Two more to go…
It is March 20, 1988. In Eritrea, the Battle of Afabet is won by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. Yesterday, two British corporals were abducted and shot dead by the IRA. Mike Tyson beats Tony Tubbs by knockout for the heavyweight boxing title. Tubbs retains both ears. M. Butterfly opens on Broadway, or if you’re a masochist, you can go see Police Academy 5 at the movies. Slow news day. Slow week at the movies. Slow week on TV. The Wonderful World of Disney is in repeats. Last week’s Supercarrier pilot is repeated. Tomorrow’s MacGyver is a repeat. The ABC Sunday movie is Octopussy while NBC airs a new TV adaptation of Inherit the Wind with Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas as Drummond and Brady. It’s the third movie adaptation of a 1955 play based kind of loosely on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, with everyone’s names really obviously changed (Such as HL Mencken becoming “EK Hornbeck”) to avoid getting sued. The play would be adapted again in 1999 with Jack Lemmon as Drummond and George C. Scott as Brady (Scott had previously played Drummond on Broadway). I remember watching the 1988 movie, but not really understanding it. Mostly I remember being confused as my dad tried to explain that these two people I’d never heard of (Robards and Douglas) were playing two people I’d never heard of (Drummond and Brady) who were really supposed to be two other people I’d never heard of (Darrow and Bryan).
This week’s Star Trek the Next Generation is “A Matter of Honor”, where Riker does a slightly goofy “officer exchange” with a Klingon ship, then has to scheme to honorably seize control of the ship to keep it from blowing up the Enterprise when they suspect it of infecting them with ship-eating bacteria. Vaka Rangi will not give you a tremendous insight into what this episode is about, but it will give you a great little bit of nostalgia about the 3D Viewmaster, so you should totally read that (Though he finds it noteworthy in this context to discover that the Enterprise-D model is blue and not gray. Maybe it’s just because I’m red-green deficient, but that was the very first thing I noticed about the Enterprise-D in the show and never thought anyone would think the ship was supposed to be gray (Minor expanded-universe evidence in my favor: the novel Dark Mirror makes a point of saying that the mirror universe Enterprise is gray, and this makes it look subtly more threatening than the proper Enterprise)).
For a week when nothing happened, I have stretched out the lead-in for this article a bit because I’m reluctant to dive in here. I mean, this is it, right? The end? This one and the next one and then I’m completely tapped out of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Unless I can track down a copy of that 1989 Annual.
After the previous two-parter was such a disappointment, I’m more than a little anxious going into this. When we open, Captain Power and the gang are dancing. That’s not a euphemism or a metaphor either: they’re actually having a little party to celebrate their victory in the previous episode. According to the Captain’s Log, about a month has passed since the previous episode, so this must have been one hell of a party. The others intimidate Cap into dancing with Pilot, and he is polite enough to take his gunbelt off first, which looks oddly suggestive.
Back at Volcania, Dread is still fuming over his recent defeat, and orders Soaron and Blastarr (Who are, of course, perfectly fine despite having been blown to bits last week) to engage in a scorched earth policy against Cap’s allies and resources. It’s a weird little scene. Dread himself oozes menace like never before: “I once thought [Cap] could be saved, but no longer. There is no place in our perfect world for him or for any of his kind. We must find him, and we must hurt him. Badly. Poison his resources, cripple his supply lines, destroy his outposts, strip him of everything he holds dear. Alive or dead, whatever it takes, we must push him from the face of this planet.” But as he pontificates, we keep cutting back and forth to Soaron and Blastarr, who are, like, idling. Blastarr taps his fingers together. Soaron futzes with his digitizer. It’s weirdly casual, and aside from the mood whiplash, it’s also visually pleasing. It’s a rare moment where it would have been perfectly reasonable, given the seriousness of the scene, to have them just stand stock still, but instead, they fidget. I think it really shows a level of comfort with the CGI that’s been growing across the season.
Unfortunately, what happens next is that we get a long montage of Dread Troopers shooting at things that are off-screen which is so obviously recycled footage from earlier episodes that they even include the digitization of General Briggs from “The Abyss“. Great. Cheap stock footage montages. Just what I wanted from my season finale. At the Power Base, Captain Power does another Captain’s Log telling us basically what we’ve just seen, but speculating that Dread is angry and thus liable to make a mistake. Then he nods off in his chair, and Pilot comes in and kind of stalkerishly watches him sleep. Yay!
The next fight scene is new footage, thankfully. At least, for the most part (There’s some old footage of Tank). They make one more stab at witty banter, with Hawk telling Cap not to take the attacks personally, then going on a murder rampage with a bazooka because a clicker scratched his helmet. Scout actually does something useful with his camouflage for once, impersonating a mech so he can sneak up behind the other troopers and stick grenades to their backs, then commandeer a tank, which he uses to disable Blastarr. Remarkably, they don’t recycle the usual “Blastarr drops to his knees” sequence: he’s actually thrown off his feet.
Tank and Scout declare Blastarr suitably dealt with for the moment, so Cap and company bugger off. But at this point, remarkably, the episode actually starts to get good. Dread orders Blastarr back to his feet, actually seeming to will the damaged BioDread to rise. They cut back and forth between Blastarr’s twitching fist and Dread’s own, which shakes as he orders, “By my will and by my blood. You. Will. Move. Do not stop. Keep moving. I command you to keep moving.” Blastarr protests, “There is great pain,” and, “System disruption,” but rises to his feet just in time to justify those weird bits in the last several episodes where they made a big deal out of calling attention to the uncanny ability of Captain Power to travel the country allegedly faster than should be possible. Because when Blastarr manages, unsteadily, to rise, he looks up in time to see the Jumpship vanish into the transit gate. Lord Dread realizes that he can exploit this to locate the Power Base and finish Captain Power once and for all.
At the Power Base, since it’s 47-12.24, the gang surprises Cap by making a Christmas tree out of broken mech parts. Sensing that they are running out of time for this character to make an impression on us, they finally give Scout a major speech. He attempts to tug at the heartstrings by telling the story of his own childhood attempt to make a Christmas tree, of his mother’s reaction, and of her capture by Dread’s forces a few days later. It reminds me of nothing so much as the speech Phoebe Cates gives about her father in Gremlins, but still, major props for at least trying. The camera keeps cutting around to reaction shots from the others, but they all just do the usual stoic thing. Scout concludes that he’d since decided that Christmas Trees were cursed, and that terrible fates awaited anyone who tried to celebrate. Which totally isn’t foreshadowing, right?
Lord Dread more or less flat-out accuses Lakki of spying on him when Lakki interrupts his work to remind him of the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. Then Dread flat-out murders the little weasel, ordering him to go fetch a tool for him which is just on the far side of an unmarked live wire. The show momentarily develops the sense of humor I’ve been wishing it had, because as troopers carry Lakki away, he revives long enough to mutter, “Wait, I’m not quite dead yet.” Dread gives Soaron a scanner, and orders him to go chase Power the next time he goes through a transit gate, then goes to chat with Overmind, who’s been prepping for Dread to enter suspended animation so he can have the rest of his meat body surgically removed.
But before he goes through with that, Dread wants to finish up things with Power, so he asks for “The Mind-Link”. “For the first time since I took control of all the world’s Biomechs and began the Metal Wars, I require direct access to all of our troopers everywhere on this planet.” Though last week, Captain Power was apparently utterly uninvolved in operations outside North America, so this strikes me as overkill. He asks Overmind to, swear to God, “Let me feel the power. Touch me with the might of the machine.” I’ve used up all the jokes I can think of about the weirdly sexual overtones of Dread’s relationship with Overmind, but at this point, it’s so blatant that I think just saying it out loud is funny enough. Once he’s been adequately touched by the might of the machine, he orders all troopers everywhere to drop what they’re doing and keep a lookout for Captain Power. This is accompanied by another stock footage montage of troopers wandering around factories, quarries, and Haven.
This would be a lot more impressive except that in every other episode, it was pretty clear that Dread was already receiving instant notifications every time Cap showed up anywhere, so again, this seems a little excessive. But hey, it’s not this episode’s fault. When Cap finally does turn up, Soaron flies off to intercept, cloaking to avoid detection.
Wait, what? When did Soaron get a cloaking device? Isn’t that the sort of thing you ought to mention before introducing it? Well anyway, cloaked, he’s able to shoot the Jumpship undetected. It escapes serious damage, deliberately I assume, but is forced to retreat through the transit gate. The pursuing Soaron bounces off, but his scanner picks up the access code for the system. Lord Dread declares that Power is already defeated, and just doesn’t know it yet…
This episode is fantastic. Yes, there’s some really bad use of stock footage, and yes, too much screen-time is wasted with montages, and yes, Scout’s big speech doesn’t really work, and yes, the build-up about the transit gates was transparent and forced. But there’s a degree of actually trying here that you just don’t see elsewhere in this series. Dread is actually menacing here, much moreso than he ever has been, and David Hemblen somehow manages to do things like say, “Touch me with the power of the machine,” with a straight face and actually sell it. Not to mention the fact that we’re only halfway through this two-parter, and yet we’ve already had a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, but which is all the same a proper first part of a two-part story.
I wish they’d all been like this.