As I mentioned yesterday the second installment of Brad Winderbaum's four minute choose-your-own-adventure David Lynch-Alias style webisode Satacracy 88 is up and running. Go watch it now at itsallinyourhands.com (the link is on the right), VOTE, then come back here for the discussion.
Traditionally television shows falter with the second, third and fourth episodes of season one, and with good reason. Months of work is poured into the pilot episode because there is no time limit, that is the basis on which your series will be picked up, and if not this year, the next. You work forever on the script, and on the production, and then, when it gets bought, you get the green light to have six more episodes by next Tuesday, or whatever, and you scramble. The second episode of Satacracy 88, however, is even better than the first, and the stakes for the main character are much bigger.
We begin with the boyfriend, in an opening not unlike the openings in season one of Lost. In an episode revolving around Angela's nightmare, he awakes from a nightmare, though we are not privy to it. The tricky part of Brad's job here is that he has much less than four minutes to establish a connection between the audience and this guy, who we have never seen before, so that Angela's decision to stab him or not is meaningful (otherwise her decision will be like a decision of whether or not to take out a nameless stormtrooper -- not a decision at all). One thing that makes Brad's job tougher is that he is -- thankfully -- determined to avoid one of the most annoying aspects of run-of-the-mill team superhero comics -- the way, in the first few pages, everyone speaks to everyone in clunky direct address, so new readers can learn everyone's name. "I don't see how we are going to get through that wall, Wolverine." "Can't you just teleport to the other side, Kurt?" "No, its has a magic barrier; and please, call me Nightcrawler when we are on a mission. I don't call you Logan." No one in real life ever spoke like that, and Satacracy takes place right where we live, so the name of the boyfriend, Martin, is not highlighted. Realism is in the details. But it's tough to care about a character when you don't know his name; casting saves the day: Marc Samuels (the actor playing Martin) seems like a real person immediately, not easy to pull off when the temptation is to play up the pulpy sci-fi madness, and cardboard fun. Diahnna Nicole Baxter (Angela) crosses both registers with ease (much as Naomi Watts does in Mulholland Drive).
I have said the show is sci-fi based deeply in the real world, but in the dream sequence we get to see the hypercolor weirdly lit and shadowed sci-fi melodrama take over for a bit, and it is more powerful for being grounded. (Imagine how much less engaging the scene would be if the whole of Satacracy was like that). Red, blue and yellow mark the scene (sheets, the hooded figure, the dagger): Superman's colors. It is the dream of a comic book fan.
Race and gender is not something I want to go into just yet, but Alien versus Predator is the only science fiction film in which a woman of color is the protagonist (this has been pointed out to me by Jason Smith and Ximena Gallardo, authors of Alien Woman). And now we have Satacracy. The dagger, the mask on the wall, the drums, the tribal marks on the hooded figure -- Brad's sci-fi world is not the whitewashed world of Star Trek's global village. It's a real place, where race is still real.
And those details: the most beautiful "last time on..." montage I have ever seen, a rush of black and white images super imposed on key moments, frozen. (The only other "last time on..." montage I can think of that was more than just exposition was the one for the 100th episode of Buffy). The way the sythe coming a the screen almost, but not quite, invokes and revises the old Superfriends transitions (the lights headed at the screen for every scene change). The way Angela's scream disrupts the lights (and she senses her own power without the pills) before it can become the cliched "cry at the abyss" (see Garden State, an otherwise great movie). The powerful freeze and zoom at the end of the episode, which gives the impression of zooming in on a photograph; it is a device Brad learned from Powers, where Oeming uses it to great effect; rather than draw an image of a face, then draw it again closer, Oeming copies the first face but enlarges it without enlarging the panel -- we see the inking up close for example. It is an intense effect. And one last detail -- Angela has a sister.
Go tell everyone to watch it, and vote. In the meantime, we return to Harold and the Purple Crayon, part two of four, Monday.