We’re at the official halfway point of season 2 of Danger 5 with Un Sacco Di Natale, the subject of this review. Now this is going to sound bad, but after watching Un Sacco Di Natale, I’m starting to remember why I didn’t rewatch the latter half of this season. The episode, while it has good humor and funny action, suffers from the same issues that plagued Kill-Men of the Rising Sun back in season one; namely it features opinions and actions that, while maybe more prevalent in the 80’s, are pretty fucked up even when played ironically (and I’m not so sure that’s the case this time). Honestly, I think this is the episode people look to when they say season 1 is better, since this has all of the season 2 flaws packed into one place, and I’ll tell you what they are.
The episode starts off (and takes place fully in) in Vatican City, with Hitler bound and gagged by the Nazi cabal that took him hostage at the end of Revenge of the Lizard Men. Here their plans are laid out; by deposing Hitler as leader of the 4th Reich, they plan on pursuing world domination by taking over the Catholic Church. After some groin focused torture, they lock Hitler up in an iron maiden-esque chamber to drown, and begin to launch their plans. Unbeknownst to the Nazi Cabal (at least at first), Danger 5 is also in the Vatican. While Tucker, McKenzie and Holly stay behind in Pierre’s Vatican City mansion, the others are out in the field; while Pierre is out celebrating the New Year, Jackson is working recon, stationed in an apartment across the street from the cabal meeting place. Ilsa, during a call with Khrushchev, is rather unceremoniously dumped after he accidentally let slip his intentions with Holly; he wants to replace Ilsa with Holly, and make Holly his princess of USSR-Land. She quickly goes to Jackson, either looking for solace or for revenge against Khrushchev.
While the gang is distracted, the Cabal makes their move. Pierre stumbles across one, which after some mishaps leads him to save the Pope from the Cabal, and ruining the whole scheme of the Cabal singlehandedly. At the same time another one (a disfigured Rommel) takes on Ilsa and Jackson in their apartment, subduing them quickly. Rommel, now with a woman’s body, attempts to make Ilsa jealous by sleeping with Jackson (against his will), but it doesn’t do anything other than make her laugh until she decides enough is enough and puts Rommel down for good. While this is all happening, Tucker attempts to find solace in Pierre’s pill collection, and finds himself in a pleasant daydream populated by Claire and his family. Realizing the danger McKenzie enters the daydream to try and bring Tucker back to reality, managing to bring Tucker out, only to find Holly gone, captured by Khrushchev. The team then confronts Hitler, who managed to escape the coffin, and shoot him to death. However, even death doesn’t seem to take, since Hitler quickly shoots Satan dead, and takes over Hell.
So yeah, I said Un Sacco Di Natale has some issues. If I had to boil them down to 2 reasons, they are because of the problematic sexual politics on display, and some bad story and character decisions. For the sexual politics, the biggest offender is easily the scene between Jackson, Ilsa, and Rommel. On one level, they attempt to play what is essentially the rape of Jackson by Rommel (seemingly brought back for only this one scene) humorously, or at least present it as so, what with Ilsa’s glee at the scene contrasting his justifiably horrified reaction. Look, playing the “rape as black comedy card” is an extremely fraught tight rope to walk (the only example I can think of off the top of my head that played it successfully is in one of the resort demonstration scenes in The Lobster). Un Sacco Di Natale plays it in a way that’s not only rather fucked up but hopes at least some of us laugh along with Ilsa as Jackson struggles to get away (she thinks he was having fun). While the idea of a man being raped by a woman might have flown back in the 80’s, it’s hard to take lightly nowadays due to the greater knowledge of the emotional trauma it causes.
There’s also a heaping dollop of trans-phobia thrown into the mix, what with Rommel becoming a woman solely to get revenge against Ilsa by assaulting Jackson. Granted, Rommel was a notorious Nazi, but even then the heaping pile of trans-panic (and gay panic for that matter, since Rommel still considers himself a man) is hard to ignore, seeing as it plays into both the harmful stereotype of the “depraved homosexual” and the “depraved transsexual”. Like with Kill-Men of the Rising Sun and its use of yellow-face (I’ve actually found out it’s even more prevalent in that episode than I previously thought), while it may be using these tropes to reflect the attitudes of the times, the fact it does so clumsily enough where you can’t tell if the trope is being played seriously gives the show an ugly black eye. And that’s not even getting into the other scene I had in mind, where it looked like Tucker was legit thinking about pulling an Ed Kemper (noted necrophiliac serial killer from the late 60’s) move on Claire’s head (are they just making Tucker serial killer in the making?). So yeah, this episode plays with dark subject matter both unnecessarily and not very well in my opinion.
My other big issue with Un Sacco Di Natale comes from poor character and story choices. In terms of the story choices (beyond the Jackson and Ilsa scene I already talked about in length), I’m not sure I like how quickly they disposed of the idea of dissent among the Nazis built up in Revenge of the Lizard Men. Granted, assuming Khrushchev serves as the main antagonist in the next episode and at least one episode that deals with time travel (can’t say I spoiled that plot nugget seeing as it’s a highlight in the season 2 trailer), that doesn’t leave much time for the cabal. That said, I wished they built up the idea more, cause it’s an intriguing plot element that feels like it was dealt with too easily (I mean, Pierre essentially Forrest Gump’s his way into foiling their plans all by himself). There’s also the fact that Pierre does this alone is because none of the other plots even matter all that much. I mean, the other plots (the Jackson and Ilsa plot, and the Tucker and Holly plot) don’t intersect with the main plot until after the scheme is already solved, and each builds to a conclusion that didn’t need a whole episode plot to build to (Jackson ending in the friend zone and Holly’s kidnapping by Khrushchev).
When it comes to character choices (again, besides the Jackson and Ilsa scene), I don’t like the scenes involving Tucker and Holly. When it comes to Tucker, it not only feels like the show creators are making him darker (again, he clearly considered following Ed Kemper’s footsteps, and that’s on top of his massacre last episode), but it feels like they’re spinning their wheels on what to do with Tucker. Granted, it’s only been at most a week or two in universe since Claire was murdered, but we’ve been dealing with Tucker doing nothing but go mad from grief for 3 episodes now, and they largely all play out the same way. To put it bluntly, it’s getting rather boring. Holly is also in true form this episode, being the most annoying she can be. I know a fair amount of the criticism of season 2 comes from the importance she has on the overall plot despite how little does, in Un Sacco Di Natale she’s the true definition of the millstone to the point where I kind of want her to be kidnapped by Khrushchev (and in general makes you wonder why everyone is vying for her). The worst part is that these issues with Tucker and Holly could be fixed very easily; namely, give them shit to do other than sit around.
With all that said, there are things I like about this episode. This is a great episode for Pierre and McKenzie, providing a fair amount of humor while also showing us what they’re capable of. I mean, McKenzie is the only one who’s keeping Tucker alive at this point (both at a personal level and a storytelling level); meanwhile Pierre not only saves the Pope (who later pulls a big damn heroes moment and saves him in return), but he saves the Catholic church (by stopping Das Pope, the Nazi pope puppet), and in a way the world singlehandedly, all by taking out the Nazi cabal and stopping their scheme. Speaking of the scheme, while I do wish the cabal was built up more, I though the scheme itself was interesting (look up the Ratlines in post WWII, you’ll see there’s actually some precedent). It also provided some of the best laughs (again, Das Pope) when given that good ol’ Danger 5 wacky style I’ve come to know and love. Lastly, while there’s no more cabal moving forward, they at least are building Hitler up as the most evil being in existence (I mean, how much more evil can you get than immediately destroying the personification of wickedness?). This means that when we take Hitler’s prior effectiveness, the cabal’s immediate failure, and the burgeoning scope of his evil, he looks positively terrifying.
So, in short Un Sacco Di Natale is a frustrating episode of Danger 5. While it does have some great laughs and a fun main scheme, the episode is saddled by some very problematic material along with general storytelling issues. The worst part about all of this is that most of these flaws can either be dealt with by simple cutting (I mean, how important was it to bring back Rommel, honestly), or with a simple fix (like giving the dead weight characters stuff to do and tying the plots together). Here’s hoping this isn’t going to be an ongoing trend going into the final stretch.
Final Rating: C