Since I started working from home, I’ve been putting that GI Joe box set I bought for myself last year to use, putting it on so I’ll have something to watch that isn’t daytime television while I eat lunch. Given my noted
obsession with affection for Destro, this has worked out pretty well, and while I even thought about doing daily episode recaps on Twitter, I figured Marvel Editor Jordan White’s mornings with Sailor Moon had that market pretty well covered.
But today… Today, I finally got to the episode that is only matched in the world of awesome television by “Once Upon a Time,” the penultimate chapter of The Prisoner. The definitive pinnacle of the world of America’s daring, highly trained special missions force.
I speak, of course, of “Cold Slither.”
Anyone with fond memories of GI Joe–or really, anyone with fond memories of having fond memories of GI Joe–remembers “Cold Slither,” but they tend to only remember the titular highlight of the plot. What people tend to forget, however, is that the rest of the episode is the craziest Goddamn thing ever put on TV.
The show opens with the GI Joe team on their sweet-ass dune buggies executing a raid on a Cobra operation, and while GI Joe’s actions are necessary for world security in the face of global weather domination and the literal theft of Alaska, Cover Girl and Ace still manage to go out of their way to be total dicks about it. Once they’ve blown up enough trucks and put the fear of God into the Cobra rank and file, we find out that the purpose of this operation was to disrupt Cobra finances, which is actually pretty easy since Cobra Commander keeps his entire bankroll in a bunker somewhere in the desert.
And by “bankroll,” I of course mean “Scrooge McDuckian amounts of gold coins and the fucking Mona Lisa.”
This, incidentally, is what I love most about the treatment of Cobra Commander in both the cartoon and the comics: For all his insane, shrieking bluster (of which we’ll see quite a bit in a few minutes), there was a time before the creation of the GI Joe team where he was just running roughshod over the entire world, stealing art treasures and basically ruining everything. He’s Snidely Whiplash, and yet it takes a specialized unit composed of the best soldiers in every branch of the military devoted only to his master plans to keep him from controlling the world. How do you not love that guy?
Anyway, owing to the fact that the Commander keeps all of his money in one room with the Mona Lisa, GI Joe’s raid has completely bankrupted Cobra, as evidenced by the fact that every Cobra soldier has signed up for unemployment.
At this point, the story has essentially become Cobra Commander vs. The Recession. He tries to keep up apperances, but Tomax and Xamot–who, quick reminder, are a pair of identical twin circus acrobat high financiers, putting them squarely on the lower end of Cobra personnel in terms of sheer bat-shit craziness–are foreclosing on Cobra Headquarters, with plans to sell it off to the various anti-American interests of the mid-80s:
Yes, like so many Americans, Cobra Commander has lost everything he’s worked for thanks to one lousy investment, although to be fair, in his case it was not investing in multiple secret desert bunkers in which to hide his stolen priceless art treasures. Either way, he’s out of money, and with creditors breathing down his neck, he’s forced into yet another all-too-familiar: turning to a predatory lender to make ends meet.
A predatory lender that comes straight from the mind of David Lynch:
Seriously, between the camera angle and the Little Loanshark’s Spooneristic speech patterns, I’d totally call this one an homage… except that this episode aired six years before Twin Peaks.
In either case, Little Loanshark offers Cobra Commander a million dollars in cash at 400% weekly interest–a slightly better rate than your local title loan establishment, I’m sure–but then he makes the fatal mistake of demanding that Dub-C remove his mask to settle the deal, at which time Cobra Commander shocks a three foot-tall loan shark with his electric face…
…and then punches him square in the mouth:
At this point, I think it’s important to note that everything mentioned thus far has taken place in seven minutes, and now it’s time for things to get strange when the actual plot shows up.
So, having face-lightninged his way into a cool million, one might think that Cobra Commander would use that money to get some of his troops back or to get the liens off of a couple of HISS tanks, but no. He uses it to hire Zartan and the Dreadnoks and then book a television studio, because he has A Plan.
As revealed in the single greatest quote in GI Joe history (which I am amazed has not been sampled in every single hip-hop song for the past twenty-six years), “Destro has designed a program that creates rock and roll music,” with the added benefit that it also layers 100% effective subliminal mind control messages under the tracks.
Now, I think it’s important at this juncture to note that Cobra Commander already has a fully functional mind control device. He didn’t need to go to the loan shark. He didn’t need to hire Zartan. He didn’t even need to put up with Tomax and Xamot’s smarmy asses foreclosing on his Terrordrome. He already has the mind control device. But he also has a plan to corrupt the youth of America with rock ‘n’ roll, and thus, Cold Slither is born.
Yes, with the judicious application of some gently worn “Diamond” David Lee Roth stage gear, the Dreadnoks are transformed into a hair metal band called Cold Slither, whose debut song, “Cold Slither,” off the album Cold Slither, rockets to the top of the charts. And here’s the thing: The song, which is meant to have a subliminal pro-Cobra bent to it, has actual, audible lyrics like “with an iron fist / and a reptile hiss / we shall rule” and “too late to resist / ‘Cause Cobra is strong.”
Even more telling is the fact that at least one member of the GI Joe team, Scarlett, is both familiar with the band and completely oblivious to the fact that they’re actually singing about Cobra. She even makes fun of Duke for thinking that a band with a snake-themed name might somehow be tied to Cobra, thus proving that Scarlett is both a dope and a total jerk.
And she’s hardly the only one, as the Joes only respond to Cold Slither by chance, when Shipwreck, Breaker and Footloose get hypnotized into attending their concert. But fortunately for the good guys, the Dreadnoks are equally dopey, failing to recognize the lovely ladies of our armed forces when they “infiltrate” the backstage area, even though Lady Jaye’s only disguise is tarting up a little:
They seize control of the concert, but they get paralyzed by a high-frequency tone from Cobra Commander’s rock ‘n’ roll machine, at which time Cobra Commander makes his escape by jumping out the window so that he can crash into a popcorn stand…
…instead of using the stairs that were three feet to the left. Unfortunately for the Joe team, he’s still able to get away, owing to the fact that when the three most wanted people on the face of the Earth are momentarily trapped in the wreckage of a concession stand, Scarlett opts to make fun of him on the PA rather than taking him into custody. Because, you know, she’s a jerk.
Scarlett then destroys the mind-control console with a chainsaw (yes, really), and then, to add the final note of surrealism, the Joes take up instruments and entertain the crowd as “The Average Joe Band”…
…performing a version of their own theme song that not only has a synthesizer, but that I am 90% sure also featured the theremin.
And they crammed all that and the credits into a total runtime of 22 minutes, 17 seconds. I am legitimately surprised that televisions across America didn’t just melt from the sheer amount of incredible madness being transmitted to them in 1985.