Friday, June 1, 2018

Arrow: Season 6, Episode 23 (Season Finale), "Life Sentence" - Almost everyone gets their day in the sun in a fascinating season finale

The most obvious place to begin a review of "Life Sentence" is at the end, with Oliver Queen staring directly at the camera and telling the world that he is the Green Arrow. It's an interesting choice to throw at the series, considering the typical formula for a season of Arrow mostly revolves around Oliver running into a villain that threatens the city, stumbling along the way trying to stop them, only to find out how to defeat them at the end. With the conclusion of season six though, it throws the formula into an interesting mix by ending it not entirely on a cliffhanger, but with a new status quo on the horizon, and with some unresolved plots. It's a bold choice for a show that has, at points, become so formulaic to shift gears, especially as season six basically signals a new era of the show after season five concluded the five-year journey and format it had followed since the show's inception.

By all means, making Oliver's secret identity public might result in an actual change in how Arrow operates. It may not change at a fundamental level where a villain strikes out and Oliver and his team need to bring them to justice, but it means that the dynamics at play - planning, gathering leads and waiting for a moment to strike - could possibly change as the scenes no longer needs to be played with an air of subterfuge behind it, though what could replace it is anyone's guess. The writers, producers, and the star have said that the finale's big moment would not be walked back. Naturally one assumes this is the public identity reveal, so it will be interesting to see how it shakes out not only on Arrow, but also its sister shows.

As for the finale, it made the move to have Oliver attempt to reconcile with many of his teammates as the episode continued. To follow suit, it's just as proper to address the finale and season as a whole by working through most of the characters.

Oliver - It's not a real surprise he had to reach out to the FBI to help him take back Star City, as Diaz's reach became too far entrenched. It's an interesting choice, again, to have him reveal his secret identity to everyone. As he tells Felicity, keeping the city safe was more important than having a life after being the Green Arrow. Even if they ultimately didn't apprehend Ricardo Diaz in the end. So that plan didn't really work out, but at least he more or less got everyone back together.

Felicity - Mostly to check in and see how "Olicity" is, and this season generally kept it to a minimum considering all the drama about William and his mother was quickly dispensed with and any relationship drama was kept in a more adult fashion while also in the superhero realm without the melodrama that has been associated with the ship's low points in season three and four.

Diggle - Made probably some of the most movement this season of everyone else as he took on the mantle of Green Arrow, lost it because he kept his condition a secret from everyone, then left to try to make it on his own at ARGUS. He still has the costume, so it's not a problem if he had to put on the costume in the future. He's also the last principal character from the very start of the show, and the history that he and Oliver share always play out amazingly, whether it's the two men butting heads or working together.

William - I was hoping for a little more, but as Cayden James went away, I guess so did the little father-son dynamics found in the earlier episodes of the season also followed suit. William became mostly an empty vessel that finally accepted his father and realized he had to stay as the Green Arrow. I did enjoy the obstacles he and Oliver had to overcome since the start of the season, and there might be something there, if only the show wants to do anything with it.

Rene - His main emotional attachment is his daughter, so it makes sense for the show to deploy that relationship as much as possible. It's a shame, again, that Rene features very little while Oliver is trying to work on his parent game when Rene is present as was Diggle (though his child is basically an afterthought in comparison), except when required to as a plot point. His phone call scene in the finale does work off the character work in the past few episodes and his concerns about not being to compartmentalize. Hopefully it caries forward next season.

Dinah - Looking back, the Vigilante reveal being Vincent made quite a bit of sense, seeing as Dinah in season five basically had a completed arc following the episode that Oliver recruited her after she avenged the death of Vincent. She otherwise worked well with the group and didn't really cause undue friction in the team. Dinah in particular seemed much too level-headed most of the time to really create drama around, especially to work towards the splitting of Team Arrow in the middle of season six. 

Curtis - It really feels like Curtis got the really short end of the stick when it came to everyone else in season six. He exists mostly to get dunked on by any capable villains. His only real redeeming moments are talking Dinah down from killing Laurel and being capable when attacking the Quadrant's weapon shipments. Even the romantic subplot between him and Nick feel like an afterthought as there's barely anything to justify a side character we've seen for maybe fifteen minutes is supposed to be a genuine relationship after his divorce. I do want to see a story like this for real, it's just that nothing is grabbing me.

Quentin - As the big veteran actor to remain on Arrow, there was always material to be mined between him and Oliver, especially as the father-son dynamic continued. There was no real short supply of those moments either in the finale or during the season either. Quentin was a bit uneven otherwise in season six as there were long stretches of him either mostly in a C-level plot with Thea, or having to act as if winning Black Siren over to the good side was basically his new addiction. Still, the paternal aspect of his character generally won out over any bumps along the way, so it's sad to see him go.

Laurel - Also somewhat uneven, but generally entertaining to watch. It'll be interesting to see where Laurel will go now that she's somewhat a morally grey villain like Deathstroke (without DC movie embargos), but she'll be more of a regular appearance and hopefully not as overbearing as Malcolm at the worst of times. Without a connection to Quentin to latch onto, she's back to being fake Earth-1 Laurel Lance, which means she will have to play the part somewhat as a truly public figure and give Oliver someone to relate to, possibly.

Ricardo Diaz - It's interesting to keep him alive to be used in season seven, because it means that through all the faults made by the writing team, they're willing to salvage what they created rather than putting him firmly away and pretending he more or less didn't exist and drawing up new plans with someone else. At least for now, he might not make it to the midseason finale. It looks like he's teamed up with the Longbow Hunters, but they will remain mostly mysterious until next season. Hopefully by then Diaz will have time to cool down and come up with an equally manipulative plan and dial down on the "just hurt everyone Oliver cares about" plan that's mostly driven by blind rage. There were plenty of opportunities to show Diaz as this cold, shrewd strategist, but any setbacks always set him down a frustrating path (for both the character and audience). Hopefully they can get back to the drawing table for this one.

All-in-all, much of the finale felt like it wanted to just move forward and sweep most of the poorly-received developments under the rug. Reconciliations came quick and fast for Oliver and many of his allies that he wronged, though it was a smart idea to package the idea as him giving his last wishes before being hauled away by the FBI to help fix a problem he should've kept the ball on. I say that because again the show never truly convinced me that Ricardo Diaz was actually the man who could've outsmarted a master hacker with poorly doctored videos of his son's murder and could willingly play a low-level stooge until it was the right time to strike, and somehow had the city in the palm of his hand shortly after he killed him. Some of it was poor setup, but some of it was also just Arrow just telling us without showing us the details we needed to make it seem convincing. But regardless, it does a good job by sticking the landing, and sometimes that's all you need to do to have the audience leave on a high note and come back for more.

After six years, having Oliver tell everyone "I am the Green Arrow" to end the season is more than enough to keep me watching for more.

Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • This will be my last post on this blog, as I will be starting over fresh on something that feels more focused. I'll still be reviewing TV, most likely Arrow next season, if not something soon. 23 episodes is a huge task but I'm glad to have done it and a treat to review week-to-week. This one was a little (much more) late, I admit, but still fun nonetheless. Thanks for anyone who's read any of my TV reviews or (gasp) stuck with me for any amount of time.
  • Hopefully the Longbow Hunters reference comes about to something interesting. If you haven't read the comic of the same name, give it a try.
  • Almost forgot, but Anatoly is still alive and still as Anatoly as ever. Check.
  • No salmon ladders, and not quite sure if there will be a new base, or maybe the new base of operations will be Rene's apartment, since Zoe is probably cool with it.
  • As for other casting news for next season, it seems like Roy will be back. If so, I guess maybe Thea can return, or she can come back in the same capacity as Lyla, where she's mostly a sounding board for Roy when he keeps letting the villain escape or something. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Timeless: Season 2, Episode 9, "The General" & Episode 10, "Chinatown" (Season Finale) - Timeless leans on its strengths to deliver a powerful finale (and cliffhanger)

It's no big secret that Timeless is on the bubble for renewal, especially given the huge cliffhanger it decided to leave the audience with as it rounds out its second (and hopefully not final) season. Fingers crossed. As I write this, the fate of the show is still in the air, though some hope remains because of that mere fact since the network television upfronts have come and gone without a word on Timeless, which aired over the same weekend. Regardless, Timeless set out to spin a tale of the lesser known aspects of history in a fun, action-adventure romp, and landed on a spectacular finish that really demands at least a final, if truncated season (even more so than this year, if that's possible).

The two part finale concentrates Timeless into a perfect distillation of the show's strengths without skipping a beat. Oddly, I did feel the first hour ("The General") felt more of a transitional episode despite being the penultimate episode of the season. It's an otherwise almost run-of-the-mill episode where they have to stop the American Civil War turning out the wrong way, with a bit of help from Harriet Tubman. from A few points were made about season long arcs such as Jiya's growing abilities and how she could start to control them, on top of that the arc with Jessica and her affiliation with Rittenhouse. Carol tries to sway Nicholas back to her side over Emma, but it's played very slowly until it explodes in the following hour.  Everything ends up contributing greatly to the second hour ("Chinatown"), making the first hour feel like one last standalone adventure before everything hits the fan.

On that note, Timeless as a show that frequently leans harder on the episodic side of storytelling as one of its strengths, though for me, at some points the longer arcs feel inconsequential until it truly comes to a head. Often the longer arcs can feature too little change or movement as the season progresses without giving much hint for the future ahead, though it's more of a nitpick than anything from me.

It's in "Chinatown" that Timeless really begins to stop playing safe and go for broke with everything that's been building through the season. Starting with Jessica, she kidnaps Jiya back to Rittenhouse only to be made a hostage (Carol wants to leverage her to bump off Emma). She quickly makes her escape but not before Emma gets a few shots in at the Lifeboat, and it can't land back in the bunker. I suppose at this point Rittenhouse has little to no resources left seeing as they can't attack the bunker despite maybe knowing where it is. What's impressive is Jiya leaving a message for the team on where to find the Lifeboat in the present and warning them to leave her behind. It's a drastically heightened scenario that we saw with Lucy at the start of the season, placing Jiya in the late 19th century for three years on her own. It's a much bolder move than what they attempted to do with Lucy, and if the show continues, Jiya might seem much better equipped to head out with the team as she's been given time to "toughen up" (for the lack of a better term).

The second drastic change Timeless makes is to set Rittenhouse down a different path by basically turning Nicholas Keynes an afterthought. The leftovers of Rittenhouse chase after Jiya all at once, and it causes the sole four survivors to whittle each other down - Keynes kills Carol and then Emma executes Nicholas - leaving Emma and Jessica left to escape back to the present. With Rittenhouse in the present essentially now in the hands of two women, it makes me wonder what type of threat will they pose, considering Jessica and Wyatt's child will either be leverage or used against him. It does make me wonder that if the show is done with using Rittenhouse as a stand-in (especially with Nicholas) for influential white men trying to control every aspect of history; what will drive Emma to take the reins? One guess is she'll want to change history for the better in her image (we saw her going against orders in "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes"), but perhaps her attempts to change things for the better might backfire without the care someone like Lucy or Carol can provide. Nicholas felt like an attempt to put a face to Rittenhouse that wasn't there is season one (unless you count Lucy's father), but he never really amounted to much and his will was mostly enacted through Emma mostly or really just played off as a more cynical version of Sleepy Hollow's Ichabod Crane.

Ultimately though, the show's strengths lies in leaning on its characters, and despite my misgivings about slower, season long stories, they do end up contributing in small ways to make us care about everyone. Flynn was a perfect example of that in season one, and with Emma and Jessica now at odds with everyone else, I'm interested in seeing where the show might take them. At some point in the show, Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus have embraced the act of changing history because their gut reaction is to change it (hopefully for the better) even when preserving the events would be the best course of action. For historians, Lucy especially, that aspect is interesting because of that struggle between judging history as a social science where one must accept the values of the past were not as enlightened versus the fiction that allows one to actually experiencing that history and being able to manipulate it. Timeless is an interesting time capsule in a way because unlike most time travel fiction that places someone from our future or past into our present as ways of examining our society and its values, it does the opposite by observing and critiquing past values to our current ones in hopes that it can act as a catalyst to improve our present. Layered on that, with the work the show puts into its characters, it's not hard to see why earlier in the season, Lucy decided to help the women of Salem avoid their fates. Or why we might agree with Jiya when she begs for Rufus to leave her behind in the past, or when Lucy just lets loose on Emma in a down-and-dirty fist fight because of what she did to Rufus. Or how it must feel for the audience to know that when a newly-upgraded Lifeboat shows up and a grizzled, future Lucy and Wyatt propose they go save Rufus, you know in the back of your mind that they wouldn't hesitate to say that they will.

Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • There is a fantastic article on Bustle that hit many of the same beats I've noticed over the first and second season, especially as it pertains to how the show tells the tales of the lesser known people of history and the connections between Rittenhouse and influential white men in history.
  • I'm not particularly in nitpicking how the time travel really works in Timeless but I have to assume anything that has time travelled is immune from changes, like any person's memories or objects remain the same despite history changing. Maybe that's why Emma killing Nicholas didn't immediately make Carol and Lucy disappear from history. Though to be fair, he was probably destined to die in WW1.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Timeless: Season 2, Episode 8, "The Day Reagan Was Shot" - Timeless fights to keep their origin story alive

As Timeless rounds out the season with one more lap before the finale, "Reagan" is the centerpiece for Agent Denise Christopher as Lucy, Wyatt, Rufus, and Jiya have to save a younger (officer) Denise from being murdered by a Rittenhouse sleeper agent in 1981. "Reagan" is arguably the strongest episode yet of Timeless as it helps mix in so many elements of time travel stories into a strong, character focused hour of television. Frankly speaking, there are times where Timeless needs to simply be saved by the sheer chemistry on display by its lead characters, but for this hour, it only helps magnify an already strong story to something much better.

For all the heroes, this is one where all the stakes are personal and high as the team races to keep Denise Christopher alive; if she dies, then Rittenhouse can simply wipe out all opposition in one fell swoop. It's an easy thing for the audience to wrap their head around, because the show is explicitly saying that this is how you kill off the origin story of the show: start at the root cause. There are a few interesting twists included in the whole adventure as Lucy and Jiya have to sort out how to prevent Denise from heading down a different path now that she's more than a simple witness to a historical event.

Denise Christopher's character is an interesting one that never got much exploration beyond a few scenes in season one where Lucy is invited over to dinner. Most other times, she's straightforward and all business with almost no deceptive streak, but one hell of a poker face. It's in that quiet scene we learn she's gay, married and has children, but beyond that the show never really explores her family life beyond vaguely putting them in the vicinity of danger that you expect from Rittenhouse. Sakina Jaffrey is a fantastic actor and sells the material well, connecting with Lucy's sister's disappearance to her fear or losing her family through simple causality.

It's a great callback to the flash drive that she gives Lucy in that quiet scene that never comes back up until now, and it's used to great effect at the big emotional climax. It works doubly well by having Karen David play the younger, more conflicted version of Denise Christopher who also pitches in on finding Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin. The episode also explores issues of queer identity and the toll it plays, especially in families with a more conservative nature like Denise's. The show doesn't make any qualms about telling the audience that Denise's mother is definitely no fan of her sexual orientation, plus has some things to say about arranged marriages in Indian culture. Jaffrey of course, helps seal the deal when the team returns to discover their risky gamble to tell her about her future has worked, and because of their intervention, parts of her personal life have changed, for the better. The show arrives at a fairly nuanced conclusion to it; she maintains a generally more positive (rather than mostly absent) relationship with her mother, connecting over her adoptive children. It's not the happiest ending, but it a nuanced approach does speak volumes over a simple, "and then it was 110% all better".

It was also nice to have Denise and Flynn bounce off one-another in a more friendly tone and share advice about keeping their families close. It's not hard to imagine Flynn as a sympathetic character (as he's had much time to express it back in the first season), and it's moments like those that remind the audience he was never at any point a dastardly, moustache-twirling villain.

As for Rufus and Wyatt, they track down the Rittenhouse sleeper agent who attempts to kill Denise Christopher and take him captive. It's an interesting subplot as the show is very much aware it's the first time they've taken a Rittenhouse agent alive and pump him for information. It's also not much of a surprise that maybe some members of Rittenhouse are not so sympathetic to their cause and are acting as mere pawns under some duress. It's an interesting angle to play, especially with what's been shown of Rittenhouse in the past, and in the second season. It also helps inform Jessica's position with Rittenhouse, as it's fairly obvious by now she's in on the whole thing, like it or not. The sleeper plotline on a bit of a bitter note as the two sleeper agent brothers end up having to die, with one having to take his life for a cause he didn't necessarily believe it, but again, it does some duty to help colour Jessica's position. It just feels like it's fairly late of a development or avenue for the show to explore, but I'm glad they got to it.

The unfortunate fact is the finale will be coming up next, so there might be some more exploration of that angle, probably through Carol, maybe as she tries to see the whole Rittenhouse endeavour is starting to fail and fall apart as a byproduct of their own making.

Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • The show is still on the bubble at this time of writing, so it'll be interesting what state the 2-hour finale leaves the show in, especially if it's in an unresolved cliffhanger.
  • There's something to be said about Rittenhouse "trying again" by going further up the family tree, but that feels unnecessary and a little too involved. Sometimes time travel stories don't need all the holes plugged.
  • Had to give it some thought, but Wyatt not remembering Jessica's younger brother makes sense since Jessica returned into the timeline while Wyatt was still out in the past (in "Hollywoodland"), meaning his memories of her were still of her being dead and not alive.
  • As for other time travel rule talk: Flynn does remind us an older Lucy will travel back in time (when it's possible) to get Flynn started on his adventure. It will be interesting to see then - if the show survives that long. Hopefully.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Arrow: Season 6, Episode 22, "The Ties That Bind" - Action-packed, but a little lacking, as the season starts rallying to a conclusion

As the penultimate episode to the season, "The Ties That Bind" has a lot of ground to cover in a way that even the past five or six episodes couldn't really handle or provide for us in the way this hour could. The episode opens with a set of flurried action sequences showing the danger that all our heroes are in, and it acts as a rallying cry for Star City's vigilantes. If they weren't back together last week during Oliver's trial, they certainly reunited now that Diaz has thrown all caution to the wind. Amidst all the action, there's a small thread that runs through as Oliver starts to find it too dangerous for Felicity to stick around because he wants at least a parent to survive the upcoming ordeal. It's an incredibly action packed episode that excites, but manages to more or less sputter out near the end, despite the fact that the show is heading into the finale.

The main line of "Ties" is fairly straightforward even as the reunited Team Arrow jump from plan to plan to try to take down Diaz. While trying to attack Diaz en route to the SCPD (with some help from Anatoly), the team discover some kind of vital USB key that Diaz has on his person, and they end up trying to copy the data over. It's an exciting and focused chase to try to take him down, but with Diaz having the resources of the city at his disposal, it's not long before he assaults their last stronghold and stops the heroes from decrypting all his finances and personal data to be used against him.

It's an interesting way to go about to be sure, but having the plan end in failure is a little interesting moving straight into the finale. It's likely what drives Oliver to seek help from FBI agent Samanda Watson (who we haven't seen in a long while) and reveal his identity, but it also leaves the audience and our heroes back at square one. Where do they go next? For once it does seem like the odds seem insurmountable as a good lead must be abandoned to fight another day. Perhaps the FBI already have something that will help, though Felicity suggested if they had fully decrypted the data, everything would've ended in fairly quickly. It seems like a duel of wits might be off the table for the final showdown.

As for Oliver and Felicity's troubles, it's something of a natural conclusion of Oliver's arc coming off "Brothers in Arms", if not as far back as "Collision Course". As I had argued back then, Oliver was left to overcorrect as Diggle's parting advice before quitting Team Arrow. The show works to walk back and explain that Oliver needs to draw strength from his allies instead of alienating them. It's just that the mayor day job really didn't do much for either the show or the character. Oliver's alienating default state is something the show has fundamentally argued against through its run even as its principal character continues to work against that single theme. By the end, he's learned his lesson and apologized to everyone for everything that's happened, though it's hard to say if he's truly learned his lesson.

Of course, a part of what drove the middle portion of season six is Oliver's mistrust of his allies. If only the execution of Team Arrow's fracture had played out better, maybe the audience as a whole might have been more receptive to the idea. The fact that reuniting the team isn't enough to save the city in a day or two speaks to the level of corruption and control Diaz has in Star City since he was able to run unabated, which I assume was the entire point, and at least by this point in the season, feels like something the show has at least executed properly on.

The Quadrant on the other hand, seems like a misused plot point at this juncture. It's one thing to turn the League of Assassins into a bunch of weekend warriors straight out of preschool, but the show doesn't really sell the whole country-wide criminal cabal without everyone coming off as foolish in their endeavours. Of course, Cassamento is the only real member of the Quadrant with any real speaking lines to give Diaz any sass. At least the show has some self-awareness about the fact that Diaz just stopped caring and decided to shoot everyone up to get rid of Oliver and his allies.

Diaz, of course, murders two Quadrant members fairly casually by the end of the hour and demands to be taken seriously - as if The Quadrant was that serious to begin with. I suppose it's meant to be interpreted as Diaz now having the full might of the country's underworld behind him on top of the Star City police force in his pocket, but when The Quadrant can't keep someone like Diaz from killing two of their leaders in front of everyone like they're a henchmen that messed up the coffee order, I don't know if I can believe The Quadrant was ever competent at all. In retrospect, it takes all the development out of "The Dragon" if you can believe it. It almost feels like that episode should've been a more focused on the formative aspects of Ricardo Diaz than about him chasing a plot device that doesn't have much teeth behind it three episodes later. It makes Diaz out to be the idiot going after fool's gold instead of this pragmatic strategist.

But rest assured, a final showdown will be had next week, and with Diaz flying off the handle, it's at least sure to entertain.

Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • Not quite sure exactly how Oliver managed to get his costume with all of Diaz's thugs trashing the Arrow bunker. Maybe he just has a spare at home or something.
  • Two bases blown up in the span of a single episode is quite the record. Wonder what a new base of operations will look like next season.
  • On the other hand, the new SCPD set looks like it's been getting a lot of work in since its introduction.
  • Of all the action sequences in the teaser, Dinah's was by far the most fun of them and made her feel less like a mopey anti-hero and more of something come to life from the pages of a comic book.
  • I don't hate Curtis at all, but Nick is like the equivalent of fetch for me. It's just not happening, and maybe because it's the way the show doesn't do any work to convince us they're that great together, no offense. Five scenes a relationship does not make, at least not one where Curtis is diving into danger for vengeance.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Arrow: Season 6, Episode 21, "Docket No. 11-19-41-73" - One-upmanship at its finest finally makes this season's big bad feel threatening

In an episode Arrow that's fairly minimal with its action sequences and dominated by a court case, it was a bit of a surprise to see an hour of Arrow that managed to be just as exciting as you might find a typical (or even almost throwaway) episode of Arrow, where it usually tries to squeeze in healthy amount of action in each act. The show feels like it has to work overtime to continue to prove to the audience that Ricardo Diaz is a threat that is worth taking seriously, but the choice of venue did work to its advantage this week. For all the talk show telling us that Diaz owns Star City, it actually becomes readily apparent more and more the further into "Docket No. 11-19-41-73" you go, and how a team (somewhat) reunited is what the show needs to just wrestle victory away from the villain, if even for a moment.

Despite the fracture between the vigilante teams in Star City, everyone comes together to help Oliver out of his predicament, with Diggle, Rene, Dinah, and Felicity trying to take the stand to try to acquit Oliver of his charges and try to keep his identity secret. As the trial goes on, it's fairly obvious everyone involved in the whole justice system is rigged against Oliver. His attorney can never get a word in edgewise without it working in Diaz's favour, especially not with the judge being a puppet wielded by Diaz. When our heroes think they've gotten a handle on any one situation, Diaz comes with well-crafted counter. The part that finally convinced me that Diaz is as dangerous as the show has been telling us was when Dinah and Diggle, frustrated with Diaz, tries to take him down on the courthouse steps, only for him to summon a battalion of uniformed officers from almost thin air.

Bringing back Colin Donnell was certainly an interesting choice, even if it was obvious it was the Human Target underneath it all. It was never really much of a secret for Tommy's "return" to the show (aside from the crossover), considering it was really an attempt by the team to trip up Diaz's case, if only for them to quickly shoot the option down by having the team learn that Diaz knew about Christopher Chance's existence. Regardless, it was an incredibly fun moment for Donnell to play a much more light-hearted Green Arrow that I'm afraid the show will never really get to do again. It's just that the rather more PTSD-suffering, friend-alienating, dreary Oliver Queen is part and parcel of Arrow as a whole, simply because of how it was born as a show to act as a Batman show without Batman (or as Stephen Amell so quaintly says, he is Walmart Batman).

It's an interesting reversal to have all the people who Oliver had alienated come help him try to keep him out of jail. It's also doubly interesting to finally have Black Siren take a stance on where she wants to stand with Diaz. Slowly and slowly, everything that Diaz has worked for in order to take over the city has started to reverse and work against his favour. The last minute switch with the judge is likely something he did not expect (or maybe only planned on working once with Tommy and already planned to counter), alongside Laurel's betrayal. The show also reminded us that aside from that Hail Mary of an idea from Rene, Oliver's fate was effectively sealed when the team considered the jury was probably also bought out by Diaz.

Having Laurel finally take a side and decide she could take on Diaz was finally refreshing to see, even if it landed her in hot water as Diaz came prepared to stifle her powers in case she ever got rebellious. Or in his mind, he's always been prepared to discard her when she's no longer useful. In the end, it looks like Team Arrow will find a way to reunite, and Diaz, now fed up with playing games with Oliver to disgrace him, will decide it's time to just kill him and sort it all out later. It's been an interesting journey, but looking back, dividing the team didn't really seem to produce too much interesting developments to really excite me, especially when it came to all the heroes of the show. Hopefully moving forward will do the season better.
Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • Wasn't really expecting Oliver to give Jean the truth, even considering attorney-client privilege.
  • Oliver's reasoning to not want to reveal his identity is an interesting one - it helps to draw the show away from having to deal with it now that the cards are on the table, and it helps set the stage for an eventual cancellation/conclusion to the series if they ever choose to do so.
  • Two episodes to go in the season, so it will have to be quick sprint to the finish to see where it all takes us. Rumours flying about the final moments of the season, but if it's not a secret identity reveal, I'm curious just what it will be.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Timeless: Season 2, Episode 7, "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes" - Women's suffrage isn't necessarily the best subject to explore, but Timeless makes it work anyway

Timeless takes us on an interesting journey back to the roots of women's suffrage in the U.S., but it feels slightly undercooked as a setting, and more of an excuse to use Grace Humiston's moniker of "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes" as a tool to poke fun and Lucy and Wyatt's strained relationship. It's really no surprise that if your secret cabal is led by a turn-of-the-century white man with illusions of grandeur and plans to take over the world through time travel, he might not be so great with women's rights. Or anyone else's for that matter. But that being said, the cast always pulls through and makes any episode of Timeless enjoyable.

An interesting development as of this episode is showing us that Rittenhouse is nearly extinct, at least thought to be after Wyatt raided the headquarters himself last week. As far as the show is concerned, Rittenhouse is Nicholas, Emma, and Carol, plus whatever sleeper agents they left remaining to be activated, now that everyone else is more or less dead or arrested from last season. Nicholas is more concerned about snuffing out movements that might run counter to running an authoritarian regime, but it appears that women's suffrage is something not even Emma - arguably Rittenhouse's only competent operator remaining - can really justify. It makes for an incredibly interesting and fun combination as it brings Rufus, Flynn, and Emma together as they all hash out their particular past working relationships and look for common ground to stop Rittenhouse's plans. 

Rufus is particularly amusing this episode when paired off with Flynn as the two of them operate on a fairly casual tone and Flynn takes the time to joke with Rufus, going so far as to calmly tell him he's not going to kill him today. It makes for extra comedy when compounded with the fact that Rufus feel more confident knowing he's not time-travelling to a time with cowboys and he's certain to die. The hilarious notion that he thinks he's invincible makes him decides to tempt fate every time he and Flynn are met with danger, but it does offer a fun distraction as the two actors work off each other very well.

"Mrs. Sherlock Holmes" arguably has the most competent Rittenhouse sleeper agent put to task considering she was able to kill Alice Paul without anyone noticing and coming fairly close to killing Lucy. Grace Humiston was an interesting figure to attach to the story, mostly as a way to pick apart at Wyatt and Lucy's strained relationship, as well as having her become the stand-in and replacement for Alice Paul as a long-running women's rights activist. The interpretation of the historical figure might not be as particularly sound, but the journey made was an interesting one to have her start as someone less than interested in women's suffrage and equality, ultimately realizing her biases to the situation and taking up a noble cause. It's tied up nicely and Timeless doesn't always have to meet the standards of academia, so any deviations from real history is worth a pass for an entertaining hour of television.

It remains to be seen exactly what the show wants to do with Emma, since she's largely loyal save for this indiscretion. Jessica being known to Agent Christopher and Connor Mason potentially being a Rittenhouse agent isn't really a surprise considering the show acknowledges the possibility itself episodes back with her return. She's meant to throw a wrench mostly into Wyatt and Lucy's relationship, though it's really Lucy here who knows her boundaries, and it feels like Wyatt who thinks he can maybe manage a threesome if he's really sly about it. It's welcome to hear the show also acknowledge through Lucy that she and Flynn aren't romantically inclined, but he is someone she can connect with otherwise since everyone else is literally paired off at this point in the show.

Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • Squeezing in a Donald Trump as president joke might just be the best part of the episode. But it wasn't their fault he's president, at least.
  • Not much of an arc but Rufus thinking he's invincible to getting humbled and apologizing to Jiya was nice to see.
  • The thing about the women's suffrage movement in the US is that it was fairly widespread by then that I feel like Rittenhouse would have to snuff out the movement in the entire western world and work to keep it from stirring up again. I feels like a minor setback and the U.S. would've just been late to the party instead of thinking it just becomes The Handmaid's Tale overnight. But that's just me being nitpicky.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Arrow: Season 6, Episode 20, "Shifting Allegiances" - Moving forward is what's best for everyone

Although many took the Team Arrow split poorly and still hold some animosity for Dinah, Curtis, and Rene, part of "Shifting Allegiances" worked to set them forward after holding the three of them back for a good period of the season. That's not to say that the show itself has finished mending the damage it did by dividing the team, but it sets everyone moving forward towards to finale. With a clear goal in mind, it feels as if Arrow has found its way again.

Everything in "Shifting Allegiances" all center around Ricardo Diaz, but unlike most hours of television, the surprising fact is none of the stories ultimately come together like you'd expect. It's an interesting method of showing that despite Team Arrow finally being fractured, the spirit lives on to defend Star City in one way or another. Oliver works to try to undermine Diaz through Anatoly, New Team Arrow do what they can to hurt Diaz, Diggle draws up war plans at A.R.G.U.S., and Quentin does his best to resist Diaz now that he's mayor.

Most of the hour is dominated by Dinah, Curtis, and Rene and their attempts to take back the city. Now that the latter has finally returned from being off-screen for quite a few episodes, it means New Team Arrow is once again allowed to don on their costumes. They've never quite come out from under the shadow of Team Arrow, and their reasoning for leaving and continued spite still feels a little rickety to be sure (the same goes for Diggle), but placing them back into a more active role is at least a first step into redeeming the three junior vigilantes, even if it's just for the audience's sake. The trio are rounded off with Diggle, who joins up once they realize they both are tackling the same target - The Quadrant.

There are a few scenes that the team and Diggle share together that almost feel like they'd fit right in with Oliver and Felicity bouncing in and out of in the scene, so it feels a bit of a shame to waste the cast on going their separate ways for the time being. The show also feels like it wants to put the attempt at the Team Arrow "civil war" in the rear-view mirror (if not far in the horizon) and set everything back to mostly as it was. Diggle, of course, is the most reconciliatory of the bunch, though the show itself seems to just not want to waste time with pleasantries (through Rene) and get back to brass tacks. Somehow they manage to fit in some struggle with Rene's recovery, and let Diggle give him a little heart-to-heart advice on how to fight crime while being a family man. It's maybe not Arrow at it's strongest, but it's trying to fix what they broke at least.

Oliver still tries to take his solo act on the road, this time hoping he can remove Anatoly from Diaz's influence. He starts by travelling to Russia to pay off Anatoly's debts, then returns and hopes that it's enough to draw him away from Star City. When it isn't, he gets himself kidnapped and somehow turns the tables, showing Anatoly that Diaz isn't an honourable man. Anatoly thinks he already knows this, or at least assumes that Diaz adheres to a different criminal code that Anatoly can tolerate, but Oliver shows Diaz's ugly side nonetheless. For the audience, it helps give us a better image of Diaz, who still exists mostly as a blur even after the laser-focused Diaz episode last week. In turns out he's just incredibly unscrupulous about any notion of honour when running a criminal enterprise. As long as he can maximize any action to his benefit, it will be carried out. It's a shame it took the show this long to show that Diaz simply engages in realpolitik, and had to keep him hidden so long. Also, I guess he was born in The Glades, as Wild Dog reminds us.

As for Quentin, Diaz manipulates him through Laurel by using her as bait to set up a meeting. He strolls in casually before demanding he sign a legal document to hand over a piece of government-owned property. It ultimately means nothing to a man like Diaz, who holds complete sway over the city, and the action is only to prove that Laurel will do what she can to convince Quentin, and Quentin will sign it because he's afraid Diaz will harm Laurel. I'm with Quentin on this one though, Black Siren is a metahuman facing off against a human who surrounds himself without other metahumans. There doesn't seem like any step where Black Siren really has any real obstacles to clear to really be afraid of Diaz other than having him slit your throat in your sleep. I guess you can extend that to Quentin in that case. Part of me wishes the show had maybe shown something to not make the Quentin-Black Siren relationship so one-sided, and that Laurel does ultimately care about Quentin because he's the father she lost - or something. She saw Diaz burn a man alive for a childhood grudge which somehow is enough to frighten her. The performance works but the writing doesn't seem to match it, unfortunately.

Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • I cannot get over the fact that they redressed the Jitters set as a Chinese restaurant, which is hilarious to me
  • The shot after Curtis sends the T-Sphere to blow up the last truck is hilarious too - Curtis, then Dinah and Diggle, followed by one of the only A.R.G.U.S. agents with speaking lines. Now I want that guy to come back for more episodes!
  • Small Easter egg, but a non-speaking Quadrant member is named Cyrus Broderick, also a villain in a recent Green Arrow comics run.