Megamorphs #4: “Back to Before”
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2000
Where Did I GeAt this Book: own it!
Book Description: Jake’s finally weakened. After a grisly battle, the Drode offers the Animorphs’ leader an escape from the terrifying pressure. He’ll reverse the decision to start the Animorphs. Now, there’s no morphing, no missions, and no knowledge of the Yeerks. That is, until very strange things begin to happen and Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, Marco and Ax are forced to confront their new reality.
Plot: After a particularly horrible battle, Jake is back in his room, dreading the inevitable nightmares that are sure to come: his friends dying, all because of his own decisions. At this weak point, Crayak’s servant the Drode appears and gives Jake an out: say the words and this can all go away, Jake and the other Animorphs can go back to blissful ignorance, back before they met Elfangor in the abandoned construction lot. From there, a weird alternate reality takes over.
After meeting up at the mall one evening, Cassie and Rachel spot Jake, Marco and this guy named Tobias, (they think?) heading out. We witness the same exchange that we got from Jake’s perspective way back in book #1, but this time from Cassie’s POV. They agree to head home together, but instead of going through the construction site, they take the long way around. In the sky, they see a flash of what looks like a meteorite falling. Cassie gets an odd feeling, but they all reach home safely.
Over the next few days, we check in with the rest of the crew. Tobias is living with his uncle and has quickly fallen out of hanging around with Jake and Marco, getting the sense that while nice enough to him, they’re not really looking for new friends. This leaves Tobias at the mercy of even more bullies, that is until he’s invited by another kid to a meeting of The Sharing. He sees Jake and Tom there, but doesn’t talk to them.
Cassie is having weird dreams, voices in her head and images of the ocean. She goes into the barn now and then and is having weird memories of Marco lounging on hay bales (but Marco’s never been there) and a large bird of prey up in the rafters.
Ax is under the sea, waiting for rescue. It’s been weeks, however, and no one has come. We see him captures and acquire the hammerhead shark morph that he had when the Animorphs originally met up with him back in book #4. After a period of time, he finally decides to give up waiting just as a group of Controllers make their way towards the Dome ship. He escapes as a shark, taking out a bunch of Taxxons on his way, and makes his way to the surface.
Jake is receiving increasing pressure from Tom to join The Sharing. He has nothing against it, but is more and more beginning to resent the pressure from Tom to join.
Marco and Rachel go on a school trip together where Marco flirts outrageously with her. He is happy to find that there is more to her than her looks as she wittily matches him and puts him in his place with his ridiculous come-ons. Just as things are getting interesting, Marco spots his “dead” mom and takes off after her, trying to chase her down.
Rachel has felt all her life that something is missing, and when Marco takes off after some woman who can’t possibly be his dead mother, she doesn’t think twice, leaping into action and following after. The two chase Marco’s mom around town, finally backing her into a corner in an alley, only to find that she’s called reinforcements and now it’s they who are trapped. What’s more, the reinforcements don’t shoot regular guns, but some type of strange laser beam. Rachel and Marco manage to make their escape up a fire ladder in the end. They also start quasi-dating off page.
Tobias, now being protected from the bullies by members of The Sharing, finally decides to join as a full member. He meets Jake in the hall at school and mentions this. Jake seems suspicious of the whole thing, mentioning that any group that asks individuals to give up themselves in order to be part of some whole might be a bit weird. Tobias, though, at the mercy of bullies and practically no family, decides to go through with it. At The Sharing, he and a few others go into a room to become full members. To his surprise, Vice Principal Chapman and a strange man named Mr. Visser are there. Chapman gives a pretty speech about how Tobias will now be part of something bigger than he is. Mr. Visser scoffs at the necessity of the speech, but Chapman says it usually helps. Even with the speech, Tobias starts freaking out when they lock him down to a chair. From there, he’s infested with a Yeerk. But not just any Yeerk, a Yeerk who secretly works for Visser One and there to tell Visser Three that the Council of Thirteen wishes Visser Three to proceed with Visser One’s more secretive approach to the invasion on Earth.
Ax has found himself a place to stay: the mental hospital. But after a while there, he realizes that he must do more and the only way to tell if the Yeerks are on Earth is to present them with bait they can’t resist, an Andalite. He makes his way to a TV station and projects a short video of himself.
At home, Jake and Tom both see the video. Tom freaks out and tries to sneak out of the house, but Jake sees that he has a gun with him and, suspicious, stows away in the back of the car. Tom makes his way to the TV studio. There he meets up with Chapman, Mr. Visser, and, strangely, Tobias. A small fight breaks out, and in the chaos, Tom shoots at Jake with a ray gun (though he can’t see who it is to know it’s Jake). Jake briefly sees his own hand start to change into the paw of a tiger. He freaks out and rushes back to meet up with Rachel, Cassie, and Marco in the barn.
There, Cassie confesses to the strange visions she’s been having. Before Jake can describe the alien on the video, Cassie is able to describe him herself, based on these strange “visions.” They all agree that some sort of conspiracy is going on, likely involving The Sharing since they know Tom and Tobias were involved. Cassie watches the discussion and notes that everyone is the way they “should” be: Jake is the leader, making the decision when necessary; Rachel is ready to act, now; Marco is sitting back, cautious and analyzing the situation from afar. But something is still missing.
Back with Tobias, we see the slow spiral of his thoughts as he realizes the truly terrible situation he has gotten himself into. There’s no going back, and this is his life now. He also realizes that the Yeerk in his head is a bit scared, noting that Visser Three is being too accommodating of a Yeerk who just delivered bad news. At a meeting, Visser Three confronts Controlled!Tobias and accuses the Yeerk of working for Visser One. After threatening to starve him to death, the Yeerk confesses and Controlled!Tobias is shot in the head.
The others have decided to track Tom, their only known lead. But we see how difficult their task is without morphing abilities: even following him becomes almost impossible because they can’t drive. Jake and Marco try to sneak through Tom’s things, but don’t see anything. On the TV, however, they see another broadcast from Ax, this time on all of the stations. He explains about the Yeerks, how they Control people and that Earth is under attack. Marco quickly guesses that this is what has happened to Tom and his mother. Tom confronts them with a laser gun and tries to herd them out into a waiting car, likely to be infested now themselves. Rachel shows up with a bat and takes Tom out. From there, chaos breaks out.
A Bug fighter shows up in plain sight and begins chasing them. They manage to make it a few blocks before the fighter blows up some cars. The explosion beats up Rachel and Jake, but it kills Marco. Shell-shocked, they make their way to the mall and meet up with Cassie. Ax is there as well, having holed up in Circuit City to broadcast his message. On his way out, he runs into three teenage humans who are now being chased by a bunch of Yeerks through the mall. One of them knows his name. Cassie convinces Ax that she doesn’t know what’s going on, but something’s not right and they are supposed to be friends and allies. Ax says they need to make their way to the roof to escape.
On the way there, several fights break out and Rachel comes into her own with a blaze of battle prowess. But once on the roof, she is killed by a Hork Bajir. Ax, Jake, and Cassie run towards the Blade ship that has landed on the roof. As they run, Cassie, too, is shot and killed by a laser. Jake and Ax make their way on to the Blade ship, but they run into Visser Three who is about to kill them when Cassie appears again out of nowhere and kills him. A disembodied voice complains that she was dead and that this is getting out of hand.
Ax, Cassie, and Jake fly the ship into space and are just about to take out the Yeerk Pool Ship, likely resulting in their own death as well, when it all stops. A being that calls itself the Drode and an old, grandfatherly-like creatures calling itself the Ellimist show up. The other dead Animorphs also show up. The Drode complains that the Ellimist cheated, that Cassie is an anomaly that messed with the alternate reality. He accuses the Ellimist of “stacking the deck” by selecting Cassie, a time/space anomaly, Marco, the son of Visser One’s host, Tobias, Elfangor’s son, and Ax, Elfangor’s borther, to be part of his team. The Ellimist says that his decisions came into play before the timeline change, so it was a fair deal. It’s not his fault that Cassie’s mere presence will always ruin it, grounding the timeline into the one that is meant to be. Besides, the Drode was the one to call things off in the end, just as Jake, Ax, and Cassie were about to blow up the Yeerk Pool Ship.
Through all of this, the others regain their memories. Jake is horrified that he gave in and that this was the result. The Ellimist says that things will reset to the night Jake made this decision and that none of them would remember but for Cassie who would have vague images here and there. Cassie decides that whatever she remembers she will keep to herself. She doesn’t want Jake to know he ever caved to Crayak or Tobias to know he chose to be a Controller. Rachel comments that she will be more than happy to forget dating Marco.
Time resets. Jake is in his room, dreading his nightmares. The Drode appears and temps him, just as Jake is about to answer, the Drode sighs in annoyance, says never mind, and disappears.
Our Fearless Leader: The brief scene at the beginning of this book is brutally effective, especially given how short it is. We don’t know the details of the mission, but multiple members of the Animorphs almost die. They also have to walk out on a dying human Controller that was taken out in the action. There’s nothing special about this fight, which is what makes it all the more believable that it would be the one to break Jake. It isn’t a matter of the fight itself being worse, but the accumulation.
We get some good stuff from Jake throughout the book, but some of the bigger moments are his discussion with Tobias about The Sharing and his natural fall into leadership, even in this alternate reality. The former gets at Jake’s inherent distrust of organizations that call for the loss of the individual, and it’s a brief discussion, but very interesting for what it says about him. The second is a good example of just how inevitable it was that Jake would be the one to lead this group. He’s a natural leader, able to make tough decisions quickly when they need to be made, regardless of changed circumstances. It’s also definitely for the best that Cassie is the only one who will even partially remember this whole thing. Jake has enough weight to carry and the knowledge that he ever made this choice would surely be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel, too, falls naturally into her regular role. She pines for action from the very beginning and doesn’t question motives or sanity or anything when Marco takes off after his “mother.” She acts, and she acts quickly. She’s the one that really gets them out of the alley situation, vaulting Marco up to pull down the escape ladder.
There’s also the neat scene where she comes to Jake and Marco’s rescue when they’re being carted off by Tom, and she takes him out with a bat. We get this line from Jake, and it’s the kind of scene that you can picture showing up in a movie:
I stared at my cousin. Rachel was breathing hard. But her outfit, hair, and makeup had remained perfect.
We also see what has to be a contender for one of her most bad-ass moments in the entire series during the fights that take place in the mall. At one point, the group is fighting a bunch of Hork Bajir with the few ray guns they’ve manged to get their hands on. Things aren’t looking good at one point when Rachel manages to use the decapitated head of one Hork Bajir to stab another Hork Bajir in the chest, killing him.
A Hawk’s Life: Omg, Tobias. His entire section is just heart-wrenching. What makes it all the worse is how very believable it is. Through the entire series, it’s easy to wonder what would make a person agree to be a Controller, and it’s hard to imagine any scenario where that would be a choice someone would make. But here, we see not just some random person do it, but a beloved hero we’ve followed through tons of books. Tobias’s life is terrible. His aunt and uncle are the worst kind of indifferent. One set of bullies was put off by Jake, but another group is always waiting to beat up on him next. Even his rescuers, Jake and Marco, don’t really do much to help Tobias. Sure, Jake stood up for him, but Tobias can sense their lack of interest in being friends, and he inevitably drifts away. The Sharing is perfectly positioned to prey on kids like him.
And when he’s Controlled, the situation is just worse. He sees his life before and acknowledges that it was terrible, and that while yes, there was nothing he could do at the moment to change it, all he had to do was endure. But even with these thoughts, it’s not made to seem like Tobias made a stupid, easy-to-avoid decision . His life was hard; even knowing that endurance will provide an escape at some point, the reality of what life is like for kids like this is still really tough. And then he gets shot in the head because the Yeerk inside him is caught out as a spy. Oof.
Peace, Love, and Animals: This is a great book for Cassie. Not only are her chapters fun to read (especially the first one when we experience the scene before the construction night from her POV), but her insights into the team are put to great use. Through her eyes, we see how these individuals have key characteristics that remain true, regardless of how things played out. Her visions of the future are also great, being just subtle enough to create disturbing moments for her (like her recurring vision of a hawk in the barn) and clear enough for readers to get excited about the familiarities. She never just “suddenly remembers” anything in the lazy way of writing that so easily could have happened. Instead, her small insights and visions are always just enough at any given moment to slowly push things. Her memory of Ax’s name is the biggest one. Without that name, there’s a good chance things would have gone very differently, with the team never coming together and all being killed before they could reach the Blade ship and fly it into space, creating enough of a threat to force the Drode to stop things.
And then, of course, there are passive things that Cassie caused, like Jake’s weird hand morphing incident and the much more extreme example of her essentially coming back to life just in time to kill Visser Three. Most importantly, she realizes immediately that any memory of this experience that she retains is one that she must keep to herself; it would be too damaging to the group to know, especially Tobias and Jake.
The Comic Relief: For all that Marco quickly calls out the insanity when they’re all in the barn discussing the possibility of some weird conspiracy with The Sharing, he’s also the one to really defend the idea too, nicely highlighting the strengths of Marco’s character: he can say what everyone is thinking, but do it in a way that also highlights the realities of the situation. He has several moments where he shows his smarts, especially when it comes to spying on Tom. While Rachel wants action (any action!), Marco knows that they have to be cautious. He’s the one who warns Jake to look for booby traps that Tom might have set to warn him if anyone snoops around his room. Because of this, Jake is able to see the hair placed in a door to do just that.
It’s also important that Marco spotted his mom in the beginning of this book. We know from what we saw in the beginning of this series that, while smart, Marco is a very pragmatic character and would likely be unmoved to get involved in this whole situation had he not had a good motivation. And now, like then, that motivation comes in the form of his mother. It’s interesting to think, then, that if the only thing that changed was missing that construction site meeting, then there had to have been some Animorphs-related mission in the normal reality that prevented Marco and Rachel from being at that theater and seeing Marco’s mother then, instead of on the ship in book #5.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: It’s great to get some scenes from Ax’s time in the Dome ship in the ocean before the Animorphs would have rescued him. We even get to see how he goes about acquiring the shark, which is a great little tidbit of a scene to throw to fans of the series.
It’s also interesting to see how (and what) he learns about humanity without the Animorphs to help him out. For one, it takes him a bit to even establish which living being he should be when trying to fit in on Earth. In another nice Easter egg, we see that he considered cows at first because of their physical similarities to Andalites before dismissing them as too stupid. He does settle on humans eventually and it’s also no surprise that he would then wind up in a mental hospital. More nice tidbits with references to his eating habits, having managed to once again eat cigarette butts. But this time he fixates on Oreos instead of Cinnabuns.
His plan with the TV studio is also interesting, especially his final broadcast when he transmits the entire plot to the world. It’s hard to know whether this was really a good plan, as it forces the Yeerks’ hands into all-out warfare that humanity was clearly not ready for. But Ax is operating alone, and it’s easy to see him deciding to do something like this when he’s alone on a planet and playing any type of long-game would be incredibly difficult, both in actuality and emotionally.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Tobias being infested, hands down. We’ve seen this before with Jake, but there it was kind of happening in the background and readers, like Jake, weren’t really sure what was happening. Here, we know the entire time where things are leading with Tobias’s plan to become a full member of The Sharing. And then reading about him being literally strapped down to a chair and a Yeerk climbing in his head…yikes, it’s bad.
Couples Watch!: I mean, obviously I’ve read this entire series before, so I knew this book existed way back when I started promoting the secondary Marco/Rachel ship. But c’mon, the very fact that it exists proves that that theory was a good one even from the very beginning. It’s not a hard leap to watch Marco and Rachel’s banter morph into something that could actually work. Marco makes Rachel laugh. Rachel is able to match Marco’s wit. They both leap into action together to chase Marco’s mom and are even able to quickly read each other’s minds as far as next steps with their approach to the chase and their final escape. Obviously, I still love Tobias/Rachel (and Rachel has a great moment in the end where she’s quick to reassure Tobias about his choice to become a Controller, that of course that would never happen), but the book does do a good job of presenting a legitimate alternative.
It’s also worth noting that Cassie pretty much asks Jake out (asks him to come study at least), which is more than what she’s managed to really do in main series. Non-Animorph Jake and Cassie are definitely more brave about their relationship than they end up being in reality.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: We get an interesting look behind the curtain into the world of Visser Three early in the invasion. Through Controlled!Tobias’s eyes, we see that the maneuvering between Visser One and Three had been going on long before the events of book #5. Given the small change in history, there’s no reason to think Visser Three hadn’t made this request to the Council in the normal time line as well, and that Visser One had tried to trick him out of it using a spy. We also see Visser Three sneer at Chapman’s attempts to convince Tobias that this choice is something good; Visser Three clearly sees it as a waste of time.
But, of course, the true enemy in this book is again Crayak, experienced through his minion, the Drode. The Drode has some pretty amusing lines and ways of speaking, but the scene in the very beginning when he temps Jake, really highlights how truly awful Crayak is:
“Just one word, Jake,” the Drode whispered. “No … no, two, I think. One must not sacrifice good manners. Two words and it never was. Two words and you know nothing, have no power, no responsibility.”
“One is Crayak. The other is please.”
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, like, the entire book? We’ve seen Animorphs die before, but there is something particularly heartbreaking about watching it happen here. In the other versions, the Animorphs have all been fighting a very dangerous war for quite a while. In their own ways, they’ve all grappled with the reality that they or their friends may die at any time. And they each continue to make the choice to get up and fight again, knowing that the risk is worth it in their attempt to save humanity.
Here, they’re just kids (even younger than the Animorphs we’re used to, as around two years has probably gone by at this point). Regular kids, with no powers, no greater knowledge of this war or greater responsibility to handle it, than anyone else. Tobias gets shot in the head for simply having the wrong Yeerk Control him. Marco gets taken out by a Bug fighter the first time any of them truly understand the technology they’re up against. Rachel holds her own in a fight for a bit, but the reality is that no teenage girl can last against Hork Bajir warriors. And the others have to just watch their friends die, in no way prepared for it or accepting that this was a risk when they got up that morning. It’s shell-shocking and traumatic.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: As I said in Ax’s section, there could be some questioning of whether or not Ax’s approach was truly a wise decision. With the Andalites nowhere near, goading the Yeerks into an all-out war is a pretty risky decision. But he’s an alien kid, alone on a strange planet, we’ll cut him some slack. And, as far as it goes, with no powers and very little information, it’s pretty impressive that the remnants of the team manage to maneuver themselves into a situation where they’re essentially about to win, even if they die in the process. So much so, that they force the Drode’s hand in calling the whole thing quits.
An obligatory section of Marco and Rachel flirting/quipping:
“Still, we should go out. Do a movie. Eat some burgers. I could make you laugh.”“Actually, I think the mere memory of that suggestion will supply me with plenty of laughter.”
And, a longer section, but a good one given how the events of this entire book start because of Jake grappling with the challenges of being the leader and what that means:
“Jake? What do we do?” [Rachel]
“Yeah. What do we do, Big Jake?” Marco asked, half-mocking.
“What do you mean, what do we do?” Jake shot back. “Why are you asking me?”
Marco shrugged. “You’re the leader, man.”
“What are you talking about? The leader of what? And why am I the leader?”
“Because you are,” I [Cassie] said. The words were out of my mouth before I could think about them. I felt as if… as if I was a judge and had just passed sentence on Jake.
Marco jerked his thumb at me. “What the crazy chick said: Because you are.”
Scorecard: Yeerks 10, Animorphs 15
No change! Obviously none of this comes to pass, so the results don’t have any larger impact on the war. The Ellimist can count it as a win, though.
Rating: Sadness, this is the last Megamorphs book of the series. The Megamorphs books are a really mixed bag of experiences. The first one, I felt, was a big old swing and a miss. The concept was fun, as it’s the first book where we had multiple perspectives, but the action wasn’t really enough to support the style. It had some of the most memorable lines in the series (“Do you just hate trash cans?! Is that what it is?”), but as a whole, it’s not a great introduction into these off-shoot books.
I have a soft spot for Megamorphs #2 and #3. Both are completely hinging on the weird concepts of their stories (dinosaurs! time travel!) and it seems like readers’ appreciation of each will come down to how much fun they can have with those, albeit silly, themes. I was there for the campiness of the dinosaurs and entertained enough by the time travel (and the Tobias/Rachel kiss!) that I could turn my brain off enough to not think too hard about how it would really work.
But after all of this, the best was saved for last. This is the only one of the four that not only fully takes advantage of its split narrations (probably works so well because several members of the team, like Ax and Tobias, are completely disconnected and doing their own things for the majority of the story. And unlike amnesia!Rachel in Megamorphs #1, their actions are actually important to the story), but also has a solid concept that actually has things to say. We get a few great scenes that we missed in the early part of the series (Cassie’s perspective of their first meeting, Ax’s acquiring the shark), and the way the entire thing unfolds is as believable as it is terrifying. While, again, because of the nature of Megamorphs books, that they operate outside of the regular series, everything gets returned to normal and there is no lasting effect on the main plot, this book also seems to have enough new things to show and say that it seems like it should be required reading for the entire series.
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!