Episode 3 – Talkin’ Trash
With a garbage strike seizing New York City in the wake of (that first) Godzilla’s rampage, a pair of eggheads at the Manhattan Institute of Advanced Technology (MIAT?) struggle to find a “scientific solution” to this problem.
The subordinate one, Felix (Faust?) (played by Grant Shaud—who will, to me, forever be Murphy Brown’s boss, Miles Silverberg) has an answer in his still-to-be-perfected “nanotech drivers”: a “colony of microbes” that consume petroleum-based products and manufacture copies of themselves from the result. Visible to the human eye as a red and orange, candy cane-striped sludge, the drivers are still untested, unstable…and more than a little ravenous. Nevertheless, Felix (Faust)’s as-yet-unnamed boss insists on a field test for New York’s (now unnamed) Mayor tomorrow afternoon. What could possibly go wrong…right?
Back at casa Tatopoulos, Randy Hernandez—punk, hacker, punk-hacker, and Odious Comic Relief of The Series—busies himself painting a mean set of jaws and eyes on the boat DGSE Agent Monique Dupre secured for Dr. Nick last episode. “If we’re gonna be the world’s number one monster hunting team,” Randy pronounces, “we’re gonna need a mean lookin’ ride.” He’s even gone ahead and christened it “the H.E.A.T. Seeker” because clearing stuff with your boss is for pussies and old people.
Ah, yes. Teams need names, so Randy – ever the fountain of Good Ideas – proposes “H.E.A.T.” which he’s decided should stand for “High-Performance, Environmental Attack Team.” Excuse me while I have a giggle fit. Dr. Nick to pokes his head out of the boat to offer a counter suggestion: “How about, ‘Humanitarian, Environmental’…”
“—Analysis…” Dr. Elsie Chapman finishes from her place on the docks. Because she’ll be damned if she’s not involved in every decision going down within earshot. “…Team?” Ah, the great debates of contemporary science…so applicable to me and my life today…
Meanwhile, across the Hudson, something goes terribly wrong with the nanotech drivers. Who could’ve seen that coming? They soon spin out of control…and WIDF reporter Audrey Timmonds is there, once again getting the kind of story real journalists only wet-dream about:
“Live from the Hudson River, where a high-tech, garbage-eating microbe has spun out of control.”
Like Raymond Burr’s Steve Martin, Audrey is everywhere, an observer to every giant monster attack in the New York metro area. Won’t be long before, in the true spirit of Gonzo Journalism, Audrey becomes a participant in the action as well. Actually, it’ll take a real long time and won’t truly come to fruition until season 2. I just thought I’d tease.
But first…it’s time for H.E.A.T. (really? “H.E.A.T.”? Really? The entire development department of Fox Kids sits around for what was probably months and comes up with “H.E.A.T.”? Gimmie a fucking break) to save the day in their own, roundabout fashion.
Attempts to disable the drivers with physical force only encourage microbial violence….which, in turn, draws Godzilla out of his new lair under New York Harbor, obvious pissed at all the bullshit interrupting his nap. Thus the Monster as Friend to Man vs. the Monster of Science Gone Awry—a protracted fight by the standards of later episodes in The Series (reduced budgets, don’cha’know?) carrying Godzilla and the drivers into one of New Jersey’s finer, oceanside oil refineries. This is the ultimate Bad Idea, but try telling Godzilla that. Soon, the colony grows to Biollante-size. With enough oil in it, there’s fuck all to stop the drivers from becoming a monster to challenge the world – more so than any of Roger Corman’s mutations.
While Godzilla keeps the monster busy, H.E.A.T. works to actually solve the damn problem. Echoing (hell, straight ripping off) Independence Day, Randy and Mendel cease their on-going Prank War (called by Elsie, who’s a gigantic enabler of the Boy’s perpetual adolescence – more power to you again, Red) long enough to devise a computer virus capable of crashing the drivers.
“Crashing” in this case appears to mean the creatures miraculously loose all the moisture they’ve gained in their travels, providing Godzilla a solid target to smash. With only a few tens of millions of dollars in damage to the New Jersey shoreline (and, really, who cares?), it looks like another home run for the Good Guys…fuggitaboutit.
Unfortunately, Godzilla’s very public appearance means Nick and Maj. Hicks can also fuggitabout keeping the Big Guy “our little secret,” as Hicks says.
This episode solidifies elements that dominate the rest of the series: Randy and Mendel’s “prank war” via N.I.G.E.L. the robot (whom I refuse to talk about at this point), Maj. Hicks’ ambivalent relationship toward Godzilla, and H.E.A.T.’s semi-magical ability to instantly assume control of any daikaiju-related situation, despite their complete lack of government, military, educational, or even corporate support. The original press materials for this series mention Dr. Nick having something to do with one of the big New York schools but it’s never even discussed in the episodes themselves. For all we know, Dr. Nick and Co. are financed entirely by the French taxpayer through the good graces of Agent Dupre.
Not that it really matters. The H.E.A.T. Seeker (much like Godzilla himself) goes where it wants with little regard for jurisdiction or procedure. Perhaps this whole “imprinting” thing runs both ways and a wee bit of the Big G has already started to rub off on Dr. Nick. With one phone call “the guy who saved the City from Godzilla” muscles his boat through Harbor Patrol and into the thick of that “nano-tech feeding frenzy” (never thought I’d heard Miles Silverberg say something like that). Future episodes will make much of H.E.A.T.’s on-again, off-again powers of carte blanche. Now…if only our intrepid scientists could decide on a name for their new branch of vertebrate biology.
“Mutationology” doesn’t sing and “the study of biological anomalies” lacks visceral brevity. Kaijuologist is too Japanese for American TV audiences and “Heat Seekers” just sounds creepy…the name of a monster (or breed of monsters) in itself. Come to think of it, I don’t believe this question is ever officially settled either, here or anywhere outside Marc Cerasini’s largely-forgotten quadrology of YA Godzilla novels. Sigh.
Monique raises a more interesting question once Godzilla arrives to mix it up with the Orange Goo, when she asks Randy (who, in keeping with his status as Audience Stand-in – and isn’t that just a big implied insult? – is overjoyed at the monster carnage): “Would you be cheering of there were people in those warehouses?”
Wait…you mean there aren’t? It’s the middle of the day on the Jersey shore and ain’t nobody workin? Have the Teamsters been that successful? Or have the Americans of this universe finally wised up enough to copy a few of Japan’s disaster-preparedness protocols? Say what you want, but the Japanese know how to do quick, orderly mass movements…particularly in crowded, metropolitan areas. I can (reasonably) believe in Japan’s ability to evacuate her cities at the drop of a hat…but America’s? Not so much. Even Japan’s protocols are starting to look a bit suspect these days, for obvious reasons.
On one level, I understand the necessity of having Monique ask her question…on the other, I’d rather the producers snuck the fact that there aren’t any people in those warehouses under our noses…instead appeasing Standards and Practices by rubbing it in our face. Some of us like to pretend the people making this series actually cared enough to avoid insulting our intelligence. Or the intelligence of any hypothetical children who migth’ve watched this. Children who (I’ll tell you right now) can be just as bloodthirsty as we adults…if not more so. I was a wicked little sod myself, regularly wished gloom and doom upon my foes. So when Godzilla stepped on a crowd of fleeing onlookers I knew each and every one of them had now become human paste and I bloody well loved it. If you’ve got an American child who doesn’t, he’s either lying to you…or a Quaker. Either way, congrats.
We’ll detour past the ghettoized issues of Violence and Death in Our Entertainment and all that other depressing shite we used to talk about in the late-90s, before we as a nation actually had important things to discuss. Instead, let’s talk about Godzilla: The Series peculiar relationship to Science. Though integral to the plot (this nominally being a “science fiction” show and all) you can expect Godzilla’s producers to play fast and loose with the laws of physic, chemistry, and engineering, as anyone dealing with giant monster’s must…or must they? Must they really?
I’m not suggesting so-called “hard” science fiction writers invade the daikaiju genre. The vast majority of their work leaves me limp and I’m sure their presence would only drain the material of what little inherent humanity it has left. Instead, I’m suggesting that perhaps giant monsters be taken seriously as concepts and as threats…like they are here. Most sci-fi authors won’t blink at justifying the existence of their latest Consumer Electronics Marvel of the Future with about fifty pages of technobable. But ask them about giant monsters and they’ll laugh…oh, how they’ll laugh. “Radiation makes giant animals neigh-invulnerable and gives them the power to breath green fire? Pshaw! How droll, young man, how droll.”
Yet the nanotech drivers are a prefect example of how to do “modern” daikaiju right. They’re a crossbreed of two potent, modern techno-phobias: the actual nightmare of nanotechnology, Gray Goo (here become Orange and Red to better complement the rusty brown-with-a-hint-of-mauve look Godzilla’s rocking); and every environmentalist’s worst nightmare, the plastosphere. What’s to stop anything that eats plastic from eating its way across the face of the earth? Writer Steve Perry does a wonderful job building up this credible threat…only to jump the shark with Randy and Mendel’s quick-fix computer virus.
Seriously—does no one write code by hand anymore? I know they did back in ’99 and let me tell you: no matter what television says you, it’s not a dramatic process. TV lies to us! It also numbs the mind with empty style whenever it can. So the sight of Dr. Nick dangling from a helicopter – since, by Contrived TV Law, he has to dump the team’s infected sample back into the main colony by hand – is supposed to distract me. I’m not supposed to think about this stuff. But I am. And I do.
So I’ll see you next time, space cowboys, for a visit to the kind of place where Survivor fears to tread. I might be D.O.A., but I expect at least some of you to make it back out alive. Just watch out for worms.