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

Always knew he was a drumstick lover. Monster after my own heart.
Always knew he was a drumstick lover. Monster after my own heart.

Episode 8 – What Dreams May Come

The Series follows up (arguably) one of its better episodes with one of its silliest. But at least this is more traditional daikaiju fare than last week’s voyage to the bottom of the sea. We open in Queens, New York, where a a fifty-foot-tall, six-limbed, godawfully ugly thing interrupts an obnoxiously “Nu Yawk” couple’s spat over the electric bill by reducing their five-story walk-up to scrap.

Morning finds H.E.A.T. at the attack site (minus team-spy Monique Dupre, who must be off…I don’t know…spying on something) and they seem to be the only municipal agency at work in New York City. Seriously, I know we had a garbage strike back in Talkin Trash but where’s the Fire Department? Where are the EMTs? Isn’t this a city under the constant shadow of perpetual Godzilla “attacks”? Where rednecks with Army surplus missile launchers and giant rats terrorize the streets with regularity? Why does anyone still chose to live in this New York City, anyway? Then again, why does anyone chose to live in Metropolis? Or Marvel Comic’s version of the City That Never Sleeps?

The hard-working public servants of New York City...will not be seen today, so that you might be rescued by a Worm Guy and his hot bodyguard.
The heroic public servants of New York City…had the day off. Today, kids, we’ll be rescued by a nerd and his bodyguard.

In any case, Our Heroes (and their pet robot, N.I.G.L.E.) find plenty of residual ionization, but actual, physical evidence of the creature eludes them…until a frantic phone call from Monique interrupts the search. The as-yet-unnamed creature is making its presence known down by the MTA bus depot on the tip of Manhattan. Team leader Dr. Nick and team Cowardly Lion Mendel Craven leave Dr. Elsie Chapman (the team paleontologist) and Randy Hernandez (team Token Youth) to pick amongst the ruins and at each other’s nerves. Their constant sniping will be the B-story this week, as each attempts to rest control of the team’s Executive Officer position from the other.

Meanwhile, Nick and Craven join Monique at the MTA. Again they seem to be the only public servants in sight, rescuing civilians from the depot’s garage even as the still-nameless monster tears the place apart. Our (human) Heroes’ imminent demise once again appears at hand…until Godzilla, the real hero of the piece, stomps his way out of the ocean and into an inconclusive fray. The thing appears to feed on electromagnetic energy, so it reacts to Godzilla’s blasts of radioactive breath the same way mosquitoes react to type O-positive. Things look bad for this half of the team (who’re once again caught between the battle, and once again, survive uninjured, despite the flurry of flying buses and falling lizard feet) until Godzilla head-butts the creature into a cloud of debris…causing it to vanish without a trace.

Stymied, H.E.A.T. reconvenes at their “high tech” condemned building of a headquarters. Elsie and Randy, for all their sniping, managed to uncover something back in Queens: the one apartment in the whole building untouched by destruction. The apartment of Mr. Sydney Walker…an employee at the MTA bus depot…who hasn’t been seen (at home or work) for weeks.

For all my disdain for Randy (I have a mild hatred for all characters who presume to speak for the audience), we do occasionally think alike:

“I see where you’re going with this: Walker hates his job and everyone around him. So when he accidentally mutates into a giant bug zapper, he decides to get his revenge!” (Pause.) “What?”

“That Crackler thing can’t be a human mutation,” Mendel counters. “It’s not even alive.” Instead, it appears to be a walking electromagnetic field—a  size-changing hologram, ripped right out of its holodeck and set loose upon the world. “‘Crackler?’” Randy asks.

“Well, what would you call it?”

"What would YOU call it?" indeed.
“What would YOU call it?” indeed.

Indeed. Typically, the first scientist to discover a new organism gets the honor of christening it. Nick, never one to be a jealous fuck (except when his girlfriend Audrey’s involved – as we’ll see), allows Craven’s name to stand as he doles out assignments. Elsie and Randy will proceed to the Manhattan Neural Research Center (because that totally exists), the last place anyone saw Sydney Walker (in human form, at least). Craven and Monique will join Nick for a little pleasure drive around the city. Do I detect a hint of relish in his voice when he says, “Let’s go Crackler hunting”? I think so.

On their own again, Randy and Elsie gain access to the Center, despite its apparent obsession with security. “Looks like Walker isn’t here,” Randy says. “And he isn’t in room 213.” “Well,” Elsie counters, “let’s not pay him a visit.” Upstairs, Our Heroes find two anonymous scientists and one sleeping man with more EEGs strapped to his head than a kid from Springwood, Ohio’s Elm Street.

Seems Mr. Sydney Walker checked himself in complaining of insomnia. “To put him under,” the male scientist explains, “we enhanced his Theta brain waves. That was…a week ago. We haven’t been able to wake him since.” Each attempt’s only achieved a slight increase in brain activity—accompanied by a massive electromagnetic discharge. “We assumed that dissipated into the atmosphere,” because that’s just what you’d assume…until the Humanitarian Environmental Analysis Team comes knocking on your door. In the usual, haphazard way common to scientists in American media, our team hammers out a hypothesis through phone conferencing.

At the very least, Kenneth Branagh, there in the foreground, should've known better.
At the very least, Kenneth Branagh, there in the foreground, should’ve known better. Dude, you already made a Frankenstein movie. And cast yourself as Victor!

Walker (who’s psyche test “suggested intense repressed rage,” according to one of the Neural Research Center’s whitecoats—and you still went through with treatment? You bastards practically asked to hatch a giant monster out of that man’s head) appears to control the Crackler unconsciously, dreaming it into being and dreaming himself into the driver’s seat as it smashes its way through his repressed anger issues. Another Theta spike appears right on cue, setting up our final fight scene…and the predictable resolution.

Weird though this episode may be, it carries all the hallmarks of an American comic book icon. Yes, that name in the credits belongs to Len Wein, co-creator of Swamp Thing, still slinging words from the trenches of American children’s television. Shows what happens to those unfortunate comic book creators who never secured the rights to their characters—hold them dear to your heart, boys and girls. Corporate American would like nothing more than to mine them for all eternity while paying you a pittance.

That being the case, you’ll find quite a few tropes from 70s-era comics scattered throughout this episode. It begins in media res, with exposition (especially scientific exposition) delivered in clumsy blocks of dialogue, often in the middle of a fight scene. In the tradition of 70s-era team books, H.E.A.T. voluntarily splits itself up into more easily managed micro-teams. This allows Nick, Monique and Craven to remain busy while Wein focuses our attention on the episode’s main characters: Elsie and Randy.

Their separate and disparate skill sets do end up solving the case, despite the obligatory friction. Obligatory because, without it, how could you bring these character’s through a dramatic arch in twenty-two minutes or less? Bully to Wein, then, for not shoving that resolution in our face. It comes in a quiet moment during the final fight scene, as Godzilla’s battle with the Crackler tears apart Shea Stadium. And not in a South Parkian, “I’ve-learned-something-today” moment, either…but with the simplest of gestures: an offered hand, by Elsie to Randy…who’s just been knocked across the room by an electrical shock.

We all get by with a little help from our friends.
We all get by with a little help from our friends.

You can see Randy’s entire character summed up in that rash but well-meant attempt to unplug Sydney Walker and shut the Crackler down. Of course his ad hoc, ask-questions-later tactics are going to run afoul of Dr. Elsie Chapman, who seems to be stuck playing Team Mom whenever a dinosaur’s not around. My only complaint is, since this is a kid’s show, its sympathies obviously tilt toward Randy; in the end, he’s always right. Even his “I see where you’re going with this” comment is more on-target than anything H.E.A.T.’s three scientists come up with—and that’s a bad sign all around. Do you want the punk kid to be the smartest one in a room full of “professional” monster hunters? I think not.

Standard monster movie tropes are bent over backward to provide a human interest story, parallel to and grounded by the big-ticket mayhem around it. Our monster turns out to be little more than a man with a lightning rod strapped to his head—a tiny, repressed, pathetic little man, who frees himself from his internal monster with a little help from Randy and some spontaneous, Primal Scream therapy (continued shades of the 1970s). Having confronted his trauma, Walker sinks into a crying jag as Randy consoles him with quite words: “No problem, dude. It’s over.”

And just when I start to wonder about wishful thinking, Elsie steps in to give us an aside: “Except for the years of intensive therapy.” Amen, sister.

Randy gets to put all those years shaking kids down for their lunch money to good use.
Randy gets to put all those years shaking kids down for their lunch money to good use.

By provoking Walker into a shouting match, Randy (somehow) destroys the Crackler’s supply of emotional fuel. Godzilla, having battled the Crackler across Flushing Meadows (bye, bye, Unisphere), dissolves it with a well-timed fireball—miraculous, considering all previous attempts to nuke the Crackler only made it stronger.

In the end we have here a silly stand-alone episode that could’ve used a second draft and a little more thought put into its wacky excuse for physics. A little more money might’ve helped out as well, populating the otherwise-deserted monster scenes with fleeing civilians and/or useless human authority figures.

But once again we see Godzilla shoved into the ancillary role in his own show. Sydney Walker’s story, with its shades of Bruce Banner (the greatest giant monster in 70s comics) has put me in a mind to liken Godzilla to Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk—a destructive force that shows up, no more than twice an episode, to solve things with a maximum amount of collateral damage. Is this the best role a giant monster can expect, even in a show that bares his name? Can we do nothing more without swinging wide into King Kong territory?

And exactly what’s to become of that little Theta wave-amplifying, monster-creating, dream machine? No self-respecting “number one monster hunting team” in the world would just leave the damn thing sitting around the Manhattan Neural Research Institute.

Or would they…? Too bad we never got a follow-up, where a whole army of Cracklers burst out of the place to do battle with the giant rats. Instead, tune in next week for…oh, God…oh, My God not the bees! NOOOoooooOOOO! NOT THE BEES! AWWW! They’re in my eyes! AWWWWWwwWWWW! THEY’RE IN MY EYES…!

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