Ep. 4 Vessel: The Rules

It is pleasant to see that the episodes are becoming more and more enjoyable as the season unfolds. Episode 4 was an important episode because it introduced us to the politics of this intergalactic world. We’ve gotten hints here and there from previous episodes:

Episode 1:
  • Governing body is called The Company, and it presides over a system of a dwarf planet (Qresh) and 4 moons (Arkyn, Westerly, and Leith). This system is called the Quad. (I had to go and look this information up on the Killjoys Wiki, which annoys me – ideally a show would set this up clearly without being too obvious about it. Up until this point I thought the Quad was 4 planets)
  • Westerly has a pretty bad reputation and is home to a lower class population
  • There are some (religious factions) who oppose The Company’s rule and hope for a revolution
Episode 2:
  • There are rebels who have rejected Company rule altogether and conduct acts of terrorism and seem to live in anarchy

Episode 4, however, is our first real insight into the social classes of this world and how that affects the people that live in the Quad.

In episode 4, our Killjoy trio receive a Warrant made all the more interesting by the requirement of secrecy – a high status woman from one of the most powerful families on Qresh (one of “The Nine”, as they’re called) requests that Dutch, Johnny, and D’Avin rescue and transport a Leithian “vessel” (what we would call a surrogate, aka a woman who carries the child of another woman to term) back to Qresh, as the unborn baby is the last in the line of an old and powerful family in The Nine. . The catch? Because this baby is so important other, less well meaning, parties, have tried to abduct this woman. The system for vessels in this world resembles a convent, where girls pledge themselves and must follow a certain code, and one particular monastery has been attacked. The only survivor was the girl in question. Dutch and her team must now track down the pregnant girl and bring her back safely, a task that proves to be much more complicated than just that.

On paper, I love the premise behind this episode. The plot itself is wonderfully complex, and it lends itself well to conveying important background information about this world in an understated way. The execution, as usual, fell short in key areas again.

The Good

The social system in place in the Quad really impressed me. I love the idea that the high class people with all the money and influence populate and control Qresh, the actual planet, while everyone further down the food chain must do with the orbiting moons. That’s a system I’ve never seen before and it makes a lot of sense. The actual planet is much bigger (even though it is only a dwarf planet), and so would lend itself to luxuries such as bigger and better land. The moons are smaller and (as the Wiki informs us) have not all been colonized responsibly. The best thing about this system is that it even extends into a more abstract level.

QUAD1_1080
The Quad: Qresh surrounded by its 3 moons Arkyn, Westerly, and Leith.

As you can see, the imagery here is quite prominent – Qresh is literally the center of this world. The fact that the moons orbit the planet, also lends itself well as a metaphor.

I also rather enjoyed the exchange between Delle and Dutch at the end. It was a witty banter around strategy and navigating a complex political system. It was intelligent and it gave us a glimpse into a different part of Dutch’s education; clearly it involved more than martial arts and learning how to kill people.

The Not So Good

I was frustrated at the episode’s engagement with the ideals and philosophy of the vessel monastery. It’s a topic I’ve seen many times before – the justification of an “order”, whose purpose is morally questionable, but who indoctrinate all their initiates into thinking they are doing honourable work in order to keep them loyal and obedient. Because I’ve seen it so many times, I was hoping for a more refreshing portrayal. While the purpose of the order (bringing noble babies to term for their families) is rather original, the discussion over the right and/or wrongness of it was far too stock and two-dimensional for me. What disappointed me even more, was Dutch’s hostility towards the girls; her animosity towards such a system makes sense, especially when she reveals that she grew up in a similar institution, but the speeches about thinking for yourself were, once again, predictable and uninspiring.

Those elements, however, pale against one particular event that was so non-sensical it downright made me angry. In attempting to bust these girls out of their hiding place and transporting them to a safer location, one of the girls (predictably the one Johnny grew attached to), decides to sacrifice herself to give her “sisters” a chance at escape. Now, this as a premise is fine, great even. But considering that as soon as the dysfunctional team broke out of the tunnel and into enemy fire, the entire scene was rife with lazy choreography, the fight scene just did not seem realistic to me, and this culminated with this girl’s sacrifice.

BRAVE
One of the girls from the monastery sacrifices herself by forming a distraction, blowing up her enemies, and giving her friends the chance to escape.
BOOM
The explosion radius from the grenade. That’s some serious fire power.

.

I have a problem with this for the following 2 reasons:

  1. If they had the grenades all along, WHY WAS THIS THE FIRST TIME THEY USED THEM?!
  2. If those grenades are so powerful, was there really a need to sacrifice herself in the first place? I have a bad taste in my mouth and it makes me suspect that this was not so much a natural consequence that arose from the situation (as good storytelling aims to create), but rather a cheap ploy to add solemnity and gravitas to the cause.

All in all, this episode gets a mixed review. I think the writers are the real talent behind the show and that the problem lies more with the directors and the actual actors. But so far I’m seeing enough seeds to keep me coming back each week.

On a Side Note

This episode struck me as having significant parallels to an episode of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, titled “Heart of Gold” in which the lovable crew of misfits an outcasts are called to help a brothel defend itself against some formidable foes. I’ll save a full comparison for another post, but Firefly pulled off what Killjoys did not. They engage with similar kinds of institutions (the use of human bodies for profit) and both struggle with issues of morality and dignity, but Heart of Gold delivers the emotional and political nuances that Killjoys fails to portray. I highly recommend the episode – and the series – for those who have not already seen it.

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