And then there were three. Doctor Who delivered a resoundingly excellent episode. Gotham is building towards its season finale in a few weeks with a serious uptake in action and an evolving mess of intrigue. And Arrow had its finale this week, and while it was tense and action-filled, it also left me feeling a bit lukewarm towards the series. I’m leaning towards dropping it from my lineup as of next season.
Wow. I think that might be the most emphatic warning of an impending threat we’ve yet seen in Doctor Who, and we’re only halfway through the season! Overall, I have to say… it’s a sudden and dramatic uptake in quality all around!
The episode begins with the Doctor lurking in front of the Vault, sinking low under the weight of his great mistake, the one which cost him his sight and made him, the Vault’s guardian, vulnerable. He’s making do with his glasses, psychically connecting their readings to his awareness, serving as a substitute of sorts, but he’s barely getting by.
Then he gets an email titled, “Extremis.”
The scene quite suddenly cuts to the Doctor in his classroom at night, when a number of men in priestly robes. They are come straight from the Vatican, in fact the Pope himself is there, to ask for the Doctor’s help.
Interspersed with the present events, we see the Doctor in the midst of some other robed men. They are a people devoted to execution in the service of justice. Today’s criminal: Missy. The Doctor is attending her execution, one which is likely to be a certain thing as the device they’ll use has been calibrated to stop both hearts, all three brain stems, and deliver a cellular shock to disable all regenerative ability. Not much point executing someone when they can just get right back up, after all. And then, just to be absolutely certain, her body will be put into a special chamber, guarded for a thousand years. Also, it must be a fellow Time Lord who flips the switch, so the Doctor isn’t just a witness, he’s her executioner.
Missy, of course, begs for her life. She begs the Doctor, a man who has spared her, and her previous incarnations, on any number of occasions, and she has gone on, every time, to make exponential additions to the list of atrocities she has committed, not least of which is the body count, and now she swears she will “turn good,” that he can teach her, etc. The desperate pleadings of a being who has never shown compassion to its many, many, many victims. Her execution is long overdue.
But can, and should, the Doctor be the one to do it?
To answer this question comes a “priest,” namely Nardole, sent by River Song to counsel the Doctor. The words she sends to him are those of virtue in extremis. The argument is that virtue is only true virtue if it is unbreakable, even and most especially in extreme situations. If there is no hope, no recognition, no reward involved – in short, if it is done privately and unselfishly, when it would be easy enough to bend, to break, and nobody would ever know – that is when virtue is proven. In the shadows, in the final hour, that is when we truly are true.
River Song saw enough the Doctor to know that he has remained true to the virtues he proclaims, even in the most “extreme” of situations, and that is why she loved him.
A none-too-subtle hint that the Doctor should not go through with executing Missy, who now, in her final moments, with nothing to gain, says she is his friend.
He flips the switch, and she falls over, but she’s not dead. He did a little something to the wiring so she was only knocked out. Then he and Nardole locked her in the Vault, which he swore to guard for a thousand years.
Oh, and he also cleared the unhappy executioners from the way simply by having them look up how many deaths he has been responsible for. That sends them running, complete with a, “Have a nice day!” LOL!
And that is how they got the Vault, where the oath came from, and how Nardole came to be the Doctor’s keeper, the only one authorized, by the Doctor’s wife, to kick his ass if needed. He doesn’t look like much, and he doesn’t seem like much, but he is proving to have impressive hidden depths.
Back in the present, the Pope’s request to the Doctor is somewhat intricate and urgent. There is a volume entitled Veritas locked away in the heart of their library of dangerous, heretical manuscripts. Something about this volume is so exceedingly dangerous that every person who has read it has taken their own lives. Also, the Vatican has received instructions from a Pope of a thousand years ago that they are to specifically ask the Doctor for assistance. So, they do. They ask him to risk the dangers of reading the Veritas manuscript. He accepts.
First, though, they pick up Bill. Interrupting her date with another lesbian by dropping the Pope into her bedroom. Yes, she is testy about that, but rises to the occasion and accompanying them.
I believe I recognized the library they went to from the trailers for this season, the one that had Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor walking towards a bunch of screaming shadow-face things or something like that. That could just be a fluke, but I was suddenly expecting something of significance was about to happen, and it did.
First, there’s the blue light, emanating from an opening, a door, a portal of some kind. There’s a figure in the light, but it closes as they approach. The cardinal guiding them takes a moment to examine the wall where the portal appeared, to try and determine if it has been breached. The others go straight for Veritas, and so they don’t see the twisted, withered hand suddenly reaching out of the wall and making the cardinal disappear without a trace. They do find the last living translator, who confesses sending a copy of Veritas to CERN via email before running off and shooting himself. In regards to that last, the Doctor sends Bill and Nardole to investigate.
Here, more kudos to Nardole, making it clear that he will protect Bill and expects her to follow any instructions he gives to that end, even if he has to kick her ass to make her do so. Also, more mistakes by the Doctor. He’s keeping his blindness from Bill so he doesn’t have to face it himself, and in so doing he opens up himself up to more threats. He sent Bill away with Nardole, leaving himself unprotected and vulnerable while he uses a device to temporarily restore his sight so he can read Veritas. That nearly costs him his life as the robed figure which made the cardinal disappear approaches and, as he’s still disoriented, binds him to a chair before he realizes he’s in the company of enemies. At which point all he can do is turn the lights off and escape with the laptop that has a copy of Veritas on it. The Doctor’s unreliable sight fails too soon, and he’s not only unable to read the file past the sub-title, “A Test of Shadows,” but he barely makes it out alive as the withered-monk-people pursue him.
While the Doctor is nearly getting killed, Bill and Nardole find another portal and investigate. They step through into a chamber with a dozen boxes projecting portals onto the walls. Through one, they find the Pentagon. Through another, they find CERN, where everyone has read Veritas and they’re all killing themselves together. They say they’re saving the world, which Bill questions. They explain by having Bill and Nardole, together, select numbers at random… and every number is the same. The scientists join in, and they’re all saying exactly the same numbers at the same time. The world isn’t real, they say, and Bill and Nardole flee from more than just the imminent explosion, in terror.
Nardole is the one to put things together as they step back into the portal room. What if the projectors creating the portals aren’t just projecting portals? What if they’re projecting the entire world and everyone in it? Testing the theory, Nardole steps behind the projectors, out of the light, into the darkness, “where all is revealed.” And then he disappears, bunch of computer bits coming apart at the seams. Again, Bill flees, this time to the White House, where she finds a President that has killed himself and the Doctor, who has just listened to Veritas, and explains.
The world is a simulation. The people, too, are simulations, including Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor. The simulation is crafted by an alien entity who running it as a test of Earth’s response when it invades. It’s practicing its conquest of the planet. They are a shadow world, crafted to bring about the real Earth’s downfall. That’s why they all choose the same numbers, because computers aren’t good at choosing at random. That’s why the withered monks called it a game. And it’s why the scientists said they were saving the world, not only protecting the shadow world from the truth, but also deleting themselves from the program, so the simulation will be incomplete, and maybe, just maybe, giving Earth a chance.
But there is no hope, none at all, for they themselves, as emphasized by the withered monk deleting Bill right in front of the Doctor.
It’s the ultimate extreme situation. There is no hope, no one to know, and no reward to be gained. But… that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do. The simulation, the Doctor says, is just a little too good. It includes his blindness and his glasses, which he now saves a memory file to, so he’ll remember this all the next time around, if things go that far. Ah, but the monk won’t let that happen… so the Doctor does one better. He emails the file, “Extremis,” to someone. Who? Heh, who else? He sends it to the real-world Doctor.
And that is what we’ve been watching. From the moment the Doctor opened the message, he was witnessing the memory, warning him of incoming danger. And he’s up, no longer stuck in the misery of his mistake. First he calls Bill, tells her to ask out that woman the shadow version of herself was on a date with. Then he faces the Vault, wherein lies Missy, his friend, and his ultimate last resort. His blindness is crippling, which means his ability to defend the world is weakened. If she’s all he has left to work with, then he will use her, and hope for the best. A desperate move, an insane idea, and the only one left to him after his calamitous errors.
So… how much time do they have left? Who and what is the enemy? Will Missy truly help them? And if so, can even she and a crippled Doctor stop what’s coming, when the enemy has infinite chances to practice its invasion?
3.19 “All Will Be Judged”
What was that I said last week about the intrigue being shepherded towards a violent culmination? More like being violently shoved off a cliff towards it!
Barnes is back, and he is force to be reckoned with!
Gordon and Bullock are trying to find the Court’s virus bomb – I’m betting there’s more than one – by finding their secret locations, their meeting places, safe houses, and storage spaces that they’ve hidden throughout the city. Gordon follows the money, looking into Catherine’s holdings, and finds a tenement building that has a discrepancy between blueprints and city records, indicating the presence of a secret room. Ah, detective work: going through massive amounts of information to find one single, critical piece of the puzzle.
It works out, they go and find the secret space. It also doesn’t work out, as Barnes, armed and armored, ambushes and overwhelms them. Bullock is knocked out and Gordon is kidnapped.
Catherine takes a moment to make it clear, she knows Gordon has betrayed her, and she knows, by extension, that Strange has also duped her. She’s cleaning house now, starting with giving Gordon to Barnes. Barnes goes through the motions of a “trial” before proclaiming Gordon guilty, sentencing him to death, and making to carry out said sentence. Gordon manages to trick Barnes, pulling the pin from one of Barnes’ grenades, but Barnes manages to take it out and toss it before he’s blown up (darn those quick, smart enemies!). But it does buy those last few seconds needed for Bullock and the GCPD to catch up, saving Gordon and forcing Barnes to flee. (whew!)
At this point, the Court and the GCPD are pretty much declaring open war on each other, starting with Catherine being brought in for questioning. And just as things are starting to go their way, here comes more bad news, in the form of Alfred.
Alfred is finally wise to Bruce’s abduction. Selina showed up and tried to kill Hush, and got knocked out again for her trouble, but she wounded him, and his lack of a reaction clued Alfred in. Hush managed to beat Alfred and escape without revealing anything, because even if he’s dying, his body is still plenty freakish strong. He didn’t kill either Alfred or Selina, though. He just left.
Alfred is frantic, but Selina is running on empty. She’s out of physical strength and, even more, the will to do anything. She and Bruce have been good friends for a couple of years now. He’s been good to her, and she’s been good to him, but now? Now she’s turning her back. She went to Wayne Manor for revenge, not to help anyone. She opened herself up to others once and got hurt for it, so she’s shutting down, focusing only on herself.
Alfred, a former soldier, sees that as betrayal, and banishes Selina from the manor forever, before going for the best and nearest help he can get: Gordon.
Yet again, Bruce has been kidnapped, and it takes nerve for Alfred to begin telling them about the Court, a story most would call crazy, but he finds Gordon and Bullock already up to speed. Very handy, that, and now they can all join forces. In comparing notes, Gordon and Bullock mention how they found a crystal owl statue, and when light shines through it, it reveals a map of Gotham, highlighting all of the Court’s secret locations, unfortunately it got blown to bits by Barnes. But Bruce, Alfred, and Selina found a similar statue months ago, and now it makes perfect sense why the Court would guard it and call it a weapon that can be used to destroy them. Knowledge is power, after all, and revealing all of their locations to an enemy could certainly destroy them. They could be hunted down without any place left to hide.
Small downside: Jerome broke the statue, but they know a guy who can put it back together well enough to get at the information within.
While that’s going on, they have Catherine to interrogate. They don’t learn much, outside the truth that she is not the true leader of the Court, but we certainly learn that Alfred won’t hesitate to torture an old woman if that woman knows anything about Bruce’s abduction. Unfortunately, Barnes comes crashing in, bulldozing straight through the bulk of the GCPD in the main room, overwhelming Alfred, Bullock, and Gordon as they try to take Catherine out the door, and not remotely hesitating to kill Catherine either. Hey, you play with fire, you get burned, Catherine. No one’s going to mourn her.
Gordon barely manages to get an edge on Barnes, by blowing the man’s entire hand off, and they take him into custody… for literally five minutes before he escapes again. Good grief, they just can’t catch a break, can they? But they do have the Court’s own map, at least, and an entire police force to mobilize against the Court. They still have a lot of work to do, finding the weapon, finding Bruce, and guarding against both Barnes and the mysterious leader of the Court, but they have a chance.
Speaking of Bruce and the leader, the two of them return to Gotham, at one of the Court’s secret locations. There, the old man tries to convince Bruce to give up the pain of his parents’ death. He only succeeds by showing him his own furious reaction to the Wayne’s deaths, where he killed the messenger who bore the news and tried to justify it by saying Thomas threatened exposure, as Gordon’s father once did. The old man declares that the Court has always been a means to an end, and with judgment finally at hand, the Court has served its purpose. Now it’s time for the Court to pay for its crimes, and for Bruce to become the city’s protector atop both its own ruin and the Court’s own broken bodies.
Bruce begins to believe there is a connection between him and the old man. I’m guessing the old man is his grandfather, either his mother’s father or, more likely, the eldest surviving Wayne. Which just makes what he does to Bruce all the more monstrous for that connection. Bruce finally relents, giving up his pain, and then the old man reveals that a young mind without pain is one that he can freely sculpt like clay, as the Court has done to the Talons. Feeling nothing, they will freely do everything they are told.
I almost called this one. I could see the old man’s hypocrisy, the lies, the facade he wore, and as head of the Court he is every bit as guilty of their crimes as the rest of the Court, yet he’s casting them aside now after using them. So, he was clearly anything but virtuous. Brainwashing Bruce, though, by tricking him into giving up the pain that anchors his humanity, oh, that’s even lower than I’d guessed.
So… if they’re going to save Bruce, how do they need to make him feel something again? Maybe get Selina to confess what she feels for him? Just a thought.
Elsewhere, Penguin and Riddler are both trying to escape while simultaneously trying to undermine each other. That goes about as expected, with neither of them making any headway, so they have to agree to work together. The terms are simple and firm: they form an alliance that will last for six hours, long enough to get out without having to guard against each other, and then they’ll be free to kill each other. It works, they dupe the guards and slaughter their way outside. Then they exchange a few more words and warnings, Penguin letting slip that he has an army of Indian Hill freaks, and walk away. War has been declared between the two men and those with them.
So, Riddler and Barbara will be fighting Penguin and his freaks while both sides and Alfred and the GCPD are going to war against the Court of Owls, who are about to destroy the city and be destroyed by their own leader, and somewhere in all of this, Barnes will still be running about. Have I missed anything?
Oh, and Thompkins.
Plagued by nightmares and guilt, Thompkins has willingly chosen to steal the GCPD’s sample of the Tetch virus and inject herself with it. She’s chosen to free and enhance her darkness.
When it rains, it pours, and Thompkins could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
5.23 “Lian Yu”
This is it. The literally-explosive season finale.
This is the end-game of Chase’s master plan.
It’s also the end of the five-year flashbacks. Free from the cage and the threat of suicide, Ollie rains homicidal havoc down on Kovar and his men. He cuts through them like a hot knife through warm butter. Kovar is last, and the man thinks he will at least have the vengeance of imprisoning Ollie on the island forever, just by making him miss the fishing boat. But Ollie finishes Kovar off quickly, and hastily disguises himself as dirty, ragged, with a wig and fake beard, before running for the coast and setting off the bonfire. And we have come full circle to the first moments of the show.
And we see Ollie on the boat, calling his mother. It’s so simple, and so heart-wrenching. He’s gone through so much, before and after this moment, but he’s finally hearing his mother’s voice again. The price is high, but he’s won at last.
I have to admit, I was wondering why he was so frantic in those first moments. I wasn’t sure why that would be so, but apparently he’d just come off a hellish ordeal and a narrow victory and was racing against time.
Back in the present, up against incredible odds, Ollie calls on his past enemies. He frees Captain Boomerang, promising his freedom in exchange for his help, and he makes a deal with Slade, who will don the Deathstroke mask again and help Ollie save his friends and family in exchange for freedom and help in finding his own son. That makes five, including Merlyn and Nyssa, searching Lian Yu for Ollie’s friends and enemies.
Boomerang’s alliance with Ollie is short-lived, as Chase already made him an offer, one more substantial that just freedom. As Merlyn and Nyssa go searching in another direction, Evelyn and Talia get the drop on Ollie and Slade, with Boomerang pulling a gun on them as well. But Slade is clever, and uses the assumption that he’ll betray Ollie too to get the drop on Boomerang, and the two men hold their own until Merlyn and Nyssa arrive, driving Talia and Boomerang to retreat, and leave Evelyn behind.
Appropriately, as they free Ollie’s friends from cages, they put Evelyn in one of them. She chose poorly, and have I mentioned how much I dislike what they did with her character? But what’s done is done. In similar spirit, with Thea freed, she is rather justifiably angry, but the situation is too dire for her to do anything but accept the help of both Slade and Merlyn. That’s one group of friends sent towards Chase’s plane to get off the island.
Not that easy, though.
Not only does Thea step on an old mine, but Boomerang is coming up on their tail with assassins in tow. Merlyn unceremoniously shoves his daughter off the mine, taking her place, and drawing Boomerang towards the mine. The team runs, and there’s an explosion not long behind them. It would appear that Merlyn has made the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter, an act that leaves Thea confused by conflicting emotions. She hated him so much, and was perfectly justified in that, but he still gave his life for her. What’s she supposed to feel about that?
As for Ollie and Slade, they pull the fake betrayal ruse for a second time, getting Ollie close enough to pass Curtis’ new canary collar to Dinah, freeing herself, Rene, Lance, and Digs. Then it’s an all-out melee, with Dinah and Siren colliding before Lance hits Siren over the head, Nyssa defeating Talia, and the rest of the assassins falling while Ollie takes on Chase himself, finally beating him, having him at his mercy, but still lacking on thing: his son.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team finds a sabotaged plane and a bomb in the ground. The bomb is one of many, placed all across the island, set to go off simultaneously via a wireless network the instant Chase dies. The man is really crazy, trying to goad Ollie into killing him again and again, just so the bombs will go off and kill everyone.
Chase manages to escape, with Ollie sending his assembled allies to the plane, not knowing about the sabotage, while he pursues Chase. Chase makes it to a small boat, getting off the island, but not before Ollie’s on the boat as well, and finally Chase reveals where William is: right there, on the boat, in the cabin. He tries to force Ollie to choose: either Ollie kills Chase, saving William but dooming everyone on the island, or Chase kills William in front of Ollie.
Ollie shoots Chase in the leg instead, saving William, but Chase kills himself. His final revenge is in his death, as the entire island goes up in flame.
Of course, had I been one of Ollie’s friends on the island, I probably would have avoided running across the explosive-riddled island and raced for the shore instead, taking the longer, safer way instead of running a gauntlet that I know was crafted by a homicidal madman, ya know? I’m guessing that’s how the team’s survived, but it does leave in question the fates of Evelyn, Talia, Siren, and the other assassins. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Merlyn managed to survive too.
We’ll just have to wait and see, which… is it odd that I don’t really feel any tension at this point? I mean, why bother? They did a better job with this season than they did with the previous two, but they also did a bit too much and we know the team has to have survived. I have no idea what they can or will do for next season, but I’m not feeling so invested in that anymore, ya know?
I’ll probably still follow the show, but I think I’ll drop it from my lineup next season.