(Banner image by Ryan Campbell.)
Welcome to The DRAGONS TV Recap, a Rotoscopers series in which we recap and discuss the DreamWorks Dragons television series!
Today, we recap and review episode 14,”Astrid’s Team.”
(WARNING #1: The recap/review for this episode will contain SPOILERS for episode 14. Do not read this article if you haven’t watched this episode yet.)
(WARNING #2: Only spoilers for this episode can be discussed in the comment section. If I see spoilers from other episodes, you will be put on notice.)
Hiccup and Astrid are on a routine patrol when they notice that the Night Terrors (their first line of defense) aren’t anywhere near their sentry posts. They quickly discover that Ruffnut and Tuffnut began to train Smidvarg (the leader of the Night Terrors) for their own purposes (mainly to amuse themselves). Astrid starts to remind the twins (and Snotlout) of Dagur’s army and the importance of having a security system in place, when a Terrible Terror greets Fishlegs in the face with an urgent note from Berk.
As it happens, Dagur and his beefed up army did a hit-and-run attack on Berk. Amidst the destruction of the village, Astrid finds out that her house was destroyed in the process. While her parents are safe, Astrid is nonetheless shaken by this news and faces a new uneasiness about her family’s safety.
Shortly thereafter, Stoick debriefs Hiccup on the situation and informs him of the atypical style of attack (one ship and a quick hit). Hiccup and Toothless resolve to look for Dagur in an attempt to find out why the attack was carried out, but they come up short. They and the other Riders reconvene at the Academy, where Astrid decides she will sleep for the night. After deciding that the group should return to Dragon’s Edge the next day to keep looking for Dagur, Hiccup awkwardly decides that he and Toothless will also sleep at the academy that night (as a show of support). That decision eventually turns into a sleepover as all of the other teens decide to join in.
Later that night, Astrid sneaks out to for a walk around the village. Speaking with Stoick, who turns up for a chat, Astrid reveals that she has an inner guilt about not being their to protect her family. Stoick reassures her, noting their similarity as warriors and telling her to find a way to not feel that guilt again. The next morning Hiccup catches up with Astrid and reminds her that they will fly off in an hour, only to be surprised by her decision to stay on Berk. Hiccup changes his tune when Astrid reveals to him that she wants to train a ‘backup’ team of Dragon Riders to protect the village. Hiccup then makes a promise to her that his team will let her do her job while they go on patrol and look for Dagur.
Later in the day, the rest of the group surveys the influx of trainees before leaving for the outskirts of Berk (much to Snotlout’s disappointment). Astrid greets the new recruits by way of introducing them to the ‘reality’ of flying a dragon. This scares a few people away from the Academy, leaving only six willing trainees: Spitelout, Gothi, Sven, Gustav, Bucket, and Mulch. Astrid proceeds with her training exercises with a forceful school-of-hard-knocks style of teaching (complete with broomsticks and push-ups).
Meanwhile, the search for Dagur once again turns up fruitless as the Riders (sans Hiccup and Astrid) retreat back to Dragon’s Edge. Unbeknownst to them, Dagur tracks the Riders and successfully fulfills his plan to use the hit-and-run attack on Berk to follow the Riders back to Dragon’s Edge. Dagur takes the opportunity as the Snotlout and the twins slack off on their duties, leaving Fishlegs to carry on alone.
Back at the Academy, Hiccup begins to notice something odd with the way that Astrid trains the recruits, especially as they are tasked with performing complicated attack maneuvers with little success. Hiccup deduces to Astrid that she is intentionally harsh in her training methods as a way of staying on Berk. A defensive Astrid refutes his claim, even as Hiccup tells her that she can’t always protect her family everyday. Hiccup eventually decides to settle the matter with her later and flies to Dragon’s Edge to check up on the rest of the Riders, only to find Dragon’s Edge under siege by Dagur and his forces.
Hiccup evades a wave of firery arrows and boulders to find the remaining Riders in the sealed Arena, where Snotlout explains that they were caught off guard by Dagur due to the lack of a warning system with the Night Terrors (thanks to the twins). Outnumbered and slightly outgunned, the Riders evaluate their advantages and decide to hold their ground whilst Hiccup writes a carrier letter calling for reinforcements.
The next day, Astrid is just about to begin a new training session when Stoick arrives with word of the Berserkers attacking Dragon’s Edge. Astrid immediately halts the lesson and flies off to help, but not before warning the trainees to stay on Berk, as they are still inexperienced.
Back on the Edge, the Riders are doing battle against Dagur and his men as they do their best to put a dent in their forces. Astrid and Stoick arrive to help the other Riders, but their advantage is short-lived as Dagur and his men take the upper hand against Hiccup and his Riders. Fortunately for the latter, back-up comes in the form of Astrid’s Riders-in-training, who start to trash Dagur’s men and give enable the other Riders to fight back. Angered beyond disbelief, Dagur reluctantly orders the retreat.
Back on Berk, Astrid chastises the trainees for their decision to aid the Riders at Dragon’s Edge, only to congratulate them for their bravery and cooperation. Officially recognizing them as honorary Dragon Riders, Astrid places Gustav (the most experienced of the group) in the position as the leader of Berk’s Auxiliary Riders (further dubbed as the “A-Team” by Hiccup). With her work done and her guilt gone, Astrid and Hiccup watch as the A-Team/Auxiliary Riders fly off into the distance.
As fate would have it, Race to the Edge returns to Netflix and does so by first fulfilling the wishes of many fans for a true Astrid-centric episode. Even better, “Astrid’s Team” (directed by Elaine Bogan and written by Jack Thomas) manages to be that episode without betraying the other characters or the core storyline. It may not be may favorite episode (for reasons I will explain later), but it is one of my favorite ‘character-centric’ episodes of Race to the Edge thus far.
From what I’ve examined, the ‘character’ episodes tend to focus squarely on the development of the character, with bits and pieces of the character’s backstory peppered in for good measure (a full dive into backstory only seems to happen every blue moon on the show). “Astrid’s Team” follows this tradition by giving a respectable nod to her home and family life while shining the brightest of lights on Astrid’s character.
Of a special note, writer Jack Thomas wrote one of my favorite episodes of Defenders of Berk (“The Night and the Fury”). Like with that episode, “Astrid’s Team” devotes much of it’s 22 minutes to a character-driven story, with the dialogue and interaction among the characters as a key element. This style of writing works wonders for this episode, as we get to go deeper into Astrid’s emotional struggles and thought process as she deals with the setbacks of a warrior’s mindset. Interestingly enough, what fuels Astrid’s motivations in this episode is the same anger that drove her vengeful quest to avenge her uncle and family legacy in the Defenders episode “Fright of Passage”. But whereas she barely held back her rage as a young teen, Astrid commands a more subtle yet visible handling of her frustrations as a young adult. As such, it is through her conversations with other characters and her active role in forming the Auxiliary Riders that we see her work through her guilt in a mature manner, all bolstered with excellent writing and wonderful dialogue.
But as fun as it is to see Astrid get a fully-robust character arc of her own, Jack Thomas deserves even more kudos for not shortchanging the other characters where it would have been very easy to do so otherwise. Almost of the characters (and there are a lot of them) are allowed their own moments to shine, whether through dialogue or action. He even finds the time to cap off Gustav’s small character arc, even as his lines are far and few in-between.
As with every episode, the voice-acting here is exceptionally solid. This time around, America Ferrera deserves a special shout-out (deservedly so) for nailing every single line of dialogue, particularly as she is called upon to express a more vulnerable side to her character than we’ve previously seen. This is no more evident than with Astrid’s interactions with Stoick and Hiccup, where Ferrera shines the brightest when portraying Astrid as emotionally conflicted. Zack Pearlman (Snotlout) and T.J.Miller (Tuffnut) supply the funnier moments of the episode, and it is always a treat to hear David Faustino’s vocals as Dagur the Deranged, despite possessing less screen-time in comparison to other episodes.
There does come a point in the episode where things do slow to a something of a lull, and that’s when Astrid does her best drill sergeant impression as she take her trainees through the Dragon Rider boot camp. Despite efforts to keep things interesting by hopping between the A-plot of Astrid and her Riders-in-training and the B-plot of the main Riders looking for Dagur, the pacing does falter a bit when the episode tries to lean-in on the antics of the training sessions, leaving some of the other characters with (literally) nothing to do for a while. It’s only during the third training session (followed by Hiccup and Astrid’s exchange) that the episode picks up, just in time for the big, action-y, third-act showdown at Dragon’s Edge (also true to form for Jack).
One of my biggest praises for Race to the Edge is the action sequences. In much of CG TV animation, the camera is often locked down to a certain place while the action occurs in the frame. While there are some memorable set-pieces in Riders and Defenders (more Defenders than Riders), there are no shortage of instances where a more active camera would have made a sizable difference. In Race to the Edge, the diversification of camera angles paired with improved pacing, choreography, and visuals make for a lot of incredible action sequences throughout. In this episode in particular, the ‘wow’ moments are aplenty during Dagur’s battle with the Riders, with Stoick’s awe-worthy scuffle with Dagur’s goons and a brief clash between Dagur and Astrid as highlights. The mix of aerial and ground confrontations is also handled quite well. It’s all one big testament to Elaine Bogan’s sure-handed direction, where her action scenes are just as satisfying as her dramatic stuff.
All in all, a really good start to the second chapter of Race to the Edge (hence the titling of this article, the first of ten). I don’t know about you, but I definitely consider this something of a breather episode. It almost has to be, seeing as how 6 of the 13 half-hours in this set are dedicated to massive, story-arc heavy episodes. Granted, that still leaves a fair chunk of episodes that are either character-centered or dragon-of-the-week adventures, but something tells me that the main story threads will only start to pick up from here.
Thoughts from the Casual Viewer
TBU (To be updated)
Even as the episode honed in on Astrid’s character, we did get quite a few scenes of solid interaction between her and Hiccup. Probably the most noteworthy was their little ‘confrontation’, which is truthfully less of a confrontation and more like an earnest one-on-one about Astrid’s motivation behind her training.
No kissing…but we’ll get there!
– Is it just me, or were the white streaks on Stoick’s hair a bit odd? Taking TV budgets into consideration, I guess this was their way of showing Stoick’s old age. I’m not really bothered by it much, but it does kinda look like someone threw a fistfull of powder on Stoick’s beard and some of it stuck.
– Even more odd was the ease with which they took out Dagur’s forces. Sure, some of the Riders were outgunned and it took an influx of new Dragon Riders to take them out, but still I wonder. When we last saw Dagur, he had resources and a larger army in tow. But then, how much could you do when you had 13(!) people on the backs of dragons (and a good chunk of them have combat experience).
– The little speech that Stoick gives to Astrid has a ton of weight to it when you consider what happened to Valka.
– That little smile Stoick has when he sees Hiccup giving orders is also a nod to what eventually happens in How to Train Your Dragon 2.
– I kinda like the smaller hints toward How to Train Your Dragon 2. Not exactly table-setting for the movie, but they are just as important.
– Here’s my nerd-out moment: thanks to this episode, the number of Dragon Riders (or people who have rode dragons) has doubled substantially. With Stoick, Valka, Heather, Gobber and maybe Eret included in that count, there are at least 17/18 characters in the Dragons universe who are Dragon Riders or have ridden dragons!
Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow for the recap/review of Dragons: Race to the Edge episode 15. Today, I will be talking about this episode via the Rotoscopers twitter account. Be sure to join in on the discussion by using the hashtag #DragonsTVrecap.
What do you think? What are your thoughts on this episode? If you have seen this episode, discuss it in the comment section below!
(Additional screencaps from avannak.tumblr.com)