Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 8--Dragon's Rock

"When I joined the Exo-Fleet, this is what I wanted to see... the stars from space. But now I'd give anything to watch the sunrise on Venus."

Dragon's Rock is the twenty-first episode of Exo-Squad, and takes place directly following The Last Man and Mindset. The two wings of Able Squad meet up and have a simple mission, drop supplies to the resistance on Venus. Things go awry when Burns and Bronsky get captured to be part of Draconis' secret slave labor. He's building a fortress in case Phaeton tries to replace him with a Neo Mega. The captives manage to get out a signal and Able Squad rides to the rescue.

What Works: Easily the most interesting bit of the episode is the machinations of Draconis. He knows about the Neo Megas and he's terrified. Should he be? We'll find out. Capturing Terrans and keeping them off-the-books is a rather elegant solution to that issue though. (I love his second in command grumbling that "they eat too much," because remember Neo Sapiens have more efficient digestive systems than Homo Sapiens.) He's right to be cautious, we learn that General Drusis of Ceres was executed for (presumably) allowing the secret of the Neo Megas to get out.

He's got a cool-ass shuttle, too! I've long been a fan of the ship designs in this universe, and this one is no exception. I rather like that he uses the standard Neo Sapien purple and yellow to achieve the effect.

The Trail of Tears imagery is powerful, though logically I have a hard time imagining that Draconis would find all those folks to round up and move. It looks like it stretches from horizon to horizon. Perhaps he's just moving most of them from some other city, and Burns & Bronsky are just the stragglers?

Nara's crush on Marsala gets a bit of exploration, though this is a Marsala-lite episode. Marsala snaps at Takagi when the latter takes issue with the way the former is coping with the loss of two teammates. Marsala's approach is cold and rational, but, though "I do not express my feelings the way you do, that does not mean I feel less." Well said. Nara also hallucinates Bronsky as Marsala when she collapses due to dehydration and sunstroke. And, of course, they share a moment bonding over the Venutian sunrise.

This is the the first episode where Bronsky is, more or less, front and center. For the most part, he works well. He's still lazy, and a slob, and the worst pilot in the squad. (Note that he crashes the cargo ship, not due to enemy action, but due to weather.) But he's got a big heart and a strong back and he throws both into the cause.

And, of course, we can't have a Venus episode with James Burns as well. He looks awful! Which is a little odd, considering the timing. (See below.)


There are some nice example of tech in this episode. We finally see the Neo Sapien colored version of Hollis' frame.

We get another nice shot of a Pirate vessel de-cloaking to take on e-frames right at the start of the episode.

There's a really nice effect when Nara uses her spotlight to explore the abandoned resistance camp. I also enjoy that Nara busts out her ground support e-frame again, for the second and (I believe) only time in the series.

Finally, the little aftermath pan where we see the devastation wrought by Able Squad on Draconis' secret loyalists was very well done. Usually it's the good guys we see licking their wounds. This will start to change.

What Doesn't: The timing is a bit off. JT and Marsala drop off the Earth resistance while the rest of the gang (minus Nara, who was missing) engages the Neos on Ceres. Then they immediately link up (now with Nara coming over from the Arnhem.) Presumably James was dropped off simultaneously, but now they've got more supplies for Venus? That doesn't quite feel right. Also, James looks like he's been doing slave labor for a lot longer than a few days. Possibly, the Ceres mission was just a separate mission that took place weeks if not months later than Mind Set, but it's suspicious that JT and Marsala were on the same class of Pirate vessel that we saw them on in that episode.

Bronsky shoots off the legs of a Neo Frame with a hand-held rifle, then commandeers it. It's a little goofy, and it's not in keeping with the relative firepower of hand weapons and eframes as has been established up until now, as recently as Mindset.

Watch For: Draconis' schemes and fears will continue to play a part in the story in a big way. We'll also get more payoff for the Venutian sunrise imagery.

Bio: Nara, again. Now it's really feeling like padding, though at least it's an appropriate character. Bronsky would have been a better choice, though of course there are 39 episodes this season and perhaps a dozen bios.

Overall: A good character-based story. The quibbles about the timing are just that, quibbles, and they wouldn't be an issue at all if not for the ambitious attempt to tie this episode to the last two more tightly than absolutely necessary. The plotting of Draconis feels like a story advancement, and the impact of having Neo Megas in the mix continues to drive the story. A solid entry to the overall story.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cortex Bundle: Neo Megas

A couple years back, I posted a Cortex bundle for players who wished to play a Neo Sapien. With the introduction of Neo Megas to the universe (as of my reviews), I thought I'd take a stab at them. Neo Megas are Neo Sapiens evolved to the next level. Brilliant scientists one and all, they take normal Neo Sapien intellect, amp it up to eleven, and layer on the capability of creative thought. 

Neo Mega Bundle: D20 cost  

Assets:

Photographic Memory: D8 (Neo Megas have extraordinary recall of anything ever experienced.)

Enhanced Communication: D4 (Neo Megas can communicate ultrasonically with each other, though in theory this could be jammed or intercepted.)

Intuitive Leaps: D4 (Unlike Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas are capable of, and indeed excel at, lateral thinking.)

Metabolic Control: D4 (Neo Megas have conscious control over their metabolic systems, allowing them to drastically reduce their oxygen requirements or even convincingly fake death for a time.)

Head for Numbers: D6 (Even more so than Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas easily understand complex technical matters.)

Simple needs: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas can survive on comparably few calories, and can digest almost anything organic to achieve those calories.)

Enhanced Manipulation: D2 (Neo Megas have three opposable fingers on each hand, as well as prehensile toes. Add to tests where fine motor coordination is paramount.)

Longevity: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas can live, and be vital, for approximately twice as long as Homo Sapiens.)

Enhanced Senses: D4 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas see very well in low-light conditions and have exceptional hearing.) 

Always Awake: D6 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas don't need sleep.)

Lightning Reflexes: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas have extraordinary reflexes.)
 
Hardy Constitution: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas are preternaturally resistant to chemicals and disease, though their smaller frames makes them not quite as robust.)

Natural Athlete: D2 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas are at the apex of human physical capabilities, though they aren't quite as adept.)

Complications:

Arrogant: D6 (Neo Megas are the apex of humanity, and they aren't good at hiding this knowledge. Subtract D6 from social tests where such an attitude is a hindrance, i.e. most of them.)

Vulnerability - Trauma: D6 (Like Neo Sapiens, Neo Megas who suffer sever physical trauma, such as the loss of more than half of their life points, are at risk for contracting Auto Mutation Syndrome, a degenerative and inevitably fatal disease. They must make a hard endurance check or contract the illness.)

Memorable: D4 (In addition to being seven feet tall and blue, all Neo Megas have a unique geometric tattoo prominently on their forehead, often vaguely reminiscent of the Greek letter omega.)

Animal Enmity: D4 (Animals can sense that Neo Megas, like Neo Sapiens, are unnatural creatures.)

Sterile: D4 (Like Neo Spaiens, Neo Megas cannot reproduce normally, divorcing them from the cycle of life and denying them any form of familial relationship.)

Overconfident: D4 (As the preeminent lifeform in the solar system, Neo Megas can have a tendency to underestimate their opposition.)



This is a costly bundle, as Neo Megas represent a potent brand of villiany. To offset the rather pricey bundle, most of them have Prejudice (D4) Terrans and Prejudice (D4) Neo Sapiens. Again, heroic PCs are unlikely to have those particular complications, though Duty and Infamy are good choices.

Note: The Neo Mega bundle is even more powerful than the already impressive Neo Sapien bundle. In truth, they had little in the way of physical weaknesses and few of the intellectual limitations their larger fore-bearers suffered from. They trade down slightly physically but the intellectual gains more than make up for it. I'd recommend limiting Neo Megas to NPCs for all but the most mature and experience players. They do, however, make excellent villains.


Once I get to The Perfect Warrior, expect a similar bundle for Neo Lords. (Though, while Neo Megas are borderline tolerable for experienced players, Neo Lords are simply too powerful to be anything but NPCs.) I don't intend to stat out individual Neo Warrior types.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 7--The Last Man

"Neo sapiens were an improvement upon mankind. Neo megas are man perfected. We are new force in the universe." 

The Last Man is the twentieth episode of Exo-Squad. Occuring at approximately the same time as Mind Set, it introduces Charlie-Five Platoon, the Jump Troopers under the command of Captain Avery Butler. He, Captain Colleen O'Reilly, Sergeant Ramon Longfeather, and Corporal Vince Pellegrino are the representative members, though many other members (each with their own unique suit of armor) are present. They attempt a diversionary thrust at Ceres, a seemingly unimportant Neo outpost, only to suffer massive casualties in a seemingly too-elaborate trap. The reason for this is the presence of a very special Neo brood center, creating the next step in Neo Sapien evolution, the Neo Megas. Standing slightly smaller than their Neo Sapien cousins, these three-fingered Neo Megas are more intelligent than normal Neo Sapiens and capable of creative thought. One is captured during the battle and fakes his own death, though he perishes while attempting to escape the withdrawing Exo-Fleet forces.

Random jump trooper.
What works: The (re)introduction of the Jump Troopers works well. While it would have been really nice to see some hints of these guys in early S1, it's good to see another side of the fleet than the fighter pilots. These guys, the boots-on-the-ground forces, come across as tough, capable, and a little more serious than the members of Able Squad. That's probably fair for infantry versus the air support, though in the 22nd century environment there has obviously been considerable blurring of the lines between the two roles. It's nice that we get different armor not just for our four main characters, but for all of the different members.

Since this episode almost serves as a new pilot, let's look at who we've got:

Captain Butler is probably the weakest new character. He suffers a bit from leader-itus. He comes across as no-nonsense, competent... and that's about it. We never really see his human side. I do like that he starts off his missions with the rallying cry, "any heroes on board?" "No, sir!" "Good! The only heroes I ever saw weren't breathing." That's probably the best bit of insight into him as a man that we see.

Lieutenant O'Reilly easily gets the most characterization of any jump trooper. Her main contribution is her realization that the Neos have cracked the jump-comm system, and so she'd devised her own. She plays well with Weston, the other techie chick in the series, and indeed we've seen them working together in O'Reilly's first cameo back on the GRAF shield. It's clear that the writers enjoy her, we'll see quite a bit more of her in the future.

Sergeant Longfeather barely registers as a character. If he didn't get an action figure, I don't think I'd have noticed him in this episode at all. He gets quite a few lines and even breaks up a fight between Pelligrino and Bronsky, but somehow barely gets a chance to shine. I do like that the guy is a freaking mountain, though. His best characterization was probably his arm-wrestling after the battle, though even then O'Reilly steals the show.

Corporal Pelligrino gets strong characterization as well. His big thing is his rivalry with the e-frame pilots. Again, this is the kind of thing Exo-Squad does exceedingly well. Even among good guys, there's tension and conflict. (Bad guys, too, have rivalry, but that doesn't feel quite as innovative.)  I love Bronsky's quick, savage punch when pushed too far, and that Pelligrino quickly gains the upper hand. I wouldn't go hand-to-hand with a jump trooper if I was an e-frame jock.

The other big thing this episode introduces is the Neo Megas. Having established a new status quo with the end of the Pirate Alliance plotline, the writers are quick to shake things up. It makes sense that the Neos would attempt to close the creativity gap they have with terrans, and that they'd turn to genetics to do so. The two Neo Megas we see in this episode are smarmy, brilliant, and immediately make you want to strangle them. Well done.

We also continue the tradition of Neo Sapien generals dressing in their own unique style. We meet General Drusus, who makes the monumental blunder of using the Neo Megas as front-line combat troops. He'll pay for that.

Drusus has a brief argument with the as-yet-unnamed Praetorius, the Neo Sapien genetics minister. He's one of my favorite minor characters, so it's nice to see him here.

The Neo Mega's murder of the Med Tech is some delightfully creepy imagery.

DeLeon macking on O'Reilly was a nice bit of characterization for him. We've seen him flirt with Weston before, maybe he's got a thing for brainy ladies.

About two-thirds of this episode take place on Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system. I enjoy that the series continues to tour around the actual local real-estate of space. I also like the reasoning for the attack, to divert the Neo's attention to Mars and away from Winfield's real target. (We'll find out what that is in a few episodes.)


Weston busts out some pretty bad-ass moves versus the Neo Mega. That he then got the better of her does a good job of showcasing just how tough these little (7 foot tall) critters are.

What doesn't: The title of the episode, doesn't seem to work on either a literal or literary level. There's no clear last man in the episode, and the Mary Shelly novel features a post-apocalyptic world devastated by plague. No clear connection.

Where's Nara? This episode is taking place while J.T. and Marsala work with the resistance on Earth, so Nara really should be in command of Able Squad. Minor quibble, but there it is.

O'Reilly using the old comm to communicate misinformation was clever. Her blowing up her own chip seemed rather melodramatic.

The final scene in the airlock didn't quite work for me. Weston throwing a wrench against the escaping air strained credulity for me. Also, one would think that there would be a few failsafe mechanisms in place. I get that the writers wanted the Neo Megas to remain a mystery and didn't want the Exo-Fleet to have a body to autopsy, but it's a bit clumsy how they achieved it.


Watch for:  Neo Tanks make their first appearance. They'll show up several times in the future, and will play an important role in the final storyarc. (They're also damn cool, and would have made a great toy.)

Neo Megas won't be the only instance of Neo Sapiens tinkering with their own genetic make-up to attempt to gain advantage in the war.

We see the Phaeton command-style e-frame used for the first time by someone other than him. That won't happen too often, though it will occasionally occur. I rather enjoy that, as having a unique frame doesn't really seem cost-effective and the Neos are eminently logical.

By the by, this is the first episode without any J.T. Marsh in it. No other character has been in every episode to date besides him, so now it's official that no-one will be in every episode. I rather like that.

Bio: Appropriately enough, Colleen O'Reilly. Since we barely know her, it's somewhat effective, though I can't help but think that the time would have been better used in the episode itself. Four cards in, I'm starting to think that I'm just not a fan of the idea in general. Interestingly enough, there will be ANOTHER version of this bio that features new animation depicting the graduation scene described here, which is kind of a nice value add.

Overall: Basically a solid episode. It needs to accomplish quite a few things and manages to do it all well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 6--Mind Set

"Play. Over there where the camera can see you. And have fun."

Mind Set is the nineteenth episode of Exo-Squad, and the first episode that takes place in the new status-quo of the season, following the Pirate Alliance storyline. Napier is returned to Earth and given his first mission, to spring Jonathan Perry, the last President of the Homeworlds' Congress. His ex-wife, the Tokyo Rose of the Neo Sapiens Amanda Connor, is on-hand interviewing the former senators for propaganda purposes. Marsh and Napier spring the prisoners and manage to convince the Neos they died in the attempt. Infuriated, Phaeton orders Connor arrested. "No more interviews," he sardonically quips.

What works: I like the basic premise of this episode in theory. Amanda was an element from S1 that was begging for further exploration, and we've seen that Phaeton values the appearance of legitimacy.  Using the prisoners for propaganda feels like something that Phaeton would do. So it all makes sense on that level. The execution feels just a little off, though. I'll get to why below.

The title is also clever. On the most obvious level, the story is very much about Amanda Connor and her mind set. But with the brainwashing of political figures, there's a more sinister connotation.

There are some great designs in this episode. The Neo's uniforms have never looked quite so Third Reich before. The trenchcoats, the visored hats, the Jodhpur pants.

Keeping with the theme, Napier notes that Phaeton "makes the mag-trains run on time," paraphrasing words bandied about in the 30s concerning Mussolini.

Amanda Connor is a true believer, having a heartfelt conversation with Shiva about how she hopes for a better future and refusing to run away with Napier. I like that there are a few Terrans, even at this late stage in the game, who believe that the Neo Sapiens were justified and that ultimately Phaeton's regime is the best hope of the future. This makes her ultimate fate, imprisoned by Phaeton, terribly ironic. There's a great little visual metaphor, as Amanda Connor enjoys an ocean swim and the shadow of Shiva's vessel passes over her body, that foreshadows this turn of events.

We already knew Connor had history with Napier, now we find out she's his ex-wife. They have a brief but terrific exchange where they bicker about how "Sean never makes mistakes." Very nicely done.

Shiva really shines this episode. His interactions with Connor strike just the right balance. He seems to be an effortless liar. His wrath at the camp commandant for contacting Phaeton is understandable--he clearly wanted to get the situation in hand so he could put the best spin on events for his supreme commander. When the hydrofoil he thinks is carrying the political prisoners blows up, his cry of anguish feels very real. One wonders if he's more concerned about the 20 or so troops he just lost or his standing in Phaeton's eyes.

The politicians, once rescued, immediately begin to argue about how the resistance should be run. Of course they do. Of all the events of the episode, this part felt the most real. Napier sets them straight in pretty short order, but who else but a Senator would endure two years of jail and then immediately start to debate how the folks who rescued you SHOULD be doing things?

What doesn't: The episode seems to vacillate between how much brainwashing is actually going on. The visuals are certainly creepy, with chairs and limp arms and unidentified hardware on the head. Further, Perry seems to genuinely believe what's going on, crying on cue. He COULD just be an excellent actor, but really, that's a bit much. He also feels a bit off in all of his appearances. On the other hand, the other prisoners muse about how he can tell such obvious falsehoods, and seem to imply that it's all about him being threatened.

The show has mostly been good about keeping the fights tough and the opposition formidable. This episode breaks that, as four Neo frames face off against J.T. and two resistance members and the good guys suffer no serious setbacks. There's a moment where it appears that Peter Tanaka had just died, but he turns out to be absolutely fine.

Shiva finds the hovercraft because Marsala disabled a guard and left him an e-frame, albeit one without any weapons. Said guard hitches a ride on the foil and gives us a hand-to-hand eframe battle underwater. The whole situation seemed incredibly contrived. I can just about see Marsala not killing a guard, but leaving him an e-frame? Just sloppy writing.

It's a bit convenient that the very first conversation that Napier zooms in on, when trying to convince Connor that the Neos are irredeemable, concerns the execution of Prisoner 47 (aka Senator Prakosh), whom Shiva had informed her was merely resting following a jet-ski accident. On the other hand, I did enjoy how casually Shiva reduced him from a man to a number.

Watch for: There's a cameo for a new resistance member, who we'll come to know as J. J. (Guy on the right.) Cool character, he's the resistance tech head.

Surprisingly, the politicians don't figure in future episodes. (Unless there's a cameo in the last episode that I missed. Possible, but I usually have a pretty sharp eye.) I kind of expected an episode where a brainwashed politician causes the resistance trouble.

Bio: Jonas Simbacca. This one contains a big spoiler for episode 9 of the season, as well as foreshadowing some of what would have been season 3.

Overall: Not the strongest offering we've had. Once again, this is a stand-alone episode, not doing a ton to advance the plot. There are some great elements here (like, hey, changing the name from Miami to Port Shiva, or the cool shot of a docking bay opening on a cloaked Pirate vessel, or the return of the Amanda cartoon) but it feels like there were too many ideas about what should be happening here that lead to a confusion about what's actually happening. It's still good, but we've definitely had better.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 5--Expendable

"Fool! When the Neo Sapiens have been eliminated, who do you think the Exo-Fleet will fight next?"

Expendable is the eighteenth episode of Exo-Squad, finishing up the Pirate alliance storyline, the first S2 arc. The first half deals with Rita Torres' issues with Chubail, who slaughtered her first squad. She tries to contain herself (and her squad) but ultimately snaps. J.T. calls in his debt from The Embassy to get her out of hot water. In the second half, Barca lets the Neos know about the state of the GRAF shield, prompting a desperate evacuation. Fortunately, Simbacca kept half his fleet in reserve and manages to outflank the pursuing Neo fleet, letting the Pirates and Exo Fleet escape to a hidden planet, Chaos, orbiting beyond Pluto.

What works: As I expected, it was nice to get some Torres development. Making her the sole survivor of a squad is a nice reason for her to be so tough. (I also like her pink Exo-Fleet pajamas. No reason she has to be tough ALL the time.) In many ways, she's a stand-in for the overall Exo-Fleet when it comes to tension with the Pirates. It's good that there is strong tension on both sides, despite how much they need each other.

The two big space battles in the episode are both exciting and high-stakes.  (But see below.) As Hollis says, rather melodramatically (but that's not a flaw, that's his character) "this battle decides the fate of the solar system." Indeed it does. The Neos will never get a better chance to win the war than this engagement, with (most of) the Pirate fleet, all of the Exo-Fleet, and the leaders of the Earth resistance all relatively vulnerable.

Simbacca keeping half his fleet in reserve and using it to out-flank the Neo fleet makes a great deal of sense as well. I also like, from a storytelling perspective, Winfield offering to transfer his e-frames to the Pirate vessels so they can cloak and escape. (I presume the resistance leaders, Professor Algernon, and the various Jump Troopers would have been included in that deal.) One can imagine the series continuing in that way, with the Exo-Fleet destroyed but many of the main characters continuing to operate on the Pirate fleet.

Typhonus has his inspiration, to sabotage the GRAF shield using Phaeton's agent, over dinner. Fun to see the Neos engage in normal, every-day activities and not always be on the bridge in command. (but see below.)

Watching Simbacca, Napier, and Winfield carve up the solar system has a very Yalta feel to it, especially with the Pirates promised Mars. Needless to say, Simbacca gets to be Stalin in this scenario. Speaking of, Chubail is perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the state of the alliance. It's his quote at the top of the review, and envisioning a war (cold or hot) between the Exo-Fleet and the Pirate Clans seems not at all implausible.

The Pirate squad of e-frames shows up again and participates in the battle, which is nice continuity and makes the previous episode feel more relevant to the overall story. (Alas, we won't see them again after this.) I also rather like the dialogue here. Bronsky is completely blase about the whole thing. "Just another day at the office, saving everybodies butts." "Punch your timecard, Bronsky."


Speaking of dialog, the Pirates have some wonderfully insensitive lines. "And then, he tried to surrender," gets a big laugh from the Pirates and many dirty stares from the Exo-Troopers. As it should. I got the sense that Chubail was being intentionally provocative, and why not? He's not in favor of the alliance, and he's shrewd enough to know the Exo-Fleet needs them more than they need the Exo-Fleet.

Poor Chubail, though. For such a good character and honorable Pirate, he meets an ignominious end. Framed by Barca as a traitor. Simbacca's first instinct is absolutely correct: "I would never have believed it." Unfortunately for the alliance, Simbacca never has time to pursue that line of thinking or it might lead them to the real traitor...

Barca! This character continues to impress with his competence and ruthlessness. When he discovers the GRAF shield is inoperative, he words his report ambiguously enough that he can take credit for it without out-and-out lying. (Him overhearing an overblown and arrogant Algernon rant about the system was a good way to do it, as it keeps that character at front-of-mind.) When discovered, he does a halfway decent job at trying to talk Chubail down, and when that fails, well, he's ready with a hidden pistol for a quick spot of murder. He quickly frames the dead man with enough of the truth to be convincing, keeping his cover intact. Fortunately for the side of the angels, his transmitter is destroyed, which will de-fang him for quite a while.

That ending! Wow. It's a powerful scene, building on what we know of Neo Sapien physiology and culture. Phaeton has been freed of all social and legal constraints, and this is our first hint that it extends beyond terrans to Neo Sapien taboos. It's clear Typhonus had NO ide this was a possibility. This scene is just about perfect. There's real desperation in Typhonus' voice, and a hint of sadism in Phaetons'. The off-kilter camera angles highlight the surreal quality of what's happening. Great directing all around.

What doesn't: The biggest flaw in the episode is the structure. This really feels like it could have / should have been two episodes. The first part, with Torres, is a necessary point to address and gives some depth to a character who was previously something of a cipher. The second part, the GRAF failure and evacuation, featured two exciting space battles but each on is only about a minute long. I'd have liked breathing room for the second story. The first story doesn't feel like it got short-changed, but I have no doubt it could have been expanded. The one bit of payoff from Part 1 in Part 2 is Hollis getting Torres out of a jam. This was a nice element and does tie the two parts together a bit.

I'm not keen on the e-frame designs from Torres' first squad. She's not THAT old, I can't imagine that the designs would have changed that much. Plus, they're ugly as sin.

Chaos, a tenth planet in the solar system made of Dark Matter, doesn't quite work for me. I won't complain about it too much but it's a little soft sci-fi for me in what has mostly been a reasonably hard SF series to date.

Watch for: A couple of animation flubs this go. First up, in Typhonus' mess are Draconis, Shiva, and Livia. (Hey, Livia, haven't seen you since early season 1! Interesting that your model pack is still floating around enough to be prominent. Are you going to show up again? Me thinks yes.) The generals in command of Earth and Venus definitely aren't on Typhonus' flagship. I suppose Livia COULD be, but given the other two I'll chalk this up to an animation error.

Speaking of, one of the guys in the mess hall when the pirates are yucking it up is Sandouski. He died rather spectacularly in S1E12, Betrayal.

Bio: none, probably no room in an already packed episode.

Overall: When the biggest flaw of an episode is that you wish it was twice as long, you know the show is doing something right. A great and satisfying conclusion to the first storyline in S2. The show never loses sight of what makes it work, with flawed characters sometimes making bad decisions. There are no easy solutions for the good guys (or the bad guys) and sometimes bad things happen to (more or less) good people. It doesn't feel like our heroes have the upper hand, by any stretch, but it does feel like they've clawed their way from almost certain extinction to a playing field that is at least somewhat level. The alliance was a struggle to put in place, a struggle on both sides to keep intact, and will clearly require sacrifice and compromise. But it doesn't feel like it's going away any time soon. It's a great way to start the season, and plays fair in terms of cleaning up the mess left by the end of S1. I look forward to seeing what the series throws at us next.