Sunday, 13 August 2017

Series 20: Cautious Connor

I'd always found Connor to be a boring character before this episode, which is rather weird considering he's built up to be as fast as Gordon and Spencer (even here). But he's never really had much personality. Can Cautious Connor change that?

Well... no, not really. That's not to say they didn't try, but because there's very little to him before the incident with the coupling rods, we're given no real reason to care for his plight.

Also, it doesn't help when he's in an episode with Stephen, an engine with so much character and charisma that he steals every scene he's in. This episode was no different, especially with the scene at the end where he motivates Connor.

The theme they went for is simple: friends are there to pick you up when you're down. That's great; a really good message and one that will be beneficial to kids and adults throughout their life. However, I feel the need to add these two points. First off, we don't care enough about Connor for the moral to be as strong as it should. And second... well, what do you do if your friends can't help?

This is why I have a problem that this year's marketing strategy is "friendship": it's far too idealised and cuddly, when in reality (and The Railway Series, come to think of it), things are much more complex and difficult. Friends aren't always going to be there, they're going to be busy leading their own lives. So... what do you do then?

This is why I feel episodes like Edward's Exploit and Gallant Old Engine are better in terms of building a child's self confidence, determination and bravery. In the former, Edward's determined to bring visitors home with no side rods, a broken crank pin (and busted frames in the original story) and the weather firmly against him. In the latter, the Skarloey Railway faced bankruptcy, Rheneas had a jammed valve gear and still got his train home.

Taking those stories into account, what does it say for an engine of Connor's size, with zero stakes, when he just gives up on life after a broken coupling rod? It would destroy his character completely... if he had any to spare to begin with.

My point is that this theme makes Connor look like a wimp, and it makes him more of one if you take the efforts of certain characters in the past into account. You don't even need to go back as far as I did to show Connor was being rather cowardly, Henry's Hero did this theme better since a) Henry was a wuss, so him acting the way he did made sense at that time and b) he fought through the problem thanks to a combination of Hiro's advice and his own inner strength. And when Henry at his worst can be braver than you, there's a real problem there.

That said, I did think Thomas' new, layered character worked well here. His cheekiness was great, but it was rather interesting to see that he knew how far to take it and when to actually try and help a friend through a problem. It gave him more complexity that I don't think any other episode has; he's usually either cheeky or bland and helpful, making his character feel confused.

Also, Stephen's speech near the end was brilliant. I've said before that having Edward or Rheneas recount their tales would've been better, but now I don't think that's the case. While it would've been nice to reference those incidents, it wouldn't have meant that much to Connor, an engine that neither of them have interacted with. Meanwhile, he sees Stephen quite often since he goes to Ulfstead regularly, so their bond is more earnest.

Final Thoughts
This is one of the more forgettable episodes this series. The theme and story are fine, but it does nothing for Connor's character whatsoever and it's completely overshadowed by previous episodes that showcased determination and confidence issues in a much better, more memorable way. It's not bad at all, but it's not good either.

Episode Ratings
Series Rating (so far)

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