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

Trailer shot!
Trailer shot!

Episode 5 – The Winter of Our Discontent

We open in New York City’s seemingly endless harbor, with the World’s Number One Monster Hunting Team, H.E.A.T., in hot pursuit of their itinerant seventh member, Godzilla (Can’t really call him “a silent partner” with all those roars, now can we?) Godzilla, in turn, pursues the call of an unidentified signal beacon straight to a pile of fresh-caught fish. Whatever Godzilla’s cognitive powers, I can easily see him wandering into such an obvious trap. I expected better from Our Human Heroes, who nonetheless react with shock when a flight of ten-foot-long, mechanical insects begin to strafe the Big G, mightily pissing him off.

These “Cyber Flies” arrived courtesy of the series’ first human villain: Cameron Winter (David Newsom), described by H.E.A.T. member Elsie Chapman (channeling her inner twelve-year-old) as “the world’s richest, most-hunkiest CEO, not to mention the biggest techno-guru.” Such hunkiness is beside the point for team lead Nick Tatopoulos, who spent more than enough time with Cameron Winter at their (unnamed) mutual college. Indignant, Nick accuses Winter of “drawing Godzilla out for target practice.” Cameron owns up to his little trap, which Godzilla easily muscles free of, enjoying a fine fish dinner on Cameron’s dime after scrapping the last Cyber Fly.

But this trap has the dual purpose of, as Cameron says, “Confirming [Godzilla’s] connection to the illustrious H.E.A.T. team.” About time somebody fucking noticed. “Why don’t you come ashore and tour my facility? I always prefer discussing business face-to-face.”

“I have no business with you, Cameron,” Dr. Nick retorts via-bullhorn, warning his teammates: “Anything Cameron Winter has to offer always has strings attached.”

Nevertheless, Nick yields to the democratic process. “Nobody’s ever seen the inside of Solstice Technologies,” Randy Hernandez informs us. (Not even its employees?) DGSE Agent Monique Dupre casts the tie-breaker, offering to breech the place herself, dig up whatever there is to dig, and scratch “Penetrate Solstice Technologies” off the French Secret Service’s Spring 1998 “To Do” list.

The rest of H.E.A.T. gets a guided tour from “the man himself” as a distraction. Cut straight from the Lex Luthor mold, Cameron wastes no time making his guest feel unwelcome. “Nickels was too busy dissecting garden slugs to hang out with the rest of us,” he explains when Dr. Mendel Craven makes the mistake of asking after Cameron’s and Nick’s shared past. “We called him ‘Nickels’ because nickels were all he was ever going to earn.” Dick. Cameron insults Craven’s pet robot, N.I.G.E.L. (“I can’t imagine what you could do with a budget”), freaks everyone out with talk of advancing mankind to the “next stage…once Congress comes to its senses about that cloning thing,” and captures Monique in mid-spy with the aid of remote-controlled Doberman Pinschers.

“Neural stimulators,” Cameron explains, calling the dogs off with the touch of a button. “Makes for much happier pups.” With the full team before him, Cameron makes his pitch: “I want you and your little band,” he tells Dr. Nickels, “to come work for me. I can offer you full government cooperation, first-rate facilities, and very generous salaries.” Turning to Randy he adds, “I can even make your academic problems go away.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, man,” Randy says. I smell B-story!

Undaunted, Cameron continues even as the team walks out on him en masse. “We both know mutation-biased weapons are the next wave,” he says to H.E.A.T.’s collective back. “Why not be ahead of the curve for a change?” Gee, Cameron, could it be all the death and destruction waiting just around the bend in that curve? I think so.

Godzilla tables any further philosophical debate with an ill-timed attack on Solstice’s walled-off, private inlet. Casually butting the wall aside, Godzilla seizes an unfortunate mini-sub, shaking it like a dog with a rat in his teeth. Fortunately for all involved (or, at the very least, for Dr. Nick’s conscience) that predatory head-shaking dislodges a man-sized neural stimulator from Godzilla’s ear-canal. Instantly, the Big G halts, his rampaged nipped in its technological bud. With a wave and a shout from Nick, Godzilla drops the sub and returns to sea.

Enraged, Nick and Co. storm out on Cameron, who planted a stimulator in Godzilla’s ear during the Cyber Fly attack. “It’s a wild animal, Nick,” Cameron shouts after them. “How long before it turns on you?” (About ten more episodes, as a matter of fact…though they’ll be some pretty big extenuating circumstances – hint-hint.)

Cameron, being eee-vil, spends the rest of the episode wasting valuable company time on a clandestine torture campaign meant to rile Godzilla all the way up to Pissed Off. It succeeds, with ultrasonic, underwater signals driving the Big G so batty he nearly roasts H.E.A.T. HQ—just as Randy’s academic adviser drops by for a check-up.

Seems there’s more to Young Master Hernandez than meets the eye or ear. “He’s been looking out for the environment with my organization,” might sound good coming out of Boss Nick’s mouth but it won’t move your GPA up. Or make those pesky “prior disciplinary actions” disappear. A certain hunky techno-guru just might have the cache for that…to say nothing of a handy little device that’ll ensure Godzilla’s continued loyalty…but going to him would be wrong, right?

Faster than you can say, “Judas Goat,” Randy’s hijacked N.I.G.E.L. for a midnight, monster ear exam. Discovered just as Godzilla’s new neural stimulator comes online, Randy walks out of the resulting row with his boss/mentor. Tres pissed, Nick orders Mendel to extract Winter’s hardware…but it’s already too late. With the stimulator installed, Cameron Winter begins literally pushing Godzilla’s buttons, directing the Big G up from the depths (thirty stories high) and straight into the klieg lights and sirens of (fictional) Fort Berkley on the Jersey shore.

Monster, meet the U.S. Armed Forces. Insert scenes of fiery destruction here.

Secure inside his super-secret science fortress, it’s no wonder Cameron gets cocky enough to Monologue. All he has to do is wait for the audience—Nick and Monique—to attempt another break-in. They do so, get captured, and here we are. “Now,” Cameron says,

“imagine an arsenal of Godzillas. Not just Weapons of Mass Destruction but, more importantly, my own personal cash cow. If I had a partner to help me work with these critters…well…it would be mutually beneficial.”

Nick throws this second deal back in Winter’s face…as he must, being the hero and all. But we’re down to the wire so it must be time for Randy to show up and redeem himself. Presently he does, sending a flock of confiscated Cyber Flies out to destroy the neural stimulator and draw off the military’s fire. Returned to the Free Will Brigade, Godzilla escapes the full wrath of America’s Combined Forces while Cameron Winter goes to jail. “I put in a call to Major Hicks,” Randy informs us. “He’s real interested in you.” Let’s see: what is the minimum mandatory sentence for throwing a giant monster at your friendly, neighborhood military base? Does it depend on how much lobbying money you throw around Capitol Hill?

Winter doesn’t even bother with the question, having eyes only for Nick…and Nick’s scaly protégé. “Be seeing you, Nickels,” he says as uniformed MPs lead him away. “You can bet on it.” So can I.

Well, it’s about damn time we had a real, human villain with real human motivations to spice up the show. Every one of the six and a half billion people on the planet this show calls home is effected by Godzilla’s presence whether they live near coast or desert. That’s the power of science fiction: the ability to chart and graph the social, the historical, and most importantly, the human effects of random, radical element. Like, say, a bastard child of Science and Technology.

Godzilla remains that through and through, the one constant element in a series that swings wildly in terms of quality. This is one of the higher-caliber episodes, if for no other reason than the Big G’s rampage through Fort Berkley. This is the first overt action Godzilla’s taken against human opponents in the Series. Unfortunate, that, but here it is. The show’s producers removed Godzilla from his natural moral environment before things even started…which, if you’ve never watched a Godzilla movie (what the hell are you doing here?) is largely a landscape of slate-grays. This forces the audience to chose which side it’s really on and rare is the person who won’t go for a vicarious thrill by rooting for the monster to win…which he does, undoubtedly killing more than a handful of servicemen and –women (decorously off-screen) in the process.

And even that’s alright, since the G-man’s exempt from responsibility due to mind control from afar…and not for the last time, either. Villainous monsters are the only beings on this show allowed to place humans in jeopardy…and those monsters need-not be multi-eyed, giant worms. They can look just like you. Or me. Or Dr. Nick, with white hair and a Van Dyke covering up any lack of design originality.

I kid series character designer Fil Barlow. Winter is obviously designed as a foil for Nick in every respect, visibly and philosophically. Hard science vs. the quick buck; Mr. Moneybags vs. Dr. Nickels. There hasn’t been such a clear-cut division between these two opposing forces since Peter Parker and Norman Osborn duked it out atop the Brooklyn Bridge. Consider this exchange:

Nick: (pointing to the neural stimulator, recently ejected from Godzilla’s ear): You mind explaining that?

Winter: The neural stimulators work like a charm on my attack dogs. Only made sense to try it on yours.

Nick: Where do you come off?

Winter: Like he’s your property.

Nick: Goodbye, Cameron.

Winter: It’s a wild animal, Nick. How long before it turns on you?

How long, oh Lord, how long? Not long, since Cameron’s already arranging that. His “arsenal of Godzillas” is exactly the kind of thing I imagine when I consider the science-fictional implications of a giant monster’s co-existence with the so-called “real world.” Monique, too, is right on the money when she strings Cameron along during his monologue with a question like, “What do you gain from attacking your perspective clients?”

Cameron affects shock. “Me? Godzilla’s attacking them. I’m just the guy who’ll get the contract to replace all that damaged weaponry. Ka-ching.” Gotta admit, here’s a man after my own heart, and I love him as I can only love a good villain in a cheesy show.

But if you want to talk about turning, let’s talk about Nick’s true pet: Randy Hernandez, who here proves himself the weakest link in H.E.A.T.’s chain, selling his team (including Godzilla) out and placing the entire world in Hey-Some-Rich-Asshole-Has-Godzilla-on-an-Electronic-Leash Jeopardy (a little known round of the game held between Double and Final). For their own good, of course. People usually do their worst with the best possible intentions. I know I do.

What, exactly, does Dr. Nick intent do to about this? Zip, zilch, and bupkiss, it appears. Where other shows might string the fallout from such a betrayal over the course of several episodes, you’ve got to remember we’re in the land of Fox Kids, where no problem exists that cannot be solved in under twenty-two minutes. The episode’s coda finds Randy back at his “low-rent, community college,” doing some “catching up.” We’re to assume all lingering trust issues lie settled with no hard feelings anywhere, least of all in Saint Nickel’s heart.

If Nick Tatopouls really does intend to lead the World’s Number One Monster Hunting Team, he’s got a lot to learn a bit about personnel management. The only team member he seems to focus on is Godzilla, which only creates more problems. Cameron Winter is only the first to exploit them. This little incident should’ve served as the “wake-up call” Monique identifies.

Come to think of it, just how strong is the connection between monster and surrogate parent? And what in God’s name is it based on? Does Godzilla understand English? Nick seems to think he does. He speaks to the monster VERY LOUDLY …AND VERY…SLOWLY…as if addressing a brain damaged football player. Hate to break it to you, Doctor, but that’s a giant, fire-breathing lizard you’re shouting at. I’d think you of all people would appreciate this fact and treat it with some fucking respect. No need to go with the Brain Box: how about a microphone? Have Monique wire up a cufflink or a shirt-mic or something and just talk to Godzilla for God’s sake, like you’d talk to any member of your team. Better security. No more bullhorning your way into every damn situation. There are worse men and women out there…people that make your old college classmate look like Barney Fucking Rubble. Frankly, Nick, you’re putting the world at risk every time you stand out there like Joshua, trying to shout down that three hundred foot wall. A wall that stares right back at you with all the puzzled amusement of an untrained mutt about to bite your leg off.

Is Godzilla laughing at his adopted parent? To quote a Hernandez of my acquaintance, “I think so.” You don’t need to get up very early in order to have a laugh at Dr. Nick’s expense.

Next: Godzilla vs. the Rats and the Rednecks

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