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Thunderbirds Are Go Series 2 Volume 1 Review

  • Series Title: Thunderbirds Are Go
  • Season: Series 2 Vol. 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: ITV
  • Cast: Rasmus Hardiker, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, David Menkin, Kayvan Novak, Rosamund Pike, David Graham, Sandra Dickinson, Angel Coulby
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD (R2, PAL)

Thunderbirds Are Go is a CGI animated modern updating of the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series. The series is action-packed, and several stories in this volume see one of the boys in life-threatening danger. Volume 2 has stories set in several environments as well, from the deep ocean to outer space to Europa and Mars. The opening episode introduces a new continuing villain, the Mechanic, who has some relationship with The Hood. Meanwhile, the Hood is in a Global Defense Force maximum security prison. The Mechanic makes huge, and dangerous, mechanical devices, almost evil Thunderbirds – and he defends his nefarious plots with “mechs” – drones that attack whatever he wants. The Mechanic controls his drones with a virtual reality suit, moving his hands in front of a heads-up computer screen, to control his drones. The search for and to stop the Mechanic is a continuing theme for the set, with the final episode seeing International Rescue, Lady Penelope (with Parker and Sherbert) and the Global Defense Force attempting to stop the Mechanic from breaking the Hood out of prison.

The rescues and disasters in this season are huge, but often work to rescue one or two people not rescued by more conventional means – much like the original series. Kayo (the updated version of Tin Tin) gets a considerable amount to do – and her role of “Covert Ops” now is integrated into International Rescue. She not only gathers intelligence, but uses her skills to get inside dangerous areas to get people out. And her vehicle Thunderbird S – Shadow is pretty awesome. Speaking of awesome, Lady Penelope’s pink Rolls Royce is incredible! I seriously want her car. Fab 1 can fly, hover, it’s a submarine, and it’s capable of traveling through underground tunnels. Fab 1 was impressive in the original series, but the new one? It can do just about anything.  Lady Penelope, Parker, and Sherbert are fully integrated into the Thunderbirds Are Go stories, with the three working to find out more about the Mechanic and how he’s connected to the Hood.

The opening story is really big and full of heart-pumping action, though Gordon and Alan are not part of the actual rescue. It also introduces the Mechanic – who pilots a giant drilling and refining factory, without care to the destruction he causes, or even the two geologists who are trapped in a giant crack in the Earth caused by his machine. But from the beginning it’s also clear that the Mechanic is somehow connected to the Hood.

There is more characterization of the boys in this volume for the most part. Kayo and Lady Penelope get to do a lot more. And even Grandma Tracy gets to dispense wisdom. It’s nice to see some women in the show. Overall Thunderbirds Are Go is extremely good. It’s full of plenty of action. Yet the emphasis for the Tracys is always on rescuing people, or saving people from harm. The Tracys risk their lives to help others, and that’s an important message. Overall, it’s a fun, exciting, action-packed, and positive series that is incredibly fun to watch. Highly recommended, especially for children aged 10-16, though adults can enjoy the series, I certainly did. Previous volumes are also reviewed on this blog.

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iZombie Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: iZombie
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 3 (Blu-Ray)
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: Rose McIver, Rahul Kohli, Malcolm Goodwin, Robert Buckley, David Anders, Aly Michalka
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, Blu-Ray, NTSC

Olivia Moore, Liv to her friends, was a driven, A-personality doctor, engaged to Major Lilywhite, and happy with her life. Then she goes to a boat party where things get way out of hand, between the drugs, an energy drink called Max Rager, a fire, fights, and all hell breaking loose, Liv barely notices when she’s scratched by one of the guys at the party. She falls or dives off the boat, and wakes up on the shore, in a body bag, craving brains. Liv is a zombie. She quits her job at the hospital, and dumps her fiancé, then gets a job at the morgue so she has access to brains to eat. Ravi, her boss at the morgue, is the only one know knows Liv is a zombie – she doesn’t tell her family, her roommate, Payton, or Major. But all is not hopeless for Liv, she discovers that when she eats someone’s brain she takes on their personality traits, and has visions of how they died. Liv soon partners with Det. Clive Babineaux, a new Seattle police detective to solve murders. Liv’s excuse for how she knows so much about the victims? She’s psychic.

So if this sounds like a mash-up of Psych, Quantum Leap, and The Walking Dead, it somewhat is – yet… there is more. As the season progresses, it moves from establishing it’s universe, to a medical thriller. Liv gradually learns just what made her a zombie, as well as who. Liv even makes another zombie herself, accidentally, which leads deeper in to a conspiracy involving the Max Rager energy drink and a designer drug called Utopium. Liv’s personal life gets more and more complicated as well. Major works at a homeless shelter for street kids – but the kids are disappearing. He takes advantage of Liv’s friendship with Det. Babineaux, to have someone look in to it. But he’s never satisfied to let the professionals do the work – and slowly uncovers the zombie conspiracy of Seattle. Blaine, the zombie who made Liv a zombie, is a drug-dealer type, supplying brains to Seattle’s zombies. He works out of a butcher shop called Meat Cute. But Blaine isn’t above making someone a zombie so that he has a steady supply of new customers.

iZombie is a complicated mix of police procedural, paranormal mystery, and SF. It has that 20-something vibe of most CW shows, but it’s a bit more grown-up and sophisticated than Supernatural. I was expecting more humor, but the complicated nature of the continuing storyline drew me in. Season 1 still had a bit of a set-up feel, despite the breadth of material covered in the season. iZombie is based on a comic published by Vertigo Comics, the adult/mature readers imprint of DC Comics.

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Once Upon a Time Season 5 Review

  • Series Title: Once Upon a Time
  • Season: 5
  • Episodes: 23
  • Discs: 5
  • Network: ABC
  • Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, Lana Parilla, Josh Dallas, Jared Gilmore, Robert Carlyle, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Sean McGuire, Rebecca Mader, Liam Garrigan, Gregg Germann
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD

Last season, both halves of the season, “Frozen” and “Queens of Darkness” featured female guest heroes, villains, and storylines. This season was decidingly more male, though there is a lot and I do mean a lot going on. Stories, myths, and Disney/Pixar films that Season 5 of Once Upon a Time did their own take on included:

  • Dark Swan
  • King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
  • Brave
  • Hercules (and his girlfriend)
  • Hades, King of the Underworld
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (mention only)
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Plus the return of the following characters from previous seasons:

  • Ruby, the wolf (of Little Red Riding Hood)
  • Evil Peter Pan
  • Mulan
  • Zylena, the Wicked Witch of the West (Oz)
  • a grown-up, more bad-ass Dorothy (Oz)
  • Cruella deVille
  • Liam, Hook’s brother (and a more detailed look at the brother’s back story)
  • Cora, Regina’s mother
  • Henry, Regina’s father
  • Neal, Henry’s father and Emma’s ex

If that sounds like a lot – it is. The first half of the season is extremely confusing. However, the second half of the season, though at times also pulling in a great deal of conflicting plot threads, manages to pull things together, as well as return to Once’s theme of redemption for characters oft thought as “evil”.

The season opens where the previous season left off, with Emma as the Dark One. With a little help from Zylena, our characters travel to another realm, and immediately meet King Arthur, and search for a way to get Merlin out of the tree he’s trapped in, which, eventually leads to a quest to find Excalibur. However, the first season cuts back and forth in time – and it’s some of the most confusing time and realm jumps that Once has ever done. In the first episode, the main characters return to Storybrooke, with Emma as the Dark Swan, having, apparently embraced the darkness – and everyone else having lost their memories of the six months they were in Camelot. Emma is angry about something but we don’t know what. I found the switching back and forth between Camelot and Storybrooke, not to mention the various time-jumps in Camelot to be really confusing. Several times, I’d watch a scene then realize, “Oh, they are in Camelot. Or, oh, wait, this must be Storybrooke.” Since Arthur, his knights, and many of the main characters are transported back to Storybrooke with our main characters, it adds to the confusion. That Emma, Regina, and the Charmings wear their contemporary clothes from Storybrooke in Camelot on all but the most formal occasions, such as the ball, also adds to the confusion.

In Camelot, Arthur turns out to be a really bad king, and not the king of legend. This Arthur is manipulative, insecure, has a really bad case of impostor syndrome, and over-compensates for his own inadequacies by shifting blame to everyone else. He uses magic to control his wife and kingdom. He acts like a teenager who never grew up and has far too much power. Whereas I liked Evil Peter Pan from season 3 (and the young actor was fantastic!), I did not like Arthur at all. When I watched part 1 of the season last year, I thought they had simply cast a bad actor as Arthur (because it was hard to follow the plot week to week). Re-watching on DVD in a much more compressed time-frame, it wasn’t the actor’s fault – but Arthur was poorly written. Other than all his faults, there wasn’t really a reason for his behavior. Regina became the “Evil Queen” because her mother told her she could be with her beloved boyfriend – then killed him horribly in front of her for her “own good”. Zylena became the Wicked Witch because Cora abandoned her, leaving Zylena with a deep-seated sense that she was unlovable, worthless, and incapable of being happy. Zylena also was incredibly jealous of Regina. But Arthur? All we can tell is he doesn’t feel like he deserves to be king, or he’s so afraid people will find out he’s a fraud so he goes to incredible lengths to stop them (including trapping Merlin in a tree, exiling Lancelot, putting his wife under an obedience spell, and doing the same to his entire kingdom). What was disturbing about the Arthur plot was it takes a hero and makes him a villain – and it doesn’t give Arthur a good reason for being a villain. This Arthur also kills one of his loyal knights (talks him into suicide) for absolutely no real reason. Arthur frames his own knight for stealing from the Camelot camp near Storybrooke, then when he’s placed in jail by David (Prince Charming), kills him and disappears the body – so he can claim the man used a “magic bean” to return to Camelot. This is ploy the Charmings and the rest of the heroes see through immediately, so there’s really no point to Arthur’s actions. Done right, Arthur and the Knights of Camelot can be a very good story, for me, Once Upon a Time did not tell the story right.

Interwoven through the first eight episodes of season 5, we find out Emma’s story. As the new Dark One, she has visions of Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) who encourages her to embrace her dark powers. Since we see her as Dark Swan in Storybrooke, it appears that she will. At times, the discussions of Light vs. Dark, whether it’s Emma’s Light Magic or just her general decision she has to make for which Side she will serve sound very Star Wars. There are characters who seem to quote Yoda, when talking to Emma about her choice.

The first actual person Emma meets in the Enchanted Forest is Merida, aka “Brave”. Merida and Emma both want a “wisp” to led them somewhere. The wisp is a McGuffin, though Merida needs it more than Emma. While Rumpelstiltskin urges Emma to kill Merida and take the wisp – David, Mary Margaret, and the rest from Storybrooke arrive and take her to Granny’s Diner which landed in the Enchanted Forest thanks to a magical tornado. Merida goes on her quest, finds the wisp, and loses it. Merida later on meets up with Mulan who teaches her how to fight, goes on a quest herself to find a magical helm (which Arthur had stolen from her father or so she thought) and discovers her father is an honorable man. She also learns how to be a good and just queen. Part of her learning is that even though she finds the helm, she doesn’t turn it over to the “evil witch” citing that, as a weapon, it’s too dangerous for anyone to have and she will destroy it. Merida’s test however, was just that – if she had turned it over, or even just kept it, she would not have been a good queen.

Mulan is also having issues – but teaching Merida, and meeting Ruby (of all people), helps her over-come them.

Ruby, in turn, ends-up in Oz, assisting Dorothy (now grown-up and bad-ass), whom she’s fallen for. In the end, the feeling is mutual (when Dorothy is put under a sleeping curse, it is Ruby’s “true love’s kiss” that wakes her). Their kiss is magical. I loved the new Dorothy (not to mention that Ruby, Mulan, and Dorothy – although an odd mix when you consider the source material – sparks on-screen). I enjoyed those episodes, and wouldn’t mind somehow seeing more of Dorothy and Ruby. Maybe Ruby could adopt the name Ozma?

At the end of the Camelot plot, we find out what’s happened to Emma. Hook was wounded in the throat during a skirmish with Arthur. The cut is from Excalibur. When Emma tries to use her magic to unite the two halves of Excalibur (the Sword, and the Dark One dagger), Hook collapses. His wound re-opens and he starts dying. Emma, in tears, cannot face the death of her true love. She stops the spell to reunite Excalibur, places everyone under a forgetting spell, and sends Granny’s, everyone inside, and the population of Camelot to Storybrooke. This returns us to the beginning of episode one, where everyone arrives but with no memory of the previous six weeks.

Emma is saved from being the Dark One. But Hook becomes the Dark One. Emma has to kill Hook with Excalibur to save him and he dies. But Rumple had tethered the Dark Magic back to the Dark One dagger. Rumple is now the Dark One again and Killian’s been taken to the underworld. Emma, Snow, David, Rumple, Belle, Regina, and Henry travel to the Underworld to rescue Hook. They are in a town that looks like a destroyed Storybrooke with red skies, where they discover Hades is Lord of the Underworld. Regina meets Cora (her mother) again. Cora tries to use Regina’s father to manipulate Regina, but Regina, much more grown up now, doesn’t fall for it. In the end, Henry Sr. is able to finish his “unfinished business”, make his peace, and literally walk into the light. Freeing Henry’s soul let’s the broken Underworld Storybrooke clock move forward one minute – and angers Hades. Soon Emma (now having prophetic dreams), Snow, and Charming meet Hercules and his girlfriend. Discovering that both were killed in a quest to destroy Cerebus (who now guards the path to where Killian is being held), the Storybrooke heroes help Hercules and his girlfriend – who walk into the light. Fortunately, this doesn’t become an every episode thing. Bringing back the dead, though, is a theme. Rumple runs in to his dad, Peter Pan. Pan is just as evil as ever, and at first it seems Rumple will work with Pan. But instead, having found a way to destroy Pan forever, with water from the River of Souls, Rumple actually destroys Pan. However, Rumple is too late to stop Belle, who discovers he is now the Dark One, from putting herself under a sleeping curse. Meanwhile, Killian, once rescued by Emma and company, meets his brother, Liam. In “The Brothers Jones”, we discover their full background. Their father sells the two into servitude on a ship. When Liam gets old enough to try to break the contract by joining the Royal Navy and getting a signing bonus (for both him and his younger brother, Killian), Captain Silver gets Killian drunk and steals all their saved money. Liam tears up his papers with the Navy, and stays with his brother. When the Captain Silver steers the ship into the eye of a hurricane to get a fabled gem, Liam attempts to raise a mutiny. It works somewhat, but Liam still feels forced to make a deal with Hades to see to it that he and his brother survive. Hades even “gifts” Liam the fabled gem. The two brothers survive, are found by the Navy, and we know much of the rest of the story from season 3. In Underworld Storybrooke, both Killian and Liam show an incredible amount of hero-worship vis-a-vis each other. They are both willing to sacrifice themselves for each other. Fortunately, Killian is able to save Liam, who, with his dead crew, who now know the truth, also all go into the Light. But, the details of Hades story are lost. Still, having now lost close to a dozen souls, Hades is very angry, not only are Snow, Regina, and Emma tied to the Underworld by having names on gravestones – but the entire group is now trapped in the Underworld.

Zylena, having had Robin’s baby earlier in the season, becomes a character similar to first and second season Regina – she’s “Wicked” but we want her to become good. And similar to how Regina’s love for Henry made her a better person, and eventually her own sort of hero; Zylena, though still manipulative, does honestly love her baby daughter. Sadly, Zylena also believes she is not lovable and that no one could ever love her. Part of why she wants her baby at first, is she thinks a child will love her. But we also have an episode where a young Regina plays with one of Cora’s magical items and is knocked cold and remains unconscious. Cora finds Zylena and convinces her to use her magic to save Regina – something Zylena does easily and effortlessly. However, as she sees the two young girls becoming friends, and even almost acting as sisters – though neither knows they are sisters, Cora decides to separate the two. Cora tells Regina she can’t have friends or rely on anyone but herself. Then she has Zylena taken away, and wipes the memory from both of them. Throughout the back half of the season, Regina is constantly trying to help Zylena, trying to work with her – but since she also seems to always be asking Zylena for something, Zylena thinks Regina only wants to use her. When Cora decides to tell the two the truth, that they met as young children, and were, for a time, sisters, it becomes enough for Cora to also walk into the Light. And Regina and Zylena are more united.

However, to make things more complicated, Hades also appears to fall in love with Zylena. At first Zylena rejects him because she feels she can’t be loved. Then Zylena tries to figure out if Hades is honest about his feelings. At first Regina tries to convince Zylena that Hades doesn’t love her, but someone will. Later, as the two are united as the sisters they are, Regina tells Zylena to try – try to make Hades a better man. Yeah, the god of the Underworld, a better man. It doesn’t end well.

Hades and Zylena return to Storybrooke. Hades meets Arthur, and kills him. Hades then tries to convince Zylena they need to attack first against Snow, and David, and Regina, and the rest of the Storybrooke characters, whom he tells Zylena are after them and will never let them live in peace. Zylena points out they can live in peace, just find a nice house in Storybrooke and settle down. Hades reveals his hand that he’s a lot more interested in power and destruction than in settling down. But before Zylena can leave on her own, Robin and Regina show up. Hades unleashes a magic attack towards Regina, but Robin gets in the way. Robin dies. Zylena is appalled. But it’s Gold who uses a magic crystal from Zeus to get rid of Hades – in another bid for power. Gold is also still trying to bring back Belle, who is still under a sleeping curse.

Zylena opens a portal (at David’s request) to send the various extra characters back to the Enchanted Forest or where ever they happen to have come from. However, it back fires and Zylena, Snow, and David are caught in the portal and immediately end up in a jail. They are in the Land of Lost Stories, though, being in a jail, it’s a while before they know that. In that land, they run into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gold has gone to New York, with Belle, to perform a spell to revive her – a spell that must be cast in the Land Without Magic.  Also, Henry and Violet, his first crush, run off to New York. Henry’s decided to destroy all magic because he thinks it’s bad. The two teenagers go to the New York Public Library to do research, and find dozens of storybooks. Emma and Regina follow Henry to New York. The two get a txt from Granny telling them what went down in Storybrooke. By the time they catch up with Henry and Violet, Henry has found the anti-Grail, which will destroy magic. In the midst of Gold’s spell to wake up Belle, Henry destroys magic. Opps. Henry immediately realizes he’s made a big mistake, because without magic, they can’t get Snow and Charming back.

Emma tells Henry a story about a wishing fountain – and everyone goes there – where Henry makes a stirring speech, a lot of people throw pennies into the fountain, and the wishes bring back out characters. This includes Jekyll, who uses his separator formula to tear the Evil Queen out of Regina (who has, apparently, been like a recovering alcoholic – and who fears returning to evilness).

Season 5 of Once Upon a Time was, well, I don’t want to call it a mess – because, overall, it was entertaining, and parts of it were really, really, really good. The large guest cast was excellent. Although I found Arthur annoying at first, on a second watch-through, he got better. Hades Shatner-like diction became annoying by the end of the season though. However, I’m getting a bit tired of the idea that every single one of the storybook characters is so obsessed with the idea of Predestination, destiny, and fate. The “evil” characters, such as Regina, and even Zylena, are determined to believe that because they were once “evil” they are fated to never be happy. And in a sense, in the show’s universe and worldview they are right, because Regina has lost, what, three boyfriends now? And the first time someone really seems to love Zylena for who she is – he turns out to be a raving meglomanic who simply wants power, no matter who he has to crush to get it. Even Gold (Rumple) continuously chooses power over the love of a good woman. And Belle is finally fed-up with his choice of power over her. Unfortunately, Belle’s response is to put herself under a sleeping curse – effectively “refrigerating” a fiery, intelligent character who keeps Gold both honest and as a character the audience can relate to.

Secondly, season 5 of Once Upon a Time, was one of the most unFeminist seasons ever on the show. Season 4 had women as leads in both halves of the season, and showed use both good and evil women. Season 5 starts off praising the male hero by bringing in Arthur and his knights, as well as Merlin. That might have been OK, if Arthur hadn’t been quickly shown to be a weak, ineffective king with an inferiority complex. Showing Arthur as a lousy king was a bad move, in my opinion. And, if they were going to do that, the strong Storybrooke woman, especially Regina, Emma, and Snow, should have been able to take the king down. Instead, Regina and Snow (and at times Belle – who’s become the group’s “researcher”) are pitted against Emma. Yes, the early part of second half of the season explains that – Emma did it all for Hook. But at much as I ship Emma/Hook, having Emma make bad decisions due to doomed love puts her right back at the beginning of Season 1, where she’s in jail and pregnant. We also see Snow having to run off some bandits when she is still young, and her father is away. Snow as always been remarkably strong. Feminine, but very strong, and often badass. Yet, who teaches her to fight? Hercules. That completely takes Snow’s power away. It diminishes her. It destroys her agency. It says she couldn’t possibly become a hero without the help of a man. And that she couldn’t learn to fight without a man either. It was much more satisfying to see Mulan teaching Merida how to fight. Besides, Merida was already kick-ass with a bow and arrow, Mulan only helped her to learn hand to hand combat. But taking one of Once Upon a Time‘s strongest women and having her completely unable to fight without a man showing her how? I didn’t like that at all.

 

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Outlander Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Outlander
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes:  13
  • Discs:  5
  • Network:  Starz/BBC
  • Cast:  Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Duncan Lacroix, Tobias Menzies, Romann Berrux, Andrew Gower
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

I enjoyed Season 2 of Outlander even more than Season 1. The first episode actually takes place in 1948, with Claire returning to Frank in her present. Frank proves to be a very understanding and loving man, even vowing to care for Claire’s yet to be born child as his own. Thus the rest of the season is a flashback. Episode two opens this flashback in 18th Century France. Claire and Jamie go to see his cousin – noting that “I seem to remember you have a head for figures,” the cousin heads off on a wine-buying trip, leaving Jamie in charge of his wine shop, as well as giving he and Claire the run of his household. Thus the two have their needs met, and are placed to quickly to move in circles of the French court. Claire, determined to prevent the disaster of Culloden, talks Jamie into sabotaging Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempts at raising money (later in the season this seems to suggest Claire and Jamie may have caused the disaster they are desperate to prevent). Jamie spends his days running the wine shop and his nights hanging out with Prince Charles and the Jacobite supporters in a brothel. Claire, meanwhile, makes friends in the aristocracy, including Louise and her ward, Mary. Claire, however, being a practical and modern woman, is bored. She has nothing to do, not even housework as the servants in her household do everything for her. Claire ends up working as a nurse at a charity hospital run by nuns, and befriending a local apothecary. This first half of the season is brilliant, the clothes, and the opulence of the French court are beautifully rendered, and Claire gets a beautiful wardrobe. Jamie is no slouch in the clothes department, as he manages to make 18th Century men’s fashion look good. Though, fortunately, he never dons a powdered wig – even in the most formal circumstances. Though some of their plans succeed, Claire and Jamie also make enemies in France. In the end, a friend gets the price removed from Jamie’s head and he and Claire return to Scotland (in part because they are no longer welcome in France – Jamie is arrested for dueling with Jack Randall; Claire is, yet again, accused of being a witch; and Claire also has a miscarriage and her first child with Jamie is stillborn.)

In Scotland, Claire and Jamie, now in much more practical, but still gorgeous clothes, travel first to Lollybroach to visit with the Murrays. They then travel to the castle of Clan MacKenzie to try to rouse as many troops as possible for the Jacobite rebellion. Yes, after half a season of Claire and Jamie trying to crush the rebellion by diverting it’s finances – the plan now is to see that the Scots win. Sigh. But the story draws you in, despite the shadow of disaster that hangs over the entire situation. By the end of the season, Claire reveals she is, once again, pregnant. Enjoyable is not the best word to describe the second half of the season – the “fish out of water” humor of part one is gone. However, it is very good, and addictive. Several characters from the first season return, played by the same actors. The scenery is gorgeous and wild. The costumes are really good, and authentic-looking. And it’s the middle of a war – there’s dirt, blood, mud, and death. But remember how the season started? Yeah, even more than part 1, we feel the inevitable coming – Culloden and Claire’s return to 1948.

The last episode of the season, takes a time jump forward for Claire. It’s now 1968, and she and her daughter, Brianna, visit Scotland for the funeral of Rev. Wakefield. Claire’s daughter begins to fall for the grown-up, Roger. We find out Frank is dead. Claire is now a surgeon. Brianna is an angry girl, having recently lost her father. She discovers that Claire went missing for three years – and that during that time she had an affair with her real (biological) father. Claire tries to explain the truth, but no one believes her. By chance, Brianna sees a lecture by a Scottish nationalist. This nationalist turns out to be Geillis, the “witch” burned at the stake in season 1, but not before revealing she’s from 1968. Claire finds her notebooks, and discovers she’s been taking “courses” at the local university. Unlike Claire who accidentally traveled through the stones; Geillis is obsessed – with Scottish nationalism, with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the rebellion, and with learning what she needs to know to live in 18th century Scotland. However, she’s also extremely dedicated to her cause, and a bit mistaken in her beliefs as to how the stones work. The season ends with Claire, Brianna, and Roger seeing Geillis disappear through the stones, and Claire learning that Jamie survived the rebellion. And thus we will have a Season 3.

Outlander is a gorgeous show. The costumes are beautiful. The settings are beautiful. The characters and their motivations are clear and make sense. What Claire and Jamie do, even when they are swept up in events beyond their control, makes sense. The story is from Claire’s point of view, though we see Jamie on his own dealing with Prince Charles in France, and the Scottish generals and Clan leaders in Scotland (rather than disappearing and reporting back to Claire). The acting is always top notch. I enjoyed Season 2 very much and I highly, highly recommend it.

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Star Trek The Animated Series Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek:  The Animated Series
  • Season:  The Complete Series
  • Date:  1973 – 1975
  • Episodes:  22
  • Discs:  4
  • Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett
  • Original Network:  NBC
  • Production Network:  Paramount; Filmation Animation

Star Trek: The Animated Series (ST:TAS) does manage to feel like original Classic Trek, especially towards the end of it’s run. The main drawback to this series is the animation – it’s Filmation, not the best animation company, and it’s very flat. Now animation is much better than this – but even back when ST:TAS was made there were other companies and other countries that produced much better animation. Also the early episodes in ST:TAS often are remakes or sequels to episodes of the original series. As the Animated Series moves on, though, the stories become more original, and by the end of the animated episodes there are a number of pretty good episodes – or at least good ideas.

The second criticism for this series is it is a kids’ version of Star Trek. I wouldn’t really say it’s “dumbed down” (because among other things I hate that phrase). But especially the early episodes seem to play for laughs and for children. Later episodes improved a bit and ST:TAS felt more like the Classic Trek we know. The series does feature the cast from the original series, with the notable exception of Walter Keonig (Chekov) who gets to actually write an episode – so that’s something. The navigator is Mr. Arex – an intelligent being with three hands. We don’t learn much about Arex, a missed opportunity, but I did like him. We also occasionally see a Catperson as Communications Officer instead of Uhura. However, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, and James Doohan all did extra voices according to the special features on the set’s last disc. At times you can tell a “guest” voice is Nichelle or Majel or George Takei, which can be distracting. On the other hand, the actors were given a chance to show their range – and all did an excellent job playing various aliens.

The aliens on the show were some of the most inventive we’ve seen on Star Trek (though, flat, because: Filmation). But it was nice to see Star Trek doing aliens that looked alien and alien vistas that didn’t look like Southern California or a Paramount back lot. The entire Animated Series also manages to stay away from dipping in to the Paramount Studios cast offs which were so common on the Classic Series (which did Rome/Greece several times, as well as Nazi Germany, and 1930s Chicago Gangsters). It was nice to get away from the lack of originality of visiting historic Earth periods in Outer Space.

One of my favorite episodes was “The Eye of the Beholder”, Kirk and Company were investigating the disappearance of a Federation scientific team – only to discover the planet was a zoo belonging to a highly evolved species – and the previous crew were taken as exhibits (as were Kirk and his beam-down team). But I liked the aliens which looked like purple and pink snails – but were more intelligent and scientifically advanced than Kirk and company. “Albatross” has Dr. McCoy arrested for murder, because after he administered a common vaccine – the entire planet succumbed to plague. McCoy angsts about whether he made some soft of ghastly mistake, while Kirk and Spock travel to the planet to figure out what happened. It’s a good medical mystery, not immediately obvious (other than McCoy’s non-guilt of course) and I liked the cooperation between Spock, McCoy, and the aliens of the episode. There are other good stories here too, so the show is worth watching.

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Flashpoint – Is there more to be revealed on the CW DC Shows?

I have now caught-up on the current seasons of all four DC CW shows. And I’ve noticed something. The Flash mentioned Flashpoint at the opening of the season, and Barry attempted to reverse Flashpoint. But his attempt failed. The Flash is now in an alternate reality – Cisco, as Vibe, is much more powerful than he was last year when he was first discovering his powers. In some ways it’s like that character has skipped ahead in time. And that’s not all – somehow, as a result of Barry messing with time – Cisco’s brother Dante is dead, killed by a drunk driver. Meanwhile, Caitlin is exhibiting cold powers – and she fears she is turning in to Killer Frost. And at the Central City Police Department a new guy is in charge of forensics and he’s a total, well, you know, to Barry. By the mid-season finale, we know a lot more about this guy who’s suddenly appeared from nowhere.

But it isn’t just The Flash that’s in a new reality. Arrow is also subtly changed. One thing I’ve noticed – last year on Legends of Tomorrow they visited future Star City – where they met future Green Arrow Connor Hawk (aka John Diggle Jr) and there was a skyscraper called Smoak Technologies. Due to Flashpoint, Diggle now has a son – John Jr, not a daughter, Sara. Felicity has also lost Palmer Tech – and in last night’s episode, Curtis mentioned he and Felicity were working on a start-up company (he mentions this as a cover for his Mr. Terrific duties to his husband) which Felicity seems to know nothing about. But easily, that could be the spark of an idea for her – especially if she pulls back from Team Arrow for other plot reasons. Flashpoint seems to be bringing the Arrow universe closer to the disaster we saw in last season’s Legends of Tomorrow. And let’s not forget – this season’s bad guys on Legends are the Triumvirate of Evil: Reverse Flash (from Season 1 of The Flash); Damien Darhk (from Season 4 of Arrow); and Malcolm Merlyn (aka “The Magician” in the comics, but he’s been hanging around Arrow since the beginning). I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think it’s all related to Flashpoint (which was a world-ending event in the comics and the animated movie).

I suspect since we also saw Damien Darhk in the Legends of Tomorrow last season; and he’s clearly working with the Reverse Flash this season, and later with Malcolm Merlyn. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think something is going on. I suspect time travel is most definitely involved. And I think the disappearance of Rip Hunter is also involved. I would love to see Rip return, maybe with his father, Booster Gold. I think the time paradoxes are only getting started and they will get more and more complex.  The four shows, but especially The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow, will have a bang-up complexly-related “super-crossover” feel by the end of this season. Maybe they will even change the “Supergirl is it’s own universe with no other Heroes” left over from last year when Supergirl was on CBS. Have I mentioned how that never made sense?

But I have to say, I love, just love, how all the DC shows are inter-related, just the way the comics are. Yes, you could just watch one or two of the shows – and you wouldn’t be lost. But when you watch all four, everything is connected. Also, just as is traditional for DC – all the Heroes know each other: they know each other’s real names; they know each others allies, friends and family; they know each other’s superpowers; and they work together when needed to overcome major threats (as in this year’s 4-part crossover event). That’s something that’s always been important in the DC Comics Universe. The heroes cooperate with each other. They don’t see each other as threats or rivals. When I first read Justice League International (later Justice League America / Justice League Europe) in the late 1980s and early 1990s – every hero, from the most powerful like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, to the ones who really had no powers at all, like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold were members of the Justice League. In between the two extremes were a lot of single power individuals such as Fire, Ice, Black Canary, Vixen – all of whom were female. There were many minorities in the League as well, including John Stewart – the Green Lantern at the time and an African American. And there were the magic users: Zatanna, Dr. Fate, etc. There was something for everyone, and a well-balanced League. Young Justice, the animated series, although it had a modern aesthetic and look, also reflected the width and breadth of the Justice League with many female and minority characters or both (Rocket and Bumblebee are both African American young women). The CW Shows have women and minorities on every show. And the women are not simply there as set dressing or to be rescued by the “male hero” – they are smart, educated, career-oriented women (reporter, scientist, computer expert), minorities have viable roles (engineer, army veteran), and Legends of Tomorrow has a balanced team of women and men with minorities on the team. Plus, you have to love a team of self-styled “screw-ups” who manage to be heroes, um, excuse me, Legends, anyway. The CW Network is doing a better job at this point of doing live action DC stories that Warner Brothers is doing with the films – though Suicide Squad was fun (though Arrow did a suicide squad storyline in it’s first or second season) and I have high hopes for Wonder Woman.

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Arrow Season 4 Review

  • Series: Arrow
  • Season: 4
  • Episodes: 24
  • Discs: 5
  • Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Willa Holland, John Barrowman, Paul Blackthorne, Neal McDonough
  • Network:  CW (Warner Brothers Productions)
  • DVD Format: Color, Widescreen

Season 4 of Arrow is very dark, and that isn’t just a pun based on the main villain of the season being Damien Darhk. But the season is also very…strange. The first eight episodes of the season play like an extended backdoor pilot for Legends of Tomorrow, cumulating in the two-part crossover with The Flash that introduces and spins off Legends. Laurel decides to bring back her dead sister, Sara, so she and Thea dig her up and bring her to Nanda Parbat to drop her in a Lazarus Pit – this despite the plot thread of Thea continuously fighting the blood lust she now suffers thanks to being brought back to life by the same Lazarus Pit. Once in Nanda Parbat, both Malcolm Merlyn and Nyssa al’Ghul warn against using the Lazarus Pit – but Laurel persists. When Sara is brought back she’s a feral beast. Even Quentin Lance, her father, considering killing her. Oliver calls in John Constantine to bring her back to herself. Constantine’s magic works. Shortly after, Felicity discovers that Ray Palmer wasn’t killed in the explosion at Palmer Tech, rather his Atom Suit works and he’s become extremely small. Unfortunately, Ray and his suit are captured by Damien Darhk. Felicity and Curtis Holt (Mr. Terrific to be) rescue him. With Ray now alive, and in possession of a working A.T.O.M. suit – he’s ready to become part of the Legends. The lead in brings us to the crossover with The Flash that also introduces Legends of Tomorrow, and Ray, Sara, Heat Wave,  Captain Cold, and the Hawks (Hawkgirl and Hawkman) spin off to face Vandal Savage. However, that crossover also features Barry Allen’s Flash running through time to prevent a disaster, Oliver discovering he has a son (an element from season 1), Barry accidentally messing-up Oliver and Felicity’s relationship, and Malcolm Merlyn taking the dust of Savage as a trophy or something. But both parts of the crossover are included in the DVD set – Warner Brothers must have heard the cries of protest about last year’s DVD sets not including both halves of the crossover on both sets.

Having successfully spun off Legends, Arrow settles down to be it’s own thing. There’s a continuing thread of “let’s bring people back/in for an episode”. We see Constantine – and yes, I loved his episode so much I bought Constantine on Blu-Ray, as well as all six issues of the Justice League Dark and all four issues of the Constantine DC graphic novels – so I’m glad Arrow introduced me to the character. And – it fits with the CW pulling together references to the wider DC universe. But the episode also sticks out a bit – for a series that stated at the beginning that it would be realistic with no “superpowers” it’s slightly odd to have an entire season of magic. John Constantine isn’t the only DC hero to show up – much later in the season, Oliver brings in Vixen, remarking, “We shared an animated adventure in Hub City,” a reference to the CW Seed animated Vixen series. Vixen has also become a regular in Season 2 of Legends of Tomorrow. Arsenal, Roy Harper, also returns for an episode. But villains return for single episodes (or two) as well, we see: Brie Larvan (the Bug-Eyed Bandit); Cupid; Anarchy; Felicity’s hacker boyfriend, Cooper; and the Calculator, another hacker who turns out to be Felicity’s father. These one-offs work – but at the same time, they distract from the main villain – Damien Darhk – though Cooper works with Darhk, Anarchy wants to kill him, and the Calculator ends up helping Oliver and company against Darhk. But the effect of the one-offs, especially the Cupid episode (which seems designed to be used in trailers to suggest something happens that doesn’t) and the Bug-Eyed Bandit episode seem like breaks in the storyline. Almost as if when putting together the Damien Darhk story the writing and production crew didn’t have enough story planned for the entire season.

The flashback storyline for this season has Oliver returned to Lian Yu to break-up a drug ring, attempt to save a kidnapped Russian girl, and rescue the rest of Ryder’s slave labor force. However, the last few episodes of the season clearly relate the flashbacks to the current storyline – as the idol used by Ryder and briefly, Tatiana, is the same as the idol used by Damien Darhk (or very close). Oliver also meets John Constantine on the island in one episode, which, at least, explains how he knows him. I liked the smoothness of the flashbacks, and the cuts between the past and the present. It worked so much better than last season.

The season is also marked by Star City’s mayoral campaign. First Jeri Ryan (Star Trek‘s 7 of 9) shows up to run for mayor, but she drops out when Damien Darhk kidnaps her child. Oliver then steps in to run, challenging Darhk, but he, too, eventually pulls out of the race because of Darhk’s threats against his son William, and others he cares about, including Felicity. Darhk’s wife, Revé wins the election.

The season is also framed with a flash forward to Oliver at a grave site. When watching the season for the first time, the obvious question is – Who died? When re-watching it, we know who died, in the episode “11:59” – Laurel Lance is killed, and her legacy as the Black Canary eventually revealed to Star City. Still, these flash forwards still work, not driving the story with an obvious question and worry about who died, but letting the audience know just how serious things are with Darhk.

Darhk’s plan is terrifying and for a “comic book series”, very real and frightening as a threat – Damien Darhk’s “Genesis” plan is to destroy the world in Nuclear Fire – with only his chosen few surviving in an underground colony. The people in this colony, whom we see – because Malcolm has Thea brought there and drugged into compliance – are white families – mother, father, child. ALL of them – there are no minorities, heck there seem to be no families with more than a single child. It’s a “perfect world” of rich, white, no doubt – single religion believing, fascists who have no hope. None. They buy Damien Darhk’s claim that the world is “so evil” it must be destoryed. And despite Darhk’s “Arc” there’s no real plan to rebuild anything. It’s a terrifying vision.

It is a very, very dark season. “And smile, and smile, and be a villain”, which is a Shakespearean quote – seems to apply to Damien Darhk. Neal McDonough, whom I had seen in the short-lived series Medical Investigation, plays the part with a smile – a smile in the midst of his true evil – which makes him that much more chilling. Darhk uses his magic to stop Oliver time and again. He controls the “ghosts” an army for an organization called Hive. These ghosts will literally die for Hive – when one faces capture they take suicide pills to prevent revealing any information. Darhk also gets Quentin Lance, whom he’s bribed to work for him, to upload a virus/worm to a Federal server farm that erases the entire existence of the ghosts – or their records at least. One of the ghosts is John Diggle’s supposedly dead brother – who isn’t so dead, but is a dedicated member of Hive. Quentin Lance sees Darhk’s evil and eventually helps Oliver and Company (he hadn’t wanted to work for Darhk – but at first he didn’t see the harm of supplying information, and later Darhk threatened Laurel). John tries to bring Andy to his side, but it fails – and fails spectacularly.

Felicity and Oliver do get engaged, but she decides against marrying him due to his “Lone Ranger” attitude and occasional lies. Though I felt the subplot concerning Oliver’s son was a bit forced. Samantha, the boy’s mother, comes off as extremely self-centered. Her concern to keep William secret and safe makes some sense (especially as after Malcolm tells Damien about William – Damien kidnaps him); but her insistence that Oliver can’t tell Felicity about William makes no sense at all except to create a secret that would break up the couple. It wasn’t her place to say he can’t tell his fiancée. There’s a big difference between Oliver announcing to the world he has a kid and taking William in – and Oliver letting his closest family and friends know. Also, the bit with the uncashed check makes no sense. True, I could see the pride thing of Samantha not wanting to take Moira’s money – but from a practical sense – she moved to a new city, bought a house, and she was pregnant – so she couldn’t work immediately even if she found a job. That’s going to cost thousands of dollars right there. Raising a kid isn’t cheap. Sam really should have used the money.

Getting back to Darhk – every time he tries to stop him, Oliver fails. At one point, he and his team capture Darhk – but Darhk claims he’s someone else and tries to get the charges dropped. The only thing that stops him is Lance, who incriminates himself to testify against Darhk. Darhk then immediately escapes prison – and in the resulting “riot” he kills Laurel. Darhk also attacks Lilia and baby Sara – and takes Rubicon, a computer program meant to prevent nuclear disaster. Darhk will, of course, use this fail safe program to launch the world’s weapons and create Armageddon. Felicity, Curtis, and Noah “The Calculator” Kuttler (Felicity’s father) work together to bring down Rubicon. However, unusually for this genre – one of the missiles escapes – the only thing Felicity can do is divert it – and the missile hits and destroys Haven Rock rather than Monument Point. Felcity’s feelings about this disaster and the tens of thousands of deaths are played way down in the few remaining episodes of the season. Not only that, but the work of Curtis, Noah, and Felicity only buys the world another twenty-four hours. The computers in the Bunker (or Arrow Cave) are destroyed by a Hive attack and the laptop with the anti-Rubicon program is stolen. But Felicity and her crew are able to get to Darhk’s hideout to stop his hacker, Cooper – who gives his life in the process of saving the world. Felicity and Curtis also save Star City from imminent attack. Meanwhile, Thea and Anarchy destroy Darhk’s arc community – driving Malcom back to Oliver and Company, because he’s sane enough to realise he lives in the world that Darhk still, arrogantly, wants to destroy. Revé is killed, and Thea kidnaps Darhk’s daughter. Oliver and Darhk fight, again, but having learned some magic of his own from a friend of Constantine, Oliver is on more even footing. In the end, Oliver kills Darhk. Oliver is also sworn in as Star City’s interim mayor.

Season 4 of Arrow was overwhelmingly dark – not simply the bad guy of the season – who’s ultimate plan is to destroy the world – but in terms of personal relationships. The season opens with Felicity and Oliver living in Ivy Town, and Oliver states many times he is happy there – though Felicity is bored. Yet, the two’s engagement falls apart. One of John Diggle’s motivating factors was the “death” of his brother – yet when Andy comes back, it isn’t a happy reunion and in the end, John kills him. Thea gets Yet Another boyfriend who is just bad for her. It’s a season of reunions and one-time returns, but all those characters appear in one-off episodes. Well, for the most part. The season spends it’s first eight episodes in an extended back door pilot, and as much as I like Legends of Tomorrow, and it was necessary to bring back from the dead the two characters who would spin off, it felt odd to put so much effort into that “mini-story” and then never mention any of those characters again. The next story has Oliver unsuccessfully running for mayor – because he’s forced to drop out of the race by Darhk. Though, in the last episode of the season, he becomes mayor anyway. Felicity is shot in the back and becomes paralyzed – but regains the use of her legs due to a techno-miracle developed by Curtis. This will, no doubt, make comparisons to Oracle even more obvious – though I feel such comparisons between two brilliant characters to be a disservice to both. Felicity loses control of Palmer Tech at the end of the season. The flashback story is much better integrated into the main story, and provides a lot of background – so that’s helpful, but it’s a dark story as well. And then the main story is about, to be frank, a powerful white rich guy who has every, single, advantage, and still feels the world is “too evil” to exist – so he becomes determined to destroy it. Even when his “ark” is destroyed – he still wants to destroy the world. The arrogance, egotism, and hubris boggles the mind – and Darhk is a pure psychopath as well. Neal McDonough is a brilliant choice for Darhk though, and plays the part with a fascinating twinkle – which of course makes him even more scary. It’s an odd season. It’s a dark season. It a very real sense, it made Arrow my least favorite of the CW DC shows. One thing Arrow has gotten right though, and it’s something I like about the entire CW DC line-up, is the bringing in of other characters from the DC Universe – heroes, villains, allies – CW is almost close enough to having a weekly Justice League on the screen they’ve brought in so many characters. That is fun, seriously. It rewards the long-time DC fan, and for new fans, it send them scrambling for the DC Wiki. This is how DC is done!