Robotech, In Brief: Danger Zone

“Believe me, Rolf. This was the only way.”

“I hope to God you’re right.”

WHAT HAPPENS: The 15th Squadron arrives in the heart of Monument City for some “patrol duty.” In reality, they’re out for a night on the town. Meanwhile, the central government meets to discuss a recent attack; it seems the Robotech Masters have wiped out a suburban settlement. Chairman Moran demands to know how they were caught completely off-guard. Commander Leonard tells him the best course of action now is to strike back. General Emerson believes they’ll just be throwing away pilots’ lives. Moran signs off on Leonard’s plan. Morning comes, and squadrons of fighters lift off to intercept the Masters’ flagship. Their missile barrage is blocked by a web-shaped barrier system. Between the barrier and the Masters’ defense batteries, hundreds of lives are lost. At a military laboratory, Prof. Miles Cochrane and Dr. Samson Beckett study the wreckage of an enemy Bioroid. They conclude that whatever piloted it was human. At the barracks of the 15th, Angelo is sure the fighters could have broken through, but Louie finds that the ship’s design renders a frontal assault impossible. He explains that the ship’s engine appears to be a variation on a fold drive. Dana brings him to Cochrane’s lab; there, he sees that based on the available information the enemy ship doesn’t have a centralized power system. Instead it has a bio-magnetic induction network, drawing power from pushing and pulling apart Protoculture molecules. If they can destroy its equilibrium, they can bring it down. Later, at the barracks, Dana begs Bowie to talk to Emerson to get approval for this mission; Emerson raised Bowie after his father went out into space. Louie and the others present his findings at headquarters. While Emerson tells them they don’t have the pilots to spare, Dana’s confidence charms him and he wishes her good luck. Another wave of fighters is launched at the flagship, a distraction that allows a landing craft to break through the enemy barrier and drop the 15th Squadron’s Hovertanks on its hull. The 15th zip through trenches and ram through Bioroids as they race to their goal. A stray shot reveals the bio-magnetic network; Dana and Louie follow the energy to a shaft leading to the reactor that harnesses the bio-energy. One shot down the hole from Dana’s Hovertank’s arm-mounted cannon sets off a chain reaction; as the Hovertanks jet away, the flagship falls to Earth.

THOUGHTS: This episode’s eyecatch — again, at least in the original broadcast version — is given by Colonel Green, a character who hasn’t even been named on-screen: “It is my duty to inform you that Robotech will be right back!” After hearing the Macross Saga voices over and over again, it’s a nice change of pace, and a neat touch for them to use a minor though ever-present supporting player.

It’s interesting how about a minute into the recap of the previous episode Dana takes over as narrator. I kind of wish Robotech did this more often; the show can get narration-heavy, and adding a cast member’s spin can liven it up a bit, especially someone with Dana’s bubbly energy. However, I assume the recap was added to cover for editing out the setup for the tail end of the episode, where Dana buys that very 80’s dress right out from under Nova and Marie’s noses. Clearly she found it during the 15th’s night on the town, but all we see of that downtime is Sean trying to pick up a pretty lady out shopping. Weird that this character material is hacked out when it was the strength of the Macross Saga’s character drama that made it so successful. Is it because the producers feared Dana shopping would be “too girly”?

Once again, the series just hands out information: a newscaster in the opening minutes refers to the Masters’ battle commander as Zor. This leads to another weird fixation by the writer of a particular episode; like “renegades” and “your aide” before, this episode has Southern Cross brass constantly referring to Zor as leader of the Masters’ forces, despite never having been given his name. The last time that name was mentioned was back in “Southern Cross,” when a newscaster offered that these “renegades” were descendants of Zor. Where does this information keep coming from?

Between the suggestion last episode that the enemy is human and Emerson’s grim ponderings that the war is now brother against brother, I wonder if he’s thinking now that maybe the Robotech Masters have turned members of the Expeditionary Force that went out looking for them against their own kind.

Back in “False Start,” Col. Rochelle uttered the classic Star Wars line, “I have a bad feeling about this.” This episode offers another Star Wars parallel, the fight through the trenches to fire the shot down the shaft to take out the enemy’s battle fortress. It’s well directed and animated, and the use of humanoid craft does change the feel of it, but it doesn’t make it any less derivative. It’s not the last Star Wars parallel this generation of Robotech is going to offer, either.

Watching Louie picking off Bioroids to cover Dana makes me wish strongly for Louie to get a more combat-oriented role again if we ever get a sequel to The Shadow Chronicles. Analysis and strategy based on scientific observations aren’t his only strengths. Speaking of which, I wonder where he got his original data; is he hacking into the Southern Cross military scientists’ mainframe during downtime? Certainly that would be the explanation were the show being written today.

It’s another lopsided episode, with a sort of weak first act helped only by Sean getting figuratively shot down and the drama of Emerson and Leonard butting heads for the first time, but a strong second act helped tremendously by Louie Nichols coming to the fore with some reasonable-sounding technobabble (at least to a layperson like myself) and the 15th Squadron doing what they do best.

FIRSTS OF NOTE: This episode features the first appearances of a few background supporting players, including the highest ranking member of the civilian government, Chairman Moran, and two of the scientists studying the Masters’ technology, Miles Cochrane and Samson Beckett.

DANA’S BRATTINESS/INSUBORDINATION LEVEL: Going out on “patrol” as an excuse to go out drinking and shopping brings the needle up to a mere three, but Dana’s crying and wailing to twist Bowie’s arm knocks it up to a solid four.

DOES BOWIE SULK? He almost gets that look on his face when Dana begs him to use his father’s old friendship with General Emerson to get her and Louie an audience with the General, but he agrees pretty quickly. Clearly he’s dealt with Dana’s stubborn fake crying acts before.

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6 thoughts on “Robotech, In Brief: Danger Zone

  1. “Weird that this character material is hacked out when it was the strength of the Macross Saga’s character drama that made it so successful.”

    Weird and frustrating. Did/Do we *really* need 30 more seconds of recycled “action” footage? Aargh! Watching the original SDC:SC, all those “girly” character bits were charming, humanizing and endearing. If they had been left in, I’ve no doubt that “The Masters” would have left more of an emotional impact on and be more fondly remembered by its viewers. Just like the other two parts of the ROBOTECH saga. Shame.

  2. “This episode offers another Star Wars parallel, the fight through the trenches to fire the shot down the shaft to take out the enemy’s battle fortress. It’s well directed and animated, and the use of humanoid craft does change the feel of it, but it doesn’t make it any less derivative.”

    Yes, but derivative from what? The problem with noting parallels to Star Wars in other movies/shows is that Star Wars is itself almost entirely derivative from other sources. Not only does it incorporate pretty much every classical archetype (which is to say it is re-telling the same story that humans have been telling each other for at least the last 5500 years), but entire scenes from other movies have been copied and thrown in. Indeed, the trench run is a particular egregious example, being an obvious rip-off of the 1955 movie, Dam Busters, which was based off a book, which was itself based off of real events in WWII. I doubt there is a single original idea in Star Wars – This doesn’t make Star Wars bad (its appeal lies in areas other than originality) but it does mean we should take care in how we view potential examples of derivation. If something looks like it came from Star Wars, you can bet it probably came from somewhere else first.

    Totally agree about Louie. He is a technical genius and bad-ass; so far, all he’s been in TSC is the stereotypical techie guy.

    Also, I loved the (hover tank) transport ship. Do we ever see it again? I know that the next episode features the Chimera/Corsair III which is exciting.

    • ^ Also 633 Squadron may have been an even more direct rip off (I know there were a few others too).

    • On the one hand, yes, you are correct: the trench run in Star Wars was influenced by/ripped off from the sources you cite.

      On the other hand, this is a sci-fi trench run across an enemy battle fortress that ends with our heroes firing a shot into a deep, dark hole to bring that fortress down, in a TV series that two episodes later also totally does the trash compactor scene, right down to the laser blasts ricocheting off the walls. Star Wars may have taken the trench run from somewhere else, but it seems clear to me that Southern Cross then turned around and took it from Star Wars. When you’re talking about sci-fi cartoons of the 1980’s, I think you can be a little less careful about throwing around the “ripping off Star Wars” accusation. Even the Lensman anime (which premiered mere months after Southern Cross), an adaptation of material that Lucas, err, “borrowed from” freely, goes all ouroboros and rips off Star Wars, even more shamelessly than the Southern Cross examples.

      Regarding Louie: back in September, at RT 25: The Celebration, hearing actor David Milbern talk about Louie actually got me kind of steamed (as opposed to “slightly peeved,” which was the height of my annoyance back in ’06-’07) about the direction the character went in Shadow Chronicles and the fact that Milbern wasn’t hired to reprise the role. As I understand it, in his audition for The Shadow Chronicles he tried to play the character as THIS Louie Nichols, not as the more generic awkward science nerd the folks in charge wanted. Talk about a total misreading of the established character.

      • They wouldn’t let David Milburn come back as Louie?!? Well, that’s infuriating. I’m always in favor of bringing back the original actors whenever possible. Even more so in voice work, because it doesn’t matter if the actor has aged or not.

      • “Star Wars may have taken the trench run from somewhere else, but it seems clear to me that Southern Cross then turned around and took it from Star Wars. When you’re talking about sci-fi cartoons of the 1980′s, I think you can be a little less careful about throwing around the “ripping off Star Wars” accusation.”

        Less careful in terms of the truthfulness of the accusation, yes, but what about its saliency? How does such knowledge change how we view examples of derivation? That is, if we notice that something is derivative from a show which is itself simply a collection of other derivations, is it as meaningful an observation as noting a derivation of a (relatively) more original show (with the understanding that human work is almost always going to be derivative at some level)? I’m probably coming across as way more argumentative than I intend (since we agree on the big points), and I may have been unclear by opening my paragraph with a rhetorical question, which was meant to simply underscore the long chain of derivative work that makes up Star Wars rather than suggest that Southern Cross pulled from another source. I actually tend to agree that Southern Cross probably took the trench run from Star Wars rather than the earlier sources, particularly in light of the trash compactor scene, which was ridiculously blatant. But the point remains that Star Wars is itself ridiculously (and also purposefully) derivative. I suppose this is more of a pet peeve of mine rather than an important point, but for me, at least, it is like noting the similarities of a new song’s baseline to that of Ice Ice Baby, or comparing K-mart’s Dr K to Wal-Mart’s Dr Thunder – they are all derivative works, but they are derivations of other derivations.

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