Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 3--Pirates Ransom

 "I do not run in  my own home. I'll fight with my bare hands if I have to!"

The sixteenth episode of Exo-Squad, episode 3 of season 2, is Pirates Ransom. Typhonus lands and begins making demands, prompting Simbacca to shut him down fast. He doesn't take that well and initiates quick battle, grabbing Simbacca but allowing Marsh and DeLeon to escape. They manage to regain their frames and, with the help of Hollis, spring Simbacca from the brig of Typhonus' flagship. He calls for the Clans to attack, and they escape as Typhonus' ship is destroyed. Simbacca declares the Pirates allies of the Exo-Fleet as Barca grumbles.

What Works:  This episode is (almost) entirely focused on the Pirates, and it's dependent on their personalities to make it work. Fortunately, it sells it very well, especially after the treatment they got last episode. Let's look at our four named players.

Simbacca: He's the only holdover from season one, and he's appropriately badass this episode. The quote that kicks off the review is his, and he follows it up by ripping out some concrete at the end of a stick of rebar and using it to clock a Neo. This was after he stood his ground against a Neo E-Frame with just a pistol AND refused to turn Marsh and DeLeon over to Typhonus in exchange for an alliance. Now, some of that was no doubt due to Typhonus' high-handed arrogance, which we'll get to, but all of it speaks well to the character.

Chubail: Chubail seems to function as the leader of one of the many clans under Simbacca. He's the closest we get to Simbacca's number two man, though I think that might be overstating his position. I got the sense that he's standing in for several others at his level, the echelon below Simbacca. He seems very much to aspire to be what Simbacca is, a tough, fair, honorable leader. His first instinct when Simbacca is captured is to attack, which gets twisted by Barca's words. When Simbacca sounds the call to arms from Typhonus' brig, Chubail doesn't hesitate to lead the attack personally, despite Barca's inveigling promise that to leave Simbacca to his fate is to become clan leader himself.

Hollis: The young Hollis gets to shine this episode, first as Marsh's hostage, then as his ally. He seems desperate to claim an identity, a young man in a brutal society who wants nothing more than to fit in with those around him. When Marsh tosses him a gun, his first instinct is to shoot him, but he's rational enough to see that Marsh is trying to rescue Simbacca and needs all the help he can get. Smart move on Marsh's part to trust him, not just because they need the firepower but because it gives him extra credibility with Simbacca when he's sprung from the brig.

Barca: suave and charming in a smarmy sort of way, Barca is a quick study of the situation and can use his words to turn the crowd around. He seems to be Chubail's right hand man and uses his position well. That he's also sold himself to Phaeton makes him very dangerous. He takes a shot at Marsh during the initial battle rather than risk his escape, a smart move as the Neo's man. He's the first Iago we've had in the series since... well, since early season 1 Phaeton. He's a much more base character, clearly motivated by greed than by any kind of political destiny, but he still reads as real to me.

Besides the characterization of the Pirates, we've got a strong episode. Right from the beginning, the story kicks off with a bang. The Neo fleet certainly seems to be menacing Tethys, doesn't it?

There are a plethora of great little details, like the Neo shuttle landing on Tethys. We see the landing gear deploy and hiss, then the airlock cycle. Later on we see a magnetic shield keeping in the air when Marsh's Pirate shuttle launches. Little touches like that make this feel like a universe.

When Typhonus shows up, he's the very picture of arrogance. Based on what we know of the Pirates, we could easily predict that this imperious attitude wouldn't go over well, but it's perfectly in keeping with what we know of the character, and how the Neo Sapiens operate. "Ambassadors do not come armed," objects Simbacca. "We do," notes Typhonus dismissively. Great stuff.

I like that the Neos are so focused on their own double-cross of Hollis, when he comes aboard with Marsh and DeLeon as prisoners, that they don't expect his betrayal. I can completely buy two ExoTroopers in E-Frames creating a beachhead on the ship. (but see below.)

DeLeon hacking the Neo computers is a slick way to justify them finding Simbacca and well in keeping with the character. I also love the moment when he starts narrating his progress and J.T. subverts the genre with a quick "Don't give me a play-by-play, DeLeon."

I also like that, once they get to Simbacca, they get pinned down by Neo forces and can't easily fight their way out. DeLeon gets Simbacca a few seconds radio contact with his forces, which is all the time he needs to rally a huge counter-attack.

The counter-attack is another very slick bit of television. This isn't a full-scale fleet-to-fleet battle, but rather a mass attack by personal-scale craft against the Neo Fleet. There's a fantastic tracking shot as Chubail rakes damage across the entire flank of Typhonus' flagship. We also see damaged pirates kamikaze the Neo fleet. "Long live the Clans!" cries Chubail jubilantly, and it seems well earned.

This is the first time we see the Neo utility-type E-Frame in action, one of my personal favorites. It seems to be the Neo equivalent of Weston's frame, designed more for construction than for combat. It's a shame we never got a toy of it, it's neat.

What Doesn't: This episode cheats a bit to get where it needs to go. I can totally buy that the Pirates would take apart the e-frames to reverse engineer them, but I have a much harder time believing that they could be put back together so quickly and easily. And nothing is missing? If this was an element the writers wanted to include, better to have them in the very early stages of being disassembled.

Once Marsh and DeLeon get on Typhonus' ship, they seem to have the run of it. Where are all the Neo E-Frames? Even when the Neos have them ostensibly pinned down, it looks like just a couple of troopers with hand-held blasters. The corridor really should have been full of the purple Neo mass-attack frames.

After Typhonus abandons ship, he spots Marsh. It looks like they're about to have a battle... and then don't. It's an odd beat to have, one that doesn't have any payoff as to the best of my recollection Marsh and Typhonus never face off again. (Though DeLeon will.)
EDIT: Looks like I'm wrong, they have a pretty decent dogfight in Heart of Mars. It's not especially central to the plot of that episode, though.

Watch For: Colleen O'Reilly makes a quick cameo in the one scene in the episode set on Io.

Bio: This episode it's Nara Burns. It doesn't add much new.

Overall: A very satisfying way of bringing the Pirates into the war. Yes, there is a bit of hand-waving. Still, it feels emotionally real, and saves the Exo-Fleet's bacon. Barca was never outed, so you know he'll continue to be a thorn in the side of the forces of light. Looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

1 comment:

Monk of War said...

I may be wrong after re-watching low res rips of Exosquad late in the night, but I think the Neo utility/engineer/construction e-frame first appears in Scorched Venus.

From my screenshot archive, one of them was flying around with a cargo container, and it wasn't painted in the Neo's favourite colour (purple). Scorched Venus was also the first appearance of the Neo-walker e-frame, which looks like a Y-wing with legs.

Shame there wasn't a toy version, I'll like to know the official name and model number for it. So cute, it's a box on legs.