Top 3 Episodes in “Love, Death & Robots” Volume 2

“Love, Death & Robots” was one of my favorite science fiction shows that Netflix has released and this Volume continues that same quality. We sadly only have 8 episodes so this time I’m choosing my 3 favorite episodes versus the Top 5 I would have chosen if the Volume had been longer. The entire Volume is worth watching though and range from comedic, action heavy to meditative. Each of the stories are compelling in their own way but only 3 were favorites for me. I hope we get a Volume 3 as Tim Miller has created a beautiful project in this animated science fiction anthology series. I’ll also post my Top 5 Episodes in Volume 1 at the end of this review.

SPOILERS ahead

3rd) “Pop Squad”

Episode 3, based on story by Paolo Bacigalupi.

“Pop Squad” is an episode that at first feels derivative of “Blade Runner” with the future cop perspective and the immortality exploration of “Altered Carbon.” The original story is adapted from Paolo Bacigalupi with the script by Philip Gelatt and directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson. The episode is beautifully directed and captures the poverty of those caught at the bottom being hunted by future cops for having kids as immortals live in pyramids above the sky. Briggs is our detective and his arc begins with us seeing his job as he kills 2 kids and carries that guilt until the end eventually changing before his death as he protects a mother and child from his detective partner Pentle. In the end we see him surrounded a city overgrown by forest showing his return to life versus the dead perspective of the immortals where there are no plants and all of life lived is an escape. It was a compelling arc and it was believable how Briggs changed to become a better person.

2nd) “Snow in the Desert”

Episode 4, based on story by Neal Asher.

“Snow in the Desert” is a beautifully animated episode by Unit Image with the directors being Leon Berelle, Dominique Boidin, Remi Kozyra and Maxime Luere with the Neal Asher story being adapted to script once more by Philip Gelatt. This is an episode that feels like a great pilot to a show. We learn A.I.’s run humanity and multiple factions are after the immortal Snow to use his DNA to create more immortals. In the end he is rescued by the Earth Central Intelligence Agent Hirald. We learn that she is mostly synthetic and the outsiders accept one another. Her mission is kind of dropped on Snow coming in willingly which is why it feels like a pilot for a show and I would watch a show in this world. The aliens, A.I. and human drama is amazing and compelling.

1st) “Ice”

Episode 2, based on story by Rich Larson.

“Ice” has my favorite animation in all the episodes of the show. Passion Animation Studios did a beautiful job on it. The episode was directed by Robert Valley with Philip Gelatt adapting Rich Larson’s story to script. The story follows 2 brothers being Fletcher and Sedgewick on a colony world with Sedgewick being the only unmodified person on the colony. It is a great episode as we see Sedgewick become comfortable in himself as Fletcher’s friends come to accept him and he even saves his brother’s life showing that there is danger on the colony world regardless of if you are modified or not. We also get to see some beautiful Ice Whales who Fletcher and his friends were protecting when they destroyed the machines that were killing them. It is a reflective peace and I loved the relationship between the brothers.

I really hope we get a Volume 3 as Tim Miller really has created an amazing science fiction anthology series that I think introduces people to the many great science fiction authors out there while also showing just how powerful short fiction can be. Like Volume 1 I definitely recommend checking this series out if you haven’t yet, it is well worth your time.

Here are my Top 5 Episodes of “Love, Death & Robots” Volume 1.:

Stargate SG-1 – Season 1, Episode 10 – “Thor’s Hammer” – Hope and a Potential Ally

Outside of the Nox this is our first hints at a bigger galactic world that “SG-1” hints at. As a character story it works really well and all of our stars are at their best, I also really liked Galyn Görg’s Kendra as she was an amazing supporting character in this compelling episode. This is one I’d recommend (Before getting into SPOILERS) is it establishes how the SG-1 Team plays off one another and shows there are more powers than the System Lords out there.

The episode was directed by Brad Turner and written by Katharyn Powers.

The story follows SG-1 as they travel to Cimmeria seeking Thor as a possible ally against the Goa’uld System Lords but soon find Teal’c and Colonel O’Neill trapped in an labyrinth with an ancient threat.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cimmerians – The Cimmerians are drawn from the ancient Norse and them meeting SG-1 is compelling as they’ve been protected from the Goa’uld for so long and their Gods communicate in signs to them. This helps as even though the technology left behind caused the problem, the people and possibly the Gods are trying to help fix it. They also laugh at SG-1 when they came through the Gate, which was unexpected and showed how safe they felt on their world.

The Unas – The Unas were the first hosts of the Goa’uld and they are great as these regenerating monsters. The one trapped and feeding off people who are dropped into the Labyrinth (nice Minotaur vibes here) tries to corrupt Teal’c and we see how it idealizes a time that no longer exists for it as the Unas are no longer even seen among the System Lords. They are a lost time which adds a whole other element to the rage it probably feels at being trapped.

Kendra – Galyn Görg is great as Kendra. She has trauma she is working through at being a host for the Goa’uld before the Goa’uld enslaved her but she helps SG-1, even knowing the threat. I really liked her perspective as she was cautious for reasons that made so much sense. I hope we’ll see her again, as right now she is the only connection in Season 1 we have to the Asgard.

Goa’uld and Identity – Thor’s Hammer kills Goa’uld and Kendra demonstrates hosts can keep themselves even after being enslaved by a Goa’uld. This is a moment of hope for Daniel and O’Neill and you feel the tragedy when this answer is shutdown in order to save Teal’c.

Teal’c and SG-1 – SG-1 has grown close and O’Neill came with Teal’c to fight with him. Teal’c is even willing to stay indefinitely so Thor’s Hammer can be used again, but the rest of the team disagrees. I love how close they’ve all grown as a team and Teal’c faces the Unas threat as well as demonstrating through words and actions how much he cares for the team.

The Cons:

Only Hints of an Ally – We get hints of the Asgard but we never see one. This is one time where seeing one of those grey aliens to know they are the ones who did this would have been nice. Not much but more of vague Godlike communication would mean something. This is why I’m calling it a con as more could have been done than a Thor (classic look of bearded human) versus the Asgard we will come to know later.

This was an amazing episode and well worth checking out for any fan of the show. This episode explores SG-1 as a whole and gives us the Unas, the intriguing the Cimmerians and a great character in Kendra. If any of these aspects had not been as fully explored as they were this episode would not have been as great as it is .

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A favorite episode.

Stargate SG – 1 – Season 1, Episode 2 – “The Enemy Within” – The Threat and Exploration of the Goa’uld

Where the first episode tries to accomplish a lot and is extremely ambitious and doesn’t quite succeed because of it, the second episode is simple and accomplishes a lot and sets up much conflicts that will payoff later in the series. “The Enemy Within” is easily an example of “Stargate SG-1” at it’s best for that reason and I can’t wait to see once more how some of those stories payoff. Without going into SPOILERS, this is one I recommend.

The episode was directed by Dennis Berry and written by Brad Wright.

The story unfolds as Major Kawalsky is experiencing blackouts as the SG Team must find out why while contending with the Major Kennedy from the Pentagon who wants to bring in Teal’c for study.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Teal’c Learning the History of the Earth and the System Lords – Teal’c while speaking to Colonel Kennedy sent from the Pentagon recounts how the Jaffa and System Lords were created a long time ago on a long forgotten world and learns that the world was Earth in turn leading to people realizing that ancient humans are scattered through the galaxy and as Teal’c says they need protection against the System Lords. It is a cool reveal and you see Teal’c have hope when he learns of Earth’s past.

Major Charles Kawalsky – As someone who started out as a character with almost no development, his last episode is a really powerful exploration of him. After a Goa’uld hijacked him in the pilot he has moments where he blacks out and it attempts to activate the Stargate. This leads to his fight against it and at one point asking to be killed rather than give it any chance of control. The fighter is a huge aspect of his character as his friendship with Jack, where he asks to be cremated. It is a touching moment that really humanizes the man as he hadn’t been written prior. This was a sad but powerful sendoff for him made all the more sad by the belief he is safe when the surgery to remove the Goa’uld was believed to be a success.

The Goa’uld Threat – We have the Gao’uld constantly attacking the closed Stargate (so it can never be used) and the Goa’uld who controls Kalawaski and uses him to take hostages, hurt and to kill. He’s a powerful threat and almost wins showing just how dangerous a single Gao’uld soldier left to it’s own devices is. I like that Teal’c defeated it and in turn officially becomes the 4th member of SG-1.

The Consequences of the Pilot – We have Sam and Daniel recounting the events of the prior episode. Sam in awe of the threat and history they discovered and Daniel worrying for his wife who was taken over by Apophis’s mate. We also of course have Kawalsky being taken over by the Goa’uld and his eventual death because of it. The Pentagon’s interest in the Stargate and Apophis’s constant attacks on the gate with plots for future retaliation. All of this came out of the actions from the pilot and is a great follow-up.

Jack O’Neill – Jack and his friendship with Teal’c and Kawalsky is a major part of what defines the episode. He is a guy who always fights for his friends and has no patience for corrupt folks like Major Kennedy. In this way he is the human element and him coming out of retirement to be a part of SG-1 defines his relationship to authority and his work. The people are the reason he’s here and this episode illustrates it beautifully.

Teal’c – This is the episode where Teal’c finally becomes an official member of SG-1 after he stops the Goa’uld who has possessed Kawalsky. His world is changed forever but he deals with all his trials with Major Kennedy and being a prisoner with silent acceptance and living his code of honor and also his curiousity, as he wants to see Earth. A highlight for me was him joining the team for their first mission together, which gave a high note to a sad episode.

Conflict Between Stargate Command and the Pentagon – This will become a running theme in the series as the Pentagon wants to use or deal with alien threats for their own gain at the cost of people while SGC firmly stands against them. Kennedy is the first face of that with Hammond and O’Neill as the ones standing against him.

The Cons:

How the Goa’uld Took Over – The reason for the Goa’uld surving the procedure is never properly explained and feels almost like plot armor so Teal’c could have that final fight. A little more explenation from it on how it survived could have easily fixed that though.

This is a great episode. It does so much showing rather than telling and it establishes the Goa’uld threat, how great Teal’c is as a member of the team and that the SGC’s heart is in the right place. All these elements coalesce together to give us a personal story around a character before we barely knew and a promise for stories in the future.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Farscape Pilot – Episode 1 – “Premiere” – The Way to Start a Sci. Fi. Show

If you want to know how to start a sci. fi. series look no further than “Farscape.” This pilot expertly sets up the conflict, the villain, the characters and a motivation for our hero seamlessly while introducing us to an awesome world that I can’t wait to see more again. I’ve seen “Farscape” before but it has been a while and it was the mini-series “Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars” that brought me to the show so long ago in the first place. Honestly, I can’t wait review more as over the years I’ve seen episodes but never the story in whole. Suffice to say, I love the setup though.

“Premeire” was directed by Andrew Prowse and written by Rockne S. O’Bannon.

The story follows astronaut and scientist John Chriton (Ben Browder) as he launches in the Farscape One in an experiment to test atmospheric friction. The experiment ends up pulling him into a wormhole to an unknown point in the universe where he finds himself trapped on the hijacked prisonship the Leviathan Moya with no way to return home.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of an astronaut from our time being pulled into an unknown part of the universe full of aliens and threats he doesn’t know with only pop culture as a reference point is a lot of fun. The fact that he is on a ship with a bunch of escaped prisoners and a Peacekeeper Captain who blames him for the death of his brother also adds a stakes and a nice dynamic to the show.

The World – The faction we learn the most about this episode are the Peacekeepers. Human looking aliens who are all genetically shaped and grown to be whatever rank they are Peacekeeper Society. They essentially function as the Empire as all the soldiers are human in appearance and all the prisoners were more alien. We also having a living ship in Moya and a diverse array of alien species.

The Characters – The characters are what make this show as the crew of Moya is a band of outcasts who do not trust each other and each hold baggage that they mention while still remaining guarded.

Zotoh Zhaan – Zhaan is a Delvian anarchist and the one trying to keep peace on Moya. She is a priestess and it was her being anarchist that got her arrested on her homeworld. It is her cooperation with Moya that helps to rescue the others when they need to get fuel and she is the only reason Aeryn and John aren’t killed by D’Argo. Virginia Hey is great and brings a calm to the insanity on the ship.

Ka D’Argo – D’Argo is a Luxan warrior with a major chip on his shoulder and unspoken pain. He was imprisoned for killing his commander and has known war most of his life. He is the most hostile to John, even after John’s plan leads to their escape from the Peacekeepers under Captain Crais. Anthony Simcoe does a wonderful job of showing that the warrior does have depth to him and is more than just rage.

Aeryn Sun – Claudia Black is amazing in almost anything she’s in and it was wonderful seeing her introduction here when she is still a soldier in the Peacekeepers. Her arc over the course of the episode is realizing that they care nothing for her and plan to kill her when she defends John which leads to her joining Moya and their escape into the unknown regions beyond Peacekeeper control. She warns John about loyalty though showing that she still hopes for a life among the culture she grew up in.

John Chriton – Ben Browder plays the “Fish out of water,” really well. His arc over the episode is accepting that he isn’t in a dream and thinking a way out of the situation by trying out the initial experiment with Moya in the atmosphere, which ends up saving their lives. He is the only one not broken from what we see as his empathy is what shows Aeryn there can be another way and his helping them all is the only reason D’Argo hasn’t killed him or Aeryn.

The Peacekeeper Threat – The Peacekeepers are an awesome threat. Captain Crais has motivation to go after John too as he personally blames him for his brother’s death. Beyond the fact that their ships are powerful and they have numbers (again “Empire”

The Cons:

Rygel – Rygel is a deposed Monarch and the reason the prisoners were initially freed. He is also greedy and gross (There is a scene with him farting helium because he is nervous) and he sees everything as a transaction. I can’t stand this character and wish he’d just been written off. Hopefully he gets better later, but right now he is the only thing keeping the story from being perfect.

I highly recommend checking out “Farscape” especially from the beginning which establishes everything so well. I care about the characters and want to see where the drama goes. I look forward to Scorpius’s arrival as he is one of my favorite sci. fi. villains and I’m curious to see where Captain Crais’s arc goes as well. There is so much story and this is easily one of the best sci. fi. pilots I have ever watched.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 Ryjal is the only thing bringing it down.

Stargate SG-1 Pilot – Episode 1 – “Children of the Gods” – A Problematic Return to the Film and Expansion of the World

“Stargate SG-1” was a show I enjoyed in regards to major arcs involving the System Lords. That was what I watched and made me a fan of the show. I’ve seen a little of the Ori arc and some “Atlantis” and haven’t seen any “Universe” or any of the films beyond the Roland Emmerich one. So this is me coming back after time away and honestly this pilot does work for setting up future stories.

The pilot was directed by Mario Azzopardi and written by Jonathan Glassner and Brad Wright.

The pilot takes place 1 year later after the events of the “Stargate” film. The Stargate is activated and soldiers are attacked leading to Colonel O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) being recalled in order to return to Abydos to discover why.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise once again works. This is about discovering fully what the Stargate can do plus we have a mysterious new threat which gives a chance to expand the universe and better flesh out the galaxy. The show largely succeeds in it’s premise too.

The Action – Going from a movie budget to a television budget is difficult but the action still looks great. We get to see good-looking alien tech. against human tech. and the action escalates over the course of the pilot. This is one thing the pilot does really well.

The Threat – The hit and run by Apophis and him taking a hostage sets the stakes really well. He is a constant threat through the entire pilot and he is always winning until one of his Jaffa, Teal’c turns against him. We also see his court and himself choosing potential hosts for their children or mates. He is an active threat and what he wants directly destroys our heroes. Ra never got this kind of development.

The Characters – The characters who are main characters once again largely work due to the talent of their performers. Sadly the characters of Skaara and Sha’re are mostly plot devices for the pilot, which is a shame. They deserved better.

Captain Samantha Carter – Amanda Tapping plays Captain Carter. She’s a fighter pilot as well as scientist who has been studying the Stargate for years and wanted to go on the original mission. She gets her chance this time and we see her hold her own and what she is up against in the sexism within the military. The writing for it isn’t great but Tapping does a good job with it. It is her working with Sam Jackson that they figure out how to use the Stargate.

Sam Jackson – Sam Jackson is back and this time played by Michael Shanks. In this we see him work with Captain Carter to discover how to open the gate as well as how he’s been watching the Stargate to make sure nothing else comes through. Sadly Apophis takes Sha’re and Apophis’s mate chooses Sha’re as her new host body. In the end Jackson is back on Earth with nothing with his only friend in O’Neill. He shows that loss of everything really well as in the end they were able to save the refugees but Skaara and Sha’re now hold Gao’uld parasites who follow Apophis.

Colonel O’Neill – Richard Dean Anderson is great. I love how charismatic and jokey he is. A year after the mission changed him he has found the ability to be himself and open up. This was great to see as well as his friendship with Sam Jackson. He plays off the members of who would become SG-1 really well and he is the one who shows Teal’c that there is another way beyond Apophis.

Teal’c – Christopher Judge does a lot with saying very little. Through his eyes we see his growing resentment of what Apophis is doing to the people he captures and even those who consider him a God. This leads to a breaking point when he is ordered to kill the prisoners and it is only through his actions that Jackson, O’Neill and Carter are able to escape. I remember him being one of my favorite characters on the show and it might have been how distinct his introduction is that helped spark that.

The Cons:

How Not to Write Women – The dialogue starts out pretty cringe initially with Captain Carter having to directly call out that she is a pilot, doctor and woman and not to be underestimated. This is said a few times when I feel like once it got the point across. This wasn’t just her problem though as her writing is handled much better.

Stilted Writing – We get a lot of being told the plot. Good pilots are hard to pull off and this is no exception. Most characters are written flat and it is only through the actors performances that elevate the dialogue.

White Savior Trope – O’Neill inspires Teal’c to rebel and now the only folks who aren’t white are now enslaved by the Gao’uld and need rescuing. So the problematic trope is still very much still active from the film. I wonder if the writers will notice this later on.

This was a flawed but enjoyable pilot. It isn’t perfect but the main cast is all likeable and I can see what their drives are for future stories. After being away from this show for years it feels great to return. The Goa’uld are such a fascinating threat and each of the System Lords are distinct. Some of the problematic tropes from the film do carry over from the film and I do hope the show will have some level of analysis on them in later episodes. This is worth checking out though as it does a good job setting up the characters who drive the show through most of the very long run it went through.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

“Altered Carbon” Season 2 – Expands the World but is Less Focused

Altered Carbon (TV Series 2018–2020) - IMDb

“Altered Carbon” is a good sequel to Season 1. They don’t have a book to go off of so I’m glad they explored areas of the universe that really weren’t explored in Season 1. Where it falls apart is does repeat some of the story beat from before and it is less focused in the end. This is still worth watching though if you were a fan of the first season.

The story follows Takeshi Kovaks when he is caught by the bounty hunter Trepp when the Meth Axley pays her to capture him in order to hire Kovaks as a bodyguard. Kovaks agrees when Axley hints he can lead him to the still living Quellcrist Falconer. When he arrives at Harlan’s World Kovak’s finds himself thrown him into plots beyond his control.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – This season covers the frontier as Harlan’s world is far from the Protectorate and has bounty hunters, A.I.’s who run dig sites and of course the Elder aliens and cyborgs. The world is just as rich but gets out of the heavy Noir feel of Season 1.

The A.I.’s – The A.I.’s are wonderful in this. We are introduced to a bunch who are retired and hanging out who all used to run dig sites. Dig 301 ends up joining Poe (who survived but is broken) and we see how they grow from there.

The Wedge and Jaeger – Jaeger, Kovak’s military mentor and commander is the secondary villain this season as we see how driven he is to capture Kovaks and put down the rebellion. We see what drives his ideology in this and how he hoped that Kovaks would someday lead the Wedge and that he copied Kovaks sometime before Kovaks turned on the Protectorate.

Governor Anica Harlan – The Governor is the corrupt Meth and one of the main villains as we see her use the leader of the rebellion in order to set up their failure. She killed her father in order to become leader and is always a step ahead others. Sadly she doesn’t have any nuance which luckily Jaeger did get some. Her turning on the Elder Entity and betraying it was predictable and of course is what leads to her death. The one fascinating thing about her that drove her arc is she wants independence and greater control from the Protectorate, which makes sense.

Trepp – Simone Missick does a great job as the cyborg bounty hunter who ends up as a Kovaks ally. What drives her is protecting her wife and son and we see where it comes from as her father was never there and she raised her brother, who ended up dying from the Elder creature. Her secondary story is compelling and I’m glad she was able to protect and save her family from the governor.

Quellcrest Falconer – Falconer is back and Renée Elise Goldsberry is once again fantastic as Falconer. Her arc is rediscovering why she doesn’t remember and we soon see it was due to a deal she made with an Elder alien to let it control her to kill the Founders who killed the alien’s children. As she finds herself she once again becomes the revolutionary leader and her story ends with her planting the seeds of revolution on planets once more as she promises to find Kovaks.

Evergreen – Evergreen is the moniker I’m giving the cloned Kovaks since that was the name of the project that made him. The actor who portrays him is my favorite Kovaks and I loved how this one became the idealist once more and got beyond Jaeger’s abuse and conditioning. The arc happens naturally and at the end he becomes a man seeking to atone for his mistakes, like the original Kovaks. He survives and is around to infiltrate the Protectorate and protect Harlan’s World.

Poe and Dig 301 – These two have a cute relationship as Dig 301 cares for Poe when no one else is. Kovaks keeps getting stressed at his glitching and dismisses him and it is Poe with Dig’s help seeking to save all the data of who he is so he can reboot safely. In the end we don’t know if it succeeded but he saves Kovaks from death is the implication in the data he holds as he holds the original Takeshi Kovaks’s data in his system.

Takeshi Kovaks – Anthony Mackie plays my second favorite version of Kovaks and I love how driven he is to help Falconer rediscover herself. This Kovaks is both the most distant but also the most idealistic as in the end it is his taking in the Elder alien that defeats it and saves Harlan’s World, even if his body and Stack are destroyed in the process. The leadup is well done as he learns to trust again and his relationship with Evergreen reminds him of who he once was and shouldn’t be anymore. That reminder and the scenes between Kovakses were some of my favorite parts. Mackie truly owned this role.

The Cons:

B-Plots Needed more Focus and Development – Trepp needed more development as her wife is an archeologist and her father was a black market seller. We get one scene of them doing these things versus the power that could have been in discovery and history. This was a missed opportunity and made the story less focused. Same with the Governor’s plots too. We enter the story with plots and motion and they needed to be fleshed out more.

Defeating the Elder Alien – The Elder alien stands down and doesn’t activate the weapon until the Governor does an obvious betrayal. I hated this as I didn’t fully understand the alien standing down or how stupid the Governor suddenly went. The entire thing felt contrived so Kovak’s could sacrifice himself and save Falconer.

Repeating Season 1 – Both seasons end with a Kovaks dying, a Meth betrayal, Poe “dying” and the hint of rebirth (Kovaks and Falconer). They could have played a few beats differently to make it more original.

This is still very much a season I enjoyed and it is good. The frontier and Harlan’s World feels so realized and with more time and focus and a few more original plot points could have been as great or better than season 1. It doesn’t but I would watch this season again. It adds much to Season 1 and this is a world worth telling stories in.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Top 5 Episodes in “Love, Death & Robots” Volume 1

Love Death and Robots Volume 2

     “Love, Death & Robots” is an amazing Sci. Fi. Anthology show on Netflix. It is original and the basic concept is original and adapted science fiction short stories are done by different animators and often times adapted from stories from known sci. fi. writers. It is a beautiful anthology and tackles a lot of the popular concepts of time, personhood, self, identity, meaning, etc. that the best sci. fi. stories cover. The series overall is great, with 18 total episodes. There were some okay and good episodes too, which was why I chose this format. The great stories stand out and are the ones I want to talk about. If you are a fan of science fiction and fantasy or great animation, this is a Netflix original show, well worth your time.

The series was created by Tim Miller, with himself, Joshua Doden, David Fincher and Jennifer Miller as producers.

In my episode reviews I will attributing the author who inspired each story if there is one. This is partially because I want to go back and read the stories, especially since I know some of these folks from other works and want to give them credit for inspiring such an amazing show. I also won’t be giving scores this time around. Each of these stories are worlds I’d like to return to, and I feel like I can’t judge a short story in this case, the way I’d judge a movie or a full episode of a show. I also can’t wait to read them.

SPOILERS ahead. I’ll try not to give away too much, but sometimes I will have to mention what makes the story work, which in short stories is often the reveal, which is what these are.

Don't miss these six 'Love, Death, & Robots' shorts

5th) “Good Hunting”

Episode 8, based on story by Ken Liu.

“Good Hunting” is a sad, beautiful and intriguing story that also has a sense of justice in the end. It takes place in an alternate universe where Britain conquers and turns China into a steampunk Colony. The animation is like a painting or a classic anime and I wanted to be more in this world, simply from the animation alone. It really sets the scene of China, really well. Before all this the main story involves a boy who hunts shapeshifters with his father and saves the daughter of the shapeshifter his father is hunting. They become friends and he becomes an engineer and she becomes a prostitute in the conquered China under British Rule. Both of them experience change in who they are and they talk about it together. They weren’t who they were as kids and colonization has changed not just the country but each of them. It has built the son up in regards to his engineering even though he is broken and she is torn apart. Thankfully justice happens, but so much pain happens inbetween. This is a sorrowful story, where the only bright light is the friendship between the son and the shapeshifter’s daughter. I loved it though, this story has things to stay against Imperialism, sexism and the nature of self. I can’t wait to read more of Ken Liu’s work as I loved his translation of the novel “The Three Body Problem,” by Liu Cixin. This story has that same kind of depth, which is why it made my Top 5 of the season, beyond the tragic compelling characters.

Love, Death And Robots: The Witness: Ending Explained ...

4th) “The Witness”

Episode 3, written by Alberto Mielgo.

“The Witness” was written by it’s director Alberto Mielgo and this was a story that grew on me the more I thought about it. The basic premise is two individuals caught in a time loop. Whenever one kills the other, the cycle starts over again. The dreamlike nature portrayed in the colors in the art contributes to the experience. This feels like the mixture between reality and a dream, which contributes to the point of the story. It is hard to talk about it without spoiling it because the whole premise is what makes it compelling beyond the “Blade Runner” inspired world. I could have easily spent more time here. We never get to know the characters beyond the desperation, but they are characters born out of their environment. The constant rush and tension is illustrated in the events that happen in the loop and it was impossible to pull away. I’d really like to see what else Mielgo is capable of writing. This was a great start and his world is full of untapped potential for future tales.

3rd) “Beyond the Aquila Rift”

Episode 7, based on story by Alastair Reynolds.

“Beyond the Aquila Rift” was a story that almost scored lower because it repeats a song it plays in the middle of the episode. This made it feel like a musical to me, but the basic premise won in the end, especially when coupled with the almost real animation. What does it mean for an alien to care for another completely alien to it? This basic premise defines the relationship between our protagonist and the form the alien takes as a past lover to relate to him and to give him happiness, as he is in a place he cannot return from. What sold it for me, beyond this basic premise is how the reality of where he is looks like a hellscape. The tone here completely changes and suddenly the aliens good intentions don’t feel so benign, especially since one of the crew members once awakened sees past the illusion of her form. We never know her or it’s intentions though. That is why this works so well. He could be in bliss as she feeds off him to trap more people (she also looks like a spider in her true form, which adds to this) but they might have really gotten lost and truly can’t back, in which case it is giving empathy and caring in the only way it knows how and it easing suffering. This complexity is truly why this story works in the end.

Spoiler Free Review of ‘Love, Death, and Robots: Sonnies ...

2nd) “Sonnie’s Edge”

Episode 1, based on story by Peter F. Hamilton.

“Sonnie’s Edge” is a story that is all about the twist, but it is a really good one. This takes place in a world where humans control monsters to fight each other and from it win money and fame. When Sonnie is asked to throw the game, she refuses leading to them targeting her. In the end they succeed when she takes a liking to the lover of the man who wants them to throw the game. What they don’t realize is (and I’m not sure if her crew know it or not, since we are never shown) is that Sonnie is really the monster. She is the beast in the pits always fighting for her life and the human is just her robot avatar. For me the questions that it sparked were the intelligence of the monsters (given she manipulated things to win in the end) and what that means for others like her. A lot could happen in this world, especially since at least her species is capable of controlling A.I. and making friends with humans. All this leads to her getting revenge against the people who wanted to kill her (they kill her robot avatar) and her implied escape. It is beautifully done and the reveal is perfect. The designs of the monsters are also worth commenting on. They look like Kaiju from “Pacific Rim” and it gives them a distinct character and threat.

Love, Death & Robots Episode 14: Zima Blue Ending ...

1st) “Zima Blue”

Episode 14, based on story by Alastair Reynolds.

What is the purpose of life? What is meaning? This is the core question that this story asks as we learn about Zima through the eyes of a journalist. It is in this episode he tells his story as we learn he was once an early A.I. who ever countless years developed intelligence leading to him becoming the greatest artist in the world. it is fascinating how the reveal happens as the A.I. is risking everything for purpose and meaning. The final twist is a gut punch in that it wants to return to it’s original purpose in the end. The original robot was made for cleaning a pool and the symbol of the blue that kept popping up in the complex art of the universe was this robot only find peace in the simple desire to clean the pool and tiles to look like that color. As someone who loves philosophy and finds the importance of living to be a prime question, this episode is sci. fi. at it’s best. It takes that question beyond survival, love or horror (which many of the stories have above) and breaking it down to it’s base parts. Which in this instance is an immortal person with so much knowledge, returning to the basic knowledge of cleaning a pool. It is profound and it supposed to make you question. Beyond that the art is like Zima’s paintings and and fits the narrative so well. I’m looking forward to checking out Reynolds’s work. He is on this list twice and this story is truly a magnum opus.

I’m going to say it one last time. If you are a sci. fi. fan, check out “Love, Death & Robots.” It is easily one of the best things on Netflix right now and I really hope it gets renewed, so we can see more stories brought to life.

“Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 – An Exploration of Identity and the Cost of War

      “Star Trek: Discovery” is enjoyable, but not without its flaws. It is a very different kind of Trek and feels like a mixture of the Abrams Reboot Universe meets DS9. DS9 is the far better show but this show explores a lot of similar themes, such as the cost of war and issues of identity. These are the core reasons why I enjoyed the show, beyond the characters of the main cast.

The show was created by Bryan Fuller (of NBC “Hannibal) fame) and Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote the first to Abrams Trek films.

The story follows Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) a human raised by Vulcans and a member of Starfleet responsible for starting the Klingon-Federation War, while a new Religious faction lead by T’Kuvma seeks to unite all the houses against the Federation. It is up to her and the crew of the Discovery lead by Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) to find a solution to end the conflict she started.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a Trekkie, and this is a universe that at the core enriches what already exists in a Universe that spans The Original Series (TOS) to Voyager (VOY), from other universes like the Mirror Universe and Abramsverse. It is filled with countless aliens, conflicts and self-discovery. Star Trek: Discovery takes place 10 years before TOS and explores the details of the Klingon-Federation war. Characters are forced to take risks and pushed to their limits.

The Crew of Discovery – The crew is a diverse band of misfits. You have the Chief Engineer Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp) is gay, the ruthless Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) the fearful First Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is autistic. To say nothing of a human raised on Vulcan, the main hero Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the conflicted Klingon sleeper-agent Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Their journeys drive the show and make it worth watching.

Cadet Tilly – As someone on the autism spectrum (aspergers) it was wonderful finally seeing a character explicitly like me on “Star Trek.” Tilly is a character whose arc involves growing into confidence and taking risks, as so much of what drives her is the safety of her environment. Which for the longest time, was what I needed. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is how a person grows and Tilly faces that challenge multiple times…from going undercover as her Mirror Universe counterpart (who is an evil Captain) to dangerous away missions. I think someday she will achieve her dream of becoming a Starfleet Captain.

Chief Engineer Stamets – Stamets is the first openly gay character in any Star Trek. He is also the core of the ship, when in the end, he is the only one who can work The Spore Drive…a device that can warp the Discovery through space, time and even between dimensions. His heart is torn out when his boyfriend is killed, but he finds balance and closure in one of the most beautifully executed arcs of the show.  He is my favorite “Star Trek” engineer at this point besides O’Brien and Scotty.

First Officer Saru – Another of my favorites out of “Star Trek” lore at this point is Saru. This character is a Kelpien. He is part of a prey species on his world, and was hunted by the larger beings. How they advanced so far has yet to explained but his arc is finding the strength to be Captain. Doug Jones who I loved as the creature in “The Shape of Water,” once again shows why he is the monster master. He gives so much expression with his inflection, and eyes. Saru is my favorite character on the show and the one person who isn’t morally compromised. He is Starfleet and I hope he can Captain the Discovery next season.

The Spore Drive -The discovery in Discovery is all tied to the Spore Drive. The Drive is infinite possibilities as the ways of riding the Spore Network are discovered. It also provides conflict too as to use the Drive, it has to be controlled by a living organism (who is at risk everytime they make a “jump.” The discoveries are what drive the action and they are all tied to the Spore Drive. Whether it is Stamets in the network talking to other versions of himself, jumping to the mirror Universe or jumping to many locations in an instant…these are only some of the countless possibilities created by this device.

The Mirror Universe – At one point we cross over into the Mirror Universe…a world familiar to Trekkies where our heroes are villains. This is a 4 episode arc with tons of twists and reveals. We discover darker sides of characters we didn’t know before (as they have to pretend to be their evil counterparts so the Terran Empire doesn’t discover them), and get some wrenching emotional payoffs. This arc is later in the show, but has easily some of the best storytelling.

War and Loss – The other theme of the show, beyond discovery that the Spore Drive grants is the cost of war. We see this in the Klingon-Federation War, and how it starts, when Burnham’s anger martyr’s the Klingon leader T’Kuvma, after he had murdered her Captain. We lose a lot of people in the war, from Voq (An undercover Klingon sleeper-agent on Discovery) killing Stamets’s boyfriend, to the destruction of the Klingon Death Ship (the flagship of their fleet), to near obliteration of Qo’noS (The Klingon homeworld). The war makes the Federation ruthless and we see just how destructive the Klingon Empire can be.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is a major theme of the story, with the characters who best represent this being Michael Burnham (a human raised by Vulcans) and Ash Tyler (a Klingon pretending to be human). In both cases it involves finding balance within themselves and letting go of anger. These two identities are the main arc of the show beyond characters dealing with the actions of their Mirror Universe counterparts. This exploration starts in the beginning at the Pilot and never stops until the end of the season as it is in the Finale that Burnham and Tyler find the inner peace they are looking for.

Okay:

The Pilot – The pilot is long and boring. Though it is beautiful and has great action it could have been one really long episode or revealed and flashbacks, which would have served the story better. All it really does is set up Michael Burnham’s backstory and the reason why she is now on Discovery. Beyond that, we knew this show was about the Klingon-Federation War and didn’t need every detail as to why the Federation was now fighting it, especially the war’s resolution is not played out within the first few episodes.

Ash Tyler – Voq is Ash Tyler’s true self. He is  the Torchbearer of the Klingons and he imprints Ash’s identity upon himself as to get the secrets on Discovery I liked the romance with Burnham, but I felt their needed to be more knowledge on both whom Tyler and Voq were. They are useful plot devices, but they never grow beyond that. They both deserved better given each is compelling in their own way but in them being 2 separate identities the exploration they both needed is never received.

Fanservice – Captain Lorca has a tribble (no payoff), we see Andorians, Tellerites and Vulcans (founding members of the Federation), Burnham’s adopted dad is Sarek and in the end we see the original Enteprise with Captain Pike. Some of this was good, the other species showing up was something I wanted when I heard about this show, but ending it with Pike was total fanservice and was like the Khan reveal in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” It was not needed and only hurt the story.

The Cons:

The Klingon Scenes – Klingons only speak Klingon and in turn we get no time to know the characters, because we are reading the subtitles. Because of this, we are told how the Klingons are but we rarely get to see their actions beyond the fights with Discovery.

The Ending of Captain Lorca’s Arc – Lorca is the “ends justify the means” Captain. We learn how he killed his crew to keep them from being taken prisoner. We see that ruthlessness again when he saves Federation colonies and how he will do anything to save the Federation. Well, he’s a Mirror Universe rebel who just wants to be Emperor. That was such an awful payoff as they just made him a creeper villain. All complexity was erased so that his arc could be simplified. I hated it.

In future seasons I would like to see much less fanservice, more focus on discovery, more problem solving that isn’t through violence and some of the characters who left at the end of this season returning. The core of this show is great and even with all the flaws that brought it down, this a show that I will rewatch when it returns to Netflix. If you are a fan of “Star Trek,” chances are you will enjoy this show as much as I did. At the end of the day it captures the core ideas of “Star Trek,” and even the worst of the cons didn’t take way from my enjoyment of this season.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with all of the flaws.

“Stranger Things” Season 2 – Growth in Character and Action

   If you enjoyed the first season of “Stranger Things,” chances are you will greatly enjoy the second. This is a season that builds on character development, expanding the world and action. It does everything a sequel akin to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” did and succeeds because of it. If you haven’t watched this show yet and enjoy sci. fi. or 80’s films…check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers who truly have once again done it again.

The story picks up where we left off with a few months having passed. The new status quo is 11 is now living in hiding with Sheriff Hopper, Will’s trauma from the Upside Down is shown to be much more than anyone realizes and Max is a new girl in town who changes the Team’s dynamic while Nancy and Jonathan wrestle with their trauma and revealing the events of Season 1 to the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Cinematography and Action – I’m putting these together this time because they are somewhat obvious and don’t contribute anything substantial to how characters grow or change. These are things that really work in the context of the narrative and are an improvement from Season 1 but aren’t what stand out the most. I loved how the film looks and the action scenes are amazing, especially the action shots of the Team. So these are both positive that I wanted to state up front.

The Expanding Upside Down and the Mind Flayer – One of the main arcs this season is the Mind Flayer and it’s expansion of the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the giant smoke creature that appears in a lot of the posters and is usually always behind a red cloud. In this the creature even possess Will, making him a spy and a way to outsmart the humans it knows it is trying to stop it. The Mind Flayer is a great enemy and a wonderful way of raising the stakes from the Demogorgon from the first film.

Fathers and Those Who Become Good Fathers – Another major theme is fatherhood from our adoptive fathers of Sean Astin as Bob who is dating Joyce and helps take care of Will and supports the Team in their fight. We also see it in Sheriff Hopper and his raising of 11 and him failing until he takes responsiblity for his anger and finally as a contrast Neil who is Billy’s and Max’s abusive father. Through the film this contrast drives how many of our characters are shaped. Sean Astin’s Bob is an amazing character and you will feel for the arc he goes through. I’m glad he’s a part of this season.

Mad Max and her arc – Max’s arc is finding family and standing up to her abusive brother Billy. We see this in how she stays away from the team but as they open up to her she begins to trust them and finally stands against them and defeats Billy who had been attempting to isolate her and abuse her through the show.

8 and her Team – This season we meet 8 who is another experiment who can make people see things that aren’t there with her mind. She is awesome and like Magneto she is out for revenge against the government agents with her band of punks. She’s not entirely an antagonist but she isn’t a protagonist either. This arc was good because she finds them after she finds her mother in a comatose state (that the government forced on her after stealing 11 from her) which makes 11 ready for revenge until she learns that she can’t kill out of rage, only out of love for another. 11 leaves her but we know she is still out there and I can’t wait to see her again and any other experiments who are free or exist.

Saving Will – Another arc that is handled really well is saving Will. Last season set up the Upside Down was still a part of him when he threw up a slug and in this we see the Mind Flayer possess him leading to him going through hell as the Team seeks to save him. It is tough and he isn’t rescued until the end and it is a fight to get to that point. The danger and visions give a good foreboding tone through the entire season.

11 and Hopper – I love this relationship. Hopper lost his daughter and 11 is his new daughter and Hopper is 11’s new dad. They’ve both been through trauma loss and it shapes how hard it is for them to trust one another. Hopper is extremely over protective at first and 11 is counting down the days she’s been stuck away from the world being protected. It is powerful and comes to a head when she runs away and Hopper calls her finally ending in them meeting up and her reunion with the Team and Mike. The resolution is powerful and we see that her standing together with her new family gives her the power to take on the expanding influence of the Mind Flayer.

The Team (old and new) – The Team is fantastic in this! You have Nancy and Jonathan revealing the government corruption, Steve and Dustin teaming up to find Dart (a baby Demogorgon), Lucas and Max and their budding relationship and Will and Mike dealing with the Mind Flayer with his mother and Sheriff Hopper as 11 joins them after she learns more about her backstory and finds 8 and her crew. I loved the new team dynamics and how all of them grew. None of these characters are the same after the events, they all grow and change and become stronger as they face their own trauma and loss.

The Cons: Slow Start – The one problem that stood out about this season was the slow start. It really picks up after episode 4 but before that it has a pretty slow build. I think this pays off later on but I also think more could have been done to give us more information on the Mind Flayer and it’s influence and just how pervasive the Upside Down had become. This was the only issue for me that kept it from being perfect.

This was one of the best seasons of television I’ve watched and much how “Defenders” season 1 fixes some of the problems in the first season of “Iron Fist” this does the same thing. This is a season of moving past nostalgia and dealing with consequences. This is a show that is more than 80’s movie and music references. This show faces trauma, loss and our characters grow and what they do matters. I’m not sure what is going to happen Season 3 as Season 2 ties things up rather nicely, but I I still can’t help but be fascinated by seeing how the characters grow further.

Final Score: 9. 8 / 10 Perfect length, great action and characters grow. The slow start is the only thing working against it.

“Dark Matter” Season 3 – Another Good Sci. Fi. Show Canceled Before Its Time

   “Dark Matter” Season 3 is the last season of “Dark Matter.” Syfy did not renew the show and now this show joins the other good sci. fi. shows who died early like “Caprica,” “Firefly,” “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” This show deserved to have its story completed on screen, the quality was that good and this season improved upon all other seasons before it. It is a shame it was canceled as this show’s flaws were built into the structure of adapting an ongoing comic to screen. This series did so much to develop characters, present unique ways to tell stories and provided some of the best action in any sci. fi. show.     

      The story picks up with where the cliffhanger of last season left off, with the crew of the Raza escaping from the EOS-7 space station that Ryo’s forces are blowing up. From here the crew must find each other and confront this betrayal and the loss of a crewman. 

There will be SPOILERS ahead.

This was the most action heavy of the seasons and it did a beautiful job potraying it. From Ryo fighting his Captain when she attempted to overthrow him, to all the space battles between the Corporations before the Black Ships finally arrive from beyond in the finale. For a limited budget the show really went all out, I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew Syfy was canceling them so wanted to make the most of it.

The series continues on from before and develops all the characters further. The Android sees the future and from it gains perspective as well as meeting her creator and from it finds a uniqueness in identity as separate from the Androids who want to rebel and wipe out humanity and the other side of serving humanity, Kal / Six gets to be the martyr and revolutionary, Two forgives Ryo and finds purpose beyond revenge and comes into her role as the leader the crew needs after the loss of Nix, Three / Titch comes to care about others and finds meaning beyond himself  with Five / Das staying the most unchanged beyond learning more about her past and finally finding a reason why she might leave the Raza and Ryo comes into his own as a leader as he atones for his mistakes after losing everything after all he gains this season falls from him. We even get to see the alternate  universe Raza crew who never got their mind wipe receive development as they are shown to be more than just mercenaries out for themselves.

This season had the greatest variety of storytelling too, not only did each main character get an episode exploring them as people (Six and his staying with some colonists who’d freed themselves from the Corporations and from that we get our revolutionary episode, we get a time travel episode where they crew has to pretend to be in modern day to get a jump drive to return to the present as theirs malfunctioning brought them to Earth’s past (our modern day), we get an awesome battle episode in the finale, a comedic time loop episode akin to “Groundhog’s Day” and a Lovecraftian horror where we learn more about the aliens that possessed him last season from Three. The unique storytelling this season is really what helped make it so amazing.

Once more the only flaw was that they could not end it. The format demanded more seasons and rather than trying to wrap everything up (and they wrapped up a lot of story threads) they ended it on the big universe changing battles, with the Lovecraftian horrors arriving in their ships after Six’s sacrifice was for naught and Two is found to have been possessed before Ryo stops her. I enjoyed the finale immensely but found myself let down after, much like how the “Sarah Connor Chronicles” ended, a story that ends with a cliffhanger, when it is a great show like this is sadder than “Firefly,” which at least got an ending in “Serenity,” even though it didn’t really need it, given the episodic day in the life nature of the show. This show was driven by arcs and the Cliffhanger hurt the story by opening up more questions like, “How will the remaining crew survive the Black Ships? Where is Portia (alternate Portia) taking Three? and what happened to Two? What was the promise she made Ryo make? These are all questions that will never be answered now unless Netflix saves the show, but all word so far is that this is the end of the series on television.

The themes of revolution and calling out corruption in class and power is still there, with the corporations being the primary antagonist until the aliens from beyond are shown to have been manipulating the most powerful ones the entire time. In this way this theme isn’t as well written as last season but it does more than just calling out corrupt government and business and also calls out the revolutionaries who turn and kill their own. The Raza is about seeking a clear morality and from that the crew takes on the corrupt wherever they are, including their own past and alternate selves.

If you haven’t watched “Dark Matter” yet, and are a fan of sci. fi., check this show out. This is a show with some of the best character development, universe exploration and unique storytelling I’ve seen in any show. This season really showed just how great it could be and in turn made it one of my favorite science fiction shows. Another show canceled before its time that deserved a finished story, and so much better than only 3 seasons and a cliffhanger leaving so many stories open. This is an amazing television show and if there is a way to save it, I hope someone does.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10