The Flash S01.E04 — Going Rogue

Late episode review today because I had some other things going on. Anyway, this episode seems to have been created to give The Flash a ratings boost by bringing in an Arrow crossover. I don’t think the show really needed it, but Felicity was a nice appearance without feeling too forced. She drew nice parallels, using her own experience to explain how lonely superhero work can be and how teams come to work together. It also helped to wrap up the romantic tension that was established between Barry and Felicity on Arrow last season.

I didn’t always dig her wardrobe choices, though. The sweater baring a slight amount of her stomach when she first walked into STAR Labs was distracting without being flattering. And the dress she wore to trivia night was trying a little too hard with the random cut outs and straps. Emily Bett Rickards is a gorgeous woman who can pull off almost anything, but she still mostly does in this case as long as you don’t look at the back of her dress too much. Still, I think this was a case where simpler would have been better. I also miss the days when Felicity wore simple jeans and panda bear shoes so that seeing her in beautiful formalwear was a treat.

The theme of today’s episode was testing how fast Barry can go and contrasting against with of his most famous villains, Captain Cold. The villain didn’t get much to do in this episode, but the end of the episode does hint that he has begun recruiting for a rogue’s gallery. This is a welcome development for two reasons: 1) For once, this villain survived the episode and will be able to come back and 2) The Flash is widely considered to have one of the best rogue’s galleries in comics. Some believe his rogue’s gallery is only second to Batman. I have a feeling they will come into play during the Arrow/Flash crossover coming up in a few weeks.

To establish Captain Cold and a potential rogue’s gallery coming up, certain other storylines had to take a back seat. Most notably, Barry’s investigation into his mother’s murder was totally absent this time around. And we also didn’t get any more hints as to what Harrison Wells is up to (although he was suitably scary when chastising Cisco, and there was something creepy about the way he revealed his knowledge about Felicity).

I have also noticed that this episode incorporates a lot of long, tracking shots and camera movement even during static conversation scenes. Maybe this has always been going on and I only just now noticed. In any case, it is a clear choice to reinforce Barry’s powers.

Speaking of speed, Barry’s treadmill gives him a top speed of around 300 mph. However, when he was saving passengers from a toppling train, I am fairly certain he had to move faster than that. Some fraction of light speed seems more likely. It’s a nitpick and doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the episode, but it does point out the rather loose relationship this show has with science (see also the discussion of firing particles at absolute zero).

Some nice crossover continuity nods: Felicity mentions the Salmon Ladder! Which has been sadly absent from Arrow this season. And the dress she wears at the end of this episode is the same as the one she wears when she shows up for the next episode of Arrow.


Agents of SHIELD S02.E06 — A Fractured House

What a stupid, stupid, stupid episode.

The Good

The fight choreography was pretty nice. Much better than in the last episode.

Skye tricking Ward was a neat twist.

The Bad

The actual plot with HYDRA agents getting to the safe house was incoherent. As best as I can make out, one particular person was a mole and that’s how they infiltrated the safe house. I’m sure I could figure it out if I watched again more carefully, but I don’t care to.

The bickering between Bobbi and Hunter was pretty forced. It eventually settled down into a semi-fun dynamic, but it was still predictable.

The Stupid

What exactly is the point of those disintegrator bombs? Ok, so they seem to have been made using the Obelisk, thus demonstrating HYDRA’s power. But why would anyone use them instead of a regular gun? The only reason I can think of is to get rid of forensic evidence by destroying the body, but in all the situations we saw, that was an irrelevant concern. It got especially stupid when the HYDRA agent was approaching the helpless, disarmed SHIELD agent. He even had a knife in his hand, and considering how they killed all the other agents in the house, there was every reason for him to just stab her and be done with it. But instead, he uses a disintegrator because…it looks cool and we get to hear her struggle to get out her last words? Have we mentioned that those bombs are produced in limited quantities?

Also, apparently a terrorist group attacking the UN just has to drop SHIELD’s name and everyone automatically believes it was them. Al Qaeda could only dream of authorities being this gullible.

Why is a US senator addressing an emergency session of the UN?

And finally, let’s talk about Ward’s escape. We had better hope this was part of Coulson’s plan because otherwise this was bone-headed levels of stupidity. With everything they know about his abilities, they used handcuffs on him? And more than that, they cuffed his hands in front of him? And didn’t restrain his legs? But I guess it’s nice that Ward killed some people and made it much less likely that he’s on any kind of redemption arc.

What a stupid episode.


Gotham S01.E06 — Spirit of the Goat

If last episode was a bit of a placeholder, this episode really developed and moved things along. First of all, we receive confirmation of something I’ve always suspected: Harvey used to be an honest, hardworking hero cop. And when properly motivated, he can draw upon that side of himself again. This encounter will also probably prejudice him against masked people.

The villain of the week also continued a theme of the series by proclaiming herself to be against the 1% and the corruption of Gotham City. Much like Balloonman and Viper before, she turns out to be an insane person with a point. She gave up a little too easily, though. Harvey had no actual evidence against her, only a theory. She didn’t have to sic her hypnotized patient on him in order to try to escape. It did lead to a hilarious payoff when Bullock shot her in the ankle, though. I’m not sure if it was meant to be funny, but something about the way the actress writhed on the floor afterward was darkly comical.

Meanwhile, the MCU investigation of Gordon comes to a head and quickly pivots to a more promising direction immediately when Penguin shows up at the Gotham PD alive and well. The last shot with Bullock and Gordon staring each other down is priceless. I’m not sure exactly what Cobblepot is planning. Surely by exposing himself he has made himself a target for the Falcone family. But he seems to think a gang war is about to go out into the open now.

And Barbara finally got out of the apartment!

This episode also demonstrates that the show’s cast is a little too big. Some shows like Heroes and Lost have an ensemble cast and don’t feel shortchanged for it. However, Gotham is not written as an ensemble show. It works instead in the language of a police procedural centered around Gordon and Bullock. Thus the appearance of Selina at Bruce’s house or the scenes of Edward Nygma harassing the records keeper seem pointless. This time around, we didn’t even have Fish Mooney showing up.

I would say the scenes between Cobblepot and his mother were similarly pointless except the writers pretty clearly have no purpose with that scene other than to creep us out. And for me, it was a mission accomplished. Any more Oedipal and I don’t think it would have been allowed on network TV.

Last thought: I’m not sure why the show keeps hitting on the point that someone might need to step outside the law in order to do something about the corruption and crime in the city. While those are demonstrably true, we all know that it’s not going to happen until Bruce grows up. So what’s the point of foreshadowing something that isn’t going to happen for another decade?


Constantine S01.E01 — Pilot

With the premiere of Constantine on Fridays, there is now a DC property on TV every weeknight except Thursday. For my money, Constantine is the weakest of them all and the most likely to be cancelled.

Which is not to say it’s bad. I found the pilot episode to be perfectly watchable, and if Grimm can survive in the Time Slot of Death, then maybe Constantine can, too.

The best thing about the show is Matt Ryan in the title role. His establishing moment is when he meets a woman possessed by an evil spirit and instead of recoiling in horror when she roars at him, he reacts with annoyance: “Oh no not this again!” In Matt Ryan’s hands, Constantine becomes a cynical loner who can’t quite hide the fact that he still cares for the people around him.

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Agents of SHIELD S02.E05 — A Hen in the Wolfhouse

Nothing really bad in this episode. But some things were just stupid.

The Good

Raina’s storyline was intriguing. It was nice to see her running scared. And when it became clear that Coulson was going to call her bluff, Ruth Negga played Raina’s slowly dawning panic perfectly. It’s too bad her story doesn’t seem to pay off any further than that since the bad guys (all of them) now possess the Obelisk.

Agent Bobbi Morse makes quite an impression and I immediately liked her. Although I’m now waiting for the reveal that she has been brainwashed by HYDRA. Presumably SHIELD has ways of detecting that and warding it off. Incidentally, Agent Morse is played by Adrianne Palicki whom viewers may know as Tyra Collette on Friday Night Lights. She would also have played Wonder Woman if NBC had picked up the series. Hunter’s crack about liking her better as a blonde may be a reference to Palicki’s natural hair color in real life.

The FitzSimmons reunion was also quite nice. We don’t know what will come of it, but at least it’s happened now.

Kyle MacLachlan is clearly having fun with his role, and I was having fun watching him.

The Bad

Not much, but it is a little silly how everybody calls Raina “the girl in a flower dress” even when she’s standing all the way at the other side of a restaurant and nobody would actually be able to see the flowers on her dress.

Hands up if you didn’t foresee the reveal of Bobbi Morse being Hunter’s ex-wife? Anyone? No? Ok then.

The Dumb

Coulson pulling the “classified information” card on Skye is silly. The reason to withhold information from underlings is so that they can’t leak it, under duress or otherwise. Skye is not about to leak information of her own free will, and if she’s been captured, then SHIELD has way bigger problems than a little information leak.

This episode also demonstrates that the plotline of Jenna Simmons infiltrating HYDRA is beyond stupid. As the script itself points out, she has been involved with SHIELD all of her life, shows no inclination for mass murder and mayhem, and is a terrible liar. Who would think that she would be capable of going undercover at HYDRA? And for that matter, why did HYDRA take her in when they knew all of this about her? Not to mention Simmons’ method of passing messages on to SHIELD is frighteningly obvious. It’s surprising that an organization like HYDRA didn’t catch her going out to lunch and furtively dropping messages into the trash can before. I’m glad she’s been exfiltrated because I don’t know how much longer I could have put up with the contrivances necessary to keep her within HYDRA.


The Flash S01.E03 — Things You Can’t Outrun

This episode review was delayed because I didn’t have anything really pressing to say about it. It follows the formula successfully established in previous episodes and still mostly does it well. Once again, the villain is perfectly conceived to challenge Barry’s powers. I was a little disappointed in Team Flash’s solution to taking him down, however. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to make use of Barry’s ability to create whirlwinds which he demonstrated in the pilot episode. Simply tiring the guy out by running fast seemed a little lame, especially since we know that super speeding also makes Barry go hungry. It’s nice that they didn’t kill the villain this time. The lab is going to be housing a lot of super criminals, and it’s pretty clear that they are going to break out at some point (maybe this will be the basis for the Arrow/Flash crossover).

It wasn’t clear to me whether Barry deliberately breathed in the villain’s gas during their first encounter. It turned out to be a good move since it allowed him to bring a sample back to the lab and synthesize an antidote. The way the scene originally played, though, it looked as if Barry was overwhelmed and ended up breathing in the poison gas unintentionally.

It also seemed to me that Wells was not very concerned about Barry’s condition. His first reaction was to immediately try to extract the gas from Barry’s lungs. As we saw in the end, there’s a suggestion that he actually deliberately caused the failure of the particle accelerator that created Barry (it looks like an enigmatic ending with Wells is part of the series formula).

There is a suggestion that Barry and Caitlin might start a romantic relationship, but I still hope it doesn’t happen. Can’t we have a male and female character who don’t end up romantically involved?

My favorite scene was when Detective Joe West visits the elder Allen in prison and promises to find out who killed his wife. This was later followed by a little bit of fun when Barry has to vibrate his face in order to avoid being recognized by his father. However, I don’t think Henry Allen was fooled.

Shout Outs in this Episode

Caitlin recounting how her fiance said, “We were like Fire and Ice.” This is of course a reference to the fact that Caitlin Snow is the civilian identity of Killer Frost in the comics.

Wells also mentions a Big Belly Burger at one point. This is a nice little continuity nod since Big Belly Burgers were occasionally consumed or used as bribes in Arrow.


Gotham S01.E05 – Viper

This is a buildup episode in which not much apparently happens until the last few minutes when several things fall into place.

A deadly new drug hitting the streets is a fairly common storyline in police procedurals, and it’s Gotham’s turn to take it for a spin. In this case, the drug is called Viper and even before the episode states it outright, it’s pretty clearly a precursor to Venom (the drug of choice for Bane). This episode also establishes a touch of the supernatural. It should go without saying that Edward Nygma’s explanation of how Viper works is pretty nonsensical. The body just doesn’t work that way and no drug could do what he claims Viper does (especially if it is merely an inhalant). But in a a TV series where such a drug exists, you could also have a woman who can control the growth of plants. Or a man who can fire a freeze ray. Or a hatter who can control people’s minds by putting bands on their heads.

But back to the present. This episode does something I’ve always found irritating about the portrayal of drugs on TV: it assumes that people are going to take a new drug on the streets just because it’s there. It all starts with the world’s dumbest street guitar player who has a stranger drop a vial of Viper into his guitar case and decides to inhale it even though he has no idea what it is or who gave it to him. There is no indication that he is a junkie. The thing about drug addicts is they got into the habit for a reason. It may have been peer pressure, dissatisfaction and boredom, or a need to escape the small tragedies of life. Although drug users have made a choice that many others would not agree with, they generally still have some measure of rationality. They are not going to just use any old drug that falls into their hands. And if they know it is likely to kill them, they will avoid it. In this episode, the dealer simply has to hand it out to everyone he meets on the street and suddenly Gotham is caught in the grips of an epidemic.

Meanwhile, things are getting more interesting with Jim Gordon as he is forced to reveal to Sal Maroni that he refused to kill Cobblepot. No matter how much he tries to keep his nose clean, Gordon cannot help being dragged deeper into the world of crime and compromise.

Speaking of corruption, it looks like Bruce has discovered some of it within Wayne Enterprises in the form of a subsidiary which manufactures Viper and is lying to the police about it. This sets up an intriguing possibility: maybe someone on the board of Wayne Enterprises was involved in the murder of the Wayne family. As Bruce reads through filings and mountains of paperwork to investigate what’s going on, we see the beginnings of the World’s Greatest Detective taking shape. It’s a little unbelievable that someone so young could understand all these balance sheets and reports, but he is the  future Batman after all and there has to be some suspension of disbelief. It was nice to see Alfred joining in. Now it’s time for him to start asserting himself. Up until now, Alfred has been helplessly watching Bruce sink deeper into his obsessions, but Alfred is not merely a butler standing by. He is also a guide and confidant, and soon enough it will be time for him to start pushing Bruce into the right path.

The upcoming war between the Maroni and Falcone crime families continues to build, and this week everything is going wrong for Falcone. His casino is robbed with Cobblepot’s help, and he falls right into a honey trap set by Fish Mooney (who is also fooling him into thinking she’s feuding with the Russian crime boss). Watching Jada Pinkett Smith at work is still hugely entertaining, especially when she is training her new singer to evoke certain emotions and manipulate a man. Still, I can’t believe that a man like Falcone could rise to such a powerful position by being a fool. He also said that he and the Wayne family had an understanding. Perhaps he will be able to call some corporate firepower into the upcoming gang war. We have seen plenty of evidence for how canny Sal Maroni is. Soon it will be time to see why people fear Carmine Falcone.


The Pitfalls Facing Marvel’s Cinematic Civil War

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie writes that Marvel’s Civil War storyline was a paranoid rightwing fantasy and a mess. I agree with the second part, but as much as I admire Bouie’s writing in other areas, I disagree with the first. The Civil War storyline was not a paranoid fantasy on either side of the political spectrum. In fact, its problem was that it aspired to be a commentary on the real world while completely failing to connect to the real life issues we were dealing with. The Civil War storyline was still a terrible mess, though, and Marvel is going to have to reckon with those flaws if rumors of a planned cinematic adaptation are true.

A quick recap for those who didn’t read the original mini-series. The storyline kicks off when the Superhuman Registration Act is signed into law, requiring that all people in the United States with super powers must register with the government. The superheroes would essentially become government civil servants with no secret identities. The law gets an especially big boost when a battle between some heroes and villains goes horribly awry and results in the destruction of several city blocks and 600 civilian deaths including 60 children. The superhero community itself is divided in its reaction to the law. A pro-registration faction led by Iron Man argues that it is reasonable to ask superheroes to publicly identify themselves and be accountable for what they do. An anti-registration faction led by Captain America responds that secret identities are necessary to protect loved ones and that registration will become a tool of oppression.

So far so good, and when the series began in 2006, fans eagerly anticipated where it would lead. Unlike Jamelle Bouie, most comics fans of the time understood that the Civil War storyline was an allegory for the Patriot Act, not about gun control. Here was a superhero story relevant to our times.

Marvel’s Civil War was a great concept but still ended up as a mess because of terrible execution on two fronts. The first problem was that Mark Millar and other Marvel writers involved in the story attempted to strike a balance between the two sides and ultimately failed. Both sides of the Civil War were represented by well-intentioned heroes on both sides. The effect should have been to make readers think that both sides had legitimate points to make and that the issues raised by the Superhuman Registration Act were worth wrestling honestly with. Instead, the Pro-Registration side becomes Fascistic to a degree that is impossible to sympathize with. Like too many other comic book superhero stories, this one devolves into good guys (Anti-Registration) vs bad guys (Pro-Registration) punching each other senseless. Partway through the story, it seems that nearly everybody has forgotten that this all started because 600 innocent bystanders were killed by superhumans run amok. The Pro-Registration side didn’t have to be in the right, but they also didn’t have to be literally hunting down fellow superheroes and locking them up in prison camps.

The second problem with Civil War was that it ultimately failed to connect its storyline with the security state issues that Americans were facing in real life. Part of this is an inherent problem of the genre. Superheroes don’t exist in real life, and so the particulars of the Superhuman Registration Act don’t line up particularly well with our world. In real life, a law requiring certain people to register their identities and accept government monitoring would seem draconian. But that’s because nobody in real life has the inherent ability to unleash massive death and destruction, toppling buildings and darkening the skies. The moral calculus is different in the comics universe, and to make the story feel relevant to the reader, the writer must focus instead on the underlying ideas and principles rather than the particulars of the legislation. The Civil War should have been an examination of the core ideas that each character represents. Iron Man is a benevolent member of society’s elite. Captain America is a New Deal Democrat who fought fascism. Spider-Man believes with great power comes great responsibility. The Hulk represents the capacity for destruction when our baser urges overtake us. And so on and so forth. How would society align these different ideals? That would have been a great story, but it is not the one we got. Instead, Mark Millar turns it into another adventure tale of intrigue, espionage, and lots of explosions. I had the same criticism for Millar’s Red Son about Superman landing in communist Russia instead of Kansas.

There’s every reason to believe that when the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes on Civil War that it would find a way to be more even-handed and avoid character assassination. It would be a sad thing indeed if Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man was turned into an unthinking government stooge, but if only because the push back was so strong, I think Marvel will take the criticism to heart and do something about it. On the other hand, I have no confidence that Marvel will do anything to make the story feel relevant to anyone who isn’t a flying thunder god. Marvel comics have historically tackled a lot of social issues (the X-Men are famous for this), but the movies have gone further and further into the realm of fantasy escapism. Maybe they’ll surprise me but…well, the next Avengers is called Age of Ultron, after all.


Forever Lost Offers Creepy, Complex Puzzling

Forever Lost is a triumph on multiple levels. The artwork and music combine to give the player an oppressive, atmosphere experience. The game hints at a well-developed backstory which is intriguing enough to make me want to know more. And most importantly, it has some of the most complex yet thoughtfully designed puzzles I’ve seen in a modern adventure game. There are two episodes currently out with a third promised by the end of this year. I can’t wait to buy and play it.

The game is played in first person, and you navigate the world through a series of still scenes much like Myst way back in the day. This also has the effect of putting you into the mindset of your character. The game begins as your character wakes up and blinks open his eyes. As his vision comes into focus, you see an empty room with a bed on the floor and a cryptic message scrawled on the wall. How did you get here? What is your name? Why are the room’s doors locked? Your character is as clueless and bewildered as you, and thus the quest begins to escape from the room and find out what happened.

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