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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Recap 14: Progress

Another day, another recap, and another repetitive intro. :-)

Today's episode is called Progress. It's a fun episode with some deep meaning, and it has the side benefit of inspiring a minor "Why I Think The Prime Directive is a Hypocritical, Patronizing, and Idiotic Solution To A Genuine Ethical Issue" Star Trek miniature hate rant towards the end of my recap. One of these days, I'll expand it to a full post, but not today.

I also make an immature Flesh Gordon reference. A lot.

Dolphins, Penisaurs, and Thinly Veiled Western Post-Industrial Imperialist Allegories
So we start off with a slightly odd bit of jaunty music, which makes me nervous after Tune-Up. It's pretty catchy though.

The adventure starts at BETA Mountain where apparently Goose's pet dolphins are acting crazy. Goose rather sensibly asks the scientist telling him about it why he doesn't just ask them what's wrong. Apparently, they'll only talk to Goose.

Have I mentioned how much I love that Goose just randomly has Dolphin friends? Because I do.

Anyway, Goose obligingly dives into the tank fully clothed and asks them what's wrong. Personally I think he could have done that from outside the tank. Or at least taken off some extraneous layers of clothing...

...what? I can't leer at two-dimensional fake people now? Jeeze.

The swimmer in me is amused that Goose apparently treads water without moving his arms and via a flutter kick. Inefficient, but Goose doesn't seem to mind. He also apparently likes to refer to himself in the third person while comforting Dolphins. I do not approve.

We cut away to Walsh's office, where Zach, Niko and Doc (YAY!) are talking to Walsh, while Goose stares out a giant viewscreen. Niko says that there's no doubt about it, the dolphins have apparently received a telepathic distress call.

Walsh's mustache asks if they were able to decipher it. Niko affirms: "My brothers, the darkness encircles us, help us." Doc speaks for all of us when he says "Wha?"

Goose turns toward Walsh's mustache and says they've traced the message to an unexplored planet in "the empty zone." Apparently it's water based with only one land mass. Walsh's mustache approves the survey mission and tells them to take the dolphins.

Okay, dumb question, but how do they know the WATER is safe for the dolphins? I guess probably the same way they know the air's safe for them? Hmph. I should stop nitpicking cartoon shows. But if I did that, I wouldn't have a nice set of daily blog posts.

We get the usual assembling survey ship animation, with the new addition of a flying sub being loaded on board. I approve of this addition heartily.

Q-Ball has modified headsets to locate life-readings, which is pretty useful, and while he's explaining this, one of the dolphins cheerily calls a "Bye-bye, Buzzwang!" Aw. Then they're lifted into the ship.

Doc loads up his "tweakers" for the trip, and they even roll call: Firefly, Tripwire, Lifeline and Pathfinder. God, I missed you Doc. Never go away again!

Or at least, if you do, don't leave us with Buzzwang!

Anyway, a slightly more languid green tweaker named Pixel wants to come too, but Doc vetos. Pixel's still too buggy to come. Aw. I feel more sympathetic to Pixel than to Buzzwang. I wonder if I'm just mean. Or prejudiced against pharoah beards. Anyway, Pixel, not to be thwarted, sneaks into the waistband of Doc's trousers.

Wow, that entire paragraph sounds wrong in retrospect.

Okay, so there's the blasting off sequence (no Interceptor this time) and the nifty scene transition to the planet. It's pretty. Niko doesn't detect high-tech sources, but something's interfering with her scans. She recommends two teams. One for land-scouting and one for ocean-scouting.

Zach's Orbachian eyebrows agree and he assigns Goose and Niko to handle "the wet side" while he and Doc handle "the dry side." Goose detects toxic fumes over the land mass, and Doc mildly says "Nice choice, Zach."

I love Doc. <3

Anyway, Niko and Goose blast off in the flying sub. Where are the dolphins? Damnit, I was promised space dolphins!

AWESOME. The sub lands on the water, opens the bottom, and the dolphins swim out. Yay! Doc and Zach, for their part, head to land and use a nifty land rover. This is the vehicle tie-in ep, huh?

Doc comments that the place is a mess: carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide... Hopefully the air over the water is better, or the dolphins might be in trouble. Anyway, Doc identifies it as the "basic signs of Hydro-Carbon poisoning. But there's no industry!

The land rover of doom rides through one creepy looking dead forest, and they suddenly see "large structural masses." And Zach is all "So much for your low-tech theory." Well, that's why it's a THEORY, not a FACT, ZACHARY.

Anyway, the buildings are fairly swanky factory types, but they seem inactive, and Doc's sensors are blocked by the pollutants. They check it out, via "armor plated tuxedos." (i.e. Space suits. I missed you, Doc.)

They emerge in the suits, riding what looks like hover-scooters. This really IS the toy vehicle tie-in episode. Yeesh. They land on the factory, and just as Doc is wondering who or what could live there, a blue humanoid lizardy-looking thing leaps out of an airvent and on top of him. Zach scares it off via blaster. It dives off the factory, straight into the muck below. Ick.

Back to the sub, the dolphins are essentially leading it like mules leading a canal barge, and one reports that they sense something nearby. They discover life readings down there, but the dolphins suspect whoever they are, they're afraid of the sub. Alma is apparently managing the sub, we find out, as Goose tells her to cut engines. Niko will take the life-raft out and Goose will follow at a safe distance.

The air does seem better here, as Niko exits in a wetsuit, with helmet under her arm. Impatient with the delay, the Dolphins want her to ride with them. She demurs and takes the raft instead. Aww.

But then, I have heard stories of amorous dolphins so she may have a point.

Meanwhile in the sub, Alma detects a power source but can't pinpoint it. Goose tells her to boost the direction finder, but there's too much magnetic interference. He orders her to take them up and tells Niko he's scouting the area. Niko, for her part, pulls out a camera and begins video survey.

As she watches, a metal periscope thingy pops out of the water and stares back at her. Nonplussed, she reports it to Goose. Meanwhile, the alien at the periscope, who looks a bit like a hairless peach, purple-eyed Jerry Lewis is freaking out at the sight of aliens. He orders torpedoes fired.

Goose fires at the torpedoes and blows them up, which rocks Niko's ship, but doesn't vaporize it, so all's good. Meanwhile, Winter reports that they found the sub, but the transmission cuts off. Goose is going in after.

The sub's gunner is actually in a nifty pod thing, outside the sub, and apparently breathes water. He fires at Goose, which offends the dolphins, and they charge him, screaming "Don't shoot!" The dolphins are suddenly grabbed by metal things, and they scream for help.

Goose taps his badge and leaves the sub, sprouting fins and webbed fingers in the process. No one messes with his dolphins. (Which is in fact what he says.) He swims toward them, firing his blaster.

Blasters work underwater. Neat!

But unfortunately, the metal arms are resistant to blaster fire. The alien sub opens and the gunner dives in, with the dolphins in tow, and the sub flees.

Goose fills Niko in, and follows. Niko agrees to get Alma. After following them into a nifty tube, it shuts behind him. Another partition separates him and the alien sub. But Goose is armed, and with a snarl of "lousy dolphin rustlers", he gets to work.

Lousy dolphin rustlers. I love this show.

On land, Doc tells Zach that the polluted air is the byproduct of heavy industry, but he can't figure out what's being manufactured and where. Zach, peering through binoculars, notes a figure in one of the windows and figures they can ask him. Good call!

They race to the scooters, and head over. Zach twirls something over his head like a lasso. The lizard jumps toward the bog, but Doc's in hot pursuit. It leaps on Doc (Doc's having that luck today) but Doc knocks it off, lands and comes back for it. It appears to be unconscious. They get it into the rover.

I hope it can breathe Human air.

Oh, guess it's not an issue. The Rover seems bigger inside than it is out, since the room is pretty fucking big. The lizard man is on some kind of infirmary bed beneath glass, and Doc points out its crazy brainwave readings and bad bioscans. Apparently the pollutants drove it berserk. Aw.

Zach, ever the cynic, is surprised it made it this far, but Doc says it should recover. Zach wants to find the source of the garbage. Doc concurs.

They go Rovering. Hmm, I guess they took the alien back to the ship. Okay, that makes more sense as the Rover is dinky. They track the pollution source to one of the factories.

Huh, it looks like the scary Jerry Lewis aliens are running the show, as one, in a nifty weaponed security station shrieks that they should leave at once.

Zach does the self-identification spiel and announces that they're under arrest for violations of the Interplanetary Clean Air and Water Statute.

Ooo. My inner lawyer likes statutes. The aliens declare that the planet is theirs and they know their rights, and fire.

Hmm, just guessing, but even if you do have a defense against the statute, I'm thinking firing at a police officer? Not within your rights. They head into the Rover.

Inside the factory, the aliens have the dolphins in a pod remarkably similar to the ones they were transported in to begin with. They're glad to meet the "Natives". One of the dolphins, by the way, has a homicidal look in its eye. They do say pets and owners tend to resemble each other. The dolphin explains that they're not natives. They're responding to a distress call. But inwardly, it's totally planning to eat the alien Jerry Lewises' brains.

The dolphin wants to know why they attacked its friends. The alien claims that the Rangers are corporate spies who plan to steal secrets.

The other dolphin demands "What is going on here?!"

The other alien insists that that should be self-evident. Well, if it were, the dolphin wouldn't have to ASK, dimrod. Apparently, they're "building progress" and a "better way of life through chemistry."

The Rover, by the way, is still under attack, but Zach has a plan to use the hover-scooters to draw fire away. They land on top of the factory. Only to be fired on by something else.

Meanwhile, Shane's finally cut through the partition. Good thing gills work when the owner is hovering perfectly still. Oh wait. Heh. Anyway, he forces his way in while the aliens explain to the dolphins that they found the dead factory and started it up again because that's what they do. They want to return industry to the world.

Hmm, anyone say thinly veiled Western post-Industrial colonial allegory?

The dolphins correct them again, they're visitors, not natives. The aliens want to know where the actual natives are. Meanwhile, Goose is behind them, emerging from the water like a horror movie monster. It's kind of awesome.

He clunks the aliens' heads together, transforms back to human Goose and greets his happy Dolphin friends. You know, considering that they got a whole mess of incriminating statements from the bad guys, I think it's safe to say that the dolphins are much more competent than Buzzwang.

The dolphins fill Goose in on the aliens' whole progress through super alloy plan, while Goose takes some small metal device from the alien's hand. It operates the crane carrying the pod. He has it start carting the pod out, hopping on for the ride, while an alien freaks out behind him.

(I like how the aliens refer to Goose as "an alien" too. It's all in perspective after all)

The alien sends robot drones after them. Goose, clinging to the side of the pod, starts shooting. Then he yells to stay back, and busts the side of the pod. The dolphins leap free into the water, while Goose leaps down to the edge to do some robot shooting. He orders the dolphins to get out of there, intending to lead the droids away. They don't want to leave, but Goose reminds them that they have to find the signal source. They leave.

Goose leads the robots on a merry chase, and ends up going down a sewage pipe. Ew. Poor guy. He taps his badge and gets all blue and mutant looking as a lizard guy appears behind him to sympathize. He also thinks it's disgusting.

Doc and Zach fight the giant security robot outside the factory. Zach's job is everything from the neck down. And by that, of course I mean THUNDERBOLT! KABOOM!

Doc catches its head and gets Pathfinder to find the info on the main computer from it. Doc really does have the coolest powers. Fortunately, the computer's right behind them, in the smokestack. That seems an odd place for a computer indeed. Doc quips that all he needs is someone dumb enough to climb down there. He's tossed a rope.

The dolphins, by the way, have found people. Though one really wants to go back for Goose. But before that, they're greeted by the lizard men.

The lizard men have weird designs, as their tail seems to be an extension of their FRONT, angled back through their legs. Essentially it looks like a backward penis with a fin. And I'm twelve.

I'm going to avoid calling them Penisaurs, only because I don't think a lot of you would get the reference. And I'd be afraid to find out which ones of you did.

Anyway the lead Penisaur asks them to follow him. I lied. They're Penisaurs until we get an actual name. They show them the factory and explain that that's the darkness encircling them.

Doc is lowering himself down, but trips a sensor. The computer notes that he's not the regular technician. Worse, as Doc's grabbed by the computer, he drops his nifty thingy containing his programs. Oh no!

The dolphins are led to a nifty underwater city. The city looks pretty swanky. The Penisaur explains that the factories on land have been dead for centuries, but have been revived. They've tried to tell the Jerry Lewis aliens that the "darkness" will kill them, but the Jerry Lewis aliens don't understand. So they turned to the stars.

The dolphins are greeted by Niko, who's apparently been initiating first contact while the guys have been blowing shit up. I'd complain, but honestly, blowing shit up is more fun. She explains that the signal was sent before the pollution was bad enough to block it. But they still have time to save them.

The computer has Doc by the leg, and Doc's sadly failing his bluff check on claiming it's routine maintenance. He calls for help, but no luck. The computer wants to know what company he's from.

Zach is about to help, but has to fight security droids.

The computer says his friends can't help him, and calls Doc a hacker. Doc takes offense and calls Searchlight (new one!) and Firefly to help. They can't get out without him though. But Pixel is still in his trousers! Go Pixel! Doc groans.

Zach meanwhile grabs a droid and uses it to shoot other droids. Nice.

Pixel wants to moiderize the machine, but Doc just wants to be let go. Whatever Pixel's doing seems to be fairly naughty by the way the computer starts complaining of tickling and laughing. Doc is dropped, but fortunately manages to get to the rope. Anyway, after Pixel-related torture, the computer admits it's a decoy. The real central computer is elsewhere.

Doc is clever though, he suggests that the central computer gets special treatment, and plays on jealousy and unfairness. It sends the droids away from Zach, who entertainingly thinks it's his doing. Heh.

The robots are now shutting down the main computer. Doc reclaims his pack and Pixel is welcomed.

Meanwhile, Shane, who in full body is a penisaur at the bottom, which somehow is still his shirt (though now red) at the top. His face is blue. It's bizarre.

He barges in and announces that the place is being shut down. The Jerry Lewis aliens freak, as Zach and Doc enter as well.

Zach interrupts the ranting of the alien to announce that their factory is destroying the planetoid. It claims the planet was a wilderness when they got there, and they thought it was abandoned. But the Penisaurs emerge from the water to insist they like the planet as it is. Well. Pre-pollution. The Jerry Lewis aliens explain that they intended to share the profits. They were searching for them after hearing the signal, but they also needed to make robots to protect them from the crazy blue monsters.

Shane by the way is all clench-fisted and angry looking. But the penisaurs just explain calmly that they ARE the natives. The Jerry Lewis aliens want to know why they didn't contact them, but Niko explains that the ones who came were driven mad. The aliens crestfallenly say "Oh" in unison.

Heheh.

Back to the ship, Zach tells the Jerry Lewis aliens that the League of Planets agreed to pass judgment AFTER they clean the planet up. The aliens agree and say that they've reprogrammed the robots to help. Zach tells them that pollution-controlling robots would sell very well off-planet, and the Penisaurs agree that they'd share the profits on those. There's a handshake.

The penisaurs also want to give thanks to Zach's "group leaders", the dolphins. And tell them that they should be proud of their pets. Hee. The dolphins chirp "We like them" and thank the penisaurs for complimenting their training. There is cuteness and the episode ends.

--

Ah, I'm glad to see this episode. Tune-Up was pretty bad, and Space Sorcerer was kind of mediocre, but Progress reminds me of why I love the show.

First: the Dolphins are always awesome. And their inexplicable friendship with Goose, which I only imagine came about when the writers went "Hmm, our Clint Eastwood knock-off is missing something. Let's see: grim backstory. Check. Propensity for violence. Check. Deus ex machina powers. Check. Oh, I know! Pet dolphins!"

And they were infinitely more awesome than Buzzwang.

Second: While it was sad that Niko didn't do much (though she did get a First Contact encounter off camera), it kind of made sense given the theme of the episode. In the same way that it made sense that she was so much the center of "Space Sorcerer", given the mystic element to her power, it made sense that the others had a greater role here.

After all, Zach's half bionic. Doc's the tech expert. The dolphins communicate via technology, and Goose was created by it. Thematically it just works better this way.

Moreover, the First Contact wasn't really the point of the episode. Not like Traash. The point was the shifting perspectives. We had to meet the penisaurs first as crazy monsters, just like the aliens did, and well, it was more fun to see the truth the way we did. The side comment to Shane and then through the awesome dolphins.

Third: Pixel's subplot was how to do an "underestimated character proves itself" plot right. Take notes, Buzzwang.

Fourth: As a critique of Western Imperialism goes, this episode was, if not subtler, than at least more elegant than Mistwalker.

Like MaCross, the Jerry Lewis aliens were pretty much exploiting the new planet they discovered. But where MaCross didn't care about the negative effects on the populace, the Jerry Lewis aliens genuinely thought they were offering an opportunity. This doesn't, of course, excuse what they did, but neither does the episode. Heck, even though they resolved happily and peacefully, the Jerry Lewis aliens are STILL going to get sentenced by the League of Planets.

The law can't and shouldn't be subverted just because people find a common ground.

Ultimately, this critique is more stinging than Mistwalker, because it's easier to relate to as an American. Because, honestly, we ARE the Imperialist badguys. We know it. But we really don't see ourselves as BADGUYS. We know we're not MaCross. We wouldn't (the general American public that is, not necessarily some corrupt officials higher up) countenance burning homes to get at mineral resources or actively driving people away. We're better than THAT.

But we kind of are the Jerry Lewis aliens. We wreak a lot of havoc on other cultures through the idea of "offering opportunities." We do a lot of damage to people and the environment. And we tend to dismiss, ignore, or demonize any critique from the people we're "helping."

I mentioned how the episode features misunderstandings and misconceptions. The obvious one is the Jerry Lewis aliens. They believed that anyone against them was out to get them. The natives were "monsters", the Rangers "corporate spies," they simply couldn't conceive that they were the cause of the mess and that someone could legitimately have a beef with them.

The Rangers initially shared the misconceptions. First that the planet was a wilderness or primitive (in actuality the lizard-man city looked fairly technologically advanced), and neither Zach nor Doc ever considered that the Lizard-Man they met might have been of the people who sent the message.

The joke at the end, with the aliens mistaking the dolphins for the leaders is an old one, but it worked in this context. The ultimate punchline. :-)

Fifth: This episode didn't really give a lot of character insight that we didn't know already. Though it was nice to see a bit more of Doc's sort-of-paternal relationship to his programs. He also got a lot of good action focus, making up somewhat for his inexplicable absence last episode.

It was pretty interesting that Shane is the one so incensed about the environmental damage. It reminds me of his warning to Annie about the dangers of technology.

I wonder if that doesn't imply a good deal of self-loathing. After all, the Supertroopers are themselves technology, and if Kilbane's implications are true, they're certainly more harmful than helpful to the world that created them.

I wonder if anyone's thought of getting that boy therapy.

On the plus side, he has dolphin friends. Cute sentient creatures who don't use or need technology at all except to communicate with us. I can see the attraction.

Kind of underscores the whole therapy suggestion though.

Sixth: As World Building, the episode had some interesting elements. We know that the League of Planets has statutes, and we can guess that their legal system is fairly similar to ours. (Though, it does seem like the Jerry Lewis aliens aren't exactly getting a TRIAL. But it may just be that Zach thinks the outcome is that obvious that sentencing is inevitable.)

We see that the League is apparently concerned about interference and natural environments much like the Federation in Star Trek. But honestly, I prefer the League's approach to Star Trek's blanket Prime Directive which always struck me as both a) hypocritical, b) unfeasable, and c) an excuse to refuse help when needed or mislead the people they're helping instead.

Like that episode where they transported the whole COLONY in the HOLODECK. Like they won't notice that, on their new world, the STARS are different? Or that none of the landmarks they remember are there?

The League clearly has statutes relating to environmental and other concerns, and seems to have a general policy of live and let live, but isn't idiotic about it. Think about how many idiotic plots there are in Star Trek, where a character crashes or is marooned on a planet and must try to blend in because, oh my god, they can't let the planet's people know there's life out there! It'll effect their development!

At least until they develop warp for themselves, then they're fair game.

I like that Goose, or the others, can crashland on a planet, identify himself to the natives, and give them the opportunity to choose for themselves, damnit. Denying someone a choice you think they're not "ready for" is a lot more patronizing and judgmental than simply laying your cards out on the table.

so what did we learn this episode? Dolphins are cool. Monsters may not be monsters. And I've watched Flesh Gordon way too many times.

5 Comments:

  • At March 18, 2009 9:32 AM, Blogger James Ashelford said…

    Yeah, the Prime Directive, never got my head around that one. Especially as Picard's Prime Directive seems to have an exemption for humanitarian aid where Janeway's doesn't. Picard'll help a colony, Janeway leaves the entire Vidiian race to die from the Phage.

    Except Janeway is blatantly a genocidal maniac so Ogues sit makes sense.

    He he. Buzzwang.

     
  • At March 18, 2009 10:50 AM, Blogger LurkerWithout said…

    Maybe there will be an episode where Buzzwang interacts with Penisaurs. And something to do with boobies. Tee hee. Boobies. Wang...

     
  • At March 18, 2009 12:06 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    This was indeed, and excellent episode, and one that skewers the whole concept of Manifest Destiny, rather neatly. Plus any episode that has Doc and NOT Buzzwang is bound to be good.

    I think that Winter and Icarus ARE Goose's form of therapy.

     
  • At March 20, 2009 10:30 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    James: Heh. I know.

    Lurker: Next episode has a giant phallic space gun?

    Sally: Hm, true. But he'd probably benefit from some non-marine form of therapy as well.

     
  • At September 18, 2011 8:01 AM, Anonymous Luke said…

    The author is absolutely right, and there is no question.
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