This may seem like an incredibly stupid, or at least somewhat impolite thing to do, but hey, the show’s only 22 minutes long, so we can’t really afford to dawdle on the plot. The camera does us a solid and follows the discarded canteen so that we’ll know it’s important.

Cap and Scout find the resistance cell mostly incapacitated or dead. Their investigation is spied on by one of Dread's ubiquitous spy drones, which, of course, he never has any trouble getting into any resistance bases anywhere. Back at Volcania, Dread privately taunts power, and dismisses Lakki when the little playskool toy suggests that maybe letting Cap in on the "Styx" project might be a touch counterproductive. They find Cypher and some of the still-capacitated resistance after Cap's forced to stun one of them in self-defense. Cypher explains that a "madness" came down on them all, causing pain, hallucinations and fits of violence. Cypher himself is clearly meant to be affected, speaking in broken sentences and clutching his chest and head from time to time. Though he affects this mostly by talking like a three year old.
Captain Power's ally Colonel CypherThis is the first time we've met Colonel Cypher, but it won't be the last. He'll return in "The Eden Road" and "Freedom One". He's played by Lorne Cossette, whose filmography is pretty sparse. He was in a handful of British things in the sixties, then appears to have given up acting until a little flurry in the late '80s. He passed away back in 2001, five years after his last film roles, minor parts in a Sandra Bullock romcom and Darkman III. But you may know recall him from one particular role: he played Captain Maitland in the early Doctor Who serial "The Sensorites". Captain Maitland from Doctor Who's The Sensorites

I kind of wonder if there's anything deliberate about that in this casting: the plot of "The Sensorites" revolved around two major elements which are echoed in this episode: characters driven violently insane by an outside influence, and tainted water supplies.

Dread has summoned some troopers to attack the base, prompting a reasonable if over-long fight scene in the subway. It's a nice setting for a fight scene, as has been well-established by Michael Jackson and the Wachowski Brothers. When our heroes, along with the resistance survivors make it back to the Jumpship, they're confronted by Soaron, which of course means that it's time for Hawk to jump into action. We cut back to Volcania for just long enough for Dread to shout a Big "No!!!!!!" as Power and his gang escape.

Back at base, Cap notices that Tank’s looking a little unwell, so he sends him to bed early, then asks Mentor about this whole “Styx” thing. Mentor helpfully explains what the adults, older children, and more intelligent domestic animals have already worked out: that the resistance cell’s water supply was tainted with a chemical agent that induces temporary insanity. Hawk, in what’s either a rare display of the characters being as clever as they’re supposed to be, or a common display of “we’re 10 minutes in and have to get the plot rolling,” puts two and two together, and sorts out that Tank’s likely infected. Pilot puts on her rarely-seen Power Suit, and the two of them go to visit Tank, who’s kept it together enough to power on himself, but just shouts, “Monsters! You won’t get me! I’ll kill you all!” over and over, and one-shot knocks them out, though, curiously, it doesn’t disperse their suits.

Meanwhile, Mentor, who’s leaking a little more emotion than usual, has sorted out that some random Dread base they’d previously destroyed had produced the Styx bioweapon, and that Dread’s planning to use short-range rockets to deliver it into the aquifer that apparently provides drinking water to the entire west coast. This show has absolutely no idea how geography works. We obligingly cut back to Volcania, where Lord Dread orders the immediate deployment of Styx, since his whole, “Let Captain Power sort out your evil plan with plenty of time to stop it,” strategy has, shockingly, backfired. He’s so fired up that he only pauses briefly to yell at Lakki, who kinda evokes Kiff Kroaker from Futurama with a hint of a sigh before his usual, “I live to serve.” I’ve mentioned before that Lakki is usually described as a spy for Overmind, but “spy” really has the wrong connotation. He’s more of an instrument of passive-aggression by Overmind: transparently saddling Dread with a robot Scrappy Doo just to demonstrate that he can.

Peter MacNeill in Captain PowerCap rushes off to collect the others, and rouses Hawk and Pilot. Having determined that Tank’s been reduced to a psychotic killing machine, our leader decides that the best strategic move is for him to take Pilot and Scout off in the Jumpship to prevent the launch of the Styx missiles and leave the concussed old man to take care of the drugged-out heavily-armored giant. The camerawork here is very disappointing: we stay on Cap and Pilot rather than cutting to a close-up of Hawk, which is a shame because we’re treated to another one of those famous Peter MacNeill Reaction shots as his lips say, “Sure,” but his face says, “You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

So we get something approaching a real A/B plot structure here, with our heroes heading out in the Jumpship while Hawk pursues Tank through the base. Cap does a strafing run against Dread’s launch facility (played by the same weird Egyptian-inspired tomb entranceway we’ve seen three or four times by now) in the Power Jet (Which I’m confused by now, since I was fairly sure it was only ever shown once or twice, but it seems to have become a staple now), but then abandons it to approach on-foot with Scout while Pilot… Basically just keeps the Jumpship warm I guess. For some reason, Scout has a bazooka now.

Blastarr-Vision visual effect from Captain PowerA young, blonde, female Dread Youth who isn’t Erin from last week but probably should have been oversees the launch sequence from within the base. Scout and Cap try a reprise of the strategy from “Wardogs” by having Scout do his Lord Dread impression, but the camera moves to Not-Erin’s left to shockingly reveal Blastarr, whose video-toaster-vision reveals that he isn’t fooled by Scout’s holograms. Scout crumples to his first shot, but luckily for our heroes, Blastarr’s aim is utterly shit, as he only gets within the neighborhood of hitting anyone one more time, and Cap just shrugs that one off. Not-Erin decides to leg it while Cap and Blastarr exchange useless shots for a bit until Scout wakes up. Since apparently, Scout isn’t allowed to upstage Cap, he doesn’t actually do anything effective to Blastarr, but his ineffective firepower does prompt the Bio-Dread to turn, so his shield is pointed the wrong way when Cap retrieves the bazooka and lets him have it. There’s a nice little sequence of Blastarr howling in pain, then we’re treated to the same loop of Blastarr falling to his knees we’ve seen in every other Blastarr fight, though this time, Cap head-shots him while he’s down. As per usual, once Blastarr stops moving, everyone forgets about him rather than continuing to shoot until he’s reduced to rubble.

In accordance with the laws of dramatic necessity, our heroes reach the control computer just as the countdown reaches 1, and play a video clip of a rocket exploding in the air. Which is weird since I had assumed the countdown was time to launch. But hey, no time to celebrate yet: we’ve got that pesky B-plot to resolve. (Okay, technically, the B-Plot has already been resolved because they’d been cutting back and forth between them during the last two paragraphs, but it’s awkward to write it that way in prose, so I demuxed them for the purposes of my recap).

Hawk v Tank fight from Captain PowerThe long-awaited Hawk-vs-Tank fight scene is fairly straightforward. Hawk finds Tank. Tank picks Hawk up and pitches him at a computer bank. Hawk demorphs and cowers. We fall back on the old Captain Power standard plot resolution here, since just as it looks like Tank is going to beat the now-defenseless Hawk to death, it turns out that Tank’s not quite completely gone mad, and with some stock, “You’ve got to fight it!”-type encouragement from Hawk, shakes off the effects of the Styx drug long enough to power down and let Hawk take him to bed.

Later, we’re told that Mentor has synthesized a “serum” that will treat Tank… By rendering him unconscious until the poison wears off naturally. I choose to believe that “serum” is a euphemism for “A gallon of scotch.” Everyone has a hearty laugh at the thought of Hawk nearly being murdered by a good friend. Curiously missing is the usual scene where we cut back to Volcania to hear Lord Dread complain about his latest failure.

This episode isn’t great, but I don’t really know why. The structure should be solid, with a traditional Action-Adventure A/B plot structure, and our heroes actually accomplishing stuff — they manage to foil the Styx phase of Project New Order and they save Colonel Cypher — who, let me remind you, is a recurring character. We do get an at least minor variation on the typical Scout scene: rather than what we’ve seen every other time, with Scout using his disguises to cause a single moment of confusion before dropping the charade, his disguise is actually completely unconvincing this time.

But as a whole, this episode just feels weak. The plot with Tank is dealt with too quickly, and having Hawk simply talk him down is both cliche and unsatisfying. This could have been an opportunity to talk about Tank’s genetic enhancements and his own concerns about the violence in his nature as per “Final Stand”, but instead he spends half the episode just muttering, “Monsters! I keel you all!” There’s no rhyme or reason to why he’s able to shake it off at the critical moment — this would have been a great place to get into Tank’s character a little. You know that bit in The Avengers where Mark Ruffalo says, “I’m always angry”? You could play with the idea that Tank is always fighting to control his genetically engineered violent inclinations, and that’s why — even though he loses control temporarily — he’s ultimately able to overcome the Styx drug when the resistance fighters couldn’t.

Blastarr Falling visual effect from Captain PowerBut, y’know, we needed an extra few minutes of Cap and Blastarr shooting at each other instead. They pull out all the stops for the action in this one. There haven’t been any episodes until now that used this many of their fight scene resources all together: the Power Jet, Soaron, Blastarr, the Jumpship, and all five heroes in powered-on mode. But the price they pay is that the non-action sequences are greatly abbreviated. And honestly, fight scenes with Blastarr just aren’t that interesting for the most part. With Soaron, you at least have something dynamic going on with a dogfight. It may look cheap and the visual effects don’t quite work, and sometimes Soaron doubles in size, and there’s that tendency to have laser beams hit empty space and explode, but still, there’s stuff moving. Blastarr fight scenes are mostly like boss battles in a cover-based shooter. Blastarr just kind of stands there, shooting, and the heroes occasionally pop up from behind something hoping to get a lucky shot in. Then Blastarr drops to his knees and blacks out.

Scout plays an unusually large role in this episode: with Tank and Hawk shunted off to the B-plot, he’s the one who has Cap’s back in the big climactic fight, where it would normally be Hawk. But he still doesn’t do much. His dialogue is sparse, and he mostly just gets knocked down. Scout and Pilot have almost always been under-utilized, and Scout doesn’t even get a character focus episode this season.

This episode also falls short as the culmination of Styx. Pretty much since “The Ferryman”, we’ve been building up Styx as the next major checkpoint on the season-long plot arc. Styx figured into the plots of “And Study War No More” and “Flame Street”, but there’s no sense of this week’s plot being connected to anything that came before. The Styx information cap got from the Cyber Web has never come up since. Cap’s opening monologue explains that they’d intercepted a transmission leading them to go check on Cypher — they could just as easily have said something like, “We found a reference to Colonel Cypher’s resistance cell in the information we retrieved from Tech City,” and tied the ongoing plot together. Likewise, we actually saw barrels with the Styx logo in Haven. Instead of some random Dread Base we’ve never seen before, Mentor should really have just identified Haven as the source of the poison (Of course, to complicate matters worse, “And Study War No More” has a stardate of 47-9, while this one is 47-8, which means that diagetically, they haven’t been to Haven yet, and they discover their involvement in Styx only after Styx has been foiled, yet no one mentions the obvious irony in the pacifistic Haven manufacturing a chemical that induces violence.). Instead, after weeks of hinting at it, Styx proper just appears out of nowhere and is fairly easily foiled.

The nature of Styx is a bit weaksauce too. I mean, the cure is a good long nap. Actually, now that I think of it, “An outside influence causes people to become murderously violent. The cure is to induce a good long nap,” is the plot of an old Tomorrow People serial (“The Blue and the Green”. Cuckoo alien children need to induce strong violent emotions in their host species as part of their maturation cycle. They’re not crazy about the damage this is going to cause, but it’s the only way their species can induce menarche. Our heroes resolve the situation by inducing the entire human race to take a nap, so that the aliens’ balls can drop with the harm to humanity limited to some bad dreams and also car and plane crashes I assume.). It’s passable — the real threat isn’t the poison per se, but the the contamination of the water table, which would leave the west coast resistance without potable water. But that’s a fairly subtle and complex masterplan to lay out in the space of a couple of minutes between fight scenes. Both the flu strain from “Gemini and Counting” and the sleeping sickness from “Pariah” are much more straightforward illness-based threats, and I think it probably would have made the season overall stronger if they’d all been tied together: swap the flu from last week for a new form of the Pariah virus, and make the culmination of Styx be contaminating the water table with a waterborne variant. First we establish what the virus does, we show that it’s still communicable and it taxes the heroes’ resources to combat it even on the limited scale of the outbreak in the passages, then we confront them with the threat of it proliferating too fast for them to distribute a cure. You have a great “Oh crap” moment of escalation when you see that it took a dangerous gambit with Pilot putting herself on the line to stop the first outbreak, then discover that Dread’s plan will lead to an outbreak many times larger.

Instead, Styx as portrayed in this episode basically comes out of nowhere and disappears back into nowhere. It just doesn’t hang together. For those who are keeping score, Project New Order seems to pretty much be Dread’s masterplan of four totally unrelated schemes to wipe out humanity. He’s been working on these for years, and so far, our heroes have discovered and foiled two of the four stages in the span of about half an hour each. We didn’t even get a new Bio-Dread out of this one.

Oh well. Next week’s another character-driven episode, so maybe things will look up…

3 thoughts on “I can’t control the beast that is my anger (Captain Power: And Madness Shall Reign)

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