The GeeksverseGI Joe: Renegades episode 8 (“Rage”) review

GI Joe: Renegades episode 8 (“Rage”) review
Published on Sunday, January 9, 2011 by

Before we get to my thoughts on the first new episode of GI Joe: Renegades for 2011, I want to thank Troy Osgood for doing me a solid and posting a review for the GIJ:Rs two-part holiday special (“Homecoming”) when I couldn’t write one in a timely manner.

I’ve made no secret in recent reviews of the fact that Tunnel Rat and Roadblock are quickly becoming my favorite characters on the show. It helps that they’re based on two of my favorite GI Joe toys/comic book characters from the 1980s, but a lot of it also has to do with the dialogue and personalities the writers have given them. They’re back-up players behind Scarlett, Duke, and even Snake-Eyes for sure, but that has kept them from figuring in extended, miscalculated stints in the spotlight (see Snake-Eyes in the “Return of the Arashikage” two-parter for example) or falling into the somewhat clichéd roles Scarlett and Duke have occasionally been assigned early in the season. When I read that episode 8, entitled “Rage,” was going to focus on Tunnel Rat and Roadblock, the primary question running through my head was whether or not the episode would suffer from the same deficiencies that plagued the “Return of the Arashikage” two-parter, where a character better suited to playing a supporting role (in the latter’s case, that would be Snake-Eyes) wasn’t given enough characterization to anchor a full episode.

The episode starts off with a key scene, with Tunnel Rat getting annoyed with Roadblock’s choice of music. How do I know it’s a key scene? Well, the writers have been pretty bad (or good, depending on whether or not you assume it’s their intent) at telegraphing plot devices early on in each of the last six episodes. It’s not an awful thing in itself I suppose, but it does serve as something of a distraction for me since I invariably split my viewing focus between following the story and speculating on how said device will figure into the episode’s main plot. It’s a minor issue though, as the plot device’s role usually becomes glaringly obvious about a third of the way in. Like I said, the writers have a habit of telegraphing story events.

I was really surprised with one of the early scenes in the episode showing a veteran (note the dog tags) running amuck with a live grenade in public. I don’t think I’ve ever seen post-traumatic stress disorder-related violence being addressed in an American made-for-TV cartoon before (especially not one that’s rated TV-Y7-FV), so kudos to the writers for having the stones to write that scene in. Unfortunately, and this was symptomatic of this week’s episode, the writers stop just short of taking the story to a real interesting place and revert to Typical Cartoon Writing Mode. It turns out that the out of control veteran wasn’t suffering from the effects of severe PTSD at all, but was instead afflicted with some — dun dun dun!!! — mystery ailment affecting a growing number of indigent veterans that leaves them comatose after going into a violent rage (maybe the pupil-less eyes were a dead giveaway).

Constantly being on the run from the authorities and Cobra is beginning to wear on Tunnel Rat, though, so after a bit of a blow-up (where I could have sworn he flipped Scarlett the bird while he was walking away), Tunnel Rat decides to take a walk along Chicago’s wintery streets to cool down. This leads us to another opportunity used by the writers to give the dialogue and story some interesting spin.

Tunnel Rat is approached by a minister (not-so-subtly foreshadowed as a sinister element). Tunnel Rat rebuffs the religious figure’s advances but changes his mind when offered some free (secretly drugged) hot coffee, although he tells the minister in no uncertain terms, “don’t try to convert me.” This scene stood out to me for two reasons. The first is that the topic of religion is largely verboten in mainstream American cartoons, which are largely secular in nature. Not only do the writers broach the topic here, they also allude to the notion that religion can be used as a tool, a “foot-in-the-door” tactic for people who might have less than benevolent motives with regards to the less fortunate. The second thing that caught my attention is that from Tunnel Rat’s response, it’s clear that he’s not a Christian (or if he is, he’s not a practicing one). I found it a refreshingly no-nonsense and honest statement in a medium that is sometimes too measured and deliberate in trying to ensure that there is nothing in a show that can be misconstrued as offensive.The writers don’t really explore these ideas further, although unlike the veterans with PTSD theme, I think they handled their limited digression into the topic of religion much better (and really, they couldn’t have taken it much further without forcing the issue).

The episode goes on a rapid downward trajectory from there, though. Tunnel Rat wakes up from being drugged to find himself strapped into a mech suit. I know that GI Joe: Renegades is still primarily about using a (hopefully) entertaining cartoon to sell Hasbro’s toys, but the abrupt introduction of the “Exo-suits” (soon to appear at a Wal-Mart near you!) is just about as hard a sell as the writers could have made, especially in an episode that was shaping up to be one of the more interesting ones in the show’s inaugural season.

The sequence also reveals that the sinister minister is named Scrap-Iron (a nod to the GI Joe villain of the same name from 1984) and he’s working in the employ of a certain James McCullen (which any old school GI Joe fan knows is the real name of classic GI Joe villain Destro). Tunnel Rat finds himself in a state of battle lust, in a scaled-down Robot Jox battle against another kidnapped veteran (named Ralph Pulaski, a reference to one of the original 13 GI Joe: A Real American Hero characters created in 1982). The trigger for this induced berserker state is a specific sound frequency delivered via some implants attached to their heads, and if you make the connection between the earlier scene spotlighting Roadblock’s music and this nugget of information, it now becomes obvious what the plot device du jour is going to be used for. Tunnel Rat, like the other veterans revealed earlier, isn’t strong enough to endure being subjected to the rage-inducing sound without collapsing into a coma-like state and is left to freeze to death in some back alley, where he is found by his teammates and taken to hospital. In a ridiculous scene that really hammers the point of the plot device, Roadblock leaves his music player with the unconscious Tunnel Rat, blasting at full volume no less.

The story slogs on from there. Roadblock gets drugged by Scrap-Iron (I bet old Scrappy gets “lucky” a lot in the singles dating scene), gets strapped into an Exo-suit, and turns out to be the best candidate for their rage-inducing sound treatment, although he ends up trashing McCullen and Scrap-Iron’s lab in his berserker state. Cue Duke, Scarlett, and Snake-Eyes trying to stop Cyber-Roadblock to no avail. Enter Tunnel Rat (revived and revitalized by Roadblock’s music) who manages to distract Roadblock long enough with the music blaring from his portable music player so that Snake-Eyes can sever the connection between Roadblock’s audio implants and the Exo-suit. Day saved.

Verdict: The episode begins quite promisingly, but the show’s second half is strictly by-the-numbers stuff. Tunnel Rat and Roadblock worked well enough as lead players in the episode, but I don’t expect (nor really want) their being show leads to be a regular occurence from here on out. It’s still an entertaining 22 minutes, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they could have done so much more with the elements that they introduced in the episode’s outset.

Stray Notes and Comments:

  • Besides the nod to Steeler/Ralph Pulaski, the writers threw in another Easter egg for 1980s GI Joe fans: the doctor at the hospital where the veterans are being treated is referred to over the hospital PA system as “Dr. Greer” in a scene near the episode’s end. This is a shout-out to the 1984 GI Joe character code-named Doc, of course. I know some people might find these appeals to nostalgia as a cheap way for the writers to get fan goodwill but I’m liking them.
  • I’m all for dispelling stereotypes, but Roadblock’s music genre of choice being screamo just didn’t look or sound right. I mean, I’m not saying that he should have had hip hop coming out of his music player, I’m just surprised that the writers would posit that anybody still listens to that screamo nonsense these days (j/k; please don’t flame me, screamo fans).
  • I wasn’t too fond of the use of 3D assets (like the Exo-Suits and The Coyote) mixed in with the 2D backgrounds and 2D characters. I know it’s a practically routine thing in cartoons now and is a relatively cheap way to make for more consistent-looking inorganic assets but I wish they had used some better textures and lighting/shading technology. I have a hard time getting over how jarring the approach looks when it’s used so extensively over the course of a 22 minute show.
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One Response
    • […] We get to see 1980s GI Joe MP Law (along with his dog Order) in this episode as one of the few prison guards who isn’t part of the warden’s racket, although he isn’t referred to by his codename. Instead, he is referred to by his surname “Lavigne,” which the actors pronounce as “La-VINE” (instead of “La-VEEN”) to my minor annoyance. I liked that his appearance wasn’t just a superfluous name-drop, though (as opposed to the “guest appearances” of Doc and Steeler in episode 8). […]


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