Heading out to Eden, yea, brother (Captain Power: The Eden Road)

Captain Power Episode 18: The Eden RoadIt is February 22, 1988. This week will see Katarina Witt get an Olympic gold medal for figure skating in Calgary, Archbishop Desmond Tutu get arrested in South Africa, Senator Bob Packwood get hauled feet-first before Congress by Capitol police to answer a quorum call (And you thought partisan politics were effed up in 2014!). The Supreme Court will side with Larry Flynt in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. Falwell and Flynt would apparently later become personal friends despite their differences, presumably finding common ground in the fact that they were both kinda jerks. Yesterday, Jimmy Swaggart gave his infamous “I have sinned,” speech, confessing in vague terms to an unspecified sin that pretty much everyone by now knew was some form of really liking prostitutes.

Exposé has the number one spot on the Billboard charts with “Seasons Change”, while George Michael’s “Father Figure” is on the rise, and will overtake it by the week’s end. The other newcomer in the top ten is Rick Astley, making is preparations for the invention of YouTube.
At this point in my life, I don’t think I’d ever seen The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, an early ’60s teen comedy based on an earlier Bobby Van movie, about a hapless and slightly doofy teenager who dreams of a more glamorous life than working at his dad’s grocery store and settling down with the girl next door, as he pursues social and romantic advancement with town’s preeminent beauties such as Tuesday Weld’s Thalia Menninger, while evading the affections of the homelier girl-next-door Zelda Gilroy. Also, Bob Denver plays… Pretty much Shaggy from Scooby-Doo (In fact, the creators of Scooby-Doo Where Are You? eventually admitted that all four of the human characters were based on Dobie regulars, Fred is Dobie, Velma is Zelda, Daphne is Thalia and Shaggy is Maynard). I bring it up because February 21, 1988, they showed a reunion movie that I remember fairly well, not least of all for its amazingly WTF title, Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis. The reunion finds Dobie, decades later, working at his dad’s grocery store and married to the girl next door. One of the “Many Loves” returns to town, decides she does want Dobie after all, and offers an exorbitant sum of money to stimulate the town’s flagging economy if they murder him after he spurns her affections. Of course he spurns her affections; he’s finally at peace with the fact that the simple life of taking over your father’s working-class job and marrying the homely girl as a reward for her loyalty and persistence even though you’ve never shown any actual attraction or interest is the far superior life to fame, fortune, and women who are attractive in the way Hollywood tells us is superior. Because moral messages come and go with the years in TV Land, but the one moral imperative that can never be broken is, “Don’t get ideas above your station.” The plot is lifted from a 1956 Swiss play about justice and dehumanization that’s considered one of the most important 20th century German-language literary works. Which is very strange to contemplate, in kind of the same way that it’s hard to contemplate that Zombie Strippers (A hard-R skin-flick about exotic dancers who are also undead), is an adaptation of Ionesco’s The Rhinoceroses(An absurdist play about the rise of fascism as represented by people turning into even-toed ungulates).
TV this week is still dominated by the Olympics. Everything’s new this week, but it’s all shows I’ve mentioned before. A TV movie on Sunday, and CBS is showing The Wizard of Oz on Wednesday. Star Trek the Next Generation airs “Home Soil”. Here’s Vaka Rangi on that, because I was just saying a little while ago that I should link to that more. The important bit is that it’s the episode that gave us the line, “Ugly bags of mostly water.”

This week on Captain Power and The Soldiers of the Future, it’s another oddball episode, “The Eden Road”. Like “The Intruder“, this is an episode that’s heavily haunted by the ghost of the second season that never was, and is a lot weaker than it would have been if we were looking back on it as foreshadowing the big moves of season, let’s say, three.

The “Eden” of the title refers to “Eden 2”, which had been referenced way back (or shortly back, depending on your perspective) in “Wardogs“. And here, it’s helpful to glance back at some of the production materials.

Eden 2 is a concept that came up very early in the creative process for Captain Power. Captain Power Design Sketch - Eden 2Described as a quasi-mythical “Shangri La”, it was meant to be a hidden refuge where humanity could not simply survive the war outside, but flourish in the face of it. Envisioned as a large, underground biosphere, the series bible proposes that in the show’s second season, following the loss of the Power Base, Cap and company would actually relocate there, persuading the Edenites to join his cause and make a stand against Lord Dread. We now know that this idea was heavily modified by the time they went into production, of course, with the commissioned scripts for season 2 instead moving Captain Power to a secret identical Power Base apparently unaffiliated with Eden 2. Though obviously, there are still shades of the idea: the second Power Base was, like one of the proposals for Eden 2, to be hidden in the arctic, for example. It could well be that relocation to Eden 2 was still in the cards: “The Observer”, proposed as the second season finale, sounds like it might have been meant as the story of Eden 2 deciding to ally itself with Captain Power.

Unfortunately, we never got our second season, much less a third, and Eden 2 vanishes from the story after this episode. This isn’t just a missed opportunity; it actually casts the entire thing in a completely different light. Imagine for a second that I hadn’t just spent a paragraph telling you what the bible says that Eden 2 is all about, and tell me what your first reaction is to this capsule summary: There’s a highly secret human enclave with a portentous name, rumored to be a paradise where people can live in peace and safety. They’re mysterious and vague about their location, intentions, and capabilities. They want to meet Captain Power, and insist on having the meeting in an extremely dangerous place.

Hell yeah it sounds like a trap. I mean, it doesn’t just sound like a trap. It sounds like the plot of “And Study War No More“. Even if they hadn’t already done that one a few weeks ago, the whole thing stinks so bad of “trap” that I think even comparatively unsophisticated viewers are going to waste most of the episode waiting for the other shoe to drop. But what makes this episode all the more disappointing is that, if you do waste most of the episode waiting for the other shoe to drop, sure, you’ll be disappointed when it doesn’t, but you won’t actually miss much. The sum total of what happens in this episode boils down to this spoiler: Yes, Virginia Captain Power, there is an Eden 2, and no, they are not going to make themselves relevant in the near future.

So that’s a bit of an anticlimax. It’s not altogether a worthless episode, mind you; there are some nice bits. But they’re largely incidental to the plot. I’ve been trying to make sense of the chronology a bit. No matter how you slice it, it just doesn’t quite work. Based on the in-episode dates, “The Ferryman” should be the third episode, occurring between Pariah and “A Fire in the Dark”. That would mean that for almost all the episodes which aired first, Blastarr exists, but Dread doesn’t think to involve him. This dating also places “And Study War No More” after “And Madness Shall Reign”. Okay. Not a flat-out contradiction, since they’re essentially finding out about Haven’s involvement in the Styx plot after the fact. But it’s very clear in “And Study War No More” that this is Blastarr’s first meeting with Captain Power, which just doesn’t hold water if he’s already appeared in both “The Intruder” and “Flame Street”. Besides, I would think that the “new human form” Dread is trying to design in “A Fire in the Dark” is meant to be a reference to Blastarr, which doesn’t make a lick of sense if it takes place a week afterward. Furthermore, Lord Dread’s characterization is all over the place in this ordering. Originally meant to be a major part of his character, Dread’s obsession with finding the location of the Power Base comes up in “The Intruder”, “Flame Street”, “A Summoning of Thunder”, and “Retribution”. As aired, it feels like a building obsession starting around the middle of the season. In calendar order, it’s more spread out, perhaps closer to the original intention of it being Dread’s long-time goal, but giving the impression that he more or less thinks of it every couple of months then promptly forgets to pursue it for a bit. If you wanted to suggest Dread is schizophrenic, the calendar order helps you out in other ways. The episodes where Dread comes off as vaguely sympathetic or regretful are kind of distributed at random through the season with “Flame Street” as the last of them, rather than clustering around the middle. Dread’s next major plan after deliberately letting Cap escape from his father’s grave is to… Send out a copycat in an ersatz Power Suit (“Final Stand” and “The Abyss” take place in the middle, but neither involve Dread actually making active plans, just reacting to others). Admittedly, it does make sense that Cap cites his dad’s oath against taking human life when he fights Jason if he’s only just recently been thinking about him. Though there’s a lovely bit of irony in having Cap make that citation two episodes after we watched his dad try to murder someone with his bare hands. On balance, the aired order just makes more sense for Dread as a character. We see him in the middle of the season suffer a crisis of conscience (Aside from Blastarr’s presence, “Flame Street” would actually make more sense as the first of these episodes, were it set before “A Fire in the Dark”. Rattled by his experience in the cyberweb, he seeks out an artist to reassure himself that his “utopia” will be more beautiful than the blighted wasteland he’s created), which he eventually resolves by doubling down at the end of the season. We’ll see Dread become increasingly ruthless and increasingly obsessed with Cap’s defeat starting this episode, which makes a lot of sense if you interpret him leaving the music box at Stuart’s grave as him finally leaving behind the last piece of humanity he’d been holding on to.

I think it may not be wise to read too much into those stardates after all. Increasingly, I think they reflect a tentative ordering, and when they realized that Blastarr wouldn’t be ready for the first block of episodes, it was still early enough in the process that substantial story elements could be retooled to generate the ordering we eventually saw on the air, though, for reasons that completely elude me, too late to change the date stamps. No, this episode was clearly trading on the notion of being a Big Old Part of the Series Mythology, and hoping that (And bringing their A-game on the visual effects) would make up for the fact that there’s not much in the way of plot.

Doctor Who alum Lorne Cossette returns as Colonel Cypher, led blindfolded into the Power Base — this is the first intentional guest they’ve had since A Fire in the Dark, so it’s our first chance to see their security measures. Which mostly consist of the blindfold and being kind of snippy. He seems to have recovered fully since “And Madness Shall Reign“, but Captain Power’s team all seem kind of bitter and dismissive toward him. The last time we saw him, Cap treated the old soldier with respect and concern, even though he was, at the moment, literally stark-raving. Here, they mostly seem annoyed that he’s insisted on meeting with them in person. He’ll appear again in next week’s “Freedom One”, and I’m curious how their relationship will be presented then. This pair of episodes is backwards chronologically: by its stardate, “Freedom One” should be set about two weeks after “And Madness Shall Reign”, so this is really Captain Power’s last encounter with Cypher.

Captain Power’s team seems somewhere between bemused and annoyed when Cypher explains that he’s here because of Eden 2. They’ve heard of it, yes, but had dismissed it as a myth. When Cypher claims to be part of an “underground railroad” smuggling refugees to Eden 2, they’re highly skeptical. According to Cypher, he’s been entrusted with one of the links in a highly secret chain leading to Eden 2. Eden 2 is so advanced they’ve already got Tor, you see, so the titular “Eden Road” consists of a bunch of pit-stops, with only one person at each location who knows only the location of the next node, so that no one outside of Eden knows the whole route.

Lorne Cossette in Captain Power

Dread, apparently by dumb luck, took out a node adjacent to Cypher’s, as revealed by a recording of a fight scene from earlier in the season on a floppy disk Cypher provides. For no clear reason, the Edenites want Captain Power to take delivery personally of a data crystal giving the replacement route. This sounds so much like a trap that even Captain Power and his gang are suspiciousCaptain Power: Peter MacNeill as Hawk, but they decide it’s at least worth investigating when Cypher presents an autographed Wardog patchCaptain Power - Wardogs Patch as proof of his claims.

Cypher’s Eden 2 contact has requested to meet Captain Power in the really really unfortunately named “Darktown”. “Darktown” had been subject to “proton bombardments” back in the last war, and rendered uninhabitable. Pretty much, Straczynski clearly wrote this setting as a nuclear fallout zone, filing the serial numbers off because, as we learned from the comic book (and is emphatically reinforced in the series bible), 2147 is a strictly nuclear-free zone. Darktown is polluted with a permanent “acid mist” that is not only deadly to organic life, but also causes biomechs to malfunction and eventually break down. Even the Power Suits only offer limited protection.

Captain Power - Darktown Flyby

Our first view of Darkdown is a flyby from the Jumpship. It’s a really nice model shot of a ruined city, undermined somewhat by the presence of “acid pits” that are pretty much strobing yellow blotches added clumsily in post. For absolutely no discernible reason, Lord Dread has stationed a heavy Biomech presence here, despite the fact that his troops keep going rogue due to the acid mist, because, obviously, he’s got to guard the place so that people don’t… sneak around there and die from the acid mist. Captain Power and Pilot both wear extra face-shields to protect the bits of their faces not covered by their smaller helmets, and begin to sneak their way to the rendevous site. Captain Power: The Eden RoadIn order to disable a force-field (which Dread has put up to stop any of the people who can’t survive here from sneaking further into Darktown to find the uninhabitable ruins with nothing of value inside them), Scout is called on to pull his usual trick of impersonating a clicker.

Due to the acid mist, though, his octocamo glitches and fails while he’s working. This wouldn’t be a problem, since the only mech nearby is steadfastly looking in the opposite direction. But the third or fourth time this happens, Cap realizes that this would be a great chance to get in one of their contractually obligated fight scenes, and starts shouting. The team is able to take out the nearby mechs without too much trouble, and make their way further into the city, hoping that the damage they’ve done will be attributed to a rogue mech.

Of course, they’ll have no such luck, because that would make for a boring episode. And this episode is already kind of thin on plot to begin with. Captain Power: The Eden RoadBack at Volcania, Lord Dread and his Bling Nazis are compiling maps showing Captain Power sightings. One look at the map convinces Dread that it’s impossible for Cap to have traveled those distances in such a short time, and therefore he must have an army of helpers who travel the country in Captain Power Halloween costumes to set up false trails to confuse the enemy matter teleportation technology.

Up until the previous two-parter, the most they’d ever said about the jumpgates was that they existed, and now, two stories in a row have gone out of their way to talk about the fact that Cap has a personal wormhole network. Now, I know why they’re building this up at this point, because I’ve already watched the entire season. But this must have been very strange for the original audience back in 1988 to suddenly have these little plot-diversions to talk about matter teleportation, especially in light of it being 1988, when “foreshadowing something for later in the season” was not a very common action-adventure trope. A very long time ago, I took issue with how random this whole “Oh, and also they have a wormhole network,” thing feels, in that it’s not really a technology that seems to have anything at all to do with any of the other technology in the show. It’s clearly not there to justify Captain Power’s ability to travel over large distances, since geography makes so little sense in this show that it doesn’t really matter. Besides, Hawk could fly from Colorado Springs to Detroit in nine minutes without the jump gates. That is about 33 times faster than traveling by commercial jet (And 126 times faster than driving up I-80 to I-94, if you’re keeping score).

Which, of course, is a whole separate issue, because in every damned episode, wherever Cap and Company are going, Blastarr or Soaron is only about an hour away. If it’s impossible for Captain Power to cover that much ground, surely the same could be said for the BioDreads, and yet there they are, week after week. For example, Blastarr is only about ten minutes’ walk from Darktown right now.

Which is handy, because a report comes in of some fighting in Darktown, and of course, every single thing that happens anywhere on the planet is immediately reported directly to Lord Dread. Though the reporting Bling Nazi theorizes it’s probably just a mech going rogue, Dread has the advantage of having read the script, and quickly concludes that it must be Power. He immediately dispatches Blastarr to lead counterattack.

He’ll come to reconsider this a few scenes on, though; even Blastarr is not immune to the “acid mist” and begins to have trouble speaking and thinking clearly.Captain Power: Blastarr Dread claims that Soaron had no such trouble, and attributes Blastarr’s weakness to Cap’s interference with the birthing process. The scene is a little uncomfortable. My ancient memories of this show don’t include Dread ever being particularly critical of Blastarr; I always thought that once Blastarr had come along, it was Soaron who got treated like the unwanted child — that was a big part of my perception that Soaron might eventually mutiny. But here… Frankly, it kinda seems like Dread is negging Blastarr. Deliberately playing on the sibling rivalry. If that’s what’s afoot, it works, because Blastarr demands to be allowed to finish the mission in spite of his difficulties.

Meanwhile, Cap and Company have arrived at the rendevous spot, a small shack whose interior is mysteriously well-lit and free of acid. A fair-featured boyishly handsome man (Of course it is. Ever notice how the representatives from otherworldly utopian civilizations is pretty much always an aryan poster boy? Always white, always male, always blonde.) in sparkly future-wear greets them and entreats them to take off their masks and Power Suits, as he’s rendered the environment safe using his fancy Eden 2 powers. They remove their masks, but, unlike all those other episodes where they’re always powering down the second they don’t have a BioDread in line-of-sight, they opt to stay armored, just in case. And if this didn’t already feel like a big old trap, the emissary also shows off his shiny acid-heat-cold-and-blaster-proof coat, which he suggests Cap and his friends will get as part of their welcome gift basket when they come to Eden 2 in person. Hawk notes that it’s the first technological development anyone but Dread has made in years. Captain Power: Brent Stait as JohnJohn is played by Brent Stait, a regular fixture in Toronto and Vancouver productions. He’s appeared in The X-FilesStargate SG-1, Smallville and Supernatural, but his biggest role was as Rev Bem in Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. The emissary, John, assures everyone that he’s on the level, and he assures Hawk that Vi is happy and safe, and he assures Captain Power that they’re trying to help, and he doesn’t even pull the traditional Highly Advanced Culture That Meets Our Heroes stunt SG-1 is so proud of where they’re all like “We totes like you guys, but we’re all advanced and Prime Directivey and won’t involve ourselves in your war or give you weapons or advanced technology, and kind of think you’re a bunch of savages for not being able to resolve this diplomatically.”

In other words, they act exactly like the traditional Seemingly Highly Advanced Culture that Secretly Plans to Enslave And/Or Cook Our Heroes and Eat Them that SG-1 is so proud of (See also, The Aschen, The Visitors, The Quar’to, the Taelons, and those guys from The Twilight Zone with the cookbook). However, the other shoe, as previously mentioned, never drops. Captain Power: BlastarrInstead, the increasingly erratic Blastarr shows up and starts shooting up the place. The emissary decides to leg it, but not before passing Cap a fist-sized chunk of pink quartz that’s allegedly a “data crystal” containing the new Eden Road node location and a Mysterious Package that totally isn’t a trap.

Captain Power and the others go outside and fight Blastarr, only not really, because Blastarr completely loses it and starts just shooting at random, taking out his own forces. So much chaos ensues that the shot which finally disables Blastarr isn’t from our heroes; it’s one of the pink pew-pews from a BioMech gunCaptain Power: Blastarr.

Blastarr’s scenes aren’t much different than everything else we’ve seen of him, but, like Soaron last week, it does seem like the quality of his animation has improved. When he collapses at the end of the fight, it’s new footage, not a recycle of the same sixty frames of him falling to his knees they used in “Justice”, “Flame Street” and “The Intruder”. There’s more small motions to him, changes in the way he turns his arms or the articulation of his torso. It’s a pity we’re getting so close to the end of the season, because it really does seem like they’re starting to get a handle on doing the CGI elements properly.Captain Power: Blastarr Animation

Back at the Power Base, Cap opens his package the box from Eden 2, triggering a thermonuclear explosion which wipes out our heroes, a tragic end to the series on par with the last episode of Blake’s 7, and finds an orange. Everyone gasps at the first piece of fresh fruit anyone’s seen in years. Captain Power: OrangesHe passes around segments, and Hawk declares that he can tell from its taste that this is no hydroponic orange, but one that grew in soil. Given that oranges grow on trees, so even non-hydroponic ones don’t actually come into contact with dirt, I am not sure how he deduced this. Everyone enjoys a light moment appreciating this proof that Eden 2 is real and on-the-level, and surely in the days and weeks to come, it will….

Never be mentioned again. Grr. Every time something actually interesting comes up in this show, it’s never mentioned again. Meanwhile, this whole matter teleportation angle actually is building up to something, yet it’s a weird, offhand element of the world background that feels tacked-on. It’s just disappointing. Another episode for the “skip if you’re in a hurry” bin.

And that’s too bad. Visually, this episode is fine. Everyone gets something to do, a few meaningful lines. The action sequences are fantastic. But the plot is effectively absent, and what narrative beats are actually there are all wrong. The whole story uses the plot beats from an “Seemingly idylic enclave is secretly evil” story. The desperate and dispossessed flock to Eden and are never seen again. Through an unlikely coincidence Dread disrupts their underground railroad and now they’ll only reveal the new route to Captain Power in person in the most dangerous place on Earth while Dread’s forces surround them, and they back up their claims by giving Hawk the one secret token that might trick him into letting his guard down? I’ve seen this episode so many times. Heck, I’ve seen this episode of Captain Power. Not only is the setup similar in key ways to “And Study War No More“, I think there’s also elements of similarity to “The Room” (Not that one), one of the cut episodes from earlier in the season that would have seen Cap infiltrate a purported underground railroad taking refugees to safety and uncover the dark secrets therein.

So taken on its own, this episode just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Honestly, even taken as the first half of a two-parter, it’s deeply weird, unless the second half is “The leadership of Eden 2 turns out to be evil reptiloids.”  Maybe if they’d sold it better, it could have worked: after Haven and The Room, the audience is primed to expect a trap, so you could play off, “No, really, this time, it’s legit,” as a twist. But they don’t quite manage it. For it to really work, you’d want Captain Power and his gang leave the rendezvous under the assumption that they’d been set up, only to have the orange lead to the revelation that Eden 2 is on the level. You’d have to make this explicit. Have Cap (Or better, Scout) reflect that it’s just like Haven. Maybe one of them reflects on there being a “snake” in this “Eden” (Either Tank, who we’d previously established as having some knowledge of scripture, or Pilot, to give her some character growth by implying that the experience at Haven had prompted her to learn about it). They take the box back to the base and have Tank open it in full armor in a protected vault or something, assuming it’s a bomb. Have Hawk fret over what this means for Vi. Tank opens the box and they find an orange, have the light moment, then say outright that this means the emissary was telling the truth and Eden 2 is real.

As it stands, while this episode should be tantalizing in how it seems to imply something about the future of this world, it ends up just feeling like they got to the end of the episode without remembering to have the end of their plot actually happen.

Oh, and also, Captain Power throws a BioMech into an acid pit.

Captain Power: The Eden Road; Captain Power throws a mech into an acid pit

That is all.

Or is it…

Shout-out time: I just discovered The Super-Saturday Short-Lived Showcase, which is also working its way through Captain Power. Due to my Generation X work-ethic, they’ve basically caught up with me by now, and they appear to number their readers in positive numbers, unlike me, so they hardly need me schilling for them, but on the off chance you happen to read my work and think, “I’d really like to hear someone else also say clever things about Captain Power”, please, check them out.