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.


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.

Agent Carter Episode 3 – Time and Tide

Overall, this was a downshift from the zip and zaniness of the last two episodes. That may be a good thing since it gives the characters a little time to breathe. The highlight on that end is Jarvis giving his backstory about how he met his wife and what he did in order to be with her. It was a touching story movingly delivered. The other character development piece seems to be all the goings on at the Griffith Hotel where Peggy Carter is staying. I’m not sure what their purpose is at the moment. I do know that there is surely more to Dotty from Iowa than initially appears just like with Angie. Dotty is played by Bridget Regan whom genre fans may know as Kahlan from Legend of the Seeker. She and Lyndsy Fonseca (Angie) have both played leading roles in moderately successful TV series involving lots of action and fight scenes. You just don’t bring actresses like that around to play one-off background characters.

It’s became clear to me that in many ways, the plot of Agent Carter is just as weak as Agents of SHIELD. Both storylines rely on supposedly competent people being really stupid. In the case of Agent Carter, the plot is driven by the fact that the SSR is so convinced of Howard Stark’s guilt that they view absolutely everything as evidence of his guilt. Of course, these things do happen in real life, but it does make it hard for me to view the SSR agents as anything more than cartoon characters. I didn’t even care very much when that one agent whatsisname was killed. It was really only moving because of Hayley Atwell’s acting in the aftermath as she realized that she was indirectly (albeit unintentionally) responsible for his death. But let’s face it, he was a jerk and I doubt very much that anybody in the audience cared about him.

The reason this all doesn’t bother me as much as in Agents of SHIELD is that Agent Carter is a lighter kind of series that doesn’t take itself seriously. Peggy Carter herself is a fully developed, well-rounded character who grounds all the proceedings, and Jarvis is an excellent foil for her to play off of. However, the rest of the proceedings are breezy and silly in a refreshing way (witness Jarvis’ hilarious attempt at an American accent). It’s clear that this show’s agenda isn’t to fill in the details of a world that doesn’t exist or try to develop some deeper thematic meaning behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Agent Carter’s only purpose is to make sure we are thoroughly entertained and having fun. And with that kind of attitude, I’m willing to accept all kinds of shenanigans in the name of having a good time.

My biggest disappointment of the episode was actually that Jarvis had to explain to Peggy why it was a bad idea to report their findings of the stolen technology to the SSR. Peggy ought to be savvier than that. She knew enough to sabotage the SSR’s interrogation of Jarvis while making it look like an accident, after all. It’s understandable that she would want to take credit for the find, but she ought to know by now how these things work.

It also seems that the end game for this series will be to get Peggy romantically paired with Agent Sousa. I have no objection to that, and Enver Gjokaj is surely up to the task. The writers are going to have to do a lot of work to get them together, however. The two characters have had very little on screen interaction so far, and there are only five episodes left to develop their relationship to a point where Peggy could believably move on from Captain America. The writers will have a tricky balancing act ahead of them.

Marvel’s Agent Carter Episodes 1 and 2 — Now is Not the End/Bridge and Tunnel

Now this is more like it! Agent Carter comes in as a breath of fresh air with such well-written dialogue, sharp characterization, and confident directing that its mere existence is a rebuke to the show it serves as a prequel for.

To be fair, Agent Carter is focused on a single main character instead of an ensemble cast, and its tone is far more light-hearted than in Agents of SHIELD. But then again, there’s nothing that says Agents of SHIELD has to be as serious and dreary as it is. It’s not as if the Avengers movie was all that dark and grim.

The series’ best asset is obviously Haley Atwell’s performance as Agent Carter. She never misses a note and emotes flawlessly whenever the script calls on her to be confident, seductive, or grieving. Even her American accent is excellent. But let’s not overlook a very capable supporting cast. James D’Arcy already shows more wit and character as Jarvis in these two episodes than most of the SHIELD cast have in an entire season. The running gag with Jarvis’ wife could have been tiresome, but it wasn’t overused. And then there’s Enver Gjokaj (an alum from another Whedon series, Dollhouse) as Agent Sousa. There isn’t much meat to him right now, but it’s notable how even as underwritten as he is, Gjokaj makes the character seem like a thinking man with extra dimensions. This is what a good actor can do.

The rest of the behind the scenes crew were also clearly having a lot of fun and put these two episodes together with a lot of confidence. My favorite bit was when Carter was taking down the milk truck driver and the action cut between her fighting and the Captain America radio drama, complete with foley artist sound effects. It’s the sort of thing that could take the audience out of the moment but instead is just plain fun.

Maybe I should be worried that I’ve written so much of this review and haven’t yet discussed any of the actual plot so far. It is true that the central mystery hasn’t really captivated me so far. We all know that Howard Stark is going to get out of this scrape just fine. The upcoming previews showing Carter shouting at Stark for lying to her promise something more interesting, but to be honest I’m not expecting much from there. The two of them are friends, and Stark is probably doing some version of “I couldn’t tell you the whole story because the truth is too dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands.” The more interesting storyline to me was Carter’s struggle with the casual sexism of the time. It’s just too bad this series reportedly won’t deal with the founding of SHIELD and will simply be a self-contained story. Perhaps ABC is hoping to draw this out for more seasons.

I found myself responding better to the spy hijinks because they were mostly so low-tech. I’m far from an old fogey, but CGI still has a weightless quality that doesn’t happen with practical effects and props. Besides, it’s just much more interesting to watch a character solve a situation with her wits and the stuff at hand instead of pulling out some magic computer coding and technological wizardry. A prime example was when Carter had to neutralize the bomb and was instructed to use a “solution of sodium hydrogen corbonate and acetate.” People who took chemistry in college might recognize the first as sodium bicarbonate (better known as baking soda) and acetate as one of the products when you neutralize acetic acid (which is present in vinegar). It’s a little ridiculous that such an advanced weapon could be defeated so easily, but again, the show is just having fun and I was willing to roll with it. But can we do away with people chasing after glowing things now?

The radio typewriter was a little silly, though. In real life, the communication could have been done just as effectively with Morse code. I also had to laugh when the voiceless character asked for “permission to terminate.” What exactly was he trying to do before when he kept shooting a gun at Carter?

The most obvious continuity call-forward was the character of Jarvis for whom Tony Stark’s AI is named. But sharper-eyed viewers will also note an appearance by Dr. Anton Vanko who is presumably related to Ivan Vanko, the villain of Iron Man 2. The other notable role for me was Lyndsy Fonseca as Angie. You don’t bring in the second lead of Nikita just to be a nosy friend and waitress. She has proven chops in a spy setting. I’m guessing she will turn out to be a Russian agent (might as well put all the Russian she learned on Nikita to use).

Sidenote: the Ant-Man trailer looks awful. “I need you to be the Ant-Man”? Really? The whole thing looks ponderous and self-serious in all the wrong ways.

Gotham S01.E11 — Rogue’s Gallery

Batman is of course known for his rogue’s gallery, widely considered the best and most distinctive in the comics world. This episode unfortunately featured none of them because of course they haven’t become supervillains yet. Instead we had a crew that was certainly motley but not very distinctive. Jack Gruber may actually be someone, but I haven’t heard of him before (if he is from the comics, I’m guessing he will turn out to be Hugo Strange).

Arkham Asylum has always been portrayed as a little overwhelmed by the inmates, but even this portrayal was taking things a little far. According to this portrayal, there were maybe five guards looking over about 50 inmates. And apparently things are so screwed up there that they don’t even notice when one of the inmates impersonates a nurse.

Speaking of staff at the asylum, we get our first look at Dr. Leslie Thompkins who will become a confidant of Bruce Wayne in the future. Online reaction has been very positive towards her, but I somehow think that’s mostly because she’s not Barbara and she’s played by the very popular Morena Baccarin. There isn’t really very much here so far to give her character. And that’s really ok since it’s only her first episode so far. The only thing I will note is that Morena Baccarin apparently can’t turn off the alluring look because I’ve seen her in six different shows now and she always looks like she’s trying to seduce the leading man.

Which reminds me: why can’t Barbara tell the difference between a little girl and a sultry mistress? Her conversation with little Pamela Isley is worth a little giggle, but it also makes her look rather dumb. But then again, everything that’s happened this season has made her look dumb (remember when she got out of Gotham and then came back to run into Falcone’s arms and try to plead for Jim’s life?). And the problem with her current storyline is it doesn’t really make much sense. It would be one thing if she left Jim because she was scared, but that doesn’t really seem to be her motivation. After all, why would she then fall back into the arms of another cop? And I didn’t really follow her conversation with Renee. I understood in general that she’s upset because Renee rejected her, but I couldn’t follow the particulars of the sentences she was speaking. There just seemed to be something missing there, and all it did was make Barbara look childish. Barbara’s character has by far been the biggest disappointment for me in this series. The writers just don’t seem to know what to do with her, and as I’ve repeatedly noted, it isn’t actually that hard to think of a good way to fit her into the story.

It’s also worth noting that there was no appearance by the Wayne household or by Edward Nygma. Selina Kyle barely got to do anything. At some point, the writers are going to have to find a way to trim the character list or shuffle some people to the background.

Serious question: why did Fox bring back this show now only to skip next week?

Waking Mars Brings Biology to Puzzle/Platformers

Is there life on Mars? It’s probably not much of a spoiler to tell you that in this game, the answer is “yes” since it wouldn’t be terribly interesting otherwise. Now the question is what does that life look like? Waking Mars is about exploring a cave where life has been discovered and figuring out what it’s all for.

You play as Liang, a scientist/astronaut stationed on a base in Mars with his colleague Amani. Liang wears the space suit and actually goes exploring the Martian surface while Amani runs analysis and communicates with him from the home base. There’s also ART, an artificial intelligence who seems to have had some of his communication sub-routines disabled as a practical joke.

Meet our hero, Liang

The game starts out as Liang is exploring Lethe cavern on Mars looking for new sights and also trying to find out what happened to a robot named 0ct0 who went in before him and has ceased communication. A few moments after answering, a cave collapse forces Liang further underground. Fortunately he is unharmed and still able to communicate with Amani. More importantly, there is water and life on Mars.

The rest of the game is an exploration into the mysteries of Lethe Cavern. How exactly do the plants and animals around here work, and why did they evolve this way? And what happens if Liang starts messing with their development to try to get more things to grow?

Lots and lots of life

Waking Mars plays on two levels: as a Metroidvania-style multi-room exploration game and as a puzzle game about balancing ecosystems. At the first, Waking Mars is adequate but occasionally clunky. On iOS, Liang moves towards wherever you are touching on the screen whether that means walking, jumping, or using his jet pack to go up into the air. Most of the time this works quite well, and Liang even has context-specific animations for when he bumps into a wall or finds himself in a small space that he can’t stand upright in. However, he is subject to gravity and inertia which means he has to constantly fire small bursts whenever he needs to make precise maneuvers. This doesn’t work as well on a touch screen as I’d like. Liang will also occasionally get stuck on an obstacle, forcing you to move him backwards to try again. I suspect that on other platforms where you can use a keyboard or a controller, Liang controls much better. This wouldn’t be a huge deal except for the fact that some of the Martian life can hurt Liang and it is actually possible to die in this game.

On the other hand, the puzzle aspect of the game is brilliantly developed and engaging. The core mechanic is that Liang can pick up seeds and throw them at fertile pieces of terrain in order to grow them into plants. Each plant has its own life cycle and method for reproducing. Under the right conditions, a plant will spit out more seeds for Liang to plant and grow. There are also animals moving around which interact with the plants in various ways. The plants and animals form a complete ecosystem — some of them are mutually beneficial to each other while others are predators. Liang’s general goal is to grow as much biomass as possible because there are gates located throughout the caves which open when a certain level of biomass has been achieved. Most interestingly, the game does not lay out any of these relationships for you. Liang has to figure things out through trial and error and keeps a journal of his findings for you to refer to as you try to grow more biomass.

The game features beautifully drawn environments

Production values are excellent throughout. As you can see in the screenshots, the art is beautiful and conveys a sense of alien life that is neither friendly nor hostile but simply indifferent. The animation is simple but smooth with every object made up of a bunch of individual moving parts, much like a flash animation. The voice acting is also well done for what it is. The game’s script is very functional without a lot of opportunity for dramatics or emoting. Nonetheless, the voice actors don’t embarrass themselves and even ART isn’t too annoying like most other overly cute robots.

Waking Mars is one of the most original new games I’ve ever played. It has a few control quirks, but the main puzzle design is very well thought out and put together. It also offers some replay value for completionists. Maximize the biomass in all of the rooms on Mars and you will unlock an alternate ending for the game. At $4.99, it offers excellent value for your money, too.

Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Mid-Season Review: Constantine

Of all the TV series based on comics currently on air, Constantine is by far the least likely to survive (in fact, the other four show no signs of imminent cancellation). And there’s a good reason for that. It’s just not quite as well put together as other shows, and sometimes it still feels like it’s trying to find its footing. It doesn’t help that the show apparently doesn’t have the budget to use all four of its principle cast in the same episode or that NBC apparently can’t resist playing around with the order of episodes.

But the show does have potential with very capable lead actors and a premise that hasn’t been mined for all it’s worth. The question is whether it will get that chance.

What’s Gone Well

Matt Ryan is the key to this show, and he has proven more than capable of carrying the role. When weaker elements threaten the show, Matt Ryan’s performance is often enough to keep us watching anyway. His Constantine is at turns cynical, charming, and nonetheless ready to do whatever has to be done. And unlike the Keanu Reeves version, he’s clearly and unabashedly British (although it’s not clear what he’s doing in rural Georgia).

Angélica Celaya is also doing a fine job as Zed, creating an audience surrogate who isn’t stupid while also generating plenty of chemistry with Matt Ryan. Zed is clearly new to this world, but that doesn’t mean she’s helpless or useless. Her powers fit right in to the sort of problems that Constantine faces. At first, I was concerned that the show would push her too aggressively as a love interest or alternatively that Angélica Celaya would be limited to a Tough Latina Glare for every situation. Thankfully, neither has happened.

The real potential for the show was revealed in the fourth episode aired thus far, “A Feast of Friends.” There was an intriguing monster, lots of truly disturbing imagery, and an uncompromising ending that demonstrates that Constantine isn’t kidding when he says that he is dangerous to be around. Perhaps not surprisingly, the episode was an adaptation of a storyline straight out of the comics. This is the kind of thing that makes the show stand out from any other comics adaptation and also differentiates it very starkly from Doctor Who (which is a comparison that the show would be better off not inviting).

What’s Not Gone So Well

Unfortunately, the actors in the show are being hamstrung by some serious writing deficiencies. Chief among them are the timing and logistics of many episodes. Constantine and company would often travel to the scene of the crime and then back to their home in Georgia before a day has passed. Unless Chas is driving a magical flying taxi, this just doesn’t work out. Other issues have had to do with various characters being forced to act like idiots. The most blatant example was when John walked in on Papa Midnite and somehow failed to foresee that one of Midnite’s goons might try to sneak up and attack him. It’s a little hard to root for a character who is occasionally so unsavvy.

Speaking of Chas, he’s awfully underdeveloped. And Manny is even worse given that he has stated that he cannot actually intervene in any human affairs. It makes me wonder what he’s good for other than ripping out the occasional fallen angel’s heart. Hopefully he’ll get more to do because I’ve always liked Harold Perrineau, Jr. ever since the Matrix movies.

And with a few sterling exceptions aside, the threats of the week have tended to be pretty lame and unmemorable. I know that this show airs on network television so there’s only so much they can show on screen. However, Doctor Who has demonstrated that good writing can go a long way in suggesting the horrors that go knocking in the night (there we go with the comparison again). We certainly need a lot more than Manny just repeatedly saying that there is a “darkness rising” and that the rules are changing.

What Really Needs To Change

Stop with the lame excuses for characters to be missing from an episode! It’s not fooling anybody.

What We Have To Look Forward To

This show will certainly have a challenge if it ends up being cancelled. There are too many loose plot points to finish up in the remaining episodes (at least if it received a standard 13-episode order). On the other hand, NBC is moving it to 8 PM on Fridays instead of 10 PM. I’m not sure what to make of that since it’s moving the show to a more desirable time slot which should get better ratings. Perhaps NBC has more confidence than I do.

In the more immediate term, the last episode (unreviewed on this site because of my time constraints) left with Constantine bleeding out from a gunshot wound and facing an oncoming demon in the tunnels. The previews show that he’s going to end up taking the demon into his own body and the next episode will have to deal with him trying to get an exorcism performed on himself. How that all plays out will be interesting to see.

And maybe we’ll finally find out what’s going on with this darkness rising after all.

Mid-Season Review: Arrow

This season, Arrow started off with a horrible decision and then proceeded to make the best of the situation by mostly ignoring that terrible start until the very end. I am talking, of course, about the death of Sara Lance and the resulting inevitable rise of Laurel Lance as the Black Canary. I’ll have more to say about Sara’s murder in the rest of this post, but suffice it to say it was unnecessary, insulting, and emblematic of some of the show’s worst tendencies. I almost stopped watching the show as a result and only came back to review episodes for this site. That was when it became clear that the investigation into her death would mostly sit on the back burner which was an odd decision on the part of the writer since it felt as if there was no urgency into finding her killer. On the other hand, other aspects of the show have actually done pretty well.

What’s Gone Well

First of all, the action scenes are still excellent. Even in a mediocre episode, I can count on a rousing fight or two. And since Oliver is unpowered unlike Barry on Flash, there’s a sense of real danger whenever Oliver gets into a scrap. Oh, and his unfolding compound bow is really cool.

At first, I was really worried that Oliver’s relationship with Felicity would either turn into a train wreck or another excuse for angsting and manpain. And at first, that is indeed where things seemed to be headed. But then Felicity made it clear that she was going to make her own decisions and was not going to wait for Oliver to get his act together.

Diggle’s storyline has developed very much in contrast to Oliver’s. Where Oliver is brooding and angsty, Diggle has had a lot of things go well in his life. He has a daughter with a woman who loves him (and they’re going to get married). And although he and Lyla have had some arguments from time to time, their relationship has been relatively drama-free in comparison to Oliver’s love life. In general, Diggle remains a grounded presence in the series who is most notable for his reliability and focus.

What’s Not Gone So Well

A couple of men have been introduced as potential love interests for the female characters, and in both cases I think they have fallen flat. In the first case is the DJ who shows up at Thea’s club (have we actually learned his name?). I don’t know if the writers intend for him to be charming or an asshole, but he definitely comes across as the latter. He also kisses Thea without any indication on her part that she’s interested in him or would welcome his advances. Which is technically, you know, assault.

Then we have Ray Palmer who casually violates Felicity’s boundaries at every turn. He tracks her phone, shows up at her house, and brings her to dinner with a client while putting enormously expensive diamonds on her. I don’t know if the writers intend for him to be likable, but he certainly isn’t coming across that way. Part of it may be that Brandon Routh is a little bit wooden (I thought he was excellent in Superman Returns, but he may have limited range). I’m not seeing much there to get Felicity to fall for him, so it will feel a little forced if the story actually goes there with their relationship.

It’s odd how little attention has been paid to Laurel’s transition into the new Black Canary. Maybe that’s for the best because Katie Cassidy’s performance in fight scenes will inevitably suffer in comparison to Caity Lotz. In any case, her character arc has been strangely detached from the rest of the show, and it just continues the trend of keeping her almost irrelevant to the show. She’s still supposed to be a prosecutor, right? Overall, she hasn’t given much reason to look forward to her eventual emergence as the Black Canary.

What Really Needs to Change

Simply put, the show’s treatment of women is terrible. Almost every woman has been used as a prop to inspire manpain (ironically, Laurel seems to have avoided this fate). The most obvious are all the women in Oliver’s life who have died (Sara, Shado, his mother, Sara again). But then we have Thea who is essentially held hostage by Malcolm Merlyn to get Oliver to sacrifice himself to Ra’s Al Ghul. And the writers don’t even give her the credit of making her own decision to kill Sara because Merlyn is just that good at brainwashing. Instead, she was drugged and induced into killing Sara. Then we have Tatsu—a superhero from the comic books for crying out loud—who is captured or something in order to inspire her husband to join the League of Assassins. And finally there’s Ray Palmer’s fiancée who died in the events of the last season and whose death motivates his research and development.

This has to stop. Women need to be treated as their own characters with their own motivations and story arcs, not as pawns for other people to move around to manipulate the plot. So far, Laurel is the closest thing we have to that kind of story, but I don’t think it’s working out very well.

What To Look Forward To

How does Oliver survive this one? I’m thinking that he will be away from Starling City for a few episodes while our other heroes will have to hold the line against Malcolm Merlyn.

Mid-Season Review: Agents of SHIELD

The common wisdom among people who watch Agents of SHIELD is that the show got off to a very rocky start but improved drastically after Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released. I agree that it has improved, but that still doesn’t mean the show is actually good. And I’m not so sure that all the viewers who abandoned ship are necessarily going to enjoy this show any more if they were to come back. Agents of SHIELD is down to a hardcore Marvel fanbase who exclaims in delight when Mockingbird (played by Adrianne Palicki) makes an appearance while the rest of us scratch our heads and wonder what’s the big deal. And some of the plot points are still really stupid. But I will agree that the show is better now than it was during the execrable first half of last season.

What’s Gone Well

The best thing the show has done is merge Skye into part of the larger ensemble cast. During the first season, the show had an irritating habit of telling us how special Skye is without showing us why anybody cares about her. Agent Coulson breaks protocol a few times and goes out of his way to save her. Various characters talk about how caring and smart she is without the audience really seeing it. But this season, the praise has stopped and Skye has merely been another member of the team. When she isn’t being shoved in our face, Skye is a perfectly acceptable character. It just goes to show that the problem was not with Chloe Bennett but with the terrible writing.

The relationship between Fitz and Simmons has also taken some interesting turns. It’s a little hard to understand why Fitz is having such a hard time healing with all the technology available (a student in the lab can create a tornado machine, but they can’t figure out how to fix his brain?). But it’s acceptable for the sake of drama.

The show has also had some nice action scenes. They just need to cut back on Bobbi Morse striking gratuitous poses at the end of a fight. Those just look silly.

And, well…the series doesn’t spin its wheels quite so obviously.

What’s Not Gone So Well

Although the concept of dueling secret agencies is a good one, the execution has been marred by really stupid spy plots. Are we really supposed to believe that Simmons was a good enough agent to be able to go undercover with HYDRA? Or that nobody figured out the motives of Skye’s father? This is an organization that was considered too extreme for the Nazis and managed to stay hidden all these years and infiltrate the ranks of SHIELD. Are we supposed to believe they’ve suddenly become this bad at espionage?

Not that the good guys have done much better. How many people were surprised when Ward broke free from the restraints and killed his guards when he was being transferred into his brother’s care? Couldn’t they at least have shackled his hands behind his back?

I can overlook all of this as long as I care about the characters, but for the most part I don’t. The show is relying on the actors being likable (and let’s face it, attractive) to get us to root for them. It’s not enough. Try naming more than one character trait of Melinda May. Try naming any character traits of Triplett or MacKenzie (extra points off if you had to take a moment to remember which guy is which). Even Coulson is curiously not as well-developed as he should be. He faces all kinds of dilemmas and difficult decisions in his current role as Director of SHIELD, but his response to everything is essentially to be noble and to protect Skye. There’s no sense that he has any moral qualms or inner conflict about anything he’s doing.

And finally, although the Diviner storyline has led to a lot of series and plot changes, the whole thing never made sense to anybody who really thought about it. It’s an object of immense power that everybody wants. It’s never really explained why. All we know is that people who touch it are turned to stone except for a certain few and that it can make some of the stupidest grenades ever seen on TV. But apparently it will change the world. How do we know this? Again, various characters just claim that it is. How do they know it’s so great and powerful? Well…they just do. Raina’s whole character is motivated by the quest to obtain the Diviner (which is also called the Obelisk just because), but we don’t know how she came to hear about the thing to begin with. It might as well be a religious quest for all we can tell.

What Really Has to Change

A few reviewers have claimed that this show is accessible to non-comic fans, but I disagree. Technically, you can follow the plot of the show without a knowledge of the comics, but you’ll be hard pressed to really care. The reveal that Skye’s birth name is Daisy means nothing to anybody who hasn’t followed the comics. Bobbi Morse is a completely flat character who mostly receives affection from fans because she’s played by the imposing Adrianne Palicki and she’s a character in the comics. Hopefully the upcoming plot with the Inhumans does better at fleshing out who they are and why they are interesting instead of just relying on references to comic books to make us care. What I’ve read from various wikis reveals little that would make them inherently interesting (which may be why they’re kind of obscure). But I could be proven wrong.

What To Look Forward To

Well, we’ll find out what makes Skye so very special other than the fact that she can go into a cocoon state and then emerge. And I’m betting there’s going to be a showdown between her and Raina. Also, FitzSimmons could have some good character moments coming up since they are one of the few characters I care about.