Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dino Squad - Fire and Ice

Open on Veloci flying over disintegrating glaciers in yet another ludicrous dino-faced vehicle, a blimp this time. “I do so love global warming,” he croons. He dusts the area with his mutation juice to see what kinds of reactions it produces with anything that might have been frozen inside. He turns his hands into lizard guy hands to pull the lever that does this, because…he can. Some defrosted plants grow into big spiky mushrooms.

Then cut to Kittery Point High where Max is pretty much playing for his entire team at a basketball game. Even though they win, Caruso, the other players and the coach are annoyed at him for hogging the ball for the whole game. Basketball’s a team sport, blah blah blah I bet you can figure out the moral this episode’s going to push already. The only thing on Max’s mind is that they won.

That's pretty much how I feel, coach.

After getting changed Max gets his official Dino Squad watch, complete with a face that looks like a dinosaur eye and has little dinosaur spikes sticking out too. And these guys are concerned about keeping their identities secret? He even says the “Mothersaurus” thing while he’s standing in the locker room. It signals the kids to meet Moynihan, and she tells them about mutant readings on an island near Greenland. She then tells them to go home and meet back there in the morning to deal with this. She had them come all the way out to the lighthouse to tell them that?

When they do come back to make the trip, Caruso’s wearing a tuxedo because he thinks it’d be cool to take pictures of him in that outfit next to actual penguins. That’s so moronic, even for the characters in this show, it almost doesn’t merit mentioning they tell him there are no penguins where they’re going, just walruses. How would he explain being side-by-side with penguins, anyway?

Moynihan says she’ll meet them at the island once she’s had a chance to pick something up. Why is she coming, what’s she picking up and why does she think they’ll need it? This is an unfortunate coincidence, but I’m noticing that the times she tags along on a mission the mutants they’re facing seem kind of lame. Last time it was puppies who only posed a danger of drowning the kids in slobber, now it’s a bunch of immobile mushrooms.

Once they get there Max divides up the work zones with really vague directions (“Fiona, take the southern end of the island. Caruso, you de-ooze to the east. Rodger, cover the spot closest to shore, and Buzz, you take that rocky cove over there.”) Fiona intuits that this leaves over half the island for Max to handle alone, which he confirms with enthusiasm.

Watch out for the Pirates of Pestulon, you guys.

A melting icicle drips onto Max and we see microorganisms spreading inside him as he complains about it getting hot. Uh oh, this episode’s going for more than one moral. Strap on your helmets, people.

Max then goes around to the others, giving advice on more effective ways to use their guns and telling Buzz to pick up the pace. Soon the island’s clear of mutant mushrooms, but the others are annoyed at Max for getting involved in them doing their part. “Are you sure weren’t operating under some kind of ‘if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself’ mentality?” Fiona asks.

Max retorts by pointing out some flakiness on his friends’ parts, like the time Caruso stopped in the middle of a fight to fix his hair, and Buzz wanted to take some giant spiders home BEFORE they weren’t giant anymore. Buzz protests that “your whole control-freakiness is kind of holding the rest of us back.” Caruso adds “Pass the ball once in a while. In life, not just in basketball.” Getting another “Attack of the Brain-a-Saurus” vibe off this one.

What it looked to me was going on back there was Max was making valid suggestions to improve efficiency within the group, with the show implying that was he was being overbearing but not really demonstrating that. The only thing the show did to bother establishing that everyone was doing fine and he was only stepping on their toes was an annoyed grunt from Buzz. They appear to have cleared the island in a timely fashion even with Max covering over half of it by himself and still taking time to give the rest of them advice.

This isn’t the Girl Scouts, and it certainly isn’t a high school basketball game. Here, the outcome IS the most important thing, and everyone getting a chance to participate shouldn’t even be a consideration. These guys are the only people who’re doing anything about a madman creating murderous giant animals. You do the job quickly, you do it right and you don’t complain about hurt feelings when someone tells you how you can be doing better. Lives are presumably at stake; if you’re gonna complain when your performance is critiqued, go home and get out of the way.

If the point of the show’s existence was to tell an entertaining story and mix its messages in as part of that story instead of the other way around, these clashes of personality would be fine, even encouraged (it’s all about finding a balance between what makes a good story and what’s smart for the characters to do). But in a show as simplistic and preachy and unironic as this, the kids sound like a bunch of whiners who can’t stand it when someone tells them they need to do better at stopping people from dying at the claws of vicious mutants.

I know they were dealing with stationary mushrooms back there, but I’ve watched this show for a while. Yes they do sometimes make moronic decisions in the middle of situations where something’s at risk, like Max described. Remember when Caruso and Max turned stopping an entire GROUP of giant mutants into a contest? Or when Buzz flew off to help an online gaming buddy without checking in or even leaving a note? This kind of shit is not limited to when there’s no factor of time and lives (including their own) aren’t at risk. Max isn’t exempt from that kind of thing either (remember when he turned his back on King Kong to help Buzz up?), but I agree with what he comes across as saying. Get your shit together, Dino Squad.

Between Max going around giving out pointers and the other kids confronting him about it, we saw a fish eat a mushroom they missed and mutating, and then a walrus eating the mutant fish and mutating. Now a giant walrus shows up and attacks them (and Caruso “comically” thinks Buzz is reminding him walruses live around there, somehow failing to notice a fifteen-foot mutant right in front of them). They morph and Max tries to take it on, but suddenly starts feeling sick and shrinks back to normal. The others load him onto Rodger’s back and try to make a break for it, which doesn’t work until Buzz manages to lure the walrus into the water.

Here's your bucket back, just don't kill me!

Then…oh lord, Moynihan surfaces next to them in her private submarine. A private submarine. What happened to their equipment being limited to whatever puny surplus she had from being a high school science teacher? Is she borrowing this from a marine biologist friend? Has she been stockpiling cash for centuries thanks to her never-explained immortality? And she can run that thing all by herself? Don’t submarines usually have big crews? Damn, for a show ostensibly created to teach kids stuff, there’s an awful lot about it they don’t seem to want you to think about.

She advises hustling Max to sick bay (boy, good thing she just happened to think to bring a damn submarine), because she can tell he’s running “a high fever” just from looking at him. He protests he just got a little dizzy, but she down votes him. After all, “Mothersaurus knows best.” I can’t pin down what it is that bugs me about her acting like their mom, even to the point of calling herself “mothersaurus”…but it does.

Using what looks to be a primitive tricorder, she does indeed scan Max and finds out that he’s been infected by a defrosted virus amped up by some of Veloci’s mutant juice. Fortunately she really does have a friend in every field and uploads what she’s learned to get her friend’s help in coming up with an antivirus because it really is that easy. Oh, and in case it matters, everyone’s been infected too, Max is just further along because he got infected first.

Max is suffering from a mutated prehistoric virus. Obviously.

Moynihan has Buzz and Caruso disinfect everything Max has touched, which smacks of shutting the barn door after the horses run out if she knows they’re all infected already. Rodger gets to work tracking the walrus. “Piece of large-tusked blubber cake.” Is that supposed to be a joke?

Meanwhile, Veloci picks up the signal on the walrus and goes after it. In his dirigble, by the way. I noticed that the usual dinosaur eye scene transition was of his eye when it switched to him. Is that supposed to be like the one from Transformers? Where the logo would flip to whichever side they were showing in the new scene?

Cut back to the kids, where we find out “Dr. Pat calculated the vaccine and the dosage for each of us based on age and body weight.” That’s convenient. And quick. Oh, and turns out you can administer a vaccine with an aerosol spray.

Love how Rodger's pulling back his sleeve even though HE DOESN'T HAVE SLEEVES.

They pick up Veloci on their Veloci alert (seriously), and leave in the boat to deal with the walrus before he can capture it. In his blimp. In their boat, which is submersible. As they leave, the other kids realize Max stowed away because he can’t let them do this without him. Then the show just throws up its hands and says the school teacher can have the same level of technology as a supervillain with his private corporation, as the boat goes onto land with pop-out tank treads.

The kids see the walrus and morph to not so much “attack” as run at it, allowing Max to realize how sick he still is, keel over and be hauled up into Veloci’s blimp. Our villain speeds away (in his blimp), gloating at having finally captured a PERfect dinosaur.

Oh, and even though Max is still too weak from the virus to even stand up (the kids found him lying down in the boat, implying he dragged himself there and collapsed), he stays in dino form this time. Because before they needed him to fit into the sub, now they need to make sure he doesn’t reveal his secret identity to the bad guy. Because that would destroy the status quo.

The kids are torn between saving Max and stopping the walrus before it “goes and eats a ship or something.” See? The stakes are serious. Fiona mentions that she mounted underwater versions of the anti-mutant guns on the boat, so maybe they can do both at once. Rodger calls Moynihan on his watch (see? They didn’t have to go all the way to the lighthouse), he asks her to hack into the controls of Veloci’s blimp and send them to his “handheld.” *sigh* Can they beat Veloci without hacking his computers? Just for a change of pace?

The kids restore the walrus to normal with shots from the boat’s eye-headlights (those are “underwater” versions of their guns?), and Veloci’s conveniently so eager to dissect a dinosaur he tells his goons to put the blimp on autopilot so he can have them help him get started right away.

Pchew! Pchew! Pchew!

Rodger turns the blimp around (and none of the bad guys notice), and they lower the boat’s roof. I was thinking “if they have dino-ejector seats on that thing, I quit” when Buzz dinos up and flies to the blimp instead. Aboard, Max is trying not to fall asleep and turn back to normal even though he was still conscious when the virus weakened him into changing back before. Also, I’m reminded of that episode of Justice League Unlimited where the Flash and Lex Luthor switch bodies, and Lex takes advantage of the situation to find out the Flash really is, only to realize he has no idea who the face belongs to. Or hell, Mirageman, where in the part where he's getting beat down by the gangsters they pull his mask off, but they never show up at his house to set a trap or kidnap his little brother. Yeah, Veloci's the head of a private corporation with tons of resources, but if he can't even stop a couple of meddling kids from upsetting an entire scheme by hacking into his computers every two out of three episodes...

Buzz flies to the top of the blimp and pecks his way through the metal roof (if the top of the blimp is cargo space, what’s keeping it in the air?), and it isn’t long before the goons come in and report it to Veloci. Along with the fact that the pteranodon they keep running into might have done it. Rodger sends the blimp into a dive then, making all the bad guys slip and fall toward the front. Buzz rips out just the right wire to set Max free, and seeing this, Veloci decides to…oh man, he’s really gonna do it. He turns to his dino form too.

Admittedly, his chances are looking a little better than usual since Max is still too weak to do much, but we did just see Buzz tear through metal with his beak, too. Rodger can apparently see the “fight” with some kind of radar on his handheld control gadget with a ridiculously long name (thankfully, Fiona tells him to stop naming the stupid thing and do something useful with it). He makes the blimp turn at just the right second to slam Veloci against the wall, giving Buzz the chance to rip another opening for him and Max to escape through. They turn back to normal and are picked up by the other kids.

Big trouble on a blimp. Obviously.

Y’know, with how often the Dino Squad upsets Veloci’s plans by hacking his computers, you’d think he’d look into stopping it. Even if his power as a dinosaur is no match for any of theirs, the resources and manpower he has available sure as hell is.

The kids get away in the sub, and Max admits he shouldn’t have snuck out and he shouldn’t have bossed everybody around. One guy can only do so much. Yeah, but that doesn’t mean the group should resist input.

But one moral isn’t enough for this episode. Fiona’s freaked out by the existence of this prehistoric virus. If global warming unleashed that, what could be next? While global warming is a problem, well…I feel like a dingus using TVTropes as the basis of an argument, but this seems awfully close to what they call a “Space Whale Aesop.”

Basically, the example comes from the fourth Star Trek movie, where an alien probe’s going to destroy the world, and only whales speak the same language as this thing. But whales are extinct in the future or something, so they have to go back in time to collect whales and have them tell the thing not to destroy the world. So save the whales, because someday they might be the only thing that can tell some alien gadget not to exterminate us.

Here it’s prevent global warming because some frozen life form might be resurrected and destroy us all. Viruses might indeed work that way, but with all the trademark bullshit Saturday morning science this show relies on already, it comes across as operating under the grossly mistaken idea that if encased in ice, something will be frozen in time and perfectly healthy upon being thawed. There are plenty of valid reasons global warming’s a problem, but I don’t care how many kaiju movies use this as the origin of their creature, ancient defrosted horrors are probably not among them. Let alone mutation juices that make them even more threatening.

I’m fine with shows venturing into the fantastic. Honestly, I kind of prefer it. But if your story’s going to take a real problem and pontificate on why it’s a problem, generally it’s recommended you explain why it’s bad in fairly realistic terms (at the very least if your work's going to be built around dispensing morals, and Dino Squad certainly is). I enjoy movies like Godzilla and Them!, but I also consider them a pretty stupid warning about the dangers of atomic power. Even all these years later, Dino Squad’s taking the exact same tact. “What’s next? Stuff we haven’t even thought of!” Fiona moans. A good point, but it might be a better one if it wasn’t coming from a show where every bit of important science and technology is flown in straight from fantasyland.

Max tries to reassure her that people are trying to find ways to deal with the problem, but doesn’t say thing one about who those people are or how concerned citizens can get involved. To drive its stupid parable home even further (and it looks like I was right about the eye wipe), Veloci collects a sample of the virus and ruminates “Global warming has potentialities even I never dreamed of.” We close on a glacier falling apart.

If the virus is in the water, how come he doesn't get infected?

This episode is etched indelibly on my soul now. Or something.

Would it be unfair of me to point this is the second Dino Squad review in a row to end without resolving a fairly big hanging plot thread? This time, that there was that mushroom the fish ate? Most of which was still left last time we saw it?

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