Robotech, In Brief: Mind Games

“… understand that the better we perform our mission, the better this planet’s hope for survival. I wish I could remember more than I do, but one thing I do remember: I was much less than a human being while under the control of the Robotech Masters. I want to destroy them now, to make sure that I will never be like that again.

WHAT HAPPENS:

The crew of Moon Base ALuCE welcome a transport squadron from deep space, latecomers responding to the mayday called out during the Robotech Masters’ attack on Space Station Liberty. Once resupplied by ALuCE, they will rendezvous with the rest of the ships under Rolf Emerson’s command in Earth orbit. As the fleet from ALuCE returns to Earth to prepare for the latest attack on the Masters’ flagships, the 15th Squadron waits as ships and mecha are readied for battle. Dana is nervous, Bowie’s worried that they might not make it back, and Angelo just wants everyone to shut up and just think about the mission. Zor thinks that’s good advice; he tells them to stay sharp, because the survival of the planet and their continued freedom is at stake. Angelo is impressed, and the rest of the 15th cheer in agreement — all except Bowie. Meanwhile, the Robotech Masters ask their scientists if the humans are planning any action against the Invid Sensor Nebula. While the scientists see no indication of that; they do see that the humans are planning a new offensive against the Masters. As the Masters fret about the Invid, the 15th Squadron rushes to their transport. A fleet of ships from Earth lifts off to link up with the forces from the moon to begin the new offensive. Aboard the 15th’s transport, Dana finds Bowie staring at his Hovertank. Despite what Zor was saying back at the barracks, Bowie feels he can’t fight; Zor used to be one of the enemy, and he’s more human than some of their own people. Dana tells him what he’s feeling is normal, that she feels the same way sometimes. She assures him that they’ll make it through this. Just then, General Emerson gives the order to attack. The fleet fires on the enemy flagships. Eventually a missile barrage blows an opening into one of the ships’ hulls. At that, the 15th Squadron launches and descends to the flagship’s surface. The Robotech Masters take this opportunity to deploy the Invid Fighters. Vada Prime guard triumvirates are briefed and ordered to the human’s anticipated entry point. Every three Invid Fighters act as one; three of them tail loudmouthed Eddie and take him out with simultaneous shots. Worse casualties are sustained among the AGAC squadrons. Angelo takes one of the Invid Fighters out and suggests going for the faceplates, but when one of the pilots is thrown out into the vacuum of space, Bowie loses his nerve. Dana covers him and reminds him that they’re programmed to destroy him. Meanwhile, Sean is isolated and has a squad of Invid FIghters on his tail. Suddenly a squad of AGACs appears and picks them off: it’s Marie’s squadron! He rejoins the others as they prepare to leap into the hull breach, but the first Hovertank down is taken out by another wave of Invid Fighters. The 15th retreats for cover. Dana radios Emerson with the bad news. Col. Green suggests using the Tristar as a battering ram to make the breach wider. Emerson gives the order. The ship dives into the chasm, crashes into it, and rips past it. Another stretch of the enemy flagship’s hull collapses from the structural damage. The 15th advances as Emerson orders Green to find out if they’ve sustained any permanent damage. Just then the ship sustains a direct hit from the enemy: the flagships are advancing on them. Green suggests withdrawal. Another hit convinces Emerson that it’s the right move. The Earth forces withdraw as the 15th make their way into the alien ship. The Robotech Masters observe their advance and realize that these humans have discovered the flaw in the Invid Fighters’ system. Thus, they decide to reactivate Zor Prime. He stops dead in his tracks. Dana approaches him, but he attacks her and flees. She and Angelo go after Zor and order the others to stay behind. A surprise triumvirate of Invid Fighters cuts off their approach and takes out a Hovertank. Dana and Angelo break through and enter a circular chamber filled with pillars. Angelo switches to Gladiator mode and starts blasting pillars and doors. Dana follows suit. Beyond the flames of a wrecked door stands Zor’s Red Bioroid. Dana and Angelo dismount and are told that they now Zor’s prisoners, and that the 15th Squadron doesn’t stand a chance against the power of the Robotech Masters …

Tristar original production cel with background, from my personal animation art collection.

THOUGHTS:

Remember when I was talking about “False Start” and thinking that maybe the show was suggesting that General Emerson was on Space Station Liberty? I was thinking about this episode when I wrote that. Based on the events of the previous episode and the footage itself, Emerson’s clearly aboard the Tristar on the moon, but it’s treated like he’s on Earth and will be joining the offensive when the ships lift off from Earth towards the end of the first act. Numerous voiceovers by Emerson are laid in during those ships’ approach to that effect. They pull this off because among the ships lifting off for that offensive is a Tristar-class ship; in fact, the shot of it lifting off is just reused footage of Emerson’s Tristar from earlier in the episode with a sky background instead of space. The ship maneuvers are much easier to follow in the original SOUTHERN CROSS version of the episode; however, that’s largely because a lot of shots of Glorie’s twin moons had to be left on the cutting room floor. Annoying, but necessary from a storytelling standpoint.

Speaking of confusing ship maneuvers, Transport Squadron 85 in the original SOUTHERN CROSS animation was just supply ships from Glorie sent to sustain ALuCE, not some squadron coming in from hyperspace responding so very, very late to a distress call from the very beginning of the Masters era. But since it’s brought up in the dialog, despite my remarks in “Triumvirate” that one of the dudes in the audience for Leonard’s address looked like Jonathan Wolff, this is when it’s assumed that Wolff joined the effort to fight the Robotech Masters, since in “Eulogy” it’s claimed that he did just that and this is the last time ships coming in from hyperspace are cited for the rest of the second generation, as far as I remember.

References to the Invid continue to be seeded in; is it arrogance that has the Masters more spooked about the Invid than they are about losing this war to the humans?

For much touted “perfect” new machines, the Invid Fighters are pretty quickly overcome by the 15th Squadron, and the Masters freely admit this. Those Triumviroids the Clonemasters wheeled out two episodes ago were supposed to be hot stuff, too; why not try those against the 15th, eh?

Nova’s participation in the show is reduced to wishing forgettable Dennis Brown good luck as he joins the fleet. Is that better or worse than serving Rolf Emerson coffee? Similarly, Marie, who so stoically refused to talk to Sean at the close of “Love Song” is seen staring out a window giving a lovesick, “Oh, Sean!” Yes, she saves his butt during the battle, but between that and the Emerson mix-up at the outset it’s like the writers aren’t following the episode-to-episode continuity at all.

I sort of like how the reason Bowie cites for finding it so hard to fire on the enemy is that Zor, the very person who said that destroying the Robotech Masters is their only chance for survival and freedom, is so very human — he doesn’t want to kill a people who are capable of such feeling. And then once the operation is underway, Zor has his humanity stripped from him, thanks to the Masters’ neurosensor. It’s a neat little chain there that underscores the power-hungry dictatorial nature of the Robotech Masters. I’m also glad that when Dana spots the Bioroid pilot ejected into space it startles her, but it doesn’t render her useless in the fight; she even tells Bowie, as he pictures Musica, that they’re still going to try and kill him, so he’d better shoot back.

Ever since I realized that the “Vada Prime” are the guard triumvirates that include Musica’s betrothed, Karno, I’ve wondered what that title means and how it relates to the fact that the name Zor Prime refers to the mathematical term “prime,” as in a thing derived from the named thing. Are all of the guard clones derived from some great Tirolian warrior named Vada, perhaps?

FIRSTS OF NOTE:

First deployment of the Bioroid Invid Fighter. It gets off to a good start, but by the episode’s end it’s as much bad cannon fodder as the regular blues.

DANA’S BRATTINESS/INSUBORDINATION LEVEL:

Very low; she’s understandably nervous when the episode opens, tries to comfort Bowie while at the same time trying to keep him focused on performing his duty, and doesn’t completely freak out over the fact that yes, they’re still fighting things that look human. Even her kind of stupid decision to dismount from her Gladiator at the end makes a kind of emotional sense.

DOES BOWIE SULK?

Oh yes. He doesn’t want to fight anymore because he doesn’t want to kill living things that are like him, and Zor, and Musica. He’s losing his nerve, and it almost gets him killed this time out.

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5 thoughts on “Robotech, In Brief: Mind Games

  1. Oh man, you are right; I am totally jealous. This is a terrific shot too. Do you have a high resolution version of this picture by any chance (I’m not sure if it bad form to ask that about original cels)?

    You are absolutely right about Emerson’s location. He should have been on the moon the whole time. I don’t know if this was a mistake by the writers, or if they thought it made more sense this way, but considering all the trouble he went through to get there, its crazy to think he just turned around, went back to Earth only to then lift off back into space again to join the very forces from the moon he was supposed to be leading in the first place.

    I do like this episode though – we finally get to see the ASC ships doing (some) damage to the Masters Flagships, and the animation during the liftoff sequence from the moon is impressive. Its also clear that there is pretty substantial infrastructure on the moon given how deep and massive those docks would have to be.

    • It’s not bad form to ask for a high res scan as far as I’m concerned; in fact, if I had one I would’ve used one. That scan I posted is probably eight to ten years old, shrunk down for an age where anything bigger would have choked the interweb tubes. Anything I post with a decent resolution is usually of something I snagged within the past few years, and it’s a snapshot with my camera since my scanner’s been unreliable and a pain to use for a few years now. Much easier to point and shoot and shrug off the skewed angles and flash glare on the cel’s surface than cross my fingers and pray the scanner doesn’t turn everything by thirty degrees or, worse, output a file of bitmap noise rather than the picture I scanned. Ugh.

      My only frustration with the cel: it’s missing the front layer with the outer edge of the crater dock and lunar landscape. Oh well, you can’t have everything. I think I paid like ten to twenty bucks for this back in the wee early 2000’s. (And that’s not the best Robotech artwork bargain I ever got, either. ^_^)

      Despite the Emerson location mix-up, you’re right, this is one of the good ones. The lunar ship docking craters are a piece of iconography that really made me sit up and take notice when I first saw them (which is why I jumped on that cel & background when I saw it, of course), the action sequences are largely well animated and staged, and the Tristar ramming the Masters’ flagship is a hell of a punch-the-air moment. On top of that, I’ve gotta say, the cliffhanger reveal of Zor in the Red Bioroid is a bit of melodrama that really works; the wall of flame is a nice over-the-top touch. If I’m not mistaken, we’ve crossed that threshold beyond which the bits that don’t make sense or seem mixed up or whatever don’t do too much damage to the viewing experience — if memory serves the remaining six episodes all hold up pretty well. I guess I’ll find out if I’m right pretty quick here!

  2. This episode is one of my faves, and I can’t tell you how often I’ve contemplated who Vada may have been, and more importantly why Vada Prime are Triumvirates while Zor Prime is a singleton. There’s something going on, something deep in the way their society actually works behind the scenes, but the details are so scanty.

    Also, I am likewise totally jealous, that is a sweet sweet Tristar.

    Also also…hey Jonathan!

    • GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY, IT’S THE GHOST OF INTERNETS PAST! How the hell have you been, man?

      If we’re to take the footage seen in the “creating a being in the likeness of Zor” sequence in “Khyron’s Revenge” as given, the Robotech Masters tried several times to generate a Zor-clone en route to Earthspace; it’s possible (and I’d even go so far as to say likely) that they only had the one Zor Prime once they arrived over Earth because he was the least deficient clone of the original Robotech Master that they produced. And it’s obvious that the Masters didn’t think he was any great shakes even if he was the least deficient, since the minute they realized they weren’t getting any of the answers they sought from him they tossed him in a Bioroid and then shot him down to use as a spy. On the flip-side, Vada Primes wouldn’t have as high a bar to clear; the purpose of creating Zor Prime was prying the secrets of Protoculture from his noggin, while each Vada Prime needs only to work with his two “brothers” as one in thought, action, and reaction towards the purpose of killing the inferior humans and then, once they’re all taken care of, the dreaded Invid. Zor Prime doesn’t need two brothers to stand with him because the only reason he even exists is because the Robotech Masters wanted the secrets locked deep in his mind. As is proven over the course of the second generation, his body and spirit are too rebellious; the Masters had to have known that with two more Zor Primes they would have been so much worse off. (Though something tells me that if Macek had gotten around to doing Robotech III: The Odyssey, we would have our third Zor clone; keeping the game of threes going would have been way too tempting.)

      I wonder, if the guard triumvirate types are Vada Primes, are all the other functionary triumvirates also something-Prime? If we dug deeper into the Masters’ culture, would we find “_______ Prime” names for the muses, the Clonemasters, the scientists, etc.? And better question, why haven’t I thought of this before? (Hell, maybe I did. At this point I’ve probably forgotten more half-baked theories about Robotech than most viewers have ever considered.)

      • Gotta love it when internets ghosts come out of the woodwork, eh? I’m doing alright, all things considered…we oughta catch up sometime.

        I’d imagine there are names for all the strains that get…triumvirated? There may even be, for example, Vada Segundus, tweaked slightly in a certain way to make them better security agents than pilots, or Vada Tertiarius, an unlucky strain that sacrifices potential for achievement in favor of engineered-in abject loyalty…

        Or maybe the Masters take genetics from two different useful strains and combine them to make Segundus etc strains, in their continuing practice of eugenics? And that’s the real meaning/motivation for partnering up triumvirates like Karno’s and Musica’s, with the social connotations being societal remnants, their version of arranged marraiges, but robbed of any real reproductive import to become just a social vestige.

        But my real curiosity is that Zor Prime being a singleton isn’t ever remarked upon. Likewise Rem and Cabell, I suppose, though they were clearly in an entirely different environment. Or maybe there was a third Zor clone, and Cabell had two clone-brothers out there somewhere, but there are circumstances where it is permissible for the clone-siblings to be far apart? On the other hand, since bioroid pilots before the Invid Fighters don’t seem to operate as triumvirates, are they even triumvirates (meaning that Zor Prime wouldn’t stand out as a singleton), or maybe the average pilot is lower on the totem pole so they’re not considered “worthy”?

        As you can see…I never quite stopped with the half-baked Robotech theories myself =P

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