Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 3, Episode 14 – “Heart of Stone” – Forging a Separate Identity

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  This is a review that was inspired to honor the life of Aron Eisenberg, who died September 21st, 2019 of this year. I know him largely because of his role as Nog, who is easily one of the most well rounded character in “Star Trek” to have one of the most well developed arcs. I’m grateful I got to hear more of his story and the lives he touched in the “What We Left Behind” Documentary. Aron was amazing in this role and his podcast he formed after is amazing too. The world lost an amazingly talented individual this year and my heart goes out to his family. I chose this episode because of how well it captures the arc Nog goes through and the choice he makes as well as the sheer range of Aron Eisenberg had as an actor. Before I get into spoilers, this is a good episode you should watch.

The episode was directed by Alexander Singer and written by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe.

The story follows Odo and Kira as they pursue a Maquis Raider leading to Kira becoming trapped in a collapsing cave, as on “Deep Space Nine” Nog wants join Starfleet and finds himself up against his past and Federation prejudice.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Odo and Kira Plot – The Odo and Kira plot is really an exploration of Odo and one of the core reasons why he hasn’t rejoined his people in the Gamma Quadrant. It is here we see it is due to his deep friendship and love of Kira. At one point when he believes she will die he stays with her, willing to risk his own life because being with her matters that much. We can see how much their relationship has grown over the years too, as the episode starts out with them bickering like a married couple. It is a well done plot that is only made less by the reveal and us having to wait for the true payoff later.

Nog and Starfleet Prejudice – The B Plot involves Nog and his coming of age. It begins with him in Ferengi custom giving his earnings to in Ferengi society would be his mentor to train him in whatever art of business he is seeking. In this case Nog gives his gold pressed latinum to Commander Sisko. Sikso at first doesn’t believe him and it isn’t just him. Even Jazdia who is one of the more open minded members of the crew even doubts now genuine Nog is and it not being some trick. It is sad given that Federation prejudice is so strong that even a culture that is open minded isn’t trusting someone who is giving everything to be a part of them. For Commander Sisko this is explored deeper as we learn that the reasons behind Nog wanting to join Starfleet is because he wants a future and he knows he “doesn’t have the lobes” for business, like his father Rom. After this confession he is accepted and Nog’s story in Starfleet begins.

Forging a Separate Identity – The theme of this episode is one of forming a separate identity beyond what is forced upon you. The Founders want Odo to join but he constantly rejects them. It is here where the reveal is Kira was never in danger is discovered and it was the Female Founder all along. Odo’s denial of his people’s desire to control and his attachment to solids is the point of his arc, where in the case of Rom it is his rejection of Ferengi business society and him seeking to be appreciated for his talents for the greater good are there. He forges a separate path, but unlike the Founders who reject Odo’s path…Rom is proud of Nog for the path he chooses.

Nog and Rom – The best arc in this episode is Nog’s arc as we see someone already judged for the mistakes he made as a child and for being a Ferengi opening up and forging his own future. He is the first Ferengi to join Starfleet and this is the episode where it happens. All of this is driven by his father. Rom is abused by his brother Quark and though he is a genius when it comes to tech. Quark doesn’t admit or see it at this point. Nog, is the only one who does and in turn Rom sees the potential that exists in Starfleet for Nog so supports his choice. It is a small scene but the scene Nog and Rom have together when Rom supports his choice is just as powerful as when Commander Sisko does after Nog tells him why he wants to join in the first place. This is the heart of the episode and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Reveal – The Founders do so much manipulation and this felt like another base Founder Plot. It wasn’t bad but they must have known that Odo cared for the crew as his family too. Making the love for Kira makes sense given what we saw in prior episodes but I fail to see how that is useful to the Founders unless they are going to use Kira to bring Odo back to them. During the “Occupation of Deep Space Nine,” I didn’t see that level of thinking things through. Kira was used but it seems like Odo staying played a bigger factor in them influencing him than Kira. That is why this reveal is fine, but it isn’t great. I would have preferred Kira saying she loved Odo being real. Once you have that confession it just gets weaker when it is the real thing. Don’t do fake outs in shows unless it means you’ll do it in a better way.

If you are a fan of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” you probably loved this episode. This is a great ensemble piece that develops Odo and Nog as well showing that the Federation has prejudice that this episode never really addresses. Why can’t a Ferengi join Starfleet? It makes me think that Worf probably experienced similar prejudice because of the Klingon and Federation Wars. I enjoy episodes that critique the Federation and show that it still needs to grow. This is true to human nature and part of what made “Deep Space Nine” work is because of how it did call out xenophobia, racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry, even as the show itself was still maturing in that growth and did vary by writer. The progressive future of “Star Trek” is one of hope and where I hope someday humanity can be, even if won’t be within my lifetime. “Star Trek” is about the goal of the better future and within the show we see that in the individual fights our characters face, such as what Nog faced in joining Starfleet.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 This was a great episode in “Deep Space Nine.”

R.I.P. Aron Eisenberg. You touched so many lives and this review is to honor you and the amazing life you lived.

Top 5 Netflix “Defendersverse” Seasons

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    The Netflix Marvel “Defendersverse” is an experiment I wish had gone on. Outside of “Umbrella Academy” this is the only quality superhero content on Netflix and here they gave us so many amazing characters and storylines. I don’t know if Disney will take those same risks and given Disney’s growing corporate monopoly I’m not all that inclined to support Disney Plus. This was a series that I overall enjoyed. “The Defenders” season 1 was even great in how bad it was, but because it was bad it did not make this list. Every season on here is a season I would come back to re-watch or have gone back to re-watch. Also, I feel Disney taking these characters back probably won’t work. I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe but we have not seen them take the kinds of R rated risks this series or really “Deadpool” took. So hopeful but doubtful we’ll see these characters again as great as they were before, if ever again.

Slight spoiler warnings here. If you want to watch “The Defenders,” “The Punisher,” “Daredevil,” Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist” and haven’t yet this review isn’t for you. I have to talk about the content on why I enjoyed these shows or didn’t enjoy them, and that involves spoilers so…

SPOILER WARNING for all the shows I just listed.

 

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5th – “Daredevil” Season 2

Finding 5th place on this list was somewhat difficult. I felt “Iron Fist” Season 2 solved many problems I had with Season 1 and “The Punisher” Season 1 is great when it doesn’t get distracted.  What ended up being the deciding factor for me were the side stories. Frank Castle is introduced in this season and his face-off against Daredevil is perfection. It is a fight I’d love to see Batman have more against a friend or ally who crosses his line. This season did that. We also see how Matt’s obsession wad destroying his relationships. From Claire to Foggy, Matt when he was all in as the weapon Stick had built him to be, he was screwed. This could have been more if “The Hand” was written as a more compelling villain but them not being more compelling is a reason this isn’t higher on the list and had to be debated on to get here. The Karen and Castle story is far superior to the Matt and Elektra story and that is where the side stories being stronger made me appreciate this season. Frank Castle’s arc in this season is better than either seasons of “The Punisher.” This is a season worth a re-watch for the B plots.

 

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4th – “Jessica Jones” Season 1

This is a season that didn’t make the best use of Killgrave as a villain for the climax of the story. Throughout the story he is a great threat, but when he has the power to control anyone who here’s him with his voice we get nothing interesting. I blame lack of creativity for this. What works though is Jessica Jones and her relationship. Her relationship with her adoptive mother and adopted sister are where she first stands up for another due to her adoptive mom abusing her and Trish. This leads her doubting herself later on due to her isolation from them and Kilgrave’s using of her and all those around her she cares for. Krysten Ritter is absolutely amazing as we see her work through how she was abused and gaslighted by Kilgrave. From here her arc is the slow building of community and fighting to stop Kilgrave. Most episodes are good to great, it is just the climax and Killgrave’s powers being so underutilized in that climax that keep this season from being higher on the list. David Tennant as Kilgrave and Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones carry the show and the more time away from the show more the story grew on me. There is so much good here.

 

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3rd – “Luke Cage” Season 2

“Luke Cage” Season 1 had one of my favorite villains in Cottonmouth. He didn’t last but due to how villains and antagonists are used this time around, and Luke’s own ego growing lead to an exciting season that I loved. Mariah makes up for the amazing threat of her brother “Cottonmouth” not being around. “Shades” is a great villain beginning to question what he is doing and his loyalty and “Bushmaster” shows up and his war against Maria hurts Luke Cage’s protection of Harlem forcing him to change further and make some difficult decisions that only make him more compelling. Like Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock, Luke Cage is someone who is someone who pushes others away. In this case it is different though because he feels invulnerable and that feeling never really leaves as he realizes he has to make tough decisions to keep Harlem safe. I loved that. He ends almost as an anti-hero and it works. He was a character who is good at the core but also human and has an ego that ruins his relationships. In the end he is all about the big picture and like most heroes in the “Defendersverse,” this makes him isolated. This season was great. The flaw on why it wasn’t higher is Mariah should have been used more and been longer lasting in power.

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2nd – “Jessica Jones” Season 3

“Jessica Jones” Season 3 builds on what worked about Season 1, but has a better conclusion. One of the only reasons this season is better than “Luke Cage” Season 2 is because this season has a level of hope the other prior ones don’t have. I get that Netflix is walking a line of dark R “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which I feel should still go on, Netflix has more than earned it. This season goes fully dark but the fact that it ends with hope and our heroes like Jessica and Malcom choosing the good gives me that perfect bittersweet. This season is where we see Jessica become the hero while dealing with Trish and her abuse like Matt Murdock’s leading to her becoming a weapon akin to Daredevil and The Punisher, except Trish does kill. What helps with this dilemma is them facing off against a serial killer named Sallinger. He like Jessica and Trish was also abused and used it to become a monster who targeted Inhumans believing them to be cheaters for having abilities. The season arc is powerful and I loved where everyone ends up. Luke Cage post his own Season 2 meets up with Jessica and reminds her of her choice and responsibility to stop Trish. It is great and I miss that as far as we know right now, we won’t see more of their relationship.

 

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1st – “Daredevil” Season 1

“Daredevil” Season 1 is still the height of the show. We get to introduced to amazing villains like Wesley, Madam Gao and the Kingpin. This is a show that is truly carried by the villains as they are on top for most of the film, which gives Matt Murdock so much he has to fight against and work for. This is a season with cost. Season 3’s Kingpin is never as threatening or effective as he is this season. This season is also where Matt is most human and we come to understand his obsession through his backstory and the murder of his father. It is powerful and Kingpin’s story mirrors it in the killing of his father to protect his mother. Both of them were shaped by those around them and came to have a warped view on what it means to protect what they believe to be theirs. This mirroring of one another and the war against Kingpin who has united the gangs is beautifully handled. I also love Claire and Matt’s relationship far more than the Karen and Matt relationship of later seasons. This was the season that kicked off the entire “Defendersverse” and still remains the best of them all.

I know “Disney+” might bring some of these stories and heroes and villains back. I’m just less likely to trust it. Unless they are the same writers who have clearly shown an ability to learn and also giving “Disney” some competition…I don’t want a monopoly. I want competition and so far I have seen nothing from “Disney” to show they will be putting out original films and shows the way Netflix is. Support competition and indie films and show please. This subset of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” being absorbed is not something that gives hope in the corporate game of control of “Marvel” or any other franchise.

Afro Samurai: A Beautiful Tale on the Cost of Revenge

“Afro Samurai” is a glorious revenge drama that shows why revenge dramas are empty. Samuel L. Jackson is wonderful as Afro and Ninja Ninja and this is the kind of show that you need to give yourself time with. For what would be a mini-series, this feels long, which is a con. It also is great for what it is. This is the kind of series that does the deep dive into revenge and Afro is explored fully as a character. For the flaws I’ll explore, this is a film that is truly great but the flaws stuck out.

The anime was born out a collaboration between Samuel L. Jackson, Takashi Okazaki and Gonzo, with a music score by hip hop artist The RZA from the rap group the Wu-Tang Clan.

The story follows Afro, seeking the Number 1 headband after Justice kills his father and challenges him to come and get it as anyone who holds the Headband is like a God. We see the consequences of this quest as we flashback to his life as a child coming into his own as Afro with the Number 2 headband and his reuniting with old friends on his path to get revenge against Justice.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – The animation is the style I enjoy. We are talking about long and detailed expressions of the weapons and the wielder. This series caught all of that for me. This is also gory, if I were to make a comparison it feels very Tarantino. This is a revenge film and we see the cost of revenge in blood. For me this worked as this is something that hurts the hero, this should cost their soul, and we see that with Afro. The animation captures that as well as the intelligence and survival of Afro as he fights to be Number 1 and the body count he leaves to get there.

The World – The Headband Wars are fascinating especially as we see a mixture of powerful guns, swords and robots all in the same world. I wanted to spend more time in this world as it looks Apocalyptic but Afro’s quest gives us a limited view of it beyond those defending Justice and those tied to Afro. All of these are overall fascinating characters, which I will get into later. This is one reason I really enjoyed this anime. This is a rich world where I wanted more time with the everyday people living in it. Not just the heroes and villains.

The Characters – The characters aren’t perfect, but the ones I mention get explored to the point that I wanted to see more of where they were and this series delivers on this. The order is going to be a little strange but I did it based on who I found most compelling in the end one of the one characters is directly tied to who another character is. Sadly the women in this series aren’t explored well at all, which for me did hurt the overall experience.

Justice – This is a classic anime villain in that he is seeking Godhood at any price. He is also not traditionally human as he has a third arm that is revealed in the finale battle. I liked him as an antagonist as he reminded me of “The Man in Black” from the Dark Tower series. We have this insidious being who is only seeking domination over others and destroys so many good people Afro knew to get there. The final fight is powerful and the Number 1 headband is something I did not expect Afro to get, given the tone of the anime. I was ready for tragedy, and it still is but not in the world ending “Neon Genesis Evangelion” kind of way. It is tragic in that the price of revenge is you lose yourself and all those you knew and this series does that extremely well.

Kuma – Kuma is Afro’s former friend who joins the organization that is trying to kill Afro. Kuma only has his rage at the loss of the Dojo, his Master (when Afro killed him) and his body as he is now nearly more machine than man. He is compelling character and his pain drives him. He is defeated by Kubo but returns once more, somehow surviving his near death to challenge Afro once more. His story is tragic and he has become who Afro was before, a character who can only find peace in death.

Afro – Afro is the stoic warrior. He only exists to bring justice to Justice and his story in this film is him facing the past and losing what connection he has to his emotions and self as he creates a imaginary friend Ninja Ninja who exists as his true feelings and fears. The character he became after his father’s death doesn’t have room for those emotions so keeps them away. Everything is about revenge and revenge is business. Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t speak much in this role but he plays off the expressiveness of Ninja Ninja (also voiced by Samuel L. Jackson).

Ninja Ninja – Ninja Ninja is all of Afro’s passion and fear and he gives so much to what makes Afro interesting. He is the way that Afro is still child-like as Ninja is all about survival and escape but he still sticks around because he cares about Afro and finds the fights interesting. Their dynamic is fascinating and when Ninja Ninja sacrifices himself to save Afro from Kuma it hurts because you know at that point all Afro has now is the fight and revenge.

The Cons:

At Times Overlong Action – The action is beautifully animated but at times it goes on way too long. This was fine but when nearly every fight starts going on a bit longer than it has to be it becomes a con. This was what happened here. I wanted more character moments versus fights. The dialogue that the series has, and they usually comes with flashbacks enriches the narrative. I wanted more of that because there wasn’t enough exploration of some characters. The series was later adapted into a videogame and given Afro fighting mini-bosses on his way to the final fight with Justice it works, and might work better that way.

The Role of Women – Women in this anime exist as victims and it is more the sexism you tend to see in anime. Afro’s old friend and at this point maybe lover who betrays him when she meets him (Okiku / Otsuru) later just to be killed by the ones using her in the first place is the one woman with a name. The most complex woman in the entire film is the bartender since she isn’t being victimized. I wanted to see more with her and Afro as she clearly knows his game and has seen some fights go down.

This is definitely an amazing anime. I wish that the action had been shorter and more time had been spent to develop Afro’s past friend Kokiku because we never get enough development in contrast to Kuma where we get his hatred and why he wants to end Afro. I would have cut all of the fights in half to have develop Okiku further as well as Afro’s past between his time at the Dojo and becoming an adult. It would have fleshed out the world more and developed Afro and his former friends more as characters. Either way, still a favorite anime if you are down for a classic revenge anime. Definitively a favorite.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Star Trek Continues – A Beautiful Continuation and Honoring of the Best Parts of the Original Series

This is the first fan series or project that I’ve reviewed on the blog, and honestly after this, the standards for what fan films or shows I would watch is pretty high. A friend at work recommended it to me and I’m grateful he did. This is a professionally made production that looks just as good if not a little better than the Star Trek: The Original Series and has writing on par with the good and great episodes from that series.

The show was created by Vic Mignogna, who also stars as Captain Kirk in the series…and you can tell he’s a fan of the series. So much love and quality was poured into the making of this that I honestly wish CBS would show it. This is more than just a love letter to the series as it takes the lore seriously and expands on it, rather than going through the same beats.

The story picks up where the Original Series left off with the continuation of the 5 year mission of the Enterprise.  As part of that mission they are first to try out the Counselor test program (on whether starships should bring on full time counselors) bringing lieutenant Dr. McKennah to the crew.

The Pros: The Universe – This is “Star Trek.” The characters act how they do in the Original Series, the ships and galactic powers are in action, the Enterprise is exploring strange new worlds. Nothing feels out of place.

The Cinematography – The cinematography in this series is beautiful and it looks like a more polished version of how the Original Series was filmed of old. Whether it is fighting a Romulan Warbird or destroying a tiny object in space, or a fight on the ship or a planet…the sets look raw and real and it gives life to the show.

The Writing – The writing team and directors (who were largely Vic Micnogna working with a few other people but usually always at least directing) did an amazing job. The stories catch the morality of what make “Star Trek” great, whether it is feminism, equality and peace and understanding aliens and other beings. This is the through line through the series and it was one thing the Original Series didn’t always do (seriously, the sexism in some of the early episodes of TOS are horrifyingly bad). I won’t give away any spoilers but these episodes are so amazing I do plan individual reviews of them down the line, as well as a Top 3 post.

Connecting to Past and Future Treks – This is a series that connects the threads between TOS and The Motion Picture really well (and even ties into TNG with the Counselor program). In this you see what happens to the psychics, the Romulan Star Empire after the Klingon Alliance, Apollo, why we never seen any female captains and how things went down in the Mirror Universe. It is all done artfully while keeping the progressive strength of what made Star Trek so great in how it saw humanity’s potential in the future.

The Guest Stars – There are some pretty great guest stars, even though some of them I wish had gotten better writing. Colin Baker shows up as an alien leader, as does John De Lancie, Rekha Sharma shows up a scientist who Kirk had a relationship with, Marina Sirtis voices the Enterprise computer and Michael Dorn voices the Mirror Universe’s Enterprise computer. The guest stars in this are gold and they do a good job with what the writers give them.

Spock and Kirk – Spock and Kirk are the strongest part of this show and that is largely due to the chemistry between Vic Mignogna and Todd Haberkorn. Both have done anime voice work so my guess is that is how they must have met and formed the rapport. These are the two who receive the most exploration as we see both of their regrets as well as their dreams and aspirations. I won’t say anymore than that as the reveals of what those things are handled really well. Even when certain episodes were just good or fun these two kept me coming back as their acting was the strongest even in weak scenes.

Okay: The Rest of the Crew – Chris Doohan (James Doohan’s son) is fine, hell most of the crew outside of Kirk and Spock who aren’t guest stars are fine but none of them really capture the characters the way Kirk and Spock do. Part of the reason is they changed the McCoy actor after two episodes and Chekov, Uhura and Sulu really don’t get any more exploration than what they did in the Original Series, so that was a wasted opportunity and kept them from ever being good.

This is a series I highly recommend to any fan of “Star Trek.” This is a series that develops the characters further, introduces new threats and situations that have to be solved, is full of hope and inspiration for the future and beautifully captures all the good that has come out of “Star Trek.” Here is the website:

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/index.html

I highly recommend you check it out if you are a fan of the series. Seriously, Vic Mignogna created something wonderful that I will be coming back to again and again.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great fan series that connects TOS to The Motion Picture.

“The Punisher” Season 1 – A Powerful Exploration of PTSD, Trauma and Life After the War

       “The Punisher” is one of the best things to come out of the Netflix Defenders continuity. It is easily the furthest removed from the MCU in regards to super powers, super soldiers and a level of comedy underlying most of the other works…and it works because of it. At the end of the day this is a show that covers the consequences of war, PTSD and just how difficult the process of healing from trauma after war is. This is a beautiful show and I really hope it gets renewed for a Season 2. I have not read the comics so I’m not sure how true the characters are to their comic book adaptations but I found them to be the most compelling aspect of the show.

The series was created by Steve Lightfoot as part of the MCU.

The story Frank Castle uncovering the government conspiracy surrounding the death of his family as he must learn to trust as others like Micro the hacker and the DHS agent Midani who are also seeking to uncover truth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing! The closest thing it reminded me of was “John Wick” and the “The Raid” with how brutal the gun and knife action is. If you like action movies this is your show for this reason alone. Fair warning though, this gets brutal, very few characters come out of this not having done something bad.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the show and the reason you should watch it. I’m going to go into the 3 main leads and the most compelling villain as they are the ones who drive the action and it is their arcs that kept me involved in the show.

Dinah Midani – Amber Rose Revah does an amazing job as Dinah Midani a Federal Agent who is seeking to uncover the murder of her contact in Afghanistan, who she discovers was murdered by an American hit squad after Micro sends her the video. From here she has to confront the corruption within the government and her own agency to take down those responsible.  She goes from trusting many to trusting few as her life becomes a bit like the Punisher’s when she loses those close to her in uncovering the conspiracy and finds out those she trusted betrayed her.

Billy Russo – Billy Russo served with the Death Squad in Afghanistan with Frank Castle and was his best friend. He was also knee deep in the corruption and he is the man who works with Agent Orange to cover up the conspiracy and kill those who find out. He tricks Midani for a good portion of the show and almost tricks Frank. He is a character who was an orphan and has used his pain to detach himself from caring about anyone but himself. This makes him compelling as he does try to care as best he can, even though he’s a sociopath so in the end he only serves himself. In the end he is taken down, but not killed as Frank messes up his face and leaves him for the government to take in. After reading up further it looks like he is going to be Jigsaw, which I’m really interested in seeing if the show gets renewed.

Micro / David Lieberman – Micro like the Punisher is on the run from the government and believed to be dead by most people. His arc is revealing the conspiracy so he can be with his family again and also reminding Frank of his humanity and that he has reasons to live. They start out as adversaries as there is so much paranoia between the two of them but they work together as they both want the same thing, even though it takes Frank a while to realize that. In the end Micro does get to be with his family but there is an unspoken pain there given that he faked his death to protect them and that betrayal of trust is something that I don’t think he’s fully wrestled with fully.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher’s arc is finding a purpose beyond his pain and revenge. We see him when he is done and he is obsessed just breaking walls down. He doesn’t exist beyond reaction and it takes the conspiracy to pull him back in. He is the character who needs a mission and after his revenge is done he finds that mission again in the fake identity the government gives him and helping vets from falling down the mental hole of despair and trauma that he was in. What gets him there is a kid inspired by his actions who targets government and media where Frank realizes just how much influence he has and had as the Punisher and when he is given another chance to live he uses it so others don’t fall into the trap the young vet did. It’s a powerful story and him sparing Russo’s life means something given how clear his code was for killing bad people…it is his final turning point and when Frank Castle finally comes back.

When the War Consumes – Frank Castle the Punisher, the young terrorist vet Lewis Wilson (who is living in a fox hole when he gets home, and doing so voluntarily), Agent Orange and Russo…all of them are consumed by the war in different ways. Whether it is wanting to live it like Castle and the terrorist were or hiding it while still living it like Agent Orange and Russo who hid what it had done to them except for when it served their ends.

Finding Peace After the War – The main arc is Frank Castle becoming Frank Castle again and finding healing beyond what the war made him into (The Punisher). Lewis couldn’t find peace, he had to find a reason to fight, Russo and Agent Orange never left Afghanistan either as they kept their roles up even when they were home. In the end Frank like Curtis finds some semblance of peace and it is is facing his own pain and loss and the actions he did during the war and helping others to face themselves too. It is a powerful arc and theme and part of what makes the show so powerful.

Okay: Agent Orange – He is standard “Ends justify the means” baddy…Russo is far more compelling as a villain but he worked. He was privilege incarnate and he clearly relished being a baddy, which made his defeat so enjoyable when it finally came.

Karen Page – Karen is Frank’s contact through the series and at a few points needs to get rescued by him. I put her as okay for that reason. The role of journalism in regards to terror attacks is explored briefly but I felt that so much more could have been done with her role in this. She really doesn’t show up that much as Midani has taken over that major character role in the show. If it gets a Season 2 I hope we see more Karen.

The characters are the strongest part of the plot, as I knew Russo was going to be bad pretty early and long before his reveal, I also knew they would make him complicated as he fit the Mordo, Loki, etc…former friend villain archetype that Marvel likes to use. The plot is predictable, brutal and a lot of fun. So much of what drives the dynamic is you have all these characters who are paranoid having to learn to trust and that dynamic is what I loved most and can’t wait to see if the show gets renewed. I highly recommend this show.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

 

 

“Stranger Things” Season 2 – Growth in Character and Action

   If you enjoyed the first season of “Stranger Things,” chances are you will greatly enjoy the second. This is a season that builds on character development, expanding the world and action. It does everything a sequel akin to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” did and succeeds because of it. If you haven’t watched this show yet and enjoy sci. fi. or 80’s films…check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers who truly have once again done it again.

The story picks up where we left off with a few months having passed. The new status quo is 11 is now living in hiding with Sheriff Hopper, Will’s trauma from the Upside Down is shown to be much more than anyone realizes and Max is a new girl in town who changes the Team’s dynamic while Nancy and Jonathan wrestle with their trauma and revealing the events of Season 1 to the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Cinematography and Action – I’m putting these together this time because they are somewhat obvious and don’t contribute anything substantial to how characters grow or change. These are things that really work in the context of the narrative and are an improvement from Season 1 but aren’t what stand out the most. I loved how the film looks and the action scenes are amazing, especially the action shots of the Team. So these are both positive that I wanted to state up front.

The Expanding Upside Down and the Mind Flayer – One of the main arcs this season is the Mind Flayer and it’s expansion of the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the giant smoke creature that appears in a lot of the posters and is usually always behind a red cloud. In this the creature even possess Will, making him a spy and a way to outsmart the humans it knows it is trying to stop it. The Mind Flayer is a great enemy and a wonderful way of raising the stakes from the Demogorgon from the first film.

Fathers and Those Who Become Good Fathers – Another major theme is fatherhood from our adoptive fathers of Sean Astin as Bob who is dating Joyce and helps take care of Will and supports the Team in their fight. We also see it in Sheriff Hopper and his raising of 11 and him failing until he takes responsiblity for his anger and finally as a contrast Neil who is Billy’s and Max’s abusive father. Through the film this contrast drives how many of our characters are shaped. Sean Astin’s Bob is an amazing character and you will feel for the arc he goes through. I’m glad he’s a part of this season.

Mad Max and her arc – Max’s arc is finding family and standing up to her abusive brother Billy. We see this in how she stays away from the team but as they open up to her she begins to trust them and finally stands against them and defeats Billy who had been attempting to isolate her and abuse her through the show.

8 and her Team – This season we meet 8 who is another experiment who can make people see things that aren’t there with her mind. She is awesome and like Magneto she is out for revenge against the government agents with her band of punks. She’s not entirely an antagonist but she isn’t a protagonist either. This arc was good because she finds them after she finds her mother in a comatose state (that the government forced on her after stealing 11 from her) which makes 11 ready for revenge until she learns that she can’t kill out of rage, only out of love for another. 11 leaves her but we know she is still out there and I can’t wait to see her again and any other experiments who are free or exist.

Saving Will – Another arc that is handled really well is saving Will. Last season set up the Upside Down was still a part of him when he threw up a slug and in this we see the Mind Flayer possess him leading to him going through hell as the Team seeks to save him. It is tough and he isn’t rescued until the end and it is a fight to get to that point. The danger and visions give a good foreboding tone through the entire season.

11 and Hopper – I love this relationship. Hopper lost his daughter and 11 is his new daughter and Hopper is 11’s new dad. They’ve both been through trauma loss and it shapes how hard it is for them to trust one another. Hopper is extremely over protective at first and 11 is counting down the days she’s been stuck away from the world being protected. It is powerful and comes to a head when she runs away and Hopper calls her finally ending in them meeting up and her reunion with the Team and Mike. The resolution is powerful and we see that her standing together with her new family gives her the power to take on the expanding influence of the Mind Flayer.

The Team (old and new) – The Team is fantastic in this! You have Nancy and Jonathan revealing the government corruption, Steve and Dustin teaming up to find Dart (a baby Demogorgon), Lucas and Max and their budding relationship and Will and Mike dealing with the Mind Flayer with his mother and Sheriff Hopper as 11 joins them after she learns more about her backstory and finds 8 and her crew. I loved the new team dynamics and how all of them grew. None of these characters are the same after the events, they all grow and change and become stronger as they face their own trauma and loss.

The Cons: Slow Start – The one problem that stood out about this season was the slow start. It really picks up after episode 4 but before that it has a pretty slow build. I think this pays off later on but I also think more could have been done to give us more information on the Mind Flayer and it’s influence and just how pervasive the Upside Down had become. This was the only issue for me that kept it from being perfect.

This was one of the best seasons of television I’ve watched and much how “Defenders” season 1 fixes some of the problems in the first season of “Iron Fist” this does the same thing. This is a season of moving past nostalgia and dealing with consequences. This is a show that is more than 80’s movie and music references. This show faces trauma, loss and our characters grow and what they do matters. I’m not sure what is going to happen Season 3 as Season 2 ties things up rather nicely, but I I still can’t help but be fascinated by seeing how the characters grow further.

Final Score: 9. 8 / 10 Perfect length, great action and characters grow. The slow start is the only thing working against it.

“Dark Matter” Season 3 – Another Good Sci. Fi. Show Canceled Before Its Time

   “Dark Matter” Season 3 is the last season of “Dark Matter.” Syfy did not renew the show and now this show joins the other good sci. fi. shows who died early like “Caprica,” “Firefly,” “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” This show deserved to have its story completed on screen, the quality was that good and this season improved upon all other seasons before it. It is a shame it was canceled as this show’s flaws were built into the structure of adapting an ongoing comic to screen. This series did so much to develop characters, present unique ways to tell stories and provided some of the best action in any sci. fi. show.     

      The story picks up with where the cliffhanger of last season left off, with the crew of the Raza escaping from the EOS-7 space station that Ryo’s forces are blowing up. From here the crew must find each other and confront this betrayal and the loss of a crewman. 

There will be SPOILERS ahead.

This was the most action heavy of the seasons and it did a beautiful job potraying it. From Ryo fighting his Captain when she attempted to overthrow him, to all the space battles between the Corporations before the Black Ships finally arrive from beyond in the finale. For a limited budget the show really went all out, I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew Syfy was canceling them so wanted to make the most of it.

The series continues on from before and develops all the characters further. The Android sees the future and from it gains perspective as well as meeting her creator and from it finds a uniqueness in identity as separate from the Androids who want to rebel and wipe out humanity and the other side of serving humanity, Kal / Six gets to be the martyr and revolutionary, Two forgives Ryo and finds purpose beyond revenge and comes into her role as the leader the crew needs after the loss of Nix, Three / Titch comes to care about others and finds meaning beyond himself  with Five / Das staying the most unchanged beyond learning more about her past and finally finding a reason why she might leave the Raza and Ryo comes into his own as a leader as he atones for his mistakes after losing everything after all he gains this season falls from him. We even get to see the alternate  universe Raza crew who never got their mind wipe receive development as they are shown to be more than just mercenaries out for themselves.

This season had the greatest variety of storytelling too, not only did each main character get an episode exploring them as people (Six and his staying with some colonists who’d freed themselves from the Corporations and from that we get our revolutionary episode, we get a time travel episode where they crew has to pretend to be in modern day to get a jump drive to return to the present as theirs malfunctioning brought them to Earth’s past (our modern day), we get an awesome battle episode in the finale, a comedic time loop episode akin to “Groundhog’s Day” and a Lovecraftian horror where we learn more about the aliens that possessed him last season from Three. The unique storytelling this season is really what helped make it so amazing.

Once more the only flaw was that they could not end it. The format demanded more seasons and rather than trying to wrap everything up (and they wrapped up a lot of story threads) they ended it on the big universe changing battles, with the Lovecraftian horrors arriving in their ships after Six’s sacrifice was for naught and Two is found to have been possessed before Ryo stops her. I enjoyed the finale immensely but found myself let down after, much like how the “Sarah Connor Chronicles” ended, a story that ends with a cliffhanger, when it is a great show like this is sadder than “Firefly,” which at least got an ending in “Serenity,” even though it didn’t really need it, given the episodic day in the life nature of the show. This show was driven by arcs and the Cliffhanger hurt the story by opening up more questions like, “How will the remaining crew survive the Black Ships? Where is Portia (alternate Portia) taking Three? and what happened to Two? What was the promise she made Ryo make? These are all questions that will never be answered now unless Netflix saves the show, but all word so far is that this is the end of the series on television.

The themes of revolution and calling out corruption in class and power is still there, with the corporations being the primary antagonist until the aliens from beyond are shown to have been manipulating the most powerful ones the entire time. In this way this theme isn’t as well written as last season but it does more than just calling out corrupt government and business and also calls out the revolutionaries who turn and kill their own. The Raza is about seeking a clear morality and from that the crew takes on the corrupt wherever they are, including their own past and alternate selves.

If you haven’t watched “Dark Matter” yet, and are a fan of sci. fi., check this show out. This is a show with some of the best character development, universe exploration and unique storytelling I’ve seen in any show. This season really showed just how great it could be and in turn made it one of my favorite science fiction shows. Another show canceled before its time that deserved a finished story, and so much better than only 3 seasons and a cliffhanger leaving so many stories open. This is an amazing television show and if there is a way to save it, I hope someone does.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10