July 26, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 11: THE COLLECTION

We’re halfway through Pirates of Dark Water, and “The Collection” feels like an attempt to acknowledge this. We’re back in Jonda Town. We get to see Redbeard King Triton again. And there are no Rool Jewels in this episode. Earlier on, when Wren met up with his Father’s former advisor in the bowels of the Maelstrom (episode 4?), her flashback exposition contained a curious detail: before being captured by Bloth, Primus had secured 7 of the 13 Rool Jewels. He sent these off with an assortment of advisors in order to keep them out of Bloth’s hands. When we learn this, it seems like a pretty arbitrary number, and a pretty meaningless detail. What are we meant to make of the fact that Primus had partially completed his own quest, or that his advisors are involved? It seems like we might have a hint of an answer. By my count, we’re at 7 Rool Jewels recovered at this point (episodes 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). Are we meant to think that these have been the “easy” jewels, the one’s secreted away by Primus’ friends? Are we meant to think that the next 6 will be harder to find? These are the ones not even Primus could reach? These remaining 6 are fallen where Corruptus distributed them years ago at the freeing of Dark Water and the Final Boss Wiggler?

The Collection is a caesura, then. Eyeoz’ past, Jonda Town politics, and the dangerous geography of Myr’s oceans all come into play as we’re reminded (once again) that there are dangers other than Bloth. There are goals other than the Rool Jewels. And there’s no way to predict what will come next.

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July 25, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 10: KING NIDDLER

As should be obvious from the title of this episode, the plot of “King Niddler” relies on a pretty recognizable trope. I’m having a hard time citing a specific example, but let me sketch its shape and maybe you’ll recognize it:

1) a group of heroes is traveling together

2) they arrive in a new land, populated by strange people, who instantly capture them

3) they discover that the weakest, oddest, outsider member of their group is the prophesied leader of these strange people

4) thus ensues a brief bizarro role reversal where the “new king” enjoys their relative status over their companions

5) it is eventually revealed that being king also comes with some dangerous responsibility; the true cowardice of the “new king” is revealed

6) some kind of conclusion is reached, often redeeming a) the “new king” b) the rest of the crew, and ALWAYS promoting one of the strange people as their own leader based on merit, not prophecy.

If that sounds familiar, then you know what happens in this episode.

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July 24, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 9: PANACEA

Panacea is not a good episode. It’s not absolutely the worst, but it’s not good either. The general STUFF of the episode is pretty standard PDW fare: timid pursuit by Bloth, arbitrarily exotic locations. a new character of dubious repute, and at the end a new sparkly treasure of Rool. But the thing that holds the episode back hinges on two deficiencies: 1) Wren is not faced with any character development, and 2) plot events happen independent of consequences.

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July 23, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 8: THE BEAST AND THE BELL

After the last few episodes, I’ve been ever-increasingly disappointed with Pirates of Dark Water. The little-kid comedy has come to the fore, Bloth has been reduced to a Team-Rocket-level running joke, and the action/staging/logical progression of plots and sequences has become clumsy. But I can say with little reservation that episode 8 really turns that around. It’s a neatly contained story, with few logical plot holes, interesting exposition, a worthwhile villain, and no sign of Bloth and his clown squad.

PDW is at its best when it explores Wren’s character. For all it’s pandering to little kids—when are we going to EAT?! cries Niddler—the one theme that the show handles with some nuance is the tension between Wren’s integrity and naivety. At his best, Wren behaves in a way keeping with the platonic ideal of royalty. He helps the unfortunate, he refuses to compromise, and he sees the best in people. He is, quite literally, noble. At his worst, Wren is nothing but oblivious enthusiasm. He ignores the reality of his surroundings to the point of negligence, he discounts the feelings of those people closest him, and is absolutely guile-less. And so when a big watery avatar of his dead father tells him to ring a bell and save the world, he doesn’t hesitate.

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July 22, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 7: A DROP OF DARKNESS

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And yea did Tula the newly-catalyzed ecomancer say of the plan to harvest and study dark water: “It’s a completely evil substance!” and verily did Cray the Octopanian-debutante turned (evil) magical alchemist rebutt: “Sometimes it takes a little evil to make things right, my child.” And thus it was that it came to pass that in the 8th minute of its 7th episode The Pirates of Dark Water did pass through the Bechdel Test.

I can’t be sure whether the “message” of A Drop of Darkness is more about human psychology or pollutive ecology. On one hand we’re presented with a classic gothic horror in miniature: the jilted lover striking unnatural bargains to reclaim the past, damning themselves to monstrosity and death. On the other hand we have the failure of science to harness the inherently toxic. I suppose it might be most powerful if the narrative was MEANT to weave to two together. But in the end I can’t help but continue to wonder what the Black Water stands in for, symbolically. What KIND of crisis is the spread of black water, and how are we to read it? In the meantime, however, let’s pinpoint the rise and fall of what COULD have been the series’ next best female character: Cray.

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July 21, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 6: ANDORUS

This episode “Andorus” strikes me with such ambivalence. On one hand, it’s a Tula episode, and I like that her character gets more depth than just token-lady. So that’s good. On the other hand, she spends most of the episode talking with Sad Captain Planet (real name, Charon?) who is pretty much the worst character. So that’s bad. However, on the third hand, by the end of the episode, we’ve left Sad Captain Planet on an island and we’re sailing away, hopefully to never see him again. So watching this episode is a bit like taking medicine. Swallowing down a bad taste to rid yourself of a disease. In cartoon form.

Last episode we learned that Tula wanted to save Sad Captain Planet because he was from her home town, and because he was the last ecomancer, Tula wanted to take him back there to save it. Surprise he said, it’s too late to save it cause the black water already swallowed it up. Well surprise again everybody, cause just one episode later and Sad Captain Planet is taking us back to his home town (the island Andorus) to SAVE it. And it’s not been screwed up by black water, but by some dinosaur made out of tree roots that Sad Captain Planet and his homies sealed underground a while ago. SO I don’t know what’s going on with this continuity, but let’s just roll with it. BOOM.

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July 20, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 5: VICTORY

Episode 5 doesn’t leave much to the imagination. The title of the episode is “Victory” and it becomes clear that the moment-to-moment rolling tension of the last 4 episodes have been leading up to this. If the 1st episode felt like a super-rushed pilot, it’s because the PILOT STORY (or how I learned to stop worrying and love my pirate team) was really broken into 5 chunks and spread across these episodes. My prediction is that after this point the adventures will become much more flavor-of-the-week self-contained episodic Star Trek-style mini-quests. But we’ll see.

"Victory" plays pretty fast and loose with timing, and architecture, and logic. A lot of characters run around doing random things, and there’s a fair amount of dialogue that explains how and why two characters are able to meet up even though basically all the action takes place on Bloth’s ship, the Maelstrom. We also learn that friggin’ Sad Captain Planet is gonna be a recurring character (he’s appeared briefly in earlier episodes) and that makes my heart say: "gross."

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July 19, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 4: BETRAYAL

I guess it had to happen eventually, but the wheels have come of this nostalgia train. The last 3 episodes have each improved bit by bit, but this episode is a stinker. I’ve applauded the last few for having unconventional rhythms, nested narratives, and tense end-of-episode cliffhangers, but episode 4 shows what can go wrong with that type of approach. The story here is messy, with too much going on, and no clear structure.

I have a new theory. More and more, PDW feels less like a cartoon, and more like someone’s personal Dungeons and Dragons game, translated into a screenplay. The band of adventurers given an arbitrary quest, who stick together for no real reason other than…being an adventuring party. The uneven rhythm of success and failure from episode to episode. The often baffling strategies adopted by characters to overcome certain challenges. All of these feel more like a creative Dungeon Master throwing new story ideas at a group of players, than a writer following the motivations and decisions of a group of characters.

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July 18, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EPISODE 3: BREAK UP

Ladies and gentlemen! We have our first dark water appearance. After a few off-hand mentions, we finally get the black goopy stuff on screen. Episode 2 improved on Episode 1, and I have to say, Episode 3 continues the trend. The storytelling gets more unique in this episode, things turn dark, and rather than bounce back from last episode’s troubled cliffhanger, our heroes are even worse off at the end of this 22 minutes.

Contemporary shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones have been very good at building to the end credits. Tension rising, characters in danger, things happen, and then BAM black screen. Credits roll. The audience exhales. PDW doesn’t get to that level. It can’t really. But the end of this episode shows that its writer’s wanted those kind of gasps from the kiddies. But I get ahead of myself…

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July 17, 2014
PIRATES OF DARK WATER EP 2: DISHONOR

"You may be the son of Primus, but you have a lot to learn about picking a crew." —the Pale King Dude

The opening moments of Episode 2, Dishonor are bafflingly lovely. We pan across the cabin of Wren’s newly stolen ship, it bobbing up and down in the waves, to find he and Niddler asleep in two adjacent beds. The scene is quiet, and Wren eventually rolls to his feet and walks to the window, where a small speck on the horizon causes him to exclaim.

Thus begins a pretty typical Waterworld-presaging action sequence, with Wren and his crew fleeing/fighting the scout ships from Blarg’s pirates. But that first 30 seconds, where we just watch Wren sleep—an uncharacteristic moment (for a children’s cartoon) and the rest of the episode does some unexpected things as well.

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