Well, that was a bad episode.

I still stand by the statement I said two weeks ago–Guardians of the Galaxy has the potential to be at the very least a spiritual follow-up to Firefly, but “The Backstabbers” just makes me look like a ranting idiot. It’s not just a bad episode of Guardians but a bad episode of animated TV in general, taking a massive leap backwards after two incremental steps forward. Within the first few minutes, it’s glaringly obvious that Rocket’s head is way too big for his body, and Drax swinging the Ultimate Weapon is awkwardly recycled–and the animation/narrative failures just keep coming.

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There is just so much exposition during the first five minutes of the episode. It’s been a problem plaguing this show since the beginning but it’s particularly awkward here, as if it has to explain who everyone was, the premise of the show, the events of the past six episodes, and the minute details of the inciting incident itself. The forced dialogue is cringe-worthy and a good fifty percent of it is unnecessary (did we have to know Rocket was secretly listening in on Nova Corps?). Yet via the secret broadcast, we learn that Nova Corps is investigating the power vacuum in Thanos’ empire after Ronan’s death. He’s looking for a new general, and it’s down to Korath, Nebula… and Gamora.

This is pretty much where the episode goes off the rails, as the rest of the Guardians suddenly turn on Gamora. Nova Corps simply mentions that Gamora is a potential general because of an intercepted communication, which is way too vague to be legit. And while would be easy for the Corps to consider this theory–the Guardians’ record may be wiped but they’re still technically criminals, and Gamora’s connection to Thanos is too obvious to ignore–watching Drax and Rocket hurl traitorous accusations towards Gamora so quickly made no sense. There isn’t even a necessary build-up of confusion or inquiry among the characters–they just jumped right into the distrust angle, and combined with the truly awful dialogue, it’s just a terrible scene all around. (There’s also a whole thing with Peter being unable to keep a secret, which I’ll get into in a bit.)

But that’s all interrupted with a random space battle with a giant goo-monster. Set aside the fact that its existence is handwaved as a product of the Cosmic Seed–a McGuffin that now needs way more explanation than “it makes things grow fast”–it’s clear that the scene meant to deepen the distrust between Gamora and the rest of the team. Instead it makes Gamora look like an idiot and a terrible person (it doesn’t help that the actual space battle looked like crap and made little logistical sense). She abandons the team, flies off, and crash lands on another planet to meet with Nebula to plot against Kothar, but Peter follows in a desperate attempt to prove she isn’t traitorous. The rules of television means of course Gamora isn’t traitorous, but the plan that Gamora does come up with has to be one of the worst ideas in all of television, a literal Idiot Plot that ends up actually makes the Guardians’ situation worse.

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See, Gamora’s plan consists of pitting Nebula and Korath against each other so they could theoretically destroy each other. But she doesn’t tell anyone this (except Groot) because she couldn’t risk one of the Guardians getting captured in case they blab. This ties into Peter’s inability to keep a secret, but there’s a marked difference between silly personal quirks and serious classified info. Gamora’s decision to not tell anyone puts her plan and the Guardians themselves in even more danger; even if Peter failed to keep the plan to himself, that risk was far lower than the rest of the crew being in on it. Also, the plan itself is terrible. Korath and Nebula would already be competing for the second-in-command position; Gamora risked the Cosmic Seed, the Guardians’ lives, and their overall mission in some wildly misguided hope that Nebula and Korath would take each other out. Sure enough, not only does her plan completely fail, but Korath indeed knows where the Guardians are going now, Nebula has the Ultimate Weapon, and Nova Corps is probably on their tail now.

Here’s the thing, though: from a narrative perspective, the idea that Gamora, or anyone really, creating a situation where things are only progressively worse for the Guardians could work, but the ending here plays Gamora’s screw-up as a throwaway team-building moment, and it’s completely disingenuous. To be fair, Gamora’s admission to this fact is somewhat well-handled, which holds the episode back from a D-, but without any indication that the team is coming to terms with their new, dire predicament, the denouement falls flat. You’d think there still would be trust issues among the group, but “The Backstabbers” plays everything off like it’s nothing. A bad idea driven by a poor narrative structure, uninteresting animation, and little to no emotional or thematic weight, “The Backstabber” will only leave viewers distrusting the show itself.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS:

  • You know when Peter blabbed about Drax sleeping with a doll, but Drax said that was his daughter’s doll, and the scene treated it like a joke instead of the poignant, personal admission it should’ve been treated as? It’s representative of the episode’s lack of commitment to anything beyond its awful story.
  • Playing fast and loose with the Rocket-as-raccoon stuff is fine but Rocket cleaning a trashcan with his tongue is not only dumb but also wildly out of character.
  • If Gamora’s plan was to meet with Nebula after the battle with the goo monster, why pretend to have crashed and be unconcsious on that ice planet? Also, it’s left ambiguous whether Gamora led the Guardians into battle with said monster in order to ditch them. But if she did, that would be… man, I don’t even have the words.
  • When Peter suggests that Gamora was kidnapped or forced to betray the team, Drax and Rocket suggest that such an idea is too stupid (Groot obviously is playing along). How… exactly is that stupid? You have a heck of a lot of enemies capable of those exact suggestions.
  • Asking this right now: please, please, please move past the idea of Peter and Gamora “connecting” in a way that’s different than the relationships among the other team members. It didn’t work in the film, and it sure won’t work for a TV show. This is a full ensemble piece, treat it as such.

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