Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [ep02.09 & 02.10]

The second book/season of Serial Box’s Ninth Step Station has drawn to a close, even if that close is the literary equivalent of shoving the reader out a plane and then just sort of leaving them to fall endlessly (or at least until season 3 comes out). Emma and Miyako have been through a lot this season, and are still keeping some huge secrets from each other. Worse, the line between enemy and ally has become blurred as invader and criminal, military and civilian have all been muddled and obfuscated. The detectives are left having to rely on their best judgment, with only the information they’ve managed to gather on their to help guide them. In such a situation, they might find that even their own actions seem out of control. As partners, they’re supposed to be able to rely on each other, but with the city falling to pieces around them, do they have even that any longer? To the reviews!


“The Driven Bullets” by Malka Older (ep02.09)

No Spoilers: After the criminal organization Nakajima-kai has spent most of the conflict with China bolstering its power and insinuating itself into even the legitimate architecture of this new Japan, someone is targeting members with an ingenius and rather terrifying new weapon--drones small enough to be bullets, able to be flown into the soft tissue of a target. It’s an escalation, and one Miyako and Emma are rather desperate to stop, given the unity needed to deal with the Chinese threat. All that while Emma investigates how Charles and American tech might play a part in this latest case and Miyako has to balance her loyalties and try her best to keep everyone’s secrets while everything she’s built for herself hangs by a thread above the gaping maw of the war.
Keywords: Drones, Gangs, Resistance, Queer MC, Murder, Police
Review: This story does manage to tell a one-and-done tale of murder but really at this point the focus is on the larger conflict. And it’s a complicated mess, with the resistance picking a fight with the Nakajima-kai and finding out that the tactics that might be successful with the Chinese are not going to work with a criminal syndicate. First off, the Nakajima-kai have nothing against retaliating...fatally. While the Chinese might care about keeping up appearances and needed some measure of public support in order to achieve their goals, the Nakajima-kai work on fear. Dismembering someone linked to the resistance, even someone who didn’t have anything to do with the drone attacks, sends a message of what they’re willing to do, and it’s chilling. Chilling too is the way that the resistance, amateurs though they are, are quick studies when it comes to murder and mayhem, especially when they team with a man like Charles.

And Charles. Really, fuck that guy. I love how the series has built him into this smarmy, very well connected guy who everyone kinda hates and nobody trusts but also no one can touch because his family, because of who he knows, because of the old boys club that insulates him. And he’s using that affluence to try and steer global events seemingly out of sheer narcissism, something that certainly echoes with events that are happening now rather than in the future. Meanwhile, he’s kicking off a turf war between the resistance and organized crime for no other reason than he was insulted, and he does so not having to live with the consequences. Not really. For him Japan is just the theater where he’s performing. It’s not a home, not something that he has to care about preserving. Whatever happens, he feels a detachment that makes this about politics and influence rather than human lives. And it’s well captured, especially now that shit is really hitting the fan.

And really just wow, Miyako has spent the season having to balance so much, having to compromise herself because this is her home. Because this is where she wants to be, where the people she loves are, and there’s no extracting that from the situation, from the war. She’s in deep, and even so knows that she’d go deeper, do more, for a chance to give back self determination to her people again. It’s something the episode shows clearly, and foreshadows sharply with how Miyako’s not going to live this double life indefinitely. Emma doesn’t seem ready to understand, because for all that she’s made a place for herself here, she’s still thinking like an outsider, like an American. And there’s going to come a confrontation when the characters see each other, and I’m super curious (and also really afraid) for when that happens. It’s hard to imagine, though, with the chaos now forming, that Miyako’s going to be able to keep her secrets for much longer. And the end of the chapter is a poignant and moving acknowledgement of that. A fantastic read!

“Rain of Drones” by Fran Wilde (ep02.10)

No Spoilers: Following the chaotic events of the last chapter, the station tries to get everyone on the same side again through the age-old practice of drinking and karaoke. It’s short lived, though, as officers arrest Emma. The chapter shows just how far the characters have come in a season, and how much war has compromised both Emma and Miyako’s code of conduct as they’ve struggled to fight for what is right, sometimes over what is legal. For Emma that’s involved assassination and subterfuge even while trying to use the chain of command to hold a corrupt colleague accountable for his crimes. For Miyako that’s involving becoming part of the resistance, knowing that she’s helped contribute to violence, and now, finally, she takes one more step over a line she never thought she’d cross. It’s an explosive and tense finale for this second book of Ninth Step Station, and while IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER (BE WARNED) it’s also still got its hook in me deep and I only hope it gets renewed for a season 3.
Keywords: Karaoke, Police, Queer MC, EMPs, Mysteries
Review: As with the previous book/season of this series, the finale this time around is A Lot. And it opens with a bang (quite literally) as Miyako sort of comes to a point in her resistance where she makes a choice. The repercussions of which will likely be huge, because Charles is a fucking monster and monsters have a tendency of being very hard to kill. But then the episode backs up and gives some context to what happened, and even so it’s quite the turn for Miyako, though one that’s been a while coming now, like she’s been on this track, unable really to break away, seeing the end coming but seeing no other way. Her choices have been narrowed by the war, by the politics surrounding it, by the people like Charles who toy with people for fun. The episode does a great job of showing Emma and Miyako and the life they have, the life they want, and then showing the cold hard realities of the life they don’t want to see because it’s too painful and too big, unable to be shifted at an individual level.

So when the officers come for Emma it shatters something in both of them. Maybe the last shred of hope they had that things would play out by the rules. That maybe they could only bend things, that there were some things they wouldn’t have to do. But I think they both see here that when men like Charles are in the game they get to cheat. And the only way to win against a cheater is to basically stop trying to follow the rules. Charles has too large an advantage, and worse, he \knows it. But he’s also overconfident, dismissing the danger that Miyako poses because he thinks he knows her. Thinks her incapable of hurting him. And it’s rather satisfying that moment when he must realize that he’s wrong. Of course, with that is the fear that even that won’t be enough. That he’ll still find a way to win. But at least he’s out of the game for a moment. Which, given what happens, is probably for the best.

In some ways, the finale here is even more uncertain than last time. Miyako in danger, Emma largely disavowed, the whole city plunged into darkness. For as satisfying as what happens to Charles is, this way of ending on cliffhangers makes coming up with something definitive to say about the chapter and the season as a whole somewhat difficult. What has shown, though, is that Miyako and Emma both have stepped out from being wholly reactive (something police are supposed to be) and have begun a more active attempt to do right by Tokyo and its people. So far it’s difficult to see if that will pay off or make things worse. But it seems like their active involvements can only help, because it is the only thing that can run counter to those people acting selfishly and in bad faith in a city and country that are already fractured by conflict. And I really, reaaaaaaaaaally want to know what happens next. So definitely give this project a read, because it’s been phenomenal!


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