Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Supergirl - 'Luthors'

"When you're in the big house, you take the laughs were you can get 'em."
It's time for who do you trust? Hubba hubba hubba, money money money, who do ya trust?

As Lillian Luthor's trial for the attempted mass-murder of aliens (which I guess is a crime,) dominates the headlines, she reaches out to her adopted daughter for reconciliation. Metallo takes the stand and starts shooting green death out of his chest, and he and Lillian vanish after dropping a crane to force Supergirl to choose between capturing the bad guy and saving the innocent. Video evidence implicates the hell out of Lena Luthor, who is arrested over Kara's lone voice of protest. J'onn and Alex regretfully concede that she looks guilty AF, while James gets on his high horse about Kara trusting Lena not to commit cries more than she trusts him to run around in an armoured suit fighting superhumans without getting hurt.

He has a point about her being overprotective, but it's somewhat lost in his insistence that she trust him while absolutely shutting out her thoughts and opinions on Lena Luthor, whom she knows pretty much as well as anyone does. And indeed, she is right, and Lillian has framed Lena to try to coerce her into using her DNA (as she turns out to also be Lionel Luthor's illegitimate daughter,) to open Lex's secret armoury of anti-alien macuffinry.

"Personal space is just something that doesn't apply to other people in your
book, right?"
Metallo busts Lena out, knocking down Guardian to do so, but Winn is able to uncover proof that the real Hank Henshaw hacked the video feed to make Lena look guilty, and also to track Metallo via an instability in his synthetic kryptonite heart. Kara rescues Lena, but Hank and Lillian escape as Metallo explodes. Lena thanks Kara for her trust, before flashing back to a chess game as children to drop the hint that she might just be much, much better at this whole evil thing than anyone else in her family.

In personal subplot land, Alex introduces Maggie to her friends to a resounding chorus of routine acceptance (J'onn apparently knew all along that Alex was gay, but didn't feel it his place to say anything. Bloody telepaths.) Eve reveals that Mon-el spent their entire date talking about Kara and Kara decides to give things a shot with Mon-el, only for their kiss to be interrupted by the arrival, not as I had predicted of those alien bounty hunters, but by Mister Mxyzptlk, who declares his love for Kara.

Congratulations, Supergirl. You went there, to a there that I didn't even think of as an option you might reject(1).

This guy. Spoilers: He doesn't actually look like this in the show.
'Luthors' is a not uninteresting episode, but highlights a problem with the current arc plot, to whit that the friendship between Kara and Lena has only come up in episodes where shit happens to Lena. If we're going to buy it as an ongoing part of Kara's life, and a relationship that she'll butt heads with her other friends over, we really need to see it as an ongoing thing, even if Katie McGrath just pops in every so often to keep the connection live in our minds. Essentially, we shouldn't be kicking off each Lena Luthor episode with 'oh, yeah; they're mates.'

Other than that, and the total disinterest I have in the Kara/Mon-el relationship, this is another decent episode, with the more investigative slant and the instability issue setting it apart from previous clashes with Metallo.

Next week is going to be… weird.

(1) This shoves Arrow even more to the outliers of its own 'verse, although if we get an appearance by Arrow-Mite, they're not going to be able to deny that they really wanted Batman anymore.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Agents of SHIELD - 'Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire'

"Come on then! I'll throw a shrimp on ya!"
They say that if something is too good to be true, it probably is. It's understandable that your average spod on the street might ignore this truism, but I find it less forgivable when an Agent of SHIELD like Jessica Simmons blithely wanders off to view the perfect house which dropped into her lap via email.

Fortunately, it turns out to only be Daisy, who needs some help with a bullet wound courtesy of the Watchdogs, who are totes Up to Something Big™. Daisy coerces Simmons, officially at gunpoint, into helping her get hold of a copy of the list the Watchdogs are working from to track registered Inhumans via their GPS locators. Top of their list is James, who is working in a fireworks store. Simmons wants to help him to not get dead, but Daisy is pushing him to join her cause and hunt the Watchdogs.

Meanwhile, Coulson and Mack are following the trail of Momentum Alternative Energy to Robbie's uncle Eli, who is unwilling to give them the time of day. When they manage to capture Robbie by tricking him into colliding with the invisible Quinjet, Coulson takes the chance of making a deal with Robbie to work together. They learn from Eli that the man he put in a coma was responsible for the experiments which killed multiple researchers at Momentum by attempting to utilise the Darkhold, a book of ultimate knowledge. Green energy from black magic; who could have seen that going wrong?

"Did two fire dudes just fall into a fireworks warehouse?"
"You had to see that coming."
Scumbag James turns out to be a scumbag (shock, horror,) having decided post-Hive that all Inhumans are bastards. He has been working with the Watchdogs, letting them hack the database via his GPS, and has set Daisy and Simmons up for an ambush. In return for his aid, he gets to die last. Fortunately, Coulson gets an alert that an asset (James) may be in danger and shows up with Mack and Robbie, who is basically not fussed about a pyrogenic Inhuman what with the whole tempered in the flames of Hell thing he has going on. They fight, fall into a fireworks warehouse and Robbie drags James out unconscious and chained up.

Coulson recruits Daisy and Robbie for a mission to recover the Darkhold. When they stop to pick up May from Dr Radcliffe's, Simmons immediately makes Ada for an android, which could mean even more trouble on her next lie detector test.

Season 4 continues to struggle a little with two so-far unrelated plots: The Watchdogs and the Darkhold. It's actually a plot point that they are having to choose between two evils to fight (although in part this must be self-inflicted now that they're official again,) but unless something comes of it it's still just cluttered plotting. I'm more interested to see where the show goes with the Darkhold, and in particular the obvious crossover with the magical concepts introduced in Doctor Strange.

Star Wars Rebels - 'Legacy of Mandalore'

"Leave it, Ezra; it's fam'ly!"
Okay, folks; brace yourselves. Things are gonna change around here.

Armed with the Darksaber and accompanied by Fenn Rau, Kanan and Ezra, Sabine returns home to persuade her mother, Countess Ursa Wren, to help her bring the Mandalorians into the rebellion, hinting that they have something big planned. Things go reasonably well at first, with Ursa explaining that, far from rejecting her daughter as a traitor, she never wanted her to come home because away from the rest of the clan she was safe. Unfortunately, Mandalorian Meanie Governor Saxon has Sabine's father hostage and Ursa is persuaded to cut a deal: The two Jedi in exchange for Sabine's safety.

Naturally, Saxon decides to alter the deal, as it were, accusing Ursa of consorting with Rebels and intending to take down the entire Wren Clan. Rau breaks the standoff, and the Rebels and Clan Wren throw down with Saxon's supercommandos. Ultimately, Saxon faces off again Sabine, he wielding the Darksaber and she Ezra's lightsabre, just in case there was any doubt that non-Jedi could use a regular lightsabre. Sabine defeats Saxon, Clan Wren turns against the Empire and Sabine… Sabine opts to remain with her clan; to help them defeat the Imperial Mandalorians and reclaim their own world, before – hopefully – coming to stand with the Rebellion.
Not the duel you might have been expecting.
This, obviously, is huge. Sabine is the first main crew member to depart the series, although if it's true that they are wrapping up Rebels in preparation for a new show, not such a big thing I guess. Maybe we'll see her again(1) in the series, however. I hope so. All-in-all, it's a good move for the character, although some of her character arc feels it has been a little rushed or erratic due to the early seasons' focus on Ezra. It's been good to see her get serious screen time lately, and this season has really impressed me with its commitment to the narratives of the non-Jedi characters.

(1) I admit, I was rather hopeful about references to Laura Dern playing a pink-haired Resistance leader in The Last Jedi, but the elegant dresses seem a little out of character and, in retrospect, I'm glad. As much as I'd like to see Rebels characters show up in the new movies – either main series or Stories – I'm pretty sure that all of the Wrens have been voiced by actors of Indian heritage, and I'd like to see that continued in live action.

Emerald City - 'Prison of the Abject'

"Were you looking for a veteran British character actor?"
We're off to see the Wizard,
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Because, because, because, because, because,
Because of the dubious beard he has.

We open with Dorothy trying to teach the amnesiac Lucas about knock-knock jokes, only for him to be overcome with blood poisoning. She gets directions to an apothecary named Mombi, who turns out to be a witch who lives in a house with a magically activated thorn-bush door, which I'm pretty sure is illegal in the Wizard's Oz. Depressingly, I'm far less certain of the legal status of Tip, the boy she keeps locked up 'to protect him', but Tip certainly feels that free is what he's meant to be, and intends to be so with the help of his friend Jack.

The fearsome Geometric Guard.
In the Emerald City, the last remaining Cardinal Witches gather for the funeral of East, which will seal away her soul and magic. In a PR move, the Wizard opens the ceremony to the public, knowing that it's some freaky shit and will damage the witches' standing with the people. Glinda of the North also brings a new councillor/nun from her orphanage to make political side-eye at Councillor Knocked-Up, and tells him that since he banned witches from taking apprentices, no-one knows how to maintain the spells on the Prison of the Abject where potential witches are held(1), so nyeah.

Speaking of, the Wizard's goon Eamonn leads a group of guards through the Prison in pursuit of Dorothy, and kills a would-be mutineer who for some reason mistakes Mr Intense for a shiftless eccentric.

Mombi takes Dorothy and Lucas in and treats the latter's wounds, despite identifying him by his sword as one of the Wizard's witch-killing guards, only for Dorothy to get all confrontational about Tip. While Mombi is sleeping, her guests try to help Tip escape and the boy gets away, although he refuses to let Jack steal anything. Mombi goes all Black Canary and Lucas flips out, stabs her and bashes her face into a pulp. As Dorothy leaves, Lucas follows, face all bloodied, and tries to engage her with a knock knock joke, which, fair play, is hella creepy.

Out in the woods, Tip runs out of medicine and, as much to his surprise as Jack's(2), turns into a girl. Back at the house, Mombi starts to recover, because only a witch can kill a witch, if you recall.

"Of course I'm a girl now; look how much hair I have."
Emerald City is a bit of a mixed bag. I'm starting to suspect that it is secretly brilliant, but that a wealth of strong ideas are mired in the unfortunate collision of director Tarsem Singh's unique vision and the constraints of an Anglo-American television budget. The casting is a dead giveaway – all unknown talent and jobbing thespians, with D'Onofrio the only significant 'name' – although the problem is definitely not the actors. Rather, it lies in a production where every element is heavy with unachieved spectacle. I am reminded somewhat of the original production of Neverwhere, a decent effort that had everything necessary to be amazing except a realistic expectation of what was possible on a television budget, although at least Emerald City wasn't stuck with Neverwhere's video filming problem.

I'm still on board with Emerald City for now, but with Person of Interest and The Magicians coming back, and my family due to move in with me in a month's time, we may be approaching another crunch.

(1) I'm pretty sure this is the same spell that she used on Lucas and Dorothy last episode, which makes them roll around on the floor, convinced that they are trapped in a James Bond opening sequence.
(2) Although serious Baumheads were almost certainly all going 'duh!'

Timeless - 'The Capture of Benedict Arnold'

It must be nice to have Washington on your side.
This week, the team travel back in time to the War of Independence to prevent the assassination of George Washington by the brainwashed Rip Hunter and… No, wait; damnit. That was Legends of Tomorrow.

Okay, this week, the team travel back in time to the War of Independence, where they know Garcia Flynn is up to some shenanigans involving Benedict Arnold, the man who tried to surrender West Point to the British and became a byword for treachery after his death in comfortable retirement in England. Before they go, Agent Christopher gives Lucy a flash drive containing a record of her family, in case the team ever comes back and finds that her children have been erased.

The team are captured by Patriot forces, but freed when Flynn – having murdered and replaced Washington's spymaster Rowe with consummate ease(1) – explains that they are his homies. Flynn believes Arnold to be up to the eyeballs with the original Rittenhouse after finding a letter from Arnold in the clock that Ford's key unlocked, and promises to surrender himself to justice and tell Wyatt who killed his wife, if the Lifeboat team will help him to kill the weed at its root. This involves the four of them pretending to defect to the British, ostensibly to capture Arnold for trial, but in fact to beat him up until he agrees to introduce them – or at least the white folks, since that's the kind of dude Rittenhouse is – to Rittenhouse himself.

"There are things I will not tolerate. Uppity negros. Feisty women. Assassins
from the future set on protecting the democratic rights of the masses. And also
sloppy clockmaking."
Rittenhouse turns out to be a creepy clockmaker with a heavily trod-upon son, who explains his father's belief that democracy is a smokescreen to convince the masses that they have power, while a secret cabal wields the only effective form of government: Tyranny(2). Rittenhouse spots them for assassins in a heartbeat and decides that he's going to have Flynn and Wyatt shot and Lucy for a sex slave. Dude; even evil can be classy, you know. He also shoots Arnold with Wyatt's gun, because this is the price of failure, and clearly has plans in his little clockmakey brain to mass produce knock-off Brownings in the 18th century. Fortunately, Rufus creates a ruckus, allowing Flynn to kill Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse Jr escapes, however, and Lucy prevents Flynn killing him as well, since he's just a child and since Rittenhouse clearly indicated that he was not a sole operator.

Flynn takes this philosophically and kidnaps Lucy. Meanwhile Rufus is left to deliver the recording of this to an increasingly suspicious Rittenhouse organisation, who have threatened to bump off his family if he messes with another recording and are unlikely to be philosophical about him giving his seal of approval to the assassination of their own articular founding father.

Perhaps a little disappointingly, Timeless hits its terminus post quem in the 18th century, as if this is the founding of Rittenhouse then there will never be a need to chase further back. I always figure that for a weakness in a time travel show, but then again we have been told that the story of Rittenhouse is the story of America, and there is always a chance – should the series be renewed – to reveal even earlier roots. On the upside, this false denouement provides the solid shakeup that the formula has been wanting; with the team separated and Rufus facing near-certain death in the present, it seems a pretty sure thing that we won't just be getting another temporal brouhaha of the week next episode.

This week, the team's vacillation over the rightness of their course and the justifiability of murder was interesting, not least because of Rufus' resentment of Lucy's moral position. Murder appals her, and he clearly feels – having shot someone for the sake of the timeline – that her absolutism is a judgement on him (and less emotively, Wyatt.) The fact that of the three of them, he is also the only one being personally threatened by Rittenhouse in the nownow is also clearly a thing, with the mission for him clearly far more than just a matter of historical pragmatism.

(1) Apparently Rowe and Washington never met, but I continue to be amazed at how smoothly Flynn fits into a time, and yet how badly Team Lifeboat do the same.
(2) I increasingly expect to see Flynn putting on the white hoodie and parkouring around the past.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Legends of Tomorrow - 'Turncoat'

"I don't do costume drama."
And now, at last, it's Mick Roary's turn to introduce the show:

"Seriously, you idiots haven't figured this out by now? It all started when we blew up the time pigs; the Time Masters. Now history's all screwed up, and it's up to us to un-screw it up. Half the time we screw things up even worse. So don't call us heroes; we're something else. We're Legends. Who writes this crap anyway?"

Oh, right; and I forgot to mention last time that the reprogrammed Rip shot George Washington. Just a little thing.

As the Legends head back to Christmas Eve to prevent the assassination of Washington before he can cross the Delaware and enter the catacombs to retrieve the Eye of Providence... No, wait; that was Sleepy Hollow. Okay, too many time travel shows. In this instance, Washington is just leading a pivotal raid on British forces, or will be if he doesn't get killed, either by Rip Hunter or a unit of redcoats carrying M16 assault rifles provided by Thawne. As they move to protect Washington, Rip deploys an EMP device which traps Ray in miniaturised form with no working weapons or flight tech, disables the ship and even the genetic splicer which allows Stein and Jax to fuse. As a final fuck you to his former team, Rip captures Mick and Washington, and shoots Sara in the gut.

We never should have trusted that accent.
As Ray races a rat through the ducts to try to reset the Waverider's breakers and Stein struggles to keep Sara alive, Jax defends the ship from Rip and his redcoats. Nate and Amaya, as the only ones with working powers, head out to rescue Washington, but are sidetracked by Hessians and by sexy, sexy hypothermia, giving Roary time to school Washington - whom he considers a punk because he only got the one dollar bill - in the fine art of fighting like an American.

"We're misfits, outcasts, and we're proud of it. If they attack in formation, we pop 'em off from the trees, if they challenge you to a duel, you raid their camp at night and if they're gonna hang you, you fight dirty and you never, ever, give up. That's the American way."

The NHS approved treatment for near-fatal hypothermia.
Rip forces Jax to hand over the Spear fragment and kills Sara, but Ray is able to restore the power in time for Gideon to save her, and for Sara to prevent Jax murdering Rip in revenge. Nate and Amaya arrive to find Mick and Washington mid-escape, Washington crosses the Delaware after all builds a statue in Washington that looks like Mick. Bloodied, but not beaten, the Legends share Christmas dinner and Amaya and Nate basically both try to act all cool about what happened.

So, I could have done without more team boinking, but Nate and Amaya are desperately short of other points of interest. They lack the rough edges which define the other Legends. Currently I'm worried that their whole 'it's just chill' attitude is going to mutate into a festering envy/stupidity subplot. The main plot of the week was a lot of fun, the kind of mad historical scrapes that Legends does best, and it turns out that Arthur Darvill does play a very good bad guy. EvilRip is truly a piece of work, plumbing every Hollywood historical English stereotype as he dons the red coat of scumbaggery to go with the RP accent of darkness.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Start to Finish - Curse of the Daleks

Image (c) Big Finish Productions
Wrapping up this short run of Start to Finish, we come to the earliest of the Doctor Who stage plays, and the only one to lack a certain something, a certain... how should I put it? Renegade Time Lord. That's right; 1965's Curse of the Daleks does feature everyone's favourite travel machine-bound mutants(1), but not a sign or mention of the Doctor.

Remember, remember the Dalek December,
With Paris in ruins and London an ember.
In times of the future, when fears are abating,
Don't try to forget them, the Daleks are waiting,
Silently plotting, and scheming, and waiting.

Fifty years after the devastation of the human/Dalek wars, a series of accidents force the spaceship Starfinder, with a crew of three and carrying two passengers and two prisoners, to make an emergency landing on Skaro. The planet is ordinarily forbidden, but it's perfectly safe. After all, the Daleks were all destroyed or disabled, cut off from the static electricity that they need to bring them to life. Weren't they?

The Curse of the Daleks is a real oddity. In terms of plot is has more in common with drawing room murder mystery than science fiction adventure, with most of the first act devoted to the crew and passengers trying to work out who sabotaged the radio-pic transmitter on the Starfinder. The Daleks only really start putting in an appearance towards the end of the act, and do a lot of slipping in and out unseen, a feature which required adapter and voice of the Daleks Nicholas Briggs to add a substantial amount of narration to the play in order to stick to the mission statement of presenting the work as much as possible as written.

Most of the vanishingly small number of production stills for
the play feature their five Dalek models.
That mission is also the reason that the audio version retains quite so much of the intrinsic sexism of the original production. Of the nine characters (plus Daleks) two are female. One of these is a defrosting ice maiden, the other a scrappy Thal freedom fighter who goes all submissive every time her fiance - the gruffly heroic Ladiver - tells her to do something. The villain of the piece intends to use the Daleks to rule the galaxy, but also finds time to start work on a harem. There is even a painful exchange between Marion Clements and Rocket Smith - a character heavily inspired by Journey Into Space's Lemmy Barnett - on the wonders of twentieth century feminism and the brave new world of the 22nd century, where an unexplained ratio of one woman to every 7.5 men has led to women once again becoming a fragile 'weaker sex.'

The plot is almost insanely convoluted, and relies heavily on chance. As noted above, the first half is like a drawing room mystery, while the second has something of the James Bond about it, with its diabolical reveal and a denouement witha dashing hero rescuing captives from a massive industrial plant. The science is also bollocks, beginning with the Daleks' static electric power supply, to the retrofuturism of miniature tape drives and transistor-based radio-pics, to the claim that water can't boil at light speed, while a fire would rage out of control.

Which is not to say that there is nothing good here. The performances are excellent and the mystery element is intriguing, even if the solution relies on a scifi conceit which would disqualify it under the golden age rules. While flawed, there are also some interesting attempts at world building, including slave trafficking between Venus and Mars and left-hand thread screw tops. The sexism is distracting, not least because of the contrast with modern production values. It would barely have raised an eyebrow in 1965, I'm sure. More than either of the other stage play audios, this one is a curio; a post-facto record of a thing never recorded, notable more for its fidelity than its intrinsic excellence.

(1) And how rare is it that the results of radiation-induced mutation are depicted as hideous and debilitating?