Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 1 Episode 5--Resist!

"Phaeton must subjugate the planet, quickly and brutally and publicly. As long as humans believe they can resist, they will." 

The fifth episode of Exo-Squad is titled Resist!, and concludes the initial storylines both in space and on Earth. Marsh's squad spring him on the way to his execution and he helps extricate the fleet from the disastrous situation Marcus has led it to, with some help from an injured but conscious Admiral Winfield. Able-Squad is forced to put down on Earth and links up with the nascent resistance, which is initially hostile to the soldiers of the fleet for their failure. Together they score a public victory which allows Able-Squad to commandeer a shuttle and link up with the fleet.

What works: The initial space battle is exciting and tense. There is every sense that our heroes are in a very bad place and that things might not work out for them. Marcus initially seems to be a competent battle commander, issuing sensible orders. When the military doctrine he was raised on proves to be a house of cards he freezes up, only to focus on the (tactically) unimportant fact of Marsh's arrest. I appreciate at least getting a glimmer of why he's the number two man in the task force.

Too, the way Marsh gets the carriers free gives us more insight into Winfield's pragmatism (willingly sacrificing half his e-frames for the greater good) and Neo Sapien hesitancy in the face of unconventional strategy. Phaeton seems as discombobulated as Marcus when Marsh takes half the air wing on a suicidal attack on his bridge, if only for a moment.

I love that not only do we get good Neos but we get collaborators on the human side. The mayor of Chicago (which he renames Phaeton City in an attempt to cultivate good will) is a particularly prominent example, but during the scene of mandatory civil registration we see humans with clipboards helping the Neos.

It's also great that, even among good guys, there is tension. In particular, there is no love lost between Napier and the members of Able Squad, who despite insisting they are on the same side are captured by the resistance at gunpoint.

Another thing the series does very well is use real places. Registration takes place at the Chicago Board of Trade, and Phaeton gives another excellent speech at New Soldier Field.

By the way, the above collaborators don't get any mercy from our heroes just for being homo sapiens. And Phaeton has no time for the Mayor once it's clear that his ability to keep the more extreme terrans in line is limited.

Finally, it's great that Phaeton never seems to suffer from most of the cartoon villain tropes. When he falls under attack during his speech, his first instinct is to fight back. He grabs a gun and silences Napier by blasting the huge viewscreen behind him. When it's clear that Able Squad has the advantage, he has to be dragged away by Typhonus and Shiva.

What doesn't: Once again, very few things fail. Most of these are basically nits, rather than major flaws. The biggest issue is the disconnect in the story. Rather than an A/B plot, this first concludes the space battle before setting the squad down on Earth to check in on the resistance. It feels a little odd, pacing-wise.

Marsh springs the carriers loose by taking command of half the e-frames. Casualties are heavy, wiping out all of Baker and Charlie squads, but there are none in Able Squad. It'd certainly have been more realistic is a smattering of pilots survived, though I understand the needs to make the war a microcosm of heroes. I like that we did get some prominent scenes of extras fighting though.

The visuals of the show don't match the dialogue. We're told that the Exo-Carriers abandoned their support vessels and that there were six of them, but we're shown a large number of ships in the Exo-Fleet engaging in battle. There are two ships confirmed destroyed in dialogue, and another carrier-looking vessel that got destroyed last episode as well as in the previously segment. Add in a line of dialogue where Winfield accuses Marcus of losing half their firepower and my interpretation is that they lost three of six exo-carriers, though that's debatable.

It seems contrived that the squad was able to make its way back to the fleet. They didn't even know where the fleet was heading. Add in the fact that they were potentially heading back to court martials and execution and it's odd that they didn't choose to stay on Earth.

Watch for: One of the extras battling the Neos during the space battle is none other than Alice Noretti, a character who will come to prominence next episode but who is teased here.

We also get our first look at Amanda Conner, a reporter who has a history with Sean Napier. He mutters that he knew she'd sell out, she cries out his name in surprise when he attempts to disrupt registration. She'll have a bigger role in the story to play in the next episode as well, as well as season two.

Overall: The conclusion of The Rise of the Neo Sapien Empire plotline cements ExoSquad as one of the best attempts to do space opera that American animation has attempted. The dark imagery, moral ambiguity, fallible heroes, and attention to detail all recommend the series strongly. It took a few episodes to find its footing, but by this point all of the elements are working together. If you've made it this far, you're along for the ride.

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