“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

Dawn of War III: Solid Campaign That Began in a Buggy Game

   It has been a while since I’ve done a game review, and this seems like a good way to kick off the year. I only review games after I’ve completed the campaign as I’m a hardcore completionist and can’t see the review as valid unless I have. Cheats don’t count, it has to be from ability and me learning how to play the game. The “Dawn of War” Franchise is also one of my favorite series. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer 40K and the universe it is based in for a few years now. My favorite factions being the Orks and Tyranids closely followed by the Tau. Xenos (the term in the game for aliens) are best.  The game was created by Relic Studios with Sega in partnership with Games Workshop.

So, how does “Dawn of War III” hold up compared to the ones who came before? It isn’t nearly as fun as the first game (and there are less starting playable factions) the game started out really buggy and used to crash everytime I tried playing the campaign when I bought it in a sale last year but the campaign has one of the best stories and enriches the characters and lore in interesting ways. What this means for my final score and overall appraisal I get into below.

The story follows the arrival of a giant Craft World (Eldar Planetship) that arrives out of the warp leading to Blood Ravens led by Gabriel Angelos, the Orks lead by Gorgutz and the Eldar lead by Macha vying for control of what is within as their competitors within their own faction (be they leader or same or similar rank) try to usurp them for the Spear that lies within.

SPOILERS ahead

The Cons:

The Bugs When I First Bought the Game – When I first bought the game I’m glad I bought it on a sale and for cheap, so to anyone buying it this what I recommend. This game will never be worth full price, especially not as it is currently. I was excited to play given I knew the characters from the first game, but the campaign kept crashing. This happened for a full week before I uninstalled and it took reinstalling months later for them to have fixed the issues. For those who are so devoted they beat the game with that bug, I have no idea how you did it. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or fun a game is if you can’t play the game.

Over-dependence on Hero Units – This is a game where you depend too much on Hero units but the build time isn’t as fast as “Warcraft III.” I pretty much had to adapt to playing the game more like “Dawn of War II” which is primarily units, heroes and upgrading them and applying that to a game that I enjoyed as an RTS. If they took more cues from “Warcraft III” this wouldn’t be a problem. In “Warcraft” your heroes help but they can lose on their own, it also takes more to bring them back to life so the cost is higher. If you aren’t giving them enough support, they will fall. I saw this in “Dawn of War III” but so much of it was waiting. If you could hold off long enough in any map you’d be unstoppable and in endgame that really shows. Heroes are fun, especially in the final mission but a company should never build a game off them. Even “Warcraft III” and “Starcraft II” knew the importance of your hero supporting an army.

Lack of Factions Compared to Earlier Games – The very first “Dawn of War” game had 4 factions. 4, reskin but different play-style of “Space Marines.” This game has none of that. You fight demons, but they are never playable. There isn’t any reason for this, given you can see units of the different factions being re-skinned to be the Demons being an option later on in the campaign. This was just lazyness. We at least got Chaos Space Marines through all of the first “Dawn of War” series and this game won’t even give the basic of the last 2 games where in each 4 were at least playable in multiplayer. This is cheap, I don’t care how beautiful the game works if you can’t even do the basic of the series that started your franchise in the first place with at least something to counter it that matters.

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – This is a beautiful game. I’m putting this as a pro because even though it is small I do enjoy how this game works. Hell, a better version of this game would be a re-vamped version of the first game. So I will give credit where it is due. The graphics in this game look like how I imagine the characters to look. It is “Starcraft” versus “Starcraft II” in appearance and I do appreciate that. It also leads to better graphics in regards to storytelling and the story is the strongest part of this game. I think they were going for what “Starcraft” and “Stracraft II” had with 3 factions but they had already set base expectation of 4. If 4 was even in multiplayer and the Daemons or another faction were included more that would have made this game go from enjoyable to good.

The Overall Gameplay – The gameplay is solid. Hero units are key to fighting (I can see them trying to be “Warcraft III” and “S In “Dawn of War III” the heroes drive the narrative and that creates a lot of fun for the missions. I liked what happened with playing as the heroes and what you unlock as they level up (it is much more slowly so when I play the game further in the future curious to see what that means). I like this got back to the RTS roots of the “Dawn of War” franchise in the end. This was why I finished the campaign. There is still strategy in how you use your units to defeat the mission and I really enjoy coming up with strategies to complete objectives in these types of games.

The Campaign – The campaign was my favorite part of the game. I’ve enjoyed this series since the first “Dawn of War” and the expansions that came after it. I’m still trying to get “Ultimate Apocalypse” mode to work but once I do I will eventually have a review for you there too as I get more enjoyment out of an RTS than the squad based combat of “Dawn of War II.” Without giving too much away the 3 faction leaders mentioned above (Macha, Angelos and Gorgutz) face off against a Daemon Lord as they (in the case of Gorgutz) or the faction leaders (Macha and Angelos against the ones who had brought them to the Craft World where the showdown takes place) lead to the feeding of the Daemon’s power and awakening it. This is Warhammer 40K so it goes all in on how crazy things get. This leads to some amazing gameplay in the later missions and a final battle between Macha, Angelos and Gorgutz against the weakened Daemon Lord. Defeating it felt amazing and as someone who has always loved the Orks, I loved seeking Gorgutz take the Speer that triggered it all when it no longer had power. The campaign made the game worth it for me as I enjoy the lore so much.

This is a game that could have been so much more. There is a reason I keep recommending it as something to buy cheap. To fix the most basic of problems they could have solved all the bugs first so someone buying it months after the fact wouldn’t have the campaign crashing every time and they could have added the Daemons as a factions. All you have to do is reskin some Orks and Eldar and add some Daemons and hero units and you are set. Beyond laziness I can’t imagine why they did that. I still love RTS games and this is the last RTS game that was “Dawn of War” since the first one. “Dawn of War II” was all about the squad which I’m still getting used to (reason you haven’t seen it reviewed yet). I appreciate building armies in an acocalyptic universe and giving my all. This one had this with the heroes and the last half of the campaign and I did enjoy it…but this is a game only for fans who are a part of this universe. It doesn’t rise above the fans of 40K and even cheapens them out. Buy this game cheap and you’ll have a good time but NEVER buy this at full or even half price. This was Sega and Relic going basic and giving the most basic of fans of wanted who have been following the series. Still enjoyed the game, but it never reached good. This game is enjoyable and nothing more. I would only recommend as a sale for fans of this universe. The campaign made the game worth after the bugs were finally fixed.

Final Score: 7 / 10. Would have been a solid 8 if it hadn’t been so buggy and they had a 4th faction like the last 2 “Dawn of War” games.

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War – A Solid Battle Royale Anime That Tackles Meaning and Purpose

    I’m a fan of complete stories, and stories with consequences. This goes for shows, books, films, etc. If I start something, I want to finish it. That is what lead me to this series, and one of the reasons I love Battle Royale animes. Battle Royale is a style of anime where a group of characters are in a tournament, fighting to the death, and there can only be one team or one person left alive. Think “Hunger Games” in terms of scale.

“Juni Taisen: Zodiac War” is an anime based off a light novel (interactive book), by Nisio Isin, which was illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura. It takes place in the modern day where a war rages between 12 families, named after the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac fight (Ox, Dragon, Snake, Monkey, etc.). World Leaders bet on who will win, and the winner has a wish granted as their reward.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world is full of magic and technology, and each family has a power or ability that is passed down through blood. This makes the wars between them fascinating and adds a darker element to it all, as each ability is used to maximize killing. The world is full of constant war and political intrigue, and this plays into the characters chosen to fight in the tournament.

Characters – Not all the characters are strong or interesting. I couldn’t stand Snake and Dragon as they were just like Beavis and Butthead. Horse needed more character development. How women are objectified ends up taking away from a few backstories, too. There are a few characters that do manage to carry this 12 episode series though.

Boar – Boar is our introduction to this world. She is the daughter of the winner of the last tournament. She wants to be the best more than anything and to be loved by her father. This leads to her driving her sister insane when her father chooses her sister over her. The reasons behind this are never fully explored, but given how sociopathic her father is, he turned sister against sister to see who he could make the most ruthless. She’s a broken character, but she loves the rage of battle. We see how her father’s views shape her, making her vulnerable, which is contrasted by the hard, collected exterior she presents to others.

Monkey – Monkey is the peacemaker, driven by the desire to bring about world peace. She is a planner and has a way of disarming people with her kindness. She is one of the most powerful members in the tournament, as she controls the elements. She only dies when Rabbit uses the others he has killed to catch her off guard. Monkey is the only good person in the tournament, as many are driven by much more selfish means.

Tiger – Tiger fights in a drunken rage. Having to fight in the wars that the families take part in breaks her spirit, and makes her a nihilist. This leads to her drinking and fighting, which leads to her forgetting herself, getting kicked out of her family and living by instinct. Her arc is about finding herself again, as when Ox rescues her one of the days she is drunk prior to the tournament, and that drives her to be better. Her story is touching. In the end she sacrifices herself to save Ox from Rabbit, and is the only member of the tournament to die happy.

Ox – Ox is the Samurai archetype. This is a man who fights for honor and in defense of others. He has no abilities, but is methodical in his killing, becoming known as the “Genius of Slaughter.” He chooses not to kill in the end, in regards to Tiger. We see him as someone who has lived his entire life killing and found no purpose beyond how he kills. It is in his final act of risking his life, so Rat can defeat Rabbit, that we see that he finally finds purpose, just as his friend Tiger did.

Rabbit – Rabbit is an insane necromantist whose soul desires to make everyone his “friends,” as in kill them and make them his minions. He is unpredictable and the main antagonist of the series, as he outmatches every single character. His winning means the end of the world. It takes multiple characters working together, starting with Monkey and ending with the actions of Ox and Tiger, that lead to Rat finally being able to defeat him. The final fights are amazing, and that is mostly due to just how impressive Rabbit is as an enemy.

Shaped by Trauma – One of the major themes of the series is how trauma shapes you. Chicken was abused as a child so they learn to use vulnerability as a tool, Tiger’s trauma shapes her into a weapon, Horse’s trauma leads to him pumping himself full of drugs to be the strongest, and Monkey’s trauma drives her to try and bring about peace. These are a few examples of what makes the characters, who drive the story, so compelling. All of them were born out of conflict and their actions are shaped by it.

Character Contrast – Each of the characters has another aspect about themselves that is contrasted with the face they wear during the tournament. Ox is a brutal unfeeling killer, yet dies for another. Tiger is reckless and violent but her final actions are driven by love, Rabbit brings people back to life because he is lonely and wants to be with people, Horse is a powerful soldier but in the end dies afraid and trapped, unable move past his fear.

The Cons:

Dragon and Snake – I hated Dragon and Snake. These two are thieves who present themselves as helping the poor, but will take any contract, even killing the very people they were helping. We never find out why though. They have no clear motivation in their actions, and it just makes them bland. These characters just act bored or crazy, and it does nothing to develop them. These two received two episodes to explore their backstory, which really should have gone to Ox or Rabbit. The writer didn’t care about these characters, and in the end, we don’t either.

How the Show Presents Women – Women in this are presented as victims only. Monkey is a victim of failed treaties she made, Chicken from abusive parents, Tiger from War, and Boar by her father. On top of this most of them are presented as sexual objects. Where the men get outfits that would function in combat or cover most of their body. With the exception of Boar and Monkey, everyone else is in underwear or less. This was so stupid, especially in regards to Tiger, who is a soldier, and Chicken, who is a spy. This is a common trope in anime and one I really hope is changed. Every character deserves full development and respectful presentation. Objectification does nothing but cheapen the character.

The Ending – Rat wins because of his ability to see up to 100 different possibilities and choose the best path to take. So what does he do? What did he learn from all these characters, their motivations, and wishes? Nothing, seriously… the ending is awful. Rat chooses to forget he ever took part in the tournament, which is problematic given it makes all the deaths meaningless, and it doesn’t keep him from being put back into another tournament. He doesn’t help anyone and he doesn’t solve the problem of the tournament’s existence. I hated the ending, and it is one reason I can’t really call this series good.

If you are fan of Battle Royale animes you should check this one out. It is entertaining and there are some great character moments, the animation and action are fantastic too. What brings it down is the common anime trope of the objectification of women, and certain character arcs having no payoff; as well as, an ending that isn’t worth your time. Seriously if you want the best of this anime, watch everything but the last episode, and skip the Dragon and Snake episodes. Besides that, this was entertaining but extremely flawed.

Final Score: 7 / 10

 

“The Punisher” Season 1 – A Powerful Exploration of PTSD, Trauma and Life After the War

       “The Punisher” is one of the best things to come out of the Netflix Defenders continuity. It is easily the furthest removed from the MCU in regards to super powers, super soldiers and a level of comedy underlying most of the other works…and it works because of it. At the end of the day this is a show that covers the consequences of war, PTSD and just how difficult the process of healing from trauma after war is. This is a beautiful show and I really hope it gets renewed for a Season 2. I have not read the comics so I’m not sure how true the characters are to their comic book adaptations but I found them to be the most compelling aspect of the show.

The series was created by Steve Lightfoot as part of the MCU.

The story Frank Castle uncovering the government conspiracy surrounding the death of his family as he must learn to trust as others like Micro the hacker and the DHS agent Midani who are also seeking to uncover truth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing! The closest thing it reminded me of was “John Wick” and the “The Raid” with how brutal the gun and knife action is. If you like action movies this is your show for this reason alone. Fair warning though, this gets brutal, very few characters come out of this not having done something bad.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the show and the reason you should watch it. I’m going to go into the 3 main leads and the most compelling villain as they are the ones who drive the action and it is their arcs that kept me involved in the show.

Dinah Midani – Amber Rose Revah does an amazing job as Dinah Midani a Federal Agent who is seeking to uncover the murder of her contact in Afghanistan, who she discovers was murdered by an American hit squad after Micro sends her the video. From here she has to confront the corruption within the government and her own agency to take down those responsible.  She goes from trusting many to trusting few as her life becomes a bit like the Punisher’s when she loses those close to her in uncovering the conspiracy and finds out those she trusted betrayed her.

Billy Russo – Billy Russo served with the Death Squad in Afghanistan with Frank Castle and was his best friend. He was also knee deep in the corruption and he is the man who works with Agent Orange to cover up the conspiracy and kill those who find out. He tricks Midani for a good portion of the show and almost tricks Frank. He is a character who was an orphan and has used his pain to detach himself from caring about anyone but himself. This makes him compelling as he does try to care as best he can, even though he’s a sociopath so in the end he only serves himself. In the end he is taken down, but not killed as Frank messes up his face and leaves him for the government to take in. After reading up further it looks like he is going to be Jigsaw, which I’m really interested in seeing if the show gets renewed.

Micro / David Lieberman – Micro like the Punisher is on the run from the government and believed to be dead by most people. His arc is revealing the conspiracy so he can be with his family again and also reminding Frank of his humanity and that he has reasons to live. They start out as adversaries as there is so much paranoia between the two of them but they work together as they both want the same thing, even though it takes Frank a while to realize that. In the end Micro does get to be with his family but there is an unspoken pain there given that he faked his death to protect them and that betrayal of trust is something that I don’t think he’s fully wrestled with fully.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher’s arc is finding a purpose beyond his pain and revenge. We see him when he is done and he is obsessed just breaking walls down. He doesn’t exist beyond reaction and it takes the conspiracy to pull him back in. He is the character who needs a mission and after his revenge is done he finds that mission again in the fake identity the government gives him and helping vets from falling down the mental hole of despair and trauma that he was in. What gets him there is a kid inspired by his actions who targets government and media where Frank realizes just how much influence he has and had as the Punisher and when he is given another chance to live he uses it so others don’t fall into the trap the young vet did. It’s a powerful story and him sparing Russo’s life means something given how clear his code was for killing bad people…it is his final turning point and when Frank Castle finally comes back.

When the War Consumes – Frank Castle the Punisher, the young terrorist vet Lewis Wilson (who is living in a fox hole when he gets home, and doing so voluntarily), Agent Orange and Russo…all of them are consumed by the war in different ways. Whether it is wanting to live it like Castle and the terrorist were or hiding it while still living it like Agent Orange and Russo who hid what it had done to them except for when it served their ends.

Finding Peace After the War – The main arc is Frank Castle becoming Frank Castle again and finding healing beyond what the war made him into (The Punisher). Lewis couldn’t find peace, he had to find a reason to fight, Russo and Agent Orange never left Afghanistan either as they kept their roles up even when they were home. In the end Frank like Curtis finds some semblance of peace and it is is facing his own pain and loss and the actions he did during the war and helping others to face themselves too. It is a powerful arc and theme and part of what makes the show so powerful.

Okay: Agent Orange – He is standard “Ends justify the means” baddy…Russo is far more compelling as a villain but he worked. He was privilege incarnate and he clearly relished being a baddy, which made his defeat so enjoyable when it finally came.

Karen Page – Karen is Frank’s contact through the series and at a few points needs to get rescued by him. I put her as okay for that reason. The role of journalism in regards to terror attacks is explored briefly but I felt that so much more could have been done with her role in this. She really doesn’t show up that much as Midani has taken over that major character role in the show. If it gets a Season 2 I hope we see more Karen.

The characters are the strongest part of the plot, as I knew Russo was going to be bad pretty early and long before his reveal, I also knew they would make him complicated as he fit the Mordo, Loki, etc…former friend villain archetype that Marvel likes to use. The plot is predictable, brutal and a lot of fun. So much of what drives the dynamic is you have all these characters who are paranoid having to learn to trust and that dynamic is what I loved most and can’t wait to see if the show gets renewed. I highly recommend this show.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

 

 

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” Season 4 – Tonal Whiplash But Good Character Development

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” is such a good show. This season continues that quality but brings back some of the issues that I had on past seasons, the greatest being that this one has the widest range of tone from episode to episode and even during certain episodes. This lead to some pretty bad whiplash that at the core kept this season from reaching the level of greatness from last season. These are my non-spoiler thoughts before I get into the details of what went down this season.

Where we left off is Voltron was trying to figure out Prince Lotar’s plan and to continue the building of Alliances to take on the Galra Empira and Emperor Zarkon had just been resurrected by With Haggar.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Blade of Marmora – This season we get to see a lot of these guys, and they are fantastic! They are driven and their leader is the one who gets that they are a blade / weapon so when they die in service of the cause it is what they want, Keith, who is half Galra, does not get this but he devotes himself fully to the Blade which makes when he loses a teammate within the organization all the more difficult.

Pidge’s Quest for her Brother – This is a touching episode where she finds his past squad who were annihilated and believes him to be until she realizes his name isn’t on the list. When she finally finds him it is amazing and Matt, her brother becomes an essential part of the Alliance because of his tech. smarts. The quest to find him is also one of the better episodes this season.

The Alliance – The Alliance is really cool with leaders from different species who they freed from the Galra fighting with their own ships to free others who live under Galra oppression. They free a giant system from under Galra rule, even though it is almost their undoing from a trap laid by Haggar.

The Prince’s Generals – This is the season where the Prince loses his generals as one of them is possessed by Haggar and after he kills her he loses the respect of all the others as they try to turn him so that they are no longer wanted exiles. Seeing how they get there is believable too as the Prince barely communicates with them and never explains his actions, they betrayed him and had every right to. He had lost their trust with the killing of one of them and his failure to explain anything he did.

Prince Lotor – The Prince reminds me so much of Zuko in this. We learn that he has no loyalty to his father but we never really know why. He is following his own agenda and is a mystery to those around him, though also extremely smart and dangerous. He escapes the Galra fleet lead by his father as well as his own generals when they betray him and finally saves Keith’s and Voltron’s life when he stops the spell that Haggar is casting. He is one of my favorite characters in this show, hands down.

The Last Battle – The Last Battle has some of the best action this season as we see Voltron taking on giant ships in order to liberate the Galra oppressed system. We soon that this is a trap though as Haggar creates a ritual that turns the planet into a giant bomb that traps Voltron on the planet. It is only through Allura’s magic that they are able to escape and only thanks to Prince Lotor that Voltron and the system aren’t destroyed by the bomb.

The Cons: Crushing on Allura – Keith does it, Matt…Pidge’s brother does it and it is really annoying. Whenever this happens the guys are given anime eyes and their drawings are done all cartoony. Besides it being creepy that this is a lot of the interactions males have with her who like her it became part of the tonal whiplash.

Tonal Whiplash – There is an episode where Lotor is about to exiled from the Galra empire by his father the Emperor…and at the same time Lance is milking a cow and Allura is talking to a cow like it is an intelligent being. It is tonally all over the place and the worst stuff is easily with Team Voltron. I wish it was just one episode but this happens a fair amount before the last episode of the season.

This is another good season of a great show that I highly recommend if you like animation and good character driven stories. Dreamworks really created something amazing with this rebooted series and I can’t wait to see where the story goes, though I do hope the last season is coming up soon. I think the tonal whiplash existed because the writers had to burn time as I don’t remember last season having this problem at all as each episode as purposeful and simply advanced the plot.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good.

 

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 10 – “The Eaters of Light” – Connection in Conflict

     “The Eaters of Light” was an episode that the trailer made look terrible. Giant monster hunting soldiers…it didn’t look like it was going to be deep in any way and the monster looked uncreative as hell. Suffice to say I was gladly disappointed. This episode deals with similar themes as “Empress of Mars” and Capaldi’s Doctor excels as the peace Doctor. Without getting into spoilers, this is an episode worth checking out, as it gives justice to it’s characters, story and theme.

The episode was directed by Charles Palmer and written by Rona Munro.

The story involves Bill, Nardole and the Doctor investigating the disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion in Scotland. They are separated and discover a creature is hunting the people in the region.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Factions – The native faction and the Romans are given a lot of humanity in this. You get why each is in the situation they are in, whether it was the tribe leader summoning the best to protect her people from the Romans or the Roman soldiers who had to follow orders or die. It is a bad situation and shows the tragedy in conquest as the people we meet are the few surivors from the war.

The Characters – I enjoyed the characters in this…we have some wonderful moments with Nardole becoming part of the trible, Bill helping the Roman soldiers find courage again and the Doctor as the peacemaker getting the two factions to stop fighting so the creature won’t kill them all and the world.

Coming Together in Conflict – There is hate and rage that has to be worked through by our characters as fear is what released the creature and since there are so few left of the tribe and Romans that they can only build it by coming together. It is very well done as they choose to fight the beast rather than let the Doctor do it in their place. It is a powerful scene and showed that even though the past wasn’t erased, to save the future the soldiers could come together. They even stop the Doctor from doing his heroic sacrifice as they realize that this was their battle to face.

Okay: The Magic Elements – There is music around the stones where the battle happened. I thought this was alright but also wasn’t needed. I wouldn’t call it a con though.

The Creature – The creature is kind of boring. It fears light and kills quickly and has a reptile mixed with an insect look. Apparently it is a space locust as they feed and eat across universes as they jump through dimensions. I would have liked to know more as what we’ve got is okay, but not great.

This is an episode worth checking out. I thought it would be a boring survival story with a misunderstood monster, but I’m glad that wasn’t the case. The minor and main characters get fleshed out and the Doctor doesn’t get to save the day. Capaldi’s Doctor is one who excels as the Peacemaker as some of the greatest episodes during his run have been like this one where he helps factions come together. I’m going to miss him after he regenerates.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. Only reason it isn’t higher is the monster wasn’t all that interesting and the magic elements brought it down.

 

“Supergirl” Season 2 – Good but Brought Down by Shipping and Lack of Focus

     I really like “Supergirl,” after this season I still don’t feel comfortable calling it a great show, though if you are on the CW you probably aren’t a great show (experts of average or decent in their programming) but I am looking forward to next season and plan on coming back. In a nutshell, this was a season that needed a lot more focus and a lot less shipping as both these things held it back from being the great season it could have been.

    The premise of this season involves Kara/Supergirl dealing with the threat of Cadmus (who wishes to destroy aliens on Earth) the Daxams and her new relationships with Lena Luthor (Lex’s sister) and Mon-El of Daxam.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Martian Arc – Martian Manhunter has an amazing arc where he hooks up with Miss Martian who is a White Martian who fights against her species who exterminated Martian Manhunter’s people. She takes their look and her arc is going back to find others to fight the fascist members of her people. She after returns with those allies in the finale to fight. The main arc for Manhunter is overcoming prejudice, and they handle that really well.

Superman – Superman is in the show this season and he is fantastic! He clashes with Martian Manhunter, he remembers to smile and is both charming and awkward and is used as an ally and threat to equal degree. I really liked Tyler Hoechlin’s portrayal of him and hope he is used again in this and other series.

James and the Guardian – After Kara breaks up with James at the beginning of the Season and Cat hands him Catco he realizes that being a superhero is what he missed in his life and he becomes the Guardian, a Batmanesque protector of the city. The arc isn’t done yet as Kara wants him to stop being this character, but he saves so many people and shows that a person can live in both worlds, even if they aren’t Kryptonian.

The Crossover Episodes – Supergirl is in 2 Crossover events, the first involves all the DC CW shows and the Dominator invasion, which is fantastic as Supergirl is a weapon at first and after has to pull back so she isn’t used against the team but still helps defeat the aliens and later in the episode where the Music Meister (a Q, God like being) helps The Flash and Supergirl face their relationship and heal the bonds with their partners. Both are a lot of fun and the second is a musical episode (in which all can sing well!) and were some of the best parts of this season.

The Daxamite Invasion – The finale is the Daxamite invasion as Mon-El rejects his parents and his mother in turn kills his father so that she can conquer Earth and get her son back. We see the Daxamites are warriors and Mon-El their prince rejected his culture. In the end he has to leave Earth as Supergirl, with Cadmus releases a small dose of lead into the atmosphere which can kill Daxamites, leading to their retreat and Supergirl’s good-bye to the man she came to love. The Fleet is still around as a potential threat though, even if they can’t attack Earth.

Okay: Cadmus – Cadmus has Kara and Alex’s father and he is used against them, Lena’s mother also run’s the organization. Early on Superman and the others are facing off against Metallo’s that were created by Cadmus to kill Kryptonians. Team Work defeats them and the organization is overall feckless. They attempt alien genocide a few times and fail. I like the idea of the organization but hate the execution.

The Cons: Lack of Focus – Cadmus, the Martian Arc, Winn’s alien relationship, James and the Guardian, the Crossover event, the Danvers and their father and the Daxamite you are given a cluttered season where none of these except the Bottle arcs really play out to their greatest potential.

Everybody Gets a Relationship aka Too Much Shipping – Alex hooks up, Kara hooks up, Winn hooks up and even Martian Manhunter hooks up…and so many arcs revolve around these dramas. This really took away from the story as these should have been happening in the background, not front in center…since making it front and center just made the show feel all about shipping characters.

   The things that worked this season really worked. The Flash and Supergirl worked really well together and I loved seeing the CW Justice League, Martian Manhunter getting explored was wonderful (he is a favorite in most things I’ve seen this character in) and the finale was fantastic. If the show had only been these things it would be a great show, but too much shipping (everyone does not need to be hitched), Cadmus not really paying off and the lack of focus brought the show down to good. I would still recommend it for those who enjoyed Season 1 and I can’t wait for Season 3!

Final Score: 8 / 10

Mass Effect 3 – Improved Gameplay, DLC, and Dramatic Moments Can’t Hide Story Problems

     The version of the game I played was “Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut” which gave me “From the Ashes,” the DLC where you get Javik. I’m glad I got this version and bought what DLC I could find as it really did enrich the game. I would have been super annoyed with the plot holes (there are still a few) that a lot of the DLC deals with, making the game so much more enjoyable. The game still has problems but before I get into details and spoilers, I enjoyed the Multiplayer, the dramatic sacrifices of characters, the gameplay and combat and the character moments you get with side characters and your team who in many cases you’ve been since “Mass Effect 1.” I’ll get into the details of all of these further into the review.

Here is my review of “Mass Effect 1:

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

and Mass Effect 2:

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/mass-effect-2-amazing-character-development-combat-and-final-leads-to-this-being-one-of-the-best-rpgs-ive-played/

    “Mass Effect 3” picks up where “Mass Effect 2” left off with the Reapers on the way. Shepard has been arrested by the Alliance for his warcrimes but is released when the Reapers attack Earth. From here it is up to Shepard to find his team, create a united front against the Reapers and build a Prothean Super Weapon called the Crucible that might be the only way to defeat the Reapers.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Multiplayer – I’m usually not a fan of multiplayer in singleplayer games, especially ones that are almost an implied necessary part of the game as in “Mass Effect 3” multiplayer increases your chances of success in the main game campaign by increasing Galactic Readiness. The thing is I actually enjoy Multiplayer for “Mass Effect 3.” you can unlock the other species such as the Asari, Turians, Quarians, Salarians, Drell and Krogan and unlock other weapons. I really enjoyed playing as someone who wasn’t human as I love the aliens of Mass Effect. The gameplay is PvE which is my favorite type of multiplayer and the maps give a diverse array of challenges as you defeat wave after wave of countless enemies ranging from Cerberus, to Reapers to Geth.

Gameplay – The gameplay is fantastic! You can mod all your weapons, melee is easier to do and more effective and there are more guns and combat scenarios you face. For example at one point you are facing a Reaper one on one while using a powerful gun that calls down attacks from above. The gameplay without a doubt is an improvement over “Mass Effect 2.”

The World – The world continues to be amazing as you get to the homeworld of the Krogan, Salarians, Turians, Quarians and Asari. In each of these places you face a threat that reveals more about the lore and the Reaper threat, as well as how the different species interact among themselves and what they value.

Politics – Politics in 3 is on display more-so than any of the other games as you recruit each of the species against the Reapers and to help build the Crucible to fight them. I really enjoyed this as you have to make choices, like choosing the Krogan and Turians or the Salarians and if you don’t have high enough Paragon or Renegade, choosing the Quarians or the Geth in their war. I loved all of it and it gives some great character moments as politics is the art of what matters on a world and in this case Galactic scale. There aren’t easy answers a lot of the time, and this game really illustrates that.

Side Missions and Recruitment against the Reapers – There are a lot of great side missions in this, where you pick up things like Medi-Gel or Cerberus information to help doctors, scientist and ambassadors on the Citadel. You also help rescue the other species on the Citadel too as the Reapers attack their homeworlds, be it the Elcor, Hanar and Volus. Recruiting from the main council Races is really rewarding too. Also, it’s nice that the Council finally believes you.

Continuing the Romance and Character Relationships – 3 you pick up where the romances left off in 2 or 1. For example I ended things with Ashley as apparently saying no in my quarters in 1 wasn’t taken as a breakup. I also continued the romance with Tali and did her mission last to make sure I’d save her and have peace between the Geth and Quarians. You also continue your friendship with Jack and save the Biotic Academy she works at now, you save Miranda from her father, help Mordin stop the genophage, and Captain Anderson, who stays on Earth to fight the Reapers, help Miranda stop her sister, help Jacob save his partner who is pregnant with their child, spend time with a dying Thane and help EDI get a body! There is so much character development between 2 and 3.

Side Characters – There are a lot of great side characters in 3, from Admiral Hackett who is leading the fight for the Alliance on the front lines against Reaper forces, Aria and uniting the gangs and retaking Omega with her friend, Victus the new leader of the Turians and his son, the Asari military forces and countless diplomats, soldiers and refugees on the Citadel.

Past Consequences Paying Off – This isn’t across the board, but if you saved the Council they are open to working with you and at least give basic forces early on, if you saved Wrex you work with him against the Reapers and Cerberus on his homeworld, all your squad in Mass Effect 2 has payoff in their side missions.

The Reaper Threat – The Reaper threat is great in this! From their destruction of Earth and the other Council Homeworlds, to their controlling of the Geth and Rachni, to you feeling them on side missions as they can kill you as you find resources and complete side objectives. They never stop being this great threat and it was one thing that has been consistent through all 3 games.

The Ending of Arcs and Sacrifices Before the Final – The Geth and Quarians have peace thanks to Legion and Tali! The Krogan join the Galaxy and there is peace between them and the Turians thanks to Victus’s son’s sacrifice and Mordin curing the Genophage. Miranda kills her abusive dad and saves her sister and you get to help all of your squadmates and recruit them once more for the final push against the Reapers.

Relationships and Friendships With the Crew – There are some great moments of friendship and romance with your crew. From Tali coming up to your quarters when she’s made Admiral, to conversations around the ship and Citadel (shooting on top of a building with Garrus) to the amazing Citadel DLC where you get to see everyone who is alive.

The DLC – The DLC is the best it has ever been, with only the Shadow Broker DLC being on par and sometimes better than what we get in this game. It really enriches the game and makes it really good.

Javik – Javik is a Prothean, the last living one and is a cynical and sarcastic guy who doesn’t respect anyone except you until the end as he sees powerful the Galaxy is in standing together versus being dominated and enslaved by the Protheans. He really is a fun character and gives a perspective that hasn’t been in any Mass Effects. He was also DLC, which was stupid as he like Leviathan was kind of needed for the game to make any sense.

Omega DLC – Omega is fantastic DLC as you unite the different gangs under Aria and take back Omega from the Cerberus general. It is a lot of fun as you get to know the different leaders and fight your first big battle in the game. It was so much fun to complete, and I rubbed off on Aria and get her to care about her people! Sometimes it rocks to be Paragon.

Leviathan DLC – Leviathan explains how the Reapers were created as the AI you meet that controls them was created by Leviathans in order to dominate and document past races. In the end they got overthrown and nearly wiped out showing the cycle that Snyths will always rebel against the oppression of organics and bring about chaos and death. This is where the cycle begins as these creature are ancient. Getting them to join you is a lot of fun and rewarding and I loved the lore dump.

Citadel DLC – Citadel is awesome! You get time with your squadmates after taking out your evil Cerberus created clone. It feels like a James Bond film until you finish the main quest and after you get to support the characters and have great moments with them. Part of the mission is infiltrating a casino so I took Tali on the date with me. It was a blast.

The Romance – The romance is wonderful in this game as you get to spend time with your partner. I chose Tali and I’m glad I did, she is a great character and is there with you feeling the pain of all that is revealed. Her “I love you,” and “I have a home” are some of the saddest moments in this series and I do plan to play a mod in the future where Shepard survives so I can get their happy ending. For now the game is staying how it was originally intended as this beautiful relationship where I save her people and the Geth and she was with me on most missions and shared what got her into inter-species romance was first born (the vid in your date with her on the Citadel) and all the past moments just mourning our lost friends and the suffering galaxy end in my death. Damn, Mass Effect 3…They sure know how to make you care about the characters…

Tali – Tali becomes a greater leader in this game as she is part of the Admiralty and is one advocating for peace between the Quarians and Geth. She helps bring it about if your Paragon is high enough (as mine was) and we see her arc complete as she has her homeworld back and has found a home in her relationship with you (and vise versa for Shepard). We also see her hurt too as when you complete Miranda’s mission she drinks and regrets how everything she did was for her father and she did nothing to fight his control of her own path. It is powerful and I think this plays a big part later in how she takes the lead in watching out for others (she tells you to talk to Liara after Liara’s homeworld is destroyed). Tali is one of my favorite characters in the series and I think will be the romance in this game that will be the one I would have done if I was Shepard as an actual person in this universe.

The Characters – The characters have always been one of the strongest parts of Mass Effect. In this some characters I didn’t give a paragraph to but will mention here are Ashley and her finally trusting you again, Cortez the pilot who mourns his husband as you help go through his grief, Traynor and her worry at being the new person figuring things out, the macho man Vega who has a good heart, Jack and her becoming a mentor and caring for others, Kasumi fighting for the good while still being crafty, meeting Grunt and his elite squad and saving him from the Reapers, and Zaeed finding his nobility as well as saving Samara from her code and meeting her other daughters. All of these moments were fantastic.

Joker – Joker is with you through the series and in this you help him get together with EDI and learn to relax as well as being there as he waits and worries about his family. He is the core heart of the ship it is sushi with him that kicks off the Citadel DLC.

Mordin – Mordin is back and is his fast talking, wonderful, logical self who develops empathy thanks to the female Krogan Shaman and in the end saves all the Krogan. He is a wonderful character and I’m glad I got to see him again this game.

Wrex – Wrex is back and is doing all he can to fight for his people. He can’t be talked out of anything this time and I get why. His people have been screwed over countless times and their survival is down to the wire and can only happen with your honesty, Victus’s son sacrifice and Mordin releasing the cure. I’m glad he comes to the Citadel party too as it is a call back to the first game and you get to have a lot of fun with him.

Garrus – Garrus is one of if not your best friend as male Shepard. I wish I could have romanced him as Male Shep, he really is a great character and in this we see how much he’s grown as a leader as he is adviser to Victus and takes time on the Citadel advocating and caring for the Refugees. He also never forgets about you and reminds you to not get lost in guilt and loss…as last game he was in that place and you help him get out of it.

Liara – Liara is your other closest friend and it is her actions that make the defeat of the Reapers even possible as she learns about the Crucible and as Shadow broker is doing all she can to bring it about. She sadly loses her homeworld and it is up to you to help her heal. She also meets her father and learns she is 1/4 Krogan! I plan to do a romance path with her in future playthroughs of this series.

EDI, Legion, Geth and Synthetics – This game picks up what 2 starts with showing how EDI, the GEth and Synethics are fully conscience beings with humanity. EDI explores it with you when she asks moral questions and gets relationship advice about her and Joker and thanks to the Reaper code, Legion achieves individuality that he gives to the Geth. It is beautiful and there was no way I was going to destroy them so I chose peace and Synthesis, even though it meant my death.

My Squad – My initial squad before I picked up Tali was EDI as my tech and Liara as my biotic, though that quickly changed once I picked up Tali and my old Mass Effect 1 squad was back. These two are two of my favorite characters in the series and they are amazing squad mates to have.

The Good-Byes – The good-byes hurt but were amazing. My favorite good-byes were Liara’s mind meld, Garrus talking about drinks in Turian heaven, Tali’s painful “I want more time.” EDI finding humanity and how you can call up squadmates who are off of Earth. They really are some wonderful moments as you sit in the rubble of what is left of Earth.

Final Sacrifice – I chose Synthesis and in the process Shepard dies to help Synths and organics com to an understanding between one another. It is really cool and it made sense since Shepard had been the one to break the cycle, so his perspective was key in bringing about peace in the galaxy.

Power in Cooperation and Empathy – The power of empathy and cooperation is a major theme  in this and it is in helping others that others help you build the Crucible and protect Earth. It is also in the empathy and compassion of time with Squad mates that saves them from possibly dying and stops war. This is the Paragon way and one I fully support. It is the “Star Trek” ideology in “Mass Effect.”

The Theme of Sacrifice – The theme of Sacrafice is huge, Aria’s friend sacrifices herself to protect her people from the Reapers on Omega, Victus’s son sacrifices himself for peace between the Turians and Krogan, Mordin sacrifices himself to heal the genophage and Legion sacrifices himself for the Geth so that they can find the individuality he gained. There is of course Anderson’s sacrifice and yours on Earth as well. Each of these things goes towards peace and is a major theme of the game. Plus you remember past sacrifices like those of Kaidan.

The Cons: Lack of Rachni Payoff – The Rachni Queen gets captured again and we never see the full Rachni force after you save her for a second time. This was a waste as they should have been a powerful ally against the Reapers given the Queen tells you in “Mass Effect 2” that everything is going well with her people.

How the Catalyst is Handled – The Catalyst AI looks like a kid and it is never explained and you see it in stupid drawn out dreams. The Catalyst should have been hinted at in 1 or 2. There is no setup and the scenes with the Catalyst just feel awkward.

Cerberus, the Illusive Man and the Villain Problem – Cerberus kills so many humans and the Illusive Man never explains why. I get ends justify the means but this game he does everything to turn humanity against him and how he has such a large force is never explained. He isn’t like Saren where you get his background and can see it. He’s just a character who was never on your side to begin with and it is shown by his actions in 3. This was a wasted opportunity. Luckily the Reapers never stop being a threat.

Kai Leng – This guy is meant to be the anti-Shepard but is only introduced in this game. I wouldn’t have minded the ninja thing if he’d been a presence on 1 or was a squadmember who betrays you. Instead he is a one-dimensional baddy who has no personality or drive. He is a waste of a character who is only there to hurt you but with no reason why.

Going Cinematic and Forgetting the Game – There are a few times where 3 wants to be a movie rather than a game and it hurts both. You have these weird dream sequences chasing the Catalyst and when you get the final part of Earth you are limping everywhere and somehow survive a direct hit from a Reaper, with no explanation. These are good examples of “Cinematic” over “Story” and they hurt the game. The game would have been worse and only been okay if there had been more of it.

The Choices I Made – The choices I made were to end the relationship with Ashley (apparently turning her down in your quarters doesn’t break up with her in 1), continued my relationship with Tali. Chose the Krogan over the Salarians and helped end the genophage (saved Wrex in the first game) and let Mordin sacrifice himself, saved the Council (again), saved the Geth and Quarians and let Legion give himself to the Geth to make them stronger and brought about peace between the two species. Finally, I chose synthesis and gave up my life in the process.

This is a game and series as a whole that for all of it’s flaws, is one of my favorites. Though I wish more had been done with the ending and the Catalyst be presented in a different matter rather than an annoying kid, and Cerberus being so powerful never being explained (as well as the Illusive Man’s motivations being one I never understood fully and Kai Lung having no setup as the New Dragon…he should have been in “Mass Effect 2” if he was going to be such a threat. I still loved the Synthesis ending and as much as I wanted to have Shepard stay with Tali forever, Galactic Peace was worth the sacrifice of losing her. Synthesis was a great explanation that really changes the drama that 2 and 1 set up of Organics against Synthetics. It was also great having Tali and Liara as my main squad again. If you like science fiction stories and games you may still love this series. It is one of my favorites and the best ending really is fantastic, even with all the story flaws littered through the game. “Mass Effect 2” is still the best of the series, but I did enjoy 3 more than 1.

Final Score: 8.6 / 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