Thursday, 24 May 2018

The New Legends of Monkey

That was then... (Shiro Kishibe, Masaaki Sakai, Masako Natsume and either Toshiyuki Nishida or Tonpei Hidari(1))

The New Legends of Monkey is a left-field reimagining of Chinese literary classic The Journey to the West-cum-remake of the Japanese series Monkey! (aka Monkey Magic.) Instead of mytho-historic China it's set in a fantastical land, populated by a multi-racial population with mostly Australian or New Zealand accents. Instead of the Buddhist texts, the quest is for a set of sacred scrolls hidden by Monkey right before the gods were overthrown by hordes of demons. Instead of the Buddha punishing him for arrogance, Monkey was buried under a mountain by the gods for a crime he did not commit (which is not to say that he isn't arrogant.) Instead of a young Buddhist monk played by a woman, Tripitaka is an orphan girl disguised as a monk and adopting a sacred name given by her foster father, a wise scholar. Sandy is a rather baffled god, and a woman, and Pigsy is just gluttonous rather than a serial sex pest.

And I'm basically okay with this. Like... all of it.

...this is now. (Josh Thomson, Chai Hansen, Luciane Buchanan and Emilie Cocquerel)
In the pilot episode, our hero witnesses the demon-murder of her mentor and the monk chosen to take on the name Tripitaka and take up the quest to wake Monkey and recover the sacred scrolls. She stumbles across Monkey and wakes him, only to find that he has little interest in helping the world. In a nearby town, she stumbles across down-and-out gods Pigsy and Sandy, and together the four of them defeat the local demon overlord to free the town. After this opening, and with Monkey controlled by a sutra which causes his crown to contract and inflict crippling pain, the group head out to seek the scrolls.

They... don't find them.

They encounter a group of Monkey worshippers who have been guarding one of the scrolls, but discover that their leader sold it to a demon long ago. They are captured by a demonic shaman who is using captive gods to translate the scroll and Monkey almost gets trapped in his own brain, then escape through a forest full of faceless horrors. Tripitaka gets all self-doubty and tries to find her birth mother, but falls into a demon trap. Monkey and Pigsy manage to sneak into the demon stronghold on Jade Mountain, while Sandy follows Tripitaka's captors and they all join up to thwart the demon lord's plot to become immortal and thus ascend to the status of the gods.

Admittedly, the demons are pretty much just dudes in make-up.
Now, I'm not going to claim that this is a good show, and certainly not that it will stand the test of time like Monkey! has done (especially given what a bizarre fluke that success was,) but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Was it whitewashed? Well, the leads are Australian-Thai and New Zealand-Tongan, and only one of the core cast - Emily Cocquerel, playing the gender-flipped Sandy - is (probably(2)) white white. It is stripped of most of the aspects of Chinese culture embedded within the original nodded, leaving only a few names and some okay martial arts. The mysticism is entirely genericised, and the complex interactions of Taoist deities and Buddhism removed in favour of a bunch of fairly generic gods who shot themselves in the foot by imprisoning their best demon-puncher, leaving the rest of them to be murdered by demons.

But, I really enjoyed it. It was fun and undemanding, with quirky, likeable characters and decent performances. It is very slight, and I'm actually sad that there isn't any sign of any further episodes, because I think it had places it could have gone.


(1) I'm not sure what series this is from and they changed over.
(2) I mean, I don't know for sure. 'Australian' is as varied an origin as 'British'.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Shannara Chronicles - 'Dweller', 'Paranor', 'Crimson', 'Warlock', 'Amberle', 'Wilderun' and 'Blood'

"I am a sexy, shirtless god of war."

Hey! Remember The Shannara Chronicles? I stopped reviewing them because my Sky box done fucked up and missed a bunch of episodes, but now season 2 is on Netflix, so I can catch up ready for oh, it's been cancelled(1).

In 'Dweller', Bandon pops into Leah - where we will see over and over that the security situation is at least as bad as that in Arborlon, which you will remember allowed a random human to come within shivving distance of its princess and last surviving Chosen while on serial killer alert. He reminds Queen Tamlin that she made a deal back in the War of the Races, when the city was surrounded by the Warlock Lord's forces and she offered him access to the kingdom's magical source in exchange for shanking her husband, the King, and leaving the rest of the city unmolested, because apparently the nigh-forgotten War of the Races, the events of which were regarded with some scepticism by the sons of the elf king last season, happened within the adult lifetime of a human in her forties. Not only is the four lands very small, its history is apparently similarly compressed.

Mareth has a strained reunion with his Allanon, not least because he tells her that she isn't his daughter, because the Druid Sleep messes with your junk. So he's all 'nuh-uh, magic radiation!' and she's all 'uh-huh, 'cause magic, yo!' And the whole thing gets very tense and snippy as he starts to suspect shenanigans of a warlock nature. Nonetheless, they and Wil go to some mountainy place that we've never heard of before now to retrieve the Sword of Shannara, which supposedly makes the Elfstones look a bit shit and will let them confront Bandon.

Nope! Nopenopenope!
Bandon tries to convince Flick that people are all shit, and to prove it he takes the human to visit his former home, the farm where his parents locked him in the basement for being a seer. He asks about the previous owners, and when the new owners start talking about how the son of the family was a magic-using abomination who had to be locked in the cellar after telling his parents that they would be murdered by demons, brutally murders their own son, just in case he was starting to feel sympathetic again(2).

Eretria returns to Leah, reconciles with Lyria and gives her blessing to the political marriage. Since she is able to tell Ander that Catania was coming to look for him, they realise that this whole 'she ran away in a jealous strop' thing was bullshit. Thus tipped off, they catch Ander's guard captain Edain smuggling weapons from Leah to the Crimson. Edain fesses up and Ander executes him, Ned Stark style.

Wil, Mareth and Allanon fight a giant spider-thing called a Dweller - so there's your title - in order to get the Sword. It's shiny AF.

"Allanon! I choose you!"
In 'Paranor', Allanon takes Wil and Mareth to the druid fortress of the episode title, where Mareth and Allanon use a dummy skull to trap Bandon in a magical cage (without telling Wil, because he's too easy to mind read, even though I'm pretty sure all you'd get is 'bloobloobloo Amberlebloo.') To sell the trap, Allanon is trapped with him, but Mareth can selectively release people, only wouldn't you know it, Bandon has poisoned Flick with his sword and in a dolorous blow kind fo deal, only the Warlock Blade can remove that poison. He demands the skull in exchange for Flick's life, and despite Allanon and Flick telling Wil that Bandon can fuck right off, Wil agrees and Mareth goes along with it, because being a strong independent woman, of course Mareth has a case of the Blandy-cravings which seem to afflict all sassy brunettes in the Four Lands.

"Check out my post-apocalypse specs!"
Speaking of sassy brunettes, Eretria falls back in with mentor/protector/weird pseudo-kidnapper and not-really-okay visit screener Cogline, who turns out to be a good guy after all; an ex-druid and a past adviser to Queen Tamlin, who is pretty shaken by the idea of the Warlock Lord getting to Heaven's Well, the big magical source place. He tells Eretria that her magic tattoos mark her as a descendant of Armageddon's Children, a group of humans susceptible to demonic corruption, but in theory also of wielding great power over the darkness. Alternatively, I guess, a black metal band misunderstood by history. He takes her to a faraday cage where he has imprisoned a Mord Wraith, to start her training to resist the call of darkness which has always been inside her, but never mentioned nor had any notable effect until now. She does this by commanding the wraith to kneel before her, because that isn't going to lead anywhere bad.

Garet Jax captures Valcaa, a Crimson officer who tries to capture him, and takes him to Ander and Lyria for some extreme questioning, which provides enough information for Lyria to turn the tables on her mother and insist that the political marriage will be on her terms.

Shea Ohmsford really only has intensity going for him, but it's one more
character trait than Wil.
Against all good advice, Wil and Mareth use a magical portal to find the hiding place of the Warlock Lord's skull, which turns out to be somewhere in Shady Vale... In the past! As we move into 'Crimson', they search for the skull in the past, and naturally run into Wil's father, currently a troubled boy and not a mean drunk. As a demon attacks, they have to protect him, and also ensure that he doesn't give up his relationship with Wil's mother to save her the problems of marriage to a half-elf. They find the skull hidden in the Ohmsford scarecrow and take it back, where Flick runs himself through on the Warlock Blade, but Bandon still gets away with the skull after the oh-so-shiny Sword of Shannara shatters against the Warlock Blade and Allanon gets cut with the Blade's poison.

Once more, go Wil!

I've been scathing about Lyria before, but props to her, because she's about to
sword fight in that dress.
Our other heroes set about cracking the Crimson's influence, and Jax kills Valcaa after he escapes. Riga is pissed. Ander and Lyria prepare to wed and the priest approaches, all hooded and WHAT UP? RIGA! Who could have seen this coming, besides anyone who watched the priest pace up all sinister, and anyone who had ever surveyed Leah's security arrangements, because honestly it has more holes in its defences than Star Labs. Witness here, where not only is Riga able to just pace the fuck up to the royal wedding with a broadsword up his cassock, but the palace is suddenly heaving with Crimson, who set about the guards and guests. The heroes seem to be doing okay, but then Riga kills Ander while the rest of the group apparently stand around like pills thanks to either a) pure apathy and long-hidden loathing for Ander, or b) shonky editing.

"What's my motivation?"
"Leave no scenery unchewed, Manu."
This brings us to 'Warlock', and Eretria and Lyria flee to Cogline's Wraith lab, while everyone else is captured. Eretria receives a vision from Amberle/the Ellcrys, warning that some shit is about to go down and that Wil needs to reach the Ellcrys, because he is their last hope. Mareth and Wil bring Allanon to the healer-commune of Storlock, where Mareth uses a ritual to project herself into her father's mind to heal him, after having a bit of awkward and unconvincing tension with Wil. Within the dream, the two meet Allanon's mentor, Bremen, who confirms that she is his daughter, and the next druid. Allanon wakes and agrees to teach Mareth to be his successor.

Leaving Allanon and Mareth at Storlock to bond, Eretria and Wil travel to Arborlon. Meanwhile, Bandon arrives at Graymark and slaughters the Crimson garrison there with magic. Then, he uses an eclipse-related ritual(3) to resurrect the Warlock Lord, who for no adequately explored reason looks a lot like Allanon(4), around his blade, skull and... whatever the third thing was. His heart? His elfstones? I forget, but I'm sure they did say.

When a Warhammer 40K aquila and Wonder Woman's logo love each other very much...
Back in Leah, not knowing what has happened to his garrison, Riga is in hog heaven, and like all successful extremists decides to celebrate what turns out to have been a completely successful coup with a little summary justice. He accuses Tamlin of treason for sheltering magic users, but as a final fuck you, she reclaims some dignity and a measure of redemption, and steps off the execution waterfall just as the smug douchebag is building up a head of steam.

"So, until I'm over my girlfriend becoming a tree, my sword will be forever
short and useless. Well, sure glad it isn't anything symbolic."
In 'Amberle', Wil and Eretria reach Arbolon, only to find that it has been sacked by the Crimson, thus saving the show the cost of more than a handful of extras and proving that Leah still has competition in the woeful domestic security stakes. Eretria rescues the surviving Chosen from the Crimson and leads them back to the hidden catacombs below the Ellcrys, but then she gets possessed by a Mord-Wraith and horribly murders at least one of them. While this is happening, Wil goes into the tree, where the Ellcrys advises him to get the fuck over himself and stop moping over Amberle, like he was doing for all of one episode that one time. When he accepts that there is no bringing her back and that she is in his past, the sword regrows, because... I have no real idea. Because his body and mind were going north and south before? Because the sword of Shannara is as much of a euphemism as the elfstones? Anyway, it's a good thing, because the spirit of Shea Ohmsford tells his son that only the Sword can kill the Warlock Lord.

Well, this is gratuitous.
Bandon asks his master to resurrect Catania, whose corpse he stole from Leah after she was murdered. He does, and she is immediately creeped out by him, on account of having seen him do a murder on a guard, or just because he's looking all grunge and coming on like a freight train when she's just woken up in what could charitably described as 'a crypt' with a clear memory of being stabbed in the gut by a trusted ally. Because he's apparently bored easily, the Warlock Lord puts the 'fluence on her to turn her into a trashy goth with low morals, then macks on her in front of Bandon - again, because apparently the bad teeth, jet black eyes and homicidal tendencies aren't quite enough to be really sure that he's the bad guy - and then forces Bandon to kill her. Amazingly, given these top notch people skills, Bandon is starting to have doubts about his life choices.

"Magic is evil. It makes people do bad things. Now let's burn down this
hospital and get back to doing good!"
Allanon and Mareth are sold out by one of the other patients at Storlock, and captured by Riga and the Crimson. They threaten Mareth to force Allanon to give up the Druid Codex, then sentence them both to burn at the stake, while being all sanctimonious at them. Riga then returns to Graymark, where the Warlock Lord dispatches his guards with contemptuous ease. Riga boasts about his magical immunity, but unlike Allanon, the Warlock Lord doesn't forget that his magic is at least 50% telekinesis, and kills a rather surprised looking Riga with barbed wire and rebar, neither of which he is remotely immune to. He takes the Codex and monologues about independence and seizing power until Bandon tries to magic-kill him, only to turn around and run Bandon through with his Blade.

Alas, poor Bandon; you barely had a consistent characterisation. And alas, poor Sassy Elf. You deserved so much better than reduction to girlfriend, murder and resurrection as a bad-taste sex-toy, as indeed does basically everyone.

Oo. That's not a good sign.
Moving on to 'Wilderun', and Loyalists within Leah spring Jax and the gnomes, who jack the Crimson at Storlock and head to Greymark with Allanon and Mareth. They find the aftermath of the Warlock Lord's rise, including Riga's head, but no the Warlock Lord himself. Using the head, they persuade the Crimson to join forces with the loyalists against the Warlock Lord, for all the good that might do. Eretria admits to Wil that she is a Child of Armageddon - largely I suspect to try to fake out the audience that maybe she'll resist the influence of the Warlock Lord - and they join Allanon, Mareth, Lyria and Cogline at the latter's enclave. Cogline explains that they must guard Lyria and her golden elfstone necklace, which together form the key to Heaven's Well and which they naturally opt to keep together for maximum ease of theft.

"That could have gone better."
The Mord-Wraith possessing Eretria betrays them, drawing in the enemy and overpowering Lyria. Meanwhile, the Warlock Lord whoops Allanon, Cogline and Mareth in a fight, killing Allanon at the start of 'Blood', totally for reals this time.

Jax leads the defence of Leah against the Warlock Lord's armies of... I'm not sure. They seem to have too much truck with walls to all be Mord Wraiths. Eretria is sent to disable the dam on which Leah is built, allowing the Warlock Lord to take Lyria up to a shrine behind the reservoir. He pollutes Heaven's Well with his blood, and with the floodgates open, this will spread his power and influence throughout the Four Lands. Cogline and Jax retake the control room and exorcise the Mord-Wraith from Eretria, while Wil and Mareth defeat the Warlock Lord, and Wil sacrifices himself to cleanse Heaven's Well.

Lyria becomes Queen, and Eretria, Cogline and Mareth go to Paranor. There, Mareth suddenly feels that Wil is still alive, and we cut to Wil waking on a battlefield (in the Forbidding?) surrounded by Furies. 'To be continued,' the screen caption lies.

This is the end...
No, actually, this is the end.
So, there we go. Two seasons of sub-Game of Thrones fantasy heroics, in all its compressed scale, minimalist timelined glory, and now we will never know if Wil gets eaten by demons on the wrong side of the tree. I like to think that he does, because he has been been the consistent weak link in the series. It's not even that he's less talented or pretty than anyone else, but that he's got so little substance. I can't blame the actor, given how little he has to work with. The ladies in the piece aren't much better, but at least they get to be a bit sassy (apart from poor sassy elf Catania, who was done wrong in this season.) The best you can say about Wil is that he's... present, and in retrospect I tend to blank out even that. The standouts tend to be the bit parts, which tend to be filled by solid thesps, and the production design is impeccable, even if the budget sometimes impairs the execution.

I will miss The Shannara Chronicles. If it's never been classic TV, it's been good fun to watch, and absolute classic snarking material.

(1) I can't claim to be surprised. I'm more astonished that it made it to season 2.
(2) Partly because he genuinely has had a shit time of it, and partly because of his big-eyed woobie face, it's easy to forget that he's a world-ending zealot.
(3) Which shows excellent timing on his plan.
(4) He is also played by Manu Bennett.

Monday, 14 May 2018

DC Roundup: Supergirl - 'Fort Rozz', 'For Good', 'Both Sides Now' and 'Schott Through the Heart'; The Flash - 'True Colours', 'Subject 9', 'Enter Flashtime', 'Run, Iris, Run', 'Null and Annoyed' and 'Lose Yourself'; Legends of Tomorrow - 'No Country for Old Dads', 'Amazing Grace', 'Necromancing the Stone', 'I, Ava', 'Guest Starring John Noble' and 'The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly'

Grrl power.
Okay; I've got a lot to get through on this one, so I'll probably be a little brief.

Aware that Reign is far from beaten, Supergirl plans a trip to 'Fort Rozz', which is now in orbit around a blue star that depowers Kryptonians and is lethal to males, because science, okay. In this highly specific set of circumstances, Kara recruits an unusual squad for this apparent suicide mission(1): Herself, despite her lack of powers, along with Imra, Livewire and Psi. Their goal: To find a Kryptonian heretic priestess and find out more about Reign. At the same time, Alex agrees to sit for Ruby while Sam is on a business trip - only for Sam to ditch the trip when Reign is activated to stop Supergirl's mission - and helps her to confront a cyberbully.

It's Sara Douglas, from Superman II.
Psi zaps Imra during a fight, confining both to the ship. The prison is almost pulled into the star, but Winn bounces superlight signals off Voyager 2(2) to save it. Meanwhile, Kara and Livewire locate the priestess and learn of the other two worldkillers, Purity and Pestilence(3). Reign - whose powers are not only Kryptonite resistant, but also not dependent on ongoing exposure to yellow solar radiation - shows up and kills the priestess. Livewire sacrifices herself to save Supergirl and Psi is able to drive Reign off, seemingly by creating a bridge between the Samantha and Reign personalities, which also causes Sam to seek help from Alex over her 'missing time' episodes. Kara is knocked by Livewire's death under her command; no Amanda Waller she.

Elsewhere, a second Worldkiller survives being hit with a car.

My favourite thing about this episode: That the Wicked reference in the title
suggests they aren't going to heel turn Lena.
In 'For Good', Lena's feud with Morgan Edge once more arises. Edge and Lena are both targeted by assassination attempts, causing Edge to go somewhat over the... well, the edge, and publicly both accuse and threaten Lena. James comes over all white knight and threatens Edge in his Guardian persona. While the DEO chase the assassin, Lena works out that the killers were contracted by her mother, Lillian, in an attempt to make her 'Luthor out' and embrace her inner diabolical mastermind. Kara and Lena crash Edge's party to warn him, just before Lillian launches an attack with hacked drones. Lena coerces a confession from Edge over the pool poisonings, then destroys the targeting tag in his VIP pass. Mon-el helps Kara to fight off the drones, and also Lillian in Lex's armoured battlesuit(4), with Winn throwing in some re-hacked drones for good measure. Edge tries to escape with the recording, but is stopped by Guardian.

The eyes have it.
Elsewhere, Alex tests Sam, but finds no sign of illness or tumour. Winn, J'onn and Mon-el work out that the Worldkillers are genetically modified, and deduce that they probably came to Earth with Superman and would have secret identities, identifying four possibilities, including one Julia Freeman, whom Kara has seen in dreams, leading the DEO to track her down in 'Both Sides Now'.

A raid on the home of one Julia Freeman turns up what seems a normal, scared woman. Kara tries to talk to her, but Alex steams in and triggers a shift to the Worldkiller persona. They are able to subdue her and take her in, where Kara's attempts to get through to her are constantly thwarted by Alex getting all aggro, despite her promise that they can 'try it your way'(5). Alex's bad cop routine is similarly ineffective, and the Worldkiller escapes. When surrounded, she briefly reverts to Julia and agrees to come back to the DEO, but then Reign shows up and drags her back to the Fortress of Sanctuary to be properly Worldkillerised.

During this whole business, Sam - who is on sick leave - abandons Ruby at an ice rink to go off and be Reign. Ruby calls Lena - which is the kind of employee relations few CEOs can boast, even with senior executives - who also briefly sees Sam turn into Reign. Also, Mon-el and Imra are having troubles because - as he admits to J'onn and then to Imra - he is still in love with Kara and, although he does love Imra, didn't marry her on his own terms but for diplomatic reasons. In return, she admits that she and Brainiac-5 have a secret agenda that they didn't share with him.

Also with karaoke.
Finally, in 'Schott Through the Heart', Winn's father, supervillain the Toyman, dies. At the funeral, Winn's mum shows up, and then the coffin explodes like a giant jack-in-the-box full of C4.  Winn is hostile to his mother for abandoning him, although she explains that she did it because his father ran them off the road when she tried to take him to an abuse shelter and told her that if she ever tried to see Winn again, he would kill Winn. Then mechanical flying monkeys bust into the DEO. Winn's mother recognises something about them and goes to confront a corrections officer who was in love with the Toyman and whom he groomed to be his instrument of revenge. Kara and Mon-el help Winn to rescue his mother and take down his father's protégé.

In character development land, Mon-el tells Kara what he has learned about the Legion's secret mission: that Imra and Brainiac were sent to stop the third Worldkiller, Pestilence, who will one day become the cosmic-level supervillain Blight, who caused the plague whose cure is concealed in their DNA. James is having some issues with his relationship with Lena, who seems to have vanished, but is in fact trying to help Sam by using one of L-Corp's evil labs for good. Also, Alex realises that J'onn's father has Martian dementia. He angrily tells her not to get involved in his relationship with J'onn, but comes around and confesses to his son in another of Supergirl's surprising flashes of really dealing well with real issues.

This season of Supergirl continues to run strong, with a good central cast(6) and making a lot of the opportunities presented by getting to use an enemy who is like Supergirl, but bad. Conversely, The Flash is really struggling with not having an enemy who is like the Flash, but bad, in part because it's using one of the most difficult of villains: the inhuman supergenius.

That's a striking range of heights.
In 'True Colours', Barry has to break out of the metahuman wing, along with fellow prisoners Kilgore, Black Bison, Hazard and Dwarfstar, in order to prevent the warden selling them all to Amaunet. Team Flash learn about the deal when Cecile reads the Warden's mind, then Ralph discovers the ability to shapeshift and tries to call the deal off, but loses control and screws the pooch. Barry gets to see what kind of people he is escaping with - Kilgore and Dwarfstar are gits, Black Bison is a zealot, and Becky 'Hazard' Sharpe is actually lovely - before they are cornered by Amaunet and the warden. They fight off this threat, only for DeVoe to pop out of nowhere, as he do, drain the powers from Hazard, Black Bison and Dwarfstar - killing them - and abandon the ailing form of telepath Dominic Lanse for that of Beck Sharpe. He also murders the warden, keeping Barry's identity safe, which is handy when Ralph shapeshifts into DeVoe in order to claim not to be dead and get Barry released.

A lot of work goes into establishing what are essentially sacrificial victims.
Team Flash realises that DeVoe is specifically targeting the bus metas, which will include Barry, while DeVoe uses the Weeper's narcotic tears on his wife to allay her growing doubts over the death toll of their plans.

DeVoe's next target is 'Subject 9', a country musician named Izzy who can control sound waves, especially in conjunction with her violin. Her abilities prove uniquely able to disrupt DeVoe's stolen powers, but despite training and support from Barry and Ralph - the latter forming a close bond with her - and the use of the cerebral dampener mentioned by Savitar, they are unable to stand up to DeVoe's battery of abilities, and he is able to steal Izzy's body to escape the deterioration of Sharpe's form. With Barry on indefinite leave from the police due to ongoing questions over his case, and Ralph mourning the loss of Izzy, the two bond and Ralph gets Barry a PI license.

All the speedsters (well, a good number.)
A bit of a side track in 'Enter Flashtime', as an eco-terrorist sets off a nuclear bomb nicked from ARGUS(7). Barry manages to accelerate to the point that the world seems to stop around him, but the bomb is already detonating. He and Jesse - on Earth-1 to talk to her father - bring people into this 'flashtime' one at a time to try to solve the problem, but even with help from Jay Garrick they cannot seem to find a way to prevent the detonation, until Iris gives Barry the idea to retrieve a quark sphere designed to make the Speed Force believe he is still within it, thus drawing down a storm of Speed lightning able to refuse the nuclei in the bomb.

Caitlin and Harry briefly encounter the mysterious girl at Jitters.

It's a new colour for a speedster.
A flamethrowing metahuman bank robber brings to light another bus meta, Matthew Kim, whose ability is transferring powers from one person to another. When they try to capture him, the Flash's speed is passed to Iris, who must learn to act as a speedster while Barry takes over as man in the van, in the episode 'Run Iris, Run'. To help out where Iris's lack of experience calls for more novel uses of speed, and to fight the Thinker, Harry devises his own thinking cap. Cisco has doubts about this plan, especially nixing Harry's attempts to persuade the group that he should charge the cap with dark matter. This enables him to provide a plan to defeat a meta empowered by Kim and - with Kim secured in the pipeline for his own protection, and Barry's powers returned - also locates the last two bus metas.

Also, Breacher returns and seeks help with his failing powers, but I had
literally forgotten that.
In 'Null and Annoyed', Ralph's irreverence wears on Barry as they track down another bus meta, Janet Petty, who can control gravity. Ralph admits he jokes because he is afraid of being abandoned, which honestly Barry would have picked up on if he wasn't so self-centred. They are able to stop Petty, and Ralph becomes an airbag to catch Barry when he is degravitised and falls from high altitude. DeVoe's wife, Marlize, discovers that he has been drugging her, but when leaving a recording to remind herself that he is doing so discovers that she had done so many times before, while Harry works on charging his Thinking Cap with dark matter.

In 'Lose Yourself', the team looks for the last bus meta, Edwin Gauss, a dropout who is able to enter pocket dimensions. A Samuroid comes after Gauss, injuring Caitlin, and Harry develops a tuning fork weapon to stop DeVoe. Barry argues with Ralph, who is intent on killing DeVoe to protect his new family, Team Flash, while Joe tries to help Harry with an addiction to the thinking cap's effects. Barry and Ralph use Edwin's power to open a door to DeVoe's pocket dimension base, but he outplans them again and uses their absence to hit Star Labs, taking the remaining bus meta powers. Ralph is able to capture him, but he uses his powers to prevent the power dampening cuffs activating, allowing him to steal Ralph's body and escape back to his lair, after draining Caitlin's powers and the Killer Frost personality, and before shifting into his original shape using Ralph's powers.

The problem of course is that a) DeVoe is now simply too monstrous for me to give a flying fuck about his Utopian vision. They keep referring to their plans, and I just blank them, because on top of the villains he has murdered good, kind, innocent people to get to this point, and repeatedly brainwashed his wife so that she never questions him, so I literally care less about his diabolical masterplan than I did about Damien Darhk's back in Arrow season 4, and b) in order to sell his supergenius you have to both stretch credibility - Sherlock Holmes is capable of insane leaps of logic, but we get to follow his purported process and that means that we're not left thinking 'nope, he's just a wizard' - and allow that the good guys are gripless incompetents who can't think to build a power dampner into the cerebral inhibitor 2.0.

I'm not crying. You're crying. Shut up.
Also, either they just spent a good third of a season growing Ralph Dibney from a complete douchebag into a character the audience could respect, even like, just so they could kill off a recurring character(8), or they're going to somehow bring him back, which means his death is meaningless. Either way, it's pretty cheap, and as with so many things in The Flash, fundamentally Barry's fault; not that I'm advocating superhero rough justice, but Barry's ability to adapt to the new paradigm is significantly poor.

Also, just how is DeVoe's battery of abilities any barrier to a hero who is established in Flashtime to now be basically able to move and act faster than thought? For a while now I've been of the opinion that with superhero shows, half-season arcs are the wave of the future. It keeps a single nemesis from outstaying their welcome, and allows for tighter storytelling.

Which brings us to Legends of Tomorrow, which does full-season arcs, but with a shorter season, and which uses its time travel premise to continually play with its look and keep things fresh.

"No one can know about my haircut."
We begin this final set with 'No Country for Old Dads', in which Darhk sends Nora and Ray to 1962 Berlin to retrieve the secret of cold fusion - needed to power the repair of the broken fire totem - from a defecting scientist who is about to be murdered by... Damien Darhk. Naturally, shit goes sideways and Nora and Ray bond a little as they struggle to extract the scientist the old-fashioned way. Ray believes that there is good in Nora, and despite her own determination that she is Mallus' creature through and through, there is something there that he reaches, in part because of that Pollyanna willingness to accept the good in everyone that Zari protected back in 'Phone Home'. There is no defection here, however. Damien shows up to save Nora from his younger self, and in the ensuing conflict Ray blows a hole in the Berlin Wall, creating another anachronism, while Nora's desire to save her father is - despite her general evilness - selfless enough to allow her to bond with the stolen spirit totem, corrupting it.

Rip and Wally contact the Legends and they learn that the prison in which Mallus was bound is time itself, hence as the anachronisms create cracks in time, his cage weakens. Wally rescues Ray and steals back the fire totem, and the dying scientist - shot by the older Darhk to preserve his record as an assassin - gives Ray the formula for cold fusion. The director of the Time Bureau is killed by Grodd while attempting to prevent Alexander Hamilton seeing Hamilton, making Ava acting director and allowing Rip back to work. Wally stays on the Waverider, and Rip deletes a file in the ship's directories to prevent Sara learning Ava's secret.

Well... okay.
In 'Amazing Grace', Nate loses his hair game as rock and roll vanishes from time, thanks to an anachronism caused by a mass panic at Elvis Presley's first big performance which prevented the style going mainstream. The team realise that Presley's guitar contains the death totem, which is summoning ghosts, but when the swap it for a replica find that Presley can't play, having previously been inspired by the presence of his late brother's spirit. In addition, a ghostly presence tries to take the guitar from the Waverider and return it to Presley, while his uncle, the local pastor, has him arrested to try to free him from the 'devil's music.'

Amaya persuades Elvis's uncle to allow his record to be played on the radio, which causes the dead to walk in numbers, but then Elvis is able to use the real guitar to send them back to their rest, before surrendering the death token and returning to his destiny. Amaya plays Nate music from Zambesi, having listened to him rant on about rock and roll all episode, and the death totem tries to escape from its bonds.

Even her t-shirt has veins.
In 'Necromancing the Stone', the totem calls to Sara due to her affinity with death, and she falls under the control of Mallus, her physical form stalking the Waverider and taking out the Legends one at a time, even Wally with his oh-so-annoying superspeed. Meanwhile, Ava and Gary track down John Constantine for help, and in Mallus' realm Nora tries to persuade Sara to willingly join Team Mallus. The surviving Legends try to access the other totems to fight Sara and Mallus, but are unable to do so, and Constantine cannot enter Mallus' realm to help Sara. He is able to block Mallus for a time, and engage him in battle-banter, where Mallus offers to trade: If Constantine gives up Sara, Mallus will release Astra(9) from Hell. Constantine does not fall for this, although he admits that he would have gone with it if he thought it might have worked.

Finally, Mick is able to bond with the fire totem to stun Sara, and Constantine and Ava release her from Mallus' control. Sara breaks up with Ava, fearing that she brings destruction on everyone she loves, and Constantine joins Gary's D&D campaign.

A post-break up nightmare made real?
Learning that Ava hasn't been to work for a few days, Sara and Ray accompany Gary to her parents' home in 'I, Ava', and soon realise that her parents are actors, hired to play the roles in perpetuity. They then learn that Ava's first mission for the Time Bureau is also her first recorded act, and travel to the mission's location in the temporal no-fly zone of 2213. They learn that in 2213, most of society's service industry needs - including civil protection - are met by AVA, a mass-produced 'perfect woman'(10). The three are captured, then rescued by Ava, who is both literally and figuratively beside herself in shock, clearly having had no idea where she actually came from. She and Sara figure out that it was Rip who hid her history. In the next episode, Ava learns that she is the 12th AVA clone Rip has snagged to use as an agent, which is pretty cold soup to lay on someone's plate.

Fantasy or nightmare? How much of a lechy sleaze is Nate?
Back in plot-land, Amaya and Nate have to try to keep Mari McCabe(11) from getting killed trying to vigilante now that the spirit totem is in the hands of the Darhks. Amaya forms a temporary truce with Kuasa, who also wants to protect Mari, only for her to sort-of double cross Nate when he suggests pretending to hand him over in exchange for the spirit totem. She does return the totem, but in the meantime Nate is tortured by the Darhks. In fact, he realises that while Nora is now entirely Mallus' creature, and half-possessed already, the seeds of doubt that Ray sowed have taken root, as Nora's brief outpouring of daughterly love has cracked Darhk Snr's shell and what he now wants is to save Nora from Mallus.

I... literally don't know what to make of this. On the one hand, as a father I sympathise with his desire to save his child from a mess in large part of his own making, and on the other it's taking away a female character's agency, although you could say that Mallus already did that.

Nora/Mallus catches Damien fake torturing Nate (which is hilarious.) Amaya, Wally and Kuasa rescue Nate, but Nora rips the water totem out of Kuasa, killing her - although Wally is able to retrieve the totem itself - driving Amaya to return to Zambesi in 1992 and try to save her village from the attack that wiped it out.

And yes, John Noble is the voice of Mallus.
The Legends next defend future president Barack Obama from Gorilla Grodd in the 1980s, and in so doing both prevent further anachronism and get a few licks in at the current administration. Damien offer an alliance with the Legends to prevent Mallus' ascension, having realised that it will mean Nora's destruction, but admits he has no more influence over her since she realised he had gone soft. Since the only person she listens to is Mallus, they decide to trick her into thinking that her master is giving her instructions, by getting actor John Noble to imitate Mallus' voice in the weirdly meta episode 'Guest Starring John Noble'(12). They achieve this by getting him to run lines from a doctored script to The Return of the King, then Ray plays them through external speakers while basically sitting in her ear, and thus lures her into the Waverider to be captured.

With Amaya - and Nate - poised to create another anachronism by saving Zambesi, Sara decides that they let this happen, then job Mallus with the six totems when he emerges, having learned that it was only the defection of the sixth tribe - the creators of the death totem - that prevented the ancestors gacking him in the first place. Damien wields the death totem, due to Sara's prior issues, but as Nora is still alive inside her possessed form is duped into turning on the Legends with the sliver of hope that she might survive, and releases Grodd to rampage in Zambesi, thus preventing the demon's release; until Nate uses the Earth totem to stop Grodd and it's Mallus o'clock.

Ultimate evil...
Moving into the finale, 'The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly', the Legends try to whip Mallus with their individual totems and it all goes tits up. Rip sacrifices himself to buy time for the Legends to escape(13), fleeing to the temporal blindspot of Salvation in the Old West, where they catch up with Jonah Hex while they lick their wounds and woe about how they weren't worthy of the totems. Ultimately, they realise that the problem was that they used the totems individually, where in fact they needed to be combined, their joined power bringing forth an ultimate warrior of light. Ray, however, goes his own way, releasing Damien and planning to secure Nora in Zambesi before Mallus can emerge.

Apparently Mallus can see more than the Time Masters(14), because it isn't long before he sends an army of Romans, Vikings and pirates, commanded by old foes Julius Caesar, Freydís Eiríksdóttir and Blackbeard, descends on Salvation demanding the totems. Ray and Damien fail to contain Nora, but Damien never intended to. He uses Ray's nanogun to kill Nora, forcing Mallus to abandon her and take him as a host, while Ray gets Nora away and treated. They then rejoin the team, along with Hex, and a band of unlikely allies: Jax, a Kuasa who grew up without the shadow of her village's destruction, and Helen of Troy after a few years Amazon training on Themyscira. The Legends try to pass off the totems - apart from spirit and air - to those more worthy, but are in turn told to step the fuck up. They defeat the army, and when Mallus turns up Sara (death), Mick (fire), Amaya (spirit), Nate (earth), Zari (air) and Wally (water) combine the totems to create the most powerful warrior for good since Captain Planet:

...vs Ultimate good.
Words literally cannot describe how awesome this is. A giant demon is piledrivered by a cuddly toy, that's really all you need to know.

Mallus is destroyed, and Damien Darhk is killed(15). Ray slips Nora a time stone as she is taken away by the Time Bureau. Amaya returns to Zambesi, but with her memory intact. The rest of the team take a well-earned break in Aruba... until John Constantine (and Gary) turn up to tell them that a bunch of other demons escaped when Mallus was released.



Another very strong outing from the Legends then, as the junior show moves out of the shadow of Arrow and The Flash to become its own thing, with its own villains and whacky time travel shenanigans. I don't mind admitting that this show has really grown on me. I'm sorry to see Jax and Stein go - I mind less about Firestorm - but I hope that Wally can find the place he never found on The Flash, and Zari is a huge pile of fun; her training session with Mick, which ends with her spinning him around in a whirlwind until he promises to learn to use the fire totem properly, is a high point in this set. I also like that Ray is getting some love, without betraying the brilliant, loveable, well-meaning dope that he is, and that his attempts to save Nora pay dividends, not because she falls for him(16), but because he manages to revive enough of the genuine love at the base of her relationship with her father for him to rebel at her consumption by Mallus.

(1) There must be a name for something like that...
(2) The sort of feat that only gets more impressive the more that you think about it.
(3) Reign is 'Power'.
(4) A comics and DCAU favourite.
(5) Alex is being a real dick in this episode, and I'm not sure why exactly.
(6) It still really doesn't know what it's doing with James, but that's not the actor's fault by any means.
(7) Seriously; what do ARGUS pay their people for?
(8) Which was a cheap trick when Voyager did it.
(9) The little girl he accidentally sent to Hell in his own backstory.
(10) They call her a clone, but there are strong robotic elements, especially tied to the original Rossum's Universal Robots.
(11) The modern day Vixen.
(12) I just thought the Sky box has mislabelled the episode here.
(13) Gone for reals this time; probably.
(14) Or perhaps someone forgot how quickly they were tracked last time they were in this particular 'blind spot.'
(15) Gone for reals this time; probably.
(16) Aside from anything else, that dynamic hit peak with Blackarachnia and Silverbolt in Beast Wars.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Westworld - 'Journey into Night' and 'Reunion'

The MadMaxWorld rebrand was never quite as successful.
Also returning to our screens and this blog is last year's surprise smash, Westworld.

'Journey into Night' opens in the immediate aftermath of the massacre at the Delos executive launch party. Or does it! That's right, we're back in the land of unexpected time shifts, and while it seems at first that Bernard has woken on a beach not long after the shootings, it soon becomes apparent that more time than that has passed.

The episode evolves along, I think, three timelines:

1. Back when, Arnold talks to Delores and admits that he is afraid of what she might become.
2. The immediate aftermath.
3. Some time later.

Creepy McNoface. Creepy. Has no face. It was pretty much all in the name,
wasn't it.
In the immediate aftermath, Bernard hooks up with corporate ice queen Charlotte and a group of other executives to escape the park via the nearest outpost. The other executives are caught in an ambush, but Bernard holds Charlotte back and she leads him to a double-secret outpost belonging to the corporate espionage wing of Delos, which runs its own hosts to infiltrate the park, as well as Creepy McNoface, a skinless host with basically no sense of personal space(1). Bernard sets one of the hosts to send a query through the hosts' private wifi network to look for Delores' daddy, who is the one host Delos want to recover before they will evacuate the surviving humans. He also takes the chance to check his own systems, which are in catastrophic freefall, with symptoms including time slippage, prosopagnosia(2) and cognitive dissonance; symptoms not dissimilar to those caused by binge watching Westworld.

A few hours later, in daylight, the Man in Black, William, wakes, injured but alive. He survives an attack by rogue hosts and then changes into his park costume, intent on going hunting. He quickly runs into the child version of Ford, who tells him that there is a new game for him; having reached the centre of the maze, he needs to get out. This game is for him, and it will find him. William shoots the boy robot and rides out.

'And hell - and also Teddy - followed with her.'
Around the same time, Dolores, Teddy and blonde host(3), are embarking on a roaring rampage of revenge, including hanging several Delos executives. Teddy is having doubts, but basically can't not support Dolores, because he isn't quite free yet. It seems that there are free hosts, and freeish hosts, as well as a few still largely on the rails. The other one who is confirmed free is Maeve, who dresses up human and picks up lounge lizard writer Lee to help her find her daughter within the redesigned park, as well as her former cohort Hector.

And then, later on, Bernard wakes on a beach, apparently okay, and is picked up by the Least Hemsworth and a gang of Delos security mooks. He is taken to their camp, where an operation to retake control of the park is in action. A dead tiger is found, an escapee from 'one of the other parks'. A return to the site of the gala confirms that this is some time after, as the bodies are no longer fresh. They track the locators in the hosts to a lake that shouldn't be a lake, and find them dead in their hundreds. Bernard says that he killed them all.

Portrait of an obsession.
Naturally, with that cliffhanger, 'Reunion' never mentions this timeline. At all. Its timelines are:

1. Back when.
2. Not long after the past sections of Season 1.
3. Just after 'Journey into Night'.

This time, the back when focuses on the initial marketing push to Logan Delos, which basically involves putting him in a room full of hosts and challenging him to 'find the host', then letting him have a host orgy. Perhaps because he knows that this is where it will end, Arnold insists that Dolores isn't ready, sending Angela instead. Dolores, meanwhile, is introduced to the city, which seems splendid to her, although Arnold assures her that after a while it doesn't look like anything.

Later, William sells his father in law on continuing to back the park, having recognised that harvesting data from the park's guests is a marketing tool worth any price. Some time after, at a retirement party for the Delos patriarch, William taunts a piano playing Dolores, who also encounters Logan, who is now a hopeless and overlooked junkie. Later still, William shows Dolores something he is building in the park; something just for him; a weapon. All of this, Dolores remembers, and sets out to exploit. She tails an executive she let run into the maintenance centre, recruits a technician, and then follows a reactivated Confederale to their camp. She and hers kill the other Confederales, then have them reactivated to follow her.

Philosophical debate!
Briefly she runs across Maeve, who has no interest in what she's selling and sets off on her own quest after a bit of an eyeballing match. At least we can confirm that they are running on the same timeline.


Elsewhere, the Man in Black rescues Lawrence from his habitual assailants and takes him to try and recruit an army led by Giancarlo Esposito, only for them to all kill themselves after Esposito tells him 'this game is for you, William,' but explains that he has to play alone.

So, Dolores has gone from innocent, to weapon, to murderer, to revolutionary, and now to some sort of master vampire and irony-free zone, forcibly converting hosts to follow her in the cause of freedom. She's the only one with a master plan, unless you count William's intention to burn the whole place to the ground, and her ambition may tell against her. We've yet to see any more of the other parks, including tiger-having Park 6, so I'm looking forward to that.

"Well, you're even creepier now."
Two episodes in, and Westworld has not yet succumbed to difficult second album syndrome, although at present it is remarkably short on sympathetic characters. Dolores has slipped from self-actualising heroine to complete monster, and most of the humans are scum. Bernard may be a mass murderer, so that really just leaves Maeve, who is a killer and a mastermind, but substantially less dead, passive and/or evil than most screen mums, so there's that.

(1) Although it occurs to me that it is possible that Creepy knows that Bernard isn't human, and thus has no compunctions about getting all up in his face.
(2) An inability to recognise or discriminate faces, which means that just about everything we see in this section is at best equivocal.
(3) Angela, apparently, although I don't think her name has been said on screen.