Friday, 17 November 2017

DC Roundup: Supergirl – ‘Triggered’, ‘Far from the Tree’, 'The Faithful' and 'Damage'; The Flash – ‘Mixed Signals’, ‘Luck Be A Lady’, 'The Elongated Journey into Night' and 'Girls’ Night Out'; and Legends of Tomorrow – ‘Freakshow’, ‘Zari’, 'Phone Home' and 'Return of the Mack'

"Who does your hair?"
Wow; I’ve let this one drag on, haven’t I? Well, I blame NaNoWriMo. Also, you may note that, due to the significant limits on co-watching time, Hanna and I have not progressed with Arrow this past month.

Supergirl moves onto more familiar territory as Kara gets her shit a little more together in the wake of Mon-el’s departure, with a quartet of episodes balancing monster of the week face puncher with arc plot and personal development. ‘Triggered’(1) sees Supergirl go up against a metahuman psychic who immobilises people with their own worst fears, forcing Kara to confront both a lingering claustrophobia resulting from her long trip through space in a flying coffin and her dread that she has doomed Mon-el by condemning him to the same or a similar fate. The villain of the piece, Psi, is an interesting take; a metahuman who has weaponised her own pathological fears to attack others. Sadly, she doesn't have a chance to develop much more personality than that.

When Martian was in Egypt land,
Let my Martian go.
Then in ‘Far From the Tree’, Kara accompanies J’onn back to Mars, where the Staff of Kolar, a religious artefact of stupendous power, is about to be used by the White Martian authorities to eradicate the rebels within their own ranks. In order to locate this artefact and keep it from the hands of the White Martian authorities, J’onn has to reconnect with a man - well, a Martian - that he thought was long dead: His father, the Green Martian scholar-priest M’yrnn J’onzz (played by animated Martian Manhunter Carl Lumbly.) While J’onn tries to convince his father of his true identity, M’gann struggles to control her rebels, some of whom wish to use a forbidden process to force the knowledge from the mind of even one as powerful as M’yrnn, at the risk of fatal damage to the subject.

"All you need to do is accept Supergirl as your personal saviour."
‘The Faithful’ examines the messiah complex so beloved of Zack Snyder, but with a far more critical eye. A man in crisis faces death in a plane crash, but this is the plane that Kara saved to protect Alex, beginning her career as Supergirl. Collecting Kryptonian artefacts, he stumbles on a holy text and forms a cult, worshipping the Kryptonian god Rau and his emissary, Supergirl, and planning on detonating a Kryptonian obelisk as part of a plan to reveal Supergirl’s miraculous nature to more people. Finally, in ‘Damage’, Morgan Edge reveals that National City’s children are suffering from lead poisoning as a result of Lena’s anti-Daxamite bomb. Lena succumbs to guilt, but Kara and L-Corp CFO Sam – more on her below – trace the poisoning to deliberate contamination of a children’s swimming pool. Lena confronts Edge, but before she can ‘be a Luthor’ and shoot him, a goon knocks her out and she is trapped in a plane with barrels of the deadly chemical, heading for a reservoir. Cue Supergirl.

Cross now.
The big personal plot running through these episodes is, I won’t lie to you, a bit of a bummer. ‘Far from the Tree’ features another parental reunion, as Maggie reaches out to invite her father to her bridal shower. He comes, and makes an effort to get along, but in the end proves unable to accept Maggie’s sexuality. It’s a painful, but perhaps realistic moment, and allows Maggie to realise that she doesn’t need his approval any more. With that out of the way, it’s full steam ahead for a happy ever after, or would be if they didn’t break up two episodes later. Again, it’s not an unreasonable storyline – having gone very rapidly towards marriage, they suddenly discover a divisive issue, in this case, children and whether to have any – but it’s still gutting, especially given that they show less sign of trying to save the relationship than Barry and Iris.

We also get to know Sam – a talented orphan and third member of Kara and Lena’s sisterhood – and her daughter Ruby. Sam may have superpowers and shares dreams with Kara, and after the Kryptonian pod explodes, rousing someone from stasis elsewhere, Sam begins having visions of script written all over her skin and a creepy robed figure telling her she will soon Reign (so, that’s not good.) Morgan Edge reappears, and affirms that he is not just powerful and ruthless, but actually amoral to the point of being a psychopath, willing to poison literally hundreds of children to get at Lena.

Finally, these episodes give us a rare religious focus, with the worship of Rau, and of the Martian god Kolar and his two sons – Deimos and Phobos, one the culture-bearing father of all Green Martians, the other the weapon-obsessed progenitor of the White Martians – each getting a fair chunk of an episode. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its politics, the show comes down in favour of personal piety, but sceptical of organised religion and dogma.
"Marbles. My only weakness."
In ‘Mixed Signals’, Barry’s day job leads to the trail of a software designer turned remote control assassin Kilg%re. Then, in ‘Luck be a Lady’, the Flash goes up against Hazard, a woman who can manipulate chance. Realising that neither of these metahumans was in Central City for the accelerator meltdown, Team Flash track them to an intersection where a bus was confronted by Barry exiting the Speed Force, bringing a wash of Dark Matter with him. In other news, Barry and Iris work through some issues(2) regarding his departure into the Speed Force(3), and Cisco’s relationship with Gypsy progresses. Also, Harry Wells returns to bring Wally a ‘breakup cube’ from Jesse, prompting Kid Flash to decide that he will walk the Earth, like Kane in Kung Fu.

TFW your girl's dad is pissed at you, and he's Danny Trejo.
‘The Elongated Journey into Night’ pays off much of the above. Team Flash learn that the driver of the bus in question killed himself, and a check of the evidence reveals that one of the passengers – who paid with an IOU – was former cop Ralph Dibney, who was fired after Barry proved that he had planted evidence. It is revealed that Dibney has stretching powers, and when the corrupt Mayor fails to have him killed and then abducts Joe, Dibney helps to save the day, earning him a spot as trainee hero and team jerk. Also, Gypsy’s father, Breacher, shows up to hunt down Cisco for daring to date his daughter, and Joe breaks the news that he and Cecile are going to be having a baby.

Hey, evil British goth Starbuck!
Finally, ‘Girl’s Night Out’ brings us to the stag and hen(4) parties for the West Allen wedding. Dibney crashes the former and turns a quiet night out into an evening of steak and strippers, enlivened by a phial of ‘get the Flash drunk’ potion, Cecile’s daughter appearing on stage as part of her research into the authentic female experience for her novel, and a bar fight. The real action, as the title implies, is with the hens, as Caitlin’s former boss Amunet(5) tries to rope her back in to help market the tears of one of the bus metas, triggering the return of Killer Frost. Iris, Cecile and Felicity Smoak (yay!) throw in to help defeat the metal-slinging mobster, and Iris is able to help the Caitlin and Frost personae to find some kind of a balance.

In the world of arc plots, Dibney tells Barry that he was put onto the Mayor by a man named DeVoe, which Barry recognises as the name of a future nemesis mentioned by both Abra Kadabra and Savitar. Also, DeVoe turns up in person in his flying wheelchair, like he’s Davros or something(6), to recapture the Weeper so that he can fulfil his purpose.

"Well, this will be embarrassing in the morning."
‘Freakshow’ takes the Legends to the early days of PT Barnum’s travelling show, where they accidentally release a sabre-toothed tiger thanks to a failure of Ray’s new shrink ray, and Barnum tries to deploy them as freaks instead. This leads to another run-in with Agent Stick-Up-Her-Butt, and I swear she and Sara will either kill each other or shag by the end of this series; possibly both(7). ‘Zari’ takes the crew into a near-future in which ARGUS brutally enforces a series of metahuman control laws, to rescue a woman named Zari Tomaz from a water-wielding sorceress named Kuasa. Zari, a super-hacker as well as the inheritor of an amulet which allows her to control winds, is initially reluctant to accept the Legends help, but warms up to them and eventually accepts an offer to travel on the Waverider instead of staying in her particular temporal shithole.

For all its flaws, the show does a splendid job of making Ray both a tragic
and a heroic figure.
In ‘Phone Home’, the disappearance of Ray leads the team back to the 80s, where the young Ray has adopted an anachronistic baby Dominator he calls Gumball. Watching Ray see his childhood from the outside is heartbreaking, as he recognises that his ‘friends’ were actually bullies, and that his mother struggled with his odd nature far more than she ever let on. Nate, who seems to have evolved from a sensitive, cerebral sort with incongruous might powers, into an occasionally brilliant meathead jerkass, flirts with Mrs Palmer and ends up making out with a Dominator Queen. Deciding that his Pollyanna attitude is hurting the team, Ray tries to convince his younger self to man up and reject his love of Gumball, but nails-hard emotional shut in Zari is moved by Ray’s genuineness, and convinces him to try things the kid’s way, which involves saving the alien while re-enacting E.T. 

There is a final scene where the Legends step out in costume to go trick or treating with Ray and give the kid some cache, and it's kind of delightful.

"Just in case."
Finally, for this time, ‘Return of the Mack’ brings Rip Hunter back to the Waverider, hunting for a vampire. His real quarry, however, is Mollus, a vast transtemporal evil, who is manipulating a cult run by Stein’s identical ancestor, Sir Henry Stein(8) and a dubious medium who seems to channel Zari’s brother despite him not being dead yet. The cult aim to resurrect Damien Darhk, and do so after Rip uses a security protocol to prevent the Legends interfering(9) and so removing the possibility of Mollus showing his face(10). In the resulting brawl Zari owns her power, a bunch of Time Bureau agents are killed, and Sara rats out Rip’s unauthorised investigation.

Also, in ‘Phone Home’ Mick and Jaxx think Stein is a rat, but discover he is just trying to keep in touch with home and be there when his grandchild is born. This shows a softer side of Mick – in contrast to hijacking candy from Ray’s bullies at heat gun point at the end of the episode – who also turns out to be reading Dracula and to carry a stake with him at all times on the off-chance he might get to kill a vampire. Zari is a good addition to the team, improving the gender balance while also holding her own as a member of the team, despite not yet having a full handle on her powers. I don’t think it would be necessary, but if they’re angling for a relationship between her and Ray, they already have more chemistry than Ray and Hawkgirl ever did.

Rip and Nate have both turned into tools. Not sure what’s up with that.

(1) This is Supergirl, so I doubt it is coincidence that the title is a term misused to label feminist responses as emotional outbursts.
(2) I was amused to note that their therapist had a magazine on the table featuring Oliver’s outing as Green Arrow.
(3) Although it seems a little harsh for Iris to call going into the Speed Force to save all of creation including her ‘abandonment.’
(4) Batchelor and batchelorette, I suppose.
(5) Mad props for a never-caught crime boss using the name of the ‘Hidden One’, incidentally.
(6) And he is very Davros.
(7) While the conflict is more professional and less lethal, I get the same feeling with James and Lena in Supergirl.
(8) Well, he says he’s a knight, but since he wants to attach the ‘sir’ to his surname, I don’t believe him.
(9) He accuses Sara of lacking perspective, which is pretty classic pot and kettle.

(10) Which he doesn’t, instead possessing his agent, the time-travelling medium.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Chronicles of Shannara – ‘Druid’, ‘Wraith’ and ‘Graymark’

"I cut my hair. And I wear leather now."
Grab you Elfstones and warm up your snarking muscles. It’s been a while – we’ve had two seasons of The Magicians since the end of season 1 – but at last it’s time to return to the Four Lands, for the further adventures of Blandy McWhitebread and the sassy brunettes who find him unaccountably irresistible.

A year has passed since Princess Amberlie became the new Elcrys in order to restore the Forbidding and lock away the demons. In that time, Ander has been holding together an elf kingdom on the verge of implosion, while a group of anti-magical fanatics called the Crimson track down and murder anyone using even the most inoffensive of magics. Traumatised by having his girlfriend dump him to turn into a magical, demon-repelling tree and apparently so over that whole 'looking for his missing friend' thing, Wil has become a healer in a gnomish community. He has devoted himself to the medical arts, eschewing the use of magic in all save the most vital of circumstances, such as conjuring up images of his dead girlfriend for a pity party. 

"Let none call me an informed bisexual. Now, where's Blandy?"
Some might judge Wil harshly for making such a king-sized hash of looking for Eretria, but we soon discover that her rescuers – not trolls, but a bunch of scavenging types in disguise – are led by an old friend who has deliberately led Wil to believe that she was dead, because heaven forfend that anyone Eretria meet not turn out to be a bit of a tool(1). On the other hand, she’s doing a much better job of moving on and has hooked up with fellow scavenger Lyria (who is a decent-seeming person that Eritrea likes, and thus not what she appears, because despite being a quick-witted, nails-hard survivor with the best wilderness skincare regime in the multiverse, our girl just can't catch a break.)

Bandon and his Mord-Wraiths will be wintering in Castle Greyskull.
Allanon goes looking for the missing seer, Bandon, and finds him leading a bunch of cultists who worship the long-dead Warlock King. His plan is to cast a spell to turn his followers into Mord Wraiths, flying death-cloud things that shoot magic beams and are all kinds of horrible. His motivation is vengeance against Allanon for throwing him to the sharks while trying to train him to be a druid, and his goal is to return the Warlock King to power by recovering the vessels of his power, including his sword and his skull. Allanon arrives late and is thoroughly outmatched by Bandon and the Wraiths (not a pop group,) which I’m sorry to say is going to be a bit of a theme for this season.

"No, really; I'm a badass. Look at my coat and haircut."
Wil is rescued from the Crimson’s bounty hunters by Mareth, a feisty half-elf who adds further evidence to the case that, whatever the series itself may believe, Wil Ohmsford is literally the furthest it is possible to be from being the actual protagonist of the series. It's not just that she's a more engaging character and way more of a badass, it's the fact that she has stuff going on from the get-go, whereas Wil is dragging his heels and being all 'let someone else save the world and stuff.' Mareth explains that she is the daughter of Allanon and Amberlie’s Aunt Murderedbyademon (Pyria, but that was literally all she did,) and that she is looking for her father because she’s suddenly come over all magical and has some serious questions to put to dear old dad. She also makes out with Wil, because of course she does, although it is only as part of a ruse.

Rescue entrance!
Eretria learns that her new father figure is as shitty as the last and, following a mystical vision of Amberlie while drowning that tells her Wil is in danger, tells him to do one and heads off with Lyria. They are soon captured, however, because Amberlie’s competence still operates on a sliding scale, and rescued by badas bounty hunter Garet Jax(2). However, Jax proceeds to abduct Lyria himself, because she is actually the daughter of Queen Tamlin of the massively powerful and hiterto completely unmentioned human kingdom of Leah. Ander is attempting to secure a treaty with Tamlin – who is hella into bling and knuckles deep in every pie going – and she has forked out to retrieve her daughter because she wants Lyria to marry Ander, so that she can manoeuvre for a takeover of parts of the elven kingdom.

"This is sickeningly familiar."
Eretria gets into the palace, gets captured, and is offered cash to forget Lyria. While there she reunites with Ander and Allanon, and sets out to rescue Wil. Unfortunately, on the way out the door, Allanon is captured by the Crimson. General Riga, leader of the Crimsno, turns out to be magic proof. Eretria therefore takes the Queen’s purse in order to hire Jax to find Wil, while Catania goes to tell Ander that Allanon was captured, and gets stabbed by the king’s bodyguard, who is an undercover member of the Crimson. I feel I should be sadder at the loss of Sassy Elf, but she’d been recharacterised as kind of a drip (and, not coincidentally) Ander’s new love interest,) so we’d kind of lost her already. To his credit, Ander notices she's missing, but is clearly feeling guilty enough about throwing her over for a political marriage that he buys the story that she ran off in a huff about it.

"You'll never be half as shiny."
Wil and Mareth head to Shady Vale when they realise the Crimson are going after his Uncle Flick. They find him safely hidden, but then the Mord Wraiths show up and Bandon takes Flick hostage, threatening to kill him of Wil doesn’t retrieve the skull of the Warlock King from the Druid fastness of Paranor. At around or about the same time, Riga is menacing Allanon to try to get his grubby mitts on the Codex of Paranor, the Druids’ magic 101 textbook. There is also a bunch of argument about the nature of magic - basically it boils down to a largely irreconcilable back and forth of 'magic is a necessary tool', 'magic is inherently evil' - and the fact that Riga was infected by a Mumbletymumble(4) which attacked his pregnant mother, hence leaving him immune to magic.

"We're on a team."
Eritrea and Jax find Wil and Mareth. There is a reunion and a lot of suspicion and ‘you’ve changeds’, and then they set out to rescue Allanon from the Crimson so that he can take them to Paranor to get the skull to trade with Bandon, which all feels like a frightfully bad idea, but there you are. Wil does have a history of really bad ideas, so at least there is consistency. They goad a rightly skeptical Jax into helping them with some grade school level reverse psychology, and in a rare show of gumption Wil is the one to realise that the bounty hunter actually just plans to hand him over for cash. He doesn’t care because he wants to get inside. 

The Crimson wanted flyers just look so much like some sort of trading cards.
Mareth taunts Jax with her illusions, mostly because the show really needs us to understand that Mareth is hella good at illusions. Then they reach the Crimson fortress of Graymark and Jax takes Wil in as a prisoner. So far, so dumb, but luckily for Wil 'God's own idiot' Ohmsford, one of the Crimson’s officers basically gets all up in Jax’s face about how he has backstory(5). In much the same way as Arion got all up in Allanon's face about not really being a druid in Season 1, he's all 'weapons master my arse', and reminds Jax tells the audience how Jax was the only survivor when his unit in the Border Legions was wiped out be demons during the war before dropping the reward purse in the mud for Jax to pick up. Stung, Jax decides to throw in with our heroes.

"The concept of the suction pump is centuries old..."
Wil stuffs up a rescue attempt, despite breaking out of his cell(6), and Riga has him hooked up to a knock-off of Count Rugen’s Machine, which pumps out his blood into a jar in an attempt to force Allanon to reveal the location of the Codex. He's also savvy enough to order the tunnels under the fortress sealed off as soon as it becomes clear that Wil had what I will charitably call a plan. Wil and Allanon bond over the whole torture thing by yelling at each other about how Allanon doesn't care about anyone and Wil is a whiny brat who managed to be the only member of the first season posse who never learned an important lesson about sacrifice, necessity or the number 4. Actually, that one may not have come up; I basically just insert that dialogue into any scene involving Wil.

Fortunately, the others manage to bust in before the tunnels are sealed off. Mareth locates Allanon’s staff and is able to wield it, lobbing burning coals at Riga when he boasts of his magic immunity. A massive fight ensues and, despite Jax briefly succumbing to PTSD and some false tension as Allanon magics the door open, our heroes escape.

Looking back, I am not 100% convinced that they recovered Wil’s Elfstones. I guess we’ll find out.

The Kingdom of Leah. Hydroelectric, apparently.
So, that was the first three episodes of Season 2, and there’s a lot going on. I’ve skipped over most of the politicking in Leah, because it’s a bit plodding, but the Four Lands remain a minute place where it’s hard to believe it took so long to find Wil since everyone either knows everyone else or lives just down the road from them. Allanon has come over a bit useless, but then that’s kind of required of an active Gandalf, lest he leave the rest of the party in the dust. Wil has had a haircut, taken a level in brooding badass, and is marginally less bland, while Eritrea has ditched the informed part of her informed bisexuality, making the fact that she canonically hooks up with Wil even more depressing since it effectively doubles her alternatives to the Milquetoast Marvel (although of those, Lyria is one of the more tedious, being a pretty stock character(7) with little to mark her out so far.)

Shannara Chronicles continues to be tosh. Good-looking tosh, but tosh nonetheless.

(1) Yes, Wil; including you.
(2) Whose appearance has provoked some dissatisfaction because he’s a cocky, sexy bounty hunter instead of an enigmatic perfectionist driven to become the greatest of all warriors, and probably rather more because OMG Garet Jax isn’t black(3)!
(3) It’s been quite a while, but I think in the book he spends the whole time wrapped in cloth for some reason, so it’s not as if he’s even in passing described as white.
(4) Mwellret; no wonder I couldn’t make it out.
(5) Something which he explicitly denies earlier in the episode, as part of an apparent move towards metatextual humour which may yet prove to be a mistake.
(6) For this part of the plan, Eritrea gives him a tiny bottle of high explosive, warning him to be careful of his ‘precious Elfstones’ when concealing it, so there you go; the euphemism is official.

(7) The wealthy hedonist slumming it and seeking meaning in a down to Earth relationship.

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Gifted - 'eXposed', ‘rX’ and ‘eXodus’

L to R: Eclipse (Sean Teale), Thunderbird (Blair Redford), Clarice (Jamie Chung), Polaris (Emma Dumont), Andy (Percy Hines White), Caitlin (Amy Acker), Reed (Stephen Moyer) and Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) Strucker, and Agent Turner (Coby Bell).
What’s this? Mo Marvel?

Reed Strucker(1) is a hard working DA who spends much of his time prosecuting those criminalised under the United States’ draconian Mutant laws. When his son Andy manifests extreme telekinetic abilities during a bullying incident and his daughter Lauren admits to having possessed similar abilities for some time, he and his wife Caitlin know that they have to get away before Sentinel Services(2) come for them. To this end, Reed makes contact with the Mutant Underground, a movement who have been smuggling mutants out of the country ever since the law clamped down and the X-Men disappeared.

The actors playing the less experienced mutants make a real meal of their
struggle to use their powers.
Reed offers his help in rescuing Lorna Dane, aka Polaris, a mutant who was captured, and who is pregnant, in exchange for getting his family away. Unfortunately, they are traced, and Reed is captured, although the rest of his family are rescued by laser-slinger Eclipse, walking Native American stereotype John ‘Thunderbird’ Proudstar, and new bug Clarice(3). While Reed is leaned on by Sentinel Services Agent Turner and Polaris locked up in prison with a collar which zaps her when she uses her powers(4), the Underground struggle with Clarice’s erratic and overstretched powers and Caitlin’s insistence that there is a way out of this by just being reasonable.

The Gifted is a Marvel-based TV show set in the, or perhaps an X-Men continuity; it’s not entirely clear which one. After three episodes, it’s clear that this is a slow burner, but is starting to get somewhere. Using the character Thunderbird – he’s strong, he’s fast, he has superhuman senses and tracking abilities, and he’s an Apache! – is a bold(5) choice, but beyond the obvious stereotypes he’s presented here as a practical, but caring leader. There’s also a creepy bit of business where his not-girlfriend-because-we’re-working-together uses her ability to transfer memories to make Clarice think she is in love with him, in order to give her the drive and focus to rescue him. Polaris has a disturbing physical fragility playing off against her astonishing powers, and a compelling screen presence that has so-far transcended the fact that her plot is basically ‘try to do a thing, pass out, try to do a bigger thing, pass out, rinse and repeat.’

The budget Magneto prison.
The Strucker kids are decent characters for the original newbie slots, With Lauren’s togetherness and Andy’s outsider fury complementing one another well. Blink is a bit of a cypher, but Eclipse rounds out the main cast nicely, alongside the normal humans. Speaking of rounded, we’ve got an Asian-American, a Latino and a Native American in the main cast, and that’s not nothing, Even if our viewpoint characters are as white as Camembert.

All-in-all, The Gifted is no Legion, but it’s more immediately involving than any season of Agents of SHIELD to date and it could take Inhumans to school, deliver the lessons (complete with objective, outcomes and plenary) and bring it home afterwards.

(1) No relation to the Von Struckers, I presume, although – spoilers – apparently incorrectly.
(2) The sinister government agency du jour, never actually referred to as the SS.
(3) Soon to be known as, but not yet, Blink.
(4) Her powers are magnetic, the collar is electronic, there is a solution inherent in this set up which she appears to simply be ignoring, given that we establish she can work through the pain long enough to rip a door off its hinges.

(5) I wanted to say brave, but I don’t know if that term is considered racist, and I don’t want to be racist for the sake of a pun.

Equestria Girls - Canterlot High Adventures

Magical girl adventures usually involve some degree of secret identity, but I
guess that's a moot point when no-one bats an eye if you occasionally sprout
pointy ears, wings and a tail.
Equestria Girls was always a weird gig, and it’s only got weirder. Beginning as ‘Twilight Sparkle travels to a world without magic(1) and encounters human versions of her friends,’ it dropped the bulk of the transdimensional stuff with the introduction of the ultra-rationalist human version of Twilight (dubbed ‘Sci-Twi’) in the third TV movie, The Friendship Games, and then gave the seven leads(2) magical powers in The Legend of Everfree, effectively completing a transformation into a stock magical girl property(3). With Equestria Girls: Canterlot High Adventures, said property takes steps towards becoming a parallel ongoing series to Friendship is Magic, in which our protagonists deal with every day high school problems like winning a $10,000 pop video contest and investigating Scooby-Doo shenanigans on the set of a Daring Do movie.

So... Yeah, so the weird thing about Canterlot High Adventures is that it’s very like Friendship is Magic, but in a world where that shouldn’t make a lick of sense. The first episode is moe of a TV high school story, but the second involves the Rainbooms somehow having backstage passes for the set of a Daring Do movie(4), where Rainbow Dash nitpicks while a mystery saboteur tries to halt production. ‘Dance Magic’ wraps up in traditional style, with the Rainbooms joining forces with their Crystal Prep rivals to combine their music with the Preppers sick dance moves. ‘Movie Magic’, however, is... less typical.

"Well, this doesn't seem contrived at all..."(5)
The saboteur is exposed as a young production assistant who wanted the star to quit so she could have a shot at playing Daring Do. It’s a shockingly entitled plan (she’s angling to use the fact that she is the director’s niece,) but ultimately comes from a place of loneliness and a sense that she is unappreciated in the world. Once she is revealed, she gets kicked off the set while the Rainbooms are given walk-on roles in the movie, and are so excited that not one of them even notices how gutted she is. It’s a weird moment, and the fact that it’s followed up by a humorous scene of the girls filming their parts creates a crashing sense of dissonance that someone would be rejected for committing a few times by a group who pride themselves on the power of their friendship and have fully embraced not one, but two young women who went all one-winged angel and tried to take over the world, or some such thing.

On the other hand, we’ve not seen part three yet, so maybe that will make amends. I hope so.

(1) Not ‘the World Without Magic,’ a la Once Upon a Time, nor in any meaningful sense the ‘normal world,’ but a human one at least, with high schools and buses and electric guitars.
(2) Mane Seven? Hair Seven? Rainbooms?
(3) Complete with magic necklaces (in this case, geodes from Camp Everfree.)

(4) And how did this happen? Rainbow Dash is clearly the mega fan here, as in Equestria, but in the world of Equestria Girls she’s barely known Twilight a year, and it was Twilight who introduced her pony counterpart to the Daring Do series while Rainbow Dash was laid up in hospital. How did the human Rainbow Dash get into reading? You can’t just assume these details!
(5) Also, I maintain that Power Ponies may not be the Sentinels of the Multiverse expansion that we need, but it might just be the one we deserve.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Star Trek: Discovery - 'Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad'

"I own you like I own this doughnut!"
It turns out that being a dick to someone breeds a certain resentment, even if they’ve been just as much a dick to you.

Burnham and Tyler are called away from a crew party(1) and the associated forced romantic development by the sudden appearance of a kind of space whale. Compelled by Starfleet regulations to transport said beastie to a sanctuary, they beam it aboard, whereupon Harry Mudd comes out of the whale in body armour and starts shooting his way through the ship. Once trapped, he blows himself up, taking the ship with him and, in a not entirely surprising twist as soon as the ship explodes, we’re back at the party.

That’s right, fellow nerds, it’s time to do the time warp again. Mudd is using a fancy crystal hidden on a ship inside the whale to create a time loop - and, seriously, how did they not see that one coming – allowing him to repeat his attack over and over again, learning the ship’s security codes and going deeper and deeper into the ship each time, learning more and more about the spore drive with the intention of eventually rejoining the time stream and selling the information to the Klingons. The only obstacle to his success: Lieutenant Stamets, whose tardigrade DNA not only allows him access to the panspermia and makes him a more touchy-feely sort of guy, but sets him somewhat outside of linear time. Unfortunately, it also makes him a little less than convincing as a witness, since he’s acting like he’s a little crazy most of the time.

As the iterations progress and Mudd becomes rapidly able to utterly suborn the Discovery’s computer, Stamets and Burnham must convince their colleagues to take drastic action to prevent the exposure of the ship’s secrets.

‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’ is a fun episode, but suffers from exposure to fridge logic; especially the time turner question. As low-grade grifters go, Harry Mudd is one hell of an overachiever, using a truly staggering piece of technology to pull off bank jobs and revenge espionage, and if this technology is known, then why isn’t the Discovery at least exploring that? Also, the crew send Mudd back to his fiancĂ©e and her arms dealer father as punishment for mass murder and espionage, as well as seemingly letting him walk away with at the very least vast anecdotal information on the spore drive.

On the other hand… it’s pretty Star Trek.

Also on the down side, the Burnham/Tyler thing is so-so, and cuts into our Burnham and Tilly bonding time. On the upside, Stamets and Culber are delightful, and their meeting story positively adorkable.

(1) One’s a lieutenant, the other’s a notional specialist. How are they at the same parties? Why does Burnham room with Tilly and eat in the officers’ mess? I know Starfleet is supposed to be egalitarian, but then why do they even have enlisted grades?

Once Upon a Time - 'The Garden of Forking Paths' and 'Beauty'

Once Upon a Time, where the wicked rule and the good meet in woodland
Season seven digs in, literally, as Victoria Belfry sets out to transform the community garden that Lucy loves into a luxury condo block. The excavation reveals a void and Lucy is in there, determining that this is just like when Henry went searching in the mine for Snow White’s glass coffin. And… she’s right. It is. To the point that I am seriously starting to worry that they’re just trying to retread their whole plot.

Anyway, Lucy finds the broken toe of Cinderella’s glass slipper, while in flashback we see that Cinderella ditched her rendezvous with Henry to join a resistance against Lady Tremaine led by Tiana (whose Seattle persona is Jacinda’s bestie, Sabine,) with Henry, Regina and Hook2 quickly following. They plan to attack Tremaine’s manor, where she is hoarding magical goodies, but Cinderella recognises a recent addition and makes an early scouting run. The item is the coffin of Tremaine’s second daughter, Anastasia, who died in an incident for which she blames Cinderella and her father, which is of course entirely unlike Regina blaming Snow White for her lover’s death.

Also, what was really under the garden – which Jacinda saves through community action – is the same coffin, along with the body of Anastasia, whom Victoria thinks she can resurrect using the heart of the truest believer.
And then they dance to 'Tale as Old as Time' and I completely lose my shit.
And so, to ‘Beauty’, which mirrors… absolutely nothing in the previous seasons. Henry tries to work up the courage to ask Jacinda out, helps find Lucy after she ducks out on trick or treating with a disinterested Ivy (Belfry’s put-upon still living daughter,) and ends up drinking heavily with Ivy in a move which bodes ill for both the progression of the arc plot and the redemption which is hinted at for Ivy. This is all by the by, however. What really signifies, begins in Storybrooke.

Rumplestiltskin buys a travel book for Belle, and they set out to see the world, and at the same time seek for a means to make him mortal again. This quest leads them to a place on the edge of the enchanted realms, to wait for a sunset decades in the waiting, where they build a house and share their lives and OH DEAR MERCIFUL LORD THEY’RE DOING UP! Yes, Belle having realised that it is her death that will give Rumple the key to mortality has come here to live their life, and finally die.

In Hyperion Heights, Tilly goes off her meds and begins to remember. Weaver tries to protect her from Belfry, but when he doesn’t recognise Belle’s chipped cup she shoots him, telling him that he told her to and calling him Rumplestiltskin. When he recovers in hospital, he covers for Tilly and warns Belfry that she might not want to push him, ‘dearie’.

And it is with ‘Beauty’ that season 7 has landed. It’s new, it’s punchy, and it takes the story in interesting directions, as well as hinting that we’re not just going to be stuck with the same old shit in a different town.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Star Trek: Discovery - 'Lethe'

Manly bonding.
A little later than usual, it's time for the review of this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery.

New boy Ash Tyler is bonding with the crew of the Discovery, shooting guns in the holodeck(1) with Captain Lorca and getting quite the rep among the crew. Cadet Tilly, doing her best to be like Mike (Michael Burnham, that is,) during their morning run, is pure Tilly as she introduces herself and her roomie to the new hotness. A super awkward breakfast is interrupted when Burnham collapses, thanks to the joys of a long-distance Vulcan mind meld and an attempt on the life of her foster father Sarek by a Vulcan zealot, one of a movement(2) that believes in the superiority of Vulcan logic to the point of suicide bombing and racial hatred (because logic.) In the vision, she sees the day she got rejected for the Vulcan Expeditionary Fleet, before Sarek kung fus her out of his brain.

"Please let one of them suffer a telepathic seizure to break this awkward
Learning that Sarek was attempting to open diplomatic relations with two of the Klingon Houses that have not yet sided with Kol, Lorca goes against orders and protocol to take the Discovery on a rescue mission. Stamets, apparently as high as a kite, notes that while he can do as Burnham suggests and rig a device from the navigation harness to boost the mind meld, it's dangerous in all kinds of ways, and will have to be done from a shuttle in the middle of an explosive nebula. The plan is, they go in, she contacts Sarek and wakes him up long enough to set off his emergency beacon. To do this, she has to engage in a kind of mental jujitsu which manifests in the telepathic landscape as actual jujitsu (but, like, Vulcan jujitsu,) and get to the bottom of why he is flashing back to this moment, the moment that she let him down, as he lies dying.

At first shattered that his last thoughts are of how she screwed up, Tyler - piloting the shuttle - assures her that in their last moments, people think of those they loved, not those who let them down. This gives her the energy to beat Sarek's id kung fu and contact his conscious mind. He admits that he is dwelling on the moment that he failed her. Offered a choice of letting one of his 'experiments' join the Expeditionary Fleet, he chose his half-human son, Spock, who went off and joined Star Fleet anyway. Did we mention that Vulcans were dicks?

Yet still less of a dick than he was in Gotham.
Sarek wakes and triggers the emergency beacon; the shuttle picks them up and it's home for tea and crumpets. 

Meanwhile, Lorca gets a super-judgemental booty call from Admiral-with-Benefits Cornwell about the whole 'breach of orders and protocol' thing. One post-coital phaser-threatening later, she's convinced he's losing his shit (to indulge in technobabble) and tells him she's going to see he gets the help he needs... right after she finishes the obvious trap peace mission that Sarek was on. Sure enough, she gets captured by the Klingons as a sort of hazing to join Kol's Unified Klingon Empire, while her guards and the neutral mediators get chopped. Being a man of action rather than protocol, Lorca naturally... goes back to Federation space pending further orders.

Lorca, it turns out, is also a dick.

Burnham decides she can be chums with Tyler, which hopefully won't sideline Tilly, but is likely to be a bit of a headfuck if/when he's revealed as Voq(3), what with her having killed his Messiah and all.

'Lethe' is a decent episode, with a lot of action, as has become the hallmark of the series. It's interesting, watching old TNG episodes, to note just how much more physically happens in Discovery. Less goes on in terms of character development. Lorca continues to be dodge AF, and neither Burnham nor Tyler seems quite human in their reactions; presumably this is on purpose. Our main character notes are that Burnham is unbending a little and Lorca has taken to packing a phaser on the velour safety. The Logical Extreme - who turn out to have been responsible for bombing the education centre in an attempt to kill Michael back when she and Sarek got melded - are an interesting insertion, and between them, Sarek and the Vulcan Council, we now have three largely separate styles of Vulcan dickishness, and two of racism.

Also, the Discovery crew have workout t-shirts with 'DISCO' on them. Apparently no-one wants the 'VERY' design.

(1) Some people might complain, but the original Enterprise, confirmed this week to be currently in service, had a holodeck. It's in The Animated Series.
(2) Which in my head at least is called the Logical Extreme.
(3) I'm pretty sure, although it occurs to me to wonder if he knows that.