This Week on TV, Jan. 6, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

Happy New Year! 🙂

So, the Holiday Drought ends in record time, though only two shows in my lineup (official or unofficial) aired this week.

The Gifted treated us to what it must feel like to be taking the slow way round to those apocalyptic futures that heroes are always transported to at some point in their epic stories, and now it’s small wonder so many people they find in those futures are sunken under despair and anger.

Agents of Shield, meanwhile, featured crap hitting the fan in the post-apocalyptic future that the agents have been trapped in, and the bodies are starting to pile up.

The Gifted

1.11 “3 X 1”

Well, I can certainly say they chose very well in picking Skyler Samuels to play the Cuckoos. She’s gorgeous, skilled at her thespian trade, has the perfect voice that’s right there between alluring and terrifying, exactly right for a seductive, manipulative destroyer, and performing one character in three different roles in sync with each other is no small feat. And not just anyone can make that Stepford schoolgirl look work so well.

Now that the Cuckoos have been unveiled, we get to see them unleashed. One of them alone was able to rescue the others from an impossible prison by manipulating the Underground by manipulating Turner and the SS by manipulating the Struckers. Now that all three of them are free again, able to act in concert even across great distance, Esme, Sophie, and Phoebe are anything but harmless.

ADD moment: the Cuckoo storyline in the comics, if I recall right, included five of them, with Mindee and Celeste being the missing names on the show at the moment. Esme turned on one of her sisters, Sophie, and was heavily involved in her death. She also tried to murder the woman from whose genetic material they were created, Emma Frost. She was eventually killed, leaving Phoebe, Mindee, and Celeste as the surviving three-in-one to the present day.

So… why did they pick the names “Esme” and “Sophie” for two of these three, hm?

These three certainly act and even speak in unison often enough, but even within a normal, human mind, there is division. We question ourselves, argue with ourselves, have doubts and fears and colliding ideals. It’s not too much to think that even the hive-mind of the Cuckoos could come apart in similar ways. But where normal human minds can simply crush thoughts or sentiments, “killing” them, it could be much more literal for these girls.

But I already digress.

The Cuckoos are part of the Hellfire Club, which is quickly coming into prominence on the show.

In the comics, they appear to be nothing more than an international social club for wealthy elites, but if the many puppet strings that offers isn’t scary enough, it’s run by a clandestine Inner Circle, a group of powerful mutants who use their connections to steer the world according to their own agenda. They come into frequent conflict with the X-Men.

Judging by the state of things, I’m guessing the Inner Circle has really mucked up that whole “steering the world” bit.

The Cuckoos are reporting to their superior, a black man who can apparently turn a small black bead into a small diamond. I don’t think I know who that one is, but apparently he was hired to “rebuild” the Hellfire club, and he looks to be a skilled businessman. Apparently, the X-Men and the Brotherhood aren’t the only organizations that took a beating over the last few years/decades. How bitterly ironic would it be if the X-Men demolished them years ago, and the chaos running rampant now, with a rising war between mutants and normal humans, is partially because they, like the other mutant organizations, weren’t around to prevent it?

Mr. Business, whoever he is, is running the finances and logistics, and does not appreciate the difficulties which arise in the wake of that massacre the unrepentant Cuckoos committed (bemoaning only the fact that they didn’t have time to kill all the SS agents there). Most especially, he sees the problem of the Hound program, which not only hasn’t been stopped, but is growing stronger and stronger in the wake of the events of last episode.

It’s so bad that the Inner Circle is growing concerned, and the Club has apparently diminished to the point that they don’t have the muscle and manpower to challenge the Hounds, Trask, Campbell, and SS directly. So, the Cuckoos are off to renew and deepen their grasp on the Underground. Bad blood at their last parting notwithstanding, the Cuckoos mowed straight through SS and incidentally rescued a dozen mutants, Blink and the Strucker kids among them. Between gratitude, effectiveness, and persuasion, they’re confident that they can bring the Underground into their fold.

It’s not like the Underground is either short on trouble or long on options. They’re just having a funeral for Dreamer, a bitter, heavy reminder of the stakes they’re fighting for: survival. Not even “acceptance,” just “survival.”

The episode opened with a flashback of Blink leaving a movie theater with her boyfriend, just living a peaceful life, but someone noticed she was a mutant and called in a mob of “Purifiers.” They harass her, threaten her, burn her car, tell her she has no business being around innocent people (tell it to a mirror!), and all she can do is run for her life. Her boyfriend doesn’t defend her or even stand with her. He sets himself apart as plain, ordinary human, and just tells her to go, to run. I can sort of understand that. There was nothing he could do against so many people, he reacted in a moment of fear for his life, and he advised her to escape, to be safe. And that’s just normal, everyday life for a mutant.

Dreamer, we learn, could have easily passed herself off as normal human for her entire life. She could have lived in peace. Instead, she joined the Underground, her “real family,” risked and lost her life fighting for them. She died trying to keep something from the enemy, too. I had many doubts and qualms and questions about Dreamer, but it’s funny how those are laid to rest alongside the deceased. She was good, and she did her best. And she died simply because other people refused to accept the mutants as humans. Eclipse is the one who mentions that they are just like humans: they bleed, they weep, they die, they mourn, they feel pain, etc. “Cut me, do I not bleed?”

Meanwhile, Turner speaks at the funeral of his friend and SS comrade, who was made to shoot himself, one of the worst violations I can conceive of. Turner talks about the fall of Lucifer, how God loved him, raised him up, made him powerful, made him beautiful, etc. but then, in his pride, Lucifer wanted to dethrone God, so he disobeyed and fell. He likens Lucifer to the gifted mutants who ask for tolerance and understanding while following their pride, but Turner swears to get justice for his friend, because he is done tolerating evil.

Which is a load of crap. This entire mess is because he tolerated, and empowered, the evil of SS and anti-mutant hatred in general, and the evil Trask, Campbell, and the Hound program specifically. He wasn’t even trying to be merciful, as Campbell mistakenly thinks, when he removed the mutants from Trask. Everything he does is in the name of his pain and his loss, and swearing to bring down the mutants who killed his friend is just more of the same.

Campbell himself manages to say, with a straight face, that he isn’t a monster, despite knowing that what he does is not humane. He thinks of it like the scientists who created the atomic bomb, and the burden they had to carry ever after for the lives their weapon took, but they did end a war and a crisis that threatened all of humanity. Perhaps, somewhere deep in the dark and twisted recesses of Campbell’s mind and soul, the man really does intend to save humanity from the mutants. But the part where he says, “I’m not a monster,” while doing monstrous things, that tells me he’s a liar, even if he’s lying first to himself. So, I call his motivations highly suspect.

Never trust a liar, and never trust a traitor.

Which will take us back to the Cuckoos and the Underground momentarily, but first: Campbell wants Turner’s support in his next endeavor, which is the next step of the Hound program.

The reason Campbell was so interested in the Struckers is actually the same reason he had the Cuckoos (the Frosts, as their official surname is) in his facility: he wanted to study the joining of mutant abilities to create something stronger. The Fenris phenomena of the Strucker family finally helped him put the pieces together. Now, he can take most any pair of mutants of lesser strength and abilities, and combine them into something greater, more powerful, and far more dangerous.

The result isn’t quite at the level of Fenris, capable of demolishing entire buildings in one blow, but even a pale imitation is an upgrade for Hounds which were practically pups before but are now leashed and ravening wolves, terrifying to behold. For instance: one mutant who negates gravity plus one who controls inertia equals “goodbye wall.” Or, walls, plural. In quick succession.

It’s a game changer, in so many ways. This mimicry of one of the most powerful and dangerous mutant abilities in history not only creates a powerful weapon, it does so with whatever mutants are on hand.

Before, the Hounds had to be sneaked in among the regulars, and their effectiveness was linked to how powerful they were normally. Stronger mutant, stronger Hound. But this? Where one high-level mutant could be a rogue before, now they take two fairly low-level mutants and turn them into a tank, something that can completely overpower even the bruisers of the Underground. Someone as powerful, precise, and trained as an X-Man could probably hold their own, but for the rest? Nope. So now SS has a weapon that can overwhelm their targets… and it wasn’t made from equally-powerful mutants, but from less powerful ones, which are far more numerous than the elite-level mutants of the X-Men, the Brotherhood, and the like.

That is a massive increase in available resources which can be used to create potent, devastating weapons. These upgraded Hounds can be mass-produced, and they’re stronger than even the strongest robots as of yet. Campbell just needs to get it off the ground.

Small wonder Turner signs on, as does the politician they meet with. After their first in-field demonstration, they get the green light to take things to a national level. There will be political fallout, people will gripe about the methods, but they’ll be safe from the mutant menace, supposedly, so their man in Washington can handle that side of things. Turner can direct everything in the field. Campbell can crank out his new anti-mutant weapon, with all the resources of the US government at his disposal, and he’s already looking to go global. An international effort by the US and their allies to wipe out the mutants all across the world. That is what’s on the horizon now, and coming closer at an alarming rate.

Which, of course, is why the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club is so very concerned. Thus the need to muscle up, which sends the Cuckoos back to the Underground. They get quite a chilly reception, but they say their piece and arguments swirl up in their wake. What they have to offer: information and resources. What they hope to gain: manpower. Simple exchange, simple alliance, and the Underground, originally sponsored by the X-Men, would come under the sway of their enemies.

But, then again, don’t all those apocalyptic futures involve the heroes working with their enemies in their fight for survival? Haven’t they already made temporary alliances with those same enemies? It’s not an easy choice, nor one to be taken lightly, but when the fight is against being slaughtered and rendered extinct by an unstoppable enemy, options are limited. Isn’t that the way of things with humans, fighting each other until a greater threat forces unity against a common enemy?

Oh, yes, the Underground is split on this issue, and the Cuckoos scheme, persuade, flatter, seduce, and, of course, manipulate with great skill. Not great enough that, from an outside perspective, it can’t be seen, but, still, they are skilled.

Thunderbird seems on the fence about it. He sees what’s happening, he knows they’ve just been pulled into a war with SS, courtesy of the Cuckoos, and he doesn’t want to lose any more of his friends like he just lost Dreamer. But, again, it is the Cuckoos who have just pulled them into a war, or did they? They were already at war, after all. But the massacre really didn’t help. And he probably knows he can’t trust them, or keep secrets from them. Still, he wants what they’re selling. He’s simply being objective about it, as much as he can be.

Blink mostly just wants to support Thunderbird, but she knows the Cuckoos saved them, and they’re powerful, and they have the same enemies. So, they can’t just ignore the offer.

Eclipse is absolutely opposed to the idea. They’re the Underground, if they wanted to kill their enemies, they’d have done so a thousand times already. But they haven’t. They shouldn’t. They mustn’t. Fresh off his experience with the cartel, it’s easy to see why he’s the most resistant to this idea, to the act of compromising their principles, their humanity. And he notices that the Cuckoos murdered a dozen people without blinking, and they have every upper hand: they know everything about them while remaining completely obscure. Oh, and the mutants they saved were just a side-effect of saving themselves.

Polaris is a warrior first, and she’s willing to work with the Cuckoos for the sake of practicality. Most especially, for the sake of her baby. It seems her pregnancy is making her stronger, she’s changing a bit. She feels great, which, as Eclipse has experience with her bipolar disorder – fun fact, in the comics, Polaris goes crazy because the magnetic waves she wields alter her brain chemistry – puts her husband understandably on edge. She’s getting more powerful, that’s for certain, and she’s willing to do what she has to in a war.

Of course, one of the Cuckoos talks to her in the middle of the night, and, maybe mistakenly, tries the flattery approach. She has Polaris intrigued with talk of an alliance, and especially with talk of protecting the baby and helping her through her latest “change.” But the offspring (of sorts) of Emma Frost, member of the Inner Circle, would certainly know a bit about Polaris’ actual background and place some value on it. Her father, fans of the comics will know, is none other than Magneto, founder of the Brotherhood, and, according to the Cuckoos, part of the Hellfire club and a king among them. Making Polaris and her baby royalty to them.

Interesting detail, but Polaris does not seem particularly interested in that.

The flattery thing works much better on Andy.

The Struckers decide to leave, head for Mexico. It’s a decision that Reed and Cait make without really including Andy and Lauren, which, I think, was a mistake, but they have a point. Things are very hot right now, and with the Cuckoos making their move, they don’t want to be anywhere around them. They think that they’ll be safer in Mexico, little suspecting the international influence their enemies are reaching for. Wherever they are, they’ll be in the fight, but maybe they could fight it somewhere else?

It’s understandable, but, I think, a huge mistake. Getting out is easy. Standing your ground is hard, and if the Underground is going the way of the Cuckoos, they’ll need every voice they can get to counter-balance them.

Eclipse says one of the most genuine and endearing things I’ve ever heard him say, when the Struckers tell him they feel the other mutants want them gone: “This mutant wants you hear.”

Lauren really doesn’t like it, but there is an upside to leaving. She’s noticed that the others are looking at them. They know something went down in Trask that left Dreamer dead, though they don’t know what it was. Maybe it’s better to get out before things turn hostile. And, as it happens, their exodus brings her back into contact with her boyfriend, Wes. It’ll be a bit before they can arrange transport south of the border, but she doesn’t mind waiting, and he makes her smile, which makes Reed and Cait smile.

It’s just Andy alone in the cold now. He doesn’t have anyone like that, and he wants, so much, to go back and fight. He hates how useless he is, as all youths do, and he hates having to take his father’s orders, also as all youths do. So when a Cuckoo comes and talks to him about how important he is, perhaps “the most important of all,” he likes what he’s hearing. The dark side is whispering in his ear, and he likes it.

The Cuckoos, heirs to Emma Frost; Polaris, daughter of Magneto; Andy, half of the new Fenris. They’re stocking up on the descendants of Hellfire, aren’t they?

Finally, after a full day to consider, Thunderbird brings Eclipse and Polaris in to decide what they’re going to do. If they say no, they might be signing their own death warrants, and the offer has already broken the Underground all around them. It’s a hard choice, even with Blink’s input, but it gets much easier when crap hits the fan.

SS hits the station the Struckers are at. The Cuckoos pass word of the impending attack to the Underground, and the bruisers/leaders race off to help. They’re too late to stop the attack, though, and it’s demolishing the building with the Fenris-enhanced Hounds tearing it apart. Wes manages to hide them, but Andy is hurt and knocked out and Lauren can barely hold a barrier up once Wes collapses. Blink gets them in, and they race to save the Struckers and Wes, while almost everyone else caught in the chaos is either screaming or surrendering. Polaris gets knocked way up off her feet, caught safely by Thunderbird but that was really scary for the pregnant lady to get tossed like that. They manage to get out, but SS finds the car before they can get back to it.

Then the Cuckoos whisper to Andy again and direct him on a path SS isn’t guarding, where the three of them wait with three cars to whisk them to safety.

And just like that, all hesitation is gone. The Underground is in, allying with the Cuckoos and, through them, the Hellfire Club and the Inner Circle.

Surprise, surprise, the Cuckoos were the ones who tipped off SS about the station too. A little demonstration of what’s coming for them all now, and a demonstration of how they can help.

So, looks like the Struckers can’t run away now. They, and the Underground, are being driven into a corner.

That’s not where you want to drive the people with superpowers. Anything, from rats to cats to rabbits to snakes to elephants to people to anything else you can name, is at its most dangerous when driven into a corner.

In summary: they can’t run, they can barely fight, they’re fracturing at the seams, the Cuckoos are the puppet strings bringing the Undergound under the umbrella of the Hellfire Club as the conflict escalates ever further, heroes have fallen on both sides, and Turner turns ever more to the dark side as the war intensifies.

Agents of Shield

5.06 “Fun & Games”

And the crap hits the fan, in which the agents have an amazing survival rate, but the natives of this future are dropping like flies.

As Kasius and his guests feast and make merry at the prospect of bloodshed and buying enslaved Inhumans, the effects trickle towards the upper levels of the Lighthouse. The Kree cull the older teenagers, looking for potential Inhumans, including Flint, a junker who sells odds and ends to get by and sleeps wherever he can find a spot. This upsets Tess because Vergil was soft on the boy, so she runs to Coulson, Mack, and Yo-Yo for support. She gives Flint some words as well, and then it’s time.

A Kree smashes a terrigen crystal, and the youths breathe it in. For a moment, it looks like everyone is spared, but then Flint gets crusty, as Mack puts it. Everything about this sickens Yo-Yo, who can’t just watch a boy be turned Inhuman and dragged away into slavery with everyone else just… watching. So, at the critical moment, she whisks Flint away. Not exactly subtle.

Now faced with either turning Flint over to the Kree or hiding him, Tess and the agents try hiding him. Tess wants to take the Trawler out, keep him hidden for maybe a couple of days. No idea on what to do after that, but it’s a step forward, so off she goes. That doesn’t go so well.

For one thing, her request to take the Trawler out brings Grill back to his workplace, where the agents are hiding out with Flint, just as Yo-Yo is telling him the story of her own terrigenesis. It’s a beautiful story, but Grill is the last one they wanted overhearing it. He locks the agents with their metrics and demands answers, but he puts a couple things together himself. Things like, Kasius will pay him a great deal for these three. And things like, Yo-Yo set his number two man up a couple episodes ago, so now Grill is really mad and happy to torture them for awhile. That’s when Flint’s power activates, and as he can apparently move rocks and stones, Grill gets squished like a bug beneath a really big rock.

After that, Flint panics and flees.

For another thing, Tess caught the Kree’s eye when she talked with Flint before his terrigenesis. She’s interrogated, and though it seems she’s fooled them for the moment, the next we see of her is of her body. The agents find her publicly displayed, knife in her chest, floating over the terrigenesis platform, with a note attached, demanding Flint’s return.

I really liked Tess, ya know?

Meanwhile, Kasius is in practically walking on air himself. He disdains his guests, most of whom have disdained him in the past, yet now he stands above them as they vie for his favor, to purchase the Destroyer of Worlds. He keeps an accommodating face, of course, one of absolute pleasure and joy to be in the company of people he hates.

And this is why I would suck at politics. I can’t lie worth a darn. If I don’t like someone, it’s going to show.

Fitz is fitting right in among the worst of the worst. Indeed, better than fitting in, he’s catching Kasius’ favor. He’s been billed as a marauder, with a large number of kills to his credit, and a truly massive fortune. Kasius and his warrior woman, Sinara (I finally caught her name this episode!), aren’t fools, and want to keep an eye on Fitz. Sinara has good instincts on that score, but Fitz is the psychotic, sociopath, crazy, bloodthirsty, coldblooded version of charming. He’s clearly a man of taste, more frank and less subtle, and less conforming. He has no need to bend to others, and he doesn’t bother disguising his insults. It makes for lively dinner conversation, which Kasius appreciates.

We learn, through conversation, that Kasius is on Earth by the will of his father. It’s an exile, looking after his father’s most modest venture at the butt-end of nowhere, while his brother is practicing running the family empire. There are significant issues there, which Fitz is able to take advantage of to ingratiate himself even further with Kasius. All things considered, it looks like Fitz will be able to get Daisy and Simmons out Kasius’ grip in the easiest way imaginable: buying them.

Heck, he did manage to get Kasius to give Simmons her sense of hearing back. Mind you, this was after he tried to talk to her, tell her everything he feels, and propose to her… her enforced silence probably fueling that anger he channeled in getting Kasius to let his slaves hear his guests. That left the three of them, with Enoch lurking in the background, free to coordinate their next move more precisely. When Kasius turns Daisy’s inhibitor off just before the fight, that’s when they can make their move.

That turns out to be an important choice, because someone new arrives on the scene. If Kasius hoped that gaining a fortune would wash away his shame in his father’s eyes, he gets something even better as the son his father actually favors has been sent to procure Quake personally. He should have guessed, I think, that Faulnak (I think) would find some way to sour things. He outright tells Kasius that Quake had better be what has been advertised or he would remind his brother “how many shapes his anger takes.” He’s quick to offer demonstrations, apparently, but he manages to strike at Kasius even before the fight, just because he’s angry at being sent such a long way. Faulnak simply refuses the idea of displaying Quake against another Inhuman, insisting that she be tested against Kasius’ single greatest warrior, Sinara.

And Kasius agrees. He’s suddenly in an inferior position with Faulnak in the room, and Sinara knows she’s being sent straight to her death by the man she’s served so faithfully. What goes around, comes around, Sinara.

Oh, and this is after the opening event, where Ben the mind-reader was made to fight May, agent of Shield. May didn’t exactly do a bad job, but with her leg hurt and whatever other injuries Sinara inflicted on her, she was at a severe disadvantage, and only barely managed to convince Ben to help her survive by getting her sent to the surface and the roaches. (I’m betting against the roaches) But Ben was still executed, for lying to his master Kasius, by Sinara’s hand, while Daisy begged for his life.

Ben’s last words, to her mind, were to tell her not to blame herself. But since when does Daisy not hold herself accountable for her actions?

So, when Daisy finds herself facing Sinara in the arena, she does not hold back. She wins, and not by a small margin. Sinara survives only because Daisy has other business to be about. With a force field between them, she needs Fitz and Simmons to make their move so she can strike at the head of the beast. Simmons cuts Kasius’ throat from behind, Fitz ices several others and turns off the field, and Quake rises to strike at her captors… except that Simmons failed to grab the inhibitor control device, so Faulnak just turned it back on, leaving her powerless and dropping back to the ground.

Fitz-Simmons jump over the railing into the ring, leaving iced guests and a reactivated field behind them. They grab Daisy and go, right after kissing and getting engaged in the middle of the action. Heh.

Vergil, Tess, Grill, and Ben have all died, three in this episode alone, leaving an Inhuman Flint running around alone, May has been exiled to the surface – apparently the roaches are war beasts sent by Faulnak as a “gift” to his brother or something like that – Daisy is unconscious and powerless, Fitz-Simmons is revealed to the enemy, everyone in the Lighthouse will have their fate sealed by Kree family politics, Coulson, Mack, and Yo-Yo are separated and out of touch with everyone, and Deke is going to be furious when he eventually gets out of his quarters. There’s still the question of who is on the surface, asking about the agents, and there’s also a question about what Enoch is doing. He can apparently turn his skin blue too, and, impersonating a Kree, is going somewhere. The surface, maybe? No, wait, Fitz had an errand for him that they didn’t tell the audience about.

Lots of moving parts, with the locals getting squished in the gears.

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