EPISODE REVIEW: Ben 10- Alien Force: “Vendetta” (Season 3, Episode 18)

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Penultimate episodes are always kind of a crapshoot: They can either stretch and try something new - like Stargate: Atlantis did - or they can just phone it in, content in the knowledge that it’ll all be over soon. Alien Force chose to stretch, and good for them! After last week’s weird misstep, the show is back in fine form, with the darkest episode they’ve ever done.

PLAY BY PLAY

A villain named “Ragnarok” escapes from a prison in the Nullvoid, which itself is a prison. Basically, that’s like Tartarus, I guess, the worst pit of hell, which is, on the whole, pretty bad itself, I hear tell. Team Ben, meanwhile, is roughing up the Forever Knights yet again, and they win with no real effort. Kevin heads home to find it’s been broken into and trashed. Nothing was stolen, but it’s like they were looking for something. Kevin’s mom tells him some secret thing that we can’t hear, and he freaks out. He demands information about “Ragnarok” from Ben and Gwen, but they’ve never heard of the guy. Kevin storms off, telling them not to get involved.

They get involved, and go to ask Grandpa about Ragnarok. He mildly freaks out, and we get an extended flashback of a plumber mission gone wrong, involving him and his plucky young sidekick, “Devon Levin.” Devon found out that Raggie was gonna’ drain the sun, so he stole the alien’s key, and then Grandpa had to bail him out. Raggie attacks them and kills Devon before Grandpa can banish the alien to the outer darkness of the Nullvoid.

Back in the present, Kevin has more-or-less instantly found Raggie, and a dustup ensues, which bores raggie so he leaves. Gwen does the glowey-eyed mind meld thing with Kevin, and figures this key that everyone wants is hidden in the picture frame in Kevin’s house. As they retrieve it, Raggie shows up and takes it.

Gwen beams them to the ship, and then Kevin tricks ‘em in an escape pod and sends them unwillingly back to earth. Gwen and Ben discuss what happens next. She thinks Kevin might kill the guy - he’s made it pretty clear he wants to - Ben says such a thing is impossible as this is, after all, a young kid’s show.

On the ship, Raggie starts to drain the sun, and Kevin starts smashing up the controls, which causes the sun to fill up again, and blows up most of the ship. As they’re getting sucked out into space, Raggie begs for his life, appealing to the noble memory of Kevin’s just father, who wouldn’t want his son to become a murderer. Kevin tries to save him, but Raggie pulls a Christopher Lloyd, and tries to kill him. Kevin pulls an “I have had enough of you” and basically kicks the guy to his doom.

Back on earth, Gwen asks Kevin what happened to Ragnarok.

“He didn’t make it,” Kevin says flatly.

OBSERVATIONS

Wow! Seriously, wow!

There is nothing I hate more than a show where they take a good guy character, make him murderously mad and bent on revenge, and then, at the very stroke of victory, he fires off some piece of crap line like “No, I’m better than you, I’m not going to kill you,” or whatever. It always rings false, even in Avatar:: The Last Airbender’s somewhat disappointing finale. Well, ok, realistically, there are plenty of things I hate worse, but I still really hate it.

What made this episode so great was that they set it up like one of those, and then totally pulled the rug out from under our feet at the end by having Kevin *not* do that. He set out to kill a guy, and then he killed him. No moral lesson learned, no ‘gallant nature of humanity’ used as a means of chickening out at the end. Nope, nope, nope: Raggie was a bad man, and Kevin killed him. He even admits to it in nebulous fashion. Wow!

Even before that happened, the episode was plenty dark, as my oldest kid declared after Devon was killed. There’s no hedging there, either, they make it very clear he was killed, and they repeatedly say “He’s dead” and “He was murdered.” And, of course, they show him dying, which, as far as I know, has never been done before in any Ben Ten episode in either series. Again: wow!

Nice princess bride nod: “My name is Kevin Levin. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

Interestingly, Devon’s superpower was the same as Kevin’s original superpower when we first met him. Following the rules of this show, that means that Kevin is a 2nd-generation alien, I guess 1/4th. Gwen and Ben are each 1/4th alien as well. Notably, Grandpa’s team of “Plumber’s Helpers” are all ½ alien, and hence basically don’t look human.

Rath shows up again, once again voiced by John DiMaggio. Evidently the writers really like the character. He is pretty funny, though he’s never been given as much to do as in his debut appearance, and hence he’s kind of less funny by degrees.

The scene where the picture frame resolves itself into a key was pretty inventive and clever. The scene where Raggie stick it In His Head (!) was very unexpected and creepy/cool.

The discussion of where Kevin lives was really pretty funny, and long overdue: “Do you even have a home?” “What, did you think I live in a tent in the woods?” “So that garage ‘a friend lets you use?” “Yeah, my mom lives there.”

It didn’t detract from the episode at all, and this sort of thing really doesn’t hurt the series, which is a lot of fun, but to satisfy my OCD, I have to point out that it’s pretty much impossible to reconcile these character’s backstories with what we saw in the original series. Just sticking to Kevin’s own story, and ignoring the many other imponderables with the other characters, there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense.

Kevin is 17. When he first showed up in the original show, he was 11. As Devon dies, he tells Grandpa to tell his wife and son that he loves them. And yet when Kevin showed up at age 11, it was very obvious that neither Grandpa nor Kevin knew who each other were.

Furthermore, at age 11, Kevin was homeless, having been abandoned by his parents, and living on the streets. That doesn’t dovetail really well with a loving family and all that. I suppose it’s possible that his never-before-seen mom simply couldn’t handle the loss of her husband, and freaked out and ran, but that’s never been mentioned, it’s a heck of a retcon, and frankly it’s a direction I don’t think the show would run in. Then again, they had a homeless street urchin as a recurring character in a show aimed at seven year olds, so what do I know? In any event, when Kevin said “I have to go show my mom” that he became a Plumber in the 2nd episode of the season, it was quite a shocker.

In the picture of Kevin with his dad, Kevin could really be any age between about five and ten, which means that if Kevin is 16 in 2010, then his dad must have died somewhere between 1998 and 2003, which means, obviously, that Grandpa was still a plumber that recently. In the original show, however, the plumbers had all been retired for more than a decade (As I recall), probably closer to 20 years.

By the way, the original series took place entirely over the course of one summer vacation, and since Ben was 10 at the time, that means the show was set solidly during 2005, though of course superhero timelines are always a bit squishy, so I won’t hold them to that. Nor will I hold them to any of this, since the plastic nature of their pasts doesn’t really matter much in these kinds of stories. Though, of course they’d get brownie points from me if they addressed ‘em.

Next week the two-part series finale runs, and my kids and I are really excited to see it. We’re also eagerly anticipating the premier of “Ben Ten: Evolutions” later this year.

Mr. McDuffie, if by some weird happenstance you come across this review, we’d very much love to interview you about the show, and your career. Drop us a line if you’re interested!

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