The headline here sort of buries the lede. “The Night Out” is the first time the show actually explores another side to Dominator, a character that–despite the show’s best efforts–never quite received the kind of development it promised. Sure, we know how she functions: as an absolute evil figure who gets her kicks off intergalactic tyranny and suffering. Tonight’s second episode narrows that idea so it’s more personal, allowing us to see how she is as a street-level character instead of a overly imposing figure. To properly get into that, though, the writers channel it focusing on Sylvia. Both “The Hot Shot” and “The Night Out” are about exploring Sylvia’s darker sides, hinting at at what she once was, and contrasting that with who she is now. It’s through this more thorough understanding of the butt-kicking zbornak that we can talk about Dominator.
Yet I call these episodes ambivalent because as much as they focus on Sylvia, it’s difficult to determine how resonant they are supposed to be. There’s definitely something to the idea of Sylvia’s jealousy manifesting as she watches some random new hero arrive and take out Dominator’s doom-bots with ease. The show has questioned to whether she and Wander can even handle Dominator’s true power quite often, with “The Family Reunion” being perhaps the most direct and personal indictment on Sylvia herself. “The Hot Shot” should spend a little time questioning if Sylvia’s jealousy is a result of her insecurity in her abilities, and I think the episode hints at that around the edges, but it never really makes it explicit. It’s a little disappointing, especially since the episode downplays that aspect to emphasize the twist of who the new hero really is.
Perhaps it’ll be surprising to younger audiences, but the second I saw that giant chin under that fake Wander hat, I knew it was Brad Starlight. Brad was a perfect foil and failure in “The Hero,” one of season one’s best episodes. He’s a “diminishing returns” kind of character though, but I do like how his plan (a long con involving his cousin controlling a doom-bot that allows him to dispatch it and smooch all the ladies to boot) is debated between Wander and Sylvia. Is the motivation to help others by way of pure altruism “better” than being motivated by rewards? Wander doesn’t think so. He’s focused solely on how Starlight’s actions genuinely helps people and inspires them, while Sylvia is more bothered by him showing off and relishing his victory gifts. Yet the episode doesn’t really explore this question, or how Starlight’s deceit affects Wander and Sylvia at a personal level (you’d think Wander would be a lot more offended that Starlight actually put people in danger for selfish reasons). Admittedly I’m a bit harder on this episode than the grade would seem–the episode is enjoyable, funny, and beautiful. It just feels like there’s two core ideas here that never quite get their due. We do get an awesome brooding-hero pose though:
“The Night Out” is a meatier episode, mainly because there’s something both rich and bleak in watching Sylvia and Dominator team up and work so well together. While waiting for a twenty-plus year-long update on her computer, Dominator decides to spend the night out on the town, a rare moment to see the ultimate villain in a casual setting. Noticing a brewing conflict between Sylvia and the club owner’s nephew (who definitely needed a beatdown; what kind of monster steals the mic from someone during their karaoke time?), Dominator instigates a full on brawl. She and Sylvia make for two well-matched sparring partners, and they manage to take out everyone in the building. It’s slightly disturbing how quickly Sylvia takes to the feeling of being “in a decent rumble in ages,” and even more so when the two spend a montage together, avoiding the club owner’s thugs. It’s like an alternate version of Sylvia, the one that existed before Wander came into her life (it’s no wonder that Sylvia “reverts” to her more aggressive side when Wander in temporarily outside her orbit, and you could argue that Sylvia’s inability to recognize Dominator is a reflection of her internal desires to be bad again).
But even the worst sides of Sylvia has a limit. (Whether that’s because she’s always had a limit, or one that developed after she met Wander, the episode doesn’t say.) She doesn’t take to Dominator’s version of “letting loose”–destroying a sun and watching the inhabitants of the nearby planet freeze to death–and dismisses it as a joke. And she apologizes to the club owner instead of antagonizing him further, unlike Dominator, who not only refuses to say she’s sorry, but physically manhandles her way into taking over the joint (although, did it strike anyone else that Sylvia’s apology came off disingenuous? I don’t think it was supposed to). Sylvia sees their connection as a budding friendship, but Dominator has absolutely no context of what that means. The episode uses our television expectations against us: Sylvia casually referring to Dominator as a friend is played as potential “change of heart” moment, but instead it only causes her to double down on her selfish assertiveness. There’s no winning over Dominator; unlike Hater, there’s not even the hint that there’s a decent person inside her. Sylvia knows when she’s gone too far, but Dominator will go all the way to stand by her own idea of friendship, which amounts to being a robot. And that leaves her stuck on her ship, watching that tedious update tick on by. Alone.
- It’s not that big of a deal, especially with the time restraints and all, but I’m a bit surprised that they never addressed the idea of Starlight and his cousin actually destroying planet. They weren’t really “faking” evil there. They were evil.
- Sylvia in “The Hot Shot” reminded me of Peepers from “The Bounty.” Both episodes place their leads in a dilemma in which their self-worth manifests into seething envy when some outsider(s) do their job better then them. Season two has been doing more to parallel these two, and so far it’s been great to watch.
- They played it as a joke, but I feel like Sylvia’s realization that she was hanging out with Dominator the whole time should have been… I don’t know, more significant? Revelatory? That’s why I called “The Night Out” ambivalent as well. It feels like there’s a dramatic beat missing there. (Still enjoyed it though.)
- Speaking of which… there’s something majorly ironic when an actually robot can discover the power of friendship in “The Bot” but not the creator of said bot. Again, it just feels like a missed opportunity.