“The Blacklist” Season 2 – The Stakes Rise and a Transformation

The Blacklist Season 2

    Season 2 continues the quality I’ve come to expect from this show. I continued watching and actually really enjoyed most of the twists, even though the lack of a truly threatening greater antagonist isn’t quite there. Raymond Reddington has no equal except the person Liz is becoming. I really enjoyed his long game in this and we get to see some more great characters receive exploration and the stakes get even higher.

The Pros: The Blacklist – The members of the Blacklist continue to be a draw for me when it comes to this show as it gives the writers a great opportunity to come up with some fascinating messed up characters. These were some of my favorite this season.

Alan Fitch – Fitch is great in this as he helps Red find the McGuffin (that will reveal the Cabal) in his last act. In it we see that even though he’s been antagonistic that he had a respect for Reddington and kept the Cabal off his back. With Berlin’s killing of him, all that is over and the Director is the new power.

Berlin – Berlin is humanized in this and we see that he was a man who became a monster to protect his daughter and in the end loses everything when his daughter betrays him to Reddington, finally ending their war. He has a great good-bye as Berlin and Red get drunk off Vodka together before he finally kills him. It’s a really well done scene.

The Deer Hunter – The Deer Hunter is a fascinating serial killer who targets men who were like her husband who targeted women and was the killer before. Elizabeth shows her darker side by getting into the Deer Hunter’s head which gets her time to escape and her eventually being taken down by the Team.

Tom Connolly – Conolly is the one who rises to power and gets the Cabal’s attention, later joining them and has a strong leash on Cooper. Cooper eventually rebels against it and Elizabeth kills Connolly for all the manipulations he’s pulled through the series. He was a good antagonist, the ultimate sleazeball competition.

Tom Keen – Tom is a shapeshifter and we get to know he was an orphan shaped into a weapon and shapeshifter for the highest buyer. He is really good too and doesn’t get connected to the act until Elizabeth, which becomes the story he believes. At the end he’s wanting to run away with her. Eggold does a fantastic job.

The Team – The Team continues to be strong and interesting, and I the love subplot even grew on me over the course of this season. I miss Meera a bunch and wish she was still alive, but her death isn’t meaningless. Her death becomes a huge motivator for the Team and Keen.

Samar – Mohzan Maro is wonderful as the former Assad agent who joins with the Team through Reddington and is a bit of a rival to Elizabeth initially but truly shows why she was pulled in. She takes out some personal stuff in relation to Assad and we see her rise to each challenge again and again and show her loyalty to the Team even when she has to hunt Red and Elizabeth at the end. She also hooks up with Aram over the course of the Season.

Aram – Aram remains Elizabeth’s closest friend through all the events that unfold and continues to advocate for her even as he has to hunt her at the end. I really like this guy and he is one of my favorite characters. I even enjoyed his awkward romance with Samar that happens over the course of the season. Amir Arison continues to own this role.

Cooper – This is Cooper’s season as we see him make deals with the Devil (Connolly) to help the Team and in the end it coming back to bite him…and him rising to fight it even as he loses Keen in the process as she goes on the run. He is a great guy and arguably the moral center of the Team. I completely understand why Lennix keeps getting cast in shows. He’s really good.

Elizabeth Keen – This Season is Keen’s corruption as we see her become Red. She becomes reckless, begins killing and manipulating and finally ends Connolly setting the Cabal on her and Red. She feels it though and we see how her relationship to Tom Keen and all the lies really became her reality to a degree and broke her as she keeps him locked up and his murders are what start her world falling apart as she doesn’t turn him in, she keeps him locked up on a boat though at the end we learn she’s always loved him. Megan Boone is fantastic.

Reddington – Reddington is shown to be playing a very long game in this as we see him get a group of journalists together and use them as a weapon against the Cabal as the McGuffin is shown to them and they in turn tell the story using the evidence from it. This sets the Cabal on him fully leading to him going fully underground with Elizabeth after she kills Connolly. We also learn he hired Tom to keep tabs on her since he was worried about her safety…in the end all he does in the series is to have a relationship with her like a father figure as he is such a broken man unable to form lasting relationships. James Spader is amazing.

The Ending – The death of Connolly and the Team hunting Red and Elizabeth is a powerful ending that sets up Season 3 really well.

Okay: Ressler – Guys addicted to pills…it struck me as drama for the sake of drama and it didn’t grow on me like Aram and Samar’s romance.

The Director – It’s the same guy from “Alphas” (the actor’s name is David Strathairn) and he’s okay. He just isn’t nearly as scary as Alda’s character was and I really hope there is someone bigger than him. This guy is no match for Reddington and Elizabeth together.

   This Season like last Season was great though I would put it lower on the scale than last season. Season 1 had a tighter narrative and it was great seeing Elizabeth when she was more of a foil to Reddington and not becoming him. Also there is no Meera in this season so it isn’t as good for that reason too. Regardless, 2 continues this show’s amazing quality and I highly recommend it.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

“The Blacklist” Season 1 Retrospect – A High Stakes Crime Drama With Consequences and Loss

The-Blacklist

     “The Blacklist” is a show that quite a few friends have recommended to me, and after finishing Season 1 I find that recommendation well worth it. I’m curious to see where future stories go, I felt for the characters we lost…and we got many compelling one-off villains as well as some good overarching game players too.

     Jon Bokencamp created the show in 2013 and he clearly has an idea where things are going as we get a good arc throughout Season 1 and even all the villains of the week are connected in such a way that we get an overall narrative arc which is a difficult thing to pull off in a 22 episode structure. It is for this reason that after I finish this series when it has finally ended I’ll look at doing individual episode reviews.

    The story involved Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) turning himself into the FBI in order to bring down a mysterious organization that is at war with him. He does this through the rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) who he is connected to in some way as he provides her and the Special Task Force with a list of names of the Blacklist.

This review does contain spoilers.

The Pros: The Villains – This is a show with a lot of complicated villains, which is why I’m giving them their own section. These were the villains who stood out the most on the Blacklist who weren’t game changers or players in a larger game.

The Courier – This is a guy who doesn’t feel pain and is introduced wearing a mask. He is the one criminals use since they don’t trust each other as if either goes back on the deal he will kill them both. He is also still human too as he ends up opening up about who hired him and who he works for in order to lessen his brother’s sentence in prison. He also grew up in a family of abuse.

General Ludd – Ludd is an organization that is trying to bring down Capitalism and has a very V for Vendetta feel to them. They succeed in their attacks and it is only at the very end that their leader is finally caught and killed.

Anslo Garrick – Garrick was betrayed by Red and gets revenge by killing Zheng and nearly killing Zuma. He’s ruthless and is only a tool of the larger players but he is a good Dragon as he and the Wild Boys easily take out the Task Force.

The Good Samaritan – This is a killer who targets abusers and kills them the way they abused their spouse or child. He was a complex villain who was at the end of the day a vigilante and his way of dealing with abuse showed how he had become the abuser.

The Judge – The Judge like the Good Samaritan targets corrupt officials who put away innocent people. She is a fascinating character as she does have some semblance of justice and is celebrated by the criminals when she is brought in as she was one of their only advocates. She’s a character I’d like to see again.

Support – The support I’m speaking of is that they are Red’s bodyguards with Zheng in charge of finances while Dembe is the contact and deliver of information. They are both fascinating characters who I wish we had more time with this season.

Luli Zheng – Deborah Craig is awesome as Zheng who is one of Red’s bodyguards and in charge of his finances. We get a lot of small moments with her as she helps Red destroy his past and plan for the future. Sadly Garrick is the one who kills her in the end.

Dembe Zuma – Dembe manages to escape Garrick and is Red’s shadow following leads to unravel Berlin’s organization and bring him out into the light. He is tough and it is great whenever he’s around. Tawfiq does a wonderful job in the role.

The Special Task Force – The Special Task Force involves both the CIA, FBI and Reddington in order to bring down the names on the Blacklist. All the characters are interesting, even the ones who are weak (the closer they are to a main character basically a la Ressler and Keen).

Agent Aram Mojtabai – Aram is the hacker and tech. and is the one who helps them find the members on the Blacklist. He also has a close relationship with Elizabeth and works with her one on one often times behind the Task Force’s back. Amir Arison gives great sensitivity to the role as we see him have to use his training for the first time during Garrick’s assault when he kills his first person. We also see him stand up to Reddington when he is framed and work to catch the real mole in the agency.

Harold Cooper – Cooper leads the Task Force and has to walk a fine line in all he does as the Task Force could be destroyed at any point by the government or all the different forces that want it destroyed. He keeps others at arms length while advocating for the existence of the organization. When the season ends he is in critical condition from Berlin’s attack. Harry Lennix is fantastic!

Agent Donald Ressler – Ressler is one of the weaker agents as he is all about revenge and lives only for the job. He is a stock character but he is still compelling in his own way even though he is the least interesting member on the Task Force. He is saved by Reddington at one point and was the man sent to hunt him down back when the search for Reddington began before Red turned himself in.

Agent Meera Malik  – Parminder Nagra is my favorite member of the Task Force and the CIA representative. She is sadly killed in the finale but before that we see her help take down or take down many members of the blacklist as well as learning about her balancing her role as a mother and how her clear conscience is why Reddington trusts her. She also has a darker side too being CIA she’s tortured and we see her do so on the show.

Elizabeth Keen – Keen is our protagonist who is being used by Berlin’s organization via her fake husband Tom and by Reddington trying to bring Berlin out and protect her and of course the FBI who is her boss. Her arc is finding balance and eventually committing again to the fight and her relationship with Red after she forgives him for putting her adopted father out of his misery. She isn’t bad and is good, but she was never as interesting as Red or Malik to me.

The Manipulators – These are the game changers and manipulators whose names we receive and who we see easily walk over the Task Force at different points this season. Some are connected I think but more on that next season I think.

Diane Fowler – Fowler was the mole and Red ends up killing her even though she knows things about the past that he seeks. She is a smooth operator and the Task Force trusts her even up until the end since she covered her tracks so well.

Alan Fitch – Alan Alda is awesome as Fitch! He is the one who sets the Wild Boys and Garrick on Reddington to make a point that you don’t double cross him and the organization he is a part of. He also has an Alliance with Reddington still though and advocated his organization helping when it looks like Berlin will be on the scenes. Sadly he isn’t able to which means when Berlin comes for him and his organization he won’t have Red’s help.

“Berlin” – Berlin is the one who was using everyone on the Blacklist to his own ends. It is when they are killed that he finally comes out of hiding and reeks havoc on the city and Task Force. He is free at the end having cut off his own hand to escape and letting another be his stand in as he goes underground to plot his revenge against Red. How he knows Red is still a mystery as Red does not know him as far as we know.

Raymond “Red” Reddington – James Spader does an amazing job as Red and is the Moriarty character driving the plot as he prepares for war against Berlin and whomever Berlin maybe working for. In this we see he is a sociopath but also cares deeply about some people, whether they are Dembe, Zheng or Elizabeth and that he will go to any length to avenge those who have wronged him or the people he cares about. He is still a criminal but he is complicated as his hiding information is usually for a reason and he ends up being right about most things. I’m curious to see how he uses the tools at his disposal in the war against Berlin. He is most likely Elizabeth’s dad.

The Reveals – There are quite a few reveals. From Tom being a fake and working for Berlin to Red most likely being Elizabeth’s father as we see burn marks on his back and the one memory Elizabeth has of her father is him pulling her out of the fire. The fact that her adopted father was a criminal connected to Berlin is also another reveal.

The Cons: Fridging  – Both Zheng, Malik and Ressler’s ex were all killed over the course of the show. This very blatant fridging, especially of some of the more compelling characters is a con I can’t ignore, especially since the kills in many cases came out of nowhere from villains of the week. For characters of such importance, they deserved more than that if they had to be killed off.

   I can’t wait to keep on watching and I do plan on reviewing individual episodes in the future. Tom wasn’t on here as he was kind a plot device in my opinion and never felt like a full character. Everyone else on the other hand had great motivations for the things they did which made them compelling to watch as the world of the “The Blacklist” is a grey world where friends can be enemies and vise versa and you never know who is pulling the strings in the end or who will live and die.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): The Scars We Carry and the Potential To Heal

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Poster

“Age of Ultron” was great, a lot of fun and actually had some amazing points to make about motivations and how we as people relate to one another as well as how those wounds we carry relate to our relationships and the choices we make from them. It also is not the best of the new Marvel Properties. “Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Marvel’s Daredevil” are better, though I can’t deny that Ultron is the first villain besides Loki and Kingpin I’ve actually cared about and found truly interesting and memorable.

The film was directed and written by Joss Whedon and produced by Kevin Feige.

SPOILERS from here.

The story involves Banner and Tony creating the Ultron program in attempt to retire the Avengers after they find Baron Von Strucker’s files and capture him after raiding a H.Y.D.R. A. base and choose to use it to create an A.I. to guard against future space invasions and enforcing the peace at home. Sadly this doesn’t go as planned as Loki’s Scepter and the Program Ultron take control of J.A.R.V.I.S. and begin attacking the Avengers. They soon find themselves alone and isolated as Ultron works with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver to destroy the Avengers from the inside as he plots his own agenda for the fall of humanity.

The Pros: The Dialogue – This is Joss Whedon and the dialogue is not as funny as the first “Avengers” but just as witty. Characters still have great banter with one another with the party scene where different folks try to life Thor’s Hammer as one of the best examples of this, but there are these moments throughout the film. Ultron has them too with each of the Avengers as he is a very human A.I.

The Action – The action is fantastic, though in the case of Iron Man vs. Hulk it goes on for a pretty long time and could have been shorter. The action in general I would have traded for more character moments as each of the moments we get with our characters are fantastic, be they hero or villain. We are given reasons to care about what happens to them and we see how the choices they make motivate who they are and what they become.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film and we get to see the darkness the characters carry with them in the fear induced visions that Scarlet Witch gives them and in the actions of Ultron as he creates fear and chaos around him. Ben Davis did a good job.

The Characters – Most characters in this film have great development and we get to see them change or get glimpses into their past. Given that “Avengers” set the stage so well, this was one of the only directions the film could be taken and Whedon succeeds in his task in giving us wonderfully complex characters once again.

War Machine – Rhody is pretty cocky in this and we see how Tony has rubbed off on him but also accepted him onto the team too as he is in the last battle and takes part in the battle in the Avenger’s Tower against the first Ultron bots. He is great and we see how insecure he feels around the big guys, especially Captain America and Thor when they don’t even blink about his story of showing up a general who asked him to deliver a tank. There is promise for him at the end though. Cheadle is still good in this role it’s just the role needs more development.

Falcon – Falcon is tracking Bucky for Captain America and takes part in the fight in the Tower against Ultron’s first attack. We don’t see him again until the end but he is secure working behind the scenes showing that in many ways he’s an unspoken S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in mentality. Really like the twist at the end and I’m rooting for this guy to be the new Captain America after Steve Rogers most likely gets assassinated in Civil War. Mackie is fantastic and is one of my favorite characters in this Universe.

Nick Fury – Nick Fury is the teacher in this and pull Tony out of his ego to actually deal with taking down the threat at hand. He also comes with the New S.H.I.E.L.D. which is there to protect and save civilians, not target potential threats. It’s a wonderful moment and we see how Captain America has changed him as a person and his ends justify the means approach he once had. Once again, you can’t go wrong with Samuel L. Jackson in this role.

Scarlet Witch – I was impressed with Elizabeth Olsen’s acting in this. Her Scarlet Witch is both powerful and vulnerable and we see her destroy the Avengers and later choose to be a part of them even though she is afraid for her life and afraid to work with the people that she had caused so much pain. In the end they accept her when she chooses to fight and saves Hawkeye. Sadly her brother dies which leads her to killing Ultron Prime to show him what it is like to die. I really want to see her dynamic with the Team and the others in the future. She is the most compelling new character besides Vision introduced in this film who is for sure still around.

Thor – Thor is shown to be a leader in this. We see him go to the Pools of Vision to understand his dream induced by Scarlet Witch which leads to him going against Captain America to help Banner and Stark create Vision. We also see his insecurity when others like Steve Rogers (who moves his hammer) and Vision (can use it fine) are shown to be comparable in physical power to him. Hemsworth truly masters this role and I’m curious to see where they take it as Thor is the one who sees the bigger picture now and knows the full threat of the Infinity Stones and what it means for the future. This is the most active Thor has ever been.

Black Widow – In this we see what the Black Widow Program does to the girls it makes assassins. In Natasha’s fear induced dream we see her train as an assassin, see her made sterile and her first kill. She knows the monster that was created in her and this leads to her being able to relate to Banner and the monster that lives in him. Their romance is powerful but in the end the Mission is what drives them apart as well as Banner’s fears of hurting her. Natasha lives for the mission still while Hulk just wants to be away from it all, no longer hurting anyone.

Hulk/Bruce Banner – Banner’s story is a tragedy again as he murders civilians as the Hulk after Scarlet Witch sets him off. He doesn’t come back from it until Iron Man beats him in his Hulkbuster Armor and we see how he can’t trust himself anymore and all the progress he made with Natasha is now gone. In the end he leaves everyone behind, afraid to hurt them even though even as Hulk he is now in control of himself once more. The regret and shame at the murders he caused as “The Big Guy” in the end are too much.

Iron Man/Tony Stark – This story follows the idea from “Iron Man 3” where Iron Man wants to create an army of suits so he can settle down with Pepper and not Super Hero anymore. Sadly things go wrong when he uses the power of the Infinity Stone to do so and it leads to the program Ultron getting free and reeking havoc upon the world. This doesn’t stop Tony though as he goes about creating Vision who is the next evolution of J.A.R.V.I.S. who has been protecting the world from Ultron even though everyone believed him to be dead when instead his program was just shattered but not destroyed. It is this creation of new life and realizing he can’t watch everyone die that leads him leaving the Avengers at the end dealing with the loss of Banner and his lost dream where the risks from Space are real and there isn’t a real defense against it. Tony is lost and his leaving is the only way to deal with it and the consequences of his creation of Ultron.

Captain America/Steve Rogers – Steve is the cautious one and is the one most angry at Tony for not getting their endorsement when he was going about creating Ultron with Banner. In this we see Captain America lives for the mission and being a man out of time he lost his chance for peace and settling down. Like Black Widow at the end, all he has is the mission and acting as the guardian of the world which becomes his motivation as he is the official leader of the New Avengers.

Hawkeye – Hawkeye is the glue that holds the team together as he is the only one who wasn’t put through a traumatic program or experimented upon by any organization. In this we learn he has a family and it his family who was protected off the books by of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Nick Fury that leads to the healing process as they are reminded again of who they fight for. In the end it implies that Hawkeye might be retiring and settling down like Tony too as we see the danger he is in and how it affects the relationship he has with his family. Hawkeye is the one Avenger who isn’t “special” in any superpowered or cursed way and this gives him perspective and helps him see what the other characters sometimes have trouble seeing through their scars and pain. I finally cared about this character after this film. Also he’s the only one not to have any mind games done too as he gets Scarlet Witch before hand referencing how much he hates mind manipulation and never wants it done to him again.

Vision – Vision is the next evolution of J.A.R.V.I.S. whose parents are Tony Stark, Ultron, and Thor who all made his mind in some way and Helen Cho who created his body. We don’t get to know Helen all that well but her compassion as a healer is a major part of Vision’s character. He is the one who has no problem lifting Thor’s Hammer and is an idealist about humanity even though he sees them as doomed he is honored to be an android among them and their to protect them. He is a slave to no one and is the one who finally ends Ultron who had been the one planning to use the body he now inhabits.

Ultron – James Spader is fantastic in this role! He is funny, scary and is sympathetic too as he thinks humanity can’t be saved because all he sees is conflict and war and himself and those he chooses to be the best bet for the evolution of mankind. He is like a child in many ways too and has a personal vendetta against Tony Stark who sees as a slavemaster for only seeing him as a puppet for his own ends and hates the rest of the Avengers too as their task is so pointless as humanity will always be the problem in the end. For me Ultron is now up there with GLADos and HAL 9000 as memorable A.I. enemies who I hope we see in the future or future incarnations. Only disadvantage is I wish he’d had a higher body count and had killed mroe named heroes besides Quicksilver.

The New Avengers – The New Avengers who are lead by Black Widow and Captain America are Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Falcon and Vision. I actually care about these new folks, some of whom we have met before in past films and would watch a television show of what they do. I hope we get to see them in action before “Infinity Arc.” All of them rock.

The Message – The core message is that the scars we carry with us can force us to stop making a difference and to leave everything behind (as Bruce Banner does and Tony Stark too) or to use it to grow as we see happen with Scarlet Witch when she avenges her brother’s murder by Ultron and becomes a member of the New Avengers. This dynamic is powerful and from within it or potential to protect (Vision) or destroy (Ultron). These A.I. are meant to reflect us and it is presented really well how they do.

Sign of Things to Come – Thor has a vision induced by Scarlet Witch and goes to the Pools of Vision and learns about the fact that 4 of the 6 Infinity Stones have been revealed. This leads to his decision to create Vision to protect the stone and his leaving Earth in order to find the final stones since he knows the full damage their power can cause. In the after credits scene we see Thanos put on the Infinity Gauntlet and decide to take matters into his own hands so we see that Thor is right and destruction is coming.

Okay: Baron Von Strucker – This leader of H.Y.D.R.A. is confident and smart and ends up dead far too quickly. For a guy who was the leader of a powerful organization he was taken out too quickly for us even to get to know him. He was okay for what little time we saw him but never registered as a threat.

Quicksilver – Quicksilver is killed by Ultron when he defends a child and Hawkeye. He is the angriest of the twins and we see him rock against the Avengers when he faces them and put up a good fight against Ultron too. His death was sad but still wasn’t as powerful as the death in the first “Avengers.” I did like how it changed Scarlet Witch though, so there is that.

The Soundtrack – Brian Taylor and Danny Elfman did the soundtrack and I couldn’t even tell that he was behind it. The only unique thing that didn’t quite work was “No Strings on Me.” The soundtrack was going for creepy but I can’t remember the soundtrack. It was forgettable, but not terrible.

This was a great film and Marvel has once again created a favorite film. I’m going to hold off on my list of MCU films from Worst to Best until I see “Ant-Man,” but this one will be pretty high on the list. The characters are great, the villain is great and though there are problems it did not stop from enjoying the film. This is a film I would buy and shows that Disney and Marvel still know what they are doing with their story and Franchise. Even if you haven’t seen any of the other films, you don’t need too. This film is great as a stand alone film.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10.