Monday, August 22, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Tron: Uprising, "Isolated" (from July 10, 2012)

The following is a repost of my July 10, 2012 discussion of "Isolated," an episode of Disney XD's short-lived Tron: Uprising. I hate the listicle structure, and his piece could have easily gone without that structure, but over at Blastr, Ernie Estrella nicely discussed why the animated Uprising did a much better job at world-building than the live-action Tron movies did.

Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Transformers Prime have been more satisfying than their much-maligned live-action counterparts, and Tron: Uprising has joined them as another example of an animated show that's superior to its live-action counterpart, thanks to its best episode yet, "Isolated." The story puts the spotlight on the animated Tron: Legacy prequel's most compelling creation so far: Paige, a lieutenant in evil General Tesler's army whom Tesler has assigned the task of hunting down Beck, a.k.a. the masked Renegade.

The straight-arrow Beck's evolution from mechanic to hero has been a less interesting arc than Paige's desperate bid for her ruthless general's respect, which has put her in competition with Tesler's supercilious right-hand man Pavel (Paul Reubens) ("Isolated"'s "previously on" segment amusingly counterpoints narrator Tricia Helfer's recap--"Tesler rewards Paige's hard work with praise"--with a montage of clips of Tesler and Pavel both belittling Paige). "Isolated" reveals why Paige chose to work for Tesler and ties her backstory to Quorra (Olivia Wilde, reprising the most interesting character from Tron: Legacy).

Emmanuelle Chriqui voiced Paige during Tron: Uprising's one-season run.

Trapped on a slowly disintegrating island with Beck and forced to work with her enemy (and if Tron: Uprising lasts past a season, inevitable love interest) to find a way out before the rock sinks into the sea, Paige flashes back to her time as a hospital medic. Back then, Paige dabbled in composing instrumental music, even though as another character told her, she's not "programmed" to be a musician.

Her instrument reminds me of the Tenori-on used by electro artist Little Boots in the viral video for her track "Stuck on Repeat":

(Someone on the Tron-Sector fansite forums noted that Paige's instrument is a variation on the Tonematrix, a sweet music-making tool that will prevent you from getting anything else done for a couple of hours.)

Paige was once encouraged to pursue music by Quorra, whom she briefly befriended when Quorra brought in to the medical center Ada (Meagan Holder), a friend of Quorra's who was injured while escaping the genocidal purge of the ISOs that was ordered by Grid dictator Clu. Introduced in Tron: Legacy, the ISOs were a race of advanced beings who were unique in The Grid for not being programs and were an accidental but miraculous creation by software genius Kevin Flynn.

Clu, Flynn's evil clone, resented his creator's attachment to the ISOs and considered their humanity an imperfection, so he derezzed all of them, except for a few ISOs who managed to survive Clu's attacks, including Ada and Quorra, who, to evade capture, hid ISO markings on her skin from the medics. Paige's greatest quality as a soldier--her loyalty to whoever is her superior--is also the reason for her tragic flaw: her inability to question anything that appears to be wrong, whether it's whatever lie Tesler tells her or the lies about the "crooked and dangerous" nature of the ISOs that Clu's forces have spread across The Grid.

Paige too easily accepted as truths those lies about the ISOs, so when she spotted Quorra's markings, she considered snitching on Quorra's whereabouts to the authorities. However, Paige didn't go through with the snitching. Her medical center co-workers did. Later, when Paige awoke from being knocked out by Quorra during her escape from Tesler's guards (she believes that Paige betrayed her, so I'm betting Wilde will resurface later in the season for Quorra's inevitable battle against Paige), she discovered her medical center staff was massacred.

The aftermath of the attack was where Paige first encountered Tesler, who told her that her co-workers were derezzed by Quorra and Ada and offered her a spot in his army as a way to seek her revenge. Paige doesn't know that Tesler lied to her and was the one who derezzed her co-workers right after they reported Quorra and Ada to him (he deemed any program who came into contact with ISOs to be too "contanimated" by them).

Wilde's guest shot is a treat for those of us who enjoyed her performance in Tron: Legacy. Quorra's love for the works of Jules Verne, her curiosity about the world outside The Grid and her wish to see an actual sunrise helped keep the film from becoming a way-too-chilly-and-dull sci-fi actioner, and even though those character touches bordered on Manic Pixie Dream Girl Syndrome, Wilde did a nice job bringing to life those aspects of her character. In "Isolated," Paige's music brings out in Quorra the same kind of curiosity she expressed about Verne and the Flynn family's non-digital world.

An even more surprising credit in "Isolated" than Wilde's name belongs to André Bormanis, who scripted the episode and whose name is familiar to those of us who pay attention to the credits of sci-fi/fantasy shows--he's a veteran of Legend of the Seeker and the Star Trek spinoffs. That era of Trek when Bormanis served as a writer and science consultant can be a chore to watch because of the later spinoffs' overreliance on the same kind of impenetrable technobabble that makes the first Tron film a chore to watch too.

Bormanis takes a crucial and less irritating element of the writing on those Trek shows since the '60s--incorporating past and present real-world issues into the Trek heroes' missions--and brings it to "Isolated." The racially tinged treatment of the ISOs parallels both the harsh treatment of illegal immigrants in Arizona and the persecution of Jews, right down to the ISOs' markings (although those are birthmarks instead of prisoner number tattoos imprinted by their captors).

If you derezzed the virtual setting of The Grid and the terms "program," "ISO" and "derezzed," the flashback portion of "Isolated" could easily be a story about a medic in a Nazi-occupied part of Europe who discovers the patient he's befriended is a Jewish refugee and is faced with the dilemma of turning the refugee in to the authorities. The episode's final scene poignantly shows Paige clinging to one of the few remnants of both her old life and her humanity, as she secretly reactivates the old melody that used to automatically play on her instrument. All this is pretty weighty stuff for a Disney XD show.

Both "Isolated" and last week's episode, "Identity," which deepened the previously boring character of Tron himself ("Tron isn't a character, he's an impossibly virtuous program," complained the A.V. Club about the 1982 movie's screenplay in 2010), have shown how far the Tron franchise has come from the flat writing and convoluted, barely-comprehensible-when-you-were-a-kid gibberish about programs and their "users" that characterized the first movie. Tron is evolving into a more relatable and mature--as well as far less technobabble-plagued and far less alienating--franchise. It's like the live-action Star Wars franchise in reverse.

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