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Constantine S01.E05 — Danse Vaudou

This episode fixed some of the longstanding issues of the series while containing a story that was surprisingly standard and honestly kind of boring.

Let’s start with the issues addressed. Matt Ryan seems to have toned his performance down a bit to be more cynical and less goofy. I have greatly enjoyed his performance so far, but he was starting to invite comparisons to David Tennant and Matt Smith. This show would never want to go toe-to-toe with Doctor Who, and it should be a much different kind of show anyhow. Angélica Celaya also got a chance to demonstrate that she has more range than just being the tough Latina. Her smile at the hotel was actually quite lovely.  And Chas got something to do. His interactions with the slasher ghost got to be pretty darkly hilarious toward the end.

It’s just too bad the ghost story turned out to be pretty standard and unsurprising. There are three ghosts haunting New Orleans who are victimizing the living in ironic recreations of their death. There are two minor twists: firstly that they were resurrected by the guilt of their loved ones and secondly that Papa Midnite was involved. Otherwise, it was just a matter of finding the emotional connection to the living and allowing them to pass so that the ghosts could be laid to rest. That last part felt especially rushed to me. Constantine essentially told the grieving survivors to let go of their guilt and then within minutes everything was resolved. The original deaths were rather traumatic, so having all those guilty consciences absolved so quickly strikes me as more than a little false.

On the other hand, the big news for DC comics fans was the appearance of Jim Corrigan. In the comics, Jim is the human host for the Spectre who is essentially a god of vengeance. Zed’s vision when she touched his hand seemed to confirm that he is either destined to take on that identity or is already the Spectre. Given how out of whack magic is becoming in this world, his role could become very interesting. But then again, with the Spectre around, what is the purpose of Manny?

Some quick language notes: Papa Midnite’s ritual is conducted in very heavily accented French (it sounded like some kind of Afro-Caribbean accent, but I’m not good enough to really distinguish that). The accent was so thick that I had a lot of trouble understanding it, but at one point I distinctly heard, “L’esprit prend control de moi” (“Spirit take control of me”).

Constantine’s ritual was called “Relictum spiritum expurgationes” which is simply translated as “purging of the forsaken spirit.”

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How Watches Killed Google Glass (and What It Says About Google’s Process)

Remember Google Glass? Remember the hype, the backlash, and all the jokes about how nobody looks good while wearing them? Whatever happened to those things anyway?

According to this Reuter’s article, Google Glass has basically just faded away with major developers dropping support and no launch date in sight. It may continue to be available in some form, but it’s looking more and more likely that a mass consumer launch is never going to happen.

Many pundits have noted that the problem with Google Glass was the way it was launched. It was more like an experiment which was given to a very limited audience with plans to expand the launch later. Without a clear launch date, however, no positive publicity came out and Google Glass essentially withered on the vine.

The thing is this is Google’s normal way of doing business. It’s not necessarily a bad way to go. I remember when Gmail was invitation-only, and it has grown into a smashing success even before it was attached to other Google services like calendar and productivity apps. But for every Gmail there has been a Google Plus or Google Wave — products which started out in limited release and never managed to get off the ground (yes, I’m aware that Google Plus still exists, and this blog even publishes a link to it on my Google Plus page. But does anybody really worry about it as a major player?).

Contrast the Google way with how most other companies launch their products. Most other companies will make some announcement about their new upcoming product, give a firm launch date, and then start marketing it with commercials and social media. Apple is a prime example of this model, but any other company including Samsung and Nintendo will do the same thing. You have to hope that the product actually works and does everything promised, and you don’t have the benefit of testing under real world conditions the way Google does with their products. But it also means that you can control the information that gets out and spin things positively for yourself before the launch rather than have all the flaws sitting out for the world to see.

The other thing that killed Google Glass was that smart watches solved some of the problems it was designed for. One of the draws of Google Glass was supposed to be the ability to look up information on the internet without having to pull out your phone all the time. Smart watches offer the same functionality while also not looking irreparably goofy. And they are available now. In that sense, the Apple Watch will be competition for Google Glass early next year. The one reason to get Google Glass now is if it delivers on the promise of being able to overlay information on the world (such as by translating signs written in foreign languages). But that capability seems very far away now. And therefore Google Glass has faded away to die ignobly.

It makes me wonder if Google might not be better served with a little more opacity. Did Google Glass really have to be announced to the world and tested out in the open? From where I sit, there’s no reason why Google Glass couldn’t have been tested and developed internally much the same way as the next iPhone or Galaxy Note is. Apple has surely had a lot of failed ideas and products which didn’t pan out. The difference is we don’t know about them.

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Arrow S03.E07 – Draw Back Your Bow

The two consistent themes for tonight’s episode were:

1. Everything playing out completely predictably and

2. Men being entitled assholes.

Let’s start with the first. The villain this week is Carrie Cutter who is essentially an obsessed Arrow groupie. Naturally, Team Arrow’s attempts to bring her in exposes rifts and issues in their internal dynamic that they have to deal with. Of course, when Oliver tells Carrie that he has to be alone, Felicity hears it. And naturally when Ray Palmer kisses Felicity, Oliver is there to see it. Was anybody really surprised by any of it? Normally I wouldn’t remark on it, but it was also done pretty poorly in this episode. The romances weren’t really believable (more on that later), and there was also some really strange editing, as if they had too much material to go through and had to cut something out. For example, when Roy ran into Carrie, the next scene we see is of him lying unconscious on the ground. We don’t see the fight between the two of them. Given that Carrie is not particularly trained, I also find it a little difficult to believe that she’d be able to beat him, especially since Oliver had no trouble taking her down when it was his turn.

As to #2, we had Ray Palmer and the new DJ at Verdant. Let’s start with Ray. Throughout this season, he has repeatedly been crossing boundaries, visiting Felicity at home in off hours or sneaking up behind her. Moreover, there’s been no indication up until now that Felicity is attracted to him at all. This episode took things up to 11 when he bought her an expensive dress, put a several million dollar necklace on her, and took her to dinner at a high class restaurant. It’s hard to believe Felicity would fall for such high pressure tactics. I can only think that she allowed him to kiss her because she was mourning the loss of her relationship with Oliver.

The new DJ (do we have a name for him?) was another thing entirely. His coming on to Thea was like the accelerated, even sketchier version of the Ray Palmer approach. He was trying way too hard to show confidence in his skills and his supposed attractiveness. It’s worth pointing out that since Thea never gave any indication that she was attracted to him or wanted to start anything physical with him, he was technically committing sexual assault when he kissed her. Her response seemed anything but reciprocal to me. I really hope that the writers know what they’re doing and are not trying to portray this guy’s actions as charming or cute. I worry a little bit given this show’s history of rather skeevy, inappropriate relationships (Exhibit #1: Oliver cheating on Laurel with her sister). But usually when there has been a call for two characters to show romantic chemistry and get together, they’ve been able to pull it off (Exhibit #1: Oliver and anybody except Laurel). So I have to believe that the total assholishness of this new guy is deliberate, but then where exactly is this story going? I can only imagine that right now, his purpose is to be such a monumental douchebag that Oliver doesn’t object when Malcolm Merlyn finds him and skewers him on a harpoon.

By the way, what’s going on with the investigation into Sara’s death? Or the storyline with Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins? Has anybody noticed that after all this time, Sergeant Lance still doesn’t know his daughter is dead? Where was Laurel, anyway?

The little shout-out to comic nerds today was Tatsu (the wife of the guy hosting Oliver in the Hong Kong flashbacks) getting into action with a sword. It wasn’t until she drew that katana that I realized that she is Tatsu Yamashiro a.k.a. Katana from the comics. It seems that this show is determined to have every unpowered hero from DC comics other than Batman make an appearance. Next up I suppose will be Vigilante. If they stretch things a little, they could bring in Jonah Hex. Or wouldn’t it be fun to have The Question?

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Agents of SHIELD S02.E08 — The Things We Bury

Like the previous episode, this one benefits from actually explaining some stuff instead of just dangling mysteries for the sake of having mysteries. Unfortunately, things get a little too silly, even for a comic book TV show. And you know you have a problem when the villains are more interesting than all the heroes put together.

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The Flash S01.E06 — The Flash is Born

As we can all tell from the episode title, Barry is no longer referred to as The Streak, and thank goodness for that. Speaking of monikers, it looks like Cisco didn’t have time to come up with a name for the villain this week. But at least he didn’t die and has an opportunity to come back. The super prison shows every sign of eventually turning into a really bad idea for our heroes.

In this episode, we finally have a halfway credible threat to Iris’ safety rather than just Barry and Joe’s concern about her. It still doesn’t make sense that they don’t tell her about Barry’s powers. I suppose the justification is that if she knows his real identity, villains will go after her in order to find out. But they will probably do that anyway, and they have no way of knowing whether she knows his true identity or not. At least in this episode we had a case of somebody going after her specifically because of her blogging. Not that it really mattered because as we saw by the end, she is going to continue blogging anyway.

Speaking of the ending, the look on Joe’s face when he saw the threat posted on the wall was chilling. I can’t imagine that he will continue his investigation, but the question is whether he will tell Barry why. As for the identity of the Reverse Flash, in the comics he is Eddie Thawne. However, in this show Eddie seems to be a genuinely nice guy and there’s no reason why he would have murdered Barry’s mother fourteen years ago. It could still be him, but the writers would have a lot of work to do in order to make the connection plausible. The other obvious possibility is Harrison Wells, especially since the note got posted on the wall after Joe started asking questions of Wells. I have little doubt that Wells is involved in all these events somehow and probably even set off the super-collider deliberately. However, it seems too obvious to think that he is the Reverse Flash himself. We will just have to wait and see.

Physics notes: Barry can instantaneously pick up Iris and transport her wherever he wants with no ill effects to her from the sudden change in inertia. However, he apparently can’t pick up Tony and throw him around even though the reality is that traveling as fast as he does exerts much more energy than ripping a door off of a car does. I was also a little surprised to hear that Barry has never broken the sound barrier and that all he needed to do that was to get a five mile head start. Surely he’s run that far in a straight line before. It looks like his supersonic punch left some major property damage, though. Window replacement companies are going to do bang up business this week. It was also nice to see Iris get a piece of the action in the end.

Final observations: Barry apparently has preternatural concentration because if I had suffered the injuries he had, I wouldn’t have remembered to keep vibrating my voice in order to make sure Iris couldn’t recognize me.

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Gotham S01.E09 — Harvey Dent

This was a setup episode in which not very much happens but things are being moved into place for the next episode which will serve as the finale until the show comes back in January. The biggest news is the debut appearance of Harvey Dent. As soon as Renee Montoya said that there was a DA that she trusted completely, I suspected it would turn out to be him. Naturally, most of the time he was filmed with half of his face in shadow. The cinematography in this show really deserves an award at Emmy time.

I have a bad feeling that Harvey’s scheme is going to end up backfiring spectacularly. It also seems to be a fair bet that he will have acid splashed on his face pretty soon, probably as a result of this plan to try to nail the people behind the Wayne murders. That would be a pretty drastic change from the comics since Harvey isn’t usually depicted as becoming Two-Face until Batman is already active. In fact, he is usually written as one of Bruce’s best friends and Batman’s strongest ally before the tragic incident that awakened Big Bad Harvey. Then again, he’s now much older than Bruce in this world, so anything is possible. I would really like it if the writers gave him time to develop into a fully realized character before he goes bad.

Speaking of Bruce’s friends, there’s never been a continuity in which Bruce and Selina knew each other as children, but their scenes together worked very well. It turns out that Camren Bicondova not only looks just like a kid Catwoman but is also a natural actor. The face she shows to the world is tough and streetwise, but when she talks about her mother’s supposed work as a secret agent, we can see just enough of a crack to know there is a lonely street kid underneath. And of course, the food fight between the two of them (with a kiss as the prize) pretty well encapsulates their future relationship. Selina has been criminally underused up until now, probably because of labor laws which limit how many hours her actress can work. I hope the writers will either make more use of her or else get rid of extraneous one-off appearances that she’s had in the past.

Sadly, Barbara was not served nearly so well by the script. If she is supposed to be so frightened by her glimpse of Gotham’s criminal under world, having her run into the arms of Renee Montoya does not seem like the most logical character choice. In fact, this whole plotline seems to have been contrived to get two attractive actresses in bed together and kissing. So far, Barbara has been a plot point and a prop for other characters to use rather than a fully fleshed person in her own right. I had great hope for her in the beginning, but it seems like the writers don’t know what to do with her.

Finally, I wonder what Oswald is up to. I still maintain that Carmine Falcone can’t be so gullible as to fall for such an obvious honey trap as what Fish Mooney has set for him. So it doesn’t seem to me that Oswald promising to keep his mouth shut has that much value. So what exactly is his game? We know that he is ostensibly still loyal to Falcone, but he won’t be for long.

Final thought: I understand why Bruce is testing his lung capacity, but why is he doing it fully clothed? He really is a weird kid.

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Constantine S01.E04 — A Feast of Friends

And now I think the show has come into its own. It’s just too bad it took so long to give us an episode of this quality. And with bad ratings, it’s not clear how long NBC will stick with it. Of all the comic-based TV series on the air right now, it’s always been clear to me that Constantine is in the most danger of being cancelled.

But while we’re waiting to see what happens, let’s talk about how this show has finally distinguished itself from the competition. What will stand out to most readers of course is the ending which is as dark as anything I’ve ever seen on TV, cable or network. Constantine’s drug-fueled visions gave a pretty obvious preview of what would happen, but I wasn’t sure the writers would really go through with it. Perhaps Constantine would figure out some trick or perhaps it would turn out that a sacrifice wouldn’t be necessary. But as it turned out, no such last minute rescue was forthcoming, and Constantine actually tricked Gary into being alone in the theater with the demon so that he would be the only choice as the vessel. Technically, Gary had a choice, but it wasn’t really much of a choice, was it? And knowing how it all ends, how much can we trust what Constantine was saying towards the end. Did he really think Gary had changed or was he just buttering him up to make the final sacrifice?

It’s common for TV shows to feature an anti-hero who insists that people should stay away from him because his world is dangerous. Usually the danger is stated emphatically but not really shown. Here in the fourth episode, though, we see that Constantine isn’t kidding around: people near him really can end up dead or worse. And one gets the feeling that he’s done something like this before.

The other way this show has distinguished itself is with some truly disgusting imagery. Swarms of bugs are bad enough. Swarms of bugs crawling into and out of people is even more disgusting. And swarms of bugs crawling into people and forcing them to mindlessly eat everything in sight until they shrivel up and die is the stuff of nightmares. It’s not quite at the level of cable TV, but it’s definitely pushing some boundaries. More use of moral darkness and hellacious imagery will allow this show to stand out from a crowd.

The other major function of this episode was to talk about Astra and her part in Constantine’s backstory. To be honest, I’m not really sure it was necessary since it didn’t give us many details we didn’t already know about other than that Gary was there and was high at the time. It did help to establish Gary’s sense of guilt and why Constantine had checked himself into a mental institution for electroshock therapy. Up until now, Constantine has been a bit of a merry prankster, smiling and charming his way into the places he needs to go. This time, we see a much darker and more cynical side, and the only lightness is when he stops to erase the white board in the meat packing plant.

I should point out that the logistics of the episode didn’t really make sense. Gary was caught in the airport when the clueless cop opened the bottle and released the demon. The next thing we know, Gary is at Constantine’s place begging for help. Meanwhile, in the time it took Gary to travel to where Constantine is, the cop has only just now broken out into the airport and started eating. The timing of when Constantine and Gary robbed the museum in relation to the outbreak at the theater also didn’t quite fit together if you think about it.

Also, where was Chas? Could they have come up with an excuse for his absence that was a little less lame? And it was also a little poorly timed given that he was also missing for most of the previous episode.

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Agents of SHIELD S02.E07 — The Writing on the Wall

I was quite pleasantly surprised to see a good episode this week. It avoided all the pitfalls that have dogged the series since the beginning: mysteries for the sake of having mysteries, spy plots that rely on everybody acting stupid, technical wizardry for the sake of showing off, and lots of telling not showing in place of character development. There still isn’t much character development in this episode (more on that later), but at least we got a good story out of it.

The Good

A good case of the week which finally gives us some actual answers. I was never satisfied with the justifications given last season about why Coulson’s memory was erased and replaced with memories of sunning in Tahiti. As far as I could tell, his memory was erased because it was painful…or something. Now we know that his memory was erased because SHIELD was finding that people given his treatment were going crazy. To some extent that may be a retcon, but it works. It also gave me just enough doubt about his sanity to make me believe he had truly lost it when he trapped Skye in the holding cell.

The dialogue also flowed much better than it has in the past. This show has had some horrible clunkers in the past, and I mostly attribute that to writers attempting Whedon-esque dialogue without the benefit of actually having Joss Whedon as a writer. Now the dialogue still occasionally beats us over the head (we get it: Hunter and Bobbi are exes), but it’s much more utilitarian and does the job without showing off.

I also appreciated the subtle point that the last agent didn’t feel any compulsion to draw because he had already created a 3D model. The only surprise is that it took this long for somebody to think of rendering the image in 3D. It was the first thing I thought of as soon as I realized the drawings would become important. Now the question is what the significance of this city is. I have a feeling the implications aren’t going to pan out until the next Avengers movie which would be an annoying wait if true.

Ward has now finally gotten interesting. I didn’t really care much for him when he was a SHIELD agent, and I also didn’t care when he was a  prisoner feeding information to Skye. But now we see that he’s willing to betray HYDRA and apparently has his own agenda. He still shouldn’t be redeemed, but he’s worth watching now. Plus I’m glad he got rid of that beard.

The Bad

Nothing, really. I still don’t really care about any of the characters except a little bit about Coulson, and that’s mostly because he was fun in the Avengers movie.

This is more of an ongoing problem, but the characters still don’t have much development. Skye has become a plausible agent, but May is still the same as ever. FitzSimmons haven’t moved anywhere. And all the new team members barely even have dialogue aside from Hunter and Bobbi.

The Dumb

So it turns out that Ward getting away from his guards and killing them wasn’t all part of the plan. The authorities were just that stupid.

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The Flash S01.E05 — Plastique

The greatest strength of this show has been that it has a heart and creates characters that we can root for. This episode offers that in spades and even brings us a sympathetic “villain.” Every major character had their moment, and there were scenes which established that although many people have problems, life also gives us reason to laugh and smile. Whether it was Caitlin’s delighted look when she finally got Barry drunk or Joe West giggling when he heard Barry’s altered voice, the show remembers that sometimes knowing a person with superpowers is just fun. It’s especially nice to see Caitlin loosening up enough to ogle another man.

I was very disappointed about the ending for Plastique, though. In the comics, she is merely a French-Canadian terrorist, but here she gets a sympathetic backstory and never really wants to hurt anyone. She deserved better than to simply die of a last second bullet. Of course, since a body was never recovered, the writers could easily bring her back. If she does return, she would very reasonably have a lot of distrust for authority and would especially think that Wells has something to answer for. It would add a nice shade of complexity to an otherwise straightforward villain in the comics.

By the way, Wells now seems to be an outright villain now or at least an extremely dark anti-hero. He is concerned about protecting Barry, yes, but he is willing to resort to monstrous means in order to achieve his ends. And he doesn’t seem too overly guilt-stricken about it.

Iris finally gets some more to do, and Candice Patton’s scenes with Grant Gustin in both of his identities were effective. Those who were concerned that the pair would not be able to generate romantic chemistry had their worries laid to rest when she met The Streak in person and spoke to him on the rooftop. Her fascination and attraction was palpable.

Unfortunately, this episode also highlighted how silly it is to continue keeping Iris in the dark. Joe seems to want to protect her by making sure she doesn’t get too close to the action, but she’s already getting involved. And it’s hard to understand what he thought would happen when he sent Barry to go talk to Iris. What did he think Barry was going to say that would convince her to stop? Even Barry seems to realize that at this point it makes more sense to simply tell her the truth. He is only keeping up this charade because Joe told him to. This all amounts to Joe rather paternalistically trying to control Iris in the same way that he prevented her from becoming a cop. It doesn’t really respect her as an independent adult.

Besides, calling him “The Streak” makes him sound like an exhibitionist nudist. But I guess “The Blur” isn’t available since they used it on Smallville.

A couple science issues: just because one can run fast does not mean one can run up the side of a building (theoretically, you can run on water if you’re fast enough. I don’t know if that 600 mph number given by Wells is correct). Also, Caitlin ought to know that nothing can be “500 proof” since 200 proof is 100% alcohol by volume. I suppose she could be engaging in hyperbole, but it’s a little out of character for a scientist to say something like that.

References for this episode include the boomerang that Caitlin briefly brandishes at Cisco, most likely a nod to Captain Boomerang. And of course the appearance of Gorilla Grodd in the ending stinger.

Lines of the night:

“Human bomb. Must be Tuesday in Central City.”

“You can walk on water. Puts you in pretty interesting company.”

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Gotham S01.E08 — The Mask

The theme of the night was revelations about our true selves. The most obvious example is the episode title and the various dialogue references to masks. As the villain of the week says, “A mask hides the face but frees the soul. A mask speaks the truth.” In various other media such as Batman Beyond and some of the comics, we learn that Batman considers Bruce to be his disguise that he shows to the world while Batman is his true self. That line is therefore a foreshadowing that eventually Batman will find a mask that will free his soul.

Various characters also reference the increased craziness of the villains around the city. At one point, Jim Gordon muses that maybe what we are seeing is simply what has been bubbling underneath the surface finally brought out to the open.

And finally, Harvey Bullock comments on the antagonism Jim is receiving from the other cops. He notes that every time they see Jim, they are reminded of their own cowardice. Sarah Essen finally demonstrates that she’s not all bad when she steps up to Harvey’s call for help. Not that Jim really needed it. In the final fight, he was a war veteran going up against a bunch of office workers. It didn’t really surprise me very much that he won, and the choreography showed that he didn’t have that much trouble.

Some other references that comic book fans will catch are the boy that Bruce fights with in school named Tommy. If his last name is Elliott, then he will grow up to be Hush, one of Batman’s newer major villains (and one of the weaker ones, in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there). The villain of this episode wears a black mask and is named Richard Sionis. Black Mask is of course one of the major Batman villains, but his name is Roman Sionis. Perhaps Richard is his father.

In this episode we also get an inherent critique of the wealthy in Gotham. The victims are participating in a literal cutthroat competition to get positions at Sionis’ firm, and he motivates them to kill Gordon by appealing to their greed. (By the way, that was a very odd office everybody was working in. They all used landline telephones and didn’t have any computers).

Like most Gotham episodes, there are some characters who turn out to be criminally underused. Selina Kyle still doesn’t have much to do besides being caught by the cops and show up at Gordon’s desk. And the scenes with Oswald Cobblepot’s mother still seem pointless even though her hamminess is really entertaining. But the biggest disappointment for me has been Barbara. She started out as intriguing and smart if perhaps a little naïve. Her request for Jim to open up to her was pretty reasonably even if she got more than she bargained for, and the fact that she is apparently wealthy meant there were a lot of possibilities for her role. Instead, she has turned into a standard damsel in distress who occasionally whines to her boyfriend. I really hope there’s more to her than this, but I’m at least fairly certain that she isn’t gone for good. Jim and Barbara have to give birth to Batgirl, after all.

A lot of people might criticize Alfred for encouraging Bruce to solve his problems with violence, but he’s forbidden from taking the boy to therapy after all. He’s not equipped to deal with his young ward. And moreover, it’s pretty clear to me that Bruce would have been a very unusual kid even if his parents had not died. He is a driven, obsessive person. In the comics, it is often stated that if Bruce had the kind of mind that would have made invaluable scientific breakthroughs and won a Nobel Prize, but instead he chose to devote all of his talent and energy to fighting crime.

Highlight of the night for me: “Thanks.” “You’re welcome.”