Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 37--The Night Before Doomsday

"Once, on the planet Mercury, a commander ordered me away from a hopeless battle. Perhaps he saved my life so that I could save yours."

The Night Before Doomsday, aka The Fall of the Neo Sapien Empire part 4, is the even fiftieth episode of Exo-Squad. It is two stories in one, told roughly in sequence. The first tale revisits Thrax, now the commander of the Amazon. He recognizes the hopelessness of the Neo Sapien Order's situation and refuses Livia's summons to come to Phaeton city. He's not the only officer disobeying orders, prompting Phaeton to use the Neo Lords to purge the officer class of the Neo Sapien military. Thrax battles valiantly, but ultimately succumbs. The other tale involves Able Squad, who discovers the location of Phaeton's secret Canadian facility. They assault it, hoping to put the Doomsday Device out of operation, only to discover that it has been moved to Phaeton City. Phaeton anticipates this move by Winfield, and though he has resigned himself to defeat, he still wants Marsh's head. He resurrects his best generals to accomplish this task and they succeed, capturing Marsh and bringing his nemesis before him against the backdrop of a weapon capable of destroying the Earth. To be concluded!

What Works: The episode opens with Algernon locating the secret base by the brilliantly simple strategy of just following the hovertrain spur line. The exchange that follows does an excellent job of showcasing how far that character has come. In addition to a hilarious little aside ("If I wanted to destroy the Earth--and I had as little imagination as Phaeton--I'd probably just blow it up") he waxes philosophical about the setting sun. "The sun is always rising somewhere. After all, our darkness means light to the other side of the world." It's a great line, but the Thrax quote was more emblematic of the episode itself.

Thrax is another high point of the episode. He remains as compelling as always. His relationship with Telemachus, introduced here (I was wrong, Kates was NOT the last named character) gives the character some opportunity for growth. He's not just an ace, he's a leader. His relationship with Medusa is somewhat less amiable. She continues to scheme and undermine her superior, which doesn't seem to phase Thrax at all.

Also, Thrax is pretty bad-ass when he dodges Medusa's blast and takes her out with one shot. Makes sense that a pilot with his reflexes would be fast on the draw.

The purge of Neo Sapien officers is a fascinating fascinating idea. It wouldn't have played well in S1 or early S2, but Phaeton's deteriorating mental state makes it viable. Calling to mind the Soviet Red Army purge, it's neat to see the Neo Sapien Order eating itself alive. My one complaint is that I would have liked more time for it to be explored. Half an episode, with no time for follow-ups, doesn't give the plot much breathing room.

The return of Draconis, Typhonus, and Shiva is rather macabre. Note that none of them has any lines this episode, which makes the whole thing feel rather ghoulish. Perhaps it takes them a little time for their personalities to get really up and running. They do a decent enough job taking down Marsh, at least.

Yuri Stavrogain shows up one last time... and I do mean one last time. We learn that he was JT's old wingman, which fits what we know. Sadly, he gets shot down after Nara gets in trouble, and does not survive the crash. It's a pretty good blast he takes, kinda catches him and the audience off-guard.

Kaz gets a nice moment to react to his death. He insists on accompanying JT on a rescue attempt after Yuri is shot down, then witnesses Marsh's capture. When he goes to extract Yuri from the wreckage, he finds his friend dead. It's strong closure to the relationship between them introduced way back in The First Step, and will indeed help motivate Kaz's future character development--what there is of it, anyway.

Livia, too, gets a chance to shine. When she learns of the Doomsday Device, she is initially elated, proposing to use it for an ultimatum. Phaeton rejects the idea out-of-hand. He'd rather just see the world end and be done with it. "I have Auto-Mutation Syndrome. What do I care about the future?" She's been as loyal as anyone to Phaeton, and for the first time she's starting to question those choices.

When the Neos counter-attack at the Great Slave Lake facility, Marsh's first order is for Marsala to get Algernon to safety. He may be a genius, and he may be finding his philosophical side, but he's still no combatant. The look of terror on his face is perfect.

Surprising no one, Ketzer is back. Medusa only has a few minutes of time between being freed from captivity by the Neo Lords and Ketzer's attack. He certainly looks ominous here, doesn't he?

The battle of Battle Creek resolves here, with the assistance of some orbital bombardment. Controlling the high ground is pretty rockin', huh?

During said bombardment, there's a nice moment when a solitary Neo E-Frame blasts into orbit and takes a few potshots at the Resolute II, before getting easily dispatched by one of the escort ships. It's a brief but very cool beat.

What Doesn't: The two plot structure weakens the episode. The purge could easily have been an episode all to itself. The assault on Great Slave Lake, not so much, but then there's plenty of other things going on that could have been expanded upon.

Bronski gets shot down, which serves to undercut the finale of the previous episode. Also, the shuttle design has changed.

After Yuri crashes, he activates his emergency beacon. While it's a great shot, it doesn't support him being dead just a minute or so later, and wasn't necessary for the plot. I could easily believe Marsh would return for Stavrogain, beacon or no.

There are several animation and continuity flubs. None is particularly horrendous, but taken in concert they do undercut the quality of the episode a bit. Phaeton is consistently in the generic blue version of his command E-Frame, whereas last (and next) episode it was the usual black. Manaus is mislabeled Phaeton City.

Watch For: Livia's new revalation about exactly whom she's been working for this whole time will have major repercussions next episode.

Nara's ongoing transformation will continue to play a role in the series. This is speculation, of course, but it seems likely it would have been a critical plot point in Season 3. (Alas!)

Telemachus, memorably introduced here, will too be seen again. Well, after a fashion...

Blink and you'll miss him, but Bronski (shot down fleeing Washington, D.C., remember?) is among Marsh's squad during the retreat from Great Slave Lake. Actually, his E-Frame is seen clearly several times, but of course it could be anyone inside it. There is a clear shot of him, though. Oops.

Draconis's E-Frame will change from his current small model to his S1 Troop Transport E-Frame.

Bio: Simbacca. Yawn.

Overall: We're getting to the end, people. With the cliffhanger ending, this one feels more like the penultimate episode of the series than what it actually is, two from the end. Phaeton has the capability of destroying the Earth, and has Marsh. The invasion is otherwise a huge success, but there is nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal, and Phaeton is very much cornered. Even his reactivation of his generals in some way feels like a retreat from reality. He's falling back on earlier, happier times, any past failures or treacheries forgotten. It's a strong offering, perhaps marred just a bit by the disconnect from the first half of the episode to the second. Still, all of the pieces are moving into place, and the next episode promises to be a huge climax, well worth the fifty episode investment we've now made. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Monk of War said...

For a brief moment you see that there are two exosquads being led by Marsh when the Terrans assault the supposed location of the Doomsday Device. We can assume that the additional e-frames are under Stavrogan's command, but they are never confirmed as a reformed Fox Squad which was massacred in Antarctica. Also, the extra e-frames are the same colours as their Able Squad counterparts - in most episodes, Terran e-frames belonging to other exosquads and the resistance are of different colours to distinguish them from Able especially since they don't last long!

We see that Able Squad has a green Field Comms e-frame to replace the one Typhonus crushed (along with DeLeon). But we never get to see who the replacement pilot is and it doesn't appear in subsequent episodes.