My Life as a Doge: November 2014

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Dominion - The Flood

"I just want to know... Where did you get that coat?"
Rushing Michael back to Vega for surgery, Alex is immediately arrested for desertion. And thrown in the clink, choosing solitary confinement rather than a tat revealing strip search, because that's how good this system is.

"What have you got against Vega?" a guard demands whilst kicking Alex in the ribs*. The irony is too delicious.

Meanwhile, a senator takes Alan Dale and Evil Giles hostage, demanding to meet with the Chosen One. This provides a chilling view of the future, as Claire and William step up to assume their fathers' mantles and fail to convince as leaders at all, basically leaving the ball in Sexy Lady Senator's court.

Speaking of Sexy Lady Senator, she gets some dimension, nicking the sword fragment from Michael's wound to analyse (unless that was Pseudosapphic Diplomat; it was dark.) Michael himself is healed with an angel feather and then runs into his sister Uriel, a higher angel apparently intent on playing Michael and Gabriel off against one another. Uriel may or may not have been the one who healed him; I wasn't sure.

"You've fought before, but never like this!" she accuses them, apparently having missed that time in the movie where they basically killed each other.

Oh, and you know how I predicted orphan waif would be sacrificed around Episode 5? Does the end of 4 count?

'The Flood' is an aptly named episode, not for the attempted flooding of the farming towers but for the absolute deluge of character development. Alex goes from total rejection to pretty much full acceptance of the Chosen One role, a development which might have benefited from a whole episode in solitary and perhaps some visions to externalise the internal conflict. It would also have helped not to be sharing screen time with the introduction of Senator Frost (he's been in before, but his importance was not previously made clear) and Uriel.

On the plus side, with pretty much all of the character development out of the way, next week may settle into plot and action mode.

* As a note, I'm not rechecking my quotes, so they may not be spot on and also the guard may actually have been punching or slapping him or something.

Gotham - The Penguin's Umbrella

Well you can tell by the way I use my walk
I'm a mama's boy and I'm gonna squawk
Oswald Cobblepot is out of the shadows and Gotham is bracing for gang war. Now that his deception is revealed, Gordon must make a hail Mary throw, and Bullock must decide who to back.

If 'Spirit of the Goat' was Bullock's show, 'The Penguin's Umbrella' is, unsurprisingly, Cobblepot's. This is his first grand scheme, as with one throw of the dice he moves to eliminate half of his enemies and neutralise the rest. Everything is good in Penguin Town.

Oh, shit! It's Victor Zsasz; and there are only about fifty of us.
Cheese it!
Gordonsville is looking a lot less rosy. Allen and Montoya are established as allies, but Barbara is promoted this week from merely useless to an active liability and the rest of the GCPD show their true colours: bright yellow. If nothing else, the appearance of Victor Zsasz (currently on kill 28 of lots) at GCPD HQ proves that the real problem with the cops in Gotham is not that they are corrupt, but that they are beaten. Perhaps Gordon's achievement in the series will be to get them at least to a stage where they aren't cowed without a struggle.
We're big damn heroes! Good thing neither of us has a useless
idiot girlfriend who could completely screw this up for us.

On the upside, the wary alliance between Gordon and Bullock seems to be blossoming into full blown bromance. It's adorable. Gordon's face when Bullock is setting out to have sex with a hooker in his and Barbara's bed is priceless.

As a note, it's now established that Captain Essen has a family, so I don't know if they're going to go with the comics relationship. I'm really worried that they're going to try to make a go of this relationship with Barbara, who drags the quality of Gotham's female characters down several notches. Part of me can't escape the feeling that there's going to be a surprise guest appearance from Emily Brett Rickards, who will have staggering chemistry with Gordon and then go back to Arrow leaving the irritating canon romance intact.

Some other notes:

They're really building up this 'sons of Gotham' idea, with Falcone, Gordon and Cobblepot all very strongly identifying with the idea that Gotham is their home, however shabbily it treats them. I guess the same applies to Bruce. I don't know if it will work out long term, but at least it's a concept.

Zsasz is a fan of Lipps Inc.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Atlantis - A New Dawn Part 2

Series 2 of Atlantis will have an increased Medea
presence.
The conclusion of Atlantis series 2's two-part opener begins with Knosstroytlantis besieged by the Calchean army, its only hope the return of the Palladium and the returners struggling through cyclops-infested tunnels with a wounded Jason. There will be blood before this is done, and secrets will be learned that can not be unlearned.

Much like Merlin before it, Atlantis series 2 is going more political and establishing a larger human ensemble in place of its earlier jolly small-band adventure and monster of the week format. It remains to be seen if Jason of the Fluffy Hair can carry this, as he is struggling to look seriously pained each time the insuperable barrier of his breeding comes between him and Ariadne, while she seems to only ever look pained.

The addition of Medea to the series suggest that they may be about to go love triangle on us, which might be no bad thing, although alas Jemima Rooper's Medusa is off in her cave trying to work out what conditioner works on snakes.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the opener has been taking a chance on Hercules. Although played by the very talented Mark Addy, he's been written slightly one-note until now, and moving him more centre stage could be the saving grace of the series.

Agents of SHIELD - A Hen in the Wolf House

I'm glad Bobbi Morse is already Mockingbird, because it would be just
embarrassing to have to call her the Caucasian Cavalry.
And speaking, as I was in my Constantine review, of throwing characters in for the fans, it's time for the somewhat spoiled introduction of sometime West Coast Avenger and occassional Mrs Hawkeye (although not necessarily in this continuity) Bobbi 'Mockingbird' Morse in Agents of SHIELD.

Simmons has uncovered some seriously doomsday-type shenanigans in her undercover work at HYDRA, but Raina threatens her cover in an attempt to resolve her own troubles, leading to security expert Morse being called in for a mole hunt. Caught between her HYDRA handlers and Morse when Coulson refuses to make a deal and let Raina take Sky to her father, Simmons' only hope is that the Director has a plan.

Which he does (the next section will necessity include spoilers.)



Morse is pretty kick ass, but I can't help noting that she is a lot like May. The cynical part of my brain notes that she is a lot like May but white, but the hopeful part suspects that she and Lance Hunter are being brought in as part of the new forward team with Coulson and May easing back into more executive roles within the fictional organisation. That or she'll turn out a triple agent and have to fight May, which admittedly would be way more awesome than the two of them wailing on Kyle MacLachlan.
Much less convincingly badass than either Adrianne Pailicki
or Ming-Na Wen, which is unfortunate as there's a climactic
fight in the making there.

On that tack, Skye's father meanwhile proves to be some sort of freaking monster, with near-superhuman physical prowess and a real anger management problem. If I could bring myself to give a crap about Skye anymore, this would no doubt hit me in the feels, but as it is my feels are a little numb from Fitz admitting that imaginary Simmons is imaginary right before the real one comes back. When he asks the returning Gemma: "Is it really you?" I choked up a little.

I'm not convinced that continuing to expand the roster is necessarily the way to go, and hopefully we're pretty much done with introductions. I also hope that the newcomers aren't intended to allow the show to start knocking off characters left, right and centre. A little character death can be effective; too much is fatiguing.

Although if they can drop Ward, that would be nice.

Constantine - Danse Vaudou

In a shocking twist, Chas actually does something in this episode.
Using a Victorian zoetrope to kickstart Zed's abilities leads Team Constantine (as seems to be the accepted parlance for DC series ensembles these days) to New Orleans. We can tell it's New Orleans because there's a bar where they're playing 'When the Saints Go Marching In', and because Chas tells us the currently active bloodspot on the map is in 'New Orleans, Louisiana'. Still, props for treating New Orleans the same as, say, London.

Shockingly, the Big Easy appears to have a zombie problem. Local cop Jim Corrigan isn't keen on getting outside help on this, and neither is local magic supremo Papa Midnite (who also bears a grudge for episode 3.) Before long, however, Constantine is in an uneasy truce with Midnite to lay the dead to rest, while Zed and Corrigan try to prevent further deaths. For once, Chas is called on to actually do some stuff this week, and to demonstrate his 'survival skills', making for a truly ensemble episode.

* It doesn't work out so well, yeah.
There's another little Easter egg for the fans, with the presence of Jim Corrigan to tease those who know how his story works out.*

Issues of scope and timing mean that this week's resolution is a little pat, especially compared to the solid gut punch of 'A Feast of Friends'. Sadly, this means that we follow a great episode with a merely decent one, but at least on a par with 'The Devil's Vinyl'. Also, at least John doesn't claim there's nothing blacker than voodoo; that would just be awkward.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Rastamouse

Mouseland's finest
Mouseland is a one-town, paradisaical island state in the Caribbean, with a democratically elected head of state and a police force with a lax uniform code and a sideline as a reggae band.

Rastamouse, Scratchy and Zoomer are, collectively, Da Easy Crew, Mouseland's premier small town reggae band and special crime fighting agents in the employ of President Wensleydale. It may seem odd that there are no police to do this work, but the mysteries that Wensleydale calls in Da Easy Crew to solve are pretty low on the criminal scale, so perhaps the Mouseland Bureau of Investigations are dealing with the island's gang violence or drug problems or what have you.

A typical episode has Rastamouse and Da Easy Crew called in from rehearsal or a jam session because some bizarre upset is threatening the latest in Mouseland's endless parade of civic events. Maybe the carnival is short of ice sculptures, or the orphanage doesn't have enough cheese due to a missed delivery. Da Easy Crew will zip around tow, following clues and, having found the person responsible, Rastamouse will come up with a crucial plan for them to redeem themselves and 'make a bad ting good'.

The show has been criticised by some for parodying West Indian culture and accents. It's a fair cop on the accents, perhaps, but the writer is Trinidadan by birth and steeped in London's West Indian expat culture. I'm not ideally placed to comment, but it seems to me that a fellow has a right to parody his own culture if he wants to.
See! He's like a milkman
caught in flagrante.

What worries me more is the moral conduct of President Wensleydale, a mouse who is forever without pants. Okay, no mouse wears trousers in Mouseland (although women and girls wear skirts,) but it is especially noticeable in light of Wensleydale's other clothes (formal shirt, tie and cap.) Is this the kind of mouse we want to see in charge of Mouseland, especially given that he seems to be largely incompetent and reliant on Da Easy Crew to keep him out of all manner of trouble.

The parody aspect is a thorny one, but overall Rastamouse is a fun little series, and I especially like the focus on making right when you do wrong, rather than either being punished or simply saying sorry. I can think of much worse lessons to teach a child than 'you got to make a bad ting good.'

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Flash - Going Rogue

"Did you say 'chill out'?"
As Barry's training at STAR Labs continues, a ruthless and meticulous robber is on the hunt. Leonard Snart is after a rare diamond, and when 'the Streak' thwarts him he comes gunning for the Scarlet Speedster with a new weapon, a cold gun developed by Barry's friend Cisco... to use on Barry!

Another member of the Flash's classic rogues gallery makes his debut, and doesn't die in his first appearance. 'Going Rogue' ups the stakes for Barry, marking the first time someone has set out to take him down, and using his desire to save others, even more than the cold gun, as a weapon to do so. Wentworth Miller is a chilling Captain Cold, and the tension between Barry and Cisco after the reveal of the cold gun works because of the easy friendship that normally exists between them.

Full disclosure, I am totally prepared to, as it were, jump ship.
Also, FELICITY IS IN THIS ONE! Dropping in from Arrow to check up on the recently awoken Barry, Iris immediately spots the jaw-dropping sparkage between them, even if Barry takes a little longer. It's actually kind of tragic to see them being so cute and awesome together, and knowing that they're both tagged, rightly or wrongly, to other ships.

Even Iris encourages him to take a chance. "She's smart, nice and pretty*; what's wrong with her?" "Alas, she is contractually obligated to another show." Thus we shall have to be satisfied with the kiss that launched a thousand gifs.

The Flash continues to combine humour and slick action well, but I still want to punch out its central romantic tension. Felicity asks if Barry ages faster now; I want to know if he can get out of a love triangle any faster than a normal character.

*This phrasing makes my heart sink. If they weren't writing Iris as harbouring some jealousy of Barry's love life, I can't help feeling they would have avoided 'nice'.

Constantine - A Feast of Friends

A wise man knows that there are places it isn't safe to stand.
A man coming through customs shows signs of withdrawal. The resulting search releases a hunger demon from a bottle and looses it in Atlanta. The man is Gary Lester, an old friend of John Constantine and a fellow veteran of Newcastle. He trapped the demon and was on his way to John to dispose of it. A lifelong screw up, he longs to make right. John may have a way for him to do it, but it won't be pretty.

'A Feast of Friends' is a direct adaptation of one of the Hellblazer comics, and it brings a harder edge to the series. Apparently it's still a nicer ending than the comics, but if there was any worry that the original Constantine would be sanitised out of existence, this should set most of that to rest; he may be softened, but he's not soft. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is the best episode so far. Gaz may only be a guest star, but the character feels real and substantial, which is vital for the final punch. Jonjo O'Neill and regular Angelica Celaya also do a good job of looking properly sickly as Zed psychometrically shares Gaz's withdrawal symptoms.

The absence of Chas to get the cab fixed does support my suspicion that the series either doesn't know how to write for more than three people at once or can't afford to have that many actors on set.

I've been rooting for Constantine from the get go, in part from my antique love of the rapidly cancelled Strange, but on the strength of 'A Feast of Friends' I would be genuinely sorry to see it go.

Gotham: Spirit of the Goat

"Gotham's golden rule, Harvey; no heroes."
It's time we got to know our man Harvey Bullock a little better, don't you thin? Well, if you do then this is the episode of Gotham for you. A flashback to ten years past shows how Harvey's early zeal and idealism left his partner in a wheelchair, but the return of a supposedly dead serial killer called the Spirit of the Goat reignites his drive. The Goat was the last killer Harvey and his mentor Dix took down together, and his apparent resurrection hits the jaded detective hard.

Gordon: "You're a cynic. A slovenly, lackadaisical cynic."
Bullock: "Probably."
Harvey Bullock has been a strength of the series from day one, with Donal Logue's easygoing yet weighty performance anchoring the show against the pull towards tedious worthiness created by the duality of the blandly idealistic Gordon and the utterly venal and savage criminal elements of Gotham. He is the life of the GCPD, the perfect balance of essentially decent man and corrupt thug, determined to put away as many scumbags as he can for whatever he can to make up for the high-flying scum he can't touch and fiercely loyal to his partners.

'Spirit of the Goat' is Harvey's episode, from start to finish, with even the big shock ending focused on his reaction. It provides a background to his cynicism and a context for his approach to his work, as well as bearing the soul of the man. Most importantly, it reveals the policeman at the core of the thuggish persona, as for once it is Bullock who looks past the obvious, past the easy collar, and puts in the legwork to root out the real villain.
Simultaneously adorkable and creepy as fuck.

Speaking of legwork, we get to see Edward Nygma at work this week, and also to see him stalking Kristen Kringle, the GCPD records clerk. This particular scene is notable for being both adorkably awkward and seriously creepy, Nygma's near-absolute social blindness tempering what would otherwise be pure nightmare fuel. He perceives his filing system as objectively superior and what better gift to give the records clerk of your dreams, right?

Speaking of stalking, Selina Kyle is back, breaking into Wayne Manor and stealing keepsakes. By comparison, Nygma is the picture of socially adroit charm. And speaking of social obliviousness, Bruce delivers a sick burn to Alfred by telling him that the Goat wouldn't take him 'because there's no-one to take me from.' Poor Alfred.

Barbara is... less annoying this week. Her impassioned plea to be allowed 'half of everything you carry' is far more appealing than the earlier pressure for her fiance, whose job involves danger, untold horror and strict confidences which could destroy a case if broken, to keep no secrets. Montoya continues to be stuck-up and self-righteous, which is a shame because normally I like Montoya a lot more than this and it would be a shame to waste one of the few openly gay, action-oriented female characters on television on a cliche-ridden jealous ex-girlfriend bit.

The Fish Mooney/Carmine Falcone subplot is also less annoying this week, by which I mean it isn't in there at all. I think this contributes more than is immediately obvious to this being one of the better episodes so far.

Our final recurring character, Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot makes a few passing appearances and one really big one, presumably his push to take back control after his misstep with Maroni, but for once he's a footnote. This is Harvey's episode, and not even the Penguin can take it from him.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Atlantis - A New Dawn, Part 1

Ladies and gents, the pride of Atlantis.
With Doctor Who out of the way until Christmas, we return to the famously landlocked city of Atlantis. King Minos is dead and the exiled Queen Pasiphae is intent on taking power from her stepdaughter Ariadne. Pasiphae has the numbers, but Ariadne has a city that has never fallen to siege and the not-so secret weapon of lovelorn crossworlds traveller Jason and his intermittent superpowers.

Part one of our series opener begins with Jason and his gang - self-made legend Hercules and surprisingly badass polymath Pythagoras rescuing one of Minos' old supporters, Lord Sarpedon, from Pasipahe's legions. Sarpedon, however, is apparently the Agravaine of Atlantis, bringing ninja-priestess Medea inside the walls in his luggage so that she can nick the city's luck, the Palladium, because Atlantis is now Troy as well as Knossos.
Jason demonstrates once more his patented look of baffled
incomprehension.

Series 1 of Atlantis was a slightly uncomfortable effort to recapture the glory of the recently completed Merlin, but in a different mythological milieu, which evolved over its run into a distinct beast with its own strong mix of action, mythological japes and muscular bromance. Series 2 opens in the vein of the later episodes, with Jason and co now apparently the Atlantean SAS and Pasiphae escalating from sinister plotter to full-on mad conqueror.

While Sarah Parish's Pasiphae is a study in hissable villainy, her departure from Atlantis proper leaves the city a bit of a sausage fest. Series 1 tempered this somewhat with Medusa, Hercules' doomed love interest, but now we're left with the drippy Ariadne as the only heroic female character. There may possibly be a recurring role for Jason's mytho-canonical soon-to-be-jilted love interest Medea (although I suspect that commitment to the Ariason romance will see her either killed off saving Jason's life and dying in his arms somewhere around the close of episode 12, or thrown over and killed while trying to murder him in Episode 10,) but she's currently in the Pasiphae camp anyway.

'A New Dawn, Part 1' is a decent opener, but the lack of strong female roles is felt, even in comparison to Clara Oswald and all her flaws. Come on, Atlantis; give us an Atalanta, or even a Hypatia (because why shouldn't Atlantis be Alexandria as well?)

Monday, 17 November 2014

Sleepy Hollow - This is War

The main thing to note about War is that he may have the body of Denethor of
Gondor, but he is well metal.
At the end of Season 1, Henry Parrish was revealed as Ichabod and Katrina's rogue warlock son Jeremy (and also War, the second horseman,) sealed Ichabod in his grave, gave his mother to her spurned suitor (now Death) and left Abbie trapped in Purgatory. Season 2 opens with an apparent non-sequitur in which Jeremy learns the location of a key which can unlock Purgatory, but inadvertently tips Ichabod off to a means of rescuing Abbie.

The series takes major points for linking a plot-important occult key to Benjamin Franklin's kite experiments. Ichabod turns out to have been Franklin's rather reluctant apprentice for a time and has a few choice words for that Founding Father, providing a welcome change of pace to his reverence of Washington and Jefferson.

'This is War' kicks the tension up a notch, while maintaining the series' humour (Ichabod records a touching last message on Abbie's phone, only to discover that the recording has failed due to lack of memory.) As he proved in both The Lord of the Rings and in 50-75% of Fringe, John Noble makes a truly sinister villain with a flare for soft-spoken craziness. If the forces of Moloch are to have a face, then his is as good a face as any.

Dominion - Broken Places

"I fear in all this moral greyness it may have been forgotten that I am the
baddy around here."
Alex is on the run from his destiny in the most literal sense, while Claire tries to game her own value and William announces the existence of the saviour to his angel-worshipping pain cult. Michael risks his life and Gabriel eats ice cream. There is some progression of Pseudosapphic Diplomat's plot, but I'm not really sure what it was.

Despite my slightly dismissive executive summary, this week's episode of Dominion picks up considerably after 'Godspeed', largely due to the heavyweight presence of Gabriel. Brutal, antagonistic, possibly psychotic, he is still one of the most interesting characters to emerge from the show so far. He slaughters a diner full of humans just to make a point and then savours their ice cream (so evil!) and kills one of his own minions to punish a third party for attacking Michael (it is unclear if this is from genuine fellow feeling, a sense that Michael could be turned, or just because fuck you, no-one kills my brother but me!)

When the good guys are so morally ambiguous and/or dull, it's genuinely refreshing to see some proper supervillainy.

Speaking of dull, Alex continues to annoy, and I think I've worked out what's really wrong with him as a character. It's not just that he is rejecting the call (it's going to happen; hero's journey 101,) but that he's inconsistent. He wants to leave Vega, but he's established as a fairly committed member of the angel-puncher brigade (even going off mission to punch more angels,) which makes his absolute rejection hard to credit. As even Quisling Will notes, he could totes be the saviour somewhere else.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Agents of SHIELD - Face My Enemy

Strictly Come Spying.
The alien writing that has been haunting Agent Coulson since 'Tahiti' appears on the back of a religious painting which miraculously survives a fire in a church. Coulson and May head to a fundraising party to view (and steal) the painting, but they are not the only ones after it.

'Face My Enemy' manages to combine the arc plot with strong character moments for Coulson, May and Fitz (take notes, Doctor Who.) It has some fun with Coulson and May's undercover personae (the normally taciturn May becomes a social dynamo in a glittering dress) and the banter between Mac, Hunter and Triplett, while setting the latter against Fitz's social awkwardness and the former against the issue of Coulson's sanity and May's unwillingness to be her boss's executioner.

The pay off of the episode allows Coulson to be sharp, May to be badass, and Fitz to struggle past his troubles to be amazing again, as well as pulling him into the core team, possibly more than he was in Season 1. Triplett is still a bit edged out in favour of dropping references to Hunt's nightmare ex-wife for the second week running (which I don't need spoilers to spot as more than just a throwaway), but overall the series is dealing with most of my reservations as well as holding onto its trademark sassy swagger. In some ways it seems more comfortable this season; it may be that the loss of the big SHIELD organisation, forcing the team to deal with similar situations as a much greater challenge has allowed the writers to focus on the core drama instead of having to invent reasons not to call in a SWAT team.

Agents of SHIELD - Making Friends and Influencing People

Yay!
In the third episode of its second season, Agents of SHIELD brings back absentee former regular Jessica Simmons, Agent of SHIELD turned lab intern of HYDRA. Working undercover for the evil mega-conspiracy, Simmons is called on to prove her loyalty by helping to retrieve super-powered asset Donnie Gill.

'Making Friends and Influencing People' is Elizabeth Henstridge's show. After two weeks as Fitz's drippy dream Simmons, she gets to be the real deal again, and a real deal who is out on her own and coping with deadly danger over her morning coffee at the office. She hasn't been revised into a nails hard field agent (as they seem to be doing with Skye); she's just the same old Simmons getting to actually do something for once. It's kind of awesome.

Skye is still annoying me with pretty much every breath, and trying to make her into mini-May isn't helping me to like her. Fitz's confrontation with Ward was, however, a thing of awesome.

Season 2 is really coming together for me, despite a few lingering niggles. The choice of a female agent for the brainwashing scenes was one of those, although having seen episode 4, I realise that this was in part because the brainwashed agent would have to impersonate May.

Dominion - Godspeed

The Angels only reveal their wings at moments of heightened emotion and
budget allocation.
Episode 2 of Dominion gives us a little more meat than the pilot, which was pretty much all sauce and setting and no substance; high on action and background, but not much for character.

Alex is fighting his destiny as the saviour, angry at being abandoned by his father to grow up in the lowest echelon of society. It's a pretty stock storyline, but it gives him a lot more substance. Alex still intends to run away from Vega with Claire, but when an undercover angel attacks him in her house, decides to just leg it and remove the risk to her. He's not exactly Raskolnilkov, but it brings him up past being just a whiny git.

Evil Giles and Gabriel meet on a mesa to do the feeding the ducks thing, but no-one else gets a great deal of advancement. Evil Giles continues to manouevre against Alan Dale and the senate, but they conspire to suppress word of Alex's chosenness for the sake of public order. We do get to see the angels at rest, however, apparently hanging out and being debauched in their corporeal forms for shiggles. Pseudosapphic Diplomat poisons her handmaidens with lethal nail polish to create a blackmail opportunity against Evil Giles, securing her release and continuing presence in the main credits.

The strengths of Dominon remain the creepy wall-crawling 'eight balls' and the occasional burst of mad, wing-slapping angelic action. It's weaknesses are still its characters, who are the opposite of a fairy tale prince; ever so sincere, but not charming.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Constantine - The Devil's Vinyl

John Constantine respects the classics.
Everyone knows that the great bluesmen sold their souls to the Devil at the crossroads and paid the price in the end, but there is only one recording of the Devil coming to claim his due. That recording is now a source of colossal power and absolute corruption, and it seems that someone wants it to get out.

The third episode of Constantine rocks the classics, from John's use of the hand of glory to a central Macguffin borrowed from the legend of Robert Johnson (as featured in the movie Crossroads), from genuine satanic contracts to Papa Midnite's voodoo posse. All in all, it's a good collection. The record that kills you if you listen to it is a pretty creepy conceit (how do you hide from sound?) and Midnite's blend of voodoo, mob muscle and pharmaceutical know-how makes for a much more intriguing antagonist than just a mumbling bokor (so a few points back from the Gypsy crack last week).

The series seems to be working Zed in pretty well, not least by giving her stuff to do that doesn't directly involve her visions, letting her be a character and not a schtick. It still seems a little shaky on managing to use Zed and Chas at the same time, but it's finding its way better than some and at least it isn't cluttered with characters in idle mode (Gotham, I'm looking at you here.)

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Gotham - Viper

There's a new drug on the streets, and it's a killer. A mystery man is handing out samples of 'viper', a drug which turns regular Joes and Janes into super-strong psychopaths. Gordon and Bullock have to hunt down the source before the whole city explodes. Meanwhile, Maroni and Mooney are both gunning for Falcone, one with a casino heist and the other with an operatically trained lounge singer.

Increasingly the best things about the dark, gritty origin stew of Gotham are the moments of humour, from the opening moment of a buskers's sign reading 'Why lie? Need money for drugs' to the much quoted exchange between Gordon, Bullock and their intellectual suspect:

Isaac Steiner: Those hypocrites! Empty altruism will not erase what they've done. They must pay.
James Gordon: Who? Who must pay?
Isaac Steiner: WellZyn. Wayne Enterprises. Everyone will finally see them for what they are!
James Gordon: How? Where's Potolsky headed?
Harvey Bullock: What's 'altruism?'

Much of the rest of the show is just muddling along this week. The A plot once more hints at links to the future of Batman by tying Viper to Venom, but it's basically another procedural chase after a well-meaning but fundamentally unhinged vigilante. If this is just what Gotham does to good people, I firmly expect to see Gordon dressing up as a Roman legionary to dispense vigilante justice by the end of Season 1.

The Bruce Wayne sideshow was more interesting than previously, with the first real hints of the detective appearing on his wall of conspiracy. Maybe in a twist ending, Bruce will wind up becoming the Question instead. Conversely, the Penguin subplot was treading water, as Gordon was dragged under Maroni's thumb as a result of Cobblepot's machinations. Since you can't really have Gordon actually become a dirty cop, I'm expecting Maroni to be taken off the board in the not too distant.

The third primary sideshow, Fish Mooney sits around her club and acts sassy, is getting deeply tedious. The character just isn't interesting enough to carry her part, and where Bruce has Alfred and Cobblepot (along with Bullock) is rapidly becoming the breakout character, she doesn't have anyone to work off to enliven her scenes.

Gotham made decent pace out of the blocks, but now it's marking time, apparently wary of advancing its own mythology too fast. Something needs to happen, and soon.

The Flash - Things You Can't Outrun

Taking a leaf from its parent show, The Flash spends a good chunk of its third episode in flashback mode, as Caitlin, Cisco and Dr Wells are forced to confront the events of the STAR Labs particle accelerator's switch-on when Joe suggests the need for a metahuman containment facility.

The A-plot is pretty standard monster of the week fare, with Barry hunting down a metahuman who was being executed when the accelerator's effects changed him and can now transform into a cloud of toxic gas. The notable thing about this villain is that in gas form he appears to be able to keep pace with Barry without dispersing. The title ostensibly refers to the past, but apparently covers sentient clouds as well.

The episode's strength is in the exploration of the past and the character beats it brings up. Barry has to accept that for all his speed, getting his dad out of prison is going to be a slow process, while Caitlin has to face the spectre of her fiance's death in order to go back into the accelerator. Dr Wells, meanwhile, is facing a past that is apparently everyone else's future.

Also of note in this episode is the metahuman containment facility, which I can only really describe as a monstrously inhumane and utterly illegal secret, private prison, in which - admittedly bad - metahumans are incarcerated without hope of appeal, visitation, medical care, changes of clothes or natural light.

Our heroes!

Arrow - Season 2 (first half; some spoilers)

Season 2 main cast (L-R) - Susanna Thompson, Manu
Bennett, Emily Brett Rickards, Stephen Amell,
David Ramsey, Willa Holland and Colton Haynes
After the moderately apocalyptic finale of Season 1, Arrow returns with Oliver in a bit of a slump. His mission has been revealed as a hollow lie, and it is down to his partners - Diggle and Felicity - to pull him out of a hole (figuratively speaking.)

Season 2 shakes things up a bit from the get go. With Moira arrested for conspiracy to commit mass murder, Oliver is forced to assume control of a foundering Queen Consolidated, in partnership with corporate raider Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau) and Felicity is transferred to act as his PA (much to her annoyance). Thea and Roy are running Oliver's club, Detective Lance is a peripheral member of Team Arrow and freshly busted to uniform duty and Laurel is out to bring down the vigilante for failing to save Tommy.

At the heart of the shakeup is the change in Oliver's MO from deadly avenger to non-lethal protector (the Arrow, rather than the Hood), ushering in more of Green Arrow's trademark trick arrows (although it seems we may have to wait for Season 3 for a boxing glove) alongside Felicity's tech-cave redesign of the lair (which includes leaving a bunch of his workout kit intact because 'I liked watching you.')

* It works out this well.
A potential new ally in saving the city appears in the shape of idealistic Alderman Sebastian Blood (Kevin Alejandro), but his name is Sebastian Blood, so you can guess how well that works out*.

The first half of the series also introduces another vigilante, the Canary (Caity Lotz). In the comics, of course, Black Canary is Dinah Lance and eventually Dinah Queen after marrying Oliver. Here she is Laurel D Lance's sister Sara, Oliver's fellow survivor, and her trademark 'canary cry' is a sonic device rather than an innate ability.
Also, leather pants instead of fishnets. Good call.

Another change, albeit mostly cosmetic, is that Oliver gets a mask in place of his greasepaint this season, courtesy of guest star Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), the future Flash, who makes a two episode appearance partly to launch the spin-off, partly to provide scientific and medical backup and partly to hold up a big honking sign for Oliver reading 'you and Felicity, man; wave of the future.'

Seriously; this is not just me shipping or anything. It's clear that the showrunners have tagged this as the one that will work. You can see it in the way that they have sidelined Laurel.
I would accept this as an alternative, because they are
adorkable together.

Speaking of sidelining, Thea and Roy are peripherally involved in the initial Canary investigation, but at the half way mark are really only starting to have any major plotlines, with Roy infected by the 'Miracle' drug that Blood is pushing to create an army of supersoldiers under the guidance of Slade Wilson (looking remarkably well aged as compared to the flashbacks.) Even then, Roy's actual addiction plot (widely held up as a shining example of comic book storytelling,) seems to be going to pill-popping, post-traumatic Laurel.

Speaking of post-traumatic incidents, to continue my train of consciousness, the island story picks up somewhat as Sara's return allows the show to finally get going on the shared origin of Arrow, Canary and Wilson/Deathstroke.

There are hints of further backstory involving Canary's training with the League of Shadows and Ra's al Gul, and a reappearance by the not-as-dead-as-advertised Malcolm Merlyn to hint at future shenanigans.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Doctor Who - Dark Water/Death in Heaven

Hey, look! It's the Cybermen. Yay.
"Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"

So, here we are, at the finale of the Twelfth Doctor's first season, and we start with a bit of a sucker punch when Danny Pink is killed in a car accident. This leads Clara to try to force the Doctor to change history, but instead he takes her to the Nethersphere that we have been seeing throughout the series. Here they find the dead maintained, but apparently in conscious contact with their bodies.

In fact, the dead are merely personalities uploaded into a fragment of the Gallifreyan Matrix by Missy, the Mistress; she who was once the Master. As part of her master plan, as it were, she intends to download the dead back into their Cyber-upgraded original bodies and, dare I say it, take over the Earth.

Now it is down to the Doctor and Clara, with a little help from UNIT, to prevent the Cyber-zombie apocalypse and the destruction of humanity as we know it.

The Good
  • The set up in 'Dark Water' is eerie, building on the hints set up though the series.
  • The basic scenario of Cybermen painstakingly prepared and waiting in graves is exceptionally creepy, building on the Frankenstein aspects of the original Cybermen.
  • Brigadier!
  • Santa! Man, this could go either way and I don't mean slightly.
  • I would give points for the female incarnation of the Master, but in the context of the blatant manipulation elsewhere in the episode, it feels more like 'here, we've done it now, aren't we brave' than being progressive, or just a way to conceal the Master's identity a little.
The Bad
  • "Cybermen from cyberspace; I wonder why no-on's ever thought of that before?" Well, because it basically adds nothing to the concept. Indeed, you can say what you like about the connection between mind and body, but downloading the electronically lobotomised personality back into the separately upgraded body lessens the essential horror of the Cyberman.
  • President Doctor? Not loving this concept.
  • If she was good enough to work out who the Mistress really was, Osgood should have been tasering her halfway through her 'secret', never mind the countdown. She didn't because it was a shortcut to killing someone we could be made to care about.
  • Love conquers cybertech was hokey when they played it in 'Closing Time', and Clara and Danny haven't earned it. Despite some attempts to really big up the relationship in 'Dark Water', the series doesn't earn the payoff in 'Death in Heaven'.
  • Next season, how about a big bad who isn't in some way trying to get into the Doctor's pants?
The Ugly
  • There's a lot of really cynical emotional manipulation in this two-parter. From the attempts to make Clara/Danny the great love of our age within a few lines to the heart-breakingly transparent set-up of Osgood's token death (yes, alright; I liked her. I like Ingrid Oliver as an actor and have done since The Penny Dreadfuls, I actually liked the character - even in Day of the Doctor, but especially with some of the nerdy edges rubbed off - so fuck you and your cynical willingness to kill off a recurring character. well done. You got me; I didn't want her to die and I hated every minute of watching you string it out by building her up so you could pretend that the Mistress was oh so terribly clever. It's not as bad as what RTD did to Donna, but that's damning with faint praise, so fuck you.)
  • And here it is, the payoff of the whole 'soldier' subplot; just as horribly clunky as the set up. "Sometimes all you have are bad choices, but you still have to choose," the Doctor reminded us in 'Mummy on the Orient Express', but the conflict between the Doctor and Danny in the graveyard is just a horrible clash between two ugly, unlovable characters. Danny declares what he wants, then rounds on the Doctor when he makes him want it to, because Danny can't bear for the Doctor not to be wrong and apparently nor can Steven Moffat at times.
  • In fact, this episode brought home a problem with this series for me: I didn't like any of the main characters. Come 'Death in Heaven' I wasn't rooting for anyone.
  • I have, I think, explained before how much I hate it when UNIT are painted not just as inadequate, but incompetent, right? Especially if you're going to hate on your main character all the time, please give the support a chance to shine instead of having the Doctor insult them without comeback before throwing them out of an aeroplane.
  • "Permission to SQUEE!" Please, stop being impressed by your own cleverness/audacity; it's not cute.
Top Quotes
  • Clara: "You told me once what it would take to destroy a TARDIS key. That's what's so good about lava."
  • CyberDanny: "This is a promise! The promise of a soldier! You will sleep safe tonight." (This is what the soldier thing has been building up to; it wasn't needed.)
The Twelfth Doctor
So, now we have a whole series to judge by, and... I'm not enamoured of the Twelfth Doctor. I don't dislike him as much as I did at the start, but I still don't like him. On some level I think that the audience always needs to be rooting for the Doctor, and with this guy we haven't really been able to, because when it comes to the crunch, he's never been any better than anyone else, and often worse.

No Doctor; you are not just an idiot in a blue box. You are a good man, because you have to be a good man, other wise what's the point? You are one abnegation of moral responsibility away from being a supervillain, which is why you are never just the blood-soaked general. If you make the hard choices, you feel them; you have to feel them and we have to see you feel them, or what's the point. I'm as much a fan of deconstructed hero myths as the next man, but when the myth deconstructs itself then the narrative is admitting defeat, and how can you keep on backing it when that happens?

Of course, it hasn't helped that he's been saddled with the appalling false conflict of the Doctor vs Soldier dynamic (also, it was heavily implied in 'Closing Time' that the Eleventh Doctor used to visit Sir Alistair all the time and his PhD was in affably saluting) and the horrible, horrible devolution of Clara into the most egregious singularity of selfishness since Rose Tyler.

The Verdict
'Dark Water' was a really solid set up, but 'Death in Heaven' was a pompous, manipulative and cynical pay off. I could live with pompous and manipulative, but Doctor Who is at its core escapist fantasy and escapist fantasy can't be cynical.

Overall, this season scores reasonably well, mostly thanks to strong individual episodes like 'Mummy on the Orient Express'.

'Dark Water' - 5/10
'Death in Heaven' - 3/10

Overall Score - 6.8/10

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Sleepy Hollow - Season 1

Check my boots the fuck out, yeah!
Sleepy Hollow is a TV series based on Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, in much the same way that The LEGO Movie was based on the instructions for building a LEGO City fire engine.

The nervous, upwardly mobile Connecticut schoolmaster of the novel is replaced by Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), soldier of the crown turned rebel and the Headless Horseman from a practical joke by a romantic rival to the First Horseman of the Apocalypse called forth by the demon-lord Moloch. Taking a leaf from the Tim Burton adaptation, Crane's wife Katrina (Katia Winter) is, rather than a spoiled coquette, a woman of deep principles and sensibility, and a secret white witch. When Ichabod is mortally wounded decapitating the Horseman, Katrina casts a spell to allow him to sleep until the Horseman returns. Thus he wakes in 2013 and hilarity ensues.

Crane soon finds himself in the company of Abbie Mills (Nicole Behari), a Lieutenant in the Sleepy Hollow PD (or a deputy sheriff; I'm not sure how it works), and the two of them learn that they are the Witnesses of Revelation, set to encounter seven years of tribulations to prevent the comping Armageddon, armed only with a series of documents collected by Abbie's now dead mentor (played by Clancy Brown), hints from the Purgatory-bound Katrina and a set of mad occult devices left by the Founding Fathers, who were totally fucking demon hunters and shit.

Let us not mince words here, Sleepy Hollow is as mad as a bag of foxes. Its history is complete hogwash (the Elizabethan settlers of the colony at Roanoke apparently spoke Middle English), and it throws Freemasons and Golems and God knows what around like they had no existing symbolism. Nevertheless, I love it, because it just powers through all of its failings on the strength of the actors absolute conviction. Mison and Behari, and supporting players Winter, Lyndie Greenwood and Orlando Jones and John Noble, defy every opportunity to wink at the camera, and so carry the drama through the absurdity.
As you can see, the Headless Horseman has absolutely no problem moving
with the times.

It doesn't hurt that the show makes no attempt to be high and worthy drama, and instead focuses on supernatural action and mild horror, tempered with humour. The latter comes mostly from Crane's reactions to the 21st Century, or his reminiscences of famous figures from his original time (such as his discovery that 'faithful husband' Thomas Jefferson had children by at least one of his slaves and had taken credit for a joke Crane made about the gutter press.

In a not-uncommon format, the first half of the season focuses primarily on backstory and stand-alone adventures, while the second moves into arc development and set-up for the big end of season reveal and cliffhanger (which is very well done.) I was pretty sure that Sleepy Hollow would go the way of The Tomorrow People and Believe and never come back, so that ending left me pretty freaked out.

Fortunately, it is back for a second Season, with a Second Horseman.

The Blacklist - Series 1

This picture demonstrates one of the key flaws of The Blacklist, to whit that Megan Boone so often looks inappropriately bored.
After a decades long manhunt, FBI most wanted fugitive Raymond Reddington walks into a Federal Building and surrenders. Having become one of the foremost fixers in the international criminal community, with a vast network of informants and specialists for all occasions, Reddington has also compiled a list - the titular Blacklist - of the people he deems to be truly beyond even his highly distorted moral code. He is willing to help the FBI bring these people down, but only on his terms, and only if he is allowed to work with Agent Elizabeth Keen.

A major breakout hit, The Blacklist is a slick conspiracy drama featuring a tour de force performance from James Spader as Raymond 'Red' Reddington, the Concierge of Crime. By turns charming and terrifying, all affable, folksy anecdotes or cold, harsh threats, he is never less than compelling, with his monologue on his goals in life garnering particular attention, and rightly so.


Unfortunately, The Backlist is at its core a two-hander, and Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen doesn't have the same effortless assurance, and only partly because Keen as a character lacks Reddington's absolute self-confidence. For the dynamic of the relationship - which is primarily that Reddington chips relentlessly away at the bedrock of Keen's life - to work there has to be some parity to begin with, and it is just a little lacking (Season 2 has an even less assured Keen and a slightly more comfortable Boone, and benefits from it.)

The supporting cast is solid ranging up to good, with a strong core team. Parminder Nagra provides some confusion as a CIA agent with a completely unexplained English accent, but she's a good actress, so okay. Notable cameos from Peter Stormare and Alan Alda playing sharply against type enliven the second half of the season.

The Blacklist has a definite ambition to be gritty, and in pursuit of that makes a very conscious decision which results in unfortunate implications; specifically, Season 1 kills a lot of its female characters. In fact, it pretty much kills all of them except for Keen, and while it never revels in its violence against women, it does get to the point that it feels as if it's taking a certain pride in being willing to have female characters brutally murdered.

Overall, Season 1 of The Blacklist has been a good series with moments of excellence, although in all honesty I think only the monologue really compares with the very first scene of Red's surrender. It picks up the pace a lot after a slightly sluggish first half and starts developing its arc. It remains to be seen whether it can maintain its pace following the unveiling of Kaise Soze expy 'Berlin' in the finale - there is a reason why The Usual Suspects ends with the reveal - but Season 1 was strong enough to give me hope.

Arrow - The Rest of Season 1

I chose to head this post with a picture of Oliver and Felicity, because duh. I
am turning into such a shipper.
Man, I sort of dropped the ball on Arrow after the first five episodes.

Here then is my round up of Season 1 (I am currently watching Season 2 and I know Season 3 is running but I watch it with my girlfriend and we have a baby daughter who is not watching Arrow yet thanks.)

Season 1 took a long while to get started, stretching out the island flashbacks and featuring a number of pretty similar episodes in which Diggle and Oliver argued about the Hood's methods, Detective Lance argued with his daughter and Laurel was held up as some sort of paragon while Felicity was overlooked and Walter roundly abused.

Fuck you, Arrow!
It was with the emergence of Malcolm Merlyn not merely as a mastermind but as the lethal physical threat of Black Arrow that the series got traction and started working more of an arc vibe. Even as Malcolm gave direction to the Hood side of the story, so Tommy Merlyn became the beating heart of the civilian story. He came into our lives as an irritating, shallow douchebag and grew into a likable, interesting and rounded character, was harshly betrayed by Laurel and yet still risked - and lost - everything to save her. It is only right that Season 2 goes on to make him the touchstone for Oliver's transformation from killer vigilante to hero; from Hood to Arrow.

The flashback sort of drags on and on, leading up to Oliver finally killing someone. Slade Wilson is a much more interesting character than island love interest Shado (Arrow Season 1 is kind of bad with love interests.) To bump something that came clear to me in the comments, Season 1's flashbacks are kind of just marking time until they can bring in a character who has to be kept secret until they appear in the present day timeline, and since that debut happens in early Season 2 we get 22 episodes of largely running in place. Until then, island Oliver is only allowed very limited growth.

Throughout the series, the action scenes are fantastic, and the interactions of Team Arrow in particular are adorable. There are a lot of characters, however, and some of them inevitably end up on the periphery. Thea and Roy are hit hardest, although Laurel takes a drop in Season 2 after the series shifts its romance focus to Oliver and Felicity and Tommy is out of the picture.

The Flash - 'Pilot' and 'Fastest Man Alive'

Disappointingly, I was unable to find a cast in costume promo shot to use for this review; I like those in an ensemble show and, as I like ensemble shows, I worry that The Flash might be a bit of a one man band. I don't care for one man bands.
Barry Allen is the fastest man alive. After losing his mother to a mysterious, superpowered assailant, he grows up to be a seeker of truth as a CSI with Central City PD, but is given a chance to do more when the disastrous activation of the STAR Labs particle accelerator gifts him with superhuman speed, and a rogue's gallery of variously empowered foes to face.

The first - and possibly the last, given the current focus on the DCCU - step in the creation of a larger DC television universe on a par with the old Animated version, The Flash is a spin-off from Arrow. Barry Allen made his first appearance as a lovably awkward science genius in two episodes of Season 2 of the parent show, and was then struck by lightning mere seconds after making a move on Felicity Smoake, apparently securing her status as protected love interest by an act of God.

After a year in a development coma, Barry returned with his own series and a daringly classic uniform, which manages not to look completely stupid. He has his own back-up, akin to Team Arrow, formed of Dr Harrison Wells, head of STAR Labs, his sort-of-but-not-actually foster father Joe West, a CCPD homicide detective, and a pair of adorkable science nerds, Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon. Snow and Ramon are named after DC characters, but don't seem to be related, although it is possible Snow will end up as a foe yay Killer Frost in the same way that Arrow's Cyrus Gold might fulfil the hints and rise again as Solomon Grundy (Hell, I'm only halfway through series 2 so he might have done so already.)

'Pilot' and 'Fastest Man Alive' are effectively a two-part set up for the series as a whole. 'Pilot' is the origin story and 'Fastest Man Alive' shows Barry finding his feet as 'the Red Streak', matching Arrow's trick of keeping the classic superhero identity in the title for the time being. They also set up the core arc - Harrison Wells has a newspaper from the future, is faking his paralysis and is willing to kill to protect Barry; what's up with that, yo? - and character dynamics.

Clearly the internet agrees with me (even if it is embracing
the frankly lame 'Snowbarry'.)
In addition to Team Flash, the main characters are Joe's daughter and Barry's long-time unrequited crush Iris, and Joe's partner Eddie Thawne, who also has a DC villain's name, and since he's dating the canon love interest may actually turn out to be a supervillain. I hope not, because after two episodes I want him and Iris to get married and move away, because Barry's awkward crush on Iris is already annoying. There is way more chemistry between Barry and Caitlin, or Barry and Felicity, and in fact between Iris and Eddie, than Barry and Iris.

The alternative is that Eddie becomes The Flash's version of Tommy Merlyn.

As it plays out, what Barry and Iris looks like is Barry still chasing his 'safe' option, the girl he knows loves him and would never want to hurt him, despite - or even because of - their total lack of romantic zip. So far, the series has offered us Barry trying to ask Iris out and her assuming he's asking for advice on talking to girls, and Barry admitting his feelings at superspeed so that she can't hear him. On the flip side, we have Barry noting that Caitlin's smiles are rare things and managing not to be creepy doing it and the rest of Team Flash noting that he makes Caitlin mad in a way only her late fiance ever managed before. I sincerely hope that the producers aren't wedded to the canon OTP.

As an aside, I think that the timeframe set out in the pilot means that Allen either sort-of asked Felicity out on the rebound from being blank-bounced by his sort-of-but-not-actually foster sister or vice versa, but I'm going to try not to think of it that way because it makes him less likable and is almost certainly an artefact of the year between the Arrow episode and 'Pilot'.

In terms of antagonists, 'Pilot' gives us the Weather Wizard and 'Fastest Man Alive' a semi-sympathetic Multiplex, both established DC characters. They appear uncostumed, and are somehow darker because of it, and I suspect that in the long term the lighter touch of The Flash as compared to Arrow would be better serve by an increased flamboyance in its villains. Still, that's a delicate balancing act, so let's see how they do.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Gotham - Selina Kyle, The Balloonman and Arkham

Stalking Batman since the age of 11.
'Selina Kyle'
Episode 2 of Gotham fleshes out the character currently going by the nickname 'Kat', who was much seen in the pilot episode but didn't have much to do. Selina is caught up in a child-snatching plot disguised as part of the Mayor's rehousing scheme for homeless children. Displaying the instincts and alertness which will serve her in later life, Kyle tries to barter information on the Wayne murder to Gordon in exchange for escape from a spell in juvie.

In addition to providing Selina with more screen time (Camren Bicondova plays just the right blend of sass and vulnerability for the character not to be completely hateful,) the episode develops some running themes (see below) and gives a nod to the Dollmaker, a particularly creepy DC villain who recently picked up some new recognition by appearing in Season 2 of Arrow. The fact that he never shows his face in this episode suggests that the Dollmaker may be putting in a personal appearance later on and part of me wonders if they've kept him hidden on the off-chance that they decide to try and merge worlds with Arrow and The Flash.

'Selina Kyle' is a solid follow up to the pilot, and the villains - a pair of super-neat, faux-nice kidnappers in social worker disguise - are creepy as anything.

'The Balloonman'
Episode 3 is mostly filler, IMO. A vigilante is assassinating the corrupt of Gotham by attaching them to weather balloons. The actual vigilante is a bit silly, but the episode is interesting for tackling the arrival of the first 'character' vigilante to Gotham City (and not having it be Batman). The episode also follows up on 'Selina Kyle' as she gives Gordon in quick succession her information and the slip.

'Arkham'
Episode 4 goes to another touchstone, and one that has been name dropped a few times already: Arkham Asylum. In this context, the Arkham City district of Gotham (essentially what Batman Begins called the Narrows) and its associated Asylum are up for redevelopment into low-cost housing and a state of the art mental health institute as art of the 'Wayne Plan', but a rival plan to turn the area into a toxic waste dump is at the heart of the growing tension between the Falcone and Maroni mob families and an assassin is apparently targeting councillors to force the vote, but which way and on whose orders is not clear.

This episode is a solid arc entry, developing the ongoing story. Although Gordon remains the lead, the episode belongs to Hakeem Kae-Kazim as gentleman assassin Gladwell, and to Robin Lord Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot, whose B-plot threatens to take over this episode as never before.

Ongoing Themes
Man about town.
Cobblepot - The absolute breakout star of Gotham is Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, the future Penguin. His backstory is dramatically rewritten, and Gotham's Cobblepot is the son of immigrant Edna Kapelput, a servile and insinuating man whose precise manners are calculated to cover his native accent while allowing him to manipulate those who are blinded by their power over him. Soft-spoken and fastidious, there is a rage at his core and he is shown to be quite capable of impressive and elaborate acts of deception and brutal murder without flinching. He is at the heart of events in Gotham, manipulating Gordon to strike back at the mobsters who cast him out to die and working to bring about the devastating mob war that he predicts will strike soon.

Gordon and Barbara - In opposition to the Cobblepot story, the courtship of Jim Gordon and Barbara, and the interference in same of Barbara's ex Renee Montoya is deeply boring. She pretty much gave him his papers at the end of 'Arkham', and I couldn't care less except that it would be a shame if there were never an Oracle.

The Coming Storm - The mob war which Cobblepot is working to exacerbate is also driven by the rival Dons Falcone and Maroni, and by Falcone's treacherous lieutenant Fish Mooney. This is a plot that is most interesting when Cobblepot is involved, as an awful lot of the rest of it is Mooney scheming audibly while auditioning acts for her club or arranging catfights between singers to choose a new 'weapon'. The latter was a particularly gratuitous scene, pitching a prissy chanteuse against a scrappy amateur and providing not one scrap of a twist or dramatic punch.

Bruce - The future Batman is a constant presence, with Gordon in and out of Wayne Manor for various reasons and Kyle apparently stalking him already. His scenes are so far mostly of interest for Alfred (played by Sean Pertwee) and I would like to see a lot more interplay between Alfred and Gordon and their cynic and idealist perspectives.

Dominion

Because nothing says pseudo-Renaissance art like
really awkward posing.
Who would want to make a TV series based on Legion, a failed post-apocalyptic action movie starring Paul 'Jarvis' Bettany as the archangel Michael? Syfy; that's who.

Dominion is set in the aftermath of the Angel Wars, with humanity occupying isolated fortress-cities and Gabriel and his legion of 'lower angels' forced into the wilderness. In the city of Vega (formerly Las Vegas), the ambitious senator Whele (Tony Head channeling the same vein of affable, folksy serial killer that James Spader is so successfully tapping in The Blacklist, and oddly with the same accent) is intent on seizing power from the city's military ruler, Lord Riesen (Alan Dale, the other half of the series' stunt casting.) His only other rival is the sexy lady senator who is doing the Archangel Michael.

The city's defence is led by Michael and his Archangel Corps. Riesen's daughter Claire is a ludicrously saintly teacher and philanthropist engaged in an illegal affair - because surrounded by killer possessing angels, humanity has apparently opted for a ruthlessly enforced caste system and strict moral legislation - with Alex; soldier, kneejerk rebel asshat and secretly the chosen one who will save all of humanity (the baby from Legion, 25 years on.) She also becomes plain engaged to Whele's son William (who is doing his damndest to look like Sam Clafin in Snow White and the Huntsman), much to her surprise.

Other characters of note - if either character or note are appropriate; even with the lead characters I had to look up half of their names on Wikipedia (so now I know which of them are secretly angels in disguise) - include a visiting diplomat from the city of Matriarchal Informed Lesbians But Actually Only Having Sex With Men, an orphan waif who is probably going to die or be possessed for pathos around episode five, and a couple of other soldiers who reek of late-season sacrifice. Alex's adopted father turns up briefly to kickstart the plot; like the other returning characters, Michael and Gabriel, he is not played by the same actor as in the movie.
Flying: Arechangel Michael; standing: Pseudosapphic Diplomat, Evil Giles, Sexy Lady Senator, Alan Dale, Rebellious Arsehole Saviour and Archangel Gabriel (I think); seated: Weak Hypotenuse of the Love Triangle and Generically Virtuous Love Interest.
Much like the source film, Dominion manages to be both insultingly simplistic and somewhat confusing, mostly because almost all of the female characters are some variation of tanned white women with long, dark, slightly curled hair and generic soap opera faces, and all appear to be between 25 and 35, despite being of allegedly varied age. By the end of the pilot I had figured out that the lady senator is a redhead in a good light (which, this being a post-apocalyptic setting, is a resource in short supply) and the pseudosapphic diplomat a relatively fair-skinned Anglo-Indian rather than a tanned Caucasian. More generally the pilot throws a lot of plot into the mix, as well as trying to build a world. It's in the latter regard that it does best, and the rather dismal setting of Vega and special effects of flying angels are its main triumphs.

The storm of terrible accents - the main cast are pretty much all Australian or English actors doing American accents, while the supporting roles are locally cast from the available pool of South African talent - is pretty distracting. Even ignoring that, the bulk of the cast - ex-soap hacks to a one - are pretty unexceptional, with the standouts being Head and Dale, who are still ex-soap hacks, but really good ex-soap hacks. The soap pedigree continues with the interpersonal dynamics, which are a typically soap opera melange of sex, love and jealousy. Even Michael gets in on the act, insisting to sexy lady senator that he must not risk having a child... in the wake of what appears to have been a seven girl on one angel cuddle pile. Nice restraint there, Mickey.

Dominion is absolutely not a good show, but if you like angels and swordfights and gunfights and post-apocalyptic clashes against a backdrop of gorgeous (and cheap to film) South African scenery, then it has a certain car-crash magnetism to it.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Constantine - The Darkness Beneath

Still not as creepy as the church graffiti in True Detective.
The first 'proper' episode of Constantine (if you consider 'Non Est Asylum' as a slightly disconnected pilot,) takes our eponymous and surly antihero to a Welsh-descended mining town in Pennsylvania, and makes me begin to wonder if he isn't going to find himself in a lot of communities with strong Britannic roots as the series progresses, the better to utilise the source material without alienating the main audience with all those limey accents.

Or maybe I'm too cynical.
John Constantine knows how to show a girl a good time.

Hard-to-kill Chas is sidelined this episode (due to an outstanding warrant for derailing a train which is oddly limited to Pennsylvania; that feels like something that could go federal,) in order to introduce the replacement for Liv, Zed Martin (Angélica Celaya), an artist who experiences visions, including recurring dreams about Constantine. Martin pushes to be involved in Constantine's investigation of a series of murders surrounding a dangerous mine, while he pushes her away to test her commitment.

An interesting twist in the tale is that the supernatural killers are actually protective spirits distorted by human malice. The series kind of squanders this with a bit of pointless anti-Romani prejudice (there is, apparently, 'nothing darker than Gypsy magic'), but that aside it's a decent episode, with Constantine very much in his element being out of his element, as well as getting to reference his background in an apposite fashion. Martin manages not to be too annoying (many series mistakenly feel that a hot female character can be as much of a whining load as they like) and actually shows promise as a lead; she's tougher than Liv and her abilities have more potential to be a rolling part of the plot, rather than acting as the set up.

'The Darkness Beneath' is a solid second episode, with a pass for any pacing problems from the need to introduce a new second lead. They have the ball now, so let's see how they run with it.