Goddamnit, I felt something!
When I reviewed the last episode of Tales from the Borderlands, I complained of the strange way action and exposition scenes were apportioned, something like a sandwich. I also felt like the divide between Gearbox and Telltale Games grew larger as the former’s narrative did not entirely complement the latter’s storytelling methods. In Episode 4, “Escape Plan Bravo,” Telltale manages to wrangle hold of the material and build something more cohesive even if some cracks still show.
We last left off Episode 3 with all our heroes up shit’s creek as Vallory and her men managed to overwhelm and entrap them along with Gortys, our little robot cutie. When quizzed about where his last remaining piece is stored, Gortys points towards Hyperion, sending our adventurers back to Pandora’s moon but without a firm plan or a vehicle to get there. While figuring things out, ol’ Handsome Jack rears his holographic head trying to get under Rhys’s skin, ultimately revealing that the beacon needed to complete Gortys is actually in his old office. It seems peculiar to me that he wouldn’t have mentioned this sooner, but sure, let’s go with that for now. Of course, knowing this information forces Rhys to find a way to explain to Fiona and Sasha how he got this information, and this is your first opportunity to be truthful (I’ve tried before) and accept the consequences of doing so.
Strangely, Vallory becomes a non-entity for this episode. Besides leaving August and her goons with the crew to remind them of their own mortality, her overall threat and presence take a major backseat in contrast to the fever pitch upon which the last episode ended. Instead, “Escape Plan Bravo” is firmly fixated on forming a plan to infiltrate Hyperion, which involves a mostly interactive sequence where the steps are laid out in hilariously idealized fashion. It even ends with Fiona and Rhys staring at the beacon floating above their hands like in a Legend of Zelda game. It’s that easy... until it isn’t.
Rhys goes off to steal Vasquez’s, ahem, “face pizza” from some psychos while Fiona and Sasha are tasked with convincing Scooter to build them a rocket. He’s willing, but it’s really Janey Springs they need to talk to, and she’s unhappy about Athena being kidnapped. Ultimately, she does comply (the episode would be pointless otherwise), and the three heroes, three goons, two robots, and Scooter all go up into space in a rather inspiring title scene. Man, Telltale is good at choosing that one song for their episodes, huh? But before you get too comfortable, there’s a really emotional moment that I was wholly unprepared for. Frankly, having gone through it, I still feel like I’m not ready for it, but kudos to the writers for getting me to feel. (Jerks.)
The remainder of the episode unfolds like an episode of Leverage (which I’ve been catching up on lately). Essentially, everyone needs to act cool and get the job done, but there are all the unforeseen problems. Rhys meets again with Yvette and finds out why she stopped communicating with them, eventually needing to ward her off in order to allow Fiona and Sasha to prowl the hallways. Fiona needs to pretend to be a tour guide to get to Handsome Jack’s office, which involves a bunch of improvising, and an unfortunate chance meeting with Butt Stallion. And when nothing goes as planned, Rhys gets help from his brain buddy in order to break into the office, leading to the “Oh crap...” ending one could hope for in the second-to-last episode of the season.
Because of a greater focus on subtler story cues, reining in Pandora’s complete irreverence for normalcy, “Escape Plan Bravo” works in a way previous episodes didn’t, though “Atlas Mugged” came close. The emotional moments worked without that awkward, out-of-place feeling that came with similar scenes in the past. There is an action scene, a giant shootout of sorts, but you have to see it to believe it, and it serves as some necessary comic relief before the final act.
I feel as if I’m in a better place when I say I’m still curious how it will end. We still need to find out what happened to Vaughn, who’s completely absent. And I still wonder why Rhys’ robot arm is covered in shining chrome in the interstitial sequences with the kidnapper. I just don’t feel that strong emotional investment, the kind that makes me want to root for someone’s success or failure. They’re all kind of goofy jerks, some just meaner than others, and as endearing as that can be, I don’t think I’m meant to like Gortys and Loader Bot more than the humans. Or am I?