Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 1: The Day Will Come When You Won't Be

Welp, The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere happened.


Readers of my blog know all too well that I was extremely angry, frustrated and vexed by the Season 6 finale, and went on an intense, profanity-laced diatribe against Walking Dead current showrunner Scott Gimple. 

You can read my thoughts on that particular episode here, so I won't bore you by rehashing the entire thing, except to say that Gimple took the most infamous moment from the comic book— the introduction of ultimate villain Negan and the brutal murder of a beloved major character— and completely botched it.

Instead of ending the season with the shocking death of a main character, for some unfathomable reason Gimple chose to obscure the identity of the victim by filming from their point of view. And then he made us wait six interminable months to find out who was killed. 

What the hell, Gimple? Do you even know what "pacing" means? Do you know anything about the language of film? The Season 6 finale was not a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger is when something shocking happens to a character, and the audience says, "OMG! What next?" 

Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader, getting his hand cut off and finding out he's his father is a cliffhanger. The audience can't wait to find out how Luke will triumph over all that. The Walking Dead Season 6 finale was the equivalent of Vader telling Luke, "No, I am y..." and then smash cutting to black. It was a big F-U to the entire viewing audience.

There's nothing wrong with cliffhangers per se  they're incredibly exciting when done properly. But Gimple likes to rely on cliffhangers that fake out the audience. Like using camera angles to make it look like Glenn was being eaten alive in the "Dumpster Incident" in last season's Thank You. Or using a point of view shot to conceal a doomed character's identity from the audience.

Those are not cliffhangers. Those are not storytelling techniques. They're cheap gimmicks designed to trick the viewers. They're a big middle finger to the audience, from a man who has nothing but contempt for the fans of the series.

As proof of Gimple's disdain for the audience, you need look no further than the way this Season 7 premiere is structured. Incredibly, the episode doesn't pick up exactly where Season 6 left off, but begins after Negan has already killed two of Rick's crew. Just who he killed though is none of our business. We don't find out who was murdered until halfway through the goddamned episode, when Rick takes the time to lie down and have a flashback. Are you f*cking kidding me?

For a horrifying moment, I honestly thought we weren't going to find out who died in the premiere. If that had actually happened, I was fully prepared to drive to Scott Gimple's home and punch him in the dick. And then I'd get mad!

By playing things coy like he did, Gimple robbed the deaths of their full intensity. Fans had all summer to sit and analyze and pore over every possible character death, 
posting theories by the truckload, each more outrageous and outlandish than the last. In the end it didn't matter who was killed, as the reality could never live up to all the endless hypothesizing.

Just think how much more shocking the deaths would have been if they'd taken place in the Season 6 finale instead of six months later, after all the momentum was long gone.

Obviously the reason the season finale ended the way it did was so AMC would have six months to shamelessly promote the sh*t out of the show. Everywhere you looked, there was Negan's being shoved into a cast member's face. I think they created a promo for all eleven potential victims, and even labeled some with #whodidnegankill hastags! Amazing!

There was something... disturbing about the whole sorry affair. We're talking about a scene  of a sociopathic man horrifically beating someone to death with a ball bat. And AMC gleefully promoted it like it was some innocent sitcom development. Hell, they didn't promote it, they celebrated it! It was downright ghoulish and ghastly. "Step right up, folks! See the Amazing Negan, and he crushes the skull of a beloved character in a brutal and violent fashion! Come one, come all! Free popcorn and balloons for the kids! See a man die before your very eyes! Hur-ray, hur-ray, hur-ray!" Jesus Christ! We're very near the end of civilization, folks. No wonder we have the presidential candidates we're stuck with. They're no more than we deserve.

Sure, CBS did something similar back in the 1980s with the whole "Who Shot J.R.?" thing, but that looks positively quaint in comparison. J.R. just got shot in the gut. Kristen didn't flatten his head into the ground with a goddamned baseball bat.

I'm still half convinced that this Season 7 premiere was originally meant to be the Season 6 finale, and was hastily reworked in editing. In interviews last April, several Walking Dead actors went on and on about how intense and exhausting it was filming the finale. 

Andrew Lincoln (who plays Rick) said that simply reading the script was emotionally devastating. Said Lincoln: "I felt sick to my stomach when I read the script. It was the first day in the whole six years of working on The Walking Dead that I was late for work because I woke up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was so angry and frustrated and I felt sick. And that was just after reading it."

Lauren Cohen (who plays Maggie) said, "The word ‘finale’ gives me a physical reaction because it’s the hardest day on set that I’ve ever had in my life. I never even imagined that as an actor you could have that experience. It’s one of the most raw experiences that I think any of us have ever had. Andy talks about being late to work; I didn’t want to go to work that day. It took a really, really long time for everybody to feel okay again "after the finale, let’s put it that way."

But the thing is, there's nothing all that horrible in the finale. Rick and his crew are caught, forced to get on their knees, Negan comes out and delivers a soliloquy and then he swings a bat at the camera. The end. What the hell was so horrible and emotionally draining about any of that?

I'm betting they actually filmed Abraham and Glenn's deaths in the season finale, and those are the disturbing events the cast is talking about. Then for some insane reason  most likely to shore up the show's sagging ratings  Gimple decided to withhold the identities of the victims until Season 7, and hastily shot and inserted the POV shot, ruining the show in the process. Call me crazy if you want, but it's the only thing that makes sense.

And apparently it worked. Ratings for the Season 7 premiere were the second highest in the series' history, which means we can look forward to more audience f*ckery from Scott Gimple.

The Plot:

We see on a blood-stained Rick, staring numbly at Negan. Yep, that's right-- this episode opens several minutes AFTER Negan has already killed two of Rick's crew. We don't yet know who died. Why in the name of sanity would the series start this way? Because fuck you, that's why. Scott Gimple has nothing but contempt for the fans, and proves it with this cold open.

A shaken Rick says he's going to kill Negan someday. Negan doesn't like this, so he grabs Rick's trademark hatchet. He grabs him and tosses him into the camper, saying, "Let's go for a little ride." Inside the trailer Negan sticks the hatchet in a table and dares Rick to grab it. Rick tries, but Negan's too quick, and points a machine gun at him. He says, "I want you to think about what could’ve happened, think about what happened, and think about what could still happen." Negan starts the camper and takes off.

He drives Rick to a remote location and stops. He opens the camper door, revealing a herd of walkers in the mist. He tosses the hatchet onto the camper's roof and says, "Hey Rick. Go get my axe." Rick reluctantly exits the camper and fights his way barehanded through the walkers. He climbs up onto the roof of the camper, collapses and has a flashback to Negan's batting practice. That's right, we don't find out the identity of Negan's victims until thirty goddamned minutes into the episode. Why would anyone structure a television show this way? Because Scott Gimple hates you, that's why.

In the flashback, we get a prolonged replay of Negan playing "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe" in order to drag out the suspense as long as humanly possible. He stops at Abraham, who straightens up and glares back at his executioner. Negan swings his bat Lucille t down on Abraham's head, splitting his skull. Abraham slowly straightens up and tells Negan, "Suck my nuts." I like to think Abe was talking to Scott Gimple here.

Negan laughs and swings Lucille over and over, until there's nothing left of Abraham's head. He says, "Look at my dirty girl," indicating the now gore-covered Lucille. He holds the bat in front of Rosita and demands she look at it. When she looks away, Negan screams at her. Daryl leaps up and punches Negan in the face before he's restrained by a couple of Saviors.

Negan says that was a "no-no," and says such an act of disobedience can't go unpunished. He suddenly turns to Glenn and savagely bashes him in the skull. Glenn, whose entire head is now caved in, struggles to speak. He manages to gurgle out, "Maggie... I'll find you" before Negan beats him to death.

We then return to the present, with Rick still lying on the camper's roof, because Scott Gimple hates you, and doesn't understand pacing. Negan starts shooting through the camper's roof, forcing Rick to leap off. He grabs onto a walker who'd been hung from a bridge, and clings to it for dear life, as a herd of zombies gathers below him. Rick's weight causes the Hanged Walker's head to pop off, and he falls into the herd. Negan pops out of the camper's window and shoots them all, saving Rick.

Rick fights his way back to the camper, while hallucinating Negan killing the entire cast. Why? Because-- say it with me-- Scott Gimple hates you, and doesn't understand how to write an episode, that's why. Rick pounds on the door and Negan finally lets him in. He holds out his hand, and Rick places the axe in it. He tells Rick he understands that it's difficult for him to accept that he's no longer in charge. He cleans the blood and gore off the axe and hands it back to Rick.

Negan drives back to the kill site, and Rick is reunited with his surviving crew. Negan says he took Rick on their little trip because he didn't like the defiant look in his eye, and wanted to change it. He says Rick still has that look, and hasn't got the message. 

Negan grabs Carl, wraps a belt around his left arm, and forces him to lie down on the ground. He draws a line on Carl's arm with a marker, and tells Rick to chop off his son's arm, or he'll kill every one of his crew. A horrified Rick pleads with Negan, offering to cut off his own arm. Negan refuses the offer, and begins counting down from three. A broken, sobbing Rick begins moaning in anguish. Negan bends down and says, "Now THAT'S the look I wanted to see!" He lets Carl go unscathed.

Negan says this was a productive day, and orders Dwight to take Daryl as a hostage. Negan warns Rick that if he tries anything, he'll bring Daryl back in pieces. He says he'll come back to Alexandria in a week for half their stuff, and he and the Saviors then leave, returning to their headquarters.

Rick and the others sit and stare numbly for a few minutes. Maggie struggles to her feet and staggers over to Glenn's body. She tells the others to return to Alexandria so they can prepare for battle. Rick says there'll be no battle, as there's nothing they can do against Negan and his army. The group places Abraham and Glenn in a truck, for burial back in Alexandria. Sasha volunteers to take Maggie to the doctor at the Hilltop.

As Rick drives back to Alexandria (which he's left completely unprotected, by the way), hesees a walker crouch down and start eating the remains of Glenn's brain.

• I'd just like to clarify that my all my anger and vehemence toward this episode is aimed squarely at showrunner Scott Gimple, and not at the cast. They deserve zero percent of the blame for the way the cockamamie way the season finale and premiere were structured. That's alllllll on Gimple. 

I have nothing but good things to say about the actors, who all did an amazing job and turned in top notch, astonishing performances. Andrew Lincoln in particular deserves special credit, as we saw Rick go from a swaggering, overconfident leader to a whimpering, completely broken man in the space of a single episode.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan also deserves a heap of praise for his terrifying yet charismatic turn as Negan. 

• In the words of Chandler Bing, "Could this episode's title BE any longer?" What the hell? Did someone accidentally past part of the script into the title field? 

Still, it's not as long as some of the Star Trek's Season 3 titles. I'm lookin' at you, For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky.

By the way, this episode's title comes from The Walking Dead's Season 1 finale. In the episode TS-19, Rick & Co. visit the CDC in Atlanta. There they find a Dr. Jenner, who decides he's had enough of the zombie apocalypse and decides to blow up the building, which will instantly vaporize everyone inside. Dr. Jenner eventually changes his mind and lets Rick and his people leave. Rick says, "I'm grateful." Jenner says, "The day will come yadda yadda."

• You know, Glenn's death would have had much more of an impact (heh) if he hadn't already been fake killed at least three times before. In fact he was fake killed earlier in Season 6, during the "Dumpster Incident" in Thank You

It became sort of an annual tradition on the show how are they going to almost but not quite kill Glenn this season?

• Abraham was living on borrowed time anyway, as he died in Issue #98 of the comic, just two issues before Glenn did. In the comic Dwight shot an arrow through Abraham's eye. For some reason Dr. Cloyd inherited his death on the series last season.

• So Bob, I hear you say, if you know so much, how would you have handled the Negan scene? Easy. I'd have shot it one of two ways.

#1: I'd have acted like a normal human being and put both murders in their rightful place, at the end of the Season 6 finale. After Negan kills both Abraham and Glenn, we slowly pan to a broken and shaken Rick, as he realizes he's been beaten for the first time and is in way over his head. 

That way there'd have been no speculating all summer as to who was going to die. Instead people would wonder "How are Rick and the others gonna get out of this one?" 

Then in the Season 7 premiere I'd have had Negan take Rick on his little ride, and then have him threaten to maim Carl. That way both the finale and premiere would have suitably shocking moments.

#2: I would have split the deaths over two episodes. In the Season 6 finale, I would have had Negan bring down the bat on Abraham's head, and then immediately smash cut to black. Maybe we'd hear the sound of Negan's additional swings under the closing credits. That would have been a huge shock and a departure from the comic, in which Negan killed Glenn and only Glenn.

The audience would then have breathed a little sigh of relief, thinking, "Well, that's too bad about Abraham, but at least now Glenn and everyone else is safe." 

Then in the Season 7 premiere I'd have had Negan suddenly and with no warning swing around and kill Glenn. The audience would never have seen a second death coming, and they'd have been absolutely stunned.

Either of those is how you film a cliffhanger, Gimple.

• This is some hardcore nitpicking, but it's something I thought of while watching the episode, so here goes. When Rick leaps onto the Hanged Walker, he ends up pulling its head off its body. He then falls to the ground, and the Hanged Walker's head is lying there, snapping its jaws in a futile attempt to bite him.

I don't think a decapitated zombie would be able to move its jaws without a neck. Try it for yourself and see place your hand on your throat and then open and close your mouth a few times. Feel all those tendons and ligaments working away in your neck? I'm betting they're necessary to control your jaw, and if you didn't have a neck, you probably couldn't move your mouth much.

See, I told you it was hardcore nitpicking.

• Did you catch Abraham slyly giving Sasha the peace sign right before he was killed? That was "their" little sign that they flashed to one another last season, as they began growing closer.

• Glenn's ghastly death played out pretty much exactly as it did in the comic, right down to the popped out eyeball and his struggling to spit out a hasty goodbye to Maggie. I'm not gonna post an image of poor Glenn's head from either the comic or the show, because it's gross.

I'm actually very surprised they were able to get away with broadcasting such a gruesome scene, even on a cable TV show, as it was extremely graphic and over the top. It just goes to show you how messed up our society is. Show a man get his skull caved in with a bat? Well that sounds just fine. Show brief nudity or utter the word "fuck?" Oh good lord no! We can't have something like that on TV!

• As a reader of The Walking Dead comic, I was pretty sure that Glenn was most likely going to die in this episode. I had a sneaking suspicion that Abraham would buy it too. As a result, their deaths, while gruesome, weren't as shocking as they could have been.

The Carl scene was another situation entirely. The show completely veered away from the comic at that point, and it was extremely disturbing and distressing. For a minute there I actually thought they were going to go through with it and maim Carl (even further).

There was also a quick closeup of Rick holding Carl's hand, and for a second there I thought Rick might choose to cut his own hand off instead, which would bring him in line with his comic book counterpart, who lost his hand in an encounter with the Governor several years back.

Credit where credit's due: As much as it pains me to say this, kudos to Scott Gimple for writing such a gripping, horrifying scene. He still hates the audience though.

• Remember how I said Scott Gimple has nothing but contempt for the fans? Here's some more proof. In an effort to try and hide the identity of Negan's victims, they actually shot a death scene for each of the eleven members of Rick's crew. 

Halfway through the episode, Rick starts hallucinating and sees his friends being killed one by one by Negan's bat. Apparently Gimple didn't want to waste a second of that precious red herring death footage, so he included it all in a confusing scene, designed to make the audience think
 if only for a few seconds that the entire cast was being killed. What an asshole.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Make Halloween Scary Again!

John Carpenter's 1978 film Halloween is a classic of modern horror, and the granddaddy of all slasher films. All horror fans worth their salt know that Michael Myers' iconic, emotionless blank face was created from a modified William Shatner-as-Captain Kirk mask that was painted white.

A couple days ago I saw this on the interwebs a cheap, poorly sculpted and constructed mask of rotted human pumpkin Donald Trump. I'm actually not sure which is more frightening and disturbing this hideous mask or the real thing. The mask definitely has better hair, I'll give it that.

Anyhow, it occurred to me that with just a little bit of modification, such as painting it white...

...this Trump mask would make a reasonable facsimile of the original Michael Myers one! You know, just in case Hollywood wants to remake Halloween yet again, and the Shatner mask is no longer available.

"This mask is a tremendous mask, it's the best mask money can buy. Its much better and more handsome than the Crooked Hilary mask, and it's gonna be yuge. Let's make Halloween scary again!"

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 2, Episode 2: The Justice Society Of America

This week's Legends Of Tomorrow finally introduces the granddaddy of all superhero teams the Justice Society Of America to the Arrowverse

Overall it was a pretty good episode, and the JSA was a welcome addition, even if most of them were little more than background extras. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined that it would be possible to watch a network TV series featuring the Justice Society fighting a team of time-traveling superheroes. It's a great time to be alive.

The 1942 setting was fun, and had a definite Indiana Jones vibe to it. And we discovered that Professor Stein may not be an effective leader, but he's got a pretty darned good voice.

The Baron Krieger CGI effects were a bit dodgy, but, eh... it's a TV show, with a TV budget. I can forgive the occasional wobbly effect.


The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week, the Justice Society Of America consisting of Commander Steel, Vixen, Dr. Midnite, Obsidian and Stargirl  confront the Legends in 1942, mistaking them for Nazi spies. The JSA attack the Legends, using their various powers to make quick work of them and capture the team.

The Legends are then locked in a cell in the JSA Headquarters. Commander Steel tells Hourman that the Legends claim to know him, but he's never seen them before. Hourman says he should probably question them before shipping them off to Bellevue. 

Hourman and Commander Steel question the Legends. Dr. Heywood tries to convince them that he and the others are time travelers, which doesn't go over well. Heywood reveals he's wearing a future version of Steel's dog tags, and is his grandson.

Meanwhile in 1942 Paris, Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse Flash (!), meets with Nazi officer Baron Krieger. Thawne gives Krieger a super soldier serum (where have I heard that term before?) in exchange for the Askaran Amulet, a powerful supernatural artifact.

Steel releases the Legends from the cell. Hourman assumes Professor Stein is the leader, since he's the oldest, and is white. This doesn't sit well with Jackson or White Canary. Stein says that Hourman came to them in 2016 to warn them not to go to 1942. Hourman doesn't remember this, because it apparently hasn't yet happened. Timey-whimey!

Hourman gets a call from President Roosevelt, who says Krieger's in Paris, and wants the JSA to capture him. The Legends want to help, but Hourman says it's best if they go back to their own time.

The Legends board the Waverider and head back to 2016. Stein declares himself leader. Suddenly Heywood realizes that Steel's dog tags are gone. From this he and White Canary deduce that history was changed, and the JSA will die on their Paris mission. They decide to go back and save them.

Using Gideon's historical records, they discover that Krieger frequents a cabaret in Paris. Stein decides he'll impersonate Max Lorenz, Hitler's favorite singer, to infiltrate the cabaret and capture Krieger before he can kill the JSA.

Stein, as Lorenz, enters the cabaret with the Legends as his guests. Atom sees Vixen dancing, and realizes the JSA is already there. He cuts in, and she's not happy to see him, claiming the undisciplined Legends will get them all killed (which is a valid concern). 

A Nazi General doesn't believe Stein is really Lorenz, and forces him to prove his identity by singing. Amazingly, Stein belts out a moving rendition of Edelweiss, completely convincing the officer. Unfortunately Atom doesn't do the "Heil Hitler" salute, which infuriates the Nazi General. Atom punches him, and a big brawl breaks out in the cabaret. Fortunately the rest of the JSA arrive and knock out all the Nazis.

The Legends bring the JSA to the Waverider, and explain that if Commander Steel's killed now, Heywood will be wiped out of existence. The JSA vote to work with the Legends to capture Krieger and restore the timeline. White Canary discovers Heywood is a hemophiliac, and refuses to let him go on the mission. Heywood says his parents sheltered him his entire life due to his condition, and it's time he stopped being coddled.

The teams track down Krieger's convoy, which is transporting the Askaran Amulet. They attack the convoy, and Krieger injects Thawne's serum, causing him to hulk out and transform into a poorly animated CGI creature. Stein watches from the Waverider, and as the battle intensifies, he freezes, unsure what to do. A frustrated White Canary finally takes over, barking out the order to retreat. The super teams recover the Amulet, but Krieger escapes, and Atom and Vixen are captured.

Krieger's serum wears off, and he shrinks back to normal. He threatens to kill Vixen if Atom doesn't make more super soldier serum for him. Atom agrees, since his suit is damaged, and Vixen's amulet (which is different from the Askaran Amulet) has been taken, rendering her powerless as well.

Back on the Waverider, Stein admits he's in over his head and says White Canary should be the new leader.
Krieger conveniently leaves two incompetent guards to watch over Atom and Vixen. Atom clocks one of the guards with a microscope, while Vixen takes out the other. Atom takes the serum with him as they exit their cell.

Firestorm, Heatwave and Canary enter the Nazi stronghold to rescue Atom and Vixen. Canary finds Vixen's amulet and grabs it. The heroes are all reunited, but before they can get back to the Waverider, the Hulk Super Krieger attacks. Another battle ensues, as Hourman calls in an airstrike on the base. 

Everyone high-tails it out of the area except for Commander Steel, who's still in the airstrike zone. Heywood shows up with a motorcycle and rescues him. The airstrike hits, killing Krieger and destroying the base. Unfortunately Heywood's motorcycle is hit, and he and Steel are injured.

The Legends rush Heywood to the Waverider's med bay, but due to his hemophilia, not even Gideon can save him with her fancy futuristic technology (hmm...). Atom remembers the super soldier serum he was secretly modifying, and uses it on Heywood. Miraculously it cures him. Hooray! Heywood's dog tags reappear, meaning history's been restored for once.

Back at JSA Headquarters, Hourman stores the Askaran Amulet in a locker. The Reverse Flash appears and vibrates his hand through Hourman's chest, killing him. This of course means Hourman can't travel to 2016 to deliver his warning to the Legends, leaving the audience
 myself included very confused. 


• Last week Professor Stein read the opening narration, this week it was White Canary. Maybe they're taking turns until Rip Hunter returns?

• Speaking of Hunter is actor Arthur Darvill off the show now? I haven't read any Legends Of Tomorrow spoiler sites, so I honestly don't know. I'm kind of doubting he's gone for good. I'd bet real money he'll make a "shocking" return at the very end of the mid-season finale.

• Comic fans are all familiar with the Justice Society, but the general public's likely never heard of them. Here's a brief rundown for those of you who have no earthly idea who they are.

The JSA was the very first superhero team, appearing in All-Star Comics #3 way back in 1940! Yep, they preceded the Justice League Of America and the Avengers by over twenty years!

Oddly enough, only one of the JSA members seen in this episode were part of the original lineup. The very first JSA roster consisted of Hourman, the Flash (the Jay Garrick version), Green Lantern (the Alan Scott version, not Hal Jordan), Atom (the Al Pratt version, who was just a short guy who liked to fight, not the Atom who can shrink), Sandman (who had a gun that shot a sleep-inducing gas), Hawkman, Dr. Fate (a sorcerer with a magic helmet) and the Spectre (sort of a vengeance ghost). The lineup's changed dramatically over the years, so the fact that we're seeing a completely new JSA here isn't a big deal. Although it would have been awesome to see Jay Garrick and the Golden Age Green Lantern on screen.

Now for this new JSA. The leader appears to be Hourman. There've been several versions in the comics over the years, but the original used a drug called Miraclo that gave him super speed and strength for an hour at a time. It's not yet clear what, if any, powers the TV version has.

In the comics, Commander Steel was a soldier who was injured in battle and fitted with super strong bionic parts. The TV version may or may not share this origin; it's hard to tell. So far he just seems to be an ersatz Captain America.

In the comics, Obsidian had the power to become a living shadow, allowing him to pass through solid objects and even fly. He could also create crude objects out of shadows. So far we've just seen the TV version project some sort of darkness into the sky.

Obsidian was also the son of the Golden Age Green Lantern. The Legends Of Tomorrow producers claim this is true of the TV version as well. Does that mean we could eventually see the original Green Lantern on the show?

Stargirl is a newer JSA comic character. She wields a powerful cosmic staff designed by for former JSA member Starman. The TV version seems pretty much identical to her comic counterpart.

The comic book Dr. Midnite has one of my all-time favorite costumes, but one of the world's lamest powers he can see in the dark. That'll be a lot of help when the team's fighting an army of giant Nazi robots! Oh, and he occasionally tossed "blackout bombs."

The TV version seems to have pretty much the same non-power. They tried to gussy it up a bit by giving him "Daredevil Vision," but so far he's still just a guy who can see with the lights out.

Vixen first appeared in DC Comics in 1981, and could mimic the abilities (not the form) of any animal on Earth. So she can become as strong as a gorilla, or as fast as a cheetah. It looks like this TV version has the same abilities (including the magic amulet that gives her her powers).

The original 80s Vixen was named Mari McCabe, and she appeared on over on Arrow in the Season 4 episode Taken. This version of Vixen in the JSA is supposed to be McCabe's grandmother. 

• The hard-thumping rock score blaring during the Justice Society's battle with the Legends seemed oddly out of place, especially for something that's happening in 1942. I guess it's not absolutely necessary to have period-appropriate music for every era they visit, but... this score seemed particularly jarring.

• Since Legends Of Tomorrow is a show about time travel, it loves to toss in Back To The Future references. They did it in this episode, when Professor Stein is forced to prove he's really Max Lorenz. He steps up stage, turns to the band and says, "Key of A, watch me for the changes and... try to keep up."

Marty McFly gave pretty much the same instructions to the Starlighters band at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in Back To The Future, saying, "All right, guys, uh, listen. This is a blues riff in 'B', watch me for the changes, and try and keep up, okay?"

Edelweiss, the song Professor Stein sings, is from The Sound Of Music and wasn't written until 1959, so the cabaret crowd would not have been familiar with it. This isn't necessarily a mistake though. The Nazi General who's brought to tears by the song could have just been caught up in Stein's haunting rendition, not because he recognized the tune.

And that really was Victor Garber, aka Professor Stein, singing the song. Garber's had an extensive career in musical theater. Believe it or not, that's him in the photo above, in the musical Godspell. Yikes!

• By the way, Max Lorenz was a real person, and really was Hitler's favorite tenor. As you might expect though, in reality he looked nothing like Professor Stein.

• This episode's McGuffin was the Askaran Amulet, a piece of jewelry with for now  unknown powers. The Nazis are trying to obtain it for Hitler, who's obsessed with the supernatural (which was also a real thing). This whole "stealing a magic item for the Fuehrer" plot was very reminiscent of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

• In this episode we find out that Heywood is a hemophiliac, who could bleed to death if he's injured on a mission. Near the end of the episode that's just what happens. The Legends stick him in the Waverider's futuristic medbay, but Gideon says there's nothing she can do to save him.

So lemme get this straight last season Gideon was able to use magic future tech to regrow Captain Cold's entire goddamned severed hand, but she can't synthesize a clotting factor for Heywood. Got it.

• The Arrowverse shows consistently feature top notch, near-movie quality special effects week after week, on a TV budget. See King Shark and Gorilla Grodd over on The Flash for some awesome examples of their CGI character work.

Occasionally though their reach exceeds their grasp, and we get an effect like Kreiger Hulk. The character was definitely not the effect's teams finest hour, and looked like something you'd see on the Siffy Channel.

• Last week I was confused about the series' timeline, as I tried to figure out just when Hourman went back to warn the Legends not to go to 1942 New York. Bear with me here for a quick recap.

In last season's finale, the Legends are gathered together in 2016 and see a second Waverider crash-land next to them. Hourman steps out of the ship and says, "You're exactly where you said you'd be. Do not get on that ship. If you do, you're all dead." Heat Wave says, "Says who?" Hourman says, "Says you, Mr. Rory. You sent me... My name is Rex Tyler. I'm a member of the Justice Society Of America."

But then last week's episode opened with Oliver Queen and Dr. Heywood discovering the Waverider at the bottom of the ocean, with only Heat Wave on board. He says the other Legends have been scattered through time, and he and Heywood rescue them. They then travel to 1942 New York to save the city from an atom bomb. At the end of the episode, the Justice Society (minus Hourman) appears.

The Legends don't meet Hourman until this episode, and then he ends up getting killed by the Reverse Flash in the final scene.

So... just when did (does?) Hourman take the Waverider to 2016 to warn the Legends not to go to New York or they'll die, which they did anyway and survived?

Obviously there's some heavy duty time travel involved here, and Hourman will be back in some form or another to warn them, but I don't understand why this tiny little scene has become so complicated. Especially since Hourman's warning is moot at this point.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 4: Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. we get another classic song title, Ghost Rider finally pops up again, an old villain returns and at long last Daisy's reunited with the gang.

Wow, what a difference a couple of seasons can make. When Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered, it was sort of like CSI: Marvel a dry, matter of fact series about a group of normal secret agents who just happened to live in a world filled with superheroes. 

This didn't sit well with many viewers, whoright or wrong, were expecting to see the Avengers every week on TV. Ratings started slipping, and the producers began tweaking the show, bringing it more in line with viewer expectations. 

And thank the gods old and new they did! To be honest, it was quite a slog sitting through a lot of those early episodes. Fortunately the show's evolved to the point where I'm actually enjoying it and can't wait to see what happens next.


The Plot:
Simmons searches for an apartment for her and Fitz. She finds one she thinks is perfect, only to discover a grisly-looking Daisy inside waiting for her. It seems Daisy used her hacking skills to send the apartment listing to Simmons, in order to arrange a secret meeting. She couldn't have just sent her a text?

Simmons treats her wounds, as Daisy tells her that the Watchdogs are targeting Inhumans who are registered with S.H.I.E.L.D. She believes S.H.I.E.L.D.'s been hacked, and wants Simmons to help her find out who's doing the hacking. Simmons wants to help, but says she can't do so voluntarily, since the new Director Jeffrey Mace requires her to take weekly lie detector tests. Daisy picks up a gun and "fake threatens" Simmons, which will let her off the hook with Mace.

Coulson visits Robbie Reyes' uncle, Elias Morrow, in prison. Morrow worked at Momentum Energy Labs, and Coulson wants answers about the place. He says that Morrow's his only hope, because all the other Momentum employees have been turned into ghosts, except for one who's in a coma. Coulson implies that he may be able to get Morrow out of prison if he cooperates, but he refuses to squeal.

Outside the prison, Coulson tells Mack that he struck out. Just then they see Robbie Reyes drive by in his souped up Charger. Robbie peels out, and the two agents hop into Coulson's car Lola and go after him. There's a pretty cool chase scene (for a TV budget), as the two cars end up tearing through the LA River culvert. The chase ends when Robbie's car crashes into an invisible Quinjet parked in the culvert.

Meanwhile, Agent May wants to get the hell out of Dr. Radcliffe's house, but he says they need to run some more tests on her, to come up with a cure for the ghost virus. May's surprised to learn that Radcliffe killed her (just a little) in order to cure her. AIDA, Radcliffe's artificially intelligent Life Model Decoy android, takes care of May. 

Fitz arrives and has a fit (heh) when he sees Radcliffe has revealed AIDA to May. He says May, with her super spy smarts and instincts, will surely see that AIDA's an android. Radcliffe says this'll be the ultimate Turing Test, and that if AIDA can fool May, she can fool anyone. Amazingly, May doesn't detect that AIDA's an android. I guess she's probably not at her best after dying.

Robbie wakes up inside a cell on the Zephyr One. Coulson questions him, asking where his powers come from. Once again, Robbie says he made a deal with the devil. Why won't anyone ever believe him? Coulson opens the cell to prove they're on the same side. He wants Robbie to talk to his uncle Elias Morrow, and find out anything he can.

Robbie agrees, and visits Morrow in prison. Morrow's smart enough to see that S.H.I.E.L.D. is behind the visit, but he tells Robbie what he wants to know anyway. He says Momentum was working on a quantum particle generator which could "create matter out of nothing." Lucy Bauer used a book called the Darkhold to build the machine. Morrow protested, saying the book and machine were dangerous, but Lucy wouldn't listen. When Morrow tried to stop her, Lucy's husband Joseph began scuffling with him. Morrow put Joseph into a coma (which I guess is why he's in prison?). The machine then blew up, turning Lucy and the others into ghosts.

Meanwhile, Lucy walks through the wall of Joseph's hospital room, where he's still in a coma. She shoves her ghostly hands into his head, to try and get him to wake up, and tell her where the Darkhold is.

Simmons tells Daisy that S.H.I.E.L.D. gave special wristwatches to all known Inhumans, so they could track and monitor them for their own safety. Daisy says that was a horrible plan, because the Watchdog's have that info and are systematically wiping out all Inhumans in the S.H.I.E.L.D. database. She says the next one on the list is James, aka Hellfire, who was one of Hive's evil minions last season.

They track James to his job at a fireworks store (which seems like a really dangerous profession for a guy who can make objects burst into flame). Daisy says the Watchdogs are coming for him, and uses her powers to remove his S.H.I.E.L.D. tracker watch. She says he's still not safe, and Simmons offers to protect him. He says to meet him at a storage locker in an hour.

AIDA asks Radcliffe why he and Fitz are lying to May about her being an android. She says Radcliffe programmed her to never lie, and wonders why he's doing so. He says that not all lies are bad, and he and Fitz did so to protect her and save her life. AIDA looks troubled at this. Congratulations, Radcliffe! You just created SKYNET!

Simmons and Daisy meet James after hours, and of course he immediately betrays them, opening his storage locker to reveal it's full of Watchdogs (whose masks still look more like cat faces to me). James says he hates being an Inhuman, and agrees they should all be exterminated (um... including himself?). The Watchdogs surround Simmons and Daisy (um... why Simmons? Do they think she's an Inhuman as well?). Just as they're about to fire, Daisy uses her quake powers to knock them all on their collective asses. 

Daisy and Simmons hid in an empty locker. James uses his power (that he hates, remember) to ignite a bocce ball and toss it at the locker door, causing it to explode. The explosion disorients Simmons and Daisy, so they can't fight back. James grabs a chain and ignites it and starts to swing it at Daisy. Suddenly Robbie appears and grabs James' arm. He looks at the flaming chain and apparently likes what he sees. He snatches it away and transforms into Ghost Rider.

Outside, Mack and Coulson deal with the fleeing Watchdogs. Daisy and Simmons run outside and join Coulson. Inside, Ghost Rider and James battle. They smash through the wall of the storage unit, into the fireworks store. Naturally, the presence of two flame-based super beings ignites the store, which explodes in an impressive display of pyrotechnics. Sadly, Coulson doesn't say "Oooh" and "Ahh" as he watches.

Ghost Rider drags an unconscious James (wrapped in a chain) out of the blaze. Everyone piles into a Quinjet, which docks with Zephyr One. Inside, Daisy tries to make nice with Coulson, who responds coldly, saying only that he's glad she's safe. He tells both her and Robbie that they need to work together to find the Darkhold before Lucy does.

Coulson and Simmons swing by Dr. Radcliffe's place to pick up May. Coulson introduces himself to AIDA, and engages in small talk. Simmons can immediately tell she's an android, but rather than be furious at Fitz for keeping AIDA's existence from her, is impressed. Fitz says he didn't tell her about AIDA because of her mandatory lie detector tests. Simmons gulps, realizing she's scheduled to take one the next day.


• Great confusion seems to surround the matter of Daisy and her Quake gauntlets. Her quake powers don't just vibrate other objects, they affect the bones in her arms as well. To counter this, last season Fitz and/or Simmons whipped up a pair of gauntlets that would protect her bones when she used her powers.

At the beginning of this season, when Daisy is out in the wild playing Robin Hood, she's not wearing the gauntlets. So every time she uses her powers, she injures herself a bit more. I just assumed that S.H.I.E.L.D. probably confiscated the gauntlets when they were treating her for her Hive addiction, and when she ran off to become Lisbeth Salander, she didn't take them with her.

Suddenly in this episode we find out that she's really had the gauntlets all along. She could have been using them all this time, but didn't because according to her, "they're not exactly incognito." Wha...?

First of all, I think she means "inconspicuous" here, as incognito means "in disguise." Second, she didn't want to wear her protective arm gauntlets because they'd stand out too much. So basically she'd rather risk permanent bone damage because her gauntlets don't go with her outfit. 

She's already sporting what the well-dressed cyber hacker is wearing this fall black pants, black boots, over-applied black eyeliner, finished off with the standard black hoodie so it's not like she doesn't already stand out. I honestly don't see what difference a couple of gauntlets would have made.

For the record, here's what her incredibly intrusive gauntlets look like. I guess it never occurred to Daisy that she could maybe just pull her sleeves down over them.

Obviously this is some cheap plot trickery here, to injure Daisy and force her to seek help and reunite her with her S.H.I.E.L.D. pals.

• Nice to see FitzSimmons apparently getting along so well that they're apartment hunting. After three seasons of near-deaths, exile on other planets and the usual "Will They Or Won't They?" shenanigans, it's nice to see them acting like a normal, everyday couple in a healthy relationship.

 It was nice to see Coulson back in the suit (complete with S.H.I.E.L.D. I.D and badge) when he paid a visit to Morrow in prison.

 So just who is this Elias Morrow, anyway? In the comics he's not related to Robbie at all. He was a serial killer (!) who befriended Robbie after he became Ghost Rider, and did his best to corrupt him. Here he's Robbie's uncle, who worked at Momentum Labs. So far he seems like a decent guy, but I'm betting he's got a few dark, hidden secrets (much like his comic counterpart). 

 Coulson chases after Robbie in his beloved Corvette convertible, Lola. It's an exciting sequence (especially for TV), but oddly enough it takes place entirely on the street. Lola has the ability to fly. Why didn't Coulson take to the air to catch Robbie? Did something happen to her flying ability that I've forgotten about?

I'm guessing the real world reason why we didn't see Lola fly in this episode is, once again, the budget. Those flying effects ain't cheap, and they probably spent this episode's cash on Ghost Rider and Hellfire flame effects.

• The car chase ends when Robbie crashes into a cloaked Quinjet that's parked in the LA River basin. 

Robbie's car isn't even dented in the crash, but that makes a certain kind of sense since it has supernatural abilities. But what about the poor Quinjet? Apparently they're pretty darned tough, because this one withstands a 70 or 80 mph car crash to the nose and is still able to fly! 

• After Robbie crashes his car, Coulson captures him. Coulson turns to Mack and says, "I get his car now, right? Isn't that how this works?" Haw! Coulson's a Fast & Furious fan!

• When Radcliffe tells May she can't leave his house yet, she curses in Mandarin, saying, "Guo pi." Radcliffe doesn't understand and says, "Excuse me?" AIDA then pipes up and says, "Agent May says you can shove all your tests up your ass."

Well, I guess that's sort of what she said. "Guo pi" literally translates into "dog fart." Chinese people use the phrase much the same way English speakers say, "bullsh*t." I guess AIDA looked at the context of May's reply and embellished it a bit for Dr. Radcliffe.

• This week we finally get to see Ghost Rider wield his flaming chains. It was a fun moment when Hellfire swung his chain at Robbie, he caught it in his hand, stared at it and said, "Huh."

Oddly enough, the flaming chain wasn't always Ghost Rider's weapon of choice. The 1970s Johnny Blaze version didn't use a chain at all. It didn't come into play until the 1990s Daniel Ketch Ghost Rider, and has been a tradition ever since.

• Speaking of chains, earlier this year, Marvel Studios had this customized train on display at the San Diego ComicCon. Note the flaming chains running the length of the strain. Many fans predicted this meant that the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents would encounter Ghost Rider in the upcoming season.

Other fans myself included thought the train meant that Hellfire would become the season's new big bad. After all, it had already been established that Hellfire's main weapon was a flaming chain. The idea that Ghost Rider of all characters would be joining the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast seemed absurd at best. A flaming vengeance demon is about as far away from the tone of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as you can get.

But odd as it is, Ghost Rider did indeed join the cast. And I have to admit, so far it's worked out pretty well.

• This week's fun lines:

Morrow (as Coulson shows him his badge): "S.H.I.E.L.D.? Still a thing?"
Coulson: "We're making a comeback."

Radcliffe (explaining to May how he cured her of the ghost virus): "We had to very gently... kill you, ever so slightly."

James (just before attacking Robbie Reyes): "I don't know who the hell you think you are, but you just made a big mistake."
Robbie: "Funny, I was going to say the same thing... without the accent."

Coulson (to May): "It's good to see you back in fighting form."
May: "Dying takes a lot out of you."
Coulson: I've heard. We should start a club, get some T-shirts made up."

The whole scene in which Simmons figures out AIDA's an android was fun too. Nobody does the nervous shtick as well as Iain De Caestecker as Fitz:
Simmons: "Now I see why you've been spending so much time here."
Fitz: "What?"
Simmons: "Aida! She's beautiful."
Fitz: "Is she? Ah, yeah, she is all right, I guess. I prefer a classical beauty myself."
Simmons: "She's so real. Her... Her conversational responses, her range of motion."
Fitz: "Those are weird things to say about a person."
Simmons: "Fitz, she's an android."
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