Marvel’s Most Punishing Work Yet

Someone, somewhere is saying, “I will create the single most brutal revenge story ever!” That dream will die horribly when they see Marvel’s latest Netflix series, The Punisher.

I remember how Deadpool clearly advertised itself as being not for kids, and still some parents were overwhelmingly and mind-numbingly stupid enough to take their kids to go and see it. Deadpool has absolutely nothing on Punisher. It is easily one of the darkest, bloodiest, most tragic and violent things I have ever seen, and that is only one way in which it is incredibly not child-friendly. It is coarse in language, sexually graphic, and emotionally intense. So, please, for the sweet love of whatever you love, I cannot stress this strongly enough: do not show this to the kids.

On a related note, I am just going to say that I spent a great deal of the show just wanting it to be over. To be clear, unlike previous Defender-themed shows, with exception to the first season of Daredevil, it didn’t ever feel like it slowed down or lost tension. It was just a massively uncomfortable experience that felt like it would never end, much like the personal Hell that the show’s protagonist endures.

Speaking of, Frank Castle, introduced in Daredevil‘s second season as a lunatic antihero with a lot of firepower and experience at his command, is now given some room to breathe in his own show. With a great deal of the setup complete, we follow Frank as he completes his quest for revenge. First he finishes up with the various gangsters who survived his previous rampage, and then he settles into a quiet life, one where he’s just going through the motions as his demons torment him without end. Then fate steps in and he finds himself pulled back in, learning that his mission isn’t over yet. The gangsters were just pawns, and the real culprits in the murder of Frank’s wife and children are still out there, hidden, powerful, dangerous, and still spilling innocent blood. So, he goes after them, to kill them.

And hey! This time he has allies! Karen Paige makes a couple of appearances, an old war buddy has his back, a highly-skilled hacker forms an unlikely partnership with him (no small thing, when dealing with a man as intractable as Frank Castle), and there’s even some agents at the Department of Homeland Security who happen to be after the same people as Frank. He certainly needs all the help he can get, as the nature of the enemy, with all his puppet strings, is slowly unveiled. Even worse, in what is probably the most predictable turn of events after we already saw Frank was betrayed by his own comrades, the single worst and most dangerous of his enemies is another former comrade, a former friend, a former brother-in-spirit, who stabs people in the back as easily as breathing, and still manages to think he has some sort of moral high ground to stand on.

That last is only one example of how personal things are for everyone in this story. It’s a slow-moving, slow-boiling narrative, taking its time to move all the pieces into place, and there are a number of them. Oddly, Frank’s vengeful mission takes on something more noble, as he protects the innocent, restores a broken family, and helps to see justice done when mere punishment fails to get the job done. All of this, and maybe, just maybe, perhaps even the Punisher himself is redeemed a little, and finds just a sliver of peace at the end of the day.

All of this blood, horror, and excruciating pain, all of the filth, the nightmares, the demons running rampant in people’s heads, and at the end of the day, there is still something at the bottom of the muddy sludge which is worth one’s while to be find, and treasure. Even deep wounds can heal, or at least stop bleeding, though the scars may never completely fade.

So, it’s an extremely rough ride, and one that I probably rode more so I could contribute to the conversation about it, rather than anything else. I have issues with the content, the material, and the we-see-it-coming-miles-away betrayal, but there’s still something about the show to recommend. It explores the bonds that form and endure between rough, unstable men, and how they help each other despite thinking they don’t need help. It lingers long on the pain, the loss, the sacrifice, and the untreatable psychological scars that plague the men and women who protect and serve a nation. It digs deep through the muck to find a precious jewel, or at least some spare change to pay for a hot meal.

It is, quite simply, a unique and powerful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Interestingly, this is the first of Marvel’s works that absolutely could take place in the real world. The world of the MCU may have superheroes now, and has had them for years, but there aren’t that many, and most of the world goes day after day without them. Punisher takes place in this world, but it lacks anything “super.” Not even street-level super like Luke Cage or Jessica Jones. It’s a bunch of perfectly normal(ish) people, in a believable, horrifying situation, all the more terrifying because here, there is no magical cavalry coming to save the day at the last minute. Death is real, the danger is real, and the violence is incredibly realistic. (with exception to just how effective and durable a bulletproof vest is, I think) Heck, enemies can simply come out of nowhere, a simple, ordinary Joe who suddenly hits a breaking point and goes crazy.

In regards to that last, I was wondering why were following this one random returned soldier boy with psychological problems. That turned out to be so we’d know who this guy was when he started making trouble as a side-villain, creating a circumstance for the true villain to reveal himself to the heroes. They did a bit of stretching for that, and for some other moments, but it worked out.

Point being, things felt very real for most of the show. Not just “suspension of disbelief” real, but real. That made all of the emotional weight even heavier.

And this is why I was wanting the show to end for so long. I just wanted some relief. If they hadn’t had any humor in the show – yes, as surprising (and colorful) as it was, there was humor – then even my stubborn, story-craving brain might not have made it through the entire series.

The Punisher is a grisly, gruesome piece of work, not meant for kids or the faint of heart, filled with intrigue and action, dark, bloody, and emotionally powerful. You watch it at your own peril, and once you start, you just might be a little bit hooked.

Rating: 6 stars out of 10. (after subtracting points for the content)

Grade: C-Minus. (also subtracting for the content)

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Anime Review: .hack//Sign

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather ’round and listen well to the story I shall tell! Once upon a time, not so long ago… the internet did not exist! No, seriously, it just wasn’t there. It hadn’t developed. I may still have a few years left until I am officially “old,” but I am witness to a great deal of its advancement.

I remember when Disney produced Hercules, and it was such a cool thing that they had tiny, two-word sound bites on the website. (“CRUSH ZEUS!” which I didn’t think it would be that short, so I was wondering why I wasn’t hearing anything, turned the volume WAY up, clicked again, and apparently scared the crap out of our dog… who was upstairs at the time) And now we’ve come such a long way so quickly, where phones have apps, email, browsers, GPS, and more; kids have iPods and iPads, and tablets with touch screens (I hate touch screens) are everywhere; and gaming has practically become a way of life, with Halo, Call of Duty, Warcraft, League of Legends, and everything else, connecting people in teams with members all across the planet.

The stories we create are a reflection of the society in which we live. The adventures of our superheroes speak of troubled times and indomitable human spirit. Fantasy proclaims hope and faith in the face of darkness. Science fiction speaks to the future, the fears we still have to the face, the issues we have yet to solve as we examine the human condition. Dystopian stories warn us of dangers, especially that of a single way of thinking coming to dominate a world where everyone is connected. With the world changing so drastically and dramatically as it has, it was only a matter of time before someone created a story about a person getting trapped in a game.

What’s impressive, I think, is that this story was produced back in 2002, when it was much more far-fetched. It was also conceived in a unique way, a single franchise, one overarching story, designed to stretch across an anime, a manga, and a game series. It was ambitious, and unique, and it had never been done before. Of course, I don’t think it’s been done since then, either, so that might say something about the experience of consuming said story. Nonetheless, it was bold, new, fresh, well-crafted in every technical sense, and it was something of a cult hit. It may not be in the spotlight much anymore, but I imagine people still remember it by name. It was, and is, a cultural phenomenon, and there is no doubt as to its influence and legacy.

And with that rather lengthy, ponderous introduction, I present: .hack//Sign.

(pronounced, for the uninitiated, as “Dot Hack Sign”)

And there is actually some method to my madness with that intro. See, .hack//Sign was among the earlier anime I ever watched, and it was unique among them in the fact that it had a lot of talking about issues and whatever and very little actually happening. It’s not like it was any more boring than Dragonball Z, which is the epitome of “dragging things out,” but, I’m going to be honest, it was not thrilling. I spent most of the show waiting for stuff to happen. But I also learned that there is some value in there being less action, depending on what you’re trying to do, and what this anime was trying to do did not really need much action at all.

The story is about Tsukasa, a young boy who wakes up somewhere inside an interactive virtual reality MMORPG game called “The World.” Unlike any of the other players, he is actually in the game, a part of it, experiencing it, and he can’t log out. He doesn’t much mind at first, in fact he finds it liberating and empowering, to be free from that ridiculous real world where he suffered abuse at the hands of his father. Then, slowly, he comes to learn that what was done to him was part of something much worse, and the entity which did it, which has no physical form in the World, is anything but his friend. The fate of many may hinge simply on whether or not Tsukasa can form real relationships with people, and choose to live without fear in the real world.

Now, one could easily argue that the story did not need nearly so many episodes. The plot advances slowly, most character interactions are just conversations, the characters are developed slowly as well, if at all, the information presented can be unreliable, and it takes its sweet time dealing with such psychological issues as anxiety, escapism, and interpersonal relationships.

One could also argue that the story takes the time it needs to make the story feel realistic and important in some way.

Personally, I think there are flaws in the narrative, especially the pacing, but they still manage to follow a number of threads that come together every so often, and something important happens pretty much exactly when one is most tempted to drop the show. It could have used some editing and trimming, perhaps, but there’s still some serious skill at work here. For all that so little happens, they keep you coming back for more, all the way to the end. It’s an unconventional method, but one that worked.

It has to be said, that could not have been done without the masterful, entrancing soundtrack produced by Yuki Kaijura, who is a powerhouse in the business of anime soundtracks, and, coincidentally, would produce the soundtrack for Sword Art Online, a definite successor to the motif of trapping people within games, a full decade after the success of .hack//Sign. The music is just so haunting and gripping, it gets under your skin. Fifteen years later, and I’m still listening to that “Key of the Twilight” song on a regular basis, it’s one of my favorites.

For me, my biggest complaint is my usual pet peeve: the anime ends before the story does! It ends practically before the story begins! This is the launching point for the manga and the games, and they finish the story. But, as for Tsukasa, it does finish his part of the story, at the very least.

I suppose .hack//Sign is much like many classic anime, and classic stories in general: often flawed, but riveting.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #158: Ordinary Life is Not Dull

“This is my life now, and it just turned you white as a sheet, so don’t you call it dull again. Ever. OK?”
– Amelia Pond, Doctor Who
Season 5, Episode 7, “Amy’s Choice”

One of my favorite moments from Doctor Who. 🙂

The Doctor and his friends, Amy and Rory, are caught in between two apparent realities, one of which is a dream, according to their enemy. The three of them are being yanked between one scenario, where they’re in space and falling toward an unusual star, and another, where they’re facing an as-yet-unknown danger in a quiet village where nothing extraordinary happens. The Doctor is, at this moment, screaming about how his brain isn’t working properly because “this village is so dull!

I mean, he is accustomed to zooming about, flitting from one crisis to another, never a boring moment, and he loves it, so this quiet, peaceful, monotonous village really does not appeal to him. He loves excitement!

Suddenly, Amy, heavily pregnant, lets out a yell because the baby’s coming now and both men leap into overdrive, the Doctor, for all his grand adventures and his nerves of steel, is practically panicking on the spot… until Amy stops screaming and reveals she was just faking, the baby’s not coming. The Doctor is confused, why would she fake it? She looks him straight in the eye and says the above quote. And that “OK?” at the end is more like a statement and a command than a question.

That’s Amy, one, and Doctor, humbled. 🙂

As much as we tend to like the idea of adventure, of going out to do incredible things, of fast-paced lives that keep us occupied and running around, I think we sometimes forget a simple truth: ordinary life is anything but dull. In fact, it’s quite amazing. And daunting. Just ask any parent or teacher: are their lives boring? Nope. Far from it.

Life does not need to be a maelstrom to be exciting.

All of my best memories, and most terrifying experiences, come from normal days, especially spending time with family. What greater adventure could I ever want, eh?

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This Week on TV, Nov. 25, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

Technically, this was a sparse week for my lineup. With Inhumans finished, Agents of Shield still to premiere next week, and Gotham skipping Thanksgiving week, not to mention Doctor Who still being in lineup limbo and waiting until next fall to return, the only member of my lineup to air this week was The Gifted.

That’s all right though. It was fantastic enough to carry the week all on its own. 🙂

So, without any further ado, and with lots and lots of talking…

The Gifted

1.08 “threat of eXtinction”

Whoa.

They actually managed to take things up a notch, and not with something so simple as danger, darkness, action, etc., but with the immense emotional weight of secrets revealed, and devastating personal loss.

Episode begins with its usual prologue… only, not remotely usual. Why are we looking at something that happened in 1952? Ok, these two, man and woman, siblings, mutants, apparently have some destruction to their credit. They’re in hiding, talking about “the organization,” the phone rings, confirming their presence, agents storm in… and the two just hold hands and the people scream and die or something along those lines. The siblings are smiling at that.

Which, something to note: almost everything we’ve seen the Underground do, almost everything the mutants have done, has been in response to being hated and hunted. It is amazingly common for them to be the victims. However, though the world pushes one to the brink, and beyond, there is still a point where one can no longer be called “innocent.” Whether innocence lives or dies comes down to one’s choice. Though the Underground has done some pretty questionable things, things that would haunt any man in his nightmares, it is their choices, not their circumstances, which determine that they remain innocent of wrongdoing, and innocent of malice. The siblings in the prologue, by contrast, very much enjoyed what they were doing, that people were dying by their hand. They may have been attacked, but they were most definitely not innocent.

Back in the present:

Hot on the heels of last episode’s revelation involving Trask Industries and Reed’s father, Reed speaks to his family, letting them hear it from him first. Not only is that a wise, mature, responsible choice, sparing his family from any sort of rumors about their family, but it’s also the best way to approach revealing a secret to his children. He and Cait told them that their grandfather disappeared, ran out on his family, but that wasn’t entirely true. Grandma and Grandpa certainly split apart, but the adults have intentionally kept the kids from meeting him or even knowing about him. Reed has some long-running pain on that subject, including how he once got sick, to the point of almost dying, and his father didn’t even leave the lab to see his son in the hospital. Yeah, definite issues here.

Unfortunately, that situation turns out to be anything but simple, but more on that later.

Basically, Reed’s father is the one and only lead they’ve got, to try and find out what SS is doing to mutants. He and Thunderbird plan to go see him together, but first they have some refugees to help, as another station was hit and the escaped survivors need help. While Thunderbird sees to that, Reed is to prep a car and supplies for immediate departure once they get back.

Thunderbird, Eclipse, and Blink arrive at the church that’s sheltering the escapees and a few strays, and start getting everyone loaded up. Blink meets a scared little girl, Eclipse gives a little boy a teddy bear, and Thunderbird is approached by a telepath who warns him that she’s been getting some weird thoughts from one of the others. Thunderbird assumes it’s a big guy, but Campbell is clever: he sent in a smaller woman. She’s silent when he talks to her, and then goes berserk when he sees her Hound tattoo. Everyone is caught off guard, and this woman is seriously fast, and pretty strong for her size. No one is killed, but several of them are injured, even Thunderbird is physically outmatched. Eclipse manages to use his beams to pen her into one spot long enough for Blink to help Thunderbird take her from behind and above.

Just a few frantic seconds, and she laid out several people, and it took three highly-skilled mutants working together to stop her, and it took a psychic to reveal her before they took her back to HQ. If she’d been able to run amok in their refuge, there’s no telling how bad it would have gotten. And apparently, that’s exactly what happened at the station that these people just escaped from: one of the Hounds got inside and attacked it from within.

It’s pretty clever: send the Hounds in among the refugees, have one take out one station, have another take out the next station that the new group of refugees takes them to. It’s not just attacking one location or another, it’s attacking the entire network in rapid succession, and with minimal resources. Even if the Underground manages to weather the first wave of attacks, they’re still left crippled and questioning whether or not they can even keep taking in anyone else in need, if any of them could be an enemy waiting to strike. On that last, Thunderbird is clear: they’re going to keep helping people.

On another note, I would say it’s entirely valid to not take refugees into your most precious sanctuaries when you not only have to be afraid of enemy agents hidden among them, but when you can be pretty certain of such. The greater the certainty, the more foolish it is to take the risk. Even the great virtue of charity can become a vice.

Just as the Underground has had to adapt to the changing war with SS and Trask, so should they adapt to this. The obvious choice is to stop taking in new refugees until you can put some safeguard in place, to screen the enemy from among the ally. Fortunately, the Hounds have all been marked on the arm thus far, but there should definitely be something more than just checking for the tattoo. The telepath was invaluable just now, and that is certainly worth exploring. Unfortunately, psychics are something of a rarity even among mutants.

For now, they’ve subdued and captured a Hound before she could do any damage. Thunderbird has to leave that issue to Eclipse and Polaris to handle, as he and Reed have a lead they have to follow posthaste. They’re instructed to find out what they can about her, and, as leaders, they need to work together on this.

That’s a bit difficult right now, as they’re still fighting about his work with the cartel. As I mentioned, Polaris’ issue isn’t just with what he did, but that he enjoyed it so much, and how Carmen kissed him right after it was done. But Eclipse did what he did for her, and they really can’t afford to start a war with the cartel right now. They have a baby to protect, which Polaris is wondering how they can do that when they can’t even protect themselves. Eclipse tells her that they’ll do it together.

He’s trying. He really is, and he’s doing his best. Still, the rift between them remains, and is only exacerbated when Polaris tries to force the Hound woman to stand still long enough for Dreamer to read her, by floating daggers into the cage. Eclipse gets angry at that, and Polaris demands that he do the interrogation instead, like he always did for the cartel. Eclipse is highly reluctant, partially because he got out of that life for a reason, and, I would say, he sees the Underground as something better than the cartel (which it is). That is one of the choices which maintains their innocence.

As for Polaris’ rush to brutality, in her mind, the Hound is just an enemy, and she’s not exactly hesitant about dealing harshly with her enemies. But Eclipse doesn’t see her that way, and his eyes, with the long experience of his cartel life behind him, notice something about the Hound: he recognizes the signs of withdrawal.

So, Cait is brought in, torn from treating other wounds alongside her helpful children. She had a moment with the telepath from before, Esme. They got to know each other a little, including how Cait is afraid of her family ending up on opposing sides of this war. Not much to fear on that count, I would say… except for what Reed’s conversation with his father reveals, but I’ll get to that in a moment. More optimistically, Esme mentions that people around here follow Cait, and it’s no mystery why: she’s kind, smart, bold, thinks outside the box, etc. For instance, as a healer, Cait agrees with Eclipse’s assessment about the Hound suffering withdrawal, which means they can change their approach from “imprisonment” to “treatment.”

This involves a bit of teamwork. Andy pushes the Hound up against the bars of her cage, held in place by Lauren, and sedated by Cait, who is uncertain enough about this that she asked Eclipse and Polaris to be ready if something goes wrong, to do what they need to. Eclipse assures her they will. Fortunately, it doesn’t come to that. The sedative works long enough for them to restrain her with metal bars, which Eclipse welds in place and Polaris molds to the proper shape, holding her in place, unable to move.

The other residents aren’t particularly happy about this, mostly because they removed the Hound from the cage. Personally, I would have kept her in it myself, just in case she got out. Restraining her might be essential for treating her, but no need to put anyone else at risk, ya know? The big guy from earlier gets up in Lauren’s face as she tries to reassure them, so Andy steps in, backing up his sister and making his presence felt as the building trembles a little. The big guy wisely backs off, going from “aggressive” to “calming” in a couple quick heartbeats. Crisis averted. And the bond between siblings is as formidable a ever.

Back down below, the Hound wakes up, with a few more of her marbles intact, but she can’t calm down, and she can’t even seem to speak. She’s had a tremendous amount of some drug pumped through her system for a very long time, and Cait is afraid she’s dying from the sudden lack of it. Even worse, as Polaris is seeing her enemy reduced to such an awful state, the computer girl finds her file from the stolen hard drives: her name is Chloe. Her kid got sick, the doctor wouldn’t treat mutants, she got angry and destroyed the office, and SS took her, turned her over to Trask. She’s not an evil enemy, she’s just Chloe, a victim, to whom something reprehensible was done. It’s so bad that even when she’s trying to tell them something, she can’t even form the words, just offer a hoarse, suffocated cry.

Small wonder Polaris is so afraid of that being done to her, to all of them, to her child.

That’s when Cait thinks to bring Esme in on this, to read Chloe’s mind and relay what she’s trying to say. At first, it’s just pain, and need, the need for the drug. But Cait is able to help her form thoughts with her calm, caring instruction. Esme has to listen in on the nightmarish memory as SS killed her husband and took her daughter as well as herself. And she’s able to give Esme a vision, an image, a memory of Campbell from last episode, boasting about his weapons that will win the war, and a large building with a large sign, “Trask Industries.” It’s north of where they are. Esme might be able to find it. She thinks so.

Then Chloe looks towards Cait, and dies even when Cait is trying to reassure her that they’ll stop what was done to her from being done again. Cait can’t even finish the sentence before Chloe’s system simply shuts down. She was just a normal woman, with a family, and everything, even her own will, was taken from her. She died in terrible pain, never knowing the fate of her daughter. About the only consolation to be found here is that, after being taken and twisted by the enemy, she died among friends, people who were complete strangers, but cared enough to weep at her passing.

It’s a terrible, sad moment.

Elsewhere in HQ, Blink reaches out to the girl she met earlier. Her name is Nora, and it turns out, she’s much like Blink’s little sister. She was in the foster home, with the same foster parents, and she was there when SS gunned them down. For Blink, to find that she has someone she can still be connected to in some way, at the same moment she realizes that her instinctual actions when unconscious inadvertently brought the monsters into Nora’s home, well, she’s wracked with guilt. And as Nora is having nightmares of it, she wants to do something to help.

She goes to Dreamer. She wasn’t about to forgive the woman before, making it clear that they are nothing more than allies in the fight against SS, and that’s all they really need as far as Blink is concerned. But now she wants Dreamer to take away the memory, so Nora won’t see it when she is needing to sleep. She wants to take away part of the trauma, part of the pain. Dreamer agrees, and it’s done.

Which… I am sorry, but my immediate response to that is, “NO!”

They may have good intentions, but you don’t just go meddling about in a person’s head like that, if you even have that power. They have plenty of bad experience somewhere in the past, but, more recently, Blink is still suffering from it, and they only have to look to Turner for further confirmation of disastrous fallout, and that is only the practical reason of avoiding terrible consequences. There’s also how a person’s pain is their own, their trauma is their own, and though it is always painful, these can be defining moments which shape our character. Nora might turn out good, or bad, or great, but no one has the right to take whatever she would become from her. Even more, it’s simply a violation, and a tremendously intimate one. You don’t go mucking about with one’s memories and one’s free will. You just don’t. Not for any reason, even if it seems like a good one.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Finally, we get to Reed’s conversation with his father.

The elder Strucker apparently knows nothing about what is being done to the mutants to turn them into Hounds, and he knows even less about Trask being back in business since shutting down some time ago. But he still has something vital to pass to his son, especially after learning that his grandchildren are mutants.

The story begins some time ago, with the siblings we saw in the prologue. They were Andrea and Andreas von Strucker (in comics, the children of Baron von Strucker of Hydra), and they were mutants of terrifying power. Apart, their abilities were the same as Andy and Lauren’s powers, but together, they were even more powerful. When they held hands, they became Fenris (oh! I recognize that name from when I was a kid, and was just getting into comics!), named for the great wolf of Norse legend, a creature which terrified even the gods, and was eventually to be the demise of Odin himself. The exact nature of their joined power has not been revealed, but it’s clearly formidable.

Reed’s father is Andreas Strucker’s son. They were raising him to be like them, but he wanted no part in that and ran away. He hid his mutant status from everyone, even his wife, and it was the secrets he kept which eventually destroyed his marriage. But he also worked for Trask, and though he was never able to create what they wanted, a means to suppress the X-Gene entirely with a serum, he was able to create one personalized dose, which he gave to Reed. He wanted his son to have a normal life, and he wanted to end any chance of another Fenris being born. It had to be done when Reed was very young, before his mutation could manifest. Yes, he is a mutant after all. But the side-effects made him so sick he nearly died. How could his father ever look him in the eye again after that?

So he situation was more complicated than it seemed, and now Strucker learns that he failed anyway. It, meaning Fenris, has returned within his grandchildren, Andy and Lauren. If they hold hands ever again, it could create a catastrophe.

If that weren’t heavy enough, things get still worse yet with Campbell’s arrival. He’s certainly a cautious, prudent man, operating under the assumption that all the information that one judge in his pocket had was now compromised. Knowing the connection between his company and the Struckers, he goes to the man’s antique shop, as such would be their only move once discovering Trask’s involvement. He injects Pulse with something, like giving a treat to a well-trained, obedient dog, and has him shut down all the mutant powers in the area before going in.

With Thunderbird no longer bulletproof and up against several men with guns, they can’t just bulldoze their way out. But Strucker thinks he can do something. Their family is special, even among mutants, so he steps up in defense of his son, hoping to make Campbell go away, or clear the path if that fails. Either way, he needs to get Reed out so he can protect Andy and Lauren, and protect the world from them as well.

It proves an unexpectedly revelatory experience, as Campbell, tickled pink at meeting Strucker, brags about how he used the man’s research in suppressing the X-Gene in his work at enhancing it. That’s what the serum does, making it a potent, gene-specific drug. It seems Strucker accidentally paved the way for a new monster to be unleashed in his attempt to lock up an old one. Fenris the Wolf gives rise to the Hounds. Poetic and tragic.

The encounter ends when Campbell attempts to have the premises searched, and Strucker powers up, no matter how Pulse is unleashing the full power of his suppressive abilities on him. The agents with Campbell are able to just shoot him, though, but too late. Campbell flees the scene just in time to survive the explosion Strucker unleashes. Strucker dies saving his son.

Reed comes down to find his father’s dead body, the body of a man he thought cared nothing for him, when, in reality, he loved Reed more than life itself. So much weight, so much pain, turned to love, turned to remorse. Thunderbird finds Pulse gasping out his last, finally regaining lucidity in is final moments, just enough to apologize. One of his dearest friends and comrades dies in his arms, after having already been supposedly killed once before. The two men dig two graves, kneeling over them in sorrow. It’s a terrible loss, made all the worse by the revelation of the truth which Reed now bears.

When he and Thunderbird finally return to HQ, everyone’s spirits are defeated. Polaris and Pulse are reconciling in their grief. Blink and Dreamer are removing a nightmarish memory from Nora’s head. Reed can scarcely speak for the weight that’s crashed down on his shoulders, and the agony piercing his heart. Cait can only embrace him, and the kids can only watch, siblings supporting their parents and each other… as they hold hands.

…and cliffhanger!

And I say again, as the alternative to swearing: whoa.

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Doctor Who Challenge Day 4: Saddest Scene

It makes us laugh, and it makes us cry… a lot.

There really are a lot of sad scenes in Doctor Who. It seems like everything fun or happy is framed by something terrible and tragic. There are countless deaths, of soldiers, of civilians, of children, of strangers, acquaintances, of friends and comrades, really, the body count is huge. The Doctor and his Companions may lark about all of time and space, but the price for their adventures is high indeed, and fatalities make up the bulk of sad scenes.

There’s Rose’s father dying for her, the rueful fate of Donna Noble, the moment when Professor Yana become the Master and Cha’tho is killed by the man who wears the face she has been devoted to, Amy’s final goodbye, Clara’s brave and tragic death, Astrid’s self-sacrifice, David Tenant’s farewell tour, anytime a human is turned into a Cyberman… the list goes on and on.

There are two scenes which have lingered with me, though.

One is from “The Waters of Mars.” As the Doctor struggles with the possibility that he could save these doomed people, but has been forbidden to, he is choosing to walk away, but forced to overhear their deaths in rapid succession. One, especially, of a woman named Steffi, has always haunted me. When faced with her imminent demise, one she can’t escape, she turns to a screen and plays a recorded video message from her family, of two beautiful children who call her “Auntie.” She dies weeping, because she’ll never see them again, and she can’t do anything about it.

I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that scene.

The other is one of those times where death might actually seem like a tempting alternative. Facing one’s own pain, or one’s own death, that is one thing. Facing the pain of someone you love, on the other hand, someone who is in pain, agony beyond description, specifically because you have failed them, that is something else altogether.

I speak of an episode in Matt Smith’s tenure, “A Good Man Goes to War.” I doubt anyone who’s seen it needs it spelled out any further.

When they lose Amy and Rory’s daughter.

This episode was about the Doctor taking the fight to an enemy that has kidnapped his friend, Amy, while she was pregnant, and tried to take her daughter from her. The Doctor arrived, with friends, just in the nick of time, utterly defeating the enemy and saving both his friend and her daughter. But just as it seems like they have triumphed, the tables are turned. Even worse, it turns out to have been an elaborate trick.

They managed to use a duplicate of Amy to fool her husband and the Doctor before, but it was a body made of white sludge, which collapsed when the signal was cut. They just repeated the same trick with Amy’s daughter. So, right at the height of battle, with Rory and his comrades fighting to protect Amy and his little girl, the truth is revealed… as the baby turns to white sludge in Amy’s arms, and all she can do is scream.

Can you imagine a trauma like that? And in the middle of a battle? And the Doctor having to bear the guilt that he is partially responsible for it, that he failed to protect those nearest and dearest to him?

And to top it all off, they lost people in this absolute debacle, friends who had come to help the Doctor in his quest, and one young woman from the Doctor’s future, who joined the Doctor’s enemies just so she could see him again, and laid down her life among his friends… yet the Doctor she devoted her life to didn’t know her.

It was, all around, a very, very sad day.

Posted in 15-Day Doctor Who Challenge, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Anime Review: Restaurant to Another World

There are three particular things I like about Thanksgiving: time off from work (when I’ve had work), time with family, and a huge amount of delicious food.

I know, it might be a little bit of a stretch, but why not review an anime that revolves around delicious food this week, eh?

The original Japanese title is Isekai Shokudō, and it roughly translates as “Otherworld Restaurant.” I might have translated it more as “Otherworldly Restaurant” or “Restaurant of/in Another World,” but the official translation is: Restaurant to Another World. A little off, I think, as none of the characters actually go to another world, and neither does the restaurant, really, but I just get finicky over titles sometimes.

The basic premise of the show is that of a modern-day restaurant in Japan, the Western Restaurant Nekoya, which closes its doors every weekend, especially on Saturday. It’s a nondescript place, in an undisclosed location in some shopping district in Tokyo. But it has a secret: it’s actually open on Saturdays, but not here in our world. Through some mystical means, the door becomes a gateway to another world, a fantasy world with magic, elves, dragons, and other fantastic creatures. The door appears out of nowhere in all sorts of locations across the world simultaneously, allowing its inhabitants to enter the restaurant and enjoy the food of our world.

Most of the episodes are divided into two shorter stories, each telling the story of a patron, two of which become part-time employees. It tells the circumstances surrounding their first encounter with the restaurant, then relates their experience within, including a detailed description of the food they are consuming, and then they go on their way and become regular customers, but their experiences there sometimes help inspire them to reshape their little corner of the world in some way.

While the food descriptions do fairly little for me – I am an entertainment blogger, not a food critic, so long as it’s tasty I don’t care about anything except eating it – I rather enjoy how each customer has their own story. It’s a little repetitive, perhaps, but still enjoyable. Each story was unique, as was each individual. The importance of this food from our world, and how it quietly influences the fantasy world for the better, was intriguing and fascinating as well.

Occasionally, not often, the patrons are shown interacting with each other. With how they are quite the cross section of this fantasy world, that can be even more interesting, and adds something extra to the formulaic structure. Most of the earlier episodes were spent solely with introducing the latest character, but in the later half, we began to see some developments between them, and this, too, was intriguing. I wanted to see where these forming relationships went! Especially when it turns out that there is some method to the madness, there is something of a narrative at work here, albeit subtly.

Thus, my disappointment that we only had a dozen episodes! 😦

I mean, it’s not like I was riveted by the show, but I was interested in each new episode as it came out. In similar manner, I’m not rabid in my interest for more, but I am interested, and would certainly watch a second season if it were produced. I would watch it regularly, fairly certain I would enjoy it. In short, I would follow it to the end. Which, really, isn’t that the objective, to produce something that is profitable because people like it? Objective achieved!

So, if you want something epic and gripping and following a single, central story, this isn’t it. If you want something simply hilarious or romantic, this isn’t it. If you want to try something new, and sweet, and offering a cornucopia of related short stories, just to relax for awhile, then this, I think, is worth a look.

Restaurant to Another World is a fresh, unique anime, a collection of stories about believable, lovable people from every corner of a fantasy world, as they enjoy the food which we take for granted, but which is miraculous to them. It’s simple, it’s charming, and it’s surprisingly interesting at times. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Justice League, Assemble!

So, DC’s latest addition to their superhero cinematic universe premiered this past weekend, and it’s had something of a mixed reception. From what I’ve been hearing the reading, people are either loving it or hating it. I’m somewhere in the middle, I think. It wasn’t this absolutely fantastic experience, but it was pretty fun. It’s not exactly a kids’ movie, but it steps in that direction by the end of it, and the plot is simple enough for that. And I could swear they stole the villain’s demise from Rise of the Guardians, but I am getting ahead of myself.

After the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and with Diana’s background given in her (fantastic) movie, Justice League follows Batman as he assembles a team of misfit superheroes, far smaller than he’d have liked, in order to fight off an ancient, extraterrestrial threat and give hope to a world which lost it when Superman died.

If Wonder Woman was a brilliant, blinding bright spot in the DC Extended Universe, then Justice League gives me hope that the DCEU might actually be able to duplicate that achievement, eventually. That is not what this movie is, but it does add to it, I am happy to say. 🙂

Within the DCEU, Justice League feels like a transition. It still displays many of the classic flaws and mistakes of the first few films, courtesy of Zack Snyder, but they aren’t so bad as usual, leaving room for better things, lessons learned from the more popular films.

Is there the usual “dark and epic” stuff? Yes, but there’s also some actual humor, fun, and simple, down-to-earth moments as well.

Are there the usual paper-thin religious allegories? Yes, but a little more subtle this time, and a little more interesting. Superman’s revival – please, that’s not a spoiler, we all knew it was coming – is an obvious Jesus parallel. Interestingly, he’s actually brought back by the League, who are stand-ins for the ancient gods of Greece, such as Hades, Poseidon, Hermes, Hephaestus, and Athena, leaving Superman as the League’s version of Heracles, I’d say. That comparison comes as the backstory refers to when all the tribes of mankind fought the antagonist once before, alongside Green Lanterns and even the gods themselves, some of which we see. And the villain, Steppenwolf, wants to join the ranks of the New Gods, alongside such figures as Darkseid, whom he refers to almost like a zealot referring to his deity. So, it’s not all “we’re hitting the audience over the head with a Jesus analogy,” and it’s not Lex Luthor waxing on about gods and devils. They show rather than tell.

Are the characters changed, as usual, from their cooler, comic-book versions? Yes, and I am especially thinking of the Flash, who is no longer a kind, brave, humorous, outgoing mischief-maker, but a socially-awkward nerd who has apparently never been brave in his life before. Several of the heroes are practically at the beginning of their careers, while Batman is a grizzled veteran (much more social than other versions of the character, being the driving force behind the League’s creation), and they explained Wonder Woman’s anonymity by apparently having her so devastated by her previous lover’s death that she shut down for a century. So, not entirely stellar, but they made Aquaman pretty cool, and they made fun of their own misstepping heroes a bit.

“We are not the League you know… but we’re not so bad!”

Can the DCEU do anything short of blowing up the world? Apparently not. But at least someone was actually saved this time around. Also, there was more action earlier in the film, as we spent less time plodding through an unending setup and got more to the point of things.

The entire narrative felt far less forced, overcomplicated, and broody than previous movies, plot holes notwithstanding, actually building up somewhat towards the conclusion instead of just springing it on us. It doesn’t really earn its hero shot, really, especially as the suspense goes out the window the instant Superman arrives on the scene, easily defeating the enemy and saving the civilians, the latter being used as a crutch to stretch out the climax for another minute or two. But it’s still a much more enjoyable superhero film.

The choppiest part of the film was how it focused on the individual heroes so much. When they were together, the spotlight shifted from one hero’s moment to another, so it didn’t always feel like their stories were together even when the characters were.

And they could have shown us Superman’s answer to the question!

What I like best about the movie, however, is how it’s not only about these heroes fighting alongside each other, but becoming friends. As different as they are from their comic-book counterparts, that little bit of humanity goes quite a ways to make them appealing to me, especially as they’re coming together against an enemy that, with exception to Superman, outclasses them completely. They can’t just power their way through, they have to build some bonds of trust and friendship so they can work together.

I suppose Justice League is a relatively simple movie, when you get down to it, but that is far better than the convoluted mess of BvS. The ride is fun, the tension is usually more legitimate when they don’t have the Man of Steel on their side, and the humor is a most refreshing change.

It’s not fantastic, but it’s pretty good.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

P.S. Stay for the post-credit scenes. Both of them.

Posted in Movies, Tuesday Review | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Sunday’s Wisdom #157: My Friends

“They cared for me, during the dark times. Never questioned me, never judged me, they were just… kind. I owe them. I have a duty.”
– The Doctor, Doctor Who
Season 7, Episode 12, “The Name of the Doctor”

To the American portion of my audience, Happy Thanksgiving!

There are many things which I am thankful for. Family, good food, laughter, the relative luxuries provided by modern-day technology, quality stories, etc. Right now, however, I want to express my gratitude for my dear friends.

The Doctor of Doctor Who has never been one to abandon those in need if he could avoid it, and he has always been fiercely loyal to his friends. There was a time, though, right after he suffered a terrible loss, that he practically turned his back on the world, on the entire universe. He was hurt, and needed time to heal. So he turned to his friends for help, and while they did not approve of his self-isolation, they still enabled him in it, both bridging and maintaining the gap between him and the rest of the world, and quietly watching his back. They did not judge him for it, neither did they badger him over it. They were simply kind to him in his moment of need.

That earns them his loyalty, of course, such that he is willing to risk much for them when they are the ones in need of rescue.

And that’s really what a good friend is: they got your back whenever you need it, and you do the same for them. One of you falls, the other catches.

Too many people these days forget that. It’s all about what we all want from each other, what we can accept in each other, and what we can do to each other. But friendship isn’t about what we can get, or even what we can give. It’s not even about the good times or the bad times. It’s about what we choose to do in support of one another.

My friends have always been there to support me, and I hope that I have done as much for them as they have for me. They are my family, as much as my blood relatives. And I am thankful for them.

Posted in Sunday's Wisdom, TV Shows | Tagged | Leave a comment

This Week on TV, Nov. 18, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

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

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

Basically, a good week!

The Gifted

1.07 “eXtreme measures”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What they find is horrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I miss anything?

Gotham

4.09 “Let Them Eat Pie”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently, Pyg has seen and internalized Chicago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything real about this woman?

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

That is going to have some serious repercussions.

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

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

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

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

Sad day.

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Doctor Who Challenge Day 3: Least Favorite Companion

Mickey Smith. Absolutely, hands down, no competi-

(suddenly recalls Bill Potts)

…never mind.

Heh, seriously, Mickey would have definitely been my choice prior to last season. No offense intended, he’s a fair, decent guy, loyal, he takes care of his family, and he grows so much as a character during his time on the show. But there are two particular points I have against him:

1) His relationship to Rose puts him directly at odds with the Doctor, and, unlike with Rory, I could never root for him.

2) As comedy relief, he really was a bit of a ridiculous idiot at times.

Still, Mickey does develop and grow into his own man, even if it takes him some time. Also, he’s actually useful on occasion.

Bill, on the other hand, she leaves so much to be desired.

She functions less as a companion, or even a character, and more as an animated piece of meat, a convenient way to make such-and-such things happen. There’s a dangerous alien thing coming after them? She’s what it’s after. The Doctor has a vow to keep that prevents him from his usual wandering? She enables him in breaking it. The Doctor needs to be crippled somehow? It’s a result of having to save her life. The plot calls for someone to surrender the planet to alien invaders? That would be Bill Potts who does that. Something tragic must happen at the will of the Doctor’s enemy? It happens to her. Over and over again, that is her role.

I can’t recall a single time she was actually useful on her own.

She’s so slow and so dull. True, she noticed things that others usually wouldn’t, but so does everyone else the Doctor travels with, and they’re all usually much smarter, quicker, and cleverer. Even the ones who worship the Doctor a bit are at least able to function independently of him.

She was also just a little bit crazy and obsessed with her mother, who she never even knew. That just made me worry a bit about her mental health.

Basically, Bill was more of a gimmick than she was a companion, and that is why she is my least favorite.

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