Pacific Rim: The Black gives hope to fans of the franchise

The Pacific Rim universe has plenty of potential and The Black shows us why.

by Justin Choo

Pacific Rim successfully revitalised kaiju nostalgia for the fans, and introduced it to a mainstream audience, despite being an entirely new intellectual property. It was a shrewd piece of fan service that also appealed to mainstream viewers who weren’t otakus.

So it was a bit of a shame that Pacific Rim: Uprising was a bit of a damp squib – and they unceremoniously killed off Mako Mori, a character who had more personality than the rest of the newcomers combined, and destroyed all the work that she and Raleigh Becket put in to that point. But I digress. It does prove that the universe that Guillermo del Toro created was worth exploring. More importantly, it meant that many stories are waiting to be told.

In terms of universe-building, it picks up where Uprising and the comic Pacific Rim: Aftermath left off. Uprising introduced the idea of the jaeger-kaiju hybrids while Aftermath gave us the first look at The Sisters of the Kaiju. The Black adds on to the world building and these bits are what make the series an enticing watch.

The Black takes place after the events in Uprising, though the timeline is a little more ambiguous. It’s a shrewd move as it gives the creators carte blanche to tell their story as they see fit without having to worry about stepping on toes where lore is concerned.

The gist of it is that a young pair of siblings Taylor (Calum Worthy) and Haley (Gideon Adlon), find an abandoned jaeger, Atlas Destroyer, and set out on a journey to find their parents Ford (Jason Spisak) and Brina (Allie MacDonald), who were jaeger pilots themselves. Ford and Brina had left them behind to find help, thinking that they made the best decision to secure the safety and the survival of their children.

Along the way, they grow up thanks to the school of hard knocks and the contributions of people that they meet along the way. Loa (Erica Lindback), the AI of Atlas Destroyer is effectively their nanny and the true, objective voice of reason for the most part, while the mysterious boy (Benjamin Diskin) places the siblings in a position mirroring the decision that their parents chose not to take.

In Season One, Shane (Andy McPhee) and Mei (Victoria Grace) served as the antagonists and doubled up as another parent-child-dynamic showcase to contrast their beliefs with that of the siblings’.

Suffice to say, that predictably, the older brother Taylor is a failed pilot trainee with a cynical outlook on life looking after his sister Hayley who by Season Two, cements her status as the moral compass of the show.

She is the uncynical heart of The Black, and in many ways the plot device that moves the story along. She plays the foil to her brother, finding hope where there is none. Taylor’s persona borders on self-loathing because he can’t get past his failures and errs on the side of self-preservation. Nothing wrong with that when you consider that they live in a harsh unforgiving world, where death is a possible outcome of daily innocuous decisions.

For the most part, The Black is a solid showcase of these dynamics, though I have my doubts about how Hayley was written, especially in Season Two. Her insistence on getting her way and doing what she perceives to be the right thing puts everyone in harm’s way at every single opportunity. In real life, The Black would have been a pretty short series. But to be fair, Taylor makes his fair share of bad decisions as well and it is this shared experience that helps them grow as people.

Mei, who spends considerable time with the group, outwardly shares the same sentiments as Taylor but even so, she has to keep his naivety in check. On top of that, she secretly admires Hayley’s idealism and moral courage.

Sounds good, but the fact that Hayley is abusing plot armour willy nilly can’t be a good thing. Are there truly no consequences for never considering the implications of one’s actions? At one point, Hayley argues that her being right before, completely vindicates her decision making. That’s essentially saying that because she dumped $2million twice in a row on a bet with horrible odds and got lucky, you should trust her gut feel without question.

Of course, that’s probably not what they meant, but it certainly comes across that way – mainly because everyone except Hayley faces up to the consequence of their decisions. Or at least is made to confront the thought of it. It’s not an issue in Season One, but somehow it’s a running theme in Season Two.

While I understand that Hayley’s role is in essence, simply sending a message about not losing heart and staying the course even in times of great tribulations, she would have been a far better character if she had to struggle with the cost of her decisions.

But this could well be a consequence of having to sprint to the finishing line. So here’s the oddity; while Season One was far more coherent story-wise, the pacing of Season Two is far better action-wise. The cost of this lopsided pace of storytelling meant that some changes felt strange and out of character, like Shane’s critical, unexpected decision midway through Season Two. It’s a shame, because Shane and Mei’s relationship in Season One was the unexpected gem that should have been a feature of Season Two, but unfortunately they ran out of time to do it justice.

Perhaps, in order to move the story to its conclusion, they sacrificed key plot points that would have added the appropriate nuances to support every character’s development. Maybe, Hayley’s increasingly bratty behaviour wouldn’t have been as annoying.

To be honest, The Black is rather predictable as far as story beats go, but it seems well thought-out. I’m choosing to speculate and believe that it was written with several seasons in mind, but the writers were told to wrap up the story arc in Season Two.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that you need to be somewhat of a Pacific Rim fan to truly enjoy this show. In the end, what keeps things fresh is the unveiling of a world merely hinted in the movies and comics. For the casual viewer, it might be worth a look if you’ve gone through your list of shows to catch, as the series is actually decent. The Black may have its flaws, but it has its upsides too.