“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” Season 1 – The Power of Deep Lore and Great Characters

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   “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is the best show I’ve seen on Netflix. I liked the original “Dark Crystal” but thought it was underdeveloped as a whole but had so many awesome ideas. This show develops all those ideas. We see how rich this world is and how complicated the characters are. The world of “Dark Crystal” is fantasy meets sci. fi. You have elven fairy Gelflings, Gnomelike Podlings and the monstrous villainous Skeksis. Jim Henson truly had an amazing imagination. This show takes all of that and develops the characters further. This show is also done all with puppetry, just like the original film and they are truly masterful.

The series was produced by Netflix with the Jim Henson company.

The story follows the Rian (Taron Egerton) as he is on the run after witnessing the Lord’s of Thra, the Skeksis kill and take the “essence” of his friend. At the same time Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel) arrives from the caves seeking to end “The darkening” as the princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) begins questioning Skeksis rule, prompted by a symbol from the past.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Puppetry – The puppetry is absolutely stunning. The level of detail on the Skeksis scarred or sickened faces, the kind faces and wings of the gelflings and the large eyes and large mouths of the Gelflings. All of them feel real and their expressions and emotions are brought to life largely due to how well these puppets were made. They all have a distinct walk in how they are used too and the talking feels completely natural. The Jim Henson Company has truly done it again.

The World of Thra – There are the Podlings, the Skeksis, the Mystics and the Gelflings. The Gelflings have the most variety and their service to the Dark Crystal and in turn the Skeksis adds for some compelling politics. This is a world that has consequences and the show starts in the middle of it all.

The Characters – There are so many great characters in this film. I chose the ones who go through the most development to delve into more deeply but shout to to the Emperor voiced by Jason Isaacs who is threatening as hell and driven to control by any means necessary, even if it destroys him and Thra. The General who revels in combat and enforcing the Emperor’s will voiced by Benedict Wong. Lena Heady as Maudra Fara leader of the Stonewood Clan who guides the development of others and nearly leads the Gelflings. The cast and characters are simply amazing.

Mother Aughra – Aughra is the seer who returns from the stars to find the Skeksis have become dictators over Thra and have corrupted the Crystal, making it dark. Her arc is connecting with the planet Thra once more and finding her purpose. In this she connects to the Gelfling heroes and sacrifices her life to save them, in turn being brought back when her friend the Archer sacrifices himself to defeat the Skeksis Hunter. She uses madness as her shield, as it makes it so the Skeksis aren’t threatened by her, which allows her to get close and help in the fight against them.

Rian – Rian is the main hero of the piece and reminds me a lot of Link in a “Legend of Zelda” game. It is his friend being killed that sparks his story and he is the one spreading word of the Skeksis being evil. In the end his revolution is successful as the Gelfling Clans unite under his banner and he finds the sword that is prophesied to defeat the Skeksis.

Brea – Brea is  one of the three princesses of the Vapra Clan. The Vapra are the High Elves and rule their All-Maudra rules the other Clans. Her sister Tavra who she is close too and Seladon the sister who follows the status quo and supports Skeksis rule. She is the youngest of the sisters and is the one pushing for change. Brea questions Skeksis rule and it is her discoveries that bring her mother and eventually Tavra and Seladon to go against Skeksis rule. At one point the Skeksis kill her mother and she has an arc going through that grief and connecting with the other Gelflings. Brea is the one who finds the Shard of Division after the Sword is destroyed and sees that it is the best hope the Gelfings have of defeating Skeksis rule.

Chamberlain – Simon Pegg does a masterful job bringing Chamberlain to life. In this we see his machinations as he seeks control over the other Skeksis and being second-in-command to the Emperor. He largely succeeds until Rian’s revolution leads to the General becoming the Emperor’s right hand. From here we see Chamberlain’s ideas payoff. He comes up with having soldiers who are undead (which the Scientist builds with the creation of the Garthim) and he was smart that killing all Gelflings means they run out of essence. This long term thinking goes away when the resistance comes to fruition and he is shamed before his fellow Skeksis. In the end he is back to where he was before as after Rian defeats the General he kills the General and once more is the most “trusted” of the Emperor as the first Garthim is introduced. He is such a great villain and I can’t wait to see him explored in future seasons.

Hup – Hup is a Podling who seeks to be a Paladin. He is corageous and best friends with Deet. He is so loyal and you see it hurt him when Rian and Deet grow closer. I don’t think he will survive the series, but I hope if he does die it is protecting his friends. He is the character who sees the bigger picture. He reacts to the Gelflings and how they oppress his people and one another. Deet is treated badly by the Vapra and Stonewood Clans simply because she is Grottan and her clan is from the caves. Hup is the only one who stands up against it, which we won’t see until Rian later.

Deet – Nathalie Emmanuel’s Deet is my favorite character on the show. She is from the cave dwelling Grotton clan. She is an animal caretaker and she is easily the most compassionate character in the entire show. It is this compassion that draws Hup to her when he rescues her from a creature corrupted by the darkening. She is the most in tune with the world around her and the best bet of the Gelflings not making the mistakes of the Skeksis again. She takes so much persecution from the Vapra and Stonewood Clans but never stops fighting against the darkening and protecting all Gelflings.

The Ending – The ending feels very complete. The darkness is used against the united Gelflings and Deet absorbs becoming an avatar of it. Rian and Aughra are the only ones who seem aware of it and after she saves the Gelflings she is walking into the forest as the darkening consumes life around her. At the same time the Skeksis’s new creation has been completed by the Scientist, signalling that even though they last the battle against the Gelflings, the Skeksis have not lost the war.

The Cons:

The Oppression of Podlings – The one issue I had with the show was the state of the Podlings. Gelfling oppression is recognized and it is what leads to the resistance against Skeksis power and control. The Podlings are oppressed by the Gelflings, Aughra and the Skeksis and the only one who comments on it is Hup. Hup is the one resisting Gelfling and Skeksis oppression but the show never fully recognizes it. I hope this idea is explored fully next season, it is the only con in the entire show.

Besides “Bojack Horseman” and the best of the “Defenderseverse,” this is the best of Netflix shows. If you like strange, puppets or dark fantasy please check this show out. I thought the original film was good, but this enriches it so much more. I cannot recommend this film enough. I hope that next season the injustices against the Podlings will be addressed. This is such a powerful show and I hope we see more shows like this. Honestly, it is worth it for the puppetry alone, but this time you will also be watching the greatest dark fantasy show.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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.

“The Umbrella Academy” Season 1 – Great Character Arcs With More to Tell

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    “The Umbrella Academy” is easily one of my favorite shows. I read the original volume it is based on years ago and the show captures the zany characters and character relationships that made the book so memorable. Gabriel Bá and Gerard Way truly created a beautiful world and Netflix did an amazing job bringing it to the screen. The cast is fantastic and I can’t wait for season 2 to come out, given how season 1 ends.

The series was created by Jeremy Slater and Steve Blackman and as said above based on the comic series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story follows the members of the Umbrella Academy who were all born on the same day when 43 women around the world gave birth without any sign of being pregnant. The seven adopted by the billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves would become the Umbrella Academy. After years away his death brings them all back home and the apocalyptic plot unfolds from here.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography feels like a comic book. Color is made to stand out and some scenes slow way down, such as when Cha-Cha and Hazel are high on Klaus’s drugs and destroying a lab. The film is beautiful all the way through and focuses on characters the way a panel would. Craig Wrobleski and Neville Kidd clearly have an eye for their craft.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography keeps that comic book feel while capturing so beautifully how all the characters are isolated and outsiders. Gerard Way’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” and Morcheeba’s “Blood Like Lemonade.” This is a soundtrack that goes between so many styles of music while keeping an undercurrent of rock to it. All our characters are healing and going through trauma and the soundtrack expresses it.

The World – The world of “The Umbrella Academy” is amazing. You have the Commission in the future making sure bad events go according to plan and who want to end the world. There are the members of the Umbrella Academy itself and also the ones hunting them being the duo Hazel and Cha-Cha who are enforces for the Commission the way Five once was. The characters are what make this world and I’m curious to see what the show does with them moving forward.

Hazel and Cha-Cha – These two are one of the best parts of the show. Hazel is played by Cameron Britton and is fed up with the work of being a killer. Cha-Cha is his closest friend and fully devoted to the Commission. Mary J. Blige is amazing as her. Over the course of the series we see that even when they are set against one another by Five or the Commission we see there is always more going on. Whether it is regret from Cha-Cha for attempting to kill Hazel and vise versa or her rage at Hazel for moving on with another person. I hope that there story isn’t done as I really like these two.

The Umbrella Academy – The Umbrella Academy is the super hero organization created by Sir Reginald Hargreeves from the 7 adopted children who were born during the event. Each of them has powers and are used by Reginald to take down villains. I’m going to give special time to Five and Klaus as they were the most interesting and fleshed out of the characters, but it is important to mention the other members of the family. I’ll also be including the guardians that Reginald created for them.

Grace, the robot created by Reginald is the mother of Academy while Pogo is the Reginald’s butler and together they hold the secrets of what was done to all of the members of the Academy and how Sir Reginald died. Over the course of the series they go from being the most trusted by the surviving members of the Academy to in the case of Pogo killed for hiding Vanya’s power from her. They are fascinating characters and I wanted to know so much more about them.

Of the Academy members who I won’t be giving a special paragraph to. First there is Ben, the one member who is dead and can summon a tentacle monster from his body. He is still around though as his spirit talks to Klaus. There is Diego (whose power is the ability to hit anything with his daggers) who is a wonderful Punisheresque vigilante who deals with his trauma through rage but comes around the caring for the team and seeing them as a family again. There are Luther (the leader of the team whose power is physical strength) and Allison (the only character with a family outside of the team and one who controls people through suggestion) that love each other romantically and come to terms with that and how they’ve changed as people. Allison is also Vanya’s biggest ally and the one who was used by their father to hurt her the most and repress Vanya’s powers. Vanya is the one who believes she doesn’t have powers through most of the series. It is only through a creepy stalker who is manipulating her that she discovers how great her power is and kills him. Her power is energy both psychic and otherwise that she can channel through music. After the Academy turns on her and traps her she goes full bad and we soon learn is the one who causes the apocalypse leading the Academy to make a choice and time jump with her away from the end of the world that she caused.

Five – Five is the member of the Academy who can jump through space and time. Because of this he ends up going missing when he jumps and ends up in the future. Here he lives a full life working for the Commission before returning back to the present time and in turn appearing as the young kid he was once before. He is great as he is an old man in a teenage body so he doesn’t want to be with people. His arc is his coming around to his family and his work against the Commission comes to a head as at one point he works for them again as he secretly tries to stop the apocalypse and in the end he is the one who saves them all after Vanya causes the end of the world as they jump to a time and place we haven’t seen yet. His arc is also dealing with the fact that he’s seen how it all ends so wonders if it is set in stone and can’t be prevented. He’s dealing with the possible inevitability of the end and it changes his outlook as he fights against it.

Klaus – Klaus is the best character on the show and Robert Sheehan does such a fantastic job as him. Klaus’s power is that he can speak to ghosts and the dead and because of this Ben is with him counseling him. Klaus before the events of the show has been through so much abuse from Sir Reginald that his only escape has been through drugs and alcohol (he would be locked in a room with the dead as a child and was never let out). Because of this he is detached from everyone and his arc is his sobering up to the point that he can speak to their father and learn about why they were brought together. At one point he serves in the Vietnam War and loves a fellow soldier after he uses Cha-Cha’s and Hazel’s briefcase to travel back in time. He resists torture from the two of them and even manages to turn Hazel more to the good when he calls upon all those Hazel and Cha-Cha have killed. His greatest moment of awesome is making Ben corporeal which saves the Academy from an attack by Cha-Cha and the commission as Vanya is bringing about the end.

Family and Sibling Relationships – People aren’t perfect. People are dysfunctional and all of us are going through different trials from past hurt. “The Umbrella Academy” explores these relationships through the characters. We see Diego and his rivalry with Luther. Allison and her reaching out to and protecting of Vanya. Five being cared for all by all the others and the reestablishment of relationship after how long he’s been gone. We also have Vanya, who dealt with being the one without powers by doing a tell all book and how they all have to confront the hurt they’ve caused to each other that their father had brought down upon all of them. The family dynamics are fascinating and I can’t wait to see how they are developed further.

The Cost of Trauma and Abuse – All of our characters are survivors of Sir Reginald’s abuse and we see what it has done to them. They are cut off from another, escaping into drugs and alcohol (Five and Klaus) and in turn they abuse one another. The cost of trauma is constant and ongoing and we see hints of healing near the end but only after the characters have had those moments of honesty with one another on all that they’ve been through. I’m curious to see how the show explores this further as I feel like our characters are really only starting to face it and the consequences it has had upon their lives.

The Cons:

The Cliffhanger – In the end Vanya’s power wrecks the moon causing the apocalypse. Five realizes the only way out is to time travel with Vanya to prevent the end from occurring. As the city was destroyed they manage to make the time jump. This is a great cliffhanger but it is a cliffhanger, if the show had gotten canceled this ending would have sucked.

I highly recommend both the comic and the show. “The Umbrella Academy” explores trauma, abuse and sibling relationships in such a compelling way that even though I hate cliffhangers I was grateful that the show would probably get renewed. I want to spend more time with these characters and this world and I can’t wait to see where the story ends up. Definitely worth checking out for any fans of the super hero genre.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 A great start to the show, even with the cliffhanger.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 1, Episode 4 – “A Man Alone” – The Isolation of the Station

       “A Man Alone” is a fun episode. It isn’t good, but it is enjoyable. This is the 4th episode of season 1 and you can tell the writers are still finding their footing. The story is following a core mystery plot that needs more development of the villain and a B plot that gives the episode more life, but doesn’t quite make it good. Early “Deep Space Nine” was still defining itself and this episode is a good example of it. It does still make for an enjoyable outing though.

The screenplay was written by Michael Piller who co-wrote the story with Gerald Sanford and directed by Paul Lynch.

The story involves an old enemy who of Odo’s who turns up on the station who winds up dead behind a locked door, with Odo as the prime suspect. The secondary plot follows Keiko as she finds purpose on the station.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Commander Sisko – This episode is a good Sisko episode. It is in this episode we see him negotiate Bajoran hatred of Odo when Odo is blamed for a murder he didn’t commit. It is Sisko taking control of the situation that stops Odo from getting killed or injured when a mob of Bajorans has fallen attacked Odo’s office. Sisko is my favorite Captain, though at this point in his story he still a commander as he doesn’t have The Defiant yet.

Miles and Keiko – The B plot follows Keiko and her finding purpose on the station. I’m including Miles here because he is very much the supportive spouse. He comes up with a few ideas to help with the isolation and you can see just how much he loves her. Miles knows she chose to come here but it also meant giving up opportunities. Keiko also clearly can find her own way. We see her watch the fallout of Nog and Jake harassing civilians and realizes that the children on the station are just as isolated as she is. This inspires her to make a school. Keiko is truly an underrated character and this episode is a good example of why she is so good.

Jazdia Dax – This is a good Jazdia episode. We see her turn down the multiple advances from Dr. Bashir when he is being a creep and also learn more about the Trill. At this point in her life as Trill she’s lived many lives and is trying to get away from attachments. This changes later on the series, but right now she is trying to be the greatest being she can be. She has so much patience dealing with Dr. Bashir. We also see her friendship with Commander Sisko develop as she clearly isn’t his mentor Kurzon but that they can still relate and talk even with Jazdia’s aspirations to be the best of the Trill.

Isolation – A major theme of the story is how isolating it is for many of the characters on “Deep Space Nine.” Whether it is Keiko feeling like she has no purpose or Odo being othered by the Bajorans, countless people feel alone. It is out of this loneliness and isolation that friendships can arise though, as we see with Nog and Jake’s friendship in the episode. We also see how the idea for the school was born out of Keiko’s own isolation.

“The Other” – “The Other” is a major theme of the episode. This is Odo’s character and he illustrates it in a few ways. From him calling out he doesn’t trust Commander Sisko because they don’t know each other and also that because he served as security during the Occupation of Bajor and isn’t a Bajoran that Bajor will always see him as different. He is a changeling and isn’t a solid. This is a major defining part of what defines Odo and this episode shows why this is. He is the unknown and the fearful, stupid masses are easily turned against him when he is framed.

Okay:

Ibudan – Ibudan is the antagonist of the episode and he isn’t great. I’m not putting him as a con because the idea of killing your clone to frame someone is a brilliant idea. We never see him talk to Odo though. For a villain he isn’t given much to do in regards to interacting with the cast. This doesn’t hurt his presentation but it makes it incredibly average and forgettable.

The Cons:

Julian Bashir – Alexander Siddig is one of my favorite actors. This is a situation where I blame the writers. Julian Bashir comes off as a creep in this episode. Jazdia turns him down multiple times and he keeps trying. Bashir becomes an amazing character later, but early on he does not make himself endearing in any way. He’s over eager and a creep and he’s the head Doctor on the station.

“A Man Alone” is a solidly enjoyable mystery and exploration of the station. The strongest writing involve any time isolation is explored and the B Plot with Keiko and her formation of the school is good example of why. Where it falls flat is in Bashir’s inability to take a hint or to respect Trill culture (Jazdia tells him she’s not interested in romance) and Ibudan as a villain is only okay. He really needed more development and we should have seen him interact with Odo before the murder to put more suspicion onto Odo. For these reasons I can’t really say the episode was good. I’d still recommend it to any fan of the show though. There are some good things that happen in the episode, even if the overall quality never gets beyond enjoyable.

Final Score: 7 / 10. This was a solidly enjoyable episode.

 

The 3rd Doctor – Season 8, Episode 5 – “The Dæmons” – A Great and Ancient Power

      “The Dæmons” is an amazing 3rd Doctor story. This a story that goes into the lore that makes up the show, gives us a great standoff against a classic foe and has something important to say about the nature of power. This is a story that has five 24 minute parts but it feels like much less. The flow and tension of the story is beautifully handled and there are fantastic rising action with great antagonists and some wonderful exploration of our heroes. This story is quality “Classic Doctor Who,” and one I definitely recommend.

“The Dæmons” was directed by Christopher Barry and written by “Guy Leopold” the pseudonym for Barry Letts and Robert Sloman.

The story involves the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) attempting to stop a cult that seeks to awaken an ancient power beneath an English Church, while attempting to connect with U.N.I.T. for aid as the Doctor comes to face an old foe.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Tension and Story Structure – “The Dæmons” is a 5 part story that does a great job at establishing the threat, building up the standoff and having stakes and growth throughout the entire episode. This episode is great. The Doctor needs to be saved early on by Jo and U.N.I.T. The Brigadier needs to arrive with reinforcements to help against the Cult and get past the heat wall and the Cult’s actions and infiltration have to be dealt with by our local heroes, Jo and the Doctor. The action builds beautifully and the payoff is fantastic and fits with the theme of power that is weaved through the episode.

The Master and his Cult – The Master and his Cult are such fun villains. The Cult controls the local village and has people in all levels of power. The Master for example is the local leader of the church and we see cult members pop up in local government and around U.N.I.T. This keeps the tension high as the Master is winning through most of the episodes and it isn’t until Brigadier with the full force of U.N.I.T. and Jo’s sacrifice against Azal that he finally finds all his plans turn to ash and himself captured by U.N.I.T.

Azal – Azal is a powerful alien and last of species the Dæmons a powerful alien species who have been experimenting on humanity through history. It is from this that we get a force that doesn’t even care about the Time Lords beyond how he can use them to control or use Earth. He doesn’t show up that often but when he does you get why he is the big bad of the episode.

Brigadier and U.N.I.T. – Brigadier is fantastic and him coming to help against the Cult is a major plot point. For much of the episode we follow soldiers under his control as they seek to get him to the scene of the action. When he finally arrives it is a great show as we see U.N.I.T. in action against a gargoyle and and the Master’s cult. I love how Brigadier hates being under the Doctor’s control but listens anyway. It gives a great dynamic as he is the only one who understands he needs to follow what the Doctor is doing, but doesn’t have to like it.

Jo Grant – Jo is very much the Watson to the Doctor’s Sherlock. He even references this point at one point. This is a relationship where she is learning through the entire episode and her pure goodness is what saves the day in the end. Because she isn’t detached like the Doctor she is able to care about others on a way the Doctor won’t let himself do. We never see the Doctor sacrifice himself through the series in the way Jo does here. Unthinking she jumps against a killing blow that Azal sets against the Doctor, which in turn saves the day.

The Third Doctor – Jon Pertwee is such a great actor, and one of my favorite Doctors. This gave him a story worthy of his talents as we got to see him investigate, be vulnerable and own his role as the protagonist facing an old foe and forces more powerful than him. At one point he references Sherlock Holmes and he is perfect in that role as his Doctor has many aspects of his character. Pertwee’s Doctor is detached from people even as he desires to help them. This episode is powerful because it is an episode where he comes to better understand empathy and love and it is quite beautiful.

True Power – The main drive for many this episode is power. The Master wants it destroy the world, the Doctor doesn’t want it and Azal wants to bestow it to destroy his enemies. In the end the one who saves the day is Jo. She willingly sacrifices herself which reverses the power and saves all of their lives, causing Azal’s destruction and the capture of the Master by U.N.I.T. It is cliche but I still appreciate how love was the true power all along. It was Jo’s love of the Doctor that defeated the last of a powerful alien species set upon destruction.

Okay:

The Witch – The witch is an okay character. She’s introduced early and she does save a U.N.I.T. Captain from a cultist, but she also doesn’t do much beyond that. She along for the Doctor’s story once she shows up and I wish we’d had more of her facing off against the cult and the church. This was a character full of potential, who was still acted well but got forgotten by the end.

This is a great episode and an episode that shows why Jon Perwee is one of my favorite Doctors. In this we get his detachment, investigative skills, his fighting ability and all his caring. In the end this episode has him grow in his caring and shows just how wonderful Jo is as a companion. She is his Watson to his Sherlock. Seeing Brigadier and the Master using their minds and forces to the fullest also makes for a intriguing face-off that payoffs in a well earned victory for our heroes. For any fan of “Classic Doctor Who,” this is one that I highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. A great episode of the Pertwee Era.

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Top 5 Characters in “Gotham”

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       With “Gotham” now at an end, I was thinking at how I best wanted to explore my thoughts on the series. First, I think it is a solid show well worth your time if you are a Batman fan, though it’s flaws kept it from being great. One thing that kept it good, even with the flaws was how memorable so many of the characters were. I’m a huge fan of Batman and his rogues gallery and this series brought some amazing interpretations of his allies and rogues to the screen. “Gotham” is a show that tells the story of Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. It is here we see one version of how his enemies came to be and what motivates Gordon and defines the city of Gotham. The series was created by Bruno Heller, and the fact that this list exists shows that at the end of the day, I did like this show.

The show wasn’t always the best, there were a few times I took a break during it’s run and to me the final was serviceable but nothing I’d praise. It just established what the show had been leading up to the entire time and didn’t do it in a unique way. I’m avoiding details for those who haven’t watched the finale yet. I want to avoid Final Season spoilers as this show makes it easy to talk about the broad strokes of what worked or didn’t.

For the weak characters, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Bruce and Selina for a long time. They eventually became okay. Ra’s al Ghul was wasted and given he is played by one of my favorite actors (Alexander Siddig) I held that against the show. The Al Ghul’s in general were wasted as was the League of Shadows. They were supposed to be this apocalyptic force but they never did much to the heroes of the story in big picture scheme of the show. For the few who did do something they almost always end up dead or useless by the end of their arcs. The gangsters like Carmine and Sofia Falcone stayed compelling during their runs but they also didn’t have the unique feel of the characters I’m going to give an honorary mentions too. Same goes for Theo / Azrael and his sister Tabitha / Tigress. They were interesting but weren’t fascinating enough for an honorary mention.

For my honorary mentions. Those go to Barbara and Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Lee Thompkins to start. These were are complicated characters who often times fell on the side of the good. Also honorary mentions to Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter for being fascinating villains whose twisted mentality added to the show. None of these folks made the list but were a joy to watch and what kept the show interesting when my favorite characters weren’t getting exciting moments. Fish Mooney was also great and I enjoyed what they did with her over her run on the show. Zsasz also deserves a mention too. Whether he was working for a crime boss or on his own, he always had fun and was threatening in any situation they put him in.

How without further ado, here are my Top 5 Characters on “Gotham.”:

 

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5th Place – Alfred Pennyworth

Alfred is a character I wish we had gotten more time to know. I’m not the only one apparently since he is getting his own show in Fox called “Pennyworth.” This goes to show just how powerful Sean Pertwee’s performance was. Pertwee gave a hardness and empathy that I have rarely seen in how Alfred is written or potrayed on film. This was a man who was taking care of Bruce and fighting rogues throughout the entire season. Sometimes it would break him physically or emotionally, but he always came back. He had the compassion that Jim sometimes lost and he’d been through so much more with his time in the Special Forces of Great Britain. He also wasn’t a doormat for Bruce, when Bruce was a selfish teenager, he left. He left Bruce sort out himself but was always there to help, when Bruce was ready. The little scenes we get related to that past crystallize this Alfred as a wonderfully compelling badass. This Alfred understood the choice when Bruce was going vigilante, and even though he questioned he still supported him in the end. Some of the best scenes in this entire show came from Pertwee and I’m curious what “Pennyworth” is going to bring to the Lore of this show and the compelling character of Alfred Pennyworth.

 

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4th Place – Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska / The Jokers

“Gotham” took an approach to “The Joker” I haven’t seen before. For the character two brothers played by the same actor inhabited the role. We got Jerome Valeska’s origin in Season 1 with Jim Gordon and he was one of the main antagonists until he made his brother Jerome crazy later. Each them inhabits parts of the Joker lore. Jerome is more “New 52” (who had his face taken off and sewed back on) and is insanity who acted more on instinct and big events while his brother Jeremiah was more of the thinker. His brother Jeremiah thought big and is the one who we end up following until the end. This Joke has a a friendship with Bruce before Jerome drives him crazy and this gives depth to the craziness that comes later. As you can see I could not choose between the two and as they are both played by Cameron Monaghan. I feel that they deserve the tie. Each brings a different part of the lore to this character that is so essential to Batman’s lore. I also thought that the writer’s could have gone deeper, which is why neither of them are further up on the list. Cameron’s acting is great but at times they didn’t know what to do with this character and he rarely had season running arcs.

 

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3rd Place – Edward Nygma / The Riddler

Edward Nygma was a character I hated initially. He was all the aspects of the toxic creep and was presented as potentially redeemable for the longest time. It took him going full “Riddler” that really changed my perspective on him. It was in his role as the manipulator who wanted to make a name from it that made him compelling. “The Riddler” and Nygma contrast and them agreeing on being bad and devoting themselves to it is what made him a great villain. He had to go through Arkham to get there but when he came out it was his relationship with Penguin that added complexity, especially as his old toxic evil habits came back again. Cory Michael Smith brought so much nuance to this role and dual personalities that exist between Nygma and “The Riddler.” Even given this dichotomy though, he is always the villain and never does anything that doesn’t logically serve his own ends, but he will put his neck out for others and take risks for that core goal. We see this with Lee Thompkins and even Penguin a few brief times. His frenemy relationship with Penguin was one of my favorite things and whenever they found a working relationship, things were gold as “The Riddler” was the strategist while Penguin was willing to ruthlessly fight and kill for anything he desired. They were a dangerous duo and it was out of that relationship that “The Riddler” became one of my favorite characters.

 

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2nd Place – Doctor Hugo Strange

B.D. Wong’s version of Doctor Hugo Strange is the best version of this character I have seen thus far. The first time I appreciated Hugo Strange as a character was Gotham City as he was a manipulator pulling on the strings and winning through most of the story. He manages to trap Bruce Wayne in Arkham City in the game, which is a huge feat in and of itself. It was making him a minion in that story, which was the problem. Here is is often times serving people, but he always has a larger agenda at play or at least some level of survival to be himself beyond another’s aims. Throughout the entire series Strange was always one step ahead of foes and I can’t think of a time where he truly lost. Whomever was around would never kill him because he was far to useful and he’d use that to eventually outdo them or escape. This is the character who out of the 5 here has the least connection to Bruce Wayne, which makes me curious about what his relationship will be later to Batman, later in the lore post “Gotham.” “Regardless, “Gotham” is worth watching if only for the Doctor Hugo Strange episodes and B.D. Wong’s masterful performance. He brings in the insane mad scientist who has a familial bond with his creations and resurrections, as well as a ruthlessness of someone who in the end is doing everything to some greater unknown end.

 

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1st Place – Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin

Robin Lord Taylor truly created the best version of “The Penguin” I have seen in any of the DC Lore. This is a Penguin who has been Mayor, been through Arkham, Blackgate and risen and fallen multiple times. Even with the rise and fall of this character, with those rises and falls over seasons came to define the best of “Gotham” for me. In this show we get to learn about Penguin’s father born of money who he ended up re-establishing a relationship with, only for his step-family to kill his father and further drive him to madness. This combined with betrayals throughout his many rises lead to Penguin becoming paranoid. This paranoia became one his defining traits along with his selfish petulant nature. How did this end up being appealing? Because those aspects of the character are always there but oftentimes he would choose courage or take a risk with an enemy and make them an ally. He does this with Ed after Ed tries to kill him and easily found compromises with the Mob and gangs when he wasn’t taking them over. For how obvious Cobblepot’s flaws are he knew how to use them. This is why he is my favorite character. Along with him being smart enough to know his foes, Robin Lord Taylor granted this character limited moments of empathy and sorrow that gave depth to the character that I have not seen in any show or movie for Penguin, nor read in any comic. This is why he is 1st Place on my Top 5 Character of “Gotham.”

For any fan of DC Comics this is a show worth checking out. I’d put it far above “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin.” There are better properties like Burton and Nolan, but this is an example of good adaptation. This series is better than “The New 52” animated Batman films that I reviewed years ago aren’t nearly as good at making their heroes as compelling or deep and their rogues are forgettable. This series is in no way perfect. Characters are brought back to life, plot lines are abandoned and sometimes there are arcs that only exist for the sake of love triangle dramas. Some of these choices worked and some didn’t, but at the end of the day I stuck around for the characters. These are the five characters who made the show worth watching in the end, and the reason I’d recommend this show to any Batman fan.