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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Discussing THE INTERVIEW

Article first published as Movie Review: 'The Interview' on Blogcritics.

Much press has surrounded the controversial film The Interview, which Sony first canceled, and then later made available, to independent theaters and video-on-demand services. (Many major theater chains have opted not to carry it, though presumably they could if they wanted to.) Now that the movie has come out, I couldn’t help but check it out, considering the attention, and see if it is worth the trouble surrounding it. The short answer is, sort of.

TI2The plot of The Interview is goofy, bordering on surrealistic. Television producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen, Super Bad, The Comeback) wants to get into more serious news, but the star he works with, Dave Skylark (James Franco, 127 Hours, The Mindy Project), is all about sensationalist entertainment. These two worlds merge when the guys find out Kim Jong-un (Randall Park, Veep, Larry Crowne) is a super-fan of Skylark and invites them to visit, which is complicated when the U.S. government asks Skylark to assassinate the dictator, and gives him minimal training to do so.

One can easily see why North Korea is upset by this movie. It takes their Supreme Leader, whom they worship as a god, and make him a metrosexual, emotional, cartoon character. In fact, much is made in the movie of exposing the true Kim to the people of that country, something that would go against the administration’s policies. With a dramatic climax that I won’t spoil, which goes a step further in defacing Kim, it makes sense that his home country wouldn’t want people to see The Interview.

That being said, terrorism is inexcusable, and threatening nuclear warfare isn’t right. The United States would never do that to anyone who made a similar movie about our elected leader. In fact, a British film about George W. Bush’s fictional murder, Death of a President was released in 2007, though that one was not a comedy. In that spirit, I urge many people to see The Interview, if for no other reason than to thumb our noses at a petty regime that would seek to infringe upon freedom of speech and resort to scare tactics to censor art.

The Interview is pretty funny, though not spectacularly so. Rogen’s character isn’t very humorous, presumably on purpose, which drags down the feature more than if every part of the script were to be played for laughs. But Franco is hilarious, especially when sharing the screen with Park, whom will soon be starring in an ABC sitcom called Fresh Off the Boat, and is absolutely terrific here. The supporting cast includes many notable faces, including Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Ben Schwartz (House of Lies), Timothy Simons (Veep), Diana Bang (Bates Motel), Rob Lowe (Parks and Recreation), rapper Eminem, and many semi-self-playing cameos. The movie makes terrific use for Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments.

TI1Where the piece suffers is in it’s satirical quality. It flirts with full-on lampooning in the style of Team America: World Police, which skewered Kim’s father, but backs off by trying to make itself a more mainstream film. It raises several important issues, such as the state of current media, but it barely scratches the surface.

I can’t help but wonder how much better The Interview would be had it fully committed to its premise, instead of couching a relatively pedestrian, predictable buddy story that happens to be set in an outrageous environment. Franco and Rogen’s This Is the End is superior because every bit of it revolves around the unique tale being told. The Interview pulls itself back, making it relatively tame and safe by comparison.

Is The Interview worth watching? Sure. I probably would have viewed it when it came to HBO or another premium channel, rather than going to see it in theaters, but I still would have eventually watched it. Is it worth owning? Probably, but only because of the stir it created in our culture, not being quite good enough on its own merit to shell out my hard-earned money for. But right now, when you can pay a few bucks to watch it on YouTube, I recommend everyone check it out, even if the stars aren’t quite your brand of humor, which is admittedly not critically-acclaimed.

The Interview is currently in select theaters, as well as being available on YouTube, GooglePlay, iTunes, and other online outlets.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sadly, Not Clara's "Last Christmas" On DOCTOR WHO

Article firs published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' - 'Last Christmas' on Blogcritics.

DWAs it has many years in the past, the BBC presented a brand-new Doctor Who special on Christmas Day, which also aired on BBC America. Titled “Last Christmas,” The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) are visited by Santa Claus (Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead, Mr. Sloane), and then head to the North Pole to help a group of scientists. But things get dreamy-weamy when a brain-sucking alien that can alter perception attacks them.

“Last Christmas” is better than most of this past fall’s eighth season, but also displays some of the weaknesses that have plagued Doctor Who this year. It is fun and scary and has a classic-type villain that poses a puzzle for our clever heroes. It also flirts with character development without fully committing to it, teasing at some depth between the show’s leads, but failing to deliver a meaningful package. In short, it’s enjoyable, but also disappointing.

When last we left them, The Doctor and Clara separated because they both lied. Well, The Doctor lied, and Clara didn’t correct his assumptions about her, spelling an end to their time traveling together. Thrust back into adventure (which is explained adequately enough), they do have a brief screaming match to air the truth, but then they decide to resume their past arrangement with no discussion of the problems between them.

I finally have a theory as to why this might be the case, as frustrating as it is that the writers don’t deal with the underlying issues between this pairing. The Doctor is never one to dwell on his darkness when a companion is around, trying to present a cheery front. Normally, his companions help ground him, but Clara is also an avoider of reality, and between the two of them, a true confrontation and discussion just isn’t likely to spring. Which is why Clara needs to go.

Part of why Doctor Who is so awesome is because of the complexity of its main Time Lord. With Clara by his side, The Doctor is allowed to ignore his issues, as she just wants to find the fun. But Capaldi’s version of The Doctor definitely has things to deal with, as the series has hinted that his older appearance is not merely selected by chance. Even Clara has gotten fed up with him at times, yet she always backs off before forcing anything from him, and in order to unlock this mystery, The Doctor needs a companion that will stick to their guns.

That aside, the episode itself is mostly satisfying because it messes with the viewer’s brain. Some of the best installments of Doctor Who present something to fear and then outline why you cannot protect yourself from it. “Last Christmas” does that brilliantly with it’s Inception-like concept of dreams within dreams. Making Santa Claus a part of this makes a lot of sense. It’s not as mythology heavy as the previous two Christmas episodes, but it’s a fine stand-alone.

Toss in Nick Frost, who is always terrific, a guest turn by Michael Troughton, Second Doctor Patrick Troughton’s son, as one of the scientists, and Dan Starkey, who plays recurring part Strax, as an elf, and there’s plenty for fans to get excited about.

On a side note, how did The Doctor and Clara encounter Danny Pink’s (Samuel Anderson) descendant in series eight when he later dies without having children? Danny’s cameo in “Last Christmas” makes me think his story may not quite be over, but I don’t see a way for it go forward from here, unless the show repeats itself with him as it did with Rory. I keep expecting Clara to be pregnant, but it doesn’t seem like Doctor Who is going that way, and Danny doesn’t seem to have coupled with anyone else, given his mental state. Will the series follow up and explain this?

Doctor Who will return for a ninth series (since the reboot) sometime in 2015.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Late Night Television's Losses

Article first published as LATE NIGHT TELEVISION'S LOSSES on Blogcritics.

This week, late night television lost two of its three best hosts, with only Jon Stewart remaining as one worth watching regularly. The Colbert Report, Stewart’s Daily Show spin-off, and The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson both aired their series finales recently after nine and ten years, respectively. Given what they both bring to the overall landscape, this is a double-punch blow that will leave fans of originality on the small screen reeling.

LS3First, let’s look at Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report. Perhaps the first character that has done a show like this, completely in character, Colbert took his correspondent persona from The Daily Show, and developed it into a full-fledged parody of Bill O’Reilly. That seems a good joke, but a four-times-weekly half hour series? It takes a very rare talent to pull something like that off and keep it fresh night after night.

Colbert did so much more than that. He skewered politicians with his brilliant satire, which led to politician from both parties boycotting him for an extended period of time, until they realized his lampooning could actually help them get the youth vote.

He ripped apart then-President George W. Bush to his face when the GOP failed to get his schtick and unwittingly gave him a forum to do so. Colbert’s endorsement became a valuable commodity, any product or charity he promoted sure to see huge contribution from his rabid fan base.

He created a Super PAC to expose a broken system. He ran for president as a joke, and polled higher than many of the real candidates. (Equally noteworthy, he knew to get out before it went too far.) He held a rally that drew hundreds of thousands of his followers (including myself, who never does things like that) to Washington D.C. He re-defined late night wars in his “feud” with Jimmy Fallon, got involved in the Olympics, made into the Smithsonian, and supported our troops time and again. That’s a lot for a short time, and I’m just scratching the surface.

Why did Colbert have such an impact? It’s hard to define his appeal, but he has a cool factor, an intelligence, and a harmless quality that captured the spirit of those frustrated with the power structure. He was our voice to fight back, orating in a way that said what we thought in a manner that we couldn’t. He was thoroughly funny, and completely committed to the bit. But we fans were in on the secret, even when those in power were not for quite awhile, and it felt great to be a part of that club. It also didn’t hurt that he premiered after the widespread adoption of the DVR, meaning I was able to watch every single episode he did without fail, never missing a minute.

LS4His final episode, which aired this past Thursday, was the perfect capper. Beginning with a “typical show,” he spiraled into a bizarre cheating of death, ending with him forever circling the globe in Santa’s sleigh, accompanied by Abraham Lincoln (who is a unicorn) and Alex Trebek, meaning he gets to live on forever, always with us. He also included a tear-worthy sing-a-long with so many guest stars, actors, politicians, athletes, musicians, scientists, historians, and more, that it’s impossible to name them all without copious amounts of freeze-framing, the sheer number of famous faces taking part proving Colbert’s worth. Best of all, he finally tossed back to Jon Stewart, making the whole series one long segment for The Daily Show, giving due to Colbert’s creator and demonstrating Colbert’s humility and gratefulness. If there were only a way to thank him in return.

Colbert ends his run far too early because is being given Late Show, taking over for the retiring David Letterman. I’m just speculating on his reasons for doing so, having no personal insider knowledge of the situation, but it seems to me that comedians of Colbert’s age see that job as a career pinnacle. They grew up looking to Johnny Carson, and aspire to get either The Tonight Show or Late Show.

Yet, in the current, fractured age, those stalwarts aren’t what they were. I’ve outlined the impact Colbert has made. I can’t believe he’ll get to do half of that on CBS. Though, it has to be tempting for Colbert to finally get to be himself, having retired the character on the show that made him famous. I mourn deeply for the loss, and hope for his seemingly inevitable return in some, likely limited, fashion.

LS2One reason I have a small hope that Colbert won’t turn into a cookie-cutter host, which seems the obvious thing to do, is that CBS has shown itself willing to take chances at night, surprising given its boring, safe prime time lineup. Letterman has long been followed by The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, and as Craig constantly tells us, he’s not like any other show on television. With a “band” too shy to show itself, a gay robot skeleton sidekick, and two guys in a horse suit that dance, Ferguson has longed thumbed his nose at the genre and made the series his own. He ignored the pre-prepared interview, preferring just to talk to people, and routinely improv-ed large segments of his hour. He didn’t follow any norm.

While I enjoyed Ferguson on The Drew Carey Show many years ago, I first discovered his brilliance during the Writer’s Strike of 2008. Curious to see how the various late night personalities would handle things on their own, I sampled them all and found Ferguson to be, by far, the funniest of the broadcast network guys. That has to come because he does so much of his stuff on his own anyway. But it made me a fan, and while I did not watch every minute of every episode of The Late Late Show, as I did The Colbert Report, I checked in periodically and was never disappointed. Craig is leaving to pursue other projects, tired of staying in a single format.

Craig delivered a semi-tame finale. After a huge opening number with almost as many celebrities as Colbert’s, though Ferguson’s were almost all Hollywood-types (with The Newsroom‘s Jeff Daniels being the only participant on both shows that I spied), he settled into a very routine formula. He had Jay Leno as his final guest, someone I personally have little respect for, but who seemed appropriate given his own recent departure from the genre, and who was very enjoyable in this instance.

LS1Where Craig departed the most from his formula was at the end. After revealing Bob Newhart as the head of the horse on the show, Craig woke up in bed next to Drew, reprising their roles from the earlier sitcom while paying tribute to the series finales of The Newhart Show, St. Elsewhere, and The Sopranos. It was zany, unexpected, and rewarded long-time fans. It was perfect for him.

It’s also worth noting that Craig brought the voice behind Geoff the robot up on stage in the penultimate hour, a treat that felt very, very right.

Ferguson is being replaced by a British comedian and actor named James Corden, who also doesn’t seem likely to be “normal.” With a Colbert / Corden team up, will CBS finally do what only Comedy Central has been doing for years and deliver a late night lineup worth watching on a daily basis? Only time will tell, but for now, I mourn the loss of the two heavyweights, both quite different, but both bucking what amounts to “typical” fare in their field. Without them, the evening will get a lot more dull.

Colbert’s replacement, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, premieres January 19th. The Late Late Show will have a series of guest hosts for the next couple of months before Corden takes over in March. Letterman retires in May and Colbert will be back on TV in August.  Ferguson is expected to next do a 7 p.m. half hour syndicated comedy talk show, with robot and horse in tow, in 2016.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Au Revoir" WHITE COLLAR

Article first published as TV Review: 'White Collar' - 'Au Revoir' (Series Finale) on Blogcritics.

wcTo me, White Collar represents a turning point for USA. It straddles the line between light-hearted procedural, which is the old style of show USA used to make a la Monk and Psych, and the character-driven, higher-concept stuff currently ruling the network, like Suits and Graceland. I almost gave up on it in its early days, but was hooked just enough to give it a chance to grow, and was rewarded for my effort. The sixth and final season, which consisted of a mere six episodes, ended this week with “Au Revoir” and, unfortunately, White Collar did not sprint through to the end.

In the past, the show has developed some really cool arcs, such as pitting Neal (Matt Bomer) against Peter (Tim DeKay) as the former considered returning to his criminal lifestyle. In the final year, the show returns to case-of-the week installments, mostly, with the final story, which spanned a few episodes, feeling like a longer version of the same. Neal and Peter go undercover to take down what is supposed to be one of the best illegal groups of all time, the Pink Panthers, but instead of this being a huge capper to their career together, the case unfolds the same as always and the good guys win as easily as ever.

There are signs that White Collar could go in a better direction. Long-time foe Keller (Ross McCall) gets involved. Instead of seeing Neal and Peter wrestle with what he’s done to them in the past, though, his part is glossed over and he’s just someone they work with. Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) worries about Peter staying in the field now that they are expecting a baby, leading one to believe a major life decision will be made. But instead, Peter just jumps into danger as willingly as ever, and there’s never even a chance for Neal to save him, as I expected to happen.

As “Au Revoir” draws to a close, the script gets really messy. Neal faking his own death, I sort of get, especially because he does let Peter know he’s OK. But Neal built a family here, so why would he abandon them? Why does White Collar hint Neal may have (or may not have) gone back to being a criminal without letting us know if his growth has paid off? Why doesn’t Peter try to arrest Mozzie (Willie Garson), whom he knows stole money? There is a bond of mutual respect between Neal, Peter, and Mozzie that allows them to work together, but Peter would never sit idly by and let the other two get away with anything as he appears to do here, nor would Neal be so heartless as to abandon everyone he cares about and wait an entire year to clue them in.

It’s just not good storytelling. One expects a show, in its final episode, to give some sort of pay-off to what’s come before it. Tiny bits of the epilogue do this for some of the supporting characters, but not in any way that matters so much. The core players, though, aren’t well served at all. Instead, they appear inconsistent and shy away from the personalities they’ve developed. Though I do admit that DeKay and Garson do get some juicy emotional bits to prove their range.

I mention supporting players, and “Au Revoir” does make time for Jones (Sharif Atkins), Diana (Marsha Thomason), and June (Diahann Carroll), as it should. Unfortunately, June’s role is basically a cameo, and the other two get happy endings without being shown to do anything special at the end to earn them, made even less satisfying by the time jump.

White Collar was very good at times. Sadly, its finale was not one of them. It will be missed, but if this is the direction the show was heading in anyway, I’m glad it’s gone before it completely tarnishes what it did when it was at its best.

Monday, December 22, 2014

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW "Orphans" Sympathetic

Article first published as TV Review: 'American Horror Story' - "Orphans" on Blogcritics.

Earlier in the fall, I promised more reviews would be forthcoming for FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show, and while it’s been awhile since I’ve written about it, this season has continued to rank either tied for first place with season one or the lone frontrunner of the series. It’s been such a character-driven piece, with surprising twists geared towards growing the personalities, rather than just for the sake of story. Amid this great run, this week’s installment, “Orphans,” is one of the best.

Or1“Orphans” tells us the story of Pepper (Naomi Grossman), a microcephalic (or pinhead) whom also appears in season two, Asylum, which is set about ten years later than Freak Show. Pepper is the first character to appear in more than one season of American Horror Story, and playing a mostly bit part with the other supporting “freaks” up until now, I wondered why they bothered to bring her back. This is, until this week’s episode, which also sees a too-brief return of Asylum‘s Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), more than justifies her presence.

Pepper is adopted be Elsa (Jessica Lange) from an orphanage, the first of the troupe. Others of the group that follow are recruited specifically for Pepper. But as the freak show falls apart, Pepper loses her closest companions, sending her deep into grief. Self-involved in her own career, Elsa foists Pepper off on the sister that abandoned her, Rita (Mare Winningham, who had a different one-episode role in last year’s Coven). Rita and her husband, Larry (Matthew Glave, Army Wives, ER), are even more selfish than Elsa, and concoct a plan to frame Pepper for murdering their annoying infant, landing Pepper in the asylum and revealing that he back story we thought we knew about Pepper is utterly wrong.

Or3What is so impressive is the sympathy Grossman earns in this amazing turn. Even after two seasons, I am ashamed to say that I still find it hard to look at Pepper. In “Orphans,” I care about her, though, and so will anyone who watches her painful journey of abandonment and neglect. Pepper briefly has a good life, and it’s ripped away in the worst possible manner. Much of this success is built into the storytelling, and much of it is due to Grossman’s talent. It’s one of the most moving stories I’ve seen on television in awhile, and it continues Freak Show‘s trend (and more largely Ryan Murphy’s) of forcing people to face their preconceptions and become more compassionate towards those who are different than us.

Pepper’s arc, which actually ends several years in the future of the current story, though I’m not expecting everything else to jump, beautifully ties into Elsa’s. Someone who acts like Elsa does now, willing to leave behind all she’s built and those she cares about, doesn’t quite line up to the person who put together the troupe in the first place. “Orphans” shows us her connection with Pepper, and how that leads to the inclusion of Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge) and Salty (Christopher Neiman). Elsa has changed, and not for the better. Though, there is a big hint of a happy ending for her.

What causes Elsa to fall so far? I assume part of it is that she’s lost so much, including Ma and Salty, and so knows she can no longer hold onto the world she’s lived in. Another part has to be the chance at fame that Stanley (Denis O’Hare) dangles in front of her, and given her age, it’s probably the last chance she has to realize her dreams. Once upon a time, creating a family was her dream, and she lived it. Now, she realizes she wants more. Lange is having another masterful turn in the franchise in Elsa.

Or2The third thing of interest this week is Maggie (Emma Roberts) revealing the truth to Desiree (Angela Bassett) about Stanley’s plan and misdeeds. Maggie is going through a redemption, sparked by falling in love with Jimmy (Evan Peters), which lasts even after the two have a falling out because he has changed her. Desiree is a bit adrift, looking for her own bettering of circumstances, and makes a strong ally by nearly any measure. With Ethel (Kathy Bates) sadly gone, these are now the two women I’m most excited to see play in the sandbox.

American Horror Story: Freak Show still has three episodes left. Given the consistent quality this season has demonstrated, and the impact “Orphans” makes even without Dandy (Finn Wittrock), the year’s breakout star, I am extremely optimistic about Murphy ending things right. American Horror Story is really in its stride here, living up to potential it doesn’t need to, given the excellent efforts the past two seasons are, while still being lesser than this. If Freak Show can stick the landing, it will be memorable and begging for future re-watches.

Taking a quick holiday break, American Horror Story: Freak Show next airs January 7th at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

ONCE UPON A TIME "Heroes" Threatened By "Villains"



Article originally written for Seat42F.


ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME wraps up its current Frozen arc in just a portion of this week’s mid-season finale, “Heroes and Villains.” The Arendelle trio return home through a portal, easily overthrow their conquers (off screen), and end with a blessed wedding (also off screen). It’s the fairy tale happy ending, one they deserve and it is satisfying to see them get. There’s even a portrait of Ingrid, The Snow Queen, shown in better times with her sisters, to add a bittersweet remembrance.

But while heroes have their dreams come true, villains do not. The rest of the hour is devoted to Rumple’s (Robert Carlyle) quest for power and Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) desire for a happy ending. It’s actually a pretty good episode, if one can finally bring themselves to accept Rumple as he is, rather than as he was. I’m not talking about Rumple developing into a different person through growth and natural story flow. He is instantly made completely different, and now the show is using revisionist history to ‘prove’ that he has always been this version, which doesn’t at all line up with the first two and a half years of the series. A mention of him changing while being under the Wicked Witch’s control is flimsy, at best, though that’s about the time the transformation happened.

I have come to the conclusion that Rumple’s devolution is made to serve Regina’s tale that villains don’t get a happy ending, but if only his shift were to be tied into the storybook, with an explanation that he got too close to a happy ending and so had to be re-written, then I could get on board. Sadly, it looks like that will not be the case and the show runners just want us to forget a rich, layered character who sacrificed himself for love. Bah humbug.

That being said, if you’re able to look past these inconsistencies and accept things as they now are, which has been a struggle to do but I’m getting there, “Heroes and Villains” provides a cool showdown. Actually, a couple of them. In flashback, we see Rumple face the Queens of Darkness, Ursula (Merrin Dungey, Alias), Cruella De Vil (Victoria Smurfit, Dracula), and the returning Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten, True Blood), demonstrating his true colors and his devotion to power. In the present, Belle (Emilie de Ravin) figures out that Rumple has been tricking her and banishes him from Storybrooke in the most moving scene of the finale, stripping him of his magic in the process.

Runner up for emotional scene goes to the moment Regina and Rumple share in the car, which is an excellent moment, though makes no sense to the story. I’d understand it if Rumple were trying to recruit her for his aforementioned villains team-up, but Belle hasn’t caught him yet at this point.

Rumple and Belle’s confrontation has been a long time coming. She has faith in him, faith that he has been abusing behind her back. She arrives at this conclusion very naturally, accidentally seeing something that raises her suspicion. Thank goodness she has the strength to stand up to him and kick him out, something Belle should be able to do, but not something I had faith that she would, given her inconsistent handling this year. The couple now appears back on track, story-wise, at least within the confines of the new Rumple character.

Now, Rumple is out in the world and is seeking Ursula’s help. One can surmise, given the flashback scenes, that Rumple learns that bad guys cannot win on ONCE UPON A TIME, but hopes that by teaming up with others, he might stand a chance against the mysterious Author, whom only Rumple seems to know. Though it is odd that Rumple tells Ursula they have two stops when we know Maleficent is under the library inside Storybrooke, a place Rumple can’t get to at present. And how did Ursula get outside the town to New York? Hmm. Will there be more story problems going forward?

A few hanging threads from this: Rumple does abandon his plans to take Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) with him, but that makes sense. Earlier, he is saving Henry from a town falling apart. Now, Henry’s mothers are still around and Rumple doesn’t need to save the boy. Secondly, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) forgives Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) for his misdeeds, but since she catches Rumple with Hook’s heart in his hand, she can be forgiven for assuming Hook only acts under Rumple’s control, which isn’t completely true, but close enough to reality to give ONCE UPON A TIME a pass on.

Regina’s story, as has been the case for many episodes now, is better in “Heroes and Villains” than Rumple’s. Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) chooses her over a re-awakened Marian (Christie Laing) and Marian doesn’t fight back. But the Snow Queen’s lingering curse forces Marian to leave Storybrooke to be cured, and Regina isn’t heartless enough to send Marian away without her son and, by extension, Robin, who cannot be separated from his child, leaving Regina alone again.

Luckily, while not having a romantic partner, Regina isn’t really alone. Henry is still set on helping the woman who raised him, and finds the Author’s library where he (or she) writes the stories. Emma also agrees to help, and for once, Regina seems happy to accept it. I think Regina is at a low point in “Heroes and Villains,” and having Henry and yes, even Emma, on her side helps relieve the pain a bit. People care about her, and thus she will be able to go on and love again, whether it be a returned Robin or someone else.

Though it is funny to think Emma, Snow’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) daughter, is buddies with Snow’s step-mother. The age differences and dynamics on this show are some of the weirdest on television.

“Heroes and Villains” is a pretty good episode of ONCE UPON A TIME, mostly consistent with the rest of the season, tying up the current stories and teasing out new ones. It doesn’t match all the previous years, but for the direction the show is going in now, it works well. I’ll miss the Frozen people, but their time naturally comes to an end, so I’m not complaining they’re gone.

ONCE UPON A TIME will return March 1st to ABC.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"What" Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Has "Become"



Article originally written for Seat42F.
 

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. goes into its winter hiatus strong with “What They Become.” It’s a showdown above the hidden city as Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), The Doctor (Kyle MacLachlan), and Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) all try to push their own agendas. Well, Coulson’s agenda is just to stop the other two before they bring about a cataclysmic event, but with the infighting among The Doctor and Whitehall, it becomes an all-out brawl. No one is listening to orders, and one of our heroes doesn’t make it out alive.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. sometimes lets plots fester too slowly, but that complaint cannot be lobbied against the current arc, which has unfolded quickly and excitingly. The writers have kept the adrenaline pumping and the twists coming, including learning we’ve already seen Skye’s mother (Dichen Lachman) this week, which feels more like one of their films than a twenty-some-installments-per-year television show, a good thing for this particular series to do. By the end of the hour, I’m left quite dissatisfied with the three month break, wanting to watch the next chapter immediately, so they’ve done their jobs well.

It’s been cool to see Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) growth throughout the show. She’s gone from an angry, insecure rebel to a polished, tough agent in a year and a half. Before May (Ming-Na Wen) trains her, she may not have been able to stand up to her father, The Doctor, so easily, nor would she have shot Ward (Brett Dalton) as she does, without blinking. She’s become someone who can take care of herself, and separated from the group, that really comes out in “What They Become.”

I’m eager to see the next stage in Skye’s evolution. “What They Become” ends with her transforming into something else entirely. It appears she is a being with superpowers, which will take an emotional and physical toll on her, but like a polished diamond, likely send her out the other side better than she came in. She has the presence to handle such a change now, as she did not before, and given who she is, it’ll be interesting to see how she chooses to use what she has.

It’s unlikely the new Skye will want to include her dad in her life, but may be forced to in order to find answers. Coulson beats The Doctor in one-on-one combat, but surely Coulson doesn’t kill him. If The Doctor is the only one (besides the faceless man in the epilogue) that can explain things to Skye, then she may need him, at least in a prisoner-behind-glass sort of arrangement, which MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has done before pretty well.

It’s sad that the cost of that transformation is Trip (B.J. Britt). He doesn’t die in a heroic, noble sacrifice. He dies doing his job and rushing to a friend’s side, unaware of the danger. Nor is Skye able to warn him, not knowing herself what is coming. His demise is purely an accident, one that will make Skye less likely to embrace her new self, as it’s a cost she wouldn’t choose to pay. It’s also a way for the series to lose an important, beloved player for a real emotional impact without touching its core cast, which makes sense from a practical standpoint.

Skye isn’t the only one that transforms, though. Right beside her, Raina (Ruth Negga) goes through a similar metamorphosis. We don’t understand Skye’s connection to Raina yet, but it’s fascinating the role that Raina plays in the show. She’s practically ever-present, and every time one might assume her story is over, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. brings her back to the forefront in a fresh development. She’s the villain that is always around, not purely evil and bent on world domination, but someone far less moral than our heroes, and one who gets in their way. Unlike Skye, Raina is eager for her change, and will probably be more willing to use any new powers she has gained. What are Raina’s goals now? Does the team need to stop her?

There are a plethora of wonderful, smaller moments in “What They Become,” too. From charged scenes between Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Hunter (Nick Blood), to a re-appearance of Mac (Henry Simmons), who looks like he may now be back to normal, to funny dialogue that the Koenigs (Patton Oswalt) toss to Trip, every scene is valuable. These bits are as important as the big stuff in keeping the series consistently engrossing and enjoyable, and they are very present in this truly excellent mid-season finale.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. returns in March on ABC. In the meantime, the network will air the seven-week MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER beginning in January.