Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance episode 2

Episode 2: Nothing is Simple Anymore.

I sat down to watch episode 2 with a beer and lowered expectations. After thinking on the debut episode, my initial impressions were reaffirmed: It took too long in introducing too many characters, and dawdled about before introducing anything resembling a plot. And the technical aspects of the production were inconsistent beyond the intrusive CGI. In some scenes, the puppets felt very much like living creatures, whereas in others they came off as stiff latex castings. I tried to get two of my children to watch with me. My 20-year-old daughter considered it for a moment before losing interest. My 13-year-old son watched about 30 seconds before announcing it was "the creepiest thing I've ever seen" and fleeing. I guess I jinxed it by suggesting they watch with me--anything Dad's interested in is, by default, inherently uncool.

Obligatory Plot Summary: Aughra wakes up from a thousand-year sleep, or something like that, where she did the Thra version of astral projection across the cosmos. She senses something terribly wrong with Thra, and vows to find out what it is and set it right. Elsewhere, Deet, the naive underground-dwelling Grottan Gelfling, wanders across Thra with cloth tied over her eyes as shade against the bright sunlight. She's blissfully unaware of any dangerous creatures or threats, until attacked by a Spitter, a spider-like creature I suspect eventually morph into Garthim. Deet is saved, sort of, by the heroic yet incompetent bravery of Hup, a Podling armed with a spoon who aspires to become a Paladin. In Ha'rar, the Gelfling capitol, Princess Brea visits the Sifa Gelfling to decipher the mystery of a mystical symbol she discovered last episode (yeah, I forgot to mention that--in the royal library, books started flying around and a big glowing symbol appeared to her. Plot coupon, anyone?). The leader of the Sifa tried to dupe her into drinking a memory-wipe potion, but Brea turns the tables on him in a scene evocative of Vizzini and Westley from Princess Bride. His apprentice talls Brea to bring the All-Maudra's brightest jewel the following night to have her questions answered. Back at the Castle of the Crystal, Rian is hunted for Mira's murder. He dreamfasts with his friend, Gurjin, to show him the truth. Alas, Gelflings cannot pass on memories of another through dreamfasting, so Gurjin cannot convince anyone else of the Skeksis' treachery. The two hatch a plan to steal the remaining vial of Mira's essence as proof of what the Skeksis have done (I just remembered that I left out of my previous synopsis that the Skeksis have been drawing life energy from the Crystal the previous millennia, but they have now drained the Crystal dry, necessitating the switch to Gelfling juice to fuel their immortality). Whilst trying to steal the essence, Rian and Gurjin are caught up in a confrontation between the Chamberlain and Scientist, the former who is trying to steal the essence for his own use. Gurjin is captured but Rian escapes with the essence. When the two Skeksis report what has happened to the Emperor, Chamberlain twists the events to lay all the blame on the Scientist, who is punished by having Peeper Beetles gouge out one of his eyes.

Musings: Holy shit! That Peeper Beetle scene was freaking intense, even if the gore is implied rather than graphic. And I just realized Mark Hamill is the voice of Scientist! He's doing a helluva job in the role, although, when you get down to it, all of the Skeksis are pretty stupid. They're evil, but a buffoonish evil, which makes them hard to take seriously as bad guys, until they unleash the Peeper Beetles. Ugh. I'm happy to report this episode is much better than the first. Motivations and actions make sense. The characters are much easier to identify with and follow. Plot is happening. There is agency from multiple quarters. The return of Aughra is welcome, although she does very little beyond berating a hapless Podling. Deet is perhaps the most enjoyable character, best characterized as a tree-hugging hippie chick. Were all the other characters human, she'd be the flighty elf.

The problem of bathos continues, however. The Skeksis, as much as they're built up at this menacing evil, just don't come off as competent enough to be bloodthirsty tyrants. The court intrigue we see is sophomoric at best. Their subterfuge is clunky. The Chamberlain's Iago-style wordplay is the equivalent of schoolyard, "Let's you and him fight!" Considering the tone of the original movie, the Skeksis shouldn't spout menace or sophistication of a Hannibal Lecter, but here they're not even Dick Dastardly. Heck, rising to the level of Boris and Natasha would be an improvement. At this point, considering the incompetent infighting and the Peeper Beetle incident, I'm having a hard time seeing how the Skeksis prevail if the Gelflings do indeed turn against them as the series title promises.

But yeah, episode 2 is a dramatic improvement over its predecessor. I'll definitely watch more.

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