Anime Review: Soul Eater

It occurs to me, when you stop and think about it, it’s a bit amazing how many anime there are that can fit into a Halloween-themed month. I wonder why that is.

Maybe Japanese culture remembers how close the supernatural world is to our own, as opposed to our jaded, cynical, “there’s-no-such-thing-as-ghosts” Western mindset. Or maybe they just understand, from firsthand experience, that science does not solve everything. Or maybe they just love ghost stories. Either way, you can hardly turn over a metaphorical rock without finding an anime that has ghosts, gods, demons, spirits, psychics, etc. Still, out of all of them, this one stands as a particular Halloween-appropriate title, what with the witches, the reapers, the souls, the Grim Reaper himself, and the struggle against a virulent madness.

Soul Eater is an action-based anime following the students and teachers at the DWMA (that’s the Death Weapon Meister Academy) as they fight the forces of evil, typically witches and some monsters, to protect the world from an infection of fear and madness. It’s pretty good, for the most part, and it’s easy to see why it’s popular. It has wacky, endearing characters, hilarious jokes, excellent action, enthralling drama, and a gripping plot which does not hesitate to delve into dark, horrifying subject matter.

(and the fan service)

As far as the characters go, each of them is interesting and unique in their own way, but the interaction between them is what really sells it. They work together in partnerships and teams, so it was crucial to not only craft each individual but each partnership properly. They needed to make sense, and in terms the audience could easily see and understand, while entertaining us.

Maka Albarn, for instance, is a bookish girl but also a fierce fighter, caring and capable, and not one to tolerate nonsense. Her partner is a boy named Soul, who loves to be cool and confident, and is determined to get stronger and fulfill his duty to Maka, to protect her. They’re fairly normal-ish for this show, and usually strike an easy balance with each other.

Black Star, by contrast, is is a highly unorthodox “assassin,” by which I mean he is a brash loudmouth who is nothing short of obsessed with his own greatness, so much so that he flubs up nearly every assassination he attempts, but he is still a skilled, powerful fighter. His partner is Tsubaki, a girl who is noticeably older than him, is more quiet, considerate, tolerant, and adaptable, not to be confused with weakness and submission.

Then there’s the son of Lord Death himself, Death the Kid, who is among the strongest and most intelligent souls in the series, but is permanently fixated, to ridiculous, hilarious proportions, on his admiration for absolute visual symmetry. Thus, he has two partners, the Thompson Sisters, Patty and Lizzie, one being a ditz who laughs at everything, and the other being more serious and down-to-earth, grounding the antics of the other two, though she can freak out easily enough when faced with something scary or gross.

Each partnership is strong and manages to balance itself out into something mostly functional, if also distinct in the crowd. As these three sets find themselves working together often, they become bound as comrades as well as friends, even if there is friction between them every so often. They’re the A-Team among the students at the DWMA, three skilled meisters and their weapons.

…wait, what was that? Three “meisters” and their what? Weapons?

The people are weapons and the weapons are people.

When I first started watching Soul Eater, I was a little confused at first. The basic premise of the show, apparently, is that there are monsters which devour human souls, and to combat these, we have the DWMA, which trains reapers to protect humanity. These reapers come as “meisters,” armed with mystical abilities which are enhanced by living weapons. While many other stories feature weapons which are “alive” in some way, I can’t think of many where it’s so literal that the weapon is actually a person who transforms into one.

Soul is a scythe, Patty and Lizzie are matching pistols, and Tsubaki can become a variety of weapons as needed.

It’s interesting, but kind of disturbing to think about for too long. I mean, these are actual, literal, living people being used like inanimate objects, instruments of killing, taking an unending series of blows for their meister. These are weapons that bleed and feel pain and scream. There’s just something unsettling about that.

And then there’s how Maka is the daughter of a weapon and his meister. Which not only makes their treatment all the more disquieting, but… ok, there are some topics which cannot be discussed with any degree of tact, so, moving on. To a completely different subject.

Speaking about the humor of Soul Eater, I spent a lot of time laughing. For dealing with such dark material as trauma and horror, the show can inspire a lot of laughter. That was entirely due to the characters, with their zany mannerisms, coming together to craft hilarious scenes between them. I especially enjoyed how it upsets and makes fun of the usual tropes, like making the assassin a loudmouth, or making the Grim Reaper ridiculous and funny.

As for the action, I enjoyed it pretty well. The animation was smooth and fluid, doing justice to the fighting style and wits of heroes and villains alike. The fights were well-crafted and made sense within this fantastic world of reapers, monsters, warriors, and witches. There were personal stakes, especially as old adversaries returned and bonds were tested, adding to the excitement as we invested in one side or the other.

Most times, the outcome depended on using one’s wits and skills with precision. Though, occasionally, it came down to some ridiculous boost in power, which can get a little campy even when we’re still loving it. There were a couple of deus ex machina moments, especially towards the end, where it felt like something advantageous was happening just because. Small flaw, but generally forgivable.

Forgivable because of the drama, the story that played out and what it meant. Skating around spoilers as much as possible, I will say that there were instances when it wasn’t really explained how something was happening, but it served the characters’ respective stories. When an enemy is redeemed from pain and darkness, for instance, by the light of a childlike love, one cares a bit less about how it’s happening.

Which brings us to the plot. It’s not perfect in every moment throughout the show – the dramatic distrust felt a bit forced, for instance – but overall it was fairly well-told and well-constructed. I don’t think it spoils too much to say that there is an ancient evil which returns, released by the first primary villain of the show, and plunges the world into chaos and madness as various factions try to take advantage of the situation to further their own agenda. That’s a fairly simple summary. There’s a number of moving parts involved, as various characters take paths that join together and diverge and come back together again, and much of it develops either the characters or the world they’re in.

On that last, there were clearly some things set up in this world that they never really got around to elaborating on, stories they somewhat alluded to but never told. I haven’t read the manga, but I could feel there were differences anyway. That might be for the best, as from what I’ve heard, the anime might be the more sensible, streamlined version of the story. As the anime begins with three prologue episodes, has several obvious fillers that don’t contribute anything beyond a few more laughs, and the character of Excalibur was especially useless considering all the attention they gave him – even Blair the cat-witch had a minimal amount of use – that may say something.

Which goes into another similar note: the fan service.

I admit, I do not entirely mind when there is something physically appealing on the screen. I do take some issue with misusing it, though. There was never really any reason for Blair or any of the other girls to be depicted either in the nude or nearly so, yet it’s done all the time. It just felt a bit overdone, like they jumped through hoops just to insert it into the show at random, and it contributed nothing while very much pushing the bounds of propriety.

“We are awesome enough that we do not really need fan service!”

There are some other off-putting things, mostly about the world-building, like the whole people-are-weapons concept.

For instance, I didn’t see that much difference between a monster eating a human soul and a human/weapon eating a monster soul (which ate human souls) or a witch soul. It’s still a soul, the remnant of something sentient, which is consumed in order to gain more power. How is the weapon who eats them any different from who they kill, besides being one step up the food chain and cannibalizing the cannibals? Heck, the first witch that was attacked by Maka and Soul, we didn’t see her do anything to warrant being killed and eaten, and she clearly didn’t hurt them too bad as they were able to keep coming back to try again. There’s even a little girl witch that, apparently, on some level, it would be considered all right to kill and eat her soul too.

That is just a bit disquieting to consider, ya know?

Speaking of: I love he witches. Their power isn’t ever really explained, but I love the idea of black magic inspired by various animals like spiders, snakes, frogs, and mice.

I also like how the conflict between madness and rationality was presented throughout the plot, even if it’s done with very little subtlety. There’s the madness of hallucination, of losing the ability to trust in what is real and what is not. But even worse is the insanity that holds itself together with loose threads of rationality, of twisted, rambling half-truths that are horrific even to contemplate much less believe in. It’s dangerous to deal with people like that, who can keep it together one moment and then fly apart the next in a shrieking, destructive rampage.

Basically, Soul Eater is a flawed, imperfect show, but one that is immensely entertaining. It’s great eye-candy (not just because of the girls), and it draws us in with the characters in order to weave a spell-binding narrative around them, one that is hilarious and horrific and heart-warming in turns. It’s just a really good, enjoyable story.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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A “Supernatural” Experience

How many times have I said something like this?

I had no intention of ever watching Supernatural.

One-episode rule or not, I just didn’t think I’d like it. Too gloomy, I thought. Too dark, depressing, and bloody for my tastes, and considering some of the shows I’ve watched, that says something.

Eventually, however, curiosity almost always kills the cat. It might not have, even with YouTube clips, if not for the recommendation of a certain friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, but who suggested the show a number of times over the years.

I began an extended, often-interrupted binge of the entire series, and finished it a year and some change later, a few weeks before the twelfth season wrapped up. Hey, there were ten, then eleven, and then twelve seasons, so it took awhile, ya know? 😉

Obviously, I like it. Sort of. It has it’s flaws, and I won’t be adding it to me weekly lineup, but I’ll follow it to the end, most likely. Of course, with how long it’s been running, having just begun its thirteenth season, certain pivotal spoilers may follow, so:

Spoiler Alert!

Supernatural follows the exploits and adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester and their allies as they go about, fighting a variety of monsters, protecting people, and saving the world. That’s basically it.

As I was watching, it occurred to me that I might want to keep notes for this eventual review, and as such you’ll find it’s slightly less like a review and more like a journal. I just randomly divvied my thoughts up according to seasons, and that turned out to be rather appropriate. Over the course of the show, one notices that each season can be defined by something singular to it, typically what the main characters, Sam and Dean Winchester and their allies, are dealing with at the time. So, I started creating my own unofficial titles for each season, as follows:

Season 1: Duck, Duck, Ghost.
Really, this first season almost lost me because of how slow, episodic, and repetitive it was. And for the huge menagerie of monsters the show eventually assembles, including an introduction to vampires and demons late in this season, they still dealt with ghosts 90% of the time.

Season 2: Demonic Plots.
Less episodic, more overall story, and a number of recurring guest stars. Proper introductions to various other monsters, demons, psychics, and even other hunters, in fact an entire community that we didn’t hear about for the entire first season, and somehow don’t usually interact with very much. Also, approaching the idea of angels, and meeting one in disguise for the first time.

Season 3: Dean’s Going Down.
The year before Dean goes to Hell after that deal he made. Meeting pagan “gods” for the first time, the first references to Lucifer, and “the one who holds the contracts” (aka, Lilith), Azazel’s name spoken, and the first witch of the series.

Season 4: Lucifer Rising.
Finally we meet Castiel! A genuine angel! Also, the episodic structure is generally gone now. And we begin to see that all is not right with the angels, or in Heaven. It’s an intriguing weave, drawing Sam the soft-hearted towards Lucifer and Dean the unrepentant towards Michael. They even have a demon girlfriend and an angel girlfriend, respectively, at one point.

Season 5: Apocalypse Underway.
With the Apocalypse going on, we see more pagan gods who eat their followers/disciples/unwitting worshipers/random strangers, we see the angels in full swing, we see the loss of friends and family, and we see the end of it all. Really, that was probably meant to be “the end” of the show initially.

Season 6: Pick Up the Pieces, and Break Them.
I notice some threads get dropped without comment, and others are brought back much later. It’s a very slow development. Also, reusing some plots here: old evil creeping forth, Sam being soulless, etc.

Season 7: Here Come the Leviathans.
Ok, small detail… since the Leviathans are so old, why do they need to eat people, specifically? They predate people, so they clearly had to eat other things back then, so why not now? Another god, this time Osiris. Dean is all, “why do we do this?” Again. Once again culminating in a Winchester sent to hellish oblivion, to return later. Oh, and Sam has really never had any luck with the ladies, has he?

Season 8: Prophetic Struggle.
There’s a lot of repeating things here. The cost of living this kind of life. Making dangerous deals with dangerous creatures. How the heroes have screwed up whatever. How Sam and Dean have some major dispute that builds until they break apart, and then they’re back together one episode later. How Hell is plotting and Heaven is manipulating. Another fairy, more gods. We finally see a Hellhound. Sam and Dean always giving up everything and sacrificing the world for each other. Their ancestry, this time on their father’s side in the Men of Letters, again saturated in the supernatural, though at least they finally get a home base now. Castiel programmed by Heaven and going against it again. Being used and betrayed again. And with most of the old cast of guest stars killed off, the new set gets set up more strongly.

Season 9: Fighting for Heaven and Hell.
More repetition. Once again, Dean has to keep secrets about Sam’s condition from Sam. Another of Dean’s old loves, this is at least the third one. Castiel consumed by his mistakes, old and new. With all the intrigue on the two battlefronts, though, I’m rather surprised the two wars never really spilled onto each other. And, once again, the Winchesters and Castiel pull things off, saving the day, and get screwed for it.

Season 10: The Darkness of Dean Winchester.
This time it’s Sam saving Dean from being a demon. A new twist, but on something that feels a bit old anyway. Old choices keep coming back to bite them. They themselves are starting to comment on how they need to stop making deals with devils. Interesting, though, having an angel, Hannah, now at Castiel’s starting point, learning about humanity. And I believe this is the first mention of the “Grand Coven,” the ruling body of witches. Sheesh, just what did Rowena have to do to get banned by them? How is it no Hunters or Men of Letter knew of them? Ok, apparently the Men of Letters wiped out the witch population some time ago, but still. And Crowley’s having an interesting character arc as well, between Dean and Rowena. And when we get to Charlie’s death, I begin to think: “I’m really starting to hate how they kill everyone off.” Seriously, Game of Thrones has absolutely nothing on Supernatural.

Season 11: Comes Amara.
How many times are they going to have Castiel go crazy? How many times are we going to go back and revisit the Winchesters’ terrible youth? Lucifer’s expressions on Cas’ face just looks weird. Hmmm, another Men of Letters legacy. And they keep going with, “We’ve been cooped up looking for answers we can’t find for a week or two, let’s go get some fresh air on a hunt.” God finally shows his face, and, surprise, surprise, we’ve seen it before. Meaning he helped the Winchesters take everything off-script, which they’ve taken a lot of flak for. Once we get past the freak-of-the-week episodes, though, this is pretty gripping, like, the best the show’s ever been. The unusual alliances of forces is interesting, but it all comes to naught. And oh! The Men of Letters yet live in Europe!

Season 12: Monstrous Men.
I absolutely hate the Men of Letters in England. Nice intro for the Princes of Hell: Ramiel, Asmodeus, and Dagon. You know, the show’s creator says the show doesn’t have an “ending,” and after twelve seasons, I can believe it. Still, with all the pieces they’re bringing back from all the previous seasons, it feels like this should be the concluding season, the one where the single greatest and most horrifying creature ever to walk the Earth are the humans. And I am, once again, getting tired of everyone dying. And they took it even further than usual: Castiel, Crowley, Rowena, all dead, and Mary and Lucifer trapped in another dimension. Seriously, is there anyone they actually know who is still alive?

Season 13: Just began, so there’s no title or notes yet. 😉

All of this, and still there is no end in sight, even after twelve years. Heck, the show’s creators have explicitly stated that there is no “planned” ending, which has been plainly and abundantly obvious! What are they going to do when they do end it?

Finally, some miscellaneous notes:

The Supernatural Wiki has a “killed by” category for the characters. This should tell you something.

The origin of any of the psychics who were not created by Azazel is left unexplained.

If it’s such a shock for an angel to be killed, theoretically by demons, then how is it that they’ve ever had any trouble at all dealing with demons? What threat could they have posed, and how did they overcome any of the angels, ever, at any point in the series or before it?

If demons are “just up-jumped ghosts” who die when there is nothing left of their remains, how are there so many still around, especially the more ancient ones?

If demons are already dead, what happens to them when they’re killed? How are they actually killed in the first place?

What happens when an angel is killed? Are they actually dead? There are indications that the particles which make them up are simply scattered, though a being of sufficient power could reconstruct them. Which is interesting, and makes it a bit horrifying when they’re not reconstructed.

If any werewolves can control themselves, why can’t all of them?

I love all the intros and title cards.

Just what, exactly, are the pagan gods? Where did they come from? Where does their power come from? How do they think they are the equal of the being that created the entire universe?

What happened to the Leviathans? Sure, they managed to kill one, the leader, but what happened to the rest?

For being all about family, the Winchester brothers forget their half-brother Adam in the cage pretty easily. And God leaves Michael languishing in the cage even while Lucifer, whom he abandons again, is out and about.

Not to mention how Sam and Dean are apparently incapable of settling down with families of their own, though they certainly each have a plethora of special ladies that somehow they keep adding to. Just how many times did Dean fall in love before the series, and how many times is Sam going to fall in love with either a monster or a normal girl he has to leave behind?

Also, one of the most horrifying heavens I’ve ever seen. I mean, you’re essentially trapped in your “best” memories, assuming you have any good memories to begin with, and you never see your loved ones again. You just continue to exist, in solitude, and the angels keep you there, like that, forever. It might not be torture, but it’s certainly a prison, and I can’t think of any pain worse than being forever barred from your family.

So, all things considered, this show is definitely not for everyone. It’s dark, tragic, brutal, bloody, terrifying, sometimes disgusting, long, repetitive, and it probably holds the world record for fatality rate. But somehow it’s just so compelling that I can’t stop watching. I prefer to binge an entire season at a time, to rip the bandaid off all at once, but I watch it. Sam and Dean are not your typical heroes, and the more their relationships fail, and the more their friends die, the more certain I am that they’ll never be permitted to live in peace, that the show can only end in their permanent deaths, but so be it.

Supernatural is the story of Sam and Dean Winchester as they go about the family business, saving people and hunting things.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #152: Judgment Breeds Monstrosity

“Of all the people to survive, he’s not the one you would have chosen, is he? But if you could choose, Doctor, if you could decide who lives and who dies, that would make you a monster.”
– Mr. Copper, Doctor Who
Christmas Special, “Voyage of the Damned”

When something bad happens, we want it to happen only to bad people, but that is simply not for us to decide.

We only see Mr. Copper for one episode in the entire series, much like everyone else in this episode except the Doctor himself, but he, and they, certainly make a memorable impression.

When disaster, or sabotage disguised as a disaster, strikes a cruise ship in space, the people on board are almost completely annihilated all in an instant. There are a few survivors scattered throughout the ship, but their struggle to survive is one where the odds have been stacked ridiculously against them. At every turn, someone else dies, someone good, kind, and brave. In the end, among the last survivors, one of them is the most petty, pathetic, selfish, self-absorbed, and useless people ever. The least worthy to survive, and he survives, which is all the more painful for the Doctor, having lost almost everyone else.

That’s when Mr. Copper says the above quote, and he has a point.

Even if one is right, it would still be judging another person. Even if one is absolutely correct in one’s judgment, it is still be standing above them as if one was superior. The very act itself, of choosing who, in any random catastrophe, would live or die, based only on one’s own preference, that would remove oneself from humanity. The power of a god would intoxicate any man.

Interestingly, though the Doctor understands this principle at this point, it is scarcely a season later when he does exactly that. He makes a choice he is forbidden to make: who lives and who dies. Within seconds, he is already drunk on that power, ready to tear straight through the universe, reshaping it however he sees fit, for whatever reasons he likes. Fortunately, there is someone there to stop him, but I will comment on that some other time. For present purpose, he forgot this lesson for a moment, and came dangerously close to becoming the worst monster in the entire universe.

It’s very easy, isn’t it? To stand in judgment. We think, “This person is awful, they’re terrible, they don’t deserve what they have, they don’t use it well, they don’t help people, they’re despicable, they’re inhuman.” We judge, and in that judgment we put ourselves above them. That is how we become monsters.

Many of the worst monsters in human history were just people who stood above others.

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This Week on TV, Oct. 14, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

And the TV season is officially back and in full swing! Most of the shows I follow have already premiered, and this week added most of the rest, including all the Arrowverse shows.

In regards to that last, I have decided to officially drop Arrow from my weekly lineup. The premiere just didn’t hook me very well. I’ll still follow it, but here endeth my running commentary.

As for what I am commenting on, I believe I’ve finally worked out my weekend issues so I can go back to my old approach, without having to comment on last week’s weekend shows the next week. Here’s hoping!

And this was a pretty good week.

Inhumans is kind of hilarious with how bad it is, but it’s growing on me a bit like Supergirl did. I have two episodes to comment on this time, so it’s a long section.

The Gifted was excellent! It’s developing the characters by applying pressure to their circumstances. I am very much enjoying that show!

And Gotham… wow. That’s all I’m saying. Wow. I am so glad I kept watching that show after the first episode. 🙂

Inhumans

1.03 “Divide and Conquer” & 1.04 “Make Way… for Medusa”

So, things are… um… well… the plot is moving forward-ish!

Medusa is unfamiliar with technology, as evidenced by her talking to an ATM machine in an attempt to get money. For obvious reasons, that fails. So she breaks into a rich house (what, no security system?) to steal food, money, and clothes (which are fortunately in her size). She also reads the newspaper and sees Black Bolt on the front page. So she calls a cab to take her to the detention facility. (how does she know either what a newspaper or a taxi is?)

Karnak finally finds another person, in fact he finds three, two men and a woman. They tie him up and discuss what to do with the strange man who wandered onto their property where they’re growing illegal plants for drugs and talks about his king and his family with names that sound perfectly nonsensical. He tries to get himself out of the situation, but his ability is clouded, and it doesn’t work. The simple knowledge that his greatest strength, his mind, has been taken from him is shattering. How can he do anything for his family in this state? So he asks to stay with the three of them, and they accept. Oh, and the woman listens to him and is very good looking, but I’m sure that won’t be significant at all, will it?

Gorgon finds that his new friends were soldiers, trained and armed and capable. They refuse to let him fight his enemies alone, even and perhaps most especially when he tries to tell them that the enemy will be superior beings.

Speaking of, with Medusa having escaped, Maximus sends Auran some backup, including one Inhuman of terrifying reputation: Mordis. He is apparently second in power only to Black Bolt himself, and everyone is afraid of him.

I am just going to say, I kind of love Mordis! The scene where the other Inhumans are all wonder struck at the trees, and he rather forcibly suggests making a path so they can get through the woods faster. Oh, sure, says the girl. “Oh, sure!” he mocks. He’s like the genius with no manners trying to keep his patience while he deals with idiots.

Mordis was apparently locked away for being too dangerous, unlike Black Bolt whose parents refused to do so and got killed as a result. Before Maximus releases him, he consults with his new clairvoyant, who apparently sees visions of danger, especially. The visions don’t activate, so Maximus proceeds and hopes. He promises Mordis freedom in exchange for his service.

So, Auran, Mordis, and the others walk straight into an obvious trap, and get shot at with bullets and arrows, and bludgeoned by Gorgon as well. Mordis, however, turns the tide, because lifting his mask results in an energy beam blasting forward. Both sides take injuries, but with Mordis entering the fray, Gorgon picks up their wounded man and they run.

Black Bolt is in prison, and the guards have it in for him because when he accidentally flipped a cop car, a couple officers were injured. But there’s someone looking out for him, a rich man named Dr. Decklan or something like that. With a potential Inhuman in prison, he pulls some strings to get another inmate’s assistance. As the guards try to set him up for a hard time, this and other inmates take Black Bolt under their wing instead, much to their chagrin. A little riot breaks out, and Bolt escapes with his new friend, who turns out to be another Inhuman. They get outside, and a helicopter picks them up.

I am very suspicious of this Decklan fellow, a doctor with lots of resources interested in Inhumans. Black Bolt and his new friend may have just gone into enemy hands.

Oh, and Medusa arrived just as the helicopter was leaving. They don’t see or hear her, but she is so close! Then the blond scientist woman shows up with a car, as she’s been waiting for a chance to talk to Bolt, so Medusa pulls her gun on her and orders that they pursue the chopper.

We caught a glimpse of the past in the memories of Bolt and Maximus. Apparently, Bolt didn’t want to be king, and saw little value in such a small kingdom, but Maximus did. Then Maximus turned entirely into a human in terrigenesis and was forever locked out, while Bolt gained a dangerous power, but his parents stood by him and protected him, their sole heir.

Now Maximus is king, he wants to do away with the caste system. He tries to recruit Crystal to his side again, and he seems to have gotten a hold on her, but she throws it in his face and runs for Lockjaw. He declares this as proof of why the people should follow him, because the rest of the royals all run away from the responsibility. So, Crystal manages to escape, but probably hands the upper caste of Attilan to Maximus as well as the lower.

Oh, and Lockjaw is still sedated, so he falls unconscious the moment they’re on Earth, just in time to be accidentally hit in the dark by a young man on his RV. (how much you wanna bet they couple up?)

Moving on to the next episode, then:

This week, things continued on more or less as expected. The show has the subtlety of sledgehammers and chainsaws.

After the skirmish, with its accompanying fatality, Gorgon and his new friends are fleeing through the woods, carrying their friend Lucky’s body. The humans insist that they can help Gorgon, but he finally refuses their help. He never thought he’d care for the fate of a human, but, warrior to warrior, they have shown him he was wrong. For their good, and to find and protect his family, he leaves them. He has no idea what he’ll do without Karnak’s keen mind to guide him, but he has to try.

Karnak, meanwhile, is learning some new things from his new female friend. She helps him learn about spontaneity, getting outside his own head, doing things you want without there needing to be a need. She takes him to the beach, to go swimming and kissing in the waves as she shows off her appealing figure. Then she takes him back to her tent. This woman does not hesitate to do what she wants, which is good for Karnak, who has always thought things through.

Karnak is useful to the drug-cultivating trio, but the ringleader is crazy and doesn’t trust him. His friend reminds him that he didn’t trust anyone at first, but the man answers that he needed them. The unpspoken insinuation is that he doesn’t need them anymore. The man is clearly crazy, and while Karnak and his new lady friend are busy that night, he kills and buries the other guy, who he does not trust and does not need.

Crystal is understandably upset after the guy runs his RV into Lockjaw, and he’s upset because she and Lockjaw were in the middle of the road. She uses her powers to keep him back, and he actually calms down and talks with her. They manage to get Lockjaw into a barn, and he calls a vet for him. The vet, it turns out, is an ex-girlfriend, and they have a spat even while she helps, but Lockjaw, being a very big dog, is mostly fine already. He just needs time to rest and recover. So, Crystal will be hanging around in his clothes, it would seem, which… how and why, exactly, did he have a girl’s t-shirt and shorts lying around? Small detail, that, like many on this show.

Then there’s Medusa, who now has an accomplice in the form of Louise, the blond woman who works at NASA. At first, Medusa is just forcing her at gunpoint, very impatient, bossy, and relentless. Medusa does not listen very much at first, forcing Louise to run a red light and shooting at a cop car with her laser pistol. Louise is absolutely giddy to meet someone from the moon, though, and ends up helping Medusa with everything she has. She tracks the helicopter that took Black Bolt to where it landed, though they have to evade cops and Medusa tries to leave Louise behind.

Louise, it turns out, has devoted her life to getting to the moon, because her father wanted to and never could. Medusa wants to be exactly the opposite of her parents, who apparently tried to lead a revolution and were “exiled” as a result. Somehow I doubt that word is so gentle as it sounds when the place one is being exiled from is the only living spot on the moon, which, as everyone says Medusa and Crystal’s parents are dead… yeah, I’m guessing it’s lethal. So Medusa doesn’t care about Louise’s motivation, but she does care about how Louise can help her reunite with Bolt, find the rest of their family, and get back to the moon.

Also, with all the laws Louise is breaking for her, and loving it, Medusa likes her. So, she accepts Louise’s help.

Black Bolt and his friend from prison are whisked away from said prison to Decklan’s lab. He’s very non-aggressive about it, he’d just like to run some tests, to understand their genetics, and they’re free to leave at any time. Bolt agrees, but first makes it clear that he would like help finding his wife. The tests seem straightforward enough, and Decklan is amazed to find Bolt’s DNA has no traces of human left in them, as all the recent Inhumans on Earth do. With Bolt, he hopes to unlock the secret, the key to terrigenesis that can allow normal humans to become Inhumans, indeed, to become anything they like.

That, as it turns out, is a serendipitous saving grace. Decklan is actually in contact with Maximus, whom he knows as Max. Maximus wants Bolt dead, and is unhappy that Bolt has already made the news, but Decklan refuses to kill him. He doesn’t mention anything about morality, which makes me think he has no qualms with killing other Inhumans, but he says he needs Bolt alive to study him and unlock this key, which is something Maximus dearly desires for himself. So, Decklan wins that argument, but now Maximus knows exactly where Bolt is, and has his greatest desire dangling in front of his nose.

When he brings this possibility, of undergoing terrigenesis a second time, before the Genetic Council, they tell him no. An old friend of Maximus’ is on the Council, a man whose role was determined by his genetics just like everyone else. He did not remain a friend after Maximus became human, but he now argues against Maximus undergoing this for fear of his king’s life. Maximus takes that as a sign he has a loyal follower, but the rest of the Council, he has his guards beat and drag away to be “exiled.”

And this is the first instance where Maximus is clearly not working for anyone’s good but his own. He talks about changing things, making them better for his people, undoing the restrictions that bind people to predetermined roles, but that is all an extension of his own resentment towards such. The society of Attilan certainly needs to change, and Maximus could do it, but that basic desire, that sin of envy, is a gaping weakness which is already growing, like a black hole eager to consume everything. It’s already consumed the Council, and Maximus apparently does not forgive his old friend. He’s becoming unstable and he was already dangerous.

Back on Earth, Bolt and his friend are apparently not blindly trusting of their savior. They were shown a number of pictures of other Inhumans, which were clearly in the facility, so where are they? If they’re free, why haven’t they seen anyone else? What’s with the guards, and what’s with the chemicals? Who’s to say that these people who came her voluntarily aren’t being held against their will now? Bolt takes advantage of a moment to get the bottle he saw a guard filling a syringe with, and his friend identifies it as a poison. They’ve traded one prison for another, and waste no time getting out.

On their way out, they meet Auran and the others, including Mordis. Mordis is interested in a showdown with Black Bolt, but Bolt wants to avoid that. He seems like he’s about to surrender, but pulls a gas pipe instead (how did he know to do that?). If Mordis fires, huge explosion. It gets Bolt’s friend out of there, but Auran pushes onward. Explosion it is, though Medusa and Louise arrive in time for Bolt to get clear.

And the happy couple are reunited.

And then, a Mordis stirs, they grab the Inhuman whose echolocation can help them find the others and escape.

To be continued next week!

Gifted

1.02 “Rx”

Pressure, pressure, pressure.

Pressure is what hardens us, pressure is what destroys us, pressure that is constant, relentless, and ever increasing, pressure that threatens to crush us, pressure that suffocates and forces us to push back, pressure that breaks us. Everyone has a breaking point, and everyone is under pressure.

The first episode of the show introduced the pressure, and now that pressure mounts even while it’s elaborated on.

Polaris probably has the simplest and most straightforward pressure to deal with, namely: prison. It doesn’t get much more blunt than the complete loss of freedom, accompanied with isolation and physical abuse. She’s collared so she can’t use her abilities without suffering debilitating physical pain. She’s crippled and alone, and therefore vulnerable. She stands out even more when she washed her hair, revealing it was dyed black, but it’s actually green. She tries to make an ally out of another mutant, but she’s refused. Then the local big kid on the playground tries to make her submit, saying she runs the mutant crowd. Polaris sees through her, a small human, probably owes her scar to a mutant, enjoying the reversal. But when the inmates attack, she can still use her powers enough to make it costly, even if she can’t properly defend herself and gets bloodied for it, until the guards pick her up and toss her into isolation.

She’s barely surviving, but she has hope in her friends.

Unfortunately, her friends have their hands pretty full right now. Not only does the Underground have the Struckers’ arrival to deal with, but Blink’s in pretty bad shape and her abilities are going wild.

After Blink opened up that last portal and held it so long before collapsing, it left her unconscious and having spasms. If there is one thing you do not want, it’s a mutant having spasms. As Xavier proved in Logan, a mutant spasms tend to include power spasms. In this case, a random portal opening up between Underground HQ and some street. It closes, but not before an oncoming truck gets sliced in two trying to avoid it. The people inside barely avoid getting turned into roadkill inside a building. Then it opens again, and the driver on the other side reacts by bringing out a shotgun.

That’s when Lauren steps up, hardening the air around the portal and forcing it shut, just in the nick of time. But it keeps happening, and Lauren does not possess limitless stamina, whilst the humans on the other side keep bringing in more people with more guns. When Lauren eventually fails to close one, Thunderbird and throws the first SWAT officer to invade back through the portal, and Andy mentally shoves the rest of them back, hard. Safe to say they didn’t make any new friends on that street.

Which… there is clearly something about that street, something important to Blink, but she doesn’t share even when she’s able to.

With the situation as it is, no one can bother thinking about rescuing Reed or Polaris right now. Super kudos to Thunderbird for his leadership. I can see why he’s a big shot in the Underground. He keeps calm, makes rational decisions on the fly while balancing several variables of an unstable situations, he expects to be heard and obeyed, and he’s the first on the front lines. It’s under his leadership that they decide on a course of action: the mutants must be ready to evacuate, but in the meantime he and the Strucker kids contain the situation while Caitlin and Eclipse go for the medical supplies that Blink desperately needs.

It’s a pretty decent bonding experience for everyone involved, especially the time between Cait and Eclipse. They are clever and work well, posing as a couple and using his earlier gunshot wound to get in, and then Cait poses as a nurse on duty to find what they need and abscond with it. Cait also has her eyes opened, concerning both mutants and herself. What she considers awful, Eclipse considers an especially good day. When the doctor who staples his wound shut talks as if mutants are domestic abusers, or when same doctor calls the police on them so soon, she is shocked, but from his perspective, at least he stapled the wound shut before calling the cops, and since they got away clean, he’s not complaining.

That’s the true “pressure.” Not the crisis at hand, or even the unjust incarceration, but the kind that mutants suffer every single moment of every single day, being labeled as freaks and threats. Eclipse asks Cait if she’d still be protecting her kids if they weren’t “her kids.” And she knows the answer. She’s already failed that test.

There was an incident at a bowling alley, where a bunch of humans were laughing at a young mutant girl. Her father was trying to defend her, as any father should, and he likely was especially furious because he didn’t know what else he could do for his little girl as she was going through this. But his temper partially made things even worse, and the girl lashed out for a moment. No one was hurt, nothing was broken, but people were still afraid of them.

ADD moment: I know people can be mind-numbingly stupid, but, still, bullying a mutant? Idiots.

Anyway, while this was happening, the kids wanted to do something, but Cait said it wasn’t their concern. She looked away, did nothing, kept her head down. Then Reed went over and convinced the girl’s father to take her and go before things got any worse. The victims were made to leave the bowling alley. The bullies were allowed to stay.

If that’s the best a mutant can hope for, in a world were Cait is unique for not abandoning her children the way Eclipse’s parents abandoned him, then small wonder Magneto attracted so many followers. Pressure like that would break anyone eventually.

With her perspective changing, Cait arrives with Eclipse back at HQ just in time for the disaster to reach critical mass. Portals are opening and closing rapidly all over the place, with a light racing between them almost too fast to see. Nobody’s hurt yet, but the place is getting wrecked, everyone’s evacuating, and her children are in the middle of all that. Eclipse is ready to brave the danger himself and leave Cait outside, as safe as possible, but he doesn’t have her knowledge. If he gives Blink the wrong dosage of the drugs, things could get even worse, which says something. So she goes in, and has to jump through a portal just to get to the center, where Thunderbird remains with Blink. She talks calmly to Blink, administering the drugs, saving her life and ending the crisis.

Her courage is growing, as is her grace under pressure. In the aftermath, she’s talking with her children, and for once she takes the lead, telling them it’s their turn to assume responsibility for this ongoing fight. The three of them haven’t been welcomed in yet, but they’re on the threshold of really joining the Underground.

Unfortunately, Sentinel Services still has Reed, and the lead agent, Turner, is applying pressure to the max. He threatens to throw Reed into the proverbial hole, he fabricates greater charges like outright terrorism, he even brings Reed’s mother into interrogation, for Reed to watch. He’s pushing hard, acting like he’s the next best thing to omnipotent in this situation. And he’s clearly driven, talking about his daughter, who was killed in the “July 15” incident, whatever that was. He neither knows nor cares if it was a good mutant or a bad mutant who killed his little girl. He’s going after all of them.

But, ah! Reed knows this playbook, which gives him insight. Turner overplayed his hand, and Reed sees through it: he’s desperate. Turner let Underground operatives slip through his fingers, in addition to the loss of several spider sentinels, very expensive. He needs a win, and he needs it soon. Reed being his last, best, and only chance, he pushed with everything he had, and in so doing, he revealed his weakness.

So Reed responds with both a carrot and a stick, assuming dominance as he sets terms. The stick: his mother, and anyone else associated with him, goes free now, and his family is kept safe and free. He goes down alone, he takes the fall, no one else. And the carrot: Turner wants the Underground, which Reed will help him get.

It’s understandable, choosing to do whatever it takes, make any sacrifice, to protect his family, even if it be the entire world and himself, but, ultimately, what Reed is doing is selfish. He’s turning against the people who just took his family in, the freaks that he has helped ostracize, like in the bowling alley. Where Cait is learning to look beyond herself, Reed is focusing inward, looking after his own alone. It’s understandable, and it’s so very human of him, and, honestly, I’m not sure I’d do any better if everyone from my mother to my wife to my children to every single person I know were under threat from the SS. I like to think I would, but, as Turner said last episode, “Things change when it’s your kid.” Either way, it’s a deal with the Devil.

Unless Reed is playing the system and getting into a position of power which he can use to undermine the SS, but I don’t hold out much hope for that. Reed doesn’t strike me as being quite such a mastermind as that, or so selfless.

So, Polaris is suffering in prison, with only a threadbare hope that her friends will come save her, while her friends are dealing with crises and are facing the danger of the man whose family they just took in turning on them, even while the man’s wife is turning to align with them.

And there’s some doctor investigating old mutant-related incidents involving siblings. There was some other collapsed school a few decades ago. He’s put something together, something Turner and SS will find valuable. But what?

Gotham

4.04 “The Demon’s Head”

Gotham does “intense” rather well. Like setting a pot to boil on high, but not quite so high as to boil over… yet.

After the auction, knowing Ra’s al’Ghul wants the knife, Bruce takes it to an expert historian to uncover its mysteries. Alfred is hesitant, especially when the old man’s grandson, Alex, walks in. Knowing their enemy will not hesitate to kill, having to get outside help is bad enough, especially letting the knife out of their sight overnight. But now it’s not just the professor, but Alex too? Alfred has a bad feeling about that. Bruce can’t see any other way, though. They need answers, they need knowledge, and the power it grants, if they are to survive challenging Ra’s. They move forward.

Tragically, Alfred’s misgivings turn out to be accurate.

The professor is just telling Alex what he has learned when it happens. By translating the Cuneiform etchings, he understands the words, and so understand the knife’s place in history. The words speak of the knife being used to kill the immortal one who rises from the waters, and all shall fear the Demon’s Head. It refers to an old warlord , Ra’s al’Ghul, who ravaged an ancient kingdom, but left his throne and promised to return. Whether the story is real, there are people who believe, people who will kill for the knife. The professors imagines that Bruce Wayne has gotten himself into something far more complicated and dangerous than he knows.

But the danger comes to the man and the boy at that very moment. Someone knocks, and the professor wisely gives the knife to his grandson, instructing him to get out of sight. Ra’s enters, and wants the knife. Not finding it, and noticing the ball cap which indicates Alex’s presence, he simply kills the man. But Alex pulled the fire alarm first, to bring the cops, so Ra’s cannot loiter. He passes right by the boy on his way out, which does stretch things a bit, considering how accustomed to the dark he must surely be.

Gordon and his new associate Harper are going over the crime scene when Bruce arrives. Bruce is shocked by the murder scene he comes upon, but shares information about Alex, and also about Barbara Keene. He tries to convince Gordon to let him come along, as he feels responsible for this mess, but Gordon refuses. He goes to talk to Barbara himself, and notices Barbara’s change in personality, and how affluent she’s suddenly become with a mysterious backer bankrolling her. Bruce crashes in, having followed Gordon, and drops the name of Ra’s al’Ghul.

Bruce might be having an off day due to the murder, but that was hardly subtle.

Gordon knows the name now, and has Harper try looking into it while he and Bruce find Alex. Bruce puts the details together and guesses he’d hide in his grandfather’s private room at the library. He’s right, and they catch up to Alex just in time. Ra’s sent some big man and a rabid person who acts like a dog, named Anubis, after him. (I couldn’t help but think of Clegane and Gollum) Gordon barely manages to hold them off, Bruce barely manages to get Alex out, the boy getting bitten along the way, the boys get separated from Gordon, and the hunters vanish.

Gordon heads back to the precinct, getting every officer looking for Bruce and Alex while he and Harper try to get ahead of this. They’re just talking about Ra’s when the man himself shows up, dressed like a professor, supposedly an academic of some authority in a very small country, Nanda Parbat. Gordon acts fast and thinks faster, realizing Ra’s would assume the police now have the knife, which they don’t because Alex hid it just in case, like a smart boy. He uses that to listen to the enemy’s cover story, that they want to claim the knife for its cultural significance, but with a competing claim out there, they decided to buy it discreetly via Barbara Keene. There’s an element of truth, involving a man who cannot die, but it’s unbelievable to Gordon, who may be familiar with freaks and monsters, but has never encountered anything mystical.

Then Alfred comes storming in, frantic to find Bruce, and he instantly punches Ra’s upon sight, so Gordon has to take a moment to get him to back off. It’s only an instant, but an instant is all Ra’s needs to search Alex’s backpack, find the knife isn’t there, and vanish without a trace. Just how does he do that?!

Alfred and Gordon lock horns for a moment, because Gordon wants to know what’s going on and Alfred can’t say. Gordon searches the backpack too, and puts two and two together, but leaves Alfred behind under Harper’s supervision.

The two boys, meanwhile, have been bonding. Bruce tends Alex’s injury, and helps Alex keep going by sharing about when his parents were murdered, and he was so afraid. Alex doesn’t need to be ashamed of being afraid, it’s normal. Alex talks about how people were talking about Bruce after that, that he was weird, but Alex thinks he’s cool… if also, yes, a little weird. The boys are becoming friends in their moment of trouble, so Alex shares where he hid the knife: in an exhibit, in plain sight, right where everyone would overlook it. He switched out the ancient box that was in there instead, which is what Gordon finds and gives him a trail to follow.

Gordon catches up again just as the boys have gotten the knife and are being pursued by Clegane and Gollum again, and the fight is definitely going the way of the bad guys until the big guy throws Gordon into a saber-toothed tiger skeleton. He grabs a bone to use as a weapon, and the dog-guy stops, wanting the bone, which Gordon throws out a window, so the man jumps out, falls, and presumably dies. The big guy, Gordon brought down by plunging a big tooth into his flesh. Bruce and Gordon win.

Until Ra’s shows that he has Alex hostage.

Gordon is ready to trade the knife for the boy, but Bruce won’t. There’s too much to explain, and it doesn’t make sense, about Ra’s killing Alfred and bringing him back to life with magic water, but the point is: they can’t let him have the knife. Ra’s actually likes the sound of that, telling Bruce he’s “finally starting to see clearly.” But, to test his strength, he kills Alex right there, for Bruce to see. And then he surrenders, ready to be arrested.

Bruce is crushed, and Gordon doesn’t know what to make of the situation. Still, he tries to comfort Bruce as best he can, to assure him that he is not responsible for Ra’s choosing to kill Alex. But Bruce won’t hear him. He takes the responsibility, and the guilt, squarely onto his own shoulders. His choices put Alex in danger in the first place, and it was his choice to not give up the knife. It’s his fault. Alex and his grandfather were both killed just because they were caught in the crossfire of the war between Bruce and Ra’s al’Ghul.

Ra’s didn’t get the knife, but he definitely triumphed over Bruce and Gordon this day, and when he’s taken to Blackgate prison, he is smiling.

Elsewhere, Penguin is dealing with two problems simultaneously. One is Nygma, who is trying to be the Riddler again, but is spouting gibberish instead of riddles. He calls Penguin out to meet twice, to settle things, but his riddles are stupid, and he just gets the amateur rappers he pressed into service tortured and killed for it. Finally, he shows up at the Lounge, screaming in fury. Penguin is there, waiting, and mocks him for not being the Riddler anymore. He’s just Nygma now. A nobody. Penguin even refrains from freezing Nygma again, letting him live as a pale shadow of what he used to be. That is his ultimate revenge, letting Ed spin forever in misery.

And what misery it is, with Nygma having to start again with that most basic question: who am I?

Small detail: petty revenge tends to be rather self-destructive. Penguin may be paranoid, but he still hasn’t learned to be careful.

Speaking of which, on to the second problem: Sofia Falcone and the lingering Falcone loyalists who are in hiding. He invites her to his club, to make himself plain that he suspects her, as she pleads complete innocence. He lets her go, and she shortly finds herself visited by three Falcone capos (how have any of them survived the tumultuous changing of regimes these last few years?). She keeps insisting that there is nothing to discuss so they should leave, when Penguin walks in and summarily has the three men killed and buried. He trusts Sofia now, or at least that she’s not plotting a coup with the support of the old order, so he lets her live.

But she points something out as he’s leaving: he’s stupid.

Falcone wouldn’t have simply killed the three men. He would have used her to gain their support, healing another fracture within Gotham’s criminal kingdom. Falcone ruled Gotham not by tearing everyone down, but by building up those people who were useful to him, which is exactly how Penguin gained his power the first time around, if I recall rightly.

Penguin doesn’t listen, preferring the “new” way. As if simply killing one’s enemies was anything new.

Sofia even shed some tears for her would-be supporters, but things more or less went according to her design. She sacrificed three lives, and convinced Penguin she was not a threat to him. She’s in.

Gordon doesn’t much like that, but he’s been guilty of manipulations himself, and he knew fighting Penguin would not be bloodless. But Gordon once emerged from that darkness, and it’s a shame to see him apparently venturing back into it again. Sofia’s proving excellent at manipulation, with Penguin’s paranoia apparently eased and Gordon being drawn ever more strongly towards her, so much that he takes her right there on her couch.

So, Penguin let Nygma live instead of killing him, and he killed men he might have used, and, third mistake of the day, he’s been tricked by Sofia, who has Gordon in her clutches. Gordon makes it through his first wandering through a Ra’s al’Ghul conspiracy, but Bruce is devastated and has no more answers than he had before, as Alex wasn’t able to pass on his grandfather’s insight before he was killed too.

Very rough day.

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The New Mutants Trailer: WHAT?!

As a general fan of the X-Men franchise (though not every single installment) I have been looking forward to Fox’s next addition, The New Mutants.

Then this trailer came out just today:

(fair warning: it’s a horror film)

What? What? I mean, WHAT?!

Ok, obviously, they’re doing something new with this one: a superhero horror story. So, apparently you’ll all be enjoying this one without me, have fun! 😛

Here’s what I can tell from the trailer:

It’s set in a creepy hospital, far too big and with too few people in it to be entirely what it seems.

There’s an entire graveyard nearby, and the tombstones are marked with numbers. The people buried there weren’t considered human.

There’s a doctor watching over the entire place and the people within. There are chemicals and injections and blood samples, and she shares bits of trivia with them to help the mutant youths in her care understand themselves and their abilities.

It has Maisie Williams. Another Game of Thrones star taking on the role of a mutant. Sort of cool, I suppose, and she’s got pretty good acting chops from what I’ve seen.

That kid in the cap makes me think of Theon Greyjoy. Different actor, I think, but strong resemblance.

And now we get to the spooky bits. Machines moving without cause, specters, injuries, axe murderers in masks, trapped souls in the wall, quite a bit poltergeisting going on, lots of screaming, pain, and blood, which, as this is an X-Men movie, I was completely unprepared for, and have spent the last few minutes just going, “WHAT?!”

Then I go to Wikipedia and find the cast includes Magik, Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams), and Danielle Moonstar/Mirage. So, a witch, a werewolf, and a mutant who summons illusions drawn from people’s fears.

Ah! This makes much more sense now!

I can see where this idea came from, creating a horror story unlike most others by making it the result of mutant abilities. I remember my first introduction to Moonstar on the cartoon X-Men Evolution, that had a number of horror story elements to it as well. The normal rules of reality are suspended when superpowers come into play, especially when they deal with psychic abilities and being trapped within our nightmares. Anything can happen. Anything. Which, really, is very frightening, even without monsters and ghosts and axe murderers involved.

So how do they survive?

…you know, I think I’ll just let all of you find out that answer and then listen in on the inevitable spoilers. Have fun!

(why is this not being released around Halloween or something? that is the perfect time for horror movies!)

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MCU Copycatting: The Arrowverse

What? What’s this? Another post about cinematic universes and the phenomenon of MCU Copycatting? But it hasn’t been that long, not much as happened! Shouldn’t this come out, like, another eight months from now or something?

Well, I recently celebrated my hundredth official follower – thank you, everyone – and, as part of that, I promised to talk about a cinematic universe that I haven’t before.

Technically, I have mentioned this particular cinematic universe before. In fact, I have mentioned it many times, and waxed eloquent about it, especially in my criticisms. But, it occurred to me, suddenly, I’ve never taken the time to measure it on its own, as a cineverse, and put all my thoughts about it into one coherent post.

So, without further ado, I present: the Arrowverse!

“We love looking awesome!”

When Marvel Studios released Avengers in theaters, and the mad race began to try and do the same thing somehow, the DC-Warner partnership, it seemed, was firmly in last place, for a good long while. They’ve since surged forward again, with the release of Suicide Squad and, especially, Wonder Woman, but they’re still badly behind and the momentum they’ve gained is anything but certain. I imagine the reception of the upcoming Justice League movie will prove rather pivotal to the future of the DCEU as a whole.

But I’m getting side-tracked already: what I mean to say is… they may have actually been further ahead of everyone else than we realized.

When I commented about how the race itself was evolving, I mentioned the Arrowverse as proof. This is a cinematic universe on the small screen, and not only did it begin before the DCEU began with Man of Steel in 2013, and long before it was properly kicked off with Batman v Superman in 2016, but it began within spitting distance of Avengers.

Arrow premiered on the CW Network in October of 2012, a scant five months after Avengers. Within a year, they were planning and moving forward with the first spin-off, The Flash, which premiered in 2014. They wasted no time with further installments, including the animated web series Vixen in 2015, the third live-action show, Legends of Tomorrow, in early 2016, and another upcoming web series, Freedom Fighters: The Ray. They tied Constantine, which aired for only one season from 2013 – 2014, to Arrow with a crossover episode in 2015. Finally, while Supergirl began on a different network and was set in a different universe, it quickly became tied to The Flash with a crossover episode in 2016, within its first season, and then moved to the CW network as an official member of the Arrowverse.

So, yes, this is definitely a cineverse in its own right, with several properties that are strongly and intricately connected with one another. Not only do the CW shows have an annual crossover event, but they regularly influence and mention each other on a more everyday basis.

Interestingly, we have another superhero show coming to the CW, not only airing on the same network, but created by the same people. They’re saying Black Lightning won’t be connected to the Arrowverse, at least not initially, but they said much the same regarding Supergirl, and we saw how long that lasted. I doubt I’m alone in saying, “Uh-huh, yeah, riiiiight.” If they don’t include Black Lightning in the Arrowverse at some point, I will be very surprised.

“Our cineverse isn’t crowded enough yet, we need one more!”

On that note, we have what may be the Arrowverse’s greatest strength and weakness: every show currently lies in the same hands.

Over at Marvel Studios, the MCU is like a fleet of ships. Kevin Feige directs their overall course, but each ship has its own captain and crew. Thus, the fleet grows and becomes more diverse with each new addition. By contrast, the Arrowverse is a bundle of ships all locked together, one captain commanding all of them, and so the diversity has actually decreased with each addition. Arrow and The Flash were originally quite different from each other, but the more things have progressed, the more similar all the ongoing shows have become until they’ve basically just become clones of each other.

As such, what’s good or bad about one show tends to be what’s good or bad about all of them.

For instance: the couplings.

There are exceptions to this, but, by and large, most the couplings in Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl happen very quickly and/or happen “just because.” Oliver and Laurel, Oliver and Felicity, Oliver and Susan, Felicity and Billy Malone, Barry and Linda Park, Barry and Iris, Cisco and Lisa, Cisco and Kendra, Cisco and Gypsy, Cait and Ronnie, Cait and “Jay,” Cait and Julian, Ray and Kendra, Carter and Kendra, Nate and Amaya, Kara and Jimmy, Alex and Maggie, and still more. Some of them, we might like anyway, but far too many don’t really make any sense.

When they introduced Linda, for instance, they did far less to establish her character than they did to establish her in a pairing with Barry. And then there’s when Amaya suddenly slept with Nate out of the blue, and this after the obvious chemistry she’d had with Mick. While they rather forcefully made it known from the start that Barry and Iris would be together, I loved his pairing with Patty Spivot much more, it just felt more natural and organic.

Now, let me rush to add: some couplings, I like. I loved Oliver and Sara together, and even though that ended, it was at least fairly cool to see Snart make some headway with her. I liked Kara and Mon-El, tragic as that might be right now. And I think Wally and Jesse are absolutely adorable together, even if they do give new definition to the term “long-distance relationship.”

“We like winning the day and all, but could we maybe have true love too?”

Another example: the casts.

Again, there’s some variance, but the casts are pretty much copies of each other as well.

Main hero who takes all the responsibility for everything on their shoulders: Ollie, Barry, Kara, and Rip/Sara. Oh, and Constantine.

Comedic science/tech support character: Felicity, Cisco & Cait, Jackson & Stein, and Winn.

Strong semi-mentor (black) support character dealing with what they’ve lost and moving forward with a new family: John Diggle, Joe West, and J’onn Jones.

Morally supportive family character: Thea, Iris, and Alex.

And so on.

One can easily make an argument that these roles exist as archetypes across a number of stories, but it doesn’t usually feel quite so copied-and-pasted, ya know?

Again, let me rush to add, I enjoy the characters anyway, immensely so. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to watch the entire Arrowverse as I have. Cloned or not, there’s just something endearing about them.

Yeah, nothing adorable about this lot at all!

Example number three: repetition of plots.

Say what you will about Marvel, and other studios, and stories in general: yes, it’s true, we tell the same stories over and over again. However, they’re not usually recycled quite so obviously.

Arrow: season begins, introduce new villain, build up conflict between hero and villain to the climactic confrontation where the villain is trying to destroy everything. (and they do the same for the rest of the shows)

The Flash: three seasons done, all three revolving around a speed-based villain and Barry needs to get faster to defeat them and save everyone.

Legends of Tomorrow: the Legends travel time and space to combat dangerous enemies who mess with history, and mess things up more than a little themselves.

Supergirl: two seasons in a row of creeping forces of alien armies and human anti-alien conspiracies, the latter of which the heroes need to work with in order to stop the alien invasion.

Crossover episodes: always having the Flash swoop in to save the Arrow.

In fairness, Arrow does have Ollie trying new things in most seasons, The Flash is supposedly shifting towards a more intelligent villain this season, Supergirl has only two seasons, interrupted by a change in networks, to work with, and Legends of Tomorrow is at least changing the nature of what they’re facing and fixing with each season. There’s some substantial creativity within the seasons themselves, but they certainly get repetitive when lined up next to each other.

“A metahuman, an assassin, a band of freaks, and an alien, and we could still be more creative?”

Next complaint: the camp factor.

…’nuff said!

LOL!

If there is one thing the MCU is not known for, it’s being campy. 😉

In their defense, the quality of all four live-action shows has been greatly increasing recently, especially last season. I originally dropped them all from my lineup out of frustration for all these flaws, but that above all. I am now strongly considering adding them back in, but we’re going to wait and see.

Finally, there is what I consider to be the single greatest weakness of the Arrowverse as a whole: all of their shows are over-reliant on the other shows.

If you do not watch them all in exact synchronicity, in the order that the episodes are broadcast, then you will miss crucial things, especially when it comes to the crossovers. So, how does that translate to watching one of them at a time? Or when someone is trying one of these shows for the first time, and it turns into a complex mess, referring to things on the other shows that you haven’t seen? I mean, it’s not a bad thing when shows can stand on their own two feet, and you can just watch them straight through, one at a time.

One can take this too far the other direction, of course, as in the case of Fox’s X-Men universe, where they may say that the movies and the TV shows are all connected to each other, but they don’t remotely feel that way. Most of them might as well be set in their own universe and left alone.

Marvel, I think, has actually struck a pretty decent balance between extremes thus far. Everything is clearly connected, and what happens on the grander stage of the movies clearly affects what is happening on the smaller stages of the various televisions shows. They also allude to some subtle ways that events on the shows might be affecting the movies, such as how the Avengers found Loki’s scepter in Age of Ultron, or the current events that add to the public demand for measures such as the Sokovia Accords. In the end, one can enjoy every corner of the MCU both independently or alongside the rest, with exception to the fall of SHIELD in Winter Soldier heavily influencing the rest of Agents of Shields from that moment on.

“We’re fun, but you better watch us all in the right order!”

In summary: the Arrowverse is rife with flaws we can complain about, but it has still managed to be generally enjoyable, and it’s on a streak of improving itself. As a cineverse, it’s been a little clumsy in its haste to grow, but it’s impressive to think that it began so soon after the race began, and how it has expanded. I wonder how long it can endure and how much more it could possibly expand in such a cramped corner, but I have some hope for it.

If we were to put all of the cineverses together in one race, the Arrowverse would probably be in the middle of the pack. Compared only with other television shows, however, it would be competing with Marvel, and it would be debatable who was in the lead, and by what criteria, at any given moment.

So, in spite of all the flaws, it seems DC has had a horse in the race for awhile now, and it could actually give Marvel’s TV shows a run for their money. Not a bad thing, that!

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A “Gifted” Introduction

I watched the first episode, and my immediate reaction was, “Oh, I’m definitely adding this one to my weekly lineup!.” 🙂

Following in the wake of Legion earlier this year, The Gifted is Fox’s latest contribution to the X-Men franchise, in partnership with Marvel. Officially, it’s connected to the film series but set in an alternate timeline where the X-Men have disappeared, along with their archenemies the Brotherhood. Functionally, it’s just like the movies, a cinematic universe in name only. Personally, I figure I’ll just enjoy it as its own independent story.

In the wake of whatever happened to the X-Men, things have not gotten better for mutants. Outcast, hated, and hunted like terrorists, life as a mutant is rather terrifying right now, especially in the United States, where public fear has given the government license to do whatever they like. There is a movement, a loose connection of mutants referred to as “the Underground,” which helps mutants in trouble get to safety in other countries, but without either the respect garnered by the X-Men or the fear created by the Brotherhood, it’s especially dangerous to be different right now.

Enter the Strucker family, no confirmed relation to any other Struckers in Marvel.

Reed is a district attorney, and apparently one who specializes in mutant-related cases. He’s been working to build a case against the Underground, for the good of public safety, and thus the safety of his family. While he sees something wrong with how things are, he’s trying to make the best of a bad situation. His wife Caitlin struggles just to balance her work as a nurse with her personal life with Reed and their two children. She’s less dominant than Reed, but make no mistake, she does love him and she will protect her children.

Speaking of, Lauren and Andy are two fairly normal teenagers, going through fairly normal things, including school dances and struggling with bullies. When the latter goes very wrong in close proximity to the former, it’s revealed that they are mutants, powerful ones (and original characters created just for this show), and they’re assigned all the blame for what happened. If that’s not bad enough, it’s not the regular police who show up for them, but Sentinel Services (ah-hah, “SS,” I see what you did there), and that is what tips Reed over from trying to safeguard his family through the law, to trying to protect them from the “law.”

Fortunately, Reed has an ace up his sleeve. He pulls some strings to get in touch with the Underground, and he offers a straight-up exchange of services. If they help his family escape to Mexico, then he will help them rescue their most recently-captured member, Polaris. It’s even more compelling because she is pregnant, and the man he speaks with is the father.

So, whether they like each other or not, the Struckers and the Underground are quickly wrapped up in the same mess together, because two men are simply fighting to save their families.

That’s a pretty powerful setup, I have to say. A climate of fear, statism run rampant, people with abilities blamed for things they are not responsible for and made to disappear, the awful nature of bullying, and the importance of family, all of that is wrapped up within the first episode alone. Not a bad introduction!

I can’t wait to see where this goes!

Between the action, the drama, the social commentary, the characters, and everything else, The Gifted has definitely earned a place in my lineup. If they keep going like this, it could prove an impressive show in its own right.

Rating: for now, I give it 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A.

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Anime Review: Dream Eater Merry

I’ve been wanting to watch Dream Eater Merry for years now. Not that I heard much about it, I just saw the first episode once and it caught my interest, so I put it on the “To Watch” list, figured I’d get around to it eventually. Now that I have, I can say, there certainly wasn’t any need to rush.

Yumeji Fujiwara is a high school boy who can see people’s auras and predict their dreams. On the same day he meets (because she falls on him from a tree) a girl named Merry Nightmare, a nightmare of his own comes to life in the middle of the day. It turns out, it wasn’t just a dream, but the world of a dream demon trying to possess Yumeji’s body. The boy only escapes because Merry, also a dream demon, crashes the party and beats the would-be possessor in combat. Where her opponent is trying to enter the real world, Merry wants to go the other direction, to go home, but it seems no one can help her. Afterward, Yumeji decides to help Merry since she saved his life. The two form a partnership and a friendship as they deal with other dream demons, some of them friendly, most of them not, every step taking them closer to an elusive truth about Merry’s own identity.

It’ a pretty decent premise, but they executed it all wrong, at least in the anime. I can’t speak for the manga.

First, I want to mention what I liked, what I thought was good.

I liked the characters, for the most part. I liked how Yumeji was always trying to help, how Merry was strong and endured everything, how their friends and family all related to each other. I liked the secondary characters, the guy who was always writing funny little poems and the girl that was always with them, and I especially liked how their relationship was developing towards something more romantic. I like the adult who was watching over all these youngsters, how he was so steady and reliable and shared his wisdom with them. And I loved how Merry loved donuts so much! It was so cute!

I definitely liked the technical aspects of the show. The animation was smooth and appealing, and creative as we entered all these dream worlds. I watched the English dub, and the voice acting was superb, and it’s one of the things that drew me in the most. The music wasn’t bad either, though the timing of it, and the balance with the voice work, was a bit off at times, it sometimes drowned out what people were actually saying.

I liked the idea, and I like the running theme they had of hopes and dreams, even if it was a bit of a stretch to link literal dreams with figurative ones, with goals and passions and such. It was even more of a stretch to say that a dream demon inserted into a person like a parasite into a host became so entwined with their dreams and hopes for the future that removing them also removed those hopes, even their very soul. I never got how that worked.

I liked what they were trying to do, I think, but they were a bit clumsy going about it. The fights, for instance, were much more drama than action, not remotely realistic. The narrative structure was pretty weak, especially with as many seeds as were planted early on, with far too little harvesting later. The mysteries were pretty obvious, though no one solved them and some answers were never given. Speaking of, the entire show came out as pretty anticlimactic, even when they failed to properly build the suspense. They clearly intended to have a second season, but they didn’t, so the story barely begins before the anime ends, which is a particular pet peeve of mine. Heck, they didn’t even explain anything about any of the villains and why they were so evil.

The show has some grand ideas for what is wants to be, and it has its good points, but it has some severe issues, including poorly-scripted action, weakness of plot structure and thematic elements, and some technical aspects. It’s enjoyable in its way, not terrible, but still pretty bad for everything it lacks, and everything it could have been.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #151: Don’t Be Too Proud

“Pride means nothing when other people do everything for you.”
– Mai Taniyama, Ghost Hunt
Episode 25, “File 8: The Cursed House, Part 4”

…what? It’s Halloween time! When else should I quote ghost-themed anime, eh? 😉

When Mai says this, at the height of the show’s climax, she’s talking to a rather narcissist with whom she’s grown very frustrated. He’s rather self-absorbed and filled with pride, always looking down on people a little. It’s not entirely without merit, as he is highly capable and makes rather stringent demands of himself, but when his pride has been wounded, he is wrathful and does not hesitate to roll that burden onto the shoulders of his friends. They’re the ones doing all the heavy lifting while he stands and watches, and when they’re exhausted, he keeps pushing them until Mai pushes back.

That’s when he finally steps up and gets his own hands dirty, being momentarily humbled by the truth.

I have noticed that there are several kinds of “pride” in the world. One involves being proud of a loved one’s behavior and achievements, and another involves being proud of one’s own. Still another, however, is little more than filling oneself with hot air. Having an ego can be a good thing, if it drives you forward to accomplish things, to be one’s best self. However, when the focus becomes not that, but being better than others, standing above others and looking down on them, that is an ego which is no longer useful.

One sees this sort of pride all the time, it’s practically universal. People who are lower on society’s totem pole look up and see people who are better off, and maybe aren’t so nice, and they judge, as if they’re any better. And people higher on the social ladder? They’re rather famous for having so much money, and so much stuff, and so many people doing for them the everyday things that everyone else must do for themselves: cook, clean, prepare food, shop, mow the lawn, drive the car, etc. It’s not uncommon for them to look down

What the people at both ends of the spectrum fail to remember is: they need each other.

It’s more obvious with a rich person. They may have money enough to buy the finer things in life, but they’re dependent on the people who work for them. Everything they need is literally being done for them. If they didn’t have their money, I wonder how many of them would find themselves at a loss when faced with those everyday tasks. Unless they came up from a lower rung or have been deliberately raised in a particular way, I’m guessing it would be quite a few. So, how much is their ego worth when they can’t even take care of themselves?

As for the poor person: where do they think their jobs come from? Their shelter, their food, their clothes, their transportation, all the goods and services they use every day, these are provided by companies, which, running profitably, make their owners rich. No human can provide every single thing they need on their own, that’s why we exchange with each other.

Everyone is reliant on everyone else for everything.

Thus, that pride which demands we stand above others is, now and always, empty, hollow, and meaningless.

If the people at the top did not have the people at the bottom, there would be no bottom, and they would fall. And if the people at the bottom did not have people at the top, the bottom would fall out from under them, and they, too, would fall, straight into darkness.

In short: whatever your social status, remember we are all still equals.

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This Week on TV, Oct. 7, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

Right, so, the biggest bit of housekeeping first: it used to be that I could post my weekly commentary any time on Saturday and still have covered my entire lineup. But, circumstances are slightly less favorable for that right now, so while I’m going to keep posting, I won’t be covering the weekend shows until about a week after they’ve aired, so they are now first up in the queue.

On which note, first up is Inhumans… and that was a complex, prolonged, and lackluster beginning, especially for Marvel. And how campy can you get? I can see why people are ragging on it. It’s not anything specific with the plot or the characters or whatnot, it’s just the overall quality of everything, it’s several steps down from anything else they’ve made. In fact, it almost seems amateurish, like some two-bit indie company (no offense to indie companies in general) made it.

(and remember, this is coming from a guy who is unapologetic in liking Iron Fist)

At the other end of the spectrum, Gotham continues to thrill and delight! 🙂

Arrow and its sister shows are due back next week, but for now I have more news: I watched the premiere of Fox’s latest addition to the X-Men franchise, Gifted, and I am so adding it to my lineup! Just as soon as I do an introductory post for it, to stand in place of an actual review for awhile.

So, without further ado… the plodding mess of Inhumans, followed by the thrill of Gotham. 🙂

Inhumans

1.1 “Behold… the Inhumans” & 1.2 “Those Who Would Destroy Us”

It starts with a dramatic chase, a hunt as humans with guns track and kill a pair of Inhumans on Oahu. They start with one, newly turned, and shoot Triton, her would-be rescuer, as well, while he’s telling her she’s safe now and can take her to the city of Attilan. He flees, he’s shot, he falls into the sea, and is pronounced dead.

Sudden cut to Attilan on the moon, the royal couple of Black Bolt and Medusa going about their day. Affectionate in bed in the morning, then up and about their official business starting with walking around receiving the praise of their subjects. Then a meeting, which Bolt calls his brother Maximus to join, with Karnak and Gorgon. Topic of discussion: the latest moon rover that barged up against their invisible city walls, on which note, it might have been better to camouflage them as insurmountable stone rather than being invisible, but it’s a little late for that now.

While the humans on Earth are trying to piece together what happened to their machine, and what the hoof-like thing is which suddenly appears on camera in the same instant it goes dark, the Inhumans on the moon are debating about what this means and how they should respond. They can eavesdrop on human transmissions, so they know that the humans got a glimpse of Gorgon’s hoof, which certainly can’t be good for everyone in Attilan.

Maximus is of the opinion that, instead of waiting for the humans to bungle their way into the city and destroy them, they should take the initiative and go to Earth. It’s much roomier there, with far more resources, and the Inhumans are strong. Karnak is not subtle in disdaining Maximus’ opinion along with his status as a normal human, and Maximus is not subtle in trying to declare himself Inhuman-at-heart.

Bolt ignores the dispute and disagrees with Maximus, as their sudden arrival would be seen as aggression and begin a war.

And Bolt is the one who makes the decision, just telling his brother to trust him.

A little later, there’s a terrigenesis ceremony, as two parents see their two children enter the chamber of the mists and emerge, under the observation of the royal family – Crystal is late because she’s lollygagging in the city like she’s never been there before, but she comes when called, with the assistance of her large, teleporting dog Lockjaw – and the genetic council. The girl emerges with wings. The boy emerges with nothing visible, but when Maximus puts a comforting hand on his shoulder, he collapses and has a visions of snakes all over Maximus, holding him up against a wall. Obviously, he sees visions, and they turn out to be of the future, but they aren’t entirely literal.

Maximus sees the family back to their lower-caste housing, and he takes advantage of a moment to paint a picture of Earth for his people, a place where they could grow and thrive and breed at will, though, I note, he says nothing specifically of refraining from consigning normal humans to work in mines. Still, that omission notwithstanding, he has them nodding in agreement. They like what he’s selling, as pretty much anyone would.

Come dinner time, Maximus crashes the party again with a report of Triton’s death. Bolt sent him to retrieve the new Inhuman, and he was ambushed and killed for it. Maximus argues that they can’t increase their population, while Bolt argues that they need to save their fellow Inhumans as they awaken all over the world due to the recent terrigen contamination of the water supply. Which brings them back, for the second time that day, to the argument over whether to go to Earth or keep waiting and watching. Maximus feels Bolt is failing them, while Karnak is displeased but loyal, and Gorgon is angry that Triton was sent to his death instead of Gorgon himself being sent on the mission.

Things tend to be turbulent in paradise when that paradise is on the brink of breaking.

Maximus and Bolt both have fair points, but they don’t consider choosing a middle path between them. Maximus doesn’t see that their city is just large enough to threaten the humans on Earth, but still small enough to be wiped out. And Bolt is trying to keep things as they are even when the need for change arrives. Myself, I would suggest moving to Earth, but more carefully. They can monitor transmissions, but they need to really know the humans in order to do things more delicately and without inciting a war just by their arrival. They need guides, which is where rescuing Inhumans under threat comes in, to help bridge the gap. They can move forward while also doing so carefully.

But that is neither here nor there.

Bolt sends Gorgon to find and rescue Triton, specifying he is not being sent to take revenge. Gorgon accepts and departs. Then Bolt retires to isolation to think, leaving Medusa alone, which Maximus tries to take advantage of as he attempts to seduce her. She rather firmly refuses, her hair coiling tightly around his limbs and neck like snakes, holding him against the wall. Which is when Maximus realizes he has a new clairvoyant on his hands, one who sees the near future.

The final incident which sends Maximus’ plans forward is when he speaks with a member of the council. The man agrees with Maximus about many things, but he still chooses to side with and obey Bolt, even ordering the guard with him to arrest Maximus. But she kills the council member instead, fulfilling another of the clairvoyant’s visions, and thus begins a coup. Guards come to either arrest or kill Karnak, and the humans who killed Triton, which turn out to be Maximus’ henchmen, attack Gorgon. Both of them cut straight through their enemies in moments. Then Karnak goes to save the rest of the royal family, Crystal, Medusa, and Black Bolt.

Crystal opts to be the one doing the saving, having Lockjaw take Karnak, Medusa, and Bolt to Gorgon as she finds each of them. It’s too late for Medusa, defeated by her own guards and shaved, essentially disarmed, by Maximus himself, but she’s still alive and Crystal sees her to freedom. Bolt is confronted by his own brother, who brings up how he accidentally killed their own parents just by speaking, asking, “Why?” Is he going to kill his brother too? The answer is in Bolt’s eyes, and the opening of his mouth, which rather rightfully terrifies Maximus. Then Lockjaw comes in and whisks Bolt away.

Crystal doesn’t make it out, though, defeated and captured. Maximus broadcasts to the city, telling them a council member is dead and the royals have fled and he will see justice done. And Bolt arrives in the middle of a city, no sign of the others.

And first episode cliffhanger, moving into the second.

In Attilan, Crystal is a prisoner. Lockjaw arrives at her side again, but is rendered unconscious before Crystal can finish telling him to take her to her family. He’s down and out, and she is locked in her room. Maximus tries to persuade her to join him, but he also tries to make her feel guilty – apparently her parents tried to end the monarchy or something like that – and threatens her dog. She refuses, and outside calling her sister on their devices, she’s basically rendered impotent by her situation.

Maximus is building up his power base, striving to win the hearts and minds of the people. When the clairvoyant boy warns him about the council plotting against him, Maximus pays them a visit, admitting his role in the death of one of their own as his guards point guns at them. He expresses his hope that they will join him, a none-too-subtle warning that the option is death. He increases tension in the city with the presence of the guards, and then he steps forward to offer a reassuring hand, and more promises of what will be, including a new home on Earth where all of them are equals. Now that is something that the commoners, the humans, are interested in.

So, Maximus’ position is solidifying rather quickly, and he’s not being stupid or needlessly brutal. But the rest of the royal family are a threat, so he sends his right hand woman, Auran, to deal with them. Her orders are to kill Black Bolt and Gorgon, being too dangerous and defiant for anything less, and either capture or kill, as necessary, Medusa and Karnak.

She goes alone, threatening an Inhuman in the wall with the lives of his family, so he’ll transport her to the appropriate coordinates, and promising that her guards will avenge her if he hurts her. He responds by dropping her with her feet trapped in stone, a small revenge for her attitude. (and I officially like this guy!)

Meanwhile, on Oahu, four royal Inhumans are having a rough time of it.

Lockjaw, it turns out, did obey Crystal and put the four of them relatively close to each other, on the same island, but, being a dog, with limited cognitive abilities, he did not put them all there together. Small detail, that.

Karnak is out in the wilds somewhere, and he can’t even make it down a slope without slipping, falling, and cracking his head, hard. It messes with his abilities, and as he struggles to get out of the woods, he finds himself back where he started.

Gorgon is not thinking clearly when he goes into the ocean looking for Triton. He nearly drowns, and only survives because some nearby surfers haul his overgrown, hoofed butt out of the water. They share some conversation, and he’s not entirely respectful towards them – Crystal displayed some prejudice too – but they’re quite nice to him, very chill. Then he calls Maximus and leaves his device on, a direct challenge. And he does this before warning the humans who saved his life to clear out, lest they get caught in the crossfire.

Black Bolt is learning a lot from his first experience on Earth, including how a cell phone is not a weapon, how handcuffs work, etc. It seems that, for being able to eavesdrop on human transmissions, the Inhumans have not done much in the way of listening. Still, he does his best, but he’s unable to communicate properly, so he can’t make himself clear to the police, who react very badly to pretty much every little thing. It’s also very stupid, I’d say, to start beating on the guy who tossed a police cruiser only by grunting. Fortunately, there’s at least one man who notices Bolt is cooperating with them without resisting. He’s able to briefly communicate with Medusa that he’s in the city, but then he has to surrender the device.

Speaking of Medusa, she’s in a certain crater, and hitchhikes her way towards the city on a tour bus. She steals a knife and makes everyone on the bus wonder if they have a crazy person in their midst as she seems to be talking to herself when Crystal calls. When Auran shows up, Medusa gets the drop on her, but she’s accustomed to using her hair as her main weapon, and Auran clearly has the advantage now. But Medusa has that knife and guts her enemy. All’s fair in war.

Though, really? Auran revives later and heals her wounds, and Medusa really had no idea she could do that? Or are we supposed to believe that she spared Auran on purpose? Either way, Auran has learned, and she calls for backup.

Oh, and there’s a human who works at NASA who is brilliant and detected Lockjaw’s teleporting between the Earth and the moon, but no one believes her despite all the weird things which are now commonplace in the world, so she takes some time off and goes to Oahu, seeing Black Bolt on the news. I have no idea how this woman is supposed to be relevant.

So… yeah, this looks to be, far and away, Marvel’s worst work yet. The jury is still out, and will be for over a month, but the evidence thus far does not present a particularly favorable verdict.

Gotham

4.03 “They Who Hide Behind Masks”

And the plot continues to thicken without slowing down!

Most episodes of Gotham follow two or three specific theaters, and this one was no exception, but for once the main stage had almost everyone on it.

Bruce is observing a shipment of Penguin’s down by the docks when a certain thief sneaks in. He doesn’t even know it’s Selina (or at least I don’t think he does) when he moves to intercept, thinking they’ve just walked into a trap. Unfortunately, he who hunts two hares loses both. Meaning, he’s so focused on her that he’s distracted, he doesn’t keep his eyes open enough to notice the thugs. They open fire, he fights them and keeps the bullets mostly away from the truck Selina is in until she’s sneaked out, and one of the thugs drives the truck off. The night’s a bust for both of them. Selina returns to Barbara empty-handed, and Bruce has only an injury on wrist for his trouble.

Difference between the two: Bruce has Alfred, who stitches the wound up and helps him move forward, while Selina has Barbara, who disdains Selina for her failure and dismisses her.

Bruce convinces Alfred that he needs to keep investigating, because this is a real crime that he can keep from growing into something else. His plan is to infiltrate the ship Penguin’s merchandise came on, and examine the log, see what was so valuable to risk stealing from Gotham’s current underworld king. Alfred uses this as a teaching moment, both to help Bruce learn more subtle talents like acting, improvisation, and going undercover, and also to learn the value of such. He can run around in mask at night, but walking around unseen in the day is indeed a valuable skill to have.

I have been waiting for this moment! Bruce begins to learn about playing roles, such as a boy from the streets, or the “Bruce Wayne” who will be known as a billionaire playboy. Of course, as with most actors, his first few roles are bit wooden and overdone. Just a little much, Bruce. Just a little much.

Still, it works for the moment. Bruce and Alfred learn that Selina was stealing an embalming knife, two thousand years old, and connected to someone they know to be very dangerous indeed.

This version of Ra’s al’Ghul, it seems, has walked the Earth for nearly nineteen centuries. He was chosen from the among the dead of a battlefield, placed into the waters and revived. The dagger was held by his predecessor, and the first purpose the man gave him was to find his successor. Now that he’s fixated on Bruce, and now that Bruce and Alfred are beginning to realize the nature of their enemy, they begin to realize that the attention of a determined immortal is just a little bit intimidating. Still, they do not shrink from the fight, and go to Penguin’s auction to buy it.

Barbara tried to buy the dagger beforehand, but Penguin wouldn’t hear of it. He’s a bit unstable (I know, understatement of the year) and also driven. The mystery surrounding Barbara has seized his interest, and he will only sell it to her before the auction if she tells him who her mysterious benefactor is. Which, as she came back from the dead with tremendous resources at her disposal, I really should have guessed it might be Ra’s. Silly me, thinking of Falcone instead.

Barbara didn’t budge, so neither did Penguin. Then Bruce swoops in and, wearing his “billionaire brat” mask, rather disdainfully outbids her, much to her outrage and Penguin’s delight. Penguin does go out of his way to warn Bruce, at least, to keep an eye on that knife, because he is certain Barbara will come for it. He’s half right, as Barbara sends Selina instead.

It’s always hard on the heart, seeing two people you like at odds with each other. Bruce and Selina are both playing their own games now, but while Selina can explain hers to Bruce, Bruce can’t explain his to her. So, once again, Selina is left out in the cold as Bruce tries to protect her from something far bigger, and far worse, than she knows.

On which note, it’s confirmed that Ra’s is Barbara’s benefactor when he shows up and they spar. He revived her, and taught her how to fight, and set her up as a successful gun runner. His end goal is probably to force Bruce to succeed him somehow, but I have no clue how everything with Barbara plays into that. She has apparently performed admirably as an ally – and, of course, Barbara has a history of mixing business with pleasure – thus far, but her failure to obtain the knife, “the key to everything,” would have met with much greater anger on his part, I am fairly certain, if it had not been Bruce who obtained it instead.

So, Selina feels jilted, Bruce has a knife he doesn’t know the significance of and an enemy far worse than he’s realized, Alfred is educating Bruce as best he can to be a proper vigilante, Barbara works for Ra’s (among other things), and Penguin stood in the eye of the storm watching all of this happen, though not knowing what he saw.

Meanwhile, Gordon heads down south to ask Falcone for help against Penguin. Falcone does not simply shoot him on sight, which is a good start, considering the bad blood, which is Mario’s blood, between them. Still, he refuses, because he’s dying. The one thing even so-called immortals cannot truly conquer: death. It comes for Falcone, and it seems to have been kind enough to announce its impending arrival. The greatest crime lord in Gotham’s history, a man who defined it for an age, is soon to go to his grave. This is no time for him to wage war again.

Gordon also meets Falcone’s daughter, Sofia. She is… quite a woman. She talks with Gordon, and they spend the rest of the day together. She shares memories of her childhood, including her father and her brother. She offers understanding for what Gordon did to Mario, and keeps opening up, inviting him in. They walk along the beach, and for the first time in a long time, Gordon simply stands still, as the waves roll in over their toes, and she kisses him.

You have to hand it to Sofia Falcone: she is good. As in, capable. She got to know Gordon very well – very well indeed – within an afternoon, soothing his pains and drawing him in. A skilled seduction, and easy to fall for. But sweet scents often come with terrible dangers: a rose, a venus fly trap, even certain berry bushes have brambles which entangle large, furry animals within them, killing them slowly and taking the nutrients left by their rotting corpses to feed itself.

Sofia is a Falcone, and while she may be leaping into the deep end of the pool, a newbie in town going up against Penguin, she remains a gangster with connections in Gotham. And now she has Gordon too. We haven’t really seen what she can do yet, but I am certain she is dangerous.

Finally, the Riddler returns! …sort of.

Penguin steps out and a woman sneaks in to break Nygma out of the ice, much to Penguin’s terrified fury. Nygma wakes up in a bed, in a room that is pretty much one big shrine to the Riddler. The woman is a very old classmate of his, a devoted fanatic in every sense of the word. She broke him out and brought him back, hoping to nurse him back to health and be his sidekick girl. She uses acupuncture to repair his atrophied muscles, and all seems like it’s going well… except for one teensy, tiny detail.

His brain is still iced.

He can’t plan or plot, he can barely think at all, he can’t even guess simple riddles fit for children. He’s still clever, such as how he pretended to be paralyzed until he had something heavy to hit his liberator with and make his escape. But he’s not the mastermind he once was. Nygma is back, but the Riddler is still gone away.

Not that Nygma’s non-Riddler status softens Penguin’s anger at all. He wants Nygma found and brought back to him, and when he catches up to the woman who stole from him, he decides to make an example of her, giving her to Zasz to do whatever he wants with. He starts by complimenting her dress, letting her thank him for the compliment, and shooting her.

So, recap: Gordon has a new Falcone to deal with as he fights Penguin’s regime, Penguin has enemies who keep coming back from the dead, Nygma is broken in his own head, Barbara belongs to Ra’s, meaning Tabitha and Selina are barely one step removed the man themselves, Selina feels alone and friendless, and Bruce’s first genuine investigation of a crime is yielding incredible dividends in his development and he has something Ra’s wants.

Did I miss anything?

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