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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 20!!

This week I took advantage of some low Black Friday pricing to grab a couple of movies that I wanted to own, just not at their regular prices.  First is Mud directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Matthew McConaughey.  Then, there's Edge of Tomorrow directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blount; one of the more surprising movies from this past summer.

Comics-wise we've got a light week, with Sally of the Wasteland #5 by Victor Gischler and Tazio Bettin, Tomb Raider #10 by Rhianna Pratchett, Gail Simone and Nicolas Daniel Selma, and finally Trees #7 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard.

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 6

Episode Title: "Rage of Caliban”
Channel: NBC
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Daniel Cerone
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: November 28, 2014

This week we've got a mostly John goes solo episode. Chas provides the wheels, but pretty much stays out of the way and lets Constantine do his thing. Zed was at an art class. An art class? Yeah, it sounds pretty ridiculous, it's not a very good excuse to keep her out of the episode; but her presence would have made the twist at the end a no go. I understand why Cerone and Co. decided to exclude her this week, but that's one of the lamest excuses they could have come up with.

After a gorefest opening, the rest of the episode was relatively mild on that point. With the way it opened I was expecting things to escalate into the truly disturbing. The fact that it didn't kept there from being any real tension in regards to the outcome of John's plans. Without a feeling of danger in regards to the child's parents the proceedings just weren't as dramatic as they could have been. That's not to say that “Rage of Caliban” didn't have its moments, there were some fun things going on, as well as some of John's backstory and more of Manny's talk on the Rising Darkness.

The climax of “Rage of Caliban” was one of those fun moments. Watching John stalk a real demon, while the jump scares of a haunted house happened all around him was a good way to slow the pace down a little bit. Seeing Constantine in a setting that makes regular folks a little twitchy allowed that scene to build some of the tension that was lacking in the rest of the episode. Seeing him punch a mannequin in the face was good for a laugh too.

Most of Manny's appearances thus far have made him seem like a disgruntled student in class; assigned a group project and forced to take the least useful student into his group. Part of this is due to his inability to directly involve himself, but part of it also seemed to be his attitude in general. His talk with Constantine about John's past, the abuse he lived through, did a lot to alleviate this feeling by implying that maybe he's been keeping an eye on John for far longer than he was aware. It might be a bit of a stretch to think of him as a guardian angel, but he is apparently more involved that we first thought.

Conclusion: I wouldn't say that this episode completely stalled the momentum that Constantine had been creating. It was a decent episode with some creepy moments and insight into John, but the background stuff was more interesting than the case itself.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 7

The Flash
Episode Title: “Power Outage”
Channel: CW
Director: Larry Shaw
Writers: Alison Schapker and Grainne Godfree
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: November 25, 2014

I expected a more focused episode for the introduction of the Clock King. Not only does he have to share time with another villain, but he also takes part in a rather by the numbers hostage situation. Most of the Clock King's nearly 70 year history has featured him and those he works with being rather ineffectual, but I had envisioned his introduction working a lot like the plot of Die Hard with a Vengeance. Some elaborately planned and meticulously timed challenges of The Flash's speed and thinking ability would have done the trick. Hopefully he makes another appearance and they're able to put him to better use.

The rest of the episode deals with another metahuman that siphons energy and can direct it in electrical blasts. During the course of the episode he drains away Barry's powers. A hero losing his powers is a fairly standard story arc in comic books, as it can make them seem more human and highlights their other strong points. My concern here is that The Flash is already hitting a lot of familiar comic book notes. Besides the origin, which every hero has to have, we've seen: 1) The love of our beloved alter ego's life unable to see how great the plain ol' person is so he... 2) initiates a love interest between said love of his life and his superhero identity, while she's dating the 3) friendly workplace rival, who's everything the alter ego isn't. Along the way there has been; 4) a childhood bully rears his head to cause trouble for the hero, 5) unwanted public attention leads to the heroes loved one's being put into danger, and 6) a hero that has come to rely on his powers suddenly has them stripped away.

These are common superhero story lines because they work, I'm not disputing that, my concern stems from how many are being used and how quickly they pop up. The opening narration, with Dr. Wells talking about how much Barry already relies on his powers, backs up the idea that this wasn't the best time to use this story line. Let the audience have a season or two under their collective belts of The Flash doing his thing, then yank away his powers. That way you don't have to spend the first few minutes hearing about how much Barry uses his power, we'll have already seen it.

That rant complete, this definitely wasn't a wasted episode. We learned a lot more about Wells in particular. We already knew that he was capable of an amazing amount of ruthlessness, but he took that to new heights this week. Additionally, he is in possession of a computer that can seemingly see the future. It's obvious that he's trying to craft a very specific future, one in which The Flash disappears for some reason, but we still don't know his motivation. The softer side of Harrison is also on display during a scene where he recounts the names of all of those that perished as a side effect of the explosion at his lab. The ending leaves even more questions concerning Dr. Wells motivations

Conclusion: “Power Outage” was an episode that could have felt too cluttered for its own good, but it mostly manages to pull of the two villain plot, although I feel like a solo adventure with the Clock King could have been more interesting. Harrison Wells was the star of this episode, and while it seems like the audience got to know him better, it still left more questions than answers regarding the man.

Rating: 7.5/10

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 10

Episode Title: “Lovecraft”
Channel: Fox
Director: Guy Ferland
Writer: Rebecca Dameron
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: November 24, 2014

“Lovecraft” was packed with action. We got to see Alfred back up his words about being capable of teaching Bruce to fight. He talked Fish into helping his cause with nothing but his accent. This was very much Alfred and Bruce's episode, as the actual investigation takes a back seat to Bruce becoming more acquainted with the streets, and Alfred tracking him down. While that isn't a bad thing, the other things happening in the episode make little sense.

First, lets tackle the Harvey Dent problem. I know, this is a re-imagining of the origins in Gotham City, but that character, as he's written on the show is not Harvey Dent. That's the guy that Dent should supplant at the beginning of his fight for justice. This incarnation of Harvey Dent is a lickspittle, and an incompetent that nearly got his witness killed. I don't see how the audience is supposed to take his character seriously when he decides to really fight the good fight after what they've seen of him in these past two episodes.

The other major issue with this episode is the fallout from Lovecraft's death. I know that the writers wanted to get Gordon into Arkham somehow, and that it will allow for his investigation to continue, but there had to be a less awkward way to do it. The mayor claims he has to have a scapegoat for Lovecraft's death, but why? It's not like every last bit of evidence in Gotham is indexed and cataloged, any story that they wanted to tell was fair game, and that's the one they went with? Then, he appoints Gordon as a security guard at the asylum (the mayor appoints security guards?). You know, the place that sparked Gordon's investigation into the mayor's dealings with Falcone, that's a great place to banish him to.

The Bruce and Selina moments worked a little bit better in “Lovecraft.” Some of the dialogue is still clumsy, but seeing Bruce's first foray into the underworld of Gotham was worth ignoring some the more awkward lines. The only other happenings of note involved Falcone and Penguin. I find it hard to believe that a man that has made it as a criminal as long as Falcone has would recognized that he has a mole, and not assume it was the newest person he's added to his retinue. That is, if he doesn't already know. I think Penguin is in for a rude awakening when he tries to play the Liza card.

Conclusion: On the surface “Lovecraft” is an exciting episode that centered on Alfred and Bruce, and did that part successfully. The other things they tried to accomplish in this episode weren't so successful; namely the way Dent is shaping up and the way Gordon has been inserted into Arkham Asylum.

Rating: 6.5/10

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 7

The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Crossed”
Channel: AMC
Director: Billy Gierhart
Writers: Seth Hoffman
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: November 23, 20

All right, after weeks of jumping from group to group “Crossed” brings them all into one episode; and suffers for it. There are three disparate stories being told in this episode, only one of which is the least bit engaging. Michonne, Carol and Judith get left behind at the church when Rick and the rest saddle up to get their people back. What follows is a very uncomfortable scene with Gabe scratching the floor in a way that couldn't feel good, Carl voluntarily giving him a machete, and Gabriel sweating a lot. He eventually makes his play and runs for it, and in the process he might have put the others at risk. I'm hoping the kill this guy off because he's beyond the point that the audience could ever sympathize with him. He won't even do what most everyone else would consider a merciful thing and re-kill an incapacitated walker.

The other stone dragging this episode down is Abraham's group. There is one fairly decent scene on the bank of a creek, everything else could have been done without. Honestly, I can't think of much to even say about that group. Eugene spent the episode unconscious, Abraham spent the episode kneeling on asphalt. Maggie stayed behind to watch the mannequins and Glenn, Tara and Rosita went looking for water. Besides a neatly improvised fishing net and a yo-yo there's little of note going on there.

In Atlanta, Rick's group formulates a plan of attack against the Grady people. Tyreese doesn't care for Rick's original plan and proposes one with as little violence as possible, with Daryl backing him up. After the plan doesn't quite go to plan Daryl ends up in a fist fight with one of the cops, and uses a walker's head as a weapon. Rick shows up, prepared to shoot the cop until Daryl talks him out of it. This makes me wonder if Daryl's unwillingness to just follow Rick's lead is the direct result of some of his talks with Carol in “Consumed.” Maybe Carol's thoughts on Daryl having grown up means he's going to have his own opinion a little more often.

There isn't time for the audience to see the rest of the plan put into action. There is time for Sasha to do the one thing that you shouldn't do when you've taken prisoners, no matter how nice they seem. It seemed like an out of character move by that particular character, Sgt. Lampson, as Noah vouched for him being a good guy, and he actively worked against the other two prisoners when they were being told Rick's plan. Although, anyone that's seen Captain America: Winter Soldier knew that you couldn't trust that guy.

Conclusion: There's a lot going on in “Crossed,” but not a lot is happening, if you know what I mean. The narrative might've been better served if they'd focused solely on Rick's rescue plan for this episode, it doesn't seem like much will happen to Abraham's group before the mid-season break, and some drama back at the church would have been a good way to open the second half. Overall it just seemed like misused time.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 19!!

This was the biggest video game release week that I've seen since I started this whole thing.  I had a difficult decision to make; three games reserved, and funds for only two.  Alas I had to leave Grand Theft Auto V behind in favor of the other two choices.  First there's Dragon Age:  Inquisition from Bioware.  I've been playing Bioware games since the fantastic Baldur's Gate in 1998, no one makes a roleplaying game like they do and I can't wait to delve into their newest offering.

Next we've got Far Cry 4 from Ubisoft.  While I did play Far Cry 2 I don't have nearly the experience with this title that I do with Dragon Age.  That being said, between the trailers and gameplay videos that I've seen regarding this game I can't wait to dig in.  The gameplay looks like it can suit whatever play-style I feel like using, stealthy or guns-a-blazing, the visuals are jaw-dropping and you can zip around in a wingsuit.  What more do you need?

Wrapping it up there are a couple of comics this week, Intersect #1 by Ray Fawkes and Moon Knight #9 by Brian Wood, Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire.

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 5

Episode Title: "Danse Vaudou”
Channel: NBC
Director: John Badham
Writer: Christine Boylan
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: November 21, 2014

Danse Vaudou” is an episode without a bad guy. This is a good thing and a bad thing. There is no one for the audience to direct their attention to and say “that's the guy!” during the episode, it eliminates a bit of the audience's interaction with the show. It should however allow the writers to focus on the atmosphere and setting, without having to shoehorn a backstory in for random evildoer of the week. Setting the episode in New Orleans was a step in the right direction, as it's a city steeped in ghost stories, traditions magical and otherwise, and plenty of creepy stuff. It was a good idea, not executed to its fullest, as most of the episode jumps from place to place, never showing the viewers what New Orleans has to offer. “Danse Vaudou” could have taken place in Anytown, USA, the results would have been the same.

The entire gang is back for this one, and it was a better show because of it. While Zed and Chas play tag with a couple of ghosts Constantine forges a temporary alliance with Papa Midnite, due to Midnite's magic having some unforeseen consequences. Zed teams up with Jim Corrigan, a homicide detective who used to be in missing persons, to tackle one unruly spirit. The highlights here are some hints of Zed's past troubles and an awesome tease regarding another DC character. On Chas' side of things we see more of his ability to not die, which is hopefully explained soon, and some fairly funny banter with another ghost.

The true star of the episode though is interaction between Constantine and Midnite. Constantine looks down on voodoo as a “magical excuse for a party” and Midnite believes that John is basically a thief of spells and traditions, taking the tools but leaving behind the beliefs behind them. It is an interesting philosophical debate between the two characters that I wish they had more time to go into. Like the other episodes so far in the series the action barely slows down enough to lend a little atmosphere to the scene, let alone leaving time for a lengthy discussion between characters on the virtues of their magical powers.

Upon the resolution of the main problem in the episode, John turns to wider ranging concerns and convinces Papa Midnite to ask a resident of the afterlife about the “Rising Darkness” (can you hear the capital letters when it's said?) We're basically told that it's coming, and that someone close to Constantine will betray him. Unless a bunch of characters get introduced between now and then, and the hints they've been dropping have been a total red herring, this should surprise no one. I'm hoping we learn more about the darkness and its purpose soon, the vague hints from spirits and angels are not satisfying my curiosity.

Conclusion: In an episode without a badguy the setting should've been a star, but the city of New Orleans was wasted, ignored except for its title card in the cold open. Having all the characters in one place was a good thing, if only they hadn't been spread across the city. Luckily the scenes with John and Midnite were enough to keep things interesting.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn – Book 1
Publisher: Tor Books (2006)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 657
Price: $7.99

Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.

He failed.

For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.

Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.

I read this book on recommendation alone, I didn't even read the back cover before I started the book. That's the power of the glowing things I had been told about Mistborn. I've read a lot of fantasy in my time, it's hard for a new story to seem new to me, but Brandon Sanderson managed to accomplish this with this truly great fantasy tale.

It's hard to say exactly what this story is; a heist story, an inspirational tale of rebellion, a book on the power of belief, it's all of these rolled in to one. Throughout the entire book there is class warfare being waged. The Lord Ruler, his Inquisitors and obligators make up the upper crust of society, followed by the nobleman that own most of the industry in the Final Empire. Those nobleman lease the lives of the skaa,the work force, from the Lord Ruler. The skaa are the most numerous of the populous of the inhabitants of the empire, but also the most downtrodden. They've been subjugated for a thousand years, and almost all of the fight has been beaten out of them. It's a familiar set up. Kelsier is a crew leader, the head man of a team of theives, with a huge plan to steal from the Lord Ruler, and in the process ignite a rebellion that will put the government into the hands of the skaa.

The beginning of the book is the fantasy literature equivalent of an Ocean's movie. The reader is introduced to a wide range of characters, all with their particular job in the crew. Vin, a former street urchin with immense untapped powers, and Sazed, a steward and Terrisman with a power all his own are two of those characters that stand out the most. At first it's a little difficult to keep straight in one's mind what their individual tasks are, but as their personalities are fleshed out you will get a good handle on who does what.

The magic systems are the true highlight of the book and its action. There are two systems presented to the reader. The first is Allomancy, which allows the wielder to consume certain metals and gain the ability that metal confers to the user. This allows for the user to push and pull metal objects, enhance their sensory or physical abilities, and many other interesting effects. Feruchemy is the other magical ability, it allows a person to store physical abilites, memories, and youth among other things in metal objects, allowing those reserves to be tapped in to in a moment of need. Both schools of magic feel real and believable. By grounding the abilities in real world objects Sanderson has made these fantastic abilities seem more like science than magic at times.

The story proceeds at a tremendous pace, I didn't find myself bored or missing the action at any time. Although Kelsier plays his cards close to his chest the conclusion didn't offer too many surprises, as a lot that happens had been hinted at as the story moved along. I find myself thinking that the real story here is the progression of the character Vin. She goes from an abandoned teenage thief to a powerful being, capable of toppling any that stand in her path. The words of her brother, who she feels betrayed her by leaving, echo in her mind. He tells her how the world is, and who she is; and one of my favorite parts of the story are those in which she learns that maybe he didn't know as much as she thought.

Conclusion: Mistborn is an incredibly fun book to read. The combination of a well thought out and believable system of magic and memorable characters, who actually change during the course of the book, make it one of my favorite books of the past few years of reading. The predictable parts are overshadowed by the amount of fun the reader has getting to that point.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 7

Episode Title: “Draw Back Your Bow”
Channel: CW
Director: Rob Hardy
Writers: Wendy Mericle and Beth Schwartz
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: November 19, 2014

Draw Back Your Bow” features an enemy obsessed with The Arrow. Not in an “I'm going to find you and make your friends suffer as a I wear you down, kill you and wear your skin” type of obsession; more of an overly-obsessed girlfriend with murder in her eyes, writes her first name and your last name in her notebook during homeroom kind of way. It didn't work for me.

The majority of the episode was spent examining the various relationships between the characters. This is something that should be going on in the background, around the narrative, not driving the narrative. Oliver thinks he has to be alone, and Felicity isn't waiting. I've been hoping to see Diggle given more to do, and instead of doing something awesome he's reduced to playing go-between for Oliver and Felicity. The previous homeroom analogy fits here too. Are these adults or kids? If adult relationships can't be written for the characters than the idea should be tabled until they can be.

Felicity finally gives in to Ray and as they kiss who walks in to share is true feelings? Yeah, we've never seen that before. Everything in the episode not related to the villain was just one cliché after another. This was after Felicity gives a rousing speech on Ray's behalf, acting as if she's known him all her life, when in reality she knows next to nothing about the guy. All of the relationship stuff has seemed so forced that I'm glad to see the Flash crossover episodes, just to take a break from the melodrama.

I'm no champion of Roy by any means, but he gets his tail kicked again this week, by an amateur off camera. When he's not getting beat up he's sulking, saying even less about his situation than Oliver is. If there's nothing for him to do during this period of the show, maybe they should've let him run off for a few weeks and get his mind right. That would have bought the writers some time to figure out what they want to do with him, because right now he's adding nothing to the show.

The flashbacks this week were marginally better, and we finally got to see Tatsu do her thing. I hope this is a sign that the flashbacks are finally going somewhere, as they've seemed to be stuck in a rut for most of the season. My main problem with the flashbacks has been their lack of focus. In the previous two seasons the story in the flashbacks had some bearing on the story in present day. Oliver was learning a skill that we see him putting to use, or the struggle between Oliver and Slade was eerily similar to things they had already done. There seems to be few parallels between the stories this season, which is frustrating.

Conclusion: “Draw Back Your Bow” is a filler episode, in a place that they probably shouldn't have one. The next episode is the crossover event, and then the mid-season break, shouldn't the writers be building to a climax for the mini-finale? Sure the Atom reveal was something, but the rest of the highschool nonsense should have been left on the editing room floor in favor of, oh I don't know, addressing Sara's murder and finding those responsible? It seems that the focus of this season has been lost.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 6

The Flash
Episode Title: “The Flash is Born”
Channel: CW
Director: Millicent Shelont
Writers: Jaime Paglia and Chris Rafferty
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: November 18, 2014

A lot of interesting stuff happened in “The Flash is Born” besides the obvious, The Streak has become The Flash. First, blogging comes back to bite Iris, she's used to lure Barry into a confrontation before he's ready, almost costing him dearly. It was only a matter of time before the writers used this avenue of attack, I just wish they had waited until they had a villain of note to exploit that particular hole in Barry's defenses. Allowing a meathead villain of the week go that route means that no matter how sinister the next bad guy is, that course of action will either be closed to him, or it will come attached to a 'been there, done that' vibe that could have been avoided.

Joe and Dr. Wells butt heads this week, and although they appear to have settled their differences by the end of the episode one has to wonder if it will be a recurring theme. They are two father figures with very different methods and goals. I could see them having many mini showdowns throughout the series, with Barry picking different sides depending on which one has most recently let him down. The ending featured Joe getting his own red and yellow lightning visitor, who issued a threat to stay off of the Nora Allen case or Iris will come to harm. Joe West doesn't seem like the type of man to cave to threats, but he doesn't always remain so stalwart when it comes to his little girl, so his reaction next week is up in the air.

Eddie featured more heavily in this week's episode, with he and Barry sharing several scenes. I recognize his last name and what it hints at, but I'm not sure that the writers are going to go that route. I feel like this season features several red herrings to keep the viewers off the scent of what's really going to happen, I'm just not sure who's the scapegoat or if we've even seen the real bad guy yet. The one thing that does hint at his eventual betrayal is this sudden attempt to insinuate himself into a friendship with Barry. I know, he said he wants to be closer to Barry because he recognizes the bond that Iris and Barry have, the narrative side effect of this is that his betrayal will shock the audience that much more.

After defeating the baddie this week, who just happened to be a bully that Barry endured during his childhood, Barry UNMASKED and revealed his identity to the bad guy! What? That bit of writing makes no sense at all. Barry has done things foolhardy and impulsive, but this is the first time I can think of that they've actually written him as stupid. It was a very questionable decision from the writers.

Conclusion: This was a pretty average episode that sets the stage for some big things in the future. Joe and Dr. Wells will be a constantly shifting dynamic that has Barry's best interests in mind, but vastly different methods of protecting him. The budding friendship with Eddie just screams inevitable betrayal, but maybe it's too obvious.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, November 17, 2014

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 9

Episode Title: “Harvey Dent”
Channel: Fox
Director: Karen Gaviola
Writer: Ken Woodruff
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: November 17, 2014

I don't know that everyone was clamoring to see Harvey Dent introduced into the Gotham-verse, but here he is; his own titled episode, so surely he's going to play a large part, right? Right? No, not really. Honestly he's barely in it. The majority of the time he does spend on screen is spent pursuing a strange vendetta against another new character, Dick Lovecraft. The viewers are expected to care that one character, whom we've just met, thinks another new character is dirty in some way, and I don't see how we could. It felt so forced. If there's nothing for Dent to do at this point in the show, then save him until you actually need him. If for some reason the writers are just compelled to include him, they should have excluded the horrible scene of him losing his cool. I just didn't work; I'm okay with the fast talking, charming lawyer they first introduced, but having the character already a little unhinged felt unnecessary.

I'm not one that has gnashed his teeth over 'canon' and the way things have to happen on the show. Want to make Penguin a wacky crimelord before Batman pops up in Gotham, fine. Nygma is already around and fascinated with riddles? All right, although it should've happened later on. I just don't see a way that Dent becomes Two-Face on Gotham before the appearance of Batman. I'm not sure I can watch season after season of winks and elbow nudges towards the audience regarding Dent's eventual turn. Dent's appearance feels like one more premature reveal on a show that was plagued by too many in the early going anyway.

Okay, now that I've spent more time on the Harvey Dent situation in this episode than the time the character spent on the screen let's move on. It's unfortunate, but the rest of the episode wasn't much better. Even Cobblepot's part in this episode seemed lacking. We join him as he's decided to investigate Liza. We don't know what she did to arouse his suspicion or when he decided to look into her. This continues a troubling trend that has plagued Gotham for a while, it seems like important stuff is happening off camera. This makes it seem like there is little motivation for some characters' actions. The audience has to see why these characters are doing what they do, and right now we're missing out on some of that.

The less said about the 'villain' this week the better. Fish's plot was contrived and had far too many moving parts. The goal of that part of the story seemed to be the reopening of Arkham Asylum, and that was good to see, but there had to be a better way to go about doing it.

The dialogue for most of the scenes with Bruce, Alfred and Selina was painful, and seemed to be hammering the wrong point. Selina accused Bruce of not being ruthless, not long after he beat another boy down using a watch as improvised brass knuckles. I get what she was saying, that he doesn't comprehend what it's like on the streets of Gotham, but there had to be a better way to word it, as he's already clearly proven her wrong. Alfred's acceptance of Selina into the household, and seeing that having another child around was a good thing for Bruce was a good fatherly moment that could have used a little more emphasis, but at least they were going in the right direction there.

Conclusion: After two very successful weeks, Gotham took a downward turn in “Harvey Dent.” The first item on the list of problems with this episode is the tendency to have important events and decisions made off camera. It's hard to understand motivation when the audience doesn't see courses of action being decided. The showrunners should also realize that every character in the Batman universe doesn't have to be introduced in one season.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 6

The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Consumed”
Channel: AMC
Director: Seith Mann
Writers: Matthew Negrete
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: November 16, 20

This week on The Walking Dead the audience gets an episode devoted entirely to Carol and Daryl. Let's get it out of the way, no they didn't. You know what I mean. What does happen is a return to the city, a welcome change from the rural settings of the past few seasons. The familiar streets, closed in spaces, and the feeling of possible danger lurking around every corner make Atlanta seem like a much more dangerous place to be than previous locales. The night time shot entering Atlanta was a nice reference to the first episode, and really drives home the point that they're now entering a completely different situation.

Consumed” consists mainly of scavenging scenes, with very brief conversations thrown into the mix. We do learn a little bit about what has happened to Carol in instances that she's been off camera, but the episode struggled to really bring to light anything we didn't already know. This is most apparent when the events of past episodes are taken into account. The audience already knew that Carol was going to end up at Grady Memorial Hospital, Daryl was going to make his way back to the group at the church, and that he was going to have someone with him. Having already seen all of that it took a lot of suspense out of this episode. Sure, we know how that all happened now, but I'm not sure that it was worth spending an entire episode on that.

There are a couple of moments of deep introspection from Carol that were interesting. As she's recalling her own life, pondering who she was, who she became, and who she is now it seemed to me that maybe she's a little confused by it all. Her reactions to each encounter with Noah seem to make this pretty clear. She's at different times willing to shoot him in the back and then demanding that Daryl help her save him. I get the feeling that she's not sure which Carol she wants to be, or maybe not sure that who she wants to be is compatible with the way the world is now.

I'm glad to see confirmation that Noah is going to be around for at least a little while longer. I like the character and the group could definitely benefit from getting younger. Sure he doesn't seem like he's much use in a fight, but he thinks fast and is willing to do what it takes; even if he's not fully capable of doing it he's going to try. I hope he's not a casualty in the upcoming showdown.

Conclusion: “Consumed” tries to a fill a gap in the narrative that didn't really need to be filled. The change in setting, while fun, can't overcome the fact that the viewers are past needing to see the characters pick through trash. Some memorable scenes kept the body of the episode interesting, even if the viewer already knew where it was going to end up.

Rating: 7/10

Doctor Who: Season 8, Episode 10

Doctor Who
Episode: “In the Forest of the Night”
Channel: BBC
Director: Sheree Folkson
Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: October 25, 2014

All right, with various holiday parties and what not out of the way, time to get back into Doctor Who.

This was not a good episode. There were too many child actors to maintain a high quality episode. One or two kids with questionable acting abilities can be overcome by experienced actors and decent direction, but when you pile eight of them up in one place the results are too often predictably weak. This was only one of a few problems with “In the Forest of the Night” however. The ludicrous set up, bad writing, ham-fisted emotional notes, terrible conclusion, and useless appearance of Missy made this one of my least favorite episodes of Doctor Who.

The trees grew overnight? Okay, but somehow it was a surprise to everyone. With 24 hour news and the internet this was somehow a surprise to everyone. I know it seems like a small quibble, but it's just the beginning of more frustration concerning everything else going forward. The entire episode is laced with an environmentalist message, but it's so heavy handed that it quickly grated on me. Combine that with the idea that a planet covered by trees would somehow be immune to a solar flare and the whole thing was exceptionally groan worthy. The five seconds of Missy being surprised by the outcome didn't cause any more interest in her part in this season, and should have been left out entirely.

The one bright spot was the direction of the camera work. Folkson's camera usage felt new and fresh for Doctor Who. Most striking was a very fun tracking shot of the Doctor speaking with Maebh, while walking around a catwalk in the TARDIS. She might have overused the POV shots a little bit, but overall it felt like she was doing something we haven't seen from the show before. It won't work for every episode, but at least she was willing to try something new.

Conclusion: There's just not a lot to say. “In the Forest of the Night” is one of my least favorite episodes, not of the season but of the series as a whole. This close to the end of the season it doesn't seem to build any momentum for the finale, and at this point that's what this season desparately needed, momentum.

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 18!!

What do you call it when your 'Official Haul Presentation Sector' cannot adequately display the items one has brought home?  A really good day at the comic book store, that's what.

The top row features two gifts from Sean Taylor at Galactic Quest.  Aside from his awesome recommendations, he is an accomplished author and those are two of the books he's been featured in.  The first is Required Reading Remixed, edited by Jeff Conner and featuring stories from Sean Taylor, Chris Ryall, Mark Morris, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and John Skipp & Cody Goodfellow, with all illustrations courtesy of Mike Dubish.  The second is The Many Worlds of Ulysses King a character created by Mark Beaulieu.  It's edited by Mark Beaulieu, Morgan Minor and Thomas Fortenberry, and features stories from Mark Beaulieu, Sean Taylor, I.A. Watson and Mark Bousquet.

Row number two contains Sally of the Wasteland #1-4 by Victor Gischler and Tazio Bettin.  Row three: Batman #36 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia, Constantine #19 by Ray Fawkes, Jeremy Haun and Richard and Tanya Horie,Hexed #4 Michael Alan Nelson and Dan Mora, The Kitchen #1 by Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, She-Hulk #10 by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, and Munsta Vincente, and finally Thor #2 by Jason Aaron, Russel Dauterman and Matthew Wilson.

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 4

Episode Title: "A Feast of Friends"
Channel: NBC
Director: John F. Showalter
Writer: Cameron Welsh
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: November 14, 2014

It was a lot of fun to see this story, inspired heavily by Hellblazer #1, brought to the small screen. None of the changes that were made to the story really detracted from it at all, although I do wonder why Papa Midnite was excluded from this episode. Trying to use him judiciously at this point I assume. That aside the essence of the story remains that same: Gary Lester comes to John having separated a powerful demon from a dying man in Sudan, controls it just long enough to get it to the U.S., then it breaks loose and wreaks havoc. Enter John Constantine.

What “A Feast of Friends” does very well is illustrate to the audience some of the things we've been told about Constantine, but haven't seen for ourselves yet. The pilot told us that he felt tremendous guilt over the events in Newcastle, but he seemed to shake that off quickly when weird came a-knocking. Here we see his guilt, during his conversation on the subject with Gary the viewer can see that it pains him to dwell on it, it was a well-acted scene from both Matt Ryan and Jonjo O'Neil. Also established is that John will do whatever it takes to succeed. We're accustomed to hearing that kind of thing being said of someone, “A Feast of Friends” proves it's no platitude when it comes to John.

Which brings us to the next thing. Constantine has warned two people so far that if they stick with him, they'll most likely end up dead, they're both still breathing. It was important to prove to the audience that they're not just empty words, Constantine's companions have a short life expectancy. John manipulates Gary Lester into a position where there is only one outcome that doesn't involve the demon going free. He uses Gary's friendship, guilt, and desire to atone against him. Manny even asked John if he could go through with his plan, drawing more attention to his tendency to use his friends as exploitable resources.

Additionally, the audience got a little more info regarding the events in Newcastle. John's group of hangers-on, revealed to be much less powerful than he, got involved in something they were wildly unprepared for. It wasn't a lot of information, but it was enough to keep that aspect of the story moving along. Oh, and the eye scene! Talk about uncomfortable to watch.

This episode did suffer from a lack of Chas. After seeing John, Zed, and Chas interact with each other in a group last week I was really hoping for more of the same. A significant portion of the episode occurs with John working on his own, so he's reduced to bantering with himself. One positive side effect of this is that the pacing of the show seemed to slow down, without John constantly talk to a companion the scenes that needed some suspense got the chance to have some, the meat locker scene springs to mind.

Conclusion: “A Feast of Friends” gives us some useful insight into the character of John Constantine, finally illustrating some of the things that we'd previously only been told about him. This is who he is, and these are the possible consequences for counting him amongst one's friends. This felt like the most polished episode they're aired so far.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Tongues of Serpents
Temeraire – Book 6
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group as Del Ray (2010)
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 355
Price: $7.99

Convicted of treason despite their heroic defense against Napoleon's invasion of England, Temeraire and Capt. Will Laurence have been transported to a prison colony in distant Australia--and into a hornet's nest of fresh complications. The colony is in turmoil after the overthrow of military governor William Bligh--aka Captain Bligh, late of HMS "Bounty." And when Bligh tries to enlist them in his bid to regain office, the dragon and his captain are caught in the middle of a political power struggle. Their only chance to escape the fray is accepting a mission to blaze a route through the forbidding Blue Mountains and into the interior of Australia. But the theft of a precious dragon egg turns their expedition into a desperate recovery operation--leading to a shocking discovery and a dangerous new complication in the global war between Britain and Napoleon.

After “Victory of Eagles” I felt that this series had been reinvigorated, once again we were privy to the battles that really matter. Yes, at the end of book five Will Laurence and Temeraire have been banished to the British prison colony in Australia, but it had seemed that the action was really picking up and I was excited to continue reading about Laurence and Temeraire's adventures abroad. Sadly, “Tongues of Serpents” is the weakest book of the series thus far, it just doesn't deliver the follow up that the series needed.

Let's begin with the setting. This series is an intresting 'what if' tale about dragons being real, and their impact on warfare during the Napoleonic Wars; so let's take the story to a place known for, among other things, it's notable LACK of dragons. Right out of the gate this is a questionable decision. The governor of the Australia colony is William Bligh, a man so disliked by the people that have served under him that he's been deposed every time he's in a position of authority. I find it highly unlikely that someone with that kind of history would be chosen as a governor, but he has been, and surprising to no one, he's been overthrown. As a servant of the British Empire, it is he lawful position, but a couple of colonists succesfully led a rebellion against him; both sides see the arrival of dragons on the continent as a means to either maintain or transfer power. So the reader can expect a little political intrigue at least, right? Nope, the newly arrived dragons and their crew are sent on a mapping expedition with two dragon eggs that will surely hatch along the way. Wave goodbye to the possible political intrigue.

The mapping expedition goes how it must for there to be a story to tell, poorly, and one of the eggs is stolen. During the transcontinental flight to recover the stolen egg the remaining egg hatches and it's a scrawny, sickly beast. Aerial Corps doctrine calls for its execution, but after a confrontation Demane claims the hatchling. It is probably intended that the reader feel goodwill towards Demane for the impromptu promotion, but he's become so insufferable in his feeling towards Roland that it's really hard to like the character. The reader's feelings towards him will not be improved by most of his actions throughout the rest of the book as he's at times unbelievably jealous or whining.

The shocking discovery that's uncovered? The Chinese have established a trade route on the northern shore of the continent and wish to practice free trade there. That's it, no huge force ready to swoop into the war, no burgeoning navy to challenge Britain's dominance of the oceans, they want to trade goods with the world while avoiding the tariffs that Britain has placed on goods leaving the only port they have access to in China. In the mother of all overreactions a British naval force is dispatched to destroy the small trading post, trained sea serpents attack the ships and the British are forced to flee. Laurence and his mapping expedition return to Sydney and the newly appointed governor is soon overthrown as well. What could have been an interesting fight is avoided by Laurence and Temeraire keeps the surly commander of their covert out of the fight as well. The book ends with some semblance of peace, although Laurence and Rankin, the covert's commander, are at odds and clearly heading towards some sort of altercation.

Conclusion: Approximately three-fourths of this book concerns a journey during which very little happens. The few interesting points and mysteries are glossed over in favor of an endless red waste and the deaths of several character who's names I couldn't remember after they died. It seems like all of the notable things that happen in this book either happen 'off screen' or they proceed without the intervention of the main characters as Laurence continually keeps himself and Temeraire out of the conflicts. This was the first of the Temeraire series of books I was disappointed by when I'd finished it.

Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 6

Episode Title: “Guilty”
Channel: CW
Director: Peter Leto
Writers: Erik Oleson and Keto Shimizu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: November 12, 2014

I have wondered since they began this show whether or not we'd ever see something as ridiculous as the boxing glove arrow. That question is answered, and it didn't even seem as absurd as it might have been. With that out of the way, on to the rest of the episode!

Every character had their moment to shine in “Guilty,” perhaps Felicity was underutilized, but that is not that big of a surprise one week after having an entire episode devoted to her. Roy was unexpectedly good this week, after seeming like an afterthought for the majority of the season. They did seem to resolve is involvement, or lack thereof, in the death of Sara rather quickly, but this was probably a good decision. There was so much uncertainty surrounding Roy's character last season that having the entire Arrow gang acting nervous and untrusting around him wasn't really feasible. I'm actually glad for the quick resolution of that plot line. It does leave us with very little to go on regarding Sara's killer, but there's plenty of season left to go.

Aside from clarifying Roy's position in the grand scheme of things “Guilty” served mainly to further acquaint the viewers with Ted Grant. Besides being a boxing trainer, and apparently the person to turn Laurel into the Black Canary, he was at one time a vigilante himself. His past life, and a partner he left behind, are the driving force behind this week's episode. It was a good choice to explain his backstory to the audience relatively early in his character's time on the show, it adds a little bit of legitimacy to the notion that Laurel will so quickly become the Canary, and it avoids using the flashbacks in a future episode explaining his backstory. With so much plot happening the villain really took a backseat this week, serving only to get Oliver and Ted face to face, and plant some sidekick seeds of doubt in Roy's mind. Every episode doesn't need a great bad guy, but this guy felt decidedly mundane.

Speaking of flashbacks, I'm still on the fence regarding the Hong Kong flashbacks. Right now it just doesn't seem like enough is happening to justify them. There's only one reason I can see right now that they be included. China White (Chien Na Wei) is one of the villains we know of that hasn't popped up in a while. Perhaps she is responsible for Sara's death in some way, directly or indirectly, motivated by something that will occur in the Hong Kong scenes. It's probably a long shot, but it's one of the only ways I can imagine her character being mentioned so prominently in the flashbacks.

Conclusion: A weak villain doesn't bring “Guilty” down too much. The purpose of this episode was to drive the stories of Laurel and Roy forward. I was a little shocked the writers decided to clear Roy so quickly of any wrong doing, but it was the right decision. I'm far from all in on Laurel's future, but at least now it's been established that she's learning from a guy that was a vigilante before it was cool. Something needs to give in the flashbacks because everything in Hong Kong has been on the boring side.

Rating: 7.75/10

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 5

The Flash
Episode Title: “Plastique”
Channel: CW
Director: Dermott Downs
Writers: Aaron Helbing, Todd Helbing, and Brooke Eikmeier
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: November 11, 2014

After a week off The Flash returns with an episode that fixes some of the problems I've had with the show thus far. Most notably, that somehow the public and large, and the authorities have remained in the dark concerning the existence of metahumans, and that for some reason every person affected by the explosion at S.T.A.R. Labs has been an evil scumbag. Tack on some nice lighthearted moments and a great father/son moment in Barry's lab and this was an enjoyable episode.

Right from the start the viewer knows that this week's metahuman is different. Sure she tossed a bomb at the security guard, but immediately after she told him to get down. When we find out more about her we discover that Sgt. Souci was a bomb disposal specialist in the Army. She thinks that a general, known for conducting experiments on soldiers, is responsible for her condition. Sure, when we meet her she's looking for revenge; but upon learning the truth we find that she's a reasonable, otherwise normal person.

The aforementioned general, Wade Eiling played by Clancy Brown, learns of her ability and immediately thinks of her as a weapon. I'm glad to see a vanilla human taking the stage in a villainous role. With the power and resources available to him through the government Eiling has the potential to be a serious threat to Barry and the other metahumans. It doesn't hurt that Clancy Brown has perfected many different flavors of menacing over his years in the business. Dr. Wells definitely recognizes the threat posed by the general and prods Sgt. Souci into eliminating the threat. This is where the show took a bit of a turn back to the same old song and dance, unfortunately, as she fails in her attempt and is killed in the process. Yet another interesting character sacrificed for little to no reason.

This did allow us to once again glimpse the sinister side of Dr. Wells. Near the end he threatens General Eiling, who doesn't scoff at the idea of being threatened by this, to all outward appearances, broken man. There is a brief flashback to time Eiling and Wells spent working together, and we see Wells making a stand against him, even then. We also see Grodd again! I'm wondering if they're not setting him up as the villain in the next season. I'm not sure how that character would translate to the screen, but I'm interested in seeing them try it.

My favorite moment of the show took place in Barry's lab, between he and Joe. It was a heartfelt scene with some laughs that really served to remind the viewers that while Joe might not be Barry's biological father, he's been a dad to him for the majority of his life. It almost served to balance out the nonsense going on with Iris. I really wish that time in the show hadn't been spent to tell her three different times to stop writing about The Streak. I know they're trying to cater to the crowd that loves romantic entanglements between all the characters, but so far this aspect of the show is not being handled well.

Conclusion: Iris being a cliched female side character, and the death of yet another interesting metahuman that could have been used down the road can't ruin the good things that came out of “Plastique.” We've got another villain, and he can pose a completely different threat to the ones we've seen so far. I hope to see more of Clancy Brown's General Eiling.

Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 8

Episode Title: “The Mask”
Channel: Fox
Director: Paul Edwards
Writer: John Stephens
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: November 10, 2014

This week's episode of Gotham “The Mask” could serve as a microcosm of what works and what doesn't work on the show up to this point. There are examples of both extremes packed into these 42 minutes, which left the episode feeling somewhat odd. The parts that work, they work really well. The parts that don't work stand out as those irritating for frustrating moments during which you actually hope for a cut and a commercial break; if only to get back to the things you were enjoying.

Lets start with this bad this week, that way we can end things on a high note. Gordon and Bullock's case this week was ridiculous. The villain even more so, a financial executive determines who to hire from a pool of candidates by having them fight it out in an abandoned office. Apparently he adopts an Ivan Drago mentality concerning the losers of these fights (“If he dies, he dies”) with what we must assume is very little regard for evidence left behind. There is no way that he was operating something like this for years without getting caught.

Barbara, oh Barbara. One week after leaving Gotham, then coming back because she wanted half of Jim's life, she's freaking out again; now drinking and handling loaded firearms. It seems like the writers have done very little to instill the least bit of likability in this character. After he's: accused of being a murder, shot in the line of duty, ostracized from the police community and she's kidnapped by Mr. Zsasz what does it take to push her away? Gordon hung up before saying “I love you” at the end of a phone call, and out the door she goes with luggage in hand. The telling part, in regards to the direction of her character so far, is that I was glad of her reaction. It was just one more overreaction from a character that hasn't seemed to do the sensible thing once. Maybe after a break from the character the writers can figure out what they want her to be, because at this point she's just been a drag on the show and a liability to Gordon.

On to the positives. Gordon's relationship with his fellow cops feels like it has grown organically through their actions in the previous episodes. Gordon has been abandoned by that brotherhood, and uses that abandonment to fuel his desire to antagonize them further. He is their constant reminder of how far from the ideal they are, while at least part of Gordon's problem is that he believes himself to be better than the rest of them. His journey to overcome that belief in his own superiority will end in him finally succeeding in fighting back against the police force's corruption. Gordon's relationship with Bullock is just as interesting. They are polar opposites now, but from the flashback we saw into Bullock's early career it hasn't always been that way. I think Harvey realizes that Gordon is at the same tipping point that he was all those years ago, and while Harvey chose to fall into the corruption; if he can prop Gordon up long enough he might help Gordon go the other way, maybe even pulling himself out of the muck in the process.

Alfred, as he's portrayed in Gotham, has been a contentious point among viewers. Some feel that the character is too coarse when compared to his admittedly more refined counterparts in other media. I think the Alfred that we see in Gotham, and especially in “The Mask” is a refreshing change to the character. The audience has little information about his history, but it's clear that he's not the butler, son of a butler, that we've seen in the past. I imagine that he's led a rough and tumble life, a life that perhaps he was saved from as a young man by the Waynes. Now he's been thrust into a father/mentor role for a child he was unprepared for, and is doing things the only way he knows how. The scenes with Bruce and Alfred actually seemed to fit in this episode, for the first time in quite a while. Young Bruce voicing the fact that he's always angry, and then finding an outlet for his anger, were scenes that will be important to his development going forward. Alfred's vow to teach Bruce how to fight was a fun comic book moment.

Conclusion: “The Mask” exhibited all the things that I've liked and disliked about Gotham up to this point. The relationships between Jim and his coworkers, and Bruce and Alfred outweighed the episode's weak points. The Mob's workings in the background go relatively unnoticed as the various relationships are explored.

Rating: 7.25/10