EPISODE REVIEW: Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: “Absolute Power” (Episodes 19 and 20)

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This season of Ben 10 has been an odd experiment. Rather than a season-long story or a bunch of standalones, we’ve had three somewhat uneven arcs that feed into each other. In the first, Aggregor is introduced as a new arch nemesis working largely behind the scenes. In the second, Aggregor is in open conflict with Team Ben. He’s defeated, but Kevin goes off the deep end in the process. The third arc - which concludes tonight - is all about Kevin’s fall. The show has gotten dark, at least by Ben 10 standards. So how will it end? Will they chicken out and return the seat backs and tray tables into an upright and locked position, or will they get all Straczynski on us and have the situation go from bad to worse? A little from column A and a little from column B, as it turns out.

PLAY BY PLAY

Kevin beats up Alan in a fight. He’s one of Grandpa Max’s protégés from “Alien Force.” Kevin drains his powers, and would have killed him if not for Ben’s timely intervention. It’s strongly implied that he killed Manny and Pierce and the other members of that team, including some doctor guy we’ve never heard of before.

Ben and Gwen argue about the best way to deal with Kevin - help or kill - with Ben taking the kill option. This spills over into a super powered smack down, which Ben wins. He goes on a sleuthing spree, beating the living crap out of everyone who’s ever dealt with Kevin as a way of getting information about his whereabouts. He pounds on the Forever Knights worse than we’ve ever seen him go after anyone - they’re clearly terrified - and he seemed on the verge of seriously hurting Vulcanis before Gwen intervened.

Gwen, meanwhile, tries to get Grandpa Max to tell Ben to stand down, but Max says Ben is right. Later he calls Ben to discuss the options with him: “I put Kevin down like a mad dog, but that’s not you. You always find another way.” Well not this time. “I won’t argue with you, I just wanted to make sure you’d thought this through.”

Gwen, looking for another alternative, tracks down Mike Morningstar/Darkstar, hoping his energy-vampire powers will help them. Together with a surprisingly buff Cooper, the techno kinetic kid from “Alien Force,” (“I had a growth spurt”) they head to Los Solidad to build a trap for Kevin.

Of course getting him there is a problem, and we’re treated to an increasingly dangerous series of standoffs - Grandpa Max, Kevin’s step dad, Gwen, Ben, Cooper - it’s all a mess, a whole bunch of vulnerable people dancing right on the knife edge. Ultimately, after a massive rolling battle, Kevin is trapped in Cooper and Darkstar’s device, which drains his powers and gives them to Darkstar, who is now literally aglow with godlike powers.

“Oh, like no one saw that coming,” Ben says, and hits a kill switch that takes all the powers everyone has stolen through the season and gives them back to their rightful owners. Kevin and Gwen kiss, Ben and Kevin decide to go for a smoothie, and everyone lives happily ever after, excepting all the people Kevin killed, of course.

The (unsatisfying) end.

OBSERVATIONS

Until they copped out in *literally* the last three minutes, I was totally, completely, undeniably into this. I really was. I’ve always liked the ‘10 franchise, I’ve thought it’s remarkably solid since Dwayne McDuffie took it over, I like the arc-driven stories, even if they’re a bit unshaded in some places than they should be. There were some surprisingly powerful moments, such as when Kevin effectively told Gwen that he was trying to avoid her because he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from eating her. He actually physically hurts her. The whole conflict is pretty raw, and unlike really every other battle we’ve seen in the 116 previous Ben 10 episodes, the main characters genuinely seemed to be in real peril. I was not at all convinced, until the final cop out, that everything would end happily.

I thought that maybe they’d fail to stop Kevin, and he’d be the new antagonist for the rest of the run of this series, or perhaps they’d save him, but drive Gwen mad in the process. Was Darkstar going to become the new Aggregor? There were a whole lot of ways it could have rolled, and - important - for most of this hour I seriously thought it was going to roll one of those ways. But it didn’t. Tray tables up, seat backs upright and locked, thank you for flying Ben 10 air.

Sad.

If one can put aside one’s disappointment at the “And then it stopped” ending, though, there was a lot to like here. The direction (Excepting one poorly chosen cut) was very good, the animation is on the high-range of normal. The script is pretty good, and the odd vacancies in the voice acting - the dead air in conversations that have bugged me since the earliest days of “Alien Force” - are gone. It was genuinely exciting, a good story, well told, if ultimately emotionally unfulfilling.

I mean, after all that buildup? After that increasing tide of despair and fear, just suddenly having everyone go out for a shake seems, well….it’s like if, on December 8th, 1941, Yamamoto and Roosevelt decided to hit the bars and pick up some strippers, rather than fight the largest war in human history. Yeah, it would have saved seven or eight million lives, *and* probably paid for as many as three new tattoos on the strippers, but it’s kind of disappointing from a dramatic point of view, yes?

That said, there’s definitely an “Old home week” aspect to the proceedings: Kevin is hiding out in the old abandoned arcade where we first met him, back in the original Ben 10 series. Alan shows up for the first time since Alien Force. Grandpa is large and in charge. The Rust Bucket (1) sees some action. Cooper’s back, Los Solidad is back. Darkstar is back for the first time since Alien Force. Charmcaster’s old rock monsters are here. Some of the DNAlien tech from Alien Force is on hand, too. We get a not-quite-cameo from Professor Paradox. Julie and Ship show up. There’s a lot of continuity porn here, and it’s all pretty glorious.

It’s implied - not stated - that Manny and the rest died. Are they back to live now that Ben hit the “Everything’s better” button? Dunno. I expect not, though.

The battle between Ben and Gwen never quite became as unhinged as it should have. It should have seemed more raw and emotional, the duo tearing apart, but it lacked that energy. Conversely, Kevin actually killing Ben in cold blood when he was in Echo Echo form was pretty surprising, particularly Ben’s scream. The way they got around that was clever, too.

Wouldn’t the military have deactivated and removed all those old weapons from the base?

We finally get the full story on why Kevin was thrown out by his parents in the original show: He wasn’t. After Devon Levin died, his mom re-married. Kevin was four, and never liked his step dad. Kevin went nuts absorbing power, destroyed their home, and ran away. His step dad has been terrified of Kevin for obvious reasons, but stood up to him tonight in a way that would have been impressive had we been aware the guy existed previous to this episode. He gets in the best line of the night, when Kevin claims his mom never loved his dad:

“How dare you! She loved him more than she ever loved me, and she loves you she loved the both of us combined!”

Still and all, I guess everyone’s a little better for the trip: Ben’s grown up a lot as a result of this, and realizes he doesn’t like fame. Gwen’s faith in human nature was upheld, albeit after a lot of work. Kevin…well, basically Kevin just needs to buy a new shirt. Otherwise, he seems to be getting off scott free and with no real penalties.

Details are fuzzy, but I guess the show is coming back for another year. This felt more like a series finale than just a season finale, but Wiki tells me there’s 32 more episodes coming. I’m not sure how reliable that is, given that Azimuth was already unhappy with this particular Omnitrix

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

I guess so. If you’re a die-hard law and order, crime and punishment type of conservative, then the whole ‘getting away with it scott free’ thing will bug you. If you’re the very Christian ‘turn the other cheek’ kind of Conservative, then it probably won’t. For me, somewhere in between, I just feel a little bit cheated.

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