Anime Review: A Certain Scientific Railgun

It’s been quite awhile since I last watched A Certain Magical Index, but I recall handful of things from the experience. Wondering when Index would actually be useful, for instance. Or thinking that they were just trying to do too many things at once and making things far more complicated than they needed to be, and trying to explore grand themes which they could barely grasp themselves. One recurring frustration was how I wanted to see more of the actual strong female character, who they did absolutely no justice to in relegating her to little more than a background role. I mean, how could they have created such an awesome character, and then failed so completely in the handling of her?

I speak, of course, of the obvious fan favorite master of electromagnetism, the schoolgirl who kicks ass as a matter of course and let’s nothing stop her, Mikoto Misaka, dubbed “Railgun” for her signature move. She was clearly a formidable girl, strong-willed and free-spirited, and, in spite of her bullheadedness, she genuinely cared about people. Yes, she clearly had the hots for the hero after seeing his own strength, compassion, and self-sacrifice, but it was fairly understandable, he really earned her respect, and I don’t recall her being either obsessed or overly selfish, unlike others I could name. She was such a badass girl, I was always wanting more of her and less of most other characters.

So, when I heard about this spin-off/side-story entitled A Certain Scientific Railgun, you better believe I was up for it! I was still disappointed with Index, but no way I was going to let that spoil Railgun for me! 🙂

Now, I’m not going to try and make the show sound more awesome than it is. I did put this one up as one of my Top Contenders, but that might have been a little hasty of me. 😛 It’s still plenty of fun, but I think it’s been outclassed now.

Speaking about Railgun entirely on its own, I do have to appreciate both what it does and what it tries to do. It discusses surprisingly complex, important topics such as the simple value of human life, as well as how we view each other and ourselves, and it does so in ways which have an unexpected emotional impact. That caught me entirely by surprise, especially after my experience with Index.

It has some serious missteps, I think. Sometimes things still seem overly complicated, and the solutions they come up with are practically out of thin air and don’t care about logic and reasoning and realism. It’s the sort of thing you just roll your eyes at, like, “Of course they deus ex machina the situation.” It’s pretty corny and formulaic like that. And some things about the culture within this anime just make no sense to me, but that might be my narrow, Western perspective at work. It might be nitpicking, but, seriously, who puts together an association of school boys and girls with the authority to meddle with criminals?

The basic premise of the show is that there is a city, Academy City, where people with psychic abilities, or who want to develop such, can go to study, learn, and train. The successful people are espers, with abilities and power levels which vary from person to person. Somehow, there’s always someone causing trouble, be it common thugs and bullies, or robbers, or militaristic criminals, or super-powerful villainous espers, or vast, inhumane conspiracies revolving around mad science and human experimentation. These are the threats which Misaka faces down with the help of her friends, including the teleporting Kuroko Shirai, the computer expert Kazari Uiharu, and Ruiko Saten, a normal girl, and others.

Misaka, herself, does not actually have any authority to become involved in these situations, but she tends to get caught up in them, and she does not hesitate to do what she feels is right. She also has something of a well-earned reputation for her strength, so it’s not uncommon for the authorities to respect her as she takes the lead. It certainly gets the job done quick and easy, for the most part.

As we go through Misaka’s adventures, we continually have conflict between how people see things, especially other people, and how they really are. This ranges from the justification of various villains – that Misaka and those like her have so much and it’s so easy for them, ignoring how she and they actually worked hard and made what they have themselves – to smaller, more comedic conflicts, such as how Misaka, for all her fearsome reputation, still likes stuff that others consider to be more childlike and for kids, so she’s forced to hide how much she likes it or risk embarrassment. The message seems to be that we define ourselves with our own choices and our own efforts. There’s no need to live according to the opinions of others, or to compare oneself to the very best as a measure of one’s own worth.

Which goes into another recurring theme: the value of individual human life, and how we define a person’s worth. It can be based on their capabilities, their origins, their function in society, there is simply something wrong with valuing one group of people more or less than others. Original vs. clone. Natural vs. artificial. Gifted vs. normal. All of these are worth the same, and, even more, all of them have worth. People are more than lab rats to be used and cast aside.

One would think that would be fairly obvious and not need to be said… but, well, between how badly off the world is and how I actually had someone demand that I prove life has inherent, empirical worth, I’m going to venture a guess that maybe it does need to be said after all. But I digress.

It’s also fascinating to see how much of the cruelty and evil that goes on is simply what happens in a society that permits such. One of the early villains isn’t that evil, she’s just using extreme measures to save some children who were used and cast aside by the powers that be. Another treats people like test subjects, but this is what her own grandfather did to her when she was just a little girl. Another is driven by external forces to become stronger, and they provide the people he is meant to kill in battle for such.

Over and over and over again, the true evil is simply the twisted “science” which declares life, any life, as having limited or lesser value.

So, with all of that said, and with the action which is fairly well done, and the especially the emotional bonds of these lovable, endearing girls, there’s plenty to recommend the show for. The technical aspects, the animation, the music, the voice acting in both languages, it’s all very well crafted. Is it perfect by any means? No. But highly enjoyable.

Outside what I said earlier, about formulaic, corny, and deus ex machina, I have one particular complaint. It’s something that, having seen Misaka and Shirai on Index, I was already aware of, and actively disliked, but as Railgun centers more on them, it’s even more difficult to ignore.

See, I am a big proponent of privacy, and respecting other people’s boundaries. So, to see Shirai constantly sexually harassing Misaka really irritates me. Her behavior is, frankly, inappropriate, yet it’s peddled as the comedic flavor of the show. Why? Why should this be acceptable just because they’re both girls? Indeed, the fact that they’re still in junior high makes it even more disquieting, but even if not, how is this any more appropriate than if a guy were to harass a girl? Just because Misaka is able to fend her off does not make it OK for Shirai to continually put her in that position. And yet, somehow, Misaka still befriends Shirai anyway, even with the constant fending off of sexual aggression. Why would such a firm, spirited girl do that?

Adding to this, we have Saten always flipping Uiharu’s skirt up every chance she gets, despite how Uiharu continually expresses her displeasure, and yet they, too, are still friends. How, exactly, is that in any way OK?

I tolerate many things in what I watch, taking the bad with the good. But I must admit, even I’ve been getting fed up with so much sexually-based content, and passing it off as humor. Yet, even worse, I think, is depicting such infringement on one’s person and privacy as somehow “normal” between friends. And that is my single biggest issue with Railgun. Am I overreacting? Maybe. I’m interested in hearing what everyone else thinks about this.

That aside, I still generally enjoy A Certain Scientific Railgun, in spite of this particular issue.

It’s generally fun, exciting, funny, oddly emotional, and it speaks about things which we ought to speak about. And who doesn’t like when the girls kick ass, eh?

Rating: complaint notwithstanding, I will give this 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: similarly, B-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #160: Open Eyes

“You never noticed? I’m beginning to think you’ve gone through your life with your eyes closed. Open them! Open them wide!”
– The Ghost of Christmas Past, A Christmas Carol
1984, starring George C. Scott

This is really just a passing quote in this movie. As the Ghost is taking Ebeneezer Scrooge on a tour of his past, it mentions how his nephew, Fred Hollywell, bears a strong resemblance to his sister. Scrooge dismisses the comment, that he never noticed, to which the Ghost responds with this above comment.

It should be nothing at all, yet I find tremendous value in the simple admonition to open our eyes, wide, and truly see the world we are passing through on this journey called Life.

So much of what we think we know is based simply on what we see, and often what we see is based on what we allow ourselves to see. It is no uncommon mistake for us to blind ourselves to what’s right in front of us. It could be deliberate, or subconscious, but for some reason we keep our eyes closed. All the more tragic, then, for everything we miss, and everything we do based on something false.

When the truth comes along, it can usually make for a very rude awakening.

For that, and for everything we would miss otherwise, it’s better to open our eyes on our own, and never close them. Better to see, to know, to feel everything about the world, both good and bad, than to blind ourselves.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it falls far short of joy.

Interestingly, towards the end of the movie, when Scrooge is again talking with his nephew, he looks at him properly and says, “You’ll forgive me for saying this, but I see the shadow of my sister in your face. I loved your mother, Fred. For a time there, I forgot how much I loved her. Perhaps I chose to forget.”

He tried to forget the pain of his loss, and so shut his eyes to the joy right in front of him. Now his eyes are opened, and he is free to love his family, and be loved in return. His empty heart can at last be filled with light.

In that spirit, may we all go through life with our eyes wide open.

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This Week on TV, Dec. 9, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

So. Wow. This was a pretty darn strong week.

The Gifted left us clinging to the side of a cliff, as it kicked our fingers off.

Gotham had its mid-season finale. We’ll see where things go next year. 😉

And Agents of Shield is systematically putting the characters through Hell.

So, without further ado!

The Gifted

1.09 “outfoX”

After the emotional tumult of last week, things are quickly coming to a head. Next week is the season finale, if I recall rightly.

Campbell was apparently very badly injured in the last episode, more than I thought. His entire face is bandaged, and he has one of his Hounds doing something about the injuries, such that Campbell is able to refuse surgery. Turner is just eager because he senses an opportunity. He believes the Hound program is blown and the Underground will be moving against Trask’s facility, soon. He has good instincts, but I wonder about just how certain he is of this, almost like it’s supposed to happen that way.

Which, if so, then these really are some clever, conniving schemers. I mean, it’s not entirely settled yet, one way or the other, but they certainly work hard to make us suspect that it’s a setup. It might be a misdirect, or perhaps SS and Trask are pulling a double-bluff. A double insertion of Hounds, one to attract attention and incite emotion, and the other to fan the flames and direct the Underground into the trap.

Esme would certainly be in a prime position for the latter. She was the one who pointed out the first Hound, Chloe. She could sense people’s thoughts and see who was influential, get close to them, as she bonded with Cait. She is the one who supposedly gleaned information from Chloe, and she’s the one who has all of it. She’s able to listen in on everything, and it’s suggested that she might be able to cause nightmares as well. She’s able to play exactly to what people are thinking and feeling. She is the one urging them on, playing to their emotions, their intense desire to save their loved ones suffering in Trask’s most highly-guarded facility. She is the one standing within and among, yet above and apart. And by the end, she is showing clear signs of strain, becoming rabid in her desire to get inside, and lead the others in as well.

If she’s not secretly a Hound, then that’s quite the thorough misdirect.

The Underground leaders are divided, torn between their desire to help and that healthy need for caution. They’ll only have one shot at this, so they need to make it count. They need to be careful, and they need to be patient. But Esme is there heightening the emotional stress, and Polaris, the most vocal in her opposition to the idea, has a terrible nightmare that changes her mind literally overnight. Eclipse still has reservations, but they’re drowned out beneath the flood of, “We have to help them now.”

So, as they locate the facility in question, they also examine its defenses. They’re substantial, including power suppressors and lots of guns. But the bulk of these depend, by necessity, on a steady stream of power provided by another facility nearby. So, the plan is to send a team to infiltrate it and knock out the power, and then the team specializing in offensive capabilities will invade Trask, looking to free the prisoners and overwhelm the guards.

Small detail: they don’t have the manpower for that.

Small plot hole: what, in their refuge that’s packed full with fresh refugees, let alone in the entire Underground, they don’t have more than half a dozen people who can do damage with their abilities?

Moving on.

So, they decide to ask the Struckers for help. With Blink and Dreamer beside them, and Cait and Reed watching through the absconded security cameras, Andy and Lauren accept the assignment of blowing the generators. That’s their mission: get in, blow it up, and get out. Then the real fight will begin at Trask.

The Struckers have been on an unending emotional roller coaster these days, and it’s not getting any better. Cait is wishing there had never been any secrets, and with all the stress she’s been feeling, she accidentally starts looking for someone or something to blame, and that’s before they test out the connection between the kids, to see of Fenris Junior can come out to play.

Speaking of, Andy stumbled onto a reference to Fenris in a text book. They were part of the Hellfire Club, they did a lot of damage, and they were only stopped by the intervention of the X-Men. That’s quite a black spot in their family history, and now to learn that they could do the same thing? Yeah, that’s a heavy burden for a couple of teenagers to bear.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to just activate any time they happen to be holding hands. It’s like when they use their abilities, on purpose or accidentally. There needs to be something to make it happen. It almost happened once before, about a year ago, long before Andy’s powers manifested. They were on a family outing, Andy was daring Lauren to try a skate boarding trick, she nearly fell, he grabbed her, and they felt it stirring.

Now they try again, on purpose. The first try, they just hold hands. The second try, they focus. And suddenly they have this overwhelming feeling of power, and focus, and oneness, and they could have ripped apart the entire building, killed everyone, without breaking a sweat. It feels good. Very good. Andy is keen on trying it again, but Lauren is afraid of it. She’s afraid because of just how good it felt.

So, the Struckers have some family drama going, but they’re on board with the rescue plan.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t go so well. When Thunderbird, Polaris, Eclipse, and Esme are in position (putting explosives together while they wait), the infiltration of the power facility begins. Unfortunately, Turner is right on their heels. He called in favors and he’s way out on a limb, but he has a massive strike team, complete with updated sentinel spiders, lying in wait. He is a man out for blood, and nothing will stop him. Upon detecting the mutants, his team goes in.

Cait and Reed are able only to watch helplessly as the feds storm the place.

Blink is the first to be captured, by a robot, screaming at her friends to keep running. She wasn’t able to portal out because she knew nothing about where she needed to take them.

Dreamer is next, sacrificing herself to buy the kids a little time, just a few extra seconds.

The kids are last. They can’t get out, they can’t find the way. Lauren, so afraid before, wants to use their combined power, Fenris, to get out, to escape. They almost do, but Andy pulls back. They’re in the basement, and if they bring down the building, which they would have to, they would kill countless people. Lauren missed that, in her haste to get away, and she’s horrified by it.

They maintained their innocence.

For which, they let SS collar them like dogs.

Turner finally has Campbell’s prize.

And the elder Struckers can only weep as they watch it happen.

The raid is a bust, the Underground just lost four of it’s best, Turner has his victory, and the Strucker kids are bound for Campbell.

How much worse can it possibly get?

Never ask that question! (unless you’re figuring out contingency plans)

Gotham

4.11 “Queen Takes Knight”

This episode just had so much poetry and gut-punching power to it, it was fantastic, and a fitting point to pause mid-season.

The bulk of the episode is the culmination of the conflict between Penguin, Sofia, and Gordon. As Sofia is leading the sirens in an offensive, taking out some higher-level thugs and Mr. Penn, they can’t seem to find Penguin himself. Sofia reasons that he’s out building support among the gangs, which means all they need to do is take Penguin out, and it’s game over. Then she gets a phone call and simply comes when called. Only one man can do that to her: her father.

Carmine Falcone returns to Gotham to bring his daughter home. Turns out, that’s where Penguin was, running to her daddy for help. Falcone simply walks in and takes his girl back, berating her for acting against his wishes, putting herself in danger, and the dishonorable things she is done, such as sleeping with Gordon, the man who killed her brother. (surprise, Barbara!) So, like a father dealing with an impudent little girl, he’s come to take her home, safe. She’s grounded.

But just as they’re leaving, and Gordon comes by to discover the situation, a van drives up and shoots Falcone and his men, fatally. Sofia is only wounded, having coincidentally been standing to the side, picking a rose from the garden. She pricked herself on a thorn, and drank her own blood, before receiving a bullet to her gut.

She attends her father’s funeral in a wheelchair and a neck brace.

Everyone, rather stupidly, believes it was Penguin. That he took out Falcone and missed Sofia only by chance. But this did not benefit him in the slightest. As long as Falcone was alive, Sofia would be out of his hair. It makes no sense for him to kill Falcone.

Everyone still assumes he did it, if only because Sofia, the only other suspect, was injured. But, as it turns out, this is not the first time she’s been wounded within one of her own schemes, to throw off suspicion. We’ll get to that in a moment.

With Falcone gone, the inauguration of a new age is at hand.

Gordon is made to face, at the funeral, the truth that all of this has happened because he went to Falcone for help in fighting Penguin. Everything he’s done, the people who have died, it’s all on him, even if only indirectly. So, as Bullock says, he better finish what he started. He does this by taking Sofia into custody even during her father’s funeral, protecting her from Penguin’s men. When Penguin storms in, demanding he turn her over, and promising any enterprising officer money in exchange for her, he is met with a united opposition.

It’s a stark contrast against the past, where Zasz once walked in to claim Gordon’s life, and every single officer filed out. Now Gordon stands as their leader, the law which opposes the king of the criminal underworld, and the officers of the GCPD all stand with him. Penguin leaves empty-handed, and a redeemed police force suits up and wages war. Gordon leads from the front as the knights of Gotham charge the enemy, overturning an empire practically overnight. His plan: back Penguin into a corner so he does something that they can absolutely nail him for.

Sofia already has something in mind: the murder of Martine in last week’s episode. Penguin laughs at that, as the boy is perfectly alive and well. All he needs is Zasz’s word to back him up. But Zasz betrays him.

Zasz has seen Sofia’s strength, and doesn’t believe Penguin’s protestations of his innocence. He was Falcone’s man for a long time, and now he chooses to be Sofia’s. The regime changes that easily, and a furious Penguin is locked up in Arkham for the one murder he did not commit.

That leaves Gordon with only Sofia to contend with. He goes to her, trying one last time to prevent her from a course of action which, as he sees it, will result in him taking her down as surely as any other criminal.

But like everything else thus far, Sofia is ready for him, starting with the revelation:

Sofia was behind the Pyg! I did not see that coming, but it fits! The missing piece of the puzzle!

Lazlo Valentin was just a psychopath and a contract killer, like Zasz. She hired him, gave him creative freedom, his purpose being to destabilize the situation so she could make Gordon captain. That’s why he restructured his face before entering Gotham, because he wasn’t trying to boast the way other serial killers do, he was trying to hide, and then Sofia hired him. And that is why he told Gordon he couldn’t give up yet, because Pyg was just performing a part in Sofia’s plan, right down to impaling her hand with a fork, and shooting her in the gut to deflect suspicion for her father’s murder.

But now the Pyg’s part is done, and he’s a witness, so she kills him while he’s gloating and threatening Gordon. And now it’s just her (not really needing that wheelchair and neck brace) and Gordon.

It’s a moment of truth, and Sofia has a very harsh truth for Gordon to face: there is a direct line, through her, between Gordon’s inability to stomach the Pax Penguina (not that he should have) and the deaths of all the officers, criminals, and vagrants which Pyg murdered. If Gordon arrests her, she talks. The GCPD he just finally saw restored will crumble, the next criminal king will rise without either Penguin or Sofia to stop them, and Gordon will lose the city forever. Everyone who died, how he stabbed Bullock in the back in taking the captaincy, it will all be for nothing.

This is her game, and she’s calling checkmate. She’ll get everything she wants: power over Gotham’s underworld, with a man she can control at the head of the GCPD.

This is her revenge. I knew that forgiveness she offered earlier came to easily, but this is so much worse than anything I could have conceived.

Sofia is even better than I ever imagined. She manipulated everyone, orchestrated events on a grand scale, removed her enemies with Gordon as her cat’s paw, usurped her family name, murdered her father, all to put herself in a position where she would be unassailable, and take her revenge on Gordon for her brother’s death, by collaring him and robbing him of his honor.

And she makes certain he must make his decision immediately, when she is strongest and he is weakest. And so he chooses: he takes credit for Pyg’s death, and chooses to continue leading the GCPD, which is now, at last, redeemed… all except for their captain.

Sofia Falcone has won.

For now.

Funny thing about life. Games, battles, wars may end, but time keeps flowing, and anything can happen, any old conflict may be renewed, any victor overturned.

Elsewhere, the sirens, who had to do some creative escaping in the middle of a firefight, are settling down now that the crisis is over. Barbara is happy to have her club back, while Tabitha goes after Grundy. She tries to help him remember his past, by tying him up and beating him in he head over and over. It doesn’t go well, and she eventually has to give up. But after she’s gone, Butch comes to, looking at his reflection and wondering what’s happened to him.

Nygma is also being tormented by the Riddler in his head. He’s screaming at (and breaking) the mirror, that he’s in control, though that control is obviously slipping. He’s doing it, especially, because somewhere along the way, he’s fallen for Lee. Which, there is not a good track record for the women he falls in love with. He killed the first and Penguin killed the second. Lee may not return his feelings, likely, but it’s not a good thing to be number three, especially when your presence seems to be all that’s holding the Riddler’s return at bay.

Finally, Bruce is drowning himself in sin, cutting himself off from the people who love him. It’s classic self-destructive behavior. He’s trying to bury and forget the pain, he’s trying to undo himself, he talks about how great a time he’s having while actually being miserable. When Alfred calls him on it, he gets into a fight with the man and takes a blow to the face, as a ploy. Then he visits his lawyer to have emancipation papers drawn up, fires Alfred, and warns him that if he doesn’t leave, then Bruce will only need to go to the police and show them the fresh bruise on his face. So now he is alone in his misery, spiraling ever farther downward, running away from his agony instead of facing it head-on.

So, Falcone is dead, Sofia has Gotham and Gordon under her thumb, Bruce is on the darkest path he will ever know, Alfred is gone, the Sirens are back in power near Sofia’s throne, which Zasz is now serving, the Riddler is rising, Grundy is Butch again, Bullock has quit, Gordon has lost himself in his victory… oh, and Penguin’s neighbor in Arkham is Jerome, the future Joker.

…they really do not pull their punches on this show, do they?

Agents of Shield

5.03 “A Life Spent”

So, last episode, we learned that the world was destroyed, the Kree took over what was left, and the last of humanity is barely surviving brutal, harsh conditions in a base called the Lighthouse, and Daisy was blamed for it. If it’s not yet bad enough – and of course it’s not – to be thrown into the frying pan, they keep turning up the flame beneath it.

Tess is looking after most of the agents, with exception to Daisy, who has no metric, and Simmons, who is Kasius’ newest servitor. May is keeping close to Tess, working the Trawler, while Yo-Yo, Mack, and Coulson are stuck working for Grill, who is a demanding taskmaster, cutthroat and wily. His number two is cut from the same cloth, but more physically brutal. The man zaps Yo-Yo with that metric control device, and Mack responds by taking a big pipe and storming the office, only to be locked against the threshold. But, that was just a ruse to do some recon, and he got a good look at the office.

The recon inspires Coulson as he’s examining Vergil’s notes. He used numbers to refer to locations, and there’s one that keeps popping up, outside, where you need the Trawler to get to. Tess agrees to help them go there, following Vergil’s trail (she kicks a kid named Flint out of the Trawler, I’m guessing we’ll see him again), and Grill hands her an excuse by demanding a double load, so she needs some extra hands. But that’s a ploy on Grill’s part. He’s certain that Vergil was skimming, stealing from him, and now he’s suspicious of these new arrivals, so he sends them out, along with his number two, hoping for proof. That puts a wrinkle in the plan, but the agents manage.

While en route, Tess mentions how Vergil always brought this mini-globe with him, saying it was so he could see what Earth was, and what it would look like once it was fixed. Coulson figures out the secret, that the globe has something in it. Lo and behold, there is a key hidden inside the Earth. (poetic) it unlocks a compartment, where he kept a radio. He was talking to someone, way out here.

Unfortunately, Grill’s number two comes up at exactly the wrong moment, makes assumptions, and restrains everyone in sight. With everyone else secure, May turns the Trawler hard into a rock, slamming their foe against the wall, so he drops the control. Tess and Coulson do well for themselves, considering they can’t actually move, but the control’s just out of reach. But Mack was not restrained, so he steps on it before their overseer can reclaim it, punches the man out, and locks him in the hold.

Tess wants to stage an “accident” at that point, because now it’s either them or him. The agents refuse, because they aren’t a part of this dog-eat-dog culture. Tess is. She knows it’s one way or the other, someone is going to die for this. True to her word, when they return to the Lighthouse, after double timing it because their prisoner cut the fuel line (hey, he expects them to kill him, so why not take them down with him?), they’re all restrained, Grill ready to kill them. Fortunately, Yo-Yo makes the call herself, and plants a gun on Grill’s man, framing him, saving her comrades… and condemning the man to the Kree’s punishment: death by exile to the surface, where nothing but roaches survives.

It wasn’t all for naught, at least. The agents discovered a transmission, faint and difficult to understand. Whoever is on the other end is asking Vergil if he’s “secured the delegation.” That’s them, the agents. They’re unable to talk back for the moment, as the radio was damaged, but whoever they’ll end up talking to, they have answers.

Up top, Simmons is unable to listen in on almost everything she’s witnessing, but she sees much. Kasius has a guest, Lady Basha, who he is apparently eager to please. As in, he seems almost afraid of failing to do so, which is disconcerting, but last episode did establish that he does not think of things in the same way that normal humans do, so exactly what he feared was unclear.

Basha, who apparently comes from a race that resembles humans with red eyes, is clearly superior to him in some manner. Kasius may wield great and terrible power over the humans, but it seems he’s just a relatively minor figure in some backwater outpost where he has to scrape a living, and opportunity, out of the rocks of a ruined Earth.

One of these opportunities comes in the form of the Inhumans. Every human goes through the terrigen mists when they turn eighteen. If they become Inhuman, they’re taken by Kasius, implanted with a control device that suppresses their abilities, and promised that if they can perform at a “ritual,” their families will be rewarded as they get to leave Earth as ambassadors and travel the stars. The reality is, they’re taken and turned into livestock. They’re slaves, specifically gladiators.

Simmons finds this out when Kasius’ jealous female underling suggests having her take a look at their latest Inhuman, who is supposed to perform in front of Basha shortly. She’s having trouble controlling her powers, which involve the ability to manipulate her molecular density, either passing through what is solid or becoming unbreakable. Simmons is able to help her with her scientific knowledge, giving the girl an image to think of, a means to center herself, so she’s able to command her abilities. It’s a remarkable feat in such a short time, but it’s warped by the truth of the situation.

For the “ritual,” Basha brought a killer to test the Inhuman girl against. The brute dominates the fight, and is about to be killed when she’s able to center herself. She wins, easily, killing the man, his very body exploding around her hand, leaving her to look in horror at her bloodstained arm. Basha is very pleased with this, and purchases the girl for a high price. That’s all Kasius was concerned with: the price he could get for her. The girl is taken by her new master, who can suppress her abilities at will in order to keep her in line, likely to do more killing. So much more.

She was promised a world of wonder, and is given one of horror instead.

And when Simmons protests, she is silenced again.

Finally, there’s Daisy. She is determined to rescue Simmons, thought Deek warns her against it. He sees her as the Destroyer of Worlds, which she most certainly isn’t, so he’s not keen on helping her, but he’s also not keen on opposing her. He tries to convince her to play the long game. Instead of storming upstairs and doing all sorts of damage that will just blow back on all the remaining humans below, he promises that he can help her get up there without having to fight her way up. She could get an invitation from the boss man himself, if she listens to him.

She doesn’t.

Daisy and the rest of the agents are accustomed to doing things their way, and having to do things a different way… well, it’s not easy to change so much, so fast. It’s good to resist, to stand for what’s right, but they’re not being particularly prudent about it. That’s how you get yourself killed.

So, Daisy storms up, using the tablet that Yo-Yo steals again, by tricking Grill into taking her metric off for adjustments. Daisy walks through the greenhouse, trying to quietly stow a ride up with some moving produce, but she’s spotted and has to fight her way up instead. She does very well, going straight through the Kree guards, but then the way shuts in front of and behind her, and gas flows in to knock her out.

She’s conscious long enough to see Kasius marvel at her power, and her presence so long after Earth’s destruction, while Deek assures him that the only thing that matters is that he has her now. Daisy is very angry, promising to kill him, to which Deek responds that he’s just playing the long game.

Which, I believe him. It may not be good for Daisy, but he’s protecting what little of humanity is left. Everyone, from Tess, to Grill, to Deek, has simply grown up having to choose who lives and who dies. It’s made them all cutthroat and quick to stab in the back.

So, we’ve now caught up to the last scene from last season, where Coulson was “admiring the view and getting back to work.” Turns out, he’s out in the Trawler with the others, trying to establish contact with their unknown allies. Simmons and Daisy have both been taken by Kasius at this point, but the team is working hard with what they got, and the transmission they receive is from Earth. I’m just wondering if it’s from the past as well.

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Doctor Who Challenge Day 6: Favorite Scene.

There are so many great scenes in this series. Happy scenes, sad scenes, beautiful scenes, poignant scenes, action scenes. Ten seasons in, there’s plenty to choose from.

Yet… there’s one that I am particularly fond of. It might be surprising, considering I didn’t even hold Eccleston’s Doctor in the same competition as Smith’s and Tenant’s, but it’s from his season, the one that kicked off the rest of the revived series.

It’s from the episode, “The Doctor Dances,” and can be summed up in two words. Just two words, shouted so joyously:

“EVERYBODY LIVES!”

It’s right at the height of this episode’s climax, where the fate of the world is coming down to the answer to one question, “Are you my mummy?” Fortunately, the answer is yes, and a little boy’s life is saved, with the Doctor standing by, watching closely, quietly urging a little miracle to take place. When it’s done, the tension reaches its peak as the Doctor approaches, begging, pleading, for just one day like this. He reaches, and reveals the glorious event, and he is exultant. Then he works his techno-magic and saves a small population, all the while screaming, in such pure, simple joy, “Everybody lives! Just this once! Everybody lives!” The normal people, the soldiers serving their country, the brave medical personnel who saved lives, a doctor who refused to abandon his patients even at risk to himself… they’re all alive. And the Doctor couldn’t be happier.

I think that’s the only scene like it yet in the entire series: one where everybody lives.
The rest of the series proves how much horror and pain and death the Doctor witnesses in his long, long life. He, himself, has shed so much blood in defense of others, he has made incomprehensible sacrifices, and lost so very much, and his dearest desire has always been to save people. It’s a heavy burden to bear for so long, and with no end in sight. Yet here, he is given a most precious gift to remember forever.

It’s that simple joy of his, which we so rarely see, and which, so soon after the destruction of his people, must have been like a balm to his soul, that is what makes this my favorite scene. Not just because everyone lives, but because it is the happiest we ever see the Doctor.

What’s better than such undiluted joy, eh?

Heh, and it’s topped off with a woman asking her doctor about how, when last she looked, she had only one leg, and now she has two. And the doctor replies, “Is it possible you miscounted?” LOL!

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Anime Review: Ushio and Tora

This review is about the 2015 version, not the original, FYI.

Ushio and Tora is basically one of those old, mythical hero sagas, but told in a modern-day setting. You know the ones, where the hero is simply awesome? Where he goes on a quest, slays terrible monsters, protects the innocent? Meets people, makes friends and allies even as he defeats and surpasses them, and leads them in a war against the ultimate evil, as humanity’s great champion? It’s like that, only this particular tale did not finish itself centuries ago, it’s conclusion is playing out today in modern Japan.

Take a moment to imagine what that means: ancient demons and human spiritualists fighting side-by-side with mad scientists and the military. It’s a pretty awesome combination, and everyone plays their part, every part being essential to the final outcome.

Following the adventures of the titular duo, the human Ushio and the demon Tora, this particular saga chronicles their ordeals, their unusual friendship, and their struggle against a most terrible, powerful enemy. The enemy rises to destroy the world, as it once destroyed many nations in centuries long past, and so the world fights against it, but it’s the influence of the lead characters which truly unites the various factions of humans and demons together. Though there is great loss and destruction, Ushio and Tora leave in their wake such things as hope, love, and the restoration of things which have long been broken.

The story, and the world it’s set in, draws heavily from the legends of Japanese culture. Seriously, I wouldn’t know where to begin in detailing that, but the result is that they basically created a modern myth. It’s intricate, detailed, and thoroughly fleshed-out with a backstory that reaches thousands of years into the past and leaves no loose ends hanging.

Indeed, the entire story is like that. In a way, it’s sort of simple, going through one ordeal after another, building up to the final confrontation, but it doesn’t need to be complex to be gripping. The stakes are set high right from the beginning, the plot becomes ever more personal to the heroes, and the emotional impact is crushing. The story details the conclusion of a very long war, and so it’s about the people who are fighting it. Also, everything which precedes the final battle is vital in setting up all the moving parts involved in it, which, there are many of them. When the enemy feeds on fear and anger and despair, it’s the contributions of everyone across Japan which turn the tide against them. This is the people vs the single most terrible monster the world has ever seen. So, yes, it might be a bit formulaic and even predictable at times, but it culminates in a brilliant, complex conclusion.

They say the hero is only as great as the villain they overcome, and, I have to say, I am seriously reconsidering my favorite anime villain after having watched this show to its conclusion. This creature, so very old and so filled with malice, may be one of the most terrifying villains I have ever seen, anywhere. Obviously based on the nine-tailed fox, this entity, referred to as Hakumen no Mono, is powerful, cunning, and sadistic in the extreme. Everything from its behavior to its motivation to its power to even its shape and its voice is perfectly crafted to frighten and anger the audience. Seriously, that is a very unnerving voice. I hear the Ringwraith screech in Lord of the Rings, and I am barely phased, but this voice gives me the chills. Very well done. (this is the Japanese dub I’m talking about, I haven’t seen the English one as of yet)

As for the heroes, I just love Ushio and Tora. The two of them, they are men of pride, strength, and conviction. They meet as enemies, and they never really become “friendly” towards each other, but they slowly come to grudgingly respect one another in a way, and they stand firmly and together against the enemy. They learn to work together, so well that they inspire everyone else to do the same, led by an awesome, undefeatable example. They neither bend nor break, but grow together.

And for all the immense tragedy, the extreme stakes, the terrible loss, the horror of the enemy, and the epic, inspiring unity which ultimately triumphs, there is still room for laughter, especially early in the series. That’s what originally drew my into the show, from that first moment when Tora is trying and failing terribly to convince Ushio to release him from his prison, to Tora’s rough introduction to the 21st Century, to countless other moments throughout the series, I was laughing far more than a story like this ought to be able to make me. Granted, such comedy would not have had much place at the climax, but it was still pretty awesome.

From start to finish, Ushio and Tora is an excellent story, this modern myth, gripping, hilarious, tragic, simple, intricate, powerful, and poignant. I am definitely going to own this one, and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes that sort of thing. It is easily a forward contender to be among my favorites.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #159: Humans Need Fantasy

“You’re saying humans need fantasy to make life bearable?”

No. Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”

“With Tooth Fairies, Hogfathers…”

“Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.”

“So we can believe the big ones?”

“Yes. Justice, mercy, duty, that sort of thing.”

“They’re not the same at all!”

“You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet… you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world, as if there is some… some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.”

“But people have got to believe that, or what’s the point?”

“You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?”

– Susan & Death, The Hogfather

This scene, coming towards the end of the two-part miniseries based on Terry Pratchett’s novel, may be the main reason why I like this story so much. Death is explaining the significance of what’s happened to his granddaughter, just why it is so important for humans to have things like fantasy, believing in things which modern academia, and our cynical society, dismiss as unimportant. I can’t really explain it any better than they do, but there is one thing I disagree with them on.

I do believe that there are such things as justice, mercy, duty, fairness, and all those other wonderful things. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that these principles do not dominate our world, or our natures, but they do exist. Part of how I get through each day, where I know terrible things are happening, is because of my faith that things will work out in the end, however long that may take. We just need to do our part, in our own little corner of the world, a little bit every day.

But for other people, I understand that they do not have my exact perspective. I understand that not everyone sees the same thing as me, but I am heartened by the stories we tell. Stories are the shared light which humanity itself creates, illuminating truth and circumstance which are otherwise obscured. Sometimes we just need to take a step back from our lives in order to find our way and move forward.

We are not meant to be placid, purely-rational creatures, but to have passions as well. We feel, and so we can understand one another and ourselves through what we are able to feel together. We create beautiful things, things which inspire, things which grow almost like living creatures.

A world without fantasy, without passion and beauty, would be barren indeed. Everything we strive for, the ideals which drive us forward, would be gone. We would be little more than animals, like rats trapped in a lifeless maze without escape. Without these things, we would never know what true living is, or what humanity is.

That is why I love stories, and why I contribute to the conversation in my own humble way. 🙂

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This Week on TV, Dec. 2, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

The Gifted skipped this week, but Gotham made a return after skipping for Thanksgiving, and, at last, Agents of Shield premiered its fifth season with one doozy of a two-hour introduction. So, all in all, it was a pretty good week!

Gotham

4.10 “Things That Go Boom”

Well, that was a rather explosive episode, both figurative and literal.

The main body of the episode is overwhelmingly an intricate, interweaving, rapidly-evolving and escalating showdown between the wrathful Penguin and the manipulative Sofia.

Sofia drops in on Gordon at the precinct, hoping to officially reignite their affair, since he kissed her a few days earlier, after having walked out on their tenuous partnership. He has none of it, and simply sends her on her way. (good job, Jim!)

She arrives home to find Penguin waiting for her, Zasz in tow. Having discovered her duplicity, he did a little research, and found out about Gordon’s trip down south, “coincidentally” right before she came to Gotham. That’s enough evidence for him, so he’s making cut the head off the snake. He wants to know the full extent of her plan, who among his ranks have been turned, and if her father is involved. To which end, he brings his master torturer, “the Dentist.” (gee, I wonder what his area of expertise is)

Throughout this, Sofia first plays the innocent, professing how much she cares about Penguin. Then she reveals herself, gloating about how easy it was to wrap him around her finger, which just a bit of goulash and a foot massage. When he goes on about how she’s going to pay for her manipulation, what he wants, etc. she looks decidedly bored, like she’s seen all this before. Not inaccurate, as her experience with the Dentist demonstrates.

Sofia is very good. She sets her goals, devises workable plans, adapts as needed, and gathers a wealth of information, as part of preparing for anything. For instance, she learned every detail of Penguin’s operation, including who he would use to torture her. The Dentist lost his brother to her father, but she mentions, with the drill coming towards her mouth, that he still has a family, and rattles off their home address. (grace under pressure, certainly have to give her that much!) This gives the man some pause, and she quickly elaborates that she’s ready to take over from Penguin that very day. If her people don’t hear from her, if she suddenly “disappears,” then they have orders to kill the Dentist’s family. Or he could bet on Sofia’s success and save his family.

He responds by killing the guard and setting her loose. Pretty much the only move he could make. He couldn’t take the chance that she was telling the truth, and if she was lying, then at least he has time to get his family out of Gotham before Penguin’s wrath catches up with him.

Sofia has freed herself with nothing more than words, and she’s ready to make her move against Penguin… except she finds her car locked, her driver unconscious, and a gag being slipped over her mouth. Straight from one captivity to another, from Penguin to Penguin’s enemies: the sirens! Selina, Tabtha, and Barbara…

ADD Moment: all with names ending in “a,” and Sofia makes four, I just noticed that.

So, the girls kidnap Sofia, hoping to ransom her to Penguin. He is most unhappy with their failure and betrayal a couple episodes ago. People do not live long when Penguin is unhappy with them. Ransoming his “friend” would not be the best idea, but it’s not like they can really make it that much worse for themselves. When Sofia corrects them, she offers to let them sign up with her. She can give them everything they want once Penguin is gone, but that kind of depends on them not finger-painting all over her masterful scheming right at the crucial moment.

Barbara thinks Penguin will happily take his enemy back as easily as his friend. She calls, names her price, and Penguin accepts. Easy. Very easy. Unbelievably easy. Yep, too easy. Penguin has one of his worst enemies currently being held by three more. Four birds, one stone. He dispatches Zasz, who, true to foreshadowing several episodes ago, shoots their armory shop with the same rocket launcher he took from them.

Fortunately, the girls get out just in time, being given just enough warning between Sofia and the cameras.

Sofia goes to Gordon then, with the facade of a traumatized, sobbing, terrified woman. He sees through that almost instantly, realizing that this is her real plan. She doesn’t actually have the resources to take Penguin on, so she’s been maneuvering Gordon into a position where he can, as captain of the GCPD. Cops vs. robbers, a war raging across the city. That’s her play.

Realistically, there are some serious benefits to that plan. It could oust Penguin, putting the GCPD as a whole firmly back on the side of law and order as a whole, redeeming them in the eyes of the city. And, really, what more direct, legitimate way could there be for taking Penguin down? Gordon came to Falcone looking for an army, and now he has one. Sofia just wants him to use it, which, really, he eventually will. Why not now?

Perhaps the war between Gordon and Penguin is unavoidable. But Gordon will not be manipulated into it, especially considering the collateral damage, the loss of life on both sides, and the civilian casualties which will undoubtedly accompany such a war. And, at the end of the day, it would just be so Sofia could take over, with her hooks deep in Gordon’s soul. What good is that?

So, instead of doing things Sofia’s way, he pays a visit to Penguin, just as the man is declaring that his entire syndicate will go to war and unleash an unprecedented crime wave. Gordon won’t allow that, and he’s here to avoid exactly that. He’s come to make a deal. Penguin spares Sofia, who Gordon puts on a train that very night, never to return, and if she does, then Gordon will deal with her himself. As for things between Penguin and Gordon, there will be no more licenses, but for now they will avoid war.

Penguin graciously accepts the terms.

They actually managed to resolve the situation with diplomacy. They were two men set to go to war, with a beautiful woman as the igniting spark. Instead, they rid themselves of the woman who played them, and settle things peacefully like men. Not a bad thing that.

Sofia is obviously not satisfied, as if she would be. She’s still trying to win Gordon to her side, telling him how they’re alike, both wanting power, kissing him… but he cuffs her and has Harper take her to the train, to escort her back home. Very Batman v Catwoman of them.

But Sofia’s not done just yet. She looks ahead, she foresees, that’s how she manipulates. So, on the off chance that Gordon went behind her back to Penguin and cut her out, she is prepared for just such a circumstance.

Penguin has grown rather close to Martine. He’s all set to take the boy in like a son, when Martine confesses that he lied. Or, rather, that he told a truth that Sofia wanted told. She told him to tell Penguin that he saw her kissing Gordon. All to manipulate him into doing exactly what she wanted him to do, what he’s been doing all day. True, that failed, the war did not begin as she’d hoped, but it’s still all according to her design. Penguin was very angry at Martine, sending the boy into another room, possibly back to the orphanage, but after he cooled down some, and after accepting Gordon’s offer, he goes to apologize to Martine, to extend his forgiveness. But Martine is nowhere to be found, only his notepad, telling Penguin he’d been kidnapped. The sirens grabbed him.

So, when Zasz quietly enters the train cabin where Sofia is in chains under Harper’s watchful eye, Harper is the only one surprised. Harper’s knocked out, while Sofia has Zasz set her loose, and gives him instructions to relay to Penguin, concerning the exchange. It’s all going according to plan.

The exchange, however, does not go as planned. Penguin finally upsets Sofia’s scheming.

Her ultimatum: surrender power to her, or the boy dies. Penguin submits, and regains Martine. He puts a hand on the boy’s shoulder, reassuring him, mending the rift between them, before sending the boy to the car. Martine pauses and looks back towards the gathering when he opens the door, before getting inside. Then Penguin proclaims that Martine will not be Sofia’s pawn to be used against him, not ever again, pressing a button and blowing the car up.

Sofia and the girls are shocked, leaping into action only soon enough to get behind cover as Penguin’s thugs open fire. Penguin will not submit, and here he declares war! The girls manage to escape, but their tails are whipped. They’re talking options when Sofia says they just have to hit Penguin before he hits them. Selina calls her crazy, as she just made a play, lost, and a boy died. That was unexpected, Sofia admits, but they’re not done yet.

Penguin needs time to mobilize his large, bulky organization, to wage war. That gives the girls, who can move faster than Penguin’s army, a small window of time to act. If they use if effectively, they may yet turn the war in their favor with their opening salvo, or at least they might survive. And make no mistake, at this point survival is very much what they’re fighting for. They’ve bet everything they had on this, and as they’ve already lost the first battle, they really need to win the war.

Meanwhile, Penguin is talking to Martine, who survived because the bombing was a piece of theater, some sleight of hand so Sofia would never look for the boy again. Penguin truly cares for him, but now, to protect him, he must send him away, never to return to Gotham. Neither one wants it, and they embrace, but it must be done. Penguin has Zasz, his single most formidable minion, escort Martine himself, though Zasz is of similar mind to Sofia: strike fast and hard, finish it quickly. Penguin may have just cost himself the war with his decision to put Martine’s safety first, but that is yet to be seen either way.

Elsewhere in this episode, Lee is now answering to “Doc,” apparently, down in the Narrows. As the newly-risen queen, she is making some changes, including the peaceful settlement of disputes. One involves two people in a business dispute, and she tells them to work together and be stronger, then asks after the health of the one’s daughter. She is new to ruling, and a healer first and foremost.

One of her people comes stumbling in, bleeding, because a local rival to the south wants to muscle in and claim the Narrows as his own. Samson (I think it was) is taking advantage of the change in leadership to move in and expand his domain. He’s testing the waters first, as Nygma describes. He advises setting Grundy on them, but Lee tries something gentler first. She talks to Samson, just her and Nygma. She makes an offer to appease him, which is the wrong thing to do, rewarding the enemy. That just makes them bolder.

When her foe starts coughing blood, she concocts something about a new virus to try and extort a peaceful resolution with her medical skills, using the man’s life as leverage. He accepts. Except he’s no fool, and just has his boys wreck her clinic, which is a really low blow. To destroy a place of healing is exceptionally low even for the filth of humanity. But at least it gets Lee’s blood boiling, and she uses something that happened to survive the vandalism to her advantage.

She and Nygma pay another visit to Samson, and this time she’s the one with the power. As Samson declares that he will take the Narrows as a whole, from club to clinic to everything else, Lee simply tells him to leave. She wants him and all his people gone within the day. Samson laughs at that, but Lee holds up a small bottle: the antidote to what she just slipped into his drink. On cue, Samson starts dying in front of her, and in front of his crew, who draw their guns, but she has a very fragile bottle in her hands. Samson either agrees to her terms, or he dies. Killing her just ensures the latter.

Preferring not to die, slowly and gruesomely, Samson agrees. Lee walks away and tosses him the antidote, which he desperately catches.

She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with, but she did leave an enemy alive and furious. It won’t surprise me if Samson comes back with a vengeance.

And I wonder how her next encounter with Gordon will go, as she’s now a crime lord? Ah, but that’s for later.

Lee confesses something to Nygma in the aftermath. He’s miserable at being “a has-been.” He was useless today, but she disagrees. He was right there, seeing what was going to happen every step of the way. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with his brain. There were some lingering effects from his time on ice, it needed some time to fire up to optimal capacity again, but his brain is fine. What’s “wrong” with him is psychological. She didn’t want to tell him because she likes this version of him, more like the man he was before the Riddler, her friend, Edward Nygma.

He is rather pleased with that. It’s a good moment for him. One rather wishes he could stay that way. But, alas, fate is not so kind. And, just as it was the first time around, his descent begins again with seeing a fake self in the mirror. The Riddler, standing behind him, advancing. The Riddler’s first true victim was actually himself, Edward Nygma, and it seems that, as his mind is breaking again, history is about to repeat itself.

Finally, if the erupting war between Penguin and Sofia isn’t bad enough, and the imminent return of the Riddler doesn’t add enough to that, the Pyg is not yet entirely dealt with either.

Professor Pyg was arrested and sent to Arkham, with the rest of the loonies. And, yes, he is most certainly insane, but I think I’d prefer something with higher security, ya know? He gets into a fight and kills his foe easily, with a record. A record. He is no less dangerous in there than he was on the outside.

Gordon visits, wanting to know who he is. Fox found extensive surgery was done to him, to make identification impossible, which is counter-intuitive for a man who takes such pride in his crimes. So, while Fox works on reversing the work to get an accurate face of who the man was, Gordon confronts him. And mocks him. He thinks he’s hot stuff, after two or three stunts, sick and jarring as they may have been? Gotham has had the likes of Fish Mooney, Penguin, and Jerome to deal with. Pyg is a footnote, a minor freak that they’ve already forgotten. With wounded ego, Pyg’s visage slips, and he talks in a southern drawl.

But that was deliberate. We seem to have several villains this season who wear behaviors like masks. Sofia and the Pyg have that in common, where even slipping up is just another play.

Fox reconstructs Pyg’s face, and gets an ID, thanks to Gordon’s southern-oriented direction. His name is Lazlo Valentin, and he was being held in connection to the work of a serial killer. Such do not usually change their MO’s, but Pyg did. Gordon, assuming Lazlo was released because the case fell apart, asks why, but Fox tells him it didn’t. He escaped. That sets Gordon’s alarm bells ringing, and he races back to Arkham, who are supposed to set a guard at his cell. But before that happens, a hapless guard making rounds is drawn into a vacant-looking cell and struck from behind with a rope.

It occurs to me: all the stories of someone escaping a prison cell by attacking the guards from a blind spot once they enter. Perhaps they ought to invest in cells which have no blind spots.

Gordon arrives too late, finding a dead guard and a message written in his blood: “It was fun James. – Lazlo.”

Pyg fed him that “slip,” and that accent, so Gordon would ID him and he could be known for his deeds, and then he escaped right on time.

I am recalling that he told Gordon, during the fight, “You can’t give up yet.” He wanted Gordon to win that fight. He played Gordon like a fiddle. And after all that, he’s out again.

Side-note: with how many guards are killed by being attacked from blind spots in all these stories, one might start thinking it advisable to invest in cells which do not have blind spots. Just a thought.

So, sum-up: war erupting, Riddler returning, and Pyg loose.

Situation: not good!

Agent of Shield

5.01 & 2 “Orientation”

That is a very good title for this episode, as it was all about the agents learning about an entirely foreign situation.

So, the agent-looking guy that led the soldiers in capturing the agents in last season’s finale is actually an alien, which explains the technology. He takes all the agents except Fitz, left behind for some reason, not because of any government directive, but because of some list he’s working off of. The rest of them are put into a room with an obelisk, let out of that suspended state they were trapped in just in time to see it liquify and take them.

The next thing Coulson knows, he’s in a frozen moment in space. Then the moment speeds up and he can barely grab hold of something before he’s sucked out a broken window into the void, which is the fate of one of the other three men in the room at the time. They’re all in danger, as alien creatures in the darkness, nicknamed roaches, are hunting and killing them. Which, one of the other men quickly suffers that fate, leaving Coulson alone with the last survivor, the one who was expecting him and his team to appear out of thin air. Unfortunately, Mack appears right then and, assuming the man with the gun is a threat to Coulson, knocks him out.

Yo-Yo and Simmons poof into another room, with a number of dead bodies, drained of all liquid and turned into instant mummies. That would be what the roaches do, then. They manage to meet up with the boys, but just as the last surviving member of their welcoming party is about to explain what he means about “belief” and “saving humanity,” a roach gets him. The agents wisely run for their lives at that point, and are only saved when Daisy makes her entrance, blasting the creature apart.

May, meanwhile, managed to appear right where a metal rod is rammed through her thigh. So, apparently it’s lucky no one appeared within or partially within a wall. She manages to get herself loose, because she’s a fighter, a survivor, and one serious badass. She meets a guy who is looting the bodies and attacks him. He manages to restrain her with his antigravity thing, rendering her helpless in the air, then pinned to a wall. He lights a torch to keep roaches away, and forcibly impales a device within her wrist. You can imagine how happy she is about that.

The other agents, who wisely choose to stick together instead of splitting up to get picked off one by one per Mack’s fears – you gotta love how Marvel can still insert humor in extreme, dire situations – stumble onto the location, but May’s new friend has already moved her. They manage to put a few things together, that this place seems to have been built to accommodate humans, that it has advanced technology, that it’s seen a few years, etc. But when Daisy tries using a computer, it doesn’t allow human access, and several Kree enter and subdue them, though Mack and Yo-Yo manage to attack them first.

Unfortunately, wherever they are, attacking a Kree is met with a death sentence, a painful one. The others are locked up, until May arrives in company with her new friend, Deek. Deek spins a little tale for the Kree guard and offers a little bribe as well, which seems to work well enough. Once they’re in the clear, Deek asks about the guy who was going to explain things, Vergil. As he’s dead, and the agents can pay him, Deek is ready to leave them, but May uses his anti-grav device on him. The agents split up: Daisy to find and save Mack and Yo-Yo, Coulson to interrogate Deek, and May and Daisy to fly the nearest ship, the Trawler, and send a message back to Earth, to Fitz.

Mack and Yo-Yo are matching wills with their Kree tormentors, who deem Mack worthy of some kind of gladiator position, and we soon learn that how the Kree do things among the humans, sparing a life involves taking one. So, to spare Mack, they’ll kill Yo-Yo, starting with freezing her hands. That’s an agonizing experience, but Daisy storms in, frees Mack, and they dispense with the guards. Then they have an available Kree hand to unlock the computer with, and get a location… displayed in longitude and latitude.

This while May and Simmons navigate out of an asteroid field only to see the Earth right above them, or what’s left of it, a slim shard of what used to be there. They thought that the Kree were using the place as a staging ground to invade the Earth, but it’s already gone far beyond that.

This while Coulson talks with Deek and they begin to put the pieces together: the monolith didn’t just transport them through space, it sent the agents forward through time.

With the trailer for Infinity War having just dropped, I don’t think they could have picked a more perfect moment to tell a story set in a future where the world has been broken. I mean, is this the fate of the Earth after the war? Does Thanos do this? It’s extremely high stakes right from the start, with the literal fate of the planet, and their species, hinging on whatever they manage to do. Thus, they need to work smart, and as they’re on entirely unfamiliar ground, they have a lot of catching up to do.

This time and place they’ve been propelled forward to, it’s the last refuge of humanity, possibly its very last gasp. That’s a terrible weight to have on the soul, and the people here have always had it.

Deek became a smooth-talking, scavenging survivalist, and afraid of what the agents are going to do, that they’ll mess everything up and get everyone killed.

Vergil was a believer, the last of the believers, who held that agents of Shield would come out of the past to save humanity. Exactly where that came from, I would very much like to know, especially as aliens are clearly involved and orchestrating these events. Fitz is certainly partially behind it as well, as he managed to send a postcard all the way to the future, saying, “Working on it.”

Apparently, there used to be many more believers like Vergil, but the Kree killed them all, including, apparently, someone Deek held dear.

There are others, whom the agents soon meet.

Tess was Vergil’s significant other, and while she didn’t believe, really, a part of her is still transfixed by the agents and their arrival, as if she kept that belief safe in some unspoken corner of her heart. Perhaps she’s feeling hope for the first time. Either way, she’s looking after the agents and helping them, like convincing Deek to help and letting Coulson into Vergil’s old quarters to search for clues. They find a notebook filled with information they don’t know how to decipher yet.

Then there’s Grill, an old man who is a scheming opportunist, willing to take risks, but also quick to use other people as human shields, in cold blood. He looks out for his own interests, plain and simple.

While Coulson is searching Vergil’s room, Daisy tails Deek to his lair. It’s their equivalent to an opium den, each customer placed in their own Framework, some illusion crafted to seem like Earth as it used to be, based on scant pieces of forgotten knowledge. It’s escapism, the only drug left to these desperate people.

Meanwhile, May and Simmons learn more and more about just how bad the situation is. The story is that the Earth was broken by something, and then the Kree came in, saved the people, restored order. Uh-huh, yeah, right. More like they either broke the planet themselves or they just took advantage of a soft target. Either way, they rule the humans because the humans need them in order to survive, while the Kree do not need the humans except to have someone they can stand above.

The one in charge here is called Kasius, and he oh so “graciously” lets some food slide down a pipe to feed his toys, a little nutrition for his garden. But two of the men fight over a share, one of them stabbing one of Kasius’ pet humans and spokesmen. The offender is summarily killed by a female Kree, whose name we haven’t heard yet, as she levitates two metal balls to ram straight through his skull. But then Simmons saves the man who was wounded, as everyone looks on in shock at what she’s doing, and the Kree take her up to Kasius.

Kasius is… dangerously odd.

He gardens as a hobby, and likens what he does to the humans to this. He cultivates and nourishes, and he prunes. Upon learning of the fight and what caused it, he orders that his guards should “give the humans some breathing space,” saying “it’ll do them good to have a renewal.” Sounds pleasant enough, right? Alas, it is not, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

He is a perfectionist as well, demanding flawless physical appearance in his human pets. To which end, he is fascinated by Simmons’ immaculate skin, in addition to her skills as a healer, and her “superior answers” to his questions. When the man she saved walks in, bearing an injury that will heal but leave a scar, Kasius is upset, but knows it can be covered up. The scratch on his face, however, just that slight blemish, is enough for him to have the man killed outright.

Simmons is shocked and yelling as Kasius kneels by the dying man, doing something with his ear. He turns to Simmons, and catches her unawares, saying she needs to learn silence, as he puts what he took from the man’s ear into hers: some kind of alien creature that makes all things silent. It neutralizes sound, all of it. Except, as she learns after she’s been dressed and painted as a “servitor,” for Kasius’ voice, when he’s talking to her. It’s not just a means of coercing submission, it also prevents any of them from properly spying on their masters.

Back downstairs, the renewal commences. The humans are gathered together to present their “metrics,” these devices that are inserted through the wrist, to track them as needed. The children are removed from the scene while this is happening. Cornered and left with no choice, Coulson, Mack, and Yo-Yo go to Grill, hoping to trade a Kree tablet they just stole to him in exchange for his assistance installing the metrics. Grill doesn’t take the tablet, but he takes their service instead. They’re obviously worth an investment, so they work for him now. And the first job: they’re the human shields he’s hiding behind.

In a renewal, low earners are selected, their metrics flashing red instead of blue. They have the choice of either dying or taking a life. “A life spent is a life earned,” as they say. That’s what Kasius meant by “more breathing room.” When there’s no more space to use, the only way to increase breathing room is to decrease the number of people breathing. And as the fight earlier demonstrated, tensions seem to be reaching a boiling point, where fights are breaking out, he has them blow off some steam by killing each other, taking the fight out of them for a little while.

One of the chosen humans blames Grill for not paying him properly, so he means to kill the man. But Grill is safe in his shelter, and he leaves the agents outside, pinned to the wall. May arrives in time to save them, but she won’t kill the man, so Tess does it instead.

This really isn’t the world the agents know.

Finally, Daisy manages to confront Deek in his Framework, and Deek matches her. He’s a realist, he’s afraid, he created a drug den just to try and cope, and he’s mad at the agents for endangering what little they have left. They can’t just keep doing what they’ve always done, they must adapt. For Deek, that means they need to give up and stop trying to do what they’re doing. It’s even worse when he realizes who Daisy is: Quake. Whatever happened all those years ago, Quake is the one who is blamed for destroying the world.

I call bullcrap on that. Not only does she not have nearly enough power to do anything remotely like that – it’s sort of like comparing the power of an ant to that of a god – but she wouldn’t. Even more, she obviously hasn’t, and unless she goes back home, she won’t have the opportunity to either. So, I’m guessing that the Kree, who erased the humans’ knowledge of history, are either the ones responsible, or they just needed a convenient scapegoat, and who better than an Inhuman?

So, recap: some alien shot the agents forward through time, to a point after the Earth is destroyed and the humans have become like cattle, or a garden suffering the whims of the gardener. Everyone except Simmons and Daisy now have metrics in their system, Mack, Yo-Yo, and Coulson are stuck working for Grill, who just left them to die to save himself, Daisy is blamed for the entire situation, and Simmons has been rendered selectively deaf as part of being a pet of Kasius, who is entertaining guests.

Yeah. Dire situation.

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How Excited Am I for Infinity War?

About this much:

The first trailer from Marvel has finally dropped online! I have been looking forward to seeing it pretty much all day! 🙂

So, let’s see what we got!

…yep, a long series of geek-out moments! 🙂

First sequence: a play on Fury’s speech from Avengers.
Fury’s voice among the stars.
Iron Man is… is he marooned on some alien landscape?
His voice, “To bring together a group of remarkable people.” As Bruce Banner is found lying in a crater, by Doctor Strange and Wong. (geek-out!)
Vison’s voice, as he and Scarlet Witch are apparently together… and he’s like a human?! What? How? Is that a dream or another body or what? Hmm, he has the jewel still on his head.
Thor on a ship. Ah, but who’s ship? 😀
Black Widow’s voice! She and Banner reunite! Apparently in Wakanda, with the arm of the Hulkbuster armor neaby, and she’s blonde now.

Credits rolling, Marvel logo… slow version of the Avengers theme. 🙂

Second sequence: Enter THANOS!

And his monologue is definitely intimating that the Avengers are going to lose, which, as this is the first of a two-part story, one somewhat expects.

New York City. Banner, Stark, Wong, and Strange, all in Strange’s lair. Trouble outside, which Peter Parker feels with his spidey-sense. Something alien is coming to the city. Again. It’s drawing everyone’s gaze and doing damage.

Who are those bodies? Where are those bodies? And who, if not Thanos, is stepping over them? …hm, I wonder if he’s even the sort to bother stepping over bodies instead of just stepping on them.

Loki, ever the survivalist, has the Tesseract. He has the Space Stone, which is what he was originally sent to Earth by Thanos to retrieve. He is acquainted with Thanos, so, is he going to offer it to him in exchange for his life?

Oh boy. Thanos looks more primal this time, more brutal and physical. He’s getting his hands dirty for this.

Where is he stepping out from that portal into?

Third, and final, sequence: Black Panther saying,
“Evacuate the city,” as Spider-Man charges into battle with his most advanced suit yet.
“Engage all/our defenses,” (not sure if that was “all” or “our”) as Thor stands in some grand cosmic machine trying to do something even he, with all his physical power, is finding difficult.
“And get this man a shield.” As Captain America steps out of the shadows! 😀
Who was that throwing a glowing spear at him?

Scarlet Witch is in civilian garb, doing something. Did Cap come to her aid?

I notice the music is getting pretty dire here!

Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor, Black Widow plunging a spear into someone or something, Doctor Strange wielding mystical power, they’re not holding anything back!

And what are those things falling from the sky? Invasion pods?

Everybody’s in battle against alien creatures. Captain America, Black Panther, etc.

And things are desperate! Thanos pins Spidey like a bug! Iron Man is somewhere unfamiliar, very upset about everything that’s happening. Vision… is pinned beneath Thanos’ boot, screaming as Thanos pries the gem from his forehead with a spear.

Thanos adding a blue stone to a purple one on his gauntlet. The Tesseract and the Orb, which would mean he’s visiting the Nova Corps first. And he’s taking pleasure in what he’s doing, as his shadow falls across Iron Man, and the cosmos.

Bucky’s back! The Winter Soldier is back, fighting alongside Black Panther and the Wakandans!

This is really going to be a battle, between entire armies, which we see as Falcon swoops in, firing, and the land is covered beneath the defiant Wakandans.

And who are they following? The Avengers. Captain America, Black Panther, the Hulk, Black Widow, the Winder Soldier, Falcon… and that’s War Machine, right? Not Iron Man?

That hero shot, as they charge the enemy as one. Awesome. But what are they up against? And how does the fight come to Wakanda anyway?

And logo! With blaring Avengers theme!

This! Will! Be! Awesooooome! 😀

…oh, and Thor is with the Guardians! 😀

(and that sound you hear now is me, squealing, as I completely geek-out!)

Next May!

I am so looking forward to this! Or could you tell? 😉

Of course, now that we’ll be in the main crunch of things, everything coming towards the climax that they’ve been leading to since the MCU first began, there are some things that Marvel must get right.

Firstly, while they’ve improved this a great deal, they have earned a reputation for unfulfilling villains. They cannot let that happen with Thanos.

Second, some of their ensemble films have felt a bit crowded. They need to handle that with care as well. That’s one reason I’m glad they divided this story into two movies. Crowding both cast and events together like that would just not be a good thing.

Random question: where’s the final Infinity Stone? The one that’ll represent the Soul? The Tesseract is the Space Stone, and it was on Asgard, but Loki took it. The Time Stone is in the Eye of Agamotto, which Doctor Strange possesses. The Reality Stone is the Aether, which we last saw in the Collector’s possession. The Mind Stone is affixed to Vision’s head. And the Power Stone is in the Orb guarded by the Nova Corps. So where is the sixth, the Soul Stone?

How about you? What are your thoughts?

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Doctor Who Challenge Day 5: Funniest Scene.

Seriously? A show that makes us laugh even when things are going terribly wrong, and they ask for “funniest scene?” How does one even begin to pick one?! Especially, how do you pick one that isn’t framed by tragedy somehow?

A few favorites, in no particular order:

The silent conversation in “Smith and Jones.”

A captured Slitheen trying to murder the Doctor over dinner. After he captured her by hijacking her teleport.

Two Doctors clutching a rope and getting pulled upwards and along the floor by the creature they are trying to capture, an experience they narrowly survive and just laugh together like a pair of old fools.

Dialing the wrong number in “Planet of the Dead.”

“Don’t stand him up against the lift,” says the Doctor as he escapes a bunch of soldiers by backing into the elevator behind him. Which is immediately followed by a hunt, the Doctor meeting Harriet Jones, ducking into the office, the Doctor threatening to “triplicate the flammability” of a bottle of liquor in order to interrogate the enemy, but the Slitheen call his bluff, so he passes it to Harriet who says, “You’re supposed to pass it to the left,” before the Doctor activates the steel walls and declares, triumphantly, “They’ll never get in.” Rose asks, “And how do we get out?” Doctor: “…ah.”

Both sequences with Amy in the “Meanwhile in the Tardis” segments. 🙂

The “Worst! Rescue! Ever!

The words of Gallifrey, a language that could topple gods and whatnot, and what does it say? “Hello Sweetie.”

When Detective Shipton is hitting on Sally Sparrow, and he asks for her name and she says, “Sally Shipton… Sparrow! Sally Sparrow! Don’t look at me!” as she flees in hilarious, lovable embarrassment.

In Matt Smith’s first episode, when it’s “time to put on a show,” and he’s changing into someone else’s clothes and Rory is protesting and turns around… and Amy does not.

The Doctor in the White House, “You think you can just shoot me?” And River bursts out, “THEY’RE AMERICAN!” And he immediately shifts to begging not to be shot. 🙂

Clara Oswald. Just, everything about every time she’s introduced.

And Strax. One of my favorite characters. A few of his lines:

“Captain Harcourt, I hope someday to meet you in the glory of battle, where I will crush the life from your worthless human form! Try and get some rest!”

“I can produce magnificent quantities of lactate fluid!”

“Do you want me to get the memory worm?” (that entire scene is a strong contender for Funniest)

“Sir, emergency! I think I’ve been run over by a cab!”

“Madame Vastra was wondering if you were needing any grenades! …she might have said, ‘help.’”

“Sherlock Holmes.”

“MELT HIM WITH ACID!”

“He will be lured from the dangers of London to this place of safety and we will melt him with acid! …and we will NOT melt him with acid!

Actually, if I have to pick one, I’m going with the “melt him with acid!” line, which is topped off by, “The morning paper. Shall I send it up?” And he hurls it right up to the window and into Clara’s face! I love it!

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Marvel’s Most Punishing Work Yet

Someone, somewhere is saying, “I will create the single most brutal revenge story ever!” That dream will die horribly when they see Marvel’s latest Netflix series, The Punisher.

I remember how Deadpool clearly advertised itself as being not for kids, and still some parents were overwhelmingly and mind-numbingly stupid enough to take their kids to go and see it. Deadpool has absolutely nothing on Punisher. It is easily one of the darkest, bloodiest, most tragic and violent things I have ever seen, and that is only one way in which it is incredibly not child-friendly. It is coarse in language, sexually graphic, and emotionally intense. So, please, for the sweet love of whatever you love, I cannot stress this strongly enough: do not show this to the kids.

On a related note, I am just going to say that I spent a great deal of the show just wanting it to be over. To be clear, unlike previous Defender-themed shows, with exception to the first season of Daredevil, it didn’t ever feel like it slowed down or lost tension. It was just a massively uncomfortable experience that felt like it would never end, much like the personal Hell that the show’s protagonist endures.

Speaking of, Frank Castle, introduced in Daredevil‘s second season as a lunatic antihero with a lot of firepower and experience at his command, is now given some room to breathe in his own show. With a great deal of the setup complete, we follow Frank as he completes his quest for revenge. First he finishes up with the various gangsters who survived his previous rampage, and then he settles into a quiet life, one where he’s just going through the motions as his demons torment him without end. Then fate steps in and he finds himself pulled back in, learning that his mission isn’t over yet. The gangsters were just pawns, and the real culprits in the murder of Frank’s wife and children are still out there, hidden, powerful, dangerous, and still spilling innocent blood. So, he goes after them, to kill them.

And hey! This time he has allies! Karen Paige makes a couple of appearances, an old war buddy has his back, a highly-skilled hacker forms an unlikely partnership with him (no small thing, when dealing with a man as intractable as Frank Castle), and there’s even some agents at the Department of Homeland Security who happen to be after the same people as Frank. He certainly needs all the help he can get, as the nature of the enemy, with all his puppet strings, is slowly unveiled. Even worse, in what is probably the most predictable turn of events after we already saw Frank was betrayed by his own comrades, the single worst and most dangerous of his enemies is another former comrade, a former friend, a former brother-in-spirit, who stabs people in the back as easily as breathing, and still manages to think he has some sort of moral high ground to stand on.

That last is only one example of how personal things are for everyone in this story. It’s a slow-moving, slow-boiling narrative, taking its time to move all the pieces into place, and there are a number of them. Oddly, Frank’s vengeful mission takes on something more noble, as he protects the innocent, restores a broken family, and helps to see justice done when mere punishment fails to get the job done. All of this, and maybe, just maybe, perhaps even the Punisher himself is redeemed a little, and finds just a sliver of peace at the end of the day.

All of this blood, horror, and excruciating pain, all of the filth, the nightmares, the demons running rampant in people’s heads, and at the end of the day, there is still something at the bottom of the muddy sludge which is worth one’s while to be find, and treasure. Even deep wounds can heal, or at least stop bleeding, though the scars may never completely fade.

So, it’s an extremely rough ride, and one that I probably rode more so I could contribute to the conversation about it, rather than anything else. I have issues with the content, the material, and the we-see-it-coming-miles-away betrayal, but there’s still something about the show to recommend. It explores the bonds that form and endure between rough, unstable men, and how they help each other despite thinking they don’t need help. It lingers long on the pain, the loss, the sacrifice, and the untreatable psychological scars that plague the men and women who protect and serve a nation. It digs deep through the muck to find a precious jewel, or at least some spare change to pay for a hot meal.

It is, quite simply, a unique and powerful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Interestingly, this is the first of Marvel’s works that absolutely could take place in the real world. The world of the MCU may have superheroes now, and has had them for years, but there aren’t that many, and most of the world goes day after day without them. Punisher takes place in this world, but it lacks anything “super.” Not even street-level super like Luke Cage or Jessica Jones. It’s a bunch of perfectly normal(ish) people, in a believable, horrifying situation, all the more terrifying because here, there is no magical cavalry coming to save the day at the last minute. Death is real, the danger is real, and the violence is incredibly realistic. (with exception to just how effective and durable a bulletproof vest is, I think) Heck, enemies can simply come out of nowhere, a simple, ordinary Joe who suddenly hits a breaking point and goes crazy.

In regards to that last, I was wondering why were following this one random returned soldier boy with psychological problems. That turned out to be so we’d know who this guy was when he started making trouble as a side-villain, creating a circumstance for the true villain to reveal himself to the heroes. They did a bit of stretching for that, and for some other moments, but it worked out.

Point being, things felt very real for most of the show. Not just “suspension of disbelief” real, but real. That made all of the emotional weight even heavier.

And this is why I was wanting the show to end for so long. I just wanted some relief. If they hadn’t had any humor in the show – yes, as surprising (and colorful) as it was, there was humor – then even my stubborn, story-craving brain might not have made it through the entire series.

The Punisher is a grisly, gruesome piece of work, not meant for kids or the faint of heart, filled with intrigue and action, dark, bloody, and emotionally powerful. You watch it at your own peril, and once you start, you just might be a little bit hooked.

Rating: 6 stars out of 10. (after subtracting points for the content)

Grade: C-Minus. (also subtracting for the content)

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