Godzilla the Series: An Exercise in Over-Analysis – Part II

The obligatory King Kong shot.
The obligatory King Kong shot.

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?

"Grr! Argh!"

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…

"Who wants HUGS? You do!"
“Who wants HUGS? You do!”

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.

"But that makes no sense! Damnit, man, you call yourself a SCIENTIST?"
“But that makes no sense! Damnit, man, you call yourself a SCIENTIST?”

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.

Suddenly I've started having "Smog Monster" flashbacks. Thankfully, this Godzilla survives his entire series without ever once developing improbable powers of flight.
And suddenly I’m having Smog Monster flashbacks. Thankfully, this Godzilla survives his entire series without ever once developing improbable powers of flight.

“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.

The one thing this series does absolutely right: unambiguous fire-breath.
The one thing this series does absolutely right: unambiguous fire-breath.

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.

"Hey, surrogate-Dad. Whazzup? Hows it hangin'?"
“Hey, surrogate-Dad. Whazzup? How’s it…hangin’?”

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.

8 thoughts on “Godzilla the Series: An Exercise in Over-Analysis – Part II”

    1. And may Mothra bless each and every one of them. They are, to a man, woman and grad student, our people. I actually found Carpenter’s essay in the middle of J.D. Lee’s Official Godzilla Compendium which the hottest kind of shit (for we G-Fans anyway) when it first came out in ’98. These day’s it’s starting to look more like a historical document than a reference text. A capsule from an age before “everyone” (i.e. everyone with enough money, i.e. everyone who actually counts in our society) had an internet connection on their phones.

      I poured over that one, and it’s done a lot to shape my thinking about daikaiju biology, even though it makes all kinds of sloppy assumptions in the name of comedy. It’s a noble goal, but frustrating to young nerds who, in their youthful impatience, were only looking for the answer, because they believed such a thing exists.

      These days I’m all up in quantum theory, which is the greatest gift Science ever gave to speculative fiction writers. These days, all I have to do is play the Quantum Theory In Fiction word game. There’s only one rule:

      The theoretical explanation of phenomena stocked with the most counter-intuitive gibberish wins.

      Corollary #1: Bonus points are awarded if your counter-intuitive gibberish actually gives your audience a headache, though points are deducted if your character lampshades this fact by saying something stupid like “temporal mechanics gives me a headache.”

      Corollary#2: Unless that instance of lamp-shading is especially funny. Example: in an episode of Star Trek; Deep Space Nine, Chief Engineer Miles O’Brien travels back in time and recruits his past self to help avert the Catastrophe of the Week. The both of them go “I hate temporal mechanics,” in unison, and then share the kind of knowing look you share with someone you know. For. A. Fact is feeling the exact same thing at the exact same time.

      This leads to my new Nerd Hobby: daikaiju physics. Of course biologists and paleontologists are going to say “giant monsters are impossible.” Biologists and paleontologists in good standing said the same thing about sauropods back in the 1840s. These days, Quantum Mechanics is the new it-thing for fiction authors looking for convenient bullshit explanations. My favorite comes from the 2007 collection of stories Daikaiju 3, published by Agog Press. Specifically, Richard A. Becker’s Return of Cthadron, which I will now quote for the purposes of criticism and review:

      “Less attention was paid when Russian and French scientists published a paper that explained that Cthadron was somehow transcending time and space by his very nature. They explained in some impenetrable scientific gibberish how he existed differently than we do, in eleven-dimensional spacetime, and that Cthadron’s rampages were really all continuous with one another from his perspective. That we grew old while he was the same creature we’d always met in battle, and that for him this entire struggle had only lasted a couple of months.” (p. 167)

      I really can’t recommend that story highly enough. Thank you for sharing, and reminding me to share that with everybody, before the Science in this series gets really crazy.

  1. I’ve had the Daikaiju anthologies on my Amazon wishlist for years now. I’ve had a hard time imagining that the giant monster genre works as well in prose as it does on film. (That is, often silly, mostly amusing, sometimes completely awe inspiring.) The few prose examples I’ve read have tended to poke fun at the concept and, while they might be well written stories, I’m more interested in stories that take giant monsters seriously. They’re more fun that way. That quote has moved the books up to “buy now” status.

    And if you were ever a fan of Spectreman there’s a redesign challenge happening for him at the Whitechapel Forums.

    1. If I’d been born anywhere but in the middle of the country, I’d definitely be a fan of Spectreman. Unfortunately, the only tokusatsu series that made it to my part of the world were Hiam Saban’s Frankenstein monsters. No Spectreman for me. Hell, we didn’t even have Ultraman, either.

      But I am very much a fan of good art, even though I’ve never been able to draw worth a damn. That’s what we get for focusing our talents on what the post calls “pen-portraits”. Any actual Spectreman fans in my audiences are invited to make their voices heard over there. My personal favorites are here (the Metropolis homage), here (Spectreman from the Dark Age of American Comics), here (even though this one’s a little too Savage Pencil for my taste), here (Spectreman meets Iron Man by way of the Guyver and Genndy Tartakovsky) and here (just because I like the style).

      I’ll admit, Agog’s Daikaiju collections aren’t going to change the world and they probably won’t convert any new fans…but they were a sweet treat since the vast majority of the stories were exactly what we’ve been waiting for: serious stuff, from serious writers who also happen to be serious fans. As with any other multi-author anthology, your mileage may vary. Personally, I felt all three volumes passed Sturgeons Law rather well. There were one or two out-and-out stinkers per book and the usual handful of mediocre slush…but a surprising number of them were actually good, and Cthadron kicked my ass so hard I wound up wearing it for a hat. It’s a near-sociological examination of how one 500 foot, fire-breathing reptile fucked up 20th century history, as told through the reminiscences of a Reporter who was on the scene in 1954, when Tokyo first fell. It’s the best character study I’ve yet to find in the genre, hands down, no joke, full stop. The kind of thing I can only hope to write someday.

      My personal all-star tag team would include: Doug Wood’s Lullabye, Chris Dickinson’s Watching the Titans, D G Valdron’s Fossils and Garth Nix’s Read it in the Headlines, all from Daikaiju; Robert “Your Humble Editor” Pen’s Where Have All the Monsters Gone, Michael Boatman’s Survivor: Monster Island and MP Johnson’s Dead Folk Hero Does Interstate Travel from Daikaiju 2; and Tessa Kum’s A Night on Tidal Rig #13, Nick Fox and John Heeder’s Action Joe to the Rescue, and, obviously, Becker’s Return of Cathadron, all from Daikaiju 3.

    1. And that Jewish billionaire would be Hiam Saban. The old warhawk’s become the 102nd richest person in USA thanks to the “Frankenstein monsters” I was actually referring to: his Power Rangers.

      Still, this has to be the most fruitful internet misunderstanding I’ve ever caused, at least for a long time now. I had no idea Saban tagged Stone as an anti-Semite (that’s where Stone’s been this past year and a half! Now it all makes sense) and I’ve completely repressed my memories of most Hanna-Barbera monster cartoons…apart from Godzilla, of course.

  2. Ah Power Rangers. I’ve only seen one episode of the first series. The villain was a witch who was trying to acquire some sort of magic spinning wheel for … I’m really not sure what she wanted it for. I was barely watching television by then and that episode was enough to tell me I wouldn’t be making an effort to watch any other episodes. I’m not going to make any claims that Power Rangers was dumber or sillier than Spectreman or Space Giants or any of the “pure” Japanese imports but, that episode at least, felt like such a nonsensical mishmash that all the colorful costumes, giant robots and silly monsters couldn’t lure me back.

    1. Don’t you worry: I’ll be all too happy to brazenly declare Power Rangers was both dumber and sillier than anything Toei’s ever produced. Even though it’s had an undeniable influence on my life.

      It’s first two seasons are the seasons everyone remembers, no matter their ambient level of fandom. The show turned its “nonsensical mishmash” dial up to 99 somewhere in the middle of season two. Then someone broke the dial off, threw it in a garbage shoot, and whatever cyclopean horrors live down there have been drawing nourishment from it ever since. Even I (monster movie pack rat that I am) only made it up to Power Rangers: Zeo. (Only the first team got any character development anyway.)

      Thanks to the internet, I can keep tabs on the Rangers without actually watching the stupid show. All I have to do is watch the multi-part video essays actual fans have carved out in tribute to it. Like Lewis Lovhaug’s History of the Power Rangers, which I’d call a Must-See if it weren’t so goddamn exhaustive. But considering the subject, it’s exactly as long as it needs to be. It’s one of those shows where the behind-the-scenes stuff is more interesting than the onscreen giant robot/monster battles.

      The intro to HOPR, though, is a glorious music video montage, with far more scope than certain iterations of the show itself.

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