The X-Men Episode Guide 3×20: ‘Weapon X, Lies, And Video Tape’
The early ’90s were spoiled for choice when it came to comic book adaptations. Not only was Batman: The Animated Series on the air, but X-Men led Marvel’s push to get on the small screen, diving right into the often convoluted continuity of everyone’s favorite mutants, luring in a generation of fans, and paving the way for cartoons to follow. That’s why we’ve set out to review every single episode of the ’90s X-Men animated series. This week, Wolverine gets sad about revelations concerning his mysterious past, so it must be a Monday.
Previously, on X-Men:
In our last episode, a few of our Merry Mutants took a trip to Europe for a ski vacation, but because they’re the X-Men they were almost murdered in a mass hate crime. The specific catalyst: Nightcrawler, a teleporting circus acrobat turned monk who had inspired the sin of jealousy in one of his fellow friars. While the monastery itself didn’t survive the attack, Nightcrawler did, and also led Wolverine to accepting Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
That, of course, led us to the only discussion that we could have while still remaining friends, as I asked for other vacation destinations for the X-Men. Here are a few of my favorite suggestions, starting with an observation about their current vacation habits:
“The X-Men can actually, literally, choose any afternoon they want and fly their private jet to go visit a tropical dinosaur park with no fees and no screaming children. Instead, we mostly see them take trips to Scotland (the only climate more depressing than New York) and the sewers (the most depressing part of New York).” — Ben Freeman
“I’m 100% sure Gambit has booked himself into the REO Speedwagon Carnival Cruise at least once.” — Harry Jenkinson
“If Cyclops is in charge, even money on them taking a class trip to that box factory from that episode of The Simpsons.” — Jay Yaws
“I imagine an X-Men vacation would be a lot like the vacations from Calvin and Hobbes: Cyclops packs everyone into an old station wagon for a 10-hour drive to the middle of the woods to go camping, where they spend a week being swarmed by insects and eating burned hot dogs while Cyclops the Boring Dad obliviously drones on about their abject misery ‘building character.’” — Brad Hodet
And now, the greatest episode title this show has ever had:
That’s right: “Weapon X, Lies, And Video Tape,” brought to you by writers Steven Melching and David McDermott and producer/director Larry Houston. And it’s not just completely unexpected reference to a 1989 Steven Soderbergh film starring James Spader, it’s also a 100% accurate sumarry of the events of this episode. If it was even slightly more in-depth, I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of writing it up for the episode guide. Alas.
We open in a typical Canadian home, and by that I mean a log cabin that looks like a grizzled old prospector lives there, where Sabretooth is making trouble for Wolverine and his lady friend, Silver Fox. This is, I believe, the cartoon’s first reference to Sabretooth’s tradition of showing up on Wolverine’s birthday to make his life miserable, complete with cake, but it turns out to be a dream. Or a flashback, since it’s based on real events. Or, well, actually… look, it’s complicated, okay? We’ll get to it.
As Wolverine thrashes around in a cold sweat, all of his friends are standing around watching him sleep, which is a) mega creepy, and b) an extremely stupid thing to do when you’re dealing with someone who has knives for hands. Jean, who has apparently fully recovered from being the Phoenix and is back to pulling her hair back tight in that goofy head-sock that makes her look like fanart of a human Vulpix, claims that “the nightmares and delusions are getting worse.”
Professor X tries to calm him down/steal his credit card number using his mental powers, but some kind of weird brain lightning shoots out of Wolverine’s head and he jumps out of bed, bum rushes past the rest of the X-Men, and takes off in a Jeep, almost running Beast over in the process.
Yup. It’s definitely Monday.
With Wolverine running off, Jean heads into his room to see if she can find any clues as to why he’s so upset, which, let’s be real here, basically means she’s a terrible friend who hasn’t been paying attention at all to anything Wolverine has done or said on the past three years of this show. That dude is nothing but reasons to be upset. And, since Gambit isn’t in this episode, he has also taken the role of resident creep, which we learn when Jean starts rifling through his nightstand and pulls out a framed picture of herself with Scott that he has torn in half.
I was about to say that this makes Wolverine seem like a serial killer, but when you get right down to it, Wolverine kind of is a serial killer? I mean, his killings have been serialized, right?
Anyway, it’s also worth noting that while they definitely recycle footage from previous episodes later on in this one, this isn’t the picture of Cyclops and Jean that he was tearing up back in Season 1, which means that Wolverine has at least two nice photos of Jean and Scott that he has stolen and torn up. They should maybe not let that guy live in their house. Just a thought.
He also has a picture of Silver Fox that was mailed to Wolverine two weeks ago, complete with a set of map coordinates written on the back, because this episode had to turn into a Phoenix Wright game just to get the plot set up. Jean dispatches the Beast to bring him back, presumably because she doesn’t want to be alone with a (literally) deslusional weirdo who has been stealing photos of her and burning out her fiancee’s eyes with a cigarette.
Meanwhile, in Canada…
Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize this as the Weapon X facility that Wolverine escaped from after the Adamantium was bonded to his skeleton, as seen in a flashback back in Season 2. It’s a nice little bit of visual continuity, especially since this time, Wolverine is wandering through it while actually wearing pants.
The facility starts triggering a few flashbacks — Include Wolverine shouting about someone “messin’ with my heeeaaddd!,” take a drink — and once Beast shows up to try and calm Wolveirne down, Wolverine once again manages to get around this show’s prohibition against saying the word “kill” by saying that his memories are of “training to… take people out” which is something I’d really like to see. Wolverine, fidgeting in a dinner jacket, sweating while trying to pin a corsage on a mannequin, only to accidentally pop his claws and decapitate it.
They explore further, and get more flashbacks of his romance with Silver Fox, getting downright Archie about it and carving their names (such as they are) into the wall of their cabin before Sabretooth shows up to ruin everything:
But then! His reverie is interrupted when Sabretooth shows up IRL!!!!!!
It seems that like Wolverine, Sabretooth has also received a mysterious letter leading him to the Weapon X facility, and he thinks Wolverine was the culprit. Again, this seems to run counter to what these characters ought to know about each other. I sincerely doubt Wolverine is the type of guy who really does much written correspondence, unless you consider Lone Wolf & Cub fanfic to “correspondence.”
As the two extremely hirsute mutants fight, there’s more brain lightning and they have a mutual flashback (weird) to a mission where the Weapon X team fought against Omega Red, and Sabretooth left Wolverine’s teammates to die. But as they remember it, those very same teammates show up: Silver Fox and Maverick.
YES: MAVERICK IS MAKING HIS FOURTH APPEARANCE ON THIS SHOW. Update your scorecards to reflect that it’s Kitty Pryde: zero, Maverick: FOUR.
It seems the entire gang has been lured to this location with a combination of nightmares and mysterious letters, which gives me the idea that the Canadian government has been planning the single worst Murder Mystery Party in history. Silver Fox, whose mutant power seems to involve exposition, explains that the Weapon X program “did something to our minds… something codenamed ‘Talos.’” She then opens up a door to reveal a massive set of sound stages that Wolverine initially refers to as “Poser Hollywood” (a pretty sick, if super ’90s, burn) before he takes a closer look and realizes that all of his “memories” were filmed here on a Canadian backlot, just like episodes of Smallville.
I’d be upset too.
The whole thing is a very interesting premise about the idea of implanted memories and faked relationships between characters that undermine everything these characters think they know about each other — and it actually gets really creepy with the insinuation that they manufactured memories of an abusive childhood to make Sabretooth the aggressive murderer that he is today, filling him with resentment for a father who would beat him with a stick because he had mutton chops at the age of 8:
That said, it’s not actually done that well, especially if you compare it to the episode of G.I. Joe that did the same thing ten years before. Both shows are heavily influenced by The Prisoner (the G.I. Joe episode lists Shipwreck’s address as No. 6, Village Drive, and the soundstages from the X-Men cartoon are pretty reminiscent of the “Degree Absolute” from The Prisoner‘s “Once Upon a Time”) but there’s really no comparison. The G.I. Joe story, a two-parter called “There’s No Place Like Springfield” that was written by comics legend Steve Gerber, holds up even today for its genuinely disturbing imagery and the surprisingly sophisticated psychology involved for a show meant to sell toys to 10 year-olds. This, however, just kind of falls flat. Maybe it’s a matter of Joe having a two-parter to work with and X-Men having to cram it all into 20 minutes and ending up with something that isn’t really set up too well, maybe it was just that we’ve had a nice string of solid episodes and something had to come along and derail it, but the whole thing just trips over its own feet and falls flat on its face.
As they keep exploring Beast gets access to Professor Thornton’s records so they can explain just what exactly is going on here: Post-hypnotic conditioning designed to allow the results of the Weapon X program to be integrated back into society as sleeper agents who could be activated by triggering their memories, which apparently would also make them take off as many articles of clothing as BS&P would allow:
Listen, none of us woke up today expecting to see Maverick’s area. It’s just something we’re all going to have to deal with.
According to Prof. Thornton, the traumatic false memories were based on real events, and were designed to overwhelm their mental defenses and make them easier to control, which seems like a truly dubious plan for controlling a squadron of human killing machines. But, you know, Weapon X. They didn’t so much manufacture super soldiers as they had a string of notably terrible decisions.
The facility isn’t done giving up its mysteries just yet, though. There’s one last door guarding the only unexplored chamber, made of unbreakable Adamantium, with four genetic scanners keyed to Wolverine, Sabretooth, Silver Fox and Maverick’s DNA:
Beast makes the cogent point that if Weapon X was trying to hide the truth, they probably wouldn’t put it behind a door that only the four of them could open, but whatever DungeonMaster wrote this adventure just keeps on railroading the party to the end of things. They all go for the scanner, and find one last video tape, with Professor Thornton announcing that they’ve trigged a failsafe called Stryfe that’s going to come and kill them.
Wait, no. It’s called Talos.
But I mean, c’mon. That’s basically Stryfe.
All things considered, the fight is pretty uninteresting and free of tension. Like, there’s four highly trained killing machines against a robot that I’ve never heard of, and even though the Weapon X stuff is far from my area of X-Pertise, there’s only one way any combination of “Wolverine vs. Robot” ever ends. That said, Talos is A ROBOT WITH A BATTLEAXE, which is actually pretty awesome.
Eventually, Team X gets the upper hand, Talos eats a grenade courtesy of Maverick, and Beast hacks the door, but in a nice twist, it’s revealed that there are multiple Talos robots that are programmed to keep coming one after the next until they get the job done. One last bit of brain lightning knocks out the Weapon X crew, and Beast rescues them by hauling ass in a farmer truck as the facility self-destructs:
The former teammates split up, but there’s one final wrinkle: Wolverine reveals that the carving on the door wasn’t on the cabin on the soundstage, meaning that his relationship with Silver Fox wasn’t entirely fabricated — it was based on the truth. Silver Fox, however, has moved on, and shuts Wolverine down toute de suite, presumably because she knows about the weird thing with the pictures of Scott and Jean.
Discussion Question: Since this episode is all about Wolverine and memories, let’s talk memories of Wolverine! How did you first encounter the character? Is there a moment that made you a fan, or made you hate him? I’ll admit that this show was pretty formative for me — I will never not laugh at “Tell Cyclops I made him a convertible!” — but I first saw him in the story where the X-Men were brought to Murderworld, which I love to this day. How about you?
Next Week: We’re done with Season 3! Season 4 kicks off with “One Man’s Worth,” and hoo boy, it’s a time travel story. That… that’s just great.