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.
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