Animorphs #15: “The Escape” by K.A. Applegate
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1998
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Almost nothing could be as bad as finding out your mother is Visser One. The most powerful of all Vissers. The leader of the Yeerk invasion of Earth. But it happened to Marco. And even though he’s been handling it pretty well, he knew there’d come a time when he’d have to face her again. Knowing that the Yeerk in her brain had taken his mother away.
So when Marco, the other Animorphs, and Ax discover that Visser One is overseeing a secret underwater project, they know they have to check it out. But Marco’s not sure if this is a battle he’ll be able to fight….
Plot: In what is now becoming the usual “save the animals” opening scene of many of these stories, we see Marco and crew in the mall on a mission to morph parrots at the Rain Forest Cafe in an attempt to discourage them using live birds going forward. Obviously, this was Cassie’s plan. After making enough of a nuisance of themselves to get the job done (think parrots spewing vulgarities at customers in line), Marco and Jake run into Erek, our friendly Chee insider, on the way out who informs them that the Yeerks are up to no good. It seems that the Yeerks are trying to take over a world populated by psychic water aliens called Leerans. Obviously, this would be disastrous for the Animorphs, since psychic Controllers could see through their morphs instantly. What’s more, the base of operations, located out in the ocean, deep underwater, is being run by none other than Visser One, Marco’s Controlled mom.
They decide to check it out in dolphin morph. Problem being, Tobias with his new morphing ability, doesn’t have a dolphin morph. This leads to a little scene of them all trekking off to The Gardens where Tobias has to dive bomb a dolphin in hawk morph to try and acquire its DNA. He ends up getting his talons stuck in the dolphin’s skin and is only saved from drowning by a well-timed controlled crash by seagull!Marco.
All morphed dolphins, and Ax as a shark, the crew zero in on the underwater compound. They are quickly surrounded by a crew of hammer head sharks. Bizarrely, the sharks seem to be operating as a pack. Marco, having been almost bit in half by a shark back in book 4, is understandably more panicked than the rest and quickly gets out of there, followed by the others.
Knowing they still need to get into the compound somehow, the Animorphs make their way to the new aquatic center in town which has hammer head sharks. They go at night, but through a few mishaps, Ax is spotted by a Controller guard on duty. They attempt to escape, eventually resorting to having Ax tail swipe away the glass holding in the massive aquarium. Marco barely escapes being eaten by a hammer head, subduing it by acquiring its DNA. The others follow suit.
Marco goes a bit nuts about the fact that he was the first to run back when they were dolphins. The appeal of the fearlessness of the shark overtakes him and he foolishly tries to morph shark in the school pool. He’s interrupted by a pair of bullies who start mocking him and taking jabs at his mom. He’s only saved (from attacking them or discovery) by Jake who shows up and calms things down.
Back in the ocean, this time morphed as sharks, the group make their way into the compound, following the other sharks. They find themselves trapped in a queue that is injecting things into the sharks’ heads that they guess is what the Yeerks are using to control the sharks. Unable to escape, they all are injected as well. It’s only later when they demorph and try to morph fly to more easily make their way around the compound that they realize what’s happened: Yeerk trackers/control devices have been implanted into their heads, preventing them from morphing small animals whose skull cavities can’t fit the tracker. Instantly, somehow getting rid of these trackers becomes the new priority.
The group splits up. Rachel, Cassie, and Jake go battle morph to provide a distraction. Ax, Tobias, and Marco make their way further into the compound to try and find a solution. They discover that there is a fail safe built into the compound that would dissolve the trackers if the compound itself was destroyed. Marco gets discovered by Visser One, but is able to trick her into believing that he is a Controller computer technician who was sent to work on the compound. Escaping from her, he re-joins Ax and Tobias. Ax sets the computer to auto-destruct, and the group re-joins the others to fight.
Visser Three conveniently shows up in a massive snake morph. A mad battle takes place between the Animorphs, the Controllers, and Visser Three and Visser One in the background. A Leeran shows up and tries to tell the Vissers that the morphed beings are humans. Visser One dismisses this, thinking the Leeran has confused Marco’s gorilla morph for a human, since the two are closely related.
Visser One manages to suspend the countdown for the self-destruct, prompting Rachel and Ax to go after her. Rachel is about to kill her when Marco yells for her to stop, admitting that Visser One is his mother. Ax knocks Visser One out instead. Still desperate to destroy the compound, Marco throws a chair through the glass wall, cracking it and sending the Yeerks running for cover. The Animorphs escape, with Marco thinking he sentenced his mother to death, and now knowing that the entire group will know his mother was/is Visser One. As they swim away, Rachel claims to hear a sub whirring away from the area, possibly containing Visser One. Marco accepts the hope this offers, renewing his drive to fight to free his mother in the future.
The Comic Relief: Have I mentioned that I love Marco books? He just has so much depth as a character. Not only is he just as witty as a narrator as he is as a supporting character in the other books, but there are many real issues that he deals with and brings to his stories, the biggest of which is obviously the struggle with his mother.
But here we also had a few other things that he goes through. One has to do with the fact that he ran first from the sharks. It’s a nice call back to the fact that they all never fully recover from the trauma inflicted on them in all of these fights. He was almost bit in half by a shark; that’s bound to stick with you. And the fact that he is then drawn to the fearlessness of the shark as a way to deal with his insecurities about his own bravery is just excellent.
He’s also very self-aware as a character, and the fact that he’s the most analytical of the group is on full display. Both he and Jake have Controllers in their family, but Marco is the only one who has fully thought out what saving this person would really cost (at least as far as we know, Jake hasn’t mentioned most of this). He goes over the fact that if he saved her the Yeerks wouldn’t just let it go:, they’d be tracked, likely discovered, and the all of the other Animorphs would be discovered and the war lost. Knowing this, even though he fights to save her, he doesn’t know how it will ever be possible.
He also is very practical even through all the pain of confronting his mother, constantly fighting the urge to alert her and reassure her that he’s fighting to save her.
And I’m not someone who does emotional, stupid things. Sometimes I wish I were.
Lastly, when it counts, Marco does the right thing, no matter the personal cost. This practical weighing of odds, of personal issues and the good of everyone else, leads him to destroying the compound, not knowing if his mother will make it out alive. I’m not sure any other character could have done this (maybe Rachel, but she would have done it from a very different emotional place).
As I’ve said before and will probably keep repeating, Marco is the character I would aspire to be in this series.
Our Fearless Leader: There are a few notable moments between Jake and Marco. First, when they all go to The Gardens for Tobias to get a dolphin morph, March impetuously decides to snag a ride on a roller coaster while in seagull morph, pulling Jake along with him. It’s a small moment of pure fun between two best friends. And, in a moment of rare vulnerability afterwards, Marco asks Jake whether they’re still the same, even after it all, deep down. (Clearly he’s also thinking about whether his mom is still his mom even after being a Controller for so many years).
The second moment is the reinforcement of the fact that Jake must be known at their high school as the bully repeller. We know that he saved Tobias from bullying, and when Marco is being made fun of by the bullies at the pool, Jake steps in once again. Jake has to be a fairly popular guy at this school, what with all of these good deeds and his ability to control bullies.
Jake also provides most of the support for Marco throughout this book as the only one who knows the truth about Visser One until the end where it becomes more broadly known.
Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel doesn’t do a lot in this book, other than be gung ho in her usual semi-crazy way. She’s all for it when Marco suggests splitting into groups with one group morphing battle morphs and providing a distraction.
Naturally, Rachel agreeing with me convinced me I was obviously wrong.
Yeah, right Marco! We’ve seen him base too many decisions on what Rachel decides to do to believe this! In the end, it’s also Rachel who “hears” the sub leaving the collapsing compound (obviously Visser One escapes, but it’s never clear whether Rachel really did hear this or is just providing comfort for Marco), providing hope for Marco that his mother escaped. My secret (not secret) alt-universe shipping of these two continues.
A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias and the dolphin incident! Not only is the dude already scared of water, but here he has to somehow acquire a dolphin while in hawk morph! And then gets stuck and ends up going on the worst dolphin roller coaster ride of his life. It’s no wonder that after it all, he’s a bit grumpy. And when Cassie starts fretting about how the dolphin is doing, we get this little exchange:
<Well, as long as the dolphin is okay,> Tobias said. <Because I really, really hope the dolphin is okay.>
<Are you going to be sarcastic the rest of the day?> I asked him.
<Yes. I am going to be sarcastic the rest of the day. I nearly drowned. Now I’m going to go become the thing that nearly drowned me. I will be sarcastic until further notice.>
Sarcastic Tobias is a great Tobias.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Jake seems much more willing to go along on these little side missions when Cassie is the one coming up with them… When they’re all morphed as parrots saying ridiculous things to scare off customers, Cassie comes up with:
“Squuaaakkk! We should be flying free in our native habitat!”
Because of course she does. She, along with Marco, proves yet again that she’s one of the two more perceptive members of the group, quickly picking up on Tobias’s lack of enthusiasm to morph dolphin and his fear of water.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Marco’s introductions of characters are always the best of all the narrators. With Ax, we first meet him when he’s in human morph during the parrot mission, and Marco describes him and his food obsession thusly:
Ax would trade a Cinnabon for the Mona Lisa, straight across.
Ax also has a lot of knowledge about the Leeran race. He hacks the computer in the underwater compound to set it to auto-destruct, all while, of course, making many arrogant Andalite comments about superiority and such.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The bit when Marco starts morphing fly and experiencing head pain, only to see Rachel shrinking and the device pushing through her head. Ick.
Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot. Towards the end, when the group is split up in the underwater compound, Tobias is pretty stressed about the delay in accessing the computer, snapping at Ax to hurry up so that they can join Rachel and the others who they can hear fighting in their battle morphs. He’s clearly worrying about her.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: The Visser drama continues! Visser One and Visser Three’s ongoing bitch fight is always a joy. Here, Marco essentially describes the complete and utter bizarreness of the scenario in the underwater compound when these two run into each other. There’s a massive battle going on all around them between “Andalite warriors” and their Controller underlings, but all they care about is sniping at each other in the middle of the room.
Also, when Marco is in is one-on-one with Visser One posing as a Controller computer technician, he claims that Visser Three killed the other three technicians who were supposedly meant to be accompanying him. Visser One is not at all surprised that this could be the case. Clearly, Visser Three has a bit of a reputation in this area.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Marco books always deliver a big dose of the sads. For some reason, his mother being a Controller always strikes me as more tragic than Jake’s brother. Probably because Marco already grieved her death, and then got her back in the worst way, knowing she’s a Controller for Visser One. Here, when Marco is alone with Visser One, he has to fake being a Controller himself. At one point, the Visser comments that Marco needs to get better Control of his host body; her host is currently screaming and crying in her head, but she still has complete Control. This is so tragic because not only does poor Marco’s mom have to deal with being Controlled by Visser One, but she now thinks her son has been taken as well. This just has to sap away whatever small bits of hope remain to her.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It’s not so much a terrible plan, as an “obviously flawed, but necessary course of action.” This is the first time we’re really seeing the challenges posed by Tobias’s new morphing ability and the fact that he needs to acquire DNA as a hawk. So, the dolphin was always going to be a problem. What I don’t get is why the hell they decided to go about this in broad daylight with a park full of people?? In the past, they’ve often snuck into The Gardens at night to get their morphs. So why they would choose to do this, the most obtrusive DNA acquisition they have ever attempted, in the middle of the day is beyond me. Actual quote from the book right as Tobias is dive-bombing the poor dolphin:
<Um … is this stupid?> Cassie asked, way too late.
This is a really long quote, but it’s probably the one and only quote that I’ve always remembered from this series and even referenced a few time over the years. I knew it was in a Marco book somewhere, so I was thrilled to see it pop up here:
See, I’ve always believed that to some extent you get to decide for yourself what your life will be like. You can either look at the world and say, “Oh, isn’t it all so tragic, so grim, so awful.” Or you can look at the world and decide that it’s mostly funny. If you step back far enough from the details, everything gets funny. You say war is tragic. I say, isn’t it crazy the way people will fight over nothing? People fight wars to control crappy little patches of empty desert, for crying out loud. It’s like fighting over an empty soda can. It’s not so much tragic as it is ridiculous. Asinine! Stupid! You say, isn’t it terrible about global warming? And I say, no, it’s funny. We’re going to bring on global warming because we ran too many leaky air conditioners? We used too much spray deodorant, so now we’ll be doomed to sweat forever? That’s not sad. That’s irony. Note to Alanis: That is ironic. Humor kind of breaks down when the tragedy gets up close and personal.
On a more light-hearted and brief note, Marco had this to say to Erek in the beginning when he and Jake agreed to do something about the Yeerks’ goals to capture the Leerans:
I shrugged. “We like to keep busy. It’s either rescue entire races or play Nintendo.”
Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 7
A point for the Animorphs…I guess? I mean, they mostly destroyed the compound to simply undo the head implant situation that they foolishly got themselves into, but it was still a blow against the Yeerks.
Rating: Loved it! There was so much great character building stuff for Marco, and now the secret of his mother is out to the rest of the group, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward.
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!