Monday, 27 March 2017

Star Wars Rebels - 'Twin Suns'

"If there's a bright centre to the universe, we're on the planet that is farthest
from it."
It's time to follow the Holocrons, as Ezra answers the call of Maul one last time.

As the Rebels of Phoenix Squadron make the final preparations for their mission to retake Lothal, Ezra is troubled by nightmares of Maul and his quest for vengeance against Obi-Wan Kenobi. He feels that he ought to go to Tatooine, but Hera insists that their mission must come first. Ultimately, Ezra chooses to ignore this advice, stealing a training A-wing to fly to the world of two suns in search of the means to defeat the Sith, accompanied somewhat against his will by Chopper. On Tatooine, the Jedi holocron leads Ezra to its Sith partner. Tusken raiders destroy his ship(1) and soon the desert overcomes him, as Maul planned, and Kenobi emerges from hiding to save the boy. Obi-Wan laughs off the suggestion that he might destroy the Sith, then sends Ezra away while he faces Maul.

Despite it's brevity, this duel has more references to The Phantom Menacethan one could shake a lightsabre at.
And you know what? That's pretty much it. That's all the plot there is in this episode. No sidelines, no B-plot; just Ezra, Kenobi, and Maul, and at the end of it, the rematch that fandom has been waiting for since Maul made his canon reappearance in The Clone Wars(2). The fight itself is classic samurai/western material; lots of build up as the two shift their positions, gauge each other's strength, and then an almost laughably(3) brief, utterly decisive exchange of blows. It's a thing of beauty.

Ezra returns to Chopper Base with a fresh focus, while Obi-Wan rides out to a moisture farm where a woman is calling her young nephew in for the night.

That final scene is a thing of beauty, using the so-familiar skyscape of Tatooine, the outline of the moisture farm, and recycled audio of Aunt Beru calling for Luke to perfectly evoke the memory of the first Star Wars, before playing out the episode with the slow, melancholy strings of Luke's Tatooine theme. It's telling of how obviously important this is that when the screen pulled out to the trailers for whatever was on next, as is the wont with modern TV, Disney XD kept the music playing and muted the trailers.
 
Da-dah dah da-da-dah-dah da-da da-dah-dah da-da-dah-dah.
'Twin Suns' ultimately serves to highlight the futility of Maul's quest for revenge, and in a meta sense how little impact he has on the Star Wars universe, for all his iconic status. His quest was a distraction, for us and for Ezra, from where the real action of Rebels is taking place. Obi-Wan's story, Luke's story, are not divorced from Rebels, but neither are they intrinsically linked. Just because this is their show, they aren't suddenly at the heart of everything. Maul thought his quest was the stuff of legend, but of course it was always fated that it would fail and he would be forgotten.

(1) One review noted Ezra's failure to use his lightsabre against the Sand People, but Wookiepedia notes that, despite the visual effect, Tusken cycler rifles fire solid projectiles, which can not necessarily be deflected with a lightsabre.
(2) Full disclosure, I've not seen much of The Clone Wars, so I don't know how many rematches this makes.

(2) Almost; the actual laughs in this episode are pretty scant.

Legends of Tomorrow - 'Moonshot'

This is totally mission control. Totally.
Man, what is with all the moon stuff lately. The fiftieth anniversary isn't for another two years.

So, Rip takes the team to find Commander Steel in 1970, where he has joined NASA in order to get his patriotic hero fix. He's working in mission control for the Apollo 13 mission when they find him and he decks Rip for messing up his life, but soon they realise that they have to work together, because Houston, we don't have a problem. Eobard Thawne has impersonated backup astronaut Jack Swigert and incapacitated the rest of the crew, but other than that the mission is on course and Thawne intends to recover the flag from Tranquility Base, the pole of which contains the final section of the Spear of Destiny, because of course it does.

As an aside, I have no idea how Thawne knows this, because Rip doesn't and he lost the compass, and has not had his fellow bads torture Commander Steel, who is literally the only person who knows where the fragment is.

But anyway, the Legends pursue Apollo 13 in the Waverider and Ray manages to sneak aboard. Thawne spots him, but his Speed doesn't work in space, apparently, and Ray is able to put him down.

I also have literally no idea where this comes from, especially as it is literally space and not – as stated – zero-G, as Thawne speed still doesn't work on the Moon or in the Waverider's artificial G.  

Steel wants to go back after they finish here and be with his family, instead of them thinking that he died in Leipzig, and Nate is torn. He wants to have a proper Dad, but Amaya points out that the upbringing that he had made him the man he is, without whom the rest of the team might never have been rescued from history. Amaya is having troubles of her own, as she learns that she has her own destiny which doesn't involve long-term time travel or, apparently, self-determination. Predestination is such a tool.

One's a pathological speedster serial killer, one's a relentlessly altruistic
scientist; it's like a bloody sitcom.
Ray gets the Spear, but the landing module uses up its fuel in the descent and the Waverider is too banged up protecting the module from a meteor storm to come and collect Ray. Ray and Thawne have to work together to patch Ray's suit power into the module, and when it turns out that someone has to blow the forward airlock to decelerate the Waverider it is Commander Steel who makes the ultimate sacrifice, because that's a control you only want to be able to operate from inside the airlock.

Thawne escapes as his speed returns, but is unable to take the Spear before Black Flash is after him, noting as he departs that he designed Rip's anti-Speedster weapons. Rip confesses to feeling lost now he isn't Captain, but Sara assures him that makes him just like the rest of them. Amaya asks Gideon to show her the shitty future that constitutes her destiny.

'Moonshot' isn't a terrible episode, but is weighed down by uncertainties. How did Thawne find the Spear? Why doesn't his speed work in space and how did Ray know that? Why doesn’t the airlock have a release control on the inside of the inner door, and even if it doesn't, why can't Gideon override? It's possible something critical was damaged. Meteorites do tend to hit the worst possible thing nine times out of ten. And what did the Time Masters pay Rip Hunter for? I get that they need to establish Sara as the better captain, but as is par for the course with these things, they do it by making Rip look like a gibbering incompetent just a week after a run which presented evil Rip as a credible threat to the entire team.

Oh, and Stein, having been taken into mission control as an observer by Commander Steel - a British observer, so he and Jax do accents, although Rory, who is actually played by a man from Cheddar - doesn't - distracts attention from what is happening on Apollo 13 by singing the Banana Boat Song, which is... weird.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Flash - 'Into the Speed Force'

"So, which aspect of whose personality am I representing this time?"
Wally West is missing, presumed... gone.

Determined that no-one else suffer for his many fuck-ups, Barry determines to go into the Speed Force after Wally and bring him back. Cisco creates a tracking device and Caitlin adds biometric sensors, so that they will  be able to monitor him even in the Speed Force, tether him to the world and bring him back if he gets into trouble; no prizes for guessing which part goes wrong around the midpoint of the episode.

The Speed Force appears to Barry, as before, but this time in the form of everyone who died to save the day when he couldn't: Eddie Thawne, Original Firestorm, even Leonard Snart, who sacrificed himself to save all of time and space because he was inspired to be better by the Flash. The Speed Force is also less charitable this time around, since last time it/they returned Barry's speed on the grounds that he was over his mother's death, only for him to turn around and create Flashpoint. They tell him that Wally is trapped in the prison he created/will create for Savitar, in his own personal hell, and that to free him Barry must first escape his own hell.

Meanwhile, Jesse tries to go up against Savitar, pointing out that on her world she is the real Flash. It doesn't work that well, but she and HR are able to establish one thing: Savitar wears his frictionless, quantum indeterminate armour because underneath it he can be hurt, and in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, 'if it bleeds we can kill it.'

Oh, break my heart why don't you.
Barry finds Wally trapped in the worst moment of his life and offers to take his place, but the Speed Force ain't having it. Barry may be offering himself as a sacrifice, but they see it as an abnegation of his responsibilities. Saving Iris, stopping Savitar, that's Barry's job and nobly offering himself in exchange for Wally won't get him out of it. Fortunately, when the tether breaks, Cisco goes to Jay Garrick for help, and Jay is able to see Barry through and take Wally's place, giving the Earth-1 Flash his helmet so that when the time comes, Barry and Cisco can pull him back out.

Back home, Barry takes ownership of his actions and his blind rush to change the future by any means necessary and takes a step back from his relationship with Iris after pushing it too hard. While this will probably be presented as a mistake, it's a surprisingly grown up thing for him to do. I'm not sure that the same can be said of Jesse's sudden decision to go to Earth-3 and be their stand-in Flash, but it's better than her standing around like a third wheel the way she did last week when the writers had no idea what to do with her.

'Into the Speed Force' suffers from the fact that deep, philosophical navel gazing is not The Flash's A game, and that its ultimate moral reverses Barry's revelation of a few episodes back that he doesn't have to be the hero every time. Apparently he does have to be the hero every time; the Speed Force is big on brand identity or something. I don't like the idea of Barry as some sort of Flash Messiah.

On the other hand, next week: Singing!

Legion - Chapter 6

Pie abuse.
After last week's turn to the bizarre, Chapter 6 of Legion... gets weirder.

All of the characters - including the Eye - are apparently trapped in David's head space, which now resembles the Clockwork, having their personalities deconstructed by tough-love shrink Dr Lenny. As Miranda sought to convince David that what he took for insanity was the manifestation of his powers, Dr Lenny now leads her 'patients' to the realisation that what they thought were powers are in fact manifestations of mental illness. Yes, it's the asylum episode, but this being Legion we're going to weirder and darker places even than is usual for the trope. Syd is the first to see the door back to reality, but Davi urges her to keep quiet in case the doctors connect this to her diagnosis: Apparently she is the delusional scizophrenic in this world.

"I'm sensing a lack of professionalism here, Doctor."
Syd is numbed by music therapy after she asks too many questions, while the Eye is given license to pursue a disempowered Kerry. Miranda is contacted by the figure in the diving suit, who leads her into the world where David is about to be shot. David begins to shake the certainty of the illusion and Lenny turns aggressive, openly revealing herself as an aspect of the parasite personality and claiming to have known his real father, who tried to hide him from the parasite. As David struggles not to be overcome, the figure in the diving suit releases Syd from the sound of crickets and opens the mask to reveal, not Oliver Bird, but Cary.

Chapter 6 brings home just how dangerous and destructive David's parasite mind actually is, using his own powers to entrap the entire group, including memory expert Ptonomy. At the same time, it reveals weaknesses as well, with aspects of the illusion slipping out of control and the entity's impatience belying its claims of implacability. My main gripe is the declawing of Kerry, and I really hope we get to see her - as well as Syd and David - fight back next week.

Legends of Tomorrow - 'Land of the Lost'

"I love the smell of T-Rex urine in the morning..."
Rip Hunter has been captured by his former teammates, but he was captain of the Waverrider for a long time before he turned evil and he still has some tricks up his sleeve.

Activating crash protocols, he sends the ship plunging through time, then orders a self-destruct and smashes the compass when he is unable to escape. The ship crashes at its earliest ever destination, the cretaceous forest where Ray was being chased by a T-Rex, and the spinny deely from the front of the ship - a vital part of the timey wimey apparatus - falls off and has to be retrieved. Roary suggests that they use that Time Master technique for going inside someone's mind on Rip, which is news to everyone else, but Sara and Jax opt to do the thing and project themselves into Rip's mindscape, which for psychological and budgetary reasons looks exactly like the Waverrider, but with dimmer lighting.

Ray, Nate and Amaya head out to find the deely, which turns out to have ended up in the nest of Ray's old sparring partner, Geraldine the T-Rex, who already holds a grudge against him for nicking one of her actual eggs to make a dozen omelettes. Ray has a hell of an episode, being an adorable prehistoric boyscout with his T-Rex pee defence perimeter and little rock models of his teammates that he made to talk to while he was stranded, and then being all insightful. He tells Nate that he knows there is something between him and Amaya, but that it can't get serious because otherwise Amaya won't go back to her village in her own time, and his friend Mari will never be born to assume the mantle of Vixen and help defeat Damien Darhk. Since this also involves Mari being the only survivor of the village's destruction, it's kind of a bleak reminder of the Legends' responsibilities.

"Why are you hitting yourself? Stop hitting yourself."
Sara and Jax find themselves attacked by evil versions of themselves, created by Eobard Thawne's machinations to control Rip's mind. While they are there, Roary has an unexpected heart to heart with Stein, advising him to view Jax as an equal partner, rather than a student. Sara is thrown in the brig with the weakened core of Rip's true persona, while Jax is unexpectedly aided by an unfamiliar British woman that he realises is a personification of Gideon. Sara convinced Rip that she is on his side, and that his apparent telekinetic powers are a result of this being his mind. Jax and Gideon help them to escape the brig and they confront their evil clones even as the mental construct - now revealed as such - begins to crumble. Rip finds himself, Sara and Jax bail before getting trapped, and Rip cops off with Gideon before coming to.

Didn't this same thing happen to Johnny in Killjoys?
Nate confesses to Ray that he doesn't think he can keep things casual with Amaya after seeing her stare down a T-Rex, but isn't able to break things off quickly either. Gideon hints that her personification in Rip's mind was actually her, not a mere mental projection, but it's a sweet moment rather than hugely awkward.

And in 1970, an astronaut is moved up to the Apollo 13 mission after Ken Mattingly gets sick. The camera pulls back to reveal that the doctor clearing him is Eobard Thawne.

'Land of the Lost' is a solid episode, resolving the Evil Rip subplot with a classic bit of mind-intrusion. The T-Rex is a bit of a sideshow, but Ray's intervention and mention of Mari makes the Nate/Amaya thing much more compelling, because now there are stakes and consequences and other such important narrative things relating to the romance. This is what was ultimately missing from the Ray/Kendra farrago, which had nothing more behind it that the question of Kendra's free will vs. Hawkgirl's destiny (in which destiny won, hands down, implying that Shayera is destined to have Khufu-faced yahoos show up in all her lives and be all 'Don't care who you thought you loved; soulmate in the house, yo!')

And just to say it, I loved that Ray got some character love this week. Not just his moving appeal to Nate on much more solid grounds that not fraternising, but the fact that he noticed. He's so often passed off as clueless, and it was lovely to see his bumbling around the couple revealed to be his way of making sure he didn't walk in on them. Coupled with his immediate understanding of Sara's connection with Guinevere, it shows that the writers haven't condemned him to comic relief hell just yet.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Magicians - 'The Flying Forest'

"Yes, I have wood. My shoulder is made of teak."
And this is where things get weird.

In the aftermath of the battle against the Beast, Quentin is in a bad way. His injured shoulder has been replaced with a wooden one and he is comatose, forcing Eliot and Margot to leave him and look to their other problems; like Eliot being high king of a dying land (the god dump in the wellspring is almost as bad as the Beast, but sings fewer showtunes,) and married to a horny Filorian girl who does nothing to float his boat. As a workaround for his inability to leave Filory, Margot creates a golem-Eliot, modifying the Margolem's mind-link so that Eliot can occupy his golem as an Earth body while he sleeps in Filory. Until, that is, his wife wakes him up for barely-consensual nooky(1) and sort of gets his mind wedged between the two worlds.

Penny hits the clinic, but Dr Centaur won't try to undo a curse set by the Riverwatcher. Instead, once Quentin comes to and has been a misery for a while, Penny gets him to cut his hands off again, and then they go after the White Lady, a questing beast that must grant one wish for the person who catches her. They manage to make it through the Flying Forest - so called because its atmosphere makes you high as anything - but although Penny is able to get his hands back, the White Lady can't bring Alice back to life. In fact, nothing in Filory can help him. This realisation is a key one for Quentin, who asks simply to be sent home.

It's the woman again!
Elsewhere, Julia finds Kady in a drugged stupour, having retreated into drugs over her guilt at leaving Julia to Renard, and dries her out to help fight the trickster. Kady sneaks her into Brakebills and guides her around the library to grab a particular book. As the book is tagged, Julia hides in the physical cottage to copy the text. Margot finds her, but gives her a blank to mate with the book and whelp a copy.

Had you forgotten how books in this magical library do?

From this they drew a spell to raise Marina temporarily from some kind of hellish afterlife, to tell them that 'hey, Renard was banished by a Hedge, hence his beef, so find her and she can tell you how she did it.'

Despite some lighter moments, 'The Flying Forest' is a bleak encounter overall, as Team Filory deal with Alice's death and Team Julia - which is basically Julia plus a rotating and highly ablative extra body - takes a more measured and less deal-with-the-Devil approach to god hunting. Honestly, it isn't just Quentin realising that he was shooting for easy answers. It's good to see Kady back again. She has one of the brightest relationships with Julia, which keeps the series from getting too deep in melancholy, and that's all to the good. Presumably Team Filory's quest to keep magic from dying altogether will tie back into the hunt for Renard at some point, but at the moment it's the latter that's most interesting.

(1) It's played lightly, but literally creepy AF.

TV Roundup - Emerald City, Person of Interest and Iron Fist

Man, I watch a lot of TV. Here's a summary for the shows where I'm not paying that much attention, or don't have much new to say:

"Welp; this seems valid."
'Beautiful Wickedness' was the latest episode of Emerald City, and if it sounds like the sort of title you'd see alongside a shirtless hunk on a barely safe for the underground romance novel, then you might not be too surprised at the content. West ropes Dorothy in to do wet, magic shirtless brain torture on Lucas, because his feelings for her are an anchor, or something. Langwidere sasses everyone, but especially Tip, but then someone kills her dad. West discovers that Glinda is planning rebellion and stockpiling Witches of Mass Destruction, and as Lucas was part of her conspiracy the Wizard offers Dorothy a deal: Go with Lucas to Glinda and assassinate the Witch of the North, and he will send her home. In flashback we learn that he worked with her parents on an energy project, but sabotaged it to create the portal to Oz because he was fed up of being treated as the helper monkey. He also gets Dorothy's gun and gives it to Langwidere to replicate and mass produce for Beast-shooting purposes.

The hazards of tanning.
Person of Interest continues with '6,741', in which Sameen escapes, but betrays the team to Samaritan due to brainwashing, only for it to be revealed that this is the 6,741st iteration of a simulation being run using a sophisticated VR rig and an implant in Sameen's brain to effect that very brainwashing, with each one ending with her blowing her brains out rather than complete the betrayal and kill Root (it's not clear how many times it took for her to kill Reese or Harold, although I note Bear makes it.) No number at all this week, just lots of plotty plotness. The cerebral implants are one of the more outre bits of spec fic in the world of Person of Interest and ultimately, '6,741' comes off as a darker, much less fun version of last season's 'If-Then-Else'.

A Chinese martial artist whose thing is bushido is actually pretty cool.
Having a rich, white asshole explain to her about kung fu, not so much.
And then there's Iron Fist, the final intro-to-Defenders series on Netflix. It comes on the heels of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, and in it we meet the street-level superteam's Scrappy-Doo, irritating jagoff Danny Rand. Okay, he was lost in another dimension for fifteen years after the deaths of his parents in a plane crash which was - four episodes in I'm still confident - orchestrated by his father's business partner and basically beaten with sticks until he got really good at kung fu, but a) that last bit only happened because he insisted he was going to be crystal dragon Jesus, and b) he's still an asshole. The show's breakout character is Coleen 'Daughter of the Dragon' Wing, a Chinese-American martial artist with an Irish name and a specialism in Japanese martial arts and philosophy which in one package is almost enough diversity to make up for keeping Danny Rand as the idiot white saviour of Kun-Lung after the Ancient One debacle(1). It's not devoid of merit then, but damn it's the poor sibling of the bunch (which is ironic as the character could buy and sell the rest of the Defenders a million times over if they weren't all, whether through integrity, stubbornness or principle, basically incorruptible.) I'm four episodes in ('Snow Gives Way', 'Shadow Hawk Takes Flight', 'Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch' and 'Eight Diagram Dragon Punch'; each episode is named for a martial arts move,) and note that I'm already rolling them into a single summary post.

(1) Not that she's perfect. She takes Danny to task for physically assaulting a disrespectful student, which based on her own actions means that she must draw the line just north of brutal verbal abuse.