This Week on TV, Mar. 31, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

And my lineup delivers again! 🙂

Black Lightning is driving us towards its first season finale in a few weeks, with the rising stakes as a nightmare from thirty years ago begins to repeat itself. Gotham launched a new arc as villains united to devastating effect. And Agents of Shield threw curve balls at us as the supposed end of the world begins to fall into place.

Yeah, much fun! 🙂

Black Lightning

1.10 “Sins of the Father: The Book of Redemption”

Needless to say, this one’s about the redemption of Gambi in Jeff’s eyes.

It actually works out pretty simply, really. After the long years of lies, though still lacking knowledge of the more unconscionable things Gambi did, like, say, be Eve’s assassin, Jeff’s faith is broken until he sees some proof of what Gambi will do for him and his family, like, say, take a remarkable beating for them.

Being not entirely an idiot, Proctor has figured out a few things. When Gambi broke into the facility in which the ASA is holding the suspended bodies of the kids they kidnapped three decades ago, he didn’t do so completely unnoticed. Then when he told Anissa and she told Jeff, after scouting the place, and Black Lightning and Thunder show up… well, Proctor realizes there is a connection between the two. Gambi, therefore, knows Black Lightning. Add that to how he raised the son of a man they arranged to be murdered as if the boy were his own, and the picture gets ever more damning. Gambi is a traitor to the ASA.

So Proctor has no qualms with taking Gambi from his shop, by the threat of shooting up the crowd outside, beating him, and, when that proves ineffective, bringing his adopted son in for a beating too.

Jeff and his family have their hands full already. Between the emergence of Jennifer’s powers, the sudden renewal of abductions of gifted kids, and ordinary life, there’s just too much to do.

Jennifer’s electrical abilities are like her father’s but with some differences like how she generates energy instead of just storing and controlling it. She’s a walking powerhouse. And she just wants to live a normal life. She goes just a tad too far, not wanting to understand her powers, but she’s realizing that she needs to understand them to avoid hurting anyone. She doesn’t owe it to the world to become a superhero just because she has some abilities, but she really should learn how to control herself, ya know?

Jeff’s old friend, Two-Bits, comes to him to report one of his students being kidnapped after displaying some abilities as well. The ASA is at it again, distributing Green Light and then scooping up the gifted kids right off the street. Jeff has Jennifer stay home from school that day just as a precaution, with Anissa at her side. The lab he raided with Anissa was emptied between her first visit and her second, and, unfortunately, that’s his best lead already gone. So he asks Two-Bits as Black Lightning for some info, gets another lead there.

Then there’s how Jeff, as principal of Garfield High, is trying to help straighten out this delinquent kid. He’s just starting to mentor him on Saturday when Proctor’s goons show up and take him hostage. He keeps calm, gets the kid out of there without alarming him, even gives him some poems to read to help him out.

That’s when Jeff sees how Gambi’s been beaten. He makes a power surge to knock the lights out, so Gambi can murder Proctor’s goons. The rift between the two is somewhat mended by that. There’s a reason people longing for forgiveness are prone to seek out beatings they can take, because it’s a physical proof of their remorse and a payment for their transgressions. So, Jeff trusts him, and listens when he talks about finding the scout, the one that’s actually finding these kids with abilities, someone embedded within the community.

That turns out to be Jeff’s own vice-principal, who Proctor lets in of Jeff’s secret identity. It doesn’t take a genius, with the timing of the surge, to figure it out. That gives the enemy a distinct advantage over Jeff and the others.

The Pierce family goes into hiding at the house Jeff grew up in and lost his father in, while Gambi recovers in his basement. The good guys are on major defensive action.

Oh, and Lala gets back into the drug trade, getting a colleague to front him a couple million in drugs, ignoring how the old drugs aren’t selling so well these days, using his own mother’s life as collateral. Sheesh, one always says, “they’d sell their own mother,” but I don’t think it’s ever been done quite so literally before. Then, of course, there’s how Lala is doing all of this while talking to the ghost of his cousin, also someone he murdered, and killing any uppity subordinates in his way. Not the sort I’d like to be beholden to, ya know?


4.16 “One of My Three Soups”

There is one thing which I wonder if Gotham will get right: displaying the city’s need for Batman.

One thing that many other depictions of the superhero have unfortunately done is diminish the competence and character of the GCPD officers, as a means of justifying Batman’s eternal, and somewhat doomed and futile, fight for the city. But with supervillains already arising on the show long before Batman, and the cops, under Gordon’s leadership, apparently handling them fairly well, is Bruce going to be the irrelevant one in this equation?

Certainly, he ought to play some pivotal part in this new arc, where the city plunges into a fresh crisis. But what?

Jerome’s plan, which he referred to with Penguin, is set into motion with his escape, in concert with that of Crane, Tetch, and dozens of other inmates. The Joker, the Scarecrow, and the Mad Hatter are working, the villains teaming up against the heroes and the city, and what a triumvirate of madness it is. Individually, each madman alone has already wreaked havoc, and now they are working towards something in unison. Simply reentering the city is an eruption of chaos, and that is literally just the beginning.

The Hatter, Tetch, is the first one to make a move, grabbing the city’s attention, and Gordon’s, with his latest stunt. But he departs from his usual game of choices as he simply crushes two people beneath a wrecking ball and hypnotizes a huge swathe of the city’s population to go up to the rooftops, stand on a ledge, and jump at midnight.

Gordon and Bullock are back in their old rhythm as partners, though, and the GCPD is behind them, with Harper taking point at the precinct. They figure out Tetch is using the radio to hypnotize all these people, but they can’t hit all the stations at once or trust to luck in hitting the right one. So Bullock does a brave, insane thing, checking each channel, finding the right one and passing it to Gordon, but he’s hypnotized too, joining the people on the roof.

It’s a huge risk, but it gets Gordon straight to his old enemy, and get his hands on him. Everyone is hypnotized to jump at midnight, jump if anyone tries to save them, and jump if they’re told to save themselves, effectively tying everyone’s hands, including Tetch’s. Just to make sure, Tetch tells them to obey the next voice they hear, leaving it all down to Gordon to figure out in an instant, and his interrogation of Tetch accomplishes little more than subduing the man and putting a hole in Tetch’s hand. More than well-deserved, but not helpful.

Gordon, however, finds exactly the right words to say. With his officers making sure everyone about to jump can hear his voice, he considers what to say. Tetch, of course, is too selfish to consider that any command might be given except to save themselves, but Gordon? He says three simple words: “Save each other.” Tetch had no guard against that, and it works brilliantly. All the people on the roofs, including Bullock, pull each other away from death.

The day is saved.

Bullock even gets a moment where he can tell Gordon that he was able to do something so crazy as to expose himself to Tetch’s hypnotism because he knew Gordon would save him. He trusted Gordon absolutely in that. That’s why he wants Gordon to keep on keeping on, instead of confessing everything about the Pyg, because everyone else trusts him too. They need him. Even if there’s a lie to him, Gordon is their hero, in a city that doesn’t have any. Bullock knows that better than most.

True, but I imagine that if the truth ever gets out, such as if Sofia Falcone ever wakes up, the results would be disastrous. For all that they’re doing, it may be that Gordon and Bullock are only delaying the inevitable. So, do they tell the truth now, or do they risk it ever coming out later? Who’s to say which course of action is correct?

Bruce enters the episode in relation to Jerome. Having once spared the man’s life, Bruce feels responsible for whatever the man does, whoever he hurts, from now on. Selina quite rightfully tells him that he needs to let go of that responsibility some, but she still helps him. As Bruce hilariously – he should have come up with a better lie like, say, “I was closer to here than my home when I heard Jerome escaped, and if it’s no bother, I’d appreciate being surrounded by armed, alert cops while I consider what to do if the worst madman in our city’s history comes after me again,” or something like that – distracts Harper outside Gordon’s office, Selina sneaks in and steals the file on Jerome, pointing Bruce to the man’s uncle, who the cops are already talking to. They don’t see Jerome under the table.

Jerome’s uncle abused him, it would seem, and begins the torment again when his nephew, having murdered his sister, comes for a visit. Said uncle was ready and waiting, though, having called the circus strong-man for help. The strong man holds him and the uncle pours boiling soup on his face. It seems like the worst madman Gotham ever knows has already met his match in his own family, and with a little luck, he won’t live out the night.

Since when does Gotham have luck, eh?

Firstly, the uncle should have just killed him instead of torturing him, and, secondly, Bruce arrives. I want to scream at him for being stupid and saving Jerome out of some over-the-top sense of morality. Don’t get me wrong, I support morality, but Jerome has plenty of bodies to his credit and plenty more just to come. I don’t know if you’ve seen Under the Red Hood, but it’s one of my favorites, and I agree with the Red Hood that the Joker needs to die, and anything else stupidly, mindlessly ignores the entire graveyards he fills, the thousands who suffer, the friends he cripples or kills. But Bruce being Bruce, he butts in, this time in exactly the wrong way at exactly the wrong time. Not only does he save Jerome, and get the uncle killed, but he needs Selina to come save him again. Which he responds to by keeping her from killing Jerome either, so he escapes with what he was after.

Not an excellent night for Bruce. Small wonder Selina bails after that debacle. About the most credit he gets in this episode is how he managed to turn the flirty tables on Selina, making like he was about to kiss her when he was opening the door for her. I love how that made her laugh, just a bit. They are so cute together!

So, after one heck of a night, Gordon gets a call from Bruce about Jerome, and that there’s something at a school called St. Ignatius. No idea what it is, but Bruce will definitely be due for a scolding from Gordon for his interference. It might be for the best, as I doubt Jerome would have stayed at his uncle’s mercy for very long, and it turns out things are all going according to the Joker’s plan anyway. Tetch’s scheme was all just a distraction to cover the movements of his colleagues. Jerome got the address he was after and Crane got his fear gas. They spring Crane before he even makes it back to Arkham. So much for that victory.

Finally, we have Barbara. Her headaches, vision of Ra’s, and glowing hand are all driving her up the wall, and all just because it hurts to much to let in memories from right after her death and resurrection. Tabitha riles her into letting the memories in, and what a revelation it is: Ra’s chose her to succeed him. The next Demon’s Head, leader of the League of Shadows.

…ok, I did not see that one coming!

The glowing hand is a beacon to call them, and so they come, men and women in black stepping out of the shadows. One man, chief among them, is unwilling to accept Barbara as their leader, so she kills him. When the rest make to challenge her as well, she meets them head-on, stepping forward… and they step back. That moment, that single instant, tells her much about them: they’re weak, and afraid, and unwilling to change. So she intends to make them, by seizing control of the league. The assassins bow… and then they die, literally shot in the back by the women behind them. And just like that, the sisters of the league are in charge and ready to move into the future.

Step one: telling Barbara everything she needs to know.

So, three of the series’ worst villains are working together, Gordon is barely holding it together as he saves the city, Bruce is meddling with mixed results, Selina is upset with him, destruction threatens the city again, and Barbara is now head of a female-led league of assassins.

Agents of Shield

5.16 “Rise and Shine”

And more pieces fall into place, as the threat of the Earth becoming many pieces draws nigh.

The episode starts with Coulson learning who he’s dealing with: Hydra. Hale’s group might (hopefully) be the last vestige of such, but they have gravitonium, Creel, Ivanov, robots, Strucker, Ruby, and more, including the general lack of regard for things like life, liberty, compassion, etc. But this episode follows the disparate pieces that have led to this moment, and explain what Hale is thinking when she says that Shield and Hydra need to be allies now.

The facility they’re in turns out to be a Hydra Academy, apparently. Hale was in it as a kid, alongside the elder Strucker, and is that a young Sitwel with them, or someone else? Whitehall himself visited for a guest lecture, the day before graduation. His project at the time involved a machine that could infuse a person’s DNA with physical materials, like lead, iron, hydrogen, material from the tesseract (infinity stone, I think, might be out of their league), or others. It’s a step towards creating the ultimate super soldier, perhaps with godlike power.

Hale distinguished herself to Whitehall for looking to the future rather than the past, looking up to outer space, beyond their world, for power. She was also top of her class, a position which, of course, turned envy and strife in her direction. A couple of boys bully her, and she strikes back at their leader, Strucker, not at all minding how he’s already been determined as the future leader of Hydra. Her friend… not that anyone in Hydra is actually a friend to anyone else… tells her she just destroyed her future with that. And isn’t that just so typical, where the organization telling the youth to “dismantle enslaving systems” is actually enslaving them?

Anyway, Hale has impressed Hydra’s leaders so much that they have something special in mind for her. She has vision to look to the future, strength and will to punch a prince, wit and cleverness and composure… and, of course, she passes Hydra’s “final exam.” We saw what that was back in the first season of the show, with Ward being given a dog to bond with for years, and then killing it.

Hydra’s great weakness is their struggle to eliminate weakness.

So, she’s a shoe-in for some high position, yes? Actually, for all her accomplishments and credits, Hydra just wants her, the last female of their graduating class, not for her brains or brawn or anything else, but only for her… ah, female parts. They want her to give birth to their future super soldier. Everything she worked for, gone, no matter what she might have done, and with her “weakness” of compassion gone, she had no interest in being a mother. Her future, what she wanted, is gone.

Fast forward to Ruby’s time in the academy. The product of Hydra’s science, breeding, and training, she is very strong. She is the future leader of Hydra, they say, but has some weakness which are glaring in the light of her strength. That turns out to be her unwillingness to kill her dog. Oh, sure, it’s a “right of passage,” and “kills weakness,” but it’s also a barbaric ritual that doesn’t really do them any good. Want proof? Hydra’s being exterminated from the world even as they speak. It’s the day, two years ago, when the military, under Talbot’s leadership and with intelligence from Shield in the shadows, annihilated Hydra off the face of the Earth… or, nearly so. Hale and Ruby stand as survivors, perhaps the last survivors, of that day.

Hale’s current endeavor also began on that day. She went to her superior, Fischer, who was trying to destroy evidence before Talbot arrived with his men. Fischer gave her an access card and some hasty instructions and explanations. After the Chitauri invasion in Avengers, Hydra found a few alien transmitters and decided to send a signal out into the cosmos. They were answered by the Confederacy, a collection of allied alien races. They worked out a deal, where the Confederacy protects Earth in exchange for things like gravitonium and Inhumans. With Hydra’s fall, Hale became humanity’s representative.

Fast forward again, to a couple months ago. We see Talbot, alive and awake in a hospital bed. But though he survived, his cognitive functions, especially the controlling of his impulses, were badly affected. So when Hale and the doctor wanted to transfer him to a facility to help with that, his wife let them take him, despite her reservations. She was tricked, poor woman, into giving her husband into Hydra captivity.

Talbot woke in the academy, and experienced a scene much like Strucker’s, emerging from his room, entering the cafeteria, Ruby’s entrance and silent treatment. He tried to force answers from her, but was quickly overpowered. Turns out, he had information Hale wanted, regarding the Hydra contraband the military collected, including that device which was Whitehall and Strucker’s project, infusing human DNA with foreign material. When Talbot wouldn’t talk, Hydra tortured him. He held out hope, for a little while, of Shield, of Coulson, coming to rescue him, but Shield was broken again and their leaders were cast to the future, so help never came. No one came for him.

Talbot just can’t seem to catch a break, can he? He’s been an enemy of Shield, he’s been a figurehead for them to hide behind, he’s been the butt of the show despite working tirelessly and risking much alongside them, most recently he was shot in the head, and though he’s alive he may never be the same, his career is over, and, oh, yes, he was locked in Hydra’s basement, after very nearly destroying them, with his wife’s unwitting approval and tortured for months, with nothing but faith, well-founded but ill-timed, that his most stalwart friend and ally would come and save him… but help never came.

Small wonder he broke, under Ruby’s tender tutelage, and gave them what they wanted.

And back we come to Coulson. He refuses to play Hale’s game with Ruby’s silent treatment in the cafeteria, skipping over that straight to the explaining. Hale gives him the quick rundown of the situation: the alien Confederacy surrounds them, and is warning them of an impending threat, a mighty warship coming to Earth. Coulson meets the alien, which I’m guessing is Kasius the Elder, and gets a glimpse of this. But he’s not buying it. He believes that they’ll take advantage and demand a hefty price. They need to resist the Confederacy.

Which is exactly what Hale wants.

She wants to rework the terms of the agreement, to show them that Earth is not to be trifled with, not to be enslaved, but strong and powerful in their own right. That requires a truly impressive display of force, which leads into what she’s doing now, bringing several projects together into one. There’s Whitehall’s infusion device, plus the gravitonium as the material in question, and all they need is for the right candidate to undergo the process. Ruby’s been raised to that end, and believes it’s hers by right, but Hale is not convinced she’s ready, or will ever be.

Daisy Johnson, on the other hand, the infamous Quake, who she sees as a truly potent weapon, refined by Coulson himself as his protege and, though she doesn’t know it, his chosen successor… now, she just might be the one. With all her skills, her strength, her power, with the addition of gravitonium to her DNA, she could be truly worth of the title which Whitehall bestowed on his project: the Destroyer of Worlds.

…and that is where she loses Coulson. For a moment, there was a chance, they might have worked together, but Coulson has seen how this plan turns out, and warns Hale against it. She finds it unbelievable, even insulting, just another man trying to stop her dreams for the future. Coulson is dragged away, screaming at her to listen, but she won’t.

Ruby visits Coulson with the promise of torture, displaying a broken Talbot as proof. She wants Daisy’s location, but she also wants to know how she fails, if the world is destroyed. I wonder about that. I don’t think it’s too much to think Ruby might destroy the world on purpose rather than by accident. But, either way, she is not happy at being anything but the best and most powerful. She got that from her mother.

Finally, back over in Shield, Daisy is trying to make the decisions necessary for finding Coulson while simultaneously refusing the leadership role he wants her to fill. They put together that Hale is Hydra easily enough, but where can they go from there? May is a capable mentor, and doing well at not seizing leadership herself, but she does have an idea: ask their supervillain friend in holding, Fitz, for some insight. He can’t help, though, without access to the computers, which Daisy is not about to let happen. Instead, she goes to ask Robin for help, risking her safety with Morse and Hunter.

It’s an interesting echo between Shield and Hydra, where Hale and Daisy are both saying that they need every weapon they can get in this fight. Same words, goals which can be easily confused, and yet they couldn’t be more different. Shield is meant to protect people within their freedom, while Hydra enslaves, and enslaves completely. Shield is ruled by laws, even if they’ve bent and broken them more than once, but ultimately guided by compassion, while a successful Hydra is the law itself, beyond reproach or accountability, and utterly lacks compassion. So, while they may often sound alike, they are absolute enemies.

Finally, we have Simmons. She and Mack finish Yo-Yo’s new robotic arms, during which Mack shares how Yo-Yo’s been acting like the future she survives to see is unchangeable. There’s something reassuring about that, knowing what will happen. It means, for instance, that the tremendous ordeal she and her new husband are enduring will pass. Deke, which, she shares with Fitz that he is their grandson, is proof that they endure. The two of them, they’re invincible. Something like that, it almost makes one wish for the successful end of the world, if it renders every trouble of the heart as impotent. There’s something telling there, too, where evading all such personal trouble is tied to the destruction of the world and all its people, with the last handful being enslaved by alien overlords. I like to think that I would choose to risk my heart instead, ya know?

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