Good news, everyone! Ninth Step Station is available now from Serial Box! So for this exciting release day I’m looking at two more episodes of the sci fi mystery series (be sure to check out my reviews of the first two episodes here). The series mixes near-future political science fiction with police procedural-style mysteries and it’s just a lot of fun. After a strong (if rocky) start to their relationship…well, Miyako and Emma are still definitely trying to figure out how to work together. But split allegiances and outright lies aren’t really helping things. Throw in some invisible men and serial killers and this represents a very tense pair of episodes. And before I can give to much away, let's get to the reviews!
“The Fallen Executive” by Curtis C. Chen (serial episode 3)
No Spoilers: A possible suicide leads investigators Miyako and Emma into a business deal with international implications as the situation between China and Japan continues to roil. The partnership between the two main characters continues to be a bit rocky—their styles often at odds, and their relationship to the work very different. But this piece uses a fast-paced and occasionally tense and thrilling feel to push the two to a place where they understand each other a bit more, and can maybe find some common ground to move forward. The action remains carefully used but there’s a feel for me of added danger here, with confrontations with shadowy thieves and hidden murderers.
Keywords: CW- Possible Suicide, Corporations, Murder, Mysteries, Invisibility, Police
Review: Things become much sharper in this episode between Miyako and Emma, with both becoming a bit snippier and hostile. After simmering for two episodes, it makes sense, though I feel that they feel a little different here, Miyako’s focus on work and Emma’s quips coming a lot faster and a little meaner. Miyako has a bit of a cluelessness at times, too, as if she doesn’t get the ways she’s walking into some of Emma’s zings. It gives the dialogue a flow and definitely plays up the kind of frenemies feel of the pair, but I admit I found myself a little hesitant about it, because it loses a bit of the reserve that I was enjoying with the characters, the layer of politeness and formality that they were still struggling with. It’s quite possible that, like with television, it’s taken the characters this long to settle into their voices. I do like the moments of humor that the style brings, and it certainly fits as both characters increase what they want to do solo, hiding things from the other in a way that’s bound to shoot them in the foot.
The mystery here is more corporate, and gives the piece to do more exploring into the Chinese held parts of the city, as well as reveal that Miyako often crosses the border to visit friends. And it gets into the larger tensions at work, with China manipulating markets in order to get what they want, using their economic footprint to hurt their rivals. The mystery itself has some very large implications, though most of them are ultimately tied up, the incident more of a close call than a true international disaster. And I like the way the story builds its case and in turn solves what happens. It brings in some strong science fictional ideas and tech and allows Emma and Miyako to bond a bit in the field, hunting a killer, finally able to let their hair down a bit, even if their personal lives seem to be getting between them in the form of Kensuke. It shows that the characters are perhaps more willing to trust the other with their lives, but not their secrets. Which is interesting and continues to play out well. The running mysteries aren’t super touched on here, but continue to loom in the background. And I’m still very much excited to see what happens next. For me, it's an episode that reveals a lot of divides, between the different parts of Tokyo and between Miyako and Emma. And it sets the stakes all the higher, drawing the action out to the global scale and setting the action right in the middle of it all. A fine read!
“The Blackout Killer” by J Koyanagi (serial episode 4)
No Spoilers: Detective Miyako and US Peacekeeper Emma are put on the trail of a serial killer in this latest episode, drawing them into the world of war, intolerance, and trauma. After finding a body in a river, a second murder allows them to start putting together a picture of a killer obsessed with darkness and blood. It’s the most thrilling of the episodes so far, both in terms of the number of murders involved but also because of how close Miyako and Emma come to the killer. Amid the high stakes and unfolding mystery, the piece also does a lot to repair some of the damage to Miyako and Emma’s relationship, building up some more trust and pushing Emma to start thinking of Tokyo as her home.
Keywords: Darkness, Murder, Mysteries, Lineage, Body Modifications, PTSD, Serial Killers
Review: There’s a moment in the story where the killer says you can’t live in two worlds at once. And there’s something of a truth to that, even if he’s wildly off-base in how he applies it. But with Emma especially this is something that is bothering her. That has a hold on her. This case represents the most violent of the crimes so far. The most personally involved. The murders are intense and risky, and I read Emma as having a hard time of it, living in this police world, being exposed to so much. She’s not dealing with her trauma all that well, and it’s leaving her constantly stressed, unable to detach from the violence and guilt and pain. And I like how her relationship with Kensuke is helping her to process that, even if I still firmly believe that his character is one I shouldn’t get too attached to (I swear, death or secretly a villain are in that guy’s future). But I do like how he helps her to see that she’s carrying too much of the job with her, and that being a cop is a much different skill set than being a soldier.
And okay, I’m a sucker for serial killers, so this is probably my favorite mystery so far, with the action taking Miyako and Emma all over, following in the path of darkness, having to piece together and portrait of this killer and what he might be doing. And I also very much like that the story starts to put back together the partnership that had been fraying. I feel that the characters here are really trying with each other, and like each other, and are really starting to feel like partners. There isn’t quite the same competitiveness and I like the way they cooperate and help each other. They might come from very different places, but I love that the promise at the end of the last story, that Emma was going to be more of the city instead of outside and above it, is paying off. And I like that the two are starting to trust each other a bit more, even if they’re not all the way there yet.
I also appreciate that this is the first unqualified win, even if it does lean a bit on the PTSD killer trope. I would have liked to see a bit more put into the idea that part of this had to do with the increased xenophobic and conservative rhetoric coming from certain politicians (which was present but rather subtle), though maybe this is another slow burning aspect of the series. It was a rather breathless, very exciting way to close the case, and it was a much more character driven rather than setting driven installment, which I liked. A wonderful episode!