Thursday, April 30, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [ep02.03 & 02.04]

So now that the second season is well under way, what surprises lurk in the latest two episodes/chapters of Serial Box’s Ninth Step Station? Well, there’s certainly murder aplenty, with the political situation in the city deteriorating as anti-Chinese sentiment clashes with Chinese resource superiority and propaganda. It’s driving a wedge into the heart of the city, setting neighbor against neighbor, and maybe even partner against partner. And after an extremely intense third episode, the fourth slows things down again with a trip to the countryside and a remote resort where Emma and Miyako have to wait out a storm...with a killer. I love this series for the mashup of mystery and science fiction, political thriller and buddy drama. To the reviews!

Serial Chapters:

“The Acid Detail” by Jacqueline Koyanagi (ep02.03)

No Spoilers: It’s a particularly grisly case as Emma and Miyako must investigate murders involving people being locked in their cars and subjected to aerosolized acid. Which, if it wasn’t bad enough, also requires them to cross enemy lines to work once more with Detectives Liu and Wong from the Chinese side of the city. Which...isn’t exactly a treat. But it does build a bigger picture about what’s going on in the city, the resistance that Miyako finds herself accessory to and the more radical, more violent resistance that she’s tasked with bringing to justice. The mystery here is built well and handled smoothly, and there are some charming flourishes (the lady with the pet lizard is my new hero). It’s a fairly contained piece, too, touching on the ongoing plots with Emma and Miyako without making them central, mostly focusing on the mystery and the thrills and chills it contains.
Keywords: Murder, Acid, Drones, Resistance, Queer MC
Review: The cold open this episode is actually really hitting, the murder intense and the characters given enough history and personality that it’s rather difficult reading, actually. Which is a point in its favor, really, because a lot of this episode is looking at resistance and methods and what it means for the city to be divided, to essentially be at war without there being active war. The victims here were trying to do what was best for them, but in doing that they were playing into the Chinese plan to win through resources. Emma and Miyako run into that, too, as they have to deal with the Chinese detectives and their increased manpower and technology. The resources are different, and are being weaponized (down to the air conditioning in the shops) to try and make people want the Chinese side to win. Against that, there’s only so much that talent and determination can do, and yet Miyako comes face to face with what it means to fight back using tactics that...might be necessary. For her that line is already blurry, and I’m not sure that this chapter makes it any clearer. It simply increases the tension inside of her, the doubt and the guilt, while offering no better alternative.

Meanwhile I like how the mystery plays out, the ways that Miyako tries to use her skills and her experience to make up for the fact that Ninth Step is underfunded and under-powered. And by and large it works. But not cleanly. Not without cost. And not completely, as they’re not able to keep what was happening from the press. Time and again Miyako comes up against the limitations all around her, and bears new scars in part because better equipment and manpower weren’t available. She holds on, and sees it through, and finds the guilty parties, but at the same time she has to deal with the smug Chinese detectives and the knowledge that the tactics these killers were using might not be so different from those deployed by her own people. She already knows her “side” has murdered. An innocent man, for political reasons. Is this so different?

Meanwhile there are some nice Emma moments, as well, including a great bit near the start of the chapter where she’s dealing with Kensuke. A side plot to the episode might indeed be the misogyny that carries through so much of the system, the way that Miyako and Emma rare undercut all the time, and the way that Emma is much more likely to be punchy about it. I love that she’s drawing these boundaries with Kensuke, putting up clear rules that he’s still trying to bend. It captures his personality well, and it echoes in Liu and his casual cutting remarks (the use of hysterical, the dismissal of their skills using gendered terms). It all just layers so well while providing a rather chilling string of murders, a great series of interrogations, and a bit of action as well. It’s a blast of a read!

"Blood in the Water” by Malka Older (ep02.04)

No Spoilers: This chapter takes Emma and Miyako away from Tokyo and to a small resort known for its hot springs. It’s a vacation of sorts, rather necessary considering the tense drama and violence of the last episode. It’s also a classic in terms of murder mysteries, with the resort isolated by a storm and suddenly a dead body to deal with. The detectives have to figure out who the murderer is...before they kill again. The intimate setting and isolated location might seem to offer the pair some distance from the politics of Tokyo, but the chapter also explores what they bring with them, and contains a rather large bombshell moment when one of them makes a confession. There are still secrets aplenty, though, and while the episode pushes a few things forward, it also leaves the future for Emma and Miyako (and indeed, all of Japan) a complete mystery.
Keywords: Murder, Hot Springs, CW- Sexual Assault, Storms
Review: Okay, so probably it comes as no surprise that I love the isolated house mysteries, which are a huge tradition in the genre. There’s a small group, a locked house, and a detective (or two) conveniently on site. In this case, the murder is of a man with a robotic tail in a resort cut off during a storm. Which both throws a wrench in Emma and Miyako’s relaxing vacation and saves them from the awkwardness after Emma confesses that she knows who killed the conservative diet member (during last season’s finale). It’s a big reveal, and one that Emma has been stressing over because of how her own government and former boss are involved. But she’s got a few things going for her to help assuage her guilt, mostly that she’s been working on building evidence against Charles, which isn’t exactly safe for her. So she’s risking herself to do the right thing. Which puts Miyako both in a position to be angry about it and guilty herself, because she’s sitting on a much bigger secret, that she knows who killed Emma’s friend, and not only that she’s working for them.

The issues with the resistance from the last episode are present here as well but mostly in the background. Miyako’s still dealing with being a part of something that goes against her oath as a police officer. And now to be confronted with a mirror of that from Emma, it puts Miyako in a sour mood, and it seems to creeping through her, a poison that might yet corrupt a person who seemed incorruptible. Already it seems to impacting her relationship with Koari, adding an element of paranoia there, an element of resentment. It seems to impacting her detecting, as well, through fearing that every crime is going to be connected to anti-Chinese sentiment, that she might find herself put in a position of having to cover something up actively rather than simply not revealing the truth about something after the fact.

Meanwhile the mystery itself is quick and solid, and again, I love the classic nature of it, that even when Emma and Miyako try to get away and catch some relaxation, murder finds them. And here for once it’s not a conspiracy or in connection with the war. It’s about something almost mundane in comparison, though certainly not innocent. About the ways that men target women, the ways that these “traditional” business practices are still very much about traditional misogyny and abuse. And I really like how the murderers are revealed, the extra complications that make it so that there’s not just one killer at work. It’s sneaky and creepy and well played out, and I really like the change in scenery allowing Emma and Miyako to have a much more focused time together away from the usual cast. Another wonderful read!


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