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Friday, April 17, 2015

"Broken" ARROW

Article originally written for Seat42F.

This week’s episode of ARROW on The CW, “Broken Arrow,” is anything but boring, again. Oliver (Stephen Amell) agonizes about letting Roy (Colton Haynes) sit in police custody and asking Ray, a.k.a. The Atom (Brandon Routh), to protect the city. But he has no choice because Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) is on an Ahab-like quest to expose Oliver as The Arrow and toss him behind bars, too. Will Oliver finally accept Ra’s (Matt Nable) position and end this mess that, admittedly, Ra’s has caused?

Oliver is not someone who relies on others easily, and that has always been a core part of his character. But Team Arrow exists now, and he is not just a lone wolf. When Oliver is believed to be dead, the others step up and continue the job he once performed, finding their independence. The transition is irreversible, and never has Oliver needed their help more than now, when he is sidelined again. Except, this time he has to sit and watch them perform his duties, rather than recovering in a secret hideout.

The team is worthy of Oliver’s trust, though. Perhaps not Ray, who means well but is far too inexperienced to tackle a metahuman named Deathbolt (Doug Jones, Falling Skies, Hellboy) himself in “Broken Arrow.” But Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), Diggle (David Ramsey), and Roy have earned his confidence, and even if they don’t fill Oliver in on their full plan, they have one. Diggle and Felicity convince Oliver to mostly stay back, and to his credit, he does listen to them.

Staying back isn’t enough, though. With Quentin latched onto the idea that he must catch Oliver, the issue isn’t going away, and Oliver can’t hide from it. Lieutenant Pike (Adrian Holmes) advises Quentin to slow down, lest he lose rank again. Quentin doesn’t appear to heed those words, though. It is likely that Quentin will let this destroy him, and that will be another thing for Oliver to feel guilty about, meaning he can’t save everyone and this is something he must come to terms with.

“Broken Arrow” shows Oliver at his lowest in this regard when Quentin tells Oliver and Thea (Willa Holland) that Roy has died in prison. He isn’t actually dead, this being a trick cooked up by Team Arrow without Oliver’s input, but Oliver doesn’t know this and comes as close to breaking down as we’ve pretty much ever seen. He sometimes comes across as a little cold, but he truly does carry the weight of what he does and the people he protects on his shoulders.

Which makes it all the more tragic that, while Oliver and company are saying goodbye to Roy for good as he leaves town to start a new life, Ra’s runs Thea through with a sword. Thea is the most important person in Oliver’s life, and if she dies, it will wreck him. Even if she doesn’t die, the fact that she might have will definitely make Oliver re-think his priorities.

Can Oliver ever be The Arrow again? That identity has been burned, and the public thinks the man responsible is dead. I don’t think Oliver can give up trying to save the city, but will he do it as Ra’s, even though Ra’s has done evil things, or will he take on another identity? ARROW is very uncertain on this front.

It’s less uncertain about the future of Ray and Felicity. Their days as a couple are numbered as soon as Ray sees how affectionate Felicity is with Oliver. Ray knows her heart belongs to someone else. It probably won’t be long now before they split.

“Broken Arrow” opens a big mystery when Ray takes Deathbolt to Star Labs to be locked up. Cisco (Carlos Valdes) observes that Deathbolt was not in Starling City when the reactor exploded (see: The Flash television series), so how is he a metahuman? Thus far, all the metahumans they are aware of stem from that accident. I assume this will be a story spanning both ARROW and The Flash in the coming weeks or years.

There’s also yet another boring Hong Kong flashback in which Oliver and his friends break into a lightly-guarded lab to steal an antidote for a virus that some bad guys are about to unleash. To be honest, I find myself zoning out during these scenes, as uninteresting as they usually are, and hope the day comes very soon when ARROW dispenses with this nonsense. Thankfully, these bits are brief this time. It was a good convention at the start of the series, but has long since lost its luster.

Still, even with that complaint, “Broken Arrow” is an excellent, engaging hour for the rest of its running time. ARROW has been having a stellar third year, and this episode is no exception.

ARROW airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Reveals "Melinda"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

“Melinda” May (Ming-Na Wen) takes center stage in the latest installment of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. In flashback, fans finally learn why May is known as The Calvary, witnessing the traumatic event that drove her from field service and changed her into a closed-off person, while becoming a legendary hero to everyone else. It’s a sad story, but also a good one for a character who doesn’t always get as much development as the others purely because she doesn’t reveal much of herself.

The May that the “Melinda” flashbacks begin with is happily married to Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood) and ready to start a family. She loves her job and her life, and she’s a cheery optimist, at least when compared to the version we’ve grown to know. This episode not only satisfactorily explains the shift, but is an engaging, compelling story in its own right. It is probably the most important hour for this character so far.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. plays it smart by revealing the story now, using it to inform May’s relationship and trust of Coulson (Clark Gregg). As Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Mack (Henry Simmons) show May and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) the evidence against Coulson, doubts among Coulson’s own team begin to accumulate. May trusts him because of their history together, and we see that. However, we also see that Coulson has kept secrets even from her, possibly putting together a group of those with super powers. Can Coulson really be trusted?

Both Coulson’s agenda and May’s backstory tie into Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) thread, too. Skye is happily training with the woman she soon realizes is her mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). However, Jiaying tells Skye no one can know about their relationship because the others might see Skye’s treatment as favoritism. To demonstrate how such a perception can go wrong, she tells Skye May’s tale, which ends in May having to kill a super-powered child.

The way these three all fit together so seamlessly is impressive. MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. tends to plod along for awhile, usually good but somehow not quite great, for large parts of the season. Like last year, however, there is a greater plan working behind the scenes, and when everything is known, it all comes together awesomely. “Melinda” is one of those installments that pays off viewers for sticking with the series through the lesser episodes.

It is not without flaw. Despite Jiaying telling Skye they need to keep their bond a secret, when the two eat dinner with Calvin (Kyle MacLachlan), they aren’t very careful in what they say. Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) walks right in on them, though he may not yet understand what he is seeing. Also, while it must feel extremely good for Skye to have eat with her parents for the first time ever, something she’s longed for for so long, can she really overlook Cal’s violent and cruel missteps that bring her to this place? There’s a limit of what is forgivable. This may not quite be an error in storytelling, but I’d like to see Skye resist just a little more.

Still, “Melinda” is mostly good. The stories mentioned above are fascinating, and we also see Gordon (Jamie Harris) working with Raina (Ruth Negga) to try to find her hidden gifts, which Lincoln may have stumbled upon. Raina is unhappy, and justly so, but if she has the power to see the future, as is indicated, she could become even more important to AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Plus, the episode ends with Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) asking Coulson and Hunter (Nick Blood) to help him lose a tail, which seems like it will be a lot of fun.

In general, “Melinda” is a triumph for MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. It reveals a lot about important players, especially May and Coulson, and it helps set up what should be a very exciting finale. If the show can deliver more episodes like this one, I’d have almost no complaints about it. Not that I have that many now, but it could usually be just a bit better, and “Melinda” proves that.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

ONCE UPON A TIME Finds "Heart" Amid Inconsistencies

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Review Season 4 Episode 18 Heart of Gold on Seat42F.


As this week’s Once Upon A Time begins on ABC, Rumple (Robert Carlyle) finds The Author (Patrick Fischler) as he flees through the woods. This surely spells trouble for our heroes, but this installment, “Heart of Gold,” doesn’t deal with that. Instead, we see flashbacks to both the pre-Storybrooke time and New York City of nine weeks ago. Both periods contain some surprising revelations.

First, in the past we see Rumple send Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) to Oz to steal broken heart potion from the Wicked Witch (Rebecca Mader). Although Robin has already given up being a thief, he is in debt to the Sheriff of Nottingham (Will Traval) and needs the money Rumple is offering. Robin has promised his wife, Marian (Christie Laing), that he will support her, and without what Rumple is offering, he cannot fulfil that promise.

I could argue that Robin’s code is more than a little subjective, stealing when he feels it is justified, and not seemingly feeling any guilt about it. The fact that he lies to Will Scarlet (Michael Socha), whom he meets in Neverland and also promises potion to, proves that Robin’s perspective is a bit skewed. But I didn’t find these plot holes nearly so glaring, given that Robin is consistent with this in the near-present, and I like seeing more of these supporting characters.

Speaking of Will, he is in Oz looking to mend his own broken heart after the death of his sister. This presumably happens before he makes his way to Wonderland. I am still very, very eager to find out how he comes to Storybrooke after the events of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and where the Queen of Hearts, his one true love, is, but “Heart of Gold” doesn’t answer that.

When Robin gets back to the Enchanted Forest, he re-commits himself to the outlaw life. This seems a little unnecessary and hokey. It does provide, though, an opportunity for Robin of Loxley to become Robin Hood, thus combining the two Sherwood myths. I’m not entirely satisfied with the way this plays out, but learning Robin gifts Will the potion, Will doesn’t steal it as I had assumed, is pleasant enough.

As mentioned, present day New York finds Robin with the same wavering morality as in fairytale land. Rumple has a heart attack in Neal’s old apartment, where Robin and his family are now living. Robin feels bad for Rumple, whose dark heart is failing him away from the magic that kept it going, and agrees to go after the same potion, which the Wicked Witch conveniently sent to the real world with The Wizard. Robin steals it and, after a Cowardly Lion-like escape through a window, thinks he cures Rumple.

That’s when the hour’s big shocker comes to ONCE UPON A TIME: Marian is really the Wicked Witch, whom replaced Robin’s love shortly before Emma (Jennifer Morrison) brought her to Storybrooke, and who didn’t really die in season three. It’s slightly sad that the real Marian is dead, but it’s also a bit of a relief to learn that no one else has a legitimate claim to Robin’s heart other than Regina (Lana Parrilla), who deserves a happy ending. The Wicked Witch can’t resist rubbing this in Regina’s face, er, ear, and this allows Rumple to hold Robin over Regina’s head.

Too bad Marian makes Robin delete Regina’s number from his phone, but he has plenty of other Storybrooke denizens in his contact list, so he should be able to go home. Get home, he must. Regina may be able to help him, either though teaming up with Rumple to turn Emma dark, or after defeating the bad guys, which is the outcome I hope for. Regina’s face at the end of “Heart of Gold” doesn’t reveal her decision, but since Robin is on the line, she will definitely have strong feelings about the choice.

Rumple’s more vulnerable scenes in “Heart of Gold” would be good if not for how much ONCE UPON A TIME has ruined his character. His ruminations feel unearned and cheap because he has turned his back on the redemption he earned without explanation. I feel like ONCE UPON A TIME is trying to explain away this glaring inconsistency, but it just doesn’t work.

“Herat of Gold” is one of the better episodes this season. I like all of the Robin and Will stuff, even when it drifts into goofy territory, and finding out the Wicked Witch never really went away is cool. Still, the show just isn’t as good as it once was, and this hour doesn’t plug the holes from previous weeks any more than any other has. ONCE UPON A TIME may one day get good again, but this is a weak attempt at that, even if it’s OK when taken on its own.

ONCE UPON A TIME airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

OUTLANDER "Pricking" Fans' "Thumbs" and Hearts

Article first published as OUTLANDER Review Season 1 Episode 10 By the Pricking of My Thumbs" on Seat42F.

Outlander 2014

A lot happens in this week’s Outlander on Starz, “By the Pricking of My Thumbs.” Each of the primary players has disagreements with others, and the fall-out from some of these conflicts will cause unpleasantness for some time to come. There is no denying that Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is a part of this time and place now, as she has been seamlessly integrated into history.

The hour begins with Jamie (Sam Heughan) petitioning the Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow, Amadeus) to clear his name. When Claire warns Jamie than the Duke and Black Jack (Tobias Menzies) are friends, Jamie then sets out to discredit Black Jack. However, it is Claire’s interference that eventually gets Jamie saved, and his own quips that land him in hot water again very soon after.

Watching Claire manipulate and blackmail the Duke is not pleasant. I understand that Claire is protecting her innocent husband against a corrupt system, but the coldness in her eyes is not easy to overlook. She does this with such ease and composure that it feels natural, not like she compromising her morals, and that’s why this is disturbing. Claire can be ruthless when she wants to be.

Jamie seems much more light-hearted. His feud with another clan happens quite by accident, as he trades insults with them after seconding the Duke in a duel. He isn’t trying to start a fight, and only defends himself as far as he must, never on the attack. Jamie is a good man, and his actions stand in stark contrast to Claire’s, making them seem like they might not fit together as a couple as well as they appear to in the opening scene of “By the Pricking of My Thumbs.”

For Jamie’s actions, Colum (Gary Lewis) sends him away. Colum doesn’t give Jamie a chance to explain, which can be overlooked given the other things on Colum’s mind at the moment. Still, despite Jamie’s name being cleared, the outcome is not at all what Jamie and Claire hope for, nor what the viewers would like to see. Our heroes have still more to overcome.

Colum is distracted because of the behavior of his brother, Dougal (Graham McTavish). Dougal has been having an affair with Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) and she is pregnant with his child. At first, it seems like Geillis is counting on fate to bring her and Dougal together, but after both of their spouses die, some begin to suspect foul play, at least on Geillis’ part. Colum sends Dougal away to try to minimize the fall-out to the clan, frustrated with the threat Dougal causes them.

I still think Geillis is a true friend to Claire. I don’t sense anything ill between them, even after Claire accuses Geillis of murder. Geillis’ romantic issues are hers, not Claire’s, and they remain friends, Claire even trying to help Geillis escape the law.

Unfortunately for the both of them, Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) isn’t so kind. When Claire confronts Laoghaire over what she’s been doing, trying to break up Claire’s marriage, Laoghaire not only admits to it, but pledges to keep up the fight. Claire and Geillis’ arrest for witchcraft at the close of “By the Pricking of My Thumbs” is Laoghaire’s doing, as she wins the latest round of battle. So I guess all three main women on OUTLANDER can be pretty bad.

Laoghaire cannot be triumphant for long. Jamie loves Claire, and whatever feelings he had or has for Laoghaire, he is an honorable and dedicated husband. Were Jamie to see what Laoghaire has been doing, he would not approve and it would kill any chance of the outcome she desires. I guess she thinks that she can get away with being sneaky, but that doesn’t seem likely.

Will Claire’s relationship with the Duke, tenuous as it is, get her and Geillis out of trouble? Or at least save Claire? If he is the one to sit in judgment over the girls, they stand a chance of getting off without too much trouble. Claire still has the dirt on him, and Laoghaire’s evidence is faked, so cannot possibly hold up to much scrutiny, even by old court standards. Claire has friends in the castle who will surely speak up for her. I don’t think this is a serious, lasting problem, dire as the situation might seem in the cliffhanger.

OUTLANDER certainly knows how to keep things exciting. None of what goes down in “By the Pricking of My Thumbs” is expected, at least not by those who haven’t read the book series, and drama keeps building. The characters are well-defined enough at this point to get a read on them, yet they still have hidden depths to be explored, such as when we learn about Dougal and Geillis’ affair. Even if not a lot happens in this hour, I come away satisfied and ready for the next installment, which sadly is a full week away.

OUTLANDER airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.

THE GOOD WIFE Turns "Ugly"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

CBS’s THE GOOD WIFE frequently drops surprises, but I’d be hard-pressed to name one recently that rocks the show as much as the voter fraud scandal surrounding Alicia’s (Julianna Margulies) election as State’s Attorney. This week’s episode, “Winning Ugly,” begins that battle as a legendary political figure, Spencer Randolph (Ron Rifkin, Alias), takes on her case in the name of the democratic process. But Spencer may really be supporting the Democrats’ process, as he turns on Alicia when she refuses to play ball with the party.

Alicia has long struggled with getting into politics, but the events of “Winning Ugly” are likely to turn her off of them entirely, whether she ends up in the State’s Attorney’s office or not. Alicia did not cheat, but that won’t stop the party from ruining her reputation if she goes against their interests, both sides in the city being famously corrupt. These movers and shakers have built a system that works for them, and they are not about to let some idealistic woman screw it up.

Alicia’s natural ally should be Prady, but he is no longer accessible to her, and may not believe she’s innocent, anyway. Instead, she is sent lawyer Martin Parillo (Remy Aubjeronis), who battles it out with Spencer in front of Ken Boxer (Lawrence Gilliard Jr., The Walking Dead, The Wire) and the panel. Until Spencer turns on Alicia, Martin is taking a beating. But now that Martin seems to have the upper hand, there is no way he will allow Alicia to broker a deal with Prady.

So it looks like Alicia may need to try to return to the law firm, assuming she loses, but there are some complications there. First, we’d have to see if the firm would take her back. Alicia still has her office, but considering that we’ve seen the settlement talks, she may have already cashed out and hurt feelings might block her from buying back in. Second, will there even be a firm left to come back to?

The second major plot in “Winning Ugly” finds Diane (Christine Baranski) learning about Kalinda’s (Archie Panjabi) forgery. To Diane’s credit, the first thing she does is not protect herself so much as clear Detective Prima’s (John Ventimiglia) name. Prima is a jerk, but he doesn’t deserve to lose his job over something he didn’t to. After that, though, Diane discusses strategy with Finn (Matthew Goode), David Lee (Zach Grenier), and Cary (Matt Czuchry), and it doesn’t look good.

I’m surprised Diane doesn’t immediately fire Kalinda. I don’t care that Kalinda has done a lot for the firm; she crossed a line with faking evidence, even if she didn’t intend Diane to use it. Panjabi will be leaving THE GOOD WIFE at the end of the season anyway, but this is the hour in which she should have been terminated from her job.

I also hope this doesn’t blow back on Cary. There is other evidence to clear his name, but it will be much harder to convince people he is innocent after this fiasco.

The current State’s Attorney isn’t focused on destroying the law firm, though, so much as he wants to go after drug kingpin Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter). Geneva Pine (Renee Elise Goldsberry) says as much, offering to drop all charges against Diane if Diane will just testify against Bishop. The problem is, every viewer and main character knows that going up against Bishop is a death sentence, so Diane doesn’t want to risk it.

For a minute in “Winning Ugly,” it looks like Kalinda might step up. She is closest to Bishop and can get him jailed. This would also go a long way towards making up for her wrong doings. And who knows? She might survive. But it’s Cary that goes to Geneva and says that if Kalinda makes the offer to speak in court, he will do it in her place. Cary loves Kalinda, despite her flaws, and that’s truly a noble sacrifice he is willing to make.

Since Kalinda didn’t go to Geneva, though, where did she go? Did she flee and abandon those taking the fall for her mistakes? Or is she going to kill Bishop, hoping that will end the fight. I don’t know that I actually want to see Kalinda murder anyone, but there’s no way she can convince him to confess to wrong doings, no matter what she has on him. Whatever Kalinda is doing, she’s playing a dangerous game.

In both of these stories, I just don’t see how it can end well. There is no clear way out, and only a scant few hours left to tell the story this year. THE GOOD WIFE has not been renewed yet, either, and those at CBS would be awful, awful monsters if they didn’t let the tale conclude satisfactorily. We’ll see how it plays out.

THE GOOD WIFE airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.