Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Flash Season 3, Episode 8: Invasion!

This week on The Flash, the big multi-part Invasion! storyline continues! Well, that's not quite true. Actually it's just getting started, but more on that later.

Crossovers and team-ups have been a staple of superhero comics since the genre began in the late 1930s. There's just something appealing about seeing characters from your favorite books join forces. The comic companies recognized this, and that's why DC's Justice League and Justice Society regularly traveled to each other's dimension for an annual joint adventure. And over at Marvel, they actually had two monthly comics that regularly paired their heroes together (Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One).


That's why it was so awesome to see pretty much all the Arrowverse characters (plus Supergirl!) band together in an all-star teamup. It's amazing how much fun these DC TV shows are, especially when compared to their dour and dreary theatrical movies. I never thought I'd see something so cool on network TV. It's a wonderful time to be alive.


As wonderful as this crossover is, there are a few caveats. Viewers tuning in thinking they're going to see something like Captain America: Civil War will likely be disappointed. This is a TV show after all, so don't expect theatrical quality effects and storytelling. It's a budget-conscious alien invasion!

Also, if you watched The CW at any time in the past few weeks, you were no doubt bombarded by endless promos breathlessly announcing this amazing four part crossover event. According to these house ads, the big extravaganza would begin Monday night on Supergirl.

That was a big fat lie. Mostly. See, Monday the midseason finale of Supergirl aired, and 99.5% of the episode was spent wrapping up several dangling plot threads that had been brewing all season. Then in literally the last thirty seconds, a dimensional portal opens in Supergirl's apartment, and Barry Allen and his pal Cisco Ramon step out of it. Barry tells Supergirl he needs her help, and that was it for the so-called "crossover!" Thirty seconds out of a forty two minute episode.

Even worse, that scene between Barry, Cisco and Supergirl is actually repeated verbatim in this episode of The Flash! So for all intents and purposes, the crossover event really started Tuesday night. You could completely ignore the Supergirl episode if you wanted and not miss one bit of the Invasion! storyline.

Another oddity— at one point Barry's forced to admit to the assembled heroes that he altered the timeline twice this season. A good chunk of the episode was then spent on the fallout of this announcement, as the characters reacted to the fact that their lives had been changed in various ways. Seriously? Is this REALLY the best time to bring up this plot point? Wouldn't it have made infinitely more sense to repel the alien invasion, THEN have Barry tell everyone he screwed up their lives?

I smell some script padding here. I have a feeling there just wasn't enough to the Invasion! storyline to fill up three episodes, so they needed to do some stretching.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
At STAR Labs, Wally's still being tested in the Speed Lab. According to Caitlin, he's faster than Barry was when he first got his speedster powers. This worries Wally's family greatly, as they fear his powers will get him killed or something. Caitlin suggests that she, Barry and Cisco join her for drinks. Cisco refuses, as he still blames Barry for Dante's death. HR gives a presentation outlining his plans to turn STAR Labs into a museum, which is as insane as it sounds. Suddenly the Lab's sensors detect a meteor heading for Central City.

Barry rushes downtown and sees the meteor's actually an alien spaceship. It lands and dozens of CGI aliens file out and disappear into the city.

The next day, Lyla from ARGUS meets with the STAR Labs Gang. She says the aliens are known as Dominators, and they visited the Earth once before in the 1950s. Back then they abducted a number of people (ten percent of our children, perhaps?) and then abruptly left. Now they're back, and have landed four ships on Earth. She says the Dominators sent out a message threatening anyone who tries to stop them. Lyla asks the Gang to let ARGUS handle the matter.

Meanwhile in Star City, Green Arrow and Spartan confront Vigilante in a warehouse (where else?). Vigilante opens fire on them, just as the Flash appears and whisks them out of the path of the bullets and into Felicity's apartment. Arrow's angry with Barry for letting Vigilante get away, until he hears about the aliens. Arrow's supporting cast shows up and vows to help the Flash defeat the invasion.

Team Flash and Team Arrow meet in an old STAR Labs hangar, which looks suspiciously familiar. Felicity says she somehow contacted the Legends Of Tomorrow, and sure enough, they show up a few minutes later in a time shuttle. They explain that Steel and Vixen stayed behind on the Waverider (no doubt for budgetary reasons).

Barry and Cisco create a breach and travel to Earth-38 to recruit Supergirl. She agrees to help and returns to Earth-1 with them. The rest of the heroes don't believe she's an alien until she demonstrates by flying and using her heat vision to burn her logo into the floor.

Meanwhile the Dominators set up a device inside yet another abandoned warehouse. They plan to capture and mind control the President.

Back at the hangar, Supergirl says she's familiar with the Dominators, as they invaded Krypton long ago. The Super Friends decide their new team needs a leader. Cisco immediately nominates Arrow, which sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Arrow says Barry should be in charge, since the whole party was his idea. Barry awkwardly fumbles out a few orders, telling everyone to start training against Supergirl (who's a thousand times more powerful than all the other heroes combined, and invulnerable to boot).

Professor Stein and Jackson decide this is the perfect time to tell Barry they found a message from his future self on the Waverider. They play the message, in which Future Barry tells Rip Hunter (former captain of the Waverider) that he altered the timeline and not to trust anyone, including him. Barry decides there isn't already enough going on, and wants to tell everyone about the Flashpoint timeline, but Arrow wisely says to wait until after the crisis.

While Supergirl mops the floor with the other heroes, Professor Stein has another attack. He asks Caitlin to take him home, and when he gets there, his adult daughter— who didn't exist before Flashpoint— greets him. Stein's so flustered he immediately leaves.

Meanwhile, Lyla meets with the President to discuss the Dominator threat. He agrees with her attack plan and leaves in his limo. The Dominators attack the car and abduct the President.

Back at STAR Labs, Wally's upset that his dad Joe and sister Iris don't want him to have powers. He asks HR to train him. HR refuses at first, but eventually agrees, which seems a bit suspicious.

Cisco finds Future Barry's secret recording and listens to it. Not cool, Cisco! He then confronts Barry about the message, and forces him to tell the others about Flashpoint. The heroes are all stunned, especially Spartan, whose son was a girl in the original timeline. Oddly enough the Legends tear Barry a new one too for tampering with time, despite the fact that they all do so on a daily basis.

Lyla informs Barry and the Super Friends that the President's been taken. Everyone's still sore at Barry, and they tell him to stay home while they rush off to save the Prez. Arrow stays behind with Barry.

The heroes easily find the building where the President's being held. They enter and are immediately surrounded by Dominators. The aliens disintegrate the President (!), activate a mind control device and mentally enslave all the heroes.

Barry whines some more about the mistake he made, and Arrow tells him that anyone in his place would have done the same thing. Suddenly the hangar is attacked by the mind controlled Super Friends. Flash and Arrow rush out and begin battling everyone.

Wally watches the fight on a STAR Labs monitor. He can't contain himself, and speeds away to help. He does OK at first, but is eventually violently K-Oed.

Cisco and Felicity locate the mind control signal, and relay the coordinates to Barry. He rushes to the empty warehouse, as Supergirl follows. They have a superspeed battle, and Barry eventually tricks her into flying through the mind control device, destroying it. The Super Friends revert to normal.

The heroes regroup and talk about what to do next. Suddenly White Canary is bathed in bright light and teleported away. Atom follows, then Spartan and Speedy. Arrow begins teleporting and Barry tries to grab him, but is too late.

To be continued on Arrow...

Thoughts:
• I'm puzzled by Joe and Iris' attitude toward Wally and his powers. They can barely contain their terror over the fact that he's now a speedster.

I can kind of understand Joe's reaction, since he's Wally's father, and that's what dads do— worry. But Iris? Why's she care so much? She didn't even know she had a brother until a few months ago.

Oddly enough they're not even remotely concerned that Barry has the exact same powers.

Why are Barry's powers fine, but Wally's are a cause for alarm? Are two speedsters in the family just one too many? Are they worried that Wally's too young to use his powers responsibly? It it because Barry's only a foster member of the family, while Wally's a blood relative? Is it because Joe and Iris have been on the sidelines lately, and the writers needed something for them to do?

• Kudos to the producers for the scene in which Supergirl tries to learn the names of all the assembled heroes. I've been keeping up with these shows for a while now and even I didn't know who everyone was (especially the Arrow characters, since I drifted away from that series a while back). I bet even with the roll call scene, new viewers were probably completely lost.

• When discussing the Dominators, Lyla says the government's been aware of them since the 1950s. She says, "In 1951, they appeared under the same sort of circumstances. A ship crash-landed. Little to no communication. We learned they were abducting humans to gather intel about us. They attacked, and hundreds of soldiers lost their lives. Then, for some inexplicable reason, they left."

Joe speaks up and says, "That was them! Redmond Oregon. The government tried to cover it up. What? I watch Syfy Channel!"

Joe's referring to an actual incident, in which a bright, fast-moving object appeared over the city of Redmond, Oregon. Air Force jets were scrambled from a nearby airbase in Portland, and began pursuing the glowing craft. The planes chased the UFO, but it was too fast and maneuverable and quickly lost them. The Air Force later debunked the incident by stating the object was actually a weather balloon (that could somehow outrun jets traveling at 600 mph).

The only problem here is that the Redmond Incident occurred in 1959, not 1951 as Lyla stated. Whoops!


• From the neck up, the alien Dominators looked pretty close to the comic book version, which was a nice touch.

For some reason, the producers decided the Dominators should be completely CGI. I get that they probably wanted to make them look truly alien, and that's fine. But creating realistic-looking CGI aliens is expensive, which drastically limited their screen time in the episode.

In fact this budgetary limitation ended up affecting the plot. Instead of battling a vast army of CGI Dominators, the Flash and Arrow spend most of the episode fighting a group of mind-controlled fellow superheroes. Aliens are expensive. People are cheap!

Seems to me like it would have been much better dramatically and budget-wise if the Dominators were a practical effect. Guys in prosthetic makeup and long robes, just like in the comic. There've been some amazing looking aliens on Doctor Who the past few seasons, so it's not like it's impossible.


• I recently learned that many comic fans are deeply offended by the Dominators. Apparently their skin tone, prominent teeth, slit-like eyes, long claws and the Japanese "Rising Sun" motif on their foreheads makes them horrible "yellow peril" Asian stereotypes.
 

Jesus wept. I really don't want to live on this planet anymore.

I've been aware of the Dominators since the Invasion! storyline first appeared in the comics back in 1989, and this never once occurred to me. In fact I think if you see buck-toothed Tojo stereotypes in these characters instead of evil aliens, then the problem lies with you, not the comics.

• According to Cisco, Supergirl lives on Earth-38. I'm assuming the 38 refers to the year in which Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold Superman to DC Comics (they actually created the character in 1933, but that's another story).

One wonders why they didn't say she's from Earth-59, since that's the year Supergirl was actually created. I guess because Superman got to Earth first in her universe?

• During the briefing, Supergirl says she's familiar with the Dominators, as they invaded Krypton years ago.

Obviously she's talking about the Dominators from her dimension, since she's not from Earth-1. Hopefully her Dominators are the same as the ones here, or her intel's going to be useless.

By the way, how did Barry's world get to be "Earth-1?" Do people from Earth-2 or Earth-19 feel inferior when they find out their planet's not "number one?"


• Barry gathers the various Arrowverse heroes together in an old STAR Labs hangar.

Amazingly this hangar looks exactly like the Hall Of Justice from the 1970s Super Friends cartoon. The only thing missing is Ted Knight's pompous narration ("Meanwhile, at the Hall Of Justice, Batman makes an amazing discovery!").

I'm wondering if this hangar is just a one shot deal for this episode, or if it'll become the new headquarters for the STAR Labs Gang. Is this why HR keeps wanting to turn the current building into a museum? Will Barry take up residence in this hangar now that he's no longer has his day job as a CSI?


• Barry's awfully casual about revealing various the secret identities of the various heroes in this episode. I know he gave up trying to keep his a secret long ago, but here he blurts out Arrow's real name right in front of everyone.

Did Oliver really want a criminal like Heat Wave to know his true identity?


A few weeks ago on Legends Of Tomorrow, the Atom's suit was destroyed. He's never let us forget this fact, as he's whined about the loss in every episode since.

Now suddenly he has a new suit in this episode, courtesy of the white dwarf matter he found in the Old West in Outlaw Country, along with the Waverider's replicator.

Well that was certainly easy! So why the hell didn't he create a new suit immediately after the original one was destroyed, instead of moping about if for months? And doesn't it seem odd that he'd do something important like this offscreen, instead of in an episode of his own show?

• When Barry asks Atom why Captain Cold isn't with the Legends, he tells him that Snart was killed in the Legends Season 1 finale. Barry takes the news hard. OK, I get that the Flash and Cold made a deal a couple seasons ago and were "friendly adversaries," but it's not like they were family or anything. Barry's reaction seemed a little over the top.

• Shouldn't Supergirl's heat vision be red instead of light saber blue? Just asking.

• In the Legends Of Tomorrow episode Shogun, Professor Stein and Jackson found a secret message from future Barry Allen to Rip Hunter. Apparently the contents of the message were so shocking that they dared not to tell anyone about it. Until right now, of course. Because everyone knows the perfect time to reveal a momentous secret is right before going into battle against an alien invasion. But I digress.

So what are the astonishing contents of the message? That prolonged exposure to the time stream is deadly? That none of them are real, and they're all just characters in a television show? That Soylent Green is people?

Nope! Nothing remotely that interesting. Instead, the message says that Barry Allen altered the past, and Rip Hunter shouldn't trust him or anyone. That's it? That's the shocking secret, that Barry changed the timeline? Jesus Christ, he's done nothing all season but announce that to anyone within earshot!

• When the Dominators abduct the President, Lyla springs into action. She calls for help into her mic, saying, "He's gone. Traveler has been taken. I repeat, Traveler has been taken. The Dominators have the President."

Um... which is it, Lyla? Are you going to call the President by his codename or not? It doesn't do any good when you broadcast both (I'm guessing the "The Dominators have the President" line was for the dimmer members of the audience).

Oddly enough the Arrowverse's current President is white. I wonder... did they cast a white man as President because Obama's term is nearly up? Or did the producers fear online PC backlash if they disintegrated a black President?

• Thanks to Barry's time-changing shenanigans, Professor Stein now has a grown daughter. I guess his wife Carissa didn't get erased then?

• Wally asks HR to train him in how to use his newfound speed. HR refuses, saying if he trains him and the others found out, "he'd be gone faster than humor in a Liam Neeson movie." Apparently there's a Liam Neeson on Earth-19 too.

• The episode's best interaction was between Supergirl and Heat Wave, of all people.

Supergirl: "How did you get the name Heat Wave?"
Heat Wave:
"I burned my family alive, and I like to light things on fire."
Supergirl:
"Aah. Well, that's a... colorful backstory."
Heat Wave: "Well, my shrink thinks so."

Supergirl (seeing the President inside a warehouse): "Yep, he's in there."
Heat Wave: "How do you know that?"
Supergirl: "I can see him. Oh, I have X-ray vision."
Heat Wave: "Oh. You can see everyone's bits with those little peepers, huh?"
Supergirl (flustered): "No, I... "
White Canary: "Ignore him."

• Heat Wave decides he's not going to call Supergirl by her name.

Heatwave: "By the way, I'm not gonna call you Supergirl. It's stupid."
Supergirl: "You could call me Kara."
Heatwave: "That won't work either."
Supergirl: "Well, what're you gonna shout if you need my help?"
Heatwave: "Skirt."
Supergirl: "Seriously?"
Heatwave: "Seriously. But I'm not gonna need your help."

Predictably, several seconds later the Dominators attack, and Heat Wave yells, "Supergirl, do something!"

I knew the second he said he wasn't ever going to call her "Supergirl" that he'd end up doing so before the episode was over. It's called "set up," folks!

• The most puzzling (and frankly stupid) part of the entire episode was the attitude of the other heroes when they found out that Barry had altered the timeline. Oddly enough it's the Legends Of Tomorrow in particular who rip into him, lambasting him for committing such an irresponsible and selfish act.

This is epic hypocrisy on their part. The Legends change the goddamned timeline on a weekly basis! In fact, ALTERING (or "fixing," as they call it) THE TIMELINE IS THE PREMISE OF THEIR ENTIRE FERKAKTE SHOW! And to make it even worse, they SUCK at it! They're constantly screwing up history! What the hell gives them the right to scold Barry for doing the same thing?

I have a feeling this was another case in which the writers needed something for all the excess characters in the episode to do. Apparently yelling at Barry Allen for doing the exact thing they do was all they could come up with.

Unfortunately all this did is make the Legends look like two-faced assholes.


And wait a minute... if Team Flash and Team Arrow are both pissed at Barry for changing the timeline, shouldn't they be ready to tar & feather the Legends for regularly doing the exact same thing? No one says a word about their antics.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 6: Swear

Oh, The Walking Dead. Why do you despise your loyal audience so?

This week the series goes completely off the rails and ignores the comic book, heading into new and uncharted waters (that was a joke, son). Instead of furthering the main plot (aka the Negan storyline), we get another episode featuring a minor character discovering yet another community of survivors hidden in the Virginia countryside.


And just to top it off, this was another extra-long episode! Why do these obscure characters always seem to get super-sized running times devoted to their uninteresting adventures? I honestly don't understand it.


I get that it's necessary to set up these new communities, as they'll no doubt play a big role in the "Negan War" storyline that's surely coming down the pike. But the show doesn't need to devote entire episodes to these colonies— especially when that forces the audience's attention away from the main characters and their plight for weeks at a time.


I've said it before and I'll say it again— this show needs to learn the art of cross-cutting. Give us a scene of Rick & Co. in Alexandria, then cut to Carol in The Kingdom, then to the Hilltop, then back to Alexandria. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's not rocket science, it's basic writing.

If you don't think these distracting side-stories are a problem, then try this little exercise. Imagine you're watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time. Luke, Han & Leia have just escaped from the Death Star, and are racing back to the Rebel Base on Yavin to mount an attack against the Empire. You absolutely can't wait to see what happens next. 

Then the movie ends. Three years later the next chapter comes out. But instead of continuing with Luke & friends, instead the film returns to Tattooine to see what the Sandpeople are up to. We'll spend two entire hours with them as we examine their settlement and really get to know their culture. Three years later there's another movie that focuses on the Jawas. Turns out the Stormtroopers didn't quite kill all of them, as a couple survived and make it back to their village. We'll get a good look at their little society, and find out what makes them tick. Then three years after all that, we'll finally get back to Luke & the Death Star.

See what I mean? The audience would tear up the theater if that had happened back in 1977.


Obviously the Oceanside people will return at some point, as it wouldn't make any sense to devote an entire episode to them for a one-shot appearance.

This episode finally gives us the long-awaited return of Corey Hawkins as Heath. Well, sort of, as he's in it for all of about five minutes. I have to say, I'm VERY disappointed in the show's treatment of Heath. He's been a major character in the comic for years now, so I was very excited to see him finally pop up in the Season 6 episode First Time Again.

And then he all but vanished from the series. He appeared in exactly four episodes during Season 6, and was last seen in Not Tomorrow Yet, which aired on March 6, 2016. What the hell, The Walking Dead? Why go to the trouble of introducing him if you're never going to do anything with him? At this point he's the most underdeveloped character on the show. Hell, we know more about freaking Spencer than we do Heath! I doubt if most fans even remember him or know who he is. Better to have left him out altogether than to ignore him like this.

And then he finally returns in this episode, only to immediately be written out of the show. Or maybe not, it's all deliberately vague. Fuck you, The Walking Dead!

I know why they left Heath's fate up in the air at the end of this episode. Actor Corey Hawkins was recently cast as the lead in Fox's new 24 reboot, which explains his prompt exit here. I'm betting Heath's fate is inextricably tied to 24: Legacy's ratings. If the new series is a hit, then it's bye-bye Heath.

For the past few weeks the internet has been lousy with articles on The Walking Dead's rapidly plummeting ratings. A couple seasons ago it was the highest rated show on cable, and often beat out regular network shows. This season viewership has plunged back down to Season 3 levels.

It's not hard to figure out why, AMC. You introduced an unpleasant new Big Bad, you killed off two fan-favorite characters in the most brutal way possible, and you completely neutered (figuratively, not literally, heh) another popular character. And then instead of focusing on the core cast, you keep insisting on taking these slow, languorous side trips, filled with characters we've either never seen before or who we forgot even existed.

And then you wonder why viewers are abandoning ship?


SPOILERS, I GUESS.


The Plot:
There's a bunch of flashback shenanigans in this episode, which makes it overly convoluted, so I'm going to ignore all that and recap the events in order.

Heath and Tara (remember them?) are sitting in an RV, still on their epic eight-month-long two week supply run. Unfortunately they haven't found anything of value, and Heath says it's time to head home. He also goes on about the Savior Satellite Outpost Massacre, and how he now understands one has to do whatever's necessary to survive. Tara says he's talking crazy, and they need to find ammo and supplies for the people back home.

Later they find a bridge that's blocked by cars at both ends. They climb over the cars and find a group of abandoned tents in the middle of the bridge, along with a huge mound of sand at one end. Tara pulls a backpack out of the sand pile, which causes the entire thing to collapse, releasing dozens of walkers from within (?).

They shoot and stab their way through the walkers, trying to make it back to the RV. Unfortunately Tara's surrounded and cut off from Heath. He tries to fight his way back to her, but she's overrun. She jumps off the bridge to save herself. Heath sees her fall, then runs to the RV and presumably high-tails it outta there.

Some time later, a young girl named Rachel finds Tara washed up on a beach. She tries to kill Tara, but an older girl named Cyndie stops her. The two argue, as Rachel says they're supposed to kill all outsiders on sight. Cyndie finally wins, and drags Tara out of the water and into the bushes.

Tara wakes up a bit later, and sees Cyndie's left her water and a homemade spear. She enters the woods and finds a bustling fishing community, filled with women doing laundry and tending gardens. Suddenly the women open their armory and start passing out weapons. Tara realizes she's been spotted and runs, as the women shoot at her.

Tara doubles back and hides behind a house. A woman (named Beatrice) comes around the corner and Tara disarms her and knocks her out. She's then surrounded by dozens of armed women. She tries to talk her way out of the situation, with no luck.

Cut to Tara chained to a pipe inside a house. Several women enter, and one introduces herself as Natania, the leader of the island community of Oceanside. They question Tara, who lies and says she's from Atlanta and has been traveling with a friend for two years, until they were attacked on the bridge and separated. She asks to be freed so she can find Heath.

Natania says normally they shoot all outsiders on sight, but they've let her live because she spared Beatrice when she could have killed her. Later one of the women leads Tara to Natania's house for dinner. Natania says Oceanside has an endless supply of fish and is fairly safe from walkers. Tara asks where all the men are in the community. Natania says they're all dead, killed by the Saviors. She wants Tara to stay in Oceanside, which would solve the problem of what to do with her.

Tara comes clean and says she has to find Heath and return to her girlfriend in Alexandria (aka Dr. Cloyd, who, unbeknownst to Tara, is dead). She says they're protected by walls, and they wiped out the Saviors in their Satellite Outpost (again, unbeknownst to her, there are many, MANY more Saviors out there). Natania says she'll send a guide with Tara back to Alexandria to check it out.

The next morning Beatrice and another woman take Tara into the woods. She realizes something's up, and they're planning to execute her. She takes off running and somehow loses them. She sees Beatrice walk by and attacks her. They roll around on the ground for a while, but Beatrice gets the upper hand. She tells Tara that the Saviors invaded their former home and killed every man over ten years old. The survivors were supposed to work for the Saviors, but they fled into the night with only the clothes on their backs and founded Oceanside, which they'll keep secret at any cost.

Beatrice is about to kill Tara when she's tacked by Cyndie. Tara escapes. Cyndie catches up to her and makes her swear (we have a title!) never to tell anyone about Oceanside. She agrees, and Cyndie escorts her back to the bridge. It's still filled with the dusty walkers, but with Cyndie's sharpshooting help, Tara makes it across.

Tara finds Heath's glasses lying broken in the road. She also spots the RV's tire tracks heading away from the bridge, along with a key card with "ppp" scrawled on it. These items may or may not indicate that Heath survived. Tara walks back to Alexandria., where she's met by Eugene. He tells her what happened to Dr. Cloyd. In the infirmary, Rosita asks Tara if she found anything on her supply run. She keeps her promise to Cyndie and says no.

Thoughts:

• This is a pet peeve of mine, so your mileage may vary— I don't like it when time passes more slowly on a series than it does out here in the real world (see the first three or four seasons of LOST).

For example, Heath and Tara went on their supply run in Not Tomorrow Yet, which, as I mentioned earlier, first aired on March 6, 2016. We don't see them again until this episode, which aired November 27, 2016. That's almost nine months! Yet in this episode, Heath says they've only been gone for two weeks.


So in the fourteen short days that Heath and Tara have been gone: Rick & Co. killed the Saviors in the satellite station. Dwight killed Dr. Cloyd. Maggie began having complications with her pregnancy, and they tried to get her to the Hilltop. Everyone was captured by Negan and his Saviors. Negan killed Abraham and Glenn. Carol woke up in The Kingdom and met King Ezekiel. Daryl was taken to the Sanctuary, where Dwight began his program of psychological torture. Maggie made it to the Hilltop and decided to stay. Whew!

• Way back in Not Tomorrow Yet, Rick & Co. invaded the Savior's Satellite Outpost and wiped out everyone there. During this mission, Glenn and Heath entered a room full of slumbering Saviors. Glenn murdered one in his sleep, noting that it was the first time he'd ever killed a living person. Heath started to kill the other Savior in the room, but hesitated as he was visibly upset and conflicted. Glenn killed the Savior to spare Heath the pain of doing so.

It appears Heath is still affected by this incident, which happened just two weeks ago for him, but almost a goddamned year ago to us. Kudos to the writers, I guess, for remembering this little detail about a character that most people forgot was even on the show.
 
• There's an Oceanside community in the comic, that trades goods and services with Alexandria and the other "good" communities. So far they've only been mentioned in dialogue though, and we've never actually seen the place or met anyone from there.

• Welp, now we know why there's a boat linked to Alanna Masterson's (aka Tara) name in the opening credits.
 
• The Oceansiders give us yet another nickname for zombies— bobbers." I guess because they find them floating in the water around their island?

• I'm very confused as to what happened on the bridge that Heath and Tara encountered. 

Both ends of it were blocked with cars, and the middle was filled with a few tents and a couple of campfires. It seemed like a relatively safe have for a small group of survivors. So far, so good.

But then there was a dump truck that had dropped a huge load of sand on one end of the bridge. Heath finds dozens of shell casings in the sand, and Tara somehow accidentally knocks the pile over (?) dislodging twenty or so dusty walkers. Huh?

As near as I can tell, a group or survivors blocked the bridge and camped there, which was a pretty good idea. Unfortunately a bunch of walkers somehow got onto the bridge anyway (?). The campers shot at the walkers, but apparently didn't know to aim for their heads. Then one of the campers must have used the dump truck to drop sand on the walkers, immobilizing them. And then with the walker threat gone, the campers all promptly abandoned the bridge.

See? It doesn't make any sense.

• The Oceansiders are so desperate to keep their little community a secret that they kill any and all intruders on sight. Yet somehow Tara stomps around their camp for a good ten
minutes, even walking past a couple of sentries, and no one notices. That's some pretty lax security on their part.

Tara seems a bit confused in this episode. She condemns the Oceansiders' "Kill All Humans On Sight" policy, even though they have a good reason for doing so. Yet she tells them the story of how Rick & Co. wiped out the Saviors' satellite station because they posed an imminent threat to Alexandria.

Um... those are both pretty much the same action/philosophy.
 

Beatrice tells Tara that the Oceansiders fled from the Saviors with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Yet they have a huge armory full of guns.

We know that Negan confiscates ALL weapons when he invades a settlement. Apparently the Oceansiders must have found a huge cache of guns after they ran from the Saviors, because they're pretty well armed now.

• Actress Deborah May plays Natania, the leader of the (nearly) all-female Oceanside community.

On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, May played Haneek, the leader of the Skrreean people, a matriarchal society who overrun the space station while seeking their fabled promised land.

A few years later on Star Trek: Voyager, May played Lyris, the leader of the nearly all-female planet of Taresia.

Apparently when you need someone to play the leader of an all-woman society, Deborah May's your go-to gal!
 

• When Tara is crossing the bridge again, she catches a glimpse of a walker with dreadlocks just like Heath's. She calls out to it, and sees it's actually a female zombie with a similar hairstyle.

I'm calling bullsh*t on this cheap fakeout. As we saw earlier, the ends of this bridge are completely blocked by cars. The only walkers on it were the ones trapped under the sand pile, and they're all covered in a thick coating of beige dust.

The dreadlock walker is relatively clean, with no dust on her. So how the hell'd she get on the bridge? Did she climb over the car barrier? I doubt it. The only reason she's impossibly plopped down in the middle of the bridge is to make the audience briefly mistake her for Heath. Bad form, writers!

There's some odd symbology in this episode that makes no sense, but will no doubt be made clear at some point in the future.

At the beginning of the episode, when Tara's lying on the beach, we see she has a series of Roman numerals tattooed on her wrist. The numbers we can see translate to 26, 13, 22 and 9.

I have no idea what these numbers could mean. Some fans have theorized the numbers correspond to biblical passages. I kind of doubt that, as Tara's never seemed overly religious. Besides, if that's what they are, why not just spell it out, like all the John 3:16 signs you see people holding up at sporting events?

At the end of the episode, Tara finds a key card with the letters "ppp" written on it. Presumably this card was deliberately dropped by Heath, as a message to her. She stares at the card for a few seconds, as if it means something to her.

I have no idea what this means either. No one on the show's ever said it, and it's not been established as a private joke or code between Heath and Tara. How could it be, since we haven't seen either one of them since March?

That vague Virginia geography strikes again! Last season Heath and Tara went on an extended supply run. In this episode Heath mentions they've been gone two weeks, and claims they've driven farther than anyone from Alexandria's ever gone.

They probably didn't drive in a straight line, as they likely zigzagged and wandered as they searched for supplies. Still, how far do you think they could have gone in two weeks? A hundred miles? Two hundred? More?

However far it was, Tara apparently walked that same distance back to Alexandria, armed with only a makeshift spear. She must know one hell of a shortcut!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Things I Would Tweet If I Tweeted: Deadly Leaves


When I go for a walk in the dark before or after work during November, it's amazing how fallen leaves blowing across the sidewalk can sound exactly like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger sneaking up behind me.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Things That Happened On Earth This Week (11/27/16)

This week scientists announced that an increasing number of two headed sharks are being discovered in the world's oceans (!).

Scientists are unsure what's causing the extra noggins to form, or how to prevent the phenomenon from escalating. Some believe the spare heads are due to over fishing. This leads to less sharks in the ocean, which leads to a smaller gene pool, which leads to inbred, mutant fish with excess pates.

Other scientists believe that the terrifying idea of a shark with two goddamned people-munching heads is no cause for alarm. They claim that the number of double-skulled sharks is the same as it's always been, and the fact that more people are studying the creatures and publishing their findings is giving the illusion the aberrant population is increasing.


Whatever the reason for the seeming increase, it's a bit unnerving to think that Asylum Studios actually predicted this.

What'll Asylum get right next, sharks with three heads? Oh, wait...

This week Trumpy said he would appoint former Mitt Romney as his Secretary Of State, on the condition that the former presidential candidate publicly apologize for all the mean things he said about him during the election.

I'm no fan of Romney, as I think he's a smug, entitled bastard who's who's had everything handed to him his entire life. Plus his name is Mitt. But even I admit he shouldn't have to get on his knees and beg like a dog for a job. 


In a perfect world, Romney would announce a press conference and say, "I would like to formally and publicly apologize. I'm sorry that Donald Trump is an orange, petulant man-baby who's massive ego is so fragile it can't stand a little legitimate critcism. Romney out (drops mic and leaves)."


This I saw a TV commercial for Perfect Smile Veneers, the incredible new dental product that's sweeping the nation.
What are Perfect Smile Veneers, you ask? They're a flexible, rubbery "dental appliance" not unlike a set of novelty Billy Bob hillbilly teeth, that really stretch the definition of the word "veneer." They fit over your existing unsightly fangs, giving you an instant Hollywood-quality smile!

Just heat the Perfect Smile veneers in boiling hot water, fish them out as you burn your fingers and press the molten hot plastic choppers to your existing teeth for a custom, one-of-a-kind fit.

Note that Perfect Smile Veneers are only available in uppers. If your bottom teeth are gnarled and ghastly-looking as well, then screw you, I guess.

Best of all, Perfect Smile Veneers sell for a paltry $14.95! A fraction of the price of those expensive old porcelain dental appliances. Yes, for less than the cost of an extra large pizza, you can have a mouth full of unnaturally straight, soft, inhumanly white teeth with disturbingly blood red gums.

As you can see here, Perfect Smile dramatically improves the appearance of even the most horrifying grin. As long as you stay at least twenty five feet away from anyone at all times and never attempt to open your mouth or speak, Perfect Smile will be your little secret.

Perfect Smile even magically works if you have no teeth to speak of at all! It's amazing!

As the commercial states, Perfect Smile is, well, perfect for job interviews. Your potential new employer can't help but be impressed as you slur your responses like a common drunkard and unintentionally spray saliva all over his desk. When Mr. Johnson asks, "What's your greatest weakness?" you'll be able to say, "It sure ain't my smile!"

Perfect Smile is great for dating too! Just remember to insist that your boyfriend take you to a dimly-lit restaurant. Then smile vapidly and nod at everything he says, and absolutely, positively do not attempt to eat anything, lest your Perfect Smile Veneers unceremoniously plop into your bowl of soup.

Like most new products, Perfect Smile Veneers have a few... eccentricities. Because Perfect Smile Veneers are applied over your existing teeth, they may cause your upper lip to jut out unnaturally, not unlike Roddy McDowall in the Planet Of The Apes movies.

You'll also most likely need to relearn how to talk, as Perfect Smile Veneers tend to cause excessive lisping. Daily practice for four or five years should alleviate the problem though.

Lastly, your grandchildren may be frightened at first by your new appearance, causing them to pull away in revulsion and pose awkwardly with you in photos. They'll come around once they enter high school though.

Perfect Smile Veneers are no mere novelty product or passing fad. As you can see, they're officially endorsed by Dr. Fred Van Kuren, DMD, the "Director Of Dental Medicine," whatever the hell that means. In addition to his extraordinary credentials, Dr. Van Kuren doesn't show up in any Google search. Impressive!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Arrival

Arrival was written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Heisserer is a very uneven screenwriter, who previously penned the awful A Nightmare On Elm Street remake (the one that turned Freddie Krueger into an outright pedophile), Final Destination 5 (eh, OK), The Thing remake (ugh), Hours (didn't see it) and Lights Out (meh). Wow. That is a spectacularly unimpressive body of work. How the hell did a guy with a resume like that manage to pump out a thoughtful and intelligent hard sci-fi movie like this? I guess one can't strike out every time at bat. I wouldn't be surprised though if some day, when Eric Heisserer is old and gray, a large puff or brimstone will appear before him and Satan will lean out and say, "Did you think I'd never come to collect on our bargain?"

Villeneuve previously directed Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario.

Arrival is based on the book Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang. It should not be confused with The Arrival, the 1996 scifi opus starring Charlie Sheen (!).

I like science-fantasy movies like Star Wars and Guardians Of The Galaxy just fine, but I've always liked hard scifil films even more. 
Movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain and more recently The Martian. Films that are full of ideas and involve actual science. Stories that make you think, instead of sitting there like a lump, passively absorbing whatever flashes across the screen. 

Unfortunately the vast majority of the movie-going public doesn't want to think they just want to see amazing visuals and watch CGI buildings explode. That's why it's all the more amazing when a thoughtful scifil movie like Arrival finds its way into the cineplex these days.

Predictably, the film is being whupped at the box office, by both Doctor Strange ($600 million so far) and, god help us, Trolls ($260 million). Heck, even Boo! A Madea Halloween out-grossed Arrival during its brief run, racking up an astonishing $72 million!

Meanwhile, poor Arrival's only manged to gross an anemic $53 million worldwide against it's $43 million budget. Due to marketing and other costs, movies generally need to make twice their production cost before they begin showing a profit. Arrival's gonna have an uphill climb just to break even.

Sadly, this doesn't surprise me. 
I'm sure most of the audience was expecting Arrival to be a clone of Independence Day, only to be bitterly disappointed when it turned out to be a thoughtful, slow-moving film about language and our perception of time. In fact as I was leaving the theater, I overheard at least two different groups complaining that Arrival was "stupid" and that they should have seen Doctor Strange instead.

Sigh...

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD! THIS IS A FILM THAT'S BEST EXPERIENCED WITH NO PREVIOUS KNOWLEDGE OF ITS PLOT! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

The Plot:
As the film opens, we see linguistic professor Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) as she recalls bittersweet memories of her late daughter, who died as a teen. Smells like foreshadowing to me! Later that morning, Louise drives to class and is puzzled to find it practically deserted. At a student's request she turns on the TV and is shocked to see new reports of an alien invasion.

It seems twelve massive alien "shells" have suddenly appeared and are hovering a few feet above seemingly random spots across Earth. No one knows just why the aliens are here or what they want, which causes a worldwide panic. U.S. Army Colonel Weber (played by Forest Whitaker) arrives at Louise's house in the middle of the night, claiming the government needs her translation skills to help decipher the aliens' language.

Louise is flown to Montana, where one of the alien shells is hovering. The army's set up a large temporary headquarters near the "landing" site. Louise is joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner), and after a brief indoctrination, they're dressed in hazmat suits and taken to the meet the "visitors." Every eighteen hours, a hatch opens in the bottom of each of the shells. Louise, Ian, Col. Weber and a few other soldiers are scissor-lifted into the shell.

Inside, Louise sees a wide rectangular chamber with a glass wall at the end. She approaches the glass, and two of the aliens emerge from their cloudy atmosphere so she can get a good look at them. They vaguely resembling large floating squids with seven tentacles. She tries to communicate with them, but their language is composed of incomprehensible squeals and moans hat a human voice could never reproduce. Later back at the base, Louise is flustered by the encounter.

The next day, Louise and the others return to the ship. She realizes they're never going to get anywhere while she's wearing a bulky hazmat suit, so she peels it off, marches up to the glass and writes "human" on a dry erase board. One of the aliens squirts an inky substance into its atmosphere, which forms a lumpy ring. Louise correctly guesses this it the alien's "written" language.

Ian dubs the aliens "Heptapods" due to their seven arm symmetry, and names the two they're working with "Abbott" and "Costello" (ask your grandparents, kids). The Heptapod's writing system is nearly impossible to comprehend, as each little flourish on the circular symbols relates to and affects all the others. Through the power of a montage, Louise and the aliens slowly learn one another's written language. She even writes an app allowing her to type out sentences in Heptapodese!

Louise translates one of the Heptapod's messages as "Offer weapon." Naturally this alarms the nations of the world, destabilizing the already fragile peace. The leader of China's army, General Shang, panics and threatens military action against the Heptapods. Panic grips the populace and seeps into the army base, as many of the soldiers become suspicious of the Heptapods' motives. Louise tries to tell Col. Weber and the others that "weapon" could also mean "tool," but her explanation falls on deaf ears.

Meanwhile Louise begins dreaming about her late daughter, as well as the aliens. Ian wonders if trying to understand and think in the Heptapod language is beginning to affect her brain.

The next day a group of soldiers somehow sneak a bomb into the chamber of the Heptapod ship. Louise and Ian enter and talk with Abbot and Costello. The aliens seem agitated as they pound on the glass, as if they're trying to tell the humans something. They write a complicated "sentence" with hundreds of circular symbols, then suddenly fly away from the glass. The Heptapods use some sort of invisible force to shove Louise and Ian out of the chamber a split second before the bomb explodes.

Louise is knocked out, and when she wakes, the Heptapod shell is now inaccessible, floating high in the air. Col. Weber has been ordered to evacuate the Montana base. China has their weapons aimed at their Heptapod ship, and the other nations follow suit. War and destruction seem inevitable.

Ian somehow translates part of the complicated message, saying it has something to do with the concept of time. He says Abbott and Costello only gave Louise one twelfth of the message. To translate it fully, they'll have to get the remaining pieces from the other eleven nations. Since none of the countries are speaking to each other, that seems unlikely.

Louise rushes out and stands under the ship. It sends down a small pod that takes her inside. She's brought into the Heptapods' atmosphere, which apparently isn't poisonous to humans. Costello tells her that Abbott was injured by the bomb and is dying. He helps her realize that understanding the Heptapods' language unlocks something in the speaker's brain, allowing them to experience the past, present and future all at once. Costello tells Louise the reason they came to Earth is to give us their language and save us, because they've foreseen that three thousand years from now, we'll save them from... something.

Louise realizes the Heptapod language has already altered her perception, and she no longer sees time linearly. It turns out her late daughter hasn't even been born yet, and the "memories" she has of her are actually flash-forwards (!). Woahhhh... this movie just blew my mind, man.


Louise returns to the camp and has another flash-forward, in which General Shang thanks her for changing his mind about firing on the Heptapods' ship. She asks him how she did this, and he says she called his private number (!) and repeated his late wife's last words to him.

Louise is then pursued by various base personnel for... reasons. I think maybe they're afraid she's been compromised by the aliens? She steals a satellite phone and miraculously gets through to General Shang in the present. Right before the soldiers open fire on her, she relays her message to Shang. He's so flustered and amazed by what she tells him that he orders the Chinese military to stand down. Following China's lead, the other nations back off as well, and the various countries start working together again, sharing all their info with one another.

The aliens decide they've caused enough trouble for humanity, and the twelve shells simply fade away.

As they're dismantling the Montana base, Ian tells Louise he loves her. She sees a future vision in which he asks her if she wants to make a baby. Despite already knowing the tragic fate of her daughter, she says yes.

Thoughts: 

• Oddly enough, I don't have a lot to say about this movie. It's pretty darned good and I liked it a lot. That means this review's gonna be pretty short.

See, when I hate a movie, I can work up a pretty good head of steam and write 100,000 words ripping it apart. But when a movie's actually good, well... there are only so many ways to say, "It's great!"

This is the irony of movie reviews, I guess. The worse the movie, the more spirited and interesting the review, while good films just get a pat on the head.

• Director Denis Villeneuve insisted that the movie's use of linguistics and linguistic science was as accurate as possible.

Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer also created a fully functioning written language for the Heptapods to use in the film. They created a list of over a hundred different circular "logograms," seventy nine of which are seen in the film.

• I could easily accept Amy Adams as a professor of linguistics. Unfortunately I didn't for one minute buy Jeremy Renner as a theoretical physicist. Renner seems much too "blue collar" to play a brainy scientist. That isn't necessarily a criticism of his acting talent; he was just miscast. 

• At no time in the film do any of the Heptapods or their ships ever actually touch the Earth. The aliens never leave their ships, which all hover just a few feet above the surface.

• Kudos to the design team for the look of the Heptapods. It was nice to finally see extraterrestrials that actually looked alien, instead of like humanoids with wrinkly foreheads.

• The movie bases a big chunk of its plot on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. The hypothesis was created back in 1929, and there are two versions: "strong" and "weak."

The strong version states that all human thought, perceptions and actions are bound by the restraints of language. In other words an English speaker perceives the world much differently than someone who uses Mandarin. If a person learns a new language, then new areas of the brain are opened up and they begin thinking in new ways.

The weak version of the hypothesis says that language plays a much, much smaller role in shaping our minds.

Most modern linguists have discounted the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, citing that if it was true, instruction manuals and works of fiction would be impossible to translate from one language to another.

Unfortunately Arrival heavily utilizes the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, as simply learning the Heptapods' language causes Louise to begin experiencing time non-linearly. Given the fact that most scientists have thoroughly discredited the theory, this puts the entire plot of the film in serious doubt.

• The 2009 Torchwood miniseries Children Of Earth featured an invasion by an advanced race of aliens called the 456, who demanded the world hand over ten percent of the planet's children to them or else. 

The 456 enclosed themselves in a special glass chamber that was filled with their toxic atmosphere. Earth representatives met with the aliens by standing in front of the glass wall of their chamber.

The scenes of Louise and Ian meeting the Heptapods in Arrival looked amazingly similar to Children Of Earth. Wait, did I say similar? I meant EXACTLY like it.

This isn't necessarily a case of plagiarism. It could be that there are only so many ways to film humans standing in front of a smoky glass box full of aliens.

• What was up with Ian's odd narration? Halfway through the movie, he suddenly begins infodumping the plot to us, telling how Louise made a breakthrough that let her decipher the alien pictograms.

Hey guys, it's a movie. You're supposed to show, not tell.

I have a feeling the narration was a studio mandate. I'm betting a nervous studio executive watched a rough cut of the film, and was worried that the dimmer members of the audience wouldn't be able to figure out what was happening, and insisted on spelling it out for them.

 Arrival kind of skates over the specifics of exactly how Louise finally cracks the Heptapods' language. 

One minute she's commenting that their circular sentence structure baffles any attempt to decipher it, then a couple scenes later she's using a Heptapod language app on her IPad, tapping out sentences with ease.

 This movie contains a perfect example of what I call The Fantastic Four Effect.

See, back in the awful 2005 Fantastic Four movie, there's a scene in which the Thing sits brooding on the Brooklyn Bridge. He sees a man about to commit suicide and saves him, but accidentally causes a huge traffic pileup that escalates into a full blown disaster. The Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl and the Human Torch then spring into action, each using their powers to save the city. The media dubs the team the Fantastic Four as the public celebrates them.

What no one seems to realize is the Fantastic Four became famous while cleaning up the huge mess they created. There wouldn't have been a disaster if not for them.

And so it is in Arrival. The Heptapods tell Louise they came to Earth to save humanity, because they've foreseen that three thousand years from now, humanity will somehow save them.

But we wouldn't have needed saving if they hadn't come here and freaked everyone the hell out by ominously hanging their ships over our heads. We were getting along just fine before they showed up and destabilized our society.

 These days many films count on the Chinese box office for a significant portion of their worldwide gross. In fact some studios are beginning to tailor their films to appeal to Chinese audiences.

I have a feeling Arrival probably won't be playing there. Sure, General Shang ends up saving the day, but China's the first country to threaten to destroy the alien ships. That's probably not gonna play well in the Middle Kingdom.

Arrival is a rare sight at the cineplex these days— a well-written, thoughtful hard scifi movie that contains ideas and concepts instead of explosions and CGI disaster porn. Better hurry and see it before it's nudged out of the theater by the holiday blockbusters. I give it an A-.
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