Arrow S03.E12 — Uprising

If we assume that Malcolm Merlyn really can teach Oliver to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul (which is a huge assumption that I’ll get to in a moment), then both Oliver and Felicity are right. Felicity is right because Merlyn’s crimes really are unforgivable and it should turn anybody’s stomach to work with him. He can claim that he was trying to protect his city all he wants, but he murdered numerous people and drugged his own daughter to get her to commit another murder (of Oliver’s friend and lover, no less). Felicity’s parting words (“I don’t want to be a woman you love”) were rather hurtful but also contained a lot of truth. Oliver goes through lovers at a rather alarming speed, and they tend to end up dead.

On the other hand, what is Oliver supposed to do? Ra’s Al Ghul killed him last time they fought. He has to be realistic about his chances when the League of Assassins tries to enter his city again. If Merlyn offers the only chance he has, then he has to take the bitter pill.

That last part struck me as rather silly, however. Only the student can best the master and therefore only Merlyn can teach Oliver how to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul? How exactly does that work? I teach martial arts, and there aren’t very many of my students who could beat me in a fight. Nor would I do very well against my grandmaster, and my students certainly wouldn’t learn how to beat my grandmaster from me. I suppose the justification is that Merlyn will understand Ra’s Al Ghul’s sword tactics and that Oliver will be able to discern a weakness in the technique by learning them. But even assuming that’s true, why not just have Maseo teach him? And besides by this logic, Merlyn would be able to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul himself.

So it all seems like a bit of a forced dilemma, but I suppose I’m ok with it for now as long as the show isn’t trying to force a Merlyn redemption arc. The flashbacks reveal a pretty sympathetic Malcolm Merlyn who is lost and doesn’t know what to do when his wife dies. His first kill was rather heartbreaking to watch. And John Barrowman’s hair to indicate his younger self was hilariously awful.

But he killed hundreds of people! And he brainwashed his own daughter into killing another person, all the while claiming to love and care for her. He’s just not redeemable. And I’m a little afraid that this seems to be where the writers are taking the show given how various characters talk about how Malcolm Merlyn truly cares. Roy, of all people, shouldn’t fall for that line.

On another note, I was rather happy to see Sin make an appearance. One of the things about Sara Lance’s story was that it was detailed enough to make its own TV series. It was so rich in fact that she had her own secondary characters one of whom was Sin. I was wondering if the writers were just going to pretend that Sin never existed and that Sara had never made a promise to Sin’s dying father. I’m glad to see Sin wasn’t just tossed aside and forgotten. But it still highlights what a stupid and insulting idea it was to kill off Sara’s character.

Last thought: that street brawl was an impressively big scene and well shot. But the two armies have some pretty strange tactics what with both sides lining up opposite each other and charging into melee range despite the fact that they both have firearms. Diggle was carrying an assault rifle!

Thoughts on the Legend of Zelda for Netflix

You may have heard by now that Netflix is developing a live-action Legend of Zelda series. I have always had mixed feelings about all the efforts to adapt the Legend of Zelda games into a film or TV series. On the one hand, I’m a major Zelda fanboy. I spent a year writing a very long fanfic based on Ocarina of Time. I have purchased and played every console game, and I’ll finally get a Wii U just to play the next Zelda game. I ought to be part of the prime audience for this series.

On the other hand, the games have never seemed suitable for adaptation to me. The Legend of Zelda series is renowned because of its gameplay, not its storyline. Even the more narratively complex Skyward Sword had a pretty simple storyline when you boil it down to the basics. There’s an anonymous boy in a village, he’s called to action, and he fights evil while saving Princess Zelda. The games are a pretty basic interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth. There usually isn’t much in the way of character development either. Most of the characters have basically one personality trait. And the main character is so blank that he literally doesn’t speak. He’s just an avatar for us to project ourselves onto, after all.

So is this series going to be any good? Well, first of all we should keep in mind that Netflix has only announced that they are developing a series. Nobody has been cast, and the whole project could yet stall. But if everything does come to fruition, I would say the choice to do it in live action is a very risky choice. The Legend of Zelda games have an animated sensibility about them, and not just because they are aimed at a family audience. Link’s movements are faster than any actual human is capable of since he’s supposed to respond instantly to player commands. The world is bright and colorful. And then there are all the inhuman creatures who will probably be rendered in CGI. If you’re going to do a family-friendly Game of Thrones story as the article suggests, I don’t see why you wouldn’t do it as an animation.

Still, it’s not impossible that they will get the look of the show right. What then? Hopefully, the writers will move beyond the typical captured princess story and come up with something richer. Since it’s a Netflix series, it does not have to follow an episodic formula as most network and many cable TV shows do. Instead, it can just tell a long, multi-episode story. I personally would like to see an exploration of the origins of Hyrule and a lot of world-building. Anything coherent will do. We all know that Nintendo has been pretty much making up the history of Hyrule as they go along, and I very much doubt that they really do have an official timeline plotted out that explains all the apparent contradictions. That’s ok for a videogame series, but I would enjoy a more comprehensive mythology for this series.

And yeah, I suppose Link will have to talk. That’s ok, too. But I think his role will mostly be to play the straight man against all the other characters, much as he does in the games. That means casting him will be tricky since he’s inherently a much less interesting character and his actor will have to bring a lot of substance to the role. It doesn’t help that judging by cosplay pics, women are much better at playing him than men.

But nothing is set in stone yet, so who knows? I’ll keep an open mind about the project. But I’m also not getting my hopes up.

Arrow S03.E11 – Midnight City

In my view, this whole season of Arrow has been about the show making the best out of a really bad, insulting decision (namely, killing off Sara Lance and making her sister the Black Canary). This episode continues the trend. In itself, Laurel’s continued development into a costumed vigilante is not terribly done and even makes her kind of interesting sometimes. But it’s still the result of a stupid plot development that should never happened.

Laurel is pretty bad at this fighting business, it turns out. And she never really gets better throughout the course of this episode even as people keep reminding her that she’s not her sister. I can’t help but feeling like there’s a little behind-the-scenes subtext there: “You’re also not Caity Lotz.” Katie Cassidy can’t really help that she needs a stuntwoman and camera tricks to pull off her fight scenes, but it still makes me miss Caity Lotz. In the show, they acknowledge that Laurel’s inept superheroing has real consequences such as the death of a city alderman. It will be interesting to see how Oliver deals with her new hobby when he comes back. It’s pretty clear to me that Laurel is barely functional as a fighter and not even really able to take on the average street tough.

The ruse to fool poor Detective Lance is getting ridiculous. He really deserves a better storyline than this, but what else can they do when Laurel is predestined to be the Black Canary? The actors are actually making the best they can out of the storyline, playing it all without a false note (even Katie Cassidy is doing well). But it’s still a stupid story.

At least Brick is turning out to be a worthy adversary. I’ve always enjoyed seeing Vinnie Jones on the screen even if he always plays the exact same character. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be super powered or not, though. Unlike his comic book counterpart, he seems to be a normal human. But his gimmick is that bullets don’t bother him. And then again, Roy can still hit him with an arrow. So what gives?

Meanwhile, Oliver is recuperating, and it turns out that he and Maseo rescued Tatsu. That’s great and all, but I still wish she hadn’t been reduced to a pawn for people to trade around. In the comics, she is the superhero Katana and one of the premiere martial artists of the world (she trains with Batman). But I suppose at least she has super healing skills in the modern day that allow her to bring Oliver back.

Oh yeah, that douchey DJ is still there. And he’s still sexually harassing Thea. I’d advocate for her to dropkick him out a window, but at least his last scene reveals that he’s tied to the League of Assassins. Malcolm Merlyn is not going to be happy to find out about that.

Agent Carter S01.E04 — The Blitzkrieg Button

I’ve been trying to write this review for a while. I keep staring at my computer screen waiting for words to come. And they don’t.

This is the first episode of Agent Carter in which the previous energy just didn’t seem to be there. Oh sure, it was kind of surprising when Dottie broke that guy’s neck. But not really. I said before that you don’t just bring in Bridget Regan to play a one-off nobody. And I guess watching Peggy Carter clean up after Howard Stark’s womanizing in much the same way as Pepper Potts will do for Tony Stark was kind of amusing. But that was just a little too cartoonish for me, not least because Howard Stark’s actor is no Robert Downey, Jr. I just don’t believe he’d be able to talk his way into a woman’s bedroom within minutes. And even with Tony Stark the directors would take a few moments to show her flirting with the woman and working his considerable charm before they got into bed.

Oh yeah, there’s a rift which has developed between Carter and Stark because he lied to her. I’d feel the betrayal more if I cared about the lie, but I really don’t. So he had her steal some of Captain America’s blood. So what? We know nothing will come of it because in the modern day Steve Rogers is still the only super soldier left. And we know Carter and Stark will eventually found SHIELD, so they’ll patch things up sooner or later.

And Souza will find out about Carter’s secret. At this point, I’m ready for him to just get on with it.

Every TV series has a slow episode, and at least this one is setting things up for the future. But I still feel that it could have been a lot more memorable than this. Oh well. Onward we go.

The Flash S01.E11 — The Sound and the Fury

This episode was all about introducing a new member of Flash’s Rogues Gallery. In the comics, the Pied Piper plays a special flute which he controls with such precision that he can hypnotize unsuspecting people into doing whatever he wants. He can even become imperceptible to people by hypnotizing them into not noticing him. He also dresses like a court jester.

The TV show has followed their usual strategy of adaptation by getting rid of the sillier, campy elements of the character and turning up the danger and menace. There were a bunch of interesting choices here. The most notable was that the writers made the character gay. This had the potential to backfire really badly since the evil homosexual is one of those old Hollywood tropes that has come to be rightly reviled in the modern day. Here I think the writers managed to strike the balance. Hartley Rathaway is gay, but that’s just one fact about him which is mostly incidental to his motives (unless you think he was in love with Harrison Wells, which is not out of the question). Of course, as a straight man, I am probably less sensitive to these things. All I can say is that it seemed to me that the writers felt comfortable enough to make a gay character who is the villain.

They also made him a pretty irredeemable asshole. Whenever a villain gets extra characterization, the typical trick is to give him a sympathetic backstory that explains if not outright excuses his behavior. Not so in this case. Part of his story is actually sympathetic (he was disowned by his parents when he came out to them), but we see in the flashbacks that he’s a totally unlikable jerk. He may have drawn a tough lot in life, but that doesn’t excuse the way he treats his colleagues.

And yet despite all of that, he was still right in the end. He warned Wells not to turn on the particle accelerator (although I personally think Wells deliberately created the disaster in the first place in order to give Barry his powers in order to save some unspecified future timeline).

Speaking of Wells, we now have confirmation that he has super speed. And that his powers are unstable and come from tachyon particles somehow. It still makes me wonder how he pulled off the trick of appearing in two places at once when he confronted the Reverse Flash. I also wonder incidentally why he called out Iris at his press conference. Was he trying to do her a favor? Or was he trying to avoid a question and assumed wrongly that a cub reporter would go easy on him?

Some people have found Iris’ story unbelievable, but I actually don’t find it so hard to swallow. No, she never showed an inclination for journalism before, but that doesn’t mean she can’t start. And she has no background at all in traditional journalism skills like interviewing people, double checking sources, and confirming timelines. She is simply a blogger who got lucky. But it’s also pretty clear that she wasn’t hired on because of any journalistic inclinations, and her mentor is right to be resentful of her for that. Iris is coming to the realization that the only thing her editor wants is Flash exclusives and he couldn’t really care less how well she writes otherwise. That doesn’t seem so unbelievable to me. And besides, have you seen who they’re allowing to write for newspapers these days?

My last thought is about how the confrontation between the Flash and the Pied Piper played out. When The Flash crossed over with Arrow, Oliver made a point of showing how tactics and strategic thinking could overcome inherent advantages. It looks like Barry didn’t totally learn that lesson because he charged headlong into the fight with Rathaway without an obvious plan other than run really fast and strip away the weapons. Rathaway anticipated this the second time and planned accordingly. If it hadn’t been for some quick thinking from Wells, Barry might have died. This is what is going to make the Pied Piper a very interesting adversary going forward. He’s actually not all that inherently powerful, and without his gadgets he’s just an ordinary human. But his intelligence is what makes him dangerous.

By the way, you can’t actually vibrate a human apart by hitting the body’s resonant frequency. We’re not rigid enough, and by the time you’ve put enough force into your sound waves to damage us, you’re probably creating an explosion anyway. Oh well.

Gotham S01.E13 — Welcome Back, Jim Gordon

Welcome back indeed. And it’s not too long before Jim is charging around breaking things like the proverbial bull in a china shop. The fact that Jim is completely incautious is one of his defining traits, but I have to say it’s starting to get a little tiresome, too. Hopefully, his realization of what it takes to bring down a dirty cop and the cost of doing business with the Penguin will make him slow down and be a little more circumspect.

Also, apparently the hierarchy of corruption at Gotham PD is that some cops will stand by you when you arrest a dirty detective but they won’t when a mob hitman comes to kill you. And speaking of dirty cops, a lot of people online are expressing surprise that Harvey Bullock and Fish Mooney are romantically involved. It certainly didn’t come as a surprise to me, but I’m not sure exactly what their kiss means. Something about their interaction seems deeper than a mere sexual relationship. I’ll be interested to find out what their history is.

Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot and his mother are still extremely creepy. I actually found myself wondering if he really does love his mother or if he just puts up with her overbearing nuttiness. His alcoholic bender after she was gone seemed like relief that she was finally gone. But maybe I’m reading too much into it. I guess this nightclub he’s gotten is the precursor to the Iceburg Lounge that Penguin owns in the comics. He’s obviously not home free, though, as Fish Mooney is still out to get him and the previews indicate that Sal Maroni has his suspicions. Let’s talk about that shootout, though. Those were some terrible gun tactics on both sides! Apparently in the world of Gotham the way to win a firefight is to stand there in the open and keep firing without moving anywhere. That’s how one of Zsasz’s henchwomen got herself killed. At least when Butch was adopting that firing tactic, he was deliberately trying to slow down the enemy.

I don’t care much about Edward’s storyline, and I really hope they aren’t going to have the typical TV storyline where a woman rejects the unwanted advances of a man but he wears her down by continually hanging around and she starts to change her mind. There are some hints that this is indeed what is happening, and I find that irritating. Hopefully Nygma turns to a life of crime instead and saves Ms. Kringle from turning into another television cliche.

Poor Bruce has had his little heart broken. Selina Kyle said she lied about seeing the man who murdered his parents, but the relationship between the two of them has gotten mixed up enough that young Bruce almost certainly conflates his hopes for solving the murder with his budding romantic feelings for Selina. But this is, after all, a pretty accurate portrayal of their future relationship. He’s always trying to get her to come to his side and settle down, and she’s never quite able to stay away from the allure of the streets.

So all in all, it seems that this was more of a placeholder episode while other plots get put into motion. Looks like what we’ve got coming up is a villain who is the precursor to Scarecrow and some hot romantic scenes between Jim Gordon and Leslie Thompkins. Which could be unfortunate for Barbara if the romance turns out to be too interesting and believable.

Housekeeping Issues

Yes, I know I’ve been behind on TV reviews. I do have a day job, but I appreciate both of you for sticking with me anyway.

I’m dropping Constantine from my normal review schedule because it’s probably a dead show walking and because there just isn’t a lot happening in individual episodes now. But in a little while, you can look forward to my reviews of iZombie, a new show airing soon on the CW and based on a DC comics property.

Now, where was that Gotham review…

Arrow S03.E10 – Left Behind

In the DC Comics, Oliver Queen died and the role of Green Arrow was taken up by several others in his absence. Eventually, he was revived in the story arc “Quiver” written by Kevin Smith (yes, the Jay & Silent Bob guy). I quite liked it at the time because it dealt a lot with the repercussions of his death on all his friends and loved ones. And I mention it here because Quiver has some potential story elements which may show up in Arrow. There was the emotional devastation left on all his friends and loved ones. He had unknowingly fathered a child with a woman who was not his current love interest. People were not always happy to see him back, and I think the same will be true on the TV show.

You’ll notice that I haven’t made much of a big deal out of the reveal that Oliver is still alive. That’s because as I explained in my review of the last episode, his survival is not a surprise at all. Of course he’s alive. I previously guessed that Oliver’s duel with Ra’s Al Ghul and death was all a ruse arranged between the two of them to fool Malcolm Merlyn. It’s a little disappointing to find out that the truth really is exactly what it appears to be on the surface: Oliver died and was brought back by  a Deus Ex Machina. It’s nice to see that he was rescued by Tatsu who is still alive. Hopefully when we get to see the flashback of her rescue she isn’t too much of a damsel in distress. But all the same, this means Ra’s was dumb enough to believe Oliver’s claim that he killed Sara and that Merlyn was dumb enough to believe Oliver could actually win. Admittedly, it is rather nice to see Merlyn panicking a little.

Meanwhile though, there are those left behind to pick up the pieces. It makes sense that Diggle would be dealing with loss the best since he is a soldier. It was also a lot of fun watching him play the Arrow. Oliver’s normal outfit really is rather tight, isn’t it? I also have to point out that when he was in action with a pistol, I’m fairly certain he probably killed some of the people he hit.

I actually kind of like Laurel as a tough prosecutor. I didn’t think the show could get me to like her at all, but I admit Katie Cassidy is effective when she’s being stern and bitchy. Perhaps the show’s problem all along is that the writers have tried to make her a weeping, sad angel when that’s not in her range. If we can forget all the wonky characterization of the past two seasons, this could actually go well for her. Too bad it had to come at the cost of sacrificing one of the richest, most well-written and well-acted characters to appear on the show (Caity Lotz as Sara Lance). Unfortunately, Laurel is always going to end up looking like a pretender to me unless she manages to forge her own style and identity.

Vinnie Jones is always fun to watch as a tough guy. His character is Brick, and in the comics, he’s a metahuman with red, tough skin. In here he seems to be a normal human although there’s some hint that he’s not bothered by bullets. It seems a little inconsistent though, unless I’m missing something. Arrows do seem to pierce his skin.

There’s a plot with Ray Palmer continuing to build his suit, but honestly I don’t care until he actually finishes it and becomes the Atom. In the meantime, it does give Felicity a chance to give a heartbreaking speech about the people she’s lost. Emily Bett Rickards has nothing to prove as an actor at this point. She can sell any emotion she needs to. But in this case it helped that her speech was pretty well-written.

Serious question: does Thea ever wear shirts that don’t expose her belly?

The Flash S01.E10 — Revenge of the Rogues

Not much really happened in this episode arc-wise. We had the establishment of the supervillain team, the Rogues. I’m guessing that at some point the metahumans that they have locked up at STAR Labs will escape and create a real headache for our team. Other than that, there wasn’t any progress made on finding the man who killed Barry’s mom or figuring out just who Wells is. And the Barry and Iris love story only advanced in the sense that they both acknowledged what happened and said they hoped things would be cool again some day. We did have Caitlin continuing to investigate her fiance’s reappearance and finding out about Project Firestorm. My favorite part of that storyline was the nice interaction between Barry and Caitlin as they talked about their feelings with each other. And Barry’s speed reading was kind of fun.

So mostly this was just about setting up the Rogues and having a fun romp. And that’s ok. Especially if they throw in an homage to this classic comic book cover in the bargain.

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In the comics, the Rogues were a bunch of superpowered villains mostly concerned with petty burglary. They certainly didn’t represent the same level of threat as most other villains. However, it’s clear that this show intends to take them seriously, and if they aren’t as terrifying as the Joker or as galaxy-threatening as Sinestro, they are still plenty murderous enough to require the Flash’s personal attention.

The science was especially hooey in this episode with Cisco talking about Heatwave’s gun being the opposite of Absolute Zero (there’s no such thing). And I’ve also never really figured out how exactly Captain Cold and Heatwave are such serious threats to the Flash. Yes, the cold gun is devastating if it actually hits Barry. But that’s a rather big if considering that he can move fast enough to evacuate an entire train full of people before it has finished crashing. Realistically, nobody has the reflexes to hit him with anything.

Meanwhile, Iris is moving out and Barry is moving in. What else really needs to be said about this? Scenes with Barry and Joe West are always heartfelt and sweet. I’m looking forward to watching them bicker over who has to wash the dishes.

Gotham S01.E12 — What the Little Bird Told Him

Although this wasn’t my personal favorite episode, it was probably the best directed and written thus far. In the time allotted, the writers managed to weave together all of the ongoing storylines including Jim Gordon’s exile and return to the Gotham PD, Jack Gruber’s escape from Arkham, the machinations of Penguin and Fish Mooney, and even Edward Nygma’s continued creep-stalking a co-worker. It’s really rather impressive how this episode managed to organically include nearly every character without making it feel forced. Everything was connected together even if the people involved didn’t realize it. It wasn’t an episode about any individual character. It was an episode about Gotham.

The only storyline that was out of place was Barbara’s, and I’m afraid that will not win her any fans in the audience. About the only thing we learned is that she is a high society woman (which we already knew) and that her parents didn’t approve of Jim (no surprise). Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle were absent, but there was clearly no need for them to be in this episode. Gotham will still benefit from the writers trimming down the cast a little bit instead of trying to force everyone in where they didn’t have to be.

Carmine Falcone said in this episode that he was disappointed in himself for being so stupid. I too was disappointed in him. All this time I thought surely someone who had reached his position in organized crime had to be savvier than this. But it turns out that the story was really exactly what it looked like. He was fooled, and Fish Mooney was about to win. The redeeming aspect of the story was that we got to see Falcone rise to become the ruthless crime lord he used to be. It’s too bad about Liza, but her fate was really inevitable.

And speaking of stupid, does Sal Maroni really believe that Penguin no longer has any business with Falcone?

For some reason, a lot of people seemed to be brimming with overconfidence in this episode. Even as everything was falling into place, I thought Fish Mooney had overplayed her hand by demanding that Falcone get out of town. And Jim was pretty clearly flying by the seat of his pants. Harvey Bullock’s reactions upon realizing that he was going to get dragged into the whole mess were priceless. When Jim blasted Commissioner Loeb to his face, I thought he was being especially reckless. But then I remembered that this was the man who also promised that he would take down the Mayor and Carmine Falcone, so Jim’s righteous bluster is actually quite in character. By the way, is it a coincidence that Commissioner Loeb looks a bit like the Gary Oldman version of Commissioner Gordon?

In all of this, Jack Gruber’s story was probably the least interesting in the episode, but that’s because he mostly served as another supervillain of the week. For a while, I was convinced that he would be a precursor to the Mad Hatter who also controlled people by putting devices on their heads. However, the Electrocutioner is actually an existing albeit very minor character from the comics. Anyway, he was mostly memorable for Christopher Heyerdahl’s performance which managed to strike the right balance, being over the top while also conveying some plausible menace.

I don’t know where the show is going with Edward Nygma. The greater focus on him in the past few episodes indicates that he will probably start to have a bigger role. I’m not sure whether I welcome that development since it means some other character is going to be shortchanged. But I certainly don’t mind watching him on the screen for now, and he’s certainly entertaining. I found the riddle with the cupcake and the bullet to be pretty terrible. Maybe we’re supposed to think that the Riddler hasn’t found his touch and zing yet.

Jim’s attraction to Leslie Thompkins is rather predictable since Morena Baccarin ends up seducing pretty much every main character of a show that she guest stars in. Right now, I’m sure fans are predictably favoring her over Barbara, but we have to keep in mind that we’ve only known her for two episodes. Much like real relationships, characters tend to have little tics that will get more annoying the longer we know them. I actually rather liked Barbara for the first few episodes of this show and thought she had great chemistry with Jim. We will have to see how this relationship develops.