It is the sixth of March, 1988. In Gibraltar, Operation Flavius concludes when the British SAS shoot three IRA members to prevent a bombing. The outcome is highly controversial, as witness accounts suggest that the suspects were shot after surrendering, though the SAS maintained that it looked like one of them might have been reaching for a remote detonator or wearing a hoodie or something. In the coming week, George H.W. Bush will shore up his standing for the bid to be Reagan’s successor by rousting Bob Dole on Super Tuesday while the Democrats will utterly fail in their bid to get their own candidate picked out early so they could get on with the business of losing the general election.
George Michael hangs on to the top of the charts for one more week, but Rick Astley’s about to roll up over him. David Lee Roth, Richard Marx, Michael Jackson and Cher break into the top ten. The Wonderful World of Disney airs the first part of 14 Going On 30, which is pretty much exactly what you think it is: Big crossed with 13 Going On 30, and I only bring it up because Daphne Ashbrook is in it, and because a lot of people think that its ending (She turns herself 14 so she can keep dating the hero after he returns to his original age. Which is really freaking creepy when you think about it) is actually a deleted scene from Big. Supercarrier and In the Heat of the Night premier. Probe premiers tomorrow, right after that MacGyver with the woman who kills the dog.
Star Trek the Next Generation is still on a break as Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future rolls into its final four episodes with the first part of “New Order”. And unfortunately, this one is kind of a Curate’s Egg (Once upon a time, a curate was invited to have breakfast at the Bishop’s house. The Bishop looks at the curate’s plate and observes that he’s been served a rotten egg. The curate, wanting to be gracious to his host says, “Oh, no, parts of it are quite good.”). This episode — this pair of episodes, really, are just about the most action-heavy in the series. And it’s not even good action. The plot progression is kind of sloppy, the sense of time and space is more warped than usual, and there’s an awful lot of stock footage. There are some nice moments, but on the whole, there’s a real feeling of them suddenly realizing that there were only four episodes left and still two phases of Project Macguffin to deal with. They also appear to have realized that they’re running out of show and still haven’t given Maurice Dean Wint much of anything to do all season, so he’s got a slightly larger role here — they actually seem to have deliberately pushed Peter MacNeill to the sidelines for a lot of the story to make room.
We start out with Captain Power and Scout at a clandestine rendezvous with Locke, a “data theif” played by Paul Humphries, the son of an accomplished Canadian TV producer, in one of a handful of roles he played before deciding to go into music instead, presumably because he realized that both James Spader and Michael Shanks are both better James Spaders than he is. He’s got exclusive data on the Icarus phase of Project New Order that he’s looking to sell. He gives Scout a preview of the content on his 3.25″ floppy using a Virtual Boy, and Scout confirms that it’s genuine. Somehow. Before they can set a price, however, they hear the approaching sounds of Soaron. Soaron’s dialogue suggests that he’s just sort of randomly happened into the area looking for humans to digitize.
Given the importance of the data they’re buying and the need for secrecy, the obvious thing to do is to lay low and hope he goes away. So of course Cap and Scout immediately Power On and start shooting. Lord Dread, as always, feels the need to micromanage, and dispatches Blastarr to help. While Cap tangles with Soaron, Blastarr corners Locke, who tries to shoot him. I mean actually shoot him. With a gun. That shoots bullets. I’m having a hard time conveying the weirdness of that. I think this is the only time in the series we see a regular gun. Fortunately, for the safety of their time slot and the rendering farm that would have to work out how to make the CGI model interact with a squib, Locke misses by a mile. Blastarr gloats and returns fire, and… Also misses by a mile.
Captain Power disables Soaron by blowing up a building, or something. It’s hard to tell; it’s the usual way of filming Soaron fight scenes, cutting back and forth between contextless shots of Cap and Soaron each off-screen. The camera stays close-in, which gives us a good look at Soaron’s detailing, but makes it basically impossible to derive any sense of what the hell is going on. There’s very little dialogue to clarify, beyond something to the effect of “Ha! Gotcha!” right before Cap blows something up, which I think is meant to indicate that he’d used a feint to lure Soaron into an enclosed area to shoot him. Captain Power catches up with Blastarr just as he’s about to dispatch Locke (Or rather, while Blastarr has been standing around for about ten seconds with Locke cornered and his gun-fingers aimed, patiently waiting for Cap to show up and shoot him) and disables him momentarily, triggering that same old short loop of the Ground Guardian falling to his knees that they’ve used in about two thirds of his appearances. Blastarr’s resilience varies wildly from scene to scene and episode to episode. Like I said before, you could probably explain this as him needing conscious effort to avoid injury, resulting in his being particularly weak against sucker-punches.
Locke, despite protesting about his payment, agrees to retreat with Scout and Cap on a hoverbike… And then just drops out of the story. We’ll be seeing him again, but not for a while. We cut immediately back to the Power Base, where Mentor and Captain Power explain what they’ve learned. Icarus and Prometheus are to follow in rapid succession. Icarus refers to a gigantic space-based digitizer, capable of vacuuming up the entire human population of the planet, starting, because now is as good a time as any to start caring about geography, with the east coast of the US two hours from now.
Hawk questions the fact that Dread has somehow launched a giant satellite without them noticing. And here’s where things start to get awkward: presumably, Dread launched it from one of his many other facilities around the world which Captain Power and company know nothing about and haven’t been paying attention to.
LOLWHUT? No, just no. If Lord Dread has facilities all over the planet, why has this never come up? Why were Styx and Charon both done entirely in the US, where the one guy who stands a chance of stopping him lives? For that matter why doesn’t Captain Power pay attention to the rest of the planet? This sounds like a recipe for someone’s last words being, “Gee, Probably should have checked to see if he had a huge backup army in Brazil.” What the hell? There isn’t much of anything in this show that makes sense unless you start from the assumption that either Power and Dread are both operating globally or that the rest of the world has been somehow placed “out of bounds” by some kind of catastrophe.
To prevent us from thinking too long about that, though, Mentor adds that the Prometheus program is scheduled to go into effect immediately after Icarus: this one is the use of “plasma stations” to ignite a firestorm that will sterilize the eastern seaboard to clean up anyone who evades the digitizer. Captain Power sends the others off to warn Freedom Two and the East Coast Resistance (I have all their albums) while he thinks of a plan. It’s rare to see Cap personally and explicitly take on the task of strategy. I don’t particularly like it, given my personal take on the character, but I can’t say that it goes against the Word of God on his tactical abilities.
While he strategizes, we jump back to Volcania just long enough for Dread and Lakki to passive-aggressive at each other, mostly Dread insisting that it’s too late for Captain Power to do anything about Icarus and Lakki reminding him that Captain Power is two for two on disrupting phases of Project New Order so far.
Back at the Power Base, Cap has devised a bold plan to save the world. And when I say “bold”, I don’t mean “A plan which is daring in its difficulty and stakes with the odds against them;” I mean “I can’t believe they had the gall to be this overt about ripping off Star Wars.” Because his plan is to reenact the Death Star Trench Run in the jumpship. And not subtly at all. The Icarus control station is located at the end of a long trench, and he orders Pilot to fly down the trench in the jumpship and blow it open with a “proton missile”. Everyone is so relieved that they can finally be open about the fact that they can finally be open and honest about ripping off Star Wars that they barely bat an eyelash when Captain Power adds that the second part of his plan is for them to go attack Volcania directly to disable Prometheus. This new spirit of liberation gives Tank the courage to directly reference Star Trek: “What are ve vaiting for? Let’s go boldly where nomen has gahn before.” Scout adds, “Beam me up, Scotty.” (Side note: It’s 2147. That show is two hundred years old. And besides, the only time anyone actually says “Beam me up, Scotty,” is in Star Trek IV). If you read my essay on “And Study War No More“, you might remember that I proposed the somewhat tongue-in-cheek thesis that even as Star Trek the Next Generation was spooling up, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was in its very modest way trying to stake out its own claim as a legitimate successor to the cultural role that the original Trek had held. But I didn’t really expect them to come right out and say it. It seems like a bit of a dangerous proposition to reference a much more popular competing science fiction franchise in the middle of your own floundering science fiction franchise.
There’s some cutting back and forth to Volcania mostly to break up the time skips, with the strange effect that it appears Captain Power spent an hour and a half of their two hours coming up with his plan, and the next fifteen minutes letting Pilot practice on a simulator. With fifteen minutes to go, they board the jumpship and set out. They’ll be going in unassisted, since, according to Cap, the rest of the resistance couldn’t possibly make it to both targets in time. Because teleportation. So presumably, Cypher, Sands, Blaise and Evangier are just, like, sitting around with their thumbs up their butts while the world gets ready to literally burn around them, because Cap and Company are the only people allowed to actually accomplish anything in this show. En route, they’re attacked by “BioDread forces”, and they speculate it may be Soaron. Given that Soaron is the only thing we’ve ever seen fly other than Dread himself that one time, it’s a safe bet.
Hawk is dispatched to keep Soaron out of the way, and it’s kind of disappointing; the battle appears to be composed entirely of stock footage from earlier in the season. The only thing really noteworthy is that you can see Soaron’s tail swishing behind him at one point. The battle proceeds in the usual way, Hawk firing his nerf darts and Soaron’s laser beams exploding against the empty sky behind Hawk until he eventually gets in a good shot that knocks Hawk out of the air. Soaron’s in “Red Baron” mode for this one, coming close to complimenting Hawk for his prowess, but declaring the day his as he slowly lines up his kill-shot. As per usual, the shocking reveal is that Hawk is less badly hurt than it seemed, and he stands up and hits Soaron point-blank with a nerf dart to the chest, which blows off one leg and wing. They’re really getting brutal with this.
The trench run is literally the exact same footage as the trench run from the end credits. I mean, okay, it’s not like I expected them to film a separate sequence for it, but it’s just so blatant. The jumpship and hoverbikes are matted in kind of crudely, and the interactivity effects have been replaced with a glowing ball that chases them part of the way. They occasionally show a reverse-angle on the jumpship, which is nice, but the background of the trench looks like it’s probably just the same end credits loop played backwards. Thanks to a little peck on the cheek Captain Power gives her, “for luck” (and also because we’ve got a romance subplot to shoehorn in here), despite getting consistently blown up about ten seconds into the run on the simulator, Pilot manages to survive the, I don’t know, it feels like about six hours (Seriously, the sequence is really tedious) to
launch a photon torpedo shoot a blue strobe beam fire the proton missile at the unshielded thermal exhaust port door, blowing it up.
Lord Dread’s countdown informs us that only seconds remain as Cap, Scout and Tank shoot their way through the installation. It’s a perfectly good fight scene, but it doesn’t really add anything we haven’t seen a dozen times by now. In fact, the whole thing is basically identical to the fight at the Styx base back in “And Madness Shall Reign“. The timing is sloppy. The countdown hits zero just as… Scout sticks a floppy disk in a computer. And then he types something. And then he announces that the Icarus satellite is turning. Was the countdown just a suggestion? At any rate, Scout’s interference causes an explosion on the satellite and it falls out of orbit. Here, we get a slightly weird twist — one moment that actually managed to impress me. We cut immediately back to Volcania where Overmind announces that the Icarus platform isn’t just going to fall to Earth at random: it’s on course to crash straight into Volcania.
That’s a clever part of Captain Power’s strategy which they deliberately withheld from us earlier, but I’m not really sure they earn it. I’m reasonably sure that what they meant to indicate is that Cap’s plan was not merely to destroy Icarus, but to engineer its descent specifically to turn it into a kinetic orbital bombardment against Volcania. But because they withheld this information for dramatic effect, it’s vague enough that you could easily think this is just a deus ex machina, a happy accident that Icarus’s reentry would take it to Volcania. The only hint at all that this is intentional is one line from Scout as he orders Icarus to turn, and you could easily miss it over the noise of the rest of the scene. What we really needed here is to stretch out the middle of act two, show Cap struggling to come up with a plan, and outright saying that there isn’t enough time to hit both targets. They could still withhold the exact plan, but we should have seen Cap’s “Eureka” moment when something gives him the inspiration for the plan. You know what this would be a good time for? A flashback. Bring back Dylan Neal and let Bruce Gray out of his Zordon Tube. Maybe show them playing some kind of sci-fi version of curling, where Daddy Power bests his son by caroming a shot off of one of Young Johnny’s stones so he could give a little speech about turning your adversary’s strengths back against him. But no, we needed that screen-time to squeeze in some more stock footage fight scenes.
- In case you’ve forgotten, you can get the complete series of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future on DVD from amazon.com