Mass Effect 2 – Amazing Character Development, Combat and Final Leads to This Being One of the Best RPGs I’ve played

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    “Mass Effect 2” is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. This is a game that manages to capture the best of story, combat and character to the point that I stayed in this world as long as I could before doing the final/suicide mission with my squad, which was hands down one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. There is a lot to cover in this game that I’ll get into deeper in the review.

    This was when EA bought Bioware so even though Bioware made the game it was EA who published it.

   Here is my review of the first game in case you need a catch up on the story or need a comparison to how much this game improved.:

 https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/mass-effect-an-amazing-space-opera-with-some-narrative-and-cinematic-choppiness/

SPOILERS if you haven’t played the first game.

     The story involves the Normandy being attacked by the mysterious species known as the Collectors, leading to the death of Shepard. 2 years later you wake up, having been resurrected by the Illusive Man and Cerberus. From here you must recruit your team to take on the Collectors and end their threat to the Galaxy.

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The Pros:

The Universe – The Universe is really one of the best parts of this series and Bioware is a gaming company with fantastic world builders. The amount of aliens introduced grows as we have Vorcha, Batarians and Collectors and a ton of organizations that you work for or against, as well as the old ones too. There are some pretty amazing locations too! From Omega, Illium, The Collector Base and countless other planets you discover.

The Action – The game is finally a good shooter! In the original game the shooting was kind of janky but it flows here and there are stakes, even on casual you might die a few times if you are new FPSs. It was this action gameplay and the world and story that helped keep in and to explore every star system.

The Stakes – The stakes are higher in this game, the Collectors have already killed you once and you are working for an organization that is all about human supremacy and experiments on their own people. You are in a rock and a hard place and it makes the choices you make with characters so much higher, especially since the Reaper threat is hanging in the background.

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The Characters – The characters have always been the strongest part of Bioware games and in this game we get new characters and get to know past characters from the first game more. I did all the options I could when it came to exploring characters and I loved my squad’s loyalty missions.

Captain Bailey – Bailey is voiced by Michael Hogan (Colonel Tigh from “BSG”) and he is great. He is a rough beat cop who grows over the course of the series as Shepard helps him see the depth of certain situations. He is a great character and I’m glad he survives this game.

The Illusive Man – The Illusive Man is obviously evil, he brings you back to life but there is never any question that his intentions are to use you as a weapon for power. You see some of the things he’s done over the course of the series and he has the gall to ask you to save the Collector Base. Telling him to screw himself was really rewarding.

Aria – Aria is the Asari leader of Omega, a gang planet where she is the one pulling all the strings. She is a really cool leader, she even owns a Krogan Warlord she has called Patriarch mockingly. As Shepard you hurt and help her operations about equally given the Mercs are people who use Omega but they are also targeting Patriarch and her other assets…so she pretty much gives you free reign. She is one of the few characters unafraid when she meets you.

The Flotilla Admirals – The Flotilla Admirals are a fascinating group. There is the family friend, a soldier who served with Tali’s dad, an Admiral who wants to control the Geth and one who wants to make peace. There are reasons for each on why they think the way they do and in the end Tali was just a political pawn so calling them out on their crap frees Tali from being exiled.

Kelly Chambers – Kelly is the ship psychologist who lets you know what characters are interested in you and why and explores your relationships. She was the one I told that I didn’t have feelings for Ashley and found out that Tali liked me.

Wrex – Wrex is amazing! Since I saved him last game he is now working on uniting all the Krogan clans. He is such a fun character, he is a bit overwhelmed by his new leadership responsibilities but he helps you with Grunt’s coming of age and it is fun to talk to him about his life and the past memories.

Joker – Joker manages to survive the Collector’s destruction of the first Normandy. He is the first person you meet on the new Cerberus Normandy and his relationship with the Ship’s AI EDI is the main drama on the ship. He also is the first to let you know whenever two of your shipmates are at odds for you to resolve it. He is the heart of the ship with EDI and they rescue it before the Suicide Mission.

EDI – EDI is an AI who is pretty fantastic. She jokes and is good at giving you assessments of different situations and is always a help. She is an AI that makes choices and has drive and I’m curious to see how she develops in “Mass Effect 3.”

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Your Squad – The Squad, minus Zaeed is one of the best parts of this game. I loved their loyalty missions, and each of the characters is complex and compelling in their different ways. You are the crew of “Firefly” or “Farscape” aka a bunch of misfits who are great at your certain tasks.

Garrus – Garrus goes Batman in this game and has become a vigilante targeting the leaders of all the Merc Groups. He is going under the name of Archangel and it is up to you to rescue him. His loyalty mission involves him hunting down the member of his team who betrayed him and you can let him make the kill or forgive his former friend. It is powerful and Garrus is really the best friend of Shepard.

Miranda – Miranda is the one who brings you back to life. She is cruel to a lot of the crew, especially Jack but I initially pursued her for saving my life. That changed when she was cruel to Jack and I chose Jack over her to remain friends with both (Tali was my romance option) since I didn’t have any patience for Miranda’s crap towards others. You get why she is cruel though as she has an abusive controlling father and your loyalty mission with her is rescuing her sister.

Jacob – Jacob is the human soldier cut from the same vein as Kaidan, as in he is super serious and he only chills with you after the loyalty mission and even than doesn’t talk much. I liked the guy when he wasn’t being a racist though. The moment he talked down to Tali I was done with him as his Cerberus was showing. He gets better (they all do) but it gave me Ashley vibes and I hated her Speciesism.

Jack – Jack is the PTSD super biotic created by Cerberus. She is an awesome character who you help get revenge on Cerberus by destroying the station. She also meets another person there too who was just as scarred as she was. She was my backup Biotic and her flavor text is a lot of fun. She really does not care.

Grunt – Grunt is a test tube Krogan made to be a Super Krogan by the Warlord you are attempting to recruit. He is unstable but a lot of fun as you help him find balance and go through his coming of age as you can make history with him, making a killing that only Wrex had made prior.

Thane – Thane is Drell assassin who you help by rescuing his son. Captain Bailey even helps you out too and makes an easy way for Thane’s son to have a new start. It is from Thane you also learn the one time he didn’t kill was when his wife tried to save his quarry. It is powerful and seeing him recount memories as exact is powerful, as his philosophy of mind and body being separate entities.

Kasumi – Kasumi is DLC and her DLC is awesome! You go undercover to steal the Grey Box from a rich crook. Over the course of the DLC you help her hack and get revenge and after I said she could keep the Box if that is what she wanted. I really liked Kasumi, there was a reason she was my backup tech. after Tali.

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Legion – Legion is a fascinating character. It is Geth as in their are multiple programs that make him up. His arc is saving the Geth from the Reapers as he uploads a virus to combat Reaper control and integrates the other Geth into him. His sole goal is the survival of the Geth but he can see beyond that as he and Tali do become friends. He is a great character and I really enjoyed his loyalty mission.

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Mordin – Mordin is a Salarian Mad Scientist and is one of my favorite characters. He helped improve the Genophage and his arc is dealing with his past actions and his opinion changing about the Krogan. I really enjoyed this character, especially learning how he was a singer and the scene he gives you were he sings Gilbert and Sullivan. He was my early main squad until I did Tali’s mission.

Samara – Samara was my go to Biotic. Her story is powerful and sad as she is an Asari Judicator seeking out her daughter who kills with sex. You make the choice to choose her or her daughter for your team and I obviously chose her. I’m Paragon and Samara is Paragon incarnate. She is old and you learn a lot from her over the course of the game. I missed having Liara on the main team but Samara was so cool I wasn’t too sad.

Tali – Tali was my love interest this game and now I just want to survive through 3 with her and end things with Ashley from 1. She meets you early on when you are with Cerberus and sees right through Cerberus. It was great planning to fight Cerberus with her and helping her when she is put on trial as a Pawn for the Admirals plans against the Geth. Her story is tragic as we learn her father was doing experiments on the Geth that lead to his team getting killed. I chose to not reveal what we found so she wouldn’t be exiled and after the romance took off. Tali is my favorite character in the game at this point. I really want to end “Mass Effect 3” with her and survive the game.

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The Major DLC – The Major DLC as in Kasumi, Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overlord were a lot of fun and really enriched the game…I just wish they’d come with the game already given Liara’s role is too important to be DLC.

Overlord – Overlord involves you rescuing a Savant who has been turned into a rogue AI by Cerberus. It is a sad mission and listening to Tali and Samara’s dialogue made it all the more powerful. We all felt for the guy and it was great rescuing him from his brother and getting him help.

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Lair of the Shadow Broker – This was my favorite mission in the game besides the Suicide Mission. The Lair of the Shadow Broker involves you teaming up with Liara and following a bread crumb trail back to the Shadow Broker’s lair where a final showdown goes down and you take out the current Shadow Broker, leading to Liara’s ascension as the current Shadow Broker. After you can invite Liara to the ship and have wine with her. It was such a fun mission with high rewards, easily one of the best parts of the game.

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Loyalty Missions – Loyalty missions are part of what made this game great. You not only have someone on your squad automatically…you have to earn their loyalty and your choices during the game change that status. The missions themselves are usually a lot of fun with Tali, Legion, Grunt, Mordin and Kasumi being my most favorite loyalty missions.

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The Collectors – The Collectors are the main threat and are established as dangerous early on (they do kill you). Over the course of the missions you learn they are being controlled by the Reaper Harbringer and that they were once Protheans. Each level where you face them is a challenge as they have some pretty powerful weapons and enemies which makes defeating them at the end, all the more rewarding.

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Tali Romance / Romance – Initially I pursued Miranda for saving my life but changed my mind after she was being cruel to Jack and ended it. After Kelly Chambers told me Tali liked me and I pursued her. It was great helping her and Legion come together and she is such a cool character. I loved her relationship with her people and her father and the whole romance scene is beautiful. She takes some things to strengthen her immune system since when Quarrians have sex they are at risk due to their suits keeping all germs and things away, since in space they had to keep everything sterile. After the game I just want to survive Mass Effect 3 with her and end the Ashley Romance that apparently I made happen in 1, that I thought I’d ended at the end of that game.

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The Suicide Mission – The Suicide Mission is powerful and hard. The first time I played it I lost Legion so went back to last save and chose the right people in order for everyone to survive. The stakes are high and I ended it with my main squad of Tali and Samara. Fighting the Human Reaper was so much fun as well as the Collector Harbringer possessed who kept giving us trouble. This mission was easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in gaming.

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My Main Squad – My main squad was Tali as my tech. and Samara as my Biotic. I took these two on the most missions throughout the game. I always play Soldier and it was great having a squad similar to the Tali and Liara main group I used in the first game. My backup tech was Kasumi and after her Mordin and back up Biotic was Jack.

Okay: Zaeed – Zaeed is a rough around the edges creator of the Blue Suns mercenary organization. His loyalty mission is taking out the other leader of the Blue Suns and rescuing the people he endangers. I really didn’t like this guy. He contributes nothing to the crew besides being an extra body for the Suicide Mission.

Too Many Mercs – There are the Blue Suns, Eclipse, Blood Pack, etc. Mercenaries are mostly what you fight and I think that was a missed opportunity. There should be more than mercs controlling the underbelly of the Galaxy.

Overpriced DLC – Zaeed, Kasumi, the Hammerhead, Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overlord. First the 2 new characters should have come free as should have Lair of the Shadow Broker. I enjoyed the DLC but it was expensive. Bioware Credits are a stupid idea that forces you to spend more money than the DLC is actually worth. I still enjoyed the DLC but screw EA and Bioware for not releasing most of it with the game.

The Path I Chose – I chose the path of Paragon, Tali as my romance option and to destroy the Collector Base. On every loyalty mission I did the Paragon options and I chose Samara over Morinth. I really hope these choices matter in “Mass Effect 3.” I don’t want any of my squad to die.

    This is a game I’d highly recommend, and you don’t have to play the first game to do it (though it is more rewarding if you do). This is a Universe on par with “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” in regards to lore and characters I care about. I know I’m probably in for at least some disappoint with “Mass Effect 3” but the first 2 games has made the risk worth it. I care about the world and the characters and want the best outcome for all of them. God, I really have become a Paragon.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 Would be perfect if not for too many Mercs that you fight, overpriced DLC and Zaeed being a waste of a character.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016): Fun Supporting Cast but Narrative Doesn’t Quite Work

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    “Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them,” could have been a really good film. It wasn’t a bad film, not by a long shot…but there were so many narrative issues and plot holes that took away some great chances for drama and character as well as world development that just hurt the overall story. These are my non-spoiler thoughts going in, also I kind of hate that they are turning this into a Franchise as the film’s story feels done after this film, but I guess post-Marvel everybody wants to be a Franchise.

      The film was directed by David Yates, written by J. K. Rowling who was one of the producers along with David Heyman, Steve Cloves and Lionel Wigram.

     The story involves Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrival in NYC in order to release of the animals he’s been studying when he’s pulled into a wider plot as the evil wizard Grindelwald has gone missing in Europe and mysterious attacks are happening all over NYC making Scamander a suspect.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic, though not fully fleshed out. One thing in the Potter Books is that real life events in our world are tied to events in the Wizarding World. In this that is dropped completely as we have anti-wizard organizations in the muggle world and much more moments of the two worlds knowing one another. Not to mention Newt being made to be a bigger deal than he ever was in the Harry Potter World. This is still a fun world though and I enjoyed visiting it again.

The Soundtrack – James Newton Howard hits all the ques. This is the Harry Potter Universe and the magic and music working together to illustrates scenes is on display here.

The Support Characters – The support characters are the best part of this film, and really should have been the focus. There was no reason to pull in Scamander and Hogwarts beyond references. Hell, Grindelwald didn’t even have to be the baddie, America could have it’s own Nazi Wizard. Still, if they have to Grindelwald the support characters were more than enough to carry off the mystery and fight.

Gnarlack – This guy is a goblin who owns a jazz club. He was a cool looking character and I wanted to learn more about him…He was clearly doing well even with wizards looking down on all those who weren’t wizards.

Tina – Tina is the disgraced auror who is seeking to redeem herself through the film. The reason she’s disgraced is because she protected Credence from his abusive anti-witch mother. In the end she nearly saves him again before the aurors kill him when he is coming back down from turning into a Obscurus. She also has a thing for Newt but we never fully get why as Newt never listens to her and just does his own thing.

Queenie – Queenie is so much fun! she is a Witch who can read minds and is one of the liberal witches as she likes the muggle Jacob and doesn’t get the prejudice going on around her. She was one of my favorite characters and she shows how smart she is when she sneaks all of them out of the Ministry before they are executed. It is also implied she gets her happy ending with Jacob. Alison Sudol is fantastic.

Jacob – Dan Fogler is really wonderful in the role as the muggle in over his head but who deals with the unknowns and magic with respect after the shock goes away. He is an all around good guy and vet from the war. I’m really glad that even though his mind got wiped it is assumed he kept the memories from before as the Eagle Monster only wiped away the sad memories from the city.

Okay: Credence – This guy is the plot device of the film as it is his extreme power that turns him into an Obscuro and has him reek havoc through NYC. Grindelwald and Tina are the ones fighting for his soul but no one really wins as the Ministry kills him…and it’s never brought up again. He’s abused by his adoptive Mom and could have been so much more in the plot. He’s a plot device that works but fails to elevate the plot.

Newt Scamander – Newt is a mystery and Redmayne does a fine job with that but a character needs to be more. We never know why he went into protecting creatures, we don’t know why he’s cut off from people or even why he knows so much. He’s enough of a person though that I won’t call him a “Knock-off” Doctor from “Doctor Who,” though I get why some people would think this. He has enough there to be his own person but not enough to draw me in like the supporting cast.

Graves/Grindelwald – Grindelwald has Newt’s problem but at least his motivation is there as he hates the wizarding laws that hide them from humans as he sees it as protecting humans when wizards should revel in their power. For much of the film he is Agent Graves, an Auror who works for the Wizarding Government in the U.S. Why he was acting alone this entire time was stupid though, if you are Wizard Hitler, you should have followers. So of course he gets caught at the end, even Voldemort didn’t act alone…he at least had Quirrel in Book 1.

The Cons: Creating a Franchise – Rowling should write books first so there is a justification for all of this. There is no reason for Franchising a series that only has Pottermore to go on. It feels like a blatant cash grab and super cynical and dirties the waters of what could be a great Franchise if it happened naturally. This film shows the studio just wants some of the “Game of Thrones” and “Marvel” action.

Plot Holes – Why is Grindelwald alone if he has a movement at his back? What brought Newt into studying creatures? How do relations between the Wizarding Governments work? (we see a council but no follow up). What is Grindelwald doing beyond terror attacks? There were more as well but these are some right off the bat that I noticed while watching the film. Rowling had this problem in her books too.

The Right to Memory – This is a hole in Rowling’s universe too. Wizards wipe human minds so many times and that is never addressed. This is a huge moral issues, hell they wipe the memory of an entire city and things just return to the status quo. Wizards and humans eventually should interact with one another, groups remaining isolated leads to terms like muggles, etc. This is never addressed but this mentality is what creates Grindelwald’s and Voldemort’s in the Wizarding World.

   This was a film that really excelled when it was doing the Grindelwald plot, but fell apart when Scamander had to “Catch em’ all.” The creatures are all very cool and I get that it is his job but that is even never fully explored but it takes up so much of the plot that the much more interesting mystery of why Grindelwald is in America get’s sidelined until the very end. This was a tragic waste of what could have been a wizard noir! A lot of these cons are cons the books and films have too. Rowling is a great idea writer and she is really good at characters when she focuses on them but in the process her world and stories end up being full of plot holes, even if they are a fun ride. I’d still recommend this film, just know it is flawed going in.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

“The Librarians” Season 1 – An Amazing Show That Takes the Best Aspects of “Indiana Jones” and “Doctor Who”

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   “The Librarians” is such a great series. Never have I watched a series that captures the fun, adventure and hope of humanity so well since “Doctor Who,” and not only that it does it with the fun and camp adventure of “Indiana Jones.” Suffice to say, for my non-spoiler thoughts…Season 1 is worth checking out if you are a fan of any of the media I mentioned above. The show was born out of two made for tv movies on TNT, both of which I’ll be checking out later.

    The series was created by John Rodgers and airs on TNT.

    The story involves the Librarian Flynn (Noah Flynn) being forced to have another Guardian in the Special Forces NATO soldier Colonel Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) and taking on apprentices when the Library chooses them knowing challenges are coming to it’s existence.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! There are magical beings, monsters, treaties, spells, alternate dimensions and characters out of stories as well as the fascinating characters who inhabit these worlds.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has a hopeful epic quality to it, much like “Doctor Who” with elements of “Indiana Jones” thrown in for good measure. Joseph LoDuca did a great job composing the score.

The Mythology – The mythology is fantastic as we have characters out of Aurthurian Legend shape the world around them. From Morgan La Fey and her trying to escape from our world, from Galahad working with the Library and Lancelot trying to bring back Camelot at it’s height. It is a rich mythology that is the core of the show including the timelessness of “The Library” and the different myths and legends that the Librarians explore.

Adventure – The sense of adventure is one of the strongest parts of this show. It kicks off this way with the pilot and stays true throughout as we travel through time, adventures, ancient temples and magical realms. It is absolutely a fun ride.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the show, each of them has great motivations behind what they do and are not as simple as they first appear to be. These are the ones who carry the show.

Lamia – Lamia is Dulaque’s second-in-command and is a great threat as she takes control of Excalibur and King Arthur’s Crown and uses it to bring magic into the world. Sadly Dulaque kills her in the end to bring back his height of power but we do see her as Cassandra’s second-in-command in an alternate future where Dragons have destroyed everything.

Santa Claus – Bruce Campbell plays Santa and he’s a lot of fun. He manages to capture all the variations of the archetype through time, from St. Nick, to Santa and all the way back to Thor. I kind of hope we see him again, Campbell clearly had fun with the role.

Morgan La Fey –  Alicia Witt does an amazing job at creating a powerful and sympathetic Morgan La Fey. From her history with Jenkins, to Eve being the only one to hurt her in centuries and her desiring escape rather than power. This is a character with dimension who I can’t wait to see again.

Jenkins / Galahad – John Larroquette is great in the mentor role as Galahad/Jenkins the overseer of the Library who help the Librarians train up and to grow. His arc is choosing to fight again after he’s retreated into his work because of how much life/Morgan La Fey/Lancelot have hurt him. It takes his relationship to Eve and the Librarians to find himself again and become the hero of old once more.

Dulaque / Lancelot – Dulaque is a great threat, and I wish we had had more time with him. We see him attempt to overthrow the Library in the Conclave of the magical organizations. He is both a strong threat magically as well as physically. We also see a man who is desperate for the good old days of old, which gives him dimension as every conversation with Galahad reveals that it was his idealism that lead to his fall. Like in the book, Lancelot is a tragic figure.

Jacob – Jacob is a Texan the Library calls who has a love of art and culture and huge tie to family obligation. His arc is finding adventure and learning to see a world outside of his family as well as trust his team. Christian Kane really does a good job. He becomes The Librarian in a post-apocalyptic war reality.

Ezekiel – Ezekiel is a thief and this comes in handy on multiple occasions as he is already his worst self so his arc is finding his nobility and best self. We see this happen over time as he helps Cassandra get past her guilt and is a key player in most of the stories. The character annoyed me at first but he is now a favorite. His arc is fantastic and I liked his sci. fi. Librarian in the reality where ghosts had taken over. John Kim did an amazing job in the role.

Cassandra – Cassandra is one of the new librarians who has a tumor in her brain that helps her visualize thoughts and patterns. She is a great character who starts out betraying the Librarians an the Library but fights for them in the end and spends her arc earning back their trust and making peace with her death that will eventually come. Her story is powerful and Lindy Booth lends the role so much power. In the dimension where she is The Librarian she is a powerful magician who was trained by Morgan La Fey and uses her magic to pull all the other Librarians from their dimension bringing the team together for the final fight against Dulaque.

Colonel Eve Baird – Eve is a skeptic who becomes a believer in magic over the course of the show and has to learn how to be a leader but not necessarily a soldier, as none of the Librarians have any military training. It is when she thinks outside the box as Guardian that we see her really flourish. It is thanks to her that the Universe is saved and the Loom of Fate restored to normal as she helps Flynn find his power once as the Librarian and empowers as the other Librarians in the realities where they are the only Librarian. Rebecca Romijn is a great actress.

Flynn – Noah Wyle could play an american Doctor in “Doctor Who,” his role as the Librarian who kicks everything off is imbued with the love of adventure, arrogance and courage in the face of world ending threats. He was the character who got me hooked on the show and it is thanks to him I came to care about the other Librarians. I can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2 as we see how his arc of becoming a mentor and team player pays off in the long term of this series.

Okay / Cons: Too Pulp At Times – There are some episodes where the camp dialogue almost makes the show too campy. What counters this and why I’m not putting it as a complete con is that the characters are compelling enough to get around some of the hokey dialogue and threats.

The Cons: Will Death Happen? – Eve is brought back to life when Flynn brings back the Library. My fear with this is that we will get into “Doctor Who” territory where no one dies so the villains never end up feeling like a threat. They felt like a threat this season so maybe this won’t be an issue, but Eve’s resurrection at the end was an issue for me as related to future stories.

  This is overwhelmingly a solid show and even though I have fears that death won’t mean anything (which is the same problem I have with “Doctor Who” and some writing choices Moffat pulled). The characters overwhelmingly carry the show through the moments of really camp writing and I love all of the Librarians. Each of them is compelling and gets developed into a fully 3 Dimensional character. I can’t wait to watch Season 2 and learn some more of Flynn’s backstory in the TNT films. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this first season of this series.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10