Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 4, Episode 11 – “Data’s Day” – Defining Data and Relationships

Data's Day (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom

  “Data’s Day” was an unexpected gem. I must have watched this episode years ago but I did not remember any of the events of the story so the relationships and reveals lead to this becoming one of my favorite episodes in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” This is an episode told completely from Data’s point of view and it is beautifully handled as we see him navigate many intriguing and complicated situations. I’ll get into more of what I mean deeper into the review.

The teleplay was written by Ronald D. Moore and Harold Apter and the episode was directed by Robert Wiemer.

The story follows Data recounting his daily routine as he faces preparation for Keiko and Miles’s wedding and working with the Captain as they work with the mysterious Vulcan Ambassador T’Pel.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Data’s Correspondence to Bruce Maddox – The episode is told through correspondence that Data is having with Bruce Maddox from “The Measure of a Man.” I love that they became friends and that Data is still helping him with his research and understanding androids. This gives a personal nature to Data’s musings and what is going on in his mind. We get to see his connection to crewmembers and how his journey to be more human is going.

The Neutral Zone Mystery – Ambassador T’Pel is having the crew scan the Neutral Zone and after them meet up with Admiral Mendak’s Warbird. We learn that the idea was a secret meeting to establish a thawing of relations between the Romulan Star Empire and Federation. All as not as it appears to be though as it looks as if T’Pel dies in transporting over to the Warbird. I loved how much tension this mystery creates through the episode as T’Pel only gets along with Data and Picard.

Data’s Relationship to Members of the Crew – One of the strongest parts of the episode are Data’s relationships. In this he is “Father of the Bride” for Keiko because he was the one who introduced Miles and Keiko to one another and he navigates the conflict they are having before their wedding. He also comments how Worf is an outsider like him, Geordi is his best friend and he because of this he can try out new ideas with him. Dr. Crusher teaches him how to dance in one of the most wholesome scenes in “Star Trek.” He discusses relationships with Troi and comments on how Riker’s relationships and Picard’s advocacy has shaped him and the respect he has for them. We see how all are connected to Data before the wedding takes place and it is beautifully done. The crew and their relationship to Data is truly what made this episode stand out and the episode could have stood on this plot alone.

The Romulan Reveal – Ambassador T’Pel was a Romulan Agent Sub-Commander Selok the entire time. This reveal is done and gives us a Romulan victory as when Picard goes back to the Warbird her true identity is revealed. Picard has to retreat though as many Warbirds are coming to make sure she makes it back to their space safely. Admiral Mendak is an awesome antagonist and it was great seeing the Romulans get a win that was built on espionage and their intelligence.

Data Learns to Dance – Data learns to tap dance from Dr. Crusher first and it is adorable and wholesome. Once Dr. Crusher learns he is learning to dance for the wedding she teaches him Waltz, which takes more time for him to learn where tap he could pick up fast because he could see the foot movements and didn’t have to lead. I loved this entire sequence. It was so innocent and showed the little nuances that made Data so human. His relationship to Dr. Crusher is great in this too. She’s like his older sister and mentor and this scene illustrates it really well.

We get a great Romulan plot and an amazing plot showing Data’s relationship to all the members of the main crew. I could not find a single con in this episode and this episode illustrates what makes Data one of my favorite characters in “Star Trek.” As someone with autism I can relate to his analytical view of relationships and the disconnect he must feel sometimes. But I also get putting all the work into making those relationships last and work because they matter. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this episode. This is easily one of my favorite episodes in all of “Star Trek.”

Final Score: 10 / 10

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.

 

“Star Trek: Picard” Season 1 – Good Characters That Needed a Further Developed World

STAR TREK: PICARD - REMEMBRANCE - PhantaNews

      Season 1 of “Star Trek: Picard” is flawed but has more that works than doesn’t in the end. This is a series that is willing to explore quite a few different factions that are at odds and still focus on the characters who drive the story. It doesn’t all work, I would not call this series great but it is good and has the potential to be great in future seasons. This is a review that will include SPOILERS so warning you now, I’m exploring what works and doesn’t work about this season for me so I will be in the details. Continue reading at your own risk. In the end, more worked for me than didn’t and I really hope we see characters and the world developed further in Season 2.

This is a season reflection so will contain SPOILERS as it covers what I liked and hated in the narrative.

The Pros:

Premise – The premise of the show is really strong. You have a Federation that has retreated from the world and outlawed the building of synthetics after synthetics destroy the shipyards on Mars. This in turn leads to a refugee crisis as Mars was building ships to help get Romulans out of the blastzone of the Hobas Supernova. Picard resigns in protest against Starfleet, which brings us to the present and Dahj, an android made from Data’s postaron seeking out Picard’s protection after an attempt is made to kindap her.

Soundtrack – Jeff Russo’s soundtrack is beautiful and reflective and has a hint of melancholy about it. This worked really well as what drives the show is Picard facing is own mortality and what he wants to make of the rest of his life as he comes out of retirement. The theme song reflects this well as well as the underlying mystery as Dahj and Soji discover they are androids slowly and the soundtrack captures that.

Cinematography – Picard is a good looking show. The cinematography is movie quality and the use of sets and green screens are blended together really well.

Star Trek: Picard's Best New Characters Are Laris and Zhaban

Laris and Zhaban – Laris and Zhaban are former Tal Shiar and Picard’s carekeepers at the winery. Laris is one of my favorite characters on the show and both of these characters bring a human face to the conflict. They believe in Picard and helping the refugees and are the ones who tell Picard about the Zhat Vash. I wish we had gotten more time with both of them as we saw they have given up their old ways but still use their training to protect.

Zhat Vash – The Zhat Vash are a secret order that seeks to destroy all synthetic lifeforms as due to a beacon left on a planet they saw that advanced synths will destroy all life. The members of the order we meet are Oh, Narissa and Narek. Oh is half-Vulcan while Narissa and Narek are adoptive siblings. All of them are damaged in different ways and see their desire to protect the universe from the synths above all else. I’m really curious to see if we will learn more about them in Season 2 as they do not succeed in destroying Soji’s people and the new Synths made from Data.

Seven of Nine – Seven of Nine has changed since the last time we saw her, and I appreciate the direction it took. She is part of the Rangers who are a group fighting criminals in the area that was once the Neutral Zone. Seven finds her story tied to Picard as she gets revenge against the woman who killed Icheb. After she is pulled back to Picard when Elnor uses Hugh’s emergency beacon and she and Elnor fight the Romulans with Seven even taking control of the Cube as a Queen at one point. After she and Elnor are taking care of the Ex-Borgs until they rejoin Picard. I’m curious to see her relationship with the Ex-Borgs explored further and her relationship to whatever form the Borg are now. Jeri Ryan did an amazing job.

Ex-Borg Hugh's Character Arc in 'Picard' Embodies the Best of ...

Hugh – Hugh was my favorite character besides Laris and Jonathan Del Arco returned to this character beautifully. He is the Director on “The Artifact” and is helping Ex-Borg also called xBs heal from the trauma of assimilation. The fact that the Romulans are good with him until he tries to get to the Queen’s room says a lot for Federation influence and the impression he left. He reminds Picard of how all xBs were victims of the Borg Collective and Picard doesn’t have to ask twice for him to help. He is only killed when is scene as breaking the treaty by helping Elnor and the Zhat Vash agent “Narissa” kills him. I hated this death initially and but on further reflection, him dying fighting to help another is fitting as that was his final act in “Descent” Part 2 which was his final appearance on “The Next Generation” and lead to him leading the free Borg who had been under Lore’s control. I do hope they bring him back in some capacity, flashbacks of how he knew Seven of Nine would be very fitting or if Seven gets a show have it be during the time when he was alive.

The Crew – I liked the crew though it is hard for me to really choose one who I like more than the characters mentioned above. Soji brings a curiosity and presence as Data’s daughter, Raffi brings empathy and cynicism, Caption Rios is broken with hidden idealism and Agnes, Elnor is the young innocent and ruthless bodyguard and Agnes is the torn over honest doctor. Each of them bring something reveals a part of Picard as his relationship to them also reveals aspects of them. It is a good crew and if I had to choose favorites it’d probably be Elnor and Captain Rios.

Riker and Troi – Riker and Troi offer relief for Soji and Picard from the Zhat Vash and Riker arrives with the Federation fleet to protect the Synths from the Zhat Vash. Seeing how much all of them had grown and their relationship to one another was powerful. Sirtis and Frakes truly inhabit their roles and they brought much needed wisdom that Picard needed. I hope this isn’t the last of them we see on the show.

Picard – This main story on the show is that of Picard and him facing his regrets, trauma and mortality. He faces his regrets in his going into retirement rather than seeking to change Starfleet, he faces his trauma in once more facing his history with the Borg and what was done to him and his mortality in his illness and death. In the end he is granted a chance to live without the illness, though it involves finally saying good-bye to Data and granting his last wish for death.

Data and his Legacy – Data’s legacy lives on the synthetics and the society they created when Maddox and Alton Soong used his positrons to make them. In the end it is one of his “children” Soji who saves his people and lives his idealism over the fear that is felt towards him and his people. We also see that he has been living in a holographic world since his psyche was saved out of B-4 after “Nemesis.” In the end he wants to die to complete his quest to become human and like a human his life lives on in the society made from him. It is beautifully done and Spiner finally gave Data the sendoff he deserved.

Brent Spiner And Patrick Stewart: Saying Goodbye To Data On 'Star ...

Confronting Fear and Persecution of “The Other” – Another theme of the series was fear of the other and facing it. Hugh had become the Director on “The Artifact” to protect and take of the xBs as he told Picard, they had no home and everyone feared them. Those same rules applied to synthetic from their outlaw by the Federation and the Zhat Vash quest to exterminate them. We see Soji’s people and herself fear and experience first hand. I hope this thread isn’t dropped as it as all the more important today.

The Cons:

Dropped Plot Threads – There are quite a few dropped plot threads that hurt the narrative. We have the xBs and them forming a civilization with Seven of Nine and Elnor and it is just forgotten as we see Seven and Elnor as member’s of Picard’s new crew in the final shot. We never learn why Maddox left the Synthetic homeworld, which given he would have been protected there made no sense why he’d leave. These are just a few of the dropped plot threads that could have easily been wrapped up with more dialogue at the very least.

Lack of Starfleet Perspective – Everyone in the crew and even Picard are all former Starfleet. This I think is a disservice as Starfleet comes to save the day at the end but no one within Starfleet is picked up as a part of Picard’s crew. This was a missed oppurtunity and would have been a great oppurtunity to have someone who contrasted with the rest of the crew. They wouldn’t even have to be “Next Generation” cast, just someone who still believed in Federation but also felt they had to help Picard and his mission.

Actual Political State of the Romulans – We learn about the Zhat Vash, meet a Romulan Refugee planet and that the Romulan Free State was in control of “The Artifact” which was the Borg Cube. Is the Romulan Star Empire gone? Is the Romulan Free State the only organized faction or are there others? The Romulan Star Empire was huge but I had no idea if they even had an Empire anymore as we only have the Free State who the Zhat Vash seem to control. This would have been such an easy fix and could have been solved in showing us a map of the region.

The Synthetic Threat – The Reaper like Synethic threat are a faction we get a glimpse of but are never taken on directly. We learn that they exterminate organic life and apparently come from another dimension and not much more than that. We even see one coming through the portal but that threat is never addressed. They are put away when at the very least I wish we could have learned more about this threat that caused the Zhat Vash to destroy the Romulan rescue fleet when they hacked the synths on Mars.

This was a flawed show but in the end it was good. I liked the moments the show slowed down and we got to know where Riker and Troi were. When we got to know the villains they became compelling and the characters who returned had lives that took fascinating directions. The show was flawed and as a whole I would consider it good but not reach great. It had a great ending and I loved how it explored the characters and themes, but too many unexplained plot and world elements held it back. Regardless, I can’t wait to see where the story is explored from here.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

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Captain Marvel (2019): A Compelling World and Greater Point

     “Captain Marvel” is a film that is draped in controversy. The more I’ve read about it the more I don’t understand it. Brie Larsen talked about diversity in media (https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/movies/brie-larson-calls-more-diversity-film-criticism-following-usc-study-n88314), which is a pretty basic moral good. Having more perspectives at the table is a positive. There has been a reaction to this that has been pretty toxic, all one has to do is look up Brie Larsen and youtube to see just how bad it became. That is all I’m going to say on this as I came for the story and further exploration of Marvel Cosmic, which this film delivered on. Without going into details, I’m all the more pumped for “Avengers: Endgame.”

     The film was directed by Ana Boden and Ryan Fleck who also wrote the screenplay along with Geneva Roberston-Dworet.

The story follows Vers (Brie Larsen) a Kree Warrior who can’t remember her past but is pulled towards it when she is captured by the Kree’s shape-shifting enemies known as the Skrull. Their infiltration of her mind points her to memories of Earth and when she escapes to while Skrull forces arrive as well, seeking what she knows. From here she must work with Fury to discover her past and the truth of who she is.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Marvel Cosmic Universe – This is a movie that has a lot of lore on both the Kree and Skrull. This is Marvel Cosmic in the same way “Thor” films sometimes too and “Guardians of the Galaxy” always has. This film fits comfortably in those and is definitely better than the first 2 “Thor Films,” though for me the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films keep getting better with each rewatch, so it definitely isn’t that level. In this film you learn about the Supreme Intelligence who rules the Kree (in this film appearing as what person matters most to the individual interacting with it). This was my main reason for coming since as a sci. fi. nerd I love a well developed Cosmic Universe, which the MCU have done a good job of doing.

Fury – Samuel L. Jackson is Agent Fury in this and ends up being Vers’s partner as they seek her past. He starts out antagonistic as he’s had no experience with aliens and it is the events that happen in this film that shape his more cynical world view of the Fury we meet later. In this we see him before he became cynical and I appreciated how warm he was. This was a man who had fought as special forces in countless wars but had found a way to live. I hope we see him get more development in later films as this film still leaves so much open in regards to what he was doing before the first “Iron Man” and what he was doing before this film.

Goose – Goose is Mar-Vell’s Flerken, an alien cat capable of consuming anything. Goose is awesome and when our heroes are facing down enemy forces at the end, Goose eats them, saving both Fury and the refugees they are helping. Fury ends up keeping the Flerken too even though it takes out his eye over the course of the movie. I would not mind seeing this cat again, especially if it is taking out enemy soldiers once more.

The Kree-Skrull War – The main conflict is the Kree-Skrull War. This is war where we don’t know who started it (it implies it was probably the Kree) and now has become a one-sided war. The Skrull have largely gone into hiding with only their strong forces taking on the best of the Kree, which leads to their capture of Vers and where we learn however long the war has been going on, what the Kree are doing has become unjust. They have been doing extermination lead by Ronin by this point in the conflict and it is Mar-Vell who is trying to rescue them and help them find a new world before she is taken out by Kree special forces lead by Yon-Rogg. It is only Carol Danvers (Vers true name) who stops the Kree from getting the super-engine she’s crafted from the Tesseract energy and from here Danvers becomes the hammer of the Kree against the Skrull. By the end of the film Carol Danvers, having come into her full power once more returns to face Kree leadership to end the war and help the Skrull’s find a new home safe from the Kree. Where this war is in the modern timeline is up in the air but there is so much history in this film that I found it all fascinating. Kree distrust of the Skrull’s is so great that on their homeworld they have announcements of days since the last Skrull attack and everyone asks questions of each other to make sure they are Skrull infiltrators. The main leaders in the conflict are Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) who leads the refugee Skrull and leads Skrull Intelligence and the Great Intelligence of the Kree whose commanders are Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

Vers / Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel – Brie Larsen does a great job as Captain Marvel. She doesn’t know who she is so what she can do is limited at first, but once she arrives on Earth and starts putting her past together she really comes into her own. This is a character dealing with being brainwashed and gaslit by the Kree and her freeing herself from that, and in turn freeing the Skrull refugees who the Kree hunt is a powerful story. Throughout the story her commander Yon-Rogg is telling her not to feel and to repress herself, while his people repress her abilities. It is toxic and we see how her abusive father was the same way. Throughout the movie is her dealing with this, as she discovers the truth of what was done to her and from that what she chooses to fight and to stand-up for herself and others.

Talos – This is my favorite Ben Mendelsohn character. Talos leads Skrull Intelligence based off what we see in the beginning as he was the one responsible for planning the trap that captures Vers. We see that his aims are noble though. He is tired of the war and just wants to protect the Skrull refugees and his family. Seeing this reveal as he goes from enemy to friend is powerful and I’m glad he survives the film. This is a character I’d like to see again as he is morally complicated which gives so much potential for what he may choose to do in the future. I also think he is only one of the Skrull leaders and I want to see his relationship to the others.

The Themes – The main themes of the film are those of gaslighting, feminism and the plight of the refugee. Gaslighting is explored in what the Kree are doing to Vers (having her suppress her power, emotion, etc.) and it is only after she stops, fights it and accepts her own power that she flies and is able to defeat the enemy forces. Feminism is a theme in that women fighting for equality is a huge part of the film. Both Carol Danvers and her friend are pilots and the only ones in their unit besides the Scientist on the base. This is also shown in the gender swap of Mar-Vell who is played by Annette Bening. This fit the theme as much of Kree leadership is male as well and Mar-Vell’s push against it mirrors Carol Danvers’s later fight against the Kree. The final theme is the plight of the refugee as in the end Mar-Vell was trying to invent a super engine in order to help the Skrull refugees she was protecting on her secret base. The refugees aren’t the soldiers and we see the vulnerable people who are affected by wars.

Okay:

The Kree Team – Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is the most compelling member of the team, sadly we don’t get to know the others all that much. Their dynamic with Vers is good in the beginning. I couldn’t really describe who they are to you beyond Korath’s distrust of Vers. I wish we’d gotten more time with them, ideally not in conflict so we can see their dynamic and how they work as a team.

Cameos – Coulsen makes a cameo, Ronan makes a cameo and Korath is on the Kree Team. This was another time where I wish we’d gotten more time with them. These are all intriguing characters but they aren’t given the time to be developed like they deserved.

The Cons:

Amnesia Story – Rather than amnesia I wish Carol being lied to had been primary story. We see how her memory was played with where a Skrull is put in the place of Yon-Rogg killing Mar-Vell but that is all that really pays off at the end. If there had been a running theme of the lying and her still knowing bits of her history we would have had the chance to know her more as a character. She could have been pushing against the Kree and their ways more, knowing she was being lied to. I wanted to see her make more choices as Carol and as Vers. Amnesia stories are hard to tell and this was one time where it did hurt the story. I wanted to know Carol but I felt the only time I truly did was when she came into her own at the end. She was the character with a mission, which was fine but I wanted more. Still a great character but an origin story mixed with an amnesia story is a hard thing for any writer to pull off.

What are Captain Marvel’s Limits aka the Superman Problem – Captain Marvel is destroying Kree Cruisers at the end. She is so incredibly powerful that no one around her has the chance to even injure her. This was empowering but it also leads me to the Superman problem. Why do we need the Avengers if Captain Marvel is powerful enough to solve the problem on her own? This is something the Justice League constantly runs into by having a character as powerful as Superman on the team. Kevin Feige said they’ll be dealing with this in “Endgame,” so I’m curious about what the solution will be.

I really liked this film and I hope that we see a sequel or at least see more of the Kree an Skrull, as so many stories have been born out of their relationship to our heroes. I also want to see more Captain Marvel. I wanted more time with her having all her memories as the amnesia story was definitely the weakest part of the film. This was a film that is a solid origin story that further expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Cosmic. If you have liked the other MCU films, chances are you will really like this too. I’m really curious to see where they take Carol Danvers from here.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018): Structure Hinders the Touching Remembrance

This is the first documentary I’ve reviewed and it is also one that is solidly good. Seriously, before I get into analyzing this film, go and see it. If you have any attachment to the past and having PBS’s “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood” as what you knew growing up, this film is worth it. Before I say anything else, this film is worth checking out for how it explores who Fred Rodgers was. A great documentary is hard to do, and this doesn’t reach the levels of great, good is as good as it gets.

The documentary was directed by Morgan Neville and covers the life of Fred Rogers, focusing on his story as told through the show and his relationship with the people on the show, as well as what lead him to PBS in the first place.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Beginning – The story starts out with how Fred Rodgers wanted to go into Christian Ministry and decided pretty early on that television would be the best way to do this. Before this he studied child psychology to inform his ministry and we learn about the early show he created with his wife before the creation of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

The Psychology of Fred Rodgers – One of the running themes of the show is the exploration of Fred Rodger’s psychology. This is used in the characters on his show as he grew up in an environment that looked down on showing emotion so he used his puppet characters to express his feelings. This became a way for him to actively listen as well as he would use the characters to form connections with the children he’d help on the show. The show expresses this with Daniel Tiger who is the shy part of Mr. Rodger’s psychology. He’s vulnerable and the show expresses that this is the closest we get to seeing the real man, though many characters say he becomes King Friday by the end of his career where he becomes gruffer and focused on his legacy, while still being the Tiger but the Tiger is now the King.

Love – One of the running themes of the documentary is that of love. Fred Rodger’s love of the kids he would visit or who would visit him as part of the show, love of his crew and the relationships he built there and his relationship with his wife. Each of these explores a different aspect of the man as for them he was a friend and sometimes even a surrogate father as his love was so genuine. One of the strongest stories is how Francois Clemens came out of the closet to Mr. Rodgers and ended up adopting him as a surrogate dad, even as he was living closeted for the show to keep it’s funding.

Imagination – The other theme is that of imagination. Mr. Rodgers never goes to the land of Make Believe and because he doesn’t go a whole world is expressed there created from imagination. This is a world with a royal family, living animals and humans who interact with them. Often he would use this world to tackle real world issues like the horrors of Vietnam and death as some of the plots involved characters sending messages of love, that lead to King Friday tearing down the wall he made separating himself from the Kingdom. I have fond memories of the Land of Make Believe. Seeing the work that was put into that magic was inspiring.

The Cons:

Structure – The structure of the documentary doesn’t work. There are times it really lags and some of the sections could have been much smaller while other sections, especially as they related to Fred Rodgers the man, could have been expanded on. In many ways this is a documentary about the show, and I liked that but in focusing so much on the show we miss out more on learning who Fred Rodgers was. How did his ministry inform his relationships? What was his relationship like with the people we’ve met in his old age? How was he like King Friday at the end? These are all questions that never really get answered beyond surface level. This isn’t a deep dive documentary, which would have made it great if it had.

This is a really good documentary that is well worth your time if you grew up watching “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood.” In this film you will see the depths of compassion and love this complex man had for humanity, as well as the creative mind that made a show that connected with millions over generations. I’m glad that this gets to be the first documentary I review for the blog. Check it out, if you have the chance.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

 

Black Panther (2018): Seeking Justice in a Broken World

       “Black Panther” is easily one of my Top 5 favorite MCU films. This is a film that expands on the lore of the MCU, has great characters with amazing arcs, some of the best action and villains in any Marvel film. It also explores deeper themes of resistance and sovereignty adding up to a movie that is well worth your time.

The film was directed by Ryan Coogler who co-wrote it with Joe Robert Cole and produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), after “Captain America: Civil War,” as he takes the mantle as King of Wakanda but suddenly finds his world transformed as an enemy from Wakanda’s past upsets the status quo they’ve known for so long. This forces him and his allies to confront the past and what the choices they make will mean for Wakanda’s future.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

Wakanda – Wakanda is such a cool country. This is a Afro-Futuristic nation with advanced technology, hidden by a cloaking device that intermixes ancient tradition with tech. Wakandans are ruled by the King and a Tribal Council whose upholding of tradition drives the primary conflict in the shaping of Wakanda’s future. Each tribe differs in ideology, whether it is defending the King, the Border or trade. This world is rich and fully realized, each tribe is distinct and I wanted to know more about their histories in the foundation and development of Wakanda.

The Characters – The characters are definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this great film, with Boseman once again killing it as T’Challa. Whitiker is fantastic as the Tribal Shaman whose history is intertwined with Wakanda’s past sins. The other minor characters, like the tribal leader W’Kabi, also have intriguing performances as well. In many cases it is these characters prideful choices that drive the conflict that T’Challa must untangle. Below, I’m going to explore some of my favorite characters of the film, as it was who they were that drew me into the story the most.

Okoye – Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is Wakanda’s General and she owns this role. Not only does she one of the major focuses is some breathtaking actions scenes every action scenes, we see how important her role is for her as at one point following tradition has her on the opposite side of some of our heroes. She serves the Crown and Wakanda, and that is a complicated dance when T’Challa is believed dead and the sociopath Killmonger is now King of Wakanda. I can’t wait to see more of her in future films.

Shuri – Shuri is the Princess of Wakanda and T’Challa’s sister. She is one of the most intelligent characters in the MCU, as she is the inventor of the advanced technology of Wakanda, she is very much the Tony Stark of Wakanda.  Like Stark, she doesn’t care about tradition and is far more invested in the relationships around her and the beauty of discovery and invention. She has some great scenes, and like Okoye, she was one of the main reasons to see this film. 

Ulysses Klaue – Andy Serkis has a lot of fun as the weapons merchant who is almost Joker-like in how little he cares about anything. This is a guy who is selfish, and racist, and every reason why Wakanda is isolationist. He is an insane character and his chaotic and manipulative nature leads to some explosive conflict in the first act of the film. It is also great to see Serkis in anything. 

Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger might be one of Marvel’s most complicated villains. This is a boy who grew up homeless in Oakland when T’Challa’s father kills his father, who was connected to the royal family through blood. He is driven by revenge from this moment on, but also by a desire to help the oppressed, driven by all he has lost. Killmonger is also a complete sociopath (his body is covered in self-inflicted scars for every person he has killed), but that doesn’t stop him from being complex. You can see where he is coming from, even if his way of going about it is all wrong.

Isolationism and its Consequences – The main idea explored is isolationism and the consequences of it is the main theme of the movie. T’Challa’s father commits a grave sin to keep Wakanda hidden from the rest of the world and it is up to T’Challa to face the consequences of his father’s sins. As Killmonger reminds T’Challa there are Africans both on the continent and in the world that Wakanda left behind. Wakanda let great evils like slavery, apartheid and countless other atrocities take place, when they could have done something to fight it. The primary conflict within Wakanda is to become an Empire to help oppressed groups (Killmonger’s vision), or stay hidden and protect Wakandan technology from those who would use it for ill (T’Challa’s father’s vision). T’Challa’s arc is finding that balance between perspectives and owning the mistakes of the past…and it is beautifully executed.

Okay:

Final Fight -The final fight is fine but compared to the rest of the film comes off as weak, especially in regards to the relationship between Okoye and W’Kabi. The emotional setup earlier in the film does not add up to the payoff during this fight, and so much more could have been done with some of the locations.

Okoye and W’Kabi – These two are star-crossed lovers who are on opposite sides and leaders of their tribes. I wanted more with both of them as they are both great actors, but we never got to see them in love, it is only ever given to us through exposition. Fully fleshing out their relationship could have given us the perfect film. 

This is a film that had the Marvel problem only in that Act 3 was still a battle, and there were some plot holes that I wish had been expanded upon. Regardless, this is a film that is deserving of all the hype and praise it has been receiving. It really is that good and I can’t wait to see what else they do with T’Challa and the Wakandans in later films. This film has social awareness you don’t always get in action films and at the core it seeks justice in a broken world.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 One of my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you noticed something different about this review it is because I am now working with an editor! He is friend Brandon Cabusas and you can find him on instagram @brandoncabusas. If you need editing work, you should check him out.

“House of Cards” Season 5 – The Power Shifts

     I’ve been with “House of Cards” for a while now. This is easily one of my favorite shows out there, even though it did have a season I really hated. This is a season that plays on what made last season work and strengthens it further. This is the season where we see just how wonderfully awful the Underwoods are and how their quest for power does and doesn’t payoff.

The season picks up where last season left off with the Underwoods running against Conway in the 2016 election. The race is tight as the Underwoods prepare to go to any means to hold onto power and win the election.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Election – The election is fantastic as we see political dealings going down as Conway’s advisor Mark Usher is convinced to work for the Underwoods when they find the dirt on Conway after they successfully cause a political crisis by using one of their assets (a hacker) to cause panic across swing states. This eventually leads to a special election being called in one of those states where Frank and Claire rise to victory.

The Underwoods – The Underwoods are the main reason to watch the show. They are so corrupt and compelling as we see just how far they are willing to go to tie up loose ends and to keep in power. This season is a shining example of this and ends showing that even the Underwoods loyalty does not fully extend to one another.

Frank – Frank wins the election but the corruption of his rise to power becomes the forefront as the former president comes forward and people begin calling him out for the shady dealings and situations that surrounded him in his rise to power. In the end he decides to resign as his time in Elysian Fields (a secret society) showed him the true power lies outside the office of the President and controlling it, as Claire is left in charge as she became Vice President last season.

Claire – Claire is the better of the Underwoods as we see that she does not act out of spite and is good at building bridges between members of the party and opposition. Unlike Frank she doesn’t care about revenge, but can be just as ruthless (she kills her lover who knew all of the Underwood secrets), just holding power and this season ends with her as President holding Frank’s sins against him as she refuses to pardon him for his crimes, leaving him alone and under threat with her at the top, it finally being “her turn.”

The Rat Race and Cost of Power – Those underneath the Underwoods all pay the price in the end. Doug is alone and underground and as of the end of the season has not been pardoned for his crimes, Frank is just like him…LeAnn is dead with her former lover the hacker dead as she was loose end that was cleaned up and the government is in disarray as people seek to jump ship or find the Underwoods blackmailing them with their past actions. I really liked LeAnn’s character and her death for me was the strongest one since Frank’s murdering of Russo, who was also an actor and character I liked. This season was all about consequences and those consequences paid off with those who still hold power being isolated and those who trusted the Underwoods being just as isolated or dead.

Okay: Russia – Russia is the only one who can blackmail the Underwoods, but even he loses his asset, though we see that Claire’s adviser is working for him, so he isn’t out yet, but we don’t see what Russia’s agenda really is at this point.

This was an amazing season that gave us a major shift in power as we have seen Claire hold power but Frank’s unpredictability and secret agenda always detracted from Claire’s potential. Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey once again do an amazing job and I loved watching the power shifts take place…from Frank going to the private sector to control government and Claire using the power of the Presidential office to consolidate her power and agenda and with it shift power away from Frank. Where next season leads is anyone’s guess but this is show about their partnership which Frank left behind this season in his quest for revenge against those who had opposed him. I think he’ll realize this or he’ll fall as Claire has shown to be the better leader now on multiple occasions.

Claire Underwood 2020

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

 

Black Mirror – Season 1, Episode 1 – “The National Anthem” – A Political Nightmare in the Digital Age

  “The National Anthem” is at this point, my favorite episode of “Black Mirror.” This is an episode that shows the strength of public pressure in the media age as well as how the actions a person can take can lead to people turning against them and in turn forcing them to do the thing they least want to do. The episode is a political nightmare that shows both how quickly people move on from media events, but how when their is an ongoing crisis, how it can grab the attention of a nation and the world.

     The episode was directed by Otto Bathurst and written by Charlie Brooker.

       The story involves the unfolding of a political crisis when a young and popular Duchess is kidnapped, with the only demands for her release being, that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live television. From here the crisis unfolds as the Prime Minister deals with the public and private fallout of the threat as they try to find the missing Duchess.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Characters – The characters are really well written in this and don’t feel like archetypes, which is often a problem in short one episode stories like this. Every character is facing decision and choice. We have the Home Secretary trying to get an actor so the event can still take place and so they can get around it, you have the Prime Minister doing everything he can with the police and you have the wife doing all she can to keep her husband from doing the act. In the end it all comes to a head and no one really wins in the end except for the artist who created the event in the first place. Rory Kinnear as the Prime Minister and Lindsay Duncan’s Home Secretary stole the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and isolating, which captures the different levels of terror the government officials are going through. Everything is connected and as the media and gossip grows around the event we see further isolation of the characters from one another, forcing the event to happen.

The Power of Social Media and the Power of Public Pressure – The threat is done over youtube and the Prime Minister putting a gag order on the press just makes people question it as a cover-up and distrust the Prime Minister more. When the story is finally broke it goes out of control as we see his attempts to find the Duchess lead to the people turning against him as his use of an actor made him look like a coward and a press agent getting shot made him look like a dictator. At one point the Home Secretary even warns that his wife and family will be at risk if he doesn’t go forward with the act since he alienated the public so much. When he’s made his decision he doesn’t answer his phone when his wife is trying to reach him and we see how his duty as the Prime Minister was more important than alienating and destroying his relationship with his wife.

Social Media and Moving On – A year later the Prime Minister is popular and the press is just business as usual again. This was amazing that the public had already moved on from the horrendous act that the Prime Minister was forced to do…on the other side we see that things may appear peaceful in the public eye but his marriage is destroyed. He kept power and positive public perception but lost his soul.

  This episode achieved all it set out to do, had a great cast and fully explored the premise of how a nightmarish strange crisis would unfold in the digital age where public pressure can make a person capable of horrible things, since all it took was the threat of a person who was loved by the public to be under threat for the crisis to happen. I felt for all government officials in this, as well as the wife as in the end the choices they made were shaped by how others viewed and talked about them. In a way their agency was lost to the public will, which is in a way, what we ask of our public servants, as they represent us and our interests. I think this is a big reason why, a year after the event the Prime Minister was loved again. He’d done his duty to look out for the public good, and save a life, even though the act was nightmarish, immoral and wrong…and the cost was his family.

Final Score: 10 / 10

“The Expanse” Season 1 – An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Covers Politics, Identity and New Life

The Expanse

   “The Expanse” is the best show to come from the SyFy Channel since “Battlestar Galactica” and “Caprica.” Part of it is due to the rich political material they are pulling from the novels of the same name by James S. A. Corey. Also like “Battlestar” this is  a show that follows many different character perspective to unfold the political drama and mystery of what is going on, and manages to do a great job, while still leaving things open in regards to other mysteries that need to be solved. I seriously recommend this show if you are a science fiction fan.

   The series was created by Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus and based off the novels by James S. A. Corey.

    The story involves the mystery of the missing Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) as detective Joe Miller is seeking her out in a missing persons case and finds himself pulled into a bigger conspiracy. Elsewhere the crew of the Canterbury are drawn to a ship that Julie was last reported on and find themselves pulled into a much greater conspiracy going on between the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance), Earth and Mars.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Clinton Shorter is a great composer and the soundtrack manages to be one of the strongest parts of the series as it illustrates the mystery, the tension and the rising threat that pervades the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and reminded me a lot of “Battlestar Galactica.” So much was put into making this world feel lived and making sure the Belters, Mars and Earth each look distinct in the environments in which they live.

The World – The world of this universe is fascinating. We have the OPA who is fighting for Belter independence and goes to extremes to do so, we have the U.N. which appears benevolent but tortures is corrupt and is planning to go to war and Mars is a warrior people who protect our heroes even though they come off as fascists. No one is simple in this and all the factions and people get complexity.

The Mystery – The mystery of Julie Mao is really fascinating as through her we see how strong the OPA is and that Belter Independence will happen over the course of this show, the corruption of Earth and the power brokers like Anderson and Fred Johnson and the complexity and agendas they bring to the table as well as the new life form that Julie Mao is consumed by.

The Factions and Characters – The factions and the characters are the strongest parts of this show and really drive the action as everything is tied back to Julie Mao and through her eyes we see the good and bad of the factions and people within the galaxy fighting for freedom, power or control.

Belters and OPA – The Belters are a faction that is oppressed by Mars and Earth who take their resources and give them water and air in return. They are desperate and from the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) arose as an Independence movement. You get the motivations of them and see the complexity of Belter identity too.

Anderson Dawes – Anderson Dawes is the OPA representative on Ceres Station and shows us he is both noble and villain in how he interacts with Joe Miller. He is a true nationalist and I’m really curious to see what is going to happen with his character as he has a grudging respect for Miller and lets him go after he tries to kill him. He’s one of the few who knew Julie Mao. Jared Harris does a fantastic job.

Fred Johnson – Fred Johnson is a character drive by guilt as he ordered the destruction of a ship a bunch of miners took over after they were abused. This has lead him to become OPA and it is that which drives him and his actions as he knows Earth and Mars going to war will give his people freedom. Chad Coleman does a great job.

Dmitri Havlock – Dmitri is Joe Miller’s partner and is lovers with a Belter prostitute and is from Earth. He nearly gets killed by Belters but still is the idealist who think connection and talking can fix things. He’s a great contrast to the bitter Miller.

Detective Joe Miller – Thomas Jane is fantastic as Joe Miller! He feels like he’s out of a noir and it is his obsession and belief in Julie Mao that helps us learn about the OPA conspiracy and from that the Earth conspiracy and expansion plan as he is fired when he solves the case of what happened with Julie Mao and his boss is revealed to be OPA.

Mars -We see Mars through the eyes of Alex who used to be a pilot in the Mars military and the military vessel that captures the survivors of the Canterbury and protect them when the mystery vessel and faction attacks. In Mars we see honor and a people who maybe military but do not want war and dream of a planet that will be green and full of water.

Earth – Earth is the corrupt faction we see outside of the OPA as it is Earth factions that are creating the alien life form and it is the leader of the U.N. who is going to war. It is in Earth we see a past Empire trying to capture it’s former glory.

Chrisjen Avasarala – Chrisjen is great as a hardened diplomat who knows how to get into people’s mind. She isn’t an idealist but realizes that the future she has been trying to prevent is out of her control as it looks like Earth is going to go to war and has wanted to go to war. She stays to be an agent in the trenches to resist in her own way, though she does send her husband away for his safety. Shohreh did a great job.

The Crew of the Canterbury – The crew is the strongest part as each them compliment one another in different ways and we see how they act under pressure. They are one of the best parts of this film and truly drive everything that happens outside of Joe Miller’s investigation.

Amos – Amos is the unhinged member of the crew who is okay killing and will do whatever Naomi wants. He has the biggest kill count of the survivors and has an aura of dangerous about him so much so that even Naomi fears him. He is a good guy though and Wes Chatham does a great job portraying him.

Alex – Alex is the pilot and is one of my favorite characters as he is former Mars military and can be a coward sometimes. He brings a great perspective to things and his love of flying is always fun to see. Cas Anvar does a great job with this character.

Jim Holden – Holden is the main character who kicks off the conflict when he blames Mars for teh destruction of the Canterbury which triggers the OPA fight, Earth expansion and the creation of the new life form . Sadly he is the least interesting person on the crew as he is a Paladin type even when it puts people in danger.

Naomi – Naomi is awesome! By the end we learn she probably was or is OPA as she knows about the OPA tunnels in the station that the life form is consuming and she is the one who keeps a clear head and save the crews head on multiple occasions. Dominique Tipper is fantastic in the role!

The Finale – The final is powerful as the survivors of the Canterbury manage to get off the station before the alien life form consumes them all and we see that Holden and Miller are able to get their radiation treated. We are left with a sense of hope because they lived but powerlessness as we see this new life form growing and know that war is on the horizon.

Revolution – OPA’s revolution is going on as scheduled as we see it triggered by the framing of Mars and Earth beginning to overreach and expand. We see the reasons revolution happens to as the Belters are an oppressed faction that is barely surviving most of the time and lives by the whims of Mars and Earth.

New Life – The station that is being used for the experiment has the sentient bioweapon thing that inhabited Julie Mao and we see it kill the Earth Agent at the end…it’s cool that this is our introduction to a true alien life form and it is one that humanity created.

The Cons: Sometimes Wooden Acting – There are times when characters act (none of the ones listed above) and it comes off as wooden and artificial. In that way it does feel a little like a Sy Fy Channel show and that does bring it down.

The Motivation of the Scientists – Why are they creating new life and why is Julie’ Mao’s father find sacrificing her to create it? This was really unclear, especially as we see how many people they are willing to sacrifice to create this new life. Motivations of these guys are unclear.

   This was a great series that I highly recommend. The politics between Mars, Earth and the OPA are fascinating as heroes and villains are revealed on all sides and the overall mystery of the life that has consumed Julie Mao and consumes the agent at the end. This sets up a 4th Faction that isn’t aligned to any of the human ones as far as we know. What will come out of this, especially since it looks like Earth is going to be conquering sets the stage for the war that is to come. So much of the stage is set for wider conflicts and the main characters who drive the story have been explored in regards to their pasts and motivations which makes me curious how circumstances will change them further. This is one of the greats, now lets see if SyFy can keep it that way, rather than ruin it like the last chance I gave them with “Helix.”

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

“House of Cards” Season 4 – Chaotic at Times but Recaptures What Makes the Underwoods Great

House of Cards Season 4

    “House of Cards” Season 4 recaptures a lot of what made Seasons 1 and 2 so great, while recovering from the mistakes of Season 3 and refocusing the Underwoods, while still taking the bad writing of Season 3 into account and not retconning anything that happened or the characters and how they change. Seriously, this was a really enjoyable season. This was a season of consequences and if it is the last we will get of this show I like where it finally ends up.

    Beau Willimon created an amazing show and it is amazing to see everything get back on track again and use the problems of Season 3 to some purpose.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal’s soundtrack continues to create great tension in this series and is easily one of the consistently great parts of this series. This was the series that got me into this composer in the first place and he continues to play on the dark and tension that so define this series.

The Cinematography – Tim Ives, Igor Martinovic and Eigil Bryld did a fantastic job with the cinematography once again. The visuals are great at capturing the isolation and paranoia of the different characters as well as the internal and external wars they all face.

The Politics – This is the heart of this show and there are some great political circumstances in this. From Russia holding back it’s oil and the U.S. sending a political refugee from Russia to China forcing Russia to deal with both of them, the election and primaries of 2016 and the war with ICO (The ISIS of this show).

The Characters – The characters are fantastic, and a lot of them complete their arcs in this season, which for me left them needing another season up in the air.

Catherine Durant – Jayne Atkinson is wonderful in this role as we see her character use her political savvy to keep herself from being stabbed in the back by Frank (after she learns that their support for her is a ploy for Claire to be nominated VP) but in the end Frank brings her in line as she got where she is through the illegal back door dealings that so define the way the Underwoods deal.

Leann Harvey – Leann is Claire’s second who helps her deal with Frank and eventually becomes both their campaign manager. She is an awesome character and shuts down Doug Stamper and his need ton control and blackmail. She’s one of my favorite minor characters and Neve Campbell is fantastic.

Seth Grayson – Seth is wonderful in this as we see him work with the Dunbar campaign as an out before he becomes fully loyal to the Underwoods again. He is a complex betrayer who in the end is fully in the boat with the Underwoods, he has a vulnerability and ruthlessness that makes him compelling.

Remy Danton and Jackie Sharp – Remy and Jackie are back and after Hammerschmidt compels him to come forward he and Jackie come forward with their relationship in order to bring down the Underwoods, as their character finally gets his redemption and out of control of the fear they have over others.

Victor Petrov – Petrov is back and Claire puts him in his place as we see that a lot of the control he claimed to have is much thinner as his people are suffering from his dying economy. He eventually realizes this and helps Claire rise to power as he respects her and Frank for their strength and power they come from. Lars Mikkelsen is fantastic once again.

Will Conway – Conway is the Republican nominee running against Frank and he is amazing. His “life” is all recorded and he has a beautiful wife and ttree kids and owns a google analogue that puts him high up on the search engine. He’s also a narcissistic and sociopath and is shown to be no better than Frank in how he treats others. Frank is actually shown to be the better person in the end as Frank and Claire are true partners, where Conway dominates and rules everyone he can’t fool with his charisma.

Tom Hammerschmidt – Tom is the reporter who pushes the house of cards to bring the Underwoods down. He’s a true believer and it’s in investigating all the deaths that he discovers how deep the Underwoods sins go. Boris McGiver is wonderful in this role and plays the genuine and awkward reporter really well who won’t cave to anyone. Sadly (but for the betterment of the story) the teeth behind his story get removed when the Underwoods declare war on ICO and use the fear of ICO to make people forget the truth that was put before their eyes.

Doug Stamper – Doug is seeking redemption on this as Seth and Leann are there for him to call him out on his controlling and fascist nature. This leads to him donating to the fund of a man whose never received a liver as he was knocked off the list so that Doug could save Frank. Michael Kelly continues to give threat and intimacy to this very dark role and I like that his character is seeking more as he is the most broken character in this series.

Claire Underwood – This season is all about how Claire deserves to rule. We see her negotiate a treaty with Russia and China and continue the Underwood power when Frank is in the coma. The Claire of Season 1 and 2 is in full force and Frank and his stupidity in 3 is finally done as they work together and even run together and President and VP against the Republicans. Robin Wright truly owns this role and she is part of what makes this show so fantastic.

Frank Underwood – Kevin Spacey is playing Frank as Frank is written out of the rut the writers put him in last season where he was only ruled by ego for self and not alliances and savvy and truly doing what it takes to dominate. In this season he starts doing that again and acting in coordination with Claire as they did in the beginning. Can’t wait to see what they do in Season 5 as he sets up ruling through fear as he brings full on war against ICO to distract from Tom’s article on the level of darkness he’s committed to get to where he is now as President of the United States.

Frank’s Coma Visions – The coma visions are haunting as we see Frank haunted by the people he’s killed and being hunted down. There is an element of violence and sex to all of it which captures the character and the show really well.

Means to an End – Claire and Frank are all about means to an end, both in their partnership and in how they rule. We got to see this again as they got over acting chaotic selfish stupid rather quickly, which in the end made this season great.

The Cons: Underwood v. Underwood – This was stupid, both of them were way to smart to not work together and help each other rise in power. Season 3 Frank is still around for the first few episodes though and they address this with him going into a coma after an assassination attempt from one of the journalists he wronged and from that he and Claire going for the President and VP together and back to the old partnership they had before.

Obvious Manipulations – Frank has some obvious manipulations that blow up into his face and this was the only writing issue that came up. His manipulation of his Secretary of State was a bit too obvious.

Getting Back on Track – The cons of Frank realizing that Claire is his partner and her leaving really wasn’t needed. They were both supposed to be smarter than that and seeing them acting stupid for drama to make this happen (the reason for having to get back on track in thef first place) was a con for this season. It shouldn’t have had to happen in the first place.

   It was really dealing with the filler and problems in Season 3 that slowed down the Season early on as the first 4 episodes were dealing with the consequences of having written Frank Underwood as stupid and not even having social savvy to deal with the partnership with his own wife, which had been a partnership in Season 1 and 2. All my cons nearly all directly relate to correcting those issues that were in Season 3 that had to be fixed in order to get on track. I highly recommend this season and if this ends up being the end, it will be great way to end it all…though I would like to see the Underwood Triumphant, which we are on the way to with them playing their nuclear option at the end, making sure that no matter how the chaos and fear unravel, they will come out on top. This season could have been the end, but I’m glad that the show was renewed for a Season 5. The Underwoods can still win it all.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10