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Attack of the Alien Wasp by Grumpy Ghost Owl
Attack of the Alien Wasp by Grumpy Ghost Owl
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Gatchaman and Battle of the Planets are the property of Tatsunoko Studios and Sandy Frank Productions, respectively. Copyrighted material is used for the purposes of review, and in some cases, satire (when I think something's really stupid.) All views and opinions expressed are those of the reviewer. The recipe is genuine and has been tried and tested by the writer.

Please note: this review contains spoilers for other episodes.


EPISODE REVIEW: ATTACK OF THE ALIEN WASP


This episode is a weird one, because it's so out of sequence. It's retconned to take place prior to The Sky is Falling to which it even makes direct reference, visually, so the reactions and body language of the characters are at odds with the constant references to Cronus and Mark as being friends rather than family. Cronus isn't the only one to bungee-jump into the afterlife, either. According to Zark, the entire planet of Riga has been devastated and everyone is killed. That makes sense if this episode is meant to come after The Sky is Falling, but if it's meant to fit in before, then how does the entire planet get resurrected for the events of The Sky is Falling to take place? Either way you try to fit this puzzle together, major pieces of the jigsaw keep falling out. It's really annoying.

Even more annoying is Zark's... Zarkiness. He's especially Zarky in this episode and it's enough to drive me to chocolate.

Aside from that, Attack of the Alien Wasp is a story about loyalty, and how blind, unquestioning loyalty can be a dangerous thing if we fail to apply the filters of reason.



The episode opens with the stock shot of Center Neptune, and the three orange reef fish, Larry, Curly and Moe, swimming by. It also, as usual, opens with Zark, in his job as chorus: "Here at Center Neptune, nine hundred fathoms beneath the sea," Zark says, "I'm the first one to get bad news through my complex sensory system. I should be happy," he reasons. "Not a single alert in twenty four hours! But... I'm worried."

For starters, I think Zark should receive the bad news that a fathom is six feet, and that there's no way Center Neptune is 5,400 feet below sea level. You can see the surface just above the complex, for heaven's sake. Having owned both a ruler and a dictionary as a child, I knew it was wrong back in 1979, and I know it's wrong, now. For all that I love this series, it's the little things like that which annoy me, and the main reason they annoy me is that Battle of the Planets was billed -- at least on the network channel I was watching at the time -- as having educational content. Call me pedantic, but I really feel that if you're going to sell something as being educational, you have that extra little bit of responsibility to check your facts and make sure everything meshes. Maybe it's just me, but I like to think that education ought to involve truth somewhere along the line.

Anyway, back to our story: "It's just too peaceful," Zark continues. "Spectra, a hostile alien planet in Crab Nebulae (sic), is bound to attack again, soon." Again with the plural form of nebula! Repeat after me, Zark: Latin is a dead language / As dead as it can be. / It surely killed the Romans, / And now [your mangling of] it's killing me!

"Their planet is just like Earth, only millions of years older," Zark exposits, "and all their resources are depleted. They need what we have, and they'll never stop attacking until they rob Earth of everything!" Zark turns his head to camera and addresses the audience directly. "Oh, I'm sorry! I'm called Seven Zark Seven, computerised coordinator for Center Neptune. The Intergalactic Early Warning System shoots all red alerts to me, and I relay them to G-Force." We cut to a montage of mug shots of the team, which has clearly been added by the US producers. The standard of the art is so very Hanna-Barbera. "These five young people possess incredible skills, and have been trained almost from birth to repel all alien invaders from outer space. I think I'd better touch base right now with Mark, the leader of G-Force. 7-Zark-7, calling G-Force. Come in, G-Force."



We cut to the interior of the Phoenix, where the team is looking decidedly casual. Keyop is reclining in one of the seats, hands behind his head, a sleepy expression on his face, while Princess leans against the backrest. Mark and Jason are standing behind the others, and Tiny looks half-asleep in the command chair. "G-Force, do you read me?" Zark asks.

We can see that the Phoenix is cruising in straight and level flight, and Zark's voice rises with concern. "Mark, come in, please! Mark!"

Back aboard the command ship, Keyop suddenly lunges forward, a look of horror on his face as he points at the console. He burbles and gargles and manages to get out what sounds like, "Mark... no ears."

"Keyop," Princess reproves, and the pair of them cover their mouths. They've made some kind of slip up.

The camera closes in on Mark, whose expression is grim. Mark ducks his head in grief, then turns away, walking toward the rear hatch.

"Sorry," Keyop apologises.

"Okay, Keyop," Mark says, "forget it."

"Dumb me!" Keyop stutters as Mark exits the bridge. "Cut out... my tongue."

The G-1 jet leaves the Phoenix and soars aloft. Looks like Mark needs some cave time.

"Mark is a beautiful pilot," Zark tells us, "but he's in a very sad mood today, and my thought probes tell me why. He just received word that Zoltar and his invasion forces from Spectra attacked Planet Riga and completely devastated it." While Zark is telling us this, we see a flashback to The Sky is Falling, Part II where Colonel Cronus -- who had just been revealed as Mark's long lost father -- piloted a missile on an apparent suicide mission to save Earth from Zoltar's doomsday device. I say apparent because even though the missile blew up in Riga's atmosphere (thus restoring the Van Allen belts in Earth's atmosphere -- go figure) Zark reckons Cronus made it out alive. Go figure.

"Marks good friend Colonel Cronus from Riga was undoubtedly lost with all the others," Zark says. On the pilot's seat, there is a small white chrysanthemum. Mark picks it up, opens the canopy of his plane and tosses the flower out. I'm pretty sure that the imagery here is unintentional, but I'm immediately reminded of the DH Lawrence short story, Odour of Chrysanthemums about a wife who waits for her coal miner husband to come home, only to learn that he's been killed in an accident down the pit. When they bring his body back to her, she reflects on their relationship and concludes that she never really knew him, mostly because she never tried. There's a certain nebulous parallel in there, in that Mark never gets to know Cronus either. "Mark and Cronus served together several times in the mutual defence of our galaxy, and they had great admiration and respect for each other."

I can clearly remember the disjointed feeling I got watching this episode the first time, as it was screened locally after The Sky is Falling.
The flower comes apart as it falls, shedding twin trails of delicate white petals like the days of a man's life. His double life, maybe. The symbolism is brilliant and wrenching.

And lucky us, we've got Zark talking over the top of it.

Zark is annoying, but his words are terrifying. Earlier, he spoke of G-Force having been trained almost from birth to repel attacks from outer space, and now he's just mentioned thought probes. If you ever wanted to be like G-Force, think again. Zark is just scary, in the most Orwellian of ways. They say desperate times call for desperate measures, and it seems now that the good guys in the white hats are fighting to preserve a way of life that allows children to be trained as fighters almost from birth, then submitted to thought probes from a robot with a propensity for wearing sweaters.

Did the BotP writers actually think about what they were saying in this episode? I know science fiction often portrays dystopian societies, but the story usually centres on one or more characters trying to deal with that rather than alien invaders from beyond space.



Mark watches the chrysanthemum falling, lost in his own thoughts. Suddenly, his expression changes from one of regret to one of alarm.

"Uh-oh!" Zark narrates for us. "Trouble!" Flying out of the rising sun are three very familiar looking aircraft. "Three invaders breaching the blue cordon perimeter in sector zee! Mark has to contact Security Chief Anderson on this right away!"

We get a clear view of the planes, now, and so does Mark: it's a flight of three Rigan fighters.

Mark maintains straight and level flight, while the three Rigans fly over the top of him. Whoever was in charge of the flight sequences for Space Rocket Escort must have been working on another project this particular day because there's no jet wake turbulence from having three fighters come over the top in a low pass.

The leader formates on Mark, and... it's Cronus, smiling in an uncharacteristically friendly fashion!

Mark's eyes narrow. "Cronus!" he breathes. "I thought he was dead!"

"He looks as though he's seen a ghost," Cronus says smugly, and that's definitely in character.

Mark is completely thrown (figuratively speaking) as the three fighters peel off and head back the way they came. "It can't be!" he reasons to himself. He opens a comm channel. "Chief Anderson!" he says. "G-Force priority call. Chief Anderson! Chief Anderson, urgent, come in!"

There's a commset on Anderson's desk, and the Chief reaches out for the handpiece. "Anderson here," he says. "I read you, Mark."

"I just saw Cronus!" Mark says. "He's alive!"

"Cronus alive?" Anderson echoes. "That's impossible."

"I saw him," Mark insists. "I'm requesting permission to follow him to his base. I don't wanna lose him."

"No," Anderson refuses. "You're already in a restricted area. Return to the command ship at once!"

"Negative," Mark says. "I've got to follow him. Go!" Mark firewalls the levers and sends his machine racing after the Rigan flight.

Anderson rises out of his chair, a study in fury. "Return to the Phoenix! That's an order, Commander!" There's no reply from Mark, and the Chief stares up at the ceiling. "Impossible," he rasps. "I don't believe it. It can't be Cronus."



Mark's friendly little G-1 jet is approaching the Rigans. They're not in their usual vic formation, but are cruising along in an unlikely staggered line astern kind of thing. Mark doesn't seem to notice. I wonder if it was intentional on the part of the animators? If so, then it's really nice attention to detail. If not, it's a neat little felix culpa.

My instincts tell me I'm right, Mark thinks to himself, even if I am in the doghouse.



On the bridge of the Phoenix, Princess is alarmed. "Mark disobeyed orders?" Like that's never happened before.

Chief Anderson's unamused visage is displayed on one of the tele-comm screens. "He's put himself and our entire security system in jeopardy," Anderson says. "You're his team. Try to bring him back."

The team salute and respond in unison: "G-Force!"



The Phoenix swoops low over a sparkling ocean that reflects the reds and oranges of the sunrise. It's a beautiful shot of the command ship.

The relaxed atmosphere that pervaded the bridge earlier is gone. It's Jason's turn to look grim, now. "Sounds like our noble Commander might be in line for a demotion," he remarks.

Tiny leaps to Mark's defence. "Come on, get off his back, Jason," he says. "You know Mark always knows what he's doing."

Jason doesn't react one way or the other.

Tiny is a good soldier. He trusts his commanding officer implicitly and won't hear any criticism of him. That kind of not-thinking can get you -- and other people -- killed if your commanding officer decides to start wearing his underpants on his head. Tiny's is the loyalty of Sam Gamgee to Frodo Baggins, an intense personal devotion that stems from a belief that Mark really does belong to a better class of human being. It clearly doesn't extend along the chain of command.

I prefer Jason's point of view, myself. Jason isn't a nice person, but nice won't get you very far against the likes of Zoltar.



Meanwhile, the Rigan jets are in a power-on descent, with Mark on their tails. On an island covered in palms, a mountain rises up above the treeline and the jets head toward what looks like the mouth of a cave.

"A secret air base," Mark concludes.

Politics in the BotP universe is always fascinating. Earth and Riga are allies, and here's Riga with a secret air base on Earth? With friends like these...

The three Rigan jets enter the cave mouth, and Mark follows. They've left room for him. He makes a very short landing and an arrestor cable brings him to a stop in a well-appointed hangar.

Mark gets out of the cockpit and glances around. The hangar is silent. There are no ground crew and there doesn't appear to be anyone else around. "Everything looks cool," Mark says, and this must be some new usage of the term 'cool' that I haven't heard of yet. "Fantastic layout," he notes. "Well concealed, but what's Cronus doing here?"

He walks toward an old fashioned elevator and gets inside. The car descends through about two levels, and Mark gets out. He finds himself in a corridor and checks both directions before settling on one and proceeding.

He passes through another door and finds himself in a large room. At a big picture window, his image reflected in the glass, stands Cronus, watching the sun come up over the island. There's happy family reunion music and Mark catches his breath. It's Dear Ol' Dad! Er, sorry, friend and flying buddy... person... Cronus.

"Cronus!" Mark exclaims, and crosses the room at a run, stopping at arm's length.

"So we meet again, my friend," Cronus says, putting both hands on Mark's shoulders.

The dramatic irony is doing my head in just as much now as it did back in 1979.

"I thought Zoltar destroyed your planet!" Mark says.

"Not all of it," Cronus explains. "I escaped to Earth."

Mark starts gushing. "I remember once I was trapped in a magnetic field and you got me out," he says. He suddenly turns serious. "I owe you my life," he says.

In so may ways, kid. In so many ways. (As in, half your genetic material for starters.)

Cronus turns away, smirking, and slaps the fist of one hand into the palm of another. "You owe me nothing," he says, walking back to the window -- what is it about windows in this show? "But together, we can get rid of that demon, Zoltar from Spectra, if you'll join me."

Mark stares at Cronus' back, the solemnity in his face almost childlike. Mark's so vulnerable, here. Even without the dramatic irony, provided by having seen The Sky is Falling, it's clear that the relationship between Mark and Cronus is more than just that of flying buddies. If we accept that Mark doesn't know about his paternity, then it still looks as though Mark sees Cronus as a mentor and father figure. Mark has a tendency to seek out father figures in his life, and he clearly looks up to Cronus in a big way.

"You can count on it," he says. "What's your plan?"

Cronus turns back from his perusal of the view. "It'll take your entire G-Force team," he says, "and we must work in secrecy."

"Our galaxy wants peace," Mark declares. The end justifies any means. The big rules override the little ones. That's Anderson-reasoning, only without the filter of Anderson's ice cold cynicism, and that makes it fatally flawed, because you can only make that kind of reasoning work if you can step back from your emotions, something Mark has never been able to do.

"All right," Cronus says. "Our first objective is to penetrate Spectra's secret base on Earth." He walks around a large, high-tech looking desk. It's nothing like Anderson's simple little timber desk back at Center Neptune with device-of-the-week on it. This is the desk of a man who likes to have lots of shiny buttons at his fingertips. Cronus presses one of the shiny buttons and a drawer opens (I have to use primitive devices known as 'handles' on the drawers in my desk.) He takes out a metal case with a symbol on it that looks like the thistle crest from Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Here's the key to our plan," he says.

Cool! They're going to sell Zoltar a set of exploding encyclopaedias!

Cronus continues: "Top secret documents proving the location of Spectra's Earth headquarters."

Awwwww... I wanted to see exploding encyclopaedias.

"It reveals all accessible routes as well as vulnerable propulsion units and control reactors," Cronus says.

Mark looks impressed. "Where did you get those?" he asks, and his voice is edged with the suspicion that doesn't show in his face.

"Sorry, Mark," Cronus says. "I can only tell you the source is completely reliable." He puts the case down on the desk, pushing it toward Mark. "Trust me," he exhorts, "as I trust you."

Mark stares at it. Maybe the other shoe has finally dropped. This really is too good to be true.



The Phoenix is still en-route, with the team clustered close by Tiny's chair. Princess and Keyop are right behind Tiny, leaving Jason alone in the right hand seat. They believe in Mark. That's cute. And dangerous. Jason, the objective one, is isolated for daring to suggest that Mark could be wrong.

"I sure hope we can get to Mark before he runs into trouble," Tiny says.

"One problem," Jason says. "Where do we start lookin'?"

Princess' hand goes to her face and she cries out in alarm. "Watch out!"

Out of the palms rises a giant mechanical head. It looks to be insectoid, probably the Alien Wasp from the title, if I don't miss my guess.

I got stung by a paper wasp, once. The little sod got me clean through a leather gardening glove and it felt like someone sticking a needle all the way to the bone. I would hate to get stung by an alien wasp. I reckon it would probably take more than an ice pack to sort it out, too.

The giant wasp head is followed by the rest of the giant wasp (as you might expect.)

"It's a giant wasp!" Tiny exclaims.

"Red alert," Jason declares. "We've got a weird alien invader!" Note the use of the military term, 'weird,' in this instance. Jason raises one fist and smashes the safety shield on the Big Red Button.

The Phoenix's dorsal rocket launcher fails to activate.

"They've jammed our defence system!" Jason snarls. That must have been what that beam weapon was doing.

Keyop is clutching at Princess in fear. Princess makes a leap of logic. "That means they killed our backup systems, too," she concludes. "Even if Center Neptune sends help, it'll never get here in time!"

"We'll have to take evasive action," Jason says.

Everyone takes their seats and Tiny puts the Phoenix into a steep climb. The alien wasp fires on them in a stream of bright pink tracers. It fires a beam weapon that affects the Phoenix somehow -- it looks like some kind of heat haze, then fires again with the tracers, which take large divets out of the port wing pod -- the shells must be extremely large.

The Phoenix goes nose-down and out of control, plummeting toward the island below.

"Pull up, Tiny!" Princess calls.

The Phoenix starts to level out, but hits the treetops at speed. Instead of cartwheeling and crashing like any other aircraft would do, the Phoenix ploughs through the canopy like the galaxy's biggest weed-whacker, emerging over the edge of a cliff in a cloud of greenery and continuing over the water.

Tiny sags in relief. "Restart your hearts," he tells the crew. "We lost 'em."

Keyop chirps and grins. "Lost... me!"

It looks like Tiny spoke too soon, however, because as he climbs to regain height, the alien wasp closes in from above.

The wasp's feet grab the Phoenix like a real wasp about to lay its eggs in a living victim (I'm sure that's where they got the idea for Alien.)

"They got us!" Tiny exclaims.

Aboard the wasp, four Spectran crewmembers are gloating. "They never looked behind," says the goon in the command seat.

"I've lost control," Tiny groans as the wasp's head comes into view through the main screen.

The wasp's sting jabs into the dorsal surface of the Phoenix. Princess cries out in dismay as a purple gas streams from the sting, and one by one, the team lose consciousness.

The goons laugh. One of them just told the joke about the three Snarfles who went to a Vidok bar and asked for Ghrifftwark. "Right on target," says the pilot. "They're sleepin' like babies.

"We got 'em," says the co-pilot. "Where do we take 'em?"

"To the secret mountain base," says the pilot. "We'll get medals for this day's work!"

The wasp flies off, with the Phoenix in its evil clutches.

Secret mountain base, huh? Anyone seen a secret mountain base around these parts at all? So much for Mark's instincts.



We cut to Zark. "Oh, dear," the tin toad says, "if Mark had been there, I don't think this would have happened." Yeah? What would he have done? Thrown a chrysanthemum at them? "I'm not receiving any contacts at all. I think I'm losing my sensors," he says, in what is truly an execrable pun. "This is 7-Zark-7, calling Mark," he says. "Urgent! Come in, Mark!"



While Zark's listening to his own histrionics, let's go to Recipe of the Episode.




SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD

210g (7 oz) butter
cup caster sugar
cup ground rice
tsp vanilla essence
2 cups plain flour


Cream butter and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar.

Work in the sifted dry ingredients

Knead well on a lightly floured surface until smooth.

Press in to a lightly greased 18 x 28 cm (7 x 11") baking tin, cut in to bars and prick each bar decoratively with a fork.

Bake in a slow (150-160C / 200-320F) oven for 50 - 60 minutes.



We now return to Attack of the Alien Wasp


Mark is still engrossed in his discussion with Cronus -- which is taking place inside a secret mountain base.

"What's the first step, Cronus?" Mark wants to know.

"Go back to your G-Force team," Cronus says. "Bring them here to join us." There's something about the way he utters those last two words that creeps me out, like he's looking forward to it all just a little bit too much.

"I can't do that," Mark says, finally using a bit of common sense. He gets to his feet. "I can only recommend your plan, then we'll have to make a joint decision."

Cronus remains seated. "Always loyal, aren't you?" he remarks. "I admire that," he says. "Do it your way."



Back in the hangar, Mark has fired up the engines on his jet, and promises Cronus that he'll be back shortly. Cronus is standing below, watching as Mark takes off. A man in a Red Ranger uniform plays the part of ground crew and waves a flag, signalling that Mark is clear for take off. The jet has been turned around and it launches, streaking out of the bay and into open sky.

The camera zooms in on Cronus' face. His expression is utterly unreadable.



Back at Center Neptune, the fish are right on schedule.

Anderson is reading the documents vouchsafed by Cronus, and he doesn't seem terribly happy. "Very interesting," he says. "The question is, why did Cronus give them to you?"

"Just could be he wants to help," Mark reasons, slapping a piece of paper with the back of one hand. He doesn't voice any of his own misgivings. In the face of Anderson's doubts, Mark supports Cronus to the hilt.

Yes, he's always loyal. To his heart, when it comes down to it. Just like Tiny is loyal, just like Princess and Keyop are loyal. It's a different kind of loyalty to Jason's, and to Anderson's. Mark, Tiny, Princess and Keyop are ruled by their emotions. Jason and Anderson are ruled by their heads, and sometimes that hurts more.

"Know what's wrong with you security people?" Mark complains. "You suspect everyone!" How dare you give voice to my own doubts? How dare you try to keep dragging me back to reality when it's like a dream come true, that my friend/mentor/father-figure isn't dead after all and is back to hand us a magic wand with which to defeat Spectra? How dare you try to protect me from myself?

"We aren't allowed one mistake in judgement, Commander," Anderson says, meeting Mark's glare head on with a subzero look. "If my own son gave me these papers, I'd question them."

More dramatic irony! When Mark was four and his father disappeared, Anderson was nominated as the boy's guardian. For a time, at least, Anderson must have stood in loco parentis to Mark. It's fairly clear that they no longer have that relationship, if indeed they ever really did on a personal level, and my personal speculation is that this is through professional necessity on Anderson's part and through anger and resentment on Mark's.

"I'm not your son," Mark snarls back at him. Ouch. That's gotta hurt. "And Cronus once saved my life. Now he wants help!"

Kids can be so cruel.

Anderson gets up and walks to the window -- again with the windows, and again with the reflection. Mirrors are powerful symbols. Anderson confronts his reflection without flinching. "I believe you have doubts yourself, Commander," he says, and this is why he's Chief of Galaxy Security: you can't hide much from that stare for very long. Even if you're Anderson's reflection. Maybe that's why he spends so much time staring himself down: quid custodiet custodes? He does. "You must have seen Spectra's evil symbol on the document case."

And after all that, how does he say those lines and keep a straight face?

"I saw it," Mark admits, and there's defeat in his voice.

"We've had these papers before and ran them through our crytpo-phaser," Anderson explains, walking over to a console mounted in one wall. "They revealed absolutely nothing! They're fakes. Now, maybe Cronus defected from his planet and joined the sinister forces of Spectra," Anderson postulates. Interestingly, one of the things I pick up about Anderson is his consistent mistrust of Cronus throughout the series. It seems odd, after the revelations of The Sky is Falling that he should treat Cronus the way he does, but again, maybe it's that professional distance thing, and maybe father and son are more alike than we know. If Cronus is the type to let his heart rule his head, and now operates outside of Anderson's control, Anderson would treat him with a great deal of caution.

"I'll know soon," Mark says darkly.

And is anyone apart from Zark worried about where the rest of G-Force have been all this time?



Speaking of Zark... The tin toad is pacing the floor of Nerve Center, expositing again. "Mark is going back to see his old friend Cronus," he says, "and he's not very happy about what Anderson told him. How would you feel if you didn't know whether your friend was really your friend? I know how I'd feel. No, I don't know," Zark says, catching himself in a moment of anthropomorphism. "I'm just a robot, and I've never had a friend. It might be nice to have a friend to compute with," he says.

No! Please, no-ooooooooooooooooooo!

We cut to the G-1, flying straight and level. "Well, the Commander is on his way," Zark observes, "and I've got an awful queasy feeling in the pit of my base electrode that he's in for trouble. Poor Mark! I wish I had some good readouts for him, but I only put out what's put in me."

And I don't want to go there. At all.



A gloved hand puts a mismatched cup and saucer down on a flat surface. It's Cronus' desk and he's made coffee for two. He takes a seat opposite Mark with a friendly gesture. "I'm surprised, my friend," he says. "I told you this was to be in the strictest secrecy, then you showed our plans to your security division. Why?"

Um... the whole Earth and Riga as allies thing, maybe?

Mark closes his eyes and bows his head. "I'll be honest, Cronus. I had some doubts."

Cronus' mouth falls open. "You doubt a friend?"

"No more," Mark says.

"Good," Cronus declares. "Then let's drink to both our planets, and peace in our galaxy!" He takes a draught from his cup. "Health!"

Mark's expression changes to one of shock and anger. He raised his own cup to his lips, and stares at it, hesitant, before taking a sip.

Cronus watches, an anticipatory expression on his face, over the rim of his coffee cup.

A cup falls to the floor and shatters, the coffee splashing and pooling amid the fragments. Mark staggers to his feet, clutching at his throat and coughing.

Cronus is on his feet, too. "Mark! What is it?" Mark falls heavily to the floor, landing on his side. Cronus falls to his knees beside him, shaking him. "My friend, what's wrong? Are you ill? Can I help you?"

Mark's face is contorted in a grimace, and he doesn't respond.

Cronus straightens, hands on hips, and begins to laugh. He pulls off his jacket, and in a sweeping flourish, transforms into Zoltar.

"Of course your friend Cronus is dead!" Zoltar gloats happily, "but I, Zoltar, made myself his duplicate. I only wanted you to lure the rest of G-Force here so I could destroy all of you, but I didn't need your help! The giant wasp has already captured the others." Zoltar turns and starts to walk away.

"Don't celebrate yet, Zoltar," Mark warns, and Zoltar spins around, mouth open in surprise.

Mark is rising to his feet with a flourish of his own.

"Aiee!" Zoltar moans. "You're alive!"

"You're pretty clever," Mark concedes, "and dumb, too," he adds with some satisfaction. "If you'd been Cronus, you'd have known I don't drink. You've bombed out again. Your big plan for conquering the Earth will have to wait! Forever, I hope. Now, what have you done with the G-Force team?"

"They all escaped," Zoltar says.

"Come on, Zoltar," Mark goads. "None of your tricks work."

Four goons appear in the doorway, guns at the ready. Mark leaps and swings off the obligatory chandelier -- and what's a chandelier doing in a secret base like this? The presence of the chandelier alone should have told Mark that something was seriously amiss at first glance -- although I must admit, Cronus' sense of style does tend toward the inelegant, and that chandelier qualifies with bells on.

Mark makes to land, but Zoltar presses a button and the floor opens up underneath him. With a cry, Mark disappears into a dark pit below.



Now, while Mark's falling down the pit, what was with that, 'I don't drink' comment? Don't drink coffee? Don't drink anything at all while in uniform? Don't drink toasts? If it was coffee, then wouldn't he have said, "I don't drink coffee?" It's very odd. I wonder if Mark simply doesn't make toasts to anything because of some personal superstition? Pilots are a supersitious lot, after all. It would make a kind of sense if the writers were trying to pitch the idea to youngsters who might not know what a toast is, but then they just made it all confusing... Gee. Imagine that. The writers of this show making something sound confusing. Confusion makes my head hurt.



Mark lands on a smooth metal floor at the bottom of the pit, and Keyop's voice chirps out a welcome. "Surprise!" Mark looks to his left, and there's the rest of his team, unrestrained and unharmed, in the corner. "Stop meeting," Keyop burbles with a grin, "like this."

"I didn't believe he really captured you," Mark tells them, and Keyop hangs his head.

"We were looking for you," Princess explains, "but we got stung by a giant wasp."

It's Mark's turn to hang his head. "Sorry, team," he says. "I goofed it."

The apology is interrupted by a harsh laugh. The camera angle changes and we can see that the rocky pit is blocked off by bars, and on the other side of the bars is none other than Zoltar and a row of standard issue goons.

Of course, it's in Zoltar's contract that he must now gloat. "Welcome, valiant members of G-Force!" Zoltar greets them. "We're proud to have such distinguished guests." Behind him and to his right, a goon is carrying something that looks like trouble for someone. "Unfortunately, you won't be guests for long. In a few moments, you'll be merely unpleasant memories." The goon mounts what turns out to be a bomb on the wall behind Zoltar. "If you have any marvellous plan for escape," Zoltar says, "I advise you to hurry. The clock on the wall is already ticking off your last few precious seconds!"

Mark glares at Zoltar, and while Zoltar orders his men to clear the area, Mark's left hand goes to his belt. He opens a compartment and takes out one of those tiny tracking devices we've seen before. He flicks the bug toward Zoltar, and it attaches to the back of the Spectran's cape.

"I shall miss you," Zoltar tells them, turning back toward them with a smile, before walking away.

Keyop jumps up and down at the bars. "Purple creep!" he yells after Zoltar's retreating back.

Mark activates his wrist communicator. "G-Force calling Center Neptune," he says. "Red alert. Come in, Center Neptune."

"It's no use, Mark," Princess says. "They've jammed all our communication lines."

Tiny and Keyop are looking disconsolate. "Cooked goose!" Keyop declares.

"Princess," Mark says, "you have the detonator. Use it!"

Princess takes her yo-yo from its holster lobs it into the bars, and sets off the charge. G-Force take cover, and when the smoke clears, we see that the bars haven't even been scratched. Jason glares at the bars, which ought, by rights, to reduce them to molten slag, but it doesn't. "Nothing," he says in disgust. "Like throwing a firecracker at a mountain. We gotta find another way, and fast!"

"Faster!" Keyop qualifies. He stares at the clock, whose sweep hand is heading for a red zone. "Count down!" he warns.

Jason draws his gun.

"It might work, Jason, "Mark says. "It's worth a try."

"What's our other choice?" Jason reasons, and attaches the drill accessory to the tip of the gun. He applies it to the bars as Keyop makes some unintelligible noises.

Mark watches, perspiring.

Zoltar's submarine escape craft is underway. "The end of G-Force!" he crows. "The Earth is ours!" The submarine passes through an undersea door and surfaces in a hangar aboard the alien wasp. He is met by a group of goons, all lined up.

They snap to attention and salute. "Hail Zoltar!" they declare.

"Hail Spectra!" Zoltar responds, and the bug Mark planted on him falls to the floor, out of sight and out of mind.

Meanwhile, Jason is still playing home handyman. "Any ideas?" Keyop asks anxiously.

"Yeah, one," Tiny says. "We've had it!"

"What if that drill doesn't work?" Princess asks, hovering at Jason's elbow.

"It better," Jason says grimly. "It just has to, Princess."

Jason is making headway. There's a hole in the bars, and the metal has heated up enough to be glowing red.



In the sky above, the alien wasp is flying. The clock continues ticking. Jason continues drilling.

Aboard the wasp, a goon watches a readout.

Jason's drill cuts through one bar.

"Home free!" Keyop declares, jubilant.

"One bar," Jason corrects. "We can't get through that!"

"No time left." Mark's lips are moving, but it's Jason's voice doing the talking. "We have to use the astro bomb."

"That's awfully risky," Princess cautions.

Mark goes to the belt compartment again. This time, he's got a handful of tiny charges, which he packs into a cluster around the hold Jason drilled in the bars. He draws his sonic boomerang, takes aim, and throws. The charges detonate and the team cower against the rock as shrapnel flies. A bar embeds itself into the rock wall between Tiny and Keyop, and quivers like a thrown javelin. The two glance up, see it and grimace at their narrow escape.

With a triumphant fanfare, we see that a hole has been blown in the bars.

"Take off!" Mark orders.

Mark, Jason, Princess and Keyop dart through the gap and flee, but Tiny becomes stuck. "Why do I have to be so... muscular?" he grumbles, and strains against the bars. He pulls free and runs to catch up with the others.

The clock counts down.

The Phoenix streaks free of the mountain base, closely followed by the G-1 jet.

The timer on the bomb reaches zero, and explodes.

Debris flies past the G-1, but miraculously, none of it does any damage.

Mark makes an important call. "G-Force, calling 7-Zark-7!"

"Big ten, Commander," Zark says, as a badly drawn image of Mark appears on his monitor. "Good to hear your voice. I've been worried!"

"G-Force now escaping from Zoltar's base," Mark reports. "Heading home. Tell Anderson his information was right."

"It was my information," Zark says, and I so hate him, right now, "and I'm never wrong!" He's such a Wesley! "Commander -- " Zark continues, but Mark's image disappeared. "Oh, dear," Zark says. "I must have pushed the wrong button! I lost him."


Back aboard the alien wasp, the crew are still monitoring the readout. "G-Force has escaped," the pilot announces. "Alert Zoltar! Spectra's headquarters is in danger!"

And just how does he know that?

Mark returns to the bridge of the Phoenix. "Well, Princess," he says, "I almost blew it."

"Not true," she says, all doe-eyed. "It's thanks to you we're all safe." That's the kind of blind puppy-dog loyalty that a good leader doesn't need.

There's a quick flashback to the homing device attaching itself to Zoltar's cape.

"No-one is safe as long as Spectra still has its main Earth headquarters," Mark declares. "We have one chance. It depends on where the homing bug has landed."

We see the homing device flashing on and off on the floor of the alien wasp, and a tactical display aboard the Phoenix shows G-Force's location in relation to Center Neptune.

"Just watch the line," Princess says, as a track indicator creeps across the display.

"If the homing bug dropped, the line will hit it," Mark says, "and that's Spectra."

Keyop chirps and burbles. "Go, bug!" he urges. The track heads straight for Center Neptune, then arcs away toward a flashing orange dot. "Bug on!" says Keyop, which may be a play on, 'begone,' or something. I can't tell.

Mark smiles grimly, like a man about to get his own back for having been fooled about his friend/father-figure's death/not-death business.

"Bug off!" Keyop adds.

Two goons are sitting the controls of the alien wasp. Behind them, a door in the shape of Spectra's evil symbol slides open to reveal Zoltar. "Increase jets," Zoltar orders. "G-Force may have established our location. We must prepare for an attack!"

The wasp is moving quickly, and it looks like it's flying underwater.

Through a gap in the reef ahead, a base becomes visible, a large, well lit complex within easy view of the ocean surface.

Is it just me, or do you think that if you were going to build a top secret base in enemy territory, you wouldn't put it within view of the ocean surface and light it up like a Christmas tree? I mean, really?

Inside the base, some goons at a big control console open fire on the approaching wasp.

That throws me for a second, then I realise that the signal sent by the homing bug must be fooling the Spectrans into thinking that they're under attack by Earth forces.

Zoltar yells in horror and runs for his escape craft. Dead and wounded goons are in the hangar, one of the few sights we get of actual death and unpleasantness.

The escape craft darts free of the wasp, which explodes.

"Creamed!" Keyop says.

"Maybe they'll get the message, one of these days," Tiny says.

Now that the excitement is over, Mark turns away and leaves the bridge, shoulders slumped. It's like one of those dreams you have after someone dies, when you dream that they're not really dead, that everything's all right, then you wake up, and somehow, it's worse.

"Sad," Keyop croons.

"Because of Cronus," Jason says, "but in our work, sentiment is risky. You've gotta keep your guard up."

And that's probably a pretty good summary of the differences between Mark and Jason. Mark wears his heart on his sleeve, and Jason keeps his guard up.

"Jason's right," Zark says as Mark rides the elevator to the dome atop the Phoenix. "It's a tough world. I know. With all the alerts going through me, it's a good thing I have solid state circuitry, or I'd blow a tube for sure." Way to sap all the power out of the imagery, you nasty little metal microbe. "But Mark will handle it," Zark continues, as tears stream down Mark's face. "Right now, he's sad because of his friend Cronus, but he did lead his team to victory over Zoltar's and that's what counts!"

We see the wreckage of the alien wasp floating in the water while the Phoenix flies off into the sunset.

I hate Zark so much.

But he hasn't finished. No, he's still got more to say. "Well, I really thought G-Force was finished that time," he says, "but those young people have incredible powers -- " yeah, like children are resilient -- "and they need them all to combat the invaders from Planet Spectra. I've got a queasy feeling in the pit of my activator that Zoltar will soon be back. Maybe... tomorrow! But, I'll be right here, plugged in and running full speed, and so will G-Force!"

I hate Zark.



So... loyalty. Tiny's, Princess' and Keyop's loyalty to Mark is good, because Mark is the Hero, and without him, G-Force is chopped liver. Jason's loyalty is to the team, and that's also good, because despite Jason's cynicism, he is instrumental in helping Mark save the team. Anderson's loyalty is to Galactic Peace, and that's got to be good, so he gets to be the Voice of Reason, even though Mark says some very hurtful things to him. Mark's loyalty to his friend Cronus turns out to be misplaced, and this story is about Mark's journey and the lesson he learns, namely that you should only trust dead friends if they're not really dead.



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