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17 - Native Son

Our episode begins with Lion-O and Tygra climbing a mountain covered in snow, looking for a pass through the mountain that Tygra insists must exit, but Lion-O feels his brother's lost and too prideful to admit it.

And already I have questions. Why are they here? Why are they looking for a pass through the mountain range? Last I checked, the book of Omens pointed straight up. How does this correlate to "Go to the other side of a mountain range". Not only that, but there was no snow to be seen, even on the mountain Lion-O had them climb. So what's up with that? WHERE are they? WHY are they here? Did we just give up on finding that second stone? Was that the lesson we were supposed to learn from "The Trials of Lion-O"? "Look for an easier way. If there ain't, don't actually do anything. Because nothing difficult is worth doing?"

Yes, It's a minor point, but it is endemic to the pacing problems the series has suffered from. We've got NO idea why the characters are here doing this. Or how it relates to what they were told. It's as if the writers know this is a Walking the Earth show, but they don't feel like the destinations or places our characters go to need to make a lick of sense.

Lion-O decides to have a snowball fight with his brother, to the later's annoyance who shouts and causes an avalanche, which the brothers avoid getting burrowed by. But the avalanche uncovers a cave, and the pair of cats venture into it. There they are met with figures who recognize Tygra's name, and prove to be Tigers. The lead Tiger is Caspin. And Caspin is evil. I'm sorry, did I spoil things for you? Well don't worry, the show wasn't trying to keep it a secret since they drew Caspin to look like the DEVIL. No really, look at him! Goatee, elongated face, his hair even curves up on the sides of his head into points like horns. The black of his hair even furthers the horn-like effect of his hair! Anyway, Caspin Satan tells Tygra they've long awaited this day where he would return, and that his father will look forward to meeting him.

So we see Tygra's dad (Who's a good foot taller than his son, and looks like Tygra dressing up as Satan Santa) in his throne room, with a big fire pit in the middle. Think Norse longhouse meets Cavemen and you get the look. He's evidently surprised at seeing Tygra, as is Tygra as seeing this jolly Christmas version of himself. Both of them get silent at this awkward reunion, so Lion-O speaks, wondering where the Tiger clan came from. Javan (Tygra's dad) explains the Tigers supported Mumm-Ra during the uprising seen in "Legacy" and were thus persecuted by the other Cat clans after the crash, so they moved to make a living in those mountains.

Satan asks Tygra who he became a prince amongst Lions. Tygra flashback to Claudus and Lion-O's mom. She laments how they've yet to produce a kid, fearing the problem is with her, when someone calls them. A balloon is landing in front of the palace. In it is a heartmeltingly cute baby Tygra, with a note giving his name. Claudus wonders where the little Tiger came from, but Queen Mom doesn't care, they have a prince now (We see who wore the pants in that couple, if you know what I mean). We next see her play with toddler Tygra, calling him her handsome little prince. Cut to an old 2-3 year old Tygra as the Queen and King enter, heavily pregnant. She tells him the gods have blessed them again with an heir, and is about to call Tygra her handsome little Prince when she stops herself at Prince, realizing the new kid means Tygra's no longer the heir. She leaves and the fastforward to the birth of Lion-O, the queen dies in Childbirth, and Claudus delivers the news to his adopted son, show those fine parenting skills by being as distant as he can while almost rubbing it in Tygra's face that he won't be king.

Now if you'll allow me two momentary diversions, what does every scene of the flashback after the adoption have to do with anything? Queen No-Name's death doesn't come up later in the episode, and all Satan was asking is how Tygra came to be prince: He was adopted. The queen's death had nothing to do with it. It's an interesting scene, yes, but the reason I bring this up is that the third act feel REALLY rush, and most of this flashback is both unnecessary and feels out of place. This is time that could've been used to flesh out the third act. The scenes of the Queen playing with Tygra all the way to her death would've made more sense if they had occurred during "Between Brothers" or "The Trials of Lion-O". It almost feels like the writers were worried they couldn't have the Queen's voice actress for more than one episode, so they put all her scenes here for no reason other than "Tygra's in them and it's a Tygra episode".

My other diversion: I rarely comment on the voice acting. And I do want to take this time to mention the good job all the regulars and most guests have done in the show so far. But Queen No-Name's voice feels off. It's really bad. When she laments her lack of heir with Claudus, she doesn't sound natural at all. Both the way her text is written and they way its delivered sounds like someone reading a script, not someone speaking. This applies to most of her half a dozen or so lines of dialogue. I don't know if the writing, directing or voice actress are behind this, but I find it really bad. Nothing that comes out of her mouth feels natural.

Back to the present, Tygra says that day he lost the two things he loved the most: His mom and his kingdom. Which is borderline hilarious. He looked no more than 5, probably closer to 3. How much did he know of his kingdom? How much did he see of it? I somehow doubt Claudus allowed toddler Tygra frequent tours of Thundera. I am sure he had so many policies in mind for guiding his beloved kingdom. Satan comforts him, by telling Tygra today he becomes heir to the Tigers. Tygra asks why Javan gave him away, and Javan simply says it was for his protection. That there is an ancient evil here. The sun begins to set, he tells them to leave for their own safety. Tygra doesn't want to leave without an explanation, but Javan's being less that explicit. Tygra says he wishes he had never found this place, but Lion-O tells his brother he's talking about his father, to which Tygra replies that Claudus WAS his father, not Javan. Lion-O tells his brother to give Javan a chance. Their discussion is interrupted by a hissing, and soon the brothers find themselves chased by giant bug monsters. The bugs shrug of most attacks, but Lion-O manages to blockade them with some ice stalactites, and the brothers make their escape, Lion-O mentioning that Tygra's dad was right about there being dangers.

Back in the throne room, Satan and some tigers confront Javan and tell him they've been given a second chance. They say it's because of him they are in "This situation" and he says they all made that pact. They reply that if he can't do "it", they will. Tygra interrupts the discussion. Javan tells his son he always imagined giving him his whip, a retractable bolo whip that is almost identical to Tygra's from the original show. Tygra declines saying he already has a whip. Javan admits he missed his son, and Tygra says they have a lot of catching up.

Outside the cave, Lion-O thinks something is strange. Tygra arrive, saying he's had a long talk with his father, and that maybe this could be a new home for him. Lion-O says something is up. There's no tracks of the creatures coming or leaving, nor of the tigers going out for food. Tygra points out is snowing, and snow covers tracks. But Lion-O points out that until they arrived, the cave's entire entrance was buried in snow, why would the tigers leave it like that? Tygra gets angry, accusing Lion-O of trying to take something away from him again, of being jealous of him. Dude, WTF???? Lion-O was the one pushing you to forgive your dad. Lion-O's been nothing but supportive of you. Tygra leaves in a huff, and Lion-O maintains there's something he's not seeing, so he draws the Sword of Omens and uses Sight Beyond Sight. He sees that the tigers, all of them, are the monsters that chased them.

Javan has snuck up on Lion-O, and pleads for him to not tell Tygra the truth. Lion-O doesn't want to hide the truth from his brother. So Javan tells him the story: a plague struck the tiger clan, slowly killing them all. The tigers, lead by Satan, press the king to plead to their protectors, the Ancient Spirits (of evil) for a cure. Javan suggested asking Thundera for help, but Satan and the tigers want nothing to do with them, because they still hold a grudge over what happened long ago (So long ago, might I remind you, that the Thunderan don't even remember the tiger clan or believe Mumm-Ra ever existed. Now that's some epic grudge here).

The spirits asked for a price: Tygra's death, for Tygra was to grow up to be their enemies. Javan accepted, and the spirits cured the tigers. But when time came for him to do the deed, he instead sent Tygra away on that balloon. The flashback tries to fake us out by showing baby Tygra being put on a slab of rock, his father raising the knife, only to cut the tether for the balloon who then carries Tygra away - And Tygra is now mysteriously in a basket despite having been laid down on a piece of rock. The spirit then cursed the tigers for the betrayal. Though Javan says their pride which led them there is their true curse.

Javan tells Lion-O he must leave with Tygra. Later that evening, Javan tells Tygra he can't accept him as a son for playing second fiddle to a weakling like Lion-O (great move Javan, clearly by pointing out how lame Lion-O is you'll make him want to stay with Lion-O!). Tygra is angered and makes to leave, especially as he was considering staying with his people. But on the way out, they are attacked by Satan and some other tigers, who intent to kill Tygra to lift the curse. The brothers are overwhelmed until Javan arrives and stabs Satan. Satan tells him Javan betrayed them all and doomed them. Lion-O tells Javan to come clean to Tygra, or he will. Javan begins to confess, but the sun sets, and Tygra sees all the tigers, including his dad turn into shadow monsters. Javan conveniently keeps his beard in monster form. The monster leap at the brothers at the commands of the ancient spirits, and Lion-O and Tygra are overwhelmed. Javan strangles Tygra, who forgives his father. This somehow lifts the curse. Javan calling it an act of "great humility" that countered their pride. How is it humble? Forgiveness is nice and all, but humble? Really? How? This feels really cheap as if the writers were stuck in a corner and needed a way to end the curse.

Tygra says he can join his dad, but Lion-O, catching on, notes that the spirits probably removed their protection from the disease. Javan agrees, noting that in the end, it swept through the whole clan and killed them all. The curse kept them here, between life and death, and now that Tygra broke it (somehow) they will move into the afterlife. Javan tells his son he'll always be with him and proud, as the Tigers vanish in white light. A tearful Tygra takes his father's whip, and Lion-O tries to comfort him as he wonders if his destiny is to lose everything he cares about. Lion-O replies Tygra won't lsoe him, and they still have a pass to find.
Ah, this episode I think perfectly captures the experience of this new series. Great ideas, wasted by poor pacing and bad decision. The third act, after Javan talks to Lion-O, feels REALLY rushed. The Tigers' death feels like a forced Reset Button. A way to ensure Tygra leaves with the Lion-O. Which is foolish, at one could have easily come up with reasons for him to keep going (He's still needed, while the Tigers need to figure their loyalty to the spirits or lack of thereof). I find the tigers death (with potential revisits as spirit figures like Jaga) a waste, as they were interesting. Their troubling past but ties to Tygra could have made them interesting allies.

That said, the first two arcs are really good. I like Lion-O's backing of his brother, and the feel he really doesn't want to see Tygra hurt. The music and the direction are good. But the third act just feels too rushed. The curse's lifting comes out of nowhere and doesn't even make sense. This is an episode that could have benefited from being a two-parter (unlike "The Trials of Lion-O"). Watching this gives me the vibe I get from the whole series so far: Great potential that is not fully used, instead wasted by poor pacing and half-assed aesops.