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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Sym-Bionic Titan – “Shaman of Fear”

All of this is false.”

I am a sucker for dream episodes. I can’t tell you why because I have no idea. Some of it, I’m sure, it stems from the fact that it offers character insight through vague symbolism that then allows the audience to try and puts things to go, or it simply crystallizes character motivations or anxieties. And, since it’s a dream, it allows the show to go a little crazy without it feeling like tonal whiplash.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed “Shaman of Fear.” After last’s week high octane episode (Get it? It was about cars, remember? Octane. Cars. Yeah.), this episode takes it nice and slow while still telling a fairly taunt story with creepy imagery and character backstory. Even the battle at the end is one of the show’s best so far.

The episode doesn’t re-invent the dream episode template, and it doesn’t really need to to be effective. Because it so expertly pivots on our understanding of how dream episodes work, it’s able to create believable suspense without feeling like the show is cheating. Take, for example, the morning after the opening sequence, as Lance and Illana trade notes on their poor night’s sleep. The episode refuses to cut to Octus’ face or for him to turn around. Sure, he speaks, but who knows what his face looks like? Are they still dreaming?

Even though it wasn’t a dream, the scene helps ramp up the episode’s suspense (nothing is spookier, by the way, than someone doing repetitive domestic chores while not looking at you), and puts the rest of the visions that occur in fair game. While I appreciate that the episode wasn’t all “just a dream”, I also appreciate the careful deployment of the visions throughout the episode, from marauding Mutraddi around the school to the oh-so-unnerving talking floorboards.  The approach balances everything out nicely.

Even the episode’s final battle sequences is well-staged, with the slightly glitchy hand-to-hand combat at the start (I like seeing giant things fight like that without weapons) to the nicely used spear (also like not using a sword every time).  The monster’s robot, a multi-armed stone idol was the first to really feel like an extension of the monster and the episode’s themes about primal emotions of fear and guilt. It’s something I’ve been wanting since episode one, and it was nice to finally get it.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be a review from me this week if I didn’t have some quibbles. I was hoping for some Illana development with this episode based on the promos, and I didn’t get any. I know she’s anxious about Galaluna’s fate, if her father lives, and that she wishes to return as soon as possible. Like I said, dream episodes give you a chance to crystallize motivations, but here, since this has been at the core Illana’s actions all season, it feels repetitive (even if her visions are the creepiest). It keeps her flat as a character, and I had high hopes for her that dim with each episode. I don’t want to have to wait for next year for a well-developed female character.

Lance, on the other hand, continues to be refined and focused as a character. Explanation for his lack of attachments (dad invented rift gate technologies, tested on himself, never came back) gets explained. It deepens already the most developed character on the show, and I feel like he’s hogging the spotlight. I understand that this is could be because the network (and/or the producers) want to grab the young male demo, but that doesn’t mean Illana has to suffer as a character.

At this point, I think it would be fair to step back from Lance and explore Illana’s backstory a bit. Where’s her mother? What instilled this loyalty to her planet so deeply? Just how much did her father dote on her? She can be a more compelling character if given the chance.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • More great sound design in this episode. Can’t get enough of it.
  • Tiny details matter: Lance’s caller ID photo is wonderful.
  • Appreciate that the series continues with the idea that mental and physical stressors can influence how well someone pilots a giant robot. Genre savviness for the win.


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