This Week on TV, May 27, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

And then there were three. Doctor Who delivered a resoundingly excellent episode. Gotham is building towards its season finale in a few weeks with a serious uptake in action and an evolving mess of intrigue. And Arrow had its finale this week, and while it was tense and action-filled, it also left me feeling a bit lukewarm towards the series. I’m leaning towards dropping it from my lineup as of next season.

Doctor Who

10.06 “Extremis”

Wow. I think that might be the most emphatic warning of an impending threat we’ve yet seen in Doctor Who, and we’re only halfway through the season! Overall, I have to say… it’s a sudden and dramatic uptake in quality all around!

The episode begins with the Doctor lurking in front of the Vault, sinking low under the weight of his great mistake, the one which cost him his sight and made him, the Vault’s guardian, vulnerable. He’s making do with his glasses, psychically connecting their readings to his awareness, serving as a substitute of sorts, but he’s barely getting by.

Then he gets an email titled, “Extremis.”

The scene quite suddenly cuts to the Doctor in his classroom at night, when a number of men in priestly robes. They are come straight from the Vatican, in fact the Pope himself is there, to ask for the Doctor’s help.

Interspersed with the present events, we see the Doctor in the midst of some other robed men. They are a people devoted to execution in the service of justice. Today’s criminal: Missy. The Doctor is attending her execution, one which is likely to be a certain thing as the device they’ll use has been calibrated to stop both hearts, all three brain stems, and deliver a cellular shock to disable all regenerative ability. Not much point executing someone when they can just get right back up, after all. And then, just to be absolutely certain, her body will be put into a special chamber, guarded for a thousand years. Also, it must be a fellow Time Lord who flips the switch, so the Doctor isn’t just a witness, he’s her executioner.

Missy, of course, begs for her life. She begs the Doctor, a man who has spared her, and her previous incarnations, on any number of occasions, and she has gone on, every time, to make exponential additions to the list of atrocities she has committed, not least of which is the body count, and now she swears she will “turn good,” that he can teach her, etc. The desperate pleadings of a being who has never shown compassion to its many, many, many victims. Her execution is long overdue.

But can, and should, the Doctor be the one to do it?

To answer this question comes a “priest,” namely Nardole, sent by River Song to counsel the Doctor. The words she sends to him are those of virtue in extremis. The argument is that virtue is only true virtue if it is unbreakable, even and most especially in extreme situations. If there is no hope, no recognition, no reward involved – in short, if it is done privately and unselfishly, when it would be easy enough to bend, to break, and nobody would ever know – that is when virtue is proven. In the shadows, in the final hour, that is when we truly are true.

River Song saw enough the Doctor to know that he has remained true to the virtues he proclaims, even in the most “extreme” of situations, and that is why she loved him.

A none-too-subtle hint that the Doctor should not go through with executing Missy, who now, in her final moments, with nothing to gain, says she is his friend.

He flips the switch, and she falls over, but she’s not dead. He did a little something to the wiring so she was only knocked out. Then he and Nardole locked her in the Vault, which he swore to guard for a thousand years.

Oh, and he also cleared the unhappy executioners from the way simply by having them look up how many deaths he has been responsible for. That sends them running, complete with a, “Have a nice day!” LOL!

And that is how they got the Vault, where the oath came from, and how Nardole came to be the Doctor’s keeper, the only one authorized, by the Doctor’s wife, to kick his ass if needed. He doesn’t look like much, and he doesn’t seem like much, but he is proving to have impressive hidden depths.

Back in the present, the Pope’s request to the Doctor is somewhat intricate and urgent. There is a volume entitled Veritas locked away in the heart of their library of dangerous, heretical manuscripts. Something about this volume is so exceedingly dangerous that every person who has read it has taken their own lives. Also, the Vatican has received instructions from a Pope of a thousand years ago that they are to specifically ask the Doctor for assistance. So, they do. They ask him to risk the dangers of reading the Veritas manuscript. He accepts.

First, though, they pick up Bill. Interrupting her date with another lesbian by dropping the Pope into her bedroom. Yes, she is testy about that, but rises to the occasion and accompanying them.

I believe I recognized the library they went to from the trailers for this season, the one that had Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor walking towards a bunch of screaming shadow-face things or something like that. That could just be a fluke, but I was suddenly expecting something of significance was about to happen, and it did.

First, there’s the blue light, emanating from an opening, a door, a portal of some kind. There’s a figure in the light, but it closes as they approach. The cardinal guiding them takes a moment to examine the wall where the portal appeared, to try and determine if it has been breached. The others go straight for Veritas, and so they don’t see the twisted, withered hand suddenly reaching out of the wall and making the cardinal disappear without a trace. They do find the last living translator, who confesses sending a copy of Veritas to CERN via email before running off and shooting himself. In regards to that last, the Doctor sends Bill and Nardole to investigate.

Here, more kudos to Nardole, making it clear that he will protect Bill and expects her to follow any instructions he gives to that end, even if he has to kick her ass to make her do so. Also, more mistakes by the Doctor. He’s keeping his blindness from Bill so he doesn’t have to face it himself, and in so doing he opens up himself up to more threats. He sent Bill away with Nardole, leaving himself unprotected and vulnerable while he uses a device to temporarily restore his sight so he can read Veritas. That nearly costs him his life as the robed figure which made the cardinal disappear approaches and, as he’s still disoriented, binds him to a chair before he realizes he’s in the company of enemies. At which point all he can do is turn the lights off and escape with the laptop that has a copy of Veritas on it. The Doctor’s unreliable sight fails too soon, and he’s not only unable to read the file past the sub-title, “A Test of Shadows,” but he barely makes it out alive as the withered-monk-people pursue him.

While the Doctor is nearly getting killed, Bill and Nardole find another portal and investigate. They step through into a chamber with a dozen boxes projecting portals onto the walls. Through one, they find the Pentagon. Through another, they find CERN, where everyone has read Veritas and they’re all killing themselves together. They say they’re saving the world, which Bill questions. They explain by having Bill and Nardole, together, select numbers at random… and every number is the same. The scientists join in, and they’re all saying exactly the same numbers at the same time. The world isn’t real, they say, and Bill and Nardole flee from more than just the imminent explosion, in terror.

Nardole is the one to put things together as they step back into the portal room. What if the projectors creating the portals aren’t just projecting portals? What if they’re projecting the entire world and everyone in it? Testing the theory, Nardole steps behind the projectors, out of the light, into the darkness, “where all is revealed.” And then he disappears, bunch of computer bits coming apart at the seams. Again, Bill flees, this time to the White House, where she finds a President that has killed himself and the Doctor, who has just listened to Veritas, and explains.

The world is a simulation. The people, too, are simulations, including Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor. The simulation is crafted by an alien entity who running it as a test of Earth’s response when it invades. It’s practicing its conquest of the planet. They are a shadow world, crafted to bring about the real Earth’s downfall. That’s why they all choose the same numbers, because computers aren’t good at choosing at random. That’s why the withered monks called it a game. And it’s why the scientists said they were saving the world, not only protecting the shadow world from the truth, but also deleting themselves from the program, so the simulation will be incomplete, and maybe, just maybe, giving Earth a chance.

But there is no hope, none at all, for they themselves, as emphasized by the withered monk deleting Bill right in front of the Doctor.

It’s the ultimate extreme situation. There is no hope, no one to know, and no reward to be gained. But… that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do. The simulation, the Doctor says, is just a little too good. It includes his blindness and his glasses, which he now saves a memory file to, so he’ll remember this all the next time around, if things go that far. Ah, but the monk won’t let that happen… so the Doctor does one better. He emails the file, “Extremis,” to someone. Who? Heh, who else? He sends it to the real-world Doctor.

And that is what we’ve been watching. From the moment the Doctor opened the message, he was witnessing the memory, warning him of incoming danger. And he’s up, no longer stuck in the misery of his mistake. First he calls Bill, tells her to ask out that woman the shadow version of herself was on a date with. Then he faces the Vault, wherein lies Missy, his friend, and his ultimate last resort. His blindness is crippling, which means his ability to defend the world is weakened. If she’s all he has left to work with, then he will use her, and hope for the best. A desperate move, an insane idea, and the only one left to him after his calamitous errors.

So… how much time do they have left? Who and what is the enemy? Will Missy truly help them? And if so, can even she and a crippled Doctor stop what’s coming, when the enemy has infinite chances to practice its invasion?

Gotham

3.19 “All Will Be Judged”

What was that I said last week about the intrigue being shepherded towards a violent culmination? More like being violently shoved off a cliff towards it!

Barnes is back, and he is force to be reckoned with!

Gordon and Bullock are trying to find the Court’s virus bomb – I’m betting there’s more than one – by finding their secret locations, their meeting places, safe houses, and storage spaces that they’ve hidden throughout the city. Gordon follows the money, looking into Catherine’s holdings, and finds a tenement building that has a discrepancy between blueprints and city records, indicating the presence of a secret room. Ah, detective work: going through massive amounts of information to find one single, critical piece of the puzzle.

It works out, they go and find the secret space. It also doesn’t work out, as Barnes, armed and armored, ambushes and overwhelms them. Bullock is knocked out and Gordon is kidnapped.

Catherine takes a moment to make it clear, she knows Gordon has betrayed her, and she knows, by extension, that Strange has also duped her. She’s cleaning house now, starting with giving Gordon to Barnes. Barnes goes through the motions of a “trial” before proclaiming Gordon guilty, sentencing him to death, and making to carry out said sentence. Gordon manages to trick Barnes, pulling the pin from one of Barnes’ grenades, but Barnes manages to take it out and toss it before he’s blown up (darn those quick, smart enemies!). But it does buy those last few seconds needed for Bullock and the GCPD to catch up, saving Gordon and forcing Barnes to flee. (whew!)

At this point, the Court and the GCPD are pretty much declaring open war on each other, starting with Catherine being brought in for questioning. And just as things are starting to go their way, here comes more bad news, in the form of Alfred.

Alfred is finally wise to Bruce’s abduction. Selina showed up and tried to kill Hush, and got knocked out again for her trouble, but she wounded him, and his lack of a reaction clued Alfred in. Hush managed to beat Alfred and escape without revealing anything, because even if he’s dying, his body is still plenty freakish strong. He didn’t kill either Alfred or Selina, though. He just left.

Alfred is frantic, but Selina is running on empty. She’s out of physical strength and, even more, the will to do anything. She and Bruce have been good friends for a couple of years now. He’s been good to her, and she’s been good to him, but now? Now she’s turning her back. She went to Wayne Manor for revenge, not to help anyone. She opened herself up to others once and got hurt for it, so she’s shutting down, focusing only on herself.

Alfred, a former soldier, sees that as betrayal, and banishes Selina from the manor forever, before going for the best and nearest help he can get: Gordon.

Yet again, Bruce has been kidnapped, and it takes nerve for Alfred to begin telling them about the Court, a story most would call crazy, but he finds Gordon and Bullock already up to speed. Very handy, that, and now they can all join forces. In comparing notes, Gordon and Bullock mention how they found a crystal owl statue, and when light shines through it, it reveals a map of Gotham, highlighting all of the Court’s secret locations, unfortunately it got blown to bits by Barnes. But Bruce, Alfred, and Selina found a similar statue months ago, and now it makes perfect sense why the Court would guard it and call it a weapon that can be used to destroy them. Knowledge is power, after all, and revealing all of their locations to an enemy could certainly destroy them. They could be hunted down without any place left to hide.

Small downside: Jerome broke the statue, but they know a guy who can put it back together well enough to get at the information within.

While that’s going on, they have Catherine to interrogate. They don’t learn much, outside the truth that she is not the true leader of the Court, but we certainly learn that Alfred won’t hesitate to torture an old woman if that woman knows anything about Bruce’s abduction. Unfortunately, Barnes comes crashing in, bulldozing straight through the bulk of the GCPD in the main room, overwhelming Alfred, Bullock, and Gordon as they try to take Catherine out the door, and not remotely hesitating to kill Catherine either. Hey, you play with fire, you get burned, Catherine. No one’s going to mourn her.

Gordon barely manages to get an edge on Barnes, by blowing the man’s entire hand off, and they take him into custody… for literally five minutes before he escapes again. Good grief, they just can’t catch a break, can they? But they do have the Court’s own map, at least, and an entire police force to mobilize against the Court. They still have a lot of work to do, finding the weapon, finding Bruce, and guarding against both Barnes and the mysterious leader of the Court, but they have a chance.

Speaking of Bruce and the leader, the two of them return to Gotham, at one of the Court’s secret locations. There, the old man tries to convince Bruce to give up the pain of his parents’ death. He only succeeds by showing him his own furious reaction to the Wayne’s deaths, where he killed the messenger who bore the news and tried to justify it by saying Thomas threatened exposure, as Gordon’s father once did. The old man declares that the Court has always been a means to an end, and with judgment finally at hand, the Court has served its purpose. Now it’s time for the Court to pay for its crimes, and for Bruce to become the city’s protector atop both its own ruin and the Court’s own broken bodies.

Bruce begins to believe there is a connection between him and the old man. I’m guessing the old man is his grandfather, either his mother’s father or, more likely, the eldest surviving Wayne. Which just makes what he does to Bruce all the more monstrous for that connection. Bruce finally relents, giving up his pain, and then the old man reveals that a young mind without pain is one that he can freely sculpt like clay, as the Court has done to the Talons. Feeling nothing, they will freely do everything they are told.

I almost called this one. I could see the old man’s hypocrisy, the lies, the facade he wore, and as head of the Court he is every bit as guilty of their crimes as the rest of the Court, yet he’s casting them aside now after using them. So, he was clearly anything but virtuous. Brainwashing Bruce, though, by tricking him into giving up the pain that anchors his humanity, oh, that’s even lower than I’d guessed.

So… if they’re going to save Bruce, how do they need to make him feel something again? Maybe get Selina to confess what she feels for him? Just a thought.

Elsewhere, Penguin and Riddler are both trying to escape while simultaneously trying to undermine each other. That goes about as expected, with neither of them making any headway, so they have to agree to work together. The terms are simple and firm: they form an alliance that will last for six hours, long enough to get out without having to guard against each other, and then they’ll be free to kill each other. It works, they dupe the guards and slaughter their way outside. Then they exchange a few more words and warnings, Penguin letting slip that he has an army of Indian Hill freaks, and walk away. War has been declared between the two men and those with them.

So, Riddler and Barbara will be fighting Penguin and his freaks while both sides and Alfred and the GCPD are going to war against the Court of Owls, who are about to destroy the city and be destroyed by their own leader, and somewhere in all of this, Barnes will still be running about. Have I missed anything?

Oh, and Thompkins.

Plagued by nightmares and guilt, Thompkins has willingly chosen to steal the GCPD’s sample of the Tetch virus and inject herself with it. She’s chosen to free and enhance her darkness.

When it rains, it pours, and Thompkins could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Arrow

5.23 “Lian Yu”

This is it. The literally-explosive season finale.

This is the end-game of Chase’s master plan.

It’s also the end of the five-year flashbacks. Free from the cage and the threat of suicide, Ollie rains homicidal havoc down on Kovar and his men. He cuts through them like a hot knife through warm butter. Kovar is last, and the man thinks he will at least have the vengeance of imprisoning Ollie on the island forever, just by making him miss the fishing boat. But Ollie finishes Kovar off quickly, and hastily disguises himself as dirty, ragged, with a wig and fake beard, before running for the coast and setting off the bonfire. And we have come full circle to the first moments of the show.

And we see Ollie on the boat, calling his mother. It’s so simple, and so heart-wrenching. He’s gone through so much, before and after this moment, but he’s finally hearing his mother’s voice again. The price is high, but he’s won at last.

I have to admit, I was wondering why he was so frantic in those first moments. I wasn’t sure why that would be so, but apparently he’d just come off a hellish ordeal and a narrow victory and was racing against time.

Back in the present, up against incredible odds, Ollie calls on his past enemies. He frees Captain Boomerang, promising his freedom in exchange for his help, and he makes a deal with Slade, who will don the Deathstroke mask again and help Ollie save his friends and family in exchange for freedom and help in finding his own son. That makes five, including Merlyn and Nyssa, searching Lian Yu for Ollie’s friends and enemies.

Boomerang’s alliance with Ollie is short-lived, as Chase already made him an offer, one more substantial that just freedom. As Merlyn and Nyssa go searching in another direction, Evelyn and Talia get the drop on Ollie and Slade, with Boomerang pulling a gun on them as well. But Slade is clever, and uses the assumption that he’ll betray Ollie too to get the drop on Boomerang, and the two men hold their own until Merlyn and Nyssa arrive, driving Talia and Boomerang to retreat, and leave Evelyn behind.

Appropriately, as they free Ollie’s friends from cages, they put Evelyn in one of them. She chose poorly, and have I mentioned how much I dislike what they did with her character? But what’s done is done. In similar spirit, with Thea freed, she is rather justifiably angry, but the situation is too dire for her to do anything but accept the help of both Slade and Merlyn. That’s one group of friends sent towards Chase’s plane to get off the island.

Not that easy, though.

Not only does Thea step on an old mine, but Boomerang is coming up on their tail with assassins in tow. Merlyn unceremoniously shoves his daughter off the mine, taking her place, and drawing Boomerang towards the mine. The team runs, and there’s an explosion not long behind them. It would appear that Merlyn has made the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter, an act that leaves Thea confused by conflicting emotions. She hated him so much, and was perfectly justified in that, but he still gave his life for her. What’s she supposed to feel about that?

As for Ollie and Slade, they pull the fake betrayal ruse for a second time, getting Ollie close enough to pass Curtis’ new canary collar to Dinah, freeing herself, Rene, Lance, and Digs. Then it’s an all-out melee, with Dinah and Siren colliding before Lance hits Siren over the head, Nyssa defeating Talia, and the rest of the assassins falling while Ollie takes on Chase himself, finally beating him, having him at his mercy, but still lacking on thing: his son.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team finds a sabotaged plane and a bomb in the ground. The bomb is one of many, placed all across the island, set to go off simultaneously via a wireless network the instant Chase dies. The man is really crazy, trying to goad Ollie into killing him again and again, just so the bombs will go off and kill everyone.

Chase manages to escape, with Ollie sending his assembled allies to the plane, not knowing about the sabotage, while he pursues Chase. Chase makes it to a small boat, getting off the island, but not before Ollie’s on the boat as well, and finally Chase reveals where William is: right there, on the boat, in the cabin. He tries to force Ollie to choose: either Ollie kills Chase, saving William but dooming everyone on the island, or Chase kills William in front of Ollie.

Ollie shoots Chase in the leg instead, saving William, but Chase kills himself. His final revenge is in his death, as the entire island goes up in flame.

Cliffhanger.

Of course, had I been one of Ollie’s friends on the island, I probably would have avoided running across the explosive-riddled island and raced for the shore instead, taking the longer, safer way instead of running a gauntlet that I know was crafted by a homicidal madman, ya know? I’m guessing that’s how the team’s survived, but it does leave in question the fates of Evelyn, Talia, Siren, and the other assassins. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Merlyn managed to survive too.

We’ll just have to wait and see, which… is it odd that I don’t really feel any tension at this point? I mean, why bother? They did a better job with this season than they did with the previous two, but they also did a bit too much and we know the team has to have survived. I have no idea what they can or will do for next season, but I’m not feeling so invested in that anymore, ya know?

I’ll probably still follow the show, but I think I’ll drop it from my lineup next season.

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Samurai Jack: The Final Conclusion

Long ago in a distant childhood, I, Merlin, the word-slinging master of commentary, unleashed an unspeakable fandom. But, a foolish animated network, despite wielding the magical mind of Genndy Tartakovsky, failed to step forth with a conclusion. Before the final blow was struck, they ended the series, leaving all fans forever wishing. Now the fools seek to return to the past, and redo the ending of Samurai Jack. (cue rad music intro!)

“Gotta get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack!”

Yes, I very much enjoyed Samurai Jack as a kid. Could you tell? 😉

In fact, I liked it so much, I came out against the very idea of this concluding arc the instant we saw the teaser, the better part of a year and a half ago. (wow, time flies…)

At the time, I felt that they were deliberately taking the beloved classic and “making it more adult” and whatnot, which I wholeheartedly disapprove of. All the same, as I deliberated on my response, I realized that if I was going to maintain any pretense at fairness, I would have to watch it. On which note, allow me to eat my words.

While an argument can certainly be made, that the concluding arc of Samurai Jack has content which is far less child-friendly than the original franchise, I can’t really find fault with Tartakovsky and the others for using it. Indeed, I recall one of my few criticisms of Samurai Jack was how they so obviously had to cater to and work around the censors. Thus, while the presence of spilled blood, for instance, makes for a rather sudden change, it doesn’t really feel “wrong” at all. Even more, the changes are part of the story, and have a very real impact on our favorite samurai protagonist.

So, as far as my issues with the non-child-friendly content go, I rescind my negative comments. I do caution against showing this to the kids unless you can trust their ability to handle “dark” material.

Old vs. New. It’s not so bad as it looks, but still…

As for the rest, I am mostly pleased with what they’ve done.

If there was one major point against the original Samurai Jack, it’s just how episodic the show is. Very few of the episodes are connected in any meaningful way. It’s a series of one-man adventures that, really, you can just sit down and watch any of them in almost any order at all without missing a thing. I’ve nothing really against that, but it does get a bit difficult to stay invested in something when it doesn’t really go anywhere, ya know? It’s a testament to how good the original show was that we all loved it anyway.

As such, I was quite happy with how these final ten episodes not only tell a single story, but one that is clearly connected to all the previous seasons. One needs to watch these in order and specifically after the rest of the series. Thus, we can invest and find our investment repaid! 🙂

Also, it’s best to just watch all ten of these twenty-minute episodes in a row, all at once. Dang, what a shame! 😛

As for being one-man adventures, that, too, is changed, and part of the story. Not only has the long solitude of Jack’s life clearly taken a toll on him, but now he finally gains a true companion to share his adventures with. That goes into some spoilers which I will skate around, but suffice to say: I really like Ashi! I love the character, her story, and her voice actress, the incomparable Tara Strong. 🙂

Related note, it must be said: no one could match Mako’s rendition of Aku, and Greg Baldwin’s version sounds like a cheap imitation by comparison, but he did his best and it was probably the best imitation we could ever get. No hard feelings, Greg.

“YOU SHALL NEVER FIND ANOTHER AKU! HAHAHA!”

So, while the changes are not perfect by any means, they are not so bad, and even serve to improve the story. Which makes the most crucial question: how is the story?

Myself, I like it.

It is a bit jarring and somewhat disturbing at first, especially coming right off the original series, but the story is both personal to the characters and powerful for the audience. This is a conclusion that has been a long time coming, and its delay has left both hero and villain exhausted. If the stakes weren’t already high enough, they get even higher by the end. The journey towards that ending weaves together gripping tension, thrilling action, touching affection, and genuine humor. Hope, horror, love, and loss all intermingle freely in these final days of Jack’s long journey, as does victory and the tragedy of its ultimate cost.

I do have to say, though, that I think they might have tried to do a little too much with the finale. They brought back almost everyone from the entire series for a final hurrah – which, of course, leaves us wondering about the few faces we don’t see, like, say, the Shaolin Monks – and then left the final fate of most of them unspoken, except for the ones we explicitly see suffer horrible demises. And then pulled the final solution to the series practically out of thin air. And then they make Jack’s victory as bittersweet as possible. And then we finally have the quiet, beautiful ending.

All in all, they did a good job with this, I have to say, albeit with a little fumbling here and there.

Rating: I give Samurai Jack‘s concluding season 8 stars out of 10, and the same for the series as a whole.

Grade: B-Plus.

The End.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #131: Keep Going

“If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”
– Ducky, aka Dr. Mallard, NCIS
Season 14, Episode 13, “Keep Going”

Three words: never give up.

These are very good words, and most timely. Ducky says these words at the beginning of the episode, and the man he says them to, his assistant Mr. Palmer, relays them not long after to a man he’s talking out of suicide.

The idea, of course, is one of refusing to yield to one’s troubles. Everyone, at some point, has something going on where it feels like unending agony. That happens more often than we sometimes think, and it doesn’t matter how blessed we’ve been in the meantime. Stress builds up, pain builds up, and suddenly one single blow, big or small, shatters our will. We start wanting to lie down, to just give up, stop fighting, stop trying. We just want to let go.

We could, of course. But we shouldn’t. We mustn’t.

Our lives, our pains, may feel like Hell at times, but Hell is not boundless. It doesn’t stretch forever. There is an end, waiting for us, and lying down does nothing to get us any closer to it.

The reason we talk about going through Hell is because that is what we do: we go through, from one edge to another, and then we leave it behind. We just have to keep going is all. And, interestingly, the harder we push through, the sooner we can climb out. Isn’t that neat?

Whatever you’re going through, don’t give up. Just keep going, and you’ll make it through in due time.

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This Week on TV, May 20, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

So, an interesting week this week. Doctor Who gave me a lot to talk about, at least, but that’s not necessarily a compliment to the quality of the episode. Gotham unveiled the threat to the city at last, shepherding the intrigue towards an incoming violent culmination. Agents of Shield aired its finale, and it was an incredible, gut-wrenching saga… though they really need to work on that whole cliffhanger thing they do. And Arrow set up the finale,for which I am halfway on edge, by driving Ollie straight into a corner with surprising efficiency.

Doctor Who

10.05 “Oxygen”

Necessities. Things which we, by nature of being the exact organisms we are, need to have in order to survive. Take away any one of them, and death is guaranteed. The most urgent necessities, however, are those which kill you faster when you lack them. Take away the food, starvation kill you in a few weeks. Take away the water, dehydration will kill you within a few days. Take away the air, and you’re dead within minutes. Do so even more violently, in the vacuum of space, where there isn’t any pressure, and death comes even faster.

And that’s not even the real horror of this episode. That’s just the backdrop.

Episode begins in space, with a woman telling a man that, if they survive, she wants to have a baby with him. Yep, she dies. And it looks like her corpse becomes a zombie in space, trying to kill the man she was talking to.

Not entirely accurate, as it turns out. This is not Dead Space.

Back on Earth, present day, the Doctor is talking about the perils of outer space (instead of crop rotation), which Nardole accurately perceives as a sign that the Doctor is suffering from space-faring wanderlust.

One certainly has to say this for Nardole: he tries. He does his absolute best to keep the Doctor right there on Earth, on top of the Vault, as he was once instructed to by the Doctor himself. He does everything in his power to stay true and faithful to their purpose, which has some very high stakes. But the Doctor is going crazy and, frankly, stupid, from being locked into one place like that forever.

I’m guessing that the vow the Doctor swore was a deal made with Missy. In exchange for accepting her punishment of being locked up, the Doctor has to stand guard outside constantly and forever, similarly locked into one place. If the Doctor deviates from that too much, Missy gets angry, escapes, and rains chaos down on the universe. That’s just a guess on my part right now, but it fits with what we know so far.

Either way, the Doctor wants to stretch his legs, and while he makes like he’s letting Bill choose where to go next, he chooses instead, and he chooses something very dangerous.

The Doctor is actually pretty full of it throughout most of this episode. I was starting to finally like Capaldi’s version of him, but that’s gone out the window again. First he abandons his post, overrides Nardole’s protests just because he can, and sets the destination he has in mind, and that’s just the start of it.

He does something that seems quite noble: he answers a distress call. He says you see the true face of the universe when it asks for help, which… again, I am going to say that’s wrong. He’s talking about people trying to survive, and they tend to be willing to do or be anything if it gets them what they need. He is right about one thing: we show our true faces in how we respond. Either we turn away, or kick them when their down, or help them. But, at the same time, any capable rescuer knows that he has to look after himself when going into a crisis, because if he doesn’t then who will save him and the people he’s trying to help? The Doctor was far too reckless about that.

The Doctor, Nardole, and Bille arrive on a space station to find it virtually empty. Quite literally, actually. There’s not even any air for people to breathe. The Doctor has to extend the air shell from the Tardis so they can move about the station. The Time Lords, masters of time and space, really should have had some technology that would safeguard individuals in empty space, by the way, but I digress. When the station detects the air, it sucks it out the airlock, and we are apparently ignoring how the Tardis is supposed to be able to maintain said air shell in the middle of space, so how does a simple open airlock take it all away? Ah, well, whatever.

As it turns out, the station isn’t quite empty of things. They find spacesuits capable of standing and moving and “thinking” on their own, basically operating independently of any living occupant. They can move around when empty, and even when they happen to have a corpse in it. So, not space zombies, just hardware moving around, coincidentally with dead people attached.

Air is apparently not allowed on the station so the people there have to buy it themselves, out of their own pocket, paying for each and every breath they take.

I am just going to say: that is not capitalism!

Capitalism is taking a good that you have either created or bought, and selling it for a reasonable price. Yes, it is true, we do sell necessities, like food and water, and we even sell air to scuba divers and such. However, nothing in capitalism involves first taking away what you are selling and threatening your buyer with imminent death if they don’t pay up. Furthermore, being paid for such vital goods helps to ensure an ongoing supply. Everybody wins in capitalism.

This is not capitalism. It is, at least, imperialism, which seizes goods by force and distributes them back only at great costs to the buyer.

Anyway, back to the plot.

When the Tardis’ air gets vented into space, Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor have to don the suits that they now know are responsible for killing the people who wore them. All those that were online at one moment received an order: terminate your organic components. So they did, all of them. Thirty-six out of forty, and by the time the episode ends, that number goes up to thirty-eight, are all killed by their own suits, the very thing that is most essential to their survival.

The people on the station work for a company. They were sent as a work crew to dig copper ore or something like that out of an asteroid. The suits, they think, are either malfunctioning or hacked, but it’s much worse. It’s simple standard business practice. The people they work for are killing them as a matter of course, the moment productivity slid into a negative. They even launched a “rescue” ship in anticipation of this.

Which, again, not capitalism. Sorry to dwell on this, but this is the second episode this season that features a business practice that is both evil and stupid. If this is business as usual, then they’re stupid. If they were able to so neatly send a “rescue” ship, then they should easily be able to just pack it all up at the first possible opportunity and minimize any cost that way. But no, instead of investing in a healthy environment so they can reuse capable employees, they just charge them for every breath and regularly kill their own crews. And what, does no one notice when all of this company’s employees go away on assignment in space and are never heard from again?

And, of course, it only takes one survivor to undo the entire company, and the Doctor brings back two of them.

It’s not easy, of course. Bill’s suit is malfunctioning and low on power, which is lucky for her when her suit tries to kill her, because it lacks the juice to do so, but she still nearly dies several times from it. She’s exposed to space when it takes her helmet off – which is when you run, you stupid people, run, run, run (I spent a lot of time screaming at my screen this episode, if you haven’t been able to tell) – but the Doctor gives her his helmet, at the cost of his sight due to exposure. And then it freezes up and receives the order to kill her when the other suits touch it.

After that, the Doctor oddly manages to get his bearings at last, and he hatches a crazy plan. He convinces the last survivors to take revenge on the company with their own deaths, as he connects the reactor cooling system to their own heartbeats. When they die, the cooling fails, and the entire station goes, taking the company’s payday with it. It takes some talking, but they’re all on board.

And that’s the key. If a one of them had kept fighting to live instead of die gloriously, the gambit would have failed. When the only way to survive is by ensuring the enemy can’t afford it, one must be absolutely willing to die.

So the suits stop trying to kill them. They give them oxygen to breathe, the man at the beginning of the episode receiving his from the suit that holds the dead woman who loved him in it.

After that, the survivors go to the head office to complain, and as the Doctor recalls the history, the company goes down six months later in a massive rebellion. It turns out letting them live with more costly decision. Hah! 🙂

Nardole uses some alien tech to heal the Doctor’s eyes, and then waits until Bill leaves them alone to chew him out for his reckless stupidity. Bill nearly died, the Doctor nearly died, they all nearly died, and even coming back, if the Doctor had been blinded by it, their “friend” in the Vault would surely notice and take advantage and…

…and the Doctor tells Nardole that he’s still blind.

The Doctor’s thrill-seeking may have just doomed everyone.

Gotham

3.18 “Light the Wick”

Well, Gordon’s time undercover in the Court of Owls didn’t last very long.

Let me just say, I am kicking myself for not realizing the obvious: the weapon which the Court is fashioning is not a person, not Bruce. It’s a weaponized version of the Tetch virus. Since every other source of the virus has been destroyed, after the messes made by the Hatter and Mario, the Court takes the last living person suffering from it from Arkham: Captain Barnes.

They use Dr. Strange – he mentions his success in saving Fish Mooney – to extract the virus from Barnes’ blood and making an aerosol from it. They test it first on one hapless man, likely also from Arkham, and, finding it successful, move on to testing the dispersal device. This is apparently what arrived in the Indian Hill crate at the docks, and while it theoretically has a half-mile radius of effect – how much do you want to bet they have several of these gas bombs? – they test it first in an enclosed setting.

While the Court is setting this up, Gordon is getting straight to the task at hand. First, he lifts Catherine’s fingerprint from her mask, identifying her as Catherine Munroe and getting her street address. He sneaks in, successfully lifting a Wayne Enterprises security card from beneath a drawer in her desk, but he can’t sneak out, so he rolls with it. He acts like he sneaked in just to get the drop on Catherine, show up in her home as a display of his capability. He says he’s done everything the Court has asked, but now, with things coming to a head, he is tired of being kept in the dark. He wants a real seat at the table. He wants to know what’s going on.

Catherine has to consider this, and while she does, he and Bullock find the lab, with Fox’s assistance, and Strange, who willingly gives them everything they need. He’s playing both sides. If the Court succeeds, he appears to be loyal and useful, but if Gordon stops them, then he has Strange to thank for it. Fox gets straight to work on creating and mass-producing a cure.

A small complication, for the moment, is Thompkins, absolutely dead set against Gordon and growing increasingly angry at everyone “helping him destroy people.” Finally, she just leaves the GCPD and means to leave Gotham, ending on the note of one final argument with Gordon, who has had enough of her blaming him. He warned her (very badly, but he did), Mario was infected and about to kill her. Gordon may have handled it very clumsily and stupidly, but he is not the villain here. So, fine, she can leave, and she can blame him, but it won’t help. It just won’t.

A larger, more beneficial complication is Penguin. He easily puts two and two together, realizing Gordon delivered Riddler to this mysterious Court, so he uses Gordon to demand that the Court deal with him and give him Riddler. Gordon and the Court don’t particularly care about Penguin, though, and Gordon only calls because he doesn’t have any other options at the time.

Catherine brings Gordon into the inner circle, but does so with a test. All he has to do is stand and watch while the Tetch virus is dispersed among the “Daughters of Gotham,” and he’s in, all the way. However, now that Gordon has a firm grasp in the situation, he won’t do that. Unfortunately, he can’t call Bullock, as his phone was confiscated, so he used the phone Penguin gave him. Penguin gets the message and comes running with Firefly in tow. They take out the Talon that’s guarding Gordon, and he evacuates everyone.

The Court responds quickly and violently, sending a Talon to bring Penguin in, apparently taking Firefly down at the same time, and the man finds himself in bars like a birdcage. His neighbor: Riddler. Needless to say, it’s not a happy reunion.

Cathering also knows that Gordon has played her, and elects to send Barnes, eager and bloodthirsty, to deal with him.

Elsewhere, Bruce is accepting his training. First he is defeated, and his teacher, whoever the heck he is, promises to make him stronger by taking away his pain and anger. He does, taking Bruce into the memory of his parents’ wake, and mentally locking away the pain and anger he associates with it. Then he wins, and he feels nothing for the harm he’s done. So, with “nothing” taking over inside, he keeps training instead of leaving, and his teacher is delighted. His teacher says, “We will make Gotham pay.” He’s wearing a facade, promising freedom from emotions, but he’s consumed by the same demons.

You know what “nothing” is? Darkness. The kind that consumes everything in its path, including itself. Pain is vital to humanity, our humanity, by spurring us towards compassion. There is a grain of truth to what Bruce’s teacher says, but it’s still a lie, and one that could destroy Bruce.

And that’s if he survives his teacher first. They’re apparently returning to Gotham, leaving wherever they are that very night, set to arrive just in time for the chaos and destruction.

Finally, Ivy finds Selina in the hospital, and brings her plants in so the spores can help Selina heal and wake up. Whether the plants work or not, Selina wakes up. And the first thing she does is make her way towards Wayne Manor, to kill the clone.

Which… operating under the assumption that Gotham is going to do the single worst thing they can to its heroes, I imagine she’ll arrive to find the real Bruce has come back, which she’ll find out while trying to kill him, but now he doesn’t care about her or anyone else.

So, Selina is about to go try and kill Bruce and get her heart broken again, Bruce is about to return as a brainwashed destroyer-in-training, Riddler and Penguin are caged in close proximity in the Court’s clutches, Gordon is about to face Barnes the Executioner for a second time, and the Court is soon to destroy the city.

Did I miss anything?

Agents of Shield

4.22 “World’s End”

Two words: emotional grinder.

To start off with, we have Yo-Yo in the Framework. She’s bound and strapped in the depths of Hydra in the middle of a world falling into anarchy, screaming for help. The first one to answer wants to shoot her, but, fortunately, Radcliffe is right behind. He followed a magical trail of yo-yo toys, the work of Daisy, using her hacking capabilities to watch over her friends. The two of them head off to find Mack, and find that the world is ending. Everything, everyone, it’s all just disappearing.

Now that it’s served her purpose, and done her harm, Aida has no need of it, and she’s shutting it down.

Which means it’s a race against time, as the agents try to protect their friends for as long as possible from outside the Framework, while Yo-Yo tries to get Mack to leave. But he won’t. To him, even though he knows this world is fake, it’s real to him, and he refuses to accept a reality that doesn’t have his daughter in it. So he fights. He fights to protect everyone, especially Hope, for as long as possible. No small task when the entire world is vanishing, piece by piece, taking everyone with it.

It comes down to just the four of them, Mack, Hope, Yo-Yo, and Radcliffe, hiding in his home as everything gets ever more dark and empty. Hope overhears Yo-Yo talking about how she’s not real, and, well, more emotional grinding there. Finally, when Daisy at last makes a door for them to step through, back into the real world, they don’t go. They can’t. The one who matters most to Mack is in the Framework, as is the one who matters the most to Yo-Yo. Line by line, the world vanishes, until, at last, so does Hope.

All people can do after a loss like that is hold hands and cry. So that is what Mack and Yo-Yo do.

Meanwhile, outside, their friends have done all they can, bought as much time as they can, and now they can only watch the fake world disappear, taking their friends with it.

…except, Yo-Yo wakes up. She walked through the door. And a moment behind her, Mack. They chose to live.

And, as it happens, for all that Mack has lost and suffered, he’s caught a glimpse of the life that could have been, and the life he still could have with Yo-Yo. He wants it, she wants it, so they’re going to go for it.

Last of all in the Framework, with no means of escape, is Radcliffe. He just sits down on the beach beneath a setting, darkening sun, pours himself a drink, says some wise words… which end before he can finish them. He’s gone in an instant, the drink falling from the air to the sand. Such is life, and death: here one moment, gone the next.

Thus endeth the gilded nightmare of the Framework.

As for it’s keeper, Aida, she is running rampant in the real world. The agents are scrambling to keep her from catching up to them, so much that they can’t even show up to defend themselves from public crucifixion. After all the chaos of that last two weeks, Mace’s death and the revelation that he was never Inhuman, a number of people are calling for Shield to be completely done away with. The accusations are wild and false, and Talbot does his best, but he’s caught off-guard by Aida’s machinations.

Aida wants Shield destroyed and the world enslaved to her will. She has all her Inhuman abilities, all the resources of the Watch Dogs at her disposal, with Ivanov wielding an army of LMDs, and all the scheming of Framework Hydra to draw upon. The plan is simple: inspire fear of Shield and the Inhumans by having a Daisy LMD shoot Talbot in the head – me reaction: “NOOOOOO!” – thus “legitimizing” the accusations against Shield and Inhumans, stoking fear, panic, and anger so they can take over the world. In addition, they intend to indoctrinate the powers that be by having them read the Darkhold.

Fortunately, as the agents are fighting for their lives, they get some unexpected help in the form of Robbie Reyes the Ghost Rider. 🙂 Turns out, he can shrug off pretty much anything Aida can throw at him, annihilate LMDs, and the Rider can even harm Aida, such that she can’t heal. Her body was created with Darkhold knowledge, and it was her body’s creation which allowed Robbie to escape the plane he was on, so, out of everyone on the planet, he can destroy her. Unfortunately, she’s more slippery than an eel, always escaping just before he can get his hands on her.

That was, by the way, an epically cool fight with Daisy and Robbie, Quake and the Ghost Rider, utterly demolishing the LMDs! 🙂

So, Shield is on the run, but they still have a chance. Whether they’re taken down in the long term or win the day, the key to the immediate crisis is Aida, so Aida is their focus. Even more, Robbie intimates that there is an ongoing war across worlds and dimensions, one which he and the Rider have taken to the front lines of, with Aida being a dangerous X Factor on Earth, so the ramifications go even beyond the planet. So, yes, Aida is their priority.

They draw her to the base using themselves and the Darkhold as bait, and she snaps at said bait like a ravenous piranha. She goes first for Fitz, killing Simmons in front of him, slowly and painfully, before going after the book, in Coulson’s possession. However, the Simmons she killed was an LMD, and the real one puts a number of bullets into Aida. Which is just a distraction for Coulson to get close enough… or, rather, for the Rider to get close enough.

Aida was to smart and slippery to stay in the same room as Robbie, but the Rider rides inside, out of sight, and can pass between people at will. And thus, Coulson carried the Rider just long enough to entrap Aida, and undo her. And undone she is. Good guys win. 🙂

Robbie takes the Darkhold and uses his flaming chain to open a portal to another world, one where he hopes to find a safe place for the evil book.

Don’t think I missed that look that passed between him and Daisy, though! The two of them had some chemistry, and they’re a powerful duo in battle. They feel sort of like kindred souls, ya know? Maybe if Robbie comes back, they might be a thing! The two of them are due for some happy, ya know?

And then there were seven. Mack, Yo-Yo, May, Coulson, Daisy, Simmons, and Fitz. And thus is Shield now.

Fitz is ready to take the blame for all of them, in the public eye, to protect them and atone for his Framework behavior. Daisy’s having none of that! She blamed herself once, separated herself once, thinking she might be able to protect them by leaving. But she was wrong. She has her head on right now, and she knows, whatever they face, whatever they do, and whatever the consequences, they do it together.

So… with the distinct, imminent possibility that all seven of them might be locked up forever, they go out to eat. They’re just looking at dessert when soldiers come storming in. They all surrender… and then a guy in a suit uses a device to freeze them in time somehow, briefly.

And then Coulson wakes up in space, saying something about getting to work.

what?!

I know they want to keep the audience coming back for next season, but what?!

Arrow

5.22 “Missing”

One is always at their most vulnerable in the wake of victory. That, too, was part of Chase’s plan. With the help from his own team, including Evelyn, Black Siren, Talia, and Talia’s henchmen, he was able to plan for every contingency, and he got himself captured last episode just to set Team Arrow up. They’ve already had their regularly scheduled villain trying to destroy the city, so now they let their guard down, and even think of it like summer vacation. They’re ripe for the picking.

Normally, they’d be all over Rene’s disappearance instantly, but the crisis was already averted, so they don’t. They throw a party to celebrate, all relaxed and happy as clams at high tide. That is, until Felicity overhears Curtis, via his phone, dropping of a bit of tech to Dinah as a present, only to find signs of a struggle, and then someone takes him down to.

Team Arrow bursts back into defensive mode, but it’s too little, too late. Three of them are already taken, Chase’s allies rounding them all up quick and easy. Thea and Lance go into protective custody, but Siren comes a calling and they’re taken too, leaving Thea to explain parallel Earths to Lance while they’re being transported in chains.

Talk about agony. Lance has had one daughter come back from the dead multiple times, but the one time his other daughter comes back, it’s her evil duplicate instead.

As everything comes apart beneath his feet, Ollie does what he thinks is the one thing Chase won’t expect: instead of drawing his last two comrades, Digs and Felicity, closer, he sends them away instead. And right into a trap. Talia grabs them too.

In the space of a few hours, Chase’s allies have taken down the whole of Team Arrow, Ollie alone left standing, surrounded by enemies. He is on the brink of losing everything, everyone. All of this, just to back him into a corner and force him to free Chase.

Five years of his crusade, and it all comes down to this: one moment, and one decision.

Back in the past, Ollie is having a similar moment. There, too, five years of a hellish world comes down to one moment, and just one decision.

Left to Kovar’s mercy, Ollie is subjected to some physical pain, but also all the pain he’s felt in his entire life, especially in the last five years. Kovar has this nifty torture drug that, injected into Ollie’s system, makes him experience all the agony of those five years all at once. Every wound that has become a scar, every loss that has darkened his soul, he relives all of it simultaneously. Enduring each pain one at a time is one thing, but all at once? That goes beyond the realm of torment.

Kovar leaves him to suffer alone in a cell, with a gun that has one bullet in it. A hallucination of his first savior and teacher on the island, Yao Fei, reprimands him for his failures. He died for Ollie, as did his daughter, and for what? What has Ollie done, except lose more people? He might as well shoot himself. But, counter to this, is a hallucination of Laurel begging him to live, so the people who love him can see him again. And so he does.

He shoots the lock open and staggers out.

Back in the present, Ollie is having none of Chase’s crap. He won’t let the man go, and he certainly won’t take on Argus for such. He’s alone, save for the sudden appearance of Merlyn, interested in saving Thea, and has nothing to work with, but he won’t stop looking for his team, and he won’t give Chase what he wants.

Until Ollie gets video proof that Chase’s allies have his son.

That does the trick.

As Merlyn said, there is nothing a parent will not do for their child. While Ollie and Merlyn go easy on the Argus agents, being careful not to kill anyone, they still take them down, and let Chase escape. And where does he go? Why, back where it all began: Lian Yu.

For Arrow‘s fifth season, we finally have a villain who is not intent on destroying the city. He’s just intent on destroying Ollie. Chase has his allies, and he has Ollie’s Team, though Rene and Dinah are missing from the group, and he has Ollie’s son somewhere. Ollie has Merlyn, and he brings Nyssa in for some much-needed help, but even with that edge, he needs help, and he is desperate. He turns to a man who has been his friend and enemy: Slade Wilson.

Actually, that seems to be Ollie’s entire lineup right now. Merlyn, Deathstroke, and even Nyssa were all rather formidable enemies of his at one point. Merlyn in Season One, Deathstroke in Season Two, and Nyssa in Season Three. Too bad there’s no one from Season Four, or they could have had a perfect lineup: enemies from the first four seasons backing Ollie against the villain of Season Five. Ah, well, nobody’s perfect.

But can I just say, heading into next week’s climactic finale, that I really hate what they’ve done with Evelyn’s character? She could have been so much better, and even if they always wanted to make her a villain, they could have handled that better too.

And am I alone in wishing they could still bring back other old friends like Roy and Rory? I dunno, maybe they’ve just been juggling so many balls in the air this season that any absence feels like they dropped one.

Anyway, Ollie has his work cut out for him. He’s facing an army of implacable enemies, with at least two rescues to perform, and his backup is all people who have tried to kill him in the past. Yeah, he’s up creek without a paddle, isn’t he?

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Sunday’s Wisdom #130: Family Matters

“All those bad feelings, we wasted so much time being angry at each other, and I don’t know why I didn’t forgive her sooner.”

“You loved your mama. Despite everything, you still love her. Why else would you be so mad at her for so long? It’s because she mattered.”

– Scarlett O’Connor & Gunnar Scott, Nashville
Season 4, Episode 3, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye”

Gunnar says this to the woman his most major romantic interest, Scarlett, right after she loses her mother. Said mother was not remotely anything like a paragon of maternity, being petty, spiteful, jealous, both verbally and physically abusive. She was, basically, one of the worst and most useless characters ever on Nashville. Her daughter had every right to be angry with her for years on end, which she was. The very worst thing she ever did was to abandon her own brother to die of cancer, rather than undergo surgery which would save his life, and act which forever severed the family bond between them all.

And yet, she also came back, and gave not only an organ, but, due to complications, her life. She woke up, briefly, just long enough to truly apologize to her daughter, reconciling just a little bit with the family she’d pushed away. Then she died, and in spite of all the grief she’d caused them, her family still loved her enough to grieve. Her final moment were proof that they could have left the past behind, they could have forgiven each other, had more time together. Instead, they have a lifetime of sorrow and anger.

It’s always a tragedy to lose time with one’s family, even more when that loss is due to simple anger. It can be so difficult to let go, even after so many years.

Why is it so difficult?

Because they matter.

The people we love matter.

Our parents, our siblings, our friends, our children, they matter, and thus so do the feelings, the joys, the sorrows, and the disputes we share with them. That’s why it’s so difficult to forgive, but also why it’s so important.

Nobody goes around for years carrying grudges with strangers or even casual acquaintances. Or at least, no one sane does that. Those people may have value to us as people, but not as family. For someone to hurt us that deeply within our hearts, they need to have access to it. We need to have opened up those emotional depths for people to reach them, and no one can reach deeper than family.

Speaking for myself, there are very few people who can reach so deep into my heart as my mother. Fortunately, while we, like anyone, have had our disagreements, I have never felt on the point of alienation. She and my father raised my sisters and I to know, you look after family. You don’t go hurting them, you protect them. You mess with my family, you mess with me. I learned that by example.

I have also learned in the intervening years that I was exceptionally blessed to have my parents, and my family. They have always protected, supported, and taught me. I am eternally thankful for that.

My mother matters to me, and not despite any particular flaws or disputes or anger. She matters to me, plain and simple, and I know I matter to her.

So, Mom… Happy Mother’s Day!

I love you!

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This Week on TV, May 13, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

Things are amping up before wrapping up! Gotham and Agents of Shield both built tension higher and ever higher, the latter shoving us eagerly towards the season finale, the former making us wait a few more weeks for the culmination of intrigue and chaos. Doctor Who felt a bit drab, actually, but pointed towards the season’s terrible menace. Finally, Arrow reached back towards its roots, the beginning of the show, and while the delivery of its climax felt a little weak, I suspect the villain did that on purpose.

Doctor Who

10.04 “Knock Knock”

Nothing. Is. Safe.

You can’t even move out on your own without getting eaten by your new home.

Such is thriller entertainment these days, and such is Doctor Who.

Bill is, at last, on the cusp of achieving a dear dream of all who come of age: leaving the nest and living on her own. She has five strangers as roommates and the six of them together shop around for a place to live. One place is tiny, another is next to a factory, and another place is too good to be true, which it is. A little old man comes to them, and brings them to his house, very old, lacking completely in everything modern, but spacious, quiet, and inexpensive.

So… what’s wrong with it?

It eats people. That’s what’s wrong with it.

Bill sort of has an inkling that something is wrong, but ignores it. Let that be a lesson: never ignore your instincts, especially when they are warning you of danger.

The Doctor helps her move with the Tardis, and notices something that sets him on edge. He notices the trees cracking and creaking when there isn’t any wind. He investigates despite Bill trying to push him off and get him gone. Let that be another lesson: listen to your elders, especially when they’re so well-acquainted with danger.

Bill and her friends are just settling in for the night, relaxing for the most part, when things start getting eerie. There are sounds, like creaks and shuffling and a strange chittering, fluttering sound. Part of that is the Doctor rummaging around, but the house is definitely more active than any house has a right to be. Also, no electronic devices work, so they’re completely cut off from the outside world.

And then the landlord appears again, knocking on wood and doing something with his tuning fork while talking about a daughter. Some of the kids stay up, while others go to bed, and chaos breaks loose for everyone. One of them goes to bed making jokes, only for something to happen behind his closed door, the room and hall filled with the crackling groan of moving wood, and his screams. Bill and her friend try to get in, but it’s locked, and the knock, and are answered by knocking… coming from every direction.

All throughout the house, doors and windows are sealing shut, everyone scrambling like mad to escape, to survive, but it’s too late: they’re already in the belly of the beast. One girl gets out of the house only to be absorbed by the wall surrounding the property. Another, a boy who was an early arrival, was mostly swallowed by the wall of his room already, temporarily spared by still trapped because his record player was skipping, distracting whatever was doing the swallowing, until the landlord turns the music off.

The Doctor’s investigation, still underway in the middle of the crisis, reveals an alien insect creature, very small, part of a very large hive that has infested the house to the point where they have become the house, every grain of wood and slab of stone. Everything. They are the house now. And this is not the first time this has happened. The Doctor and another boy, one who gets trapped by a staircase and eaten by the insects, discover the traces of those who came before. Once every twenty years, six people move in, unsuspecting, and are eaten, a sacrifice to the creatures of the house.

That is the landlord’s method. He uses sound to direct the creatures, feeding them with the would-be tenants, justifying it as maintaining the survival of himself and his daughter, whom Bill and her friend meet in the tower, a woman all made of wood. The Doctor makes it up, though he’s unable to save anyone, Bill’s friend being consumed, leaving just the four of them: the Doctor, the landlord, his mother, and Bill.

The Doctor tries to salvage the situation by offering his services. If anyone can save the woman, it’s him. So, he comes to understand that the landlord was in the garden when he found the bugs, dormant as shells, and brought them in to show his daughter. They became active in response to the music box he set to playing as he left her that evening, and in the morning he found her partially made of wood, and so he had his answer: tame the creatures and stay alive.

Ah, but Bill notices the details. She’s absolutely distraught by what’s happening, but still she notices. Grown men generally don’t bring bugs in from the garden to show their adult daughters. A little boy, however, would certainly show them to his ailing mother. And that’s the truth of it. The landlord isn’t the woman’s father, he’s her son, and all he’s done, all the murder and pain and death, the sacrifice of young people to his pets, was all just because he wanted to keep his mother.

With the realization of the truth came the accompanying horror, and determination. The landlord’s mother finally regained her own mind, at least enough to decree, “No more.” The landlord might have commanded the insects, but it was only she who could control them, and she directed them to consume herself and her son and themselves. The most recent victims were saved, not yet being digested or killed, literally coming out of the woodwork, everyone running for their lives as the house collapsed.

One more danger ended, one more justice done.

Downside: they’re all looking for a place to live again.

Upside: they’re alive and free to do so.

And the Doctor goes to the Vault, which Nardole is conscientiously maintaining. He knocks at the door, promising the resident within a story. As the resident plays the piano, they only consent to have dinner and share a story when he mentions children being eaten by a house, which apparently fills the occupant with glee.

That just about settles is. The Vault is Missy’s prison. That’s who the Doctor would bother to imprison for all eternity, standing guard right outside, occasionally visiting with fast food and storie, giving them a piano to pass the time, and would be quite giddily happy about such terrible misfortune befalling children. The Doctor managed to catch Missy and lock her up, I bet.

Obviously, it’s not going to last forever.

Gotham

3.17 “The Primal Riddle”

Oh, the tangled, weaving web of allies and enemies, ever-shifting and evolving.

Now that Barbara knows of the existence of a secret society that runs all of Gotham, she is furious. She just barely took over Penguin’s kingdom, and has been luxuriating in her superiority, only to find there are bigger fish in this pond that she’s never known of. There’s someone “above” her, even now, and that drives her mad. Faced with mysteries she can’t unravel, threads she can’t follow, and an enemy she can’t fathom, she turns to her resident schemer-in-chief: Riddler.

Riddler knows that he has touched the fringes of this truth before, but this is one riddle he’s never been able to solve. As such, his enthusiasm for the job is boundless. And in typical Riddler fashion, his plan begs the question of whether there is method to the madness or madness to his method.

Riddler can easily guess that this mysterious organization is among the elite of Gotham and that no long-sitting figure of authority could be completely unaware of them. So, he invades a high-class performance of Hamlet, killing the lead and terrorizing the audience, which brings Gordon and Bullock into the situation.

Gordon has made some headway with the Court of Owls, but to go any further, his loyalty must be tested. Catherine tells him they will call on his services sometime, and that time comes quite quickly, as the Riddler aims to expose them.

Gordon and Bullock easily guess the meaning of Riddler’s riddle to mean he’s going to target Mayor James, back in power with the absence of Penguin. He’s already sent the mayor a box of poisoned pastries, and they have no choice but to take the man to the nearest hospital, exactly as Riddler intended. He then stages two simultaneous events. He’s on the speaker, drawing Gordon to the broadcasting station, but also floods the hospital with a biker gang, having had Barbara set off a bomb at their lair to achieve this. The gang collides with hospital staff and the officers, creating a moment of chaos where Riddler is able to sneak in and abduct James.

After that, it’s just a matter of forcing the enemy’s hand. James breaks easily enough just from hearing Barbara’s voice, and the threat of being put back in that box she subjected him to the first time around. So now Barbara and Riddler have a name: the Court. As he begins broadcasting, gleefully speaking of the Court as a sullen James assures Riddler they’re both dead men walking, the Court calls Gordon. They want him to bring Riddler to them, and he does. First he calls Riddler, luring him to the precinct, and deactivating the bomb collar with a helpful tip from Tabitha, and then he takes Riddler to where Catherine will meet them.

It’s a stark moment between the two men. They once shared friendship, ate dinner together with the women they loved. Now Kristen Kringle is dead by Nygma’s hand, Nygma has become the Riddler, Thompkins hates Gordon, and Gordon has passed through darkness, emerging into light only to step into the darkness of the Court. The past has become an empty thing, a source of pain. Riddler argues that all friendships end in betrayal, so why bother with friendship in the first place anymore?

And then Catherine arrives, and Riddler steps into her limo. The Court means to give him a purpose and use his intellect, or kill him if he refuses. As for his part, Gordon has performed perfectly and proven himself. He is welcomed in as the Court’s newest member, joining their assembly and donning a mask.

He’s in.

Mercifully, he did not need to do anything like killing a loved one, as his Uncle Frank did. But I suspect that test might arise, also as it did for Frank. Thompkins suspects Gordon in the death of his uncle, and she’s gnawing on a spiteful bone, eager to take him down and end the destruction he wreaks on those around him, as she sees it.

Meanwhile, Barbara is finding herself alone. Gordon doesn’t have her back, Riddler leaves her without answers as he walks off to the Court, and Tabitha betrayed her. Tabitha got tired of waiting for Barbara to honor their agreement to hill Riddler, and feels more and more like Barbara’s lackey than her equal. The only happy one is Butch, who is gleeful at the division between the women. Barbara’s reign may be brief indeed, for a mad queen cannot rule alone. Even more so with the imminent return of Penguin.

Speaking of, we didn’t see much of him, but he and Ivy succeed in recruiting both Freeze and Firefly to join them, the beginning of a “family” of freaks. Freeze nearly killed Penguin for driving them out – no one holds a grudge like Mr. Freeze – but comes along when they return his suit to him, and offers to fund his research to save what’s left of his wife. (How far did they have to go to find him, I wonder?) Meanwhile, Firefly was going to say no too, but Ivy presented the offer of a place to belong, instead of being an abused menial worker. The two of them don’t get along, and never have, but they’ll keep a lid on their hostilities. For now, the four of them are holed up in Penguin’s mansion, ready to get to work the next day.

Finally, there is Bruce’s clone, Hush. Alfred is able to suspect that something is wrong, but he doesn’t seem to have put it together yet, or he’s faking brilliantly. He even accuses “master Bruce” of letting him win at chess. Hush diverts attention by saying he’s reeling from Selina’s rejection. Then, the moment Alfred is gone, his nose starts bleeding, apparently a frequent event. He sneaks out and meets with Catherine, confirming his suspicion that he’s dying. He was not built to last, only to last until Bruce returns. And when he returns, people will die. Many people, throughout the city.

So, is Bruce supposed to be the Court’s weapon? That was my first thought, but I didn’t think it was plausible due to time constraints. Just what is the Court planning?

Speaking of, I noticed something last episode. How did that guy enter Bruce’s memory alongside him, even exchange blows with him? How is this place such an inscrutable maze? Perhaps it’s not real. Perhaps he’s trapped in some machine that immerses him in a realistic experience, like Strange did to “rehabilitate” Penguin. If they’re doing something similar to Bruce, that could explain some things, like how they mean to shape him into their weapon, assuming that is their intention.

But back to Hush. He has no feeling for the city or anyone in it… except Selina.

This was one of those times where I saw the moment coming, and braced myself for it, but still dreaded it.

Hush visits Selina to try and convince her to leave the city. He cares about her, and wants to get her out before the city is destroyed. Which, as she notes, is the real difference between him and Bruce. Whatever her feelings for Bruce, however powerful her anger is, she knows Bruce. She knows he cares about everyone. He wouldn’t just save Selina, he would do everything in his power to save everyone. And that is what makes Hush the freakish, broken, pale shadow of Bruce Wayne. It’s not his origin, it’s not his transient life, it’s his lack of feeling for others. And that is why Selina rejects him.

Which Hush responds to by pushing her out the window. She falls far, lands hard, and seems to be dead. And, to complete the homage to Batman Returns, the cats come crowding around her body. Thus to rise she who will be Catwoman.

So, Gordon’s joined the Court, which has Bruce and intends to destroy the city soon, and Riddler is becoming their minion. Meanwhile, the latest criminal kingdom is fracturing, soon to see Penguin returning with freaks in tow, bent on revenge against those who wronged him, especially Riddler. Meaning the freaks are going up against their creators. Bruce is gone, Alfred doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, and Hush just killed Selina.

That about sum it up?

Agents of Shield

4.21 “The Return”

So, however bad the situation is, last episode ended with the clearing of a major hurdle. With the season finale coming up next, this episode take the agents’ progress and pushes them backwards. They have barely managed to survive, and things keep getting so much worse. And they’re not remotely letting up on the emotional intensity now that they’ve driven it to such heights.

May and Coulson find themselves facing Ivanov with his new robotic body. They take him out in mere seconds. And then they, and we, learn that he has multiple bodies now. One brain, many bodies. Many strong, durable, yet disposable, bodies. They manage to defend themselves, but they realize it’s too easy. Ivanov obviously wants to kill them, and he can, but he’s also smart. Why not just flood the place instead of delaying them like this? Answer: he was just getting the last few things he wanted to keep onto his sub. Once that’s done, he torpedoes the place. May and Coulson barely make it back to the surface, having to leave Mack behind.

Meanwhile, May, Simmons, Yo-Yo, and their three friends, Piper, Davis, and another agent whose name I failed to catch, are dodging missiles in the air. They manage to restore power just in time, and set course straight for their friends. Yo-Yo is furious with Daisy for not forcing Mack through the Framework’s exit, and Daisy can only flail around and tell her about Hope. Even to save his life, Daisy couldn’t take Hope away from him. Yo-Yo can’t reprimand her for that, but she starts getting the idea of going in herself to get Mack. That idea is put on hold as the crisis mounts, though. They arrive at the station just in time to grab Coulson and May… but Mack is trapped and drowning below, and Yo-Yo won’t leave without him, and no one wants to though they know they have to.

That’s when an unexpected savior arrives: Aida.

With Fitz forcibly by her side, Aida is feeling and thinking for the first time. She stands exultant in joy and wonder, feeling the waves wash around her feet on the beach. Fitz is still in shock, everything about the Framework and what he did inside being abhorrent to his soul. Aida tries comforting him, but to little effect. As she takes them to a luxurious suite instead, he begins talking to her about empathy. She learns the feeling of fear, how terrible it is, and Fitz uses that to try and convince her to save people instead of hurting them.

Aida is accustomed to being able to analyze everything, so emotions are giving her trouble. Humans take decades or even lifetimes to learn how to function despite what they feel, and even then most of us fail at some point. Aida is dropped into the deep end of the pool without even knowing how to float. Fitz, poetically dealing with the emotional fallout of his Framework experience, is a perfect coach at the moment, helping her learn to focus on what to feel and act accordingly. He convinces her to save his friends, but Ivanov won’t be persuaded and can’t be forced, so she goes in herself. She saves Mack at the last possible instant, teleporting them all onto the Zephyr and into Shield custody.

Where Simmons promptly ices both Aida and Fitz, the former being an enemy and the latter being unknown after the Framework nightmare in which he was the monster.

The agents all return to base to find it a ruin. LMD May blew it up to cover their escape from LMD Coulson, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chaos has reigned while their team has been silent, not helped by the death of Director Mace, whose body Ivanov defiled by smashing every bone with a hammer to frame Daisy, aka Quake, for his murder. Their base is a burnt-out husk and the military is not their friend, believing them to be robots and/or enemies, as demonstrated by Talbot, whose men dug the dead and injured agents they left behind out of the ruin. He is understandably tense and aggressive, demanding short answers. Coulson tries, but the entire situation defies rational belief.

Again, the team is “saved,” in a way, by Aida. Not in the good way, though.

Fitz and Aida are imprisoned together in a unit outfitted with tech to hinder her teleportation. Simmons is watching and listening on the cameras as Fitz bares his soul, his pain, and his heart. Aida is there to comfort him, but that turns right around with his confession. He doesn’t know how Simmons could ever look at him again, after what he did as Hydra’s head, and while he did love Aida in the Framework, he is back to himself again. He has room in his heart only for one woman: Simmons.

…you know how they say “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” Amplify that. Aida is mentally unstable, and very powerful. Add her anger, and it’s a perfect recipe for “dangerous.” Fitz’s rejection of her flips her like a coin, and she goes on a homicidal rampage. The containment unit prevents her teleportation, but she has other abilities. That’s what she had Fitz working on: harvesting Inhuman abilities and putting them all together to create a being of godlike power. That’s why he called her new body so much stronger, and how they envisioned destroying “the other side.” Among her power: Lincoln’s electrokinesis, and rapid regeneration bordering on immortality.

The trio of agents try to get Fitz out, to safety, and they’re interrupted by Talbot’s soldiers, and they’re all interrupted by Aida the Furious, who summarily kills the soldiers even as they’re screaming into their radios. One of the agents, the one whose name I never caught, is the first of the three killed by Aida. Davis comes round the corner emptying his pistol into her while Piper gets Fitz into the containment unit and up into the Zephyr, interrupting the Mexican stand-off between Talbot’s soldiers and Coulson’s agents. Fitz has been screaming the entire time that Aida can’t be stopped now, and as she’s getting up to kill Davis, May takes off for the cockpit to get them in the air, fleeing for their lives.

Talbot and his men stay behind, not accompanying the agents and searching carefully for further threats. But Aida is long gone, back to Ivanov, who brings her fully into the dark side as he teaches her of pain and the desire to destroy. Aida has that desire to an overwhelming degree, and she’s now probably a being capable of matching even the Avengers in many ways. She starts by destroying, amid the motions of intimacy, one of Ivanov’s bodies. And she means to move on to destroy everyone.

To top it all off, Yo-Yo, ignoring Daisy’s warnings of the dangers of the nightmarish Framework, has gone in to retrieve the man she loves, who won’t remember her and has a daughter to love. Oh, and she wakes up bound to a table in a ruined room with the sounds of chaos around her. She’s entered the nightmare, and all she can do is scream.

On the bright side, if Yo-Yo has her powers in the Framework, and judging by the ruin around her when she was likely taken by Hydra, perhaps my idea of bringing Hope into the real world via the Looking Glass could actually work after all. On the downside, Ivanov has that technology, so they’d be delivering Mack’s daughter straight to their worst enemy. Not a good plan.

Even better, however, is the gateway between dimensions that is still in Shield’s base, and which a familiar flame-skulled figure steps through.

Robbie’s back! Yay!

Considering how the agents of a one-man army of robots and an enraged, genocidal near-goddess chasing them, and two friends trapped in the Framework, I’d say they need all the help they can get right now!

Arrow

5.21 “Honor Thy Fathers”

In this episode, we go back to the beginning.

In the flashback, Ollie is dropped off in the island by Anatoly, taking the time to explain why he has to go back home. However, he was supposed to be picked up by a fishing boat two days later, so Ollie could go back immediately under the cover of having been on the island for five years straight. Anatoly wishes him well and makes the arrangements. Unfortunately, as we approach the beginning point of the show, Kovar and his men interrupt the plan, catching Ollie by surprise as he’s building the bonfire. We’re about to see why Ollie misses the boat and gets trapped on the island for several more months before being rescued, and it’s going to be tragic even as Ollie wins, condemned to indefinite solitude, though we know he gets off the island soon enough.

Back in the present, we go not only to the beginning of the show, but the beginning of everything in the show. Ollie got his quest to save the city from his father, but what he doesn’t know is where his father got it from. His father joined the secret council that Merlyn would eventually lead into the Undertaking because a corrupt individual, Councilman Goodwin I think it was, tried to solicit a bribe from him, which he refused, the two men struggled, and Robert Queen accidentally killed the man.

Chase goes and digs up the corpse, sending it to Ollie’s office, and setting in motion the gears which will smear Robert’s name. Thea returns just in time for the defamation, and it does Ollie some good to have his sister there. He resists the truth, but Thea is more open to it. So when Chase indirectly sends the Queens a flash drive with video surveillance proving what happened, Thea is the one to watch it, and makes Ollie do so afterward.

I love how the siblings support each other. Their parents weren’t saints by any definition, and coming to grips with that truth can be very difficult, especially when your own sins bear a haunting resemblance to theirs. Thea is a mess over what she’s done and what her parents have done, but she’s also letting herself drown in the darkness, and needs Ollie to help her stay afloat. Meanwhile, I remember very well how Thea was the strong one supporting her brother in the earlier seasons, and she’s still his support. Robert is right, in his message to her, about her strength, and how Ollie needs her.

As for Robert himself, well…

Ollie is right, his father wasn’t a killer. Robert’s regret over that man’s death was so powerful that he joined the council, and then he defied Merlyn’s plan, a choice that resulted in his death and the beginning of Ollie’s mission.

At the same time, though, Robert also took pains to evade the consequences of Goodwin’s death. Of course it is ridiculous to treat an accidental death the same as murder, but covering it up is despicable in its own right. It’s beyond counting, the number of times people have committed atrocious crimes, often worse than the original offense, just to avoid the consequences of their actions. That was Robert’s true crime that day, and, in its own way, it is every bit as horrific as actual murder.

Chase managed to convince Ollie to lose faith in himself, and now he wants Ollie to lose faith in his father. But Ollie manages to learns a truth as well: as imperfect as his father was, he never gave up on Ollie, and never would. Which is unlike Chase’s father, the murderer of children who was going to disown Chase because he didn’t want a crazy man inheriting his money and possessions. Chase’s devotion to his father is entirely one-sided.

As Ollie is distracted trying to keep his father’s name clean and hunt Chase down, he has the team and the police keeping tabs on three dozen inmates which are out of prison courtesy of Chase being a serial killer. They quickly find that one of them, the guy who no longer feels pain, is arming up with guns and stealing dangerous chemicals. As it turns out, this is at Chase’s direction, as he intends to rain deadly poison and disease down on the entire city. It seems fairly finale-like, only the team steps in and stops it all pretty easily. The same for when Ollie and Chase have their confrontation: Ollie holds his own perhaps a little too easily, and when he taunts Chase with the truth about his father disowning him, Chase simply surrenders.

Too easy.

There’s no sign of Evelyn, or Talia, or Ollie’s son, all of which we know are in Chase’s pocket. No word from the boy’s mother either, which suggests to me that the serial killer added her to his body count. And Ollie isn’t really looking too hard, being reassured simply by the fact that Felicity can’t find them. Which would then make Chase’s act of sealing them in the bunker last episode redundant. He wouldn’t do that unless he had something specific to do while they were occupied.

Chase surrenders, and gets tossed into an Argus cell, but he’s nowhere near finished.

Finally, as Rene is on the cusp of getting his daughter back, he’s afraid. He has to attend a hearing, which means revisiting the pain of the past with his daughter. He doesn’t want that, but Lance comes down hard, practically commanding the man to be there. Yeah, his daughter might have to momentarily live with the pain of the past again, but that’s better than living the rest of her life knowing her father didn’t want her enough to fight for her. Lance is absolutely right. Unfortunately…

Rene doesn’t show.

I’m guessing Chase had a colleague of his take Rene out in some fashion. No way Rene misses that hearing, fears or no.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2! Whoo!

That. Was. Fantastic!

I do not know if Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is “Marvel’s best yet,” as some are saying, but I certainly see how the argument can be made. 🙂

Most obviously, the first Guardians movie is regarded by many, including myself, to be one of, if not the, greatest Marvel works and comic book movies ever, and Vol. 2 is a step up. It doesn’t feel “better than the first” so much as it feels like the natural progression upwards that comes when telling a single good story. We’ve already met and gotten to know these characters, and now we are delving into their depths and seeing them progress and grow.

That is one fair criticism of Guardians: the characters, hero and villain alike, can feel just a little bit shallow as we’re still meeting them even as they rush headlong into a climactic confrontation. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone criticize Ronan as a sub-par villain, and while I disagree with that, I can see where they’re coming from: we see the surface of Ronan, but little of what lies beneath, where he comes from, how his mind works. The same applies to the Guardians, especially Gamora, and Nebula as well.

In Vol. 2, we see what’s beneath the surface. The story is driven by the characters and the characters are driven by their relationships with each other. Peter’s childhood ordeals are resurrected and brought to a head when he is found by his father; Gamora’s sisterly connection to Nebula evolves; Rocket’s attitude tests the bonds between him and his comrades because he has issues; Drax forms a surprising friendship as he continues to live with what he’s lost. And that’s just the Guardians themselves.

The breakout role belongs to none other than Yondu, the Ravager captain who kidnapped and raised Peter Quill. We see who he is as much as any of the Guardians. We see how he once belonged to a much greater organization, but he dishonored himself long ago, a decision which finally bears the bitterest of fruits. We see him at his lowest, at his highest, at his kindest, at his most ruthless and dangerous, and at his best. We see his journey towards redemption, and it is founded on the bond he formed with the boy he raised.

Which also goes into the character of Peter’s biological father. There’s a tremendous amount to say there, but it goes into some very severe spoilers, so I shall skip that part. 😉 Suffice to say, Peter’s father is a massive upgrade in villainy from Ronan the Accuser. All the worse for Peter, having something he’s dearly wanted dangled right in front of him, only to find it worse than he could have ever possibly imagined.

“If you thought Luke Skywalker has a terrible father, just wait until you get to know me.”

Even the themes of Guardians are given greater depth in Vol. 2. The first showed the Guardians as victims of an interstellar system of cruelty and apathy. The second movie delves into the source of that darkness, and it ranges from the cosmic to the mundane. There are all-powerful beings of madness, trying to force their self-imposed destiny on the universe. There is the petty, heartless malice of greedy savages, the sort who take joy in the suffering and deaths of others. And there are entire civilizations built on the singular notion of standing above others, a notion which is directly at odds with the free spirit of the Guardians.

Mixed in with all of this is excellent action, thrilling suspense, a lot of wit and humor, and a single, overriding theme.

The ending of the movie, for all its emotional impact, might feel a little drawn out to some people, as most superhero films end things rather quickly and simply after the climax, but it fits. Sure, there’s a lot of action and a powerful enemy and all that, but that’s what happens, not what the movie is about. The movie is about family. What family is. What family does. What family means. The ending, with all its moving parts, is perfect for this.

Were I to rank Vol. 2 in my Marvel Countdown, it would easily be in the top tier, challenging Avengers, Guardians, and possibly even Winter Soldier. Which is a heartening improvement for Marvel. They’ve yet to produce a bad installment to the MCU, but their sequels, speaking very relatively, have been a step down from their predecessors. Not so in this case. Not so at all. 🙂

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is all around a fun, fantastic movie with a surprising emotional potency, though perhaps a touch dark for the younger members of the audience.

Rating: I give Vol. 2 a solid 10 stars out of 10.

Grade: absolutely A-Plus.

I highly recommend it! 😀

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Anime Review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

I’m not sure if there is a name for this type of story yet, but I’ve seen it a few times now. It’s a comedy where they take mythical and legendary creatures, put them into a modern-day domestic setting, and just follow the exaggerated everyday happenings. What would that be? A monster sitcom?

Whatever it’s called, that’s what the anime Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is.

As the title suggests, it follows Tohru, a dragon who, taking human form, becomes a maid for a woman named Kobayashi. They apparently met a previous evening in the countryside surrounding Tokyo, where the human found the grievously injured dragon and helped her, even offering her a place to stay if she worked as a maid. Unfortunately, Kobayashi was so freaking plastered that not only does she hardly remember it, she thought it was a dream. So, having a maid with a dragon’s tail show up on her doorstep catches her a little off guard. She initially refuses, partially out of surprise, and partially because Tohru, knowing nothing of humans, knows nothing of maids. The immediate inconvenience of having to support Tohru as well as herself puts Kobayashi in an awkward place. However, her kind heart prevails and she gives Tohru a proper chance to get things right.

And so Tohru becomes the titular dragon maid for Kobayashi.

That’s how the show starts, and there isn’t really so much to spoil about the rest of it. Letting Tohru into her life brings Kobayashi and her friends into contact with other dragons as well, and hilarity results as the two species and their cultures interact. There are a number of cute, adorable moments, and some tender ones as well. There’s not much tension to be found anywhere in the series, really. This just isn’t that kind of show. Pretty much everything is meant to make us laugh, and what little conflict there is, is resolved quickly and peacefully. It’s just everyday life, with the addition of dragons.

That lack of tension worked against it a little, though. Sure, I was in the mood to laugh, but it starts to feel a little long, even with only thirteen episodes, without anything new or riveting to demand your continued attention, ya know?

For the most part, I did find the show usually funny and sometimes even interesting, the latter occurring as we got glimpses into the culture of a dragons and, through them, gained an occasional insight into human culture as well. I also enjoyed seeing Kobayashi’s subtle transformation into a stronger, happier person, now that she had let someone into her life.

There is one thing I disliked, though, and it’s a running theme with these “monster sitcoms,” as I am dubbing them until corrected. For some reason, they just can’t seem to stay away from more “mature” material. I’ll elaborate on instances in other anime as I eventually review them, but this one alone had more than enough of such.

Tohru, for instance, was a bit too interested in Kobayashi, in a way that definitely gave off a sexual vibe. And, for some reason, kept trying to get Kobayashi to eat her tail meat, with animated hearts floating around her face at every attempt. There was also a grade-school kid, in third grade if I recall rightly, whose interest in her dragon classmate was like she was constantly being shot with Cupid’s bow, also with definite sexual overtones, which just felt too absurd and inappropriate. And there was the obligatory female with an impossibly huge bust always showing off and, on top of that, smothering a fifth-grade boy with them. I know in Japan the boy would just barely be jailbait, from a legal perspective, but any way you look at it, it’s a bit freaky and unsettling.

Most disconcerting of all is how all of this is just there, right alongside humor that is otherwise perfectly domestic. Who was the target audience for this, anyway?

So, if you prefer to avoid “humor” like that, then Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is probably not for you. If that’s not such a big deal to you, then you might enjoy it after all. Personally, I felt it took something away from the show, and it doesn’t bring that much to the table in the first place.

Rating: maybe 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: I’ll give it a C-Plus.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | 3 Comments

Killjoys: A thrilling ride!

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Killjoys.

Going by the trailers, it seemed a lot like a rip-off of the Firefly template with a different visual scheme, and the two shows are not dissimilar in a number of ways.

Both feature a small crew of rule-bending and rule-breaking rogues on a ship in space. They live day to day, job to job, and they perform a variety of tasks so long as they get paid for their services. There are elements both fantastic and gritty and realistic as we follow their adventures. And, as it happens, they defy powers that overshadow everything they know, just because they want to be free in the open sky.

So, the two shows are pretty similar, though I’d describe Firefly as more down to earth and Killjoys as something more exotic and epic. And that’s the thing. A number of shows really are very similar to each other, but we usually don’t care as long as we can enjoy them independently of each other. In that vein, I’d say these shows are like cousins: springing from a similar source, but not exactly the same, so we can enjoy them all we want.

And I did enjoy Killjoys. I watched the first episode as a test – my one-episode rule at work – and then I binged the first two seasons, and I’m looking forward to the third, which is coming up in a few weeks.

The story follows the adventures of a trio of all-purpose bounty hunters: Dutch, John, and D’avin. Called “Reclamation Agents,” or “Killjoys” for short, they embark on a variety of missions, from collecting criminals, to delivering goods, to salvage, to rescue missions, to escorting pregnant women with noble-blooded babies in their wombs, etc. It’s a diverse array of tasks they perform, and they’re pretty good at it. Along the way, the three of them and their allies keep tripping over, and following, the strings of a vast, high-reaching, long-running conspiracy, one which threatens their homes and everyone they care about, and one which they themselves are connected to in surprising, mysterious ways.

Yes, we’ve seen the basic formula of this countless times. What separates the ones we like from the ones we don’t is the delivery. When we’re thrust into a foreign world, what counts the most isn’t the technology, the drama, the epic saga, or the one-liners: it’s humanity, and how the characters represent such.

And that’s really what I like about Killjoys. Sure, the plot is intricate and suspenseful, the wonders, horrors, triumphs, and tragedies are all magnificent, the technology is cool, and the humor is well-timed and hilarious, but what really sells the show for me is the characters. I actually like these people! Warts and all, I like them, and I root for them!

“We are wort watching.”

Dutch, for instance, portrayed by the gorgeous and talented Hannah John-Kamen, is an intriguing take on female empowerment. Other “strong female characters” try to be either invulnerable, both physically and emotionally, or an emotional wrecking ball: battered, swinging back and forth, and smashing everything in the way. And that’s their definition of “strength.” Dutch, however, is a woman who can kick ass, lead others, and rely on others, men included, to support her. She is vulnerable and strong at the same time. In fact, if she weren’t so “vulnerable,” she wouldn’t be nearly so strong as she is.

Of course, be it Dutch, John, or D’avin, or any of their friends, it’s not just a matter of how strong they are. What really makes me care about these people is their compassion. Sure, they’re living on the edge of ruin constantly. Sure, they live day to day. Sure, they take almost any job that comes their way. But they still care about others. They care about their homes, their friends, their people. They even care about strangers, often forming connections pretty quickly, which, after everything they’ve each lost, is a form of strength in and of itself. And that’s why, when the grand puppeteers come along, looking to destroy good people, the Killjoy trio just can’t look the other way.

Now, considering the story and the characters, I have to say, if there’s one thing I dislike about Killjoys, it’s how relatively simplistic the setting seems. Virtually the entire story thus far has taken place with “the Quad,” referring to a planet with three moons. For a space-faring civilization, especially one with agents that are unique in their authorization to cross interstellar boundaries, that seems a little small. It’s even smaller as a setting for such complicated political, religious, and militaristic intrigues which are all the culmination of centuries of plots. Most especially, were I a member of these nine families that rule the entire Quad… I would think that rather small potatoes, and not at all worth the endless pomp and self-aggrandizing ceremony.

In other stories, the smaller stage would be annoying. In this case, it’s merely a minor complaint. That’s how much I like the show, that I’m willing to overlook all the world-building mistakes. 🙂

A cautionary warning, though, for those concerned with the younger members of the audience. It’s not as though there’s a lot of sex in the show, but they could have stood to be slightly more tactful in their depictions of such. There’s a reason why people apply the word “sexy” in their summaries and description.

All things considered, I like Killjoys. Whatever its imperfections, it’s a fun, fast, thrilling tale where the epic of a space opera is playing out on a very personal level for characters we actually care about. I won’t be adding it to my weekly lineup, but I will definitely keep following it.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #129: Words Hurt, Too

“I don’t know why I let him get to me. Sticks and stones, right?”

“Words always hurt me way more than sticks or stones.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

– Penguin & Ivy, Gotham
Season 3, Episode 16, “These Delicate and Dark Obsessions”

It’s one of those things that everybody knows but forgets all the time: words hurt.

When we think of pain, our minds revert to the most obvious thing: physical injuries. It’s part of how we survive and protect each other, I think, to begin with the worst-case scenario, the endangerment of one’s life. It’s something external, something we can actually point to and say, “That’s bad.” Certainly, the significance of any physical blow is not to be ignored.

After that, however, we forget that we aren’t just physical creatures. We are minds, hearts, and souls as well as bodies, and, like the body, any of these can be hurt. Even worse, such injuries can be every bit as grievous, far slower to heal, and may even, depending on severity and nature, come to affect the body. And since what is being hurt is intangible, so is the means to hurt them. Thus: the power of words.

Words hurt, be those words deliberately cruel or merely careless.

The upside, however, is that words can also help us to heal.

And, interestingly, so can physical gestures. A hug, for instance. 🙂

Of course, in understanding the harm words can do us, we should also keep in mind what constitutes a rational response. The rhyme that speaks of sticks and stones is intended to counsel a child to restrain the impulse for physical retaliation. Taunts are not always meant with malice, and even if they are, there is not always a need to fight back. One can be the better man, to rise above the insult and remain good-natured.

This is not the same as rolling over, though, and ignoring the hurt. To do that is like drinking poison in the hopes that it will heal you. But entertaining spite just because of some hurtful words is also like drinking poison, only in the hopes that the other person will be the one to die from it. Either way, it doesn’t work. Better to avoid the poison altogether.

Once again, it’s a question of balance.

Which, it is rather significant that I am quoting two mentally unstable villains who kill people who offend them. Their words might be true, but they are most definitely unbalanced in their response.

As much as words hurt, that’s no excuse for doing harm in return.

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