I Bring the Fire Part I: Wolves

So, a little while ago, I decided to specifically try more urban fiction. That experiment, which I will elaborate on at some other time, has not gone so well. This review is about one of the better titles said experiment led me towards, and I would describe less as “urban fantasy” and more as “fantasy walks into an urban setting.”

I Bring the Fire Part I: Wolves, by C. Gockel, begins the story of Loki, Norse God of Mischief, including his time in modern-day Midgard (Earth) and his vengeful quest to destroy Asgard.

Sounds pretty epic, right?

Actually, not so much.

Looking at how that sounds, let me be clear in what I mean by that: there’s plenty that I enjoyed about Wolves, it merely happens that “epic” is not one of them.

At two hundred and fifty pages, the story feels at the same time dragged out and too short. The pace might be just a little bit too slow, and just when things really start getting interesting, it peters out and ends on a cliffhanger that is rather lacking the cliff.

As the rather obvious beginning (and nothing else) of the tale, of course the seeds are sown for the greater mysteries that will somehow help to shape the conclusion of the series. Some of them are mysteries that, really, are a bit out of our league so early on, involving the shifting of cosmic forces and such. Others are more obvious, such as the strange connection Loki feels with the Queen of the Elves, which is somehow tied to his true, secret origin. And then there’s what happened to Loki’s friends and family, the inciting incident of all of this. It’s rather obvious. Oh, and then there’s Baldur.

Speaking of, shifting to a more positive note, I do like this take on Loki as a person. I love this version of the mischief-maker, and how they manage to explain even his most nefarious deeds as being more justifiable than one generally thinks they would be. Of course, that gets very tricky when his worst and most legendary deed is killing Baldur, the God of Peace. Making something like that any less severe involves, by necessity, changing the character of Baldur as well as Loki. In the case of the former, they succeed in making him something infinitely more terrifying and vile. In the latter case, they emphasize the one thing most crucial, above all, to turning a villain into a proper protagonist: his humanity. He is driven by very human things, not the least of which is a long lifetime of loneliness and betrayal, as well as the repeated loss of people he has truly treasured.

It would seem that behind the cocky grin, and behind the cunning, there is a great deal of sorrow, anger, and pain.

Enter the female lead: Amy Lewis. She’s a normal human, with normal human concerns, like paying her bills with the contents of her rapidly diminishing bank account. At first glance, the only special thing about her is her appearance (Loki often notices how well-endowed her chest it, and Thor comments on the same). In fact, she can’t even protect herself very well, not even from a human villain, an encounter which is partially responsible for her first meeting with Loki.

However, for all her normalcy and weakness, Amy has a kind heart and a knack for keen insight. She sees past the surface, the glitter and glam, to grasp what lies beneath. It’s something that Loki seems to find quite attractive, even more so than her ample bosom.

In short, she could well prove to be just the person Loki needs in life in order for his heart to heal.

And it’s one of the rather obvious things we can expect, that they’ll hook up at some point, whenever that turns out to be.

So, I suppose my biggest qualm with this, outside the pace, is how there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of subtlety. Almost everything, most especially the true fate of Loki’s family – yeah, they’re not really dead, not remotely, I am certain – is painted out in big, bold, neon lettering.

I still enjoyed the story, and the way much of it was told, but there is room for improvement. I’m somewhat curious about the end of the story, but not urgently so, and that’s even knowing I could get the entire saga all at once and read straight through. Some things, I have to command myself to wait for. This is not one of them.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #134: You Choose Who You Are

“Who you are is a choice. It always has been, it still is.”
– Harvey Bullock, Gotham
Season 3, Episode 22, “Heaveydirtysoul”

For three seasons now, Gotham has been dealing with the question of who people are and the choices they make.

A number of the characters on Gotham have, at various times in their lives, been both good and evil, sometimes in astoundingly rapid succession. Many have fallen, but a few have made the long climb to rise again. The character of Jim Gordon is among the latter, but even after turning himself back to the right side of things, he was still consumed in darkness for a time. Eventually, there came a moment where he gave up.

The exact circumstances are long and complicated, but in his darkest hour, there was his best friend, Harvey Bullock, reaching to bring him back again. When Gordon is resigned to being the worst version of himself, because that is who he is, Bullock states, clearly, that it’s not. Who a person is, that is his choice. Always has been, always will be, and it certainly is right now.

That is the moment where Gordon was saved, not by his own righteous warrior spirit, but by the simple, stubborn love of friendship.

Even when we give up on the light, that doesn’t mean the light gives up on us.

I’m reminded of an old story I heard when I was young. By reputation, it features an old Native American man talking to his grandchildren. He tells them that he has two wolves inside him, constantly at war with one another. One is kind and virtuous and everything good. The other is savage, selfish, cruel, and everything evil. His grandchildren ask him which wolf is winning, and he answers, “Whichever one I feed.”

People generally aren’t all light or darkness inside. We have both, and we have a choice between the two. Sometimes that choice is clear, and sometimes it’s more vague. Sometimes we run to the light so hard that we miss it and veer off into darkness. Sometimes we turn from the light, convinced we can never know it again. And sometimes we just keep our eyes on it, and go towards it just one step at a time. That’s the healthiest option, I think.

Most important though, is to remember that just because we’ve failed once or twice or a hundred times before, this does not mean we have to give up.

No matter how bad it gets, we still have a choice, always.

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This Week on TV, June 10, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

And then there was one. 🙂

Gotham delivered a deep and powerful one-two punch with a two-hour season finale, rather perfect for leaving us satisfied while also making us look forward to next season.

Doctor Who didn’t exactly pull its punches either! We have five episodes left, and this episode was easily the equal of the standard season finale. And there’s still more to go! This is Capaldi’s concluding season, and they seem to finally be pulling out all the stops! 🙂

Doctor Who

10.08 “The Lie of the Land”

So, the monks took over by making everyone believe they were already in charge, and always had been. Clever indeed, because while people automatically resist new things, especially new oppression, they automatically accept things as they have always been, if only because they can’t fathom the success of the change.

Of course, even when something is legitimately old, dissension is inevitable, and the monks have a huge facade to maintain. So, they are constantly beaming their psychic propaganda directly into every human mind on Earth, and even then, there are those who remember the truth. The human authorities, acting on the monks’ false authority, are very busy rounding up dissenters. And throughout it all, the Doctor himself is the face and voice of their regime.

Bill is just going about her life. She doesn’t remember what happened right after she consented, but her life is continuing, quite normal among all her fellow humans. But she feels the monks’ intrusion and resists, quietly, every single day. It ends with herself only because she has faith in the Doctor. Even with his face everywhere, advocating for the monks, she believes he must be cooperating only temporarily, that he’s planning and waiting for the right moment. So she waits for him, and doesn’t act out. Instead, she sits down, every day, and conjures a mental image of her mother to converse with. Bill tells her everything, sharing the burden with someone who can never tell.

It seems just going through each day is such a torment for Bill that she’s going crazy just so she can keep functioning.

And then Nardole arrives with glorious news: he’s alive! And he’s found the Doctor! The monks keep him on a prison ship, which Nardole and Bill pay the captain of a cargo ship to smuggle them aboard as part of his crew. They nearly get caught, first by soldiers asking for papers, then by a monk whose timely arrival ends the request for papers prematurely. And they’re aboard.

There they find the Doctor. Who immediately calls for the guards and calls the monks to come. Yes, it seems he is working for them, truly and genuinely. He has become jaded and angry in his frustration with humanity for accepting the fascist monks, blaming Bill for opening humanity up to this takeover, and siding with the monks because, in lieu of free will, at least they bring peace.

It’s the struggle of human nature. On the one hand, authority can bring stability but at the cost of freedom, while freedom brings chaos. Humanity has been fighting to find a balance between the two for the whole of its existence. The Doctor, it seems, has elected for the peace of humanity’s enslavement.

Bill is shattered. Her guilt is heavy and her faith is broken, but her choice is freedom, and in her volatile state, she does the unthinkable: she shoots the Doctor with one of the guards’ guns. He staggers, falls, and begins to regenerate… and then it stops as he grins, congratulating Bill as the guards applause.

Bill’s faith was well-founded after all. So much so, in fact, that as the Doctor has been planning, as well as recruiting and deprogramming the guards, he couldn’t take the chance that Bill had been corrupted by the monks. They tested her reaction to the Doctor’s seeming betrayal, switching out the bullets with blanks, and she passed with flying colors. They had to put her through the wringer, but now they know they can trust her. It was Nardole’s idea, which quite nearly earns him a thrashing at Bill’s hands, quite understandably.

Now the Doctor has his guards and his friends at his side, all that’s left is their emergency ace in the hole. After six months of patience, the Doctor acts out a little bit, driving the prison ship straight through any barrier between them and the shore, laughing maniacally. Yes, after that display, the monks are waiting for him at the university, but they aren’t anywhere near the Doctor’s destination: the Vault, and within it, their trump card.

Missy.

The Doctor’s had his adventures, and Missy’s had hers. This is his first time meeting the monks, but she’s dealt with them before. In exchange for a few requests – which she justifies with a declaration that she could easily escape, but she’s here, partaking in the process of her reformation – she lends the Doctor her expertise.

It turns out, the monks take over by forging a psychic link with a human, one who asks for their help and consents to the price without any ulterior agenda. That bond is then projected out in a psychic signal, strengthened and maintained via the many monk statues, saturating every human mind on the planet. So, kill the signal, free humanity. Kill the living link, and the signal dies.

Small problem: this involves killing, and it involves killing Bill.

Unacceptable.

The Doctor refuses.

Missy keeps explaining that the link is passed on through the bloodline. Everywhere else the monks have invaded, the living link usually goes on to live a normal life, have kids, etc. Anywhere that has failed, the monks have just chalked it up to experience and left. Either way, the only way to save humanity is to sacrifice one human life, to kill the link as Missy once did.

The Doctor refuses.

He declares that Missy isn’t changing at all, and she responds with her ow recrimination. His definition of good is not the absolute measure, and even if she succeeds in becoming good, she’ll never be his definition of such.

Bill is for it. If it’s the only way to save humanity, then she, the one who brought this on them, should be the one to pay the price. The monks won’t ever hurt her, which means it has to be a friend.

Mind you, the monks made one small error in making a lesbian their living link, but Bill isn’t about to die of natural causes very soon, so the crisis remains.

Refusing to give up on Bill, the Doctor instead leads his men on a daring raid into the heart of the monks’ headquarter, right to the very seat of their power. After all, it’s not Bill but the signal that needs to die, and the signal is coming through her, but from the monks. She’s the link, not the source, and the Doctor goes for the source.

They have to record a looped message they can all listen to, to counteract the psychic propaganda signal. This leaves them unable to hear the monks coming at them from behind or from the sides, but it’s the only way to remember the what, how, and why of the mission when they’re so close to the signal. They make it, at a cost, and then the Doctor takes on the entire signal single-handed. He almost succeeds, pushing the lies out of the truth, but the monks rally and shove him out of the signal, nearly killing him as they reestablish their lies.

And then it’s Bill’s turn. She makes her case, overriding the Doctor’s protests, and goes in, ready to die. Either she shoves the monks out of everyone’s heads, or she dies, and the signal dies with them. Catch 22.

On the brink of psychic and physical collapse, Bill retreats to her sacred refuge: her mother. Which, as it happens, is a memory they were unable to corrupt. It’s pure and untainted, and the strength of it, of Bill’s love for her mother and her mother’s love for her, floods the psychic signal. The truth of that sacred relationship floods every human mind, and it breaks the lie. All around the world, all at once, all the people of the world rise against the monks, their minds clear and their hearts filled.

And the monks, highly interested in surviving, turn tail and run.

Though they do take a moment to erase themselves from human memory. Just a little something to, ah, keep the humans from uniting and coming after them.

Everything goes back to normal.

Life goes on.

Bill goes back to school.

The Doctor goes back to Missy.

Missy… who is crying. In her time and solitude and desire to live, she is remember everyone she’s killed. Every last one. And no matter how many she remembers, she’s always remembering more.

She is a mass murderer, now looking at every single face she’s murdered.

Such is the agony of learning empathy: truly limitless remorse.

Perhaps that is another reason the Doctor refused to kill Bill, to avoid adding another face.

Gotham

3.21 – 3.22 “Destiny Calling” and “Heavydirtysoul”

Whoa.

And wow.

Each of these episodes was packed, and both of them, back to back like this? Oh, there was a lot going on!

So, obviously, square in center stage is the great upheaval. Thousands of Tetch-infected victims are instantly rampaging through the streets, unleashing a scale of destruction yet unseen on the show, and likely never seem by Gotham at least since the last time the Court destroyed the city. Now the Court and the city both lie in bloody, burning, chaotic ruin.

Gordon himself stands at the very heart of the struggle. He is the walking embodiment of the city’s suffering. His darkness is his aggressive nature. He’s a killer, bull-headed, impatient, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. He’s been wrestling with this for years now, and he’s fallen to it before and come back. Meaning, he has experience, and that’s buying him time, but he’s fighting a losing battle. He can’t sit this crisis out, but every time he fights, the darkness takes a stronger hold on him.

To make things worse: the city doesn’t have any idea how to cure the infected, a number of which are just being killed on the spot to stop their rampaging.

Fox, however, has good news: the house of the Owl leader, Bruce’s lying mentor, yielded files which indicate that Strange developed more than just the virus, the Court also had him working on an antidote. That, at least, was intelligent of them. They were rather interested in surviving, unscathed, the chaos they unleashed. They created a powerful weapon, and the first rule of such is to always include an off switch.

So, the city doesn’t need to create a cure, they need to find it, which means finding Strange. Gordon and Bullock accomplish that easy enough. Strange wants to flee, so they head for the train station, rather swamped with people who want the same thing: to run away from the danger. Unfortunately, Fish grabs him first. It’s close, Gordn and Bullock coming within spitting distance of Fish and Strange, but Fish has Freeze as backup, and quite nearly kills the two officers.

I couldn’t help remembering how Bullock once threw the gauntlet down to Penguin, when the man was “king of Gotham,” in the name of Gordon and Fish both, and now Fish really does try to kill him. It’s just Gordon’s quick thinking, ripping out an overhead pipe to intercept the ice gun, which saves their lives. Same thing slows them down long enough for Fish to escape.

Strange then finds himself in Penguin’s company. It seems Fish has forgiven him, and she has designs of taking Gotham back, in a new way. She has herself, Penguin as a loyal friend, Freeze and Firefly as bruisers, and armed men. They’re the freaks, and they intend to turn Gotham into a city of freaks. To which end, they need Strange to make that army he promised Fish once, long ago.

First thing’s first, though: having Strange means they have the means to find the cure and save the city, which they are certainly going to charge the city for. That doesn’t quite go as planned, as they are met by figures in black, with swords. (anyone else reminded of Arrow?) Ninja vs freak, the freaks have advantages, but they’re not out of the woods until Gordon and Bullock arrive and attack the ninjas from the rear. Gordon, especially, is cutting through them with the strength provided by the virus.

Unfortunately, he’s so lost in the battle fury that he doesn’t look before stabbing, and ends up running Fish straight through. She dies again, this time with Penguin crying over her as she tells him to take make the city his.

Fish Mooney, the last truly great crime lord of Gotham (making exception to how Falcone is still alive, but no longer a crime lord), is finally and permanently dead simply because she got too close to Gordon in a fight.

Oh, and the vials holding the cure all break. No instant saving of the city this time. But they do have Strange again, and he can duplicate it. He just needs one thing: the source. There is, in fact, one person who was rather obviously immune to the Tetch virus, and that would be the Mad Hatter.

Cue the entrance of Barbara on the scene, taking the Hatter in order to do what Fish intended: hold the hope of a cure for ransom.

Things are very unwell in the Keene camp, though. No house stands long when its foundation is left cracked, and the cracks in Barbara’s house are huge. Barbara has increasingly treated Tabitha and Butch like nothing more than hired muscle at her command. She’s used them, berated them, and broken her promises to them. Tabitha finds her own frustrations whispered back into her ears by Butch, and Lee herself drops by – we are overlooking how little sense it makes to throw parties in the middle of the worst crisis ever to hit the city in living memory – to threaten and possibly kill Barbara, but settles for pointing out how Tabitha is just Barbara’s minion, like she was her brother’s. True, the only one who’s always treated her as an equal, and someone to value, is Butch.

The final straw is when their plan to blackmail the city backfires.

Gordon has no limits right now, but he can still play to the human element. He calls Riddler, offering the man what he most wants, Penguin, in exchange for the Hatter. Riddler doesn’t hesitate to betray Barbara. Their relationship was ending anyway, as Barbara only convinced him to help her for one more day, in order to turn the chaos into an opportunity. Barbara relied on Riddler instead of giving him to Tabitha and Butch, and he betrayed her, and then she took it out on the two of them. They crash the exchange, and chaos erupts: Penguin manages to knock out Riddler and take him away in the cop car, while Gordon and Bullock grab the Hatter, drain his blood – they might have been less enthusiastic about that if the Hatter hadn’t made their lives Hell – and escape, leaving their pursuers with nothing but a useless hostage.

And that’s it. The bond is breaking. As Barbara flees to safe house, Butch and Tabitha decide to kill her. Barbara sees it coming, though, and gets the drop on Butch. For once, he’s actually got a moral high ground, as Barbara threw Tabitha away just to be queen for a day. Unfortunately, she’s got the gun, and shoots him in the head.

Then comes Tabitha, who is far more dangerous than Barbara in a fight. She arrives to find Butch’s metal hand in a box, asks Barbara if she killed him, and when she answers “yes,” that’s it. They fight, and Tabitha has the upper hand several times, but Barbara manages to stay alive a few times, until she happens to be standing in water when Tabitha knocks over a lamp. She’s dies from electrocution. And now Tabitha is alone without Butch, but free without Barbara.

The cure comes along at a brisk pace, but Gordon has a deadline. Lee is leaving the city, and wants Gordon to come with her. He takes the first dose of the cure and means to give it to her instead of taking it himself. It’s his darkness, that he’s willing to do anything, make any sacrifice. It’s consuming him, and it finally swallows him as he tries to save Lee. And then, at last, he falls to it when she seduces him with the promise of coming away with her, letting them be together as they both want. Don’t they deserve it? So… he falls. For her.

They could have made it, too. The could have left, been free and clear, and done whatever they liked, wherever they liked, living the rest of their lives in the dark.

But there’s still Bullock.

He catches up to them, and helps Gordon remember that this isn’t “who he is.” Who you are is a choice, and Gordon chose the badge. That’s who he is: the best Bullock has ever seen. So Gordon takes the badge, which he finds has two doses of the cure attached to the back. He gives one to Lee by surprise, then takes one himself.

I really love the poetry of this. Though Gordon was lost in darkness, and finally gave into it, he still had one friend left to help him back to the light.

And thus the city-wide crisis ends, the storm leaving behind a number of bodies.

Within and yet separate from this is Bruce Wayne. Still under the thrall of his deceased mentor, he manages to escape custody and go to the Yuyan building, as instructed. He finds the Demon’s Head, Ra’s al’Ghul, and the man is a freakish upgrade from the version of him on Arrow. Standing beside the green, glowing waters of life, he tells Bruce how he’s lived a long time, become a figure of legend, and yet never found an heir to succeed him. However, while the city may be in turmoil and the Court may be dead, there’s still the issue that Bruce hesitated twice, neither killing the Court nor unleashing the virus. The latter was only because Alfred interfered.

So, Bruce is given a final chance to prove himself, by killing Alfred.

Alfred has actually managed to put a dent in Bruce’s conditioning back at the GCPD. He talked about what was real, things that were more important than vengeance: love. He talked about the good times, the acts of love his parents did for him. Love, that’s real, and that love still lives within Bruce, so Alfred doesn’t give up on him.

Even now, with Bruce leveling a sword at his heart, Alfred expresses his own love and faith in Bruce, and he’s willing to die for Bruce. If this is what he needs to do, then he better. Bruce does. He runs the blade through Alfred, and the act, and Alfred’s words, finally break through his mentor’s conditioning. Bruce finally breaks free, and is left sobbing over Alfred’s warm corpse.

And Ra’s al’Ghul laughs. This is, in fact, the best thing that could have happened. It proves Bruce’s mind and will are strong, and though Bruce may defy him, he shall become the man’s “knight in the darkness.” His heir. And as a parting gift, he lets Bruce use the waters to save Alfred’s life.

It’s not a done thing, though, and Bruce spends the entire latter episode in the hospital, by Alfred’s side.

Selina drops by to support them, but… well, she’s made some mistakes, and Bruce is feeling the pain of that especially sharply right now. He speaks harshly to her, throwing her worst self in her face, because, I think, he can’t bear to rely on her again after she broke their trust. He doesn’t see how this is her prodigal return in his hour of need. And she is deeply hurt. So she leaves, and the bond between them is apparently severed, everything good they felt now buried beneath pain.

In time, Alfred wakes, to Bruce’s joy and delight. He’s able to give Bruce some words of wisdom, then. Bruce has lost himself in his quests for justice and revenge, forgotten who he is. Alfred advises him to do as he’s done, to find an anchor, something he truly feels strongly about, truly loves, and devote himself to it entirely. For Alfred, his anchor is Bruce.

And we all know what Bruce’s anchor will be. 🙂

Meanwhile, Selina, left alone, goes to Barbara’s club. Finding Tabitha there, alone, she shares how she’s had enough of mere survival. She wants more. She wants to move up. She wants to fill the hole left in her heart. She wants an anchor of her own.

Tabitha, also at a crossroads, sees something in Selina. She has Selina try using her whip and is duly impressed when Selina hits her target on the very first try.

It’s strange, how relationships shift and change and evolve. A number of sweet relationships have turned sour on the show, but the first time Tabitha and Selina encountered each other, the former was trying to kill the latter. Now they’re becoming teacher and student.

Oh, and then there’s Penguin and Riddler. Penguin was once obsessed with Riddler, calling it “love.” Now they’re bitter enemies. And as Riddler seems to get the upper hand on Penguin, Penguin turns the tables. He let Riddler have an advantage, one that he nullified before letting him have it. Riddler is right, Penguin is akin to a child throwing homicidal tantrums, but Riddler has his own weaknesses: he’s so precise and exacting that he can be predictable. When Riddler takes Penguin to the same spot to kill him again, he finds the gun empty, and Ivy and Freeze standing behind him. And Penguin doesn’t just kill Riddler: he turns him into an ice statue to keep around forever, to remind him of the weakness of love.

So, in ending the season…

Bullock is captain now, officially, and he and Gordon are just wanting a normal case so much that, as they go out for a drink, they go out looking for trouble to.

Lee has left Gotham again, and left a letter encouraging Gordon to save the city, and maybe be saved in return.

Penguin, with Ivy in tow, is opening a new club, the Iceberg Lounge, featuring Riddler as a trophy, as he tries to take the city back for the freaks.

Selina has found a teacher in Tabitha, both women looking to become more than they were before.

And a family out at night is mugged, in reflection of Bruce’s family, but this time there’s a figure all in black to defend them before vanishing into the night. Bruce moves atop a building, looking down on the city he will protect.

The Batman is coming.

There is always more to do, more story to tell, but this was a pretty good stopping point.

Whatever they do next season, I have no idea how they’ll top this.

Though, now that things between Bruce and Selina are ended, and Ra’s has selected Bruce as his heir, perhaps we will see a young Talia entering the scene?

…oh, and Butch isn’t quite dead. He’s in the hospital, where we learn his real name is Cyrus Gold.

…seriously? Butch is the young version of Solomon Grundy?!

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MCU Copycatting #9: Updates for Sony and Universal

I didn’t think I’d be updating my MCU Copycatting theme for quite awhile yet. I mean, we’re barely halfway through the year, it’s not even been five months since my last commentary, and the one before that was more a rag on DC’s trailer for Batman v Superman than anything else. Though I think my comment about DC’s cookie cutter approach could be a valid retroactive addition, that ship has sailed and doesn’t need to come back into port just yet. Surely there can’t be that much to comment on already, right?

Well, this is a very long-running, slow-moving thread, so at least two of my earliest posts have become very outdated. In fact, they became particularly outdated quite recently. The overall situation has changed and become much more clear in a relatively short time, just in the last several weeks.

In short: an update is required!

For the most part, things are running along pretty much as previously stated. Marvel, DC, and Fox have been the most major competitors, and things are largely unchanged. Marvel has announced plans for The Runaways and New Warriors, but I’ve yet to find a proper confirmation of whether these are or aren’t in the MCU, so I’m not including them just yet. DC is also moving forward with plans for a live action Titans show a third season for the animated Young Justice, but I doubt either of those are connected with any of their standing cineverses. And Fox has debuted trailers for an upcoming live-action show, The Gifted, also created in partnership with Marvel if I’ve heard/recall right, and connected to their film franchise, but there’s not much else new to report on that front.

No, this update isn’t about any of the three “main contenders.” This is for two of the outliers: Sony and Universal.

Sony, I think, is making a colossal mistake.

After the failure of Amazing Spider-Man 2, they shelved all further plans for the Spider-Man universe and made a deal with Marvel to share rights to Spider-Man himself. This was a good move, as it not only buried a failing cineverse, but gained Spidey some much-needed good publicity. He was a fantastic addition to Captain America: Civil War and everyone is excited for Spider-Man: Homecoming. After that, though things are a bit murky, it’s still clear that Marvel will be using Spidey in the MCU and producing sequels.

So, Spidey is getting pretty well entrenched in Marvel’s camp. Though he still belongs to Sony, Sony are letting Marvel take the lead, as Marvel actually knows what they’re doing, which means they can keep making money. Very important, that.

Which makes it nothing short of stupid, I think, for Sony to not only hog so many other properties in relation to Spider-Man, but to revive their plans for a Spider-Man universe, most especially when planning to do so without Spider-Man.

…seriously? I mean, seriously?! They do know that they don’t actually have Spider-Man for this cineverse of theirs, right? But they’re moving forward with plans to develop the universe that exists around him, but without him anywhere in it. That’s a bit like building a castle without a foundation! It’s not really reviving the Spider-Man cineverse. It’s reanimating it as a cinematic zombie! What are they thinking?

…ok, yes, they’re probably thinking, “There’s nothing quite as wonderful as money, money, money,” but you know what I mean!

And how are they planning to do this?

Well, Spidey is rather essential for anything involving the Sinister Six, so that movie, at least, is scrapped, hopefully beyond revival. But there are two other properties.

First, there’s Venom, which is kind of ridiculous. DC may have had some success with Suicide Squad, and Fox had tremendous success with Deadpool, but Venom? Venom is easily among the worst villains in the entire Marvel Comics universe, and he is Spidey’s enemy. How are they possibly going to have the villain without the hero? Deadpool and the Squad’s villainy was balanced out with the heroism of their friends, the evil of their enemies, and their own choices to do something good. Venom doesn’t have any of that. He is a villain, an enemy, plain and simple.

Just what are they going to do with him alone?

This guy? NOT a hero!

Second, there’s Black Cat and Silver Sable. While I can, as a guy, appreciate bringing two of Spidey’s most voluptuous and alluring frenemies to the big screen for the first time, I have similar concerns as with Venom. Not only do I have no idea what a the cat burglar and the secret agent will be doing or what could bring them together – wait, I amend that, they’ll probably meet as they’re both breaking in and stealing things from the same people at the same time – and why they would stay that way without Spidey bridging the gap between them.

Also, I know I’m repeating myself from earlier posts, but isn’t it a bit insulting to need to team the women up as if they can’t carry a film on their own the way all their male counterparts can?

Still, I suppose I have slightly more hope for the girls’ movie than I do for Venom.

But what is Sony thinking?

And how can they call it a cinematic universe if they don’t even bridge the gap between properties, which, as it happens, is where Spider-Man, as in the figure at the center of this universe, comes in?

Were I Sony, I would trust in the partnership with Marvel and just leave the deceased Spidey-verse where it lie. Instead, I would focus on getting the Valiant cineverse off the ground. Seriously, outside a little shuffling in the order of the films, it seems to have come to a standstill before even moving. Which is a shame. While I am unfamiliar with the material myself, my understanding is that it’s quite popular, and it could put them back on an even footing with the main trio of contenders.

But I suppose I digress.

As for the second part of this update, Universal has made great swathes of my entire introductory post about their plans obsolete now. Which, all things considered, might not be such a bad thing.

I do still believe they’re fighting an uphill battle, but there might be some reason to hope. For one thing, after the dismal failure of Dracula Untold, they seem to have gone back to the drawing board. It was clearly supposed to be the launching point of the Monster Cinematic Universe, but it would have been like launching of a landmine. Yes, there might be a millisecond of acceleration, however, you’re not exactly in prime condition for running when it’s over.

So, they went back and started over.

Three years later, we’re getting The Mummy instead of a Dracula movie to launch Univeral’s monster cineverse, officially entitled the Dark Universe, and it looks much more promising. From what they’ve been saying, there are some crucial elements to the movie and the Dark Universe as a whole, especially the genuine humanity of the monsters. The audience needs to be able to connect with the monsters, they say, so that has been a huge thing. I imagine this is part of why they settled on a female mummy, an unexpected, intriguing twist. Also, there’s action, and likely jump-scares, but with an emphasis on the more classic horror elements which create suspense and properly terrify the audience. And, of course, there’s already something set up to connect the movies in some way, namely the secret organization called Prodigem.

That’s some serious improvements over their previous plans, just at a cursory glance. They’re using the principle of a cinematic universe, but creating something unique, something that can be set apart from both the superheroes and other incarnations of these classic monsters.

For the future, there are reportedly plans for Bride of Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, and, most appealing to me, Van Helsing.

I am still hesitant, though. Not only is horror generally not my thing…

On the bright side, it looks like they’re getting properly updated for the modern audience!

…ok, that’s somewhat changed over the last few years, but I still try to be pretty careful with the entire genre as a whole…

…anyway, outside my personal preferences, I do have to wonder. Not only is the absence of Dracula rather telling, as he is the undisputed king of Universal’s monsters, but in what movie or movies are they going to come together? It’s apparent that Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde appear in The Mummy, but what else are they doing?

Also, the space between these movies, with Bride of Frankenstein still two years out and no mention of when the other movies will come out, how much of a cineverse will this be really? If we’re following the same character or characters from one movie to another, that feels less like a cineverse and more like your typical series.

And, at least of my original concerns remains: these are the villains of the story. How are they going to reuse them when every story involving them involves their defeat?

So, that’s pretty much it. We have Sony flailing wildly to make a Spidey-verse without Spidey and Universal’s Dark Universe beginning to take shape. It says something that I actually have more hope for the latter now.

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The Wonderful Wonder Woman

Fantastic. Amazing. Incredible. Wonderful. (pun intended)

DC finally got one right. Not just “better.” Right.

Wonder Woman is a truly good, exceptional, inspiring movie that lives up to the considerable hype which precedes it.

High praise? Yes. And well-deserved.

One must inevitably mention how Wonder Woman fits into DC’s Extended Universe, and I will in a moment, but as for the movie itself, standing on its own feet…

First thing’s first: Wonder Woman proves, absolutely, that there can be such a thing female superhero movies of quality. Every fan of female superheroes – which is pretty much everyone – has known this for a long time and has been waiting with simmering impatience for Hollywood to actually do it. Speaking personally as a fan of such figures as Buffy Summers, Sophia Dennison, Lara Croft, Shayera Hol, and the many women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – bonus points if you know everyone I just mentioned – I can say that I love female heroes, and I can fully understand my fellow fans’ impatience. Seeing Diana of Themyscira take the lead on the big screen, at long last, is a great and enjoyable relief.

Even more heartening, however, is how this is not an isolated example. More and more strong women have been getting the limelight, including DC’s Supergirl on the CW and Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, the women of Agents of Shield, and the impending production of Captain Marvel. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But, as Wonder Woman herself has long been the single most classic and iconic of female superheroes – not to mention the role of her debut film in the developing DCEU – it really was quite important for DC and Warner to get this one, especially, right.

Happily, they did.

Strong women: not an entirely new concept!

Skating around spoilers as much as possible, Wonder Woman tells the tale of Diana’s beginnings, how she grew up on her island, how she came to leave it, and how she means to challenge the darkness of the world itself. She intends to be a light against all the evil found within humanity, and so she is, though it doesn’t quite go as she planned.

On which note, I was pretty against the idea of setting the film in the first World War, but now I see the sense it makes. The story they wanted to tell was one of the light and darkness within all of humanity. While telling a story of intertwining good and evil might have been doable in World War Two, this is the story of how Diana learned that blame can’t be laid on just one person, which would have been very much undermined with a figure like Adolf Hitler in the mix. She begins the story with notions that are noble, but a bit simple, and in learning how things are more complicated, she loses her naivete.

The Great War was also a similar lesson to humanity. Just prior to this, the great advancements made in science and technology made it seem as if they were on the brink of enlightenment, of curing all humanity’s ills and suffering. People began to have a kind of faith in science. But the horrors of the war illustrated the failings of this, because the mere expansion of technical knowledge is without the virtues of morality or love, as demonstrated by machines guns and gas bombs. In that sense, as humanity was learning how incomplete its knowledge was, it serves as a perfect setting for Diana to learn the same. Eventually, she has to arrive at her own conclusion, to have her own answer to a rather complicated question.

Wonder Woman: strong and wise.

And that is just one way in which Wonder Woman is delightfully intricate and uplifting. There’s how Diana meets the great darkness of war alongside the everyday injustices of prejudice and ignorance. There’s how her relationship with Steve Trevor is believable, entertaining, and important to the climax. There’s how she witnesses the nobility found within men she once dismissed as liars, killers, and criminals. There’s the unexpected nature of the true enemy she seeks, as well as the truth about herself.

All of this is propelled forward by thrilling action, stellar music – her famous theme felt much less “out of nowhere” in this movie – and all-star acting. Gal Gadot is perfect as Diana, Chris Pine delivers a powerful performance as Steve Trevor, and every other member of the cast carries his or her weight beautifully, including the antagonist which, due to spoilers, I will not elaborate on. 😉

Oh, while it does not shy away from the horrors to be found in the Great War, and in humanity, the entire story is told in a way that is very friendly for the audience. The darker subject matter and some images may not be appreciated by very young children, but the language is clean, the violence is not so bloody, and there is no nudity or innuendo to be found… well, ok, there is the scene where Chris Pine has to cover a particular area of himself, but it’s not really anything you can’t find at any swimming pool in the world. 😉

There are a couple technical aspects which could have been better improved, of course. Nothing’s perfect, and I can name a few holes. The German general, for instance, had this gas that made him stronger, but it didn’t really come into play, so it was a wasted gimmick. It’s also strains credulity just a little for a village they liberate to be so close to an important party and for both to be within spitting distance of an unnoticed air field, and for Diana and Steve to notice a certain smoke signal but not the Germans. So, the transition from place to place in the last act is a little choppy. Finally, I wasn’t quite sure just what it was that Diana saw or heard in the closing scene that inspired her to take off in full Wonder Woman regalia. All of these, however, are pretty minor and forgivable.

“I am fighting straight through the plot holes!”

The one thing that really didn’t make sense to me is how Diana, at the end of the film, declares that she has been, and will always, fight for the light of humanity. That feels slightly incongruous with the version of her we saw in Batman v Superman, where it seemed to me like she had given up on humanity once and was just barely reigniting her determination. Furthermore, if she’s been fighting for a good century now, how is it she’s not world famous or something?

And here we get to Wonder Woman‘s place in the DCEU.

First and foremost, it is far and away the best one yet. It absolutely blows away the previous three movies and sets a new standard for them to achieve in the future. 🙂

Even better, if they make movies like this from now on, then they will suddenly have closed the gap in quality and interest which lies between the DCEU and the MCU. DC will finally be giving Marvel a proper run for their money again! And that is a thought that makes me very happy! 😀

There are a few things in Wonder Woman which are typical in the previous movies, but much less pronounced, much more reasonable, and much more balanced.

Yes, they have Diana doing battle with a god, with the fate of the world at stake, and there is terrible death and destruction, and really big explosions. But they make sense here, and are oddly more restrained, which, considering the divinity of Diana’s opponent, would seem counter-intuitive. But it works.

Not to diminish the thrill of the explosions or the power of her enemy! 😉

Yes, they have, as I have previously complained about, the whole “dark and epic” thing going on here too, but, again, not so bad as before. There is actually light and love and laughter to be found! There are smaller, more subtle, everyday things, mundane things, which are important and receive due attention.

I had feared Suicide Squad might be the only installment to feature the ordinary and extraordinary shining together, side by side, but Wonder Woman had that in spades.

“I bring hope for the future.”

Best of all, where it has felt like Warner and DC were stuck using the cookie cutter approach and just trying to mass-produce several Dark Knight films, Wonder Woman is actually unique, in many ways, which is very heartening.

So, some minor technical complaints aside, I loved this movie. Wonder Woman is a well-told, beautiful story, and a powerful addition to the DCEU. I will definitely own this movie! 🙂

Rating: 10 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Plus.

 

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Sunday’s Wisdom #133: There’s More to You

“They’re everything you say, but so much more.”
– Diana, Wonder Woman

Yes, I saw Wonder Woman. Review to follow shortly, but basically: I loved it! 🙂

There are a lot of really good quotes I could choose from, but this is my favorite.

Skating around spoilers as much as possible, I will simply say that this quote comes near the end of the movie. At the height of the climax, her enemy is trying to sway her to his side with talk of all the evil of humanity, how awful and horrible they truly are. But Diana has gotten a very good look at humanity, both the good and the bad, the terrible and the noble. At a moment where she stands poised to pass judgment, she chooses to see more in humans than her foe does.

There is great darkness to humanity, but there is also great light.

I think what I love most about this truth is how it applies not just to the whole of our race, but to each of us individually as well. The collective is made up of individuals, after all. If there is both light and darkness to the whole, it follows that there is light and darkness to each of us as well.

People often judge. We judge each other, and we judge ourselves. We deify or demonize people, either putting them on a pedestal or consigning them to a pit. That is, with extremely rare exception, a mistake. We are not gods, and we are not monsters. We can’t stand above others as if we were better, and we can’t stand below as if we are worse. Either path leads to terrible things.

We are equals, no more, no less.

That person who is your hero? You are the same as them.

So stop telling yourself you’re not.

Yeah, you aren’t perfect, you aren’t ultra-powerful, you are flawless. Neither are they. They have struggles of their own, just as you do.

There’s more to them, and there’s more to you.

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This Week on TV, June 3, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

And then there were two.

We had ourselves a double feature this last week, and both hit really hard! Doctor Who and Gotham not only pushed the envelope in emotional weight and intricate plots, but they also both delivered pretty solid victories for the villains. Doomsday is unleashed! And while Gotham is shoving is towards a terrifying season finale, Doctor Who is still only halfway through its season! Very good, very well done, both of them! 🙂

Doctor Who

10.07 “The Pyramid at the End of the World”

Sometimes we just get a perfectly descriptive title, like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” which featured dinosaurs on a spaceship. Or “The Waters of Mars,” which featured the waters of mars. “The Pyramid at the End of the World” features… the pyramid at the end of the world.

Not “the end” as in the end of a string or the ends of the world. “The end” as in, the end of the story, the end of an empire, the end of a life… the end of the world. That one moment which is its ending, and as it is ending, there appears the pyramid.

Bill is the first of our heroes to learn of the pyramid. Her real-life date with Penny is almost as jinxed as the simulated version was. She was still utterly blocked, but I’d say the Director General of the UN, and his guards, coming to talk to her is slightly less bad than the Pope materializing in her bedroom. Said Director dismisses her date and asks Bill for help locating the Doctor, as an emergency situation has arisen. She’s briefed on the way to bring him in.

In a far, distant corner of the world, one that happens to intersect in territories held by the Russian, Chinese, and American-dominated UN forces, a five-thousand-year-old pyramid has suddenly appeared. It’s not entirely unlike the Tardis in that respect, but much bigger on the outside, and landing something so sizable smack dab between three of the most formidable armies in the world sort of demands attention from the world’s leaders, ya know? So, they invoke the crisis protocol that makes the Doctor the President of the Earth, except they needed to find him first, thus the invasion of Bill’s date.

Last episode established how the Doctor is dealing with his blindness, by using glasses that psychically transmit data to him, and Nardole’s verbal guidance. But even when he could see, he could still be pretty oblivious. He’s consumed with the dire warning he received from his simulated self, playing guitar and talking to himself, his version of “meditating,” his words as dark as his thoughts. How can he beat the monks his shadow self met when they’ve been able to run countless simulations with himself included in them?

He’s just considering how “the end” has always already begun, in some dark, unseen corner, when Bill breaks him out of his reverie. The UN took the Tardis straight out of his office – enlarging the windows just a bit – because this is an emergency, they need him, and they can’t afford to take no for an answer. So, off to the pyramid he goes in company of Bill, Nardole, and the UN Director. The crisis is here and now and needs his immediate attention.

He’s the first to approach the pyramid, alone, with Nardole narrating, and he is met by one of the monks. The monk is quite certain that their conquest is inevitable and immediate, and, even more, that they will be invited, something the Doctor can’t quite believe. With everything going on, the Doctor feels it prudent to get all three military leaders on the same page, so he scoops them up in the Tardis for a mandatory meeting. Hey, the UN did it to him, didn’t they?

The most obvious thing to do is attack the pyramid. Nardole disagrees, but the Doctor approves it. They probably won’t make a dent, but a show of unity might make the monks reconsider. I imagine it’s also better for them to attack together, instead of any possible trigger-pulling fear and confusion that could result from either military acting with independent aggression. So, they coordinate, advance… and don’t even get a shot off before every weapon is neutralized with careful precision and the soldiers are removed from their vehicles.

That’s some powerful psychological warfare there, waving aside all three simultaneous attacks without taking a life or even doing any damage. That level of a controlled response doesn’t scream, but quietly whispers, in the low deadly confidence that springs from incontrovertible truth, “We are so far above you that we don’t need to harm any of you.” And then they actually say, “We are ready to talk.” In other words, “Come, helpless ones, and talk. Now.”

Interestingly, the monks appear to be like corpses, but this is a form they took to resemble the humans, who are all corpses to them. Rather telling, that.

So, they go in. What choice do they have, eh?

The delegation party enters, consisting of three military leaders, the Director, their guards, and the Doctor’s trio. The monks say that they do not intend to conquer by force. That is very tricky and ultimately ineffective, to rule through force and fear. They will be invited in, they will take control with humanity’s consent, as represented by the “consent” of those humans who have power. The Doctor declares that such would be the last free choice any human ever made, but the monks weight their terms with the truth of humanity’s impending destruction.

Events are already in motion, the human race will die by its own hands, along with everything else that lives, and the only way it can be stopped is if the monks stop it, which they will only do after they have “consent.” As proof, they show the delegation what their simulations show them: the entire world, devoid of life within one year.

Faced with such horror, the Director quickly consents, but the consent is “impure.” It’s not what the monks want. He is reacting out of fear, and that will not give the monks what they want. The Director is instantly turned to ash on the spot.

So, brute force is useless, and becoming subservient out of fear doesn’t work either. And just to add the psychological pressure, the monks turn every clock in the world into a Doomsday Clock, measuring the approach of the world’s ending.

The Doctor, however, won’t let the monks conquer the world, and he won’t let it end. The world’s been ending before, but he has stopped it, countless times.

Uphill battle, though.

Back in their command post, everyone is trying like mad to figure out the monks’ riddle. Of course the obvious solution is war, incredible as it might seem, and the commanders nip that in the bud by declaring, among themselves, that they will not fight each other even if ordered to. It’s a magnificent, historic moment… and has absolutely no effect whatsoever on the countdown.

War, fear, even peace is useless at the end of the world.

The Doctor then realizes: the pyramid is a distraction. The failure of peace is proof that it’s not what they do there that will destroy the world. It’s something else, happening somewhere else, right at that exact moment. This is why the monks chose to appear here and now, out of all the times and places they could appear in history, because something is already happening, and this is the moment the end begins. The possibility of war is just a distraction, a grand misdirection, which means it’s something else entirely.

So, the Doctor puts everything “secret” on the internet and gets his impromptu team searching for possibilities. What else could destroy all life? Something that can destroy them all and everything they need to survive. War is off the table, so what’s next? Not something big like nuclear war, but something small, like bacteria. A plague. Ah, but plagues can’t simply wipe everything out. They’re too limited by nature, which means this is something man-made, but even biological warfare destroy everything. It’s not deliberate, then… it’s a mistake!

Someone somewhere is committing the most critical and destructive blunder in the history of mankind!

Still, even narrowing things down, there are still hundred of possibilities, and no time to go through them all. So, the commanders, people who know that sometimes they have to admit defeat in order to live to fight another day, contemplate surrendering to the monks in exchange for stopping whatever is happening. The Doctor begs them to reconsider, and they do hold back as long as they dare, but in the end they go back to the pyramid, Bill in tow to keep an eye on things.

While all of this is happening, a much simpler, more mundane series of events if happening elsewhere. A research scientist happens to break her glasses purely by accident, so the task of directing the machines in mixing a chemical compound falls to her coworker, who is exhausted from the previous night’s activities. A single misplaced decimal point adds ten times the specified amount of a specific enzyme to chemical mixture.

Then, as they are examining the plants they are experimenting with, same man takes his hazmat helmet off, just in time for them to witness all of the plants turn to ash-colored mush. They rush back out to their lab, through the doors that function to contain things in the experimental room. Where the woman remained safety-conscious, complete with helmet and closing the doors behind her, the man, quickly collecting a sample of the ash-mush, runs out without either putting his helmet back on or closing the doors behind him.

They discover that bacteria are actually tearing the plants apart on the cellular level, and rapidly. Just as the woman is talking emergency containment, because this must not enter the atmosphere, no matter the cost, her coworker falls over and becomes mush. He was exposed already, and died soon after. She notices the open door too late. Containment is impossible. And she notices the misplaced decimal point too late.

The world is going to end over a misplaced decimal, placed by a too-tired scientist, in a research lab, because she broke her glasses.

The great door of fate swings on very small hinges indeed.

At this critical moment, the Doctor arrives.

Though his search has not narrowed the field to anything precise, it has been narrowed to something he can manipulate. Whatever is happening, he reasons, the monks are keeping tabs on it. As any such facility as this would have security cameras, the simplest method would be to hack the cameras and watch. Nardole uses the Tardis to hack all the security cameras in all the facilities in question and turn them off. Of course the monks turn them back on, but only in the one critical facility. And with one genius move, he’s finally caught up, the monks are no longer ahead of the Doctor… right?

Well, first there’s the nature of the crisis. It occurs to be that designing a facility that deals with biological hazards to be automatically and irreversibly vented on a schedule is not the most intelligent of ideas, so the Doctor is still racing the clock.

As the commanders become aware of the situation, they make the call to surrender to the monks. Every moment counts, and they have every human being’s life in their hands, so they do what they believe they must, and as they’ve already seen the Director die, one cannot really fault their courage either. But it’s no use. Surrendering now in order to stay alive, that is strategy, and strategy is not consent. All three of them die and become ash as well, leaving Bill the only human left in the pyramid, and she turns and flees for her life.

The Doctor, of course, manages to come up with a solution. Basic sterilization protocol: burn it with fire! The bacteria are producing ethanol, which the Doctor will set a spark to with an improvised incendiary, burning the entire lab and all the world-ending bacteria. His new Doctor friend, Erica, I think it was, helps him set it up and evacuates. The Doctor is not long behind her, and sets the clock for two minutes. He goes for the exit, but finds it jammed. Erica can’t seem to open it on her end either, so she gives him the code to enter in the lock.

…but the Doctor is blind.

He can’t see the numbers. Erica can’t see the combination mechanism from her side. Nardole, acting as the Doctor’s eyes, was exposed to the bacteria, and now lies unconscious and possibly dying or dead in the Tardis, unable to help. The Doctor is trapped, and they can’t delay the explosion. The Doctor has saved the world from the bacteria, but he’s doomed to die in the act.

And that is the truth of this moment that the monks have chosen. It’s not just some world-ending crisis, but one which is occurring while the Doctor is impaired. He dies, and the world loses its single best protector. The world ends anyway, quite likely within the next year.

It’s the ultimate Catch-22, and one the Doctor didn’t even realize he’d set himself up for.

With his last moments, he speaks to Bill, confessing his blindness, which he was far too afraid to do earlier. He’s meaning to say good-bye, but Bill sees a solution: the monks. She may not have surrendered the world for anything less, but for him, she will take any risk. The world needs him. And the monks have already established that she represents a power greater than the UN Director or the commanders of the three most powerful military powers in the world, greater than any other power: she represents the Doctor. She has power. She can “consent.”

Consent. That is the critical word. It must be voluntary and complete, allowing help to be given and knowing she will help her helpers. Not fear, not strategy, but love. That is what allows “the link to be formed.” Begging for ones life or a calculated surrender, these are not rooted in love. Love is what makes one beg their worst enemies for help, ready to do anything, pay any price, and be grateful for it.

I’m reminded of something from one of the Batman stories I’ve read. The Joker, Batman’s worst enemy, with incalculable death and torment to his credit, saves a young woman on nothing more than a whim. For all the damage he does, the girl’s mother now suddenly approves of the Joker, publicly. That’s the key. We may begrudge an enemy the terrible price of our own survival, but if they save our dearest loved one instead, then we are willing to take their side. We are willing to truly accept them, and love them, no matter what.

In similar fashion, Bill is willing to “consent,” truly, and it’s an act of love. That’s what “consent” is, really. I am most immediately reminded of acts of intimacy, to put it delicately, where one is either entirely willing or not. The monks can’t settle for anything less than wholehearted consent to what they intend to do to humanity. And that is what Bill gives them, in exchange for restoring the Doctor’s sight.

It works.

The Doctor sees, and he gets out before the inferno consumes him.

But the price is steep indeed. As Bill begs him to be sure to get her planet back for her, the monks mock him. They have won. He can see again, and what he will see is their world.

Yeah, I’d say the situation has just become desperate enough for the Doctor to ask Missy for help. It’s certainly mad enough, where it’s an act of love, not war, that dooms the world. Might as well call on the foremost expert in upending order and sowing chaos. For once, I’m not sure even she could make things worse.

Gotham

3.20 “Pretty Hate Machine”

Well that was spectacularly terrible, wasn’t it? Seriously, crap hit a fan that sent it everywhere at mach speeds.

The least terrible stage, for once, was the criminal underworld.

Amid the growing friction between Barbara and Tabitha, Riddler manages to convince the both of them and Butch that Penguin is coming for all of them with an army of freaks behind him, so they hunt him rather aggressively. Effective, but not entirely necessary, as Penguin finds himself without his freaks. Freeze and Firefly figured that their new boss was gone for good, which is a fair assumption to make when one has been abducted by the secret organization that has ruled Gotham for centuries, so they left before he returned. So, Penguin is facing all of his enemies at once with only Ivy at his back, instead of a small army.

Which leads them to Selina, whom they hope can at least locate Firefly. Butch and Riddler come crashing in, and get temporarily locked in as Penguin activates the safe house’s security, long enough for him and Ivy to escape. Selina, the first to flee, is caught by Tabitha and brought to Barbara. In exchange for money and a promise not to hurt Ivy, she quickly and easily gives Penguin up. But just as the whole gang comes for him, so does none other than Fish Mooney. She and her armed thugs simply take Penguin away, leaving the fracturing gang utterly jilted.

Penguin has an interesting rant about honor among thieves just before he’s caught. He remembers how the previous generation of crime lords – Falcone, Marone, Fish, etc. – did terrible, terrifying things, but they still had a code. They still valued loyalty, and they were loyal to their own. That’s somewhat true, I suppose, but they were also plenty duplicitous and back-stabbing as well. What really sets them apart from the current three-ring circus that is Barbara’s regime is how they were relatively sane and disciplined, rather than sadistic psychopaths. They carried themselves with dignity and pride, and that encouraged both respect and fear. Barbara, Butch, Tabitha, Riddler, all of them are more akin to squabbling children, always going, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Even Penguin, though he’s cut above the rest.

Moving over to Bruce’s corner of the story, he stands beside the mysterious leader of the Court of Owls as judgment is passed. The sentence is passed that Gotham must fall, and thus shall Bruce rise as its new protector. But first, sentence is passed on the Court’s ruling council. The rest of the Court may have survived, but the Council did not. For their decision to murder Thomas Wayne three years ago, and for the simultaneous murder of his wife Martha, the Court is sentenced to death. Even as the Court stands resolutely by their decision, the leader gives the order, and the Court’s own Talons massacre them almost before they even guess what is happening.

One detail: Bruce was supposed to give the order, but he hesitated. He did not give the order.

This does not please the head Owl, but he believes Bruce will have another chance. In particular, he intends for Bruce himself to press the trigger detonating the Tetch virus bomb. Which, that came a couple episodes sooner than expected. I thought it would be in the season finale, but I guess not. Moving on.

Having successfully tested the dispersion device, the Court, or what’s left of it in the form of Bruce and the leader, have a much bigger version, fully-loaded and full-armed by Hugo Strange, ready to deploy. The blast radius is going to be huge, instantly plunging the heart of Gotham into rampaging insanity. It’s a destruction that will devastate the city more than anything we’ve yet seen, more than crime wars, more than murderous freaks, more than the madness of Jerome. And as Bruce is to rise in the wake of this chaos as a dark and vengeful lord of the city, it shall be his hand which initiates it. This is his destiny, declares the head Owl.

Alfred, with assistance from the GCPD, is hot on their heels the entire way. First they find the massacre, and learn that Bruce is not behaving like his usual self. Then they catch up just as Bruce, the leader, and the Talons are leaving with the bomb, where Alfred sees that Bruce really isn’t himself right now. He’s been brainwashed and left bereft of his humanity, which Strange finds utterly fascinating, and everyone sane finds properly horrifying. Alfred can’t stop them from leaving, but Strange is in custody, and Bullock gives Alfred free rein in that interrgation.

Strange, ever one to preserve himself, is persuaded by simple expedient of threatening to drop him off the side of a building, and the promise of being allowed to escape if he talks. So he talks. Bruce and the Owl have gone to Wayne Enterprises to watch the havoc, which will be unleashed at 5 PM. The location and timing, the middle of rush hour, clue the cops in that the bomb is at a central train station, very densely populated at 5, so every unit goes to evacuate the place and find the bomb, but time is critically short.

As Bruce and the Owl look down on the city, the Owl is looking so very proud. He lets slip that there is someone else, someone he wants Bruce to find, “whose vision single Bruce out” for this destiny: the Demon’s Head. Ra’s al’Ghul anyone?

But that comes after their impending victory, which Alfred interrupts. The Owl remains confident, and is therefore confused as Bruce hesitates for a second time, quickly becoming agitated. After all, he’s stripped Bruce of his emotions, hasn’t he? He should do everything the Owl tells him to, right? Strange himself verified that Bruce’s mind was not his own, and that took only a glance for Strange to see. Still, for all their intellect and insight, neither man sees everything. They don’t see the words which linger deep in Bruce’s mind even when his emotions, and his self, have been taken from him.

“I will not kill.”

It transcends what Bruce feels. It is his commitment. It is a choice he made in direct contradiction to what he felt, the rage that threatened to consume him when he had Jerome at his mercy. For all that the Owl has taken from him, he hasn’t quite managed to take everything.

So he stands, needing only to speak a word or press a button, to pass judgment, to kill people… and he doesn’t.

Alfred is right: Bruce’s mind is stronger than Strange or the Owl know. No matter how it has been violated, it’s not entirely gone just yet.

Unfortunately, the Owl is so eager that he presses the switch in Bruce’s hand himself. Alfred shoots the man dead, but too late. The countdown begins. And Bruce goes into a rabid rage, attacking Alfred, needing officers to restrain him.

Still, for all this, the heroes might still have succeeded if not for one little thing.

As I feared, the straw that breaks the camel’s back: Leslie Thompkins.

Having injected herself with the Tetch virus, Lee’s inner darkness immediately comes out in full, considerable force, and what a darkness it is.

Barnes’ anger, Mario’s jealousy, and now the darkness of Thompkins, the first infected woman, is desire. Typical. Wrath, envy, and the woman is lust.

Specifically, her desire for Gordon. Whatever her true attraction to him was based on – and if I am completely honest, I never understood their initial coupling up – she is now obsessed with Jim’s darkness. She likes it, and wants it. She intends for them to be together, truly, but for that, small detail: he needs to be exposed to the darkness as well. In her mind, he needs to be injected with the darkness as well, but knows she can’t inject him herself. He needs to choose it.

To that end, she buries him alive. She very carefully carves away his every possible hope of survival. She herself goes to the GCPD to not only gloat about how she is going to show them who their hero really is, but also to dangle the chance of rescue in front of Gordon’s nose and crush before his eyes. The radio she uses to communicate with Gordon gives Bullock and the others a lead, narrowing the search very quickly, but it’s still too much territory to cover, and the GCPD is already spread too thin in the middle of an imminent crisis.

Bullock has faith in Gordon, knowing he would never willingly take the virus. That’s why Leslie had to go to all this trouble, to force Gordon to choose between either dying in the dark, or becoming a super-strong monster capable of escaping the buried coffin. It’s either take the virus, or die. And no one could really fault Gordon for saving himself. As the time runs out, Bullock is even telling him to do so: take the virus and live and they’ll figure something out.

But Gordon refuses. If survival means becoming a monster, he chooses to die instead.

Then Alfred’s information, pried from Strange, reaches Bullock and the cops, and therefore Gordon, who is still working the case even as his air gets very, very thin. He is literally defending others with his very last breath. He figures out, from what Catherine said last episode about a clock running out, that the bomb might be in the train station’s clock tower. That’s as good a place as any for it, where it can remain hidden and overlooked in plain sight. He’s just trying to tell Bullock when the radio’s battery dies. And he is left making an entirely different choice. Dying is one thing, but doing so when he could save others?

Gordon won’t become a monster to save himself, but we’ve already seen him be one to save others.

He injects himself, and bursts out of the coffin, racing to the station, sort of bulling straight through an officer on his way in, overcoming the Talon guarding the bomb with ease, and trying to disarm it. Whatever his darkness, he’s still fighting the good fight, at least for the moment. The countdown begins as events unfold in Wayne Tower, but Gordon keeps going, working on the bomb. He has only half a minute to figure out how the bomb works and disarm it, but if anyone could do that, it’s Gordon.

And then the final straw falls again. Lee escapes police custody and hits Gordon from behind, eating up what precious little time he had to work with. She grins, knowing that he is like her now, and not at all minding everyone else who will be infected. She walks away, leaving him just enough time to get to his feet…

…and the bomb goes off.

The red smoke that is the Tetch virus floods the station, spills out into the streets, shoots up into the sky in a crimson, bloody plume waving high in the wind.

Gordon is infected. Bruce is crazy. And for all that the Court has been brought low into the ground, judgment has been passed on the entire city, guilty and innocent alike.

As I said: spectacularly terrible.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales: Pirates, the Next Generation… Needs Help

I was pretty excited for this movie. Not, like, absolutely ecstatic or anything, but excited. As I’ve really enjoyed the entire Pirates series, I couldn’t really miss the fifth, and possibly final, addition to the franchise.

So, what did I think of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales?

Short version: I enjoyed it. It’s nothing really phenomenal or fantastic, but I like it well enough. 🙂

Long version: keep reading. 😉

Tales has all the bits and parts that we’ve come to expect and enjoy in a Pirates movie. It has zany, over-the-top action sequences. It has wit and cleverness. It has supernatural creatures and treasures and wonders and horrors and legends of the sea. It has a rather obvious coupling. It has British sailors. And it has a colorful cast of characters, all competing with each other to further their own agenda, not the least of which is Captain Jack Sparrow. It has all the moving bits.

If you want a good pirate-themed popcorn flick to while away a boring evening, then you will not be disappointed.

And yet it feels… lacking.

Other fans right now:
“You dare to criticize this movie?”

I think they just tried to do too much with this film, and didn’t give proper time to any of it.

The action, for instance, always felt important to the story in previous Pirate films. Indeed, the action could tell a story in and of itself. But in this one, it just felt like something that happens. It was just stuff. It was still entertaining, but not enthralling.

The same holds true for the wit and cleverness. The wit was funny, but less poignant, and the cleverness did less solving of problems and more figuring out how someone else had already solved the problems.

The supernatural creatures? The undead. Again. The treasures? They just kind of threw those in and didn’t really linger on most of them. They also retconned Jack’s compass a bit. Wonders, horrors, and legends? No subtlety.

The same again for the coupling. Will and Elizabeth were a good couple, and the chemistry between Jack and Angelica was great. But Henry and Karina? Not so much. They were just kind of plopped together and people said they were an item, but I couldn’t really buy it.

“We’ve been forcefully tied together in more ways than one.”

I was also rather disappointed in the British sailors in this film. Previously, they were many things, but they made them even more uptight than usual, and absolute idiots as well. A little depth and competence, perhaps, would not have been a bad thing.

And the characters. Henry was trying to save his father, Karina was trying to fulfill a quest that wasn’t ever supposed to be hers in the first place, Jack was trying to survive, Barbossa was trying to protect what was his, the villain was just trying to kill everyone, and everyone else was just looking out for themselves and it was all very messy and quick and the plot was all over the place and they just went from one thing to another to another to another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of keeping thing going at a fast pace, but it doesn’t hurt to take a little time to develop the characters, ya know? Barbossa’s development, especially, was very sudden.

And still they threw more stuff in that left me thinking they didn’t think this all through entirely. What was with that tribute thing? Who the heck was that witch? How did Henry’s father happen to not drown when the curse was broken? What cursed the villain and how? And how was there apparently a gap of fifteen-ish years between World’s End and Stranger Tides? How did Barbossa know how to restore the Black Pearl, and what happened to the rest of the ships? If the monkey was trapped in the bottle with the ship, how did any of the crew not get trapped as well? Does the trident rule the seas or does Kalypso? How did no one ever stumble onto that island? What was the deal with that map in the stars being so time sensitive? How did Jack, Henry, and Karina all happen to end up in the same town, all facing the gallows? How did the dead ship catch up with the Pearl? And did they really just try to open up for another sequel right in the post-credits scene?

Yes, if you really want to enjoy this movie, it’s best not to ask questions.

“I may be dead, but even I can tell that this script needs work.”

So, I’ve been basically ragging on the movie for this entire review. I want to backtrack a bit, make myself clear. I liked this movie. It’s just that I only liked it, not loved it. And I think what gets me most about it that, instead of getting a flowing narrative, we got a tale too jam-packed to flow, it just stumbles about. And while they used material from previous films, they didn’t build on it at all. That’s why they had to toss in everything that comes out of nowhere.

As for what I liked, I enjoyed how they spruced up the ghost pirates and their ship, as the way it attacked reminded me of some sea creatures opening up and devouring their prey whole. I can appreciate a story that means to say that the greatest treasure on the seas isn’t jewels or ships or power, it’s family and freedom. I did like the action and the humor, and they did at least try to up the ante there. And the actors, with what they were given to work with, performed splendidly.

It was also very cute to see Captain Jack and Jack the Monkey finally get along, if only for a moment.

Ultimately, I say again: I liked it. I enjoyed it. It’s nothing phenomenal, and it felt a little lackluster compared to the rest of the franchise, but I like it in spite of its flaws.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

“I was in the freaking trailer, and I got barely a minute of screen time…”

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Sunday’s Wisdom #132: Having Nothing to Spare

“Sometimes we make the most out of our time when we have the least to spare.”
– Henrietta Lang, NCIS: Los Angeles
Season 8, Episode 11, “Tidings We Bring”

Oh, too true.

In this particular instance, Hetty has just used an example where a great composer finished a masterful work the night before it debuted in public, but it extends so much further. When time is short, at the eleventh hour, is when we often have our greatest breaks, and achieve our greatest deeds. Everyone from fighters to philosophers to politicians to artists… everyone has those moments where they’re caught between a clock and a hard place, and inspiration finally strikes.

Even more explicitly, there are the people who know that their time is running out completely. People who suffer from terrible diseases are the most obvious example of that. I can’t count the number of stories that revolve around a person who learns they’re dying and suddenly they focus on what matters most (personal favorite: The Bucket List). In the face of death, we contemplate the true value to be found in life.

A lot of our time is spent just on our continuing survival. We go to work so we can get money so we can pay for food and shelter. Take survival out of the equation, and suddenly we are free to spend our time on what we truly want and love. We take what matters most to us, hold it tight, and let got of everything else. If only we could live like that every day of our lives.

What a man truly treasures can be found in what he spends his time (and money) on when he has nothing really to spare.

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This Week on TV, May 27, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

And then there were three. Doctor Who delivered a resoundingly excellent episode. Gotham is building towards its season finale in a few weeks with a serious uptake in action and an evolving mess of intrigue. And Arrow had its finale this week, and while it was tense and action-filled, it also left me feeling a bit lukewarm towards the series. I’m leaning towards dropping it from my lineup as of next season.

Doctor Who

10.06 “Extremis”

Wow. I think that might be the most emphatic warning of an impending threat we’ve yet seen in Doctor Who, and we’re only halfway through the season! Overall, I have to say… it’s a sudden and dramatic uptake in quality all around!

The episode begins with the Doctor lurking in front of the Vault, sinking low under the weight of his great mistake, the one which cost him his sight and made him, the Vault’s guardian, vulnerable. He’s making do with his glasses, psychically connecting their readings to his awareness, serving as a substitute of sorts, but he’s barely getting by.

Then he gets an email titled, “Extremis.”

The scene quite suddenly cuts to the Doctor in his classroom at night, when a number of men in priestly robes. They are come straight from the Vatican, in fact the Pope himself is there, to ask for the Doctor’s help.

Interspersed with the present events, we see the Doctor in the midst of some other robed men. They are a people devoted to execution in the service of justice. Today’s criminal: Missy. The Doctor is attending her execution, one which is likely to be a certain thing as the device they’ll use has been calibrated to stop both hearts, all three brain stems, and deliver a cellular shock to disable all regenerative ability. Not much point executing someone when they can just get right back up, after all. And then, just to be absolutely certain, her body will be put into a special chamber, guarded for a thousand years. Also, it must be a fellow Time Lord who flips the switch, so the Doctor isn’t just a witness, he’s her executioner.

Missy, of course, begs for her life. She begs the Doctor, a man who has spared her, and her previous incarnations, on any number of occasions, and she has gone on, every time, to make exponential additions to the list of atrocities she has committed, not least of which is the body count, and now she swears she will “turn good,” that he can teach her, etc. The desperate pleadings of a being who has never shown compassion to its many, many, many victims. Her execution is long overdue.

But can, and should, the Doctor be the one to do it?

To answer this question comes a “priest,” namely Nardole, sent by River Song to counsel the Doctor. The words she sends to him are those of virtue in extremis. The argument is that virtue is only true virtue if it is unbreakable, even and most especially in extreme situations. If there is no hope, no recognition, no reward involved – in short, if it is done privately and unselfishly, when it would be easy enough to bend, to break, and nobody would ever know – that is when virtue is proven. In the shadows, in the final hour, that is when we truly are true.

River Song saw enough the Doctor to know that he has remained true to the virtues he proclaims, even in the most “extreme” of situations, and that is why she loved him.

A none-too-subtle hint that the Doctor should not go through with executing Missy, who now, in her final moments, with nothing to gain, says she is his friend.

He flips the switch, and she falls over, but she’s not dead. He did a little something to the wiring so she was only knocked out. Then he and Nardole locked her in the Vault, which he swore to guard for a thousand years.

Oh, and he also cleared the unhappy executioners from the way simply by having them look up how many deaths he has been responsible for. That sends them running, complete with a, “Have a nice day!” LOL!

And that is how they got the Vault, where the oath came from, and how Nardole came to be the Doctor’s keeper, the only one authorized, by the Doctor’s wife, to kick his ass if needed. He doesn’t look like much, and he doesn’t seem like much, but he is proving to have impressive hidden depths.

Back in the present, the Pope’s request to the Doctor is somewhat intricate and urgent. There is a volume entitled Veritas locked away in the heart of their library of dangerous, heretical manuscripts. Something about this volume is so exceedingly dangerous that every person who has read it has taken their own lives. Also, the Vatican has received instructions from a Pope of a thousand years ago that they are to specifically ask the Doctor for assistance. So, they do. They ask him to risk the dangers of reading the Veritas manuscript. He accepts.

First, though, they pick up Bill. Interrupting her date with another lesbian by dropping the Pope into her bedroom. Yes, she is testy about that, but rises to the occasion and accompanying them.

I believe I recognized the library they went to from the trailers for this season, the one that had Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor walking towards a bunch of screaming shadow-face things or something like that. That could just be a fluke, but I was suddenly expecting something of significance was about to happen, and it did.

First, there’s the blue light, emanating from an opening, a door, a portal of some kind. There’s a figure in the light, but it closes as they approach. The cardinal guiding them takes a moment to examine the wall where the portal appeared, to try and determine if it has been breached. The others go straight for Veritas, and so they don’t see the twisted, withered hand suddenly reaching out of the wall and making the cardinal disappear without a trace. They do find the last living translator, who confesses sending a copy of Veritas to CERN via email before running off and shooting himself. In regards to that last, the Doctor sends Bill and Nardole to investigate.

Here, more kudos to Nardole, making it clear that he will protect Bill and expects her to follow any instructions he gives to that end, even if he has to kick her ass to make her do so. Also, more mistakes by the Doctor. He’s keeping his blindness from Bill so he doesn’t have to face it himself, and in so doing he opens up himself up to more threats. He sent Bill away with Nardole, leaving himself unprotected and vulnerable while he uses a device to temporarily restore his sight so he can read Veritas. That nearly costs him his life as the robed figure which made the cardinal disappear approaches and, as he’s still disoriented, binds him to a chair before he realizes he’s in the company of enemies. At which point all he can do is turn the lights off and escape with the laptop that has a copy of Veritas on it. The Doctor’s unreliable sight fails too soon, and he’s not only unable to read the file past the sub-title, “A Test of Shadows,” but he barely makes it out alive as the withered-monk-people pursue him.

While the Doctor is nearly getting killed, Bill and Nardole find another portal and investigate. They step through into a chamber with a dozen boxes projecting portals onto the walls. Through one, they find the Pentagon. Through another, they find CERN, where everyone has read Veritas and they’re all killing themselves together. They say they’re saving the world, which Bill questions. They explain by having Bill and Nardole, together, select numbers at random… and every number is the same. The scientists join in, and they’re all saying exactly the same numbers at the same time. The world isn’t real, they say, and Bill and Nardole flee from more than just the imminent explosion, in terror.

Nardole is the one to put things together as they step back into the portal room. What if the projectors creating the portals aren’t just projecting portals? What if they’re projecting the entire world and everyone in it? Testing the theory, Nardole steps behind the projectors, out of the light, into the darkness, “where all is revealed.” And then he disappears, bunch of computer bits coming apart at the seams. Again, Bill flees, this time to the White House, where she finds a President that has killed himself and the Doctor, who has just listened to Veritas, and explains.

The world is a simulation. The people, too, are simulations, including Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor. The simulation is crafted by an alien entity who running it as a test of Earth’s response when it invades. It’s practicing its conquest of the planet. They are a shadow world, crafted to bring about the real Earth’s downfall. That’s why they all choose the same numbers, because computers aren’t good at choosing at random. That’s why the withered monks called it a game. And it’s why the scientists said they were saving the world, not only protecting the shadow world from the truth, but also deleting themselves from the program, so the simulation will be incomplete, and maybe, just maybe, giving Earth a chance.

But there is no hope, none at all, for they themselves, as emphasized by the withered monk deleting Bill right in front of the Doctor.

It’s the ultimate extreme situation. There is no hope, no one to know, and no reward to be gained. But… that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do. The simulation, the Doctor says, is just a little too good. It includes his blindness and his glasses, which he now saves a memory file to, so he’ll remember this all the next time around, if things go that far. Ah, but the monk won’t let that happen… so the Doctor does one better. He emails the file, “Extremis,” to someone. Who? Heh, who else? He sends it to the real-world Doctor.

And that is what we’ve been watching. From the moment the Doctor opened the message, he was witnessing the memory, warning him of incoming danger. And he’s up, no longer stuck in the misery of his mistake. First he calls Bill, tells her to ask out that woman the shadow version of herself was on a date with. Then he faces the Vault, wherein lies Missy, his friend, and his ultimate last resort. His blindness is crippling, which means his ability to defend the world is weakened. If she’s all he has left to work with, then he will use her, and hope for the best. A desperate move, an insane idea, and the only one left to him after his calamitous errors.

So… how much time do they have left? Who and what is the enemy? Will Missy truly help them? And if so, can even she and a crippled Doctor stop what’s coming, when the enemy has infinite chances to practice its invasion?

Gotham

3.19 “All Will Be Judged”

What was that I said last week about the intrigue being shepherded towards a violent culmination? More like being violently shoved off a cliff towards it!

Barnes is back, and he is force to be reckoned with!

Gordon and Bullock are trying to find the Court’s virus bomb – I’m betting there’s more than one – by finding their secret locations, their meeting places, safe houses, and storage spaces that they’ve hidden throughout the city. Gordon follows the money, looking into Catherine’s holdings, and finds a tenement building that has a discrepancy between blueprints and city records, indicating the presence of a secret room. Ah, detective work: going through massive amounts of information to find one single, critical piece of the puzzle.

It works out, they go and find the secret space. It also doesn’t work out, as Barnes, armed and armored, ambushes and overwhelms them. Bullock is knocked out and Gordon is kidnapped.

Catherine takes a moment to make it clear, she knows Gordon has betrayed her, and she knows, by extension, that Strange has also duped her. She’s cleaning house now, starting with giving Gordon to Barnes. Barnes goes through the motions of a “trial” before proclaiming Gordon guilty, sentencing him to death, and making to carry out said sentence. Gordon manages to trick Barnes, pulling the pin from one of Barnes’ grenades, but Barnes manages to take it out and toss it before he’s blown up (darn those quick, smart enemies!). But it does buy those last few seconds needed for Bullock and the GCPD to catch up, saving Gordon and forcing Barnes to flee. (whew!)

At this point, the Court and the GCPD are pretty much declaring open war on each other, starting with Catherine being brought in for questioning. And just as things are starting to go their way, here comes more bad news, in the form of Alfred.

Alfred is finally wise to Bruce’s abduction. Selina showed up and tried to kill Hush, and got knocked out again for her trouble, but she wounded him, and his lack of a reaction clued Alfred in. Hush managed to beat Alfred and escape without revealing anything, because even if he’s dying, his body is still plenty freakish strong. He didn’t kill either Alfred or Selina, though. He just left.

Alfred is frantic, but Selina is running on empty. She’s out of physical strength and, even more, the will to do anything. She and Bruce have been good friends for a couple of years now. He’s been good to her, and she’s been good to him, but now? Now she’s turning her back. She went to Wayne Manor for revenge, not to help anyone. She opened herself up to others once and got hurt for it, so she’s shutting down, focusing only on herself.

Alfred, a former soldier, sees that as betrayal, and banishes Selina from the manor forever, before going for the best and nearest help he can get: Gordon.

Yet again, Bruce has been kidnapped, and it takes nerve for Alfred to begin telling them about the Court, a story most would call crazy, but he finds Gordon and Bullock already up to speed. Very handy, that, and now they can all join forces. In comparing notes, Gordon and Bullock mention how they found a crystal owl statue, and when light shines through it, it reveals a map of Gotham, highlighting all of the Court’s secret locations, unfortunately it got blown to bits by Barnes. But Bruce, Alfred, and Selina found a similar statue months ago, and now it makes perfect sense why the Court would guard it and call it a weapon that can be used to destroy them. Knowledge is power, after all, and revealing all of their locations to an enemy could certainly destroy them. They could be hunted down without any place left to hide.

Small downside: Jerome broke the statue, but they know a guy who can put it back together well enough to get at the information within.

While that’s going on, they have Catherine to interrogate. They don’t learn much, outside the truth that she is not the true leader of the Court, but we certainly learn that Alfred won’t hesitate to torture an old woman if that woman knows anything about Bruce’s abduction. Unfortunately, Barnes comes crashing in, bulldozing straight through the bulk of the GCPD in the main room, overwhelming Alfred, Bullock, and Gordon as they try to take Catherine out the door, and not remotely hesitating to kill Catherine either. Hey, you play with fire, you get burned, Catherine. No one’s going to mourn her.

Gordon barely manages to get an edge on Barnes, by blowing the man’s entire hand off, and they take him into custody… for literally five minutes before he escapes again. Good grief, they just can’t catch a break, can they? But they do have the Court’s own map, at least, and an entire police force to mobilize against the Court. They still have a lot of work to do, finding the weapon, finding Bruce, and guarding against both Barnes and the mysterious leader of the Court, but they have a chance.

Speaking of Bruce and the leader, the two of them return to Gotham, at one of the Court’s secret locations. There, the old man tries to convince Bruce to give up the pain of his parents’ death. He only succeeds by showing him his own furious reaction to the Wayne’s deaths, where he killed the messenger who bore the news and tried to justify it by saying Thomas threatened exposure, as Gordon’s father once did. The old man declares that the Court has always been a means to an end, and with judgment finally at hand, the Court has served its purpose. Now it’s time for the Court to pay for its crimes, and for Bruce to become the city’s protector atop both its own ruin and the Court’s own broken bodies.

Bruce begins to believe there is a connection between him and the old man. I’m guessing the old man is his grandfather, either his mother’s father or, more likely, the eldest surviving Wayne. Which just makes what he does to Bruce all the more monstrous for that connection. Bruce finally relents, giving up his pain, and then the old man reveals that a young mind without pain is one that he can freely sculpt like clay, as the Court has done to the Talons. Feeling nothing, they will freely do everything they are told.

I almost called this one. I could see the old man’s hypocrisy, the lies, the facade he wore, and as head of the Court he is every bit as guilty of their crimes as the rest of the Court, yet he’s casting them aside now after using them. So, he was clearly anything but virtuous. Brainwashing Bruce, though, by tricking him into giving up the pain that anchors his humanity, oh, that’s even lower than I’d guessed.

So… if they’re going to save Bruce, how do they need to make him feel something again? Maybe get Selina to confess what she feels for him? Just a thought.

Elsewhere, Penguin and Riddler are both trying to escape while simultaneously trying to undermine each other. That goes about as expected, with neither of them making any headway, so they have to agree to work together. The terms are simple and firm: they form an alliance that will last for six hours, long enough to get out without having to guard against each other, and then they’ll be free to kill each other. It works, they dupe the guards and slaughter their way outside. Then they exchange a few more words and warnings, Penguin letting slip that he has an army of Indian Hill freaks, and walk away. War has been declared between the two men and those with them.

So, Riddler and Barbara will be fighting Penguin and his freaks while both sides and Alfred and the GCPD are going to war against the Court of Owls, who are about to destroy the city and be destroyed by their own leader, and somewhere in all of this, Barnes will still be running about. Have I missed anything?

Oh, and Thompkins.

Plagued by nightmares and guilt, Thompkins has willingly chosen to steal the GCPD’s sample of the Tetch virus and inject herself with it. She’s chosen to free and enhance her darkness.

When it rains, it pours, and Thompkins could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Arrow

5.23 “Lian Yu”

This is it. The literally-explosive season finale.

This is the end-game of Chase’s master plan.

It’s also the end of the five-year flashbacks. Free from the cage and the threat of suicide, Ollie rains homicidal havoc down on Kovar and his men. He cuts through them like a hot knife through warm butter. Kovar is last, and the man thinks he will at least have the vengeance of imprisoning Ollie on the island forever, just by making him miss the fishing boat. But Ollie finishes Kovar off quickly, and hastily disguises himself as dirty, ragged, with a wig and fake beard, before running for the coast and setting off the bonfire. And we have come full circle to the first moments of the show.

And we see Ollie on the boat, calling his mother. It’s so simple, and so heart-wrenching. He’s gone through so much, before and after this moment, but he’s finally hearing his mother’s voice again. The price is high, but he’s won at last.

I have to admit, I was wondering why he was so frantic in those first moments. I wasn’t sure why that would be so, but apparently he’d just come off a hellish ordeal and a narrow victory and was racing against time.

Back in the present, up against incredible odds, Ollie calls on his past enemies. He frees Captain Boomerang, promising his freedom in exchange for his help, and he makes a deal with Slade, who will don the Deathstroke mask again and help Ollie save his friends and family in exchange for freedom and help in finding his own son. That makes five, including Merlyn and Nyssa, searching Lian Yu for Ollie’s friends and enemies.

Boomerang’s alliance with Ollie is short-lived, as Chase already made him an offer, one more substantial that just freedom. As Merlyn and Nyssa go searching in another direction, Evelyn and Talia get the drop on Ollie and Slade, with Boomerang pulling a gun on them as well. But Slade is clever, and uses the assumption that he’ll betray Ollie too to get the drop on Boomerang, and the two men hold their own until Merlyn and Nyssa arrive, driving Talia and Boomerang to retreat, and leave Evelyn behind.

Appropriately, as they free Ollie’s friends from cages, they put Evelyn in one of them. She chose poorly, and have I mentioned how much I dislike what they did with her character? But what’s done is done. In similar spirit, with Thea freed, she is rather justifiably angry, but the situation is too dire for her to do anything but accept the help of both Slade and Merlyn. That’s one group of friends sent towards Chase’s plane to get off the island.

Not that easy, though.

Not only does Thea step on an old mine, but Boomerang is coming up on their tail with assassins in tow. Merlyn unceremoniously shoves his daughter off the mine, taking her place, and drawing Boomerang towards the mine. The team runs, and there’s an explosion not long behind them. It would appear that Merlyn has made the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter, an act that leaves Thea confused by conflicting emotions. She hated him so much, and was perfectly justified in that, but he still gave his life for her. What’s she supposed to feel about that?

As for Ollie and Slade, they pull the fake betrayal ruse for a second time, getting Ollie close enough to pass Curtis’ new canary collar to Dinah, freeing herself, Rene, Lance, and Digs. Then it’s an all-out melee, with Dinah and Siren colliding before Lance hits Siren over the head, Nyssa defeating Talia, and the rest of the assassins falling while Ollie takes on Chase himself, finally beating him, having him at his mercy, but still lacking on thing: his son.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team finds a sabotaged plane and a bomb in the ground. The bomb is one of many, placed all across the island, set to go off simultaneously via a wireless network the instant Chase dies. The man is really crazy, trying to goad Ollie into killing him again and again, just so the bombs will go off and kill everyone.

Chase manages to escape, with Ollie sending his assembled allies to the plane, not knowing about the sabotage, while he pursues Chase. Chase makes it to a small boat, getting off the island, but not before Ollie’s on the boat as well, and finally Chase reveals where William is: right there, on the boat, in the cabin. He tries to force Ollie to choose: either Ollie kills Chase, saving William but dooming everyone on the island, or Chase kills William in front of Ollie.

Ollie shoots Chase in the leg instead, saving William, but Chase kills himself. His final revenge is in his death, as the entire island goes up in flame.

Cliffhanger.

Of course, had I been one of Ollie’s friends on the island, I probably would have avoided running across the explosive-riddled island and raced for the shore instead, taking the longer, safer way instead of running a gauntlet that I know was crafted by a homicidal madman, ya know? I’m guessing that’s how the team’s survived, but it does leave in question the fates of Evelyn, Talia, Siren, and the other assassins. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Merlyn managed to survive too.

We’ll just have to wait and see, which… is it odd that I don’t really feel any tension at this point? I mean, why bother? They did a better job with this season than they did with the previous two, but they also did a bit too much and we know the team has to have survived. I have no idea what they can or will do for next season, but I’m not feeling so invested in that anymore, ya know?

I’ll probably still follow the show, but I think I’ll drop it from my lineup next season.

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