Episode 4 – D.O.A.
After the usual prologue/pre-credit teaser, the full strength of H.E.A.T. (including N.I.G.E.L. the Doomed Robot, whom I still refuse to talk about at this point) lands in “Costa Roja,” the first of several fictional Central and South American countries this show will
exploit explore over the course of its run. “So how come I’ve never heard of this place?” Token Youth Randy Hernandez asks. Agent Dupre demonstrates why she’s my favorite character by rhetorically replying: “Because you were educated in America?”
Dr. Elsie Chapman jokes that team lead Dr. Nick Tatopoulos may find his holy of holies inside this steamy jungle: a giant worm, reportedly making life miserable for the local farmers (as we saw before the credits). This is just about the last mention made of Nick’s pre-Godzilla life and another instance of the show’s idiotic attitude toward Science. We can safely assume Nick’s abandoned his research into Chernobyl’s finer invertebrates the better to run his freelance, monster-hunting road show—to be the leader of, as Randy said last episode, “the world’s number one monster-hunting team.” Or only monster-hunting team, as the case may be.
Said team, after the obligatory machete-hacking, comes upon a scene of pastoral devastation: crop fields (which crop? Surely not cocaina. No…that would be wrong. Drugs are bad, m’kay?) turned into giant trenches by the passage of “El Gusano Gigante.” Or “humongoid worm,” as Randy translates for Dr. Mendel Craven…who’ll spend today’s episode living up to his last name.
Because we’re only a twenty-minute show, El Gusano soon makes his presence felt for Our Heroes. Running, screaming, and the usual close-calls ensue, until (with an unbelievable level of stealth) Godzilla arrives to save everyone’s bacon.
Ah, but “the G-man” did not approach unobserved. With El Gusano distracted, the local military (in a response so rapid it shames the American response to the first Godzilla in Roland Emmerich’s movie) pulls Our Heroes to (relative) safety before opening fire on both combatants. Nick’s pleas for sanity (“General, your weapons aren’t going to slow down those creatures. At best, they’ll only provoke the winner into attacking your troops.”) fall on deaf ears. The local generale has a brand new biological weapon on-site and he’ll be damned if some jumped-up team of Norte Scientist is gonna tell him what to do with it.
On the (unnamed) generale’s order, the troops fire a checker-board-patterned missile into the monster melee, releasing a cloud of yellow gas. El Gusano retreats after a bout of spontaneous mutation (warping its already out-there physiology, which already shows teeth and eyes, to include horns and claw – yeah, that’s a “worm” alright). Godzilla, in a surrealist parody of human inebriation, performs a short “Dude I am so WASTED” dance before falling into the sea…like he’s done so many times over the years.
It’s time for Science to swing into action. After many moments of analysis, H.E.A.T. discovers…it’s cancer (dun-dun-DUN!). Well, not really…but el generale’s “bio-weapon” is slowly but surely killing Godzilla. Without a fresh sample to poke at the prognosis is negative and Godzilla will die within hours.
Ticking Clock firmly established, it’s time for some espionage, courtesy Monique Dupre. With a stoic, workwoman’s sensibilities and backup from the amorous Mr. Hernandez, Monique penetrates el generale’s jungle base, conveniently located within easy driving distance of the shore.
Meanwhile, back on the H.E.A.T. Seeker, Drs. Nick and Craven hold a little palaver. “I’m not cut out for this,” Mendel informs his nominal boss. “I’m a thinker, not a doer.” Nick agrees that, once this is over, he’ll be happy to cut Mendel loose—“no hard feelings,” no strings attached.
Unfortunately, Monique and Randy’s little adventure in provoking international incidents was all for naught: it’s impossible to synthesize an antidote from the “tainted” samples they pilfered. So it’s back to the jungle, where our heroes (including the reluctant Mendel) search for the rare orchid el generale used to create his little “bio-phage”. Shocker of shockers—H.E.A.T. finds hundreds of the little things growing in the rich, brown earth of El Gusano’s wake.
”If we burn the rest of these plants,” Nick says, “we may at least slow down el generale’s weapons program.” Unfortunately, this attracts the Humongoid Worm, setting up our last action sequence. While the rest of the team keeps El Gusano busy, Dr. Craven voluntarily runs through the jungle (never looking back to see) on a mission to revive Godzilla and save the day.
This being the second non-pilot episode produced, we see a series still struggling to defining itself. As with last episode’s adventures in trash removal, themes and issues established here will haunt the rest of the show, to be handled or miss handled in turn. Monique and Randy’s relationship is only the most obvious example…with Godzilla and Dr. Nick’s relationship running a close second. In the former case, we see annoyance on the one hand and youthful horiness on the other merge into the kind of instantaneous, mutual respect found only in action movies…like the ones Randy describes as he and Monique flee Costa Roja’s forces:
“Did you see us in there? We were like Butch and Sundance, Thelma and Louise…uhhh—Sundance and Louise.”
Godzilla and Nick’s relationship is a bit more complicated. So let’s put it aside for a second and consider the question Mendel’s (all-too-brief) crisis of consciousness trips over: Is anyone really “cut out” for professional monster hunting? Just what are the effects of such a high-stress job? What kind of person would chose to spend long hours of strenuous field work in godforsaken hellholes full of monsters, week in, week out? Why does Mendel Craven chose this life at the end of the episode?
Odd that episode writer Richard Mueller didn’t chose to answer this question with Elsie. Instead, a near-life experience that triggers an epiphany for Mendel, allowing him to get over his temporary heebie-jeebies. Leaving me to wonder, Why? I know I’d probably be driven away by a close encounter with Godzilla’s foot. And here’s Mendel crawling all over the capillary-filled tissue of Godzilla’s mouth in an attempt to revive the Big G. Hope you never planned to have children, dude—Godzilla’s probably putting out enough rads to turn your seed into popcorn.
Come to think of it, if Audrey Timmonds ever wants kids she and Nick better get real friendly with an adoption agency real soon. For that matter, everyone at H.E.A.T. better watch out for the Big C, King of the Real Life Monsters. I’m amazed Dr. Nick hasn’t instituted mandatory radiation suit procedure.Then again, Nick’s already lost his objectivity with regards to Godzilla. His comment at the Big G’s first appearance make this obvious:
“Godzilla followed us thousands of miles out of an instinctual need to protect…me.”
Elsie’s response is priceless:
“Give yourself all the credit, why don’tcha?”
And good for her, bringing this up. How, exactly, does Godzilla track his adopted parental unit over hill and down dale?“Instinct” is no answer, let me tell you . “Instinct” is a bullshit, catch-all phrase, translated from television-speak to mean, “Well…our writers were too busy, too harried, and/or too uncreative to come up with a good explanation. So we shrugged our shoulders, chalked it up to ‘instinct,’ and hoped no one would notice or think about it too awful much.”
Well, tough, guys. These are exactly the kinds of questions your audience will think about, assuming they’re smart. And daikaiju fans (no matter which side of the Pacific we’re on) are some of the smartest, most persnickety sci-fi fans around (just ask Roland Emmerich). We’re not Trekkies (yet…at least, not in this country) but we are a critical bunch, and we dearly love nothing so much as a good round of pie-in-the-sky bullshiting. Having endured more crap in pursuit of our entertainment than your average bear, we know (if only on a subconscious level) a good explanation when we hear. We know what works and we know what doesn’t. More often than not, we can even tell you why.
“Instinct” fails to explain Godzilla’s behavior because instinct (to make a bald-faced, oversimplification) is the product of evolution…mind-numbingly slow evolution. Birds fly south for the winter because, over the course of millions of years, their species “learned” this behavior guaranteed survival. Pack animals form bonds, hierarchies and familial units for the same reason, and they will rush to protect their genetic compatriots at a moment’s notice. But whatever rough, bestial process created Godzilla, it had jack shit to do with what the so-called Scientists in this show casually call “evolution.” As if we all know what that word means, or all agreed on its definition. We don’t now, didn’t at the time this show premiered, and the creeping terror of Creationism and has only muddied up the waters since.
Without going down that road…let me brazenly declare Godzilla and his ilk are not “evolutionary” beings. The Series’ label for them, “mutations,” is about as accurate as you’re going to get without Latinizing ourselves to death. They are the rarest of the rare—spontaneous, beneficial mutations, so divorced from Mother Nature she won’t even give them visitation rights.
So, by basing their show around a giant monster’s “instinctual need” to protect a puny, human Scientist (and his friends) The Series’ creators left a plot hole wide enough for the Godzilla to walk through…and chose to fill it up with buzz words.
Each daikaiju story invents its own excuse for the titular monster’s presence. Was a time when Godzilla went where he wanted, when he wanted, for reasons known only to him—a popular track his Heisei series of films revived in the early-to-mid 1990s, once they gave up trying to tell any good stories. (Yeah, that’s right, I said it!) In the 1970s Hanna Barbara cartoon, Captain Majors of the research ship Calico literally had Godzilla at his beck-and-call thanks to an ultrasonic pager, no doubt derrived from the same technology running Jimmy Olsen’s wristwatch. H.E.A.T. will eventually resort to a similar technique for emergencies…but in a way, this feels like backsliding in the true, Alcoholic’s Anonymous sense of the word.
Here’s why: giant monster storytellers (print or film—and I very much include myself in this) are addicted to lazy storytelling. It’s our own damn fault, and I’m sad to see it. We do not challenge ourselves. We wait for audiences to challenge us once our work is complete and it’s no surprise audiences pay so little attention to the finished product. By and large, we’re all producing generic crap, from the heights of Toho Studios to the depths of my own hard drive. We do it because it’s easy and audience expectations are so low, anyway. This allows gullible idiots to be fooled by something like Cloverfield or Monsters, believing them to be neigh-on revolutionary.
In Nick and Godzilla’s relationship you sense the chance this series had to strike out in a new direction, take this whole Monster As Friend To Man thing beyond the perfunctory waves and shouted commands we see here. I just find it sad to see that opportunity missed. Missed opportunities always get me a little misty.
Which is why I’m so glad we’ll be looking at one of my favorite episodes of the entire show next week, when we’ll see the coming of Cameron Winter and The Monster cast vicariously as both Villain and Victim by the vicissitudes of fate…