Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“O Sister, Where Art Thou?”: Nostalgic Blues Makes a Killer Soundtrack

Irritatingly, the much-discussed pattern is still in effect. You know what that means.

Although truth be known that's being a tad unfair. “Nostalgic Blues Makes a Killer Soundtrack” isn't terrible: There's a handful of things about it to recommend and it's not ethically bankrupt, but the fact is this is still an off week and this still means it doesn't work either. The big problem is this is yet another episode that lacks thematic cohesion: The best way I can come up with to describe it is that it seems to be a combination of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and The Defiant Ones. Also the blues for some reason. Why...I honestly couldn't tell you, unless I'm missing something particularly blatant, which is always a possibility.

The first film is credited with finally killing off the western genre in the US and chronicles the falling out between a bounty hunter and an outlaw who decide to terminate their partnership and come to blows over the money, while a mercenary discovers the whereabouts of a hidden stash of Confederate gold during the Civil War. The other two find out, and proceed to generally try to swindle and betray each other throughout the film's runtime. Our analogues here would I guess be Blues the assassin and his target, the business tycoon of the “Miss Creamy Gal Beaty Pageant” (and I can't believe I actually wrote those words: This is going to look so, so wrong outside the context of this episode) who killed Blues' mother, a Blues singer, by throwing her into the gaping maw of an active volcano for reasons I don't think are ever actually explained. The owner is running an insurance scam on the local hotel and plans to blow it up, and Blues is out to stop him and avenge his mother's death.

The second is the classic story about two convicts, a black man named Noah and a white man named Joker, who escape prison, hate each other, but are handcuffed together and are forced to co-operate and learn to appreciate each other in order to survive. The analogues here are clearer, with Blues as Joker and Kei as Noah, as they spend the majority of the episode in handcuffs bickering with each other and have to team up against the greater evil of the owner. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly also has a scene where Tuco, the bandit, is captured by Union forces and is handcuffed to his captor. Both it and this episode also have scenes where trains and bathrooms play pivotal roles: Tuco uses a trip to the men's room to escape in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly by leaping from the moving carriage and killing the Union soldier he was chained to and Dirty Pair uses restrooms to make a really lame and unfunny joke. And indeed, trains do prove important to the climax here, as the owner has rigged a ridiculously convoluted scheme that involves running a monorail over a precise section of track at a precise moment in time to detonate a bomb that will burn down the hotel.

What's even less clear then the actual symbolism is what any of it is supposed to actually mean. If this is indeed supposed to be a nod to both The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and The Defiant Ones, there are a couple paths the show could have taken. Likening Kei to a person arrested for belonging to an oppressed group of people is interesting, or it at least would have been had this episode followed up on any of the possible avenues it could have gone down with this. Even scaling it back to just an outlaw could have been intriguing, especially given the girls' increasingly strained relationship with the 3WA owing to their commitment to material social progress, and also because as far as the galaxy is concerned the Lovely Angels may as *well* be outlaws. If Yuri is then supposed to be Angel Eyes the merc from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (presuming that Blues is Tuco, the owner is his ex-partner and perhaps sometimes Kei as well), this would also explain why she spends so much time once again flippantly acting like she's better and more competent then her partner...But it's mostly just annoying.

The larger issue with this reading is that The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is a prime example of a deconstruction of the western genre, and I'm not sure there's much new ground to be gained by Dirty Pair looking at it, especially considering what this show has already done in “Hire Us! Beautiful Bodyguards are a Better Deal”, which is an unequivocally superior Dirty Pair western pastiche in every conceivable way. That episode was furthermore based on Yojimbo, the movie that was the direct inspiration for the Dollars series The Good, The Bad and the Ugly was *itself* a part of, so this whole thing to me just feels like an aimless and second-rate retread.

(And even so I can't for the life of me figure out the Blues motif: It's clearly important, but, apart from his name, Blues only plays the Blues once and it's never mentioned again. Is this supposed to be a callback to the show's affection for The Blues Brothers, whose titular characters were outlaws on a mission from god? If that's the case, that's even more strangled then the half-assed connection I've tried to make between this episode and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.)

Apart from the thematic issues, this week's outing is also less then satisfying on structural grounds. It relies on pulp stalling tactics to an extent I found noticeable and irritating, which is particularly a problem in a 20 minute cartoon show: It's nice that Yuri's attempts to blow off Kei and go solo to finish the job on her own are once again thwarted and shown to be ill-conceived, but it would have been nicer had that been done without her getting captured. The girls are depicted pretty changeably here, with about an equal mix of positive and negative portrayals, though what bugged me the most is how Blues' badassery wound up sidelining and stealing the show from them both. The thing about the Lovely Angels is that while marginality may well be built into their characters, Dirty Pair is still their show, so when they cross over with other stories great care has to be taken to balance the fact that they are in a different story with the fact that we still want to see the action revolving around them. And this episode basically doesn't.

(One word of praise I do have to give this one is that the world is absolutely sublime: It's an old west town at the base of a volcano connected by an antigrav monorail network with *dinosaur aliens* for horses. It's one of the most creative and memorable locales the show's come up with yet, which once again just makes you wish the episode itself was better.)

Even though Mark I of Sunrise's Dirty Pair is growing ever nearer to conclusion, we know it's not out of steam yet-It's still quite clearly capable of greatness, which only makes it all the more frustrating when it doesn't quite deliver.

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