After the first couple of episodes set up gen:LOCK’s universe and its rules, ‘Second Birthday’ is where the action finally returns to mecha-sized proportions, as the Holons meet their pilots for the first time. However, though the episode is still of matching quality to its predecessors, a couple of small snags do pop up through the polished animation.
The episode opens up with the base in disarray and Dr Weller under pressure from all sides: the gen:LOCK recruits begin to doubt their safety and the programme itself, while Colonel Marin is pushing him to speed up the training as the Union continues to get ever closer, estimating that it’ll be six months before they push the nation of Polity out of North America. After a lot of back and forth, the recruits finally get over their fears and go through the gen:LOCK sequence for the first time, something that Dr Weller calls their ‘Second Birthday’. It is here that the recruits are first introduced to the potential for using the Holons in combat, as well as witnessing the horrors of war as the episode concludes with airships bringing wounded in.
‘Second Birthday’ was the last of the episodes that Rooster Teeth offered previews of before release to the general audience, and again the standard of quality between something that was still sixty percent work-in-progress to the final product cannot be overstated. The editing in the first sequence where the characters are arguing amongst themselves is very cleverly done, as it cuts between Marin and Weller, and the gen:LOCK team, almost fitting their individual arguments together as one. Seeing the Holons in action is a great scene, with the recruits struggling and the experienced pilots finally kicking ass. And the music! The highlight in the score of ‘Second Birthday’ is when the recruits experience gen:LOCK for the first time. The piece is immense in scale, the swelling orchestra sounding almost like something from a Christopher Nolan movie. These are also mixed in with some banging commercial tracks.
The strength of the show doesn’t come from the mechas as people may have first pictured. Though the flashy fighting mechas were what drew audiences in from the trailers, it is the realistic human aspect and the characters that drive a story dominated by technology, robot genetics and mechs. Dr Weller continues to shine through as one of the show’s strongest characters: his dialogue is very well written, and David Tennant was more than a perfect fit, as he can easily balance moments of witticism and emotion. Cammie, though she is the best girl by far, her Scottish writing feels a little forced at points: doubt any modern Scot would use the word ‘Longshanks’. However, this is the only negative aspect of her character in this episode. Maisie Williams still does an outstanding job holding up the tricky accent, and props to the writers for throwing in some Gaelic. Colonel Marin also finally gets some of the spotlight in the episode: it is still strange but welcome to see Monica Rial do something unlike her typical roles, fitting in as a protective commanding officer quite snugly. Even the less likable characters, like Jodie Brennan (Chad James) who is just a complete slime helps add to the realism of the characters.
Going back to the Holons, it is cool to finally see them in action again, this time with untrained hands. The design of the Holon’s basic frame is a bit ugly, but that’s to be expected, being the technological equivalent of a skeleton and muscle. Though the show has focused on the human aspect of it, it’ll be great to see the mechas as tools that advance the story.
Strong characters cannot be supported without strong writing. All of the dialogue feels natural, and the time, energy, and love that has been poured into this project can be easily observed. However, all of the memorable lines go back to Dr Weller. His instructions to Cammie about how to first initiate gen:LOCK are seriously quotable, and his speech towards the end about war is moving and can be interpreted as reflective of our society, especially when he laments that though he had high hopes for how gen:LOCK could be used, the first thing it went to was weaponization. It also contrasts nicely with the humorous moments, like Dr Weller threatening to reprogram the colonel’s assistant robot ABLE with song lyrics. There are also some strongly satisfying moments, like Chase getting small revenge against Jodie, who has been dating Miranda in the four years he’s disappeared.
However, unlike the previous episodes which were consistently strong, some weaknesses are starting to pop up. The argument between Yasamin and Valentina feels like it could’ve done with another take: instead of being heated, it sounds monotone throughout, feeling more robotic than a natural argument. Though it only lasts a couple of seconds, it is still worth mentioning when every other detail about the show seems so meticulously calculated.
Gen:LOCK continues to show strong potential with ‘Second Birthday’, further developing its characters who are the strongest point of the show. The animation on point and the slight drop in frame rate is less of an eyesore than when you first go into the show. Again, the problems that pop in the episode are small and only last for a couple of seconds at a push. However, if unchecked, it could affect the quality of the show.
‘Second Birthday’ continues to drive gen:LOCK home as one of the most promising projects of 2019, though the occasional issue does pop up.