Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 29--Trial by Combat

"You have been chosen to take part in the ultimate test: single combat with a Neo Sapien Warrior."

Trial by Combat is the forty-second episode of Exo-Squad. It opens with Yuri Stavrogin leading an attack on a Neo facility in the Antarctic. It's a trap, though, and the entire force is wiped out, with Stavrogin the only survivor. He's assigned to Able Squad to help locate the real Neo facility. The squad arrives during a blizzard, and uses it to lay down a sensor grid to try to spot incoming traffic. Marsh gets captured during this phase of the mission, and Galba informs him to hide his identity. As Takagi, he's put into combat with the ultimate expression of the Neo Warrior project, a Neo Lord. Despite having a fully armed (though not flight-capable) frame, the Neo manages to win. DeLeon, whose is flying an e-frame with an upgraded computer system, senses the "death" of Marsh's frame as the episode ends.

What Works: This is a fun, light episode that nevertheless manages to introduce several important new concepts that will play out in the endgame of the series. Chief among them are the Neo Lords. Having animal Neos running around never made too much sense to me. Even in the Australia arc, where they were ridiculously overpowered, having troops with no intelligence seemed like an oversight. With the introduction of the Neo Lords, it all makes sense. These specifically have "normal Neo Sapien intelligence." Their bipedal configuration make them able to make use of existing Neo material (though that might be tricky, my rough guess places them at about 12 feet tall. They've got an impressive array of abilities; cameleon-like hiding, acid spitting, an armored hide, even flight. (Not demonstrated this episode, though their wings are visible.) At last we have a Neo soldier who is a match for an e-frame without any gear. Moreover, after having ten episodes to get used to the idea of Neo Warriors, with broods gradually increasing in sophistication, I find that it's a totally believable. In fact, it retroactively justifies the whole premise for me. The Neo animals were the necessary steps leading up to this. 

Still on the Neo Lords, I think the reveal was quite nice. Borrowing a page from the Robocop playbook, we're first told about them, then see them obscured, before finally getting a big reveal. It helps the mind accept this new element.

It's nice to see Galba again so soon, and the return of Praetorius is also welcome. It's telling that the last Neo Mega is assigned to this project. It tells us that it's considered the Neo's best hope. (Though, see below)

Stavrogin, last (and first) seen in The First Step, is also a nice return. I like the idea that he's advanced to squad leader. It's been another year of war, and there have certainly been losses among the veterans and recruiting among the civilians of Venus. I imagine everyone's climbing the ranks to an extent. I also like the effect losing his squad has on him. The more serious version of the character feels like an evolution rather than a departure.

The Neo Hawks play an interesting role here. They're serving as Praetorius' primary back-up, a role that had previously been filled by Neo Megas and will subsequently be filled by Neo Lords. After this episode I don't think we'll see much (any?) of them, which is a shame. They seem to be basically normal Neo Sapien soldiers with wings and talons, which is pretty cool.

The other new element introduced here is DeLeon's upgraded e-frame. Note that it too was introduced via... trial by combat. Another apt title. The Frame's new system "merge their perception with that of the pilot." In Algernon's words, "it IS [DeLeon's]] mind." This gives him a kind of e-frame to e-frame telepathy, allowing him to sense J.T.'s battle and locate Marsala's frame even when cloaked. It also increases his combat efficacy. It's an interesting element, and ties into the S1 finale a bit. Perhaps the spookiest bit is DeLeon waking up in the middle of the night when the frame "calls" him.

The actual battle between it and Marsh is terrific, which is pretty important given that it took up a third of the episode. One genuinely fears for Marsh's safety, and the beast's amazing arrays of abilities quickly contribute to a sense of despair. And yet, unlike the Neo Warriors in Australia, one gets the sense that these things are powerful but NOT invulnerable. Marsh injures him, badly, which paradoxically makes him more menacing than the 'shoot them and watch them get back up' Neo Warriors in their first appearance.

What Doesn't: This is the first major mission that J.T.'s been given since Mars. Even though he's a commander, Winfield only gave him Able Squad plus one. Maybe losing the entirety of Baker squad failed to inspire confidence. (Come to think of it, this may not be a negative at all.

Hey, see Yuir standing next to Butler? Yeah, that's not Butler. It shares the same exact character model with him, but he has a different voice actor. Oh, and, of course, he dies. I think there was a screw-up somewhere.

I'm not sure I buy Galba helping Marsh for the sake of helping Marsh. He wasn't a traitor because he hated the Neo Sapien cause, but he thought peace between the Terrans and the Neos should be the goal. It's difficult to see how not sending Marsh to Phaeton accomplishes that goal.

Watch For: Phaeton's limo is back! Galba gets the tour in it. A nice touch.

Need I mention that Neo Lords and DeLeon's enhanced frame will continue to play important roles in the series?

Oh, and one of Stavrogin's squad is piloting a Marsh-style Frame. I only point it out because we almost never see that in the series. Probably the marketing folks wanting Marsh to be special. But it's nice to see.

Bio: J.T. Marsh, again. I suppose he's the main character in the episode, more or less.

Overall: Strong episode. A third was given over to a single fight, but in a way that just helps sell the Neo Lord concept. The character moments along the way, especially from the guest cast, help the episode feel like more than just a big fight. Looking forward to seeing this plotline conclude next week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 28--Night of the Traitor

"I will not leave my capital. My new command post will be here, under the streets of Phaeton City. MY city!"

Night of the Traitor is the forty-first episode of Exo-Squad, and picks up where the b-plot Winged Fury left off. Marsala's body has been nabbed by the Neo Megas, who wish to use him to move Phaeton off the board. Phaeton is  degenerating, making irrational demands and making hasty decisions based on off-the-cuff remarks. Marsalla reluctantly agrees, largely due to Galba's sincerity, and uses his stealth e-frame to make the attempt. Meanwhile, Marsh rendezvous with the Resistance who also gets wind of Phaeton's bunker scheme and launch their own assault. During the confusion Lucullus and Gracchus make their move against Livia and Galba, but it proves premature. Phaeton uses his illness to grotesquely escape Marsalla and orders all of Neo Megas bar Galba executed.

What Works: This is a terrific episode. The Megas have been a gun hanging on the wall for the more than half the season, so their sudden but inevitable betrayal feels earned. As far as I can tell, Lucullus and Gracchus are the only named Neo Megas to survive to this point in the story; the aides-de-camp to Draconis, Typhonus, and Shiva all perished, as did the scientists working on Venus. (Oh, I suppose Sulla is probably alive on Venus or Chaos, having no doubt cut some sort of deal with the Exo-Fleet.) In any event, using them as the villains works well. Introducing Galba as a sympathetic Mega is also a good move. Having him as front man calls to mind the 20 July Plot, and this one isn't any more successful. Though, of course, Lucullus isn't really interested in peace and merely wants to remove the dangerously unpredictable head of the Neo Sapien Empire so he can pursue the war more logically.

Along those lines, it's a little thing, but Gracchus points out how they should be making more Megas instead of more Warriors. "It is new technologies that will win the war, not brute strength." I think this was a necessary lampshading to a structural weakness of the show.

Phaeton is looking awful. He's following a stream-of-consciousness decision making process, making massive decisions based on whims, and even descends to self-pity at one point. "I have no life!" he roars when confronted by Marsala, his hand turning to goop. And yet, he maintains a level of shrewdness, echoes of his former genius. He senses betrayal in the air and acts accordingly, showing up in his e-frame for the first time this season. Using his illness to escape through a pipe is both disgusting and brilliant. And his obsessiveness helps him catch on to Lucullus' scheming... "Where is the body of the traitor Marsala?" he angrily demands of the Mega, who never imagined the tyrant would demand to see the corpse. Where would the logic be in that? I also love his hoverchair, in Neo Sapien black with the wreathed logo of his empire.

Livia is once again prominent this episode. I love how casually Phaeton threatens her with death, and her reaction and quick recovery. It's clear she's as uncomfortable around the Megas as any of Phaeton's other generals. I love how smug she is when she thinks Lucullus and Gracchus are in her power, having not quite kept up with current events as much as she should have.

It's a short scene, but I thought they did a good job of selling Marsh outing Turner, then managing to escape the Neo ambush.

One of Phaeton's (objectively awful) decisions is rounding up and removing all Terrans from Phaeton City. Not only does that remove his labor force, but it deprives him of three million hostages. At this point, should the Terran fleet achieve orbital superiority, there's little to stop them from blasting the city to atoms from orbit. The chaos also tips the resistance, in the form of the graffiti artist (who gets a name here, Picasso-told you he'd be back) to Phaeton's role in overseeing the  construction process in the sewers and the vulnerability that entails. Oh, and dig the enormous red Neo e-frame making one last appearance.

It's a little thing, but I love how all of the guards on Manitou Island (Should that be Maniton maybe? I can't find anything about Manitou island online and generally Exo-Squad is good about using real places) are Neo Megas. It makes sense that they'd want to keep their conspiracy "in house." (But see below)

I also like that having nothing but Neo Megas around makes them vulnerable to the physically superior Neo Sapien Marsala. He tosses Galba around like a sack of flour and easilly overpowers the guards. Only Galba's words stop him.

Finally, the title works very well. Night of the Traitor... but who's the traitor? The story abounds with them. Lucullus, sure, betrayed his lord & master Phaeton. But Marsala, too, betrayed his genetic heritage by siding with the humans. Phaeton calls him on the irony of the tables being turned, the reverse of the situation from fifty years prior. Livia is accused, falsely, of being a traitor by Lucullus, but then had their scheme succeeded history wouldn't have been any the wiser. Turner, of course, is a traitor to humanity and the resistance, though he's a bit player. Galba is arrested as a traitor, and indeed he stands not with the Neo Megas in their agenda but with humanity as a whole. And last, but not least, Marsala accuses Phaeton of betraying his own cause. As I said, plenty of traitors to go around.

What Doesn't: Only a bit. After Lucullus and Gracchus spring their trap, Livia is not immediately shot but instead chained and gagged. That just seems like an unnecessary risk for them. She knows the truth. (Still love that scene. "Gracchus has a list of those who are disloyal," is such a great line for all it implies and the economy with which it implies it.)

The Resistance attack feels like a largely unnecessary beat. It doesn't move the plot forward, nor does it succeed.

Just an animation flub, but when the Terrans are being rounded up, it's Neo Mega guards doing the rounding. I'm sure they just had a prominent model for Neo Mega guards so used them by mistake, but it really should be ordinary Neo troopers doing this. It's nice imagery, though; the rounding, not the Megas.

Watch For: Phaeton's Bunker will be an important plot element for the rest of the series. It naturally calls to mind Hitler's F├╝hrerbunker.

The episode opens with the Neo Fleet in orbit. It's not what it once was, but it still looks pretty potent. That won't be the case in just a few episodes. I composited a few frames together to make this shot, though the actual pan is much longer. I just couldn't use it due to title elements.

During the pointless Resistance attack, we see two prominent new e-frames. One is piloted by Jinx Madison. It's based on his new (at the time) Fire Warrior e-frame, though it's not all that different than the other frames we see.

The other, though, is decidedly odd. Peter Tanaka has a Samurai E-Frame toy, and yeah, it is pretty goofy. I actually had both back in the day, really just because I was a completionist about the figures. I don't know as if I ever used the frame itself.

Bio: Wolf Bronsky, a character not in the episode. It's not especially insightful but it's a little funny and it's all new animation. Besides, Marsala's has run several times already and Phaeton never gets one, and they're really the only viable candidates.

Overall: Very strong. The only real criticism is about the pointless resistance attack. Everything else is a nitpick. The episode ends on a rather ominous note, with Marsala pointing out that Galba, Lucullus and himself all agree that there can be no peace with Phaeton in command. "He wants to be destroyed. If he can, he will take this entire world with him." Not a cheerful thought, but it definitely helps propel the story into the endgame.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 27--Winged Fury

"He was a good pilot. It's a shame he did not go down before our guns. Now the Terrns who dwell here will finish him off."

Winged Fury is the fortieth episode of Exo-Squad, taking place in the post-Mars reality of the show. All eyes turn to Earth, as they will for the majority of the remaining episodes. Marsh and Marsala are tasked with bringing Sergeant Feldson to the resistance in Maine, so he can repair captured Neo e-frames. A spy in the resistance turns this milk run into a deadly encounter with Thrax and his squad, who chase Marsh to the ruins of New York and nab his fusion pack after he crashes. Marsh makes friends with Sidney, an old Jewish cabbie, and outfoxes some Neo Cats and a Neo Hawk sent in to hunt him down once Phaeton realizes Marsh is within his sphere of influence. Meanwhile, Marsala and Feldson are captured at the rendezvous thanks to the traitor, Turner. A Neo Mega seems to be playing some kind of angle, as he injects Marsala with something moments before Livia arrives to interrogate the traitor, claiming that he died. 

What Works: It's great to see Thrax again, and with a pretty cool new e-frame to boot. It probably makes more sense for him to have a general-purpose e-frame rather than his Y-Wing space fighter. Oddly, the while the Thrax toy only comes with the Y-Wing, there is a close approximation to this e-frame that came with Marsala, the sub-sonic scout e-frame. He's very much in character this episode, doing his job but not relishing the defeat of Marsh.

Speaking of, I like that Marsh gets defeated. It's good to have the hero invulnerability get tarnished. He flew into an ambush and got splashed--it happens. Especially if he was set up. I like the theme of the disloyal resistance member popping up again one last time as well.

This is probably my favorite Neo Warrior episode to date. These guys seem impressive but still mortal. Marsh shoots two of the cats down and gets the rest with superior strategy. (A terrific scene, btw, but one that doesn't lend itself to getting captured by a single still image, or even a sequence.) Kor, the Neo Hawk, is a tougher nut to crack, but ultimately goes down to a well-placed grenade. (But, see below.) I like that the trend of these guys improving continues. They're third brood, and able to communicate and use tools. (But, see below.) 

I rather like Sidney's car, and especially its fusion battery. It looks exactly like it's supposed to, a cross between a fusion pack and a regular car battery. 

Phaeton's brief appearance is well executed. He seems completely disinterested... until Marsh's name is mentioned. Then he freaks out. A tad cartoony, but basically great.

Finally, I'm intrigued by what's going on with Marsala. While there's no real apprehension on my part that he's dead, I do want to know what this Neo Mega is up to.

What Doesn't: While I see what they're going for with New York... I don't think it quite works. Perhaps it's just my bias, but I have a real Escape from New York vibe from this episode, and it does nothing the original didn't do better. I get what they're going for, showcasing a city where there is no resistance, just scavengers trying to get buy. It just doesn't quite gel.

Sidney, especially, is painted a little too broadly for my taste. With his constant use of Yiddish and his seemingly endless stock of New York cliches, I didn't engage with the character nor care much about his eventual fate.

Marsh blowing up the Statue of Liberty seemed like an unnecessary beat to me. It feels like it's been done before, and Kor didn't seem like a villain worthy of a monument.

The Neo Cats, who I basically liked, seemed incapable of producing human speech but did understand it. I can just about buy that. Kor, on the other hand, understood and spoke English. Where this starts to fall down is that Kor communicated to the Neo Cats in a squawking language, even though he spoke English. The cats then communicated in hisses and growls. First off, why wouldn't Kor just speak to them. Secondly, it's a little difficult for me to believe that the cats have come up with their own language in the, what, month or so they've been alive? Also, oddly, the Neo Cats are the only one of the Neo Warriors to get a toy. They're cool and all, but the Neo Lizards seem like the obvious choice if you're only going to do one, and Kor would have been high on that list too. 

Watch For: Galba, the as-yet unnamed Neo Mega, will be a major character going forward. Turner will make another appearance as well.

Come to think of it, so will Sidney, in a brief cameo in the penultimate episode of the series.
Bio: Jonas Simbacca, again, though with some new animation. On the other hand, the bit about "maybe we'll join with the Neos against an even greater foe" has way more significance now.

Overall: Not great. There are some elements I very much enjoyed, but they're mostly background / b-plot / worldbuilding. The next one, on the other hand, which picks up the b-plot and runs with it, is much stronger, so don't go anywhere, ya hear?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 26--Heart of Mars

"Venus fell to the Exo-Fleet and now Mars is destroyed. Where once we had an empire, now it has turned to dust. I will never surrender, even if it means destroying every living thing on this planet!"

Heart of Mars is the thirty-ninth episode of Exo-Squad, and the conclusion to the four-part Return to Mars plotline. Things pick up immediately where we left off, with e-frames all over the planet shut down. Captain Butler presses his momentary advantage to drive off the Neos, who leave their frames behind. He wants to pursue but Marsh pulls rank; Algernon thinks that the artifact must take priority. They reenter it, intending to find its heart. Find it they do, as do the Neo Sapiens, and a firefight deep inside Mars results. When a fusion pack explodes inside pulsing energy heart, it triggers a chain reaction that ultimately destroys Mars itself. Able Squad gets away, but Typhonus is thwarted on the threshold of his shuttle by the Exo-Scouts, who fly it to safety. This affords Torres the opportunity to crash her own funeral.

What Works: Well. It's certainly a big episode. The destruction of Mars radically tilts the balance of power in the solar system. The Neos just lost their main industrial base and population center. Unlike the Liberation of Venus, which was obviously coming, this was a surprise. On that level alone, it's an exciting offering. Phaeton (who looks awful) clearly grasps the implication. His threat, that he'd rather see all life on Earth wiped out than surrender, is incredibly ominous in this context. Add in that he has a degenerative and inevitably fatal disease and the stage for the final showdown is starting to be set.

I rather like the scene at the start of the episode where the war has ground to a halt due to equipment failure. The e-frame jockeys on both sides look suitably frustrated. I also like the infantry taking advantage to cause the Neos some serious pain. (But, see below.)

I love the glimpses we get of young Rita Torres from her flight recorder at her funeral. It's a rather nice ritual they have, too, to review the final thoughts of a fallen comrade. I imagine in real life this would often be mostly a recap of battle and occasionally be embarrassing for all, but still, a nice conceit. (But, see below.)

I really like Kaz and Nara commandeering Neo gear. Takagi bragging that he's grabbed Typhonus' frame feels very in-character, and sets up the great conflict of Typhonus using his "remote cyberjack" to set Takagi for a collision course with the Heart. Of course, it probably would have made more sense for him to grab the Y-Wing, since he's used to that sort of craft, and Burns to grab the small frame, since that was her secondary specialty for the longest time, but then we wouldn't have gotten Maggie rescuing Kaz, which fits better with their history.

Typhonus is great in this episode. I was wrong back in my review of Pirate's Ransom about Marsh and Typhonus not squaring off again, they do this go. I think I'd forgotten because there's no sense of emotional payoff here from the earlier conflict. Considering that this Typhonus may well not remember it, I suppose that tracks. In any event, he takes a pounding and just keeps going. Nara shoots him right in the freaking face and he barely slows. The exploding compound gets all of his men, Ixion last (bye, Ixion, I rather liked you), but not him. What finally trips him up? (Literally!) None other than the Exo-Scouts. It's a kind of fun moment.

What Doesn't: I don't quite buy the Jump Trooper's gear working. I mean, yes, in theory, I think that scene made sense. In execution, though, they're still using HUDs, cyberlinks, jetpacks... in other words, electronics. Maybe if they'd shed their power armor for the charge, I'd have an easier time buying it.

As much as I liked the funeral, the device of having Rita's shuttle maybe not make it out was clumsy. I wish we'd spent as much time on James' death, because he's really honest-to-god dead.

Watch For: Believe it or not, we haven't seen the last of the Mars aliens. I know, crazy, right? We'll do a tiny bit more in the Martian Asteroid Belt as well.

It's official. Cosari's squad is no more. He and his last pilot, who is consistently in an Exo-Fighter this episode, get hit by one of the Heart's immuno-response bubbles and vaporized. Cosari even gets a (single, solitary) line this episode. Sadly, we never learn the name of his seventh trooper. Of course, he's already lost an Exo-Fighter, but I won't be too petty. It must have been hard to keep track of six extra e-frames by storyboard artists working across four episodes.

Phaeton's threat to eliminate all life on Earth is not an idle one.

Bio: It's Algernon! A character prominent in the episode, featuring some new animation, and we haven't seen it before. I have no complaints about this bio. I mean, it's goofy as hell, but whatever.

Overall: A good conclusion to an ambitious storyline. I still think the Exo-Scouts could have been pulled out and made its own thing, rather than a subplot here. All in all, though, this is a very neat way to introduce the threat for the (sadly only hypothetical) season 3, while enabling the Neo Sapien War plot to reasonably get concluded in the 13 episodes we have left. An invasion of Mars would never have been feasible, the Exo-Fleet would have had to seize utter control of the spaceways and just bomb them into submission. Not impossible, but hardly heroic. Now, though, the final showdown can take place on Earth, where it emotionally should. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Back at Botcon, I had the privilege to be on a panel about Transformers in Japan with my good friend Andrew Hall and Japanese Transformers artist Hayato Sakamoto. One of the things to come out of the experience was learning that Sakamoto-san had pitched an idea for Bravemasters. I loved the name and namechecked it in the pages of Ask Vector Prime. Photography was allowed during the panel, but I thought folks might appreciate a better look at the images to accompany the Bravemasters pitch.

What would the story have been about? Not really sure. But based on these images, I'd have loved to learn more. Feel free to speculate away!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 25--Call of the Unknown

"We are like ants fighting on an anthill, unaware of the vast world around them!"

Call of the Unknown is the thirty-eighth episode of Exo-Squad, continuing the Return to Mars storyline. Marsh and co breach the alien artifact with a Solar Pulse from Marsh's frame, but not before coming under fire from Typhonus. Typhonus blows his way in to pursue them but their firefight is complicated by "antibodies" from the oddly organic-looking structure that disintegrate (or teleport or otherwise disappear) anything they touch. Their fight causes the structure to grow an enormous tower in the Martian wasteland, a tower which sends out an enormously powerful pulse felt at least as far away as Venus. As Marsh and his Jump Trooper reinforcements look on in bafflement, Algernon observes that it's a radio transmitter.

What Works: The alien structure. This is important, since this whole plotline basically hinges on it. Plus, (spoiler alert) set-up for the aborted Season 3. It feels like wholly new technology, bio-tech. One wonders indeed if this isn't technology at all, but some kind of vast slumbering organism living below the surface of Mars for a purpose inscrutable.

It does feel like the heroes have to work to gain entry. They spend quite a bit of time analyzing, fiddling with, and shooting at the "door." The Solar Flare (called a Solar Pulse here, but ah, well) does the trick. The Neos, on the other hand, just blast their way in, but with the resources of an entire planet at their disposal it seems fair that they could quickly come up with enough conventional explosives to do the job.

They do a good job of selling the pulse at the end of the episode. It starts off with the combatants around the newly-grown structure, sure. Hits Torres at Olympus Mons, ok. Hits the Arnheim in orbit, check. Then off to Earth, and Phaeton, and finally Venus, with the Exo-Fleet in orbit. Each time there's no appreciable diminishing of intensity. If they're trying to convince me that this is going to summon something from outside of the solar system, mission accomplished.

Algernon is mostly great in this episode. I thought the bit with the "I invented the code" was a bit much, but I love his intensity, his hunger at the prospect of getting his hands on alien tech. Oh, and his new, presumably toy-friendlier design works for me too. This is the only time we'll see him in full jump-gear, but him in his vest and jeans will regularly show up for the rest of the show. I remember that there were plans for a Winfield and a James Burns jump-trooper-style figure, but it makes sense to me that that's why he got his new outfit. It's a shame we never got those toys. He also exhibits a great mix of his cowardice and bravery all at once. When Butler calls for a retreat, he insists that he can't abandon his equipment. All well and good, but his voice is cracking all over the place as he says it. An instant later, the decision is taken from him when the Neos blow it up.

I like that, for once, Takagi uses his holographic decoy and it's the real bird that gets shot down. Had to happen sooner or later, right? Though I suspect it was to keep him from having what is essentially a jet inside an enclosed structure. I liked him playing gunner for Marsala.

Typhonus quickly grasps the military significance of the discovery, informing Phaeton and ordering "every available e-frame on the planet" to converge. Sadly for him, the pulse is going to shut that order down before it gets started. It makes sense he'd press his advantage. As he aptly observes, if it's on Mars, "it belongs to the Neo Sapien Order." Certainly the Exo-Fleet would be hard-pressed to contest it.

There's some good body language in this episode. When asked what might breach the alien structure, DeLeon just gives a little shrug. Ixion looks at the growing tower with horror, perhaps more aware than anyone besides Algernon what it might portent. And random Neo soldiers look on with apprehension in the moments before the tower erupts from the ground, clearly sensing that something is awry but unable to articulate exactly what. It's all very well done.

And speaking of the tower, its growth is pretty neat. I also love the metaphor of Jump Troopers landing on it even as it continues to grow. We certainly are a violent species, aren't we?

I like the little knock on the helmet Longfeather gives O'Reilly. It's a nice touch, not overdone.

What Doesn't: Burns gives up her E-Frame without any appricable reluctance. It feels wrong, especially since she's the nominal squad leader. But that plotline has been dropped.

The jump sequence seems to take way too long, feeling like padding in an episode that's already fairly jam-packed.

Maggie gets hit with an antibody and it doesn't seem to effect her. This might be showing that they are unable to function in the new chamber they've fled to, but it's a weird scene. On the plus side, DeLeon's reaction to it nudges their relationship forward just a hair.

I think we cut to Algernon and Butler in orbit about once too often. We get that they're up there, waiting, we don't need to keep seeing it.

Watch For: Baker Squad watch: One casualty. Henshaw in a Bronski-frame is the first casualty of the antibody systems. Once again, only Kosari seems to care. By my count he should be down to one more, though they're terribly inconsistent in which they are. Based on this episode, I'd think it was another Napier-style frame. In previous episodes we'd seen a DeLeon and a Weston frame that never got toasted. (Hint: next episode it won't be ANY of those.)

After Takagi gets shot down, he has a little glider that sets him down. Surprise! That's a toy feature his Exo-Wing had.

Bio: Torres... with new footage. Better late than never I suppose.

Overall: Exciting, but feels perhaps a tiny bit off. Most of the moments feel right, but the pacing doesn't quite work for me. Still, given the overall excitement and the importance of the storyline, I'm inclined to rate it fairly high. Probably we're in the B+/A- range on this one.