I Heard You on the Wireless Back in ’52 (Captain Power: Freedom One)

Captain Power Episode 18: Gwynyth Walsh as Christine Larabee/Freedom OneFor Captain Power, the apocalypse is nearly upon us.

It is February 28, 1988. The Calgary Olympics ends with its closing ceremony. Thirty Armenians or more die in the Sumgait pogrom in Azerbaijan. Documents surface implicating now-Austrian President and former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in the deportation of Yugoslav Partisans to concentration camps in World War II. Though his involvement was never established as anything but minimal, he kinda became the poster-child for Germans (and Austrians of German descent) who “don’t remember” anything about what they were doing from round about 1933 to round about 1945 and really just wish you wouldn’t bring it up. Blues singer Edith North Johnson dies in St. Louis. Republican Presidential hopeful Pat Robertson publicly forgives Jimmy Swaggart for last week’s vaguely confessed-to sins involving prostitutes and speculates that the whole thing might be a conspiracy to derail Robertson’s presidential bid. Pat Robertson would not go on to be president, but would go on, in 2005, to blame Hurricane Katrina on gay sex, in 2010, to blame the Haiti earthquake on the Haitians having made a deal with Satan in order to escape slavery, and in 2015, to suggest that good Christian parents should beat their children into submission if they reject their parents’ religion.

George Michael tops the charts with “Father Figure”, and the Pet Shop Boys, Patrick Swayze, Rick Astley, and Eric Carmen all leapfrog over Exposé as well. Two days ago, General Hospital showed the first interracial wedding in on American daytime TV. Also that day, the original, non-musical version of Hairspray opened in theaters. Star Trek the Next Generation will take this week and the next off. Tomorrow, Day By Day will premier, a short-running show about some parents who quit their high-power ’80s jobs to open a home day care in order to spend more time with their young daughter, having decided that the whole high-power-80s-jobs thing had screwed up their teenage son. I mention it because Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was in it and the teenage son character had the same name as I do. He was played by Christopher Daniel Barnes, who would later play Greg Brady in the late-90s Brady Bunch parodies/reboots, which is extra funny because one of Day By Day’s later episodes was an extended dream sequence set in a Brady Bunch-pastiche guest-starring much of the original cast. Edward Mulhare will guest star on MacGyver in an episode I strongly suspect was actually recycled from an unused Knight Rider script (Specifically, one which would have seen Mulhare in a double-role as both series-regular Devon Miles, and his laid-back roguish-scamp twin brother). Courtney Gibbs will be crowned Miss America. The Joshua Tree wins Album of the Year at the Grammies while “Somewhere Out There” takes Song of the Year.

We are rapidly pulling up to the end of time. This episode, “Freedom One” is the last “regular” episode of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future to air. Four episodes remain, two two-parters, which themselves follow on one from the other directly enough that they easily could have been presented as a four-parter. Of course, it’s more complicated than that if you sort by the date codes in Captain Power’s log entries; in that case, this episode would have fallen back at the end of August, between “And Madness Shall Reign” and “And Study War No More”, with “Judgment” instead being the last episode before the arc-heavy wind-up. There are, as I’ve already said, problems with this ordering, but since the most affected episodes, “Freedom One”, “Judgment”, “The Eden Road” and “A Summoning of Thunder” have little to do with the Project New Order season arc, you probably could put them in any order, the main anchoring point being that “A Summoning of Thunder” explicitly takes place on the anniversary of Stuart Power’s death (Sorta. The stardate for the framing story and the one for the flashback aren’t actually consistent)  This show’s arc is very sparse. There’s a handful of references to Project New Order sprinkled in random episodes, but mostly, you’re talking about “The Mirror in Darkness“, “The Ferryman“, “And Study War No More“, and “And Madness Shall Reign“, while the finale will bring together some plot threads from “A Summoning of Thunder” and “The Eden Road” as well. Most of this season’s episodes have been what you’d call “filler” in a more modern arc-based series. But here we are, five weeks left, and we’re on the last one. After this one, things get real.

Have I done a good enough job un-selling you on this one? Sorry about that. It’s another episode that’s, y’know, fine. It’s kind of an “intrigue”-sort of episode. Star Trek Deep Space Nine was good at that sort of thing. Babylon 5 was good at that sort of thing (This episode, for what it’s worth, was written by Christy Marx, not JMS). Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is not good at this sort of thing. They’re not terrible at it or anything, but it’s certainly not playing to its strengths.

We open on a montage of fight scenes (With a clip of Sandtown thrown in there as an establishing shot for some reason). We only get to see the Dread troopers, not the resistance cells fighting them, presumably because this is all spare footage from other episodes. A voiceover provides a summary of events. “This is Freedom One speaking, the voice of the East Coast (Pretty sure Sandtown was in the southwest…) Resistance Movement.  Valiant fighters in Quadrant Nine (So I guess there are “quadrants” now in addition to “sectors”) destroyed one column of Dread troops today. No casualties. Intensified sweeps by Soaron in Sector One (So Sector One is on the East Coast. God I hate this show’s sense of geography). All resistance fighters are warned to remain under cover. Just received word of a stunning blow against a secret Dread project by Captain Power and his unit (wink wink nudge nudge). They are an inspiration to us all.” This is a radio broadcast by the eponymous “Freedom One”. She’s not entirely unbelievable; she has something of a late-night-female-DJ sort of thing going on — she actually reminds me a lot of Delilah. But that kinda seems like a strange choice for the “voice of the resistance”. It’s a smooth, dulcet tone she uses, the sort that you might find soothing, to help you get through a breakup or your dog dying. But I wouldn’t think it’s the kind of tone that would be comforting to people in a war zone. That sort of, “Hey, it’s okay; life is still beautiful. Here, you should just relax and listen to some Patrick Swayze,” thing isn’t particularly compatible with the whole “Most of the human race is dead or digitized” thing. I think you’d want something more energizing than relaxing. More Art Bell, maybe.

“Freedom One,” or rather Christine Larabee, is played by Gwynyth Walsh, a regular in the Syndicated Speculative Fiction Filmed in Western Canada arena. According to her filmography, she seems to play medical doctors a lot. That kind of makes sense, given the voice: it’s exactly the sort of soothing thing you’d want to convey things like Gwynyth Walsh as B'Etor of the house of Duras“You can trust me,” and “Don’t panic,” when delivering bad news (Or, as in her recurring roles on Da Vinci’s Inquest and NYPD Blue, a sense of trustworthiness when explaining medical evidence). That said, the role you’re most likely to know her from is B’Etor, one of the Duras sisters, the recurring villains in Star Trek the Next Generation who were largely responsible for the Enterprise-D’s destruction in Star Trek: Generations.

At the Power Base, Captain Power and Hawk are worried, because Freedom One has missed a transmission. That’s kind of a clunky transition, since she was literally still finishing her voice-over after the scene started — less than a second passes between her sign-off and Hawk fretting that her broadcast hasn’t started yet. If that wasn’t awkward enough, she starts broadcasting again just as Cap says that he hopes nothing’s happened to her.

She explains that she’d had to relocate after a close call, and gives personal thanks to our old friend Cypher, who’d saved her at great personal cost. Our heroes share a moment of… I’ll be nice and call it stoicism rather than dull surprise, Cap even putting a hand on Pilot’s shoulder. She’s the only one who chooses to actually look sad at the news of Cypher’s apparent demise rather just squaring their jaws. I’d kind of have preferred it if they’d made it Scout who emoted and had Pilot remain stoic, especially if this episode really is meant to go before “Judgment”.
“Sacrifice is a word we all know too well. There is no one within the sound of my voice who has not lost someone. A wife, husband, children, friend, lover. But there is one thing we must never lose: Hope. Without hope, we’ll give up when we’re tired and hungry and it seems as if chaos and madness must overwhelm us. Hope is the flame that burns in our hearts. It’s warmth when the soul is cold. It’s light when the darkness surrounds us.”

Dread troops raid another resistance base, a cave stocked with worn and old equipment, manned by resistance fighters in clean, unworn and professionally tailored uniforms. Captain Power Episode 18 - Elzar Comforts the dying GundarThough the bad guys are driven off, at least one soldier is morally wounded, and asks them to leave the radio on so that he can enjoy Freedom One’s voice as he dies. I guess this is supposed to sell us on the idea that her cliché platitudes about hope really are a big part of what’s holding the resistance together. I guess it was nice of her to stop talking for a minute during the battle so we wouldn’t miss any of her speech.

At the end of her broadcast, she gives a special message, “I summon the thunder.” Captain Power recognizes this (and, though everyone in the room clearly already knew this, he will explain it to them a second later) as a code-phrase indicating that she’s about to transmit encrypted co-ordinates for a face-to-face meeting, apparently in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Captain Power Episode 18 - MapIn Duxbury (By which I mean, “in the exact same ruined-urban-landscape set as they use in 2/3 of the episodes”), a woman in a helmet and pink jumpsuit is nearly gunned down by a monocle-wearing bling-NaziCaptain Power Episode 18, but Captain Power and his gang arrive on hoverbikes and save the day by shooting the bad guys in the crotch. Captain Power Episode 18The angles on the fight scene are awkward, never even coming close to lining up when they cut from heroes to villains. A clicker dutifully waits while Pilot lands her hoverbike before trying to shoot her in the back, which gives Hawk time to dispatch it. “Got to watch your backdoor, kid,” he admonishes her. Pilot’s response is an awkward salute. Her motions are sort of overblown and panto in a way that reminds me of the stylized body language in Super Sentai. I’m guessing it’s stunt actors in these scenes, since their faces aren’t visible and they don’t move like Peter MacNeill and Jessica Steen. She also says “Uh…. Thanks?” in a tone that suggests to me that she was fully aware how dirty it sounded for Hawk to tell her to “watch her backdoor”.

Peter MacNeill as Hawk in Captain Power episode 18We also get the minor treat of watching Hawk’s wings retract, a VFX shot which has never been depicted before. Way too late for it to be apropos, Hawk thinks of a clever one-liner about the mech he killed — whose foot got caught in a rope as he fell off the building — and notes, “Funny how they’re always hanging around.” It’s been so long since they showed it hanging off the roof that I actually couldn’t work out what he was talking about until my third viewing.

After cleaning up the rest of the troops, Cap and Freedom One meet in person. In person, she’s a lot more glib and snarky. She proposes a meeting of the five most important resistance leaders, which everyone thinks is a terrible idea, but she’s sorted out that Captain Power must have teleportation powers, because ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION IT IS GOING TO BE REALLY IMPORTANT THAT CAPTAIN POWER HAS TELEPORTATION POWERS SOON, which she reckons will let them get everyone together too fast for Dread to do anything about it.

She isn’t really clear on what the point of this meeting is, beyond the fact that they’ve agreed to name Cap as the Overall Leader Of The Resistance. Which is nice and all, but as a purely practical matter, no one ever makes the case for why they can’t all just coordinate remotely via the same kind of “tight beam transmission” that they used to set up the meeting — there’s no explanation of what the advantage is in a face-to-face meeting. Sure, meeting people in person is nice and all, but under the circumstances?

In any case, Captain Power agrees to a meeting in “sector 23”, and to go pick up the resistance leaders, “Sands”, “Gundar”, “Blaise”, “Evangier” and Cypher — who I guess isn’t dead, even though it seems like they were implying the heck out of that a scene ago.

Christine tells Cap her real name, and asks for his. Finally, after all these episodes, someone is properly surprised that “Power” is his real name, having assumed it was a “silly codename”, like her own handle. I don’t think anyone doing the boots-on-the ground making of this show was ever really sold on the name.

Dread Base - Captain Power Episode 18

The meeting is at an abandoned Dread base, which Captain Power, because he is no Admiral Ackbar, thinks is clever rather than a trap. When she asks him to guard her backpack transmitter, he stoics his way through a little speech about how people are more important than machines. She calls him an “innocent” for his sentimentality, and for some reason, that actually gets a smile out of him. I am going to deliberately misinterpret that evidence that he is in fact secretly a serial killer who’s been keeping it under control by channeling his psychopathic impulses into the war, as previously hinted way back in “The Mirror in Darkness“.

Because it’s obviously a trap, after a bit of flirting with Cap, she goes off to another room and summons a Lord Dread hologram. After the commercial break, she outs herself to us as a deep-cover Overunit, who’s spent “months” building up her street-cred in order to set up this trap. She’s pissed that her boss has called her in the middle of all this, but he puts her in her place, and explains that the dead guy from a couple of scenes ago was, in fact, Gundar. This is a problem, because Gundar’s second, ElzarElzar, turns out to have met Christine in her pre-Freedom-One days. Fortunately, Gundar had personally requested Pilot to be his pickup, so Dread can kill two birds with one stone since death is “the fate of all traitors and rebels,” which totally isn’t foreshadowing.

Raymond O'Neill as Elzar in Captain PowerTank picks up Cypher, who seems totally fine and in good spirits, so what the hell was all that stuff about Cypher having sacrificed to rescue her anyway? Pilot picks up Elzar without even questioning the fact that some guy she’s never met is claiming he’s Gundar’s replacement without anything to back that up aside from a freshly pressed uniform without any trace of wear on it. How have these guys stayed alive this long?

I guess we’re not going to bother with Sands, Blaise and Evangier. Pilot and Elzar arrive at their designated trap to face off with Blastarr. Blastarr, as has been the case lately, looks really good, at least while they’re fighting (When he switches his feet over to roller skates to drive off later, he looks like an animated GIF). Pilot takes a shot to the chest for Elzar and then a wall falls on them. Blastarr declares them dead and leaves, because Blastarr is really stupid. Blastarr - Captain Power Episode 18
Elzar and Pilot have dug themselves out of the rubble and are completely unharmed when the camera angle changes, and Pilot wasn’t even conscious at the time.
The plot realizes it’s running out of time, so Captain Power becomes inexplicably suspicious of Christine when she announces that Pilot’s been delayed, and follows her when she leaves the transmitter she’d been using to talk to Lord Dread to go outside and use a completely different transmitter to let Lord Dread know that it’s time to attack. She gives up on her cover immediately and pulls a gun on Cap, but at exactly that moment, Elzar shows up carrying Pilot, who shoots Christine in the hand.

Captain Power decides to stay behind to delay the incoming troops while the others escape out the, irm, back door (Because for some reason this base has a back door that Dread will not think to watch). Hawk warns Cap that they “won’t have time to get back to you,” and Cap, who must have missed a page in the script, responds, “So I’ll have the element of surprise.” Captain Power orders Christine taken to the passages, in order to be, I am not making this up, tortured for information (Well, what he says is to have their “psych people” try to get something out of her, but the venom in his voice hints at what he has in mind. Remember, she’s a true believer; she hasn’t been brainwashed or tortured into compliance like, say, Athena). Okay, at least he doesn’t set her up to be digitized.

There’s a nice chase scene of Cap playing hide-and-seek through the base pursued by mechs and a gloating Blastarr. At one point, Captain Power dispatches a group of troops by shooting blindly over his shoulder without having given any indication he knew they were behind him. We see too much of Blastarr’s feet, though, which is hard on the illusion since they never quite look like they’re really on the ground. It’s also a bit too much of a curbstomp for me to really believe this ambush ever had a chance of working — if Cap can dominate so easily, how did they expect to beat the entire power team plus the five most experienced soldiers in the resistance?

Blastarr and a Dalek. Captain Power Meets Doctor Who

Captain Power finally escapes Blastarr’s pursuit by… Climbing up a ladder. On the roof of a building that looks nothing like the exterior of the Dread Base we’d seen earlier, Cap holds off the remaining mechs until Hawk shows up on a hover bike to rescue him. As they fly away, Cap catches a transmission from the new voice of the resistance. Elzar, having escaped with Christine’s backpack (which I didn’t mention before because there’s nothing much to say about it, but they did kind of play up the fact that the backpack transmitter was kind of macguffiny, presumably because of its power, range and portability), is now calling himself “Freedom Two”. He’s a lot more what you’d expect from the role too, going not for soothing, but rallying:

“The Voice of the Resistance will stay on the air, I make that pledge and I intend to keep it. This is the new voice of the resistance, Freedom Two. And if anything happens to me, there’s gonna be a Freedom Three. And four. And five. We didn’t start this war, but we’re going to finish it.”

With this episode, we bid farewell to Colonel Cypher, the only recurring character we’ve had, unless you count that one Overunit who’s in both “Judgment” and “And Madness Shall Reign”. There’s not that much to say about him really; he has at most a dozen lines, and really I’m only interested at all because he was in that episode of Doctor Who back in the sixties, but it’s odd, given that they don’t recycle any other actors, that they’d bring Lorne Cossette back for three separate appearances and then not really do anything with him. It’s doubly a shame since his off-screen involvement at the beginning seems like it should be setting something up for later in the episode — have Cypher actually having sacrificed something. Put him in an eyepatch, maybe, or missing a hand. Now, you’ve given Cypher a reason to be invested in the lie: he doesn’t want to face the fact that his sacrifice was for a traitor. When he finally is convinced of Christine’s duplicity, his sense of betrayal is all the more personal. Instead, he barely reacts at all to the knowledge that Christine is an undercover Dread Overunit.

Speaking of guest characters, though, it occurs to me that Lord Dread is fairly egalitarian in his hiring practices. It’s true that we mostly see men in the bling and monocles, but there seem to be a fairly even gender balance otherwise among Dread Youth and Overunits. And, of course, we seem to have two comparatively similar instances where Dread sends one of his trusted Overunits out to actually do boots-on-the-ground infiltration and subversion. Jason back in “The Mirror in Darkness” and Christine here. I’ve repeatedly called this show a bit of a sausage party, but now that I’m looking back at the numbers, it’s not nearly so bad as I thought. Of the episodes that have a major guest role, the major guest actor is a woman in “Shattered”, “Wardogs”, “A Fire in the Dark”, “Gemini and Counting”, and “Freedom One”. The guest character is male in “The Abyss”, “Final Stand”, “Pariah”, “The Mirror in Darkness”, “The Intruder”, “Judgment” and “The Eden Road”. “And Study War No More” and “Flame Street” have both male and female major guest roles. It does lean a bit male, but five to seven is hardly overwhelming (And it’s closer if you count “The Rose of Yesterday” which clearly would have had a major female character). So it certainly seems like they’ve pretty much got their act together with regards to their guest cast (in that dimension at least. Obviously, I’d like to see a few more non-white faces), even if the main cast is too male.

At this stage, there’s no real point in complaining that Scout gets exactly one line of dialog (he says something vaguely suggestive about looking forward to seeing what Freedom One looks like), and the others don’t fare much better. There isn’t enough show to do justice to all these characters. Even Power Rangers Megaforce usually manages to give everyone something to do if not every episode, at least between every pair. The big issue is evolving into them giving Cap too much screen-time.

And the fight-scenes, of course. The fight scene was lovely and all, but it takes up a big enough chunk of the third act that the plot feels like it fizzles out. I mean, the whole B-plot with Pilot and Elzar is based around the idea that he’s the only one who can out Christine. But you know what he never does? Out her. She’s already given herself away before he even gets there. This show doesn’t really know how to spend its time on things.

Given Gundar’s death scene earlier, it feels like a serious failure not to have anyone be visibly affected by the fact that the “Voice of the Resistance”, who the human survivors seem so reliant on for their hope, would turn out to be an elaborate lie. We don’t hear the beginning of Elzar’s broadcast, but I’d like to believe that he’d chosen to report that Freedom One had fallen in battle, rather than dishearten the resistance with word of her betrayal, and that would have been a good scene to actually show us. It’s implied that Christine had tortured Elzar when he’d been imprisoned by Dread, and a show that wasn’t written like its own comic book abridgment could have done a lot with that, showing Elzar torn between wanting justice and revenge against her, and understanding, because of things like Gundar’s death, that even though Freedom One was a lie, the idea of her was important to the resistance. It would have played in really well with what I was saying back during “A Summoning of Thunder (Now that I think of it, I wonder if Christy Marx had that in mind too, given the direct reference to that episode’s title)” about Captain Power being more important as a symbol than as an actual military leader — and that would have also worked well to lead into the changes in his character planned for season 2, as he increasingly fails in the role of a symbolic “face man” for the resistance.

The bad news is that we’re nearing the end of Captain Power‘s run. The good news is, the rest of the series is essentially one continuous story, so keep your fingers crossed — maybe they’ll get it down for the big send off.

4 thoughts on “I Heard You on the Wireless Back in ’52 (Captain Power: Freedom One)

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