I was expecting to see Ego, The Living Planet, when I read the synopsis of tonight’s episode, which involved a living planet taken control by a revived Ronan. Instead, we get Mandala, a newly created living planet thanks to the Cosmic Seed, a planet that is also a child. That could’ve been annoying, and at times, it is, but it’s also an audaciously perfect comic book development, along with Ronan’s rebirth. Guardians of the Galaxy’s silliness is best expressed through comic book terms over bad gag-writing; the characters’ ridiculousness needs to spring from the source’s most ridiculous cliches. Listening to Peter Quill force “car games” on his crew at the beginning of the episode is dumb. Listening to Peter Quill’s increasingly desperate attempts to communicate to his mentally-regressed, warring teammates is great, since comic books love nothing more than to come up with excuses to make teammates fight.

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I know that this show has a pretty negative reputation at this point. I know I’ve been pretty vocal about that. I’ve also been vocal about its potential, and “Bad Moon Rising” shows what Guardians can do when it embraces the full nature of its characters and settings without having to always force its comedy. To be clear, “Bad Moon Rising” once again goes through the awful exposition of explaining who everyone is, what happened in everyone’s past, and what they’re all doing in the present. But here, it rarely interrupts the flow of the conflicts at hand, and it feels slightly more natural to specific scenes. It also helps that the chaotic threads are fun and threatening, and the animation seemed to have loosened up a bit. Hell, for a moment, I thought that entire opening “car game” sequence was animated by a totally different animation company.

The Guardians follow the Cosmic Seed’s trail to a strange, new planet (after an encounter with Nebula). While exploring the planet, Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot start to act like their past selves: Gamora believes herself still in Ronin’s service, Drax thinks he’s fighting for battle arena glory (with his family still alive), Groot acts like his klutzy past self, and Rocket reverts to being a rodent. Nothing happens to Peter because he’s still living in arrested development, which both works for and against this storyline. It works because there’s a truism here: just because you have immature tendencies doesn’t necessarily mean you’re incapable of maturity or sincerity. Yet it falters because there’s a difference between regressing mentally to a past version of oneself and regressing to an immature version of oneself, and the episode confuses the two. Past Gamora is not childish Gamora. (I mean, I guess you could argue that past Gamora’s vicious behavior was driven by a moral simplicity that relates to immaturity, but she was also clearly aware of her behavior.)

But it works for the story and creates a pretty tight action sequence, with Peter attempting to figure out what the hell is going, then finding a solution once he does. It’s pretty weird that he didn’t constantly try to ice the ground when he discovered contact with the surface was the problem, but I’ll buy it under the assumption that Mandala (and then Ronan) would just immediately break it. Mandala then speaks up and announces he’s the cause of their regression, which then pits Peter against the planet’s infantile whims. But then Nebula brings Ronan back to life by shoving his helmet into the planet’s surface, then things get really crazy.

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As I mentioned before, crazy is where Guardians works the best, with Peter dealing with his hostile team as well as Nebula and Ronan, the latter of whom uses the universal weapon to control the entire planet with ease. In a bit of subversion, Peter never has a chance in trying to convince his team to remember who they are, the narrative cliche of stories like this. In fact–and I’m not sure if this was the writers’ intent or not–there’s something dramatic potent in Peter convincing Groot and Mandala, the two who were specifically acting childish, to push past their fears and stand up to Ronin’s power. Peter probably understood their dilemmas the most, as he’s nothing but an annoying man-child who nevertheless manages to courageously stand up to beings way more powerful then him when he has to (without denying his inherent immature personality). And even if the theme is overcooked and corny (telling a planet to grow up will never look great on TV), it’s chaotic and comic book-y, so it works.

Stray observations

  • I could take or leave that ending. Peter enjoying being spun around, and the rest of the Guardians wanting to join in, is hollow, even though I know what they were going for. I’d love to see a proper “Guardians loosen up!” scene, which we got when the Guardians were partying with the natives in “Can’t Fight This Seedling.”
  • The animation at the beginning gave all the characters a bit more pop to their expressions and actions. I’m not sure what prompted that but I’d love to see more of it.

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