In this “Very Special Episode”, Peter’s friends sit him down to tell him how his behavior has affected the lives of those who love him…waitaminute. Peter has friends?
DISCLAIMER: The opinions of Donovan Morgan Grant are viewed as his own and are not influenced by the Spider-Man Crawlspace website, nor any previously cited Spider-Man cartoon.
Written by Greg Weisman
Directed by Dave Bullock
Music by Lolita Ritmanis, Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion
Animation By Dongwoo animation
THE PLOT: After realizing through Flash Thompson that his behavior has gotten out of control, Peter seeks to try and get rid of the alien aymbiote. But the alien “will not allow” and attempts to show him how he came to be Spider-Man in order to convince him to keep the symbiote.
LONG STORY SHORT: Through the help of Uncle Ben’s soul giving him pointers, Peter sucessfully rejects the alien and attempts to kill it at the ESU lab. However, the alien finds a very pissed off Eddie Brock and decides to meld with him so they can exact revenge on Spider-Man together. Thus Venom is born.
My Thoughts: This is easily the weakest episode of the whole first season, and maybe the series.
I know how that must sound, but I can’t help it. I’ve seen this episode probably more than any other in the series, and I went from calling this my favorite, to recognizing the flaws it has, to frustratingly realizing that the pros are nearly matched with the cons. The overall plot is cool: Peter’s rejection of the symbiote being handled in an intervention-type period of self-examination. On paper it sounds great. But the actual content is nothing short of a one part sickly told and re-told origin, one part Sam Raimi movie ripoff, and one part just plain misinformation. The whole bulk of the second act and most of the third really, really annoy the crap out of me, and its not so much stupidity in the plot as it is lazyness in the writing. Much of what actually goes on on-screen isn’t really explained, and for a show that has had fantastic writing up to this point, that makes it more irritating to sit down and watch.
Before I start my internet fanboy aneurysm, I want to lull you the reader into a false sense of optimism and point out the positives in this episode. This one isn’t all bad, and in fact pretty much most of the show that isn’t the flashback is at the show’s standard range of quality. First and foremost, the absolute BEST thing about the episode can be summed up in two words. JOSH. KEATON. This man’s voice acting talent shines like I personally have not seen it shine before. He gives one of the most nuanced, emotional, versatile, heartfelt performances EVER in the series. His performances in scenes such as the school scene in the cold opening, his reaction to being bitten by the radioactive (genetic, whatever) spider, and his realization of Uncle Ben’s killer’s identity are so incredibly amazing that it nearly makes the episode a must-see. I really can’t put it into appropriate words, but it’s a seemingly easy thing to imagine how Peter Parker should sound like. Spider-Man is usually seen as Mr. Jokenheimer, always quipping and throwing out puns at the villains dispense. But its really when we get to see Peter Parker by himself that the true character we fans of the comic book love and admire comes through. I personally see Spider-Man as a tragic character simply because his entire reason for being (in superhero terms) is a reaction to a mistake that really any one of us could make if we were in the same situation. It’s that universal appeal that comes through again and again whenever Peter is alone with his thoughts or contemplating about his life that I think we all like seeing, and Josh Keaton completely nails it in “Intervention”. Its not even that he talks to himself a lot or anything, it’s his very human emotion when he shows multiple facets of it. When he gets bit by the spider, his screaming “Not again!” sounds so painfully real to me, I look forward to it every single time. Its just such an excellent performance, I can’t praise it enough.
While we’re on the subject of voice acting, Ed “1994 J. Jonah Jameson” Asner as Unlce Ben was a sweet touch. On that level it was an awesome geek trivia thing, but he really did do a terrific job as Ben Parker. He sounded a lot slower and older, which had to be intentional as he’s a professional voice actor, and it was a wonderful casting job that gave birth to an excellent performance.
Moving on, the character bits concerning Flash, and the scene with Gwen and MJ were both definite highlights for me as well. I really love Flash Thompson in this show, because he’s another character that on the surface fits a stereotype but really doesn’t after you get to know him. He’s really a good guy, and though this is nothing new for the show to portray, his grim reactions to Peter insulting the girls at school were plain awesome. I feel that people who don’t read the comic may be a little confused as to why the high school jock/bully is giving Peter friendship lessons, but besides the character adhering to his personality in the comics, I ask them “why not?” Just because Flash is a bit of a doofus doesn’t mean he can’t be disgusted at other people’s jerky behavior. That look he gave to Peter alone just made me like the guy more than I did already, as well as their scene at the hospital.
Same with the Mj and Gwen “girl chat” scene. Well, I didn’t like it as much only because it was..um, girly. But what I did like about it was that it truly felt honest. Mary Jane continues to be the all-seeing/all-knowing cool gal, while nerdy Gwen with her ruffled hair and orange sweatshirt can’t help but confide in her about her feelings towards Peter. I liked that, in that it transcended cliques and still felt like something that happens at high schools. There’s often a story where the cool kid is friendly with the nerd. (The Sandlot, Happy Days, Jennifer’s Body which I never saw) and I especially liked that it was used with these two characters who are usually seen in fans’ eyes as rivals for Peter’s affections which is pretty sexist, let’s be blunt about that. While MJ’s personal feelings for Peter are completely unknown at this point in time, to see her give advice to Gwen was just nice to see.
With that lovely scene in mind, lets get into what made this episode suck, or at least disappointing. Like I said, its mainly the entire “intervention/flashback/origin/black and white/Angel Ben/Believe in your friends/Heart of the Cards” stuff that tanks it, but before getting into that the scene with Spidey and Tombstone, while serving a definite purpose felt so odd to me personally. This isn’t really a knock on the episode, but Tombstone telling Spider-Man to prove his newfound loyalty by not fighting crime for a week seemed really weak to me. I still don’t know exactly why, but it didn’t feel heavy enough. It was more like “Okay, anything else?” I mean, Peter basically does that already, he really goes out on patrol when he has time to. But whatever, thats just a thing I had. On a more direct problem, Peter convinently going to the cathedral marked the return of the type of lazy writing that I felt the Doc Ock episode suffered from. He suddenly went from swinging from building to building, to entering a church. And at that point he didn’t even know the symbiote’s weakness to sonic vibrations (which he figures out w/in a millisecond, just sayin’). I feel there could’ve been other ways to drag his butt to the top of a cathedral besides just going there without any pre-thought. Its a now established, defined part of the Symbiote story that he finally rids himself of the suit at the top of a cathedral. Fair enough. But the show needs more than history and set pattern to follow that trope. There’s no reason for Peter to go to the church besides plot convience, and thats bad.
The next thing that I didn’t like was the downright abusive references to the Spider-Man movies that pretty much replaced the classic Spider-Man origin. In fairness, this is something that Greg Weisman said in an interview that he probably should’ve held back on, but it must be said. Going down right to the exact same lines just screamed to me as more lazy writing than writing. I admit movie references are nice when they’re far and few between, and I do recognize the influence that they have on this show. But there’s incorporation, and then there’s implanting other people’s stuff. Really, this is also something thats more of a problem that I have than it is a problem of the story, but I still really hate it. I hated Gwen and Martha Conners saying the same lines from the movie. I hated Uncle Ben and Peter (who was slightly de-aged as a fourteen year old, that was nice) saying the same lines from the movie. I can understand them incorporating things about the movie’s version of the origin such as Peter being dropped off at the library, and him not actually getting paid because they make sense and move the plot forward. My dad said that it never made sense to him for a burgler in the city to break into the suburbs. But it all just rang as “Hey, I watched ‘Spider-Man’ last night. I got my script!” And I know that’s a pretty jerk thing to say, and I don’t mean to personally insult Greg Weisman or the other writers. And I’m not hating on the movies either, because I do like all three of them. But the thing of it is that I have a very seperate view of the Spider-Man movies, and the usual comic form. I just see an ongoing television show to have a stricter sense of continuity that lends itself to adhere more towards the comic book’s plot than the movies. Trust me, if Batman: the animated series had the 1989 movie’s origin, I’d have been just as annoyed. I just don’t like the very blatent and obvious movie references, and every time I find it distracting, the episode loses something for me. Now this next thing is more of an unclear problem towards the crux of the story. Exactly what is going on inside of Peter’s brain in this episode? I get that its meant to be a “This is your Life” type of dealio, but if you remember at the start he was pretty sentient and acted differently from the other characters. So what’s going on? Why is the symbiote showing all of this to Peter if Peter is reacting differently to everyone around him? Flash Thompson teasing him doesn’t register at all because Peter’s too freaked out about being back at the field trip where the spider bit him. And why after the spider bit him did Peter fall in line with the flashback? It turns into an origin story where he’s reacting as he did the first time he knew of his powers. It was very interesting at first, where Peter was aware of what was going on when it all started. But after it goes into total origin mode and everything happens according to legend, it just doesn’t make any sense. What was the symbiote trying to accomplish? Okay yeah, we wants Peter to give into despair and bond with him. But showing him the death of Uncle Ben seemed like a weak way to go about it. Peter has realized that he’s to blame for Ben’s death. Did the symbiote really think it could convince him otherwise after so much time had passed? And where in blazes did Uncle Ben come from? That never made sense because the symbiote is a living organism. It can exist in Peter’s psyche as long as they are together. Not only is Ben not with Peter inside of the symbiote’s web at the top of a catherdral, he’s rotting six feet under. I know that they tried to explain that it was Peter’s memory of Uncle Ben that was helping him, which was meant to be self-realization concerning Peter’s psyche. It was still cheesy for me though. But what I feel truly makes this not work is the fact at how easily out-convinced the symbiote gets if that’s the case. The symbiote is An ALIEN LIFE-FORM. It can form clothing, enhance strength multi-fold and encase its host in a giant web when it feels frisky. I just didn’t like how the reason for it being defeated came about. And how did Spider-Man defeat it? By remembering he has lots and lots of friends!
I..what? Since when has Peter ever really had that many friends? Scratch that, when IN THIS SHOW has he shown to have that many friends? This is absolutely the biggest problem I have in the whole show, and it festers at the end of the next episode as well. FIRST of all, Peter Parker is a co-creation of Steve Friggin’ Ditko. That means the guy is a loner, a usually solo character, and a man routinely shown to reside in solitude. I said in my first review that previous shows as well as the comics were known to portray his inner monologue. You know why he has such notable and heavy inner monologue? Because he doesn’t really have anyone to talk to! I’m not saying that he doesn’t have any friends, but as Spider-Man he’s rarely had any close friends, and certainly none that aren’t part of the superhero community or those who don’t know his secret identity. But this is the version that pushes this idea, and its honestly not true. Name one person besides Gwen who you would consider Peter’s friend at this point? MJ, ok yeah. Aunt May? Well, thats his only living relative whom he lives with. Harry? Well he got addicted to drugs, brushed him off and lives in Europe now. Jameson? He hates Spider-Man and doesn’t think much of Peter Parker. He does like him, but Peter doesn’t know that. Let’s see, who else…Eddie? Eddie said they weren’t friends anymore, so you can count him out. Glory Grant? Since when have they ever had a scene together? Martha Connors? She fired him and called him an untrustworthy weasel (not in those exact words but still..) Hobie Brown? The guy hasn’t said a line of dialogue in the show yet!
This whole explanation for why Peter isn’t as alone as the symbiote says he is burns me because it just reeks of plot contrivance, utter nonsense, and stupidly cheesy reasoning to beat a villain. Worst of all, Peter’s never needed the false excuse of friendship to defeat an enemy before and certainly not to defeat an alien, which already pushes the lines of credibility in the Spider-Man world. I can barely take that the production team thought that would be a good way to beat the symbiote. Its so kiddified and dumb..I’m rambling. Its just stupid, and they could’ve done anything else to beat the symbiote.
2.5/5 webs (plus half a point because Josh Keaton is made of win)
At the very end, we get a fairly cool birth of Venom which lacks the twisted religious part of the character, but let’s leave all Eddie Brock thoughts for next time. As the season draws to a close, one of Spider-Man’s most deadly of enemies seeks revenge and is gunning to kill him. Will Peter survive? Will Gwen confess her love for him? Will the episode suck? Tune in next time, True Believer!
*Best Line Contender- Peter: “Help, *scoffs* help. That’s a good one. How exactly do you plan on helping? Do my homework and lower my GPA?”
All images taken from Toonzone.net