Season 3 continues on. Again, this is in episode order and not broadcast order (FYI – the DVD’s released by Buena Vista are in broadcast order). We’ve got the Dark Phoenix to contend with, another Cyclops episode, and the return of Omega Red, but first…
Savage Land, Strange Heart (Parts 1 and 2)
We’ve got another Storm episode, a two-parter at that. Storm has not been a big player up this point in season 3. She was basically the lone member of the X-Men who didn’t have much involvement with the Phoenix saga, and following that arc’s completion, she remained on the sidelines. Storm is an all right secondary character with some cool powers, but as a lead actress she’s pretty boring.
“Savage Land, Strange Heart” does little to dispel that sentiment. Just like with Storm’s other episode, “Whatever It Takes,” she’s going to find herself possessed by a powerful being that wants her for her body (because of her powers, perverts). This time it’s some god named Garokk who has a nice cult following going on in the Savage Land.
The other big player in this two-parter is the dinosaur-like mutant Sauron. Now in his human form, he flees the Savage Land in hopes of never becoming Sauron again. He’s sort of a vampire in that he feeds on the energy of other humans to sustain him. If he feeds off of a human, no problem, but once he gets a taste of mutant energy he becomes Sauron. He falls in with this Garokk cult, and ends up encountering the X-Men on the mainland and drags Storm back to the Savage Land where all Hell breaks loose.
I’m going off of memory, but I believe it’s Wolverine, Beast, Jubilee, and Rogue that give chase. Once in the Savage Land, Storm’s powers awaken Garokk so that he can free himself from his idol form and take on more of a humanoid one. Sauron ends up coming around and helps the X-Men put a stop to him once he realizes that the entire Savage Land is in danger. Doing so helps Storm regain control of herself, and everyone is happy. We also get a reminder about what’s going on with Jean at Muir Island, in case we forgot, which actually would have been pretty easy since the whole plot has basically been ignored, which is what I like to do with these two episodes. For some reason, this episode has two titles, the other being “Savage Land, Savage Heart.”
The Dark Phoenix Saga (Parts 1-4)
The precursor, “The Phoenix Saga,” was basically the necessary evil we had to get through in order to get to the seminal “Dark Phoenix Saga.” “The Dark Phoenix Saga” is one the most well known comic book stories and certainly the most well-known involving the X-Men. The television adaptation ended up being pretty faithful to the comic book version, but with one rather significant alteration that I’ll get to when the time comes. The timing of it would harm the initial broadcast though as few episodes separated it from the original Phoenix plot-line and since both have a weighted, dramatic feel to them it does lessen the impact a bit.
The general plot of the saga is that Jean is back on earth and apparently healthy, but the Phoenix force still dwells inside of her. It refuses to leave, claiming it hungers to experience more human emotions. The Phoenix force now speaks independently of Jean (with its own voice actor as well) and battles for control of Jean’s body.
A new group of foes has entered the mix as well, The Hellfire Club (referred to as the Inner Circle club for TV). Lead by Sebastian Shaw, these wealthy figures clad in old english attire seek the power of the Phoenix for their own use. Their own telepath, the White Queen Emma Frost, felt the presence of the Phoenix on earth and retells her story to the rest of the Inner Circle members. They hatch a plan to utilize her powers along with Jason Wyngarde (known as Mastermind in the comics) and his power of illusion to seduce Jean Grey and bring her under their control.
Meanwhile, Jean Grey fights to control her own mind as she is assaulted by Wyngarde and Frost telepathically. The mutant Dazzler is introduced as a night club singer, and when Gambit drags Cyclops out for a little fun an overzealous Dazzler (after being rescued by Cyclops from a back alley beat down) plants a kiss on his lips. Of course, Jean happens to witness this which is the trigger that pushes her to Wyngarde and the Inner Circle, where they make her their Black Queen.
The X-Men assemble and go after Jean by locating the Inner Circle’s mansion. All of the X-Men soon find themselves incapacitated, all except Wolverine. What was a bit more violent in the comics turns into kind of a slapstick routine as Wolverine single-handedly makes his way through the mansion to locate and rescue his comrades. It’s still pretty amusing though. By now, the Phoenix has experienced too much and has beaten down Jean’s psychic defenses and sees through the illusions of Wyngarde. She takes off but Wyngarde gives chase and Phoenix exposes him for the fraud he is by bringing down the illusions he cast upon himself to reveal a plain looking old man. Cyclops tries to reason with her, but she proclaims herself the Dark Phoenix, dons a red costume, and takes off.
Thus ends the Inner Circle’s role in this tale after two episodes. They were interesting, but we all wanted to see Phoenix in action. Jean is able to regain some control of her own mind, but she’s been reduced to a child-like state and has returned to her childhood home. Beast and Xavier devise a helmet of sorts that they believe will be able to subdue Jean. They set up a trap for her when Xavier is able to pick up on where she’s going, and the X-Men go toe to toe with Phoenix. Beast is able to get the device on Phoenix, allowing Jean some momentary control where she begs Wolverine to kill her. He can’t, and Phoenix breaks free. Xavier does some silly psychic stuff, and Jean once again has control of her body and mind, but all is not well.
During the time when the X-Men were trying to sort out how to approach Phoenix, the entity left earth to feed on a star which destroyed an entire solar system. This got the attention of the Shi’Ar and at the end of episode 3 Lilandra and her royal guard show up to proclaim Phoenix must die. Xavier invokes the right of mortal combat sacred to the Shi’Ar, and the X-Men leave with them to battle for Jean’s freedom.
Leading up to the climactic battle, we get some good dialogue between characters regarding the morality of destroying an innocent to vanquish and evil entity. Lilandra and Xavier struggle being on opposite sides of the debate and even Jean shows some reluctance in continuing to live not knowing how she could hope to contain Phoenix. She puts on her old X-Men costume, a nice touch, and the X-Men are sent to the moon to do battle with the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard.
The X-Men hold their own for a time, but eventually they’re over-matched against the Shi’Ar. Jean and Cyclops find themselves alone and resign to the fact that their situation looks bleak. They, more or less, say their goodbyes and make one final run. When Cyclops goes down, Phoenix awakens.
Seeing the immediate danger Phoenix poses, and knowing his X-Men will surely perish if they continue this folly, Xavier realizes the Shi’ar way is their only option and urges his X-Men to rise and take out Phoenix. Wolverine finds himself in position to deliver the killing blow, and once again, says he can’t. Cyclops coordinates an attack where he delivers the killing blow, but it isn’t enough. Jean regains control after the attempt and begs Cyclops to end it while she has control. He can’t (sense a theme?) and she blasts him away in frustration and takes off to where the Shi’Ar cannon is targeting. Lilandra senses what Jean is doing, and fires the cannon vanquishing her once and for all.
This is where the story ended in the comics, but for Saturday morning television the writers apparently decided they couldn’t kill off Jean. The Phoenix force cannot die, but is now removed from Jean. It apologizes for the damage it has done and tells the X-Men one may give up their “flame” in order to restore Jean. After Cyclops and Wolverine argue over who gets to die for Jean, the Phoenix informs them it can take a smaller portion from many to restore her to life. The X-Men join hands and Jean is restored, everyone is happy, the end.
As I said in the lead in, the adaptation for TV is actually quite faithful to the comics. The big difference being Jean’s survival in the end. The saga does start a bit slow but the final two episodes are good entertainment. It’s just too bad the writers repeat themselves so much. We already find it hard to believe that any member of the X-Men, especially Wolverine, would kill Jean but they try to tease it over and over and it just doesn’t work. The dramatic plot comes across as a bit too much at times especially considering we just dealt with Jean’s “death” at the conclusion of the first Phoenix Saga. Still, as a whole, it’s pretty enjoyable. While I would have preferred to see a little more boldness out of the writing staff I can understand what kind of restraints they must have been under.
After the big ensemble it required to do The Dark Phoenix Saga, we get a much smaller one here with “Orphan’s End.” As the title implies, it’s about Cyclops once again and the only other X-Men member featured is Storm (sporting a pony tail, just to change things up I guess). Corsair of the Starjammers arrives on earth at the mansion of the X-Men fleeing from someone. Cyclops and Storm agree to help him in his escape though they’re a bit unsure of what’s going on.
They soon find out Corsair is fleeing the Shi’Ar, and when Cyclops sees a picture of himself and his brother in Corsair’s locket, they soon realize how they relate to one another. Cyclops tells the Shi’Ar pursuers to “back off” basically and continues to help Corsair wanting an explanation for what happened. We’re filled in on Cyclops’ back story, as well as Corsair’s, and all seems well for a moment between father and son until Cyclops learns Corsair is wanted for kidnapping. Thus begins the first swerve.
As the plot moves along, Cyclops and Storm will change sides multiple times. First they’re helping Corsair, then the Shi’Ar, then Corsair, and so on. Corsair ends up being in the right, and the pursuers are phonies. He’s trying to protect a girl, a political thing, and the pursuers want her dead because she witnessed some crime they’re trying to cover-up. The X-Men and Starjammers prevail in the end, and the crooked cops get their due. Unfortunately, by this point the episode is nearly over so we just get a quick scene of Cyclops inviting Corsair into the mansion to talk for a while before he takes off, to which Corsair accepts. The story-line of Cyclops and Corsair finding out their relation to one another is far more interesting than the rest of the plot. It’s too bad it gets kind of pushed to the background. Still, not a bad episode. It’s too bad Havok never gets an episode to find out Cyclops is his brother.
Love in Vain
This is another one of those episodes where the less said, the better. This is one of the worst episodes of the show, maybe even worse than “Whatever It Takes” and definitely worse than the two Mojo episodes. Rogue’s old boyfriend, Cody, returns seeking to rekindle their romance from when Rogue put him in a coma with a kiss. Now he’s immune to her powers and Rogue is positively delighted. It turns out, there’s a good reason for this.
Cody has been infected by some parasitic alien colony that washed up on earth. I think they’re supposed to be a take on the Brood, from the comics, but do not resemble them at all. They’re just green and kind of resemble the aliens from Alien. They try to infect all the X-Men and succeed in infecting Wolverine but his healing factor saves him. Why am I even going into this much detail? The X-Men win, Cody turns into a bug, and Rogue is sad but still has Gambit. It’s a bad episode, don’t bother.
A Deal With the Devil
This is another episode that would get dropped from season 3 and moved to season 5. It’s the return story for Omega Red. The current Soviet government needs Red’s help in recovering a nuclear armed submarine. Red knows the access codes and can also survive in the radioactive environment. Red agrees to help them, but only if he can be accompanied by two X-Men he seeks vengeance against; Wolverine and Storm.
Xavier reluctantly allows Wolverine and Storm to participate in this ridiculous premise (once Red is within the sub, he’ll have access to nuclear weapons, great idea!) though neither Wolverine and Storm seem particularly thrilled by this. Red is supposed to be armed with a fail-safe device, but once aboard the sub he effortlessly removes it and takes control of the operation. We get a game of cat and mouse from here, where Red holds all the power but is also trapped under water. While Storm and Wolverine contend with Omega Red on the sub, Xavier and Rogue coordinate how to stop it from below. Rogue is able to ruin the sub, causing it to sink even further into a chasm, while Storm and Wolverine make their escape. They disarm the nuclear warheads, and Omega Red is left stranded miles below sea level never to be seen again.
Aside from the absurd premise, the episode is all right and I always thought Omega Red made for a good visual on television. It’s not a great episode by any stretch, which makes it easy to understand why there was no rush to get it to television.