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By the end of “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” the Guardians have seemingly exhausted their chase of the so-called Cosmic Seed. Peter Quill doesn’t know what to do next. He’s glad that his crew is finally listening to him, but the “boombox” is no longer indicating any more locations on the star map. The episode doesn’t really emphasize the quiet significance of this moment (Quill plays it off with a game of fetch with Lockjaw, that giant alien dog), but it’s a pretty major moment, albeit in a small way. The Guardians are figuratively and literally lost–and the show, narratively, couldn’t have been in a better place.

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“Crystal Blue Persuasion” works for a lot of reasons. Primarily, the animation is a massive step up from last week’s visual mess. The characters actually move and react to things, relying less on camera movement to “fake” action, and more on clean storyboarding to make the sequences clear. (There’s a part where the camera pans over a series of individual fights, and while I would have loved for that pan to be a bit slower, it really creates this sense that you’re scanning over an action splash page in a real comic.) Secondly, the characters are calm and consistent to their core characterization, instead of forced into some generic cartoon character template. Drax is slightly over-the-top, but not immensely idiotic like last episode; the aggressive meathead just as is, without being jammed into eye-rolling, “sad trombone” gags.

Thirdly: the plot is perfectly juicy and nutty, just right for a Guardians episode, with some Marvel cameos and some intriguing forward momentum. Not every part of this story holds together: I feel like if you think about it too much, the logistics of the Terragenesis crystals, the plague, and the boombox sucking the Cosmic Seed out of all the crystals doesn’t make a lot of sense (because we still don’t know what the Cosmic Seed really is, its direct relationship to the crystals is unclear). Also, if you aren’t familiar with the Kree/Inhuman story, then their quick, expositional primer might go over your head, especially for younger viewers (I know the story and still had to rewatch their explanation). But the presence of Medusa, Black Bolt, Ronin, and Maximus the Mad all feel worthwhile, with clear super abilities and distinct motives that made sense and fit in the weird, quirky world of the Guardians.

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Maximus himself is the episode’s MVP, who starts off causal and ambitious, but quickly becomes an unhinged megalomaniac, which is cliche, sure, but fits into this universe. His objective–become the leader of the Inhumans over his brother, Black Bolt–is perfectly simple, leading to the Guardians figuring out how to stop him and acquire his cure. I love that Rocket wanted nothing to do with it; I kind of wish they spent a bit more time debating whether the Guardians should even care about this sibling squabble. It would tie into the episode’s running theme, about Star-Lord being embraced as a leader and worthy of being listened to, which doesn’t really work for a lot of reasons (which I’ll get into more in the Stray Observations).

But the energy and action of the episode keeps things moving. Medusa falls somewhat flat, but she holds her own well enough, and Ronin’s reappearance is appropriate enough, what being an exiled Kree looking for more power, but arrogant enough to ignore the power that Maximus offers him. It feels like every character contributes to the episode, somehow not feeling to overwhelming or overstuffed, while leaving the Guardians pondering what to do next. With the Cosmic Seed stuff (temporarily?) off the table, will they just wander the universe with Medusa and Black Bolt back to the Kree homeworld? Or will they skirt about in the Milano, haplessly in space towards their next adventure? Honestly, both these ideas are intriguing, because, at this point, anything can happen now.

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Stray Observations

  • So you know how live-action shows generally get into a groove around episode 4-6? Cartoons tend to get into their groove around episode 9-13, mainly because of the way most animated shows are produced: creatives won’t see a rough finished version of episode one until around the time they start planning out episode nine. It’s why I really try to give cartoons a wide berth when watching them.
  • It also sounds like there’s a more intriguing plot line coming up down the line, which involves Star-Lord’s father. The less Cosmic Seed stuff, the better!
  • I sort of like the opening, with Quill trying to teach the crew what baseball is. Everyone’s reaction to it is perfectly in character: Drax doesn’t understand the terminology. Rocket wants to build a literal diamond. Gamora stays silent and stews over the stupdity of the game. Quill, of course, goes overboard with his explanation.
  • I’m not sure why Ronin sent Quill with mind-controlled Black Bolt and Lockjaw down to the Terragenesis cave; his “dance-off” quip was a nice reference but didn’t logically make sense. I guess I can buy it if we think of Ronin’s arrogance as all-encompassing.
  • Also, there’s a certain lack of agency when Medusa and the rest of the Guardians amble over to said cave. It’s just… really weird pacing.
  • One of the reason Star-Lord’s complaints about everyone ignoring him fails as a valid complaint is that neither the movie, nor the show, really justifies why Quill ought to be the leader. Beyond that, this franchise works way better without a concrete leader. The Guardians as “a ragtag group that works together as sort-of equals, mainly because they have to, sans accountability,” is just a better narrative to build upon.

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