My 2 Cents on gen:LOCK, Episode 2, “There’s Always Tomorrow”

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(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “There’s Always Tomorrow”)
“There’s Always Tomorrow” is the second episode of gen:LOCK, Rooster Teeth’s mecha anime web series, and lasts twenty-six minutes. Telling the truth of Julian Chase’s apparent death and the gen:LOCK program, focusing on his estranged relationship with his former girlfriend, widening the cast with a motley team of recruits, boosting the action with a Union spy — this episode moves the series forward in spite of a few dubious plot devices.
At the end of the previous episode Dr. Rufus Weller and Colonel Raquel Marin were revealing the genuine aims of the Experimental Science Unit to Vanguard soldiers at a debriefing session. Julian then materialized on the stage looking alive and well, even though he had seemingly died in battle four years ago. Now they explain that Dr. Weller pioneered an R&D program specializing in groundbreaking mech tech, “Holons,” a computer mainframe controlled by a digitized human mind. Dr. Weller mentions his preference to dub it a “mind frame” or “E-brain; “cyber dome” was Julian’s suggestion. The procedure entails matching specific candidates with their Holons for them to achieve “gen:LOCK.” The first candidate identified from the Phase 1 stage was Julian. The second was Yasamin “Yaz” Madrani. Julian was recovered alive by the ESU, and he can remotely control his mechs as if they’re his own body and interact with others via a hologram he can materialize anywhere nearby. His former girlfriend Miranda Worth, looking disconcerted throughout the debriefing, hurriedly leaves at the end of the session.
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Miguel “Migas” Garza visits Julian to find that he’s hooked up to a life support system inside his Holon tank, all his limbs missing except for his left arm. After Yaz and Dr. Weller join them, we learn Julian’s limbs cannot regenerate due to the Union’s nanotech that attacked him. Ironically that’s what has kept him alive up to this point. Until the technology can be developed to remove them from his body, he has to stay cooped up in the tank. Dr. Weller tells them that Julian’s stellar career in combat aviation, combined with his neuro-plasticity, are what make him gen:LOCK compatible. When questioned about when the compatibility check occurred, he says it was during everyone’s health screenings, remarking that Julian passed the “Weller test.” After signing on Migas as head of Holon maintenance and sending him a bunch of holographic files to study, they and Yaz say goodnight to Julian. “Syntax” by the electronic rock band Battle Tapes plays while Julian falls asleep, and he refers to it as “Night Tunes Three.”
The next day, the rest of the cast arrives: Cameron “Cammie” MacCloud (Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones), a Scottish hacker and the youngest gen:LOCK candidate at the age of seventeen, with a mini robot dog on her shoulder; Kazu Iida (Kōichi Yamadera, Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop), a transfer from the Japanese military whose insubordination made his superiors demote him from the rank of sergeant to kitchen duty; Valentina Romanyszyn (Asia Kate Dillon, Orange is The New Black, Billions), a retired senior sergeant from the Ukrainian Special Forces; and Robert Sinclair (Blaine Gibson, Rooster Teeth’s Camp Camp), a coin-tossing Vanguard Specialist. Minor details define the characters’ personalities and appearances within the first few minutes of their introduction as they’re led into the Anvil. The bit I like the most is when Kazu speaks to Valentina in Japanese and you get a first-person view through her visor as the translation appears on the screen — a creative piece of animation.
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The next scene shows a brief, tense talk that Julian has with Miranda. It’s easy to tell how hurt she is when she chides him for keeping her in the dark about his condition for the past four years. I love it when she marches straight through his holographic form to leave the corridor. Not only does it layer extra tension on top of the scene, but it makes you realize that there is great potential for growth in both their relationship and Julian’s character while he struggles to exist in this world as a sci-fi ghost.
Before the recruits can use the Holons, guards rush into the room to arrest a Union spy who sneaked in with the others. Initially Yaz believes they have come for her and she holds up her hands, admitting that she used to work for the Union. But the spy is actually Sinclair, who tosses his coins to release nanotech clouds and kill the guards. Yaz pursues him out of the room and engages him in fast-paced, action thriller-ish combat. He knocks her down for a second, commenting that they should be working together but she’s too weak. Then Julian materializes behind him as a distraction, giving Yaz time to knock him out with a punch. But when Dr. Weller emerges from the elevator, Sinclair gets up and holds a gun to his head, forcing him back into the elevator and taking him hostage. A short discussion reveals that this spy killed the real Sinclair and intends to hijack a Holon. Meanwhile, Julian uploads himself into his own Holon in the bay and awaits the imposter Sinclair to take over one of the other mechs.
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The imposter Sinclair drags Dr. Weller to the Holon lab, encountering Marin, a few guards, and the recruits. He throws Dr. Weller aside and locks himself inside the lab, passing Julian’s tank on the way. He demands that the doctor upload him into a Holon or else he will unleash the nanotech on the base. It’s already swirling around the group outside the lab. Dr. Weller complies despite Marin’s firm objections, but because the spy isn’t matched with the real Sinclair’s Holon, he is quickly killed inside the unit. Then Dr. Weller calmly tells the stunned recruits, “That is why you want to be gen:LOCK compatible. So, who wants to go next? Any takers?”
For an anime-style show that uses Avatar technology to sync humans with ridiculously huge mechs, it takes itself surprisingly seriously. The characters aren’t over the top, the voice acting is subdued, and the dialogue is filled with far more biting wit than I would expect from this sort of show. I appreciate how everyone comes from diverse backgrounds — African-American, English, Scottish, Spanish, Japanese, Iranian.
I didn’t even notice this at first, but Cammie wears bunny ear headgear. For some silly reason bunny ears are a popular anime trope. Out of all the recruits she seems the most appealing, but I’m not crazy about the ears. Hopefully the show builds her up enough so the ears can be brushed off.
Dr. Weller is one of the most intriguing characters so far. He’s designed like a slightly eccentric scientist, but David Tennant doesn’t ham up the voice acting. The good doctor actually shows a pitiless side of himself when he lets the imposter Sinclair climb into the Holon unit, knowing it would kill him. He’s completely eligible for taking a dark turn into villain territory; maybe he even machinated Julian’s critical injuries/fake death, if you want to play around with such cynical theories.
The Vanguard is supposedly fighting a world war against the Union, which has been seen utilizing arachnoid mechs and nanotech clouds. Yet nothing has been said about its game plan, whether it’s global domination, eradication of undesirable nations, et cetera. Maybe this will be one of those tales where the villain turns out to be an antivillain (like an antihero, except it executes atrocious activities for purposes that it perceives as benevolent, e.g. Flynn from Timeless). Michael B. Jordan did hint at such a possibility in an interview by saying that both sides are fighting for sympathetic reasons.
I would like to note that the bit where Cammie gets asked, “Why are you here?” and she replies in her pronounced Scottish accent, “It’s one of life’s greatest mysteries, isn’t it?” is an homage to the quote from Rooster Teeth’s Red vs. Blue.
I’m becoming emotionally invested in Miranda and how much she must have mourned Julian. Unfortunately I cannot tell whether she will be sidelined to make room for the other characters, which is such a trite plot device for the suffering girlfriend in these situations.
Aside from the questionable plausibility of the imposter Sinclair attempting to steal a Holon — he would have had to leave his human body in the unit, plus the Union should have done research and known the subject has to be a perfect match with its Holon — “There’s Always Tomorrow” advances both the story and the protagonists forward. I hope we’ll get to see the recruits try out gen:LOCK soon, although witnessing the imposter Sinclair die with this very technology has probably rattled them.
Windup score: 90/100

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