Previously on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Cap and company enacted a desperate reenactment of the Death Star Trench Run sequence from Star Wars in order to stop Lord Dread’s Icarus satellite from digitizing the eastern seaboard. With the crashing Icarus on a collision course for Volcania, Power and his team race to the very stronghold of their enemy to stop Lord Dread from touching off a deadly plasma storm.
It is March 13, 1988. Last Friday, the pound note ceased to be legal tender in the UK, enraging Adam Ant (Which is, at least, safer than enraging Adam Adamant, who will straight-up murder you for it). Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Cybil Shepherd and Accused Rapist Bill Cosby win the 14th People’s Choice Awards. Gallaudet University elects its first deaf president, which you’d think would have happened a lot sooner, but people kinda suck. In the coming week, Eugene Marino will become the first African American Catholic archbishop. He will resign two years later amid allegations of sexual misconduct (Thankfully, not the kind you usually associate with Catholic priests; an apparently consensual relationship with an adult).
We have finally entered the glorious two-week reign of Rick Astley, and it is a crying shame that the words to “Never Gonna Give You Up” don’t work well for this post’s title. Little else changes on the Billboard top ten, except that Debbie Gibson is back at number 8 with “Out of the Blue”. 14 Going On 30 concludes. This week’s MacGyver is “The Spoilers”, which I won’t ruin for you. Star Trek The Next Generation is back with “Coming of Age”. It’s a thematically important story which I remember hardly anything about other than the plot having a good chunk of vagueness in it, since the A-plot is “The Enterprise is being investigated on suspicion of there being ‘something wrong’, and we never get told what or why or anything really.” This is because it’s actually foreshadowing for the season pre-finale, and the thing they’re looking for is going to turn out to be those neck-gill bug things. But it’s 1988, and “We’ll drop some hints back in March then not mention anything about it until May,” is not the standard mode of TV storytelling, so I never really felt like it gelled. Anyway, obligatory linklove to Vaka Rangi.
Much like this article, part two of “New Order” begins after a recap that goes on way too long. When we left Volcania last week, Icarus was expected to smack into the side of it in about twenty minutes. Now, that might sound to you like a really clever set-up for an episode that takes place in real time, with the crashing Icarus acting as a ticking clock throughout the episode. That’s because you live in the impossibly far-off world of 2015; we’re still a dozen years away from 24. Heck, we’re still three years away from the real-time episode of Seinfeld. As far as I know, the only real-time TV episode to have aired at this point in history was an episode of M*A*S*H back in ’79, and the real-time there is more than made up for by the fact that the series as a whole ran in approximately 1/3 time. No, we rejoin the story like 15 minutes after the end of part one, with Lord Dread desperately rousing Soaron to come defend Volcania.
Soaron, you may recall, got blowed up right good last episode, and has to grow his leg and wing back before he can set off. There’s some really good detail shots of Soaron writhing on the ground, flexing his injured leg, and standing up. Too bad it’s completely undermined by just how godawful the actual regeneration effect is. I mean seriously, if Soaron were a suit actor, this would look like it was done on a greenscreen by pulling a green blanket over his leg. Soaron assures Dread that he can save Volcania. Soaron flies back to Detroit, interposes himself between Icarus and Volcania, and starts shooting. I note here, just to remind you, that Captain Power had previously refused to involve the rest of the resistance on the grounds that only his team, with their access to the jump gate network, could possibly move quickly enough to strike both Icarus control and also Volcania in the time allowed. Soaron has just covered the same distance faster, despite the fact that he started out down a leg and a wing.
Icarus proves too big a target for Soaron to destroy, so he resorts to just shouting at it until it hits him, smashing him to pieces and leaving Dread and Overmind uncertain if he’ll even be able to regenerate at all. I’m of two minds on this scene. Soaron is completely out of the narrative for the rest of the episode, which I’m fine with, since the plot is already getting to be kind of a clusterfrak. Soaron’s last stand here is, I think, a well-made scene. The whole idea that, despite knowing that it’s hopeless, Soaron’s pride wouldn’t allow him to back down, and he actually thinks that just hovering there shouting “I AM SOARON!” at a giant burning space station might actually work is kind of cute. But I can’t help also feel that it’s really more of a Blastarr thing to do than a Soaron thing to do. It’s just so “Hulk Smash”.
At any rate, a few seconds later, Icarus smashes into the side of Volcania in an explosion so big that some of it appears to have actually happened, with model shots and everything rather than just compositing in the same fireball they use in the opening credits. Captain Power and his team take that as their cue to teleport in, which is a bit odd if you accept the statement back in “A Summoning of Thunder” about the network only having five exit nodes, but whatever. While they land the jumpship in what’s probably the best model shot of the jumpship all season, Dread recovers in his throne room and assesses the damage.
Overmind reports extensive damage, but says that Prometheus can still go off as scheduled. Then Overmind says its best line of the series, because it echo’s Taggart’s words from the end of “A Summoning of Thunder, Part 2” he woke up as Dread: “I hurt.” Dread orders Blastarr to take care of Captain Power, using the same kind of florid, “He is here, Blastarr, the one who has injured The Machine, the one who defies me again and again”-type nonsense that he’s supposed to have elevated himself above what with the whole Perfection of the Machine thing.
Everyone Powers On in the Jumpship. Hawk’s suit reminds him that he’s only got a fifteen percent charge on his batteries after last episode’s Soaron fight. Given that Scout, Cap and Tank fought their way through the Icarus base last time, it’s strange that they don’t need a recharge too. I know that Hawk’s condition is supposed to be related to his crash during the Soaron fight, but looking back over the series, there’s a huge number of times that the power suits have quite clearly only had enough charge for about five minutes of fighting. Captain Power notices Hawk’s reaction to the announcement, though I assume he can’t hear it himself, because Hawk proceeds to lie to him about it, claiming to be more than half-charged. After cloaking the Jumpship, Cap and company start fighting their way toward the throne room, which is for some reason the only place Scout can access the Prometheus controls.
They fight their way through a room and a half before Hawk’s batteries go flat after getting shot in the back by a Bling Nazi, and Cap instantly caves on his whole, “We push on no matter what and we’re totally leaving anyone behind who can’t keep up” by ordering Tank to carry him back to the Jumpship. You know, after going to the trouble of having him lie to his commander, you’d think Hawk’s impending suit failure would be more of a big deal, maybe have it fail at a time that really screws them, or putting him in a position where he needs to fly to escape. As it is, though, it’s just an excuse to get Peter MacNeill and Sven Ole-Thorssen out of the story, which, in turn, is because there’s not really enough plot to carry all five of them, and the sets are going to get a lot smaller, so the action choreography is better with just the three of them.
Blastarr shows up and chases them into archive footage of that hallway with the sex toys on the ceiling from way back in “Wardogs“. When it widens out a bit, they toss their belts at him, which explode. This sets Blastarr on fire, but does not otherwise harm him. Their only reprieve comes when he has to stop for like 30 seconds to fold out his roller skates, buying Pilot enough time to unlock the next door with her sonic dildo (It turns out that the thingy is officially called a “Proton Spanner”. In her commentary tracks, Jessica Steen seems oddly proud of it). Having tired of Blastarr’s crap, they bait him onto an exposed power cable, which electrocutes the BioDread. And then he explodes. Upstairs, Overmind reports that Blastarr, like Soaron, has uncertain chances of recovery.
When Captain Power arrives at the throne room, he finds Dread’s throne occupied by a hologram: the real Lord Dread is exploiting Television Combat Strategy by standing directly in Cap’s line of sight, but outside the frame of the camera, thus rendering him invisible. Dread stuns Scout and Pilot, but Cap is able to disarm him by shooting him in the hand. Just as Power is about to totally respect his father’s wishes about never taking human life, Lakki inexplicably does something useful and shoots Cap’s gun.
Disarmed, hero and villain are forced to resort to fighting with their totally-not-lightsabers. The fight is so distracting that Dread doesn’t notice Scout wake up and switch Volcania over to manual. This enrages Dread so much that he whacks Captain Power in the crotch with his stick hard enough to de-morph him, and then runs away. Scout manages to blow up the Prometheus power station, which explodes in a model shot that’s way more detailed than I’d ever have expected from this show.
Before our heroes can do anything else with their complete unfettered access to Volcania’s main systems, Overmind starts trying to override their control. Rather than shooting the stupid Sargon ball that’s just sitting there exposed on the other side of the room, Captain Power and his friends decide to leg it. Their escape is presumably really boring, because we just cut to the Jumpship taking off and leaving unopposed, and they don’t even bother carving the phoenix emblem in the side of the place. Inside, Scout bandages Hawk’s arm, because I guess Tank was happy enough to just let him sit there bleeding the past twenty minutes.
We end on Cap doing his Captain’s Log thing, declaring this to be their first major success in the war against Dread. Which is kind of disappointing, really. You may be starting to get the impression that I’m running out of patience with Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. We peaked, I think, right around the middle of the series. But now, just when it’s absolutely critical for the show to really nail it, they revert back to my complaints of the early part of the series: this two-parter is pretty much a forty minute action sequence. And it’s not even particularly good action. At least in “Freedom One”, the over-long action sequence was dynamic and well-composed. In these past two episodes, it’s just kind of a mess. Soaron and Blastarr alternate from scene to scene between being nigh invulnerable and being literally blown to bits. Hawk lies to Cap about how badly off he is, is injured in battle, and nothing comes of it. Hawk being injured is the closest thing this plot has to an actual complication in it, and it amounts to nothing.
Look at the basic outline of this episode: with the last two steps of Project New Order conveniently scheduled for two hours after we find out about them, Captain Power comes up with an audacious and nigh-suicidal plan to stop them… And they do it. Easily. We’re told that this is dangerous, that it’s borderline insanity to assault Volcania directly. But if anything, they have less trouble waltzing into Lord Dread’s throne room and reprogramming Prometheus than they did with the Icarus trench run. At no point does this episode have the tension even of, say, “Wardogs”. Cap and company basically dominate from the first scene onward. And if, as Cap’s log says, this is their first major victory against Dread, what the hell have they been doing for fifteen years? Everything is just far too easy. And two episodes in a row end with “As the countdown reaches zero, Scout reprograms a computer to make a model explode.” This isn’t good storytelling.
Credit where it’s due and all: the model work in these episodes is fantastic. The Prometheus plasma station, the Icarus satellite, the Death Star Trench (itself. The compositing of the Jumpship and Skybikes is wretched), and Volcania itself are all detailed and lovely. But nothing else in the episode justifies the time and expense that went into them. I’ve kept saying all season that the half-hour format is a problem for a show this action-heavy, and that two-parters ought to give them some breathing room. And here they go proving me wrong: “New Order” as a two-parter is even more terse and action-heavy than the single-parters. It’s barely a two-parter at all, really; each half has a distinct beginning, middle and end that stands on its own. Taken as two separate episodes, though, “The Sky Shall Swallow Them” and “The Land Shall Burn” suffer from (a) not being especially good action-heavy episodes, and (b) being essentially the same exact story twice in a row.
This show had better up its game next time. It’s running out of chances.