Robotech, In Brief: Metal Fire

“What’s the difference whether they’re cloned androids or live aliens, they’re still shooting at us!”

WHAT HAPPENS: While fighting has stopped around the Robotech Masters’ flagship, the Army of the Southern Cross continues to keep a close eye on it. Meanwhile, General Emerson has called Dana Sterling and Louie Nichols in to examine a captured Bioroid. Louie wraps some muscle-like cables from within it around his arm and moves his arm; the impulses cause the Bioroid to move. The Bioroid is controlled by the pilot’s thoughts with a response time comparable to his own body. Colonel Green asks what the most effective way to stop the Bioroids would be. From all avaialble data, Louie finds the only effective way to take them out is to destroy the cockpit. Dana is outraged; that would kill the pilot. Green points out that in their report they found evidence that the enemy are life-like androids, but Dana notes that the Bioroids only respond to living stimuli. Emerson’s presence is soon requested in the war room; the Bioroid’s pilot is dead, and an autopsy has been completed. Commander Leonard is being briefed on it. Emerson asks Dana to come along. When they arrive, Leonard has Dr. Byron get them up to speed; his findings reinforce the position that the Bioroid pilots are androids, complete with a device in the chest that generates a sort of artificial will that the Bioroid can respond to. Dana refuses to believe it and causes a scene. She has to be removed from the premises. Leonard tells the commanders that the course is clear: the Bioroids are to be exterminated on sight. Emerson would prefer to negotiate to avoid wasting more lives, but Leonard believes that given the enemy’s advanced technology, any negotiation would be from a position of weakness. The Robotech Masters decide to capture humans and probe their minds to determine whether or not they can be used to bolster the ranks of their Bioroid pilots. Swarms of Bioroid transports fill the sky over Monument City, and the defense forces try to hit them with everything they’ve got. As the 15th prepares for battle, Louie tells the others to avoid the cockpits so they can try and capture another pilot alive. The Bioroids tear up the streets and kidnap civilians. Dana makes a point of taking out the skysleds and tells everyone to take out the legs, but not the cockpits. The Bioroids pin the 15th down, then retreat with their hostages. Col. Rudolph reports to Leonard that two hundred citizens have been captured; Leonard tells him to list them as casualties in the official report.

THOUGHTS: The Robotech Masters claim it was never their intention to “destroy the micronians or harm their planet.” As garbled as the first encounter between the Masters and mankind is at the end of “Dana’s Story,” this sentiment isn’t totally inconsistent with the events of that episode; the first shot we see fired is from one of the Bioroid transports, but it’s a close-up of the ship firing a laser blast. It could be returning fire. It could be that, as Emerson suggests may be the case in “False Start,” the Southern Cross just assumed the Masters were going to attack and went off half-cocked, as Komodo later did in that very same episode. The way the Masters talk, they simply want to get in, get the Protoculture Factory, and get out before the Invid, who they see as the mutual foe of themselves and mankind, arrive.

It takes entirely too much effort to wade through all this android/clone talk, and after a certain point it becomes garbled nonsense. The narration and Dana’s internal monologue set up Dana’s internal conflict as being related to her fear that the Masters may be her own people by way of her mother’s ancestry. Yet the evidence she and Louie saw and reported on suggested that the enemy were some kind of sophisticated life-like androids, hence Green’s reaction to Dana’s initial outrage. Then he turns around and calls them some kind of “programmed clone.” That’s a loaded term; it’s been established that the Zentraedi are genetically-engineered clones, so when you say “clone” it’s assumed we’re talking about a biological entity. Dana, in fact, said in the previous episode that intel established that the Masters’ civilization is made up of clones of the original Robotech Masters. So are they assuming that the enemy combatants are all androids, but not the ruling class and civilians? Dr. Byron’s report seems to indicate that the Bioroid pilot is a machine, with a device embedded in the chest he calls an “artificial soul,” while Leonard calls the Masters “a barbaric strain of micronized Zentraedi.” Dana, a half-Zentraedi herself, cocks the whole thing up by saying she’s convinced that the enemy pilot was “not a micronized Zentraedi, but a living being.” (So her mom WASN’T a living being?) Everything up to that point could be thought through and explained away by reading between the lines, but Dana puts it all together and makes a mess of it. She then tells the 15th that the commanders said the Bioroid pilots were “cloned from mutant Zentraedi.” That’s not what they said at all. Then Louie chimes in with his suggestion that the Bioroids are operated by remote via telepathy and high-frequency signals. So the Robotech Masters are clones who are also robots who are also controlled by remote?

I think the weight of the facts in this episode are in favor of the Bioroid pilots being some sort of psuedo-living construct — or at least the pilot the military took apart was. Given the Masters’ need for pilots expressed in this episode it would make sense that they were, in at least some cases, deploying constructs and not living pilots.

Also, to my mind, it seems possible that Louie and the boys at the lab are confusing a sort of telepathic “radio” for a controller; this episode is the first to show the Bioroids operating in clear groups of three, and this “controller” could actually be the system that ties three units together so that they may act as one.

It does seem right that the daughter of Max and Miriya Sterling, who on their wedding day refused to kill Miriya’s fellow Zentraedi warriors, is the one getting all worked up over killing the Bioroid pilots, whatever they may be. It’s a really nice touch. It’s just a shame that everyone seems so completely confused as to what the pilots actually are, undercutting the drama of the situation. The entire episode is about that conflict and the nature of the Bioroid pilots, and it’s unfortunate that for whatever reason the Robotech writing staff let the issue get garbled to the point that it doesn’t make any internal sense and doesn’t even agree with the facts established in the first generation of Robotech. The whole episode is a headache disguised as a half-hour television program. Not even an okay fight at the end can save it.

FIRSTS OF NOTE: I believe this marks the first time the Robotech Masters call human beings “micronians,” which has never made any sense; Daley and Luceno tried to explain it away by saying the Masters used the term for beings they found inferior, figuratively smaller.

DANA’S BRATTINESS/INSUBORDINATION LEVEL: A raging nine. She let her gut feelings get the better of her, tried to shout down the Supreme Commander of the Army of the Southern Cross, and had to be removed from the meeting, kicking and screaming all the way.

DOES BOWIE SULK? With his dissatisfaction with military life now fully established as of “Prelude to Battle” and the emotional high of meeting Musica last episode a hazy memory, he does a little bit, right before going on patrol.

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3 thoughts on “Robotech, In Brief: Metal Fire

  1. Okay, this may sound a little weird, but I can’t imagine it’s any worse than the mess they made on screen: the impression I got was the Masters didn’t clone their population in the traditional sense, but rather grew organic body parts and then connected them together like an advanced version of Frankenstein’s monster. So they’re organic like a clone yet built like an android.

    As to all the garbled talk on what they were, I figured that was due to their not being able to figure out if the pilots actually possessed any independent brain functions or if they were just blank slates.

    That’s what I got out of it, anyway. How much of the mess is translation errors creeping in, concern for getting it past censors (notice how they often avoided saying “killed” or “dead”?), or just plain sloppy writing is beyond me.

    And yeah, there’s just no reconciling the “not a micronized Zentraedi but a living being” bit.

    I always thought the bit with the Bioroids capturing humans was pretty creepy.

    • You’re right, it’s not any worse, and it sort of makes sense of the “bio-androids” term used in the previous episode. While it seems like that would take a lot more effort than simply generating a clone, the Masters do seem to have lost their touch in terms of generating new clones whole, given the problems they had creating a Zor-clone fifteen years prior.

      I never think of the issue of censors as regards Robotech, given the Roy-and-Ben-one-two-punch during The Macross Saga, and moreover the morbid scene this very episode of Leonard telling his staff to have the captured civilians listed as casualties of war. (No, they haven’t died — not YET — but dude, seriously — Leonard just totally wrote those people off.) They do never say “died” in reference to the enemy pilot but that’s because the Southern Cross command still seems sure that the enemy are funny non-person clone-android thingamajobbers. I’d chalk it up to in-universe depersonification by the military brass more than I would production self-censorship. After all, people still die in this show, like, every single episode — ESPECIALLY in Masters!

  2. This episode is all over the place with respect to the bioroid pilots (as you noted). I’m probably being way too generous to the writers when I say this, but I want to believe that they were trying to make a distinction between living creatures that are sapient (possibly with free will) and creatures that are biologically alive but effectively organic (and possibly remote controlled) robots. What we get instead is a lot of confusion and misuse of terms such that the question seems to be whether the pilots are even living beings or not – something that should not be a matter of debate if they are (at the same time) also believed to clones, Zentraedi and or mutants, all of which are, by definition, alive.

    And yet, even ignoring the above mess, this whole moral conflict setup still falls flat for me. I suppose this is because my personal philosophy is more in line with that expressed in Angelo’s quote above, which is to say that the similarity of someone’s genetic sequence to my own ceases to be an issue once they start shooting at me. The fact that attacking aliens might be alive, or even human, doesn’t strike me as a significant problem, by itself. It certainly never stopped humans from killing each other before, even those of the same race or nation. This all makes Dana’s angst hard to accept. If it were better established that Dana was certain that the pilots were both sapient and being forced to fight against their will, then her feelings/reluctance would be far more justified (although her actions would arguably still be irresponsible).

    Now, what is interesting is this could have worked really well (at least for me) if the writers had established early on that human on human violence had become a thing of the past – not just rare, but something that was deeply ingrained into the culture as an inconceivable abomination (think Minbari from Babylon 5) such that the discovery of the humanity of their foes actually would be an Earth-shattering revelation. Adamantly, this would be hard to sell (an organization like the GMP would be hard to justify in a world of pacifists), but given the near total annihilation of the human race just a generation before, it wouldn’t be too hard to believe that massive cultural change occurred, change that may have included a close bonding of those remaining humans into a singular “tribe.”

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