Video Game High School: S3:E3 – Map to Sex Town

Last week on 'VGHS', we saw how the pressures of the new season's challenges were affecting the lives of our characters. This week, those pressures cracked them.

It's go time at VGHS. Election day has arrived and Ki Swan has to use all of her brilliant mind to combat Shane Pizza's bottomless supply of money and cynicism. Ted, locked in detention for his prom night brush with delinquency, finds his recent ploy of political corruption to support his girlfriend has backfired tragically. If Election Day wasn't tough enough, VGHS goes toe-to-toe with Napalm Energy Drink high school in a match that could make or break Jenny Matrix's career, but could have severe consequences on her future relationship with Brian. Brian misreads her anxiety to mean something very different, and is suddenly struck with...performance issues.

Also, The Law is finished. Long Live the Law.

Yes, everybody loses something in this episode. In television terms this is the 'Ozymandias' of VGHS. Dramatically, in any show, you expect things at some point to fall apart. You know a show really has you by the balls however when those things fall apart and it hurts. The episode is very funny, there is some great comedy here, but it's not what lingers with you after the credits roll.

This episode features the best action of the season so far, and maybe the best of the series. Napalm Energy vs. VGHS is as epic as you'd expect, featuring kinetic camera work and some wonderfully creative staging and pacing. The build-up was worth it and fans of the FPS scenes of the series will get spoiled.

On the cast side of things, it's all around series peaks, most notably for the two lead actresses. Johanna Braddy is raw here. There's just not much to say. It's the best performance she's put out the whole show, and considering how dominant of a force she's been since midway through Season Two that is saying an enormous amount. On a similar note, after taking somewhat of a dramatic back seat the last two episodes Ellary Porterfield also puts out an amazing series best performance here. Ki Swann's empathetic tactician is put to the ultimate test, being faced by the pure soullessness of an unfair world that is run by power not moral will, and Porterfield shows the cracks in Ki's mechanical facade with devastating effect. She's always been a powerful actress on the show, but for the most part her talents of expression have been utilized comedically. Here, she's brutal, taking the scripts turns for her character and tightening the screws with little touches.

Further credit to Bryan Forrest and Chase Williamson for finally elevating the Barnstormer brothers to proper Big Bad heights. I liked Shane Pizza and was more or less ambivalent to Ashley Barnstormer, never finding either particularly compelling as villains; comfortably douchey but without any real consequence. However, in this episode they finally mature into the evil we've been waiting to hate, from Shane's blasé dismantling of Ki's sense of right and wrong to Ashley's conniving in-game hostage role, they feel dangerous now and comeuppance is anxiously anticipated. Furthermore, Nathan Kress as Law 2.0 is excellently built up, setting up pretty huge expectations for the future rematch.

If I had one criticism of the season so far it'd be the Law's arc. The resolution of his story in Season Two I found a bit unfortunate after his epic crawl up from the spiritual void; flipping to the bad guys team was a neat joke and all, but it felt like it undermined some otherwise great storytelling for a laugh. I thought maybe this season would validate the decision with creative foresight, but here we just get The Law kicked back down the ladder, in surprisingly violent fashion. It just hasn't paid off so far. Then again, considering Neo-Law it's more than likely I'll be eating those words by season end.

I think what is most surprising is how simple this story really is. 'VGHS' Season Three isn't inherently more dense or complex than any other season. The conflicts are familiar, their resolutions from a structure perspective are far from unexpected. Read a plot synopsis of this episode and it'll sound pretty much like any given high-school drama show with an 8-bit paint job. And that just shows how much of an amazing ensemble project this show really is. A scene late in the episode that should have just been a go-to screenwriting 101 moment had me anxious and stunned when the obvious resolution occurred. Divides between characters that were dramatic inevitabilities before the third season was even written felt uncomfortably immediate and fresh. If you have been invested in the show so far, the last twenty minutes of this episode will make you its bitch, and I'm not ashamed to say I welled up a little at one moment. Take a step back and it's a stock high-school show that swaps out it's parts with video game references. Step inside and it's a piece of storytelling craftsmanship that is a product of cast, crew, and creative team working together to make something peerless.

And these guys made me care about a damn fictional virtual pet. How the fuck did they do that?

Score: 5/5