November 14, 2019

Danger 5 “Merry Christmas Colonel” Review | Off the Beaten Path

Oh man, oh man, oh man have I been waiting for this portion of Danger 5. When I rewatched Danger 5 over the years, I would rewatch one or two episodes of season 2 (usually episodes 2 and 3) compared to the 3 or 4 episodes of season 1 I would revisit (take a wild guess which 2 I didn’t). So with this portion of my rewatch, it’ll feel like I’m watching this show for the first time again, and boy am I excited to re-experience the insanity of season 2. Now with the change from 60’s style WWII to 80’s style 50’s Cold War (aka the world is styled like the 80’s but is filled with political figures and events pulled from the 50’s), Merry Christmas Colonel, just like I Danced for Hitler!, has to do double duty of establishing the world of Danger 5 on top of telling an entertaining story. So I bet you’re asking if Merry Christmas Colonel is successful in achieving that goal… let’s get into season 2.

A quick word about the story structure of season 2. Compared to season 1, episodes of season 2 are much more serialized. While there is still a mission of the week, the story line builds with each episode, so you can’t exactly watch the episodes out of order and still understand everything going on like in season 1 (other than the first and last episodes). That said, by sacrificing the 60’s style status quo the first season adhered to, season 2 is able to really delve into the world of Danger 5 and all its insanity. 

So let’s dive into the story of Merry Christmas Colonel. The episode starts off with a rather disheveled Colonel Chestbridge, doing some Christmas shopping in your typical mall. All of a sudden, he’s surrounded by a very much alive Hitler (in disguise as a mall Santa), and two goons. Chestbridge manages to kill one of the goons, but is brought down by Hitler and the surviving goon (later revealed to be Otto Skorzeny aka Carlos Mendes). We then catch up with most of the old team. Jackson, now a grizzled cop in Metro City USA, lives a rather depressing life plagued by Korea flashbacks and loneliness (he’s never gotten over Ilsa, and apparently indulges in Russian hookers who pretend to be Ilsa). Pierre (now played by Zimbabwean actor Pacharo Mzembe) on the other hand has truly been living the high life since WWII, basically using his ability to be everyone’s friend to become the greatest musician (with over 1,000 no.1 singles) and greatest entrepreneur (with over 1,000 fashion lines and 1,000 nightclubs) in history. When we catch up with him, he is performing at his fashion show in Tokyo, enjoying the endless stream of cocaine and beautiful women with his Japanese butler McKenzie. Lastly we see Claire and Tucker, who have just gotten married and are enjoying their wedding reception. Once we’ve been reintroduced to these 4 that the plot kicks in, with simultaneous assassination attempts on all of them, ranging from the mundane (a hit squad sent after Pierre) to the completely wacky (giant floating prawns are sent after Tucker and Claire). After escaping every assassination attempt, the group (minus Ilsa) learn the news about Chestbridge’s death, reunite, and decide to avenge his death.

They go down to Argentina in search of Mendes (who has been in hiding after the war under the protection of Peron), and quickly split up; Pierre and Jackson go investigate the streets for clues on Mendes’ whereabouts, while Tucker and Claire do their own thing (she tries to actually do stuff while Tucker tries to make the trip their honeymoon). It’s around this time we finally catch up with Ilsa; she has gone undercover as a dancer/Mendes’s lover under the orders of her boyfriend Nikita Khrushchev in order to find out Hitler’s schemes and foil them when she can. Eventually she discovers the scheme; Hitler is targeting an American (a high school senior living in the Midwest). She is also ordered to blow up Hitler’s super yacht. After some misadventures, the team starts to reunite, culminating in a full reunion on the dining deck of the super yacht. There they encounter Hitler (who was masquerading as Tucker and Claire’s tour guide), who immediately opened fire on the team. After a brief struggle, Claire is decapitated by Mendes (Tucker manages to catch her flying head), and the remaining team members escape the yacht before it explodes. The episode ends at Claire’s grave (though Tucker still has her severed head) with their next mission in mind; to get to the mysterious high school student before Hitler does.

So yeah, Merry Christmas Colonel had a lot going on, more so than any prior episode. I’m not gonna lie, this was not one of the season 2 episodes I would revisit over the years, and boy do I regret it. This episode is a hilarious roller coaster ride that serves as a pitch perfect introduction to the new world we find ourselves in. So what exactly did I like about it? Well first and foremost, I loved the world building. Like I said earlier, Merry Christmas Colonel had quite the task; reunite us with the world and characters of Danger 5 while introducing us the new status quo, all on top of telling a cohesive story. In particular, I loved the two sets of establishing scenes aka the scene of Chestbridge’s death and the scenes reintroducing us to Danger 5 (barring Ilsa). With Chestbridge’s death scene, we immediately are transported into the 80’s, what with the super mall during the Christmas season, the music, and the hyper stylized violence (the only death that even compares in season 1 is Mengele’s at the hands of his dino-soldiers). We also get some familiar elements in this scene that remind us this is in fact Danger 5; we get Chestbridge (who has an eagle head) and the return of his sit down gun from season 1, we get Mendes (who has a wolf head and speaks perfect Spanish), and we get Hitler (who once again speaks exclusively in German). In other words, it’s a near perfect establishing scene just like the Eiffel Tower theft in I Danced for Hitler!

Once we get reintroduced to the members of Danger 5, we are further brought into the 80’s.  Everything is either bright and colorful (like Pierre’s fashion show), or dark and seedy (like Jackson’s apartment). The drugs of choice are cocaine and more cocaine. The violence and the titillation is turned up to eleven (there is a not insignificant amount of cocaine fueled motor boating, broken arms en masse, and fresh flowing blood). People finish fights with snappy one-liners (Jackson in particular). Even the cinematography plays a role. In season 1, everything deliberately felt like it was filmed on a closed set (I’m pretty sure they went for a three camera setup whenever possible). In season 2, the cinematography feels more cinematic (it’s exclusively a one camera setup), making the world appear more real while also highlighting the absurdity of it all. Yet all the while, the world is distinctly Danger 5, packed to the gills with absurd humor that pokes fun at the tropes and stereotypes while also playing them straight (like I’ve said before, this show is most comparable to Mel Brooks style loving parody). Even with the new era, we still see each character are still themselves, if not given some 80’s style exaggeration. Pierre is still the fun loving partier, just now on a global scale. Jackson is still the hyper-American maverick now reeling from the effects of the cold war. Ilsa is still secretive yet sensual Soviet, now with differing agendas compared to her old WWII allies. Tucker and Claire are still the straitlaced duo, though with the potential to completely go off the rails (I’m looking at you Tucker). Even Hitler is up to his usual schemes, now operating from the shadows, which gives him the anonymity to be truly dangerous on a personal level (I mean, look at all those arms he snaps later in the episode). It’s quite a feat really. These group of scenes really are microcosms of what season 2 offers us, and they leave me wanting more from the season as a whole.

Besides the humor, which is on point (I never fail to laugh at Pierre and Jackson being attacked by a cocaine fueled snake), I’d like to give a shout out to how this show decides to buck the status quo. Many other comedy shows would likely take the safe route, continuing to do whatever works without batting an eye, but not Danger 5. I mean, at the most basic, season 2 could have continued down the established 60’s style world they created, but instead they went and essentially tore everything down and rebuilt it with the shiny veneer of the 80’s. There’s also the story serialization which provides its own risks, especially if some plot element doesn’t land and we’re stuck with them (we’ll get to that later), where as the episodic status quo of last season kept those unsavory elements rather self contained. Most importantly though are the risks they take with the characters, especially with Pierre and Claire. With Pierre, changing up the casting from Mignone to Mzembe in such a blase way (and not even because of casting issues as we’ll see later) could be alienating to viewers. What we get though in Mzembe is a true welcome addition (in fact, I often go back and forth between who I prefer as Pierre), who brings the enthusiasm and good vibes of Pierre to the 80’s while also adding in more surreal humor. With Claire, it takes some balls to kill off a main character, especially this early in the overall story. This is the kind of move that could very easily draw criticism, especially if they don’t play it well going forward (we’ll see this in action as we go along). That said, I appreciate the risk taken, along with all the risks taken. I bet at this point the show creators knew there wasn’t going to be a third season, so them just saying “fuck it, let’s go nuts” in terms of shaking up the status quo is something I appreciate, even if it doesn’t play out (here’s hoping all goes well).

So in the end, Merry Christmas Colonel is a great success at what it does. Comparable to I Danced for Hitler!, it not brings us up to date with the changes in the world of Danger 5, it serves as a solid base for the season arc to build on, and all the while just churning out tons of era appropriate jokes and surreal humor. If anything, this is just a perfect example of the best thing about these rewatches; I get to re-experience these shows in a new way, gaining a new appreciation that I may have missed before. I mean, what else is there to say? In the end, Merry Christmas Colonel leaves me excited for what’s to come.

Final Rating: A-

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