Showing posts with label TV Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TV Reviews. Show all posts

Friday, 3 February 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x12 - "Hot Potato Soup"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x12 - "Hot Potato Soup"

Synopsis

Aware that Radcliffe is working with the Watchdogs, Coulson attempts to locate Agent Koenig – the last person to handle the Darkhold. The only problem is that there is a lot of different Agent Koenig’s within SHIELD…

Review

It is only fitting that in a story-arc featuring LMDs so prominently that Agents of SHIELD would revisit its first attempt at bringing LMDs to the series - The Koenig Brothers. In each of their appearances in Season One and Two, it became something of a running joke whether the identical Agent Koenigs (all played by Patton Oswalt) were in fact clones or robot LMDs of one person. This episode is no different and there are plenty of humourous references to the various conspiracy theories surrounding the identical quartet. Rather than frustrating fans with another open-ended explanation, we are finally treated to the truth and it is that all of the brothers are real identical quartets, but they once worked on the original, and failed, SHIELD LMD programme. Personally, I thought it would have added much more to the characters if they were actually robots, but I can understand the need to remove any confusion around the LMDs featured in this arc. I was quite relieved that this ongoing sub-plot had been finally addressed as I’ve found it one of the goofiest aspects of the series – it was a bit too Meta and “winking at the audience” for my liking.

Focusing an entire episode on the Koenigs meant that the tone was skewed towards humour instead of drama, which made sequences such as the Superior’s attempt to torture Billy Koenig lose their impact. No matter how much he was going to pretend to be tough stuff, he was never going to hurt the series’ comic relief character. I also don’t think that the Koenigs are all that funny – they just seem to be an exaggerated version of how Coulson was portrayed in the original Avengers movie. It feels like someone doing a bad Joss Whedon impression, using the Koenigs as a proxy for the audience and making jokes about fan-fiction and geeking out over superhero codenames. It doesn’t quite fit the tone of the series, and having it feature so predominately in this episode weakened the overall experience for me.


There were some really good moments in this episode, such as the much-anticipated reveal that Radcliffe had made a May LMD. I was surprised at how quickly this was discovered, but I suppose that this was only one part of the story-arc and the real action will begin now that Radcliffe and the Watchdogs have gotten their hands on the Darkhold. The scenes with Robo-Radcliffe talking with Fitz, Simmons and Mack as the former unfastens screws in the back of his skull was suitably eerie. I love that uncomfortable vibe that the LMDs give off when they openly acknowledge themselves to be artificial but continue to talk “in character” as the person. Robo-Radcliffe was able to have a real conversation with Fitz about his father that the real Radcliffe probably would have done, but it was creepier because it was a facsimile of the doctor who was sharing this really personal information. I suspect this foreshadowing about Fitz’s father is either because he is going to show up again soon, or because Fitz is going to start heading towards the dark side.

Much like the 'Ghost Rider' block of episodes, this LMD story-arc has moved along at a fair pace but never felt rushed. I’m actually really enjoying this more segmented approach to the season, pacing out the stories across three acts but with a common thread joining them together. The final batch of episodes has yet to be named, but I suspect that it may be something to do with changing the past. With Mack’s past with his daughter teased in the previous episode, and Fitz’s relationship with his father explored in this one, I wonder if we might see our heroes challenged by the power of the Darkhold and the potential to rewrite histories and right wrongs. It would be a HUGE pay-off to this Darkhold story-arc, and an opportunity to re-introduce lost characters such as Hunter, Mockingbird and even, Agent Ward. While this episode lent too far on the comedic elements of the Koenig family tree, it did at least provide us with some closure and definitely moved the main plot forward. With SHIELD’s enemies in possession of the Darkhold, I am eagerly awaiting to see what the Watchdogs have in store for the Inhumans.


Score - 9.1 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • There are plenty of references to the Koenig brothers being LMDs as part of a long-running joke throughout the series, although this episode confirms that they are just identical quartets.
  • The Superior references Coulson's appearances whenever there is extraterrestrial activity on Earth, including Thor's arrival in "Thor", the Chitauri attack ("The Avengers") and the Inhumans.

Mysteries
  • How does the Superior intend to wipe out the Inhumans with the Darkhold?
  • What happened to Fitz's father, and why are they so estranged?
  • What did Fitz's father say to Radcliffe?

Next Episode - "BOOM"
An explosive Inhuman surfaces and the team are tasked with containing it. Elsewhere: Coulson and Mack encounter Radcliffe's inspiration for Aida.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Review - Supergirl: 2x10 - "We Can Be Heroes"

Supergirl
Episode 2x10 - "We Can Be Heroes"

Synopsis

When Livewire escapes prison, Supergirl enlists superhero-in-training Mon-El to help out but it proves to be a mistake when citizens get injured in the process. Meanwhile, when M’Ghan is victim of a psychic attack, only J’onn is able to save her, but does he want to?

Review

As one might surmise from its inspirational title, the focus of this episode was on heroism and what it is that makes someone a hero. There was a lovely bit of synchronicity throughout the heart of this episode with Mon-El, Guardian and M’Ghan’s storylines revolving around their identities of heroes, with each plot thread focusing on a different aspect of heroism. Mon-El was presented as a ‘selfish hero’, only embracing the title because he wanted to impress Kara and frankly, he had nothing else going for him. Sure, he has all the power but he also has none of the responsibility, and that makes him a reckless and flawed hero. On the flip-side, Guardian has no power and too much responsibility, making him equally as reckless and flawed but at the other end of the spectrum. It’s easy to see why Kara grew frustrated with the pair of them as they attempted to follow in her footsteps. The story-arc with M’Ghan was different, and was more about J’onn accepting her as a hero and not the villain he’d condemned her as. Even Livewire had a brief moment of redemption at the end of her journey, further strengthening the episode’s theme.

Kara’s discovery that James is the Guardian was played out as expected, with the female Kryptonian disapproving of her human friend’s attempts at playing hero. I have to admit that I agree with her as James Olsen has no real fighting skills and is largely reliant on Winn’s suit on keeping him alive. That said, this story-arc is the best thing to happen to the character and makes him much more interesting that the eye-candy and love interest role he inhabited during Season One. Part of me wonders if we’ll get a Batman vs Superman-esque confrontation between the two at the end of this season. Guardian certainly looks like the armoured version of Batman from that movie, so it could be possible that he has to fight against a possessed Supergirl at some point. It’s still not clear what the eventual endgame behind Olsen’s decision will be – given the doom-laden predictions from Supergirl in this episode, I suspect that some kind of tragedy lies ahead for the Guardian.


While some may consider him unnecessarily goofy, I find Chris Woods’ Mon-El to be one of the strongest additions to Supergirl since the start of Season Two. Having recently landed on the planet, he provides that “alien adapting to Earth” humour that Kara lacks after being raised on the planet for twelve years. I really enjoy seeing him attempt to fit in with Earth’s conventions and his awkward one-liners and greediness. The chemistry between him and Melissa Benoist is spot-on too, eclipsing the rather weak love interests that were seen in Season One. This episode focuses on his inability to put others before himself, or Kara, and it fits in line with his established personality perfectly. Given the hints from previous episodes that Mon-El may actually be the surviving prince of Daxam, it seems logical that he would be born of privilege and it adds an extra slice of motivation behind his selfish behaviour. Mon-El’s journey to becoming a true hero seems to be the main throughline of this season, and I suspect that we may see more ‘roadblocks’ when he eventually clashes with his mysterious pursuers.

Despite the fact she saved his life, it isn’t until he goes into her mind and actually listens to her story that J’onn forgives M’Ghan for being a White Martian. I quite liked the friendship that was developing between the pair before she revealed her true identity, and I’m glad that the writers have restored the status quo and put the Martians on the same side again. Of course, the threat of White Martian invasion doesn’t mean that the relationship is going to last and I wonder whether J’onn might lose another friend to the White Martians. David Harewood is one of the strongest actors in the show and seeing him incredulous with rage in one scene and full of empathy in another just demonstrates the level of range he has. Even Mehcad Brooks (James Olsen) managed to put in a half-decent performance when talking with Kara about his desire to be a hero. I’m still not a massive fan of the character, but I appreciate the fact that they are moving him into a new direction.

One thing that Supergirl does well is uniting its separate plot threads under one over-arching theme, and this episode was a wonderful example of that. With the skill and grace of a ballerina, the writers co-ordinated the various storylines together to converge and benefit each other. The reappearance of Livewire was an added treat, and even though she was featured in a reduced role, it was great to see the series establish her as both an arch-nemesis for Kara, and a potential ally one day in the future.


Score - 9.3 out of 10

Next Episode - "The Martian Chronicles"
A White Martian called Armek comes to National City with the intention of bringing M'gann back to Mars to be punished for her treason.

Review - Gotham: 3x14 - "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies"

Gotham
Episode 3x14 - "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies"

Synopsis

Fixated on killing Bruce Wayne, Jerome takes advantage of the city-wide blackout to achieve his task. Meanwhile, Ed reveals himself to be the architect of the Penguin’s downfall and prepares to carry out his final act of revenge.

Review

Wow, that was a near-perfect episode of Gotham, and a much better mid-season finale than the disappointing ending to “Beware the Green-Eyed Monster”. Finally aware at how much Cameron Monaghan energises the show, Gotham made ample use of him during this episode as he took Bruce hostage in a carnival of terrors, somewhat reminiscent of “The Killing Joke” at points. Taking inspiration from all that came before him, Monaghan chews the scenery like Jack Nicholson’s Jack Napier and has the edginess of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ultimately, he is best described as a real-life version of Mark Hamill’s voice-acted Joker, which is high praise indeed. The show’s writers wisely avoided angering the series’ fan-base by not killing off the Joker at the end of this episode, but attempted to shock fans with the apparent death of the Penguin instead. Obviously, we know that he’ll be back – death doesn’t quite hold the same sense of finality anymore in Gotham, and I think he’ll return alongside his former mistress, Fish Mooney, at the end of the season.

The scenes with Bruce and Jerome were absolutely mesmerising, teasing the character’s eventual rivalry as Batman and the Joker. I loved the sequence where he begun stapling into Bruce’s arm, and how he attempted to hold in the pain to deny Jerome any pleasure. This, and the sequence in the Hall of Mirrors where Bruce beat Jerome to a bloodied pulp, demonstrated how far the character has come over the past three years and I hope that this marks a concerted effort from the show’s writers to portray Bruce as a capable force to be reckoned with. If Gotham returns for a Season Four, we need to start seeing a prototype Batman running about the streets, learning his trade on the streets. His speech at the end of the episode with Alfred certainly seems to suggest that this is where the show is headed and I think David Mazouz is now old enough to convincingly portray Bruce as a young vigilante. I mean, Robin was his age when he started out!


The other major confrontation that fuelled this episode’s narrative was the long-awaited clash between the Riddler and the Penguin. I loved his initial acid-based death-trap, which just felt so “Riddler” in nature with its Rube Goldberg Machine design. I also like that the Penguin actually proved that he loved Ed by not betraying him to save his own life – it was a nice touch, and one that may mean that there is some glimmer of reconciliation at the end of this story-arc. Riddler seemed conflicted in that wonderfully-acted pier sequence, and it actually felt touch-and-go whether he would let the Penguin go or not. Obviously, Oswald has history with these waterside executions but he wasn’t quite as lucky this time around – although I certain that he will be “fished up” by his former mentor and Hugo Strange. As for the Riddler, he still has to deal with Barbara, Butch and Tabitha but I suspect that he will begin to take the first steps to his more flamboyant comic-book identity during the remainder of this season, especially considering the title of the next episode.

This episode was the closest that the series has ever come to feeling like a true Batman prequel, placing James Gordon in the background for one episode to focus on Bruce Wayne and three of his most famous enemies: Joker, Riddler and Penguin. It was fascinating to watch, and I really hope that Gotham can maintain this same excitement and character development for Bruce Wayne across the remainder of this series, as his Court of Owls story-arc has come second-place to James Gordon throughout the season. Given Uncle Frank’s appearance at the end of this episode, I suspect Gordon will be dragged into Bruce’s troubles and we will start to see some resolution of the whole convoluted and overdrawn ‘secret society’ storyline that has dragged Season Three down. This series is always strongest when focused on a single maniac figurehead, be it Penguin, Proto-Joker or Mad Hatter – if Season Four can weed out the series’ more ridiculous elements and return the focus onto Bruce Wayne’s growth into Batman, then I’m sure the series will continue to course-correct itself with fantastic episodes like this.


Score - 10 out of 10

Next Episode - "How the Riddler Got His Name"
Edward finally gets Oswald to pay for his terrible actions and finds himself with a new dilemma on which path to take.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x11 - "Wake Up"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x11 - "Wake Up"

Synopsis

Held captive by Radcliffe and AIDA, May finds herself trapped in a simulation which she may never be able to escape. Meanwhile, Coulson and Yo-Yo take part in an operation that may ruin SHIELD’s credibility as a legitimate organisation.

Review

Learning lessons from the success of its self-contained ‘Ghost Rider’ block of episodes, Agents of SHIELD continues to demonstrate its tight narrative and economical approach to storytelling as it returns the focus back to its LMD storyline, even tying it into the series’ existing Watchdogs arc to create more continuity. While it was predictable that May’s escape sequences in this episode were some kind of implanted memories to keep her stable in her coma, I did like the fact that they didn’t work and Radcliffe was forced to adopt a different tactic – one that might have some emotional repercussions on the character when she is released. Recreating her mission from Bahrain was one thing, but having her succeed and achieve a semblance of peace was a cruel twist and I think we’ll see a different side to May when she comes out of this. Ming-Na Wen is doing a brilliant job at portraying two different versions of May – a feat she’d already achieved during Season Two when she also had to play Agent-33.

Ironically, in trying to get ahead of their enemies and plant tracking devices on Senator Nadeer, SHIELD demonstrated that they were actually two steps behind as it was revealed Nadeer had been using Radcliffe for information. I quite like how the episode combined both of the season’s main plots together in the closing moments of the episode, creating a stronger central narrative instead of splitting the focus across two strands. This was a tactic the series also used in Season Three when it revealed that Hydra was connected to the Monolith and Hive. Now, I can see why they always say “It’s all connected” in its advertising! I was actually quite surprised at how quickly SHIELD figured out that Radcliffe was behind AIDA’s villainous turn, and I have to say that I never considered that Radcliffe might be an LMD. It was slightly disappointing that the show didn’t capitalise on the concept of a “second LMD” that was unknown to the audience, but it makes sense that Radcliffe would use his technology to preserve his own safety.


With a more espionage focused threat to deal with in this block of episodes, the action quotient has been dialled down and the series has instead focused on character development. The introduction of robots who can pass for humans allows the writers to deal with questions regarding identity and what it means to be real. I really liked the scene with the May-bot talking to Radcliffe, and now that she is aware of her origins, I think she will be a far more interesting character to watch on-screen, especially as she grows closer with Coulson. While the ‘Ghost Rider’ arc was big on the action set-pieces and special effects, the smaller scale of this ‘LMD’ arc has allowed the show’s writers to focus more on character development. To be honest, I think the deception and emotional pain that lies at the heart of this storyline is equally as enthralling as seeing Ghost Rider take out a bunch of evil ghosts. I’m really enjoying the dramatic tension that has been set-up over these past few episodes and the cruel sense of inevitability as Coulson and May-Bot grow closer. I mean, it’s obvious that they’re going to bang each other and he’ll find out the truth afterwards. It’s deliciously ripe for drama potential, and I can’t wait to see it unfold.

There were some other key character moments throughout this episode, such as the progression of Mack and Yo-Yo’s relationship. The revelation behind ‘Hope’ was surprisingly low-key, given the level of foreshadowing beforehand, and I suspect that is more to come on this storyline. Given the fact that things have taken a turn for the supernatural, perhaps there is a ‘deal with the devil’ on the horizon for Mack. It could be like the extremely divisive Spider-Man story, “One More Day”, which saw Spidey make a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life, unwittingly losing his marriage to Mary Jane in the process. Perhaps, Mack will sacrifice his potential happiness with Yo-Yo to bring his daughter back? It would make a pretty dark final act for this season, but it would also potentially bring Ghost Rider back into the mix.

Overall, this was a fairly strong episode that had an odd mix of predictable reveals (May’s virtual escape) and surprising shocks (Radcliffe working with Nadeer). I’m really enjoying this more low-key, character-driven approach to the season and seeing the inevitable emotional turmoil that is about to occur once the truth is revealed. Season Four remains Agents of SHIELD’s strongest season yet, and these past few episodes have proven that its success is due to more than a guest appearance from Ghost Rider.


Score - 9.4 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Radcliffe creates an alternative version of the Bahrain mission that traumatised May, as seen in “Melinda”. In this version, she saves the young Inhuman girl instead of executing her.

Mysteries
  • Who is The Superior?
  • Is there another leak within SHIELD besides Radcliffe's LMD?

Next Episode - "Hot Potato Soup"
Agents Sam and Billy Koenig are hunted down to get at the Darkhold book, and only Coulson and the team can save them before the clock ticks out

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Review - Supergirl: 2x09 - "Supergirl Lives"

Supergirl
Episode 2x09 - "Supergirl Lives"

Synopsis

Stuck in a rut, Supergirl searches for job satisfaction when she comes across a missing person case – although she doesn’t realise the full interplanetary ramifications of the situation. Meanwhile, Winn suffers a crisis of confidence when he is almost killed helping the Guardian.

Review

After directing two episodes of The Flash, Kevin Smith makes his directorial debut on Supergirl with this eventful mid-season premiere episode. Smith certainly brings a cinematic flair to the series, aided by the decision to transport Kara and Mon-El onto a different planet for the first time in the series. As a long-time fan of Smith, I was surprised at how different this episode felt compared to his cinematic work and how consistent it was to the series’ existing tone. Known more for his dialogue-driven movies, Smith managed to maintain the action quotient with some wonderful set-pieces, such as the Rocket Launcher-powered car chase at the beginning. That said, he also handled the character moments brilliantly, especially the scenes between Maggie and Alex - it was great fun to see a different side to DEO agent as she acted love-struck and in awe of her new girlfriend. The whole cast were on-point throughout this episode, no doubt super-charged by the presence of their guest-director.

In a marked contrast to the weak romantic sub-plots of Season One, this episode focused on the Danvers sisters’ relationships to great success. I loved the little moments of intimacy between Alex and Maggie after their first night together; and then later on, between Kara and Mon-El as they snuggled under the sofa blanket. I find myself rooting for both couples to succeed far more now, than I ever did with Kara and James – in fact, I used to actively hope they would fail – and it worked! While there was plenty of ground to cover in this inter-planetary adventure, Smith ensured that the episode never felt crammed and there was a strong ‘cause and effect’ to all of the various character arcs. My only nitpick would be how quickly Winn swung from being petrified of dying in the line of duty to being gung-ho about busting crime. Surely almost dying alone at the hands of an alien on a different planet should have exacerbated his fear of a premature death.


The episode also saw the guest appearance of Harley Quinn Smith, who played Izzy Williams – the girl whose disappearance sparked Supergirl’s involvement in the case. I was initially worried that it would be a case of “nepotism gone wrong”, but Smith made the most of her limited screen time, demonstrating herself to be a capable actor. She didn’t distract from the core cast and complemented them nicely during some of the more emotional sequences. Another standout guest appearance for me was the evil Maaldorian doctor who was responsible for luring the victims to the Slaver’s Moon. Played by James Urbaniak, he had that archetypal evil scientist look and I was a bit disappointed when he got executed at the end. He was far more watchable than the true architect of this scheme, the two-dimensional Roulette, who escaped captivity to plague Supergirl again in the future.

While “Supergirl Lives” served as a perfect entry-point to any new viewers that were following the character from last year's multi-series “Invasion” crossover, it also dealt with some of the recurring plot threads from the season – namely Mon-El and his secret. Aside from wearing a sign that read “I am the Prince”, he couldn’t make it any more obvious to the audience that he was actually really the Prince of Daxam, and his tale of escape had been complete fiction. With two mysterious aliens on the hunt for him, it seems like Mon-El’s true identity will be exposed in the near future and I wonder how that will impact his burgeoning relationship with Kara. Clearly there is some kind of bounty on the Prince’s head, so his existence on Earth may bring forth some unwanted attention.

Figuratively and literally, this episode was out of this world as it condensed the plot of a feature-length film into half the time, and with a fraction of the budget. I loved the journey to another planet, and I hope that is something that Supergirl continues to experiment with in future episodes, especially since there has been a much heavier focus on other alien races during this season. Based on his work on this gem of an episode, Kevin Smith has definitely found himself at home with Supergirl and the Arrowverse, and I look forward to seeing him return to guest-direct more episodes.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Next Episode - "We Can Be Heroes"
After Livewire seemingly breaks out of prison, Supergirl is intent on recapturing her. After training Mon-El, Supergirl takes him with her when she sees Livewire attack the NCPD but things go awry when Mon-El puts Supergirl before the citizens of National City. Meanwhile, James decides to come clean with Kara, and M’Gann has a psychic attack and collapses into a coma.

Review - Gotham: 3x13 - "Smile Like You Mean It"

Gotham
Episode 3x13 - "Smile Like You Mean It"

Synopsis

Gotham City is gripped by madness as Dwight unites the followers of Jerome in an attempt to resurrect the former Maniax member. Meanwhile, Barbara and Tabitha continue their plan to ruin the Penguin’s standing within the underworld by using his love for Ed against him.

Review

Wasting little time, this episode of Gotham dealt primarily with the resurrection of Jerome Valeska, positioning the character as the latest “big bad” to appear in this season. After making an impact with his debut appearance in Season One and his untimely death in Season Two, the show’s writers seem to have finally committed to the idea of having Jerome be the series’ incarnation. Cameron Monaghan does a brilliant job at bringing the character to life (again) as he borrows elements from both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s takes on the character, creating an interesting Joker medley. Riffing on the recent “Death of the Family” storyline occurring in the Batman comics, this version of the Joker has had his face removed and stapled back on – it’s a great visual and I’m surprised the series was willing to go there. With his facial disfigurement, Valeska seems to have that extra oomph that sets him apart from previous incarnations – I particularly liked the scenes where he was wearing bandages and talking with a slight lisp. It really emphasised the maniacal nature of the character, channelling his inner Joker perfectly.

Despite this clear movement towards establishing Valeska as the Joker, Gotham still shies away from naming him as the character and part of me was hoping that this episode would end with him christening himself with the name. That said, I did get a kick out of seeing the Joker-esque logo appearing as spray-painted graffiti all over the city. One element that felt inconsistent was the size of this cult that worshipped Valeska as their “prophet”, it seemed to fluctuate in numbers and I think it was purely so that the writers could have the flexibility to bring them back again in the future. I’m not sure how I feel about the Joker in charge of an army of loyal followers, especially ones who seemed crazier than him. Now that Gotham has gone to great lengths to bring the character back from the dead, I hope they utilise him wisely and make him into a true threat for Gordon and his city.

"Let's put a FACE on that SMILE"

Whilst Gordon and the GCPD were dealing with the threat of the Joker cult, the other core storylines running throughout this season seemed to be spinning their wheels, waiting for their turn in the spotlight. The plot involving Selina and her mom fizzled out rather disappointingly, especially since everyone involved actually commented on the predictability of her mother’s deception – it just seemed like an excuse to explain away Selina’s commitment issues and then force a wedge between her and Bruce. That said, I did like the scene as Selina attempted to fight Bruce and he defended himself against her blows. It seemed very reminiscent of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman in Batman Returns, and a nice foreshadowing to their eventual costumed alter-egos. Elsewhere, the Penguin plot-line continued to plot along and Edward Nygma couldn’t even be bothered to make an appearance to advance the story. Again, this felt rather “by-the-numbers” in its approach as Penguin continued to become the “Crumblepot” reported in the Gotham Gazette.

Yet again, Gotham continues to display a schizophrenia to rival that of its most infamous residents. On one side, this episode was taut, thrilling and exciting with the Jerome storyline, but it padded out the episode with some slow, predictable elements in other areas. This split in focus has been evident throughout the season as the series lurches from storyline to storyline – compared to the operatic twists and turns of Season One’s mob-war story-arc, it feels like Gotham has become a cluttered mess of different narratives – each one vying for prominence. The Jerome storyline seems like a natural lead for the remainder of the season, but there are plenty of untouched elements to be dealt with, including the Court of Owls, Fish Mooney and Hugo Strange, the Mad Hatter and Barnes, Penguin and the Riddler. Hopefully the remaining nine episodes of the season can bring some stability to this “Mad City” arc and deliver a cohesive and satisfying climax.


Score - 9.4 out of 10

Next Episode - "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies"
With Jerome on the loose with one target in mind, Bruce and Alfred's safety is compromised. Meanwhile, Gordon's Uncle Frank pays him a visit whilst Nygma and Penguin are forced to confront their issues face-to-face with possible deadly consequences.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x10 - "The Patriot"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x10 - "The Patriot"

Synopsis

The truth behind Jeffrey Mace’s powers and his ascension to SHIELD director are revealed after a group of Watchdogs shoot down the Quinjet, leaving Coulson, Mack and Mace isolated and outnumbered. Meanwhile, Radcliffe continues his plot to get ahold of the Darkhold using the May-LMD to infiltrate SHIELD.

Review

Taking a step back from its “LMD” arc, this episode of Agents of SHIELD focuses on Jeffrey Mace – the man in the hot seat as Director of SHIELD. Up until now, the character has been portrayed as a company man who has introduced coloured level clearances and motivational slogans into SHIELD’s internal processes, and not much of a tactician in the field despite his ‘hero status’. This episode sheds some light at this juxtaposition by revealing that Mace is not actually Inhuman at all and instead uses a modified version of the Mr. Hyde serum from Season Two. From the outset of this episode, it seemed likely that this would be the eventual reveal – I thought the suitcase would contain the source of Mace’s powers but I hadn’t figured out that it would be the Hyde serum. The follow-up reveal that he’d accidentally saved lives during the Vienna bombing was equally as expected, and explained why his behaviour was at odds with his position. Instead of phasing the character out, the episode concludes with a compromise – Mace will remain the SHIELD figurehead (presumably until his secret is outed to the public) and Coulson will maintain control during operations.

I really liked the added tension found in this episode by removing Coulson, Mack and Mace from the hi-tech trappings of SHIELD – out-manned and under-equipped. Much like AIDA taking the SHIELD base under siege last episode, there is plenty of dramatic potential in removing SHIELD’s technology and leaving the agents to fend for themselves. While the main characters are never really in any danger of dying (unless it’s a season finale), I do appreciate the increased stakes that comes from episodes such as this. Recent episodes, particularly in the past few seasons, have focused heavily on the superpowers of the Inhumans and Ghost Rider, so it is refreshing to see the under-powered members of SHIELD getting a chance to shine. As much as I like Daisy and Yo-Yo, it was great fun to see Mack and Coulson kicking ass old-school style. With LMDs as the major threat of this chapter, I hope we’ll see more emphasis on the human members of the team.


While the episode concentrated on the Director of SHIELD and his relationship with Coulson and the rest of the team, there were some minor developments on the LMD arc, although these felt largely inconsequential to the overall plot. I did, however, like the explanation that May escaped from her virtual reality ‘prison’ because her body would reject a pleasant scenario and that she could only be contained within VR, if she was being challenged constantly. The fight sequence between AIDA and May was brilliant, and it’s interesting to note AIDA’s attitude in this scene – it seems to me that she is somewhat jealous of May and the May-bot, possibly because it is an improved model. I suspect that AIDA may be developing some actual human responses unbeknownst to Radcliffe, and perhaps he will actually end up losing control of his faithful assistant in the end.

Another interesting wrinkle to the LMD story-arc introduced in this episode was Fitz’s eerie obsession with AIDA’s severed head, secretly stashing away in his locker to work on it. Obviously, this will drive a wedge between Fitz and Simmons, but I also wonder if Fitz is developing a romantic crush on the virtual woman and his attempts to rebuild the device are not as scientifically motivated as he makes out. The various ingredients are coming together nicely for this second stage of stories, and I suspect Mace’s faux-Inhuman powers may come into play later on, especially with the Watchdogs remaining a presence. It would be a complete mind-fuck if he turned out to be the mysterious benefactor running the Watchdogs, as he technically isn’t an Inhuman and it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to have him be an anti-Inhuman figurehead in disguise. Clearly a transitional episode, “The Patriot” laid some groundwork for the upcoming LMD and Watchdogs storyline and provided some much-needed background on Jeffrey Mace, even though its revelations weren’t as momentous as it could have been.


Score - 9.3 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Project Patriot is a reference to the golden age character, The Patriot, whom Jeffrey Mace is based upon. (First app: The Human Torch # 4)
  • The Patriot formula is an amended version of Mr. Hyde's formula from Season Two.
  • Mace's act of heroism during the Vienna bombing (“Captain America: Civil War”) was just an accident.

Mysteries
  • How did the Watchdogs know that the Patriot Formula was in the briefcase?

Next Episode - "Wake Up"
May works to uncover the truth about what happened to her; Aida's next move puts everyone's life at risk.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Review - Gotham: 3x12 - "Ghosts"

Gotham
Episode 3x12 - "Ghosts"

Synopsis

Despite being cleared by the GCPD for Mario’s murder, Falcone and Lee both want Gordon to pay for his crimes and hire Zsasz to carry out the assassination. Meanwhile, during a routine murder investigation, Gordon and Bullock uncover a mysterious cult dedicated to worshipping the memory of Jerome Valeska.

Review

Despite my concerns at the end of the mid-season finale, Gotham addressed the burning issue of Gordon killing Mario Falcone with surprisingly speed by forgoing the formality of having Jim protest his innocence to the police force. Opening up with Mario’s funeral, it is quickly established via dialogue that the GCPD discovered Mario’s infection in an autopsy, corroborating Gordon’s initial claims in “Beware the Green-Eyed Monster” and explaining his decision to shoot the man. Of course, while he is legally innocent of the crime, he has still incurred Falcone’s wrath - resulting in another hit being placed on the unlucky detective. It was great fun seeing Victor Zsasz in a prominent role again, hunting down Jim Gordon with a psychotic glee. Anthony Carrigan does a great job with the character, hinting at his casual disdain for human life and foreshadowing his eventual descent into a trophy-obsessed serial killer. I was a little disappointed at how quickly the hit was called off, although given Zsasz’s efficiency, it was inevitable that this plot point would have to be reversed in order to maintain the status-quo.

While it’s too early to tell, there is a sneaking suspicion that the rushed nature of this sub-plot may be due to poor reaction to the mid-season cliff-hanger and the show’s writers have quickly revised their original plans in order to push ahead with the Jerome Valeska resurrection instead. After writing out Fish Mooney and putting the Indian Hill escapees back in the bottle, Season Three of Gotham has been an odd bag of aborted storylines. In fact, aside from the Mad Hatter plot thread – there hasn’t actually been a consistent through-line. With Jerome presumably picking up the baton from Benedict Samuel’s Mad Hatter, it seems Gotham will be returning to its winning formula of a single insane antagonist tormenting the city. Cameron Monaghan’s turn as Jerome during Season Two was a highlight of the series so I am very intrigued to see how Gotham handles this ‘proto-Joker’ when he is eventually resurrected.


Another subplot that has delivered less than expected is Bruce’s battle with the Court of Owls. While this episode provides a slight hint as to the true purpose of the Owl statue, as a shining light reveals some secret blueprints on the wall – little else of interest happens in this episode. Selina’s mother seems like an unnecessary wrinkle to the plot, and I am flabbergasted that no-one has thought to ask her why she was at the Court of Owls’ hideout. Clearly she knows something about the organisation! Despite this, it was good to see Selina let down her guard and showcase her vulnerable side – sometimes her sarcastic attitude can grate, especially when it comes to her and Bruce’s relationship. Obviously, the pair are destined to break-up at some point during the series and go their separate ways towards super-hero and super-villain destinies – I just hope it isn’t for a while yet as I like their awkward relationship.

Another relationship that I liked, and has sadly ended, is that of the Riddler and the Penguin. Here we see the beginning of Riddler’s plan to drive the Penguin insane – a surprisingly simple task, it turns out. As Penguin’s father appeared and disappeared as a ghostly image, I was worried that the show wouldn’t be able to adequately explain how Riddler achieved such as special effect – I mean, he’s not Mysterio… but the reveal of Clayface was a brilliant one, and I wonder if he’ll be used again in the future to bring back other dead characters? It seems that the Riddler’s plan to “completely destroy” the Penguin will be a slow-burner as he strips away everything the former mob-boss holds dear – starting with his position as Mayor. Unfortunately, Gotham hasn’t really spent much time in showing how important this new role is to Oswald Cobblepot, so his inevitable sacking won’t have the same amount of impact as his previous ‘low points’. Hopefully, the show-writers can take this grudge-match into an interesting direction and not drop it midway through in favour of a different story-arc.

Ghosts” certainly leaves Gotham in a stronger place than its mid-season finale did, but it continues to leave plenty of narrative ‘plates’ spinning and I am very intrigued to see how they will all come together to form a cohesive storyline. While this episode manages to condense the action to three distinct storylines, Gotham does have the habit of becoming a bit cluttered and unorganised at times, and it does feel like there are a number of different antagonists (Court of Owls, Jerome, Barnes, Falcone, Penguin/Riddler, Fish Mooney and the Mad Hatter) all vying for the spotlight. Hopefully the series can streamline some of these elements and end this season with a clear format, addressing and completing the various plots it has set in motion.


Score - 9.1 out of 10

Next Episode - "Smile Like You Mean It"
On the run from Gordon and Bullock, Dwight tries to revive Jerome and, in turn, activates his acolytes around Gotham City. Meanwhile, Selina's mom's intentions in Gotham are revealed, and the power play between Penguin and Nygma escalates as Barbara's plans are set in place.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x09 - "Broken Promises"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x09 - "Broken Promises"

Synopsis

Having achieved sentience from the Darkhold, AIDA embarks on a dangerous mission to retrieve the book from the SHIELD hideout. Meanwhile, Senator Nadeer finds herself torn between her loyalties to her family and the Watchdogs.

Review

In the wake of its successful “Ghost Rider” story-arc, this mid-season premiere episode of Agents of SHIELD had the tricky task of retaining those viewers who’d tuned in to watch the Spirit of Vengeance’s small-screen debut. Initially I was surprised at the speed at which the show seemed to be dealing with its new "LMD" story-arc, revealing AIDA’s sentience to SHIELD almost immediately and having her meet an untimely end at the hands of Mack and his shotgun-axe. Of course, it was all misdirection and the actual villain behind events was Holden Radcliffe – which came as a shock as I’d completely bought into the concept that AIDA had achieved self-awareness from the Darkhold, mostly due to Mallory Jansen's pitch-perfect performance as the android. It turns out this was a lie, thanks to some careful editing, and Radcliffe had programmed AIDA to appear sentient so he could use her to steal the Darkhold without jeopardising his own position within the organisation. Even more nefarious was his decision to abduct May and use her as a host template for a second LMD, infiltrating SHIELD’s inner-circle and allowing him to access secrets.

Radcliffe’s turn to the dark side, while unexpected, shouldn’t really come as a surprise as he was presented as a morally ambiguous scientist in his initial appearance in “The Singularity”, obsessed with transhumanism and upgrading the human body with bionics. He even worked alongside Hive to produce the Kree primitives, although arguably he was threatened to do so. Credit must go to John Hannah and his ability to present Radcliffe as an affable, humourous addition to the cast – avoiding the finger of suspicion with his genuine friendship with Fitz and Simmons and appearing under the radar of both SHIELD and the viewers at home. Given how drastically things progressed when Eli Morrow got his grubby hands on the Darkhold, I wonder what plans Radcliffe has for the dark tome – even in this episode, he is presented as a sympathetic villain, obsessed with harnessing the powers of the Darkhold for the greater good. With the news that this season will feature a third ‘chapter’ to conclude the run, it seems like that this “LMD” section will be used to establish the main threat of the season – presumably with Ghost Rider returning at the end to help deal with the Darkhold once and for all.


The other plot thread that dominated this episode involved the anti-Inhuman politician Senator Nadeer and her brother, who was recently freed from a seven-month terrigenesis incubation. Torn between her love for her brother and her hatred for aliens, Nadeer eventually sided with the Watchdogs and shot her brother point-blank in the chest. However, it seems that the super-speed he initially displayed was only part of his Inhuman power-set as he begun to form a second terrigenesis cocoon when dumped underwater. Judging from this post-mortem evolution, I suspect that Vijay will end up displaying powers similar to the mutant Darwin from the X-men, and each time he is “killed”, he will develop a new power to prevent the same method of attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was bullet-proof the next time he shows up. Given the scope of his powers, I wonder whether Vijay will turn out to be the “big bad” of the third act, although I would think the series would soon be steering away from the Inhuman stories now that an independent Inhuman series is in the works.

As to whether Agents of SHIELD has maintained the momentum built-up during its “Ghost Rider” period, I’d have to say that it does. This new “LMD” arc is rife with possibilities and allows the series to return to its roots with betrayal from within the team with ‘May-da’ adopting the same role that the undercover Grant Ward did during Season One. This repetition even extends to the reappearance of the Watchdogs, working for a mysterious benefactor with the code-name “The Superior” – who I’m going to guess is actually Jeffrey Mace. Now that the core cast have reunited and become a functioning team now, his role as interim director is somewhat redundant and I suspect the writers are prepping him up for a villainous reveal later down the line. While this series is re-treading old ground, swapping out Hydra for the Watchdogs and revisiting the Inhuman subject once again, it is still riding high from its diversion into the mystical elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Agents of SHIELD can continue to tell fresh and exciting stories whilst surprising the viewer, then it fully deserves a Season Five renewal.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Senator Nadeer’s parents were killed during the Chitauri attack (“The Avengers”) fuelling her hatred for all things alien.

Mysteries
  • What does Radcliffe intend to do with the Darkhold?
  • Who is “The Superior” running the Watchdogs?
  • What will Vijay become when he emerges from his second terrigenesis?

Next Episode - "The Patriot"
Separated from their team, Coulson and Mack discover a shocking secret about Mace, leaving all of SHIELD in a precarious position.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: "Slingshot"

Agents of SHIELD - "Slingshot"

Synopsis

With Daisy back on the team, Yo-Yo asks for her help in covering up a secret mission that the pair of them undertook during the early days of Director Mace’s tenure.

Review

During Season Three, Agents of SHIELD flirted with the concept of digital-only content with two web-series, “Double Agent” and “Academy” that focused on a fictionalised account of events occurring behind-the-scenes. This year, however, ABC has decided to produce the series’ first in-continuity web-series focusing on the Inhuman Elena Rodriguez that also bridges the gap between Season Three and Four as Director Mace takes over from Coulson. Despite firming focusing on Elena’s character, I was pleasantly surprised to see each of the main cast show up for a cameo appearance as the series progressed – although it did feel like a conveyor belt of character appearances throughout the first four episodes. Once the action started in the final two episodes, it actually began to feel like a proper episode of Agents of SHIELD with some special effects and choreographed fight sequences included.


While it was fun to see loose plot threads from Elena’s origin in “Bouncing Back” addressed and tied up, the mini-series offered little in the way of plot development and it would have been more interesting if it had debuted ahead of Season Four, giving viewers their first glimpse at the new SHIELD status-quo. I was impressed by the number of Easter Eggs crammed into the six episodes, including a Stan Lee cameo (of sorts), and the way that the writers brought back the Peruvian 0-8-4 from the second episode and also delved back into Elena’s origin by having her get vengeance for her cousin’s murder – subtly, kick-starting the theme of vengeance ahead of the Ghost Rider’s appearance. Compared to the digital content for other series, “Slingshot” managed to maintain the feel of the series by making use of key set locations and almost all of the main cast. While the narrative did suffer from the bitty nature of the webisode format, it felt like an authentic mini-episode from the series and I’d imagine it will be included on the Season Four box-set as a DVD extra.

Overall, “Slingshot” is a nice addition to the Agents of SHIELD mythos, but maybe next time ABC should use the format to tease upcoming storylines instead of revisiting untold stories.


Score - 8.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • When moving out of his office, Coulson brings his “lucky charm” - the axe that Mack used to sever his hand when it begun to turn to stone during the Season Two finale.
  • To remain part of SHIELD, Elena has signed the Sokovia Accords which were put in place in the wake of Ultron's attack on the country in Avengers: Age of Ultron, prompting the schism amongst the Avengers that played out in Captain America: Civil War.
  • A picture of Stan Lee is seen in Coulson's box of belongings.
  • Coulson hands Elena a medallion from the formation of SHIELD that once belonged to Peggy Carter.
  • Super-humans who break the Sokovia Accords are sent Secretary Ross and the Raft as seen in Captain America: Civil War.
  • Elena is hunting down Victor Ramon, the corrupt police officer who killed her cousin in the episode “Bouncing Back”.
  • Ramon is in possession of the Peruvian 0-8-4 introduced way back in the series' second-ever episode “0-8-4”.


The entire "Slingshot" mini-series can be watched on YouTube for free. The first episode is located below:

Friday, 9 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x08 - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x08 - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"

Synopsis

Determined to show off his new abilities and create matter out of nothing, Eli Morrow constructs a device which may end up obliterating the whole of Los Angeles. It's up to Coulson and Mace to reunite the team and prevent disaster, whilst AIDA begins to put her mysterious plans into motion.

Review

The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” delivers a satisfying conclusion to the Ghost Rider arc of this fourth season, seemingly concluding Robbie Reyes' narrative and restoring SHIELD to its more cohesive structure with Daisy rejoining the organisation. Sure, there's plenty of loose story-arcs (Nadeer, The Watchdogs, AIDA and the Darkhold) left to be addressed when the show returns, but I've really enjoyed the narrow focus that the series has employed towards the Ghost Rider / Robbie Reyes plot-arc. Eight episodes seems to be the ideal length of time to spend on his storyline, and I'd be more than happy to see the character return from inter-dimensional limbo to help out in the final few episodes of the season. Ultimately, the character was never really going to work out as a long-term cast-member for the show – not only does the Ghost Rider CGI require a hefty slice of the series' SFX budget, but he is far more interesting in measured doses and could risk “burning out” if he continued to be the main focus of the season. There's also the potential that ABC might spin him off into his own series, although they've not had much luck with spin-offs recently.

Even though Eli Morrow lacked any real presence as a super-villain, I really enjoyed the confrontation between him and his nephew, especially since we saw Reyes in a vulnerable position for the first time as the Rider. With a sketchy motivation that seemed to revolve around ego, Morrow didn't really have a clear agenda to his master-plan and hopefully, if he returns alongside Robbie, he will be more demonic and supernatural in a similar way to his comics counterpart and have a more defined personality. We've seen the series dip its toe into the mystical element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I would love to see things get even more supernatural when the season returns in 2017, although it seems that AIDA and her LMD takeover of SHIELD may be the main agenda when the series resumes.


With a shock reveal that set up the remaining episodes of the series, AIDA found herself elevated to 'big bad' status. It's unclear as to what her true motivations are in replacing Agent May with a LMD – technically, its an extension of Radcliffe's endgame to prevent agents in the field from dying by replacing them with LMDs, but the subterfuge and cold-blooded murder that AIDA employs seems to suggest she has a more nefarious plan in store. I love the idea of Agent May being a LMD-in-disguise, especially if she is unaware of her true origins like a proper 'sleeper cell' agent. It evokes memories of the initial Season One reveal of Grant Ward's role as an undercover Hydra agent, as well as the excellent Secret Invasion story-arc from the comics but with LMDs instead of Skrulls. While I've enjoyed Season Four's focus on the supernatural, I look forward to a more conspiracy-driven second half.

Saying goodbye to Ghost Rider (whether temporarily or permanently) was a bold move from the Agents of SHIELD creators, especially with the increased buzz that the Spirit of Vengeance introduced to the show. By slowly seeding the LMD story-arc in these initial eight episodes, hopefully any fans wooed back to the show by Ghost Rider will stick around to see how things develop with AIDA and LMD-May. I suspect this next phase of the season will see AIDA infiltrate SHIELD with more of her robotic-duplicates, allowing the show's writers to surprise viewers with some shock reveals, much like Secret Invasion did when it unmasked heroes to be Skrulls-in-disguise. This initial batch of episodes has been one of the strongest periods in Agents of SHIELD history, thanks to a much tighter and focused storyline and one that strayed away from tired plot-lines involving Hydra and Inhumans. It's early-days yet, but the LMD arc promises to return the series back to its Season One roots, replicating a similar level of paranoia that was seen in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With Ghost Rider out of the picture, I sincerely hope that Agents of SHIELD resists the temptation to revert to its more formulaic structure and instead continues to innovate and surprise its loyal fanbase.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Does no-one remember Ultron?” - Jeffrey Mace references Avengers: Age of Ultron to showcase the dangers of AI technology.
  • By taking a more active role in the field and creating a battle suit, Jeffrey Mace seems to be following in the footsteps of his comic-book counterpart, also known as 'The Patriot'. (First app: The Human Torch # 4)
  • Maybe in the comic-book version?” - Daisy's response to Coulson's suggestion that she runs SHIELD as Director was a nice nod to the character's temporary tenure in the position in the comics universe. (First app: Battle Scars # 6)

Mysteries
  • What happened to Ghost Rider and Eli Morrow?
  • Why did AIDA kidnap Agent May and replace her with a LMD?

Friday, 2 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x07 - "Deals with our Devils"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x07 - "Deals with our Devils"

Synopsis

With Coulson, Fitz and Robbie trapped in a limbo dimension, the rest of the SHIELD team must discover a way to bring them back before they are sucked into the Dark Matter universe. Meanwhile, Simmons is sent on a mysterious assignment by Director Mace, involving an Inhuman whose Terrigenesis has lasted over several months.

Review

Returning after almost a month's hiatus, I was worried that it would be tricky for Agents of SHIELD to regain any of the momentum it had built up over the previous six episodes but this sharply scripted episode was a breath of fresh air for the series after the lengthy wait. As with last season's excellent “4,722 Hours”, this episode played about with the show's format and retold the same scenes from different perspectives, revealing hidden elements and advancing the plot in unexpected ways. It wasn't quite time-travel, but it reminded me of Back to the Future: Part II and how Marty McFly interacts with the events from the first movie, adding a whole new layer of context to the existing scenes. It was fun to see the show's writers playing about with structure to produce fresh and exciting narratives, thereby maximising the potential of the different dimensions. While I suspect that we won't see the series exploring the limbo dimensions in the same way that it was focused on Maveth during Season Three, I was glad for the break in format and opportunity to better understand what Lucy Bauer and her team were experiencing.

Surprisingly, this episode dedicated a considerable amount of time to developing Mack's character and back-story – something that the series had already attempted back in last season's “Watchdogs” with his younger brother. Oblique references to “losing hope” and the way he solemnly looked at a photo with the name on the back suggests that Hope may be an ex-wife, possibly deceased. Perhaps this explains why Mack hasn't made any moves on Yo-Yo yet, if he has unresolved issues with a former lover. Given the supernatural angle of the series, if this Hope is dead, it is likely that we may see her reappear in a spirit form. In fact, I wonder if we'll see any of the former cast-members make a reappearance in the second half of this series – perhaps Grant Ward or Lincoln could appear to haunt Daisy. It's certainly a possibility! I really like Henry Simmons' take on Mack and how the show has gradually built him up into a vital part of the group since his introduction in Season Two.


The most vital scene of this episode was AIDA downloading the Darkhold into her memory as digital files. I did wonder how the two stories would connect with each other, but hadn't suspected that she would end up absorbing the contents of the Darkhold inside of her. Presumably, she is under the book's thrall and the mysterious blueprints she was concocting in her lab at night are probably nothing good! I really like Mallory Jansen's stone-faced take on AIDA, creating a realistic take on an android attempting to pass for a human. I'd imagine that the second half of this season will revolve around AIDA's development, especially if she takes an Ultron-like disdain for her creators. I like the concept of blending together cutting-edge science with ancient magicks, and this certainly doesn't feel like an adaptation of any stories from the comics. On a long-shot, could AIDA actually turn out to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Jocasta (the bride of Ultron) and maybe she is plotting to rebuild Ultron in a new body – sure, its a bit ambitious for Agents of SHIELD, but it would be a brilliant way to deal with loose ends from Avengers: Age of Ultron.

While we'd seen the origin of Robbie Reyes' Ghost Rider, this episode put the finishing touches on the character – having him reaffirm his pledge towards vengeance, effectively reselling his soul at the cost of saving Mack's. It was great to see Reyes talking with the Ghost Rider spirit 'face-to-face', bargaining with the demon for the chance to get revenge of Eli Morrow. I suspect that we might see Ghost Rider disappear after next week's mid-season finale, but hopefully the series will revisit the character in the latter half of the series and not forget about him like they did with Deathlok. This was a great episode – one that tied together all of the various plot threads into one cohesive narrative, finally bringing the AIDA subplot into the main storyline and giving it some relevance. Interestingly, the Simmons / Inhuman storyline was given far less prominence compared to the rest of the events occurring at the same time, and I have a horrible feeling that the Inhuman who Simmons 'saved' may end up being another love rival to ruin the FitzSimmons relationship! Clearly, the Inhumans aren't going anywhere soon and with the news that ABC is launching an eight-part miniseries next year based on the characters, it seems that Agents of SHIELD will remain attached to that part of the Marvel mythology.

Overall, this episode did a grand job at setting the stage for a confrontation between Ghost Rider and Eli Morrow, whilst establishing plenty of ongoing drama for the rest of its cast to carry over into the second half of the season. While this first half has been shorter than previous years, the smaller batch of episodes has benefitted the series' narrative, allowing for a tighter story-arc without filler or repetition. Agents of SHIELD is on a creative high right now, and lapsed fans should definitely come back to the show and check out what ABC has been doing with its corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Score - 9.8 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

Mysteries
  • Who is Hope, seen in Mack's photo and referenced by the Ghost Rider?
  • What does AIDA plan to do with the brain she is designing? Is she building herself a male companion?
  • What does Eli Morrow plan to do with his newfound powers?
  • What scores does the Ghost Rider have to settle?

Next Episode - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"
With the lives of everyone in Los Angeles hanging in the balance, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Ghost Rider find themselves working together.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review - Supergirl: 2x08 - "Medusa"

Supergirl
Episode 2x08 - "Medusa"

Synopsis

The threat of Cadmus re-emerges as Lillian Luthor launches her latest plan – a deadly airborne virus that only affects aliens. With Mon-El in critical condition and J’onn slowly becoming a White Martian, Supergirl is forced to turn to Lena Luthor for helping in taking down her mother’s organisation.

Review

Rather surprisingly, this mid-season finale wraps up most of the ongoing plot threads established in these initial eight episodes of Season Two, with Cadmus seemingly defeated and the Martian Manhunter’s “affliction” cured before he could transform fully into a White Martian. I was fully expecting Cadmus to be an omnipresent threat throughout the entire season in the same way that Astra, Non and their Kryptonian army were in Season One, but it seems that they’ve been shut down already with the arrest of Lillian Luthor. Despite wrapping up its ongoing storylines, the episode did drop some hints about future events for the remainder of the season with a brief interlude that featured two mysterious aliens who were searching for Mon-El. Presumably this is related to his attempted confession in “The Darkest Place”, where he tried to tell Kara something important about Daxam but was interrupted before he could finish. While it was refreshing to see Cadmus defeated so quickly, it did feel slightly rushed – especially the Martian Manhunter’s sudden cure – and I hope that we will still see the after-effects of Cadmus’ defeat play out in the remaining episodes since the real Hank Henshaw is on the loose and Jeremiah Danvers is still missing.

One of the central aspects of this episode was the burgeoning relationship between Mon-El and Kara, and I have to admit that the pair have a lot more chemistry than Kara ever did with Winn, James or Cat Grant's grown-up son. Chris Wood does a great job at portraying the  charismatic Mon-El and I find myself rooting for the two characters to finally hook up. This romantic sub-plot, along with Alex and Maggie, demonstrates the vast improvements that Supergirl has made in its soap-opera elements compared to its debut season. There's a maturity to the love stories being told in the series now, and the show seems to have a much better understanding of its supporting characters – especially James and Winn. I'm really fond of the current ensemble and how the show is beginning to show a wider focus on developing its entire cast, rather than being the 'Cat Grant and Kara' show.


After delving into her mother and aunt's chequered pasts on Krypton, this episode focused on Kara's father – Zor-El, a scientist responsible for developing a deadly weapon that would kill any alien apart from Kryptonian. Poor Kara seems to have really bad luck with her family tree, and its interesting to see her attempt to come to terms with the crimes committed by her birth parents. I liked the comparisons between Kara and Lena Luthor, both good people attempting to fix the mistakes made by their parents and I am glad the writers avoided making Lena “break bad” and turn evil as it would have been far too predictable and a waste of a character. Having Kara working alongside Lena Luthor to help aliens on Earth is a great plot development and subverts my expectations of where the writers were going to take Lena's character.

Peppered throughout the episode were appearances of the rift in time and space which culminated in an appearance from The Flash and Cisco. Unfortunately, I don't watch The Flash – despite his brilliant cameo appearance in last year's “Worlds Finest” - and so I won't be following the upcoming four-way crossover into the rest of the Arrowverse in the near future. Luckily, it seems like it'll be relatively self-contained for Supergirl fans with most of the storyline taking place in the other three shows. When the series returns next year with the Kevin Smith directed “Supergirl Lives”, it should pick up from where the series left off without leaving single-series viewers like myself in the dark. This was a great, albeit oddly paced mid-season finale that perhaps fumbled some of the more emotional pay-offs to its established storylines in an effort to clear the deck for the back-half of Season Two. I'm intrigued to see what the writers have left in store for Kara and her friends – presumably the aliens hunting Mon-El and James' turn as the Guardian will be the main focus, but hopefully we will also see Hank Henshaw's Cyborg-Superman take over Cadmus in Lillian Luthor's absence, ensuring that plot point isn't lost completely during the hiatus.


Score - 9.5 out of 10

Review - Gotham: 3x11 - "Beware the Green-Eyed Monster"

Gotham
Episode 3x11 - "Beware the Green-Eyed Monster"

Synopsis

Convinced that Mario Falcone has been infected with Alice Tetch’s blood, Jim Gordon attempts to reveal the truth to Lee and put an end to her wedding, but is Mario one step ahead of him? Meanwhile, Bruce enlists the help of Selina and Alfred to steal a powerful weapon from inside the Court of Owls’ secret safe house. 

Review

With much of the episode’s focus firmly on the relatively undeveloped love triangle between Leslie Thompkins, Mario Falcone and Jim Gordon, this mid-season finale of Gotham ended on a whimper rather than a bang. Infected with the same virus that drove Captain Barnes to murder the guilty, Mario’s affliction takes the form of a paranoid jealousy of Jim Gordon – causing him to construct a devious plot to discredit the detective in front of his bride-to-be. It’s a bit convoluted, and veers into the realms of cliché with a last-minute declaration of love moments before Thompkins is due to walk down the aisle. Personally, it would have been far more interesting if the series had avoided the Tetch virus sub-plot and instead had Lee ditch Mario at the altar, spurning him on to become a heir to the Falcone crime family out for revenge on Gordon. Instead, the show reverted to one of its favourite (and over-used) plot devices – framing Jim Gordon for murder and presumably, getting arrested or thrown out of the GCPD. When Gordon shot Mario and the knife slid from his hand into the ocean, I almost let out an audible groan – the return from the hiatus will now be preoccupied with Gordon proving that it was self-defence and not the cold-blooded murder it appeared to be. When Gordon shot Galavan, it was bold and exciting – but this, this was just frustrating.

The more interesting elements of the episode were relegated to sub-plots with the mystery surrounding the Court of Owls shuffled off to one side. As a result, the heist for the mysterious ‘weapon’ in the safe seemed extremely low-key and it almost undermined  the supposed omnipotence of the Court of Owls that two kids and a butler could break into one of their buildings and steal one of their most-guarded secrets. That said, I’m intrigued to find out what exactly is within the Crystal Owl statue that the trio stole, and the introduction of Selina’s mother is a wonderful little wrinkle to the storyline. I’m calling it up front, I predict that she may become a love interest for Alfred – giving him someone other than teenagers to hang about with. Knowing Gotham’s penchant for naming their half-seasons, I’m expecting the tail-end of Season Three to be focused on the Court of Owls – especially since they’ve begun to appear in both Gordon and Penguin’s story-arcs.


Anyone hoping for a swift resolution to the Penguin / Riddler subplot would be disappointed as once he discovered the truth behind the Penguin’s duplicity, Nygma changed his tactics and instead opted for a prolonged campaign of revenge. In an extreme case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, Riddler found himself paired up with Barbara, Butch and Tabitha in a situation which just emphasised the ineffectualness of Butch and Tabitha. Despite swearing to kill Nygma on sight, the pair reversed their position and instead traded angry scowls and gritted teeth at the man who cut off Tabitha’s hand – this makes as much sense as Butch continuing to work for the man who cut off his own hand, even after he was freed from the mind control. While the idea of a Penguin vs. Riddler gang-war is exciting, I wish the series hadn’t wasted an extremely intriguing same-sex romantic plotline to get to this point. The sudden appearance of a Miss Kringle-lookalike stretched credibility a bit too far, and felt like a way to put the pair at odds without positioning Nygma as a homophobe. While I might not appreciate how the writers got to this point – I am very intrigued to see how the show will handle two of its core cast-members going up against each other.

Unfortunately, this was the weakest episode of Season Three and one that saw Gotham reverting to some of its lazier plot devices. The series works best when it flouts convention and introduces surprises into the established continuity of the Batman mythos, but the series’ constant obsession with having Gordon kicked out of the GCPD, or framed for murder, has definitely lessened the impact. Rather than wondering “how will Gordon get out of this one”, I’m instead thinking “how long will it take for Gotham to move past this”. When the show returns in the new year, I’m hoping it will have learnt some lessons from the inconsistent tone to this first half of Season Three – the strongest episodes revolved around Benedict Samuel’s Mad Hatter, who injected unpredictability into the mix – something that felt lacking in the Court of Owls focused moments. With Selina Kyle’s mother making an appearance, and the mysterious figure from the Court of Owls bearing the Gordon family ring, I wonder whether there will be a more family-centric tone to its remaining episodes. Whatever the focus may be, the second half of Season Three will need to achieve a better sense of cohesiveness if it wishes to remain as strong as Season Two.


Score - 8.9 out of 10

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Review - Supergirl: 2x07 - "The Darkest Place"

Supergirl
Episode 2x07 - "The Darkest Place"

Synopsis

Kidnapped and depowered by Cadmus, Mon-El and Kara must rely on each other for help in order to escape from their dire fate. J’onn experiences curious side-effects from his recent blood transfusion that leads him to discover a terrible truth about M’Ghan. Meanwhile, a rival vigilante with a thirst for blood is causing problems for James Olsen in his Guardian identity.

Review

Things took a dark turn with this appropriately-named episode of Supergirl as Cadmus made its presence known by kidnapping both Mon-El and Kara. With Supergirl depowered and Mon-El suffering from lead poisoning after a gunshot to the leg, things looked genuinely bleak for the pair of heroes and it was difficult to see Kara in such a vulnerable position. The setting of an abandoned warehouse, riddled with dank corridors and makeshift cell-blocks was suitably grim and really contributed to the downbeat tone of this episode. It was also interesting to see the real Hank Henshaw make an appearance as the Cyborg Superman – finally realising the character’s comic book destiny after the Season One misdirect with J’onn Jonzz. It’s interesting to see David Harewood tackling the dual sides of the character – putting a subtle inflection on the anger as both versions of Henshaw leapt into battle this episode. I do wonder whether the reappearance of Henshaw will lead to J’onn adopting a new identity with Harewood becoming Cyborg Superman full-time. Hopefully this isn’t the case as I like his stern, yet lovable take on the Martian Manhunter and his human identity.

The revelation that his White Martian blood transfusion was effectively changing him into a White Martian himself provided further evidence that we might be saying goodbye to David Harewood in his Martian Manhunter form. Understandably, he was a bit pissed off that his only connection to his people was a fraud and not only that, but she’d infected him with a virus that would strip him of his very identity. With so much of J’onn’s character rooted in his identity as the last Green Martian alive, taking this from him would be a devastating blow and I have no idea how he will react, especially if he also gains the White Martian’s temperament.


With the increased focus on The Guardian and his vigilantism on the streets of National City, there was a nice grounded-feel to the episode’s action sequences that felt reminiscent of the Batman franchise. In fact, the whole episode felt reinvigorated with a frenetic energy that extended beyond the gritty, street-level superheroics – the opening conversation at the alien bar had the camera moving around the cast in a 360-degrees circle, and several other scenes had a more handheld camera style. It was an interesting cinematic technique and one that definitely brought the audience closer to events.

While this episode was a slight departure in tone for the series, enhanced by the inclusion of fresh camera techniques, it demonstrated that Supergirl is capable of focusing on the darker elements of the DC Universe. Ultimately, I prefer the series to be the more light-hearted and optimistic heart of the DCEU as too many comic-book adaptations rush towards being grim and gritty nowadays. After all, most of what makes the Marvel movies so successful is their humour and relatively even-toned content. Even Captain America: Civil War, which was arguably the darkest installment yet, had bright elements and humour throughout. I enjoy Supergirl because it is more positive than its competitors and I hope that it doesn’t lose any of that upbeat persona in its transition into The CW’s Arrowverse. With one episode left until the mid-season break, it seems that Supergirl is prepping towards another ‘Project Myriad’-style Armageddon as Hank Henshaw activated the Medusa protocol in the Fortress of Solitude. I’m really enjoying the mix of different storylines and it truly feels like Supergirl has settled into its groove and become a truly ensemble show by giving all of its cast members some purpose and story development, especially when compared to the Kara-centric Season One. There isn’t really a weak link in this chain anymore – all of the characters are pulling their own weight and the various storylines are coalescing to produce a strong and consistent core narrative.


Score - 9.6 out of 10

Next Episode - "Medusa"
As Eliza comes to National City for Thanksgiving, Kara turns to Lena for help when Cadmus unleashes a virus that instantly kills aliens, then is asked by Barry Allen and Cisco Ramon for help with an alien invasion on their Earth.
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