There’s an old saw about science fiction on TV: If you haven’t got enough money to do everything you want, put the money you *do* have on the writers. The theory is that people will overlook plywood sets and even more wooden acting and lame special effects and whatnot if you give them a good story. And of course it’s true: The original Twilight Zone is the best example, but there are scads of others. This is the reason the original Star Trek holds up really well, while everything from TNG on feels really dated and slow: A-level writers in the original show, refugees from The Guiding Light writing the others.
Despite how painfully obvious this concept is, you’d be surprised how few producers actually take it to heart, thus we end up with shows like…well, come on, we all know the rogues gallery, right? That’s why I’m so happy with GI Joe Renegades: Yeah, the animation is dodgy at best, yeah, I’m not thrilled with the character design, some people aren’t thrilled with the idea of a reboot. Say what you will about any of these, but man oh man oh man oh man is this one well written show! It’s easily the best written GI Joe series ever (not a lot of competition there), and better than the comic as well (That was actually generally pretty above par). As such, I’m willing to overlook all those other concerns.
This is the way GI Joe was always supposed to be. This is the statue that has been waiting for thirty years for someone to chip away the rock and reveal it.
PLAY BY PLAY
As a high school senior in Missouri, Duke is quarterback in the big game. He gets tackled on the final play, the winning touchdown that’ll bring his team up from behind, but he gets sacked by Flint. Flint wins the game, and a scholarship to West Point. Duke gets his knee broken, and doesn’t get a scholarship to college. His dad can’t afford to send him, so his life is basically over.
Some time after that, Duke is working a job at a fast food joint, and Flint coincidentally is going through the drive through. He recognizes Duke from the game, and starts bragging about winning. Duke limps away, and Flint sees that his leg is in a cast. Feeling really bad about it, Flint gives Duke a ride. Since Duke is basically better than you or I, he accepts. Their town is dying. Duke’s dad has lost his job. There’s no options. Flint suggests the army to Duke, who thinks it’s a good idea.
Some time after that, Duke is a corporal in Flint’s platoon in some unstated location, but probably Afghanistan. Duke gets himself injured saving the life of a guy who stepped on a mine. Flint puts him up for a purple heart, but Duke refuses to take it. In his mind, that guy almost died because he stepped on a mine Duke failed to clear earlier.
Some time after that, Duke is attached to Stalker’s unit chasing down gun runners in central America. Things go down bad, and a helicopter crashes. Duke disobeys orders to rescue the passengers of the chopper, one of whom is Lady Jaye. It’s their first meeting.
Some time after that the series starts
Some time after that, Duke discovers that Cobra is targeting the renegade’s families. Duke wants to go help his, but Scarlet says it’s all just a bluff. He bails on them anyway, steals a motorcycle and heads to Missouri. While there he meets his kid brother who’s now a troubled teen.
The others bluff their way into a Cobra Christmas party, and managed to futz up a signal so that it “Adam DeCobray” fades back and forth into Cobra Commander on the video screen in front of a whole bunch of confused guests. The Joes steal a hard drive with the whole thing on it, and run. Cobra Commander contacts them directly - creepy - and tells them to put the hard drive at thus and such a place at thus and such a time, or else he’ll kill Duke’s family, and shows them footage of the kidnapping. They agree.
Meanwhile, Duke showed up at his parent’s house moments after the kidnapping, and rescued his parents, but Cobra had no way of knowing that. Scarlet et al drive into Cobra Commander’s trap, knowing full well it *is* a trap, and nearly die, but Duke shows up and saves the day.
They decide to fake their death in a car accident/explosion to give them a bit of breathing room, and then Duke’s parents insist on having him and the rest of the team over for Christmas dinner. While they’re eating, Flint’s people bust in and nab everyone. Duke’s troubled teen brother called the cops on him.
END PART 1
Cobra Commander is not at all happy with The Baroness, and she’s more than passingly scared by this. She goes to take care of the situation herself, and takes a helicopter to the train the captives are being taken to DC on. She takes a jetpack to the train, then, using some cyber hands. She kills the engineer, sets the engine on fire and locks the controls, then makes her way to the car where the Joes are being held, easily taking out all obstacles on the way. She comes across Snake Eyes, who destroys her jetpack, and just kind of oozes cool. When she’s about to kill him, Storm Shadow appears, saving him and claiming that Snake Eyes is his and his alone. She lets them fight, and attacks the prisoner’s car.
She manages to steal the hard drive (Is it stealing since her company owns it?) and Storm Shadow hops a ride with her as she escapes. The Joes save everyone on the train, and Lady Jaye allows Scarlet to hit her really hard so that it appears they’ve escaped without her helping them.
Cobra Commander tasks The Baroness with developing a PR team that will turn the Joes from heroic outlaws to public enemy #1. Storm Shadow joins Cobra, and The Baroness takes him to meet Dr. Mindbender.
Just like the previous two-parter is all about Snake Eyes, this one is all about Duke, explaining who he is and how he got here. This kind of thing could easily be corny, but it’s done very well, and his backstory connects emotionally. I commented on the quiet sense of goodness that pervades this series last week, but this week added something to that: Duke honestly doesn’t believe he’s good enough. He does everything better than everyone else, he’s a hero a dozen times over, and yet he honestly can’t conceive that he’s even pulling his own weight. It’s a neat take on a character who, up until now, has always been annoyingly whitebread.
I especially like that they’re not overloading him with dysfunction or a crappy childhood. He’s a good guy, has a solid family who believe in him, he’s not a mess or a tragedy or (Thus far) a triumph, and such dysfunction as he has (and there definitely is some) actually has positive effects. He can’t accept that he’s anything special, and he tries extra hard for everyone else because of it. Neat, huh?
Duke’s kid brother is named “Vince.” In GI Joe: The Movie we were introduced to his half-brother, Lt. Vincent Falcone. Clearly this Vince is the latest iteration of him. That’s kinda’ cool as cameos go. Seeing stalker again was neat, too, though they’re playing a bit loose with the established biographies of these folks. For instance, Falcone was from North Carolina, and Stalker was a mere sergeant, not an officer like we saw here tonight. Also, Flint was a warrant officer, not a lieutenant, and he’s from Kansas, not Missouri, and he and Duke clearly didn’t know each other as kids. I’m not convinced Tunnel Rat was Jewish in previous iterations, either. But, hey, it works! I never liked the character in previous shows, here I love the guy. I’m not the kind of OCD geek who whines and moans about these things, and thus far all the changes have been to the good, but I *AM* the kind of OCD geek who points ‘em out.
Rat: “I don’t mind being here. If I go home, I end up working through Christmas.”
Roadblock: “You work through Christmas?”
Rat: “My parents run a Kosher Chinese deli in Brooklyn. You do the math.”
I do like the way they’re dropping in these cameos and Easter eggs without really raising flags over them. They’re presents for the fans, and only fans’ll get ‘em. If you don’t see them, then they’re not for you. Another one would appear to be the cyber hands The Baroness had tonight, which I take to be a reference to GI Joe Sigma 6. In that version, the Baroness (Easily the most smoking’ hot iteration of her, btw, and she’s always pretty hot to begin with) has prosthetic cybernetic arms and big gloves. Her losing the gloves in this ep might possibly be taken as an in-joke on that previous series, but I dunno.
Inspired stunt casting tonight: Duke’s parents were voiced by the people who did the voices of Duke and Scarlet in the original ‘80s cartoon.
Heretofore, Flint has been something of a jackass in the series, and not a sympathetic character. In this episode, he’s actually portrayed as a very stand-up guy, who just happens to also be a jackass. I do like how honor bound he felt to protect the Renegades’ families, and I also like that he’s not a fool. His expression when Duke hands him a gun was a neat bit of gradual realization that there’s more going on here than he thought, but at the same time he wasn’t about to just hand them the keys. He’s a sharp guy. It’s not going to take him long to figure out that Lady Jaye is helping his quarry. Incidentally, in most versions of the Joe story, Jaye and Flint end up getting married (And having a daughter who’ll end up helping the Autobots in their war against the Decepticons).
So how much of what Flint saw tonight will actually make him re-think his stance? I think it already has. He didn’t kill Duke when he had the chance. He doesn’t believe the story they gave, but he no longer believes the mercenary theory he’s been running with thus far.
The news footage of protesters chanting “Free the Springfield Four” when the Renegades were taken into custody were the farmers they saved in the premier.
I do like how everyone is scared of The Commander. I feel cheated by his reveal in the party, though. It was a cool moment, undercut by the fact that we’ve already seen him once and he’s in the opening credits. If he were revealed here for the first time, that would have been a great creepy moment.
So there you go: Great episode(s), great show, greatly worth a watch, and Merry Christmas.
WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?
Good Grief, man, this is the absolute best, most Conservative, most *decent* cartoon on TV right now. If you don't like it, you're not really a Conservative, just a joyless shriveled old husk of a human being pretending to be one because the Democrats won't have you.