Thursday, May 14, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [ep02.05 & 02.06]

Season two has already brought a delicate status quo to Serial Box’s Ninth Step Station, and there’s no signs that it’s slowing down yet, with plenty more explosive revelations--and grisly murders--in the latest two chapters. The project continues to blend mystery, crime drama, political thriller, and science fiction all into one pulse pounding package, and I really couldn’t be happier. The fictional Tokyo that the series conjures into being, though, might have a few choice words about the situation, though, as it continues to be pulled between the Chinese and American forces occupying it, all while the various Japanese elements seek to profit, or just survive, amidst the turmoil. Let’s get to the reviews!

Serial Chapters:

“The Scarred Youth” by Jacqueline Koyanagi (ep02.05)

No Spoilers: Murder’s once again on the menu as Emma and Miyako investigate the deaths of two young men who seem to have run away from home because of stress and a growing dissatisfaction with life. They both left home with all of their electronics and disappeared, leaving behind families confused and hurt. Something made only worse by the way they reappeared...dead and scarred. The piece is another intense one, exposing more ways that the country have been damaged, and has been made vulnerable to predators. All this while Miyako’s involvement in the resistance seems to be growing, and comes to a rather dramatic head. Because in many ways the episode is as much about the ways that Emma and Miyako are drifting apart as it is about them solving a case.
Keywords: Indoctrination, Murder, Resistance, Queer MC, Bombs, Cults, CW- Abuse
Review: Okay so I love that the opening has this person listening to a podcast about the murder from the last chapter. It’s a small touch but it does make the setting seem more real to me, that there are these small things that deepen the setting and populate it with people on the fringes of plot. It makes sense, too, in a city so full of conflict, that there would be a lot of people interested in murder, finding a sort of comfort in something that is normally so chilling. But anyways, the mystery of this episode stems from the strange deaths fo these two boys--the one discovered at the opening, and an older one that mirrored it, one that makes this a bit more personal for the station (we will fight for you, data miner Sasaki!). It takes the detectives once more outside of the city and introduces them to a really creepy pair of siblings with a house full of vulnerable young people. And really, that aspect of the chapter is chilling and fucked up and sharp, where Emma has to navigate the web of lies that’s been built while discovering that guilt is a very tricky thing in this case.

And that is perhaps what I like most about the episode, that it’s about shared responsibility and guilt. Something that Miyako is getting a heaping helping of when she agrees to take on a new assignment for the resistance. It’s something that seems simple at first, but her own honor makes her take it a step farther than she was meant to, and she ends up learning some things that...she probably didn’t want to. Things about what she’s been helping, and how deep her girlfriend is involved in everything. And for me the way the story ties together the cult-abused youths and Miyako and the resistance is really strong, because it all hinges on these moments of shared responsibility and guilt. The youths took part in rituals that made them feel that they couldn’t say no to anything, even things they knew were wrong. It pulled them farther and farther into violence, until they were made to kill for the “family” that was just using them as a means to an end. So too does the resistance seem to be pulling Miyako into something that she’s less and less comfortable with. She knows they’ve murdered before, and now she’s sort of put her foot right into it, taking part in something she cannot deny, at least to herself. And disappearing at a time when she was supposed to be helping Emma solve a crime. The episode leaves everything in a rather shaken place, and there’s likely going to be a lot of fall out. It’s dramatic, and it’s shocking, and fuck, it’s some good reading!

“The Memory of Love” by Curtis C. Chen (ep02.06)

No Spoilers: Death in a love hotel leads Emma and Miyako on a chase after a scientist working on MRI technology and it’s more...novel applications. And if that wasn’t delicate enough, Chinese forces are increasing their activity and Charles Yardley, Emma’s former boss and all around shady asshole, is back in the field. The piece takes on a much more political shade that the last few chapters, with a lot of interests involved and a mystery that hinges on memories and longing. Meanwhile Miyako is struggling with her involvement with the resistance and the already complex web of influences and intrigues surrounding Ninth Step Station only gets thornier.
Keywords: Memories, Love Hotels, MRIs, Family, Queer MC, Resistance
Review: This chapter is a definite reminder that the politics in Tokyo have not been idle while Emma and Miyako have been acting. Miyako’s act of resistance last chapter sets much more in motion as China begins more aggressively surveilling the Japanese/American side just as the Americans decide they’ve spent too much time on the sidelines. The whole thing is a mess, and in the middle of it all Emma and Miyako are supposed to be solving what they think is a murder. It’s not quite so black and white as that, though, something the chapter underlines nicely with the color puzzle that the detectives have to solve, working in shades of gray in order to figure out exactly what’s going on. And I like that the mystery is much more about what the suspect was doing, and the darker implications of her research, rather than about murder. It puts the detectives in a place they’re not as used to, and it highlights just how tense everything is in the city.

For me, the episode does a wonderful job of showing Emma and Miyako working mostly together to get to the bottom of what happened...only to find out that there’s nothing much they can do. It also introduces some new tech that I’m doubting we’ve seen the last of. Which means the episode is something of a loss for Team Ninth Step. No arrest is made, they have to watch as an asset is taken by one of the less savory elements in an already unsavory situation, and the politics in Tokyo look like they’re building back toward war. All the while both Miyako and Emma are keeping secrets and running around doing things they wouldn’t really be proud to admit to. Which fits very well with the love hotel angle of the episode, because there are tons of secrets flying around, and deals being done in the shadows. It also suits the way the focus is off of the police procedural elements and on the puzzle solving, as the entire situation in Tokyo is one giant puzzle, intricate and seemingly impossible. The coda reveals two characters who have drifted very far apart, united when they are on a case but otherwise lost in their own worlds, left with just the memories of happier, seemingly simpler times. It doesn’t exactly paint a rosy picture for their future, but it does make for some damn fine reading, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!


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