EPISODE REVIEW: Sym-Bionic Titan: “Shaman of Fear” (Season 1, Episode 6)

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The princess and Corporal Lance* are having very bad dreams, and partial memories that might be dreams, or maybe things they’ve somehow forgotten. They can’t be sure, and Octus seems to have a whole lot of files he can’t access all of a sudden. Lance keeps reliving the death of his father and himself being attacked by demonic red beasties. The princess has far more nonstandard nightmares that are far more surrealistic and/or Bergmanesque in places, and probably shouldn’t be watched by kids. These ultimately turn out to be the work of an alien that can affect their minds. They face up to their fears and get all chop-socky on his Aztec-by-way-of-Space Invaders giant robot.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

I know the synopsis doesn’t sound like much, but this really is the best episode ever. Not so much for what it does, but in the way it plays with reality and illusion, and we never find out exactly how much of the initial memories of the Titan finding the big alien dealie are real and how much are illusion (Though probably most of it was real, we can’t be sure). More than any other foe they’ve faced, the Shaman came closest to defeating them. Even after they won, they were pretty darn beat down.

The whole ‘facing up to your fears’ stuff is all fairly trite, but in fact the fears were actually pretty scary. Lance’s visions are fairly standard being-chased-by-monsters stuff was undercut by being tied directly to a personal trauma he suffered as a young child, and Illana’s increasingly bizarre visions are based on her considerable guilt at leaving her countrymen behind to suffer at the hands of the bad guys. If the Powers of Matthew Star had been one tenth as good as this…well, it still would have been a pretty crappy story. It’s still worth remembering that show, however, just to show how much storytelling and vision can transcend an inherently stupid premise. Both that show and this one have the exact same basic ideas, and yet this one totally rocks, and that one is a little too embarrassing to even use as a joke. How much you wanna’ bet Louis Gossett, Jr, doesn’t even put it on his resume?

Anyway, despite the flat and overstylized animation in this series, Illana’s images and nightmares were pretty eyepopping and several of them were genuinely chilling, as with the pallbearers crying dark sand out of their empty eye sockets, or the forest of arms reaching out of the water, begging to be pulled into the boat. That last one struck me as rather derivative of Hawkeye’s nightmare from the “Perchance to Dream” episode of M*A*S*H* Remember that one? Him in a rowboat on a lake full of the body parts he’d amputated? Chilling. Likewise here.

My point is that you *Need* to watch this episode, rather than to just hear about it. It’s a solid visual meal, the narrative follows dream logic, and describing it in linear fashion robs it of some considerable emotional impact.

Also, interesting revelation about Lance’s dad: Lance had thought he died all these years, but it turned out that he just went through the rift gate for some reasons, seemingly emotionally very disturbed about it, as though he was sacrificing himself for a greater good. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this.

Finally, it’s a minor point, but one I really like: Cartoons usually use the same models for characters in each episode, including the same clothes. Illana is wearing different clothes in every episode, however, sometimes more than one outfit per show. Because she’s a teenaged girl, see? It’s a simple detail that probably required a lot of extra work to pull off, but it’s a nice touch that brings a lot to the show.

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