It is February 7 through 15, 1988. Tiffany holds the number one position on the Billboard Charts for both weeks with that song that isn’t “I Think We’re Alone Now”. Springsteen, Pet Shop Boys and The Artist make their way into the top ten. Manuel Noriega has been indicted on drug charges. Anthony Kennedy is appointed to the US Supreme Court. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down the ban on gay people serving in the Army, though the decision is quickly overturned. The Soviet Frigate Bezzavetnyy rams the USS Yorktown in a complicated display of international policy: the US and USSR held differing opinions about the details of the right of innocent passage under maritime law, and resolved this via the time-tested method of “The US sends some ships through some water that the Soviets don’t want them to while shouting ‘If you don’t like it, do something about it!'” Though the Yorktown was not badly damaged, in keeping with tradition, the Bezzavetnyy won the right to mate with the Yorktown’s girlfriend. The incident eventually led to the “Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities”, wherein the superpowers basically promised not to go to war over each other’s boats wandering “accidentally” into each other’s territory, and to give each other fair warning before firing lasers in each other’s general direction. International politics is weird.
The Winter Olympics begin in Calgary, and that takes up a good chunk of this week’s TV time. The Wonderful World of Disney shows something called “Rock and Roll Mom”, whose commercials I dimly remember. In theaters, She’s Having a Baby and Action Jackson are released.
Star Trek the Next Generation airs “Too Short A Season”, wherein an elderly admiral takes a youth-drug so that he’ll be fit and young to face down the dictator of a primitive planet he’d sold arms to early in his career. It’s not bad to start with, but it gets really good when it suddenly occurs to you that Admiral Jameson’s backstory is basically the plot to the TOS episode “A Private Little War”, and Jameson is clearly an expy for James T. Kirk: the whole thing is really an indictment of TOS’s shortcomings. Then next week, it’s business as usual with “When the Bough Breaks”, in which aliens abduct Wesley Crusher and the crew spends the episode trying to get him back for some reason. I mean, it’s pretty good as Wesley-centric episodes go, and has a wonderfully weird bit with an eight year old complaining about having to do his calculus homework. Weak but not offensively bad.Captain Power, meanwhile, does something that's simultaneously important and unwise: a two-part whole-episode flashback. We pretty much sideline the entire cast for two weeks to provide an origin story. Of sorts. As origin stories go, this is kind of an oddball. Pilot, Tank, and Scout are entirely absent, and though Not-Yet-Cap is present, played here by -- Wait, really? Hold that thought.
It's Dylan Neal (Not my son's namesake.) as Young Johnny Power. You may know him from such roles as Dr. Ivo on The CW's Arrow, or Jack Griffith on The Hallmark Channel's Cedar Cove. Only not that second one because I can not imagine there is much of an overlap between my readership and Big Hallmark Channel fans. He also played Doug Witter on Dawson's Creek, The Young Handsome One in Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers, and appeared alongside fellow Guy-Who-Isn't-Tim-Dunigan-But-Played-Captain-Power David James Elliot in JAG. He was also in a show called Hyperion Bay, because apparently he likes doing shows named after waterfront towns in New England. But somewhat more relevant to us here in the nexus, he was Aaron Jacobs, the dude Sabrina left at the altar for having the wrong-shaped magic soul rock. Oh, and he's in Fifty Shades of Grey. Yeah.Anyway, while Not-Yet-Cap is present, we don't actually get to see him become "Captain Power". Yes, we see a formative incident that we're supposed to understand as being the catalyst for making Cap into the man we know today, but it's an incomplete story. Hothead Young-Not-Yet-Cap is reckless and gets his dad killed, and presumably this is why he's such a square and why Dread pushes his berserk button. It lacks closure though. It's also an origin story for Dread's costume, I guess. Continuing our Star Wars parallels, it's akin to the "reveal" of Darth Vader at the end of Revenge of the Sith: going through the motions as though this was to be a shocking reveal because it is in a sidereal sense, even though the audience already knows what's coming because the story has been told out of order. But I don't think it works as well here because although we've seen a pre-Dread Taggart, we've seen approximately ten seconds of a pre-evil Taggart: there's no real character transformation, just a costume change.
It's also a not-quite origin story for Hawk, played here by Peter McNeil with a different haircut; his role in the narrative is fairly minor. We don't talk about his family or how he fell in with the Power family, but we do get to see him Power On for the first time. Really, the only character for whom this is a straightforward and unambiguous origin story is Mentor, who actually does originate in the course of this story.
We open on a weird little montage, mixing clips of the series so far with clips from later in this very episode. There’s ominous close-ups of Dread and Soaron, some digitization, even Jessica Morgan getting shot in the face (more on that later). Which is weird, since this montage is supposed to be Captain Power having a bad dream. The montage ends on Dylan Neal outrunning a very cheaply composited fireball, which gives way to modern-Cap waking in his bunk, sweaty, with an expression of abject… well, dull surprise, really. Seriously, Captain Power is so damned stoic most of the time that I’ve decided I really kinda like pretending that he’s secretly a violent psychopath who’s keeping it covered up so he can lull his victims into a false sense of security. Also, he sleeps in his uniform, and apparently has plastic sheets.
The broad outline of the story is much the same as the Continuity Comics version, but the emphasis is very different. We don’t learn anything new about the backdrop of the endless metal wars that was emphasized in the comic version, nor do we get any but the sketchiest of details about Papa Power’s resistance. All the emphasis here is on that last day, when Taggart became Dread, Hawk became a Power Ranger and Stuart Gordon Power became an ex-parrot.
There are still some directly parallel scenes, though. We start off in one of them: Captain Power and Hawk have a terse exchange the gist of which is that Hawk should hold down the fort while Cap goes off to mourn. Pilot is there too, but unlike in the comic version, she already knows where Cap’s going, and has apparently been around long enough to recognize what it’s all about. There’s none of that business with her being shocked to discover who Cap’s dad is, or any need for Hawk to expo-dump on her. That would track pretty well with the notion of the comic framing story being a prequel, set a year or two earlier than the series, but of course, there’s the complication that Blastarr already exists in the comic. As per usual, it’s probably best to just treat this as an alternate continuity.
Cap takes the Power Jet XT-7 to his father’s grave-site, which isn’t a proper cemetery here as it was in the comic, but just the base of a tree near a small pond in an otherwise barren landscape. Doctor Power’s grave marker gives his birth and death years as 2092 and 2132, which is a lot better than the comic’s “maybe 2024”. If Young-Captain Power was meant to be about the same age as Dylan Neal when he played him, that would put Stuart in his early twenties when Cap was born. Reasonable. I mean, early twenties is a popular time in one’s life to have kids. People who get “Dr.” in front of their names tend to hold off a bit on that, but still, entirely plausible.
The grave Video Toasters into the Power Base, still under construction, circa 2132, where Dr. Power tells Nameless Nerdy Sidekick he can double his salary if it makes him happier about the fact that he and all the other folks involved in building the Power Base have to be blindfolded when they’re brought in to maintain the secrecy of their location. Which, in case you’ve forgotten, is
Stargate Command NORAD. I mean, the total secrecy here makes perfect sense as a laudable goal, but there’s something just a little off about the fact that their secret base is being built inside basically the best known place to build a secret base on the planet. I mean, Cheyenne Mountain is such an obvious place to go when you want to find a secluded place where you can be protected from the effects of an all-out global war that Robert Heinlein was extremely pissed when he found out that NORAD was building itself in his back yard (Seriously. He pulled out a map, worked out where he’d be safest in the event of nuclear war, and moved there. Then the government did basically the same thing and stuck a nuclear bunker there.).
The fact that people are still thinking in terms of “salaries” is telling about the state of the war at this point: civilization hasn’t collapsed yet. But you’re going to have to keep telling yourself that, because honestly, we’re not going to see much that backs that up. Dr. Power does acknowledge that money isn’t going to be relevant soon, which kinda seems pessimistic as he also seems like he’s pretty much on-track to turn the tide of this war.
We join Peter McNeil with a different haircut and young Dylan Neal in another part of the unfinished base. Hawk explains how clever bio-mechs are strategically, able process information fast enough to block any predictable movement. Again, this makes perfect sense, unless you have actually been watching this show and know that they’ll typically fall for a straight right, a left hook, or that trick from old Bugs Bunny cartoons where you bend the barrel of their guns around to point back at them. We get a live-action version of Young Captain Power’s training battle against the mechs. It’s not as flamboyant as the serial art version — he doesn’t get a sword for one thing. Dylan Neal’s Young Johnny Power comes off as a lot less of an arrogant jackass than the cartoon version. That’s kind of a shame, though, to my mind, since having him be more flawed and teenager-y gave some extra depth to the character.
Hawk cautions young John about overconfidence, which seems kind premature from what we actually see. I mean, there are bits and pieces where, yeah, I’m kind of reminded of Chris Pine’s Young Jim Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, but Young Jon seems primarily to be eager to help and self-sacrificing rather than cocky or self-aggrandizing. Really, if they wanted to sell “Young Brash Hotshot Jon Power”, they should have made him more rebellious and eager to take big risks and chances. Instead, he’s just an enthusiastic young man who follows orders and is willing to place himself in harm’s way, but only to help others.
Neal’s Jon is a lot more expressive than Tim Dunigan’s though: seeing him really light up when his father congratulates him after the training session is an angle we’d never see from the older Cap. And man, is Bruce Gray on the stick here. Finally free to use his hands, he claps them in approval of his son’s performance against the mechs, claps the boy on the shoulders, then punctuates his words with a finger point as he orders Jon on a supply run.
But even better, his demeanor changes with context. He’s warm, friendly, and proud with Jon, but in other scenes, he’s much more stoic and businesslike — I’d even suggest that he’s playing Stuart Power as a kind of prototype for the adult Captain Power: Stuart, like his son will be, is stoic, and, like his son, is haunted by a tragedy from his past. But in just a few scenes, Stuart comes off far more balanced than Cap, able to relax and express emotion openly around those he cares about. He and Hawk retire to the Jumpship to discuss the impending activation of the Jump Gates. Waving a pen around for illustrative purposes (I am really glad the show is backing me up on my earlier guess about Bruce Gray liking to use his hands when he acts), he explains the jump gates to Hawk in a bit of expospeak that I’d accuse of wasting valuable screen time except that Bruce Gray is so damned good at it. They continue their trend of treating the invention of instantaneous wormhole travel (Hawk calls it “short range teleportation”, which, okay, but this thing’s range is at least coast-to-coast, so what would “long range teleportation” be in this context? Mars?)
The conversation drifts onto how this whole war is basically Stuart’s fault, as he laments, with a mixture of sadness and contempt, about how they’d intended to end all wars with Overmind until Taggart had fused himself with it and become an evil overlord. This abbreviated version, along with a few oblique references back in “The Abyss” are most of the explanation we’re going to get about Taggart’s transformation. I’m underwhelmed by Hawk’s response, though you’ve got to imagine that he’s heard it all before, since, y’know, it could not possibly be the first time he’s heard this story. I don’t know how I feel about the fact that Hawk’s response is entirely supportive, largely disclaiming Stuart’s guilt in light of the fact that he’d meant well. I mean, Hawk lost two kids on account of this war, so I think a little bitterness would be called for. It’s not unlike last week’s “Judgment” in that sense, far too quick to let the “good guys” off the hook for their sins. Kudos to the comic adaptation here — when Hawk learns of Stuart’s work on Biodreads there, he actually gets angry about it and accuses Stuart of insanity.
Back at Volcania (which looks like it’s still under construction, a nice touch), Overmind gives birth to Soaron. It’s not as dramatic as in the comic, and the strengths of serial art really shined there, with the next-page juxtaposition of young Cap in triumph after his training scene with Soaron’s sudden almost orgasmic coming to life.
After a commercial break, we see Soaron’s effectiveness as he easily overwhelms resistance fighters. It’s nice to see them try, though; aside from the Wardogs, we’ve never really seen any other bands of resistors do much. We can see that things aren’t as bad yet as they’ll eventually become: the resistance is far more organized, there are regular supply chains, even a reference to the President — you may or may not recall back in “The Abyss”, Cap found the idea of those troops waiting on orders from the President ludicrous. So in this flashback, we’re seeing the way things were before everything collapsed.
A transmission from the fighters as they’re defeated tips off Stuart, who recognizes Soaron as a Bio-Dread — unlike in the comic, he doesn’t say how he knows this — and explains its nature with horror that’s slightly underplayed until he remembers that Jon is still out in the field. Back at Volcania, Overmind warns Taggart that Stuart’s technical background would cover how to fight Bio-Dreads. In the comic, Overmind goes on to check out resistance logistics and determine the supply depots where Power’s been getting what he needs for the Power Base. In the televised version, it’s Taggart’s idea. I read that as a hint to how the relationship dynamic between Taggart and Overmind has evolved over time. At this point in the relationship, Taggart still has some power.
Young Captain Power’s delayed getting his supplies, because dad’s access was erroneously revoked by a message on “Blue Seven,” which, as it turns out
the Romulans Overmind has cracked, which means that Soaron shows up just about a second later. When it becomes clear that the resistance doesn’t stand a chance, Young Cap orders everyone else to safety, remaining to buy time. He’s no match for Soaron, not even managing to hurt him enough to make him angry as in the comic. All the same, Soaron prepares to kill him, but is called off by Taggart, who orders Jon brought in alive.
And then something amazing happens. Soaron picks Dylan Neal up and flies away with him. I was just talking about this in last week’s episode: this is the only time in fifteen episodes that we’ve seen Soaron touch something.
Back at the Power Base, Stuart activates “Project Phoenix”, mostly to set it up for later. It causes a clothes rack to extend out of the wall with the spandex-form Power Suits on it. He makes his own captain’s log about them, the most interesting element of which is that he gives a stardate of 39-7.13. If, as we have been in every other instance, we assume that this should be read “July 13, 2139”, that would place this episode seven years after Stuart’s death-date. Of course, maybe the dates don’t work that way. But then, everything else we know about dating from the other episodes is up in the air. It’s just such a weird mistake to make — it’s not like there are other things in the show with a ’39 date.
He’s interrupted by a priority incoming transmission: Taggart calls up, announces that he’s got Jon, and invites Stuart to Volcania. Bruce Gray, in a few short gestures, conveys pain, fear, and above all fatigue, before, while breathing heavily, he orders his computer to activate the “Mentor Program” the next time Hawk comes in. He scrunches up his shoulders, sighs heavily, then closes up the Power Suits, takes off his ID badge, and walks out. With everyone being so stoic all the time in this show, it’s just amazing to see a character convey such a range of emotions, most of it nonverbal, and have all of it come off sincere and natural. I freaking love the fact that there’s no discussion, no agonizing over the decision: Taggart has his son, so — knowing full well that he is going to his death — Stuart sets everything up for Hawk to take over and just goes. It makes me kind of regret that Bruce Gray isn’t the lead in the other twenty episodes of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.
Taggart apologizes to the captured Jon for all the inconvenience, promising that he’ll “understand” when he’s older. And something kind of remarkable happens with Dylan Neal at this, because for the first time, it actually feels like you are watching a younger version of the same character Tim Dunigan has been playing. He promises that if his father is harmed, he’ll spend the rest of his life making Taggart wish he’d killed the younger Power instead. It’s a promise and a threat, and it’s made without any real emotion other than grim determination: gone are all the emotions he’d expressed so clearly in his early scenes — pride after the training montage, fear at the supply depot, indignation at his capture — replaced by the same grim, cold stoicism we’ve come to associate with his older self.
At this point, we leave the flashback to find ourselves in Volcania, where Lakki basically shames Dread into doing something about the fact that Cap is out in a known location unprotected and in mourning. When Overmind chimes in that, “You have the moment,” Dread grabs Lakki and hops in the Phantom Striker.
Though presented as coequal in the toy line to the PowerJet XT-7, this is going to be just about the only time we see the Phantom Striker in action, and we’re not even going to get a decent dogfight out of it. Soaron’s Dread’s wingman on this mission, and Dread orders him to “Capture if possible, obliterate if necessary,” a far cry from his order, “I want him dead!” in the comic. As Soaron cackles menacingly, we’re informed that this episode is “To Be Continued…”
And because I am over three thousand words, this article will be too….