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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was basically a live
action cartoon show with an interactive toy line and the first two
recurring CGI characters ever on Television (though they never appear
on any list of groundbreaking effects). But to me, the series will
always be remembered for the way the first (and only) season ended. So
readers unaware of how this finale played out had better stop reading,
for there will be spoilers.
Over the course of the first 20 episodes, the storyline played out like a bleaker version of Star Wars with a bit of The Terminator and The A-Team thrown in. The noble captain (original Faceman Tim Dunnigan) was your typical clean cut hero. His right hand men Hawk (Peter MacNeill) and Tank providing some typical eighties one liners (Tank being played by Arnie's good buddy Sven-Ole Thorsen made it obvious why he was cast). The remaining two members of Power's team were a token colored character, Scout (Maurice Dean Wint) who remained rather underdeveloped and of course a single white female, Pilot (Jessica Steen).
The series drew to a close with a pair of two parters. The first of these ('New Order parts 1 & 2') featured a trench battle straight out of 'A New Hope' and the Soldier's first major victory against the evil Lord Dread (David Hemblen). It would not have surprised anyone had the series ended on this happy note. But instead, they delved right into 'The Empire Strikes Back' territory with the final two parts ('Retribution 1 & 2'). Dread managed to find out the secret location of the Powerbase. And as CGI warlord Blastarr and his troops began to destroy Powers home from the inside out, one of the soldiers gave up her life to make sure none of their secrets fell into mechanical hands.
This was something I hadn't expected at all when first viewing the episode in 1988. Sure, other children's show of the day occasionally took on more adult themes (He-Man and Bravestarr come to mind) but to have the only female member of the team and possible love interest to Captain Power blow herself up was something else. Now it turns out that Jessica Steen had actually requested to be let go after one season when signing her contract. In later interviews she has made it clear that she was never very comfortable doing a series that urged it's viewers to buy laser guns and point them at their TV. And when watching the show with this knowledge in mind she does appear to be a bit uncomfortable. However this still works for the character, who grew up as a brainwashed member of the Dread Youth.
Of course some viewers may have been turned off from the series altogether by this final episode. But to me the finale served to elevate the programme to a higher level, putting it right up there with that other unforgettable Eighies series "Robin of Sherwood". Thanks to the web (where even the least well known SciFi shows all have a loyal following) I found out that writer J. Michael Straczynski actually based Pilot's final scene on a personal experience he had, involving a loved one who took her own life.
Of course at the time I immediately began thinking up plausible ways for Jennifer to have survived the explosion. Maybe Blastarr (who could repair himself even after being blown apart) had digitized her at the last instant, like he had done to so many other humans before, thus being able to restore her later on? Naturally, in this day and age when people are in fact digitizing their entire lives and putting it onto the (cyber) web, it turns out I was not the only one to take this possibility into account (seek out fan fiction "Rise of the Phoenix" by Kazthom for a more detailed exploration).
But alas, it was not to be. Mattel pulled the plug on Captain Power (and indeed their entire production company, MTS). There is quite a lot of information concerning the aborted second season to be found on several sites, and none of the story lines included the return of Pilot. Instead, they would have taken another element from TESB and given it a gender bending twist: the mind of Captain Power's mother would have turned up in a mechanical body loyal to Dread named Morgana II. Although these plot lines that could have been make for a fascinating read, I sincerely doubt if the series could have reached the dramatic heights of 'Retribution part two' ever again.
Now whenever a heroic character dies unexpectedly, the audience has to be soothed before the end by having said person appear once more either as a blue ghost, via voice-over or in a flashback montage. J. Michael Straczynski took the third approach and so the series ends with a touching minute of footage culled from previous episodes set to a full, rousing version of the 'Love Theme from Captain Power' by Gary Guttman (of which only the final notes had been featured in earlier episodes). And to bring the Star Wars comparison full circle, that theme borrows heavily from John Williams' "Princess Leia's Theme", yet still manages to have an identity of it's own. I am glad to say that thanks to a link on Guttman's IMDb page, I found an MP3 version of the Love theme on his official site. I've been listening to it while writing this review and it's like a holy grail I've been searching for since 1988. Here's to you Jennifer, we hardly knew you.
10 out of 10
P.S. Jessica Steen's experiences on Captain P came in handy when auditioning for Michael Bay's Armageddon some ten years later. Calling upon some technical jargon from her old series, she was cast as another pilot named Jennifer. Coincidence?
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