Robotech, In Brief: Daydreamer

“What do you mean, you’d rather have stayed on that ship?”

“That’s precisely what I mean, Angelo. That ship is where I belong.”

“You’d probably be dead now. Did that occur to you?”

“I’m aware of that. In fact, that’s exactly my point.”

“WHAT?!”

“Can’t you see it? A hero’s funeral. A golden opportunity for you to display those wonderful emotions of yours, weeping for a fallen comrade and all that.”



WHAT HAPPENS:

In the wake of the destruction of the Masters’ flagship, a transport ferries the 15th Squadron back to Earth as General Emerson’s fleet retreats to ALuCE-1. Aboard the transport, Angelo Dante worries that the Global Military Police will subject Musica to the same inhumane tests Zor underwent. Louie worries that Zor might suffer them again, too. Dana assures them that she won’t let the GMP do anything of the sort, even if the spaceport is crawling with nosy personnel. When the ship has landed, Dana and Angelo are met by Nova Satori, who casts her eyes on a soldier on a stretcher; Dana hadn’t reported any serious injuries. It turns out to be Sean Phillips, complaining of shrapnel in his big toe with a wink and a grin; it’s a bit of misdirection, meant to keep Nova’s attention away from one of the soldiers carrying Sean, a green-haired trooper Dana refers to as “Private Doppler.” The theatrics allow Musica to make it past Nova and to the barracks of the 15th, but when Nova checks military records she discovers that the only Private Doppler died during the first offensive against the Robotech Masters. Back at the barracks, Dana gets a call from Angelo letting her know Zor has a clean bill of health. She gets it into her head that they should celebrate tonight at the Moon of Havana. Meanwhile, aboard one of the Masters’ flagships, Allegra and Octavia are sent to a detention block as punishment for their sister’s betrayal. The Robotech Masters are warned that the dwindling Protoculture supply and their continued exposure to the humans will result in more outbreaks of erratic behavior such as Musica’s. Two thirds of the remaining Protoculture pods have become “contaminated” with the Invid Flower of Life, and they worry that the site on Earth may have already degenerated to a similarly useless level of potency. As the Masters fret about the arrival of the Invid, Bowie plays the piano at the Moon of Havana for an audience that includes the 15th Squadron, Musica, and Zor. They are soon joined by a suspicious Nova; Zor offers her a seat. She tries to introduce herself to Musica, but Musica doesn’t say a word; Dana tries to cover for her, but as Bowie continues to play, Musica flashes back to the last time she was with her sisters and asks their forgiveness. Zor stands and tells her she cannot be forgiven. “There can be no forgiveness for he who betrays the people who trust him; you and I are beyond forgiveness.” He storms out and Angelo runs after him. Musica faints, and Sean and Dana carry her back to the barracks. Nova asks Louie what this is all about. Louie blames a sort of space jet lag. Outside the barracks, Musica and Bowie are reunited, but Sean assures the others that Nova’s no fool; she smells a rat. Nearby, Angelo is reaming Zor out; Zor wishes he’d stayed behind aboard the Masters’ flagship, died a hero’s death. He snidely remarks that it’d give Angelo and the others reason to display their human emotions, to mourn him. At that, Angelo decks Zor and tells him too many good men have died like that, and he won’t allow anyone to make fun of their sacrifice. Dana prevents Angelo from taking another shot at him, and Musica runs away, crying; Bowie goes after her. Dana tries to tell Zor that what’s done is done and he needs to start looking ahead, but he sees no future ahead of him; after the Masters’ manipulation, he cannot even trust his own mind. He tells the 15th to leave him alone and walks away. In Bowie’s quarters, Musica worries that this is all her fault. Bowie assures her it isn’t; their people may be at war, but they have each other, “an island of peace in the middle of an ocean of hatred and misery,” he says. As he says that, though, Nova gets a phone call from Zor about a “secret agent” named Musica in the barracks of the 15th Squadron. At the barracks, Dana goes to check on Musica but hears a strange tune. Outside, Zor hears it as well. Musica is singing an ancient song of her people called “Flower of Life.” Dana enters Bowie’s room and reasons that the flower in Musica’s song must be the same one they found inside the SDF-1. Musica hopes not; “The Flowers of Life are very often accompanied by great evil,” she remarks. Outside, Zor waits for Nova. She pulls up in a GMP troop carrier and he points her upstairs. Louie bursts into Bowie’s room with the bad news, but Dana takes it in stride and tells Louie to lead the way. Downstairs, Dana gives Nova a chipper greeting, but Nova says that she knows all about their guest. Dana plays dumb until Nova tells her Zor gave Musica up. Nova threatens to arrest the entire 15th if she doesn’t produce her now. Dana seethes for a moment before relenting, but then tells Nova how Musica is just a civilian, how she saved them all, and how she and Bowie are in love. Still, Dana leads Nova and a pair of armed guards up to Bowie’s room, where they find only an open window and a curtain billowing in the breeze. Nova accuses Dana of stalling to allow them to escape, while the other members of the 15th Squadron wonder where Bowie and Musica might have gone. Out in the dark of night, Bowie and Musica run into the forest towards the shadowy ruins of the SDF-1.

THOUGHTS:

A half hour of drama without combat — save a well-deserved punch to Zor’s kisser courtesy of Angelo Dante — marred only by the occasional bit of goofy and rambling, albeit in-character, dialogue delivered by Dana Sterling as she tries to keep Nova off of Musica’s trail. It features the 15th Squadron at their wagon-circling, plotting and scheming best and Nova at her most insufferable. Mind you, all she knows is that Dana and company are up to something; it’s only when Zor says, “IT’S A SPY!” that she gets on her high horse.

The Robotech Masters and their Clonemasters’ dialogue actually tracks pretty well with the way Protoculture was defined after the fact. Protoculture is later defined in the Comico Graphic Novel as energy produced as the seeds of the Flower of Life attempt to divide. But if the Flower is growing inside the Protoculture pods, as the Clonemasters show their Masters, the balance has been upset; they don’t have enough power to arrest the cellular division in all those pods. I would suggest that perhaps they should crack open the pods, remove the Flowers, and then try to restore the pods using the seeds from the Flowers. Perhaps the Masters have no idea how to prepare the seeds to produce Protoculture; like the Zentraedi before them, it’s possible they can use the technology, but cannot reproduce it. This could be one of the secrets that was lost with the SDF-1 and that they were trying to crack out of Zor’s brain. Unless, of course, these Flowers have mutated as the Flowers on Earth have to produce spores instead. Alternatively, THAT could be the problem; the Flowers growing in the Protoculture pods may be producing incompatible reproductive structures, thus making the crisis that much worse.

Zor’s erratic behavior in this episode comes off as a sort of survivor’s guilt mixed with frustration that the Masters seized control of his mind again. However, in the next episode, when he follows Nova to the site of the ruins of the battle fortress, the way everyone gathers there, the way he quietly disarms Nova, the way his memories are completely unlocked and he takes command of the situation — it’s like now that his mind is fully restored thanks to the pre-deprogramming memory matrix dump aboard the enemy flagship he’s worked out the entire endgame and he needs only to maneuver everyone into place. He keeps on giving this malevolent look throughout the episode that suggests he knows exactly what he’s doing every step of the way, starting with inviting Nova to sit down at the Moon of Havana.

FIRSTS OF NOTE:

First appearance of the song “Flower of Life,” written by Michael Bradley. The music behind it, sans vocals, will go on to become the Invid’s theme throughout the third generation. Also, I’m reasonably sure this is the first time that the twin moons of Glorie have appeared in ROBOTECH; every other appearance of two moons has been edited out or otherwise modified.

DANA’S BRATTINESS/INSUBORDINATION LEVEL:

A blaring seven, as she smuggles an alien deserter to Earth, lies about her identity to Nova’s face, tries to play dumb after Zor’s already spilled the beans, then (knowingly or not — she does seem genuinely surprised that they’ve escaped out the window) stalls for time while Bowie abandons his post with the deserter in tow. The only reason I’m not rating her higher is because, stalling aside, she does follow the orders given her by Nova once the jig is up.

DOES BOWIE SULK?

As with last time, Musica is now the sulking torch-bearer, while Bowie has taken the Dana-like role of the person who tries to cheer up the sad sack.

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One thought on “Robotech, In Brief: Daydreamer

  1. Due to the lack of combat, I will sometimes skip over this episode when I’m re-watching the latter half of the Masters saga, but it is still a good episode and it sets things up nicely for the finale.

    It’s been a while since I read the graphic novel, and I’m not even sure if I finished it (I probably leafed through it at a bookstore since I know I don’t own my own copy), but I do kind of recall hearing the protoculture seed/cellular division explanation before. It strikes me as a bit odd, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter. I can accept, as a basic premise of the Robotech universe, that protoculture is a powerful energy source. The details of exactly how protoculture produces energy aren’t nearly as important as how the high-level fuel cycle process fits into the overall Robotech storyline. I’ve thought about this, and I think I have an explanation that fits in pretty well with what we see in the series.

    Again, this is pure speculation on my part, but I think it is robust approach. No doubt others have probably thought of something similar.

    I see the protoculture fuel cycle as a 3 tiered system composed of the seed factories, which produce the seeds to grow the protoculture “plants,” the culture pods, which simply contain the actual protoculture plants, and the protoculture fuel distillate, which is derived from the plants and is the physical substance that robotechnology actually runs off of.

    It works something like this:

    The protoculture matrix is a seed factory (the one in the SDF-1 just happens to be the last). It contains the original living protoculture, (or at least the pure genetic template) and it produces the seeds needed to create protoculture colonies. These colonies are grown in culture pods – mostly for convenience and safety. Inside the culture pods, the protoculture plants produce some type of substance, which is then collected and converted into a fuel. What that substance is doesn’t really matter so long as that substance has certain properties such as high energy density and a limited “shelf life.” The significance of the limited shelf life will be explained shortly.

    It might be helpful to think of the substance as being something like Tritium, which can be used as “fuel” for nuclear fusion, but because it only has a half-life of 12 years; it can’t be stored indefinitely before it decays into less useful elements (helium 3 being one IIRC).

    The seeds that the matrix produces are, however, flawed. The protoculture plants grown from these seeds will only reproduce for a few generations before they start to degenerate. This could be due to the nature of protoculture, but I prefer to think of it as a feature, not a bug. It is a built-in failsafe that insures only those who control the protoculture matrixes (i.e. the Robotech Masters) will have long-term control over protoculture production. That way, even if a culture pod is captured by hostile forces, they will still not be able to produce their own protoculture indefinitely (Of course, we see that this backfires just a bit when the Masters lose control of the last matrix).

    The limited “shelf-life” of the protoculture-produced fuel is not an explicitly engineered failsafe, but the Masters used it as such with the Zentraedi. Unlike their own flagships (and the SDF-1), the Zentraedi warships do not have their own on-board, self-fueling culture pods. Instead, they must periodically refuel their ships and strategic reserves from those of the Masters, thus insuring their dependence. The limited shelf-life of the fuel also conveniently insures that the Zentraedi can not simply hoard or consolidate their fuel stores so as to extend their operational independence. The fuel is “use it or lose it.” This also, in turn, explains why the Masters couldn’t simply have extended their operational capability by consolidating or cannibalizing any leftover Zentraedi ships for their raw fuel before leaving for the Earth.

    So, here is how everything above fits together with what we see in the TV series:

    First, in spite of how it seems to be portrayed in the New Generation, we know that protoculture isn’t just a simple fuel like gasoline. We know this because humanity wouldn’t have embraced an entirely new technological paradigm requiring a specific type of fuel, if the only known source of that fuel was whatever happened to be onboard the SDF-1 at the time it crashed. They had to have a means of producing their own protoculture. And since we also know that the humans were unaware that the matrix was onboard the SDF-1, there must have been another source of self-generating protoculture other than that from the Matrix. But whatever that source was, it also couldn’t be as “good” as that from the Matrix, otherwise, the Master’s wouldn’t be so obsessed with finding it.

    This is where the culture pods and the built-in protoculture seed flaws fit in. The actual systems of SDF-1, like all forms of robotechnology, run off of a protoculture distillate fuel – a byproduct of the plants, not the plants themselves (this would be the same canned “protoculture” that we see the freedom fighters using in New Generation), but the SDF-1 also had its own onboard culture pods containing protoculture plants to produce the fuel on a continuous basis such that it could operate independently for generations – just like the Master’s flagships. The humans thus used some of the protoculture plants in these pods to produce their own self-reproducing supply colonies, not knowing that the protoculture strain contained in the pods would only reproduce for a limited number of generations.

    This is, of course, precisely the problem the Masters find themselves in. They are on their last viable generation of protoculture. Without fresh seeds from the Matrix, they are SOL. Of course, in the long-run, the humans are as well, but without fully realizing it at the time.

    So, we now have a means of explaining how the humans can have a stable (short term) self-replicating supply of protoculture without undermining the ultimate importance of the matrix.

    The limited “shelf-life” of the distillate fuel isn’t explicitly demanded by the events in the TV series, but it does provide an additional point of leverage for the Masters over the Zentraedi. More importantly, it explains why the Masters didn’t just cannibalize a few hundred Zentraedi warships to extend their own operational timeline – the fuel simply wouldn’t have lasted.

    The Flower of Life is a little harder to fit in, mostly because the dialog in The Final Nightmare obfuscates rather than enlightens, but the most consistent (and logical) explanation would be that it is simply another term for the mutation/degeneration of the protoculture plants, which, in the context of this theory, is a design feature rather than a flaw (one that the Invid can take advantage of). Technically, there is no reason why the degeneration has to be an engineered flaw; it could easily just be a natural feature of protoculture (like some form of cancer), but I kind of like the ironic situation this interpretation sets up. Moreover, if we wanted to get really crazy, this interpretation of the mutation also allows us to posit the Invid as part of the original protoculture failsafe system (either designed/harnessed by the Masters or an even earlier civilization) – as kind of cosmic LoJack such that any unauthorized use of protoculture will eventually be detected and dealt with. Interestingly, I saw that you proposed a vaguely similar idea with respect to Zor engineering the spores as a signal to the Invid.

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