Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 7 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Season: 7
  • Episodes: 25
  • Discs: 7
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn

The final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as with the rest of the series, suffers from “hitting the reset button” in every episode, lack of an arc plot, and flat character arcs. Additionally, some of the episodes really felt like they had developed and filmed scripts that were rejected earlier in the show’s history – such as when Dr. Crusher is seduced by a ghost or when the main characters de-evolve back into animals. Guinan is gone by this point and she is sorely missed. Wesley Crusher returns for one episode ends up on a vision quest with some “Indians” and joins “The Traveller” in a higher form of existence. The entire episode was extremely uncomfortable because everyone from Picard to Wesley keeps referring to the Native Peoples as “Indians”, a pejorative term. Further, there is no groundwork laid other than in the episode itself for Wesley to suddenly abandon Star Fleet and join the Traveller. The planet Crusher stays on is also in Cardassian territory – leaving him vulnerable and unable to contact the Federation.

In Season 6, Captain Jellico admonished Troi for her unconventional dress sense. She starts to wear a standard blue Star Fleet uniform. In season 7, this lasts for a while, but we also see her in the god-awful lilac jumpsuit with the extremely deep V-neckline. The Star Fleet uniform is actually more flattering. And seriously, I never got why she was allowed to wear whatever she wanted. She’s not a civilian, she’s an officer and she should dress like one.

Ro returns, with a promotion to lieutenant. Picard and the admiral with a bad track record with Cardassians decide to send Ro into deep cover with the Marquis, a Bajoran resistance and freedom fighting group that is challenging the Cardassians. The Federation has signed a new treaty with the Cardassians, which, among other things, moves the border and creates a demilitarized zone. This does come up a couple of times in various episodes. The Cardassians, however, are harassing civilians in the neutral zone and those who have suddenly found themselves in Cardassian territory. It isn’t really surprising when Ro, pushed in a corner by the Federation and its politics decides to resign her commission and join the Marquis. Ro is one of the most fascinating characters in ST: TNG, but it was like the writers didn’t know what to do with her. She was strong-minded, had her own history, had her own culture, and had risen from a childhood of horrors to a Star Fleet lieutenant. Honestly, I would have watched a series about Ro and the Marquis – at least for a season or two.

The final episode is “All Good Things”, a two-hour finale. It brings back Q of course. I actually have always liked John DeLancie as Q, but his character is also a Deus Ex Machina, almost by definition. It’s a little disappointing to see him used to resolve the entire series. Picard seems to be moving back and forth in time, between a future 25 years from the current stardate and a past of the period of the first ST: TNG episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”. Slowly, Picard realizes that by investigating a new space anomaly, he causes it in the future – and if the anomaly of anti-time continues to expand it will threaten all life on Earth because it will never develop in the first place. It is a paradox and realizing it sets Picard on a journey to solve the conundrum. Picard, of course, realizes what he needs to do and not do, and he sacrifices three Enterprises in three time periods to stabilize the anomaly and control the anti-time in an artificial warp field containment shield. We get to see three Enterprises explode. But it works, the anomaly is contained and stops expanding, then collapses, and Picard returns to his current Enterprise.

Overall, I like the characters on Star Trek: TNG, especially Picard and Dr. Crusher (and the hint of their romantic feelings towards each other is wonderful), and I thought Guinan was great, even though she’s not in this season. I love Data and his cat, Spot! Geordie is an interesting take on an engineer, he’s a lot calmer than Scotty. And Worf is, well, he’s Worf. I never cared for Troi, but she does manage to deliver exposition when needed. I just feel ST: TNG could have been more than it was. Still, given its limitations, it’s worth watching at some point. I’m glad I was able to get the season sets on sale.

Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6.

Cast of Leverage around a Painting

Leverage Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Leverage
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 15
  • Discs: 4
  • Network:  TNT
  • Cast: Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf, Aldis Hodge, Jeri Ryan, Mark Sheppard (semi-regular)

The second season of Leverage reunites the crew and moves the show to Boston, although they filmed in Portland, Oregan. But where the first season had Nate and his tame thieves going after corporate criminals – in the second season, the cases they work tend to be more personal – a corrupt wrestling trainer and promoter, a loan shark mobster, even Nate’s wife finds herself framed for a multi-million dollar art theft. Also, Sophie temporarily leaves the group, only to be seen from the shoulders up in the occasional video call. She’s replaced by Jeri Ryan as Tara. And while Ryan is good, she never quite develops the chemistry that existed between Sophie and Nate. Sophie returns at the very end of the season.

The last two episodes on the set are a two-parter, ending in a cliff-hanger with Nate getting shot during a con and none of his team realizing it. He also offers to let himself get arrested and then turn state’s evidence as long as his team is set free.

I liked seeing Portland as Boston – it was a nice change from L.A. and led to some beautiful scenes. In cloudy scenes, the colors are more muted and the details have a look that avoids sharp shadows or harsh lighting – it’s like natural portrait lighting and it’s gorgeous. In sunny scenes, because of the higher latitude – both Timothy Hutton and guest stars with brunette hair get red highlights – it looks gorgeous. Also, it’s nice to see outdoor scenes in different places one usually doesn’t see on TV or in the movies.

Overall, I didn’t like season 2 of Leverage as much as season 1 – I preferred the corrupt corporate bad guys, and I really missed Sophie, but at the same time I re-watched these because I wanted to figure out if I wanted to finish buying the series and get seasons 3-5 or if I wanted to pull it from my collection, because I hadn’t seen Leverage in a while. Well, I definitely want season 3! Season 2 also still manages to have some very good episodes, and it’s still just a fun, enjoyable series to watch.


Leverage Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Leverage
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 4
  • Network:  TNT
  • Cast: Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf, Aldis Hodge, Mark Sheppard (semi-regular)

Nathan Ford was a high-powered insurance investigator, recovering stolen art so his company, Lys Insurance didn’t have to pay the claims until his son developed cancer. The company refused to pay for medical treatment for Ford’s son, and as a result, Sam Ford died. Nathan lost his job, his wife divorced him, and he slid into depression and alcoholism. Then one day, Nathan runs into someone with a similar story of being screwed-over by a rich company and having no legal recourse against it. So Nathan decides to help and recruits several thieves and con artists he had run in to in his former career. Thinking it’s a one-time thing with a big payoff, the four Nathan recruits – Parker, Sophie Devereaux, Alec Hardison, and Eliot Spencer agree to help out once. But the team soon realize that they have a good thing going and decide to continue.

Nate usually finds and brings in clients, but occasionally one of the others will find out someone they know needs help and suggests the potential client call “Leverage Consulting”. Often clients only want back the money or property they lost, or simply want the company to pay – such as acknowledging a mistake. Often the client can’t sue for various reasons (it’s too expensive, lawsuits take too long – often years, while what the company or person did was immoral or harmful it wasn’t technically illegal, etc.) But Nathan and his crew can provide what their clients want. Once Leverage Consulting accepts a client, Nathan plans out the con they will pull on the target. Sophie is the “grifter” – a gifted con artist and in the sphere of running cons actress. She also has experience as a high-end thief. Parker is the thief with experience in breaking into any sort of museum, vault, private collection, etc. Eliot is basically muscle, and also fills in where needed, sometimes as back-up for Sophie, other times as back up for Parker. Hardison is a computer hacker. He can also pull an in-person con, but he prefers to use his hacking skills. Hardison can also produce fake ids and other credentials as needed.

The show is great fun, with lots of action. However, it’s often intelligently written, with snappy dialogue, and complex, well-written, smart plots. Most of the time an episode will have a twist – the audience thinks it’s going in one direction, but it then goes in another direction. This will often involve what looks to be a major setback, but in reality, was something Nathan had planned in advance, often to further embarrass the target or to get them arrested by exposing illegal actions. Essentially, each episode of Leverage is a small heist film, that is filmed beautifully and uses great stunts and effects. But unlike some action-oriented films and television shows, Leverage is also smartly-written, which makes it very enjoyable.

I like Leverage a lot. I bought seasons 1 and 2 when the show aired and watched season 3 on TNT, but like many of TNT’s shows, Leverage could be hard to find. I decided to re-watch the show to see if I wanted to purchase the final three seasons. My answer is “yes”. This show is recommended, it’s fun, there’s plenty of action, the dialogue is witty and smart, there’s an emotional core to the stories because they deal with people who feel real and have real problems, it’s just a good show.

Birds of Prey The Complete Series Review

  • Series Title: Birds of Prey
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 4
  • Network:  WB (Warner Brothers)
  • Cast: Ashley Scott, Dina Meyer, Rachel Skarsten, Shemar Moore, Ian Abercrombie, Mia Sara

The WB’s Birds of Prey is loosely based on DC Comics various Birds of Prey comic book series. The series features three female superheroes: Oracle, Huntress, and Dinah, the teenaged daughter of Black Canary. Oracle is Barbara Gordon who was once Batgirl until she’s shot by the Joker and paralyzed (an event that is shown in the title sequence of every episode of this series). Barbara is a school teacher in this version of Birds of Prey, not a librarian and information specialist. Although she is an expert in computers, technology and information gathering (or as Alfred puts it in the introduction, “Master of the Cyberrealms”). She’s also dating Wade, another teacher from her high school. Huntress, Helena Kyle, is the daughter of Batman and Selina Kyle (Catwoman). In this version of the story, Selina gave up her life as a cat burglar when her daughter was born, but also raised her alone. Helena doesn’t even find out Batman is her father until after her mother is killed. Helena was young at the time of her mother’s murder, probably around eight to eleven (her exact age isn’t stated). Helena is also a metahuman. The intro on each episode describes her as “half-metahuman”, which doesn’t make sense – she has metahuman abilities so she is a metahuman, but I think they are using that term so the audience knows only one of her parents was a metahuman. Dinah runs away from her abusive foster family and finds the Birds of Prey. She has psychic powers including prophetic dreams and telekinesis, etc. As she’s young, she’s still learning her powers and Barbara and Helena take her in to train her. Alfred Pennyworth watches over the heroes, especially Barbara. Helena also meets the “one good cop” in the city, Reese, and they become uneasy partners, then friends, and finally somewhat romantically involved. The story takes place in New Gotham after Gotham City’s been destroyed in a disaster and Batman has disappeared.

All three women in Birds of Prey are awesome heroes and great fighters, yes, even Barbara. Helena’s fight scenes are always well-choreographed. Dinah is learning about her powers and how to be a hero and her abilities and confidence grow during the short series. Oracle is usually the voice in Helena’s ear, but she has the ability to take care of herself as needed. She’s given an arc with the development of her relationship with her boyfriend, Wade. Dinah’s mother, Black Canary comes back for one episode but is then killed. Mia Sara is Dr. Harleen Quinzel, who happens to be Helena’s court-ordered therapist, and a criminal psychopath trying to take over New Gotham – something of which the Birds of Prey are completely unaware.

The pilot introduces the characters, New Gotham, and the set-up for the series like any pilot. Individual episodes usually have a crime committed in Gotham that Reese is assigned to investigate. Helena works with Reese. The criminal usually turns out to be a Meta, so Dinah and Oracle help. The Birds and Reese eventually capture or stop the Meta. Often “stop” means the meta is killed, often by their own actions. There’s also a hidden Meta Bar at a place called No Man’s Land Collectables, with a bartender named Gibson who has the meta ability to remember every single thing he’s ever done, experienced, tasted, or seen, which is more of a curse than an ability. The “Meta crime happens, Reese and the Birds investigate, the Meta is stopped” formula is livened up by the continuing storylines for each of the Birds: Barbara’s relationship with Wade, Helena’s relationship with Reese, and Dinah’s coming to terms with her powers and later, losing her mother. There’s also some great fight scenes and the Metas that the Birds and Reese take on are interesting. There’s also the storyline of Helena opening up to her therapist, who happens to be Harley Quinn – opps.

In the final two-parter, first, the Birds go up against Clayface and a meta who turns out to be his son. Helena finds out it was Clayface who murdered her mother. Since Clayface is already in solitary confinement at Arkham, there isn’t anything more she can do. But she opens up to Dr. Quinzel, and this both sets up the final episode and causes lots of problems. In the final episode, Dr. Quinzel gets a scientist to develop a machine that transfers metahuman powers. Harley steals the power to deeply hypnotize people. She hypnotizes the scientist to jump out the window and the meta whose powers she took doesn’t survive the process. She’s learned from Helena about Barbara and Wade then hypnotizes Helena to do her bidding. She also kidnaps Gibson. Reese is called the investigate the double death of the scientist and the meta. There’s a disturbance at the metahuman bar, which the Birds investigate. Helena, under Harley’s influence, gives her information on the clock tower base and even Alfred ends up hypnotized. Harley kills Wade and brags about it to Oracle. She uses the tech in the clock tower to send a hypnotic signal to all the televisions in New Gotham and the city breaks out in rioting and craziness. However, Barbara comes up with a cure to the hypnotism and gets Helena back, and then develops polarized contacts to block Harley’s powers. Oracle, Huntress, Dinah, and Reese, with some help from a cured Alfred, are able to stop Harley and reverse her takeover of New Gotham’s televisions (and thus the city’s people). Harley is sent to Arkham. Alfred makes a phone call at the very end of the episode that’s really cool, which I won’t spoil, but if the show had a second season it could have led to something very interesting.

I enjoyed this show, though as this was my second watch through I noticed some of the show’s faults. Other than the pilot and the final episode, the general formula is there’s a crime, it’s a meta, the Birds have to figure it out, the Birds have to convince Reese it’s a Meta, and then they come up with a plan to catch the Meta. The continuing story and character development for two of the three main characters have them in a romance. But I actually enjoyed the story between Reese and Helena. And the story between Barbara and Wade didn’t shy away from her disability – especially in showing how against their relationship Wade’s parents were. It was a shame to see Wade fridged though. Overall, I like Birds of Prey and I can recommend it. This series dates from 2002 and aired on the WB Network which no longer exists. The DVDs also include Gotham Girls, a series of short animated adventures of Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Batgirl.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Season: 6
  • Episodes: 26
  • Discs: 7
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn

As with all of my ST: TNG reviews I skipped the first episode of Season 6, which was reviewed with Season 5 and I also will include the first episode of Season 7 with this review. This is due to the season-ending two-parters. Much of Season 6 of Next Gen I found to be very flat, and at times even boring. The stories weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either. I’m not sure if this is due to the unhappy coincidence of having just watched series 11 of Doctor Who and season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale both of which are extremely good, or if, objectively Season 6 of ST: TNG just isn’t that good. I just felt that even in comparison to Season 5 of ST: TNG, Season 6 just doesn’t hold up. Season 5 gave us episodes with ideas to think about, even disagree with (“The Perfect Mate”) but many of the episodes of Season 6 are just there.

This season includes the two-part “Chain of Command” aka “Picard is tortured and develops Stockholm Syndrome”. In Season 5, rogue Star Fleet officers tried to use a Bajoran freedom fighter to involve the Federation in a war against the Cardassians. This time around, a Star Fleet Admiral relieves Picard of his command of the Enterprise and appoints the war-mongering Captain Jellico in charge of the Enterprise, and sends him on a “diplomatic mission” to meet some Cardassians. That’s right, this Admiral replaces Star Fleet’s best diplomat with a guy determined to start a war for fun. But that’s not all – Picard, Dr. Beverly Crusher, and Lt. Worf are sent “behind enemy lines” to a Cardassian outpost to search for WMDs, specifically a biogenic plague. Of course, when they get there, there is no plague and no weapons of any kind. Crusher and Worf escape but Picard is captured. A Cardassian (played with relish by David Warner) tortures Picard for information on the defenses of a Star Fleet Outpost – which Picard has no information about. Even after it’s obvious that Picard doesn’t know anything about the Outpost, the Cardassian continues his torture and mind games. Meanwhile, the Star Fleet Admiral and Captain Jellico seem determined to turn the diplomatic talks into a war. Eventually, events force the Cardassian to release Picard. And because there is no follow-up between episodes of ST: TNG, Picard’s severe physical and psychological torture is never mentioned again.

“Face of the Enemy” has Counselor Troi turned in to a Romulan. The episode involves helping some of Spock’s Romulan Resistance members escaping and seeking asylum in the Federation. It’s actually a good episode, and one I enjoyed.

“Birthright” is another two-part episode, focusing on Lt. Worf, who is having a Klingon crisis of faith. He receives some information from an information broker that his father is alive and living in a Romulan prison camp. Worf’s father isn’t one of the survivors of Khitomer but several Klingons and their children, including children of Romulan/Klingon matings are living in a community on a hidden Romulan colony. At first, Worf is appalled – Klingons and Romulans have been mortal enemies for centuries. He begins to teach the children about their Klingon heritage and beliefs, something their parents and the Romulans in the colony haven’t done. Things come to a head as several of the children desire to leave the colony and see the Klingon homeworld. Eventually, Worf decides on a compromise – he will take the children and anyone who wishes to leave with him, but he will not tell anyone they are survivors of Khitomer, rather he will say he found survivors of a colony ship crash. Worf also will not tell anyone about the colony where Klingons and Romulans live together in peace.

“The Chase” involves an old archaeology professor of Picard’s showing up and offering him a new job on a fantastic project. Picard, of course, declines, because he doesn’t want to give up command of the Enterprise. Who could blame him? The professor is killed, but the Enterprise gets some of his research. Before long, the Federation, some Klingons, some Cardassians, and eventually some Romulans are all trying to crack the code of the professor’s research, which includes DNA fragments that are shared by all intelligent space-going races in the Federation. Dr. Crusher and Picard even convince some of the players to combine their resources and information to crack the code. They finally wind-up on a long-dead planet, where they find a tiny bit of DNA and play a message. the message is from a humanoid being who explains they left this message and coded it in the Primordial Soup of many planets because they were lonely in the galaxy, and wanted to help new life to develop in their image. The Klingons who wanted a weapon, the Cardassians who wanted a power source and the Romulans are disappointed, to say the least. And even the Federation who wanted information about the galaxy seemed to think this message wasn’t worth the hassle to get it. Essentially, the entire story seemed to be inspired by the folk song, “One Tin Soldier”. Also, it explains why “aliens” in Star Trek look so human.

“Descent Part 1” finishes the season with part 2 on Season 7. This episode brings back the Borg, Lore, Data’s “brother”, and the Admiral who was out to start a war with the Cardassians. A Federation Outpost is attacked and the Enterprise discovers it was a Borg attack – but these Borg seem different. The Admiral shows up, orders thirty starships into the area to defend the border, and reads Picard the riot act for releasing Hugh-the-Borg last season. Data starts to act weird. The Enterprise crew figures out that the ship that attacked the Outpost uses a “transwarp conduit” to get away. It’s basically an artificially generated wormhole. They follow. Data leaves the Enterprise. The Enterprise searches for him and discovers a planet of Borg with individuality. They are being led by Lore, who is using a carrier wave to control Data by feeding him addictive emotions. Although Data a first tortures Geordi at Lore’s command, in the end, with some help with Geordi and Picard rebooting his ethical program, Data kills Lore (who is later disassembled) and the Enterprise crew are rescued. Hugh is left in charge of the new Borg.

Overall, I just wasn’t that impressed with Season 6 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I missed Guinan, who only seems to show up once. I even missed Spot, Data’s cat, who is mentioned but never seen. Although we do see Spot in part 2 of “Descent”. Still, it’s worth having the season set.

Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5.

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 4 (Blu-Ray)
  • Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Amanda Brugel, Ann Dowd, Max Minghella, Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer, Alexis Bledel
  • Original Network: Hulu
  • Original Production Company: MGM

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. The second season begins where the first season left off. June is in a Gilead van, her mouth covered by a leather muzzle. She and all 30-40 handmaid’s who refused to stone Janine last season are also in vans. They arrive… someplace, and are herded through stone tunnels like cattle. They arrive in a sports arena where they see scaffolding and hangman’s nooses. All the women are led to the nooses, and their heads put inside them. A hangman pulls a lever, but nothing happens. Aunt Lydia then lectures them on what Gilead expects of its handmaidens. This is, of course, psychological torture and terrorism. June is then threatened, she is shown a heavily pregnant handmaid dressed in white and chained by the foot to a post in a room with a bed and chair. June is forced to eat, while the rest of the handmaids who refused to stone Janine have their hands burned on a stove.

But once June is returned to the Waterfords… she tries to escape. Or rather, others try and help her to escape. Escape, and an underground railroad in Gilead will be themes touched on throughout the season. The first four episodes have Nick helping the pregnant June, and she is taken from place to place, passed from person to person as sympathetic good people try to get her out. That is what it is always referred to – getting out. Nothing more specific, just out. June ends up spending two months at the Boston Globe newspaper, now abandoned, and finds a wall, stained red, where the reporters were executed by Gilead. She’s horrified and saddened, but eventually does the only thing she can do – she builds a memorial from the items left on people’s desks in the newspaper office. June is passed along, finally reaching a small airstrip, where she is joined by Nick. Unfortunately, the forces of Gilead catch up to them. The pilot of the plane is shot, and June is dragged, screaming, from the plane.

June is returned to the Waterfords’ house, where things return to normal until Aunt Lydia, who has been spending a lot of time “checking” on June and her pregnancy, takes her on a walk. She takes her to the wall and shows her an executed man, who “used to drive a bread truck”. Then tells her the son was given to a good family for a proper upbringing and the wife made a handmaid. The “econowife” had said to June when her husband brought her to his house to hide that being a handmaid is “what they threaten us with”. The family was also secretly Muslim – a crime in Christian Gilead. This breaks June. It breaks her. She had been so strong, but knowing someone was executed because he tried to help her because he was kind – she blames herself (after Aunt Lydia insists it’s her fault). June can only repeat, “We’ve been sent good weather.”

It takes a while for June to come out of her funk (it’s an understandable one, but still – she is broken). Meanwhile, we follow Emily and Janine who have been sent to the Colonies. They are there to work until they die – digging up poisoned, radioactive soil, and breathing poisoned air and washing with poisoned, contaminated water. A Wife is there, sent to the colonies for “having an affair”. Emily at first shows her kindness but then poisons her – for helping her husband rape defenseless women. Emily, we learn, was a biology instructor at university – tops in her field, and brilliant. She is also a lesbian and was married with a child. She and her wife had tried to escape after her gay and partnered boss is executed on campus. Her wife and child are able to get on a plane to Montreal, but Emily is taken – because she is fertile.

Getting back to Gilead. Waterford is instrumental in opening the new “Leah and Rachel Center” – an expanded Red Center. Everyone is forced to be there, including handmaids. Ofglen, who spoke out against stoning Janine, walks into the center “early” before Waterford is ready for the presentation of Handmaids – and she blows the place up. Commanders and some handmaids are killed. But one clearly knows why Ofglen did it – her tongue was cut out after she stood up for Janine. This is her way of speaking out. Since some of the handmaids begin to move away from the glass wall of the building, the second Ofglen enters, it’s clear they in some way knew what was going to happen. And someone supplied her with the explosives. After the bombing, Janine and Emily are brought back to the district as Handmaids.

The commanders arrange a ceremony for Nick and the other Eyes/Guardians. First, Nick is given a box, which seems to hold an award pin, but then women are led into the ceremony. Each is in white and covered by a veil. They are each lined up before the Guardians. A marriage ceremony begins. After the ceremony is over, the veils are raised. These are very young girls. Nick returns to the Waterford household with his new wife, Eden. She is 15 and very pious, trying to please Nick. She even has a somewhat frank conversation with June because Nick won’t touch her and Eden is concerned he may be a “gender traitor”. June later convinces Nick he must sleep with Eden or she will report him. When Nick points out she’s only 15, June counters with “she’s your wife”. Nick tries to do the best he can.

There is a funeral for the handmaids, who are only identified by their Gilead name (Of… their commander’s name). Once Commander Waterford recovers, he, his wife, and Nick go to Canada on a trip to convince the Canadians to ease up on sanctions and “border security”, and even send refugees back to Gilead. An American spy, from the government in exile in Anchorage, tries to get Serena to defect, but it falls flat. Nick, though sees June’s husband during a protest of the Gilead diplomatic mission. After a rough start to their conversation, Nick hands him the letters from last season. These are letters written by women in Gilead, asking for help, wanting to know what happened to their children, taken by Gilead. Moira and Nick upload the letters to the Internet. This starts a huge wave of protest and the Canadians literally throw the leaders of Gilead out. They aren’t even allowed to pack up their hotel rooms, which is done by others but are taken directly to the airport.

While Nick’s away in Canada, Eden develops an infatuation with Isaac the substitute Guardian (Eye) at the Waterford house. Later Eden and Isaac try to escape. They are caught, and both are executed by Gilead, with metal cannon balls clamped to their legs and their hands tied, they are dropped from a diving board into a swimming pool full of water. Eden’s mother screams as she’s forced to watcher her daughter’s death. Later a man comes to Waterford’s house. June learns he was Eden’s father and he turned her in.

June’s pregnancy grows closer to full term. She and Serena have problems, then they seem to get closer. After Waterford is injured in the bombing at the Rachel and Leah Center, Serena begins to write up orders, even getting an accusation made to Gilead’s Ecclesiastical Court against Cummings – a Commander with a grudge against June, Nick, and Serena. When Waterford returns he says nothing about Serena’s “transgression” of reading, writing, and having June edit her work. But later Baby Angela, Janine’s child, now being raised by the Putnams, gets sick. The child is very sick and everything thinks she will die. Serena knows of a doctor, an expert, the best in the field of pediatric neuro-medicine. Waterford asks who “he” is. Serena says “she” is now serving as a Martha. Waterford flat out refuses to have a Martha be transferred so she can treat a sick child. Serena writes the orders anyway. This doctor is also stumped by what is wrong with the child. Meanwhile, Janine has learned her daughter is sick and begs to see her. There is a lot of objections to this, especially by Aunt Lydia, but eventually, Gilead relents. It looks like the child is going to die and the doctors take her off the machines. Janine is allowed to touch and hold her child. The next day, Janine is sitting in the window, with her child, who is fine. The child is returned to the Putnams. When Serena and June return to their house, Waterford is waiting. He orders them to his office, reads Serena the riot act, then beats her with a belt – making June watch. Later, June tries to offer Serena kindness, but Serena refuses.

June is shopping with other Handmaids when she goes into labor. The ceremony we had seen before begins, with the Handmaid who is about to give birth on a bed at home, an Aunt as a coach, and surrounded by Handmaids to encourage her. The wives also begin a ceremony, with Serena in white surrounded by wives in blue, and Marthas in grey arranging flowers and food. It turns out to be false labor. Serena has a fit, and tells June she will leave their house the minute her child is born. June probably knows this may be a death sentence – she is known to be a “troublemaker” and the only thing saving her so far is her pregnancy.

Nick vowes to get June out, again. Waterford also promises June a visit with Hannah. She’s loaded into a van but no one tells her what is going on. June gets to see Hannah but only for a few minutes. They talk. June tries to reverse her daughter’s feelings of abandonment. Hannah is taken away, but before Nick or June can do anything else, a van of Guardians arrive. There is a shot and both vans speed off. June is left alone. She should have left but June is also heavily pregnant and it’s Winter. She finds keys and is able to get into the garage and into a car. She hears “Radio Free America” broadcasting from Canada, including news that India and China are offering help to the American government in exile, and the UK is allowing more refugees in from Canada. June goes back in the house, gathers food, water and blankets and throws it in the trunk of the car. But she still does not leave and returns to the house. While inside a car arrives. June hides. She hears Commander Waterford and Serena arrive and argue. Serena yells at Waterford that having a handmaid run away twice – “They’ll think we are part of the resistance”. June hides, again, but also manages to find a rifle. She has a chance to kill Waterford, to even kill Waterford and Serena, but June doesn’t take it. When they leave, she goes to the garage but finds the power has now been cut off. She tries to force open the garage door but it doesn’t work. She tries to bust down the door with the car – but it also doesn’t work. In the end, she returns to the house and gives birth. Now having baby Holly in her arms, she fires the gun four times in the air.

June is returned, again, to the Waterford house. She is kept hostage by the aunts and forced to pump her milk. Without access to her child, her milk begins to dry up. Waterford gets her a visit with Holly. June asks Aunt Lydia if she can return to the Waterford house to be “nearby”. Lydia, surprisingly, agrees it would be best for the child. June returns. Serena is of course, angry. But slowly, Serena begins to change her mind. We find out Baby Angela is well. Emily is sent to the weirdest posting ever. Waterford makes overtures to June, telling her that as a high-ranking commander he can see that she stays at his house and they can try again – for a boy.

After Eden’s execution, June and Rita (the Martha for the Waterfords) pack up her things. June finds a Bible. Since it is forbidden for women to read, even the Bible, she knows this is incredible. The Bible has handwritten notes in it. June shows it to Serena in her greenhouse and tells her Eden was trying to understand it. Serena is at first angry, but later has a guarded conversation with Mrs. Putnam Angela’s mother. They also conclude that other mother’s feel the same. Serena addresses the men who run Gilead. In her first sentence, she says, “we”. When a man challenges her, all the wives walk in and stand behind Serena. She then proposes that all of Gilead’s children be taught to read, boys and girls. Then men erupt in outrage. Later she’s with her husband, and Serena is dragged away, screaming. Later she returns home, her finger has been cut off – her crime, reading the opening chapter of Genesis (the one about the Word of God) to the men in chambers. June is appalled.

Meanwhile, the weirdness continues at Emily’s posting and her Commander refuses to sleep with her during “The Ceremony”. When Aunt Lydia arrives the next morning to check on Emily, Emily attacks her. Emily’s commander takes her for a ride. Meanwhile, the empty house across the street from the Waterford residence catches fire. Rita tells June, “we can get you out, you and the baby but you have to go now”. June slips out the back door to the greenhouse and garden. Serena catches her. June convinces her that as a mother if she truly loves her child, she doesn’t want to let her grow up in Gilead. Serena eventually agrees and says goodbye to her child. June leaves. She is passed from Martha to Martha and then waits, in the reeds, by a road. A car comes. It signals. She runs out and it’s Emily’s Commander. He tells them to enjoy their new life, their freedom and when a car stops in the tunnel opposite, he leaves. Emily runs to the car. June hands her Holly and tells Emily her name is Nichole (the name Serena chose). June had also put a picture of Hannah in the bassinet. June stays, standing in the rain.

Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale is intense. It’s brilliant, heartbreaking, and painful – yet it’s also full of hope and strong, strong women. After Ofglen’s bombing of the Rachel and Leah Center when the Handmaids are shopping and June sees Emily and Janine and she finds out they were brought back from The Colonies, June tells a new Handmaid her name – her real name, noting she never knew Ofglen’s real name. All the other Handmaids do the same, introducing themselves, by name – real first name. It is a moment of defiance. The bombing as well is a moment of defiance. June nearly escapes three times – but chooses to stay. We don’t know her plan (she does want to find Hannah but that’s all we know) but hopefully, June will also organize a resistance, and an underground railroad to get women out. We find out her mother was a feminist and an outspoken women’s rights activist.

The Handmaid’s Tale is addictive, intense, and incredibly, incredibly well done. The first four episodes are full of silence, because with June basically by herself as she’s passed from safe place to safe place, she has no one to talk to. The filming and cinematography are incredibly well done. Everyone in Gilead wears uniforms: Handmaids in red and white, Wives in blue, Marthas and “econowives” in grey, Aunts in brown. The majority of the show is filmed in Winter, so there is snow, and grey, oppressive skies. The ambient sound mix is also incredible – Gilead’s skies are full of helicopters, it’s streets full of sirens – these sounds are menacing. Yet The Handmaid’s Tale is about hope too. Even in the direst circumstances, the women of The Handmaid’s Tale are survivors, and sometimes merely surviving another day and not giving up is all they can do, but they do, they survive, they go on, and whenever anyone has the slightest chance to defy Gilead – they do.

Read my Review of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1.

Doctor Who Series 11 Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Season: 11 (New Who)
  • Episodes: 10
  • Discs: 3 (Blu-Ray)
  • Network: BBC
  • Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
  • DVD: R1, NTSC, Blu-Ray

For the first time in the 55-year history of Doctor Who, the lead character of the Doctor is played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker and it is brilliant. Also, for the first time since the series was revived by Russell T. Davies in 2005, the TARDIS has a true team of companions, with the Doctor joined by Graham, Ryan, and Yaz (Yasmin). Having a group, a true team in the TARDIS brings to mind the classic years of Doctor Who, especially the original TARDIS team of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan. Series 11 avoids the pitfalls of having a four-person team, as well, because none of the team ever seem to be neglected or to have nothing to do. There are episodes where different characters are more to the forefront based on that particular story, but Series 11 avoids having someone take a nap for an episode, or spend the entire episode locked up. Also, each person has different talents and experiences, and the team works together with their skills meshing in the interest of good storytelling.

I enjoyed Doctor Who Series 11 very much. Jodie Whittaker plays the Doctor as someone who is full of hope and who brings hope to others – that is important. She also freely admits she doesn’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t stop her from doing her absolute best and if she makes a mistake or is wrong in her assumptions or assessment of a situation, she admits it and moves on to fix the problem. Jodie’s Doctor is never bombastic or ego-driven, she is caring and there to help. Jodie at times seems to channel David Tennent’s energy, but her performance is all her own and I just really liked her. I even like her earthy Sheffield / Yorkshire accent.

The Doctor literally falls to Earth in the first episode of the season, “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”, landing on a train that has just been attacked by an alien creature. Graham and Grace are aboard the train. Meanwhile, Ryan, Graham’s grandson by marriage has found an alien artifact in the woods and called a police officer, Yasmin Khan for help. It turns the two went to school together. “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” has the Doctor building her own sonic, including using Sheffield steel, discovering that the one alien that attacked the train was basically an information-gathering semi-organic robot and it worked for a warrior of the Stenza, on a hunt on Earth. The Doctor gets very angry at the Stenza using Earth as a hunting ground, with people being taken as trophies. With assistance from Yaz, Ryan, Graham and Grace, as well as a human who’s meant to be the next trophy, the Doctor stops the Stenza and banishes him back to his home planet. Grace, however, is killed in the crossfire. Yaz takes the Doctor shopping, where she gets her iconic outfit, including the awesome coat. But when the Doctor tries to use the Stanza teleport to get to her TARDIS, it also transports Yaz, Ryan, and Graham.

“The Woman Who Fell To Earth” flows directly into “The Ghost Monument”. The Doctor and her fam meet two competitors in a huge race with a huge prize. They discover the planet they are on was once a weapons-research facility for the Stenza, with kidnapped scientists forced to work while their families were held, hostage. One of competitors is from a world that the Stenza has captured. She’s racing so she can rescue her family and prevent them from being victims of genocide. The Doctor convinces the two to present an all-or-nothing solution to the man running the contest with the two splitting the prize. The Doctor gets her TARDIS back – and she likes the redesign.

The rest of the season does what New Who often does with a new Doctor – each story is an example of a typical type of Doctor Who story. “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” are historical stories and both are extremely strong. I liked both of them very much. “Rosa” doesn’t shy away from the racism in America – and Ryan and Yaz have a frank discussion of the racism and religious bigotry they still face every day in England. But Yaz also points out that it’s because of people like Rosa Parks that she’s able to be a police officer. “Demons of the Punjab” at first it seems like aliens have invaded India in 1947 on the eve of Partition. This is the partition of India that made Pakistan a separate country and resulted in the deaths and displacement of millions of people. “Demons of the Punjab” is also a very personal story for Yaz, as not only is she Muslim and of Pakistani descent but the story is deeply entwined in her personal history, and her grandmother’s story. The alien “demons” by the way weren’t after all evil but were there to witness and honor the deaths of those who would die alone. There was a beauty to that – a sad beauty, but a beauty nonetheless. I enjoyed both “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” even though both stories are very sad.

“Arachnids in the UK” is the “scary” episode of the season. I’m not afraid of spiders (they are actually useful to ecology – you just don’t want to get bit by one). I also felt like the plot for this story felt a little disjointed. The angry, arrogant, white billionaire hotel owner messed up by building his hotel on top of a toxic waste dump, and to make things worse, the researcher was sending animal and spider carcasses from “research” to the dumping ground where they were treated anything but properly. Yet the queen spider dies of asphyxiation because it’s too big to breathe, and what of the other overly-large spiders? We have no idea. The Doctor and her crew had a plan to trap them in the panic room and cut off the oxygen but who knows if it worked (and it seemed pretty cruel).

I loved “Kerblam!” – first, it has the best (or the worst) pun title ever. Second, although at first, it seems a straight-up critique of and other extremely large online retailers, the actual plot is more a critique of automation and how too much automation can cause people to lose jobs. This may seem like an out of date argument, and it is, but the story also does something Doctor Who has done throughout it’s run both Classic and New – it introduces a likable character with understandable grievances who goes to an extreme to get what he “wants” and the Doctor and her crew must stop him. Charlie isn’t all that bad a person, and he’s no doubt been informed by anti-automation rhetoric his entire life. But his plan, of sending a massive wave of bomb-carrying Kerblam! Delivery bots out to his planet is a bit extreme. The massive loss of life would be catastrophic. The Doctor is able to stop the plan, and makes an ally in the head of HR who decides to make Kerblam! a people-led company.

I also liked “The Tsuranga Conundrum”. The Doctor and her team are on a junk asteroid trying to find some needed spare parts for the TARDIS. Ryan accidentally trips a sonic mine and the TARDIS crew wakes up on an automated hospital ship with a very tiny crew and a few passengers who are also in need of medical care. It’s a good base under siege story, with several wonderful moments – the Doctor’s excitement and joy when she examines the anti-matter drive, the ending memorial service for the pilot, and yes, even the P’Ting. In the episode, a computerized database reads out a horrific description of the P’Ting, and the pilot says one went through her “entire fleet” once. Unfortunately, these descriptions were not passed on to whoever actually designed the P’Ting as a digital character because he’s as cute as an Adipose and then some. It even reacts like Gollum when the Doctor tries to get her sonic back, then throws it up drained of energy.

I mean, look at that face – Don’t you want to bring one home?

Again, this isn’t a criticism. The Adipose were also adorable!

“It Takes You Away” is a modern haunted house story with a twist. But it brings a satisfying conclusion to the story of Ryan and Graham trying to process their grief at losing Grace and becoming a family.

Technically, “The Witchfinders” is a historical, set in the time of James the First during the witch trials in England, but the episode is really the first time we see Jodie’s Doctor challenged because she’s a woman. The Doctor handles it well. The episode is also about assumptions, fears, scapegoating, and people not taking responsibility for their actions. The landowner decides that she must blame others for her mistakes – which involves freeing an alien army that was imprisoned in an ancient hill. It does feel like a traditional Doctor Who story, it’s a common story point for some sort of confrontation to occur between humans and aliens in a familiar feeling context even if it is a historical one.

The final episode, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” wraps up a few themes from the season. The TARDIS receives a series of distress calls from a planet with some serious atmospheric issues, “Tim Shaw” the Stenza Warrior shows up again, having created a truly terrifying weapon he is already using, and a new race, the Ux are introduced. The Ux are dimensional engineers and there are only ever two at a time. Unfortunately, when an injured Tim Shaw crashed on the Ux planet, they mistook him for their god, “The Creator”. The Stenza Warrior took advantage of this and used them, their talents, and Stenza technology to create a horrific weapon that literally kills planets and everything on them. The planets themselves are then taken out of orbit, shrunken down, and held in stasis pods as trophies. The Doctor is horrified by the sheer amount of death. One of the Ux is starting to question his orders, while the other argues they cannot “understand the creator’s plan”. Also on the planet is an amnesiac pilot who was a last-ditch effort by the Nine Galaxies to stop the weapon. The Doctor fits him with a Neural Inhibitor which stops the atmospheric effects of the planet that are causing his amnesia. He also has all the tools needed to rescue his own crew and others held by the Stenza. This is an episode where everyone splits up to accomplish different tasks, but it works and no one is shortchanged. At the beginning of the episode, Graham tells the Doctor that if he gets the chance to kill Tim Shaw he will – for Grace. The Doctor tells him, no, absolutely no killing, and that Grace would want him to be the better man. “The Better Man (or person)”, actually could have been the title of the episode because it becomes not only a theme of the episode but of the season – as many of the episodes deal with how to be a better person, or the better person even when confronted with prejudice or the loss of a loved one (Graham and Ryan losing Grace; Erik and Hanne losing Brine), or even incompatibility in existence (the frog in “It Takes You Away”). Anyway, Ryan argues the Doctor’s position with Graham, telling him he can’t kill Tim Shaw. In the end, Graham doesn’t kill the Stenza Warrior, though he had the chance and he and Ryan lock him in a stasis chamber. The Doctor works with the Ux and uses the TARDIS to return the planets to where they came from, though they are presumably still desolate rocks.

I loved Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor and I enjoyed her companions, her team, her “fam” as the Doctor puts it. After increasingly grim and depressing storylines in the Moffatt Era (and other issues I’m not going to get in to here), Jodie is a breath of fresh air. Not merely because she’s a woman – that really doesn’t enter into the plot all that often, but because she is kind and warm and full of hope and enthusiasm and joy. Jodie’s Doctor seems to enjoy traveling again so we can enjoy riding along with her and her crew, even with the monsters and death and destruction. Highly recommended!