This Week on TV, Apr. 21, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

This was a pretty exciting week, as it most certainly should be when we’re in the home stretch of the season. Black Lightning aired its first season finale, which was fun, and tender, and full of things that went boom. Gotham and Agents of Shield are building up their respective finales as well, with pivotal moments, ever-rising stakes, and some rather torturous scenes of characters being driven to their limits and beyond. So, exciting week.

Black Lightning

1.13 “Shadow of Death”

Thou I walk through the valley of such, I will fear no evil. Probably the best episode title they’ve yet had: foreboding and simple.

Jeff has lived in the shadow of his father’s death for three decades now, and now, as he hangs precariously between life and death himself, we get to see a bit of Alvin Pierce himself. Some memories, including one time Gambi met with him to try and convince him to be more careful, which, we know how that ended, and another when he lectured his son for violent behavior at school and a resulting suspension… and then a moment where Jeff, the grown man, speaks with the spirit of his father. Tender, and touching, and profound, that moment.

Jeff’s afraid of how disappointed Alvin will be because of his violent vigilantism, and also his survivor’s guilt for not helping his father somehow that night when Tobias invaded their home. But Alvin, despite lacking any omniscience, is able to reassure him. He did was he should have when he hid and stayed hidden, stayed alive. And as for the violence and pain, well, his father doesn’t hold that against him, only hopes that it was worth it… but only Jeff can know if it is.

So, a father-son moment, beautiful, but it must end. It’s not Jeff’s time yet, and he can’t stay. So his father sends him on up, back into the living, conscious world, where Gambi, Lynn, Anissa, and Jennifer are waiting anxiously for him.

Up in the waking world, while Jeff sleeps, Lynn never leaves his side, Anissa wants to go pound the enemy to dust and is barely restrained by Gambi’s voice of reason, and Jennifer is just trying to process. Gambi explains to her, and us, what’s been going on. The ASA’s experimentation has yielded some interesting results over the years, including the serum the Tobias takes, making him stronger and age far slower. Syonide is his protege, a girl with a troubled, traumatic past, which he raised into his personal assassin, including he insertion of some carbon-fiber beneath her skin, as a permanent form of body armor. And Khalil’s spine is reinforced with some kind of synthetic liquid metal, but somehow this is making his body produce a neuro-toxin, which they weaponized with his darts. They call him Painkiller now, over in Tobias’ camp.

Speaking of, Khalil is apologizing to Tobias for killing Black Lightning instead of capturing him, but Tobias is not mad at all. The only inconvenience it causes him is having to step up his time table for removing Proctor. That’s what Lala’s renewed life is really for. Tobias killed him and brought him back, crazy and without answers and robbed of his own free will, just to use him as a Trojan Horse. As Proctor can’t find Tobias, his men bring in Lala, who promptly detonates the bomb in his stomach. Now that is twisted, using a man like that.

Of course, Proctor has absolutely no feeling for his men at all, calmly walking away and plotting his next move even before they’ve actually been blown up. He’s just concerned about a time table, as he has about ten hours to get Black Lightning’s DNA and use it to craft a solution that will save the deteriorating lives of all the older metahuman kids he abducted three decades ago, so he can turn them into an army.

ADD moment: not that I buy Trump’s “make America great again” schtick, but, really? They actually went there?

Moving on.

Proctor is so obsessed with getting what he wants that the instant they have a bead on Black Lightning’s location, he immediately sends his soldiers in. They’re reading for Thunder, and they outgun Gambi, but they think Black Lightning is dead, so they aren’t ready for him or for Lynn and Jennifer. There’s a bit of a scare, when it seems that Jeff’s powers are gone, but he’s just a really drained battery, which, one good jolt from Jennifer sorts him out. Jump-start, metahuman style.

So, Gambi and the Pierce family take out the ASA soldiers in short order, and get out just as Henderson descends on the scene with every cop he can get his hands on. Meanwhile, Tobias pounces on the opportunity which Proctor’s unrestrained behavior presents, striking at his base while all his best soldiers are away, and slaughtering everyone to a man. Proctor escapes, being certain to leave everyone behind, but he lacks a case he tried to take with him. Tobias wins, hands down, and the ASA is laid low in two places on the same night.

Detail: it’s not actually the ASA. Proctor’s been using ASA resources, yes, but he’s gone rogue in pursuit of his metahuman army. Gambi realized this when Proctor didn’t call for any reinforcements, and the man brags about it when he’s cornered in the facility with the surviving kidnapped kids by the assembled Pierce family. He’s both unrepentant and stupid in how he presents the situation to the people surrounding him, glorying in how, once Jeff gives him a sample of his DNA and he saves the kids and begins his army, he’ll be welcomed back into the main ASA without so much as a smack on his wrists, especially when he comes bearing the Pierce family secret. That was really not the smartest approach. Gambi just shoots him dead and cleans up while Lynn and the others figure out how to help the kids. Lynn says she knows someone who can help, but we don’t know who yet.

So, the illegal human experiments are finally exposed in Freeland, Black Lightning gets a reprieve, hopefully the kids are helped, and the Pierce family is together, strong, and safe.

Now what was in the briefcase that made Tobias smile so much, as he crowned himself the king of Freeland?

We’ll just have to wait for next season to find out!

Gotham

4.19 “To Our Deaths and Beyond”

Well. That happened.

With this season’s finale coming up quick, they waste no time piling up the stakes.

Most of the action takes place over with Barbara, Tabitha, Selina, Bruce, Alfred, the divided League… and a resurrected Ra’s al’Ghul. The surviving men of the League use Tabitha to get to Selina to get to Bruce so they can offer his blood – very unwillingly given – and bring Ra’s back, albeit as an undead zombie. Nobody is exactly happy about this, least of all Bruce or Ra’s, but they’re in the thick of it already, so, on with the business at hand.

The League does not truly accept Barbara, as the men see she is of limited ambition and selfishness, and even the women see that she falls far short of what a Demon’s Head is supposed to be capable of. Ra’s himself is severely disappointed when he confronts Barbara, as she’s not doing anything remotely like what he hoped for when he bequeathed the Head to her. So he tries to take it back by force, cutting through Barbara’s adherents with little difficulty. She’s only saved by Tabitha and Bruce.

Putting their heads together for a moment, they know that only one knife can kill Ra’s and only if Bruce is wielding it. Though Barbara thinks she can do the job fine on her own, that still leaves the problem of getting said knife from the local Nanda Parbat embassy. They can’t just sneak in, and they can’t storm the place, so they improvise a little, have Tabi and Alfred distract security while Selina drops in and lifts the knife behind their backs. And then things immediately fall apart, with Barbara and Tabitha taking the knife to kill Ra’s on their own.

Selina is caught between the two sides, as usual. She’s friends with everyone, and they’re refusing to work together. They keep trying to drag her to one side of the line or the other, and she’s wondering why they can’t just focus on the threat coming for all of them. She went with the girls at first because she hoped they had a proper plan, and because she doesn’t want to put Bruce through the ordeal of killing Ra’s all over again. They just barely got out of that particular mountain of emotional and psychological fallout, and that was due to Bruce’s Ivy-enabled hallucinatory trip to his inner self. So, not wanting to start that all over again! But as Barbara doesn’t seem to have anything more than “stab Ra’s and hope it works, despite the guide of previous experience,” she goes to Bruce asking for help.

It’s a showdown between Barbara and Ra’s, the boys vs the girls, and it yields some surprising results. When the knife doesn’t work in Barbara’s hand (no surprise there), and her followers keep Bruce from interfering properly, Barbara manages to actually unlock a portion of the power of the Demon’s Head, standing almost on equal ground with Ra’s, though she had to experience the trauma of her own would-be death to get that far. Then, just when she’s made the power hers, she chooses to give it back to Ra’s, rather than let him kill Tabitha. Of all things, Barbara actually cares enough to sacrifice something she wanted for herself. That is a surprise.

And so Ra’s is restored, fully this time, and not looking to let/make Bruce kill him again. He explains that later, crashing a tender moment between him and Selina, telling Bruce that he had a vision. A cataclysm, the city burning, a terrible ordeal which, if it doesn’t kill Bruce, it will be what Ra’s uses to forge him into Gotham’s Dark Knight.

I am starting to wonder just how many disasters one city can possibly take.

I am also starting to get annoyed by how they went back to the idea of Batman being the bad guys’ idea, ya know?

As for Barbara and Tabitha, they still have the loyalty of the League’s women, even more so because Barbara actually fought, for once, not for herself, but for those by her side, and she made a great sacrifice, giving up the power. In their eyes, she is worthy, and for once, I agree… well, a little, anyway. More like I see something worthwhile in her, which I haven’t seen in quite awhile. …actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever saw anything worthwhile in her character until now.

Over on the more mundane side of things, Lee and Riddler commence their bank-robbing spree. Five banks, all in one night, without a single casualty, and a few million dollars given willy-nilly to the people of the Narrows. (that would not work, but whatever) It’s only the first stage of the plan, though, and they have Gordon to tangle with on one side, and Penguin, with Grundy-Butch in tow, on the other.

Gordon stops by to talk to Lee, and leaves half-convinced that he should go after the company that’s being robbed, but it does give his men a lead on the robbers’ next target, because the bank put all its assets together in one place, a contingency plan put in place after the repeated disasters in Gotham.

Clearly the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” should include an addendum about, “Especially when you see something coming to break them.”

Penguin and Butch are a bit more tricky to deal with. They come to Lee and Riddler looking to get in on the action, and relying on their previous friendships with the robbers to make them feel obligated towards letting them have their way. It doesn’t work, and Penguin leaves Riddler with a barb about how Lee is clearly using him, stringing him along. Riddler himself wonders about that, and Lee is able to playfully tease him about it, in a seductive sort of way, but the doubt persists, so much that he sees Nygma, his alter-ego, in the mirror, a complete reversal of how it used to be.

Stung outside and inside, Riddler goes to Penguin and Butch, betraying Lee… but, then he turns that betrayal back on Penguin and Butch. He just needed Butch so they could get in the vault, steal the money, and burn a bunch of property records for the Narrows. And he makes himself clear: he does not mean to be Penguin’s enemy, but he stands with Lee.

In regards to that last, he tells Lee that he understands how she’s changed, better than Nygma did. The virus changed her, and when she shot Sofia in the head, she let her darkness out again. She likes it, and he loves it so much that he’s willing to be patient for her to love him back in truth.

Unfortunately for the criminal couple, Gordon shows up much sooner than expected. Lee, showing her trust and affection for Riddler with her actions, walks out the front door, shocking the cops and letting Gordon cuff her, keeping him distracted while Riddler drives off with the stolen cash.

So, Barbara isn’t the Demon’s Head, but she still has a new following of female assassins, Tabitha at her side, Ra’s is back and scheming with the benefits of foreknowledge, Bruce can’t take an evening off with Selina with an enemy crashing the scene, a cataclysm is soon to fall on the city (again), Riddler belongs to Lee, whom Gordon arrests… yeah, lots going on, as the clock ticks on towards the true birth of the Batman.

Agents of Shield

5.18 “All Roads Lead…”

…to Rome, the saying goes, but in this case perhaps one might say “to ruin” or “to the end of the world.”

With Talbot’s compliance programming activated, he searches through the base for none other than Robin. He finds her room on the cameras, looks through her drawings, surprises Robin and her mother when they return, asks questions, then renders Robin’s mother unconscious as he tries to steal her away for Hale and Hydra. Robin didn’t do anything, and I wonder a bit if she’s even capable of actively resisting what happens. To her, everything has already happened, so what’s it matter if she’s abducted, if she’s exiled, if she’s killed, etc.? Fortunately, Talbot doesn’t make it out of the base. Mack and Coulson stop him, and keep him from killing himself either, which was quite the harrowing moment.

This all happens while Daisy, May, and most of the other agents are away, taking the fight to the the enemy. They find Hale’s base and attack, hitting hard, only to find Hale ready to surrender. With Ruby and Strucker gone rogue, they need to work together to save everyone. The villainous couple drive Fitz-Simmons to fix the chamber and infuse Ruby with gravitonium, ignorant of the true danger they face. Hale just barely learned that from Creel, and she informs Shield, but Ruby doesn’t know. The two men who have been absorbed by the gravitonium, their minds remain within it, trapped forever and screaming for release. It’s tearing Creel’s mind apart, and he was in contact with it for barely a few moments. Becoming one with it will certainly be infinitely worse.

Shield arrives in force, but too late. The process is already begun, and though it only runs about 8% of the way towards completion, the damage is done. Ruby wields the power of gravitonium, but she can’t control it, not really, as is demonstrated when she crushes Strucker’s head when she only meant to caress his cheek. Her mind is already being drowned by the shouts of the men inside it, reducing her to a screaming, weeping girl, and a dangerous one. May gets Fitz-Simmons out, but then Yo-Yo arrives, in pain from her robot arms backfiring on her, and seeing not a girl in need of help, but the one who severed her arms in the first place, now wielding the gravity-power that will destroy the world. So she opens Ruby’s throat with her own blade.

There’s a flash, a discharge of power, giving Hale a moment to escape while the Inhuman agents are down. And she, a mother who just watched her daughter die in her arms, goes to the Confederacy, to Kovus, I think the name was, and all but bids him to destroy Shield completely. He wants the gravitonium, and she wants revenge on the people who killed her daughter.

Yo-Yo thinks she saved the world just now. She really didn’t.

So, Shield’s earthbound enemies are all brought low, they managed to save their friends, and they have the gravitonium, complete with the two minds trapped within, but this was definitely not a victory. The worst is about to come, as the finale approaches (and in close concert with the release of Infinity War, which I am so going to see at first opportunity… even if that opportunity isn’t on opening weekend as I would have preferred, but oh well).

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Sunday’s Wisdom #178: Overcoming Terror

“Standing up to terror is the only way to take its power away.”
– Bruce Wayne, Gotham
Season 4, Episode 18, “That’s Entertainment”

From this week’s episode of Gotham, a simple, powerful quote.

This one resonates with me simply because… well, anywhere you go, people will be trying to avoid something terrible. In some cases, it might not be that bad, but in others, it can be a matter of life and death. It’s a natural reaction, then, to just try to avoid catching the attention of those who would do you harm. One looks down, avoiding eye contact, hunkering, hiding, trying to escape notice. It’s normal. It might even be all one thinks one can do.

But here’s the thing: living in fear isn’t any kind of way to live.

To spend every day hiding, looking down, hoping just to not be noticed… that’s not a good life.

Now, I don’t mean to discredit anyone who lives that way. I’ve done that plenty of times, and I’ve never had my life at stake, so I am hardly fit to judge. Indeed, it takes a certain strength to endure a life like that, I think. So, I don’t mean to judge, let me be clear. All I mean to say is that there is a better way to live.

It must be understood, when one stands up against terror, one is imminently risking one’s life. Bruce himself is aware of this, as he’s standing against one of the most violent and terrible madmen his city has ever seen. But he trusts his friends to save him, and even if they fail, even if he dies… he’s still choosing to make his stand.

All evil needs to win is for good men to do nothing, as the saying goes, and evil preys on the weak because it fears the strong.

Until the day when people everywhere stand against terror instead of kneeling to it, they will always be its victims.

But on that day, the day they rise, that is the day they will finally be free, because terror will have no more power over them, not ever again.

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This Week on TV, Apr. 14, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

So, first off: because I know your worlds just absolutely revolve around my little musings (lol), let me say, I am so sorry for the lack of posting last week. Between moving into a new apartment, some new, important responsibilities in real life, and how the Comcast guy was apparently in Alaska at the time – which is hilarious, considering that’s where I grew up – let’s just say it’s a small miracle that I’m posting this week, and last week was just utterly hosed.

As such, we’re commenting on two weeks this week. So, it’s This Week and Last Week on TV. 🙂

And what weeks they were! Black Lightning is driving us headlong towards its first season finale, Gotham baited-and-switched us several times over, and, finally, Agents of Shield is paving the way for its own finale in a few weeks by piling on the escalating action.

Commenting on them fairly lightly, I think, because we’re still putting things together in real life, but I hope you enjoy it!

Black Lightning

1.11 “Black Jesus: The Book of Crucifixion”
& 1.12 “The Resurrection and the Light: The Book of Pain”

So, Proctor, convinced, for good reason, that Jeff is Black Lightning, sends Jeff’s vice-principal, I’ve completely forgotten her name… ah, Kara, thank you Wikipedia… to retrieve him. She uses a couple crooked cops to frame Jeff and have him arrested for dealing Green Light, then he’s to be taken by higher authorities to an ASA black site. Fortunately, he has friends looking out for him.

Gambi and Anissa take on the task of trying to redirect the ASA’s interest by “proving” that Jeff isn’t Black Lightning. So they rig up some gear, including a hologram and a self-driving van, to make a public spectacle. That’s enough to convince Kara, who was never really convinced in the first place, and she lets the ball drop on her end.

Still, Proctor probably would have taken Jeff anyway if not for Henderson’s interference. He digs up some easy dirt on a low-level corrupt cop and gets him to turn on their superior officer. With that, he’s able to exonerate Jeff before the ASA can show up, and, bonus, he ousts a pair of corrupt officers and gets a promotion. He’s dedicated to giving Freeland a better police force, which they certainly stand in desperate need of. I worry that the ASA won’t like losing that particular local connection, and they may retaliate in some way, but, for the moment, things might actually be looking up.

That, however, might just be because Proctor’s focused on Black Lightning. Tobias returns to the screen, and through him we get a pretty full explanation of things from Proctor. Three decades ago, the ASA ran an experiment with a drug that was supposed to make people passive, easier to control. Instead, it turned some of them into metahumans. They liked that idea, but, small detail, it killed people. Those kids in the pods are apparently being kept alive by the ASA, which is actually trying to save them. Not for any humanitarian reason, of course, they just want successful results.

Green Light is another experiment, and it makes people stronger, and gives some of them powers, and makes them fearless as well. But it still kills everyone who takes it. Thus, they scooped up the latest crop of metahuman kids, keeping them alive as well.

The evil government agency is trying to save the lives of kids. It’s for their own agenda, but, wow, I did not see that one coming.

To that end, they need Black Lightning, and they need him alive. He has abilities, he is likely the successful result of the experiment that they’ve been looking for. With him, they could save the kids… oh, and begin to create an enthralled army of supermen.

So, with Tobias as the strongest candidate for Lady Eve’s vacated seat on the Shadow Board, he is given the task of bringing Black Lightning in. Alive, even after the death of his sister. He has that girl, Syonide, helping him as usual, but also a little project he began and which Proctor finished: Khalil, with his legs restored, his muscles increased, and sporting dreadlocks.

Khalil is none to friendly towards Jeff, and he doesn’t even contact his mother, but he can’t help but call out to Jennifer. She has her own issues, especially with her superpowers and how she wants to get “fixed,” but she comes running to Khalil anyway. For a moment, he’s like his old self again, but it’s so very fleeting. He’s been barred from his old life by the people who “saved” him (after crippling him in the first place), and now he does their bidding.

As said bidding is to capture Black Lightning, Tobias, Syonide, and Khalil trespass onto holy ground: they attack Garfield High to draw Black Lightning out and take him down. The trap works, but with some hiccups. Syonide finds herself facing Thunder, and Anissa dominates… until she exhales, and the girl is so good at what she does that she strikes at that exact moment, stealing the advantage until Anissa can breathe in again. Elsewhere, Tobias and Jeff fight hand-to-hand, and I’m actually very surprised that they had Jeff winning that fight until Khalil showed up. I figured Tobias is strong and experienced enough that he’d have dominated Jeff. But either way, Jeff’s opponents manage to hit him so hard that his heart stops.

Tobias hardly sheds tears, but that’s not what they were supposed to do!

It’s only lucky that Jennifer was there, and figured out, with Gambi’s guidance, how to shock her father’s heart into beating again. So, Jennifer, think your powers might be good for something now? 😉

Jeff is alive but unconscious, the family is in hiding, and Proctor still wants Black Lightning, and Thunder, dead or alive.

All of this besides the personal drama of Jeff and Lynn possibly getting back together long-term, and the revelation that Tobias brought Lala back from the dead, with some added programming to make him obedient. And what does he intend? Well, he’s not stopping with Eve. He means to kill Proctor, which would not be so bad, and take over the Shadow Board, which would be so bad.

So, action, intrigue, drama… I’m thinking Black Lightning‘s first season is definitely going to be a winner, but we’ll have to see how they top it off. 🙂

Gotham

4.17 “Mandatory Brunch Meeting”
& 4.18 “That’s Entertainment”

If Tetch and Crane weren’t bad enough for Jerome to have recruited, he gains an entire Legion of Horribles with the additions of Firefly, Freeze, and Penguin to the ranks. That’s a rather notable swathe of Batman’s rogue gallery, right there, and of the surviving foes that Gordon and company have faced throughout the series thus far, all in one room.

The first thing Jerome is after turns out to be his own twin brother, Jeremiah. Said brother is obviously a bit unhinged himself, but he’s also in control of himself. As a child, he lied to their mother, said Jerome threatened him with a knife and with fire, so he was taken away to safety by their uncle, raised right, graduated a prestigious school, became a gifted and noted architect and engineer under the name Xander Wylde, even worked for Thomas Wayne, all at a very young age, while Jerome was left behind, with very little love in his life. Jeremiah always knew his brother would come for him, so he designed a labyrinthine house underground, a place he could control, where he could both hide and contain Jerome simultaneously. As that was done years before Jerome even began killing people, I’d say it was pretty decent foresight, but he failed to account for two things: Jerome having friends to rescue him, and Jerome being able to solve the maze.

He was just lucky to have Gordon and Bullock in close proximity at the time. His servant, Echo (another name from DC, if I recall, a fairly capable minion), was formidable, but got hypnotized. Bullock’s approach to avoiding that was charmingly simple and effective: charge forward, screaming and shooting. They managed to save Jeremiah from his brother, but things were only just beginning.

That episode ended with one of the more horrifying sights the show has offered us thus far: the debut of the Joker’s gas, the one that makes people laugh and smile inhumanly as they die in agony. Oh, the creepy and terrifying things we humans come up with.

Jerome has this huge scene planned, involving a ton of Joker gas, a crowd at a concert (oh, they were playing an old Batman theme song!), some carefully-chosen hostages in the form of Bruce, Jeremiah, and others, that sort of thing. He blows up heads and straps Penguin inside the airship delivering the gas after the man tries to betray him, but Gordon and the good guys manage to pull through. The entire scheme is foiled, most of the hostages are saved, and, bonus, Jerome dies. Again. Hopefully for good this time.

Unfortunately, even this is all according to Jerome’s plan. His days were numbered, after everything he’d done. So to continue on, he enacted his ultimate revenge on his brother: turning him into the next incarnation of the Joker. One dose of a very special gas, destroying Jeremiah’s sanity in one, single stroke, snuffing out all the good he would ever do, and the friendship he might have had with Bruce, replacing it with madness. The city sleeps well believing the menace is passed, but it’s only just slithered underground to emerge again, soon.

Not sure how much I like that idea, that route to take with the Joker. That’s a recurring thing with Gotham, though, where they do things we both like and dislike with the characters. Jerome was set up as the Joker, and he was fantastic, right down to the freaky, inhuman smile. And now they replace him with his barely-introduced twin brother who goes insane because Jerome posthumously douses him with a specific gas? Hm. Not sure how much I like that.

Elsewhere, Lee had an impromptu showdown with the Riddler. As Riddler set up his Riddle House in the Narrows, promising a fortune to any who bested him and delivering misery to everyone who failed, Lee steps in to put a stop to that. She takes on the challenge: answer a riddle and give one he can’t answer. But, ah, Lee isn’t just playing the game. She plays him. She tricks him into divulging the answer to the first riddle: a promise. And then she gives him a riddle that’s easy to answer, “I love you,” but which he can’t say to her. So, she wins.

And then she nudges him towards robbing banks.

I’m guessing she wants the funds to help the Narrows, but with this new, game-playing version of Lee in charge, one can’t be certain of anything she’s doing.

As for Barbara, she accepts her role as the new leader of the League of Shadows with glee, using their power to strike down her enemies. But the sisters of the League have other ideas, and take her to a vault which only Ra’s could open. Therein, they find relics and tomes with ancient secrets, and a painting that seems to show Barbara and Ra’s side-by-side four hundred years ago.

Tabitha isn’t exactly on board with all this, especially with the huge and sudden change in Barbara’s priorities, so Barbara has her girls throw her out and kick her while she’s down. That’s when men emerge from the shadows, helping her up and then tranquilizing her, saying something about how they serve Ra’s, and Barbara is an imposter.

So, intrigue abounds! This show is very good at that, have you noticed? It has action and dire situation, but it all rests upon the intrigue beneath it. Very well done!

Finally, Bruce has a birthday, which Selina shows up for, and for which Alfred bakes a cake and gives him a very dark, powerful, bulletproof car. Batmobile precursor. Heh, I wonder how long it’ll take Bruce to use Jeremiah’s engine design for the real thing.

Agents of Shield

5.16 “Inside Voices”
& 5.17 “The Honeymoon”

Coulson’s stay at Hale’s Hydra is unpleasant, but brief. After Creel touches the gravitonium and detects the life within – apparently, Raina fed Ian Quinn to it alongside the professor – he goes after Coulson, which gives Coulson a chance to turn him and get help rescuing Talbot and getting out. They find Talbot easily enough, but Ruby and the robots are hot on their heels, so Creel has to hold them off until Coulson and Talbot can escape. Ruby nearly kills him, despite Hale’s orders, but the two men manage to get out and keep moving until Daisy can find them.

That’s accomplished with the help of Robin. It takes her a bit, as she’s apparently lived through the day of her death, which would be traumatic for anyone, let alone a little girl. It’s only when she sees May, her adopted mother, that she begins opening up again. Her real mother is obviously hurting from that, but she’s also noticed that she’s not in any of Robin’s pictures, and it’s a comfort knowing Robin will have someone looking after her. With Robin back in play, she draws a picture of Coulson and Talbot in the woods beneath three peaks. She knows Coulson is going to die, but he’s also the one to put the pieces together. The pieces of this elusive, all-important puzzle to save the world.

Unfortunately, when Daisy rescued Coulson and Talbot, and had her first showdown with Ruby, Deke got wounded as he tried to be her backup. They managed to get him back to the base, but Mack and Piper were the best medical care available, so it was even closer than it would have been. He’ll be fine, though. He even awake just long enough to talk about how much he wants to kiss Daisy, if she wants to kiss him too, but he thinks she hates him, before they knock him out again.

As for where the usual medical care was, Simmons, Yo-Yo, and Fitz are the immortal three now, using the supposed guarantee of the end of the world and their survival through it in order to tempt fate and take the fight to the enemy. They stage a dramatic test, with severe, lethal results for failure, both to prove their point and to trick Mack into letting Fitz out of his cell while also locking Mack inside it. They go on a daring raid of a suspected Hydra facility and are rewarded with Ivanov and the robots standing guard over the device intended to infuse human DNA with another material. They get in, break something critical to it, and don’t quite make it out. Yo-Yo’s speed backfires, her new arms unable to keep up, putting her in great pain. Fitz-Simmons draw the robots’ attention while she sneaks out to call for backup, but she meets Ivanov first and takes him down, which takes down the rest of the robots just in time to save her friends. But then more company arrives.

Strucker finishes his work, the schematics on the chamber, put together from all across his father’s documents, and takes them to Ruby. Ruby is grounded after her failures and insubordination, but Strucker convinces her step up now. She overpowers Hale and locks her in her room, while Strucker kills other personnel and paves the way for them. Thus, just when it seems like they’ve won, Fitz-Simmons find themselves at gun and chakram point. Either Fitz fixes what he just broke, or Simmons dies.

Daisy happily hands the mantel of leadership back to Coulson and begins looking after Talbot, while May rips Coulson a new one over his reckless I’m-going-to-die-soon-anyway behavior. Yes, Daisy has what it takes to lead Shield, but not yet. She needs more time to develop, and Coulson is trying to push her to it too hard and too fast. Daisy isn’t ready yet. But if what Yo-Yo learned from her future self is true, that they have to let Coulson die in order to save the world, then she, like most leaders, will just have to rise to the occasion.

Oh, and Hydra managed to program Talbot to comply while they had him. We find this out exactly when he calls his wife, who Hydra is holding at gunpoint. He wants to apologize and reassure his family, and the episode ends with Hydra turning that around against Shield.

So, their trusted friend who they just rescued is about to attack them within their final refuge while the desperate hope of saving the future slips ever further through their fingers.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #177: Fear Kills Joy

“When people live in fear, they hardly live at all.”
– Gabriel Epiman Banksy, Hero in a Halfling
By William Tyler Davis

It would be so much more heartening if this were coming from a hero, rather than a particularly practical villain.

Skating around spoilers for this book, I shall simply say that this is a man who wears many faces and engages in many plots and does much harm. His goal is simple: to become king. But he understands that ruling in tyranny and fear is flawed to the point of stupidity. He wants his subjects happy, and therefore docile, not shivering in fear and ready to erupt on him at any given moment. That what most tyrants fail to understand: just how many shadows there are for their enslaved people to hide their daggers in. But this one, he does understand, so he does things differently, by making them happy and safe, as they see it.

The exact source notwithstanding, however, there’s a great deal of truth to what he says.

Absolutely nobody in their right mind thinks, “I want to live in fear all of the time.”

No, they think, “I just want to live in peace and safety.”

Because you can’t just do things when you are afraid. Going out for a random evening stroll, laughing at any little thing, going to a dance or a movie, dancing anywhere you like, having long talks under the stars, or whatever else takes our fancy (like sharing random thoughts online about entertainment), these are all things that no one can do while huddled in a corner trying to avoid the notice of the powers that be.

Fear kills a joyful life, and a life without joy is hardly life at all.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #176: Becoming Brave

“Sometimes I think everyone is just pretending to be brave, and none of us really are. Maybe pretending is how you get brave.”
– Grenn, A Storm of Swords
By George R.R. Martin

When Grenn, a secondary character in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (and its HBO depiction Game of Thrones) says this, he’s talking to Samwell Tarly, a young man who calls himself craven, a coward, and was told he was such by his father. But both father and son are wrong about what it means to be brave.

We’re all familiar with the stories of brave warriors and heroes standing firm and fearless against whatever threat. What all of those stories forget, or, rather, what we forget, is that nobody is simply brave. There’s no such thing as being brave without first being afraid. It’s not daring-do and stupid stunts without a thought in the world. It’s facing the fear and acting anyway, because one must do what must be done. That is bravery.

Grenn is right about how everyone pretends. We put on our best face and support each other. We act braver than we feel. We stand together or alone against what we fear, and we look after each other. It takes practice to be brave.

And bravery isn’t just bravery. The bravest and boldest heroes in history acted not simply out of courage, but out of love. That’s what drove them forward, that’s what we need to drive ourselves forward, and that’s what eventually drives Sam forward: love. Love for others, love for those beside us, love for those behind us. It’s why we pretend to be brave, until we become brave naturally, for their sake, not ours.

Bravery, real bravery, is just love put into action.

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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?

Gotham

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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Sunday’s Wisdom #175: Expect Victory

“Expecting defeat will surely bring it.”
– Field Marshall Tamas, The Crimson Campaign
By Brian McClellan

I seem to be getting a lot of quotes from McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy. 🙂

Field Marshall Tamas is not exactly a stranger to desperate circumstances, especially uphill battles. His reputation for pulling off stunning victories against overwhelming odds is well-earned. Some of these battles, indeed, entire military campaigns, have been so “uphill” that they’ve been veritable cliffs of insanity. While others are wringing their hands about the long, steep, terrible ascent in front of them, how impossible it is, he’s busy scaling it.

I forget the exact circumstances around this quote, but it very much sums up his attitude. He’s no fool, he has known defeat, just as he’s known betrayal and terrible loss, so he knows that sometimes, no matter what one does, it is still possible to lose. However, he addresses that possibility by planning for it, and fighting against it. He accepts that he may be defeated, but he never accepts it as a certainty. Thus, by his will, his armies and his people are carried to victory.

He is absolutely right when he says this. Battles and wars are won or lost in the will of those who fight them. When death and defeat seem all but inevitable, it may be nothing but sheer will which turns the tide. It is a tricky thing, sometimes, to see a dire situation, and overcome self-defeating despair. Mind you, the other extreme is just as bad, where one believes in victory so much that one loses all rationality, and loses the battle anyway, but the point is how powerful one’s attitude is in determining the outcome.

If you fight to win, you might still be defeated, but if you fight to lose, then you will lose, end of story.

It actually just hit me a few days ago how this applies to more than just battles. Ordinary, everyday life can feel like a war sometimes, can’t it? Having to work, to pay the bills, to not spend too much, to look after the kids, to keep the family happy, to keep the wife/husband happy, to become financially secure for the future, to just keep that nose to the grindstone… it just goes on and on and on.

There are so many examples of people who just give up. For whatever combination of reasons, they give up. They give up on life. They give up on the future. They give up on happiness, on joy. They see the battle of their life arrayed before them, and they give up on victory. They expect defeat, and that is the moment when they are defeated.

I’m no stranger to that feeling, and I doubt anyone is who’s really lived life.

So, I just want to say: we can win.

You can win.

You can win.

You.

Can.

Win.

You can win!

Just don’t give up.

Expect victory.

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This Week on TV, Mar. 24, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

I am thoroughly enjoying my lineup! 🙂

Black Lightning had, for once, a good day for the good guys, albeit with some justifiable family drama.

Gotham dove straight into a many-sided war that ended quickly with most unexpected results.

And Agents of Shield took things up a notch as it explored the dark side of one of our favorite characters, among other things.

All in all, a pretty fun week!

Black Lightning

1.09 “Little Black Lies”

Truth will out, as they say, and it generally does not do so gently.

Gambi is so deep in the doghouse that Jeff is actively warning his family to stay away from him because he can’t be trusted. Even so, he fights for the Pierce family. He injects an old friend with black mamba venom and blackmails an online former associate, all to find whoever made radioactive weapons that could be used to frame Black Lightning, thus hoping to prove his innocence. I said it after last episode, but the man is going to extremes to protect a very small piece of the world, either letting the rest of it burn or even setting a match to it himself. He is dangerous, driven by both love and guilt.

Jeff’s family gets another lesson in secrets when Jennifer’s manifesting powers make her feel like she’s going crazy. I remember a quote from a movie to the effect of, “There’s nothing more reassuring than knowing the world is crazier than you are,” but that’s not always true, as demonstrated by her freak-out when Anissa tells and shows her that she has power too and their father’s Black Lightning.

When you’re suddenly dropped in the deep end of the crazy pool, when you suddenly see the craziness that’s always surrounded you, the first impulse is to jump ship and run, get to somewhere safe and sane. Anissa had time to process all the weirdness gradually, one step at a time, on her own terms. Jennifer does not have that luxury, and when she learns that her family, her parents, kept such a huge secret, she is very upset.

It’s a bit of a reality check for Jeff when Anissa points out that his feelings towards Gambi are not entirely dissimilar to Jennifer’s feelings towards him. There are key differences, of course, but, basically, neither one told someone who loved and trusted them something that they should have, something important. It was partially for their own good, partially because there was no good time to tell them, but they really should have, at some point.

Jennifer is also unlike her father and sister in how she doesn’t feel driven to save the world. Heck, the last time she tried to, her boyfriend got paralyzed for it. She just wants to live a happy, normal life, complete with college, marriage, and children. And that’s no bad thing. One is not, and should not be, obligated to “save the world” just because they have some special advantage that they had no say in getting. Not all strong men are obligated to become soldiers, cops, and firemen, for instance.

This doesn’t mean Jennifer would never do some good with her life or even her power, but she doesn’t need to become a superhero. If that’s “squandering” her gift, then so be it, that’s her choice. But the gift comes with a burden, and right now Jennifer doesn’t even know if she’ll be able to have a husband or kids at all. Her life ought to belong to her to control, not her powers.

Jeff and Anissa are crusaders, and Anissa ought to have learned by now that power and righteous desire don’t make everything she does right. (we have huge disagreements, which I won’t get into) Heck, she hates even how her rising power and her rising fame are sometimes overlooked by guys who… well, they appreciate her fine, curvaceous figure, we shall say, but a bit more crudely than that. Then again, Jennifer found a fan club that loves her and does not go on about her looks, and that makes for a sweet moment between the two sisters.

Speaking of the crusade, Jeff and Anissa are able to get a location for the Green Light production lab, and screw the danger, they’re ending the spread of this poison in Freeland. Henderson shares that agenda, but they just learned that they literally can’t do anything on the books without their enemies hearing of it, a’la the minion who got duped into blowing himself and all the evidence of Black Lightning’s innocence to tiny pieces. So, Henderson takes some vacation for some off-the-books investigating, though he first asks Black Lightning, in the event of his death and the smearing of his name, that at least his wife be told the truth. A sober thought, that. Jeff was thinking something similar when he led his daughter into the fray, ordering her beforehand to forget him and get out alive if things go south.

Henderson’s path follows some gun-runners and dirty cops to the lab, while Jeff and Anissa got it out of a terrified lawyer. The super-vigilantes send everyone not interested in fighting running for their lives as they plow straight through the guards. Martin Proctor tried holding the scientist making the drug hostage, which was an amusing moment. Black Lightning isn’t your typical superhero, and he does not balk when the man making the poison that’s killing people is the best human shield Proctor can come up with. Henderson saves Black Lightning from a goon creeping up behind him and arrests the scientist and has evidence on dirty cops. Add that to the destruction of the lab and taking down both of the specially-armed assassins sent to kill him, and it’s a good night, for once, for the good guys. Unfortunately, Proctor managed to slip away, and so he’ll be coming back with a vengeance soon enough, but, for now, it’s a win.

And the night even ends with an honest heart-to-heart between Jeff and Jennifer, topped off with watching a Disney movie. Can it get any better?

Bonus moment: referencing Vixen and Supergirl, my reaction was, “See! See! Arrowverse connection!”

Gotham

4.15 “The Sinking Ship, the Grand Applause”

All the characters thrown in a box, and the box is shrinking.

You know, I didn’t think of this until someone else said it. Gotham has a lot of characters, and it does a really good job of making us care about these characters, every one. There’s no hierarchy of who we care about more, we care about all of them. They all have their own stories, and they’re all so human. This episode showed that rather brilliantly.

Starting off with Bruce and Selina, because theirs is the only part of the episode completely independent of all the others, Selina breaks into Bruce’s place, as per usual, to ask for some help. She says she wants some money so she can buy back from a fence what she stole from the family of the man Ivy killed a couple episodes ago. He agrees immediately. They go, they bond, they beat down a greedy man and his thugs, they get the jewelry back, and we ship them again. They are so cute together! 🙂

It’s after they have the goods that Selina shows her heart. She wants to give back what she took, but she can’t face the man’s family. He was murdered, horrifically, right in front of his wife and children, who were powerless to look away, and she’s part of that memory. Though she didn’t kill him, she feels the weight of guilt, and fears facing them again. That’s really why she went to Bruce, not for the money or even the backup, because she can’t give back what was really taken from this family.

We don’t see what they do, but Bruce tells her, sometimes even the littlest thing is enough.

Wanting to make things right is the running theme of this episode.

In the Narrows, Samson rules, beating down and murdering a man in front of his family and in public, and all Lee can do is watch. In the GCPD, Gordon and Bullock plan how to go after Sofia, as Bullock investigates the link between Sofia and the Pyg. And elsewhere in Gotham, the Riddler rescues Martine, setting a spark to Penguin’s plans for revenge against Sofia. It seems all of Sofia’s enemies are rising against her all at once, but the new queen of Gotham’s underworld sets her most vicious dogs on them: Zasz and Headhunter, who, apparently, survived, sans his right eye. The instant Sofia hears of Martine’s rescue, she sends the both of them to kill Penguin.

Fortunately, Bullock found from his source that Falcone trusted Penguin’s accountant, Mr. Penn, who apparently worked for him and Penguin and Sofia all at the same time, much like he gave a shadowy figure, Bruce, a list of crimes about to be committed. He survived by being of use to everyone. So, when Sofia’s dogs come after Penguin, Bullock, looking for Penn, happens to be there. He delays them just long enough for Riddler to spring Penguin, and everything becomes a mad scramble.

Riddler takes Penguin to Lee, looking for help, a power base to strike at Sofia from. Lee might be ousted with a smashed hand, but she still means to take down Sofia, and she has allies now to help her. So she directs Riddler to find Grundy, to get some mean muscle on their side. Small detail, Grundy is Butch again, not happy with Riddler. If it were Nygma he were dealing with, that might be one thing, but Riddler? No. He takes Riddler to Tabitha, giving her a chance for revenge and a promise to get back to his old self.

Barbara is apparently suffering from terrible headaches, but she still persuades Tabitha to give Riddler to Sofia. It’s good for them, giving Sofia something she wants, namely someone to interrogate to get to Penguin, and Riddler ends up dead anyway, but without the girls having to clean up the mess.

So, Sofia’s idea to kill Penguin didn’t work, and Lee’s idea to recruit Grundy didn’t work, and Bullock’s idea to get Penn’s location out of Penguin didn’t work. It’s all due to things beyond their control, but people’s ideas aren’t working very well this episode, are they?

Oh, but wait! Just as Penguin gets impatient and leaves Lee’s, Gordon and Bullock are arriving. They hold him and gunpoint and arrest him, and get Penn’s location from him. Unfortunately, Zasz and Headhunter arrive just in time to get in the way, with Gordon and Bullock refusing to get out of their way, and Lee stealing Penguin from both sides of the shootout.

So, one thing goes right: they get to Penn at this unique spa that lets people pretend to be babies again, which may be the single most unnerving thing I’ve seen on Gotham, actually. They get the info they need, but Sofia and her men show up right then, guns blazing.

It’s a very busy day for Sofia. In the morning, she had undisputed control of the city. Now her worst enemies are all biting at her, and they keep eluding her grasp. Riddler is turned over to her entirely without her own effort, but the man refuses to give up Penguin. His torture only ends when his backup plan turns out to be implemented by Lee and Penguin, namely having Freeze freeze Penguin and sell the block of ice to Sofia for a lot of money, but with a little something to break the ice apart and restore him fairly soon. Sofia thought she had Penguin, and had her goons take Riddler to the pier to kill him, and went after Penn herself the moment she had his location, looking to settle things with Gordon while she’s at it.

Penguin managed to get info out of the Dentist pretty quickly and sent Lee after Sofia, but elected to go save Riddler instead of getting revenge himself. It’s an interesting reconciliation between the two men after all they’ve done to and for each other. They’re back on the same side, it seems.

Gordon gets hurt taking a bullet meant for Penn, and sends Bullock to get Penn out while he draws Sofia and her men away. It mostly works, as Bullock succeeds and cops are already arriving. The two killers just can’t catch a break today, so they give up and go get milkshakes instead. Heh. Inside, Gordon fights with all the fury of a man willing to die for his redemption, for the city and the men and women under his command. He’s shot at least four times if I counted right, but takes out Sofia’s men. It’s only Sofia herself still standing, with Gordon at her mercy.

She’s obviously unhinged, making it all about what they could have been and how he’s robbing her of her revenge. She’s always been driven by her singular, self-centered goals. In her mind, her offer to let him live (as he bleeds out on the floor from multiple gun shots) if he begged for his life and her forgiveness was probably downright compassionate. He refuses. So, she aims for his head this time.

Lee arrives just in time. The one that Sofia never thought was a threat, and she wasn’t until she made her into one. Her sister-in-law, and former love interest of the man who killed her brother. Lee simply shoots her, once in the back to save Gordon, and once in the head for revenge. Then she manages to keep Gordon alive long enough for the medics to get there, even with only one hand to work properly with and multiple wounds to treat.

Gordon is actually surprised to wake up alive in the hospital. They apparently didn’t completely kill Sofia off, just put her in a coma. As for Gordon, he’s badly hurt, and he was willing to die. Now that he’s lived through taking her down, he intends to come clean and take responsibility for what he’s done. Oddly, it’s Bullock who talks him out of that. Paying for what he did needs to be about more than just being a martyr. True. Paying for what you’ve done sometimes means living with it, and the GCPD needs to keep their hero, so they can be heroes to the people of Gotham.

Gordon will just have to live with what he’s done. A victory for Sofia Falcone.

Lee wastes no time taking back the Narrows. Samson tried to beat the people there down after Lee tried to build them up, so it’s not even a question who they choose. In the same arena where he beat and killed a man earlier that day, Samson is beaten, soundly, in front of a cheering crowd. The crowd cheers all the harder as Lee descends and casts Samson out, but much more brutally this time. She has her guys hold his hand in place as she takes a heavy hammer to it in savage fury.

Most characters on the show have passed through darkness and done terrible things. It seems to be Lee’s turn. She was a healer before all of this, and look at her now, killing in cold blood and smashing a man’s hand without hesitation.

So, Bruce and Selina are reconnecting and making things a little more right, Penguin and Riddler are allies again, Gordon and Bullock are practically partners again, Sofia got shot in the head, Zasz and Headhunter are a fearsome duo, Butch wants to be all Butch again, and Lee is now barely recognizable as queen of the Narrows.

Oh, and Barbara’s headache is so severe that she can’t think of what to do even with Penguin and Riddler soon to come after them. Then her hand glows. And she see’s Ra’s al’Ghul’s specter approaching her. And becoming her.

Called it! I knew Ra’s would never actually go into death willingly, he had a plan to evade it and Barbara is unwittingly part of it. 🙂

Agents of Shield

5.15 “The Devil Complex”

How far is too far? When saving the world demands the Devil’s own deeds, is the man who does them good or evil? Can he even do these reprehensible things without becoming evil? Can the mind of a good man withstand doing abhorrent things that need to be done?

The episode begins with things continuing on as they were. Coulson takes a team to go after Hale while Mack tests out a prototype for Yo-Yo’s new arms, Yo-Yo wants to keep working as an agent even without her arms, Deke is starstruck by standing in the presence of his grandparents, Fitz is trying to find a way to refine gravitonium and save the world from the rift in the basement, and things in the Lighthouse are basically just rolling along. This includes a new aberration, in the form of that undead astronaut Simmons met on Maveth, the first face she saw Hive wear. It tries to choke her and it claws an agent, but she manages to shoot it in the head and it dissipates.

Fitz is going nuts trying to find some way to refine, through compression, the gravitonium from the Principia. Apparently, he hasn’t slept in awhile, which, yes, it’s difficult to do so when the world waits on your labors, but sleep is important. All a lack of rest can do is enhance one’s exhaustion and dull one’s edge. Or even help break one’s own cognition of oneself.

Deke comes to help Fitz with something, as he’s working on a robot, but Fitz turns and hits him on the head, knocking him out. He takes off the working clothes and we see Fitz from the Framework, the Doctor. Just as Fitz is checking for some digital copy of notes from the scientist who started the whole gravitonium thing, two cameras go out on a lower level and Daisy goes to check them, leaving Fitz alone to be approached by the Doctor.

Faced with his greatest, innermost, most terrifying fear, his dark side, Fitz assumes, as does everyone else, that it’s a fear-dimension aberration. But somehow, he doesn’t try to kill it, as he knows he ought to with such. The Doctor knows what’s in Fitz’s own head, and he talks about finishing their work, doing what needs to be done. Then Fitz hears a gunshot and runs off, finding Mack injured in Yo-Yo’s defense, a robot having come for her, cornering the two of them alongside Simmons. He realizes the Doctor is targeting Inhumans, so Daisy is in danger, and runs off after them.

Daisy, meanwhile, finds nothing whatsoever wrong with the camera, and she’s caught by surprise by a robot. Then she wakes up tightly secured to a table, the Doctor looming over her, talking about how her powers are what’s needed to save the world, to compress the gravitonium and seal the rift for good. There’s science to back up his claim, so, apologies for the lack of sufficient pain killers, but Quake is needed to save the world. He’s going to remove her inhbitor.

The moment he starts, as Daisy screams in pain, Fitz bursts in to try and stop him. Lots of words, the Doctor mocks him, screams that he’s weak, but still no physical touch… and Daisy, confused and scared and in pain but not blind, asks who he’s talking to.

Simmons arrives, having guessed from how Mack is injured instead of dead, what’s really going on here. Her arrival shatters the delusion. Fitz is standing there alone, in the Doctor’s place, talking to himself, or a hallucination of himself. When Fitz the saint was in control, the Doctor was the dark voice urging him on. When Fitz the Doctor was in control, Fitz’s conscience manifested as himself. His mind broke in the Framework, and what happened after, and far from being allowed to rest and heal, the pressure has mounted ever higher, from captivity, visiting a future where Earth is shattered, and the fight against the future, and finally the rift, which allows an excuse for an outward manifestation of the Doctor. And he does have a history of hallucination after Ward drowned him.

Fitz is brilliant, he sees things others don’t, realizes ideas others can barely comprehend, his creations have run amok and caused great destruction, he has done terrible things, and now his mind itself is divided.

Leopold Fitz is a mad scientist.

To save the world, they need to seal the rift. To seal the rift, they need the gravitonium compressed. Quake could do it, but Daisy would never voluntarily endanger the world like that, and Fitz, as his usual self, would never go against her wishes. So he put together a plan to force it on her, in a terrible violation, and he kept it secret even from himself. He got two salvaged robots up and running again, programmed them to restrain Daisy and keep the other agents at bay without seriously hurting them. He deactivated two cameras under the guise of looking something up, so Daisy wasn’t watching what he was doing, isolating her. And when Simmons’ presence broke the illusion, and he remembered what actually happened, with the Doctor suppressed, he had a backup plan to force himself to finish the job: a robot that held Deke hostage and pointed a gun at Simmons. Fitz might find it reprehensible, but the Doctor would do it.

Daisy is helpless, able only to scream in pain, and promise that she will never forgive Fitz for this. He knows that. And she won’t be the only one. He may never forgive himself. That’s the entire reason he conjured the Doctor in the first place.

But the job is done. What needs to be done, is done. He removes the inhibitor, and jumpstarts her powers with some adrenaline. She does as instructed, the rift is sealed, the robot deactivates, and Fitz surrenders, going into holding. He doesn’t trust himself anymore, because he knows, truly, that he and the Doctor are the same person, just with different lives behind them. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness for what he’s just done. He can’t stop fiddling with his wedding ring, because he feels he doesn’t deserve her either. And yet, the worst part of all, he still feels that it was right. It clearly worked, the day is saved. It’s merely that he couldn’t cope with it, so he fabricated this grand illusion to cover for his intended sins.

Simmons sides with Fitz, it was necessary, but she’s in a low place seeing him like that. He’s losing himself, which means she’s losing him too. Then Deke comes along and reassures her, talking about things he couldn’t possibly know about in the short time they’ve known him. And he tells her about his mother, talking about her parents, how her face was alight with love and admiration for her father, the best man she ever knew. He’s Fitz-Simmons’ grandson, so he knows they can be all right, even through the end of the world.

Then Simmons throws up. I’m guessing she’s pregnant already. 🙂

As for Coulson’s move against Hale, it seems to be going well at first. Piper, eager for some payback, coughed up Hale’s numbers quickly enough, so they hacked and tracked her and scooped her up. Hale and Coulson finally meet, and the woman makes an argument not so different from Fitz the Doctor’s about doing what must be done to save the world. But where the Doctor did something terrible, he still had some restraints. He didn’t hurt anyone he didn’t have to and he didn’t kill anyone. Hale, on the other hand, has turned her own daughter into a weapon, killed her own people, good people, just because they failed a few times to find people who weren’t there to be found, and she’s made a long career out of dealing with people like Baron Strucker of Hydra. She has no moral high ground here, no matter how she apologizes for Yo-Yo’s double amputation and blames Ruby for it.

And Hale didn’t get captured by Shield, she lured Shield to her. Her driver isn’t a robot, it’s Creel, turned to steel with a big bomb strapped to him. Hale let herself be “captured” in order to get to Coulson. She wants to bring him in on something, she says. Rather, she needs him for something. A small jet docks with the Zephyr, and the Russian, robotic, former-human leader of the Watch Dogs steps out, here to pick up Hale and Creel and Coulson. Hale has the Russian’s brain, and therefore his life, in her hands, so he belongs to her now. Oh, the irony of Creel wanting to bring Daisy to justice for shooting Talbot while working with the man who actually did shoot him. So, with a suitably strong position, Hale wants Coulson to come with her and learn what they’re really up against. Coulson agrees, much to May’s chagrin.

The last scene of the episode has Hale standing before a shadowy figure in the darkness, who refers to a Confederacy and giving her a seat at the table, before giving her a vial like Kasius used a few episodes ago, and saying “Hail Hydra.”

Ah. Crap.

I recall that one of Hydra’s leaders in the third season… I’m forgetting his name, but I think it was Malick or something like that… anyway, he said that Hydra was founded on the belief that the ultimate power was not of this world. Red Skull found the Tesseract, Strucker used Loki’s Scepter to create superhumans, Hydra experimented on Inhumans, Malick and Ward brought Hive back from its eternal banishment, and now that aliens have been established fact for a few years now, how much of a stretch is it really for Hydra to have gone interstellar at some point?

So, Quake is back, but Fitz, their most brilliant mind, has gone mad, and Hydra is not only back, but reaches to the stars and has Coulson, “the final piece.”

So not good!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #174: A Peace Pipe and a Tomahawk

“I hold a peace pipe in one hand and a tomahawk in the other.”
– President Touches Clouds, Wearing the Cape
By Marion G. Harmon

And there you have effective personal and international relationships in a nutshell. 😉

In the Wearing the Cape universe, super-powered people are pretty common. Following their advent, every nation descended into chaos, some worse than others. The damage in the USA was limited mostly by the work of superheroes, among them a Native American woman named Touches Clouds. She has since gone on to become the nation’s elected president and has maintained peace and security on the whole, which, in such a tumultuous world, is no small achievement.

This is how she did it.

She worked with everyone who was willing to work with her, reaching agreements which were of mutual benefit to all parties involved. But, of course, people don’t simply obey, follow, agree with, talk to, or even tolerate someone just because that is preferred. No, there are and always will be people who only respond to force, and must be met with force. One can be as nice and charismatic as heck, but there must be serious consequences in store for those who do truly harmful things.

An adorable dog might be easily loved, but only a fool forgets that it has teeth.

Someone very clever once asked the question, “Is it better to be feared or loved?”

The answer is: yes.

Yes, it is better to be either feared (preferably by one’s enemies) or loved (preferably by one’s friends), because if one is neither of those things, then one has no defense whatsoever against the predators of the world.

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This Week on TV, Mar. 17, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

This is just how I like my weeks: powerful, intriguing, fun, enjoyable, endearing, and twisting things together as we start moving not just through the story, but towards the finale. 🙂

So, without further ado, let’s dive into how Black Lightning is making everything go wrong in the right way, Gotham is reforging old bonds, and Agents of Shield is setting up the end of the world that the agents are trying to stop.

Black Lightning

1.08 “Revelations”

Picking up after last episode, we have the mysterious return of Lala, Black Lightning’s status as being wanted for murder, developments within the Pierce family, and the shadowy game that Gambi is playing.

That first, Lala’s return, is simultaneously irrelevant and unnerving. He’s simply up and about again, with no idea how or why, but he has the ghost of LaWanda keeping him company, talking in his head. He basically just walks into his club, empty except for a couple of his old minions, and gets a ride home with them before taking a shower. That’s pretty much all he does this episode, but he’s also talking to himself, and talking crazy. Now that would be unnerving, seeing your dead boss come back and talk to himself about killing you. Urging Lala to kill the guy driving the car, I am wondering if this specter of LaWanda is trying to make Lala dead again, or if it’s just, you know, him being crazy. Either way, I would personally want to stay far, far away from him.

Jeff is training Anissa, among other things to control herself and her anger, including and most especially how quickly she’s viewing other people as enemies to destroy. Keeping my opinion on that as politic-free as possible here, I shall simply say that this tendency to divide ourselves against each other has gotten rather rampant and it seems to me that it benefits no one but those in power. Divide and conquer, as they say. There comes a point where we have to stop being so easily offended, start forgiving and living together, and stop trying to make other people “better.” We can’t save the world by beating down half the people in it.

Jeff, through his long years of experience, knows at the very least that there is a difference between an enemy combatant and someone you just don’t like.

He also knows that Anissa has a lot to learn. He’s teaching her about observation and instincts, situational awareness and caution. Her life and the lives of others are at stake in the field, and if she breathes too loudly (as Thunder) at the wrong moment, she’s dead.

She also needs to learn control, and how to alter just how much strength she uses. With one finger, she can dislodge a brick from a sturdy wall. At full force, there’s no longer a wall to worry about. She needs to learn how to function between the extremes, more than a mosquito and less than a cannonball.

For a training mission, of sorts, Jeff and Anissa investigate Lady Eve’s murder. He’s been blamed for it simply because it’s electrocution, which has not been well-received by the community, who apparently liked Eve, unaware of her true face. So they break into the morgue (via a demolished wall) and examine the evidence. Between them, they learn that it was done with a weapon, a gun with so much power behind it, it’s actually radioactive. The good news there: it’s easy for Gambi to find.

It’s against his wishes, though, which we’ll get to in just a moment.

They find it, the weapon and the man who wielded it both in a shallow grave, Jeff calls Henderson, gives up the coordinates, and they wait. Mind you, being in civilian identity, calling the authorities in superhero identity and then waiting for them to arrive might not be the most sound of ideas. But if they didn’t, they’d never have seen what happened. Someone in the corrupted department tipped off Tobias, I imagine, and he sent someone expendable to take care of the situation. By picking up the radioactive electro-gun and fiddling with it. Jeff was just about to make an approach to the stranger, when Anissa noticed what was happening and put it together. The gun blew up, taking the man and all the evidence with it, and would have taken Jeff too if she hadn’t shielded him.

Jeff has a moment of being a proud dad for that.

He’s about to have even more on his plate, though. Somehow, both Anissa and Jennifer are manifesting their abilities right on each others’ heels. In Jennifer’s case, she got out of cleanup duty at her mother’s lab, was hanging with her friend, and had a moment where her friend seriously scared her with the sort of stupid stunt that is sadly typical of the young. In that moment, where she thought her friend was going to fall and break her neck, her eyes glowed and she electro-fried her phone and the fliers she was holding. Taking more directly after her father, apparently. She tried it again later, and succeeded.

Now, unlike the wildly-independent and stubborn Anissa, Jennifer went and immediately talked to her family about this, specifically her sister. Heh, it’ll be interesting to see how Anissa reacts when the tables are turned, and it’s her turn to think about the welfare of a loved one as they manifest abilities.

Finally, and most serious of all, we have Gambi. Things finally start coming into focus about him. It all comes out when Lynn, realizing that the “corporate thieves” who ransacked her lab stole only Alvin Pierce’s files and robbed the lab handling the sample of white powder he had, manages to put some pieces together. This is partially sheer dumb luck, which, let’s face it, that is often the difference between success and failure, but she has results, giving her hard data to work with. There was some kind of vaccine thirty years ago, which Alvin was investigating, and Green Light is virtually identical to it. So, as Jeff’s suggestion, she goes to Gambi, looking for help.

Gambi takes one look and realizes that he’s suddenly backed into a corner. He can’t talk to Lynn about this, and he can’t create a lie about it either. The only way out is through, now. So, he has to tell Jeff everything.

Some thirty years ago, Gambi came to Freeland in the guise of a humble tailor, but really he was an agent for a secret organization called the ASA. The ASA used Freeland as an experiment, the same as they are now, where the city is a lab and the people are the guinea pigs. There was a drug administered in the form of a vaccine, intended to make the people more docile and complacent, more accepting of whatever was done to them. An enslaving drug. Though Gambi had no part in it, he beheld the results, and they were most surprising, as people, children, began exhibiting metahuman abilities. He turned against the ASA then, but he maintained his cover, his role in their organization, he didn’t actually leave it. What he did was leak information of the experiment to one Alvin Pierce. Alvin investigated, and the ASA used Tobias to murder him for it.

And now the shape of things begins to come into focus. Gambi took Jeff in, helped raise him, trained him, pushed him on as Black Lightning, and he’s done the devil’s deeds, lying, killing, double-dealing, all to protect Jeff and his family. That has been his purpose ever since Alvin’s death.

I still don’t trust him anymore, of course. His only hope in the world is the Pierce family, and he does whatever he believes he must to protect them, no matter what it is. It’s that narrow view of what he protects that worries me, even more than his willingness to do anything for his agenda. He’s lied, kept secrets, and he was Eve’s own assassin just last episode. He stands with one foot in the underworld of the ASA, dealing with their officials as he did with Eve, and he is very much part of the darkness and suffering he pushes Jeff to fight against. All of this, and all he protects is one family, and only that much because they are connected to Jeff, who is connected to one good man whose death Gambi blames himself for. Perhaps he sees it as his atonement, but it consumes everything he does and everything he aims for.

To protect the descendants of Alvin Pierce, Gambi lets the world burn, and even lights the match on occasion.

There is something very wrong and very dangerous about that, and, most of all, very, very unpredictable, which means he’s unreliable and untrustworthy. Sure, he’ll protect the Pierces, but what if someone close to them is a danger to them? What if one Pierce becomes a danger to the rest? What if he adamantly believes that he needs to protect them even from themselves? What would he do? I don’t like to consider it.

He only confesses because withholding the truth would endanger them further, so he must tell them the truth.

And the truth ends with how the ASA, led in this region by Martin Proctor, and under the belief that Black Lightning killed Eve, considers him a danger to them, so they want him dead. They’re putting a price on his head. More specifically, Proctor wants Gambi himself to put out that bounty, thankfully unaware of their relationship. Proctor is quick to assume Black Lightning’s guilt, quick to preserve himself, and slow to listen to Gambi’s opposition to the idea. He clearly does not value human life, judging by his passing reference to dissected metahumans. So it seems that the abducted children, and who knows who else, were taken and killed. Yet, interestingly, he seems to think that they can’t make their own metahumans, or at least that Black Lightning can’t teach them anything about doing so, yet Tobias, Tory, the girl (Cyanide?), and all the Green Light victims would seem to indicate otherwise. And Eve did say she left the association, so, are the ASA and the Shadow Board which Tobias referred to the same, or not?

Unfortunately, the truth begins with how Gambi contributed to the situation that led to Alvin’s death. Everything he’s done, and it comes down to that. That’s a lot of pain which Jeff’s carried around, and placed squarely on Tobias, but now Gambi’s confession links him to that same pain, as if he were the source of it. That’s a heavy blow to any soul, and Jeff is very, very angry and upset, so much that even as Gambi warns him that he has to stop being Black Lightning, or else he and both of his daughters will die, all he can do is tell Gambi to stay away.

So, Lala’s back and crazy, all the evidence that could clear Black Lightning’s name gets blown up, leaving him at the mercy of the almighty organization in the shadows which is hunting him, Jennifer’s powers are manifesting, and Jeff just cut ties with his mentor and strong support, because the man is a liar and connected to the death of his father.

That about sum-up how badly things are going?

Gotham

4.14 “Reunion”

An interesting choice in title. Appropriate, given that rifts are healed and old friends reunite, but other bonds are broken and devastating loss strikes with little warning.

Though she hasn’t been given the name yet, Poison Ivy makes her public debut. Her experiments with plants and the Lazarus water have yielded a bloom which, when blown on, scatters its seeds like a cloud of petals, taking root in flesh, feeding on blood, and quickly bursting out of the victim’s body in a bloody mess. It’s a gruesome, horrifying way to go.

In addition to the couple whose home she took over and tested her bloom out on at the end of last episode, at least five more people find out exactly how terrible a death it is. Four of them just happen to be at the bar where Bullock works. Ivy wanted to kill him because he shot and killed her father to save Gordon after the man was set up to take the fall for the Wayne murders. Lacking him, she kills the rest just because.

Ivy also sent a tape to a news station, declaring how everyone who hurt her was going to pay, and everyone else, too, was going to pay for hurting plants.

See, that’s the thing about villains like her. Unlike those who seek for power, revenge, or simple chaos for the sake of chaos, they devote themselves entirely to one piece of the world and completely ignore the balance of the whole. She talks about how plants are necessary and we kill them, but she doesn’t see how plants need us too. Not just because we cultivate and protect them, but simply because we are part of the other half of nature: animals. Plants take carbon dioxide, remove the carbon, and release oxygen. We take the oxygen, add carbon, and release carbon dioxide. Plants and animals need each other to breathe, and to eat. The balance between the two is absolutely vital.

Ivy, having no understanding of this and believing herself to be completely in the right, does unspeakable things, including murder and, even worse, robbing others of their own free will.

Needless to say, she is quite suddenly the GCPD’s top priority. They don’t have many leads, but they still find her lair, and Gordon manages to find and warn Bullock before Ivy gets to him. Bullock then gets on the case as well, but chooses to work alone. That does not go well, as he does find Ivy, but gets hypnotized by her as well, luring Gordon to the scene and trying to kill him, which will then be followed by killing himself.

It’s a tense showdown between the two men who were partners, who’ve both failed each other and had a falling out. Oddly enough, it works to force them to say what they’ve held back on, letting it out and making their grievances clear. So, once Gordon is able to knock Bullock’s senses back into them, they’re able to work together almost like old times, putting the pieces together the way partners do. Between what Ivy was saying and doing, they realize she’s targeting a group of rich people at a party that very night.

You guessed it: a charity event hosted by Bruce Wayne.

Speaking of Bruce, now that he’s been made to look within, to see how false his party-self is and how much more there is for him to do and become, he finally goes back to Alfred. He’s agonizingly slow to apologize, and doesn’t even do so at their first meeting in a cafe. He tries to invite Alfred to the charity dinner, he begs Alfred to come back, to help him. But Alfred, wisely, says no. He’s not going to make this easy, nor should he, and he’s not going to just give Bruce a pass after what he did to their relationship. If Bruce has actually become a different, better man, then he has to prove it, to show it, and how he does that is his to figure out.

Still, Alfred shows up to the dinner and catches Bruce’s speech. It starts out as something rehearsed and professional, but then, speaking almost exclusively to Alfred, he bares his heart. It’s moving and sincere. Alfred responds by telling him he can’t help him… not until Bruce accepts all of himself, good and bad alike. He went off the rails as a party boy because of that, exactly, he refused to accept his entire self and what he did. It’s difficult for Bruce to hear, though, and he tries to walk away. At least, until Ivy invades, holds everyone at gunpoint, kills a guy just for fun, and promises to do the same to all the rest.

That’s another moment of truth for Bruce. It’s a moment where he has to go back to his purest desire: to help people. Not just saving Alfred, but everyone.

It could have gone a little more smoothly, as Gordon happened on the scene when he was tangling with one of Ivy’s men and shot him – smart, Bruce, wearing a vest, and smart, Gordon, for using nonlethal rounds – before he ran off just on instinct. Gordon’s first encounter with the elusive future vigilante.

So, Ivy’s debut is not entirely successful, but it certainly makes an impact. And then she goes back to her lair for the last of the Lazarus water and finds Selina waiting for her. Her oldest, dearest friend, come to stop her by force, the first collision between Poison Ivy and the future Catwoman. And Selina Kyle may be no hero, but neither is she going to just stand by and let Ivy murder everyone in her path. Selina manages to get the water and break the vial its in, and then it’s just a matter of who will kill who. Ivy has her fingernails at Selina’s throat, and Selina has a knife at Ivy’s gut. Until Selina throws it away, and Ivy has her completely at her mercy. That was a seriously scary moment, but Ivy… some tiny part of her honored their old friendship, but that friendship is at an end as of now.

That’s one bond broken.

Alfred goes back to Wayne Manor with Bruce, and he’s there to stay, while Gordon and Bullock finally come to terms. Bullock blamed Gordon for everything, but he should have taken responsibility. And Gordon, he messed up. He messed up bad in dealing with Sofia Falcone, and like it or not, he just can’t make things right on his own. He needs his friend.

Especially now that Sofia makes her move against him, and does so indirectly. Instead of going after Gordon himself, she goes after Lee. She demands a percentage that Lee can’t pay, she ignores Lee’s offer to bow down to keep the peace, and that’s only to start with. Nygma helps her realize that what Sofia wants is to control Gordon, and offers to help her do that. Sofia responds by having her men kill Lee’s, bringing in Lee’s old enemy Samson to run the Narrows, and ousts her from her position… including hammering her left hand to pieces.

That. Was a mistake. Lee may have been betrayed by her own people, but I’m sure some of them preferred her to Cherry, Samson, and Sofia. She was a healer and still must have some good will built up from that. Grundy might be Butch again, but he’s still very strong. And her thing with Gordon might be long since over, but she still holds a special place in his heart. Gordon has been weighed down by guilt, but now he has Bullock’s support again, and a fresh fire ignited in his gut. It’s time for the two to go to war again, and while Sofia is a masterful manipulator, she didn’t do so hot the last time things erupted into open warfare.

Someone rather famous once said something about awakening sleeping giants and filling them with terrible resolve, to the effect of, “That’s a bad idea.”

Finally, we have the culmination of Nygma’s struggle with the Riddler. He’s scarfing down meds to keep the monster within contained, to keep Lee safe. But when the Riddler points out that he’d have to kill himself to truly protect Lee from him, Nygma intends to do so. Riddler becomes desperate at the critical moment, and Nygma’s desire to live drives him to listen one more time. He checks himself into Arkham instead. But that’s exactly what Riddler wanted, because that was what Penguin instructed in a coded message in the letter he sent, all so Penguin could say his name and finally unleash him once again.

With a word, Nygma is gone again, and the Riddler runs the show.

Penguin and Riddler, together again.

So, that’s at least three bonds reconnected between men, and one or two severed among the women. Alfred is back with Bruce, Bruce is ready to heed his calling again, Bullock is back with Gordon, Gordon is ready to do what needs to be done, Riddler and Penguin have joined forced within Arkham, Ivy has made her presence felt and severed ties with Selina, Sofia has poked the bear by ousting Lee in a traumatic manner… did I miss anything?

Agents of Shield

5.13 “Principia”

So many things happening, and so much weird crap that Shield is dealing with, it actually gets to be “normal” in a way.

Most urgent on this episode’s docket is dealing with the extended consequences of the fear dimension rift in the basements. The gravitonium patch they slammed on it is holding, but it won’t last forever, and they’re already experiencing more of it. This time, Deke sees his mother, hears her reassurance, only to watch her be cut down by Kree, who tries to kill him too.

At the same time, they’re dealing with the fallout of Yo-Yo’s double amputation, which is finally starting to bear its weight down on them. Coulson’s able to support her some, from his own experience, and Simmons is able to offer medical and emotional support as well. Mack is ever the romantic soul, sharing why he won’t care if her arms are fake, because it’s her soul he loves. But, also the mechanic, he’s keen on helping her have limbs again too. It might not be the same, but it’s better than nothing. Unfortunately, they’re short on materials they can use for that right now.

Luckily, they have a lead that could handle both objectives simultaneously: Cybertek. Back in the first season, Cybertek was a Hydra company, the link between several things the agents encountered. They were behind the gravitonium, for instance, which happens to be what they need for the rift, and they were also behind Deathlock, which included robotic arms. So, two birds, one stone. They just need to get hold of one of the old scientists.

Odd, though, it seems that all the old scientists are dead. And all the death certificates are signed by one man. Who is a ghost, they don’t even have a proper picture of him. Indications of clandestine activity, much?

The ghost guy turns out to be an old friend of Mack’s. They met at Shield’s academy, became close friends before the one got drummed out. Still worked for the good guys, though, so when they went recruiting the scientists that Hydra coerced into working for them, he did the footwork, gave them new identities, helped them disappear. Not everyone’s built for Shield, but he seems like a pretty good guy. When he learns the world is in danger and the agents need to talk to one of his subjects, he helps them, tags along to see the mission done, and even starts sniffing around for other things that can help them out. In exchange, he gets a glimpse into the supremely weird world of Shield in the form of a floating marine ship, Principia.

The ship, it turns out, was tasked with taking the gravitonium somewhere overseas when it was caught in a storm. Everyone who knew assumed it sank, but Deke, as annoying as Fitz might find him, offers a perspective that tells them to look up instead of down. A stray lightning strike, the gravitonium charges up and lifts the entire ship high into the sky, floating on the currents of the wind instead of the water below.

The entire crew, anyone who didn’t fall off, must have retreated to the inside of the ship to try and do something to survive, but they didn’t make it. They all died of extreme hypoxia. Then General Hale must have come along some time, found the ship in the sky, taken most of the gravitonium, and left behind some robotic sentries. Deke’s expertise let them get off the ship with their prize, but it’s a near thing with the robots attacking. Fortunately, that also gives Mack his bonus prize: robot arms for Yo-Yo.

So, not quite how they imagined it, but it’s still a double victory and they’re starting to realize that they need to turn their attention to Hale directly. The woman keeps trying to kill them and she’s a step ahead far too often. They don’t know the half of it just yet.

Turns out, Hale had dealings with the Struckers. She wasn’t Hydra, but they aligned often enough. Now she means to finish off Shield, and the team she’s putting together includes Ruby, Creel, and now Strucker’s son, Werner or whatever his name was. After we saw him in the third season, he’s recovered quite a bit from the brain-damaging ordeal. Indeed, his memory is absolutely perfect, and he’s proving adept at gathering pieces of information together, always perfectly preserved in his mind. Unfortunately, that’s a huge strain, living as if he is reliving every moment, including every horror, all over again, all at once. He’s insane, and dangerous. But he has information, knowledge, which is power, which what Hale wants. So, she makes to recruit him.

At first, all young Strucker wants is to die. He wants the pain to end. He wants his brain lobotomized, his existence over, his life done, his suffering ended. Hale won’t give him that, but she won’t force him to stay either, she says. No, she can’t force cooperation in this instance. So she tries seduction, via Ruby.

Now, Ruby, played by Dove Cameron, is certainly a little hottie, but seduction, especially that of someone like Strucker, is about far more than just physical appeal. It’s about connection, offering what is truly wanted and needed, and leaving it maybe just within the realm of possibility, if one chooses to pursue it. And Ruby seduces masterfully. Not just with a body, but with the hope of overwriting the man’s suffering with better memories, new memories. She also offers a way out from under the people who use them, like her mother does. The team Hale is gathering, Ruby wants to make it hers, and with Strucker, it would be theirs. A place for him to belong, a way for him to feel powerful, a chance to connect and feel human again… and an opportunity to come out on top. Such as, on top of Hale’s cold, dead corpse. Ruby is planning to destroy her mother.

Strucker has the night to think it over. And he stays.

When Hale asks Ruby what she said to him, Ruby just says, “The truth.”

Savage dogs can turn on their keepers, a tied noose may fit any neck as easily as any other, and Hale’s new team may well be her own undoing, which, I don’t particularly mind, but I worry about what havoc may be wreaked once Hale’s tenuous control over Ruby and the others is finally severed.

Maybe Ruby and the others use the gravitonium to destroy the world that has hurt them so, and they manage to do so because they offer the agents a way to save Coulson.

Heh, I love when I have time to think about what’s gonna happen! So many possibilities and you have no idea which one it’ll be! 🙂

So, the agents are doing well, their on the rise again, but the end of the world approaches, and I suspect it will be tied to the impending mutiny Hale will be experiencing.

Oh, and Deke realizes, when Simmons says something that his mother always used to say, that Fitz-Simmons are his grandparents. Aww, they are so cute together!

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