Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [episodes 5-6]

I’m looking at another pair of episodes from Serial Box’s Ninth Step Station. The whole look and feel of Serial Box mirrors television, with projects coming out in seasons and taking on tropes and genres that feel TV-ish, but in a way that television might not be able to really pull off. Which is something of a shame because I would watch the hell out of this show. Still, coming in fiction form is just as good, and I love how each episode comes alive a little different for each of the serial’s authors. Today marks the halfway point in the first season, and so it’s rather apt that the focus (while still featuring individual mysteries) grows a bit broader to look at the setting and just where Emma and Miyako might be headed now that they’ve come to a better place as partners. They’re beginning to trust each other at lost last. Which means it’s time to throw a wrench (or a few Chinese detectives) into the works at see how it plays out. To the reviews!


“The Deadly Defection” by Malka Older (serial episode 5)

No Spoilers: A sticky situation goes from bad to worse to weird when Emma’s boss Charles is targeted in a (failed) assassination attempt that just so happens to be immediately followed by a murder...by a man claiming to be seeking asylum. It’s a situation that puts Emma and Miyako on two seemingly-unrelated cases as they navigate the political fineries of this war-torn Tokyo. And it finds the two finally starting to find some common ground personally...only for a rather raw nerve to threaten to tear them apart again. The mystery here has a bit less to do with the who and how of the murder, but rather if he was acting as an innocent fleeing from a brutal regime or an agent carrying out a mission. But the episode does a great job of tying back some lingering big idea things and pushing them forward, and clears the air a little bit between Emma and Miyako...though it fogs again almost immediately afterward. Which, I mean, is why I love episodic mysteries so much. Every episode is a contained piece which slowly works the character toward a new place but also often reinstates something like the status quo. For me, it’s a tense episode because of the political situation, yes, but more so because of the growing vulnerability the two characters have with regards to each other. They are learning out more about each other, which causes both of them to react with a bit of hesitation, because of how badly it could go. which means their teamwork still needs some actual work, but they are growing to trust each other more and more.
Keywords: Murder, Politics, Spies, Queer MC, Guns
Review: BI CONFIRMATION! (*throws bi rainbow confetti all over the room*) Yes, this episode finally reveals that Miyako isn’t exactly straight, and very much complicates her feelings about Kensuke. It was established a bit earlier that they dated and it didn’t go well, but here we start getting signs of what that might have looked like and otherwise-angelic Kensuke is now dirt. Or...well, maybe there are extenuating circumstances but for real, my opinion of him has dived following Miyako’s veiled confession about what she thinks of him. And glob it’s so good that moment, when the two women are finally starting to open up more towards each other, when Miyako is finally able to maybe trust Emma a bit with the truth...only for it to immediately cause problems. Because Emma, for all that she might know she should really listen to what Miyako is talking about, immediately assumes that she’s wrong. That she’s misunderstood. That she’s overreacting. And wow, yeah, seeing that is such a moment because it’s really what’s at the heart of the schism between them, that Emma is still playing the part of the imperialist who thinks she knows best. Who thinks she must be right because of course America is saving Japan.When really, well, she should really take what Miyako’s saying to heart. Because Kensuke has not moved up to the top of my “is either the leak in the police department or the biggest red herring ever.”

Otherwise, I do really like how this episodes gets back to a lot of points that have been slowly building. It brings back Charles and let me know that the political side of things is going to get important. It brought back the resistance, dug deeper into the idea that there’s a leak in the police station, revealed more about Miyako’s personal life, and shed a bit of light on the backstory between Miyako and that slime Kensuke. The mystery surrounding the assassination attempt and murder is handled pretty well, though it does sort of all come together very quickly at the end. Still, I feel like this episode’s focus was a bit less on the murder and more on the idea of doubt. Can they trust this man who claims to be a defector? Can Emma trust Miyako when she knows there’s a leak in the police? Can Miyako trust Emma with what she knows about Kensuke? Everything is taut and ready to explode at the slightly bump, and yet nothing can slow down. And I am so ready to see what happens next. This made a very interesting midway point in the season, making sure to highlight what makes the series cool (tech, murder, politics, war) and what makes it...human (namely, Emma and Miyako and a whale-sized helping of trust issues). And it’s another wonderful read!

“The Stolen Xiǎohái” by Curtis C. Chen (serial episode 6)

No Spoilers: A high profile Chinese official’s daughter is kidnapped and it’s up to Emma and Miyako to bring her back safe. Or, well, Emma, Miyako, and the two Chinese police officers sent over from the Chinese half of Tokyo to “assist” with the investigation. But from the start something’s weird about the case, and as the team digs deeper, they aren’t entirely prepared for what they find. This episode amps up the drama (and the swearing) with Emma and Miyako having to try and control the comic duo of Chinese Detectives Liu and Wong while navigated a series of potential international incidents. We get a brief hint about Miyako’s past (I personally cannot wait for the flashback murder at the Olympics episode!), and a rather fun and rowdy experience that mixes comedy with a dark political reality and a deadly-serious kidnapping.
Keywords: Kidnapping, Politics, Police, Partners, Queer MC
Review: Okay so with Curtis C. Chen’s return the dialogue once against picks up a bit of a snap that makes it stand out from the other episodes. But where I was a little hesitant around it when it was Emma and Miyako snapping at each other, I am 100% behind the fast and sharp style when they’re on the same page. Maybe that’s weird, but I love the bite the dialogue takes here, and the way that Emma is _that_ America, peppering her dialogue with a liberal helping of f-bombs and getting perhaps a bit more into the gruffer tropes of police shows. It makes things a little over-the-top, what with Emma and Liu swearing at each other while Miyako tries to keep her calm and Wong says nothing at all. I will admit that it might not flow seamlessly with the rest of the season, but h*ck if it isn’t a rather fun and bumpy ride.

Seriously, though, I do appreciate that this serial can have different moods and different tones depending on the writer. Like with X-Files, some mysteries were always more funny than others, while some were more terrifying. Here we definitely get to see the team take on a mystery with guest stars and a bit more of an ensemble feel. Because on top of showcasing Emma and Miyako and Liu and Wong, the whole Ninth Step Station team is present and helping out, and there are nice flavor moments of Sato the ME, Nishimura the superintendent, Tanaka the data specialist, Kensuke the love interest (and gang specialist), Santiago and Charles (who work on the US side of things), and more. With the season half over, it’s nice for the project to sort of check in and remind who everyone is and a bit of what makes them special. And it gives a lot of opportunity for people to bounce off each other, for raised voices and fast dialogue, which the episode handles quite well.

And the mystery, too, is one that all comes together rather well, requiring a little bit of help from everyone in order to solve. Not that it’s the cleanest of cases, but they handle themselves well and I like how it lingers on cooperation, on not making assumptions about people, and with hints back to the earliest mysteries\ of the series, namely what happened to the guns the Americans lost and what’s going on with them now. And though not much changes between the characters, it’s a fast and wild ride that I definitely enjoyed and recommend checking out immediately!


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