EPISODE REVIEW: GI Joe Renegades: “The Anaconda Strain” (Episode 19)

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Glen Larsen, creator of Battlestar Galactica and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, is frequently called “Glen Larceny” in the industry. (Though presumably not to his face). Why? Because he’s notorious for ripping off plots from movies, filing down the serial numbers, re-grooving the tires slightly, and passing ‘em off as his own. I mean, Galactica lasted one season, only told seventeen stories, and five of ‘em were blatant knockoffs. Many - including our own Republibot 2.0 - have accused “Renegades” of being a rip off of The A-Team, which is true, but completely misses the spirit of the thing. And the A-Team itself was effectively a knockoff of any number of previous “Wrongfully accused heroes on the lam” shows dating back to The Fugitive (And including, let us not forget, the utterly forgettable “Galactica: 1980.” The Flintstones is a rip off of The Honeymooners.

I bring all this up because, despite being a rip off of a rip off of a rip off, the A-Team and Galactica were both pretty good shows (Sheriff Lobo wasn’t, however). Well, ok, the A-Team crashed and burned pretty fast, but you get my point. But all these shows grew away from their source material. The Honeymooners never had kids, nor a pet, nor spooky haunted neighbors, nor did they star in a (bad) spy movie. Perhaps the question isn’t originality - which is quite rare - but what original thing the rip-off artist brings to the party. I mean, if total originality was the only criteria, then the first western ever made would have been the last western ever made. So at what point does a ripoff become original again?

This is more relevant woolgathering than it might seems, since GI Joe: Renegades is pretty obviously wildly derivative of The A-Team (And it’s ancestors), but also this time out they’re openly channeling a pretty famous movie. And they’re not even trying to hide it. So: Ripoff or Homage? And how much difference is there? And if you bring something original to an homage, does that take the curse off of it and make it original again?

You decide.

PLAY BY PLAY

The Joes have been summoned to Mexico by a little girl, who’s father has disappeared. Her dad was a doctor working at a Cobra research facility. No one will talk to her or return her calls. Scarlet makes a crazy promise to rescue her dad that she can’t really back up, and Duke calls her on this, but they go anyway. They make their way into the facility, blending in by wearing biohazard suits, and make their way down level by level. Snake Eyes doesn’t bother with this, and, typically, just makes his own way.

En rout they discover that the girls’ dad is dead. Then they discover that his security card is still being used, and by following the clues they find he’s still alive, but infected with [dun…dun….DUNNN!] “The Anaconda Strain,” which is “The first ever reptilian virus to be genetically engineered to affect mammals.” It’s fatal, and a symptom is causing victims to develop reptilian symptoms: Slited pupils and scales and stuff.

The girls dad - Doctor Schnurr - is in isolation. His partner, Doctor Monev, has been treating him , but there’s no cure. Or so they think: Scarlet discovered there already was a cure. She recklessly breaks out Schnurr, and the team, plus the two doctors, make an arduous run to meet up with Snake Eyes, who’s extricated the cure from the storage vault.

You can’t spell “Monev” without Venom, however….no, wait, scratch that: reverse it. Monev reveals that he’s been working for Cobra all along, that the company plans to release the virus, then make a fortune selling the cure, and that Monev himself will get the Nobel prize. “So it’s win/win for everyone. Except you, Kurt,” he says to Schnurr.

Of course they manage to escape just as the security system designed to contain escaped lab animals blows the facility sky high, sterilizing it. Schnurr and daughter are reunited, and told to beat it. They get on a plane to fly away. Shortly thereafter, they realize the lab rat they cured is still sick, and that the antidote can’t completely cure you if you’ve got more than a casual infection, it can only keep you alive and turn you into a carrier. Duke (Who caught it during the escape) is fine, but Schnurr’s had it for weeks at this point, and he’s screwed. Not only that, he infects the plane and eventually will infect the world, playing right into Cobra’s hands.

He attempts to kill himself by jumping out of the plane, which Snake Eyes nearly foils, but then gets into trouble. The two of them are rescued by Duke and his jetpack. Meanwhile, Scarlet attaches the antidote (An aerosol) to the emergency oxygen mask system in the now-depressurized plane, and saves everyone.

Forced to wear an isolation suit more or less forever, Schnurr resolves to find a cure.

PLAY BY PLAY

See, there’s this movie called “The Andromeda Strain.” It’s an excellent film, directed by Robert Wise at the start of the last good phase of his career. Most of this episode cribs directly from the movie: we’ve got an underground research facility, with each level color coded, we’ve got heavy use of Isosuits, lengthy scenes of people going down in elevators, with each level below being more hazardous than the ones above, we’ve got a lot of use of servo-arms, a chase up the central corridor where our heroes try to get past lasers designed to pick off escaped lab specimens, and a bomb to destroy/sterilize the whole facility. And of course the whole thing revolves around bioweapons. I mean, come on, “The Andromeda Strain” and “The Anaconda Strain?” They’re not even trying to hide it.

So, again, ripoff or homage, you decide. At least if they’re trying to rip something off, however, they’re ripping off something smart and good and (comparatively) obscure, and *not* ripping off something like Sheriff Lobo. So that’s something….I dunno. I’m torn. This was a really good episode, despite the fact that I felt like I’d been here before. Because I had.

The new thing they bring to it is the airplane sequence at the end, which has the great multiple-aerobatic-rescue sequence, which is all kinds of cool, but is it enough to justify what came before? Probably not. Ah, moral quandaries, you’ll be the death of me.

Anyway: Dr. Schnurr is this series’ iteration of “Airtight,” the Joes’ hostile environment specialist. He wasn’t a doctor, he just wore an isolation suit so he could fight in contaminated areas. Dr. Morev is better known as Dr. Venom from Cobra, one of their evil thinktank. In tonight’s version, he was voiced by Michael Emmerson, who played “Ben” on Lost. It’s inspired stunt casting since Morev is duplicitous, conniving, effortlessly evil, and oh so very friendly.

Dialog implies that Shipwreck hauled them back across the ocean. They’re in Mexico now, which implies they’re heading back to the ‘States.

Scarlet’s father is dead, and this motivates her to go out of her way to save Schnurr. She won’t talk about her dad’s demise, however.

Schnurr’s work is allegedly to cure people of diseases, but it’s pretty hard to see what cure value a genetically re-engineered reptilian retrovirus modified so it can kill people would have, you know, medicinally. Pretty clearly a weapon, or maybe a desperate cry for attention.

Duke gets a lot of great lines this time out, he’s far funnier than usual:

“Haven’t you heard? Ninjas can’t fly!”
“I’ve seen you swim in a sewer, why so germ-phobic all of a sudden?”
And so on.

The disease turns you into a reptile, probably a snake. They mention that the initial virus they were futzing with came from a “Patient Zero,” though this is never really described in any detail. In “GI Joe: The Movie” (1986), Cobra Commander is turned into snake by exposure to mutagenic spores from plants that live in Cobra-li. (I’m not going to explain it, just go here http://www.republibot.com/content/staturday-afternoon-b-movie-crapfest-%... ). This show loves to drop references and riffs and stuff based on the old show, so I think this pretty clearly has to be a reference to that. And I think we know who Patient Zero was: I mean, have you ever wondered why Cobra Commander wears that mask?

Well, now you know….or strongly suspect. And Strongly Suspecting is half the battle!

Cobra Commander has a HUGE trained snake called “Serpentor” in his office. I find myself wondering if perhaps he’s a victim of the Anaconda virus as well.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Yeah, it’s pretty cool, actually. Nothing here to dislike, lots to like.

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