Okay… Um… I- I just… Shi-… Fu-… Why is-… This-…  I can’t…

What?

What the fuck happened to Red vs Blue, humans?

This is going to be one of those posts where I’m all irritable and pissed off, humans. Sorry, but this time I really can’t help it; I fucking love Red vs Blue, and this latest season was such a disappointment. The problem is that I can’t even properly pan it, because there are truly some pretty fun moments in it. It’s just that they’re cloaked in baffling design decisions and a segmented narrative that does the entire series a disservice.

Anyone remember the last genuinely classic Red vs Blue line? Not the last funny line that works well on a t-shirt, but the last eminently quotable, laugh out loud line? No, me neither. Maybe a couple in Reconstruction, huh? Well, let me save you some time: there’s no such lines to be found in Season Nine. In fact, well…

So anyway, the story goes that after the events of Revelation, Church is left trapped in a virtual representation of his memories contained within the Epsilon unit. Essentially he’s Groundhog Day-ing his life until he can reunite with Tex and hopefully figure out a way to end it all. Meanwhile, years ago, Project Freelancer is about to launch its most important mission to date, which will stress the team almost to breaking point. And that right there is the point in which I start saying “Oh noooooo…”

Oh yeah, and the helmets come off for the first time. It's pretty rad.

Well, when the pre-release trailer was shown, I admit I was pretty fucking excited; a fully computer animated Project Freelancer prequel? Fuck yeah, I’m in. But there were hints that, aside from showing just how the Freelancer corps got to be how they are in the present timeline, we would also be seeing a return of the Blood Gulch crew, in the present day. It would be a dual-narrative, declared series scribe Burnie Burns. And only the Blood Gulch crew would be depicted using machinima. “But wait,” the practical minded Ryan piped up. “Won’t that be really hard to do in the standard twenty episode format?”

Well, I was right. This is a series of two halves, and neither of them reaches their full potential. Really, we haven’t seen a series of Red vs Blue this unfunny since the latter stages of Blood Gulch season three: the prequel side of things is dry and near humorless, and the Blood Gulch crew in the sequel side are reduced to spinning their wheels and waiting for the ending to happen. This series has next to no narrative drive; things happen, but you’d be hard pressed to say that the characters were a part of any of it, In fact, this resembles a holding pattern more than it does a legitimate season.

Neither storyline, sequel or prequel, is given the time to unfold and breathe; in fact, any downtime the dual narrative does have is just long enough to be boring, yet short enough to preclude any kind of character development. I don’t really understand why this is; over the past three seasons the Rooster Teeth crew has proved themselves entirely capable of running an action-packed, narrative driven piece that’s simultaneously fucking hilarious and interesting. Here, everything falls flat.

Moments like this are too few.

I think my main problem is that there are no stakes in season nine. There’s never a sense of danger, or that the characters have anything significant to lose should they fail in their objectives: the Freelancer side falls victim to the standard prequel trap of foreknowledge, in that we already know what’s going to happen. When Maine gets fucking brutalized toward the end of the series, we know he’s going to survive, because he doesn’t die until he becomes the Meta in Reconstruction. In fact, we know the eventual fates of every single Freelancer agent, so there’s no sense of peril, even with the situations they find themselves in. As for the sequel parts… It doesn’t even matter; aside from Tex and Church, none of the characters here are real. They’re virtual artifices, facsimiles of the characters we know and actually care about. If they die, who cares?

The reason Reconstruction is widely regarded as one of the best seasons of RvB ever, is that it’s so fucking different. It presents a darker, more plot based take on the Red vs Blue world, expands on elements we haven’t seen before, and most importantly, it provides plot points and narrative twists that make sweeping, series-wide changes to our perspective on previous events. It widens the world, forces us to see certain characters in a new way. Recreation did the same thing, albeit with less focus on narrative, and Revelation went some way to explaining the Church/Tex relationship in greater detail. In short, they work because they go somewhere.

I think that the series had been written into a corner at the end of the last season; Revelation was good and all, but the decision to separate the central narrative drive- Epsilon- from the rest of the world, and to keep him there for the next season, meant that this is truly a case of sitting around and waiting for the next adventure to come knocking. And the twist ending meant they couldn’t just free E-Church in the opening moments of the series, despite my firm belief that skipping the present day side of this series and just moving on to season ten would have made a far more interesting season. Instead, we get… a whole lot of nothing. I constantly get the feeling that the writer got bored with whatever story he was trying to build, and moved on to something else.

Case in point: in the beginning, a big deal is made of how the Red Team’s personalities have changed- Grif is a neat freak (okay, that was pretty funny), Sarge was more caring and empathetic, and Donut was all gruff and manly. This could be interesting, I thought. Nope, in the space of four episodes everyone reverts back to the way they were. Toward the middle, Lopez is reintroduced into the series after a year long absence (unfortunately, his humor did not return) and he ends up kidnapping Simmons and taking his place. Cool, thought I. Oh wait, Tex just shoots him. Pity.

On the Freelancer side, a big rivalry is set up between Tex and series newcomer Carolina which goes nowhere. As the series wraps up, a subplot begins about a big heist the Freelancers are planning (wait, we’re starting the major conflict in this story with less than half the season to go?) and for a while that seems cool. But there isn’t enough time devoted to it, and we never get to see what it was they actually stole during the mission (I’m being fucking serious here. They’re after this big box, and a huge deal is made over it… but we don’t see what’s in it. Ever.) The brewing dissatisfaction with the entire Freelancer program similarly goes nowhere, despite it being the primary character trait of deceitful C.T and violent, unrestrained South Dakota. In fact, the entire Freelancer narrative comes across as a bunch of starting points for other stories; can anyone tell me what was the point of that scene where C.T is all depressed about failing a mission, and Wash comforts her? Because that didn’t really go anywhere that wasn’t explored later and earlier, anyway.

Reconstruction, Recreation and Revelation worked as a trilogy, and so the endings were, naturally, cliffhangers leading onto the next part. And let’s be clear, the cliffhanger endings for the first two were devastatingly effective twists that left me salivating for the next season. The problem is, it’s happening again, only this time Season Nine’s ending seems like it belongs in the midpoint of a trilogy, not the beginning. It just ends, with a big moment that was genuinely surprising, but ignored the major draw of a cliffhanger; to tantalize and tease the audience for what comes next. Insofar as Season Nine does this, it’s not a part of the design, but rather my own fanboy-ism.

Also, is this what Red vs Blue is, now? Just a continuous tease for the next season? How about you work on this season, boys? I get what you’re doing, but just because a show’s going to be good in future, that doesn’t compel me to watch it now. It compels me to get irritated because of shitty come-on tactics.

This season is schizophrenic in the extreme, bouncing from sequel to prequel and back again with no sense of continuity, the changes so sudden and jarring that I get the feeling they were struggling to fit it all in. I said earlier that I thought it would be hard to fit in two complete, satisfying stories into the usual twenty, seven minute episode format, and it seems I was right; everything leaps around so much, just to fit everything in without having to go overtime or continuing into next week’s episode. But there’s no real reason that they needed to go for twenty episodes exactly (yes, I know they went for twenty one, but shut up.) The great thing about production on the internet is that you aren’t beholden to editors or networks; you can write and produce exactly what you want, with very few restrictions. Hell, if these guys really wanted to do a dual storyline, why not do forty episodes, or whatever number that was necessary to give both stories the time they needed? I doubt the fans would have complained, honest.

In fact, a lot of this season seems hamstrung by tradition; the decision to set the sequel part within memories of the original Blood Gulch Chronicles means that a number of beats that were already covered, and covered better, in earlier seasons come around again here. And the longstanding convention of Tex being reintroduced into each season in episode ten really doesn’t work here, given her overall importance to this story. She’s really the central figure, so why not break that rule, rather than only giving her half a season in which to exist?

Okay, that’s enough negativity. The truth is, there are some fun moments here, for however long they last; Sarge’s “plan to kick the planet’s ass,” is hilarious, as is Tucker’s stint as “Doctor Fuck,” in attempting to educate Church in the finer points of lady-wooing. And the Freelancer side, freed from the restrictions of machinima, produces some pretty great visuals; Tex’s introduction- a multi-tiered, one on three brawl with the other Freelancer agents- is a bombastic fight scene showcasing main animator Monty Oum’s true talent for fight choreography. Similarly, a late fight scene played out on the back of a moving truck is a freewheeling joy to behold, as the camera spins and pans around the action in a single, unbroken shot, giving the audience one of a few chances to see the Freelancers really strut their stuff on the battlefield. It’s just a pity that there’s no ultimate pay off for any of this, just a promise of more to come.

The voice cast is as fun as always, in that special loose, amateur way the show hits so well. As usual, the Blue Team steals the show, with standout performances from Caboose (Joel Heyman, mugging to death and clearly enjoying every minute of it) and Tucker (Jason Saldana, just as sarcastic as always). Oddly, Church is less consistently awesome than usual, and his delivery toward the end of the series is stilted and a little flat. The Red Team seems to have fun being back again, the true standout being the new tough, double entendre-prone Donut (It’s great to have Dan Godwin back in this role, although we don’t see enough of him). On the Freelancer side we have a number of newcomers, with North Dakota (a laid back Jon Erler) and C.T (Samantha Ireland) being the most immediately noticeable. Kara Eberle’s agent Carolina is nice enough, and the tenth season promises to take her to new places, but as usual Kathleen Zeulch isn’t heard nearly enough as the tough as nails Tex, and while we’re at it, more Wash and South, guys!

Oh! And we get to hear Maine speak, for the first time! It’s badass, though he’s a little quiet, and there’s no credit for who does his voice, there.

No fucking joke, Maine is the best thing ever.

It’s just a pity none of these guys are given anything hugely interesting to say. I’m left with a lingering feeling of incompleteness after watching this season. It’s not awful, in that there’s still reason to watch it if you’re a fan. If you aren’t, this isn’t the thing to convert you, and in fact it’s more likely to put longtime fans off, for the most part. The truly memorable scenes are thin on the ground, and anything fun is even rarer. I watched this week by week, when it was posted online, and I actually found myself wishing that we could skip the Blood Gulch crew– and let’s be clear, these guys were the reason to watch in prior seasons- in order to get to the next fight scene, because those are at least visually interesting, for the most part. It fares better on DVD, though. Marginally.

I was so excited before Season Nine began, I really was. Even with my lingering doubts, I didn’t think it was really possible for a bad RvB season to be made. But this? This has a plot suitable for a couple of miniseries, stretched out over the main product. It goes nowhere, and what plot there is, is predictable and messy. I want to see where it’s going, but I find myself asking: is that just because I’m such a diehard fan?

Kurokami, signing off!