Friday, October 11, 2013

X-MEN Episode Thirty-Three - September 9, 1994

Phoenix Saga (Part 5): Child of Light
Written by Mark Edward Edens

Summary:  D’Ken traps the X-Men inside the M’Kraan Crystal, where he is a god.  Phoenix explains that the Crystal will consume all of existence and destroy the universe as we know it.  D’Ken believes he’s triumphant until Phoenix expresses her full power.  She frees the team and traps D’Ken inside the Crystal.  Drawing energy from her teammates, Phoenix finds the strength to take the Crystal to the heart of the sun, where no one could ever disturb it.  Realizing that she’s sacrificing her life, the X-Men say goodbye.

Continuity Notes:  D’Ken’s actions cause chaos on Earth, leading to cameos by Sunfire, M’Jnari (the boy from episode sixteen), War Machine, Alpha Flight, and Spider-Man (or his hand, at least).

“Um, Actually…”:  Phoenix doesn’t have a death scene in the conclusion of the original storyline in the comics.  She draws upon her teammates’ life force in order to repair the damage done to the universe, then returns home with the X-Men.  Her death scene comes years later in the conclusion of “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” which actually has a happy ending in the cartoon.

Saban Quality:  When Storm stops a flood on Earth, her lips don’t move even though she has several lines of dialogue.  Rogue is also given all-white hair in one scene.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  Beast quotes the Emily Dickinson line: “Parting is all we know of heaven, and all we need of hell.”  Even though it isn’t used as a profanity, this is probably the only time the word “hell” ever showed up on a FOX Kids program.

Review:  So, over the course of five episodes, Jean Grey goes from bit player to the most powerful member of the team, saves the universe, and then dies.  I don’t think any other cartoon on television was willing to do a story of this magnitude, and even if FOX and Saban soon blunted the impact of the finale by airing the subsequent episodes out of order, it’s important to remember that the show was still pretty daring by the standards of the day.  Even ignoring Jean's "death" at the end, just the idea of a space opera on this level was insanely ambitious during the days when TV superheroes were still stopping bank robberies.  Fans of the comics likely saw all of this coming (although I was kind of surprised to see Jean get a vague death scene so early), but that doesn’t take anything away from the adaptation.  It’s interesting to witness how the dozen or so issues of the original storyline are shifted into place for the show, and it’s just fun to see obscure characters you recognize from the comics make appearances.  The emotional beats are also played well, which is notable for a show known for some shaky voice acting.  Following this, it’s hard to think of too many particularly bold episodes during the show’s run.  There’s the “Dark Phoenix Saga,” which is fairly loyal to the comics, ignoring that aforementioned happy ending, and after that…not much.  Some solid action/adventure Saturday Morning material, but very few are exceptionally memorable.

Credit to for the screencaps.


Matt said...

I would definitely agree that the series never again hit anything quite this high. Which is a shame, after showing what it could do. But even the heavy serialization of the early seasons is dropped as the show moves on, in favor of more episodic material.

(On the flip side, Fox's Spider-Man cartoon became more and more serialized as it went on, to the point that you sometimes felt lost if you missed a single episode.)

I remember being shocked at Beast's use of "hell". I had never heard the word used in a television cartoon, and even though it's a mild curse -- not even used here in that capacity, as you note -- I still couldn't believe they got away with it.

cyke68 said...

Thirding the sentiments that this is the point where TAS hit its peak (although Dark Phoenix gives it a decent go). By now, we've gotten to know these characters well enough that it earns the heavy melodrama we're asked to accept. The admittedly-sappy scene of Jean drawing on the "intrinsic" qualities of her friends (or whatever) to save the universe comes off as more sentimental than cheesy; this simply never would've worked earlier in the show's run. It's a plot device, yes, but more important is that it FEELS more like a culmination, a reward for having stuck with this show and its people. Solid characterization over the course of 2+ years goes a long way towards smoothing out the wrinkles in this "kiddified" version of a sacred story.

I really admire how the Care Bears Ending goes ass-up when you realize Jean isn't coming back. The plot's skipping along predictably enough, everything's all Kumbaya, and then... "Hey, wait." It's a pretty sudden kick to the balls whether you're familiar with the source material or not. (Plus, I'm now realizing they inverted the endings of the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Sagas. Let's face it, the reset button had to get pressed on Jean somehow, and this approach allowed the show to have its cake and eat it too. Neat.)

And I'll go ahead and say it, that Beast quote was fucking shattering. It's one that stayed with me over the years, to the point that I temporarily forgot where I first heard it. The original context... doesn't quite suit me in adult life of course, but it's remarkable the things that evolve with us from our childhoods.

Teebore said...

The inversion of the endings of the two Phoenix stories had to be intentional, right? Like, the writers knew they could never get away with killing Jean at the end of "Dark Phoenix" so they wrote a sacrifice into this one so they could at least try to tackle some of the death material, however briefly?

Agreed that this is the show's peak as well, though I do have fond (and admittedly vague) memories of "Beyond Good and Evil", for its ambition and kitchen sink inclusion of tons of different characters.

I haven't watched yet it again in years, so on a revisit it may actually turn out to be a complete mess, but I seem to recall admiring that the show seemed to be reaching for something on the level of "Phoenix Saga" even if it didn't quite make it.

cyke68 said...

That's exactly what I was thinking, it had to be intentional. It was already announced that a Dark Phoenix Saga was forthcoming, so Jean's send-off in this episode was kind of signaling to people, "Obviously we aren't going to kill her AGAIN in Dark Phoenix, so adjust your expectations accordingly."

Beyond Good and Evil was a noble stab at once again delivering an epic, and an original one at that. Points as well for its quasi-meta philosophy by way of Apocalypse openly questioning whether he exists to fulfill some archetypical embodiment of "evil" and is consequently destined to always lose. His attempt to achieve his goals by changing the predefined rules of the game was therefore pretty clever. Better than any exploration of Apocalypse's character in the comics, actually.

Reminds me more of something Starlin's Thanos would do, now that I think about it.

Ultimately, I felt like "Beyond" didn't really live up to its potential. That it came down to a brawl between Cable, Magneto, Wolverine (groan), and Mystique on one side and Apocalypse on the other was a bit lackluster. I sort of get what they were going for: these folks aren't exactly traditional representatives for the forces of good, thereby casting doubt on Apocalypse's black-and-white theory about existence, but nevertheless... it petered out. If you're going to include loads and loads of characters like that, use them!

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