Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pandemic


Pandemic
Publisher: ZMan Games (2012)
Players: 2-4
Play Time: Approximately 45 minutes
Genre: Board Game, Strategy, Co-op
Price: $39.99

Pandemic is the first of several games designed by Matt Leacock that readers will be seeing here. He seems to specialize in cooperative games, for those unfamiliar with the terminology those are games in which the players play against the game instead of against each other. I really enjoy cooperative games, sure trash-talking your friends can be fun but I have just as much fun hearing the different plans that everyone can come up with to tackle the same problem. I just seems to be a more social experience when everyone is working towards the same goal.

Commonly there are many ways to lose these types of games, and one way to win them. Pandemic is no exception. The players lose the game if the game board suffers through eight outbreaks, if you run out of disease cubes to place on the board, or if the players run out of cards to draw from the draw pile. That's right, even the draw pile isn't not your friend, instead of reshuffling and starting over, the players lose the game when the cards run out. It's a punishing mechanic that forces the players to do something meaningful with every turn, biding your time isn't an option.

It isn't the most punishing mechanic though, that honor is held by the outbreaks that occur in the game. Throughout the course of play infection cubes are placed on cities around the map, when those cities reach three cubes they become a ticking time bomb. If another cube would normally be placed on a thrice infected city that city suffers an outbreak, placing infection cubes on all cities connected to it. The worst case scenario is that an adjacent city reaches the outbreak point due to the initial outbreak, throwing out even more infection cubes (thankfully a city can't outbreak twice as part of the same chain) and making a bad situation downright dismal.


With so many paths to failure arrayed before the players how do the good guys win the game?” you ask. The players must discover cures for all four diseases on the board. It's important to remember that you DO NOT have to eradicate the diseases to win, you just need to discover the cures. Without keeping that tidbit in mind the players will find the game nigh impossible to win. Believe me, Pandemic doesn't need any help, it's difficult enough as it is.

There are a lot of things to remember during the course of a game. Reference cards are provided to serve as reminders of all of the different things that are possible during a player's turn. Pay close attention to the movement rules regarding the use of city cards for transportation and the sharing knowledge mechanic afforded the players. Getting either of those things wrong drastically changes the way the game plays and you'll be kicking yourself when you realize that your easy victory came from a misapplication of the rules.

Conclusion: Pandemic is an insanely challenging game. I wouldn't recommend it for neophyte gamers unless there is someone very experienced around to help guide everyone through a couple of games. In the same vein, it might not be the best game to wrap up a play session with, as there's a better than decent chance you'll end the game humbled in defeat, staring sullenly at your implacable foe; an unfeeling, remorseless collection of cardboard and plastic. With all that being said; when you do manage to defeat this evil, brought into our world by Matt Leacock, you'll feel an amazing sense of accomplishment...or so I've heard.

Rating: 7.75/10

Monday, December 29, 2014

Star Fluxx


Star Fluxx
Publisher: Looney Labs (2011)
Players: 2-6
Play Time: 10-40 minutes
Genre: Card Game, Sci-Fi
Price: $15.99

Star Fluxx begins as a game with very few rules. Each player starts out with three cards in their hand, and on their turn they must draw one card and play one card. When the game starts there is no win condition. What follows is a crazy game that is sure to feature all sorts of twists and turns. There are many types of cards that affect the game in one way or another; Goals provide that game with its win condition, Keepers are the players' way to fulfill goals, Creepers keep a player from winning the game unless otherwise specified by the current Goal, Actions provide strategic ways to affect that game on a player's turn, Surprises can be played at anytime and impact the game in different ways depending on when they're played, and New Rules provide ever-increasing constraints on how the game is played.

This isn't a bad game to use to introduce new players to the world of table-top gaming, but if you're playing with inexperienced players it's best if at least one person knows the game. That person can help to keep track of the rules and keep things straight. The most important thing to remember is that the cards tell the players exactly what to do, they should be interpreted as literally as possible. Have no fear, after a few rounds of play everyone will be comfortable enough that you can sit back and just enjoy the game.

If the game isn't won very quickly, say in the first ten minutes or so, it seems that inevitably everyone is in for a wild ride. The longer games are the most fun, as players dive down deep into their bags of tricks for the slightest advantage. Card advantage, having more cards and therefore more options, is the most important aspect of the game. The trouble there is that there are many ways to turn that advantage against a player. That's where strategy most strongly comes into play. The order in which the player executes their plays can spell the difference between victory and perhaps handing victory to another player, the most embarrassing way to lose the game.

The artwork on the cards is pretty simple, but it conveys the sci-fi inspirations behind the cards perfectly. When it's not your turn it's fun to watch the other cards being played and trying to identify what sci-fi stories the cards are referencing. You might also find that this launches some fun conversations regarding those stories, perhaps allowing you to introduce someone to a book or movie that they haven't been exposed to before. It is a game after all, one you play with friends in order to have fun. What could be more fun than playing an awesome game and seeing someone discover Star Wars or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for the first time?

Conclusion: Star Fluxx is a great game to start any game session. It's simple enough to be taught to just about anyone, but has enough depth to serve as a nice primer for the rest of the session. Will it satisfy the hardcore gamer in more experienced players? No, but it's a good appetizer for what ever main course game you're planning on serving up.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 25!!


There's a little bit of everything in today's Haul.  For gaming we've got Star Fluxx, a card game in which the rules change constantly, the players' strategy for victory has to evolve with the game.  There's also Matt Leacock's creation, Forbidden Desert, which is a cooperative game that I've heard is quite difficult.

For reading material I got S.M. Stirling's A Taint in the Blood and a few comics; She-Hulk #11 by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, and Munsta Vincente, Tomb Raider #11 by Rhianna Pratchett, Gail Simone and Nicolas Daniel Selma, and Wytches #2-3 by Scott Snyder, Jock and Matt Hollingsworth.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014 is Haul Day 24!!


All right!  Christmas is here, and that means a ton of new stuff to check out.  I got a little bit of everything this year, but it all looks awesome!  It's a little hard to know where to start:

First there's Castle:  Season Five starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, then we've got a few classics that somehow I've gone my entire life without watching; Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman, an Alfred Hitchcock double feature; Vertigo and North by Northwest, Scanners by David Cronenberg, and finally The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton and Liv Tyler rounds out the movies and television department.

Let's move on to the games, shall we?  Both table-top and video games are represented here.  Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber, Forbidden Island by Matt Leacock, and The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin by Steve Jackson on the table-top side of things, and Wolfenstein: The New Order from Bethseda Softworks on the videogaming side.

Reading material was not overlooked either.  The trade paperbacks include Green Arrow Volume 2 by Ann Nocenti and Harvey Tolibao, Green Arrow Volume 3 by Ann Nocenti and Freddie Williams II, and Green Arrow Volume 4 by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Marcelo Maiolo.  Finally, wrapping up with the books; a signed copy of The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, The Council of Shadows by S.M. Stirling, and The World of Ice & Fire:  The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia, Jr., and Linda Antonsson.

As you can see that's plenty to keep me busy for quite some time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Revival Volume One: You're Among Friends


Revival Volume One: You're Among Friends
Issues #1-5
Publisher: Image Comics
Story: Tim Seeley
Art: Mike Norton
Rated: M/Mature
Genre: Horror
Price: $12.99

Revival is the story of a small town in Wisconsin where the dead have risen from the grave. I know what you're thinking; “Do we really need another zombie story?” or perhaps even more pointedly, “Doesn't Image already have a fairly successful little zombie comic running right now?” Believe me, before I purchased this book I had the same thoughts, but within the first few pages you'll know that this story is very unlike many other zombie stories. As it's presented the revival seems to be a very isolated incident, one which results in the quarantine of the town, CDC involvement, and attempted pilgrimages to the site. In many ways it's like an anti-The Leftovers; a small town's struggle with an unexplained event, the return of their loved ones, and the consequences of those returns.

The revived people are not like the zombies we've grown accustomed to, they're not rotting, flesh eating killing machines, they're just people that do most things people do; they're just dead while they do it. The reactions to their returns vary, as you'd expect. There's happiness that loved ones have returned, there are those that found closure and now are confronted with their dead friend or relative all over again, dead victims wish to find their killers, religious groups all have their own interpretations; all of the realistic real world responses to such an event are presented. Then, when it's time for things to go sideways with some of the revived, it goes really sideways, to grisly effect.

The art does the job, without being extraordinary. What I was most struck by was Mike Norton's ability to create such a diverse set of characters. The cast features many ethnicities and body types. There's a large Hmong population, a CDC doctor with Muslim parents and more. The population is not made up of only athletically gifted, superhero physiques. It's an actual populous with just about everything represented, something that cannot always be said about a comic book, and it's refreshing.

The one gripe I could have with this collection of issues is that there is a lot of information and characters to introduce. There are so many that at times I found myself warming to a character just in time for the story to jump to something else, leaving me hanging. It seems clear who the main characters are going to be, but there are so many different stories to tell regarding the denizens of Wausau, Wisconsin that I would have appreciated a little more time to get to know them. A little more focus would have been nice. It's such a small thing, that is sure to be rectified in coming issues, that it seems almost petty to mention it. Be that as it may, it was something that I noticed while reading.

Conclusion: Revival is a zombie story unlike many of those out there. The real world reactions and varied cast of characters will make it easy for just about anyone to jump right in and enjoy the story. The lack of focus through the first few issues is sure to be resolved, which will create a multi-layered story that horror comic fans will relish.

Rating: 8/10

Far Cry 4


Far Cry 4
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Players: Single-player and Co-op campaign, Multiplayer
Genre: Action Adventure, First-person Shooter
Distribution: Optical Disc, Download
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: November 18, 2014

My experience with the Far Cry series is admittedly very limited. I played Far Cry 2 for a bit, but didn't own a computer or a console that would run Far Cry 3, so while I heard good things I never got to experience it for myself. With little in the way of preconceived notions I got to jump right in and see what the fuss was about.

The opening cinematic immediately illustrates to the player the war torn country of Kyrat. The player comes face to face with the sadistic leader of the country's government, Pagan Min, and is set on a course of direct opposition. Pagan Min is an exciting villain, one I was looking forward to thwarting at every turn and seeing his reaction. He's voiced by the tremendous Troy Baker, whose work I always enjoy; he brings to life a character that truly seems to find glee in the suffering he causes. Sadly, the players interactions with Min are lacking. Almost all of the player's interactions with the antagonist take place via radio in very one-sided conversations. It's disappointing that a character with so much potential was so underutilized.

The land of Kyrat is beautiful. Every inch is highly detailed and full of things to do. The lakes, rivers, mountains, and forests that make up the country are filled with enemies to slay, animals to hunt, and items to collect. Exploration is encouraged by a plethora of items intended to supply the player with interesting tidbits regarding the history of the land you're currently rampaging across. Liberating enemy outposts open new fast travel locations to the player, cutting down on the amount of time required to traverse the wilderness. Finding and deactivating the radio towers responsible for spreading the corrupt government's propaganda reveals some of the points of interest in their region. They're also often the highest point around, making them excellent places to test your wingsuit prowess.

Far Cry 4 is loaded with missions, it feels like there are hundreds of things for the player to tackle. The main campaign missions are decent; I felt myself seriously considering the ramifications of the the plans presented by Amita and Sabal, the leaders of the Golden Path. One values the traditions of the past and the other longs to drag Kyrat into the present by any means necessary. The campaign missions varied enough that they never got too repetitive. The same cannot be said for some of the other missions scattered throughout the landscape. The side characters that send you out into the world with tasks to complete were all written in the most stereotypical way imaginable. Their missions often seemed to be the same as the last, with a change in location the only variety to be found

When I started to find myself bored with my third strange drug trip, hostage rescue, or assassination I'd go search for a piece of a thangka that's kind of a family heirloom. Finding those pieces leads the player to the mystical land of Shangri-La. In the Shangri-La missions the game changes completely, having the player take control of a warrior striving to rid the land of evil. The landscape is eerily beautiful and the player gives up his trusty firearms for a magical bow that slows time and can eventually fire multiple arrows. You also gain the ability to summon a tiger to fight at the player's side. The change of pace allows the player to time their breaks from Kyrat to coincide with the occasions when the regularly available missions seem to be bogging you down.

When my tickets to Shangri-La were all punched and I needed a respite I found myself setting goals for myself, instead of seeking out the next mission. There is little more satisfying in Far Cry 4 than successfully taking a stronghold without the alarm being sounded. Almost as exciting are the moments when all your plans fall apart and you have to adapt on the fly. Packs of wolves can expose you before you're ready, the single guard you missed after five minutes of scouting the enemy base can sound the alarm while you watch helplessly from across the outpost; those are only examples of the several complications that can arise. When you're on the brink of death and finally victorious, those are the moments that really shine looking back on them.

Conclusion: The lack of face time for the villain and the poorly conceived side characters with repetitive missions don't do too much to mar the game. In addition to the amazing world the developers built, the sheer number of things to do will keep most gamers busy for quite a while. Accomplishing many of the goals is possible with several different approaches, which increases the fun to be had and the replay value.

Rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 23!!


With Christmas right around the corner I've curtailed my buying, as I don't want to ruin a gift with a preemptive purchase.  This week I limited myself to picking up this week's pull list, here's what I picked up:

Batman #37 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia, The Bunker #8 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari, Intersect #2 by Ray Fawkes, The Kitchen #2 by Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, Moon Knight #10 by Brian Wood, Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire, The Sandman: Overture #4 by Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, and Dave Stewart, and The Wicked + The Divine #6 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson


The Hero of Ages
Mistborn – Book 3
Publisher: Tor Books (2008)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 748
Price: $7.99

Killing the Lord Ruler to end the Final Empire was obviously the right thing to do, wasn't it? With the return of the lethal form of the ubiquitous mists, increasingly heavy ashfalls, and ever more powerful earthquakes, Vin and Elend are no longer so sure. Long ago, Ruin – one of the primal beings who created the world – was promised the eventual right to destroy all things. Now that Vin has been tricked into releasing him from the Well of Ascension, Ruin apparently intends to collect.

The conclusion of the Mistborn trilogy fulfills all the promise of the first two books. Revelations abound, connections rooted in early chapters of the series click into place, and surprises, as satisfying as they are stunning, blossom like fireworks to dazzle and delight. It all leads up to a finale unmatched for originality and audacity that will leave you rubbing your eyes in wonder, as if awaking from an amazing dream.

The first thing I want to say about this book really pertains to the trilogy as a whole. I'm always happy to read a story that so obviously had a clear plan in the way it was going to be told. Brandon Sanderson doesn't drag this story out over several more books, as it seems so many authors are tempted to do. Instead the reader is treated to a well structured story, told in it's originally conceived way, without a lot of fluff and side stories to artificially create more content. It is refreshing to read something with such a clear-cut design behind it.

The Hero of Ages rejoins the story of Vin and Elend approximately a year after the events of The Well of Ascension. Although they are winning military victories in their attempts to bring more of the population under the umbrella of their protection, they are unable to do anything about the fact that the very land seems to be turning against them. The mists stay longer into the day, and the ash that previously had fallen at manageable rates is now overwhelming them, threatening crops and therefore lives. Their only hope lies in storage caches that the Lord Ruler had left behind, to be used in the event of his demise, and the secrets that those caches contain.

I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, the reveals and twists in this book should really be experienced without adulteration. Let me just say that I really enjoy the idea that the Lord Ruler wasn't quite the horrible tyrant that the reader was first led to believe he was by Kelsier and the rest of his crew. The more the reader learns about him, the more you can sympathize with the position he was in; allowing the character to transcend being the villain, he becomes much more three-dimensional, and much more human.

Much of the story revolves around Ruin, and his manipulations of various people in the story. Once it's revealed that Ruin is capable of interfering in a direct way with some people's thoughts and actions I thought I had several aspects of the story figured out. Some of the manipulations are so blatant that it's impossible not to think to oneself, “Oh, that guy is definitely Ruin's puppet now!” What Sanderson does so well is distract the reader with those instances that lack subtlety. He wants you to be focused on those things, so that the moment when he reveals Ruin's true design is all the more surprising because of it.

The misdirection doesn't stop there. The heroes the reader has come to accept throughout the course of the story aren't the only ones present. The climax featured a huge surprise that had me grinning while I read it, that doesn't happen very often for me. I did feel that the ending wrapped things up a little too nicely. That's not to be a complaint about so many different clues and threads being connected by the end, but rather that things end almost too well. Mr. Sanderson did make one concession to the idea that there had to be some kind of consequences for the actions taken by all the characters, but overall the majority of the world's ills are set right by the end, just a little too neatly for my tastes. It's not much of a complaint, but it's one of the thoughts that ran through my mind upon finishing the book.

Conclusion: The Hero of Ages is an amazingly satisfying ending to a wonderful story. The references to minor details in the previous books make the narrative feel well executed and expertly planned out, and the misdirection keeps the reader from guessing what is going to happen before it's time for the big reveal. This was a great way to wrap up the trilogy.

Rating: 8.75/10

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Players: One
Genre: Action Role-Playing
Distribution: Optical Disc, Download
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: September 30, 2014

One of my first computer gaming experiences was War in Middle Earth in 1988. It was with excitement and a hefty dose of nostalgia that I returned to Middle Earth. The game takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The player takes the role of Talion, a ranger of Gondor who guards the Black Gate. Talion is killed by Sauron's forces, but is resurrected with strange new abilities and a ghostly companion named Celebrimbor, who the player finds through flashbacks is the smith that created the rings of power.

The game plays like a mixture of Assassin's Creed and the Batman Arkham games, and if you've played either, or both, you'll fall into a familiar rhythm. Because of the setting, between well known stories, the player knows what they can affect in the world and what won't change. There's no way that your actions can really influence the outcome of the events we know will happen, so there's a bit of a feeling of powerlessness in regards to the over-arching narrative. The game designers tried to combat this by telling a personal story of loss and vengeance, with only middling success. I felt like this was due to the dry nature of both the main characters; they're both on quests of retribution and both are very serious fellows. It would have aided the player's connection to the characters had they been a little less alike.

The supporting characters, what few of them there are, sometimes help to alleviate this issue, but not to the extent they should have. Gollum makes a few appearances, serving to tie the story into the elements of the world with which the player is already familiar; but he seemed under utilized. There's a dwarven hunter named Torvin who does serve to lighten the mood occasionally, but he seems so stereotypically jovial most of the time that he's more a caricature of a rambunctious sidekick than a living, breathing character.

The deficiencies of the story aside, the game itself is rather fun. Sure the collectibles are a little lackluster, but the combat and the method by which you get to the conclusion were satisfying. The most talked about aspect of the gameplay is the Nemesis system. It boils down to this: there are various orc captains roaming the countryside, you can kill them for big rewards. If they kill you however, they gain power. If a non-captain orc kills your character, and there's an open captain spot, they'll be promoted to captain. There are also war chiefs that are tougher than your run of the mill captain, often with only a couple of weakness and bodyguards. Powers granted to Talion by Celebrimbor allow the player to manipulate the captains, and with some patience, the war chiefs, into doing the player's bidding. Some of my favorite gameplay moments occurred when I installed my newest puppet at the top of the enemy's hierarchy.

After some practice the combat isn't terribly challenging; especially once you've advanced your character enough to unlock some rather powerful abilities. Once you've gotten a feel for the game there are few combat situations that you'll hesitate to jump in to. Stealth is typically a more satisfying way to get where you want to go, but it's nice to know that if you're discovered you're not punished too terribly for the mistake. One aspect of the game I found lacking is the loot system. You gain runes for your three weapons that augment their abilities when you kill captains or chiefs. Late in the game you can greatly increase the chances of finding an Epic rune, but even these offer only small perks in combat. I never found a rune that I felt I couldn't be without, as their effect on play was often too small to matter.

Conclusion: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an entertaining open-world game, the most innovative aspect is the Nemesis mechanic, which I hope pops up in more of these types of games. The dry characters and weak loot detract slightly from the game, but the intense action, and multiple ways to accomplish your objective, mitigates the impact they have on the player's enjoyment.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, December 15, 2014

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 8


Constantine
Episode Title: "The Saint of Last Resorts”
Channel: NBC
Director: T.J. Scott
Writer: Carly Wray
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: December 12, 2014

There are two stories being told in “The Saint of Last Resorts.” Zed gets left behind on his case, she's suffering some ill-effects from having handled a fallen angel's heart in last week's episode. John and Chas go off to confront an evil entity that's terrorizing newborns and mothers at a convent. This isn't a case of splitting them up needlessly though, as both have exciting things happening during the show.

John tells Zed to stay in the mill until they get back, so we knew that there was little chance of that happening. She runs into Eddie again, and after touching him realizes that he's way more than he first appeared. She gets him back to the mill and ends up interrogating him. We learn a lot more about her past in these scenes; her name is actually Mary, and her family needs her to return to save them. It's clear that they're members of some sort of strange religious sect, but their intentions for her are still a mystery.

John and Chas end up in Mexico, chasing down a snatcher of newborns. In addition to meeting Anne Marie, another of the Newcastle crew, we get a lot of lore concerning the bad guys of the Constantine universe. There's Lamashtu, one of Eve's sisters, who does the actual kidnapping. There is also some sort of Chilean warlock called a Brujería, and the Invunche. The Invunche is a twisted evil thing from before the time of Noah's flood, immensely powerful and we're given the impression that if John thought it possible for one to be around even he'd be frightened of it. The Brujería, we are told, is also an ancient evil; one that John is clearly scared of. The introduction of these two baddies is an interesting turning point in the show, because up to this point Constantine has seemed confident in his ability to deal with whatever he's up against. He admits that he knows of no way to defeat a Brujería.

The episode ended with Zed trying to fight off her would-be captors. This part felt a bit contrived as the tricks she used to defeat one of her father's underlings were things she had just discovered earlier in the episode. I would have preferred it if she'd discovered some of these secrets that the mill contains during the confrontation. As it was written the audience immediately knew upon seeing those rooms the first time that they'd come into play again. In Mexico, John and Anne Marie rescue the babies and confront Lamashtu, discovering that somehow the Brujería is behind the 'rising darkness.' As they flee an Invunche picks up their trail and Anne Marie shoots John, leaving him behind has a distraction. It seemed like a cold blooded move on her part, but John almost seems to respect it; he did tell us in the beginning that she was no saint. Both situations seem quite dire, and when the show picks back up it looks like we'll be getting two stories running concurrently, a welcome respite from the case of the week episodes we've been seeing.

Conclusion: “The Saint of Last Resorts” leaves us with a huge cliffhanger going into the holiday break. Manny's absence leaves me wondering if we're going to find out what kind of punishment he'll be receiving due to his actions last week. Aside from the clumsy writing of some of Zed's story, this was one of the better episodes in Constantine's short history.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 22!!


With Christmas closing in this is the time of year when I try not to buy a ton of stuff.  With that in mind, this week I'm sticking solely to comics.

Afterlife with Archie #7 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla, Constantine #20 by Ray Fawkes, Jeremy Haun and Richard and Tanya Horie, Hexed #5 by Michael Alan Nelson and Dan Mora, Rocket Raccoon #6 by Skottie Young, Jake Parker and Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Rachel Rising # 30 by Terry Moore, and Supreme Blue Rose #5 by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 9


Arrow
Episode Title: “The Climb”
Channel: CW
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Writers: Jake Coburn and Keto Shimizu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: December 10, 2014

There be SPOILERS ahead!

Aside from last week's episode, this season of Arrow has largely failed to capitalize on the success of the second season. The writers seem to have struggled with their focus, and it has made for several rather listless episodes. There's been one question that the audience wanted answered this season, and there were episodes that seemed to forget what that question even was. I won't say that “The Climb” makes up for the faults of the earlier part of season three, but it definitely ramped things up.

This week the audience is treated to both flashbacks and brief flashforwards. The flashbacks pick up almost exactly where they left off with Ollie and Maseo trying to track down Chien Na Wei. It's not until close to the end of the episode that it's revealed that the flashbacks are more relevant to Maseo than Ollie. Sure it's revealed that Oliver had previous knowledge of the magical mind control herb that is important in the case of Sara's killer, but they seemed to be more about Maseo and how he ended up in position for his big reveal; as a current member of the League of Assassins. The flashforwards consist of Oliver scaling a snowy cliff, adding a fair amount of tension to the episode every time they popped up.

Oh, the aforementioned mind control her? Well, it turns out that Thea killed Sara, while under the influence of Malcolm Merlyn. She has no recollection of the event. Oliver confronts Thea earlier in the episode and it surprises him that she so easily lies to him about Merlyn's presence in Starling City. He goes back as the Arrow and tries to get some answers, but she holds her own in an impromptu fight, leaving him even more bewildered. Following that meeting Merlyn seeks out Oliver and divulges his entire plan. Basically he wants to stop hiding in the shadows, so he needs Ra's al Ghul off his back. Due to his manipulation of Thea, and some video evidence of the event Malcolm has ensured that Oliver will enter into a duel with Ra's, to save Thea's life.

I liked Matt Nable's version of Ra's al Ghul better this time around. He still doesn't have the refined quality I would have expected, but he can pull off the physicality demanded by the role no problem. One thing that he mentioned that is very interesting; it's been 67 years since he's received a challenge. It looks like they'll be introducing the Lazarus Pits after all. I had wondered, with Arrow being the more 'realistic' of the CW superhero shows if they'd broach that topic at all. At least it looks like we finally have a villain for this season, and after tonight I'm pretty excited to see how it works out.

The writer's weren't able to completely avoid adding some unneeded fluff. With so much heavy stuff going on the viewers had to sit through some out of place minutes of Ray Palmer. I've actually enjoyed Brandon Routh's appearances as the new owner of Queen Consolidated, but in this episode, with so much happening, I felt like his stuff could have been pushed back a little bit. The first strides of a new hero should have more time to develop than they were given here. Felicity's response to his plans was a welcome bit of comedy in what was an otherwise very somber episode.

Finally, seeing no way out of the corner Malcolm has painted him into, Oliver decides that the only way out of the mess is to meet Ra's in combat. He says goodbye to those around him in a way that you know he doesn't expect to make it back and sets out to make the climb we've been seeing throughout the episode. Ra's delivers an interesting monologue as they're preparing for the fight, explaining why he killed the first man he killed, and why he continues to do it. Oliver arms himself, and Ra's goes into the fight empty handed. We've seldom seen present-day Ollie so over-matched. Despite the skill discrepancy, Oliver has a moment when we think maybe he'll do what everyone thinks is impossible. Alas, it was not to be, and Ra's finishes him off, seemingly killing Oliver. Of course he's not dead/staying dead, but what a cliffhanger to leave us on.

Conclusion: “The Climb” managed to shock me. I didn't think they'd end things the way they did. Oliver's emotional journey throughout the episode, disbelief concerning the involvement of Thea and his anger at everyone else for suggesting it, and then his acceptance of his fate and the scenes where he said goodbye were just as important as the fight itself. The small scenes regarding Palmer and Dinah Lance's return felt like they should've been allotted more time, during a different episode, so that they could carry the weight they deserved.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 9


The Flash
Episode Title: “The Man in the Yellow Suit”
Channel: CW
Director: Ralph Hemecker
Writers: Todd Helbing and Aaron Helbing
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: December 9, 2014

Mid-season finale time for The Flash! “The Man in the Yellow Suit” did exactly what I've come to expect from the last show going into the prolonged holiday break. Did it answer a lot of questions? Heck no, it left way more questions than answers in its wake, which should surprise no one. They have to leave you wanting more when the show comes back. What this episode manages to do is move the overall story along by a greater degree than we've seen in a while.

Most importantly, the Reverse-Flash is finally named as such and gets a significant amount of screen time. They didn't reveal his identity of course, I'm sure the ending was just another red herring; one that they're laying on too thick for it to be convincing at this point. It's pretty clear from the dialogue between Barry and the man in yellow that he has figured out a way to time travel. One oddity, the first confrontation between the two takes place in a stadium, it seems that the Reverse-Flash has someone on at the stadium on his payroll. There was a lightning accompaniment on the scoreboards while they fought it out, quite strange. The fight, if that's what we're calling it, was quite one-sided. It's nice to see someone introduced that is a legitimate threat to Barry, as he's seldom been in danger so far. Following the fight Barry realizes that he's not 'the fastest man alive.'

Can you tell who this might be? Yeah, me neither
Barry shares a couple of well-acted moments with both is biological father and his foster father in this episode. These are the types of scenes that really bring this show together, sprinkling just enough humanity into the character that the audience can empathize with him, despite his amazing powers. As a result of his conversation with his imprisoned dad, Barry finally decides to tell Iris the way he feels. I have mixed emotions on that whole aspect of the show. I know it's another aspect of the character that is intended to make it easier for the audience to relate to him, but with so many other things going on, and the fact that it was quite possibly the worse timing imaginable for such an admission, I haven't decided how I fell about it. Iris' complete and utter silence in the wake of Barry's confession was uncomfortable, which I'm sure was the idea.

One aspect of “The Man in the Yellow Suit” that just didn't fit for me was the side plot involving Caitlin and Firestorm. It felt like there just wasn't enough time to develop it properly, given the import of the rest of the episode. We're supposed to be left wondering why he seems as psychologically damaged as he is, but honestly, besides the titular hero we've only been introduced to one metahuman that seemed stable. It's not as a big a surprise to the audience as it is to Caitlin that he seems a bit off. Ronnie's sudden reappearance at the end of the episode was a bit out of place, since we know so little about the character, and he seems so unstable, it's hard to pin down a motivation for what he did.

Cisco and Joe have a moment when Cisco comes to a pretty shocking revelation; the facts of Nora Allen's death might not be exactly what we thought. The final “nefarious Dr. Wells” scene of this half season brings with it a whole host of questions regarding his role in the way things are playing out. From the past episodes we know that he wants the Flash to survive, and take part in whatever future he knows is coming. He has some kind of link to the Reverse-Flash, and it seems to be at the very least mutually beneficial.

Conclusion: “The Man in the Yellow Suit” is a successful way to cap off the 2014 run of The Flash. There's plenty of action, and some very emotion filled scenes. While the identity of the Reverse-Flash is still a secret the audience has learned enough about him to know he's a serious threat. I do find myself a trifle worried about, to borrow a term from another show, too much timey-wimey-ness making the plot of the show hard to follow, but only time will tell on that topic.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson


The Well of Ascension
Mistborn – Book 2
Publisher: Tor Books (2007)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 796
Price: $7.99

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a healthy new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.

The events in The Well of Ascension take place a year after the first book. Elend is focused on building a new government, and putting all of his philosophy and political science reading to the test. Vin's main duty seems to be security as the reader joins the story, regularly patrolling the city attempting to keep the new king safe. The rest of the crew of lovable rogues have been drafted into the new government, and are saddled with the task of making it's various moving parts working. Sazed is off teaching the skaa, fulfilling his purpose as a Keeper and Marsh begins the story missing in action.

The Well of Ascension is beautifully written by Mr. Sanderson, but it's missing some of the charm of the first book. Vin and Elend's relationship didn't really resonate with me, maybe it's because we've missed the honeymoon phase of it, but by the time we join the story the rigors of building a new government already seem to have worn the shine off. What was left didn't strike me as much of a love story. The addition of Zane, another Mistborn that seems to understand all of Vin's concerns, never felt like a real relationship triangle to me. At no point was I convinced that Vin was considering leaving Elend, which is a necessity when the author is trying to make me believe that there could be a possible break up happening. The original thieving crew have been neutered, displaying only occasional glimpses of what made them so compelling the first time around. This is probably due to most of them being reduced to bureaucratic roles in the new government, but it was a bit of a disappointment to see what they had all been reduced to.

One of the big positives is how much more we learn about the kandra, through OreSeur. The revelations really start after it's discovered that someone in the palace has been replaced by an imposter. I hoped that this situation would help to alleviate one of the problems I had with the first book, there was little in the way of a sense of danger for the main characters. I know that one character died, but that was always part of the plan, the rest of the group got away relatively unscathed. The introduction of an imposter made me believe that the crew was going to finally suffer some repercussions for all of their schemes. It turns out that the source of the danger for the crew wasn't at the hands of another kandra trying to replace them.

It was in a battle that barely mattered in the grand scheme of the narrative, except to thin the character herd. At least one even happens 'off camera' if you will! By that point in the story the reader has devoted a lot of time and at least 1200 pages of reading to learning about the characters. They deserve to at least see how it happened. The issue that I really have with this is that the rest of the book moves at a rather slow pace. I'm as big a fan of political machinations and scheming as you'll find, but some of it should have been cut out to give characters a proper send off.

The twist involving OreSeur was well executed, even if I don't think it was the ideal way to approach things. The Well of Ascension twist, slightly less so, as I'd guessed what was happening there before it happened. The misdirection involved in the main plot itself was all well done, by the end the reader is unsure of pretty much everything they've been told up to this point regarding the Hero, the Deepness, the Mist, and the Well; in a good way. Marsh pops up again at a critical juncture in the story, and while I think he's a very interesting character I'm hoping he doesn't be come a crutch, swooping and making the story go where it needs to go, when it needs to. He already has an unsettling knack for showing up at just the right moment, I don't want to start thinking of him as deus ex Marsh. I'm also going to reserve judgment on a major development concerning Elend until we get to see a little more of what it means; I'm hoping it doesn't shift focus from Vin.

Conclusion: While it's not a bad follow up to Misborn, The Well of Ascension doesn't quite hit the same marks for me in terms of pace and story. The major developments are surrounded by superfluous ramblings on self doubt and paranoia. The attempted love triangle detracted further from a relationship that the reader has apparently missed the best parts of. The highlights were definitely the surprise reveals near the end of the story. Going forward I hope Brandon Sanderson manages to find a better balance between the characters' inner struggles and the larger picture of what's going on around them.

Rating: 7.75/10

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 21!!


Quite the week for new stuff.  I started out by picking up my last out-standing pre-order, Grand Theft Auto V from Rockstar Games.  I haven't really played a GTA since San Andreas so I'm excited to drop back into the world and see how everything has been polished since my last romp around town.

The new additions from the book store are The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, which is book three in his Mistborn series.  I've been very impressed with the first two books so I'm looking forward to jumping right back into that story.  I also decided to go old school and pick up Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars.  Originally published in 1912 it has been very influential in the way science fiction stores have been told over the years.

This was one of this weird weeks in comic books when there was only one book on the pull list, so I mostly decided to tackle some of the new #1s and see if anything new caught my eye.  As you can see I picked up:  Angela: Asgard's Assassin #1  by Kieron Gillen, Marguerite Bennett, Phil Jimenez, and Stephanie Hans, Green Arrow #37 by Andrew Kreisberg, Ben Sokolowski and Daniel Sampere, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1952 #1 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Alex Maleev, and Dave Stewart, Secret Six #1 by Gail Simone, Ken Lashley, Drew Geraci, and Jason Wright, Wolf Moon #1 of 6 by Cullen Bunn, Jeremy Haun, and Lee Loughridge (poor Mr. Loughridge's name is misspelled on the credits page) and finally The Woods #8 by James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 7


Constantine
Episode Title: "Blessed are the Damned”
Channel: NBC
Director: Nick Gomez
Writer: Sneha Koorse
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: December 5, 2014

No Chas this week, so the alternating of sidekicks continues on Constantine. I'm not really sure what the purpose of it is, but I guess we just have to get used to it. With Zed's presence the audience does get a few hints into her past, and it was nice to see that the mystery there is slowly being revealed. It also led to some dialogue between John and Zed on religion, which felt a little out of place. Zed has been exposed to demons already, so her initial reaction to the possibility of an angel just seemed strange. They also exchanged some banter on religion itself, and what it means to believers. I'm not sure what her motivation in those exchanges was though, they both have first hand proof that the divine exists. Was she arguing with John's attitudes towards the faithful, or just trying to sort out her own feelings?

Blessed are the Damned” also featured a lot of Manny. He maintained his stance of staying uninvolved for most of the episode, but just having him there really built the character. When the case this week really started to ramp up he had a very interesting conversation with another angel, initially about pain, and then moving onto humanity and its collective selfishness. This accompanied this week's twist, and it was one of the more satisfying of the season thus far. It also left me wondering if we're going to be confronted by an angel suffering a crisis of faith at some point, which considering the powers available to him could be quite terrifying.

The case this week followed a snake-handling preacher who, following a near-death experience, gained the power to heal. It goes about the way you expect it to go for there to be a story to be told. As things go from bad to worse John nearly begs Manny to get involved in the struggle, which he does, breaking the rules that keep him from interfering. As the episode was wrapping up Manny mentioned that their would be consequences to his actions, which has my interest piqued. It also appears that we're finally going to learn something substantial about Zed's past, as it's revealed to the audience that she's the target of some sort of plot. I'm glad to see that they're setting up a multi-episode story to carry us through for a while. One can only subsist for so long on case of the week episodes in the current television climate of sprawling season-long stories.

Conclusion: “Blessed are the Damned” contained more character development than the proceeding episodes, and was better because of it. I also noticed that the break neck pace that the show normally maintains was slowed down for this episode, without getting too exposition-y. With things finally setting up for some longer running stories I think this was an improvement over last week.

Rating: 7.75/10

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 8


Arrow
Episode Title: “The Brave and the Bold”
Channel: CW
Director: Jesse Warn
Writers: Marc Guggenheim and Grainne Godfree
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: December 3, 2014

I'm not going to go too in depth into the issue I have with this first crossover event being two mostly self contained stories. If you're interested in reading my opinion on that, you can find it in my review of The Flash “Flash vs. Arrow.”

This season of Arrow has seemed mired in an inability to compete with the last season. Whereas it seemed like in season two almost every moment was building towards an inevitable showdown, this season has seemed to languish without getting the main story arc really moving. “The Brave and the Bold,” while sounding like the rejected title of a soap opera, didn't do a lot to put things on the right track, but it did happen to be very fun. Some progress was made in the hunt for Sara's killer, but the highlight here was the injection of humor and lighthearted moments that the crew from Central City brought with them.

The philosophical differences between the two heroes, and their teams, were one of the best parts of this episode. Oliver does things in a much more brutal fashion than Barry is willing to accept, and they have a pretty decent sized disagreement over the Arrow's methods. The flashbacks this week, which I was surprised to see, though they finally complimented the story in a logical way, centered on an event that seems to have begun Oliver's loss of what he thinks of as his humanity. Barry gets his chance to return the favor of an inspirational pep talk in what was a really good moment between the two heroes. While that is going on Caitlin, Cisco, Roy and Felicity are talking about the differences in the way they approach their jobs. The Central City crew reveals that what they do seems more like a game, because they're working against metahumans it feels less real. It was an interesting and believable point of view.

The villain was handled very well in this episode, much better than the villain in “Flash vs. Arrow.” Captain Boomerang had a believable motivation, and had a screen presence that has been missing from a lot of the villains recently. At first glance the idea of a bad guy using boomerangs as weapons sounds pretty ridiculous, but they managed to make it work. Nick Tarabay's portrayal of George Harkness makes me hope that we see him again, and the fact that he's now prison mates with Slade Wilson makes it seem like an inevitability that he'll pop up again.

All of the supporting characters had their moments, although with so many appearing those moments were small. I liked Roy's reaction to the S.T.A.R. Labs crew best, he wasn't thrilled to see them initially, but was soon referring to the 'Arrow Cave' in an adoption of Cisco's nickname for their lair. Thea popped in, and was the source for a little more comic material involving how badly an attempt by Cisco to hit on her would go. All in all the entire cast was used very well.

Conclusion: This was the most enjoyable episode of Arrow this season. Hopefully this marks the beginning of the writers rekindling their desire to lighten the mood occasionally. They showed a better ability to juggle the necessities of an ensemble cast better than the folks over on The Flash. The few mentions of Sara's killer seem to finally be putting us on track to find out exactly what happened on that rooftop.

Rating: 8/10

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 8


The Flash
Episode Title: “Flash vs. Arrow”
Channel: CW
Director: Glen Winter
Writers: Ben Sokolowski and Brooke Eikmeier
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: December 2, 2014

We all knew that if The Flash took off we'd be able to expect some crossover goodness with Arrow. Barry's origin first appeared in an episode of Arrow after all. When the news was announced that these were the episodes that would contain the first major crossover I was excited. These events are the most exciting possibility when talking about any shared universe. For people familiar with comic books, the event is bound to contain some predictable elements; one of the heroes will pop up in the other's territory, they'll eventually fight, make up, and then take out the villain as a team. That's just the way these kinds of things are done.

I'm going to start with the most disappointing aspect of this episode. It's not really a two night event. Sure, the Arrow appeared tonight, and the Flash will appear tomorrow night on Arrow but for some reason the writers decided that they should be self-contained stories. I understand the thinking behind this, you don't want to alienate viewers that don't watch both shows by requiring them to do so to know what's going on, but it severely detracts from what you can accomplish in such a crossover. Due to this the villain in “Flash vs. Arrow” gets an even shorter end of the stick than usual for a villain in The Flash. He has no backstory and no personality at all, he's there to serve one purpose; to give Barry and Ollie a reason to fight. He instills rage in anyone that meets his eyes, and at one unfortunate time, Barry does just that.

Barry spent most of the first part of the episode learning some tough lessons at Oliver's hands, he got shot and humiliated as Oliver tried to impart some of the knowledge he has gained over eight years of putting his life in jeopardy. In addition to that source of negative emotion, Eddie tries to convince Capt. Singh that the city should form a task force to bring the Flash to justice. When Barry falls victim to Roy G. Bivolo's power (the villain's names is Chroma, get it ROY G. BIVolo) he lashes out at those that he thinks unfairly judge, hinder, or hurt him. After yelling at Joe and Singh at the station he chases down Iris and Eddie and chucks Eddie out of a moving car. The Arrow shows up just in time to stop something very bad from happening and we finally get the tussle we've been waiting for.


The fight between the two heroes was well done. Oliver had to rely on trick arrows and his wealth of experience, while Barry did his speed thing. The atmosphere was lightened somewhat by some comic banter between Diggle and Cisco, Diggle especially was very entertaining in this episode, especially when he saw Barry's power for the first time. Oliver manages to delay Barry long enough for Joe and Dr. Wells to put their plan into action and calm Barry down. The Arrow and the Flash have a moment and then decide to go after the bad guy. Cut to a scene of them locking Chroma away in S.T.A.R. Labs. That's right, we are deprived of the second best part of a superhero crossover; seeing the way that the heroes' abilities compliment each other and allow them to tackle problems too big for them separately. It made it seem like an episode that was intended to be longer, and then cut down to 43 minutes in the editing room. We also learn that after being assaulted by the Flash, Eddie has succeeded in convincing the captain to start a manhunt for the Flash, and Iris has decided that she wants nothing to do with the hero after watching her boyfriend get beat up. The episode then closed with a cool, but completely unrelated, surprise appearance by a character that's been hinted at for quite a while.

Conclusion: The first of what I think will be many crossovers in the CW's DC universe was mostly a success. The banter between each hero's team, and the fight between the heroes delivered. Unfortunately the writer's didn't use the crossover venue to its fullest potential, and decided on two separate stories instead of one massive event. The poor villain this week didn't even have his capture shown to the audience. They've also started with another of the comic book story lines we all know; the hero is pursued by the law enforcement officers of the city he protects, if they don't slow down they're going to burn through all of the standard comic stories in one season.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 8

The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Coda”
Channel: AMC
Director: Ernest Dickerson
Writers: Angela Kang
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: November 30, 20

I don't think it's going to be possible to talk about “Coda” without discussing a spoiler or two, so be warned, the rest of this review may contain spoilers for those who haven't yet seen the episode, proceed with caution.

This is the mid-season finale for The Walking Dead and it has been teased for a couple of weeks now that something big was going to happen. Before getting to that though, lets discuss the rest of the episode. The episode began with Rick dealing with the ramifications of Sasha's decision to trust one of their prisoners, and he ends Lamson in brutal fashion. We also see Father Gabriel poking around at the school that Gareth and his cannibals used as a base of operations after the fall of Terminus. I don't remember the name of his love interest from earlier in the season, but I'm assuming that the bible he found was her's. If not, then the significance must've been in the many times read passage from Corinthians that he found. Then, like the liability that he is, he leads a large group of walkers back to the church. This forces Michonne and Carl to let him in and in the process lose the church to the walkers. Luckily, Abraham and his group arrive just in time, in their super quiet, no one heard it coming, fire engine and blocked off the entrance to the church. They decide to head off to Atlanta to help get Beth and Carol back, Maggie finally remembers that she has a sister.

Dawn, who has been claiming that she does everything she can to keep the peace, got into a altercation with one of her officers earlier in the show, and enlisted Dawn's help chucking the guy down an elevator shaft. I guess this was supposed to indicate to the audience that she was loosing her grip on things, without having seen enough of the character though I don't think we'd every seen her in control, so it just seemed like the next thing to go wrong.

The first meeting with representatives from Grady goes well. Rick meets them on the roof of a parking garage with sniper cover, and they agree to the prisoner transfer. His next move makes little sense, as he agrees to go to the hospital for the transfer. Aside from the fact that this gives his adversaries home-field advantage, this also means that they need to figure out a way to get Carol, who was hit by a car the day before down five flights of stairs and to safety. It seemed like a bad decision to have things happen this way. Ultimately the fact that the deal doesn't happen the way they'd discussed falls on Dawn's shoulders, she demanded Noah's return to their 'care,' and with little in the way of an argument he agrees.


Next comes the moment we've been looking forward to, and dreading. Beth seems to, in quite a premeditated fashion, decide that now's the time to stand up to Dawn. I'm not sure if Dawn's demand that Noah stay was the catalyst, but it should be noted that Beth armed herself before the transfer took place. Beth stabs Dawn, non-fatally it would seem, Dawn shoots Beth in the head, and after a quick look at all the shocked faces standing around, Daryl shoots Dawn in the head. Once the shell casings hit the floor the remaining cops tell Rick's group that their business is done, right before offering them a place at the hospital. It was another strange script choice, as I'm not sure that anyone in Grady would've really felt comfortable having such a well armed and capable group living in the same building as them. The whole confrontation felt rushed when it didn't need to, there were several filler moments that could have been cut out, leaving time for the stuff that actually mattered. For instance, the conversation between Tyreese and Sasha did not need to happen when it did, how about instead we get to see Carol waking up, and her reunion with Beth? Having at least one member of the group spend some time with Beth before her demise might've added to the impact of her death. Or, let Abraham's group arrive earlier, that way Maggie could've been there for the shooting. A brief look of relief, followed by terror as events unfolded could have been quite emotional

There was a lot of tension in these scenes, but looking back only some of that tension was due to the way it was written and shot. Knowing that something devastating was coming made the scenes feel heavier than I think they managed to actually write them. Beth's death was a big deal, but ultimately nothing was gained by the last five episodes or so. The show trades Beth for Noah, but surprisingly not one person at Grady Memorial decided to leave with Rick's group when given the opportunity. There are still bad cops at Grady, about whom Rick is apparently going to do nothing. Maggie's reaction when she sees Daryl carrying Beth's body out of the hospital (Abraham's group arrives at precisely the most convenient moment, again) seemed appropriate, until you consider that she hasn't seemed to care one bit about Beth since she went missing.

Conclusion: “Coda” was not a totally unsatisfying way to leave the show for the winter break, but it wasn't executed as well as it could have been. Perhaps most frustrating is that with everything going on, nothing happened. Normally story arcs that take this many episodes to materialize end in at least some kind of return for the group, however short-lived.

Rating: 7.25/10