Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, October 14, 2016

Well If ReBoot Can Make It Work Maybe So Can Power Rangers (Reboot Spoilers)

So Power Rangers is going darker and edgier. Something feels intrinsically wrong with that. Part of the point of Super Sentai is that it's goofy cornball fun with kung-fu and giant mecha. If you can't have goofy cornball fun with Power Rangers where can you have it?

Part of me wants to go on some sort of rant about it until I remember that one of my favorite television shows decided to go darker and edgier and the season it did it was absolutely brilliant. Let's talk about ReBoot season 3.

ReBoot was a computer generated children's television show with the very 90's conceit that all of the characters were computer programs and that everything the audience saw on screen was taking place within a computer.

So basically it was Tron the cartoon.

While it was a good show the first two seasons had the limitations of their time and format. The show was very episodic and despite having interesting voices and character designs the villains' plans seemed to have very low stakes that made them hard to take seriously.

The Lead In
The reason why I'm writing this because I feel the third season of the show was absolutely brilliantly conceived and written but not unlike Lost's better seasons (season 4 is the best in book the back half of season 3 sets it up)  a lot of the heavy lifting to get there was done by the previous season. Not unlike shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Avatar the Last Air Bender, the second season slowly revealed that elements of the show previously thought simply to be a part of it's futurist aesthetic actually did have a backstory and that in many ways the audience had come in media res.

Moreover, season two started to shake up the status quo. While the show hadn't magically transformed yet all of a sudden status quo wasn't God.

In television especially heavily syndicated children's television writers often assume you can't guarantee what order of episodes the audience watches. These days with shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones it's hard to imagine how heavily shows even dramas tried to snap back to the status quo by the end of the episode.

While there had always been serials, specifically daytime soap-operas that broke the rule, a lot of the episodic shows of the decade like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena broke that trend gradually slowly building multi-episode and even season long arcs and you can see that in the tail-end of Season Two of ReBoot.

All of a sudden two-parters would shake something up and irrevocably change things in a way that just couldn't be "fixed"  All of a sudden change happened and the show would stick by it.

Kid Enzo
Season 3 is very much his arc, his story but a lot of the stuff done in season two to lead up to it was about developing his character.

Enzo was the audience surrogate "kid character". Looking back he could have been highly annoying but oddly enough he wasn't and there was a reason for that. By the time the show hit its rhythm he just wasn't that important, mostly relegated to comic relief rather than a central figure.

The show seemed much more interested in the will they won't they character dynamic between his older sister Dot Matrix and series hero (this will be important)  Bob. Within the formula of the series those two were generally the ones to solve the story's  problem. Heck in the episode "The Tiff" they are the problem.

The show mostly used whatever crisis of the week to juxtapose their personalities and just let the two bounce off each other.

Bob for better or worse had a personality that it was very easy for a kid to like, he was good at being the paragon but also pretty laid back about it. In a lot of ways he was an idealized older cooler version of the kids Enzo was meant to represent  so early on Bob supplanted Enzo as the series protagonist. From where I sit that wasn't a bad thing. Like I said before Bob was a good character but it did put the series in the odd place of not having much for Enzo to do, especially since he was essentially a stand-in for the young kids watching the show.

 In a lot of ways the show throwing down the gauntlet was both the episode and character AndrAI

AndrAIa the episode is an obvious attempt for the series to reinvent itself by expanding on its lore. Even before AndrAIa herself is introduced the episode spends a lot of time expositing how the world works in a way that seems odd considering it's the second season and most of the stuff it talks about has just been happening by now.  That being said "AndrAIa" is the foundation of everything to come. It clarifies the stakes of the world in a way that allows things to occur with actual weight rather than the that's just how things work in this world way the first season operated.

That being said the real addition the episode makes is the eponymous AndrAIa. I don't want to diminish how compelling a character she is in her own right but having her around always tends to make Enzo more interesting than he is normally (even after the upcoming time skip). Bouncing off of her gives him something better to do than be the tagalong kid and provides opportunities for interesting B-stories which is basically how she's introduced. Bob and Dot are of doing relatively formulaic stuff while the two of them are off becoming fast friends.

And his introduction to her more or less sets up a lot of the conflicts and arcs of the next season.

When Enzo first meets her he lies about his past and basically casts himself in the role of Bob, and a lot of the second season is waiting for that shoe to drop. Except it really doesn't.

"AndrAIa" sets up a new status quo for a roughly 5 episode arc. While not much darker than the previous episodes or even season one there is the sense of urgency that what's happening on screen isn't going to be easily fixed the same way it was before, largely because each crisis somewhat creates the next.

And the season 2 finale drops the gauntlet for the big damn crisis of season 3.

Bob is MIA
Things eventually get bad enough that you wind up with a villain-hero team up. Guess how that ends. Can you guess? Can you?

Megabyte one of the two main villains of the show and the central antagonist of season 3 uses the chaos to basically blast Bob into this universe's version of space. And so the basic plot of the first quarter of season 3 is that Bob isn't around to hero it up and keep the villains' evil plans from succeeding and since they have an actual chance now they've gotten more ambitious.

Guardian Enzo
Well, remember how I said that Enzo basically cast himself in the role of Bob to impress AndrAIa and the show never really had to deal with the fact that he lied. Well, this is why. For a lot of complicated reasons it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Before being shot into space Bob decided to go along with the lie and basically deputized Enzo since he needed the help anyway and why the hell not so Enzo is technically the only one around with the "Guardian protocol" making him the closest thing the series has around to Bob.

You know how despite it being sad Gurren Lagann is ultimately about Simon stepping up and filling Kamina's shoes. So too is the third season of Reboot except...

The show is clear Enzo is no substitute for Bob. The show was not secretly about Enzo all along, at least not the way Gurren Lagann was.  He'll try really hard but he has no clue what he's doing. He knows this. The supporting cast knows this. The villains know this. He can't win. At least not in the same way Bob could. The best he can hope to do is delay the inevitable.

The entire seasons sets up a tone of unending, inescapable desperation and despair as Bob's absence lingers and Enzo becomes increasingly aware of his inability to fill his mentor's shoes.

And the show is also clear that part of the reason for that inability is that Enzo is still just a kid. While he wants to be the hero he's not and it's not fair for the other characters around him to expect him to be but the situation is the situation and Enzo decided to be the one to step up.

That being said in this part of the third season there are a lot of small victories that bring hope that if given enough time maybe Enzo could live up to Bob's legacy.

Then the series closes the book with a definitive no. Nope. Enzo fails in an unsalvageable, irrevokable series-altering way.

I actually love how they did it. The show both at the end of that episode and the beginning of the next is sort of ambiguous, and takes a while to reveal exactly what happened, how big it was, and what happened in the aftermath, to the point that when I saw the next episode it took me a while to realize I was watching the same show.

The Renegade
The next episode features a time-skip but doesn't exactly tell you specifics. It's interesting and compelling but it takes a while to figure out how it relates to everything that happened before. Through a lot of complicated techno-babble Enzo has becomes lost like Bob but in a different way. The experience of trying so hard yet failing to protect his home has made him a very different character than his original incarnation.

He's Mad Max.

Everything about him, especially in the first episode of the time-skip screams Mad Max.

Especially as the next few episodes bounce from place to place with the plots in media res.

But as the show goes on you get it. He lost everything that mattered to him, except AndrAIa (and his dog). She's still around and is pretty much the only thing keeping him remotely sane. While she liked Mainframe she wasn't as connected to it. She cares about it mostly because it's a part of him she cares about him. As she puts it Mainframe is his home and her home is with him.

That being said she seems a lot more well adjusted and spends the next several episodes, hell the rest of the series saving Enzo from his own worst impulses. The next few episodes at first seem to be episodic in the vein of the first season but they are are very much about exploring how these characters have changed. There is this haunting feeling that even if Enzo or Matrix as he now calls himself manages to get home he's changed so much that things aren't going back the way they were. Specifically his relationship with Bob.

Like I said Bob's absence silently lingers over the season so much that later they just straight up make him a Jesus messiah figure with his second coming but right now that's not the point.

Right now the point is that Enzo is psychologically dealing with that he didn't live up to Bob's shoes before and now he's so far from his paragon mentor that he probably won't ever be able to and doesn't even know if he should bother trying anymore.

That's some heavy stuff from where the show came from.

For her part like I said AndraAi never took all of it that personally. And tends to be the voice of reason when Matrix gets downright nihilistic.

That being said from the midpoint of season 2 onward the show was broken up into clearly delineated arcs where the status quo  of the show would suddenly change sometimes into something else and this is no different

The Call Has You on Speed Dail Yo.

So the overarching question of the episodes immediately after the time-skip episodes is why does Matrix continue his search. Wouldn't he just be better off letting it all go and settling down somewhere? "Number 7" is a weird ass episode that serves to ask a big what if. What if the show hadn't changed? What if everything was left as it was circa season one. Which is more or less the greatest wish of Matrix, that the last several years of his life just hadn't happened.

It's an episode all about getting into his head and closing the book on his issues. Not so much in a way that he doesn't have them but in a way where he at least has an awareness of why he does what he does and can grapple with those questions. Not unlike the first episode of the time skip it's a massive mindfuck as it doesn't tell the audience exactly what's going on.

Matrix is still a hard ass but at least he's a hard ass on a quest. Both season 3 four have this duality of kid Enzo and Matrix. This episode is about Matrix reconciling and accepting all of himself. The weak child who couldn't protect anyone and the asshole he grew up into who hates himself both as he is and as he was.

He's not Bob. And he's not the kid he was. He's something else. Someone else. Someone who wants not to be Bob and probably couldn't come close even if he tried, which he did  but at least be someone Bob  would recognize as an ally.

And all of a sudden the next episode puts him back on the path of plot after all the naval gazing.

While "Number 7" was about Matrix's internal motivation "The Episode With No Name" is about returning him an external motivation with a lot of exposition (a lot of which won't be important until next season) and returning to him faith that he can actually win after the first half of the season beat the hope right out of him.

Since a lot of the exposition is setting up stuff that happens in season 4 I won't go into it but what's important to season 3 is that things aren't as bad as Enzo thinks but without him getting off the bench they will be.

"Stuff" happens that allows Enzo to be in a better position to search for Bob.  And they meet up.

Let's Do This
From there you can probably guess the plot.

The two find a way home, kick ass and take names and it is so satisfying. Like I know I'm spoiling it. But that's not a bad thing. There are a lot of predictable season finales that are satisfying BECAUSE everything the audience wants to happen happens.  I'm looking at you Avatar the Last Airbender. This is one of those.

Everything is both narratively and thematically is tied up. Except for the stuff in  "The Episode With No Name"

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