Thursday, April 4, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [episodes 9-10]

Season one of Serial Box’s thrilling Ninth Step Station comes to a close with its first two-part episode, bringing together basically all of the unresolved elements from the series so far and setting the characters on a collision course with disaster and war. The episodes today stick with the murder mystery premise, but the solutions to these whodunnits aren’t really...straightforward. Instead, they are labyrinths that, if Emma and Miyako aren’t careful, they might get lost in. There’s a lot up in the air as the episodes progress, and the stakes skyrocket when assassinations, military aggression, and systemic corruption make honest police work impossible. And it’s a gripping payoff for readers of the season so far, though also something of a cliffhanger and a reason to very much hope there is a season 2.


“The Assassin’s Nest” by Fran Wilde and Curtis C. Chen (serial episode 9)

No Spoilers: Tensions are high in Tokyo as the legislation passed last episode adds fuel to the fire that’s been smoldering since the Chinese invasion and following “peace.” When an assassination shatters the attempted goodwill of a friendly political banquet, though, Emma and Miyako are pushed into the middle of an investigation that brings Japanese, Chinese, and American interests together, if not into harmony. It means the return of a lot of characters and moving parts and the paying off of threads woven throughout the season. It’s the first episode as well to end on a cliffhanger, and it is an intense and nerve-wrecking experience, putting both Emma and Miyako through the emotional wringer as they have to try and keep each other honest in the face of murder, espionage, and the looming shadow of war.
Keywords: Assassination, Politics, Queer MC, Mystery, Investigations
Review: Shit is getting real, people, starting with the death of one of the secondary characters that kicks off this run-up to the season finale. And this episode has so many moving parts, so many plots and secrets, that it makes for a pulse-pounding experience that I love. Everything that has been on simmer is now coming to a boil all at once, and the Chinese detectives, Charles, the whole Ninth Step Station crew (minus the doctor and computer tech), Miyako’s girlfriend, and two new Peacekeepers all feature in a rather well balanced manner, Emma and Miyako struggling to keep up but helping each other through the harder parts. And I think that’s what I like most about this chapter, the way that Emma and Miyako are working together and trying to protect each other. It’s been interesting to see throughout the season the ways that each of them in some ways is prejudiced toward their “side.” And yet in this episode no side is without sin or corruption. Everyone is desperate to avoid an escalation and floating “solutions” to what’s happening to get things under control. Only it’s all unethical as hell, and it doesn’t actually reach toward finding out who is responsible for the crime.

This manifests in many ways but I love that Emma and Miyako are put in very similar situations—Miyako when she is pressured into throwing her boss under the bus when her sexuality comes up in the investigation, and Emma when she is pressured to go along with the Japanese police to accept a false confession in order to relieve some of the tension from the case. In each, they are able to remain more independent and less corrupt by trusting their own guidance, and trying to trust each other while also checking each other. Alone, they might have sided with the people they’re more inclined to obey, but together they are able to resist and push back and reach instead for the truth. Which is a good thing, because there looks to be a lot going on, and most of the people involved at the top have been compromised in some way, with agendas that don’t always have the best interests of the city at heart. It’s an exciting read and one that really captures the complexity and muddiness of the situation. No one is innocent, but what they are guilty of and what their motives are all set them apart. Throw into that some humor and a cliffhanger that really ups the ante, and this season is now barreling towards its conclusion, a runaway train that Emma and Miyako have to try desperately to stop before it destroys everything they’ve been working to protect all season. A wonderful read!

“The Foreign Mischief” by Malka Older (serial episode 10)

No Spoilers: Following the cliffhanger at the end of last episode, this one opens with a bang as Emma infiltrates the Diet chambers and quickly and efficiently gets things under control. Most of the time this season it’s been Miyako showing what she can do, but this situation plays to Emma’s strengths and she takes the opportunity to show readers how much of a badass she is. And there is no rest for anyone in this chapter, with the previous murder still unsolved and now with new mysteries unfolding, all while China finally decides to attack again. Tensions can’t really get higher as American forces are working to keep the peace while China violates Japanese space and the people of Tokyo are growing more and more restless with occupation. The situation is a powder keg, and Emma and Miyako have to catch everyone running around with open flames, hoping to put them before everything explodes.
Keywords: War, Queer MC, Assassinations, Politics, Mysteries, Resistance
Review: Wow. Okay, a lot happens in this episode, and so many secrets come tumbling out about what’s ben happening behind the scenes, who the traitor is within Ninth Step Station, and so much more. It’s also a beautiful expansion of the last episode, which I want to touch on quick in the spoilerific of ways so if you haven’t read the episode, look away now! And okay, so I loved in the last episode how Emma and Miyako were able to back each other up when it came to the fairly simple corruptions that they came up against. Wanting to embarrass the police chief. Wanting to set up a patsy. Here, however, two much bigger corruptions come to light, in that the perpetrators of these latest two murders are actually...Charles and Nishimura. Which means that, even while China is attacking, it’s the US peacekeeping forces and the Japanese resistance who are killing people in the hopes of tipping the situation into war, to give them the advantage, all the while failing to work together and in effect giving China the advantage. And while these revelations are going on, Emma and Miyako are separated, without backup as they have to decide alone how to proceed. Where before they were able to stand up for each other, this time they are in the position of needing to stand up for themselves, and there’s a palpable fear that they might not measure up.

For me, at least, the entire season has been rising to this point, to this moment when the two leads have to decide where they stand and, more importantly, who they stand with. Either of their governments or systems are exactly clean (and indeed both of their direct superiors have now murdered someone from “the other side”) and at the moment the characters are facing the fact that their own people are taking actions that involve murder in order to somehow turn the larger struggle in their favor. There’s also, though, the question of what they’ll do and think when they find out what the other side has been up to. When Miyako discovers that the attack on the Diet was helped by the Americans. When Emma finds out that her friend was murdered with help from her new boss. Like shit, these things are huge, and are going to very much test how far Emma and Miyako have come in believing in the cooperation that they never chose but have come to value. I want to believe that they’ll continue to pursue that collaboration that has worked so well for them, but I have to admit that the cliffhanger here has left me with zero certainty.

As far as resolutions go, if this is the final chapter (if the project doesn’t see a second season), I will literally cry, because it is not satisfying in the least. But wow is it effective in making me want to tune in next time. The characters are vibrantly drawn and the plot is complex and finally blooming into this mess of interests and goals that weave and conflict and build this world that I would not want to live in, but which I do love following from behind the comforts of the fourth wall. And it’s a thrilling, wonderfully executed sci fi mystery full of killers, rogues, and two cops in the middle of it all just looking for a way toward peace and justice. A fantastic way to leave readers wanting more!


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