Fair warning: This episode is airing tonight on DisneyXD so there are SPOILERS ahead!!!
Episode 6 – Out of Darkness – Visually Stunning But Empty
Before I begin my review of Out of Darkness, I’d like to apologize for my absence this week. This has been a big week for the Evans clan as my oldest daughter begins a new college basketball season and we celebrate our grandson’s 1st birthday. So please bear with me as I try to catch up with my posts over the next few days. Now, on with the show…
Every television show has its stumbles, and not every episode can be a hit. To use a baseball analogy, while Rise of the Old Masters and Breaking Ranks were game winning, walk off, extra base hits; Out of Darkness felt more like a slow roller to the short stop with the runner on 1st being put out on the force at 2nd, and the batter barely beating the double play throw to 1st. It’s an okay result; you’re safe, but you are left feeling a little empty.
The episode begins with Hera, Ezra, and Sabine returning from a mission with Imperial T.I.E. fighters in hot pursuit of their small craft, The Phantom. Hera deftly evades the incoming craft while exchanging some painfully awkward dialog with her two young passengers. Eventually through some hot shot piloting Hera finishes off the last of the T.I.E.s, but not before seriously scraping the underbelly of The Phantom, resulting in a serious fuel leak.
Returning to the Ghost, Hera asks Zeb, Ezra, and Chopper to run a full diagnostic of The Phantom before she takes off again for a rendezvous with their mysterious contact, Fulcrum. While the gang heads off to run their system checks, Sabine confronts Hera and suggests she is being less than forthcoming with information about the mission they were just on and who exactly is Fulcrum. Hera explains to Sabine that sometimes there is information that she needs to know as one of the leaders that simply cannot be shared with young Mandalorian. This does not sit well with Sabine who is clearly frustrated.
Meanwhile, Zeb, Ezra, and Chopper continue their comedic antics from previous episodes complete with jovial shoving, zapping and punching, all the while trying to complete The Phantom’s diagnostics. All of their shenanigans lead leads them to miss the massive fuel leak from the ship’s fuel line (of course). This moment completely took me out of the episode recalling numerous episodes of Star Trek where distracted crew members just happen to miss a critical failing ship’s component which launches the main plot of the episode. I had to ask myself after two viewings if this crew had been functioning as resistance fighters for some time how could they be so cavalier about the functionality of a key component of their job?
Hera contacts Fulcrum who informs her there is an important cargo for her to pick up on an abandoned asteroid base near their location. Sabine demands to be included on the mission, and after a bit of cajoling, Hera relents. So the two hop aboard The Phantom and make the hyperspace jump to pick up their mysterious cargo.
The two arrive at an old, abandoned military installation, but find no sign of their Rebel contact. However, they do locate the cargo containers they were supposed to pick up. Sabine asks what’s in the containers, but Hera is reluctant to divulge what she knows. She explains to her young companion that sometimes in this fight it is better that some are left in the dark so the Empire cannot learn of the Rebel’s plans in case one of them is captured. Sabine simply isn’t buying it and says she cannot truly feel like part of a team if things are being hidden from her.
They begin loading the cargo when Hera notices something is wrong. One of the crates that had been sitting on the landing platform is now missing, and she suspects it has been dragged away by a creature into the shadows of the abandoned cliff face base. Inside they are completely surrounded by darkness, and are left with the uneasy feeling that they are being watched. They find the missing crate and soon the thief is revealed.
Hera and Sabine find themselves surrounded in a nest of gruesome black creatures which walk on their hind legs. The two women battle the animals off, and eventually retreat to the landing platform. However, the animals retreat in fear and pain when they are exposed to the light. Hera and Sabine are safe for now. They make their way back to The Phantom only to discover the ship is out of fuel. Hera calls The Ghost for a pickup, but it will take time. Unfortunately the duo have little time as the sky is littered with asteroids which periodically block out the sun, allowing the foul creatures to rush our heroes under cover of darkness.
Sabine devises a plan to make a last stand while they wait for their rescue. She finds canisters of rhydonium, a highly combustible material, she can use as explosives to force back the waves of incoming predators. Eventually a very large asteroid blocks out the sun and the creatures make their attack. Wave after wave of the creatures advance, and while Sabine’s plan is working, both she and Hera are running out of real estate as they are pushed back by the onslaught of these monsters.
Hera and Sabine make their epic last stand atop The Phantom, when suddenly The Ghost arrives to save the day. The Phantom is loaded aboard The Ghost and the crew narrowly escapes with their lives.
The episode concludes with Hera explaining to her young friend that she will try to be more open with information, but that Sabine needs to understand that she is a valued member of the crew, and Hera trusts Sabine with her life. While this makes for a nice little coda to the episode we are unfortunately left with more questions than any sense of resolution.
Kevin Kiner once again turns in a superb score. There are great moments filled with flourishes and staccato rhythms which drive the action the episode, but where the soundtrack really stands out is when Hera and Sabine arrive at the abandoned outpost. There is a beautiful, unsettling quality in the score which raises the creep factor and accentuates the mystery of what danger is lurking in the darkness of the asteroid base.
There are some great visuals in Out of Darkness, specifically the design of the abandoned outpost and the lighting. Visual Effects designer, Joel Aron, creates a lot of production value out of the limited resources used in this episode. The lighting at the landing platform on the asteroid base accentuates the growing danger in the episode, and gives the visuals an almost realistic feel.
The only downside is this episode, like other Rebels episode, uses very few visual elements. Like Season 1 of The Clone Wars, the series has a limited catalog of character, vehicle, and locale models; subsequently the show looks like it was made on a fairly limited budget. However, as the show goes on I’m sure the visual pallet will expand offering us more variety on a bigger scale.
Kevin Hopps is a very familiar name with those who follow the animation industry. He has been working in the business for years, and has scripted a number of outstanding shows. He also wrote the screenplay for the Rebels episode Fighter Flight, and unfortunately, like that earlier episode, the script is the weak link. Out of Darkness’ is filled with moments of forced humor and poorly executed drama that feels stiff. Initially I thought the problems may simply have been the execution by the actors, but multiple viewings made it clear this was simply a bad script, that felt like standard Saturday morning cartoon fare.
The episode is supposed draw the viewer in as more layers of the episode story are revealed. For example, who is this Fulcrum character, and what’s inside the crates? Why is Hera so quick to identify a specific crate she alone is meant to handle? Unfortunately the crates wind up being nothing more than a poorly executed McGuffin, and we are left in the dark as much as poor Sabine. There are no answers at all, which of course creates another problem for the story; since there is no payoff, and we only know the crates are important, there are no real stakes in the episode. If we even had a vague clue what the contents of the crate were we might feel invested in the characters and the danger growing around them, but as it is the audience feels little motivation and is left to wonder why Hera and Sabine don’t simply abandon the mission and call the Ghost to rescue them at the first sign of trouble?
Despite the story’s shortcomings, where Out of Darkness really trips up is with the characters…
At this point in the series I’m getting very frustrated with Sabine, or to be more specific, with how the screenwriters handle her. So far Sabine is far and away the hollowest character on the show. She’s your typical smart, but sassy teen girl who is prone to whining and is found on dozens of Disney-like shows. There’s really nothing about her character that makes her truly standout other than her Mandalorian duds and her explosives. While I feel like I have a good idea about what motivates Ezra, Kanan, and Zeb, I really have no idea what made Sabine the frustrated artist/anti-establishment Rebel that she is today.
This episode tries to offer a clue about Sabine’s background when she suggests she left the Imperial Academy on Mandalore because she felt like the Empire was keeping secrets from her. But this little nugget is left on the table with absolutely no resolution. Are we really supposed to believe she left the Empire because they wouldn’t provide her with information that, as we used to say in the Army, was “above her pay grade?” Wouldn’t it be more compelling if Sabine and her fellow cadets were witnesses to something terrible, or were forced to participate in some atrocity? Maybe this will be revealed at a later date, but as it stands it’s simply vague and muddled. Yes, this is a kid’s show, but her motives need to run a little deeper than I’m ticked off at the Empire because they are keeping things from me. Ultimately it makes her come across as less of a freedom fighter and more of an entitled feeling teenager.
Unfortunately, Hera appears to be suffering the same fate as Sabine. When the show was announced, I was immediately drawn to Hera, especially given the potential Clone Wars ties her surname suggested (Syndulla was the family name of a freedom fighter who appeared in a Clone Wars arc). However, after six episodes we still have yet to really examine her as a character and be given a motive that drives her. Hating the Empire is all well and good, but why, why has she picked these people to assemble as the crew, and what are her ties to Lothal.
I understand that many of these answers are found in the pages of John Jacson Miller’s outstanding spin off novel New Dawn (review coming soon), but your average viewer shouldn’t have to read every novel or comic to get the “full story” of our heroes. In many ways Hera comes across as the Deanna Troi (Ship’s Counselor on Star Trek) of the show; a character with little actual development who periodically chimes in about what she is feeling or sensing. Hera is supposed to be the “soul” of the crew but she lacks any real depth, and is more of an ideal for the crew to aspire to than an actual character.
Overview: Out of Darkness has the vibe of one of those throw away episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation which focused on the minor characters of the Enterprise crew. It simply feels hollow and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. What should have been a great character driven episode featuring the female crew of the Ghost, is lost in a weak script filled with ham-fisted dialog and ideas which are never fully fleshed out. There are some great visuals in the episode, and initially there is a great creep factor in the episode, accentuated by Kevin Kiner’s fantastic score, but overall the episode feels empty and bereft of any real danger.
What makes this episode particularly disappointing is there was a real opportunity to examine the emotions, motivations, and backgrounds of Hera and Sabine, two characters who have largely played second fiddle to the “boys” on the show, but ultimately we learn very little about what makes these characters tick. They simply come across as unformed and underdeveloped tropes meant to draw in female viewers, while being palatable to young boys. Sabine is the tough “warrior chick” commonly found in sci-fi and fantasy programming, and Hera is the “ship’s mom.” That may seem like a fairly harsh assessment, but through a 1 hour movie, and 5 full episodes Rebels has spent little time developing either character, and Hera and Sabine deserve better than that.
6 of 10
May the Force Be With You