Episode 2: "Ramlak Rising"
(EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this review was originally posted at thundercatslair.org)
One of the most effective techniques involved in creating science-fiction / fantasy stories is to give the audience a sense of the familiar to latch on to, in an attempt to make the more wild and unusual elements of the story seem more believable. For sci-fi stories set on Earth, this can be as easy as including familiar landmarks and human characters. For fantasy, this becomes more difficult, as you’re trying to pull the audience into an alien world with alien races where nothing is familiar.
One way to overcome this is by giving the story’s characters real, tangible emotions, and this is where “Ramlak Rising” succeeds in spades.
This episode deals powerfully and believably with Lion-O’s grief at the loss of his father. The interaction between Lion-O and Claudus in the previous episode, with the emphasis placed on the relationship between the two, leads very nicely into this episode. In particular this works where Lion-O, the son who Claudus apparently never quite approved of, seems still to court his father’s approval by seeking to attack Mumm-Ra head on, because this is what Claudus would have done. By contrast, Tygra, regarded by many as the more natural choice for king, feels no such need to prove himself and reacts to his father’s death with greater acceptance.
One of the great things about the storyline for this episode is how the Fishmen captain’s hellbent desire to avenge the loss of his leg and his race’s water at the hands of the Ramlak ties in to Lion-O’s character development as he deals with his grief and a desire to avenge himself against Mumm-Ra. By allying himself with the deranged Fishmen captain, the new Lord of the ThunderCats is able to gain firsthand insight into how the manifestation of his grief is blinding him to reality and to the bigger picture.
In its own way, this is an illustration of how the new ThunderCats series pays homage to the old, taking a key concept (Lion-O’s development and growth as a character) and presenting that to the modern audience in a fresh, new way; for, over the course of this episode, we see Lion-O emerge as a wiser king, in greater command of his emotions, and ready to lead the others.
There are other highlights to this episode too. The Thunderkittens, Wilykit and Wilykat, play a large role in the episode, and it’s clear how much effort the series’ writers and producers took in preserving the spirit of the original characters, with their crafty natures allowing them to anticipate the actions of the Fishmen cook and come out on top. This scene serves as a brilliant introduction for the two youngest regular cast members.
The scene featuring Mumm-Ra torturing Jaga shows just how much the new series is prepared to push the envelope in the interests of telling a compelling story, and showing a direct link between Mumm-Ra and Grune really serves to add greater impact to the evil Thunderian’s betrayal of his fellow ThunderCats in the previous episode.
Obviously no review of this episode would be complete without drawing attention to its obvious homage to Moby Dick, with a direct quote from that tale making its way into the script!
Whilst this episode doesn’t quite match the lofty heights of the series’ premiere, nevertheless it is a very strong, solid continuation of the new ThunderCats saga, and a great example of blending action with strong character moments.