Robotech, In Brief: Catastrophe

“I reject the structure of your civilization! I reject your values and your beliefs! I am an individual human being from the planet Earth!”



WHAT HAPPENS:

Aboard the flagship of the Robotech Masters, the 15th Squadron, Nova Satori, Dennis Brown, Marie Crystal, and Musica are reunited and begin searching for an escape route. When Dana asks for a head count, Bowie tells her only Zor is missing. Meanwhile, the Robotech Masters are told that the humans are again preparing for battle. The Clonemasters add that Musica’s absence has caused a serious disruption in the bio-indexes of many of their clones. The Masters’ order the elimination of all clones with a bio-index of less than seventy percent, and order the counterattack to begin immediately. Elsewhere, Angelo breaks into a hangar containing several troop carriers. As they’re poorly guarded, he figures the ships are boobytrapped. Even if they aren’t, Louie points out there’s still the problem of figuring out the controls. Dana figures Zor would know and goes looking for him. Bowie tells Angelo that he’s going back, too, as Musica is worried for her people; she knows they’re in danger because of her bond with her sisters. Angelo tells Sean to stay behind while the rest of them find Musica’s people. Below, at Monument City, Colonel Seward informs Commander Leonard that all forces are in formation and ready to launch the final assault. Aboard the Masters’ flagship, Zor’s Red Bioroid runs a gauntlet of Bioroids and soldiers in his pursuit of the Robotech Masters. Ultimately trapped by falling girders and facing a Bioroid firing squad, he is saved by the timely arrival of Dana in her Hovertank. As she picks off men and machines, Zor thanks her for saving his life but says he must go on alone. However, Dana insists on following and will not be refused. Meanwhile, in the civilian sector of the flagship, Angelo wonders where all the people have gone. Bowie considers that they may have left the ship. He turns out to be right, after a fashion; many of Musica’s people are in a small shuttlecraft, set adrift by the Masters. Thankfully, Musica’s sisters are not among them. The two muses are tending to the clones set aside for termination. Octavia notes that she would feel better if Musica would come, but the two have come to realize that they will have to learn to live as individuals. In their chambers, the Robotech Masters are informed of a fleet approaching from Earth. Half of their own fleet is ordered to engage the enemy in space while the other half will go to Earth to retrieve the Protoculture. As they observe the ruins of the SDF-1, one Master presses a touchpad which raises a glowing pod into the room. Inside it is a small plant, a closed-up mass of Flowers of Life: their final fertile Matrix. Just then, Zor Prime and Dana enter, sidearms at the ready. The Masters have been expecting him. Zor assumes they know his purpose. “Yes, of course, your purpose has always remained the same. You are the embodiement of Zor, creator of the first Protoculture and the Master responsible for our development.” Dana is shocked. “You mean it was Zor who also developed the Zentraedi people?” she asks. “Zor became the prime force behind all the advancements of our society,” the Masters say. “But his most important achievement was the Protoculture which brings with it the promise of eternal life.” Zor yells, “No, no, the Protoculture has brought only death!” He begins shooting at the Protoculture pods, spilling Flowers of Life across the floor of the room. One of the Masters steps towards the final Matrix pod. “Surely you are not prepared to destroy your most precious creation, the embodiment of all your hopes and dreams. Without it, your native civilization will wither and die.” Zor appears to grow weak as the Master speaks, sweat forming on his brow and his breathing growing ever more labored. He glances at the withering flowers at his feet. “My civilization is already dead!” he declares, firing on the flowers, then turning his gun on the last fertile Matrix. With its enclosure broken, the pod flies through the air. One Master leaps to catch it, but Zor shoots him dead. As it continues to fall, another Master says not to touch the terminals, but as Dana catches it she grasps them. At that, the Flowers of Life blossom and their energy is released. While the Matrix is no longer useful to the Masters, the energy unleashes racial memories within Dana’s Zentraedi half. In her mind, Dana awakens on a grassy field covered in Flowers of Life. Above her stand three more Danas, all clad in the Roman-style garb of the Robotech Masters. In her own hands she finds three Flowers of Life. Dana tosses the flowers to the ground, insisting that she is not part of their civilization. The three Danas dissolve in a ghostly fashion and the world turns barren. Seeing the withered bones and dusty ground surrounding her, she asks herself if this is the fate of both their civilizations. Crying for help, she runs, trips, and falls. The landscape changes again. The sky turns a glowing green and life returns to the world. A little blue-haired girl calls her name and approaches. Dana asks the girl who she is, and she tells Dana that she’s her sister and that she is to warn her about the spores. The girl hands Dana a bouquet of Flowers of Life, smiles, and runs back towards silhouettes of her parents. The voices of Max and Miriya Sterling echo around Dana in unison: “The spores, Dana! Beware of the spores and the Invid!” As Dana comes to, the remaining Robotech Masters teleport away. Elsewhere aboard the ship, Musica is reunited with her sisters in the chambers the Masters have reserved for their doomed clones. Bowie warns them that troops are headed their way. The muses warn the other clones and they rise to their feet, marching single-file out of the chambers. At the word of Captain Nordoff, the fleet of the Southern Cross begins its final offensive against the Masters. Both sides suffer devastating losses in space and on Earth, where Monument City is falling to a sneak attack by Bioroid invaders. As he watches the city burn, Supreme Commander Leonard is warned by Seward that the numbers are against them. He suggests an evacuation, but Leonard insists on staying until the end. Moments later, an enemy assault carrier targets Southern Cross headquarters and eliminates it. As the Masters’ flagship descends towards the Earth, Angelo leads the 15th Squadron and the doomed clones in their quest to escape. He pushes up a hatch that he is told leads to the docking area. Angelo tells everyone the coast is clear, but warns them to be quiet and hurry. A steady stream of clones proceeds up the stairs and down the corridor, but soon there are sounds of laser fire and screams from the front of the line. Quickly, Angelo grabs his gun and makes his way to the front. A familiar voice orders everyone to stop or be shot. It’s Karno and his brothers. He orders everyone to go back or be eliminated. As the crowd panics, Nova insists they have a right to freedom from the constraints of their society. Karno and his brothers draw their guns and start shooting, taking down one clone who leaps out to defend Musica and her sisters. As battle erupts, Musica asks the dying clone why he jumped. “You have always been the ideal for all of us,” he tells her as he dies. Musica holds him for a moment before rising to her feet. While the others have run for cover, Musica stands front and center, ordering Karno to stop at once. He insists that the Micronians have cast a spell over her, but as a blast singes her arm she tells him she has freely chosen a new way of life. Karno denies her talk of individuality and free will and turns to shoot her, but Bowie pulls her out of the way. As Angelo comes to believe their only hope is praying for a miracle, a wall collapses revealing Sean’s Hovertank. With the guards stunned by the Battloid’s arrival, Angelo ushers the refugees away, but one of the guards staggers up long enough to shoot Octavia. As Musica kneels down beside her, Octavia assures Musica that her spirit will always be with her. “We’re still as one,” Musica says as Octavia reaches up to her sister’s face. “Yes, I know,” Octavia says as Musica grips her hand, “to the end of space and time, we three will always be as one.” At that, Octavia closes her eyes forever. Bowie hurries Musica along; they’re still in danger. In another part of the ship, the remaining Masters oversee preparations for the retrieval of the Protoculture Factory. A particle beam fires from the mothership, attuned to the biomass of the Flower of Life. It strikes each of the mounds in turn, finally locking in on the SDF-1’s ruins and activating a mechanism within that splits the mound in two. As the Masters watch with glee, Zor Prime enters. The Masters assure him that he is far too late to stop them. Dana enters and raises her gun to the scientist triumvirate, ordering them to stop the machine, but it’s impossible. At that moment, the Masters’ platform rises and fires blasts at Zor and Dana. Zor fires back, hitting one of the Masters dead center. As he falls to his death, Dana concentrates her fire on the platform. It crashes on top of the scientists, exploding and killing them. However, its passenger, the last Robotech Master, gets to his feet and starts running, clutching the Matrix pod to his chest. Zor Prime pursues him. Dana hears the ship’s computer blare a warning that the ship is out of control and descending. She realizes that the ship is locked on a course for Monument City and follows Zor, telling him to capture the Master alive so that he can change course. However as the Master runs for an escape pod, Zor shoots him dead. “It’s all over now,” Zor says as he approaches the Master’s lifeless body. Dana disagrees, angrily pointing out that the ship is going to crash into Monument City. Zor assures her that the Masters had to be punished for their misuse of the Protoculture. Out of the blue, Zor leans over and gives Dana a long kiss. He tells her not to worry about her people as he picks her up and carries her into the Master’s escape pod. He bids her farewell with a smile, and as she bangs her fists on the escape pod door he launches it, sending her away. At the same time, a fleet of troop carriers takes off from the falling flagship, carrying hundreds of alien refugees and their Southern Cross protectors down to Earth. Back inside, on the command deck, Zor dons his red Bioroid one last time. He raises its blaster and takes aim. As Dana watches the ship from the ground, Zor assures himself that there is no other way; he plans to destroy the ship to eliminate the Protoculture, thus preventing the arrival of the Invid. He fires, setting off a chain reaction across the massive mothership. From the surface of the planet, Dana can only watch in horror as explosions engulf the flagship. She shouts that there must be another way, even as the ship is torn apart and debris crashes into the site of the SDF-1, carrying the spores of the Flower of Life away with the wind. Zor’s final act did not destroy the Protoculture as intended. Instead it has allowed the spores of the mutated Protoculture strain to go free, turning the entire planet into a garden just waiting to be tilled by the Invid horde. The human race has won the Second Robotech War, but their victory is bittersweet, as a world that barely survived two alien invasions will most certainly face another, and soon.

THOUGHTS:

First: Zor specifically mentions attempting to destroy the Protoculture to prevent the arrival of the Invid. Unless this is simply a story he’s telling himself to feel better about Dana and her people after he makes that promise to her, it’s clear what Zor Prime’s intentions are. I still have my suspicions about the original Zor’s intentions with his own seeding operations, the casting off of the SDF-1 to Earth, and the mutations I still suspect he engineered, but thanks to the inner monologues that are a ROBOTECH storytelling convention, we know what Zor Prime was thinking in his final moments. Perhaps he was on a course to follow his progenitor’s path, but his love/admiration for Dana compelled him to attempt to change direction? Regardless, I love how quotable every line he delivers to the Robotech Masters, as he moves to destroy them and the civilization that in another life he helped to create, is, and throughout this episode more than any other I find myself appreciating Paul St. Peter’s slightly inhuman delivery of those lines. With the revelation dropped by the Robotech Masters that Zor was the architect of everything he and Dana see before them, he becomes a larger than life figure, a ghost come back from the dead to judge his wicked successors, an angry god passing judgement on his corrupted creation. That bold but stilted delivery works perfectly for such a figure. The kiss he gives Dana comes out of the blue, especially given what he’s put her through since the Masters took control of him in “Mind Games,” but I’ve always liked that smile he gives her as he waves good bye.

I again find it strange that the Clonemasters place such import on Musica when the nearly the entire series before “The Invid Connection” placed little emphasis on her place in the Masters’ society. The dying clone also tells her what an inspirational figure she was. Her brave stand against Karno and the others does pay off the moment, but I still think this last minute building up of her place in their society is awfully sloppy work. Just as sloppy is the overall construction of Karno as a character; he’s simply a giant tool, a mouthpiece for the ideals of his corrupt culture, and an antagonist who inspires little more than apathy from the viewer. He’s not even the sort of villain you want to see die; I’d be perfectly happy if he just walked away and got off my TV set.

Another thing that doesn’t work in the final two episodes is Nova Satori’s turn, from the moment Bowie stares her down at the ruins of the SDF-1 — a scene only slightly mitigated by Zor’s explanation as to why leaving Musica be is a wise tactical decision — all the way through her little speech to Karno as she carries the clone baby. Where characters like Angelo and Sean get moments to let their personalities shine through even as they get carried along by the plot, Nova is defanged and used as little more than an extra. Oh well, at least she gets more to do than Marie Crystal and poor, forgotten Dennis Brown. Strange, that: SOUTHERN CROSS seemed designed as a vehicle for the three girls, but these last two episodes give NONE of them anything interesting to do.

Here’s something that doesn’t make any sense. The Robotech Masters say that the pod they show Zor is the last active Protoculture Matrix they possess. The Flowers aren’t to be allowed to blossom; otherwise, it becomes useless. Given the fact that they’ve been fretting so much about infestation of the Invid Flower of Life into their Protoculture pods, what makes this Matrix different? Why is the presence of the Flower a good thing here? Is it an un-mutated Flower, the last remaining “pure” Flower of Life plant? And why is the state of the plant, with its closed Flowers, important? The narrator says that the opening of the Flowers makes it useless to them, that it has expended its potential that way. This seems similar, if not identical, to the idea expressed in the Comico Graphic Novel, that Protoculture is power derived from the seeds of the Flower of Life put in a state of arrested division; the energy they expend striving to divide becomes power to fuel Robotechnology. It would make sense to me if those Flowers represented the only un-mutated examples of the Flower remaining, containing seeds that could be used to create new Protoculture pods, but then it wouldn’t make any sense for the opening of the Flowers to represent their becoming useless to the Masters. The footage itself doesn’t support this; when Dana awakens, the red-collared Robotech Master has reclaimed it. Clearly it still has some use to them. I’m gonna go with the non-mutated, we-need-the-seeds/no-spores explanation. Of course, this problem has it’s, ahem, roots in the fact that in the original animation the bad guys were after the Flowers, not some energy byproduct.

If the United Earth Forces of the post-war era built the mounds to cover the remains of the SDF-1, SDF-2, and Khyron’s ship, how come the Robotech Masters’ flagship can open the mound that contains the SDF-1? Me, I’ve always assumed that the beam they fired contained some override command that opened the housing of the reflex engines of the SDF-1 to reveal the Protoculture Factory, and what we’re seeing is, err, a kind of artistic license. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

I do wonder how exactly the Masters were going to make off with the Protoculture. What kind of a device would they employ to seize it? What would the part they were removing from the ruins of the SDF-1 look like? Or would it simply be a power drain, sucking up all the Protoculture remaining in the structure? Because of the nature of the original animation and Zor’s sharpshooting skills, we’ll never know.

All in all, a rushed ending that still manages a kind of catharsis for the character of Zor Prime if not for anyone else, and solves one problem while creating another. Aside from Zor Prime’s sacrifice, doing much the same thing he did at the end of “Crisis Point,” all the deaths are either strange choices or weirdly undramatic; Leonard’s seems to be little more than an afterthought. Octavia’s comes out of the blue, and while it’s a nice moment, it would only be really interesting in the aftermath, watching Musica and Allegra deal with it. Indeed, that’s really what this ending needs most of all: an aftermath, a moment of reflection by these characters, a chance to see them pick up these pieces and witness the lasting effects of this war on them. We got a couple of chances to see the heroes of the First Robotech War grow and learn from their experiences; unfortunately, no such luck for the heroes of the Second Robotech War. Sure, we eventually got spin-off comics and books, such as Eldred & Spangler’s INVID WAR and McKinney’s BEFORE THE INVID STORM, but those aren’t quite the same thing.

FIRSTS OF NOTE:

This is a story of lasts. We witness the final moments of Commander Leonard, Colonel Seward, Octavia, the Robotech Masters and their scientist triumvirate, and Zor Prime. Southern Cross command headquarters, with its proud spires, is destroyed. One wonders what became of the Masters’ other flagships; aside from some battle footage borrowed from other episodes, we don’t get a good sense of how the Earth fleet’s final attack went.

There is, however, one very important first as regards the wider ROBOTECH story: first appearance of the character who will later be known as Maia Sterling, the “other daughter of Max and Miriya,” as she introduces herself. Yes she has blue hair here and purple later. Dana’s hair color changed from blue to blonde. There was precedent. The scene hints at things left untold, though; clearly wherever Max, Miriya, and Maia are, they know of the Flower of Life and have learned to fear the Invid. And yes, maybe it’s the influence of the novels’ literal interpretation of the scene, added to the fact that Maia did indeed become a major character in the first new ROBOTECH animation in twenty years, but I’ve always taken the scene somewhat literally, as a sort of telepathic communication across the cosmos facilitated by that surge of Protoculture energy into Dana’s body.

DANA’S BRATTINESS/INSUBORDINATION LEVEL:

Like the spores of the Flower of Life, Dana is carried by the winds of change; for such a proactive heroine, she spends the final two episodes of the series simply following Zor around and watching him hog the spotlight, even when it winds up shooting humanity in the foot. The worst she does in this final episode is follow Zor around against his wishes and then yell at him when he shoots that last Robotech Master dead.

DOES BOWIE SULK?

He and Musica end the series with a look of serenity on their faces. As long as he gets to cast off the shackles of the military, I don’t think Bowie will ever sulk again.

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7 thoughts on “Robotech, In Brief: Catastrophe

  1. Bravo, my friend! As Fer says — “Two generations down…!”

    (Want to schedule a NEW GEN viewing marathon together? In the next week or two? Cuz I’m RT-hyped. Let me know. Oh, and it should include beer. ;-p )

  2. Evan: It’s funny, after finishing Masters I find myself kind of wanting to go back and watch the whole thing over again, just burn through ’em all in a couple of days without having to try and pick up on every little thing and see how they hang together, especially given that I watched it with that few-month gap in the middle; I keep fearing I missed something due to that blasted gap. But New Gen wouldn’t be bad either. I’m actually planning on starting tonight to try and build up a buffer, do that and get this past weekend’s DOCTOR WHO post up as well as tomorrow’s “Protocultural Artifacts” photo. Then I’ll be able to kick back, relax, and maybe watch some of this OTHER stuff I’ve got in the queue; the last four episodes of TIGER & BUNNY, the last several episodes of MAWARU PENGUINDRUM, this disc of the first GALAXY EXPRESS 999 movie I’ve had sitting next to the TV for the past several weeks, the remastered REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA DVD boxes, and so on and so forth. But I’ll probably wind up cranking out the second New Gen post instead, because “The Lost CIty” is extremely simple and kind of easy to burn through. It’s also short thanks to all the material they edited out of it.

  3. “Here’s something that doesn’t make any sense.”

    This might be the operative phrase for many instances during the “Masters” portion of “Robotech.”

  4. Just like the other finale episodes, this is one of my favorites to re-watch – although it is kind of hard to separate this episode from the previous two as I tend to watch them all back to back.

    There is a lot going on in this episode, and while there are some weaknesses, as noted in the review, there are also some really interesting details that are easy to overlook. For me, one of the most impressive scenes (even if its only 7 seconds long) is the shot of the Earth fleet rising up to engage the Masters for the last time. Not only is this scene an impressive piece of animation (the camera pans across a scene composed of multiple independently scrolling layers of starships), but it also underscores the sheer size of the original Southern Cross fleet. Even after disastrous losses in wave after wave of frontal assaults, the loss of the Tristar and (presumably) most of the fleet with it in the last battle, the Earth, with its back against the wall, was still able to field at least 75 capital ships (perhaps much more if there are more ships off screen).

    “Me, I’ve always assumed that the beam they fired contained some override command that opened the housing of the reflex engines of the SDF-1 to reveal the Protoculture Factory, and what we’re seeing is, err, a kind of artistic license. Yeah. That’s the ticket.”

    I actually kind of agree. I originally thought the beam did something to the systems inside the SDF-1 while the splitting of the earth was accomplished separately, perhaps with some type of force field-like mechanism.

    “I again find it strange that the Clonemasters place such import on Musica when the nearly the entire series before “The Invid Connection” placed little emphasis on her place in the Masters’ society.”

    I personally like the idea that Musica (or muses like her if there is more than one group) has such an integral role in the Master’s society. It seems to fit the events of the last few episodes better (particularly in comparison to the original animation, which is kind of ironic), and it is also consistent with what we see in the other two sagas, which creates a nice overarching theme of high-ranking alien defectors (many of which also have green hair) being instrumental in the ultimate success of the heroes. But I suppose there is no avoiding your point – it would have been better if this were more explicitly alluded to in the earlier episodes. Totally agree about Karno. “Giant tool” is a great description of him.

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