Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future: "The Abyss"

In “The Abyss” by J. Michael Straczynski (or JMS as he is known by his admirers), Captain Power (Tim Dunigan) and Hawk (Peter McNeill) conduct reconnaissance in Sector 7, and unexpectedly come under ambush from other humans.

The two soldiers are captured and interrogated under the command of an army general, Briggs (Michael J. Reynolds) who has gone mad. Briggs believes his new captives are moles working for Dread, and has them bound and ruthlessly interrogated, even slated for execution.

As Sauron and his minions approach, however, Power and Hawk must engineer both an escape from their captors, and a defense against the encroaching machine army.

“The Abyss” is the best Captain Power episode thus far (three in…), and after the narrative treading water of the last installment, a real relief to boot. 

Here, JMS provides a veritable orgy of new information about the series’ world, and manages to craft characters who feel like more than mere clichés.

One of the episode’s most interesting touches involved Lord Dread’s penchant for quoting New Machine Scripture. He talks of “machines casting off the flesh,” and it is a welcome indicator that the enemy in this brave new world isn’t just a two-dimensional “baddie,” but a life-form that mythologizes its history, and sees a destiny for itself.  A new social order is in the offing, one that hates and derides organic life-forms.

Captain Power himself is also handled with far more flair than previously, at least in terms of writing in “The Abyss." Here, he risks electrocution so as to activate his damaged power-suit, a dangerous gambit that pays off.  

And in the final battle, he shows some kick-ass combat moves, taking out a squad of Dreads after it has him surrounded.  In other words, “The Abyss” demonstrates why the other soldiers would feel such loyalty to Captain Power.  He is shown here to take deadly risks for his soldiers, and to be die-hard in bringing the fight to the enemy.

The episode also works in a good reference to Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion (1983), a film about the horrors of war.  

Here, the insane Briggs laments the fact that his war (with the machines) is a failure because it has not produced any great songs.  When he is digitized by Sauron, Briggs sings 1912’s “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” which was featured in the Renoir film, and is considered to be the big song (at least of the English...) of World War I.  

By using “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” JMS reminds us of mankind’s long history of warring with his own kind, an important commentary in “The Abyss,” since Briggs can’t seem to focus on the real enemy, the machines, and instead wants to execute Captain Power and his men.

One final cool bit of information also appears in “The Abyss.” Hawk reports that he knew Lord Dread (David Hemblen) before he changed into a cyborg, when he killed Power’s father.  This fact makes for an intriguing note about the series’ villain, and suggests that the world shown by this series is deepening. I hope we learn more about the history between Lord Dread and Power's family in the weeks and installments to come.

Next Week: "The Final Stand."

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