Episode 11 – Freeze
…begins in an Antarctica well-known to followers of sci-fi television—the kind of Antarctica where a wool-lined parkas are all the protection you need from screaming, sixty-mile-an-hour, sub-zero winds that want for nothing more than to turn your face into an ice sculpture.
Seems an everyday, garden variety international oil company, ComOil, has dispatched a team to the southern wastes (complete with their own flag). Because if there’s one thing that would improve the hell out of Antarctica, its an oil pipeline. Everything’s going well, even their satellite video link to the home office, so it must be time for a mysterious, subterranean force to (literally) undermine their campsite, sucking many a parka-clad Redshirt down to their icy graves. (Yeah, right…raise your hand if you expect them to be miraculously found alive sometime near the end of the show. Everyone? Good. You’ve been paying attention.)
After the credits, we find the Humanitarian Environmental Analysis Team once again passive-aggressively chewing on the Godzilla Question. “He’s out of control,” team spy Monique Dupre forwards, again, muting a local news broadcast of Godzilla’s latest incursion into Long Island’s fisheries. “Whaddaya want me to do?” team lead Nick Tatopoulos, in his usual huff, asks. “Send him to his room?” Odious Comic Relief Randy Hernandez pauses in the act of snacking to theorizes that the big G’s problem is impulse control. “He eats everything in sight.”
The verbal back and forth this kicks off will be our B-story from the evening, once Randy accepts Monique’s challenge to live without junk foods for twenty-four hours. If he wins? Dinner and movie with H.E.A.T.’s hot French Secret Service Agent-in-Residence. Monique names her terms in French (of course) and Randy, being a moron, accepts without comprehending.
And its off to the A-story, as Dr. Nick turns back to the tube. He finds Audrey Timmons, his erstwhile girlfriend, interviewing one Mr. Chad Gordon, of ComOil. “At Comoil,” Gordon maintains, “people come before profit.” Ri-iight.
Team cynic Elsie Chapman remarks on how cute the two of them look. Team fatty Mendel Craven can’t help jumping on the bandwagon (‘specially since Elsie’s driving). “I wouldn’t worry, Nick. Where’s Audrey going to find another man who can give her all of this?” I mean, really, Doc…time to face facts: your so-called team is about the sorriest bunch of Super Scientists this side of Venture Industries. The Challengers of the Unknown would take one look and sneer. S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t piss on you to put a fire (or they would’ve done it by now). And God only knows what the BPRD have planned for you and your giant radioactive lizard. One of these days, Godzilla’s gonna wake up in the Outer Darkness, where dead Cthulu lies dreaming. And then what’ll you have to show for yourself, Nickles?
Thoughts like this no doubt drive Nick to call Audrey up. “You’re not going to believe this,” she says, “I’m the only reporter in the country with an exclusive on the ComOil expedition.” Nick underlines the dangers of a South Pole PR junket, but finds Audrey obliviously buoyant at the prospect and the fact that “I’ll be shooting it myself.” Great. Then it’ll be even easier for the corporate shills to murder you in the snow and blame your death on…oh, I don’t know…seismic activity…or giant monsters…or something.
Nick rings off already decided it’s time for H.E.A.T. to stop their grinnin’ and drop their linen. “Could be a new mutation,” running around the bottom of the world. Elsie offers an alternative hypothesis: “Could be the ComOil hunk asked Audrey to the winter prom and we’re chaperoning.” Careful, Dr. Chapman. Platonic friends hate it when you highlight the hypocrisies underlying their flawed, current relationships.
Nick doesn’t seem to mind this flagrant insubordination. Locked into Jealous Boyfriend Mode, he’s got eyes only for his blond newstwinky. God only knows why. Chad the ComOil hunk is having none of it. “I’m sorry,” he tells Nick at the airport. “This is a private expedition.” Obviously, Chad hasn’t been paying attention. H.E.A.T. goes where it wants, when it wants and if you don’t like it, you can just pass the blunt to the Evil Capitalist on your left.
Nick really gets in touch with his inner smirking bastard in this episode, lying right to good Gordon’s face when he claims to have, “put in a call with your CEO last night.” Ri-iight. Whatever. To the South Pole. Our band of Heroes finds a base camp laid waste…and pieces of equipment marred with what could only be claw marks.
Time for a stand-up interview. “There have been recent setbacks,” Gordon…I’m sorry, “Chad”…tells Audrey’s camera. Dr. Nick’s having none of this corporate double-speak. “C’mon, Audrey, something’s not right about this operation. You can’t possibly take that ‘Chad’ guy seriously.”
“Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do.” Damn. You go, girl.
N.I.G.E.L. the robot intervenes before Audrey can display any more spine. The temperature’s a’ rising, and a subterranean something is about the lead our plucky team on a snowmobile chase. Randy, through a rank display of dunderheadedness, almost gets pulled into the ice by…a mole. All things considered, it’s about the size of a corgi, and yet it reduces the guy who practically lives and works with a dinosaurs to grade-school whimpering.
Mr. ComOil seizes on the creature’s size. “It seems unlikely that a creature of that size could be responsible for the disappearance of five men.” Obviously, he’s never seen Gorgo either. Dr. Nick’s attempt to foil ‘Chad’s’ attempt to foil Audrey’s plan to film the little creature only drives Nick and Audrey further apart. Got all that? I’m starting to fade out, myself. Starting wonder why in God’s name Nick and Audrey still “dating.” “You know,” Elsie says, “I heard most of that. The more you try to make him look bad, the worse you look.” Careful, Dr. Chaptman: your interior monologue is showing.
Still, if cartoons have taught us anything, they’ve taught us that team leaders are supposed to rise above the everyday fits and starts of emotion. They’re supposed to look at the big picture, make tough calls for the greater good, and a whole lot of other hackneyed bullshit. Yet Dr. Nick’s spent this whole episode ignoring all that, myopically focused on winning a pissing contest with the Evil Capitalist of the Week. Elsie’s upcoming exposition storm is really a relief of sorts, saving Nick from loosing any more face in our eyes.
Turns out the creature that almost sucked Randy under is an “Ice-Borer.” So I was right: a mole. It’s high metabolic rate ensures a high body temperature, allowing it to tunnel through the permafrost. The downside? A big appetite. And it looks like H.E.A.T.’s little camp is the only food source left for miles around. Good thing they’ve got that little creature captive.
Except no, now they don’t. Nick accuses Gordon of freeing it, interrupting yet another one of Audrey’s interviews. Her editors are going to have a shit fit stitching this damn piece together. “Gordon knows something,” Nick insists, after he leaves Audrey’s tent. “I can feel it.” In his balls. No, wait…that feeling’s due to the sad, sorry fact you and Audrey haven’t made sweet love down by the fire in…well…really, ever…hell, when’s the last time you two went on an actual date? And wasn’t that interrupted by giant rats?
For some stupid reason involving Elsie’s remaining Ice-Borer samples, Nick and Monique take a trek back to the plane, across Borer-infested ice, for the sake of some liquid nitrogen and Randy’s box of crispy cakes. Two much-larger Ice-Borers complicate their plans by cutting off their escape route by literally undermining it, turning million-year-old ice into water like that. Granted, we’re watching a cartoon named after a three hundred foot, fire-breathing lizard and his five, plucky human sidekicks…but still, that’s some serious boring right there.
Speaking of Godzilla…remember him? He’s here too, having tunneled through the ice the old fashioned way—sheer brute strength! And cartoon physics. G proceeds to get himself swarmed by a whole pack of pink-headed ice moles—like, about four or five of them. You’d think this would be nothing for the Big Guy…but we’ve still got seven minutes of show and something has to strand our characters in some kind of time-killing jeopardy. In this case, it’s the heat from all that giant monster ‘rasslin, which turns the ice around their campsite into a small ocean.
Thankfully, a pause in the action allows Randy and Mendel to whip up some liquid nitrogen guns, creating the equivalent of Ice Borers mace. Like human civilization, the Borers can only exist within a definite temperature range. A few blasts -321 F should put the oversized, overheated bastards down. Because a few blasts are all our heroes get before the trigger mechanisms freeze up. As Randy says, “Man, all that high school Science I took is proving pretty useless these days.”
And since you can never have too many ticking clocks, here comes Chad with more Evil Capitalist news. Seems this camp follows the One Radio Rule, and now that’s convieniently on the fritz. Monique doesn’t buy the coincidence and, after some quick snooping, accuses Chad of sabotage. “Is she insane?” Audrey cries as she films Monique’s assault on Corporate America. “Yeah,” Nick counters, “but I think I wanna hear this.”
Chad employs a defense that I thought went out of fashion in 1946: “I was only following orders.” Uh-huh. Here we go. Let’s see how he justify all this. “ComOil’s loosing its access to drilling sites in the Middle East.” Oh. Is that all? So ComOil needs the Antarctic fields because the Arabs are getting uppity? Why don’t we just bomb two or three of their countries back to Stone Age? ‘Recon that’ll keep the profits flowing.
Suddenly, I remember this is 1999 I’m looking at here. Chad can’t possibly know what’s about to come…or how far certain people in the oil industry will go to ensure U.S. corporate access to Middle East oil fields…But never mind. The Ice Borers are back.
They’re never exactly the most credible of threats, no matter how weird-lookin’ they might be. Their defeat by the super scientific equivalent of ice cream headaches undercuts their remaining menace entirely. As does the fact that Godzilla, once again, waits ’til the last minute to show up, roar a bit, and not really contribute to solving the episode’s central problem. If he were human, his agent would be tearing paint off the walls at the way these scripts are constantly shafting him.
Instead of giving us the giant monster action we signed up for, directed Christopher Berkeley contents himself with rehashing every snowmobile chase scene cliché you could think of…the Idiotic Dismount…the Impossible Jump Across a Gap…they’re all here, and all as unbelievable as they were the last time you saw them in a James Bond film. This is none of the grand, Olympian action we saw in “Hive,” or Part 2 of the Series opener, “New Family.” I have to wonder, did someone accidentally push the storyboards into a shredder? Or a gigantic wood chipper, like that one from Fargo? Just asking.
But who cares, right? Good guys win, bad guys loose. “And when we get back,” Nick tells Chad, “we’re gonna do some talking.” Uh-huh. Like you five “scientists” can take on an Evil Oil Company. Face it, Nicky-boy: unless you sic your giant lizard on their CEO’s summer home in “the Vinyard”…not that bad an idea in itself, mind…you probably won’t get any satisfaction out of Chad or his bosses. Sure, they ordered him to try and kill you. And your girlfriend. And your second-rate Science Squad. But what have you got? You girlfriend’s tape? Odds are that’ll be gone by the time you reach South Africa, New Zealand, or wherever the hell you flew down from. Then it’ll be your word against ComOil’s. Back to the giant lizard option.
Nick gets distracted from realizing any of this by Audrey’s mixed messages re: his jealous fuckery. I don’t know whether she means to encourage him by declaring herself “worth it,” or whether that’s a subtle dig at the fact Nick never calls her. Unless she’s on TV. Interviewing other men who don’t chase giant monsters for a living and are not chased by them in turn. Why doesn’t she realize their relationship’s doomed? It took going to Antarctica to get him out of that damned lab. He spends all his time there, studying Godzilla, when he’s not tramping half-way across the globe to stop a giant squid outbreak or something. And suddenly I realize Nick’s prickish attitude is the secret glue holding their relationship together. If he ever ceased to be a jerk-on-stilts (or Audrey ever ceased to give him shit about it) then their whole relationship would fall apart.
“Freeze” declines to realize any of this and that’s too bad. Barry Hawkins’ script is lively enough…even a little bit engaging. The Ice Borers are certainly a cute, counter-intuitive idea. But I can’t help thinking this was supposed to be a stand-alone, Audrey Timmonds’ story. Think about it: intrepid, blond-bimbo/ journalist slowly-but-surely uncovers the roots of ComOil’s crooked plot to…somehow, keep the giant moles under wraps. Cuz that’ll work.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait at least a season and a half for anything even vaguely resembling an Audrey Episode. Best we be content with the usual formulas. They never fail to disappoint (he said, with a cynical leer). Mr Hawkins’ choice to ignore the whole Godzilla Question after bringing it up so prominently – right off the bat, in fact – is criminally negligent, but nothing really new for this show. That would’ve made a much better B-story than Randy’s little everyday stupidities.
In other words, “Freeze” is another bout of First Season Doldrums. Star Trek: The Next Generation had them, and it didn’t really start to kick ass until season three. So I’m willing to let the Big G have a propper shakedown cruise…unlike a certain TV network who shall remain nameless. Join us next time, when we salute Roddy McDowell in “Dead Loch.” (God, this show’s puns are going to drive me insane.)