The Legend of Korra – Book Four: Balance – A Story of Endings

Amazon.com: Legend of Korra - Book Four: Balance [DVD] [2014 ...

    “Book Four: Balance” is a lot better than I remember and is easily my second favorite story in “The Legend of Korra” series. This series is about endings and because of this is wrapping up quite a few stories of characters we’ve been following. A lot of the strength in this season is in how our characters change and us being given a compelling antagonist. There are some story choices that I would have made differently, largely related to how it ends but I’ll get into that in the review.

The story takes place after a three year jump. Korra has gone missing and Kuvira has been uniting the chaotic Earth Kingdom after the assassination of the Earth Queen under her new Earth Empire. Varrick, Zhu Li and Bolin are working for her while Mako is now the bodyguard of the heir Prince Wu. The Air Nation has also been working on keeping the peace as well in the absence of the Avatar.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Korra Alone – This season is really Korra’s story. After her poisoning from Zaheer she is facing the depression and trauma that have come out of it and she is haunted by a vision of herself in the Avatar State during her fight with Zaheer. Katara is unable to heal her and after time with her family she takes off on her own leaving all connections behind staying only in touch with Asami with letters. This whole arc is powerful as we see how out of her element and broken Korra is. It is during this time she cuts her hair, fights in a Earth Kingdom fighting pit and eventually finds herself in the swamp where she meets Toph, who helps her face her fears and find some of her confidence again. It is a great arc and easily the most compelling Korra has been on the show.

The Beifong Family – The main drama outside of Korra is the drama between the Beifongs. Kuvira was taken in as an orphan and she and Baatar jr. have created the Earth Empire which Suyin and the rest of her family are firmly against. This also creates a rift from Bolin and Opal especially when Kuvira takes Zaofu and captures her family. This drama eventually comes to a head when Toph works with Lin, Suyin, Opal and Bolin to save the Beifong family. They succeed but are unable to stop the creation of Kuvira’s superweapon and we soon learn that Kuvira plans to attack Republic City.

Toph – Toph is fantastic as Korra’s Yoda-like mentor. She lives in the swamp and is able to sense things happening all over the world because of the vines that make up the swamp and the great tree. Toph is the one who first suggests Korra needs to face Zaheer and see what her enemies have to teach her. It is powerfully done and I loved when she rescues her family from the Earth Empire.

Kuvira – Kuvira is a fascinating villain. Her fighting style is very technical and it reminds me a lot of Azula. Like Azula she also beliefs she is the only one who is right to rule because of her strength. This seems to be based from her rising from an orphan to the Great Uniter as she is the one who united the Earth Kingdom into the Earth Empire during the time the Avatar is missing. My one issue with her is she has put her desire to rule above all else, even her fiance when Baatar jr. and her relationship gave more dimension and I wish she’d taken the Avatar’s deal as the Earth Empire can still be even without control of Republic City. Instead it is through Korra’s defeat of her and showing her compassion that she chooses to surrender and believes all she has done was a mistake. This was a con given it was such a radical change given all the actions prior, but I do still consider a pro and Zelda Williams does an amazing job voicing her. The one thing that works narratively is that Kuvira does respect strength and Korra’s power of holding back the super-weapon opened another spirit portal in Republic City.

Hiroshi and Asami – One of the themes of this season is forgiveness and redemption and that is best illustrated in Hiroshi’s story. Asami at first returns all his letters and doesn’t want to hear from him until he speaks of all his regrets and how her existence is the only good thing in his life. In the end he helps them take down Kuvira’s giant mech. and he sacrifices himself to do so. This B-Story was compelling and I liked how it was a slow buildup of Asami and Hiroshi having a healthy relationship again.

Varrick and Zhu Li – Varrick and Zhu Li continue to be two of my favorite characters on the show. The two of them are working for Kuvira but when Varrick develops a conscience and refuses to make spirit vine super-weapons he is made a prisoner. Zhu Li “turns” on him but we soon learn it was just to stall the process of making the weapon. Eventually Zhu Li is rescued when her plan is revealed and she and Varrick work with Team Korra to defeat the coming Earth Empire army. It is during this time she stands up to Varrick and in the end they become partners and married. It is a sweet arc and it was a joy to see this happen over 3 seasons.

Korra and Asami – Korra and Asami is one of my favorite relationships in the Avatar Universe. This is a romance that grew out of a deep friendship and in this season we see how they are vulnerable and accountable to one another. Asami was the only one Korra wrote too (not even her parents, mentors or friends) and Asami was quick to tell Korra about trying to work things out with her dad, which she was supportive of. This relationship is also the last shot of the show as together they walk into the new spirit portal together.

The Dangers of Nationalism – The main ideology being fought this season is that of Nationalism. Kuvira is seeking to unite all of the Earth Empire and this ends up meaning oppression of people who can bend other elements, militarization and eventually the conquest of Republic City, as it was a nation formed from former Fire Nation colonies on the Earth Kingdom. The danger in the ideology is expressed in Republic City too as at point Prince Wu is kidnapped to be turned into Korra. This is a theme that “The Last Airbender” touched on as well with the Fire Nation and that we saw in “Book 3: Fire” but I liked seeing how “The Legend of Korra” tackled it.

An Exploration of Depression and Trauma – One of the most powerful stories this season is Korra. Korra is alone and cut-off from the world and haunted by the many moments of trauma she’s faced over the course of the show. The show is honest too in that facing it doesn’t mean it goes away forever. Trauma and depression will always remain a part of us and the show didn’t shy away from showing that.

The Cons:

Meelo – Meelo has always been the most annoying character on the show and he is the worst here. He talks down to his sisters, is gross and is as arrogant as Prince Wu. The writers giving us more time with him was a mistake. He becomes a far bigger supporting character than in any other season and it hurts scenes.

Prince Wu – Prince Wu like Meelo is really annoying. He talks down to people and is an arrogant prick. He does eventually grow into his role as a leader and that arc is alright. His time being annoying outweighed that though.

The Ambiguous Fate of the Earth Empire – Kuvira surrenders but she still has built up an entire system that is loyal to her and the system she created. This is all brushed off and it is just assumed that the people will accept Prince Wu…really? He didn’t earn the respect of the people and most of the populace would be loyal to the Empire because of what Kuvira did through her dictatorial means (re-education camps) to make it so. Her being left in power but without her superweapon and Korra still defeating her would have left less questions and left up so many more possibilities. The Earth Empire is a fantastic threat for future stories.

I ended up really enjoying this season in the rewatch. There are so many amazing stories wrapped up, there are some of the best action sequences, Korra’s personal journey is powerful and I really enjoyed Kuvira and the Earth Empire as antagonists. I wish we could have got more of them in a later show given the next Avatar would have been born in the Earth Empire. The season isn’t perfect and there were quite a few annoying characters this time but in the end more of the show worked for me. This is a rewarding end to “The Legend of Korra” and if you’ve been watching the show so far, watch it till the end. I highly recommend this Book and Series.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10 I wish Kuvira had escaped and that the Earth Empire had been around as a threat after for a future Avatar (one born into the Earth Empire) but for a series that had to wrap a lot up, I liked it.

The Legend of Korra – Book Three: Change – The Perfect Symmetry of Elements and Ideas

      “Book Three: Change” is the best season of “The Legend of Korra” and also the strongest story in the Avatar Universe as a whole. Rewatching this season was such a treat. This is the season whose structure is perfection, the villains are the best in the Avatar Universe and the new locations and characters add to the world without cluttering it up. They also got rid of the bad romances so that is a win too. This is easily one of the best seasons of any show and if you were to give “The Legend of Korra” a chance I’d at the very least recommend this season.

The story picks up after “Spirits” with Harmonic Convergence causing problems in Republic City due to the vines and spirits that are living everywhere. When Bumi discovers he can airbend Korra embraces a new quest as her and Tenzin seek to restore the Air Nation with the new airbenders who are popping up around the Earth Kingdom. At the same time Zaheer, a member of the villainous Red Lotus is granted airbending as he frees his friends and begins his hunt for the Avatar.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Consequences of “Spirits” – This is a season of consequences and we see those from the beginning as Korra is unable to get rid of the vines and is kicked out Republic City by the President after the failure. She embraces this option though as in the new airbenders she finds purpose again. Nothing is static and new airbenders arising from the portals being open was a great story decision on the part of the writers as well as Korra finally leaving Republic City.

The Red Lotus Escapes – The Red Lotus are an anarchist organization whose goal is overthrowing authority and returning power back to the people. In “The Legend of Korra” they are the main villains of the season. They are lead by Zaheer a non-bender who becomes an airbender after Harmonic Convergence who frees his friends who are each trapped in a prison meant to neutralize their powers. Ghazan is a lava-bender trapped on a boat in the ocean, P’Li is a firebender trapped in an ice prison in the North (Where the Red Lotus fights Zuko, Tonraq and Desna and Eska) and Ming-Hua, a water bender with no arms, who is trapped above lava. Each escape sequence gives us some of the best action on the show as we see masters of bending face off against one another as the Red Lotus successfully is freed.

The Red Lotus Mystery – One of the major mysteries of the seasons is what the Red Lotus wants with the Avatar. Overtime we learn that they want to end the Avatar cycle so that the world be freed from a being as all-powerful as the Avatar. How this mystery is handled is fantastic as it is revealed slowly over time.

Mako and Bolin’s Family – One of the moments in this film I really liked was when Mako and Bolin meet their extended family in the poor area of Ba Sing Se. They have a ton of cousins and uncles and aunts and also a grandma and given how they only had each other for so long…the moments are sweet. In this we see the cultural divide (their Grandma loves the corrupt Earth Queen) and also how desperate things are in Ba Sing Se for the everyday citizen. Mako and Bolin have a huge family and most of them are living in a very small home all together. We finally have a moment where I liked Mako too, he gives his grandma her son’s (his father’s) scarf. This was the nicest thing Mako’s done and it endeared the character to me.

The Earth Queen and the Dai Li – The Earth Queen is corrupt, crazy and fascinating. What we learn is that she saw her father from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” as week and embraced a fully oppressive regime. She also wants the territory of Republic City again and is losing control of the country and doesn’t even realize it. She has the Dai Li capturing airbenders to turn into her own personal army and does all she can to keep her captured citizens to use as weapons. In the end she dies though when the Red Lotus kills her as part of their war against authority. As a secondary antagonist I enjoyed the the threat of her and her Dai Li.

The Air Nation – The New Air Nation is a compelling new faction lead by Tenzin. They are made up new recruits from Republic City and the Earth Nation and their arc involves them finding their own power and rescuing Korra from Zaheer. The new airbenders are from all ages and walks of life and them learning to work together is compelling to watch as it is Tenzin adopting Bumi’s approach before finally finding balance within himself that they come together. Their arc ends with them promising to be peacekeepers while Korra recovers from the poisoning from the Red Lotus.

The Metal Clan – The Metal Clan is real cool and is largely made up of Suyin, her husband, five kids and those she’s taken in and taught metalbending, including her Captain Kuvira. The main drama this season is that from Lin and Suyin and honestly it works.

Lin and Suyin Beifong – Lin and Suyin are half-siblings and Toph’s kids and they have a rocky relationship that grew out of Suyin’s criminal past that lead to her being sent out of Republic City to live. The fight also lead to Toph’s retirement and from this we learned that Lin became a police chief to impress her mom and failed which she carries onto her niece Opal and tells her to find her own way and not let what she believes her parents want to limit her choices. These sisters are pretty awesome and seeing them come together in the end to save Korra is handled amazingly.

Asami – Asami is Korra’s best friend throughout the season and I am here for it. She doesn’t as much has an arc beyond being the only non-bender on the team now that Bumi is an airbender but we get to see her and Korra teamed up in fights on quite a few occasions and her smarts come in handy through this season. She very much still remains my favorite character to come out of this series.

The Red Lotus – The Red Lotus are the villianous anarchist organization of the series and easily the most compelling villain. Their targets are all authority with a focus on corrupt authority and the members we meet are fascinating. Ming-Hua has no arms and waterbends with her mind, P’Li was once slave to a warlord before Zaheer freed her and is a dangerous combustion bender and Ghazan as a lava-bender who is the most laid back of the group. Zaheer is their leader and shows just how dangerous an airbender can be.

Zaheer – Zaheer is fascinating. He believes in airbender ideology and it seems that out of the airbender focus on freedom and lack of larger authority beyond wise gurus lead to the rise of the Red Lotus in the first place. Zaheer encaptures that ideology beautifully as his aim is to free the world and he is the strongest airbender we ever meet on the show. He’s one of my favorite villains and characters in the Avatar Universe and in the end he faces down a dying Avatar Korra in a dark mirror of Aang versus Fire Lord Ozai. It really captures how powerful a single element can be and just how much a force of nature the Avatar is. I’m glad he survives this season as the rest of his team including his girlfriend P’Li are all killed over the course of the story.

The Ending – The ending is powerful. We have the Red Lotus attempting to free the world from the Avatar Cycle by killing Korra in Avatar form. We have Mako against P’Li and Bolin who has just learned lava-bending facing off against Ghazan and of course Korra against Zaheer. At the same time the rest of Team Avatar has freed the Air Nation and they in turn free Korra as it was her sacrifice to rescue them that lead to her capture in the first place. In the end Korra survives but is traumatized but what was done to her, leading to the Air Nation adopting the role of Avatar while she heals. This ending is powerful and unforgettable.

This is the one Book in all of the Avatar Series (including “The Last Airbender”) that is perfect. We have the best villains in the series, consequences that are truly explored. Tons of compelling nations and politics and Korra really stepping into her role as the Avatar. She sees her role as protector and guide for the new Air Nation and that is what inspires her actions through the entire Book. This is the best written Korra has been and her relationship with Asami in “Change” only enriches it further. If saw the first season and didn’t like it and don’t think “The Legend of Korra” is your thing I would recommend seeing this season alone. It is the height of this universe and the best writing of all the series and Books.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The perfect Book.

 

 

“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 – A Story That Feels Whole With Great Potential Stories to Tell

The Umbrella Academy' Season 2 Arrives As A Low-Key Monster Hit ...

   Season 2 of “The Umbrella Academy” solves a lot of issues I had with Season 1. For one this story feels complete and isn’t a cliffhanger ending. There are still more stories that they can tell and should tell but this ending feels complete as far as the arcs are characters the characters have gone through. This season also explores the deeper themes of trauma through the lens of the 1960s and through it our characters grow and change. This is a fantastic season that captures the spirit of the comic while clearly exploring how it has given it’s own interpretation to the characters and world. Suffice to say, before I get into spoilers…I highly recommend this season. This season is easily better than Season 1.

“The Umbrella Academy Show” was created by Steve Blackman, developed by Jeremy Slater and based off the comics of the same name by Gabriel Bá and Gerard Way.

The story picks up with members of the Umbrella Academy being deposited in different times in the 1960s. When Five arrives in 1963 to find his siblings fighting Soviet Soldiers as Nuclear War occurs. He is rescued by Hazel who tells him he has to go back and time and stop his siblings from causing “Doomsday” again.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – I love the world of the comics and the show. You have time travel, politics, super heroes and character drama. There is everything that is needed for a great story.

The Soundtrack – Jeff Russo and Perrine Vergile have once again crafted a beautiful and amazing score. I’ve gone back and listened to this soundtrack multiple times since finishing the season. It is on par with Season 1 easily.

Character Relationships – The characters and their relationship are what work best about this show and that continues on in Season 2. I’ll be covering my favorite or the best relationships this season here. Luther didn’t make it though he was still a compelling character and Lila and her “adopted” mother didn’t make it either even though they were compelling just not on the same level of the relationships listed below.

Lila and Diego – Lila and Diego have one of the most interesting relationships this season. They are trapped in the asylum together and come to care for each other even as Diego wants to be alone and be a hero and Lila is an agent of the commission and daughter of the Handler. They both have trust issues but by the end they realize they were born at the same time when her powers are revealed (she can replicate other’s powers back at them). I’m curious to see where her future leads as she escapes the Umbrella Academy at the end.

The Politics of the Commission – One of the arcs of this season is that of the politics within the Commission. AJ Carmichael (a goldfish with a human body) demotes the Handler leading her to manipulate the Swedes to manipulate Five to take out the Board of Directors and AJ Carmichael. She succeeds in taking over but it doesn’t last as the Umbrella Academy defeats her and the final Swede who had originally been sent by the commission to kill the Umbrella Academy kills her. After Herb is leader of the Commission and the Umbrella Academy finally has a good relationship with the Commission from what we see.

Vanya’s Self-Discovery – Vanya’s arc this season is her discovering herself and sexuality when she is taken in after being hit by a car and losing her memory. From here she falls in love with the mom who she is nannying for and her standing for them leads to Sissy (the mom) standing up to her abusive husband. The FBI captures Vanya at one point which triggers the “Doomsday” even when Vanya explodes but the event is stopped by Diego, Allison, Klaus and Ben when Ben helps her accept her abilities and that she does deserve to live. She takes what she learns and saved Sissy’s kid Harlan from his power that she had that transferred to him. In the end she leaves them to return to the present and her own time but is more whole in the love she shared with them both and the final acceptance of her powers.

Ben and Klaus – Ben and Klaus are wonderful in this. Ben is the one helping Klaus be responsible and to grow while Ben just wants to experience life again and not pass on. By the end Klaus has come into his own and taken responsibility for the lie and the cult he created and Ben after experiencing life when he possess Klaus is finally able to find the peace and acceptance he needs to move on. It is a beautiful story and Justin H. Min and Robert Sheehan are fantastic.

Allison and Raymond and the Civil Rights Movement – Allison has my favorite arc this season besides Ben’s and Five’s arc. In her arc she opens up about her powers and is active in her agency and changing the world as she and her husband Raymond fight for equality and equity in Dallas, Texas. We see her go from fear to hope and find confidence in the powers she had given up on as she uses them for good. It is extremely well done and Emmy Raver-Lampman and Yusuf Gatewood are fantastic.

Five and Reginald Hargreeves – Five is the leader of the group this time around and the one trying to stop the apocalypse and get them back to their present. His arc is facing his mistakes and from his conversation with his Father Reginald he realizes that he keeps thinking so big and ends up thinking in small time travel jumps which ends up saving the day. It is in the tiny jump that The Handler and the Commission are stopped and the final of the Swedes is made peace with.

The Death and After Life of Ben Hargreeves – This season gives Ben the exploration he deserved in Season 1. We see him stand up to Klaus and eventually possess Klaus with Klaus’s consent and experience what it is like to live again. His final act is to save Vanya from going nuclear with her powers again and admitting that the only reason he stuck around for so long is because he was afraid to die. It is a powerful arc and Justin H. Min does an amazing job.

The Realities of Oppression and Abuse – Like Season 1 this series does not shy away from the realities of trauma and abuse. This season takes it to the societal level as we see the reality of the abuse African-Americans faced at sit-ins the 60s and still face from Police and the United States now. We see this through Raymond, Allison and the members of the barbershop and the people of Dallas’s eyes. These stories are as powerful now as they were then and just as relevant.

The Cons:

Doomsday with Vanya Again? – After the pilot I despised that we were once again returning to “Doomsday.” I get it was a way to up the stakes and give a ticking clock (like last season) but the Umbrella Academy being at risk was true even true even without that ticking clock. I honestly don’t think it was needed this season. The drama we got outside of this clock was enough and the same character beats probably would and could have happened.

This was a great season that built on everything that worked about last season and not repeating the problem of last season with character arcs still up in the air with a cliffhanger ending. Here there are new stories to tell and exploring the consequences of this season but so far I’m seeing nothing that will give us a repeat of “Doomsday.” I can’t wait to see the Sparrows and Umbrellas face-off and see how Ben is both now dead and alive? I’m really curious to see how next season is handled. This season was great and there are so many more stories to tell. If you enjoyed last season, chances are you will love this one too.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 Near perfect. My biggest issue is really the repeating of “Doomsday” with it being tied to Vanya as a driving factor in the story. Thankfully it gets away from this by the last episodes.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 3, “Fire” Retrospect – Finding Peace in the Flames of Conflict and an Amazing Ending to one of the Greatest Shows

BOOK 3: FIRE 4: Amazon.co.uk: DVD & Blu-ray

 

        It has been a while since I’ve returned to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and it was an amazing return to one of my favorite shows after so long and finish up reviewing the Books. Book 3 is the only season I have yet to review. This is easily the best of the 3 Books and there are very few issues I have with the overall execution of the narrative. I’ll get into those problems below but if you need a spoiler free recommendation I highly recommend this show and this is easily the strongest season of them all. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko truly created an amazing story.

    The premise picks up where we left off, as an injured Aang recovers from his defeat by Azula and Zuko last season. Team Avatar helps Aang recover as they help the rebellion prepare for the invasion of the Fire Nation.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Consequences of “Book 2” – Part of what makes this season work so well is it plays directly off last season. Nothing is retconned and we have the consequences of last season explored. Aang is disconnected from the Avatar state after Azula killed him and the invasion fleet is making their way to the Fire Nation to attack during the Eclipse when Firebending will no longer work. We learn it has been weeks since Aang was brought back by the Moon Spirit Water and Katara and eventually he tries to leave to take on Ozai on his own. He quickly discovers how broken and weak is. This accumulates in events that force Aang to complete his training and learn Firebending as the threat of Ozai and Sozen’s Comet hangs overhead as a ticking clock. It is beautifully done. We have the Fire Nation victorious and our rebels barely holding onto hope.

A Return of Old Allies – This season we see a bunch of old allies return. We have all the Earth Nation folks from the Swampbender Tribe, the wrestlers who Toph defeated, the Southern Water Tribe army, the mechanist and others. Each of them plays a part in the Invasion and we see just how competent the rebellion is. Sadly, what ups the stakes is that all these old allies lose to Ozai and his forces. We also have the return of June the Bounty Hunter and the different Elemental Masters and Suki as the season progresses further. Seeing the return of these old allies in the roles they play against Ozai and is forces is absolutely fantastic.

The Failed Invasion – The Invasion is a brilliant plan. Attack the Fire Nation Capitol and defeat the Fire Lord when his entire nation cannot Firebend for the minutes the Eclipse is active. We know that our allies are strong enough as Team Avatar has taken on powerful foes before and we see the Rebellion use all their tools to defeat Fire Nation forces until their retreat is eventually cut off by the secret Airship Armada that Ozai was holding in reserve. All the men surrender and we have Team Avatar and the kids of the rebels leave together as the original plan is forced to take place. Aang needs to train and become a fully realized Avatar in order to defeat Ozai.

Order of the White Lotus | Avatar Wiki | Fandom

The Order of the White Lotus – This is the season where we finally learn about the Order of the White Lotus. The White Lotus are a secret organization that believes knowledge belongs to all and seek philosophy, beauty and truth. It is this order that Bumi, Iroh, Jeong Jeong, Pakku and Piandao are members of. All are masters within their craft and it they who see their role as the liberation of Ba Sing Se while the Avatar faces Ozai. It is wonderful seeing the return of the masters who taught members of Team Avatar through the series and in turn we get the motivation of why they did this in their role as members of the White Lotus.

Iroh – Iroh is my favorite character in the series and this episode illustrates so many reasons why. He breaks himself out of prison after warning the guard who was kind to him to not be around when he does (he does creating enough heat in his body wreak havoc and defeat the guards and breakout). Once he is out Zuko eventually seeks him out and the resolution of this relationship is so beautiful. He tells Zuko that he never hated him and was only wanted him to find his way. In the end he says he cannot defeat Ozai either as even if he could defeat Ozai it would keep the old system in power and that only the Avatar’s defeat of Ozai gave the possibility for the Fire Nation to change. God, what an amazing character. His logic makes sense and the apolitical goal of the Order of the White Lotus follows this philosophy.

Consequences of the Fire Nation Threat – The Fire Nation victorious is a story of consequences as we learn that Ozai wants to do what Sozen did during the last comet. His goal is extermination as we learn in the Fire Nation War Room that the Fire Nation will need to send far more troops to the Earth Nation in order to sustain the occupation. Azula also controls the Dai Li who help prevent the invasion from becoming successful. The Southern Water Nation loses their entire army during the invasion as well so the only ones standing against Ozai’s extermination are Team Avatar and the Order of the White Lotus. One small note, I wish we could have witnessed more of the occupation. This would have been a great side story to see what the Fire Nation victorious is like. But, we do see a lot of the occupation in the past 2 Books so I get why they focused purely on Team Avatar and the Fire Nation during this Book.

An Exploration of Forgiveness and Justice – One of the most powerful themes of the show is that of forgiveness. Katara near the end of the series goes on a quest with Zuko to find the man who murdered her mother. We see her freely use bloodbending (showing how much she’s changed since learning it) and it is after she sees how pitiful she is that she chooses not to kill. She does not forgive him but she refuses to be changed by him. This was so beautifully done and I love how it isn’t clear cut. She doesn’t forgive the man who murdered her father, but she grows from the experience. The same applies to Zuko when he confronts Ozai and refuses to kill him and calls him out for the scar he gave him. He holds him accountable and says the Avatar will be the one to defeat him after sticking around long enough to show Ozai that he is standing against him in his own way.

Team Avatar – Team Avatar grows this season and is made all the stronger for it. We have Suki after her rescue from “Boiling Rock” and we have Zuko when he leaves the Fire Nation during the eclipse and becomes a friend and mentor to Aang and the Team. Sokka is the glue and it is his plan that initially fails during the Eclipse. He makes up for this though when he, Suki and Toph stop the Fire Nation airships meant to destroy the Earth Kingdom. Katara has one of the best arcs this season as we see her face the loss she’s dealt with as she was Sokka’s mother figure because of the Fire Nation’s killing of her mother and her father leaving to fight the war. This abandonment arc ends with peaceful resolution with her dad and confronting her mother’s killer. Toph is around as the strongest member of the party in battles as she saves our heroes on multiple occasions and also helps characters grow as she is the one who first tells Zuko that Iroh probably doesn’t help him since he’s helping Team Avatar now. We also have Aang who has to finally deal with the fact that he has to face Ozai. This arc of him learning Fire Bending and finding peace within himself is very well done as he finds the strength he needs to confront Ozai and find a way to defeat him without ending his life.

The Final Battles – We have Aang versus Ozai, Katara and Zuko versus Azula (now made Fire Lord when Ozai named himself Phoenix King). the Order of the White Lotus liberating Ba Sing Se, Toph, Suki and Sokka against the Ozai’s fleet and Aang against Ozai. Each of these battles is compelling enough on it’s own and the direction is has them flow together seamlessly. We have consequences from the battle too. Sokka is injured as they take the Fire Nation airships and Zuko is nearly killed by Azula when he saves Katara from Azula’s lightning strike. This is the accumulation of 3 seasons and the end of 4 episodes and the payoff is truly one of the best parts about the show. When we come down from this we have Zuko’s coronation as the new Fire Lord and his call for peace and Iroh’s Tea House where Team Avatar celebrates the end of the war.

The Cons:

Ozai | Avatar Wiki | Fandom

Setting Up Fire Lord Ozai – Fire Lord Ozai is the mastermind between the events of the last few books post. His presentation in the final fight is fantastic. His power and cruelty are fully on display but…we never see him raise the stakes prior to this. All past victories could be attributed to Azula or his troops. Like Palpatine in the original Trilogy of “Star Wars” he doesn’t show up until the end, and it hurts the overall threat of him. This is a shame as Hamill does a great job voicing him but even he gets quickly knocked back when Zuko leaves the Fire Nation to join Team Avatar. We needed more setup to really see that this is a man who can take on the Avatar. We don’t get that, as good as the final battle is. Ozai needed victories he could call in before this as it was Sozen who exterminated the Air Nomads not Ozai.

Deus Ex Dragon Turtle – I get Aang’s moral dilemma of refusing to kill, but we needed setup of Energy Bending prior in the series. Like Ozai the concept of Dragon Turtles and ancient beings with a connection to the Avatar could have saved this out that is given to Aang. The Dragon Turtle even drops him off at the final battle making his role as Deus Ex Machina complete. The Dragon Turtle is a cool concept and has a beautiful design, we just needed to know more of what it could do and it’s existence earlier.

There is so much to explore about this show and I only touched on it. I’ll do a full series overview at some point. This is the kind of show where you’ll notice something new in each rewatch. The characters have amazing arcs, the overarching plot is one of the best and the world is so rich that you could deeply explore any single point of the world. I look forward to returning to this world again and writing the full series overview.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A near perfect season that only had a few things holding it back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – An Amazing Show About Politics, Philosophy and the Fully Realized Life

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

    “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is one of my favorite animes of all time. This is an anime that has intriguing characters, philosophy, politics and a narrative that builds to a fantastic and rewarding ending. If animes are your thing, you should definitely check it out. This is a re-watch for me as I was looking for more long form completed stories to see during the Covid-19 crisis. Suffice to say, it still very much holds up. There is a 2003 adaptation that is quite different from the manga that I did not enjoy as much, but at some point will revisit. If you want to see some really fantastic deep video content checkout Wisecrack and Lowart’s takes on “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” They are amazing deep dives well worth your time and I want to give them a shout out before I explore my own thoughts on the show.

The series is based off the manga created by Hiromu Arakawa, directed by Yasuhiro Irie, written by Hiroshi Ōnogi and produced by Bones.

The story follows State Alchemists Ed and Al of Amestris as they seek to get Al’s body back and free him from the armor his soul lives in. This all unfolds as the brothers and other characters slowly uncover the truth of their country and the nature of Alchemy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Akira Senju’s gothic inspired soundtrack is so beautiful and helps build the tension of the narrative so well. This is a story with consequences and that is reflected in the composition of the score who pulls on gothic choirs and somber instrumentals.

The Action – This show has some of the best fights you will see in any anime. Any time a character is fighting a Homonculus you get to see the full potential of both the fighters. You get the superhuman speeds of the inhuman homonculi and the power and magic behind the attacks the alchemists bring or the martial arts from the characters from Xing. It is hard to choose a favorite fight but the personal nature of anyone facing Wrath is extremely warding as well as Lust against Mustang.

The Politics – The politics of “FMA: Brotherhood” are one of the strongest aspects of the story. We have the Ishvalin Civil War, which is used as cover for Amestris to destroy them. We see them clash with their northern neighbors Drachma who they’ve clashed with in the past and the rise of to power as many Generals vie to control Amestris as they plot the downfall of the Furor Bradley. Within all this we see the stories of the Ishvalin refugees, meet characters from Xing, seeking immortality through Alchemy and see the clashing between clans happening there. All of these struggles are told through character interaction and we come to care about the people and their missions.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of “FMA: Brotherhood” as it is their struggles and stories that bring meaning to the political and philosophical battles that unfold. This show made me care about random characters who were introduced as muscle for enemies and even the villains get explored in a compelling way. The exploration of the villains is best executed through the stories of the Homonculi who will get their own section in this review. What makes things work the most is the characters and their relationships change. Ed and Al inspire people to be better and even they go through crisises of identity when faced with the monstrous acts of others or the consequences of their choices or situation. This applies to all the characters and I felt for anyone who died over the course of the show.

Homunculus | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

The Homonculi – The Homonculi are the primary antagonists of the series. They are lead by “Father” who became the form of Hohenheim after he used the destruction of Xerxes to create a philosopher’s stone. After this he tore his voices from himself and made them his children. These are the Seven Homonculi – Wrath, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Sloth and Gluttony. All of them are compelling with most being muscle at different points. Gluttony and Sloth are muscle. Lust and Envy are the ones trying to get under characters skin and acting as assassins early on to keep Father’s plot hidden. Pride is the one watching and controlling a lot of what is going on. Greed is doing his own thing and Wrath is King Bradley. Greed and Wrath were my favorites and I’ll into that further.

Wrath / King Bradley – Wrath was an orphan raised from birth by mad scientists to some day potentially lead Amestris. He survives the philosopher stone that is put into him and so much of his life is seeking his own choice. This is one reason the rebellion against him gets as bad as it does. Wrath wants something unpredictable and challenges to fight as it is only in battle he truly feels alive. He also still holds onto his humanity as he took a wife who clearly cares about even though I don’t think he is capable of love. He is one of the best antagonists in the series and is dynamic, charismatic and threatening anytime he is in action.

Greed  – Greed is the Homonculi who grows. In the beginning he has a gang of Chimera (part-human, part-animal creations) who Wrath takes out as he is seen as a threat to Father’s plans. Father destroys him but later introduces him once more as a pawn to be used when Ling, a Lord of Xing is captured. From here Greed protects Father and stays out of his way until Ling establishes more control and the memories of what Wrath did to him come back. This eventually leads to him realize that he desires people and power in order to have friends, which leads to his final sacrifice to make Father vulnerable in order for Ed to finally defeat him. It is a powerful arc and I loved that he changed over the course of the show.

Defining Tragedy – One thing that defines the stakes and choices in this story is that of tragedy. Scar and the death of his brother and the Ishvalin people, Scar’s murder of Winry’s parents who were caring for him, Ed and Al’s loss of their mother (and Al’s body and Ed’s arm and leg), Izumi and the loss of her child, the murder of Maes Hughes and the death Nina and Alexander. All this happens early on or is revealed over the course of the earlier arcs. It is beautifully done, and keeps the stakes high through the series. Loss is what defines these characters and it is their facing that loss and the consequences that they change.

Forgiveness – Forgiveness is a running theme of the show as it is the first step for a character who has done wrong to realize they can atone and can change their actions. This is seen in the Ishvalins refugees who forgave the military and are there fighting with them at the end to overthrow King Bradley and in Winry whose forgiveness, that changes Scar and his hunt to kill all Alchemists.

Winry – Winry is a fantastic character who takes an active role in her destiny and country’s future. So many times Ed and Al try to protect her from the truth (Scar, murdering her parents) but she learns it any way and lets them know that she is here to help beyond being Ed’s mechanic. I really liked her arc over the course of the show as she develops as a mechanic and sees more beyond her village and friendship with Ed and Al, even as her relationship with Ed is sweet and I like that they end up together. She is smart and honest and though she won’t kill Scar and forgives him she says she can’t abide by him continuing to murder. This holding of account while not giving into hate changes him and it is thanks to Scar joining the fight that it is even possible to defeat Father in the end.

Atonement – Another theme in the series is that of Atonement. Mustang and his men are attempting to redeem themselves for the wrongs they committed in Ishval. Scar is attempting to redeem himself for the murders he committed and Ed and Al are also seeking atonement for their attempt to bring back their Mom, just as their Father seeks atonement for his empowering of “Father” and being a very terrible dad himself. There are other examples as well but these are some of the strongest as it is the mistakes characters made that inspire them to change things and make things better for themselves, their people or country and the people around them.

Mustang – After the horrors Roy Mustang committed in Ishval, he and his men promise to change the country and that they will make Mustang leader in the process to write these wrongs. It is powerfully done and we see Mustang facing his internal rage as well as his guilt. It is Ed and Hawkeye who show help him get past that final step to become leader when he nearly kills Envy in revenge for his killing of Hughes. In the end Mustang lives and is working to help Ishval with the hint that eventually he will become leader of Amestris.

Scar – Scar is first introduced to us as a complex antagonist. He is hunting down Alchemists on a religious crusade as he sees Alchemy as an afront to God. He is also seeking revenge for the death of his brother and the destruction of his nation by the Alchemists of Amestris. This rage and belief that drives him doesn’t change until Winry forgives him for his murder of her parents but holds him accountable for the evils he still commits. He sees her justice as worth it and the fact that she doesn’t kill him forever changes him. After this he becomes an eventual ally of our heroes and their war against “Father” and King Bradley. In the end Scar defeats Bradley and we see him unite with the refugees among his people and become a leader. What he and the Ishvalin refugees do is essential to defeating “Father.” Scar is such a wonderfully complex character and has one of the greatest arcs on the show.

The Cost of Hate and Revenge – The cost of hate and revenge are a running theme in the series that also gives it strength. Scar and Mustang are nearly defeated because of how it consumes them. Envy’s hate for humanity leads to him killing himself when they fail to give into the hate they should feel for one another. What is a part of this is that killing in murder or revenge will change you and in turn you will only hurt more in the process. Scar’s journey is truly the best execution of this path. Ed and Al and Winry and Hawkeye are the one keeping the characters balanced as they always seek alternative and also face their rage or guilt and find out why they feel the way they do. It is powerfully done and I loved this element of the show.

The Philosophy of Equal Exchange – One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the philosophy of equal exchange. Everything has a price and is a part of something else. This is expressed anytime Alchemy is used as something can’t be created from nothing and when characters confront the mysterious “Truth.” “Truth” always takes something and in turn a character gets back something in turn.

All is One and One is All – Within Alchemy is the philosophy is all is one and one is all. This is part of Equal Exchange as something cannot be made from nothing. This philsophy is also taken literally in how the Homonculi are defeated or changed. The Homonculi are powerful one on one or against one or two people but whenever they face multiple characters or forget the people that make them up within the philosopher stones that birthed them, they lose. “Father” loses because he fails to recognize the individuals within him, and it is even the final act of one of his children Greed sacrificing himself changing him physically that leads to his final defeat. The multiple standing as one are more powerful than any single individual even if they wield the power of “God.”

Hohenhiem and “Father” – Hohenhiem grew up a slave in Xerxes, which is where “Father” who at the time was “Dwarf in the Flask Homonculus” was also a slave to the Alchemist. “Dwarf” teaches Hohenhiem and helps him become an alchemist himself. He is even the one who gives Hohenhiem his name as at this point he only has a number as an identity. and eventually gains a form when he tricks the King of Xerxes as nationwide Alchemist Circle is used to create a philosopher stone. From this Hohenhiem gains immortality and “Dwarf” becomes “Father” and takes Hohenhiem’s form.

Ed and Al – Ed and Al are the heart of the show. They are idealistic brothers who refuse to kill. They are also driven by their guilt for their attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. Ed is more stubborn and loud while Al tends to be more reflective. We also see how hard is life is too. His soul is in armor as it was the only way to save him and because of this he can’t sleep or feel anything. This makes his fight through the series all the more powerful and gives strength to all his arguments to Chimera about them choosing to live and to find a cure. Ed doesn’t carry that same trauma but he is in the thick of the politics and it takes time for him to open up as his early arc is holding his trauma close. Winry is one of the first he opens up too and I love that they end up together by the end. These are two of the most compelling protagonists in any anime and it is their wonderful flaws that define them and their choices so well. They deserved getting Al’s body back and in the end they are still seeking truth as it is Ed giving up his knowledge of alchemy in order to bring him back.

The Cons:

Whiplash Between Humor and Seriousness Early on – I am not a fan of when shows jump between a more serious art-style to chibi and cutesy. “Brotherhood” has this problem early on but it happens far less as the series goes on. For that reason I’m willing to give this con more of a break since I can see why it was used as it is an attempt to give humor to all the tragedy that happens over the course of the show.

The fact that the only real con is the very common anime animation and humor whiplash is a testament to just how strong this show is. I came to care about nearly all the protagonists but they minor or major characters. There was nuance in how they were written and their relationships. We also had a show that explored philosophy and identity deeply. We got all of this told through a beautiful animation and soundtrack. It has been a while since I’ve reviewed or watched anime and it was very worth it return back to this stunning story. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic and deep story.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The show does have flaws, but the strengths of it far outweigh those flaws. This is an example of how to tell a great long form story with consequences that can explore deeper themes.

 

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) – Bringing Closure to the Amazing Show

    I loved this film. “El Camino” is the perfect Epilogue and closure for Jesse Pinkman and “Breaking Bad” as a whole. “Breaking Bad” is one of my favorite shows of all time, and this film captures so many of those reasons why it is. Like the show the filming is stark in coloration, the music also gives it that intensity and the writing is the perfect example of showing and not telling. No wonder Vince Gilligan created a masterpiece in the show, as he does this so well again here. If you are a fan of the show, you will at the very least enjoy the film. I highly recommend it.

The film was directed and written by Vince Gilligan.

The story follows Jesse after his escape from the Neo-Nazis as he tries to find a way to freedom away from all that has happened as he seeks out his friends and connections for help.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – As a fan of the show, it was great finally getting closure. I enjoyed seeing all the characters still alive interact and their connection to Jesse as well as those who were dead and how they were defining the way he would live. The world of “Breaking Bad” is harsh and cruel and there isn’t much hope. Most of the series involves Jesse taking a literal and metaphorical beating so it was wonderful seeing that there were still moments of light in the dark. The soundtrack and cinematography bring this to life too with how stark scenes are shot and even the brightest day can be one of complete isolation and claustrophobia. Dave Porter’s soundtrack brings this world to life to the point that it is like being back in the show once more.

Jesse Pinkman – Aaron Paul is truly an underrated actor. This is a film where we get to fully know the depths of who Jesse is. Jesse is complicated, but in the end he is someone who wants to do good by others. We see that he only kills in self-defense, he wants to give everyone a chance and will surrender if he is ever caught while still doing all he can find freedom and start over. In the end he gets that when he gets revenge against those who built his cage for the Neo-Nazi Meth Game who had enslaved him and when Ed keeps his word and grants him a new identity in life in Alaska. Leading up to this we see Mike talk to him about Alaska being the best place to start over, Walt talking to him about going into business and college, Jane talking about meaning and making your own choices and the support from his friends Skinny Pete and Badger who risk everything for him as he retraces the cook for the Neo-Nazi’s Todd to reclaim his money. It is powerful and I love how much we learn about Jesse.

Is Redemption Possible? – The major theme of the film is redemption and if it is even possible. Jesse has hurt a lot of people and this is a film where we do see him try to make amends. He tells his parents it isn’t their fault he is who he became, and the cleaner Ed he gets him the money and kills to do so, knowing what it will cost him inside, even if revenge is still part of it. Jesse is so broken when he first escapes and it is Skinny Pete and Badger’s compassion that even gives him a chance at a life again and chance for redemption as they do a car swap and give him money to keep the police off his back. Jesse carries that with him. All he has is his life and the desire to live and to not hurt anymore, and in the end the film says there is a chance. The last conversation wouldn’t have been with Jane talking purpose otherwise.

Responsibility and Moving Forward – How redemption is possible is through responsibility. This is fulfilled in the show in Walter sacrificing himself to atone to Jesse and getting the money to his family and we see it once more with Jesse in how he doesn’t kill and at every chance the law accuses him he is surrenders willingly. Ed, giving him his out shows it too as he calls the cops but leads them away and tells Jesse, once he has the money the deal for a new life will happen. They even have a great talk at the end and Ed talks about how he doesn’t care about Jesse’s feelings, he made his choices. He is the closest thing to a father for Jesse in the end and I love their relationship as his stubbornness and in the end helping Jesse does help him to heal. R.I.P. Robert Forster, you were one of the best parts of “Breaking Bad” and this film.

Okay:

Film to Show as New Trend? – The fact that this is a film that is based off a streaming show is a trend that I’m putting as okay, as in I’m a little worried. I look towards Disney plus and see how they could you this trend to gain an even greater monopoly on television than they already have. This is a horrifying thought and I really hope that in the competition between streaming services we get more gems like this that are in no way tied to Disney.

This is a character study of Jesse Pinkman and in that it fully succeeds. We get the beautiful score and cinematography of the show and a bittersweet ending, showing us that maybe there can be hope even in the worst of despair. Like the ending of “Breaking Bad,” this film works. It completes Jesse’s story and I’m glad it was made. Aaron Paul’s Jesse and the amazing supporting cast appearing in this film make this an unforgettable ride. The only way I could see this working again is with a character like Saul Goodman who also has so many characters tied to his story. I don’t think that will happen and that I think that is good. This epilogue gives the show a completion I didn’t know it needed. It was a great ride and one I would highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 The near perfect television film. I wish it had been longer.

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.

What We Left Behind – Looking Back on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2019) – The Perfect “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Documentary

  “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Series.” This is a series that was willing to explore philosophy, religion war and give the minor characters full arcs. It is no wonder Ronald Moore created the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” from this show, which is also one of my favorite sci. fi. shows. He was on the writing team while Ira Steven Behr was the showrunner. This is easily the best documentary I’ve ever watched. It has comedy, heart, philosophy, depth and explores the relationships and characters who made up the show. My bias being that “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Franchise” and in Sci. fi. shows as a whole. It certainly has flaws and wasn’t perfect and this is a documentary that honestly explores that.

The documentary was directed by Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone, produced by 455 Films and released by Shout! Studios.

The documentary traces the origins of “Deep Space Nine’s” creation, the actors and their thoughts on the show, gives us a hypothetical new season with many of the original writing team and explores the legacy the show left behind.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Into and Ending – The Into and ending were so corny and perfect. “Deep Space Nine” had Vic Fontaine’s Jazz lounge as a major part of the show and the Documentary paid tribute to that by having Max Grodénchik (Rom) kick it off with a corny song about leaving his heart on “Deep Space Nine.” In the end he is joined by Jeffrey Combs (Grunt and Weyoun on Ds9), Casey Biggs (Damar) and Armin Shimermen (Quark) to finish the song. It had so much heart, even if the lyrics don’t always work. The four of them are also great singers.

The Reaction to the Show – Throughout the documentary the cast reads fans letters as Ira Steven Behr interviews them. These are glimpses of history that show just how much the show was hated by some in it’s initial release. People hated that the show was darker and that it wasn’t daily exploration on a ship. The reactions are nuanced (Ira on making sense of how people saw it as a dark show) to funny when Aron Eisenberg (Nog) reads a reaction from someone who hated it. This was one of the aspects that added character to the documentary.

The Making of the Show – Making the show an episodic story beyond single bottle episodes or two-parters was revolutionary. This was a major part of the film, and beyond that how when most fans talked about the show in interviews it was largely about the Dominion War arc. It was the arc that changed everything outside of the arcs of “Babylon 5.” We also got to see the Writers Room when Behr got together with Ronald Moore and some of the other writers from the show to draft a pilot for a new season. It was really neat seeing that as well as the relationship between the showrunner, directors, actors and crew. They also went into the Evolution of the Dominion and how they evolved into a collection of species versus a single one.

The Actors’ Stories – Part of what makes the story so compelling are getting the stories of the actors and the relationships formed over the course of the show. We learn about how Armin Shimerman (Quark) used to host the other actors who played Ferengi at his home to go over the scripts. “Deep Space Nine” was full of Ferengi episodes and seeing how friendships grew out of it was so wonderful. We also got to see that Alaimo (Dukat) had a crush on Nana Visitor (Kira), and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) and how to this day he is friends and mentor to his show son Cirroc Lofton. The actors also talked about their characters and created interludes. Andrew Robinson (Garak) appeared early on and later to talk about how when he first played the character he played him as wanting to have sex with Doctor Bashir and how the character relationships evolved into a deep friendship. It was awesome hearing that first hand as Robinson always played Garak as Bisexual and him voicing that made me happy.  They also touched on Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) leaving the show and the disrespect from the directors as well as when Nicole de Boar (Ezri) took over for the last season of the show. Even with all that happened there are still so many friendships among the cast.

Taking Responsibility and Impact in Social Justice – This was a show that tackled the themes of poverty, race, war, philosophy and Behr took responsibility the fact that they didn’t explore gender and sexuality very well. They recognized the existence sexuality and LGTBTQ rights but didn’t advocate. Behr owned it and it made me respect him a lot. “Star Trek” has always been a progressive show and it has dropped the ball on LGBTQ justice all of this time until “Discovery” really.

The New Season Pilot – One of the arcs through the documentary getting what writers he could together to write a new season of the snow. The new season pilot is awesome. It starts with Captain Nog being attacked and a reunion of all the characters returning to “Deep Space Nine.” Kira is a priestess and the station is a religious site, Worf is in line to takeover after Martok to rule the Empire, Julian Bashir is a captain with Ezri serving together on a ship and O’Brien is a professor at Starfleet academy while Jake is a successful author. From here things unfold as it starts out with Nog being attacked by an unscene show before arriving at the station. From we learn of a Bajor / Jem’Hadar plot that Kira is tied to and the return of Sisko as he reaches out to his children. I would watch it and I wish it would get made. Sadly I doubt it will exist beyond the fandom of this documentary though.

What You’ll Get on the DVD – The documentary ended with Nana Visitor talking to Behr about everything that wasn’t covered. Whether it was her failed marriage to Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir), her having a baby and how they wrote that into the show, “In the Pale Moonlight” and quite a few other things. Behr said they’d all be on the special features of the dvd and that it was cut for time. Hearing that lead me to pre-order the dvd. I can’t wait to see all of the things that didn’t make it and rewatch this perfect documentary again.

If it wasn’t obvious already, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite shows of all time. This was the “Star Trek series” I felt was good to great all the way through and explored the themes I love in stories. It gave politics, philosophy, war, identity and history all in deep and respectful ways. If you are a sci. fi. fan I highly recommend this show. This show started so much and any time I have the chance to see these actors and writers if they end up in Portland at a Comic Con, you bet I’ll be there. This was a show funded by the fans and created for them and the time and love put into it made it the perfect documentary and film. I’ll be surprised if any film compares when this year is done.

10 / 10. “Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite Science Fiction shows of all time and I can’t think of a better way to honor it. The actors in this cast are folks I’d go to comic con for if they make it over my way.

“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