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The Flash S01.E07 — Power Outage

I suppose it makes perfect sense that a villain based on time would make an appearance on a show about a speedster (who is nonetheless constantly late). And it’s nice to give fans a little inter-series continuity with Arrow which is where the Clock King originally appeared and was captured. But if you think about it too much, you might wonder why someone who was in a Starling City prison ended up in a Coast City police headquarters.

Given how nicely the Clock King’s gimmick fits in with the Flash, it’s surprising that the two never actually meet in this episode. But that does give the normal humans an opportunity to prove that they don’t need Barry’s help to take down a criminal (albeit an unpowered one). I wonder what Clock King’s plan was going to be if the power didn’t go out.

Blackout was sort of a flipped version of Plastique from two episodes ago. Like her, Blackout was not fond of his powers and viewed them as a curse. But whereas Plastique tried to hide in order to avoid hurting anyone, Blackout went actively searching for the source of his torment: Harrison Wells. In the end, though, Blackout was a victim.

And speaking of victims, it was nice to see Girder return, and his death was surprisingly touching. He may have been a dangerous jerk and a bully, but in the end he tried to protect Barry by telling him to run. However, I knew he was dead as soon as Wells stood up from his wheelchair to release him. There was no way Wells was going to leave anybody alive who knew that he can walk. I do wonder how Wells knew that Blackout would be able to kill Girder, but I guess that’s just comic book logic for you. I’m finding that Wells is getting scarier by the episode. I still think that he believes he is working for the greater good, but I’m not even sure any more that he necessarily wants the best for Barry. And it’s worth noting that the newspapers from the future have been changing as the episodes go on. Somewhere on the internet, there is probably someone documenting how the future has been changing on this show.

Science Lesson of the Week: without his power, we see Barry just barely hitting 10 mph on the treadmill. This is absurdly slow, even if Cisco does lampshade it. 10 mph is really a fast jog which would be impressive to maintain for a long time but is pathetic for an all out sprint. Most of us who aren’t disabled could manage that speed going backwards. Given that Barry is not overweight or obviously disabled, a more realistic top speed for him would have been around 15 mph. Then again, perhaps what we saw in that scene was the aftermath of Barry trying to run for several minutes straight.

This week we got a whole lot of comic book shout-outs in the form of a list of names that Harrison Wells recites to show that he knows everybody who died as a result of his failed experiment. The first two were of course Blackout’s friends who died in the aftermath of the collider explosion, but every other name is a superhero from DC Comics. They are:

  • Ralph Dibny — Elongated Man. He can stretch his limbs much like Plastic Man or Mr. Fantastic
  • Al (Albert) Rothstein — Nuklon or Atom Smasher (depending on the time period). He has super strength and an grow to enormous size.
  • Grant Emerson — Damage. He is a living fusion reactor with super strength and energy blasts
  • Will Everett — Amazing Man. He can mimic any substance he touches.
  • Bea (Beatriz) Da Costa — Fire. She can light herself on fire and fly, much like the Human Torch.
  • Ronnie Raymond — Firestorm. He can transmute inorganic matter by rearranging its atomic structure.

Viewers with sharp memories will also remember that Ronnie Raymond is the name of Caitlin Snow’s fiancé and that he was played by Robbie Amell in flashbacks. We also know from Hollywood reporting that he will appear in the present in his Firestorm guise, thus revealing that he didn’t die after all. This suggests to me that we may see all the other characters on this list at one point or another. I personally would really like to see Elongated Man and Fire, but that’s mostly because I’ve seen them in Justice League Unlimited. I suppose it’s possible that all these people were created by the explosion at STAR Labs, and it will be nice to have some meta-humans appear who aren’t homicidal maniacs.

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Gotham S01.E10 – Lovecraft

The problem with branding an episode as the “mid-season finale” is it can prime audiences to expect the sorts of things you would normally get in a finale. This might include events reaching a climax, lots of action, characters fundamentally changing (some of them dying), and truths revealed. Although this episode did have a lot of action and a change of assignment for Jim Gordon, it didn’t really have much of a climax. And the mob storyline was essentially treading water. Don’t get me wrong, the episode was quite good. It just isn’t a finale.

While we’re talking about changing characters, though, let’s take a moment to appreciate Alfred the Battle Butler. The most obvious badassery from him is the way he went toe-to-toe with the assassins and even killed one of them after being shot himself. To me, what was even more impressive was the way he handled the investigation and approached each person in the most effective way possible. With the street kid, he offered money. He held a knife to the thug’s throat. And with Fish Mooney, he made a simple and straightforward appeal to honor. His adaptability makes him very effective and serves as a contrast to Jim Gordon who is incorruptible but also inflexible.

The other highlight of the episode was the interaction between Bruce and Selina. Using child actors is always a dicey proposition, but these two didn’t strike any false notes and played well off each other. The brief chase across the rooftops pretty well encapsulated their future relationship. The cameo by Pamela Isley was also a nice treat which avoided hitting us too hard over the head with foreshadowing (I’m looking at you, Edward holding a question mark coffee mug).

But in the meantime, did anything actually happen with the Carmine Falcone storyline? It seemed like they could have cut all those scenes without losing any important information. The episode would have held up just fine.

In any case, we now have Jim Gordon taking a stint at Arkham Asylum. This is probably going to be a chance to meet other future members of the Rogue’s Gallery. I’m betting on an appearance by the Mad Hatter. We may also have cameos by more obscure villains just to keep the fans happy. Perhaps Calendar Man or Maxie Zeus. If the writers are really stretching, they could include a young Harleen Quinzel (but I personally think that would be a step too far).

Speaking of fan service, I’m told that the female assassin running around this episode was supposed to be Copperhead (who has become female since Arkham Origins). She isn’t named, but the way she moves and strangles her opponents is a pretty clear clue.

Final questions: why didn’t Jim just shoot the two assassins while they were still standing some distance away?

And is Barbara still relevant at all?

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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.