Have you, an awesome reader and glorious bastard to boot, been thinking we’ve been watching too many fantastic episodes? Are they just lifting you too high into the stratosphere of quality? Man, do I have an episode for you in Lucky 13. After taking a couple of days off to both get refreshed and to concentrate on some of the Chicago Film Scene stuff, I’m returning to the reviewer’s seat with the most whelming episode I’ve watched yet. So let me explain why this episode is a true drink of room temperature water.
The Episode Summary
Based on a short story by Marko Kloos (the writer of Shape-Shifters), Lucky 13 follows the Lt. “Cutter” Colby, a rookie space marine pilot. Over the episode, she recounts her tenure as the pilot for the dropship Lucky 13. Cutter is given Lucky 13, a ship that is considered unlucky for two reasons. The first is all the numeric signifiers of 13. The second is the complete death of the previous 2 crews. After getting Lucky 13, Cutter is sent on a likely suicide mission running point to a compromised LZ. After delivering her troops, their position is compromised, and the other ships are quickly destroyed. Despite the heavy fire, Cutter manages to get all the survivors loaded on. After an intense canyon dogfight, she manages to return the base with no casualties.
Cutter then recounts how she flew 19 more successful missions with Lucky 13. These missions are so successful, none of them even resulting in casualties. Despite the success, she declines multiple offers for new ships to pilot. On her 21st mission, everything is proceeding as planned. That is until some well-placed enemy troops cripple Lucky 13 with an anti-aircraft gun. After a crash landing, the crew evacuates the ship while Cutter remains behind to give them covering fire with the Lucky 13 machine guns. Despite her efforts, she is quickly surrounded.
Knowing there’s no other option, Cutter sets Lucky 13 to self destruct and abandons ship. She makes it to the trench, but Lucky 13 doesn’t detonate when the timer goes off. Instead, the ship seemingly waits for all the enemy troops to gather around it before detonating and wiping all the enemy troops out. Cutter, a war hero, receives a new ship and commendations for her bravery, but remarks she’d give that all up for one more mission with Lucky 13.
If you couldn’t tell from my intro, Lucky 13 never exactly grabbed me. Even when I first watched it back in March, it was one that just kind of played and while I watched it. I mean, it didn’t leave enough of an impression in my mind where I could recount any details afterward.
My biggest gripe is that it just felt so bland. I felt like I had seen it before. I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi stories about space marines. This is because many of them feel similar enough that they can blur together (though to be fair, this can be said of many genres). Lucky 13 is no exception to the rule. To me at least, there was no world-building detail given that felt like it made the episode distinct. For example, they never give the enemies a name, let alone a reason for the conflict. If you were to tell me Lucky 13 was a cinematic cutscene in an upcoming Halo game, I wouldn’t be all that surprised (you know, maybe this should have been a video game in the first place?).
My other big gripe when I first watched Lucky 13 was the animation, provided by Sony Pictures Imageworks. Befitting a cinematic Halo cutscene, the animation was standard LDR boilerplate lifelike 3D CGI. To put this in perspective, this is 7 episodes out of 13, and they largely look the same. It’s gotten to the point where I just tend to get bored by if the episode doesn’t try anything new with the animation. I mean, compare Lucky 13 to Fish Night, Good Hunting, and Suits in terms of episodes that try different animation styles. If you’re looking at how well the 3D CGI episodes utilize the style, compare Lucky 13 to Helping Hand. That said, neither of these gripes are death knells for Lucky 13. If this episode had been in the first round of episodes like Sonnie’s Edge, I probably wouldn’t mind the animation.
And there were some positives as well. I mean, the dialogue wasn’t bad. Sure, it’s a bit techno and military babble filled, but not needlessly so. The dogfights were also exciting. The first one brought to mind the Grand Canyon dogfight in Independence Day. So while I do tend to find space marine stories boring, Lucky 13 is at least well made enough where if you do enjoy that kind of story, I bet you’d enjoy this story.
When I rewatched it for the first time the other day, my complaints remained the same. If there was anything I gained from my rewatch, it was an appreciation for the relationship between Cutter and Lucky 13. Samira Wiley (Poussey from Orange Is the New Black) gives us a surprisingly heartfelt performance, the best so far in a show where acting is an afterthought. She acts opposite the seemingly lifeless ship, given a sense of life through some interesting cinematography; namely, the action shown through the eyes of the interior cameras on the ship.
Through Wiley’s performance, we truly get the sense Cutter and Lucky 13 have a connection deeper than that of a pilot and her vehicle. We even get the sense Lucky 13 has become an extension of Cutter’s being. To see this in action, consider that Cutter starts spending off time onboard Lucky 13. This means that when Lucky 13 is destroyed at the climax of the episode it feels akin to Cutter losing an arm, or better yet a loved one. Conversely, when Lucky 13 takes extra time to self destruct, we the audience are left with the impression that maybe the ship has mutual feelings of affection for its pilot. To be honest, it makes sense to me (I think it’s a ship-based AI, but I could be wrong). Sadly though, one standout performance does not an episode make.
So to wrap everything up, Lucky 13 is an almost painfully bland episode of LDR buoyed from complete mediocrity by a true standout performance by Samira Wiley. It’s not a bad episode by any means, in fact, it’s fairly well made, but if you aren’t super into space marine sci-fi, I bet you’ll feel the same way.
My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats
Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.