This Week on TV, Nov. 18, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

With Inhumans having complete its first-season run last week, we are now following only two shows, until Agents of Shield joins back up in a couple weeks. Giving me lots of space to fill! 🙂

Both The Gifted and Gotham delivered strongly, both with characters wrestling with the darkness creeping up around and inside them, though the latter was definitely more disconcerting in its material.

Basically, a good week!

The Gifted

1.07 “eXtreme measures”

I am reminded of a quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where the creature tells his creator, “Beware, for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”

There are few things more dangerous than a man (or woman) who is willing to do anything, anything at all, to achieve their ends. When they are so driven that fear gets left behind, there are no limits to what they will do, and so the man becomes the monster. To stand in the path of such a monster is very, very dangerous.

These days, with greed and anger driving SS and desperation driving the Underground, there are far too many being driven beyond their fear, to take extreme measures and become monsters.

Over on Turner’s side, a woman from the DOJ has heard about what he has SS doing, including both the widespread surveillance without warrant, far exceeding congressional approval, and, now, Campbell’s idea of deploying their “mutant assets” (ie, the Hounds) in the field.

Turner was hesitant about the latter idea, uncertain of their ability to function as undercover agents, but Campbell was one step ahead on that. He deployed several of them into prison populations, where they remained undetected until they were activated, and they were quite effective, as demonstrated by the dead bodies in their wake. So, Turner is moving ahead, and he means to fight the DOJ woman with everything he has, but Campbell handles that too. He’s not about to let anything, or anyone, get in his way when he’s about to get what he wants. So, she suffers a mysterious stroke or something, the work of Campbell’s personal Hound, and Campbell himself gets to play the heroic figure, “saving her life.”

And Turner’s objection only lightly touches on what they’ve done, or who they’ve done it to, focusing on the potential repercussions. The DOJ will just send someone else, but Campbell argues that they have a few weeks to work with now, in which time they’ll end the Underground, wrap up their little war, get carte blanche for their success, and he will finally have the Strucker kids.

Moving over to the mutant side of things, Thunderbird heads out to find Blink. She knows where they are, she’s on her own, if she gets caught again, they’re screwed. It’s not easy to find her, but he manages. She’s not exactly happy with him, and figures that she doesn’t have a dog in the Underground’s fight, but she reluctantly accepts his help. She wants to find that road that she was opening a portal to before, but she’s not sure what she’s looking for and it wasn’t on the news, so she has no leads. But Thunderbird points out that she, herself, is the lead.

When an animal is hurt, it retreats to a safe place, like a nest or a den. Blink’s power went amok when she was hurt, and kept trying to go to a specific place. So, where would she feel safe? The answer is one of the foster home’s she was at before she ran away. She spent a couple years there with a very nice couple, they did a lot of work with mutant kids. It’s the best lead they have, so they follow it.

What they find is horrible.

Thunderbird senses it first, as they’re approaching, seeing tracks in the dirt, tracks made by heavy, booted feet. All at once, Blink’s potentially-happy homecoming is something out of a horror show, fear gripping her, driving her to run inside and see. The door is sealed by SS, though Thunderbird makes short work of the door. At first, it seems empty, but they find the back door full of bullet holes, blood all over the floor.

It’s plain to guess what happened: the humans escalated the fiasco on the road very quickly, so much that the Underground had to defend themselves, and then SS came in, found the first mutants they could scapegoat, and slaughtered the family. Or, at least, they murdered the human foster parents. They probably would have taken any mutant children they found.

The end result is that SS has more innocent blood on their hands, and the nearest thing to family Blink has ever known is dead.

She didn’t think the war was her concern before, but it certainly is now. She’s in.

Elsewhere, Eclipse answers that call from Carmen. He tries to refuse, but she doesn’t let up, so he comes up with an excuse, of going to one of the other stations to get supplies, and manages to get away for a bit. Polaris wanted to join him, but he just tells her to keep training the kids. She’s a little off-put by that, sort of sensing that something isn’t right, but letting him go without further dispute. That is, until she calls the station he was supposedly heading to, uncovering the lie. She does a quick search and finds his Santa Muerte pendant missing, which he wore for good luck all through his cartel days. Putting two and two together, she grabs Dreamer and off they go to suss out what’s happening and save Eclipse.

When Eclipse arrives at Carmen’s estate, she briefs him on what she wants, but also mentions what she can offer. The Underground is spread thin, with little in the way or resources to work with. She can offer them that, money and resources and connections, in exchange for their services, their special abilities, their power. Or course Eclipse rejects the offer on moral grounds, but she reminds him of how he used to be, how he thrived on the destruction he could unleash. The “good old days.”

And that’s the brilliance of what Carmen has in mind for the day. She takes Eclipse and another mutant along with her usual men to send a little message to some Russians who are encroaching on her territory. They wait for the right moment, storm through the gate, the other mutant freezes the guards in time, a nice, non-lethal way to do things, and Eclipse burns up their newly-arrived drugs in less than a minute, a job that would take any other crew much longer. The drugs burn at his hand, and Eclipse feels just a little satisfied, a toothy, pleasured smirk curling his lips upward. Carmen tells him that was perfectly done, giving him a peck on the cheek.

That last was witnessed by Polaris and Dreamer, who managed to catch up just in time for the fireworks. Seeing all of this, the destruction, the grin, the kiss, the darkness rising up within the man she loves, Polaris turns away in disgust and anger. She lets him have it when he returns, supplies and cash in hand. He’s going back to the cartel, to Carmen, and he’s protesting that he’s doing all of this for her, and so the divide begins.

How many times has this particular scenario played out? A man goes to work, working hard to provide for his family, gaining success and feeling the thrill of it, but it demands more time working and less time with the family, who feels the loss and wants him to come home, so there are a few fights, he yells, “I’m doing this for you!” though he’s also doing it for the recognition and reward at work, and the man feels like his wife doesn’t understand his sacrifices anymore, not like that woman at the office, who starts looking better and better while the family starts looking worse and worse, and suddenly, boom, he’s done something terrible and lost everything that truly matters.

How similar is that to what’s happening here? It’s true, Eclipse did do this for Polaris, and he’s able to bring back some desperately-needed supplies, and no one got hurt this time, but there’s more to it than that. It’s not just what he did, but how he enjoyed it. It may have begun for her, but he gains something from it too, something that he’s not supposed to want, but still likes, which he turned away from once but used to enjoy every day: a thrill, free from any pressure of fighting a war. After everything he’s been through, with everything he’s been up against, the simple act of destroying something, without fear, or remorse, would appeal to anyone. Polaris isn’t accepting it, nor should she, but Carmen wants it, a lot. Carmen understands him, and wants to bring him back into the darkness she lives in.

How do you think that story’s going to go?

The worst part is that there is some merit to Carmen’s offer. SS is sending turned mutants against the Underground, and they’re being treated like terrorists despite having done astoundingly little to earn it. Polite society is rejecting them because of something they did not choose, so why not join up with armed, ruthless people who are also rejected, but thrive anyway? The Underground is barely scraping by, while the cartel and other criminal organizations are living the high life. It would be all too easy, and all to believable, for mutants to find shelter with people like Carmen, and, really, it would just be a choice made in their endless struggle to survive.

Heck, once one criminal organization found success with such a partnership, it would only be a matter of time before their competitors did the same, turning it into a mutant arms race, thus safeguarding untold numbers of mutants all across the country. Not to mention, they thrive partially because of their connections within the government. Campbell can’t be the only lowlife with friends in high places. Perhaps the key to securing safety for their people would be found in simply buying enough politicians to legislate their freedom and protection. The possibilities are endless.

And, really, SS did it first, joining mutant and human power together, and they did so by brainwashing their victims. Certainly, they cannot rationally claim any moral high ground after that (and after what they did to the DOJ woman in this episode).

It is a sad fact of life that sometimes the nearest thing one may find to safety is in the darkness of doing bad things. But to be safe at the price of one’s soul, that is a high price. Even worse, there’s no real love to be found in the criminal underworld. The Underground lacks many things, but they still have love, actual love, the sort that drives them to do anything for each other. In the underworld, one is “loved” only as long as one is useful. The moment the cost outweighs the benefit, everything can implode in an instant. These are people who treat other people like cargo, who torture and kill their own friends as easily as they do their enemies. They are not to be trusted, and if it possible for this to be the salvation of the Underground, it is also possible for it to be its surest destruction.

It’s no easy choice, but, generally, when the choice is uncertain, I find it best to stand on firm moral ground: one might die on it, but it’s less likely to give way beneath your feet.

Wrapping this up with the Struckers again, Reed and another mutant are hard at work deciphering the files on the hard drives they stole. They find that there is, indeed, a program that has been snatching mutants out of the justice system, based on their abilities. They have the files on all the potential candidates, or at least all that this particular judge had in his possession, and it’s a long list.

As a side-effect of this, Reed stumbles onto a file about Wes, his daughter’s fledgling boyfriend. He’s a conman and a thief, it seems, and Reed, as a protective father, wants to take the fight straight to him at first. Cait convinces him to talk to Lauren first, which he does, but, again, as a protective father, he defaults to prosecutor-mode. That does not go so well, but it does inspire Lauren to talk to Wes, who confesses the truth. She’s understandably upset about this.

Reed asks, as if in passing, about the rules the Underground operates by. His new friend and coworker of sorts explains that there are things they don’t forgive, like rape and murder, but they generally demand nothing more than simply honesty. Trust is absolutely essential, so honesty is their primary rule. If one is dishonest, then they must leave.

Reed considers this, and he decides it’s not his decision to make. He talks to Wes, and leaves it to the young man to make his choice, one way or the other. Wes responds by revealing the truth of his past to the others. They don’t eject him out of the Underground, but they do ask him to go to a different station. Safe to say, he just earned a little respect from the Struckers as a whole, and now that he’s been honest, he’s also set things right with Lauren, who is a little torn at his departure. She catches him just as he’s leaving the next morning, kissing him goodbye.

Ah, first love stories in the mutant Underground. That could have been done a whole lot worse.

Finally, they manage to crack both drives, and there’s not much viable intelligence outside the identities of mutant chosen for the program, nothing on locations. They can’t follow a government trail to their quarry, because it’s not a government program, it’s a private military contractor, Campbell’s company, called Trask Industries.

Trask is a particular name in the X-Men universe. It was Bolivar Trask who created the first sentinels. Small wonder they’re so chummy with SS.

And here’s another bomb: Reed’s father worked for them, for decades. That’s how he knows Trask supposedly went under a long time ago. He doesn’t know, but it’s possible, his own father may have contributed to making the Hounds by experimenting on mutants, and now that same company is after the grandchildren of its old employee.

So, recap: there’s a little personal drama for Lauren, but Reed chose to act with trust and courage, which is far better than being driven beyond fear; Eclipse is getting seduced to the dark side partially because he was able to live without fear for just a moment; Blink’s wrath has been kindled by the murder of her family, so it seems she had something to fear, and Thunderbird is starting to look her way even while Dreamer snatches his attention; and the SS-Trask partnership has just destroyed an innocent woman before she could enforce the laws they’re breaking, and so it moves forward, complete with at least two dozen Hounds being sent in to infiltrate the Underground.

Did I miss anything?

Gotham

4.09 “Let Them Eat Pie”

This was a rather… unsettling episode. Or at least it had some rather unsettling elements. Cannibalism. Very, very, very… unsettling.

Professor Pyg hands out free donuts to the poor and destitute of Gotham, and lures six homeless vagrants to his lair with the promise of food. Like unwitting pigs to the slaughter, they go, eating delicious food, which is poisoned, and they die. He displays a couple of their corpses in front of the GCPD, complete with pigs to eat them, and thus he has the city’s attention again.

Which means he has Gordon’s attention again, on his first day as Captain, which Bullock remains angry about. He handles the spectacle easily and quickly enough, and directs his men in their search. Fox, in addition to pointing out how these poor souls have had their internal organs removed, is able to point them towards an old paper factory near the main body of the search. Gordon leads Harper in, and doesn’t wait for backup. They find that Pyg is cooking the meat from his victims, to what end they can’t guess because they are still sane. Unfortunately, while Gordon managed to catch up to Pyg a bit early, Pyg is still able to get the drop on Harper and use her as a hostage.

Now, Gordon is a good shot, and it is a cinematic piece of crap that an officer would put his gun down like that, especially at such a close range. But Gordon does, because television. So, Pyg makes off with Harper, but doesn’t kill her, perhaps seeing her as a genuinely honest cop, not on Penguin’s payroll. Leaving Gordon to play catch up again, and deal with the media. They aren’t gentle with him, and he does not mince words: it is his promise that the GCPD will stop this monster, period. And it’s possible that Pyg himself leaked that he was cooking his victims now.

Fortunately, Pyg left behind a quote to guide Gordon to him again. It refers to rich people eating poor people, specifically mentioning orphans, which… well, after dealing with the likes of Riddler, Mad Hatter, and such, he cracks the meaning in about a minute: Pyg is attacking the fundraiser for Sofia’s orphanage. He races there, but doesn’t bring backup out of fear for it being a trap that he does not want to lead his officers into. That was a mistake, as he walks in and finds that Pyg has hired help, just in time for him to be ambushed, knocked out, and locked in a room with the wounded Harper.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t a mistake, as there doubtless would have been police casualties otherwise. Still, it probably would have helped in the overall situation if he’d had some sort of backup.

Throughout this day, thus far, Penguin has been testing his suspicions of Sofia. He informs her of Gordon’s promotion to see her reaction, and promises to find whoever is truly responsible for it, beginning with the mayor, who has suddenly disappeared. Penn suggests, outside Sofia’s hearing range, that she might have made the mayor disappear, perhaps permanently. Perhaps they should interrogate her properly, but she is Penguin’s only friend now, so he needs an alternative approach. Penguin realizes he needs a spy, someone close to Sofia who can watch her without being noticed. Ah! The answer strikes: Martine, the boy from last episode.

Penguin approaches Martine while the boy is being fitted for a suit. He talks about Sofia, and shares his suspicion that she might not really be his friend, and might be using Martine. There are two possibilities there: she either chose Martine and groomed him to this purpose, or she just collected a number of children together, hoping one of them would bond with him. The latter is more likely, and Martine insists on it, so Penguin asks him to spy on Sofia. He agrees.

Penguin attends the fundraiser that evening, and Sofia is just mentioning that whoever installed Gordon and forced the end of the licensing system may have done him a favor and kept him from destruction. That might be valid, but it seems like she’s reaching on that one. He’s wanting her to simply confess her treachery and face the consequences, but they’re interrupted by Pyg’s latest spectacle.

Apparently, Pyg has seen and internalized Chicago.

He serves meat pies made from his victims, holding a blade to Martine’s throat to force the wealthy of Gotham to eat. One of the men, right next to Penguin, protests that the boy is “only an orphan, a street urchin,” so why eat human meat pies to save his life? Penguin answers that by ramming a utensil into the man’s skull.

Interesting how Penguin served a mother her children once, and now the Pyg serves the poor of Gotham to him and the rest of the elite, citing Penguin as his inspiration, the greatest glutton feeding on the people of Gotham, on the city’s very heart. True, in a way, and poetic, but Pyg really can’t claim any high ground when he’s the one forcing the literal playing out of the metaphor, having lured, betrayed, murdered, butchered, and cooked the people of Gotham with his own two hands, and now only getting what he wants by holding a hostage.

For Martine, Penguin stuffs his face full, though he has to combat the gag reflex in so doing (and so did I, watching this), and he goes further, threatening to hunt and kill anyone who doesn’t do likewise. Sofia, having protested and demanded the safety of her people and her children and gotten a fork through her hand for her trouble (that’s the one Penguin uses to kill his neighboring diner), is unable to handle her fork, so she asks Penguin to help her, for Martine’s sake. He does so, lifting the awful meal towards her lips.

This is one of those really hideous, nauseating horrors to behold.

Luckily, Pyg and his men are idiots in at least one regard: they did not search Harper. So, she still has a knife, which Gordon uses to pry the door hinges loose and get out just in time to end the bloody feast and spare Sofia the taste of human flesh. He takes out the henchmen in rapid succession, though Penguin refuses to let him shoot Pyg with the man has Martine, but Pyg releases the boy and attacks Gordon, letting Penguin get his young friend out.

The two men duel atop the dining table, Pyg’s blades flying as Gordon uses whatever he has on hand to stave off the blows, some of which come very close. Pyg has a definite advantage in size and weight, which not many of Gordon’s opponents can claim, and his speed belies his size. Gordon manages to deprive Pyg of one blade after another, but he still ends up on his back, Pyg’s last blade at his throat, pressing down. Pyg is just taunting him not to give up yet when Gordon pulls the fork out of the dead man’s head and plunges it into Pyg, which is poetic and effective. Gordon gets just enough breathing room to get the upper hand and beat Pyg down.

The terror is ended. And the press… actually tells Gordon thank you! Cool!

Sofia confesses to Penguin that, yes, she did get Gordon appointed as Captain. She says it was to save Penguin from the mistake of the licenses. He agrees to end the practice, but Gordon must not be Captain anymore. Sofia tells him to just pick someone else, then. Gordon means less than nothing to her.

Then Gordon comes, and where last episode ended with a nigh-severing of ties between them, Sofia is reaching out and finding purchase again. Not much, Gordon does not return her kiss this time, not that we see, but he still accepts it, just as he accepted what it meant to go to her father for help, and has accepted the position of Captain, because “he deserves it, and so does Gotham.”

That might not be cannibalism, but it’s still unsettling. Gordon should know better than anyone, no one simply deserves the Captaincy.

Sofia, I notice, is displaying something much more basic than I realized: she’s leading two men on, telling each of them that the other means nothing to her. It’s classic two-timing, and I doubt she’s loyal to either man. Heck, even her worst enemies might actually pause at the thought of harming all the children she’s surrounded herself with. They’re her human shields, her cover, her authentic justification for speaking with all the powerful people of Gotham. I hope there might be something redeeming about her, but even her willingness to have Penguin feed her human flesh for Martine, could have been self-serving, as everyone else already was. Everything about her is lies and manipulation, the cold and practical use of what seems to be warmth and compassion, to seduce and control others.

Is there anything real about this woman?

Certainly Penguin is getting wise to her act, as he has realized her duplicity, and even more: Martine informs him that she was kissing Gordon.

That is going to have some serious repercussions.

All in all, though, it’s a job well done. A dangerous maniac has been removed from the streets, and nobody at the orphanage was harmed by Pyg.

…oh, and Bruce’s continuing hissy fit is escalating, as he ditches Alfred after the man takes him on the traditional hike and shares a deeply personal story that, really, ought to illustrate that the man knows what Bruce is going through and can help. But instead of listening, Bruce snatches the car keys and drives back to the manor, letting his only real friend walk back to find a party in progress. Alfred intimidates the guests into going away, and they go to the club. Alfred keeps trying, but Bruce is lost and refusing to listen. He’s not just dealing with the fact that he killed a man, or even the sudden lack of purpose now that his revenge for his parents is finally complete, but also the fact that the success of his quest did nothing to change things.

Oh, fancy that, the world does not turn on the hinge of one, single act of justice and revenge. Welcome to the world, Bruce.

Bruce is many admirable things, but, right now, he is simple stubborn and unwilling to listen, and he’s distancing himself from the closest loved one he has. He waltzes out, demanding that Alfred just be his butler and clean up Bruce’s mess.

Sad day.

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