My 2 Cents on gen:LOCK – Episode 8, “Identity Crisis”

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(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “Identity Crisis”)

“Identity Crisis” is the eighth episode of Rooster Teeth’s mecha anime web series, gen:LOCK, released on March 9th, and lasts almost thirty-two minutes. A climactic battle interwoven with the recruits and their emotional bonds, the show’s core theme of identity, and the vast swaths of heart-thumping action—in other words, what a diamond of a finale.

The season finale of gen:LOCK kicks off with all the team’s Holons being shipped into a transport at the RTASA facility in preparation for the next mission. At the same time, someone is trying to contact the team; if you listen closely and you’re a RWBY fan, the voiceover sounds an awful lot like Jaune Arc, or rather Miles Luna, meaning it’s Miguel “Migas” Garza, the Vanguard technician. When Cameron “Cammie” MacCloud answers his call, he’s able to materialize as a hologram and inform the recruits that the Anvil and everyone inside is safe. Some time ago Dr. Rufus Weller had realized that Union supporters were given chips that broadcast a signal so that incoming nanotech wouldn’t attack them. He produced a duplicate of the signal, which was used to protect the Anvil from the nanotech released by the Union’s Behemoth. The screen that popped up as a visual aid for Migas’s talk had chibi versions of his and Dr. Weller’s heads; that was pretty funny.

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Unfortunately, Dr. Weller isn’t alive; the bomb that he set off killed him and most of the Union troops that broke into the Anvil. The team gets ready to leave after Migas reveals that the Union is making another move in Chicago. A funny little scene shows Cammie giving her robot dog Nugget to Dr. Henry Wu so he can take care of it while she’s gone, and Nugget hops all over him as he walks away. Dr. Fatima Jha lets Julian Chase know his team is always welcome at RTASA and reassures him that Dr. Weller would be proud. There’s a small moment where the android unit Caliban stares at Dr. Jha, and Julian has to hurry him up into the transport. Since Caliban has a small piece of Dr. Weller’s head in him, I wonder how much of the doctor is in him, especially if he recognized Dr. Jha.

The recruits, having uploaded into their Holons, land on a wharf in the South Side and engage in a short battle with Union troops while Julian goads Nemesis into showing up. He does this by nosediving the wharf so fast that he sends out a sonic boom, which blasts the recruits aside. It turns out that not only has he been patched with the power of flight, but he can also use nanotech to repair his bestial, multi-armed body and construct weapons. The team also discovers that the Union altered their nanotech to respond to a new signal, meaning they can’t utilize the signal that Dr. Weller had duplicated.

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The ensuing fight has so many thrilling moments, one of them being Val/entina Romanyszyn and Yasamin “Yaz” Madrani mindsharing. They’re even shown merging together so that their faces are half-and-half, which hasn’t been seen before. Kazu Iida and Cammie’s mindsharing is another superb bit. When the team debates mindsharing all at once to defeat Nemesis, Julian becomes very tentative. Yaz tries to convince him that he needs to let go of his fears. Then they’re notified that they have almost reached uptime due to all their mods and mindsharing; they have to download back to their bodies. Julian reasons that if they do this, Nemesis will escape and upgrade himself again, and all their progress will be lost. In spite of resistance from the others, especially Yaz, Julian chooses to buy them time by remaining in his Holon and holding off Nemesis.

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While the recruits download to their bodies, Julian continues fighting Nemesis, who appears in his human form with his glowing red scar, gray-tinged skin, and black armor inside the digital mainframe for the first time (we’ve already seen his face flicker in the opening theme the past few episodes). Nemesis brags in his distorted voice (for some reason it was easier to understand him this episode) that Julian is just like him when he exceeds his uptime and loses the ability to return to his body. When Julian presents his memories as pictures, Nemesis focuses on one of Julian with the rest of the team. Realizing how much the team means to Julian, Nemesis rushes off to locate them.

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Stationed in front of the Museum of Science and Industry, the team is hurrying to override the minimum reset time that was put in place to stop them from re-uploading to their Holons too soon. Then Nemesis flies down from the sky, but he gets ambushed by Miranda Worth and Jodie Brennan in their tanks, while Leon August is using the blue-and-white Holon built for Rob Sinclair (it was stated in a previous episode that Leon was gen:LOCK compatible but too old to participate). Nemesis does a number on Leon, cutting off his Holon’s arm. Just as he’s about to give the final blow, Miranda blocks him with her tank, which makes him pause briefly. Then Julien shoves him out of the way and keeps up their brawl. He’s even able to increase all his skills, like Cammie in “The Best Defense,” since he doesn’t have to worry about uptime anymore.

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After the team uploads to their Holons again, they bring up the subject of mindsharing. Julian is still hesitant, but he agrees to it this time. One of the best gen:LOCK moments happens right here, when the five of them hold hands in the digital space, causing rays of light that correspond with their color themes to emanate from between them, and then the features from all their faces mesh into one head for a moment—very creatively animated. The next battle is fantastic, with the team truly uniting as one to fight Nemesis. As their Holons work together to pin him down, the recruits trap him inside the gen:LOCK mainframe as well, giving Julian the chance to extract his data and throw it to Cammie. She sends it off to her drone, which, in real life, transmits the Union signal and shuts down the nanotech that has been rising monstrously behind Nemesis. Now that he has no way of healing himself, the team is able to beat him up. Julian asks, “What am I supposed to do?” as he prepares to kill Nemesis, who touches his temples and responds, “Kill these copies.” Rows of Nemesis clones appear in the background, repeating the phrase, “Of a copy, a copy, a copy,” and so on. Finally Julian stabs him; his digital body disintegrates and his Holon deactivates.

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After the battle, Leon tries to download into his body, but because of his age and the heavy damage he sustained, the download leaves him in a coma from which he may never recover. Colonel Raquel Marin congratulates the team on turning the war around and offers them the opportunity to return to the Anvil. While the team makes their decision, Julian talks to Miranda, who laments that her old self died as well as the old Julien in the Battle of New York four years ago. But she goes on to tell Julian not to be a stranger and someday they could try things again. Upon leaving, the team decides to move their base of operations to RTASA, with Miguel serving as their technical liaison to the Vanguard, and Leon recovering in the facility’s neuro-medical center.

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Concept art for the show and the song “The Weight of the World” by the electronic rock band Battle Tapes accompany the credits. Then the Marvel-esque post-credits scene (a growing cinematic trend) opens on a sign emblazoned with the Union emblem, a square turned forty-five degrees. Union soldiers are patrolling a zone of theirs when one of their number sneaks off to an alleyway. He removes his helmet and says out loud that he has to get it together, referring to himself as Sinclair. Yes, this is Rob Sinclair, the gen:LOCK recruit who was presumed dead when a Union soldier posed as him back in the second episode, “There’s Always Tomorrow.”

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Every element of “Identity Crisis” captivated me—the payoff of Julian’s arc as he unites with the team and summons the courage to face Nemesis, the team dynamic, the skillfully-written fight sequences, the culmination of the show’s core theme of identity, the enthralling background score, the apropos episode title. I was even satisfied with the conclusion to Julian and Miranda’s relationship, something that has been lackluster most of the time.

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Julian being the digital clone of Nemesis, who was formerly the real Julian before the Union kidnapped and corrupted him—I’m still wrapping my head around that. The concept of having the protagonist represent both the hero and the villain is something that I find incredibly inventive, especially after seeing it being well-executed in a recent film (can’t say which one because that would be a bit of a spoiler). But even though Julian has destroyed Nemesis, it feels plausible to worry about this hypothetical army of Nemesis clones. You could also interpret this scene differently, that Nemesis infected Julian by touching him.

Over the past eight episodes, the recruits have grown so much and been able to form relationships with one another. “Training Daze” was formerly my favorite episode based on its team dynamic merits, but “Identity Crisis” has taken its spot. There are probably ten or fifteen times when I watched it and felt utterly mesmerized by how intense and real things felt between the recruits. Obviously, all five of them blending together in the digital space is the best moment; other great ones are the Kazu-Cammie mindshare, the Val/entina-Yaz mindshare, and every time the recruits coordinated their fight moves like the Avengers against Nemesis.

This is the episode that shows the nanotech animation in its best lighting. We’ve previously seen the nanotech as clouds and tentacles of purplish shards/dust. However, the forms it takes this time with Nemesis to manipulate it are especially neat to watch. It has a very different feel from the T-1000 type of nanotech, which resembles liquid metal. The animators also had their fun with the mindsharing sequences, which strengthens the show’s questions about identity.

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I still wish Dr. Weller were alive. It’s a good thing that David Tennant has been able to move on from voicing him to Caliban, since this means the show will feature more of his wry wit. But it’s no substitute for the old doctor. I’m surprised at the condition that Leon has been left in; he may not be dead, but this event raises the significance of gen:LOCK’s occupational hazards just a tad. Besides, what will happen to Julien when he ages out of the program and he has no physical body to which he can return? I’m particularly interested to see what role Marc Holcroft, the primary investor for RTASA and ESU, may play in the future; he emanated even more of a secretive air than Dr. Weller. And I hope we’ll see more of Dr. Wu, who had quite a few comedic lines and was voiced by the Youtuber comedian SungWon Cho, AKA ProZD; and Dr. Jha, seeing as how she was Dr. Weller’s ex-wife and therefore provides one of his last connections.

Of course, there is the question of how Sinclair will fit into the story. I had been confused that Blaine Gibson was listed as part of the main cast, even though the Union soldier he played was killed off in the second episode. But it makes sense now that he’s voicing Sinclair.

Overall this is a spectacular episode with which to close the first season of gen:LOCK. I can’t wait to see how show creator Gray Haddock will continue unfolding the story. And I’d love it if Rooster Teeth started selling chibi figurines of the characters, particularly Dr. Weller and Cammie.

Windup score: 96/100

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