Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 39--Beyond Chaos

"The fatal flaw of the Neo Sapiens is very simple. We do not have children. Because we reproduce artificially, Neo Sapiens do not feel a part of the endless cycle of life. Without parents, grandparents, family, the past is meaningles. Without children, the future is only darkness. Without tradition to guide us, without posterity to judge us, we live in a moral void as empty as space itself. We are desperate for something to give our life purpose. That is what Phaeton offered us."

Beyond Chaos is the fifty-second and final episode of Exo-Squad. The war is over, and Neo prisoners are rounded up all over the globe. Able Squad helps with the mop-up, and the squad breaks up to pursue their own paths: Takagi becomes one of the first cadets at the reopened Exo-Fleet academy; Nara moves to Venus to rebuild, discovering new facets to the genetic alteration Ketzer inflicted upon her; Weston marvels that Galba and Algernon have created a clone of Alec DeLeon with his memories from the black box (and the Noretti procedure), and they go on to help him restore Mars using GRAF technology; Marsala convinces the new Homeworlds Congress to create a new brood of Neo Sapiens able to reproduce sexually; and Marsh informs Winfield that he's leaving the service. Winfield gives him one last mission, to help the Pirate Clans divvy up their base on Chaos. But during this operation, the aliens who build the structure under the Martian desert show up, abduct the entire planet (including the jump troopers, Galba, Thrax, and Hollis) and head for the inner system. To be continued! Only, you know, not.

What Works: This episode is about what happens AFTER the war, and as such it's almost more of a sketch than a traditional episode. A large amount of ground is covered, and fortunately covered very well. The opening few scenes are all of the immediate aftermath of the war. Neo Sapiens are surrendering, flags are being lowered, prisoners are being liberated. It's a nice transition from the war we saw being furiously fought as recently as last episode.

We see Ketzer and his handiwork again as Thrax helps the squad attempt to round up Neo Sapien soldiers hiding in the Amazonian jungle. Telemachus has been killed by Ketzer, and Thrax gets to confront a genetically altered Medusa. Though it's open ended, this at least resolves much of the story introduced in The Night Before Doomsday. Notably, Ketzer refers to Burns as "an unfinished experiment."

Mars is restored, by Professor Algernon's GRAF technology. Not only is this a nice beat, in keeping with the theme of the episode of healing old wounds, but the Professor is wonderfully philosophical about it. "Gravity is the response matter makes to the lonliness of space. It's love, you see, the love that moves the stars. Phaeton thought that destroying an entire planet would be the ultimate expression of power. That was his lack of imagination. The ultimate power is the power of creation." (I almost gave his speech top billing, but Marsala's sums up the series better.)

Takagi as an Exo-Fleet cadet, and Butler as a commandant, both feel like logical directions to take the characters. It's also nice visual design continuity with Colleen O'Reilly's bio. Now, while Butler's line "officers never joke" is pretty lame, I'm pretty sure that's intentional.

After all this time, it's good to see Hollis again. That he now needs an exo-skeleton to walk about gives extra weight to the injuries he received in Fire Ship.

The will-they-won't-they between Nara and Marsala seems to come to a close here. Had there been a third season, it might have continued, of course, but he loves her enough to know that he's not what she really needs/wants. He expects her to return to the farm, get married, and have children, and he knows that's not something he can participate in. It's rather sweet, in a sad way.

Marsala goes on to give one of the best speeches in the series, transcribed above, underlining the root cause of the war. Ironic, then, that a Neo Sapien attempts to assassinate President Napier when he goes to a Neo internment facility to share the good news. That the attempt is foiled by none other than Shiva, further compounds the irony. Remember, of course, Shiva shared a stage when a human tried to assassinate Phaeton back in Seeds of Deception. Bringing history full circle, Shiva refuses to shake Napier's hand, just as Napier refused to shake Phaeton's when he saved the future dictator's life.

I like how clueless J.T. is about Colleen's feelings for him. Of course, him walking away before he can hear her ask him to come with her "to the stars" also foreshadows the ending of the episode.

It's nice to see Admiral Winfield (the ranch hands call him "Win") out of uniform and relaxing. If anyone has earned a chance to have a few moments without the crushing weight of command responsibility, it's him.

Ship design has long been a strength of the show, and this episode is no exception. The aliens look like sea creatures, albeit high-tech ones. They also glow, which helps give them an otherworldly appearance and underscores how different their power levels are compared to anything the Exo-Fleet, Pirate Clans, or Neo Sapien Order has fielded.

I like the debate Algernon briefly summarizes about the clones Phaeton has left behind. Yes, it'd be reckless and irresponsible to unleash another Phaeton on the universe, but on the other hand, a strong argument could be made that this Phaeton is, in some sense, innocent, especially depending on how many memories he has left. (This would have become a season 3 plot point, but it works in the context of this episode.)

I rather like the growth FX for the tree Nara touches. Less satisfying is that this is the last time we see her in the series, wondering what these new strange abilities mean for her.

What Doesn't: Most of what doesn't work is stuff that's setting up a season 3 that never happened. The biggest flaw, of course, is that the aliens don't really work in the context of this story. They were set up back in the Return to Mars storyline, of course, but without any real foreshadowing here they're just an element from out of left field. Fortunately, it's easy enough to disregard this element and just end on the prior scene, the restoration of Mars. Hell, that almost works as a series finale. Speaking of...

I love the restoration of Mars... but would it still be terraformed? Would it still have an atmosphere? Would it still have the Falls of Eryis? No, no it wouldn't.

While Alec's rebirth was well set up, having him come back to life without giving him anything more to do only serves to undercut his sacrifice in One Small Step. I do love how tentative Weston is about touching him.

After his minimal presence in the Liberation of Earth storyline, Simbacca's complete absence from this episode is disappointing. I'd very much have liked to see what he was up to in the post-bellum period. Probably making money hand over fist, if not consolidating his political and military position.

Similarly, Torres has nothing  much to do here. Bronsky we at least learn is going back to school "to learn how to talk to Eve Hanley," which is a nice touch. But Torres hasn't done anything important since Mars. Perhaps they shouldn't have pulled the fake-out and should have actually left her dead, for all that she's impacted the story.

Watch For: Amanda Connor, last seen in Mind Set, is among the prisoners liberated.

Medusa was aptly named, with her thick, ropy "hair," serpentine eyes and teeth, and her ability to blind Thrax. Of course, that may not be entirely coincidental; Ketzer may not have been able to resist. It's also nice to see that Nara isn't the only person that Ketzer has given powers (beyond enhanced strength and endurance) to. Speaking of...

Nara cries green tears, a subtle touch.

Bio: Marsh. Can't argue with that.

Overall: A strong ending for a strong series. What doesn't work is pretty much the set-up for S3: ending Nara's plotline as ambiguously as it does; bringing back Alec as a Neo Mega but never exploring that idea; and an alien invasion plotline. But getting to see the Neos surrender, the Homeworlds Congress authorize a new brood of Neos, seeing Mars restored, and watching Napier and Shiva repeat some of the mistakes of the past all make this episode a nice window into the post-war period of Exo-Squad. I can't blame them too much for shooting for a third season, so the flaws are understandable if unfortunate.

Overall, the series itself is a terrific space opera, probably the best attempt at the genre from an American cartoon and comparable to the strongest Japanese offerings. The rich characters, strong dialogue, logical and inventive plots, solid designs, and moral ambiguity all combine to make a rich universe. If there are open-ended plots, so be it, but the really important stuff got resolved beautifully. Strongly recommended.


Monk of War said...

It's been a genuine pleasure for a detailed and fresh appraisal of Exosquad to have been put out there! In the past, the only detailed reviews left on the 'net were at Pat Danner's fan page.

The end of season 2 opened up so many questions that are left unanswered - perhaps forever, given Universal's indifferent treatment of the series - refusal to place all 52 episodes on DVD and no effort at maintaining a media legacy presence like Transformers and Star Wars!!!

Eduardo M. said...

Why do you think Amanda Conner cried when she was liberated? The animation makes it seems she was sad seeing the Neo flag being taken down. Even being imprisoned didn't seem to kill her belief that the Neos were right.

Or was she crying because her belief betrayed her?

garrador said...

Amanda Conner's tears were probably for many reasons, I imagine she had no where to go due to her collaboration with the Neo Commonwealth. Her career would be finished, no TV agency would employ her nor would anyone care to hear her story. No community would want her either, the Neo's wouldn't, the humans wouldn't regardless of which side they were on. She had good intentions but she was in real trouble.

The producers planned to make two series after this one: Exosquad showing Able Squad and those who remained in the systems dealing with the aliens, and Exopirates where Chaos and everyone on it including the Jumptroops, Galba and Thrax were transported to another part of the universe.

I really do hope if Exosquad is remade, it begins in a reality slightly removed from this one: where the war is over but tensions rise and aliens arrive.