Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 45!!

I've been a bit absent this week.  I find that trying to do too much at once keeps me from getting reviews out in a timely manner.  This is an issue mostly with video games.  With working, reading and watching various forms of media I just don't have the time to get a video game review out in time for it to matter to people.  Of course I picked the absolute worst game to try to alter my strategy, The Witcher 3.  So far I've spent most of my spare time trying to make enough progress in that game to write an informed review, but there's just so much to do.  It's massive, and a review will have to wait.

So, now that you know where I've been for the past week let's move on to the new stuff!

Starting us out are the table top games.  Last Night on Earth by Jason C. Hill, and published by Flying Frog Productions, is a horror game in the style of the late night B-movies we all claim not to watch, but can't look away from.  It's a cooperative game in which the players try to survive a small town's destruction at the hands of a horde of zombies.  The other game is a little card game called Gloom.  Created by Keith Baker and released by Trident, Inc. Gloom puts the players in a very strange situation; trying to kill their family members in the most tragic way possible, while supporting and providing happiness to their opponents families.  Sound twisted?  Well it is, and perfect for the group of people that I normally play with!

It was slim pickings in the comics department this week, with only two comics appearing on my pull list.  Postal #4 by Matt Hawkins, Bryan Hill, Isaac Goodhart, and Betsy Gonia and Tomb Raider #16 by Rhianna Pratchett and Derlis Santacruz.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 7

Game of Thrones
Episode Title: “The Gift”
Channel: HBO
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 55 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: May 24, 2015

This season of Game of Thrones is still moving more slowly than I would like. There are just too many story lines for every one of them to get a large amount of time. The plot is inching forward in incremental steps because of it. With that said things are finally coming to a head in most of the arcs, and the situations don't look good for anyone.

Jon headed out with the wildlings to find the rest of the free folk and bring them to safety south of the wall. Maester Aemon shuffled loose his mortal coil and now Sam has found himself short on friends and surrounded by people that don't like him much, due to his loyalty to Jon. Aside from veiled threats for First Ranger Thorne his first bit of trouble comes in the form of two brothers of the Night's Watch trying to force themselves on Gilly. The physical confrontation goes as poorly as you'd expect and the surprise reappearance of Ghost is the only thing that saves Sam and Gilly. When they're alone later on, with Gilly tending to his injuries, they have a moment. Now Sam is an oath breaker as well and we'll be left to find out if he's guilt ridden due to his honor or if his affection for Gilly will push him to do things he was previously incapable of.

Sansa tried to enlist Theon's aid in summoning help from her remaining friends in the North. Theon is still too afraid of Ramsay to act against him overtly and reported the request to Ramsay. Ramsay tracked down the old woman with whom Sansa had spoken before and flayed her. With the prospect of outside help seeming rather unlikely we might finally see Sansa take control of the situation herself. She did manage to sneak some sort of weapon while Ramsay was gloating. I'm really hoping that she'll take matters into her own hands before Stannis' army arrives. Speaking of Stannis, the weather has made his march on Winterfell nearly impossible at this point. Davos reported the loses they're suffering due to the inclement weather, causing Stannis to look to Melisandre for help. After some beating around the bush her solution was to sacrifice his daughter to fuel another killing spell. This was the first time we've really seen Stannis angry at Melinsandre, as this was a line he seems unwilling to cross. Over the last few weeks a fair amount of effort has gone into making Stannis a more likable character, but I fear that the moment we saw between he and his daughter was there to establish how major a sacrifice she would be to his cause. When push comes to shove what will be more important to him?

In Meereen, Jorah and Tyrion have finally reached their destination. Jorah saw Dany partaking of the 'entertainment' in the fighting pit and read her disdain for the killing on her face. He proceeded to take several men out of the fight without killing them and revealed himself to her. I feared that with loses she's been suffering she'd forgive and forget, but she immediately wanted him dragged away. Only Tyrion's quick appearance kept that from happening. How she reacts to having such a powerful captive from the Seven Kingdoms is anyone's guess, but at least now she's willing to hear them out.

Through most of the episode it seems like Ceresi's plans in King's Landing are going smoothly. Olenna is doing all she can to get her grandchildren out of their current predicament, but her conversation with the High Sparrow yielded no reason to be optimistic. Her meeting with Littlefinger was much more successful, as he promised her some information that would help her cause. Ceresi paid a visit to Margaery to gloat for a moment and then went to speak to the leader of the Faith. Her meeting with the High Sparrow started off promising, for her, with the holy man describing the next steps of the Faith's justice system. It took a turn though when he started talking about some of her own crimes. Lancel appeared to let us know exactly what was being discussed and then Ceresi was dragged away to a cell of her own. It's good to see the plan she was so proud of starting to blow up in her face.

The scenes in Dorne are still the weakest of the season so far. Aside from filling this episodes nudity quotient there's just not enough going on their to make me care. Myrcella doesn't want to leave and Jaime is powerless to make her. Bronn did have a bit of a bonding moment with the Sand Snakes, which could be interesting, but something really needs to happen in Dorne soon. For a setting that could have provided a real change of pace from the locales we've become accustomed to it's been lackluster so far.

Conclusion: “The Gift” represented another tiny step forward in this season's arc. There seems to be too many things going on for their to by much development from week to week. With that said the big positives coming out of the episode were Ceresi finally reaping what's she sowed and Tyrion coming face to face with Danaerys.

Rating: 8.25/10

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 44!!

The big addition this week is The Witcher 3 from CD Projekt Red.  It's a massive open world RPG that promises to deliver well over 100 hours of gameplay.  I missed the second game of the franchise, but enjoyed the first one immensely and I'm excited to jump back into the boots of Geralt of Rivia.

I also came home with quite a few high quality comics this week:  Archie vs. Predator #2 of 4 by Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, and Jason Millet, Hexed #10 by Michael Alan Nelson, Dan Mora and Gabriel Cassata, The Kitchen #7 of 8 by Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, Moon Knight #15 by Cullen Bunn, German Peralta, and Dan Brown, Star Wars #5 by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin, Trees #9 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, and Wytches #6 by Scott Snyder, Jock, Matt Hollingsworth, and Clem Robins.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 23

The Flash
Episode Title: “Fast Enough”
Channel: CW
Director: Dermott Downs
Writers: Gabrielle Stanton and Andrew Kreisberg
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: May 19, 2015

Go no further if you haven't watched The Flash's season finale, you have been warned.

First, a word on the entire season. The Flash's first season has been one of the most consistently good premiere seasons of any of the shows I've watched. Often it was more than good, with truly great moments sprinkled throughout the season. Sure, there were the occasional things to quibble over, but it's hard to imagine a better way to bring the Flash to the screen. With that said it's time to get into the season finale, “Fast Enough.”

One of the first things that struck me concerning this episode is the bucking of the trend when it comes to final showdowns between the hero and his nemesis. Eobard Thawne was captured last week, and was in no position to pose a physical threat when the episode opened. With Thawne neutralized the show was given more time to focus on the personal and emotional ramifications of Barry's plight. Given the opportunity to travel back in time and prevent his mother's murder Barry was presented with, what seemed at first, a dream scenario. If he successfully saved his mother he'd be able to live his life with his real parents. Nora would avoid her fate and his father, Henry, would actually have his freedom. What on the surface seemed like an easy decision was made much more difficult when Barry realized all of the consequences.

There was little time spent beating around the bush. Barry gathered his closest friends and family and laid out the options. The scenes leading to his decision were the most emotionally powerful we've seen so far in the series. Grant Gustin's chemistry was on full display with both of his onscreen fathers. Jesse L. Martin's scenes were heart wrenching. He realized that if Barry was successful the son he had raised as his own would cease to be, worse than that; the times they had spent together would be forever lost in the new time line. Despite his obvious sorrow at the possibility he encouraged Barry to save his mother and have the childhood he deserved. Barry's biological father, Henry, had an entirely different take on the situation. Overcome by pride in seeing what his son has become he counseled Barry to leave things as they are, believing that everything happens for a reason. John Wesley Shipp shined in his portrayal of a proud father, unwilling to change the worst night of his life if it meant changing the man his son had become.

Another great pseudo-father/son moment took place between Cisco and Thawne. Cisco told his former mentor about the memories he's retained from Barry's first jaunt through time. Thawne explained to Cisco that this was a sign that he was affected by the accelerator catastrophe and that he was some sort of metahuman too. It looks like we're not too far away from seeing Cisco Ramon's alter ego, Vibe. In this and every other scene he was in, Tom Cavanagh, continued his stellar work as a villain who has genuine love and affection for those he's been manipulating. Cavanagh deserves more recognition than he's likely to receive for his performance this season.

Victor Garber's character, Dr. Martin Stein, also made an appearance. With Wells no longer around to guide everyone through the scientific aspects of what they're attempting he filled in admirably. Aside from explaining the technological aspects of their plan he also shared a good moment with Eddie. Eddie was, understandably, feeling as if he had no place in the proceeding. After a pep talk from Stein he realized that because in the future he's an unknown he has the opportunity to make anything he wants of himself. He reconnected with Iris and it looked as though they were going to try to make it work, no matter what future Eobard had shown them.

If there was a weak spot in “Fast Enough” it was the way in which Caitlin's character was handled. The first irritating moment came when the possibility of a black hole was being discussed. She needed someone to tell her what a singularity was. It's hard to believe that someone has science savvy as Caitlin would be ignorant of that information. The line should definitely have been given to one of the less scientifically minded people in the room at the time. She really didn't have much to do this week, but with Stein's presence in the episode they also brought along Ronnie Raymond. He has changed his mind about staying with Caitlin in Central City and re-proposed to her. With all of the things going on around them they decided that this would be a good day for a wedding. I suppose the writers believed there was a need for something happy to happen in an episode that had been so tearful, but it felt unnecessary.

Barry and Eobard made a deal, Eobard would tell Barry how to travel back to the night of his mother's murder and Eobard would be allowed to return to his time. Of course there were going to be complications with the plan, the most dire of which was the possibility that the worm hole Barry was going to open would become a black hole and swallow the world. Barry made the decision to go back despite the danger, though he'd have less than two minutes to accomplish his goal before the worm hole destabilized into a black hole. He successfully made the trip, seeing some interesting possible time lines, notable among them one in which Caitlin becomes Killer Frost, on his way back. It looked like everything was going to plan until the moment came to intervene. Somehow the future Flash knew his past (Present? Time travel gets so confusing) self was in the next room and warned him away.

The look of pain on Gustin's face has he listened to his mother's murder in the next room conveyed perfectly to the audience that toll that decision took on him. After the deed was done he did go into the room to say goodbye to his mother, at least giving himself some closure. Back in STAR Labs, Eobard was preparing to go back to his time. Before he left a helmet came back through the worm hole and landed at his feet. It looks like we'll be seeing another Flash in the near future, one Jay Garrick, who is the first man to use the Flash moniker in the comics. The appearance of the helmet was enough to panic Eobard, who was mere feet from realizing his goal when Barry came bursting back through the portal. While the team struggled to shutdown the worm hole Eobard and Barry fought it out. Eobard got the upper hand, and in true comic villain fashion took time to gloat and threaten Barry's friends and family. A gun shot rang out, Eddie had made his decision regarding his future and shot himself in the chest. Because he's an ancestor of Eobard Thawne this caused Eobard to be erased from time. It was a great moment for Eddie, he became the hero he always wanted to be and made the impact on history that Eobard had told him he wouldn't make.

Unfortunately for team Flash things quickly got worse. The worm hole reopened and became a singularity. It was centered over STAR Labs and quickly devouring everything nearby. Barry decided to do what he could to stop the destruction of the city, possibly the world, by diving into the swirling accretion disc and using his speed to sap it of its power. Then the screen went black, fans left with a cliffhanger that seems much too removed from being resolved. Season two can't get here fast enough.

Conclusion: A stellar ending to a great first season. “Fast Enough” benefited from being able to forgo the villain showdown one would expect from the finale of a superhero show. Nearly all of the performances were their respective actors' best of the season, making it very hard to pick out a single standout. The lack of something important for Caitlin to do could be viewed as the episode's sole weakness.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, May 18, 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 6

Game of Thrones
Episode Title: “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”
Channel: HBO
Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 55 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: May 17, 2015

I'm going to get the big, uncomfortable thing out of the way to start things off. This week the audience got to see Sansa back home and preparing for her wedding. There was one moment while Myranda, Ramsay's former mistress, was doing her best to intimidate Sansa. Sansa was not to be deterred, and dismissed the woman in a fashion that seemed to say she was coming into her own. Theon escorted her to the godswood for her marriage ceremony and with little pomp or flare she and Ramsay were married. I knew things were going to be rough for Sansa in this situation, every other time she's been in a dire situation she's had someone there to act as a safety net. That is not the case in Winterfell at present. Ramsay ordered her to undress, forced Theon to watch, and then raped her. It was a tough scene to watch and one has to wonder if Littlefinger had any idea how bad things would become for Sansa when she became married to Ramsay. Theon's reaction had me believing more a moment that he might risk stopping things, but ultimately he was unwilling to intervene. All we can hope for now is that the indignity Sansa has suffered will be avenged, preferably by her own hand.

Arya is continuing her training to become a Faceless Man. Things aren't going smoothly for her, she can't let go of who she is/was and it makes the lies she tries to tell Jaquen as part of her training transparent. The best part about the scene in which she tries multiple times to sneak a lie past Jaquen, getting walloped by a switch the punishment for a discernible lie, was when she was forced to admit that she didn't hate the Hound. She'd been telling herself she did for so long the that her lack of hatred came as a surprise, even to herself. We then saw her first successful lie, as she ushered a sick little girl into the next life by having her drink from the fountain at the temple's center. This was enough to convince Jaquen that she was ready for the next step of the process. He revealed to her a chamber beneath the temple that houses thousands and thousands of faces, unveiling the secret of what happens to the dead after they're washed. To close out Arya's scenes, Jaquen tells her that she might not be ready to be nobody; but it is time for her to become someone else. After the slow progress that Arya's story has been making so far in season five it's good to see it finally going somewhere.

In King's Landing there's a lot of intrigue. Littlefinger was stopped on his way to a meeting with Ceresi by the Sparrows, but they let him pass. His meeting with Ceresi featured him telling her about Sansa's presence at Winterfell, and then volunteering to take an army northward to flush out the traitorous Boltons. Littlefinger's ability to play both sides against each other, ensuring that no matter the outcome of a battle at Winterfell, has left him in what seems like a good position. The same cannot be said of House Tyrell. First, the Queen of Thorns has returned to King's Landing. The verbal sparring between Olenna Tyrell and Ceresi was one of the better moments to occur in King's Landing this season. The audience also so the Faith's inquiry into Loras Tyrell and his, according to them, blasphemous behavior. The High Sparrow questioned by Loras and Margaery, who both lied in order to keep Loras from having a trial. Then the Sparrows ushered one of Loras' lovers into the chamber. The man was Loras' squire, with whom Loras had also been intimate with. The damning evidence was his knowledge of a birth mark on Loras' thigh. While the audience knows the truth this seemed a little to easy a way to prove his supposed crimes. As a squire wouldn't the witness have helped Loras dress and whatnot, it seems easy to argue that through the course of normal squiring that is knowledge that would have been easy to come by. Either way, the Sparrows hauled of Loras so that he might face a trial. Then, in a twist, they seized Margaery as well for bearing false witness. Tommen sat idly by and let his wife be escorted from the room, much to Ceresi's pleasure.

Jaime and Bronn eventually made their way to the Water Gardens and attempted to free Myrcella. Complications arose when Myrcella didn't wish to leave, and the Sand Snakes showed up. I'm all for some action to break up the intrigue, but this fight sequence was sorely lacking. The editing was strange and the action itself was awkward. Perhaps the oddest moment in the fight choreography was when Areo put his axe to Jaime's throat. I had expected the man safeguarding the ruler of Dorne to be quicker and more dangerous, his movement was so ponderous that his claim that were Jaime whole it would be quite a fight couldn't be taken seriously. Also, it is difficult to care about the Sand Snakes grievances. They're all forgettable, which is disappointing considering how much Oberyn Martell added to season four. Let's see there's the one with the whips, the one with the knives, and the one with the spear. Dorne has been a missed opportunity this season. Instead of offering a new setting, one with grand new things to see, we've been relegated to watching every Dornish scene take place in the same tiny section of the grounds.

The unlikeliest of of traveling companions, Jorah and Tyrion, had some quality time this week. They discussed their pasts and seemed to at least build a grudging respect for each other. Unfortunately for them they were accosted by slavers. Some quick thinking and humor on Tyrion's part kept them both alive for the time being. They've still been captured and now Jorah is bound for the newly reopened fighting pits. No matter who is in charge of Tyrion's travel arrangements it is inevitable that he'll end up before Daenerys.

Conclusion: Some of the story lines that had up to this point been boring are starting to come around. Arya's story in particular finally seems to have some direction. While I suppose Sansa's fate on her wedding night isn't a surprise given what we know about Ramsay it was still hard to watch. Ceresi might have maneuvered the Tyrells into a comprising situation, but it seems she's forgetting what the Faith's opinion on some of her past transgressions might entail.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 43!!

It's been another light week as far as interesting releases go, but that's sure to change soon.  For the time being, here are the comics I picked up this week:

Angel: Asgard's Assassin #6 by Kieron Gillen, Marguerite Bennett, Phil Jimenez, Darth Vader #5 by Keiron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado, Lady Killer #5 by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, Sage #28 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, and Thor #8 by Jason Aaron, Russel Dauterman and Matthew Wilson.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 23

Episode Title: “My Name is Oliver Queen”
Channel: CW
Director: John Behring
Writers: Marc Guggenheim and Jake Coburn
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: May 13, 2015

It's no secret that season three of Arrow has fallen short of the promise the show presented the audience in season two. Much of the season felt aimless, with the main villain appearing halfway through the season following a mostly pointless investigation into the murder of Sara. Although there were flashes of the quality we had become accustomed to it didn't feel like the show had the same fire. Now we're wrapping up the season with an episode that served to remind everyone of all the good and the bad we've seen so far.

I'm going to start off with the flashbacks. They have been lackluster all season, with nearly every one of them revolving around the capture of one fluid filled tube or another. After last week, with Akio dead and the ruin of the Yamashiros' marriage coming to light, it was hard to imagine what the point of this week's flashbacks would be. Oliver, Maseo, and Tatsu skirmished with General Shrieve's men and captured the general. They then left to have Akio's body cremated and Tatsu distributed the ashes in three urns to each of them. Oliver returned to Shrieve and tortured him, fully embracing the darkness that Amanda Waller had seen in him. He left Shrieve on death's door, and Maseo put the general out of his misery. Then, during the good bye sequence, Maseo fled his responsibilities as a husband. Tatsu decided to go to a monastery near her childhood home. Oliver made reference to keeping the darkness he had found in himself away from his family in Starling City, leaving us to believe that he intends to return to Lian Yu. There were no big reveals here, we already knew where these characters would end up. This season's flashbacks could have been condensed into half of the number of episodes they were featured in.

In present day, Oliver and Ra's were riding in an airplane towards Starling City. The plan began to experience malfunctions and Oliver revealed that it was all a sham to Ra's. Ollie then tossed a blade to Nyssa and they went on to take out the League men. Ra's was one step ahead of them though, grabbed the plane's only parachute and jumped out with the Alpha/Omega bioweapon. Luckily for Oliver and Nyssa, Oliver is apparently capable of emergency landing a cargo plane. They then set out to stop Ra's before he can release the weapon on the unsuspecting citizens of Starling City.

Back at Nanda Parbat we learn the fate of team Arrow. It wasn't some sort of knock out gas in the tube that the team was exposed to. It was the actual virus, luckily Merlyn had someone synthesize a vaccine. He administered it to the team through skin contact. That does leave the question though, how did the team know to fall unconscious to keep the ruse alive? Does the vaccine make the Alpha/Omega a relatively harmless sleeping gas? Whatever the explanation the team is still stuck in the dungeon. Until the Flash shows up to take out all the guards and release the team from captivity. This served to highlight one of the complications in a shared universe. The Flash has time for a quick jail break, but doesn't have the time to help Oliver end the threat to a major metropolis? It probably would have been better if the Flash had been left out of the episode altogether, at least then those type of question would have remained in the viewers' subconscious. As it was presented you couldn't help but wonder why Barry couldn't take a half hour to save the day.

The team got back to Starling City with no problems. (Where is Nanda Parbat anyway? You have to take a plane from there to Starling City, but if team Arrow took their plane how long did Ra's wait to put his plan into motion?) Merlyn started giving everyone on the team orders that they reluctantly followed and then Oliver showed up. Felicity, after some initial anger, seemed ready to forgive Oliver for the deception he had put them all through. Diggle was not as agreeable. He agreed to help only to save innocent civilians, his relationship with Oliver is very much a question mark now. After come computer based voodoo Felicity managed to track down the four places Ra's was preparing to release the virus. There was a tiny side-excursion by Oliver to a man named Damian Darhk, who is Ra's nemesis and a threat to the Demon Head's right to rule the League of Assassins. This bit was only filler, and a way to keep that name in the forefront of the audience's minds, presumably because Darhk will be a major player in season four. Another side-arc revolved around Laurel's attempt to get her father to help them track down the virus. Lance is drinking again, but that really could have waited until next season before coming to light

The team goes out to stop the bioweapon's release and discovers that Ra's plan was to infect four of his men and then have them spill their own blood to release the contagion. One of the walking virus bombs managed to complete his task after being shot by Thea, who is now gallivanting about in Roy's old costume. The birth of Speedy! A League member approached Oliver and invited him to watch Starling City at Ra's' side. Just like that it was time for the final showdown. This particular fight lacked the sense of dread that their previous encounter and been steeped in. While they were fighting Lance appeared at a post manned by some of the police force, who were being ordered to take out Ra's and Oliver. Before they could carry out their orders, Oliver beat Ra's, and in a poignant moment recited the same prayer Ra's has used upon vanquishing a foe.

Ray Palmer was busy during all of this, trying to figure out a way to stop the Alpha/Omega. While he and Felicity were brainstorming ideas they received a call from Captain Lance, sharing with them the amount of danger Oliver was in. Felicity implored Ray to don the ATOM suit and save Oliver, but he was having none of it; weighing Oliver's life against the thousands that could die if he didn't finish his work. When Oliver was shot he fell over the side of the Starling City Dam, but was saved from being splattered below by the ATOM. The television version of the ATOM's transformation into a discount Iron Man is now complete, after Oliver finds out that his savior is none other than Pepper Pots...I mean Felicity.

In the falling action a lot of story lines were set up for season four. Oliver and Felicity are going to run away together, with Oliver maintaining only his real identity. Before they left Oliver gave everyone a pep talk, telling them how certain he was that the rest of the team would manage well in his absence. He welcomed Thea into the fold and asked Diggle to keep fighting the good fight. Diggle is still not 100% on board, but if he continues his career as a vigilante Oliver suggested he find a way to obscure his identity. In the one big shocker of the finale Oliver is forced to pay the price for Malcolm Merlyn's help, that little bit of finger jewelry that serves as Ra's al Ghul's symbol of office is now in Merlyn's possession. This gives him control of the League, but Oliver reminded him that there were stipulations concerning how the League was to be run. I'm sure Merlyn will hold to his agreement for as short a time as possible. I hope that next season we see Merlyn OR Darhk as the villain, in my eyes both would be too much. The episode closed with Oliver and Felicity driving off to happier times, with Oliver admitting that he was finally happy. The ending was completely different from the finales of the previous two seasons, giving it a strange feel. It is as if the ending was thrown together in preparation for the show being canceled, finally giving Oliver a chance at a real life. Since there's not much of a show without Oliver Queen doing his thing it seems like a safe bet that something is going to ruin his happily ever after before the first commercial break of next season's premiere.

Conclusion: A happy ending to the season was not what I was expecting. On the whole “My Name is Oliver Queen” encapsulated much of what didn't work in season three. Although it had its positive moments, large chunks of the story simply fell flat. The evolution of Thea into masked crime fighter and Merlyn's new position were the best things to come out of the episode.

Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 22

The Flash
Episode Title: “Rogue Air”
Channel: CW
Director: Doug Aarniokoski
Writers: Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: May 12, 2015

There was an unbelievable number of things going on in “Rogue Air.” The final stages of Eobard Thawne's plan are begin set into motion and he's comfortable enough to monologue to Eddie for a bit on loss, and what one would do to get back the things he's lost. Cisco discovered that there was a power source in Wells' wheelchair that was generating an insane amount of power, enough to energize the entire city. He theorized that Eobard was somehow using it to power himself, how that would work wasn't touched on and the idea seemed a bit too convenient a way to explain Eobard's superior speed. The team realized that Eobard was still in STAR Labs somewhere, but when they went to the pipeline to investigation he escaped and freed Shawna Baez, aka Peek-a-Boo. She briefly wreaked havoc and was threatening to kill Caitlin when Iris knocked her out. She was placed back in her cell, and Joe heard yelling coming from inside the particle accelerator. They rescued Eddie from Eobard's hiding place, Iris finding the engagement ring in the process.

After discussing with Eddie his time in captivity the team discovered that Eobard was powering up the accelerator for some nefarious purpose. With no way to stop it Barry decided they needed to move the metahumans out of their makeshift prison in order to save their lives. Barry decided that Lian Yu, the home of ARGUS's prison for exceptional inmates, and Oliver Queen's dumping ground for the worst of the worst, is the best place for the metahumans. Calls for help to Oliver, Robbie, and Dr. Stein (both halves of Firestorm) go unanswered, but through Diggle he's able to set everything up. Joe was not a fan of moving the criminals from one unlawful prison to another, but was convinced to try to help. His plea for help from Central City's D.A. fell on deaf ears, with her reiterating what that kind of imprisonment is in the eyes of the law. It is an interesting moral argument, but felt a bit misplaced in this particular episode. The moral questions surrounding the pipeline seem like something to tackle during the middle of season two, not something you distract from the upcoming season finale by mentioning them.

Barry, seemingly out of options, resorted to the lesser of known evils to get the job done. He met with Captain Cold to secure his help in the transportation. After some haggling Barry agreed to erase all evidence of Leonard Snart's existence and Snart agreed to help Barry. He brought his sister along, and the scenes between her and Cisco served as the infrequent comic relief in the episode. Luckily they left Heatwave at home, he must not play well with others, which was good. Dominic Purcell plays the character too cornily to fit into a situation as serious as the end of this season. Cisco figured out a way to rig the power supply he found on Wells' wheelchair to subdue their metahuman captives' powers while they were in transit. Leaving one to wonder why exactly Barry needed Snart's help. The transport goes smoothly until they arrive at the airport. ARGUS's plane was late, and suddenly the dampening field Cisco had rigged was failing. The metahumans escaped, Snart admitted to sabotaging the device, and now four of the Flash's dangerous foes are free.

I know that this conflict was set up to do two things. First to pose the moral questions asked by various characters during the season. Joe's insistence that Barry was too unlike Oliver Queen to use villains to his own ends, which seemed like an odd thing to say because I can't remember the Arrow doing anything like that. They did use Barry's desire to save the metahumans to highlight the way in which Barry is different, heroically, from Oliver; but it would have easier to show how Barry was different from Oliver by focusing on the possibility that Oliver might have just left them all to die. The second reason of course was to get some established villains back into the world and ready to cause trouble for season two, setting up the Flash's Rogues Gallery with Captain Cold at its head. I just wish that instead of dragging Snart along in a situation he wasn't needed hadn't been the way this was accomplished. Wells could have just released them all to distract Barry from whatever his motivation was in reactivating the particle accelerator.

Barry and company returned to STAR Labs to lick their wounds, with Joe provided a brief “I told you so,” moment. Then alarms began to go off as the accelerator reached operational status. Like clockwork Wells appeared outside ready to do battle. Barry went out to face him, but he wasn't alone. The Arrow and Firestorm showed up in the nick of time, prepared for the showdown. The battle between the two sides was brief, but action packed. The best part about this scene was that the man without powers, Oliver Queen, was most effective in the fight. With the help of some nanites provided by Ray Palmer, Oliver twice managed to incapacitate Eobard. The first time Eobard recovered after trading blows with the Arrow. The second time took all three of them; the Flash got him isolated, Firestorm roasted him, and once Eobard had hit the ground Oliver pumped him full of more nanites. The show ended with Barry standing over his vanquished foe.

These crossovers have a flaw. While Oliver is dealing with his trouble in Nanda Parbat he had time to jet over to Central City and bail Barry out? There must be a direct shuttle service between Central City, Starling City, and Nanda Parbat. Just slide your Metro card and you'll arrive at your destination in an hour or less, or your next ride is free! The crossovers are always exciting and I really enjoy seeing the other heroes guest starring, but some serious effort should be made to have these events feel more organic. The other issue I had with the ending is that it seems obvious that Eobard intended to be caught. He has activated the accelerator for some unknown purpose but has limited access to it while Barry is hunting him. His best chance of getting close to it will a occur when Team Flash tries to take him into custody. I'm really hoping for Cisco, the resident movie buff, to mention something to this affect early in next week's episode.

Conclusion: The moral questions raised in “Rogue Air” seemed out of place this close to the season finale. At this point I want more of a focus on Eobard and his endgame. Barry got burned by trusting Leonard Snart in a moment that he should have seen coming. Snart's presence was not necessary to the final plan, so he was there only to teach Barry a lesson. The superhero team-up was a lot of fun, even if it was a little short, but more effort needs to be made to make the guest appearances of other heroes feel more natural. The quick shout out to Green Lantern, the test pilot that went missing from Ferris Airfield, was a good way to remind the viewers that this is all part of a much larger picture, even if our chances of seeing Hal Jordan or another Lantern in action on the small screen are pretty low.

Rating: 7.5/10

Monday, May 11, 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 5

Game of Thrones
Episode Title: “Kill the Boy”
Channel: HBO
Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 55 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: May 10, 2015

We're halfway into this season of Game of Thrones, and it's still a little hard to see where this season itself is going. “Kill the Boy” did dredge up the true threat in Westeros, the coming winter and the south bound White Walkers, which was nice. With so much intrigue and conflict between factions it is easy to forget that there is something much more dangerous lurking in the North.

Jon is settling into his role as Lord Commander. His first big decision, to bring the wildlings remaining in the North behind the safety of the Wall, did not go over well with his men. It was received by Tormund Giantsbane much the same way. Jon discussed the mission with him, called Tormund a coward, and calmly unshackled the wildling in what was a very good scene for Jon. That act seemed to earn an amount of grudging respect from the man he's expecting to lead the wildlings following Mance's death. Also at the Wall; Sam and Stannis had a brief scene in which Stannis encouraged Sam's research into the Walkers. It was good to see that Stannis at least has an eye on the larger threat coming their way. Stannis left Castle Black shortly after his talk with Sam, leading his army southward towards Winterfell. Sam and Maester Aemon had a conversation regarding Daenerys, with Aemon lamenting that she had a remaining family member so far removed from helping her. Jon walked in during the end of the conversation, leading me to believe that one of the most popular theories surrounding the Targaryens may be revealed soon. Of course, I could be seeing foreshadowing where there is none.

Brienne and Pod have reached a town near Winterfell, and Brienne is still trying to figure out the best way to rescue Sansa. She managed to get a message through to her by way of peasants who are still loyal to the Starks. Miranda, Ramsay Bolton's lover, is not a fan of Ramsay marrying Sansa. After a brief confrontation with Ramsay, and sex she's not in to, she arranges for Sansa to be reunited with Theon. Later at dinner, after Theon confessed to seeing Sansa, Ramsay decided that it would be Theon that gave her away at the wedding. The shock of seeing Theon in the state he's in now seems to have undone some of the composure Sansa had gained during her time with Littlefinger. She appears to have forgotten her goal of manipulating the situation and has retreated into herself, much as she did while under the thumb of Joffrey.

In Meereen, Dany mourned Ser Barristan. She then had her men gather up the leaders of all of the ruling Houses in the city and brought them to her dragon cave. She fed one of them to her dragons and the rest were spared. Grey Worm survived the attack he was the victim of last week, waking to find Missandei at his bedside. He told her that when he thought he was going to die the only thing he was afraid of was not seeing her again. This bizarre relationship angle is one of the weakest story elements that have been brought to the screen; the less time spent on it the better. Dany, running out of advisors, asked Missandei what her opinion on the situation in Meereen was, and she responded by telling her that she ignored the advice given to her too often. Dany then went to the dungeons and freed the man that's been asking for the fighting pits to be reopened. She decreed that they would resume operations, but only with free men, and that she would marry him to help placate the citizens of the city.

Jorah and Tyrion are still trying to reach Dany by boat. Jorah decided to plot a course through the ruins of Valyria because pirates are too superstitious to traverse the destroyed city. At one point Valyria was the most advanced kingdom in the world, but some cataclysm destroyed it, referred to only as the Doom. It didn't sound like a good idea at the time, but I suppose we are to assume that Jorah is so overcome with his desire to regain his position in Dany's council that he'll do anything. After a moment of poetry, which seemed like a bit of a bonding moment for the two, they witnessed Drogon flying overhead. While they were distracted they were attacked by stone men, victims of greyscale that have been exiled to Valyria. Apparently all it takes is a touch to contract the disease and they fought valiantly to escape their attackers. Tyrion went overboard, and the next thing we know he and Jorah are on the coast. Jorah rescued Tyrion and got him to safety, but was most concerned with whether or not he'd been touched. It was very much a zombie movie moment as both men denied contact before Jorah turned away from Tyrion and revealed to the audience that he had in fact been infected.

Conclusion: Although the conflict around which this season will revolve is still rather nebulous, the bigger picture was the focus of a decent part of “Kill the Boy.” Jon Snow's arc remains the best thing about season five so far. Sansa's inability to keep a cool head after seeing Theon was disappointing, as I was looking forward to her being a better player of the game at this point. Dany's struggles in Meereen are dangerously close to resembling a certain Mad King to whom she's related. Her story this season still interrupts the rhythm of the rest of the show, causing me to hope that her scenes are short and sweet; allowing me to get back to the more interesting stuff.

Rating: 7.75/10

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 42!!

Only picked up comics this week, but it was a good week in that world as some exciting stuff came out.  Afterlife with Archie #8 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla, Rachel Rising #33 by Terry Moore, Rocket Raccoon #11 by Skottie Young, Jake Parker and Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Secret Wars #1 of 8 by Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, and Ive Svorcina, The Wicked + The Divine #10 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles, and finally Wolf Moon #6 of 6 by Cullen Bunn, Jeremy Haun, and Lee Loughridge.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 22

Episode Title: “This Is Your Sword”
Channel: CW
Director: Wendy Stanzler
Writers: Ben Sokolowski and Brian Ford Sullivan
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: May 6, 2015

This Is Your Sword” is the next to last episode of this season of Arrow and it's too bad that it took so long to get to this point. The past few weeks have been some of the strongest episodes of the season, and this was no exception. It'll be pretty much impossible to talk about this week's Arrow without spoilers, so be warned.

Diggle, Laurel, and Felicity have gone back to crime fighting in Starling City, having accepted that Oliver is gone. The episode opened with Diggle giving chase to a random perp, who led him to an enclosed area with the rest of his gang waiting. Things look bad for a moment before Laurel makes an appearance with the Canary Cry. I really wish there was another way for them to convey that power on the screen; while it might work on the page it just looks ridiculous on television. Diggle lost it on the last guy and beat him to a pulp. Back at Diggle's, after an awkward attempt at a humorous moment regarding Laurel sneaking in the back to avoid questions from the neighbors, Diggle blew up in anger over Oliver's betrayal.

Back at Nanda Parbat Oliver and Ra's are seen discussing the next part of Oliver's ascension, his marriage to Nyssa and the destruction of Starling City. Oliver left to get some air, and met up with Malcolm for a clandestine meeting. Oliver dropped the facade and revealed that he's thought he'd have more time to bring the League down from the inside, but Ra's is forcing his hand. He and Malcolm hatch a plan to enlist the help of his former friends, and Malcolm departed just before Maseo showed up.

Felicity went to visit Ray again, and it's getting incrementally harder to like her character. She shows up to mope to him for a while, knowing that his feelings for her will keep him from sending her away. He had her sign a document, that is shown to be some sort of transfer of ownership papers. The audience is supposed to believe that the transfer is to Felicity, and while that seems probable I think a swerve might be in store; with Oliver regaining control of his company. Felicity received a text from Malcolm asking for a meeting and surprisingly she went.

The entire team showed up for the meeting with Malcolm, and of course he couldn't convince them of Oliver's plans, because Oliver had been too successful in convincing everyone of his turn. Malcolm breaks out his secret weapon, and it's Tatsu. I'm happy to see Tatsu joining the fray, but I was a little unclear on how her presence suddenly convinced the team to go back to Nanda Parbat. The script was really lacking in that regard, but the action is in Nanda Parbat, so if the team needs to get back there I guess any excuse, no matter how nebulous, is a good one. Tatsu also took a moment to share with Felicity how often Oliver spoke of her during his recovery.

Thea has gone off in search of Roy, who is working as a mechanic under the assumed name Jason. She managed to track him down with little effort and they had a quick reunion. They go back to his place and she presents him with his old vigilante costume, thinking that he could get back to what made him feel alive. She spent the night, but awoke in an empty bed. When she went to his place of employment she was told that he quit and took off, leaving a note for her. I don't know how sudden Colton Haynes decision to leave the show was, but I wish there had been a better way to handle his exit. His final words to Thea didn't really seem like a good way to end things, but he did leave his costume for her, so we'll be seeing Speedy in the near future.

The flashbacks this week were more of the same, A Quest for A Vial. Akio has fallen ill and Maseo and Oliver go to General Shrieve's hideout to get a cure. A cure that they have no proof of, they assume he'll have it anyway. After breaking in they briefly tortured Shrieve and he told them the cure was in a safe. They get it an bring him back to Akio to administer the cure. Akio is already dead and the cure was a rouse. He just wanted them to lead his men to their hiding place so he wouldn't have to hunt them down. It's important to remember that the vials didn't contain what we thought they did.

Another confrontation at Nanda Parbat! Merlyn, Diggle, Laurel, and Felicity team up with Tatsu, who is now in her costume as Katana, to storm the fortress. Felicity tried to hack into the airplane the League is going to use to spread the virus, but she is unsuccessful. Most of the action in this scene is pretty good, but the League of Assassins is more like a collection of Imperial Stormtroopers. At one point Laurel fights three of them at the same time. I'm all right with her taking down street criminals at this point, but there is no explanation for her ability to engage three of the supposed best killers in the world. When the airplane took off all appeared lost until Ray Palmer showed up and managed to bring the plane down. The highlight of this entire sequence was the duel between Tatsu and Maseo. The fight choreography and the final words between them were spot on, and easily one of the more emotional moments of the season. The League overcame its Stormtrooper-itis when reinforcements and Oliver showed up. The entire group was captured Malcolm tried in vain to reveal Oliver's duplicity, but it didn't seem like Ra's bought it. Ra's must have decided that it wasn't necessary to destroy Starling City, the friends of the former Oliver Queen would be good enough, and he broke the vial of Alpha/Omega in their holding cell. The marriage of Al Sah-Him to Nyssa was intercut with shots of Olivers friends apparently dying. I usually don't reference the previews for the next episode, and honestly the trickery out of General Shrieve should have been enough foreshadowing to convince the viewers that none of the rescue squad was in danger, but couldn't the previews be cut in such a way that the tension wasn't immediately sucked out of the end of the episode?

Conclusion: Despite the fact that some of the motivations were quite muddy, with the script doing no one any favors, “This Is Your Sword” finally got this season to where it should have been episodes ago. The action was high quality, and the Maseo/Tatsu drama was some of the best stuff of the season. We all suspected Oliver had bigger plans, now we just have to find out if those plans cost him the friends he's made along the way.

Rating: 8/10

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 21

The Flash
Episode Title: “Grodd Lives”
Channel: CW
Director: Dermott Downs
Writers: Grainne Godfree and Kai Yu Wu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: May 5, 2015

As the title indicates, the majority of this episode revolves around Gorilla Grodd. Grodd is the product of experimentation by General Eiling and Harrison Wells and their attempts to create a telepathic and telekinetic soldier. Well, Grodd holds a grudge. There have been a rash of gold robberies in Central City and when Joe and the Flash apprehend the culprit he's revealed to be none other than General Eiling. The last we saw of the general he had been taken by Grodd, after being delivered to the sewers by Wells. Grodd has broken his mind and is using him as a puppet, ostensibly on orders from Wells/Eobard.

Grodd was well done, the CGI the best one can expect from a show with such a limited budget. We got our first good look at him after he had kidnapped Joe. This episode had a definite horror movie vibe, and the tension was strong enough that when Grodd was forcing Joe to turn his gun on himself I believed that it might be the end of the line for Joe. Eventually the team figures out a way to stop the psychic barrage that Grodd is capable of and Barry set himself up to deliver another super sonic punch. Amazingly Grodd was fast enough to catch Barry and hurl him away. The device Barry was using to block Grodd's telepathy was damaged during the fight, only Iris talking to Barry was enough to get him to focus through the attack and stop the gorilla. Although the good guys won the day Grodd escaped and will hopefully wreak havoc in the future. Due to the tidbits revealed here and there, and now this episode, Grodd is one of the more developed secondary villains this season.

Speaking of Iris, don't let the help she gave Barry at the end of the episode fool you. She trapped Barry into lying to her again, it should have served as no surprise that with no new information he was going to continue the same lies. When she finally confronted him on it she resorted to that favorite line from our childhoods, she's not angry, only disappointed. Honestly her unwillingness to see the validity of their motivation for lying to her got old pretty quickly. It doesn't take much critical thinking to know that everyone's concerns for her safety were warranted. After some heated discussions with Barry and Joe she finally came around, and I'm glad for the end of that aspect of the story.

The rest of the episode revolved around Eobard and Eddie. It's fun to see Tom Cavanagh really embracing the villainous side of his character. The changes in the way he's playing the character since the big reveal are great. One of my favorite little things was seeing him jump down a number of steps on a ladder. After pretending to be paralyzed for a year he's reveling in his freedom. The way he antagonized Eddie was very effective. First telling him that he's one of the only Thawnes to never amount to anything, and then showing Eddie the newspaper from the future, revealing that Eddie will not be the one to marry Iris. I doubt it's enough to get Eddie to change sides, but the pleasure Eobard takes in torturing him just that little bit was evident. Eobard revealed the next step of his plan when he finished manufacturing what he called a key. He plugged it in to a wall and the camera zoomed out, showing the inside of a particle accelerator. I may have missed something, but it was unclear whether it was the accelerator at STAR Labs or a new construction. If it's a new one then it must be part of his plan for returning to his time, if it's the one in STAR Labs then it would seem that emptying the pipeline of its metahuman inhabitants is the next step in his scheme. Either way I can't wait for the next episode.

Conclusion: Aside from the Reverse Flash, Grodd may be the more well-developed villain on the show, and he's a ton of fun. With Iris finally on board with Barry's secret I have hopes that they'll allow her to move on and contribute more to the show than the obstacle she's been for a while. Wells/Eobard has become even more entertaining with his secret out of the bag, having become a true bad guy. I hope we don't see his demise at the end of the season, I feel like the show would suffer if the threat of Eobard's meddling was somehow snuffed out completely in the future.

Rating: 8.25/10

Monday, May 4, 2015

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 22

Episode Title: “All Happy Families Are Alike”
Channel: Fox
Director: Danny Cannon
Writer: Bruno Heller
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: May 4, 2015

What's a show to do when it's struggled to tell a coherent story through its first season? Apparently you escalate the violence and continue to make the same mistakes as far as story telling goes, hoping the audience doesn't notice past all the blood flying.

Lets start with Fish Mooney. She made landfall back in Gotham with a new haircut and in apparent good health. Remember her getting shot in the stomach during her flight from the Dollmaker's headquarters? Well, the writers didn't. It's a good thing the crew she escaped with included a surgeon talented enough to save her life while she piloted a helicopter and a stylist capable of giving her new look. Otherwise the audience couldn't have been treated to her triumphant return. Ugh. Fish crossed paths with Selina on her way into town and after Selina gave her some lip, Fish decided this was a child she definitely needed on her crew.

Maroni's men tried to take Falcone out while he was picking up a chicken for dinner. Yeah, that's the errand Falcone is running when the hit goes down. The initial hit was unsuccessful and Falcone ended up in the hospital, strapped to a gurney. Everyone realized that this was the moment to take the throne away from him so he's in a bit of trouble. Penguin and Butch showed up first, but Penguin's desire to gloat caused him to miss his chance at slitting the old man's throat. Gordon arrived, arrested Penguin and Butch, and then decided that having Falcone in charge was the lesser of the available evils. Commissioner Loeb showed up escorting Maroni's men, told Gordon to beat it, and then following Gordon's predictable refusal set Maroni's men on him. Gordon managed to take out five armed men before Bullock arrived and they hustled off with Falcone to one of his safe houses, someplace no one living knows about, with Penguin and Butch in tow. Why did they bring those two? Because even through all of this Gordon won't leave them because they're “in his custody” which felt more than a little ridiculous.

Of course, Fish is waiting for them at the safe house. She and her band of ruffians, with Selina in a prominent role, capture the lot of them and tie them up. Fish promises all of them, save Bullock, death. Then she calls in Maroni to trade Falcone for her old territory back. Selina is perfectly willing to be involved with Gordon's death, which seemed really strange. She scoffed at the fact that they were, “sorta friends,” but her joining Fish's cause was absurd. Maroni showed up, and after a few minutes of being his charming self had the entire meeting looking dangerous. It was around this time that I found Gotham's lack of tension really hitting hard. I knew all of these characters had to survive this encounter, after all they make appearances in Batman's time. How can I feel that any of them is in danger...BLAM. One of the few good choices made in this show so far, Fish shot Maroni in the face. If that's a trend that will continue then we may finally have dramatic moments in store going forward.

In the confusion Gordon, Bullock, and Falcone got away. To be recaptured minutes later by Selina and company. The only purpose to their brief escape was to reveal that Falcone doesn't want to play the game anymore. After all the things Fish did to him this season, and everything he's presumably had to endure climbing to the top of the underworld, this seemed like an odd time for him to take his ball and go home. As he explained to Fish that he was done machine-gun fire erupted and Penguin burst onto the scene mowing down Fish's men. He moved to chase her down and Gordon and friends fled yet again. On the roof of the building Penguin and Fish are locked in hand-to-hand combat until Butch arrives. Apparently the writers did remember that he's supposedly been brainwashed, although there's been no hint that particular story element was still in play for weeks. He ended up shooting them both, then Penguin pushed Fish off the roof and into the ocean. A suitably comic-like ambiguous ending to the villain, just in case they ever want to bring her back. Penguin then annoyingly screamed into the night that he was the King of Gotham.

Over to the slightly less violent happenings. Dr. Thompkins declared Barbara physically healed from her ordeal, but in need of counseling. After a half-hearted attempt at refusing, Leslie agrees to have a sit down with Barbara and help her talk through what she endured. It goes exactly as suspected. Barbara's wide-eyed stare was pretty unnerving during the entirety of those scenes, and when she admitted to killing her parents it wasn't much of a surprise. She then attacked Leslie, who after some rough housing managed to subdue her. Gordon, Bullock, and Falcone walked in just in time to find Leslie over Barbara's unconscious form. Although the 'twist' with Barbara wasn't surprising, I do find it an interesting direction to take.

Bruce finally made some headway in his investigation into his father. After he and Alfred tore apart the late Thomas Wayne's study, Bruce remembered Lucius Fox's words from the episode before and tracked down his father's secret. A remote control that opened a passage into an underground portion of the grounds, hello Batcave. The only other thing of note was Ms. Kringle's discovery of Nygma's clue in her dead boyfriend's good-bye note. She didn't seem convinced of Nygma's professed innocence, and after she left he went off the deep end. Not only does he like riddles, he's also suffering from multiple personality disorder. The crazy went from minimal to extreme in a matter of seconds, which was off putting.

Conclusion: A fitting conclusion to the first season of Gotham, “All Happy Families Are Alike” was just as hit and miss as the entire season, with more misses than hits. The biggest positive takeaway from the episode is that they may finally be willing to deviate from the source material. This should help the series find some dramatic tension, I just wish it hadn't taken this long to get there.

Rating: 6/10

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 4

Game of Thrones
Episode Title: “Sons of the Harpy”
Channel: HBO
Director: Mark Mylod
Writer: Dave Hill
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 55 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: May 3, 2015

Spoiler Alert

Game of Thrones made up for this season's lack of violence thus far. After a meeting between Ceresi and the High Sparrow, during which she seemed to name him High Septon, she also authorized the recreation of the Faith Militant. The Faith Militant was disbanded when the Targaryen's assumed control of Westoros, they were the fighting branch of church. They immediately began trashing everything they saw as blasphemous and assaulting the people they saw as sinners. The most important of those detained by the Faith Militant was Ser Loras, the queen's brother. Margaery tried to convince Tommen to free her brother, but he was unwilling to begin a fight on the steps of the sept. Ceresi is now playing the game at a dirtier level than we've seen, and she's done a lot of dirty stuff over the course of the series.

It looks as though Sansa is going to go along with a wedding to Ramsay Bolton. The entirety of these scenes took place between Sansa and Littlefinger in the crypts of Winterfell. He's going to be leaving her there and returning to King's Landing, a plan that she's not fond of. They also discussed Lyanna, her aunt, and her relationship with Rhaegar Targaryen. The only information we've really gotten up to this point on that situation is that he kidnapped and raped her. A story about which Littlefinger obviously knows more than he's revealed.

Things at the Wall stayed interesting this week. In what was probably the best scene of the episode, Stannis recounted his Shireen's illness and recovery. The writers have done a good job taking a character towards whom the audience as been, at best, ambivalent. It was a touching moment for a character that hasn't had a lot going for him. Melisandre was the latest of Stannis' retinue to attempt to persuade Jon to go south to Winterfell and aid in the retaking of the North. With the failure of her tactics I feel pretty sure in concluding that there is nothing, short of Sansa's presence there becoming known, that will drive him into that particular conflict.

Jaime and Bronn had a decent amount of screen time this week, and while it wasn't highly consequential it was fun. The differences between the two characters give them an entertainment value when they're bantering that keeps things light. They managed to make it to Dorne, but were set upon by soldiers shortly after arriving. Bronn did the majority of the work, although Jaime did managed to kill one soldier; even if he did get lucky for even that to happen. Also in Dorne, Ellaria returned to the Sand Snakes, a fighting unit of Prince Oberyn's female bastards, and readied them for a fight. A significant portion of an upcoming episode needs to focus on Dorne. We were introduced to three of the Sand Snakes in this episode, but we know virtually nothing about them. If the writers want me to care about their claims and grievances than do more than give them four minutes of screen time please.

There was another check-in with Tyrion this week. Very little happened though; Tyrion deduced who is kidnapper was and found out where Jorah was taking him. He had a good chuckle when he learned that Jorah was taking him to the destination he already had in mind. I'm not sure the scenes with these two were really necessary, Jorah ambiguously mentioning that he was taking Tyrion to the queen didn't make anyone think of Ceresi. Show me these two when things actually happen.

Finally, the situation in Meereen is deteriorating quickly. Ser Barristan regaled Dany with a story, the subject of which was Rhaegar, her older brother. It was a dead giveaway that following that deeply personal and humorous story that Barristan's continued presence on the show was coming to an end. I'm not saying that situations like that always lead to a character's death, but much like a cop in the movies mentioning how close they are to retirement, moments like that never help their odds of survival. The Sons of the Harpy escalated the conflict in Meereen by going after Dany's soldiers in much larger numbers that they had previously. A squad of Unsullied, including Grey Worm, was ambushed in an alley and rather easily dispatched by the Sons of the Harpy. While it wasn't a horrible fight sequence it really made me question the prowess of the Unsullied. The majority of them went down with little fight, with only Grey Worm really holding his own. Barristan arrived on the scene and did his best to swing the odds back to the side of Dany's forces. It was for naught as he was finally beaten, Grey Worm arriving just too late to save him. The episode faded to black with both of the men bleeding onto the street, Barristan having seemingly expired.

Conclusion: I think I've finally gotten to the point where I don't compare every episode to the books in my head. Enough has finally been changed that I look at them as separate stories, which is a good thing. Even though this was a stronger week for the events in Meereen it's still tedious. The power plays at the capitol have risen to such a level that I'm actually enjoying those moments nearly as much as the events at the Wall. There were two mentions of Rhaegar this week, leaving me to wonder if there's going to be a big reveal concerning the nature of his relationship with Lyanna soon.

Rating: 8.25/10

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2014)
Producers: Kevin Feige, Victoria Alonso, Stan Lee, et al.
Director: Joss Whedon
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments
Runtime: 141 min
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Comic

The Avengers are back, and right off the bat you get to see them in action. The opening sequence reintroduced us to a team that has been working together for a while, and it shows in their tactics. One of the things about the first Avengers that bothered me was the lack of team work. I think there was one instance of two heroes combining their abilities to take down enemies in the first film, there are several in the sequel; serving to highlight their growing familiarity with each other. The initial action sequence also brought to light one of the difficulties of working in such a huge shared universe. At the end of Iron Man 3 Tony retired and destroyed his suits. Here we are in Age of Ultron and he's right back in the thick of things without an explanation for his return. Just an acknowledgment from someone else on the team that this was his return to action would have been preferable to ignoring the situation entirely.

The villain of the film, Ultron, was short-changed in they early development of his character. Upon capturing Loki's scepter from Baron von Strucker, Tony and Bruce decide to use the properties of the staff to create a true artificial intelligence. Their first attempts are unsuccessful and with a celebration looming they leave JARVIS to continue their work. Tony's program and the capabilities of the staff are merged while all of the heroes are occupied and Ultron is born. Ultron and Jarvis have a verbal confrontation as Ultron undergoes a Leeloo-esque education on the state of the world. He immediately decides that the only way to fulfill his mission of world peace is to rid the planet of humans. Ultron goes full Skynet in a matter of moments, and I was left wondering how many Hollywood blockbusters would be entirely different films if the inventors depicted in them had read a little Isaac Asimov.

The new additions to the cast all leave you caring about them. Andy Serkis' brief appearance has me excited to see what he can do in a villainous role in the upcoming Black Panther. The Maximoff twins were manipulated by different villains until they made their way to the light side, and the progression worked with what the audience is told about their lives. James Spader brought equal amounts of humor and a sinister tone to Ultron. I was left feeling as though he had too many jokes and one-liners, although I suppose as a creation of Tony Stark some part of his personality leaking through makes sense. Vision was amazing, a being that possesses that much power but was, as he mentioned, “born yesterday” had to played with a strangely confidence naivete that Paul Bettany conveyed wonderfully. The moment after he was born when he looked at Thor and decided he'd like to have a cape too, so he materialized one out of thin air encapsulated his child-like side.

Most of the preexisting characters are much as we remember them, with the notable exception being Hawkeye. After getting shafted in the character development area in the first Avengers a lot of time is spent making us care about him. He has a personal side the audience never suspected and an entertaining awareness of his own apparent shortcomings in a group like the Avengers. Black Widow was also a recipient of some much needed back story that made me more confident than ever that a Natasha Romanoff led movie could be successful. The romance between Natasha and Bruce Banner was a little forced. Not because I didn't understand the motivation, they both view themselves as monsters in their own way, more because Scarlett Johannson and Mark Ruffalo didn't seem to have much on screen chemistry. The only returning character that rubbed me the wrong way was Don Cheadle's War Machine. I don't know if it was his sullen reaction when his story of taking out a tank wasn't met with guffaws from the Avengers, or something else, but I just couldn't get into his character this time around. Which is strange since I've enjoyed his previous appearances in Iron Man movies. His inclusion in the film felt obligatory since Marvel needs every hero they can find for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.

Speaking of setting up future movies, for the most part the attempts to do so succeed in Age of Ultron. It wasn't as prevalent as I expected, but the philosophical differences between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers will make for a compelling story. Andy Serkis' Ulysses Klaue will most likely serve as the main villain in Black Panther, and getting some of the development for him out of the way will allow that movie to focus on its hero more. The one swing-and-a-miss I saw in the setups for future films involved Thor, whose upcoming Ragnarok has the potential to really shake-up the MCU. The teases of his future were disjointed and incomplete, giving the audience no idea of what to expect, or a reason to be excited for what's to come.

The final battle was what you'd expect from an Avengers movie. The need to differentiate itself from Man of Steel's disregard for collateral damage got a little old, but served to add a different dynamic to a fight the audience knew the Avengers would win. I had hoped Ultron would provide more of a threat to the team as an individual than he did. We've already seen this group beat down hordes of generic enemies, earlier in this very movie and during the Chitauri invasion from the first film, so I was really hoping for a villain powerful enough to threaten the entire group. None of that is to say that the action was disappointing, it wasn't. There was more teamwork than before and the new characters meant new powers, so there were fresh and inventive ways for the enemies to be ripped apart. I was just looking for something different in the overall type of action we got.

Conclusion: Whereas Avengers was the culmination of Phase One of the MCU, Avengers: Age of Ultron felt more like an intermission. I realize one of the Infinity Stones makes an appearance, and that there was a lot of setup for future movies, but overall it felt more like a standalone movie than the rest of Marvel's recent offerings. It wasn't as dark as the trailers led me to believe, which was a good thing, the humor came at the right times, even if the source of the humor was odd at times. The new characters, and the deeper exploration of some existing ones, left me feeling better about the fate of the MCU after old favorites move on to other things.

Rating: 8/10