Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 7--The Last Man

"Neo sapiens were an improvement upon mankind. Neo megas are man perfected. We are new force in the universe." 

The Last Man is the twentieth episode of Exo-Squad. Occuring at approximately the same time as Mind Set, it introduces Charlie-Five Platoon, the Jump Troopers under the command of Captain Avery Butler. He, Captain Colleen O'Reilly, Sergeant Ramon Longfeather, and Corporal Vince Pellegrino are the representative members, though many other members (each with their own unique suit of armor) are present. They attempt a diversionary thrust at Ceres, a seemingly unimportant Neo outpost, only to suffer massive casualties in a seemingly too-elaborate trap. The reason for this is the presence of a very special Neo brood center, creating the next step in Neo Sapien evolution, the Neo Megas. Standing slightly smaller than their Neo Sapien cousins, these three-fingered Neo Megas are more intelligent than normal Neo Sapiens and capable of creative thought. One is captured during the battle and fakes his own death, though he perishes while attempting to escape the withdrawing Exo-Fleet forces.

Random jump trooper.
What works: The (re)introduction of the Jump Troopers works well. While it would have been really nice to see some hints of these guys in early S1, it's good to see another side of the fleet than the fighter pilots. These guys, the boots-on-the-ground forces, come across as tough, capable, and a little more serious than the members of Able Squad. That's probably fair for infantry versus the air support, though in the 22nd century environment there has obviously been considerable blurring of the lines between the two roles. It's nice that we get different armor not just for our four main characters, but for all of the different members.

Since this episode almost serves as a new pilot, let's look at who we've got:

Captain Butler is probably the weakest new character. He suffers a bit from leader-itus. He comes across as no-nonsense, competent... and that's about it. We never really see his human side. I do like that he starts off his missions with the rallying cry, "any heroes on board?" "No, sir!" "Good! The only heroes I ever saw weren't breathing." That's probably the best bit of insight into him as a man that we see.

Lieutenant O'Reilly easily gets the most characterization of any jump trooper. Her main contribution is her realization that the Neos have cracked the jump-comm system, and so she'd devised her own. She plays well with Weston, the other techie chick in the series, and indeed we've seen them working together in O'Reilly's first cameo back on the GRAF shield. It's clear that the writers enjoy her, we'll see quite a bit more of her in the future.

Sergeant Longfeather barely registers as a character. If he didn't get an action figure, I don't think I'd have noticed him in this episode at all. He gets quite a few lines and even breaks up a fight between Pelligrino and Bronsky, but somehow barely gets a chance to shine. I do like that the guy is a freaking mountain, though. His best characterization was probably his arm-wrestling after the battle, though even then O'Reilly steals the show.

Corporal Pelligrino gets strong characterization as well. His big thing is his rivalry with the e-frame pilots. Again, this is the kind of thing Exo-Squad does exceedingly well. Even among good guys, there's tension and conflict. (Bad guys, too, have rivalry, but that doesn't feel quite as innovative.)  I love Bronsky's quick, savage punch when pushed too far, and that Pelligrino quickly gains the upper hand. I wouldn't go hand-to-hand with a jump trooper if I was an e-frame jock.

The other big thing this episode introduces is the Neo Megas. Having established a new status quo with the end of the Pirate Alliance plotline, the writers are quick to shake things up. It makes sense that the Neos would attempt to close the creativity gap they have with terrans, and that they'd turn to genetics to do so. The two Neo Megas we see in this episode are smarmy, brilliant, and immediately make you want to strangle them. Well done.

We also continue the tradition of Neo Sapien generals dressing in their own unique style. We meet General Drusus, who makes the monumental blunder of using the Neo Megas as front-line combat troops. He'll pay for that.

Drusus has a brief argument with the as-yet-unnamed Praetorius, the Neo Sapien genetics minister. He's one of my favorite minor characters, so it's nice to see him here.

The Neo Mega's murder of the Med Tech is some delightfully creepy imagery.

DeLeon macking on O'Reilly was a nice bit of characterization for him. We've seen him flirt with Weston before, maybe he's got a thing for brainy ladies.

About two-thirds of this episode take place on Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system. I enjoy that the series continues to tour around the actual local real-estate of space. I also like the reasoning for the attack, to divert the Neo's attention to Mars and away from Winfield's real target. (We'll find out what that is in a few episodes.)


Weston busts out some pretty bad-ass moves versus the Neo Mega. That he then got the better of her does a good job of showcasing just how tough these little (7 foot tall) critters are.

What doesn't: The title of the episode, doesn't seem to work on either a literal or literary level. There's no clear last man in the episode, and the Mary Shelly novel features a post-apocalyptic world devastated by plague. No clear connection.

Where's Nara? This episode is taking place while J.T. and Marsala work with the resistance on Earth, so Nara really should be in command of Able Squad. Minor quibble, but there it is.

O'Reilly using the old comm to communicate misinformation was clever. Her blowing up her own chip seemed rather melodramatic.

The final scene in the airlock didn't quite work for me. Weston throwing a wrench against the escaping air strained credulity for me. Also, one would think that there would be a few failsafe mechanisms in place. I get that the writers wanted the Neo Megas to remain a mystery and didn't want the Exo-Fleet to have a body to autopsy, but it's a bit clumsy how they achieved it.


Watch for:  Neo Tanks make their first appearance. They'll show up several times in the future, and will play an important role in the final storyarc. (They're also damn cool, and would have made a great toy.)

Neo Megas won't be the only instance of Neo Sapiens tinkering with their own genetic make-up to attempt to gain advantage in the war.

We see the Phaeton command-style e-frame used for the first time by someone other than him. That won't happen too often, though it will occasionally occur. I rather enjoy that, as having a unique frame doesn't really seem cost-effective and the Neos are eminently logical.

Bio: Appropriately enough, Colleen O'Reilly. Since we barely know her, it's somewhat effective, though I can't help but think that the time would have been better used in the episode itself. Four cards in, I'm starting to think that I'm just not a fan of the idea in general. Interestingly enough, there will be ANOTHER version of this bio that features new animation depicting the graduation scene described here, which is kind of a nice value add.

Overall: Basically a solid episode. It needs to accomplish quite a few things and manages to do it all well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 6--Mind Set

"Play. Over there where the camera can see you. And have fun."

Mind Set is the nineteenth episode of Exo-Squad, and the first episode that takes place in the new status-quo of the season, following the Pirate Alliance storyline. Napier is returned to Earth and given his first mission, to spring Jonathan Perry, the last President of the Homeworlds' Congress. His ex-wife, the Tokyo Rose of the Neo Sapiens Amanda Connor, is on-hand interviewing the former senators for propaganda purposes. Marsh and Napier spring the prisoners and manage to convince the Neos they died in the attempt. Infuriated, Phaeton orders Connor arrested. "No more interviews," he sardonically quips.

What works: I like the basic premise of this episode in theory. Amanda was an element from S1 that was begging for further exploration, and we've seen that Phaeton values the appearance of legitimacy.  Using the prisoners for propaganda feels like something that Phaeton would do. So it all makes sense on that level. The execution feels just a little off, though. I'll get to why below.

The title is also clever. On the most obvious level, the story is very much about Amanda Connor and her mind set. But with the brainwashing of political figures, there's a more sinister connotation.

There are some great designs in this episode. The Neo's uniforms have never looked quite so Third Reich before. The trenchcoats, the visored hats, the Jodhpur pants.

Keeping with the theme, Napier notes that Phaeton "makes the mag-trains run on time," paraphrasing words bandied about in the 30s concerning Mussolini.

Amanda Connor is a true believer, having a heartfelt conversation with Shiva about how she hopes for a better future and refusing to run away with Napier. I like that there are a few Terrans, even at this late stage in the game, who believe that the Neo Sapiens were justified and that ultimately Phaeton's regime is the best hope of the future. This makes her ultimate fate, imprisoned by Phaeton, terribly ironic. There's a great little visual metaphor, as Amanda Connor enjoys an ocean swim and the shadow of Shiva's vessel passes over her body, that foreshadows this turn of events.

We already knew Connor had history with Napier, now we find out she's his ex-wife. They have a brief but terrific exchange where they bicker about how "Sean never makes mistakes." Very nicely done.

Shiva really shines this episode. His interactions with Connor strike just the right balance. He seems to be an effortless liar. His wrath at the camp commandant for contacting Phaeton is understandable--he clearly wanted to get the situation in hand so he could put the best spin on events for his supreme commander. When the hydrofoil he thinks is carrying the political prisoners blows up, his cry of anguish feels very real. One wonders if he's more concerned about the 20 or so troops he just lost or his standing in Phaeton's eyes.

The politicians, once rescued, immediately begin to argue about how the resistance should be run. Of course they do. Of all the events of the episode, this part felt the most real. Napier sets them straight in pretty short order, but who else but a Senator would endure two years of jail and then immediately start to debate how the folks who rescued you SHOULD be doing things?

What doesn't: The episode seems to vacillate between how much brainwashing is actually going on. The visuals are certainly creepy, with chairs and limp arms and unidentified hardware on the head. Further, Perry seems to genuinely believe what's going on, crying on cue. He COULD just be an excellent actor, but really, that's a bit much. He also feels a bit off in all of his appearances. On the other hand, the other prisoners muse about how he can tell such obvious falsehoods, and seem to imply that it's all about him being threatened.

The show has mostly been good about keeping the fights tough and the opposition formidable. This episode breaks that, as four Neo frames face off against J.T. and two resistance members and the good guys suffer no serious setbacks. There's a moment where it appears that Peter Tanaka had just died, but he turns out to be absolutely fine.

Shiva finds the hovercraft because Marsala disabled a guard and left him an e-frame, albeit one without any weapons. Said guard hitches a ride on the foil and gives us a hand-to-hand eframe battle underwater. The whole situation seemed incredibly contrived. I can just about see Marsala not killing a guard, but leaving him an e-frame? Just sloppy writing.

It's a bit convenient that the very first conversation that Napier zooms in on, when trying to convince Connor that the Neos are irredeemable, concerns the execution of Prisoner 47 (aka Senator Prakosh), whom Shiva had informed her was merely resting following a jet-ski accident. On the other hand, I did enjoy how casually Shiva reduced him from a man to a number.

Watch for: There's a cameo for a new resistance member, who we'll come to know as J. J. (Guy on the left.) Cool character, he's the resistance tech head.

Surprisingly, the politicians don't figure in future episodes. (Unless there's a cameo in the last episode that I missed. Possible, but I usually have a pretty sharp eye.) I kind of expected an episode where a brainwashed politician causes the resistance trouble.

Bio: Jonas Simbacca. This one contains a big spoiler for episode 9 of the season, as well as foreshadowing some of what would have been season 3.

Overall: Not the strongest offering we've had. Once again, this is a stand-alone episode, not doing a ton to advance the plot. There are some great elements here (like, hey, changing the name from Miami to Port Shiva, or the cool shot of a docking bay opening on a cloaked Pirate vessel, or the return of the Amanda cartoon) but it feels like there were too many ideas about what should be happening here that lead to a confusion about what's actually happening. It's still good, but we've definitely had better.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 5--Expendable

"Fool! When the Neo Sapiens have been eliminated, who do you think the Exo-Fleet will fight next?"

Expendable is the eighteenth episode of Exo-Squad, finishing up the Pirate alliance storyline, the first S2 arc. The first half deals with Rita Torres' issues with Chubail, who slaughtered her first squad. She tries to contain herself (and her squad) but ultimately snaps. J.T. calls in his debt from The Embassy to get her out of hot water. In the second half, Barca lets the Neos know about the state of the GRAF shield, prompting a desperate evacuation. Fortunately, Simbacca kept half his fleet in reserve and manages to outflank the pursuing Neo fleet, letting the Pirates and Exo Fleet escape to a hidden planet, Chaos, orbiting beyond Pluto.

What works: As I expected, it was nice to get some Torres development. Making her the sole survivor of a squad is a nice reason for her to be so tough. (I also like her pink Exo-Fleet pajamas. No reason she has to be tough ALL the time.) In many ways, she's a stand-in for the overall Exo-Fleet when it comes to tension with the Pirates. It's good that there is strong tension on both sides, despite how much they need each other.

The two big space battles in the episode are both exciting and high-stakes.  (But see below.) As Hollis says, rather melodramatically (but that's not a flaw, that's his character) "this battle decides the fate of the solar system." Indeed it does. The Neos will never get a better chance to win the war than this engagement, with (most of) the Pirate fleet, all of the Exo-Fleet, and the leaders of the Earth resistance all relatively vulnerable.

Simbacca keeping half his fleet in reserve and using it to out-flank the Neo fleet makes a great deal of sense as well. I also like, from a storytelling perspective, Winfield offering to transfer his e-frames to the Pirate vessels so they can cloak and escape. (I presume the resistance leaders, Professor Algernon, and the various Jump Troopers would have been included in that deal.) One can imagine the series continuing in that way, with the Exo-Fleet destroyed but many of the main characters continuing to operate on the Pirate fleet.

Typhonus has his inspiration, to sabotage the GRAF shield using Phaeton's agent, over dinner. Fun to see the Neos engage in normal, every-day activities and not always be on the bridge in command. (but see below.)

Watching Simbacca, Napier, and Winfield carve up the solar system has a very Yalta feel to it, especially with the Pirates promised Mars. Needless to say, Simbacca gets to be Stalin in this scenario. Speaking of, Chubail is perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the state of the alliance. It's his quote at the top of the review, and envisioning a war (cold or hot) between the Exo-Fleet and the Pirate Clans seems not at all implausible.

The Pirate squad of e-frames shows up again and participates in the battle, which is nice continuity and makes the previous episode feel more relevant to the overall story. (Alas, we won't see them again after this.) I also rather like the dialogue here. Bronsky is completely blase about the whole thing. "Just another day at the office, saving everybodies butts." "Punch your timecard, Bronsky."


Speaking of dialog, the Pirates have some wonderfully insensitive lines. "And then, he tried to surrender," gets a big laugh from the Pirates and many dirty stares from the Exo-Troopers. As it should. I got the sense that Chubail was being intentionally provocative, and why not? He's not in favor of the alliance, and he's shrewd enough to know the Exo-Fleet needs them more than they need the Exo-Fleet.

Poor Chubail, though. For such a good character and honorable Pirate, he meets an ignominious end. Framed by Barca as a traitor. Simbacca's first instinct is absolutely correct: "I would never have believed it." Unfortunately for the alliance, Simbacca never has time to pursue that line of thinking or it might lead them to the real traitor...

Barca! This character continues to impress with his competence and ruthlessness. When he discovers the GRAF shield is inoperative, he words his report ambiguously enough that he can take credit for it without out-and-out lying. (Him overhearing an overblown and arrogant Algernon rant about the system was a good way to do it, as it keeps that character at front-of-mind.) When discovered, he does a halfway decent job at trying to talk Chubail down, and when that fails, well, he's ready with a hidden pistol for a quick spot of murder. He quickly frames the dead man with enough of the truth to be convincing, keeping his cover intact. Fortunately for the side of the angels, his transmitter is destroyed, which will de-fang him for quite a while.

That ending! Wow. It's a powerful scene, building on what we know of Neo Sapien physiology and culture. Phaeton has been freed of all social and legal constraints, and this is our first hint that it extends beyond terrans to Neo Sapien taboos. It's clear Typhonus had NO ide this was a possibility. This scene is just about perfect. There's real desperation in Typhonus' voice, and a hint of sadism in Phaetons'. The off-kilter camera angles highlight the surreal quality of what's happening. Great directing all around.

What doesn't: The biggest flaw in the episode is the structure. This really feels like it could have / should have been two episodes. The first part, with Torres, is a necessary point to address and gives some depth to a character who was previously something of a cipher. The second part, the GRAF failure and evacuation, featured two exciting space battles but each on is only about a minute long. I'd have liked breathing room for the second story. The first story doesn't feel like it got short-changed, but I have no doubt it could have been expanded. The one bit of payoff from Part 1 in Part 2 is Hollis getting Torres out of a jam. This was a nice element and does tie the two parts together a bit.

I'm not keen on the e-frame designs from Torres' first squad. She's not THAT old, I can't imagine that the designs would have changed that much. Plus, they're ugly as sin.

Chaos, a tenth planet in the solar system made of Dark Matter, doesn't quite work for me. I won't complain about it too much but it's a little soft sci-fi for me in what has mostly been a reasonably hard SF series to date.

Watch for: A couple of animation flubs this go. First up, in Typhonus' mess are Draconis, Shiva, and Livia. (Hey, Livia, haven't seen you since early season 1! Interesting that your model pack is still floating around enough to be prominent. Are you going to show up again? Me thinks yes.) The generals in command of Earth and Venus definitely aren't on Typhonus' flagship. I suppose Livia COULD be, but given the other two I'll chalk this up to an animation error.

Speaking of, one of the guys in the mess hall when the pirates are yucking it up is Sandouski. He died rather spectacularly in S1E12, Betrayal.

Bio: none, probably no room in an already packed episode.

Overall: When the biggest flaw of an episode is that you wish it was twice as long, you know the show is doing something right. A great and satisfying conclusion to the first storyline in S2. The show never loses sight of what makes it work, with flawed characters sometimes making bad decisions. There are no easy solutions for the good guys (or the bad guys) and sometimes bad things happen to (more or less) good people. It doesn't feel like our heroes have the upper hand, by any stretch, but it does feel like they've clawed their way from almost certain extinction to a playing field that is at least somewhat level. The alliance was a struggle to put in place, a struggle on both sides to keep intact, and will clearly require sacrifice and compromise. But it doesn't feel like it's going away any time soon. It's a great way to start the season, and plays fair in terms of cleaning up the mess left by the end of S1. I look forward to seeing what the series throws at us next.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 4--Ultimate Weapon

"You will see, J.T. Marsh. A Pirate will do what you could not!" 

The seventeenth episode of Exo-Squad, loosely continuing the Pirate Alliance arc, is Ultimate Weapon. The Pirate Clans transition from Saturn's moons to Io, but the Neos have built a massive Fusion Pulse Cannon on Sinope, one of Jupiter's moons. They plan to bombard the fleet and, when Io and Sinope are in alignment, destroy the Exo-Fleet base. Further complicating thing, Simbacca wants Marsh and DeLeon to train up some of his best and brightest as e-frame pilots, using captured Neo gear. With the help of his new squad (and heavy casualties), the Sinope weapon is taken out and the Pirates successfully reach Io.

What works: Typhonus' fleet has seen better days! They had their asses handed to them last episode, and it shows. Despite this, Typhonus is spoiling for a round 2, which Phaeton wisely orders him to decline. He hasn't been idle while Typhonus has been negotiating, constructing a fixed artillery platform on Sinope. (Those utility frames I enjoy came out to play a few times.)

The Fusion Pulse Cannon makes a good deal of sense. The GRAF Shield makes Io impregnable (or so the Neos believe), but sending giant balls of matter at the base is a good way to bypass. After all, crush a rock to 1/10th its size but leave all the mass and it'll still do the same amount of damage.

I like that the tension between Pirates and Exo-Fleet remains, hasn't been magically brushed away. Simbacca is impatient with Marsh and DeLeon, Hollis punches Marsh for defending him, etc. (But see below.)

It makes sense that DeLeon would deduces the existence of a spy. Their response, blinding all ships but the flagship. They're both shrewd ones. Barca, too, is a savvy guy. In response to the fleet going blind, he transfers to Simbacca's flagship. There he continues to sew dissent, specifically trying to turn Hollis against Simbacca. (This will pay off in episode 9 of the season, Inner Dark.)

It's sensible that Simbacca would want his own e-frame pilots. (But see below.) It's also sensible that, even for trained pilots, getting proficient in e-frames will take more than a couple of days. I also enjoy the repaint potential inherent in the various pirate 'frames. I don't think we ever got a toy, in any colors, of Hollis' frame, which surprised me back in the day. It seemed like an obvious candidate for a toy. Plus it would have settled the spelling of his name once and for all.

Not exactly good, but neither is it bad, I find it odd that the Neo Sinope base commander gets such a distinctive design. I suppose we've seen this tradition before. I'm not 100%, but I believe the final Neo e-frame that confronts Hollis inside the cannon is piloted by this guy. His head tattoo doesn't match up, but they always seemed to have trouble with that. (I can see why, it's a tricky element to include and be accurate about.) The pilot does have a similar collar though. Plus, it'd make dramatic sense. Perhaps they should have given this guy a name. Since we've seen this kind of aesthetic before, I'll put it in the good column.

What doesn't: Simbacca insisting that the e-frame pilots be taken into battle, despite minimal training, doesn't seem entirely in keeping with the ruthless pragmatist we've come to know. It's a transparently bad decision, and not one that can easily be whitewashed by waving one's hands and saying 'cultural differences.'

I thought Marsh was a bit caviler about bringing the Pirate squad out a second time to assault Sinope, especially after the apparent loss of 5/6th of his recruits.

The visuals seem to indicate that Marsh trained up a second squad, which was more-or-less ready to go by the time the bombardment started. (Nowhere is this supported by dialog, however.) This is because not only do we see 5 of 6 Pirate frames destroyed in the battle vs the scouts, but the new squad had different frames than the first. Then 3 more of the second squad gets destroyed, out of apparently 4. My first instinct was that this was a case of the animation not matching up with the authorial intent. It'd have been easy for only two of the pirates to die in the attempt to board the Neo scout ship. However, the presence of three completely new frames for the second battle belies that. It really does seem that Marsh led 10 pirates into two battles and had only one survivor. Very cold.

The ending is abrupt and tonally odd. Rita Torres staring daggers at Chubail and calling him a murderer. While, as noted, I like the tension, and I'm happy that Rita Torres seems poised to get some development, the execution just seems clumsy. Actually, the whole review of troops seems oddly paced as well, perhaps because it was designed to get us to the Torres bit. Ending the episode 30 seconds earlier, with Winfield greeting Simbacca as an ally, felt like the logical stopping point.

The humor and banter was a bit mixed. After Hollis punches Marsh, DeLeon cracks wise ("you've got to keep your eye on his right... and THEN duck") which works. When Simbacca says he'd kill anyone who did that to him, Marsh's attempt at humor falls flat.

Watch for: O'Reilly makes another appearance, and we get our first looks at Avery Butler and Vince Pelligrino.

Bio: This outing is Marsala. Once again, it feels largely redundant with what we learned of him in the Into the Heart of Darkness storyline. Like the three previous ones, this seems like padding.

Overall: Probably the weakest episode to date, with the possible exception of the S1 opener. This is the first semi-stand-alone episode in the series, which doesn't help. The FPC is introduced here and then disposed of, a first (but not a last) for the show. This isn't necessarily bad, but add in some of the odd humor and Marsh's change of heart about sending raw recruits into the meat grinder and a strange ending and this episode feels like it can't quite decide if it wants to be a solo endeavor or part of a larger arc. I'm still enjoying it, but for pretty much the first time since early EARLY season 1 I find myself picking at the flaws more than just along for the ride. On the plus side, the story continues to steamroll ahead at a fast pace, and it feels like the momentum is still here. Perhaps the next one will be better. (Spoiler alert: it will be.)

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.)

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.