Black Mirror is an anthology show which started in the UK but began drifting into America (in terms of production, cast, and location) when Netflix picked it up for season three, and is known by many as “technophobic Twilight Zone,” or to the more basic meme-makers, the anthology show where the twist is always “It’s ’cause you be on your phone.'”
That, I feel, is not a fair assessment. Yes, most (but certainly not all) of Black Mirror examines technology from a future that feels right around the corner, and yes, in most (but not all) of these cases said technology helps the main character’s life collapse around them in spectacular fashion, but Black Mirror isn’t afraid of technology.
It’s afraid of us.
Technology doesn’t (usually) create the problems in Black Mirror, the dark side of human nature does. Creator Charlie Brooker doesn’t seem to fear technology so much as he fears lack of empathy. Without empathy, without the ability to care about others, then tech makes terrifying things possible.
To prove this, having now watched every episode (non-sequentially, ’cause that’s an option), I shall walk you through each episode and what its moral is. But let’s keep this interesting. In the style of the inimitable Soren Bowie, I’m making a drinking game out of this, drinking every time the moral breaks down to “For the love of Zod, do not let people hack your perception of reality” or “We are not ethically advanced enough to be digitally transferring or recreating consciousness.”
That last one’s wordier than I wanted it to be. Um… “If we learn how to digitally transfer or copy human minds, we’ll abuse that so fast.”
Spoilers… (and there may be more of those) the moral might sometimes be “What if technology… was bad?” but will almost never be “It’s because you be on your phone.”
(….I said his style was inimitable as I was planning to imitate it. I am… I am not getting us started on the best foot… okay, push through it. Push through it. Maybe one drink to get going…)
…So how about that Thirteenth Doctor, huh? She’s fun. Looking forward to seeing where that’s going. So guess I need to adjust my opening…
A new Doctor has arrived. The first female Doctor. This has some people wondering if it’s time to try out this show I love so much.
Well, that’s what I’m here for. Because when you love a show as much as I love Doctor Who, you have opinions.
These are mine.
No, no it’s not. That was The Time of The Doctor. Nine months later, it’s time for Peter Capaldi to get to work.
Series Eight: Twelve Arrives
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a post-regeneration episode so… meta as Deep Breath, the debut episode for Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. While The Doctor, Clara, and a returning (for the last time, unless Chris Chibnall chooses to bring them back) Paternoster Gang track sinister robots murdering people (and one dinosaur a freshly regenerated and confused Doctor accidentally brought to Victorian London) to harvest their body parts. But Clara’s distracted from all of that, because she’s not having the easiest time adjusting to The Doctor’s regeneration. She’s hoping there’s a way to change him back into young, dashing, Eleven.
It’s as though, for the most part, Clara is meant to represent all the new-Who fans (previously embodied by UNIT’s Doctor-fangirl scientist Osgood, introduced in the 50th anniversary and back in this series) who reacted poorly to an older actor playing The Doctor back when Capaldi was announced. Which was a little mean, Capaldi had been a Doctor Who fan his whole life and maybe we could have just been happy for him getting to actually be The Doctor.
And so a series of characters drill into Clara that this new face is The Doctor now and she needs to accept that. Madame Vastra rakes her over the coals for thinking he was young in the first place, Twelve pleads with her to just… see him, and we even had an unexpected return appearance by Matt Smith as Eleven, phoning Clara from Trenzalore, right before his regeneration. Told you the Tardis phone was off the hook for a reason.
It all adds up to the most work this show has done to sell the audience on The Doctor regenerating since Patrick Troughton took over. You know, the first time it happened. Deep Breath puts more work into selling the audience on a regeneration than the time they first had to explain what regeneration was.
In her defense, Clara pushes back hard against the notion that she was just doing all this because she had a crush on Eleven. In fact, one exchange between Twelve and Clara clarifies their previous relationship, and sets the stage for their new dynamic…
“I’m The Doctor. I’ve lived for over two thousand years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time that I did something about that. Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.”
“I never thought you were.” “I never said it was your mistake.”
Yes… Eleven was falling in love with Clara. Yes, he thought it may have been mutual. Which explains why his response was so gung ho when she called him on Christmas saying “You’re my boyfriend,” and a touch disappointed when she explained she just wanted him to pretend to be her boyfriend for family dinner. I didn’t mention that bit last time because I felt this moment, when he sees what they are and were with new eyes, was the defining moment for The Doctor and Clara. He’s not her boyfriend and never was… but she remains important to him. Incredibly so, as I’ll explain in our next segment hey here it comes–
“Look at the eyebrows! These are attack eyebrows. You could take bottle tops off with these!”
I can’t speak for certain that the circumstances of a regeneration are meant to leave a mark on the new Doctor, but my English professors all taught me to ignore and disdain author intent so I look for it anyway. And Eleven regenerated after centuries of war against his worst enemies. My take is that it left a shell, but not nearly so much as being forced to watch generations of friends be born, age, and die. For the first three centuries on Trenzalore he bonded with everyone in the town of Christmas. By the end, as old age set in, he was mistaking people for a child who had no doubt died over 500 years ago. Maybe this got too hard. Eleven hated endings, and being stuck on Trenzalore exposed him to so, so many. Is it any wonder that Twelve is slower to embrace new people?
After two consecutive bright, cheerful, everyone’s-friend Doctors, Moffat felt it was time to try another direction (that was still white and male). Twelve has the hard, angry edge of Nine without the facade of friendly humour. While he fiercely defends humanity, he doesn’t adore them the way Ten did or form quick attachments like Eleven. In fact the phrase “pudding brain” gets thrown around a lot. If you impress him, he’ll warm up to you (witness the engineer in Mummy on the Orient Express, who turns down an invitation to stay on the Tardis). Otherwise, he tends to forget which one you were as soon as you’re out of his sight.
And one more thing about the new Doctor I attribute to his former self…
“I’m Scottish. I am… Scottish. I can complain about things, I can really complain about things now!”
I sometimes wonder if David Tennant is annoyed that he’s the only contemporary Doctor that didn’t get to use his natural accent. Eccleston got to be northern, Whittaker isn’t being asked to turn down the Yorkshire, Smith is naturally as close to Standard British as they get, and Capaldi’s Scottish. I neither know nor care about the behind-the-scenes reason for this. I choose to think of it as The Doctor’s final tribute to Amy Pond.
But don’t let the crusty shell make you think he’s without compassion. He might not have romantic intentions for Clara, but she still means the world to him. He might not think she’s pretty (which is funny because blind people can tell Jenna Coleman’s beautiful), and is confused by her every effort to look moreso, but there’s almost nothing he wouldn’t do for her. Almost. There are only certain ways he’s willing to tear the universe in half for Clara.
How much does he need Clara? Look at the smile on his face when she decides to keep travelling with him at the end of Mummy on the Orient Express. I think that’s the most he’d smiled since regenerating. Part of this is his love for her, which like himself has only changed form, not diminished (she’s the first face this face saw, after all, that may still be a factor), and part of it is that The Doctor is no longer certain he’s a good man. Having a Dalek he names Rusty see beauty in his hatred of Daleks doesn’t help with this. But if Clara can believe in him, maybe he can too.
I get that.
As to Clara…
Clara, more than any companion since… ever?… does her best to balance a regular Earth life with Tardis adventures. In series seven, she’d get dropped off after every adventure. In series eight…
Okay I’ll admit it. Maybe “Clara gets a boyfriend” isn’t, like, the most progressive way to express the “Normal life/Tardis life” struggle. It did put a human face on the struggle in a way that “Will Amy be around for bridesmaid duties” and “Should Rory take a full-time nursing job” never did. (Or could, since they only had one episode to make their cases.) And I maintain, love and romance are a key part of human existence… or so I recall… so why should we get all horked off every time Green Arrow or Supergirl wants to find someone special? Why shouldn’t The Doctor’s companion be allowed to find some companionship?
Thankfully the words “Danny says we can’t travel together” never come close to forming in her mouth, because she’s starting to grow as a character and that would have killed it dead. But while juggling Tardis adventures with trying to court an ex-soldier and fellow teacher named Danny Pink has its challenges, the real issue is The Doctor’s colder attitude. When he knows he can’t save someone, he is… unsettlingly practical about it. We see this in both Into the Dalek and Mummy on the Orient Express, where he views an unstoppable death as a way to gain an advantage or learn something that maybe, maybe, can save the next one, and he is really blunt about it. The days of frequent claims of “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” are over, replaced with “You’re going to die, make it count.”
And she doesn’t love that.
She loves the travel. She sees wonders, as she puts it, and they save people. But she’s not sure she can deal with this new, callous attitude… until she sees him throw himself on a sort of mummy-shaped grenade for someone she’d thought he’d let die. To his credit, The Doctor doesn’t let himself off the hook easily, saying that he thought there was a chance he could save her, but not a guarantee. That sometimes there’s nothing but hard choices.
She also succeeds at playing The Doctor during Flatline. Something The Doctor doesn’t find comforting, which he lets slip when she claims she was The Doctor and she was good.
“You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it.”
Maybe Clara needs her normal, Earth life as much as The Doctor needs Clara…
The Promised Land
“You know the key strategic weakness of the human race? The dead outnumber the living.”
The robots of Deep Breath and the robots of Robot of Sherwood are looking for the Promised Land. A weird thing for two sets of robots to both be doing. What’s even stranger, though, is one of them finds it. In a way.
Throughout the year, when people die (as they tend to on this show) they find themselves in a facility, claiming to be the Afterlife, run by a woman named Missy and her assitant Seb. When Missy first arrives, she refers to The Doctor as her boyfriend, even claiming to have adopted his accent out of love.
Missy is collecting the dead.
That’s probably not a good thing.
It’s a bit more “Bad Wolfy” than other recent season arcs (Impossible Girl notwithstanding, which only pretended to make progress before the finale), but at least when we get our regular reminders of what’s happening, it’s through a delightfully twisted performance by Michelle Gomez, which we’ll discuss below.
The Supporting Cast
Danny Pink. Oh, he was a divisive character. But he works for me because of the conflict between him and The Doctor. The Doctor dislikes him immediately, because he’s a soldier. Twelve does not care for soldiers. Maybe something to do with those centuries of war Eleven just lived through. He refuses to accept that Danny teaches math (no, the British, I will not call it “maths”), calling him PE on the assumption that soldiers can only teach phys ed.
Danny dislikes The Doctor for two reasons. First, he represents an entire side to his girlfriend’s life that he never knew about, and it turns out he’s a little touchy about dishonesty. Second, he sees through The Doctor’s bluster about soldiers. He immediately identifies The Doctor as not just a soldier, but an officer. The man issuing the orders that get soldiers killed.
Which is… not an unfair assessment. As Davros pointed out to Ten back in Journey’s End, a lot of good people have died helping him vanquish foes. We don’t know much about what he did during the Time War, save for hints from that speech from Rings of Akhaten (I really should have spent more time on that), only that both the Daleks and Time Lords were scared of him. But he was likely a general on Trenzalore, leading the Silence into battle for centuries upon centuries. So it’s fair to say that Danny’s assessment, and his habit of treating The Doctor like an officer out of scorn, gets under The Doctor’s skin for a reason.
He’s also haunted by the one bad day that drove him out of the British army. But that would be telling.
One thing that separates Danny Pink from Mickey Smith or Rory Williams is that he has no interest in Tardis life. He doesn’t want to see the universe. He wants to be the best teacher he can be, focus on what’s right in front of him. But in In the Forest of the Night, he puts a charming spin on it, so as not to be an anchor like Jackie Tyler.
Oh, there’s also Courtney Woods, one of Clara’s trickier students, a “disruptive influence” at Coalhill, who ends up getting involved in a couple of Tardis adventures. She’s… well, she’s a bit of an improvement on Angie from last year, but she disappears after Kill the Moon and you’ll never miss her.
The Big Bad: Missy. Michelle Gomez (previously of Green Wing, soon to be of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) is sensational as Missy, playful and cheerful on the surface, but the cruelty behind the smile is pretty clear from her earliest appearances. She smiles like a shark, sizing up prey, even when she’s being nice. She’s fun to watch in action even when she’s doing awful things we wish like Hell she wasn’t. And a lot of the fandom figured out the hidden clue in her name, guessed who Missy really was.
“You know who I am,” she cooed to The Doctor. “I’m Missy.” “Who’s Missy?” he responded. “Please, try to keep up,” she sighed. “Short for Mistress. Well… couldn’t very well keep calling myself ‘The Master,’ now could I?” Nearly five years and two Doctors later, The Master’s back. And she’s got plans for her old frienemy.
Missy’s not out to rule the world. She’s out to prove to The Doctor… okay this is sounding a little bit Gotham but don’t hold that against them… she’s out to prove to The Doctor that they aren’t really that different. Because once he accepts that… they can be friends again. That’s all she really wants. Her friend back.
Sometimes big schemes with simple motivations are the best villain plots.
Also, she presents the answer to a question that’s been around since The Bells of St. John. Who gave Clara the number for the Tardis? Who made sure The Doctor and Clara met back up in Deep Breath? Missy did. She wants these two together. Might… might not be the best sign.
This Year in Daleks: They wasted no time giving lifelong Who fan Capaldi a go-round with the Daleks. In Into the Dalek, he attempts to see if a Dalek (that he names Rusty, I’m probably telling you that for a reason) can become good by shrinking down, entering its shell, and playing with its mind. The results are… not what he hoped, and a little disturbing for him personally.
Classic Monsters Revived: We’ve run low on classic monsters worth reviving, so we’re down to revived post-reboot monsters for the moment. Specifically, the clockwork body-harvesting robots from The Girl in the Fireplace. The Doctor is constantly commenting on how familiar they are just to drive that home. In fairness, for him, that was 1000 years and two faces ago.
The Good: I do quite like the Boneless from Flatline. They work.
In the tradition of werewolves, vampires, and witches that all turned out to be aliens, The Doctor takes on a mummy that’s… basically an alien, let’s just say alien.
I’ll talk about Listen below.
Keeley Hawes does well as the villain of Time Heist.
Also expect another classic villain or two towards the end. Which? …Spoilers.
The Bad: Look, if you’re going to say that the Sheriff of Nottingham is in league with some larger threat, maybe try harder than another big clunking robot? Or maybe it’s silly to try to out-villain the Sheriff of Nottingham, I don’t know.
The Ugly: The Skovox Blitzer from The Caretaker might not be their best work.
Listen is quite the ride. The Doctor, after maybe spending a little too long knocking around on his own, theorizes that if there are perfect predators, and perfect defense from predators, then maybe there’s something out there that’s perfect at hiding. Maybe nobody’s ever really alone. And maybe everyone who’s ever had a dream about something under the bed wasn’t dreaming. Determined to find this thing he’s convinced is out there, he tries to take Clara into her past… but accidentally ends up in the childhood of her new gentleman friend Danny Pink, and also gets a glimpse at what might be their future.
And ultimately, they end up in a familiar shed, in a time and place Clara never thought she’d see.
Clara and The Doctor each get a good speech about fear, we watch the flirtations and calamities of her first date with Danny, The Doctor learns that not every book with pictures has Waldo (Wally to the British) hiding in it… and the most interesting part?
We never know if The Doctor’s right or not.
They certainly seem to bump into… something, or somethings, along the way, but… we don’t know for sure that it was ever what The Doctor thinks.Maybe they narrowly cheated death twice. Maybe it was all in his head. We never know.
An uncertain ending is good now and then. As The Doctor sometimes shows us, there’s novelty and even excitement in not knowing something.
The point of Kill the Moon is to bring Twelve and Clara to a point where she’s ready to cut ties with him. It doesn’t last, since in Mummy on the Orient Express they go for one last hurrah that leaves Clara deciding she can’t give up Tardis life after all, but they clearly wanted Clara’s feelings about Twelve’s colder attitude to reach a breaking point, where she’s ready to leave the Tardis, not because Danny wants her to, but because she can’t handle Twelve’s seeming indifference anymore. Which, credit where due, was the better choice… having it be Clara’s decision independent of Danny’s preferences was important.
The problem is, the way they got there was pretty dumb.
The premise, in which the moon is an egg, and it hatching might be a disaster, is right out of one of the weirder Bob the Angry Flower strips, one I would link to except apparently creator Steven Notley is embarrassed enough of that particular strip that he pulled it from his archive.
To review, the premise of Kill the Moon was ultimately too silly for weekly gag strip Bob the Angry Flower. Although in this case the monster in the moon egg doesn’t run a private detective firm but I’m not convinced that makes it better.
And Clara’s breaking point comes when The Doctor says “That’s a humdinger of a dilemma for humanity, welp, good luck” and straight up leaves until Clara, Courtney, and the woman who came to blow up the moon make a choice about what to do, protect humanity from unknown consequence or allow an innocent creature to be born.
Wow it is also really uncomfortably anti-choice, when you get down to it.
The Doctor could have had a mental break, having found himself in another Pompeii/Waters of Mars situation, with a twist of Beast Below. Where he either risks humanity or kills a space whale and can’t bear to have his own hand on the switch again, but instead it’s this whole “Humanity’s choice, I’m not human, so my name’s Paul and that’s ‘tween y’all” thing that Clara is understandably livid about.
It’s a whole lot of just sloppy dumb. They did a big moment badly. Fortunately, Mummy on the Orient Express walks it back easily enough.
Several people I knew fell off the Doctor Who bus during series eight. I always encourage them that series eight was Capaldi’s rough patch, and his later years were much better. This is true, yet still a disservice, because there’s a lot to love in series eight.
Into the Dalek is a great way for The Doctor and a Dalek to get into each other’s heads.
Say what you will about Robot of Sherwood but I still think The Doctor and Robin Hood’s banter is fun.
I do enjoy heist movies. So of course I’m a little fond of Time Heist. Clara’s fun date-night suit certainly doesn’t hurt.
The Caretaker, in which The Doctor infiltrates Coalhill, is worth it for the awkward meeting of The Doctor and Danny Pink, and also Clara confronting The Doctor as to his subterfuge…
“You recognized me, then.”
“You changed your coat.”
“And you saw right through that.”
And yet for all of that, Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline are the double-header (but not two-parter) where the show really finds its footing. And Flatline has the first really great Doctor speech from Capaldi.
Dark Water/Death in Heaven is the first proper two-part episode since Rebel Flesh/Almost People, and it is a barn burner. Missy’s gambit is revealed as she takes centre stage, and man it’s worth the wait.
I don’t think there’s anything on par with Aliens of London/World War III or Fear Her in here, but there are some notable weak spots.
In the Forest of the Night is a slightly important moment for Clara and Danny, but otherwise it’s an entirely disposable outing. Sadly Kill the Moon is more important, because its a turning point for Clara, but you know, Mummy on the Orient Express can catch you up.
And if Robot of Sherwood isn’t doing it for you, skip to Listen. That’s the handy thing about series eight… the weakest episodes are always followed by the strongest.
Notable Guest Stars:
Missy’s assistant Seb is played by Peter Capaldi’s old The Thick of It and In the Loop costar Chris Addison, who was also Headmaster David Blood on Skins. Shame they don’t have a scene together.
Michael Smiley, who I know as Tires from Spaced but you may know from the White Bear episode of Black Mirror turns up in Into the Dalek.
People who watched Da Vinci’s Demons might recognize the guy playing Robin Hood. Not me, though.
Huh. I am… I am running out. Faster than normal. Well… Rigsy from Flatline is going to be Cyborg on Doom Patrol, that’s a thing. And the dick running his community service was the Broker in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Siwan Morris, who plays a mother in In the Forest of the Night, was also on Skins as Angie the psych teacher. That one’s obscure even for me but it was a thin year for guest stars.
A key way to judge the quality of Twelfth Doctor episodes… the longer Capaldi’s hair gets, the better the show is. It’s pretty short at the top of the year, but it’s growing out by the end. Not the lavish mane he’ll have by series ten but he’s working on it.
This will also be the first of two times The Doctor’s regeneration is referred to as a “new haircut.” And both times are followed by a suggestion that he get his roots done.
The Doctor describes his new outfit (a simple suit, no tie, red-lined jacket) thusly: “I was going for minimalist but I think I landed on ‘magician.'”
Twelve’s Tardis is basically the same as Eleven’s post-Pond Tardis, save for two things… 1) they’ve accentuated the depth of it, either adding or calling further attention to the multiple levels. It certainly feels more cavernous. 2) He’s added some bookshelves and many, many chalkboards. Twelve does like scribbling equations on a chalkboard.
While trying to con The Doctor, Clara claims never to have seen lava. The Doctor looks very serious before saying “It’s rubbish.” Probably it’s because he’s figured out what she’s doing, but I’d like to think all that business at Pompeii, that we’ll learn helped inspire this face, played a role.
In Death in Heaven, Clara bluffs the [REDACTED], claiming to be The Doctor. The opening credits back her play, putting Jenna Coleman’s name first and replacing Capaldi’s eyes with hers. Neat touch.
Stay through the credits of the finale. The Doctor’s in a low spot, but he’s about to get help from an improbable visitor.
Doctor Quote of the Year: There’s a lot of “I’ll do a clever thing,” or “A thing will happen,” since Twelve doesn’t always know how to solve things but is well aware of his slightly random process. But I’m giving it to a one-off quote that made me love the new Doctor/Clara relationship…
“Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”
Historical Guest Star of the Year: The closest we get is Robin Hood, whose status as “historical figure” is so questionable that even The Doctor doesn’t buy he exists. And so we bid farewell to this feature.
Saddest Moment: Depending on who you’re fondest of, it’s either…
“I’m already dead. At least you’re here this time.”
“I’m proud of you, sister. But did I mention… bananas! Pop.”
Next time… the Year of Multi-parters, starting with the best two-parter since Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon.
I’m beginning to worry I won’t finish this blog series by the series 11 premiere. With three series left to cover and about 33 episodes left to rewatch before… let’s see… tomorrow, it might be on the tight side.
Well, on with it just the same.
There’s a new Doctor on the horizon. The first female Doctor. This has some people wondering if it’s time to try out this show I love so much.
Well, that’s what I’m here for. Because when you love a show as much as I love Doctor Who, you have opinions.
These are mine.
Fall of the 11th
For all that I enjoyed about series seven, and I did enjoy a lot, there’s a certain bittersweet quality to it. Every joy arrives under the shadow of coming sorrow. The madcap fun of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and the hope-filled conclusion of The Power of Three will lead, unstoppably, to the heartbreak of The Angels Take Manhattan. Between The Snowmen, The Bells of St. John, and The Rings of Akhaten, Clara’s time as companion starts strong, Impossible Girl issues notwithstanding, but there’s no avoiding the truth that she’s Matt Smith’s final companion.
The Matt Smith years have been and, barring a spectacular debut from Jodie Whittaker (not impossible), continue to be my favourite period of Doctor Who in its storied history… and this is where it ends.
And nothing sums up the mixture of joy and impending sadness like these last two episodes. Day of The Doctor, the 50th anniversary special which is my single favourite episode ever released, and Time of The Doctor, Matt Smith’s epic swan song.
On some level, I’d love to speculate that Karen Gillan leaving played a role. That she and Matt became so close that doing the show just wasn’t any fun without her… but frankly, he’d done three series. That’s how many Tennant did, that’s how many Capaldi did, ever since Peter Davison, “three years and get out” seems to be the norm. So the best guess is that it was just time.
So… how to describe these two without just falling into dull point-by-point synopsis?
Day of The Doctor
There is so much I love in this episode. Stephen Moffat has a gift for witty, rapid-fire dialogue and he puts every inch of it to work in this special. But I can’t just sit here writing down the best exchanges, I’d be at it all day.
Like the previous big anniversary episodes, it’s a multi-Doctor team-up. And also like the previous big anniversary episodes, there is once again a holdout. The Three Doctors (tenth anniversary) only had brief appearances by First Doctor William Hartnell, as he was too ill to be on set. Fourth Doctor Tom Baker gave the The Five Doctors (20th anniversary) a miss, making the title a lie, and the First Doctor had to be recast with Richard Hurndall (not the last actor to take over that role) as William Hartnell had come down with an unfortunate case of having been dead for eight years. And this time out, Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston opted not to return to the role, meaning our Doctor team-up was limited to Matt Smith and David Tennant (who came back to play, I tell you what), plus a new Doctor revealed in the closing minutes of the series seven finale… sci-fi legend John Hurt as the newly revealed regeneration known to fans as the War Doctor, the regeneration who abandoned the name Doctor (or tried to) to fight in the Time War.
(A tie-in short called Night of The Doctor brings back Paul McGann for his second ever televised appearance as Eight, and he quickly shows us that we should really be checking out his Big Finish audio dramas.)
The Doctor and Clara are summoned by UNIT… nope. That’s gonna take too long. Short version… expanding on a line from End of Time Part 2, on the final day of the Time War, the War Doctor has stolen the Moment, the only forbidden weapon that the Time Lords hadn’t yet deployed against the Daleks… because it’s sentient, has a conscience, and doesn’t want to burn whole galaxies. To convince the War Doctor to change his mind, the Moment projects an image of Rose Tyler (“She’s from your past! Or possibly your future, I always get those mixed up…”), and opens a door into his future… uniting War, Ten, and Eleven (and Clara) in an effort to stop a long-game invasion of Earth by the shape-shifting aliens the Zygons.
And if they’re not careful, they just might learn something.
Every scene with Smith and Tennant bouncing off each other is amazing. Their banter in incredible, the way they sync up mannerisms never fails to amuse (throwing on their “smarty specs” in unison, pulling up a chair and kicking their feet up in perfect sync), they’re a delightful double act and the only downside to their partnership is that we won’t get more of it. By the 75th anniversary they’ll be too old to come back. We’ll have to settle for a team-up of Doctors 18 through 20 or something.
As I’ve explained to anyone who asked, or didn’t walk away from me fast enough, the War Doctor suits this story in a way Nine never could, much as I’d have liked to see him back. For one thing, Nine fighting in the Time War doesn’t make much sense, given that Rose highly implied he’d just regenerated. What’s better, War Doc speaks for the Old School Doctors, the pre-reboot crowd. He was able to respond to the new-Who quirks of Ten and Eleven the way Pertwee or Baker or McCoy would have. Examples…
When they brandish their sonic screwdrivers at him…
“Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that? They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols!”
When Queen Elizabeth I plants a passionate kiss on Ten…
War: “Is there a lot of this in the future?”
11: “…It does start to happen, yeah.”
Or maybe the best, as Eleven brings back a turn of phrase from Blink,,,
11: “It’s a… timey-wimey thing.”
War: “Timey what? Timey-wimey?” 10: “I… I have no idea where he picks this stuff up.”
This all leads to Moffat doing something daring, something New-Who fans kind of objected to… The Moment fails to convince War to spare Gallifrey. The Time War still needs to end, and he gains too much respect for his future selves, and what they’re willing to do to never be in that position again. And after too many years (maybe centuries, who knows) of fighting the war, he no longer sees himself on their level. “Great men are forged in fire… it is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.” So the Moment pulls one last trick and allows Ten and Eleven to bring their Tardises to the shack in a Gallifreyan desert War had dragged the Moment to. They offer their former self the same gift that Donna Noble offered Ten underneath Vesuvius… to press the button with him, so at least he’s not carrying this burden alone.
Clara Oswald, however, is not having it.
She knew that The Doctor did this, but she can’t simply watch as her Doctor becomes part of it. Clara gives Eleven the push the Moment was trying to give War… “Do what you always do. Be a Doctor.”
It works. The Doctor decides to save Gallifrey instead of burning it… but it’s going to take all of him to do it.
It’s an epic climax that undoes something Russell T. Davies made a key part of the character in 2005… he is no longer the last of the Time Lords. Some new-school (I assume) fans complained about this, but I saw it as restoring a major part of the classic continuity, “Last of the Time Lords,” after all, had only been around for 16% of Doctor Who history, whereas the existence of Gallifrey had been part of the lore since 1969, when the name “Time Lords” was first uttered. To kick off the second fifty years, Moffat gave The Doctor a quest… find Gallifrey. Restore his people.
A quest this Doctor would not be able to see through. He has a date on Trenzelore.
(Also past Doctors can’t remember adventures with their future selves, so The Doctor still thinks he destroyed Gallifrey for, oh, four hundred years and change. Nothing’s broken.)
But in the meantime, wow… wow this is a fun episode. And Clara’s plea to Eleven gets me every time.
The episode opens with the original 1963 title sequence, which fades into a recreation of the very first shot of the very first episode.
Clara has left the nanny life behind (not a moment too soon, Angie was the worst and Artie started too many sentences with “Actually…”) for a job as an English teacher at Coalhill school… the very school where, 50 years earlier, two teachers named Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright decided to follow their unusually bright student Susan home, only to end up bouncing around time and space with her grandfather The Doctor.
The head of the board of governors at Coalhill is “I. Chesterton.” Maybe The Doctor called in a favour with an old friend to get Clara the job?
A subtle reference to The Three Doctors… when Doctors One through Nine (and even Twelve, in an extreme close-up cameo) show up to help save Gallifrey, the Gallifreyan general comments “I didn’t know when I was well-off.” Which is what the Brigadier said when faced with multiple Doctors at once back when.
When trying to scare off English soldiers, The Doctor refers to Clara as “the Witch of the Well,” a reference to Hide from series seven.
Upon realizing that multiple Doctors have just met up, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart states “There’s a precedent for that,” and requests one of her fathers old files. “70s or 80s, depending on the dating protocol.” This is a reference to the fact that the second appearance of the Brigadier and the first appearance of UNIT, The Invasion, supposedly mentioned being set in 1979, leaving some to question which actual decade the Third Doctor subsequently went to work for UNIT…. the 70s or the 80s.
They also paved over incongruities between the old and new school as to The Doctor’s age with a single line from Eleven on the subject… “1200 and something unless I’m lying. I’ve forgotten if I’m lying about my age, that’s how old I am.”
The episode ends with an all-too-brief scene between Matt Smith and Tom Baker, oldest living and most iconic of the classic Doctors. That was fun to see.
This is the episode where Jenna-Louise Coleman dropped the “Louise.”
Time of the Doctor
It was never going to be as sad as the last ten minutes of End of Time Part 2. Russell T. Davies wanted the saddest regeneration ever, and he got it, and while Moffat regenerations aren’t exactly happy occasions, he’s not trying to break that record. Also, future showrunners, can we just let Davies keep it? Please?
There’s no farewell tour of companions and supporting players, no last visit with Rory or Craig or Canton Everett Delaware (UNIT and the Paternosters come back before long), no appearance by River Song. After all, Moffat wasn’t going to be able to top Eleven’s goodbye to her in The Name of The Doctor, and nobody ever wants to say we’ve reached the final final River Song appearance. Eleven’s goodbye is simply to Clara, with a brief farewell appearance from Karen Gillan as Amy Pond.
Anyway. Time of The Doctor wraps up the overarching story of the Eleventh Doctor, the one that began in 11th Hour, while also being, in a way, the life and times of each Doctor and all Doctors.
While Clara attempts to have family dinner with her dad, stepmother, and grandmother, The Doctor whisks her away to investigate a mysterious signal, coming from a planet being orbited by an armada of The Doctor’s enemies. Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, even the Weeping Angels turn up for (as of this writing) a final appearance. But also some friends… the Papal Mainframe, who he worked with in Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, but who were also part of the Silence in A Good Man Goes to War. The signal is coming from a town called Christmas, which, yeah, I get it, Christmas special and all that, but it was a bit on the nose, you know?
The signal is coming from Gallifrey, through a crack in the skin of the universe. The same crack from Amy’s bedroom that followed them all through series five, the same crack that we learn was The Doctor’s nightmare in The God Complex. It’s a question. The first question. The question that must never be answered. “Doctor Who?”
If The Doctor speaks his name, Gallifrey will come through the crack… but all of their enemies are waiting, and the Time War would begin again. The Papal Mainframe cannot allow this, and becomes the Silence, devoted to ensuring the question is never answered.
(A splinter faction leaves what becomes the multi-century siege of Trenzelore in an attempt to kill The Doctor before he reaches the town called Christmas, but only succeed in creating the cracks… by blowing up the Tardis in The Pandorica Opens… and creating the perfect psychopath in River Song, which did them no favours.)
The Time of The Doctor covers between eight and nine centuries of The Doctor’s life, as he grows old protecting both Trenzelore and Gallifrey, and about 20 minutes of Clara’s, as The Doctor keeps sending her home only for her to turn back up a few centuries later as she keeps refusing to be sent away.
It’s also a single hour that describes who The Doctor is. He faces off against monsters while embracing humanity, he makes friends and loses friends (Moffat managed to break our hearts with the death of a reprogrammed Cyberman head named Handles), saves as many lives as he can and even if it can’t last forever, each life saved is a triumph. And eventually his time ends. The siege of and ensuing war for Trenzelore represents, in 900-year microcosm, the life and, as the title suggests, times of The Doctor.
It also fixed a coming issue by revisiting some math. In classic continuity, Time Lords can only regenerate 12 times. Matt Smith is the Eleventh Doctor, sure, but only because his ninth incarnation (War Doctor to us, “Captain Grumpy” to Eleven) didn’t go by The Doctor. Throw in that whole metacrisis business from Journey’s End, when Ten burned a regeneration but didn’t change, and it means that The Doctor’s out of lives.
(What about all those times The Doctor claimed to be able to regenerate, you ask? It was a lie. The Doctor lies. As catch-all excuses go, it’s right up there with “Speed force, I don’t have to explain anything” from The Flash.)
Anyway, as the incoming Twelve would come to say, a thing happens, thanks to Clara,and then The Doctor can regenerate again. Which of course he can, we saw his next incarnation in Day of The Doctor, but it’s an important thing to happen just the same, because it means the next showrunner wouldn’t have to worry about this either. As side effects, the crack to Gallifrey closes, and the last invaders of Trenzelore (of course it was the Daleks, who else would be last monster standing) are defeated.
Matt Smith was always great at the big speeches, from “Is this world a threat to the Atraxi?” in 11th Hour, to his bombastic (but slightly futile) address to his enemies in The Pandorica Opens, to his impassioned rant to the parasite sun in Rings of Akhaten. Moffat gives him a good one to close on, one that’s both Eleven’s final words and Matt Smith’s farewell to the audience. And then, as his seconds run out, he has a vision… one last vision of Amy Pond, here to soften his end.
It’s a beautiful enough moment that it’s barely even affected once you know that Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were both wearing wigs to film it.
I don’t have to talk about his actual end speech or any of the other highs and lows in the town called Christmas. What I do want to talk about is a detail that maybe one other person I know might have picked up on.
Musically, I found Eleven’s final moments odd. There’s no final refrain of Eleven’s two main themes, I Am The Doctor or it’s bigger, brasher follow-up The Majestic Tale (Of a Madman In a Box). In fact I’m not sure I can name a moment in the episode that uses either of those themes, which were all over Day of The Doctor. Instead, as his final speech wraps, and Ghost Amy makes her entrance, it’s set to the Queen of Years’ song from Rings of Akhaten. And as he says his final farewell the only way that makes sense…
The grey aliens we first knew as the Silence were created as confessional priests. You confess your sins, then forget about it, and just feel relieved after.
We likely won’t be seeing them again. The Silence and The Doctor eventually team up to protect Trenzalore once the siege becomes all-out war, and so their story ends.
When Clara tracks a mid-regeneration Eleven back to the Tardis, where he’s changed into his old outfit for a last snack of fish fingers and custard before the new face arrives, the phone is off the hook. Turns out it’s for a reason.
Old age makeup really accentuates how freakishly wide Matt Smith can make his mouth when he yells.
Anyway… as Clara reads from a Christmas cracker poem…
“The time has come for one last bow, like all your former selves.
Eleven’s hour is ending now… the clock is striking Twelves.”
Next time, a new type Doctor for the back half of the Moffat era.
Doctor Quote of the Year: 11: “GERONIMO!”
War: “Oh, for God’s sake…”
Historical Guest Star of the Year: Queen Elizabeth the First plays a key role in facing down the Zygons. And I guess we figured out why she was so mad at Ten during The Shakespeare Code, huh.
Cloak and Dagger is the latest offering from Marvel TV’s latest branch, what I refer to as Marvel Young Adult. Marvel YA currently consists of two shows, Freeform’s Cloak and Dagger and Hulu’s Runaways, which between them demonstrate a house style for the Marvel YA branch. Decompressed storytelling, slow-burn character development, simplistic visuals, grounded characters dealing with fantastical elements being shoved into their lives.
Less charitable terms would include “slow” and “kind of basic,” taking ten episodes to work through pretty simple plot points.
And then there is Gotham.
Gotham is wildly creative in its design and in its villainous characters, often gorgeous in its set design and shot composition. Characters constantly forge and break alliances, make and change plans, and every now and then a maniacal ginger sweeps through to upend everything for a few episodes. It burns through multiple plots over the course of one season, ranging from simple to operatic in scope. And most of them are really, really stupid.
In other words, it’s a wildly inconsistent show with no stable characterizations that has the odd moment or scene of greatness but is mostly a trash fire.
Cloak and Dagger is a grounded, narratively sound show about two young people dealing with real issues like police corruption, corporate greed, and addiction; and also the fantastic, as they both develop magic powers that might mean they’re preordained to save all of New Orleans. So why is it that I struggled to get through its ten episodes so much more than I did Gotham’s latest season? Why am I more excited to see Gotham wrap up than I am to see what Cloak and Dagger does now that all of the origin stuff is out of the way?
I think what it comes down to is craftsmanship vs. vision, and how each show only has one. Cloak and Dagger has craftsmanship. It’s good at building consistent characters and by-the-numbers plot points that, in most but not all cases, build and payoff naturally. They’re just basic and a little dull.
Gotham… well it’s never dull, I’ll give it that. They come up with three ways for all of Gotham to be in peril per season, each big and epic, each gorgeously shot. There are moments, every now and then, usually in a scene featuring Penguin and the Riddler, where the show nearly reaches greatness. However, try to describe any single character arc and you end up sounding like a raving lunatic.
Okay. Let’s throw up some subheaders and look at some specifics.
“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship, and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets.” -Tom Stoppard
So at the lead of Cloak and Dagger are Tyrone and Tandy. Tyrone’s a private school basketball player whose brother was killed by a police officer, Tandy’s living rough and scamming rich douchebags because her father was wrongly blamed by the Roxxon corporation for the destruction of an offshore rig, leaving Tandy and her addict mother broke. And the night Tyrone’s brother and Tandy’s father both died, both thanks in part to that rig explosion, they both washed up on the same beach. And when they’re reunited years later, they discover that the explosion gave them powers. Tandy can summon daggers of light, Tyrone can teleport, and when they touch people, they can see visions of their hopes or fears respectively.
Tandy’s addiction issues are well done and not overplayed, as she goes from being hooked on opioids (I assume, what other prescription pills do you grind up and snort?) to being addicted to a simulation of her father’s voice to freebasing people’s hopes and dreams (our hero, ladies and gentlemen). She’s a tough character to like but easy enough to empathize with. Tyrone is a well-built character, to be sure, and the better of the two. He’s still filled with anger over the death of his brother, and the utter lack of repercussions for the officer involved (who, by the way, is now Bad Lieutenant levels of corrupt), but his parents are riding him to stay on the straightest of narrows lest he die too. His motives make sense, his frustrations are real, his arc speaks to an important issue in the US, and that would all be great, it’s just, it’s just…
No, we’ll get to that later.
Gotham, as I described… well, no fewer than five people have, at one point over the series, launched a scheme of mild to mass destruction in an effort to show Jim Gordon “who he really is,” and it is an ordeal each time and whoever’s doing it is instantly the worst person on the show. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true, it takes a lot to be worse than perpetual nogoodnik Barbara Kean, and not everyone out to prove a point to Jim Gordon manages it.
Ugh. Barbara Kean. I guess the producers like the actress playing her because she has been a train wreck since season one, has almost never been in a good storyline, certainly not as a main character, but she just won’t go away. Death couldn’t do it. Although, really, to be anyone in Gotham’s crime circles you really need to die at least once. It’s like a rite of passage.
They’re so thirsty to bring in as many Bat-villains as possible that they introduced Jerome, the proto-Joker, who commits a series of carnival-themed mass murders while acting as Joker-like as possible (even with a sewn-on face at one point, to homage the recent classic “Death of the Family”), but they never commit to him actually being the Joker, because they seem perpetually unwilling to think more than one story ahead. At one point he magically shows up at Wayne Manor (which has the worst security in the known universe, villains stroll into Bruce’s study all the goddamn time) and literally smashes a more interesting plot point.
Gotham is filled with big ideas but very little notion of how to pull them off.
Craftsmanship is what allows Legion showrunner Noah Hawley to craft a tight and compelling story arc each season. Vision is what makes every frame of Legion a painting, the most innovative show on TV.
And I am here to tell you that for all of Cloak and Dagger’s craftsmanship, it has precious little vision.
Okay. Let me back up to that rig explosion for a second. See, while Roxxon is happy to try to pin everything on Tandy’s father, the real cause was that they were cutting corners to save money while trying to drill for a weird and sinister magical energy like it’s oil.
Let me say that again. They are drilling for a weird and sinister magical energy like it’s oil and if that wasn’t enough corporate greed for ten episodes they are doing it sloppily to save money, which puts all of New Orleans at risk because exposure to this weird energy turns people into rage monsters, and every time some douche in a suit tries to save $50 by ignoring the engineers in charge of extracting the dark and sinister soul-juice mortal man was not meant to meddle with, they risk a citywide rage monster outbreak.
That… that should be the main story. Right? Shouldn’t it? Magical force gives two teens superpowers, same magical force threatens to wipe New Orleans off the map? Only Tyrone’s new girlfriend’s voodoo-slinging mother can point Cloak and Dagger to their destiny? Right?
Then why is it only a thing in episodes six, seven, and ten?
This is the main plot. This is what Tyrone and Tandy have been given powers to prevent. And yet it is at best the C-plot of the first season, and the A and B plots are… so, so basic.
Tyrone is out to bring the cop (Officer-now-Detective Connors) who killed his brother to justice. One cop. One cop who has graduated from shooting unarmed black youths to having some unspecified major role in New Orleans’ drug trade, which is being run by one person who maybe is Detective Connors? I don’t know. It is not clear. I think it’s supposed to be a plot point for season two and God I hate it when shows do that.
So with the secret mastermind of New Orleans’ drug supply off the table until next year, Tyrone’s out to bring down one cop. Just one. One committing so many crimes that you’d think it was only a matter of time before he got caught for something.
There are three really big problems with this taking up half of our season, to the point where Detective Connors is still demanding focus while rage zombies are swarming over New Orleans.
First. One corrupt cop doesn’t exactly live up to the likes of Damien Darhk, Wilson Fisk, the Reverse-Flash, or Kilgrave, does it? Doesn’t even live up to The Hand or Vandal goddamn Savage. An effort to bring down one single cop who killed a black youth back in the day is not something I look for in an entire season of a TV show that opens with the Marvel logo. It is, at best, a two-part episode of Elementary.
By comparison, Gotham is endlessly creative in its creation of villains. Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot is almost enough to keep me invested on his own. Cameron Monaghan’s not-Joker-but-Jokeresque Jerome improves with every outing. But the one highlight I’ll name is Anthony Carrigan’s take on Victor Zsasz, which is possibly… no, definitely… the best version of this B-list Bat-villain ever done. He’s used sparingly but is a delight every time he turns up. Detective Connors is used constantly and wears thin quickly.
Yes, sure, it is extremely difficult for the families of African Americans wrongfully killed by the police to get any sort of justice, but I don’t turn to superhero shows to tell me justice isn’t possible. I have the news for that. And this brings us to point two.
Second. In order to stretch Detective Connors’ schemes out to near the end of episode ten, they need to make the entirety of the NOPD hopelessly, comically corrupt to its very core. There are two good cops in all of New Orleans: Detective Brigid O’Reilly, freshly transferred from Harlem*, and Fuchs, the uniform officer she starts dating. Every other cop in New Orleans is willing to do whatever it takes to cover up any and all crimes Connors commits, up to and including unambiguously murdering other cops. Why? Why is this? Because of the uncle he mentions after he kills Tyrone’s brother, the one who presumably made that go away? Because he’s the N’Awlins drug kingpin they’re keeping in place because hey, at least they know where all the drugs are coming from? Impossible to say. Both of those concepts are hinted at but never explored because Zod Almighty forbid that any actually interesting story points get explored in the first season. No, just put a pin in everything but Connors’ crime spree and Tandy’s daddy issues.
Gotham, on the other hand, leaves nothing on the table. Any plotline could get thrown out in five episodes if the showrunner thinks up something he likes more, so they get right to the meat of it as quickly as they can. Sure the plot is possibly, even probably very stupid, but at least you’re not shouting “Get there!” Well, maybe Party Boy Dick Bruce. That overstayed its welcome fast, but in general my point stands.
But the real problem with painting the entire NOPD as this corrupt is that it saps Tyrone’s plotline of that realism that people are likely to use to defend it.Connors doesn’t get away with killing Tyrone’s brother because of the blue code of silence. He doesn’t get acquitted by a grand jury because the defense stacked it with white jurors. No, the entire NOPD twists itself into a pretzel to cover up his every wrongdoing, even when fellow cops are dying. An entire precinct watches him openly plot to murder Tyrone and fellow cop O’Reilly while they’re in handcuffs and just says “Sure.”
That’s not realism, that’s HR from Person of Interest, the organised crime syndicate operating within the NYPD. Except it’s worse than that because HR hadn’t taken over the entire force, and was taken down twice in three seasons. It’s the cartoonishly corrupt police department of Gotham, the police department that agreed to let Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot take over law enforcement through the issuing of crime licenses. But Jeebas, when that happened, Jim Gordon was able to redeem the entire GCPD in only nine episodes, despite being so terrible at everything he does. Seriously, there isn’t a trap he hasn’t walked gleefully into, a villain he hasn’t tried to fight single-handedly even though it never worked. But even he could redeem a police district by setting a good example.
And the fact that the NOPD is so hopelessly corrupted brings us to problem number three… Connors doesn’t go to jail. He gets swallowed by Tyrone’s powers. Consumed by the “cloak” that his powers manifest. So the moral of Tyrone’s arc is “The system is so broken that the only way to get justice is murder.”
That’s… are we there? Has it gotten that bad? That a show aimed at teens is advocating that murder is the only justice?
I don’t love that**. I don’t know what the real path to justice is, or if there even is one, but superheroes are supposed to leave a little hope that it exists.
*Luke Cage‘s Misty Knight and O’Reilly are established as buds on both shows. Between that and the head of Roxxon saying he has to compete with the Starks and the Rands, there’s more Marvel-universe-connecting than we ever saw on Runaways. But let’s not get excited about crossovers. We all know there won’t be any.
**To specify, I am 100% fine with Detective Connors taking the express train to the Bad Place, I just would have rathered O’Reilly killed him.
And then there’s Tandy
Tandy’s arc is a little less straight-forward, and more tied to Roxxon’s rage zombies. It’s just a little… all over the place. She’s all about grifting, then she’s all about proving that her father wasn’t responsible for the explosion and bringing down Roxxon, then she learns one bad thing that breaks her image of her perfect father… in fairness it was a pretty damn bad thing… and immediately forgets about her dad’s good name (fair, maybe?), the Roxxon assassin who killed her mother’s boyfriend to stop his lawsuit against them (way less fair), and the fact that Roxxon is drilling for magic ooze and being cheap and careless about it which is the entire reason her father is dead. That’s not particularly fair at all. Especially since she forgets all of that in order to become an even worse person than she was before, moving from stealing people’s stuff to stealing their hopes.
It’s not all shoddy writing, though. Not entirely. There is a consistent characterization happening here. Not as rigidly, maddeningly consistent as Gotham’s Jim Gordon, whose character is so consistent he never once learns a lesson about running off to confront a villain without bringing backup, but also not so wildly inconsistent as… everyone else on Gotham. It’s just a bit a slog to get through.
And they know it’s a slog. That’s why the penultimate episode has a framing device in which they keep cutting to one of Tyrone’s teachers explaining the “regression” stage of Joseph’s Campbell’s Hero’s Journey monomyth theory, and how it’s frustrating for the reader/viewer but an important stage in the hero’s story, so we just have to buckle down and get through it.
I) “Regression” is not a stage of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. It’s merely one of the various tropes writers have employed in the “Ordeal” stage. So becoming a worse person than when we met her is not, strictly speaking, a necessary stage of the hero’s journey, it’s just the one they chose, and…
II) Having a character basically step outside of the narrative and explain to the audience that this is going to be frustrating but we promise it’s important demonstrates a deep lack of faith in their own plot point. From the second scene (the first is Tyrone’s new girlfriend Evita’s voodoo-priestess mother doing a rum-based ritual to figure out what, specifically, is dooming New Orleans… I don’t have time to explain that sentence, just read it again and try to keep up), they are apologizing for this entire episode. If that’s something you feel a need to do… then write something else, because your own script is trying to tell you something.
So Tandy is unpleasant. She’s not a natural born hero, she’s an addict given power and it takes her a while to choose to use it wisely. It’s not inherently a bad arc, it’s just really slow, and has an 11th-hour regression that even the show’s writers don’t care for, or at least don’t believe in. She resists being a hero with every fibre of her being for nine and a half episodes. Which is Marvel YA, and kind of Marvel Netflix, all over. They take a story that would normally fit comfortably into a two hour movie and pad and stretch it out into 10-13 episodes. Maybe that’s your thing. Personally, I prefer to have the character decide to be a hero within two episodes and spend the first season learning how exactly to do that through episodic adventures, and that’s something the CW is more than happy to provide me with, but if you’d rather spend ten hours watching Tandy learn to care about something other than herself then hey here that is.
Cloak and Dagger does have a few moments of inspiration. Episode three ends with Tyrone and Tandy experiencing a vision representing each other’s pasts and possible futures, bringing each to the conclusion that the other needs to change their approach. It’s a bravura sequence in a season that has, maybe, three of those. But the issue I’m bringing up is that a big chunk of the vision, certainly most of Tyrone’s vision about Tandy, takes place in this one chunk of forest. A lot of visions take place in that one chunk of forest. Don’t know why.
It’s an attempt at vision. It just… doesn’t quite get there. Not compared to the poison-induced fever dream that convinces Bruce Wayne to stop being a jackass and get back to Batmanning in season four of Gotham.
The Framing Devices
Three times over the course of the season, there’s a framing device for an episode. Three times they cut between the main narrative and Evita having something explained to her, usually by her voodoo priestess mother (honestly, I don’t know what else I have to explain there, I said it perfectly clearly all three times), and once by the possibly alcoholic priest (another story given almost no attention so we can focus on trying to prove Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans might be a bad cop) who teaches English at her and Tyrone’s school. Each one of these framing devices has a serious problem to it.
In the first, Evita’s mother does a tarot card reading on Tyrone and Tandy. Over the course of the entire episode. The problem here is that it’s episode six and we’ve never had a framing device untethered to the main narrative before. Tyrone and Tandy’s plots take multiple days to play out, and throughout all of it, Evita’s mother is just slowly dealing out cards. We don’t know that this isn’t supposed to match the timeline of the main stories, we just think she’s taking forever to do a simple card reading. “I’ve been dealing the cards for years,” she says. “This specific reading?” I ask.
The second we talked about. A side character comes a step away from literally apologizing for the ninth episode. Not even Inhumans did that.
And in the third, Evita’s mother walks us through her belief in the Divine Pairings: pairs of people throughout history who came together to save New Orleans from some major crisis, always through one of them dying. This has been what she’s been spending half of the season telling us, that Tyrone and Tandy are a Divine Pairing, a crisis is coming, and one of them will have to die stopping it. Before I tell you the problem with this framing device, let me give it props for setting each story to a cover of “Come Sail Away” that matches the time period. That was neat.
The issue is not the fact that of course neither Tandy nor Tyrone are going to die, they wanted and received a second season. The issue is that a lot of her examples call her whole theory into question. In order…
Two native siblings, one of which drowns herself to stop a famine, the other of which doesn’t really do anything. That’s not a story about a Divine Pairing, that’s a story about one girl who died to appease a mean, mean god or whatever.
Two brothers have a duel over a woman, one of them throws it, and a storm that maybe would have gotten around to menacing New Orleans coincidentally ends as he dies. Honestly I’m a little surprised anyone, even the voodoo community, bothered to write this one down. It was raining and then it wasn’t and also a rich asshole got shot by his brother. Lumping it in with the others smacks of confirmation bias if’n you ask me.
A messenger in the War of 1812 who was carrying word that the war was over and the Battle of New Orleans could call it a day, and the woman who delivered his message after he’s shot in front of her. That’s… there were a lot of other people in that story, lady.
A doctor that’s trying to cure a plague, and injects his own blood into his lover in an attempt to cure him. And when the final, lethal withdrawal of blood cures the doctor’s lover, the plague in general goes away. Again, that’s one person who did a thing and one person who was pretty enough to motivate him, “Divine Pairing” might be stretching things.
So really it’s no surprise Tandy and Tyrone defy their supposed destiny. The Divine Pairing theory has some holes in it. What we really have, at most, is a dark force that agrees to stop screwing with the New Orleans area if someone good offs themself, and also a possibly apocryphal anecdote about the War of 1812.
You never have to worry about Gotham having a larger meaning it fails to live up to. Mostly from lack of effort on their part to have a larger meaning. Basically they just keep coming up with excuses to say “It’s a new day in Gotham,” and the only way they can fail to pay that off is if the last shot of the finale isn’t Bruce putting on his Batman costume for the first time while Jim Gordon repeats the line.
Random Cloak and Dagger thoughts
To reiterate, Tandy sees a Roxxon assassin kill her would-be step-dad to silence the lawsuit he was helping her mother with, and she just… forgets about it. Moves on. Makes a deal with Roxxon like they don’t have an assassin who cleans up their messes, and won’t risk catastrophe to save less money than she was demanding. That’s beyond Jim Gordon-level foolish, that is season one Iron Fist Danny Rand-level dumb.
Oliver Queen and Barry Allen have made some questionable decisions these past six seasons but they’ve never freebased stolen hopes. That was an extreme regression for the penultimate episode.
While explaining that this regression that sorry, we know you hate, was going to forge Tandy and Tyrone into stronger heroes (well Tandy had nowhere to go but up, really), it also hints that we’re witnessing Detective O’Reilly’s origin as a villain. Guess we’ll see where that’s heading next season. I’m okay with it. The actress was pretty good.
The commentary on US race relations is pretty spot-on. It was just done better on Black Lightning. Which again managed to show that cops can be bad and/or racist without turning the entire police force into Cobra from GI Joe.
It’s early days yet but I can basically guarantee you’re not going to be seeing Tyrone’s name under “Best Male Lead” next June. He’s trying his best but he’s got a ways to go.
Random Gotham thoughts
This is the worst thing Gotham has ever done, and it involves Ivy Pepper, who we’re made to believe from episode one will later be Poison Ivy, despite the fact that even Joel Schumacher knew that Poison Ivy’s name is Pamela Isely. Anyway, in season one and two, she’s a young girl, but twice over the course of the show she’s magically aged-up into older bodies that emerge wearing her old clothes, now small and clingy to show off the new body’s… matured shape. It is also made clear, at least the first time, that her mind didn’t age up with her. Starting in season three Ivy Pepper has the mind of a 12 year old but a body the producers are legally free to sexualize, and that’s gross, that’s a gross thing they did, it’s gross.
I never knew how much I wanted Mr. Freeze to fight Firefly until it happened in season two and it was gorgeous.
Speaking of Mr. Freeze, I appreciate how they dispensed with an old tradition, as Harvey Bullock insists Victor Fries’ name isn’t pronounced “Freeze.” He says “No, I’m good with last names. It’s not ‘freeze,’ it’s ‘frice.'” Turns out he’s right.
Also clever, if sadly short-lived… Ra’s Al Ghul dispatches colourful assassins to reclaim a special dagger from Bruce Wayne. When they fail, and the GCPD becomes involved, he tries a new tactic… he shows up at the GCPD in glasses and a sweater-vest saying “Hello, I’m Ra’s Al Ghul from the Nanda Parbat consulate, may we have our cultural artifact back please?” If the GCPD hadn’t been answering to Penguin at the time it would have worked. And it’s something Arrowverse Ra’s Al Ghul would never have thought up. That’s three times Gotham has done a villainbetter than you, Arrow, get it together.
And finally, my conclusion
Am I saying Gotham is a better show than Cloak and Dagger? No. That’s a not a statement I or anyone could stand behind. Better than Inhumans, sure, better than Iron Fist, yes, but better than Cloak and Dagger,not so much.
It is, however, so much more watchable. Gotham’s good episodes may be vastly outnumbered by the bad ones, but I keep tuning back in because for every plotline that has me screaming in complaint, there’s another where I have to see where it’s going.
Cloak and Dagger… I knew within two episodes where the bulk of this was going, and was very swiftly impatient for it to hurry up and get there. It didn’t help that they leaned into the previous season’s most overplayed and annoying trope.
Cloak and Dagger has very solid fundamentals. But they need to think bigger. They need to commit to a central narrative, and make it one that’s fun to watch now and then.
They need vision.
Until then… No Man’s Land for the final season of Gotham? Where are they going with that?
When I started this rewatch and blog series a… good lord… a year ago, the plan was to be through all ten series by the time Jodie Whittaker made her proper debut in series 11.
Which is the first week of October. It is, at time of writing, late September. This is what happens when you take a small, slight… multi-month hiatus from blogging to write three different plays. Well, almost three.
Gonna… gonna be a bit tight making that deadline. Well, as the Tenth Doctor would say… allons-y.
There’s a new Doctor on the horizon. The first female Doctor. This has some people wondering if it’s time to try out this show I love so much.
Well, that’s what I’m here for. Because when you love a show as much as I love Doctor Who, you have opinions.
These are mine.
The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe doesn’t live up to A Christmas Carol, but it tries its best.
When last we left The Doctor and friends (Eight months ago? My last entry on this series was eight months ago? Goddamn, me, get your life right…), The Doctor had faked his death at Lake Silencio, a fact River Song had let slip to Amy and Rory. We join The Doctor some time later, as he’s travelling alone and thwarting an alien invasion in the 1930s. Crashing to Earth, his helmet on backwards, he is aided in finding the Tardis by a British housewife named Madge Arwell. He promises her a favour in return, and a few years later she ends up needing it. Her husband’s plane is lost over the English Channel in late December, and she’s trying not to let Chrismas be the day her children learn their father has died. Arriving at a family estate in the country to avoid the German bombing, she is greeted by a strange man claiming to be the caretaker.
She doesn’t know it, but her mysterious spaceman (or possible angel) has arrived to repay a favour.
Unfortunately he does it in typical Doctor fashion, and a planned expedition to a planet in the future with naturally occurring Christmas trees goes off the rails because a) young Cyril Arwell sneaks through the portal early, and b) The Doctor has once again failed to check an almanac or something to see if, say, the entire apparently intelligent forest is about to be liquefied with acid. Rory warned you about this sort of thing last year during The Girl Who Waited, Doctor, and now here we are again.
It seems pretty dire for a minute there but it becomes the best Christmas present the family could have asked for. And in the end, Madge helps The Doctor realize something… no one should be alone on Christmas. Especially the people who love him. Which brings him back to Amy and Rory’s doorstep, two years after that whole mess in The Wedding of River Song.
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory, back together again.
Don’t get comfy.
Series Seven: Goodbye, Ponds
The first five episodes of series seven are all about The Doctor and the Ponds (much as Rory might protest, they’ve never been the Williamses). The Doctor knows, on some level, he should let them go. He tried last year in The God Complex. But he can’t. The gaps between his visits are getting longer, leading Amy to worry he’s trying to wean them off of him. Also, as long as Amy and Rory are out there, The Doctor can’t move forward. Amy is his companion, and he refuses to pick a new one. Which means other than the occasional, never seen River Song hook-up, he’s travelling alone. Which is making him cold and mean, and far too willing to kill those who oppose him. Amy lets this slide in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, when this dark side first emerges, mostly because she doesn’t witness it. But when The Doctor tries to throw an alien scientist (and repentant war criminal) to his death to save the titular settlement of A Town Called Mercy, Amy draws a line in the sand.
“And what then?” she asks. “Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun, or a bullet, or a bomb?”
“But they keep coming back, don’t you see?” he retorts. “Every time I negotiate, I try to understand. Well, not today. No. Today, I honor the victims first. His, the Master’s, the Daleks’, all the people who died because of MY mercy!”
Amy stares him down. “See, this is what happens when you travel alone for too long. Well, listen to me, Doctor, we can’t be like him. We have to be better than him.”
It’s an incredibly powerful moment that underlines how badly this quirky, funny, seemingly carefree Doctor needs his friends.
Meanwhile, ever since The God Complex, Amy and Rory have been building a life. A real, human life. She’s been a model and a travel writer and other things… she’s having trouble committing to a job because any time now the Tardis could be back to whisk her off to new adventures. But as the time between Doctor visits grows longer, and their desire to be taken home comes sooner, they actually start making long-term plans that don’t involve time travel at all. She doesn’t want to give up either life, but they’re beginning to clash.
And The Doctor knows this. It’s why he’s been trying to pull back. But he can’t ever let go of Amy, not completely.
“Because you were the first,” he explains. “The first face this face saw. And you were seared onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. Always will be. I’m running to you and Rory before you fade from me.”
You know that explains the whole Rose Tyler thing. She was the first face two faces saw. Might explain why he never got over her until he regenerated into Eleven.
He needs Amy in his life enough that in The Power of Three he makes the penultimate sacrifice… he just hangs out for a few months. Lives the Pond life, stable and stationary and everything that drives him crazy… just because he misses Amy too much to leave.
Asylum of the Daleks and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship touch on this, but The Power of Three, which covers an entire year of Pond life, provides the breaking point. Which life will they choose? Earth life or Tardis life?
Sadly for all involved, The Angels Take Manhattan reminds us that it’s not always their choice to make. At some point down the road, when Amy’s aged from a 19-year-old kissagram to needing reading glasses, a run-in with the Weeping Angels in New York brings Amy and The Doctor’s time to an end. And in the wake of it, the show went on hiatus until the following spring. Well, of course, save for the annual oh balls–
It’s Christmas! (Again)
The Snowmen makes up for the heartbreak of The Angels Take Manhattan by being an absolute joy, right up until the moment it isn’t. Why you gotta keep hurting people on Christmas, Doctor Who?
Okay. Let me back up a little to the first episode of series seven, Asylum of the Daleks.
Tasked by the Daleks to help with the planet where they send their most damaged, The Doctor and the Ponds receive help from a computer whiz/souffle enthusiast named Ozwin Oswald. The Doctor knows something is wrong with this picture the second he hears about the souffles (“Where do you get the milk?” comes up a few times). To some, she simply seemed… oddly significant, in her swiftly iconic red dress, trainers, and baking-based utility belt, with her personal theme song, giving us a knowing look to the camera after her parting line of “Run, you clever boy… and remember.” To those of us who can’t stay away from entertainment news, we knew exactly who she was… only she wasn’t her. We knew the next companion would be named Clara and would be played by an actress named Jenna Coleman (then going by Jenna-Louise Coleman, you’d have to ask her why she dropped the “Louise”)… so imagine our surprise when she turned up without warning in Asylum of the Daleks, playing someone named Ozwin. Who… spoilers… doesn’t make it out of the Dalek Asylum.
Anyway, they let us sit on that for three months.
In The Snowmen, The Doctor has once again retreated to Victorian London, but not just for a visit. For an unspecified amount of time (not long enough for a human friend in that era to age much, long enough that the scuffing of the Tardis that started after all the fuss in New York has gotten significantly worse), he’s been living above the city, his contact with the world limited to three familiar faces from A Good Man Goes to War… Madame Vastra, Jenny, and their new butler, a no-longer-dead Strax the Sontaran, now collectively known as the Paternoster Gang. They don’t approve of The Doctor’s solitude, but are unable to stop it. (“A thousand years of saving the universe, Strax. And do you know what I learned? The universe doesn’t care.”) Seems nothing can. Until a chance encounter with a barmaid (who leads a secret double life as an upper-class governess) named Clara, and some living snowmen, begins to pull him back into the world.
He doesn’t know that she looks and sounds exactly like Ozwin Oswald… but we do. Jenna Coleman’s back, and this new Clara is refusing to let The Doctor just wallow in misery any longer. There are living snowmen and an ice governess menacing the children in her care and by God this Doctor fellow is going to do something about it. The Doctor realizes he’s coming back to his old self when he whips off a scarf, looks in a mirror and sees, for the first time in the episode, his bow tie is back.
The Snowmen is a grand adventure against a menacing villain that turns out to be the origin story of a deep-dive classic monster, filled with laughter and thrills…
And then she dies.
But not before saying that one line again: “Run, you clever boy… and remember.”
Seeing her full name on the tombstone… Clara Oswin Oswald… clicks everything into place. It’s the same woman. Same voice, same love of souffles, same catchphrase. He’s met her twice, in two time periods, and she’s died each time. There’s a mystery to be solved, the mystery of The Impossible Girl, and he’s off to solve it.
Series Seven Part 2: The Impossible Girl and the Road to 50
We pick back up a few months later with the excellent The Bells of St. John, in which The Doctor, losing hope he’ll ever find Clara again, holes up in a 13th century monastery… only for 21st century Clara (the one, true Clara, a description that makes sense later) to call the Tardis asking for tech support with the internet. Which naturally throws him for a bit of a loop. (“I’m not actually… this isn’t… you have clicked on the WiFi button, haven’t ya?”)
The eight episodes that remained in series seven were all one-off adventures with Clara throughout time and space, while The Doctor attempted to figure out what, exactly, she was, and Contemporary Clara attempted the same of this dashing, weirdly old-acting time-traveller that thrust himself into her life all of a sudden. This culminates in the series finale, The Name Of The Doctor, the first of three consecutive episodes to end in “Of The Doctor.” I’ll talk more about the Impossible Girl arc below, but here’s the more interesting thing about series seven.
Part two aired in spring of 2013. The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, November 23rd, 2013, was fast approaching. In ways subtle and broad, Steven Moffat began gearing the show to celebrate the coming landmark anniversary. The first and most obvious, which began in the final moments of series six with the revelation of the First Question, is that Moffat became fonder than ever of writing “Doctor who” into dialogue. The end of Asylum of the Daleks makes this abundantly clear, and The Snowmen and The Bells of St. John drive it home. Of course, that means that by Hide he’s able to have some fun with it…
“I’m The Doctor.”
“If you like.”
The new opening title sequence adds an old tradition that had been absent since the 80s… it slipped in Matt Smith’s face. This had been a feature from Troughton to McCoy, and Moffat brought it back for the tail end of Smith’s run and into Capaldi’s. Will it remain for Jodie Whittaker? We’ll know soon enough.
Also important, a new character appears in The Power of Three: the new head of UNIT (you remember UNIT, right?) Kate Stewart, who The Doctor soon figures out is more properly called Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, daughter of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, UNIT’s first leader and The Doctor’s oldest (now passed) human friend. Played by Jemma Redgrave (of those Redgraves), we’ll be seeing much more of her. And it was important she be in place in time for the 50th anniversary.
Throw in references to past companions (Clara hearing The Doctor mention his granddaughter gives her a moment of pause, I tell you what), not one but two vintage monsters making a comeback, and a brief visit to Gallifrey in The Name of the Doctor, and it’s clear that the show is wearing its fifty-year legacy on its sleeve for all to see.
“I’m The Doctor. I’m an alien from outer space. I’m 1000 years old, I’ve got two hearts, and I can’t fly a plane, can you?” -The Doctor, mid-plane crash.
There are those who say that Stephen Moffat doesn’t understand grief, given how often major deaths are undone (Rory alone has come back from the dead no fewer than five times). To them, I say pay attention to The Snowmen. Having lost Amy, for good and all, he retreats from the world, presumably for years. He completely changes the Tardis interior because he can’t be in a room that Amy was in. He never wears his signature brown tweed jacket, or any of its variations, ever again, switching to a more sombre purple, because he can’t wear the clothes he wore when travelling with Amy. He keeps her reading glasses as long as he has this face. Amy leaves a hole in his hearts that Clara only begins to help heal.
But don’t think that every trauma is forgotten. In one all-time-great speech in The Rings of Akhaten, Clara learns (or appears to learn) exactly how much pain The Doctor’s been carrying around the past three or four centuries as he attempts to pour all of it into a parasitic sun that feeds on people’s feelings and stories, yes you read that right. I’d post an excerpt but without Matt Smith’s heart-wrenching delivery it just isn’t the same. So here’s a video.
But there’s one secret pain he’s kept hidden these last seven series and three faces. A secret we come face to face with in the closing moments of The Name Of The Doctor.
I’ve done a lot of defending Steven Moffat from his various accusers. But sometimes loving something means acknowledging its flaws.
So let’s get into the problems with Early Clara, shall we?
First, as of The Snowmen, they drift alarmingly close to Ten/Rose territory, as Victorian Clara makes some pretty strong advances on The Doctor, making things a wee bit awkward when he finally finds the One True Clara in 2013 England. Are things getting romantic between the two? One of them thinks so, but we’ll address that later.
The real problem is that the Impossible Girl storyline is about Clara but doesn’t involve Clara. The Doctor is trying to get to the bottom of how Clara can be a regular, normal young woman and also the late Oswin Oswald of the starliner Alaska and the equally late Clara Oswin Oswald of Victorian London. But since she might be a trap laid by one of his enemies (not an unreasonable assumption, given everything the Silence just pulled with River), he never lets her know that’s what’s going on.
Giving Clara no agency in her own storyline.
It’s the same problem as Chloe Decker from my beloved Lucifer, and nothing says “I’ve neglected this blog series longer than I meant to” like the fact that I’m using Chloe to explain what’s wrong with Clara and not the other way around. All the celestial beings talk about Chloe, but she never knows that it’s happening, let alone why it’s happening. It reduces her as a character. Likewise, by making the plot about Clara without including Clara, you’re basically making her a prop in The Doctor’s story, and your female lead should never just be a prop.
And there aren’t even any clues. It’s just “What’s the deal with Clara?” and everyone saying “Dude, she’s normal” until the last moments of the last episode.
This is the one complaint about Steven Moffat that’s spot-on. He has a terrible habit of introducing companions as puzzles for The Doctor to solve. It wasn’t so bad with Amy, because we made it all the way to The Big Bang before he raised the question of “Does it ever bother you that your life doesn’t make any sense?” Although that was swiftly followed by six episodes of “Is she or isn’t she pregnant,” which… yeah. Then River was a riddle wrapped in an enigma from her first appearance right up until Let’s Kill Hitler, and in series seven Clara is weighed down by all of this Impossible Girl malarky. He gets better about this down the road, right before he left the show, but as of series seven it’s just Rory who’s all surface.
That all said, there are some things about Clara that work. She’s exceptionally quick-witted, letting her play high-energy dialogue every bit as well as Matt Smith (which is outstanding). She’s great at comedy, and she plays something few other companions had to this point… she’s often terrified of what’s happening, but resolved to see it through. It begins in Cold War, when the rubber hits the road and she sees her first deaths on an adventure. The best example might be Hide, where she asks The Doctor exactly why she should help him look for ghosts, and he responds that she wants to. “I dispute that assertion,” she responds, fear sneaking through her witty facade.
Also, she doesn’t take any crap from The Doctor. When he first turns up on her doorstep in The Bells of St. John, he’s approaching her with the familiarity her alternate self showed in The Snowmen, and she is not shy in telling him to bring it down a notch. There are moments throughout late series seven were she shows her resourcefulness, but they tend to be overshadowed by the whole Impossible Girl thing.
Also her mother is dead. Because she’s a Moffat companion. All their mothers are dead. Well, except Amy’s, who stopped being dead in The Big Bang but was instantly forgotten.
But as series seven progressed, and we learned who would and wouldn’t be around for series eight, I forgave the weaknesses of Clara’s arc this year. I suspected that while she may have gotten her start with Eleven, she’d end up a more iconic companion to Twelve. Much as a whole pile of classic series companions started with one Doctor but were better known for their time with his replacement. (Basically every regeneration-time companion from Sarah Jane onwards… well, except maybe Mel. Mel wasn’t anyone’s most iconic companion. Poor girl. Just wanted The Doctor to drink his carrot juice.)
And like her or not, get comfortable. She’s the longest-running contemporary companion.
The Supporting Cast
River Song is back for two key episodes: she’s there for her parents’ farewell in The Angels Take Manhattan, and is basically present for The Name Of The Doctor, which provides her final farewell with Matt Smith. But not her final final farewell.
Also of note is Harry Potter’s Arthur Weasley, Mark Williams, as Rory’s dad Brian Williams. Brian gets swept up with Amy and Rory when The Doctor unexpectedly materializes the Tardis on them in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, showing him what exactly his son and daughter-in-law get up to when they’re “travelling.” He’s only in two episodes (and an unfilmed deleted scene, written by future showrunner Chris Chibnall, which makes a sad episode sadder), but you instantly wish you could spend more time with him.
Less effective are those horrible children Clara is nannying for. The younger son, Artie, isn’t so bad, but Angie the older daughter seems annoyingly determined to challenge Clara at every turn. To borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill in series five, if Clara warned of Hell, Angie would give favourable reference to the Devil. It wears thin fast enough that I’m glad they were never seen or mentioned again following The Name Of The Doctor. Their mother is dead too, by the way. Look, I know the whole “All Davies companions have terrible mothers” thing was weird and overplayed but there’s such a thing as over-correcting.
The Big Bad: Returning for the first time since its two go-rounds with Patrick Troughton, it’s the Great Intelligence, everyone. Having previously menaced the world via robotic abominable snowmen, an early version of the Intelligence is revealed to be behind the icy menaces of The Snowmen. And The Doctor might have accidentally given it the idea that the London underground is a strategic weak point, perfect for invading with (abominable) snowmen. Which is the plot of Web of Fear, the Great Intelligence’s second arc (and the first appearance of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, not yet a Brigadier General). Following The Snowmen, the Intelligence continues to stalk The Doctor, now using the face of its Victorian assistant, Dr. Gideon… played by English actor of note Richard E. Grant, who non-canonically played The Doctor on twooccasions prior to the reboot.
This Year in Daleks: Moffat finds the fear in Daleks again through a planet full of broken, insane Daleks that The Doctor, Amy, and Rory find themselves stuck on. Also, they have a new trick… through an infection of nano-tech, they can hollow a person out and turn them into a human-shaped Dalek. Because that’s safe. Daleks with stealth and infiltration capability. Anyway, this becomes a problem for at least one of the people in Asylum of the Daleks.
Classic Monsters Revived: The Great Intelligence isn’t the only Troughton-era deep dive this year. Cold War brings back the Ice Warriors of Mars… or at least one of them, which has been found frozen in ice by a Cold War-era Russian sub The Doctor and Clara pop onto while trying to reach Las Vegas. Reptilian figures in hulking suits of armour, they’re a menace for any human military, especially if they think there’s nothing to lose. The modern era lets the show do something the Troughton era never could: show an Ice Warrior out of his armour.
The Good: There are a lot of layers to what’s happening in Hide (Ghosts? Monsters? Nothing?) but it’s quite the ride. The Cybermen also get a scariness upgrade thanks to Neil Gaiman in Nightmare in Silver. The people-snatching forces lurking in the WiFi in The Bells of St. John are highly effective and really satisfying to see taken down a peg. The gunfighter and his target in A Town Called Mercy provide some strong philosophical dilemmas on revenge and redemption.
The Bad: The Tardis puts people through a lot of grief in Journey to the Centre of the Tardis, but it’s not the Tardis’ fault. The burnt zombie things aren’t even truly bad. No, the villain that week boils down to “some asshole.” And he learns almost nothing. Not their best work.
The Ugly: Could they have spent a little bit more on that puppet worm from Crimson Horror? Maybe. Maybe. Not that it matters considering who it’s attached to (see below).
The Snowmen and The Bells of St. John are both great, but if I have to pick one (and I do, because I have thus far), I would have to say The Rings of Akhaten. It’s a knockout of an episode, and the Queen of Years stepping up to support The Doctor the only way she knows how, through song, brings a tear to the eye even before The Doctor’s epic speech begins. Sure the budget constraints show a little in the sets and green screen work but it’s a fun and surprisingly powerful outing for The Doctor and his new companion.
Series seven went from strength to strength for the most part, but one could argue that Journey to the Centre of the Tardis isn’t holding its end up, despite getting to glimpse all the rooms we never normally get to see.
All five of the final Pond episodes, from the Daleks to the Weeping Angels, are excellent. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill (Whose name I’ve been spelling wrong on this blog for a long, long time… my b, Captain Hunter) could not possibly have asked for a better swan song. Those five episodes alone made me think that New Who had gotten better each and every year it was on the air. A trend that would soon end, but all good things do. And that quality continued through The Snowmen and The Bells of St. John.
Cold War is a classic “under siege” episode, with a great guest cast.
If you enjoy the Paternoster Gang… and I feel that you should… The Crimson Horror is a good showcase episode for them.
Technically nothing of import happens between Rings of Akhaten and The Name Of The Doctor. That’s the problem with Impossible Girl, it has no stages. No levels. It’s basically Bad Wolf all over again.
I guess you could skip over Journey to the Centre of the Tardis. Every piece of progress there gets undone.
Notable Guest Stars
Plenty in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship alone. In addition to Mark Williams, David Bradley (Harry Potter, Broadchurch, Game of Thrones) makes his first of two guest appearances, as the thoroughly unpleasant trader/slaver Solomon. His next character will be nicer. Solomon’s quarrelling security bots are hilariously voiced by comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb, who I’d handily just discovered. Sherlock’s Inspector Lestrade, Rupert Graves, plays The Doctor’s new pal, big game hunter Riddell.
Isaac, Mercy’s town marshal, is played by Farscape’s Ben Browder. A rare American guest character played by an American, but they did venture out to America for filming purposes more often.
Although he’s soon followed by Michael McShane (the original Who’s Line is it Anyway and Friar Tuck from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) in The Angels Take Manhattan.
B-movie sci-fi almost-legend David Warner (lots of stuff) is an episode highlight as an 80s-pop-music-loving Russian scientist on a submarine in Cold War.
Mission: Impossible II’s Dougray Scott, he who was nearly Wolverine, plays Bernard Quartermass Alec Palmer in Hide. His assistant is played by Jessica Raine, who around that time also played Doctor Who creator Verity Lambert in the biopic An Adventure in Space and Time, which also featured David Bradley (see above) as William Hartnell.
The voice of the Great Intelligence in The Snowmen is none other than Sir Ian McKellan.
A carnival worker with a secret in Nightmare in Silver is played by Warwick Davis. And a soldier in the same episode is Alo from the third generation of Skins, if that means anything to anyone else.
Game of Thrones Guest Stars: That Russian sub I mentioned is captained by The Onion Knight (Liam Cunningham) with his overly hostile first mate being Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies, yes I know he’s also from Outlander, my blog my rules). Dame Diana Rigg, formerly Mrs. Peele of the British spy show The Avengers, and at the time throwing epic shade at the Lannisters as Olenna Tyrell, is menacing Victorian England in The Crimson Horror.
Clara is only able to phone the Tardis because she got the number from a “woman in the shop.” There was a lot of speculation as to who that woman might have been. River Song was a popular guess. Some eternal optimists thought Sally Sparrow fit the bill. And old-school die-hards held out hope for Romana or Susan or someone. We were all way off, but there was a new player we were over a year away from meeting.
Based on the book one of Clara’s charges is reading in The Bells of St. John, Amy managed a successful literary career in her post-Doctor life. Despite the fact that the Melody Malone novel from The Angels Take Manhattan must have seemed really weird to most audiences.
The Angels Take Manhattan actually filmed in New York. I found the rock in Central Park where they have their picnic, because I’m that level of obsessed. And the cast found out just how popular the show was when hundreds of Whovians showed up to watch filming. Which may have been awkward, as the episode was as hard to film as it was to watch. According to legend (aka the IMDB trivia page), when they filmed The Doctor reading Amy’s last message, Karen Gillan sat next to Matt, reading her voiceover lines to him. Once they got the shot, Matt broke into tears. Can’t exactly blame him.
Rory’s middle name is “Arthur,” no doubt named after Arthur Darvill. (Look, it’s not my fault that it just looks like it should have an “e” at the end…)
The Doctor mentions the effort he put into taking “a gobby Australian to Heathrow airport.” This would be Fifth (and very, very briefly Fourth) Doctor companion Tegan Jovanka, who the Fifth Doctor would encourage with the phrase “Brave heart, Tegan.” Shortly after mentioning her, the catchphrase gets reused. “Brave heart, Clara.”
The scientist/ex-spy in Hide was meant to be Dr. Bernard Quartermass, of Doctor Who’s BBC sci-fi predecessor The Quartermass Experiment, but rights issues blocked it at the last minute. Pity. It would have been like Sherlock Holmes teaming up with Auguste Dupin. (Oh, Google it yourself if you need to.)
Clara Oswald was the first character Jenna Coleman ever played in her natural Blackpool accent, or so she’s said. Which was weirdly an extra challenge. Accent work had been like a mask, a way to build the character.
Future… well, “current” at this point, really… showrunner Chris Chibnall wrote Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three. Promising. Very promising. Those episodes are fun.
Steven Moffat surely believes that “I don’t know where I am” is an intrinsically terrifying phrase because it certainly gets used a lot.
Doctor Quote of the Year: “Run.”
(I mean the real quote of the year is “Run you clever boy, and remember,” but I don’t have a section for companion quotes.)
Historical Guest Star of the Year: Queen Nefertiti of Egypt is our last true historical guest star. That kind of fell off in the Capaldi years.
Saddest Moment: “Raggedy man… goodbye!” (oh god just typing it…)
Next time… Matt Smith’s final two episodes are the greatest episode ever and our next big farewell as the “Of The Doctor” trilogy brings us to the end of an era.
Okay. So let’s get down to it. Twenty-two comic book series. How do they stack up? And perhaps some hints about why we didn’t hear from some of them during the awards portion. Worst to best, let’s get this party started.
Did somebody bet Scott Buck that he couldn’t make a worse show than Iron Fist?
A cheap-looking blend of boring and annoying, determined to find the least interesting version of some of Marvel’s strangest characters, weirdly reluctant to connect to even the other Marvel show about Inhumans on the same network.
To paraphrase the late, great Achewood, Inhumans failed with a focus and intensity normally seen only in successes.
#21. The Defenders
This still looks more like a failed Law and Order spinoff than a superhero show to me.
This one has fallen the furthest in my esteem since my initial review. In August, I was digging the show’s strengths… primarily the interplay between Matt Murdock & Jessica Jones and Luke Cage & Danny Rand… enough that I was willing to forgive some of its many flaws (aggravatingly slow start, misuse of supporting cast, poor pacing despite being only eight episodes, focusing the plot on the worst parts of the franchise and no they haven’t improved). But as the TV season progressed, I began to turn on the show more and more, because this overly talky, stripped-down, “grounded” miniseries is what Marvel Netflix thinks prestige comic TV looks like, and it isn’t, it just isn’t.
Although the overall franchise bounced back a little since then, and is no longer getting its ass kicked quite so thoroughly by the CW.
#20. The Flash
I swear to Zod this show used to be great.
[Deep sigh] Come on, guys, you are better than this.
They tried to bring back the fun after the Refrigerating-Iris Savitar arc from last year, and for six episodes it was working and working well… then the Thinker arc kicked into gear, and every single thing the show did well from that point on was drowned out by the oppressively and remorselessly grim A-plot. I love so much of this show, but their refusal to cut Team Flash a break made tuning in a chore.
Pull it together, Flash.
(But any dudebros saying that the real problem was too much Iris can go straight to Hell. Why are fandoms so toxic lately.)
I thought I was out but they pulled me back in.
The season’s most improved player didn’t creep up too far, because the greatest problem about Gotham is that it is maddeningly inconsistent, with extreme highs and lows. When it’s good, it’s actually pretty damn good, but when it’s bad it is so very bad, and you never know which Gotham you’re going to get from episode to episode, or even scene to scene. It has some of the best cinematography and art direction of any show on this list but frequently pairs it with shoddy storytelling.
The show cycles through multiple storylines per year, which means never getting mired in something as bad as the Thinker on Flashfor 22 episodes, but also means a plot you enjoy might get tossed out or devolve into some Barbara Kean or Jerome the Proto-Joker nonsense. Actors are made full-cast regulars but might get dropped at any point… like Ra’s Al Ghul, who only turned up for half the season, or Harvey Dent, who was a series regular for nearly all of season two but was only in three episodes. Put these two things together, and it gives the appearance that the writers have no plan. They’re just making things up as they go along.
This year the good parts (most of Penguin, the Riddler, Solomon Grundy, early Ra’s Al Ghul, and even about half of Jim Gordon, who had classicly been stuck in the worst plots) were as good as the show has ever been, and even Jerome the Proto-Joker, a concept I never overly cared for, was surprisingly entertaining. But the bad parts (90% of Barbara Kean, at least half of Bruce Wayne, late Ra’s Al Ghul, anyone trying to show Jim Gordon who he really is– which has not gotten more fun since the last five times it happened) were everything that’s bad about Gotham in its purest form.
Ugh. This Zod damned show. I can’t believe I’m going to watch every single episode of it.
Maybe the best DC Superhero Prequel Show, but why is that a genre?
The mid-point plot twist was a game-changer that made the second half of Krypton surprisingly compelling and sets up a potentially improved season two. This does not, to my mind, make up for the fact that the first half of Krypton was mostly drab nonsense. Until the Zod reveal, it was Smallville that thought it was Game of Thrones, and no show has a right to only be good in its back half.
Oliver Queen can’t get no respect.
Two great… or at least really well cast… villains and a much, much improved Felicity Smoak helped, but a sluggish second act and a season arc that hinged on two of the year’s most annoying and overplayed tropes (all-knowing mastermind and heroes-behind-bars) mean that Arrow has lost ground since its top-four placing last year.
#16. The Gifted
For those who like the X-Men but not any of the X-Men in movies.
The Gifted shows a lot of promise, especially in the Mutant Underground vs. Hellfire Club plot they’ve kicked off. Certainly more promise than an X-Men show in a world without X-Men seemed to suggest. But that potential isn’t quite paying off yet. Improved pacing and making the Struckers more interesting (or less central, either way) could bring this show from “okay” to “quite good.” But man I do not care for Agent Jace, even if Emma Dumont thinks his motives are perfectly understandable.
Some shows on the list manage to EARN teen melodrama.
Is it me? Have I been spoiled by so many shows that favour seasonal arcs over full-series arcs? Is that why I ended up less fond of Runaways?
You know what, no. It’s an insanely crowded TV landscape this year. There’s so much TV on that I somehow still haven’t finished the second season of Santa Clarita Diet and it is so freaking funny this year, you have no idea. So while Runaways was doing well, save for some really clunky dialogue here and there, the fact remains that the first season is essentially a ten-hour pilot.
If you have room in your viewing schedule for a ten-hour pilot, you could do a lot worse. If you don’t, then hey, I get that.
Seriously, how does this show even exist. I watch it religiously but I still don’t understand.
Detractors of Riverdale will point out how ridiculous and overwrought everything that happens is on this noir crime thiller that for some reason stars the Archie Comics characters. Fans of the show will point to the exact same things. Yes, this show is… it is melodramatic to the point of self-parody. By way of a for instance, Betty Cooper had her previously unknown half-brother Chic teach her to be a dominatrix cam girl and they just, and they just, they just moved on like that wasn’t even a thing. “Betty becomes a cam girl! Anyhoo, let’s check back in on Archie joining the mafia.”
It works because it knows what a ridiculous melodrama it is, and they lean into it so hard. From the direction to the cinematography to the set decoration to the acting, everyone knows exactly what this show is and they commit to it. That’s why I don’t ding Riverdale for clunky, awkward dialogue like I did Runaways. Because Archie’s pals and gals sell it. And that’s what makes it so hard to stop watching.
I mean… if you can get past the fact that it is, at its core, this ridiculous. Which I can.
#13. Agents of SHIELD
Yep, it DOES still exist.
And so ends their reign as Marvel’s best TV show. Turns out it’s a hard title to hold when Marvel Netflix actually shows up to work.
Despite that fact that no other Marvel property (save for the comics) will even look Agents of SHIELD in the eye, it does remain an entertaining watch with some delightfully charming (most of the time) characters. That said… of the two halves to the season, “SHIELD in Space” and “Fix the Future” (my titles not theirs), the first one overstayed its welcome by a few weeks, and the second did nothing with one of its central premises. Which is to say, the fact that the Agents of SHIELD might have been stuck in a time loop ultimately had little impact. They broke the time loop with little effort, just because they decided to. Not the strongest choice.
But it was fun watching them write a season like it was going to be their last.
#12. Luke Cage
You can’t burn him, blast him, break him, or convince him to learn about pacing.
So, showrunner, you see your season as a Zeppelin album, something to be experienced in its entirety, rather than a collection of singles. Cool. So that means you don’t care so much about making each episode its own thing. Sure. But you still, honestly I’m also getting tired of saying it, you still need to work on pacing. As much as Alfre Woodard is acting the Hell out of Mariah, the fact remains that her arc runs out of momentum in episode ten. Of thirteen. And episodes ten and eleven reeked of filler, and that was too late in the season for filler.
They improved on a lot of fronts. They have two good villains (three including Shades) and stick to them instead of pulling in a Diamondback for the third act. (It was amusing watching the showrunner try to walk back an admission that he didn’t use Diamondback this season because nobody liked him). Misty Knight was finally well used. It only took them three episodes to get the plot going, not five. Maybe this show was the season’s most improved player, not Gotham… but I continue to live in hope of a Marvel Netflix show that actually knows how to fill 13 episodes.
Also once again Luke Cage manages to be one of the least interesting or necessary characters on his own show. I think about the A-plot and it’s all about Mariah and Bushmaster but also Luke is there. He’d lift right out. Not ideal.
Still, more worked than didn’t. We’re at that point of the list.
#11. The Punisher
You know… if gun-toting white men are what you look for in a hero, instead of a systemic problem with America.
Okay. So. Gun-toting mass murderers are a kind of problematic as far as leading characters go, in this time where the United States has mass shootings once a week. And knowing this, they included the bad kind of disgruntled while male turned domestic terrorist… well that was rough to type… in the form of rat-faced Lewis, the ex-soldier who despite all the support in the world becomes a mad bomber because he meets one bigoted gun-nut who radicalizes him against liberal society. Which, fine, okay, but they sure did waste a lot of time on Lewis when the beginning and end of his arc were the only necessary moments. And hey, maybe implying that every soldier can become a remorseless killing machine once back in society isn’t awesome? Maybe show that there are ways to get past battlefield trauma other than mass murder?
Also, and I cannot stress this enough, making this a second origin story was a bad, bad choice. Frank knew his old commanding officers were involved in his family’s death, he should not have needed Micro to walk him through it in order to care about it again. When your franchise is known for pacing problems the way Marvel Netflix is, don’t waste your first episode dragging your lead back to square one.
I am looking at you, Daredevil season three. Don’t screw this up, Daredevil season three.
Still, pacing issues and too much Lewis aside… Jon Bernthal was great as Frank Castle, Ben Barnes was great as Frank’s frienemesis Billy Russo, and Amber Rose Revah was the best “Marvel Netflix Badass Female Co-Lead” since Trish Walker, so if you aren’t instantly turned off by the nature of the protagonist, there’s stuff to enjoy here.
#10. The End of the F***ing World
Now, THIS is a teen drama we can ALL enjoy.
It’s a little bleak, and gets bleaker, especially as the odds of an “And they get away with it” ending fade the closer they get to James’ 18th try-me-as-an-adult birthday. But it’s still a fun and quick paced watch with two solid leads, who have great emotional journeys, and good supporting cast.
Come on, you’ve wasted four hours on worse, give it a go.
#9. Jessica Jones
Who’s the badass private dick who’ll leave your ass kicked by a chick?
Jessica’s still a treat to watch in action, and the main plot gave her whole new demons to grapple with. Jessica’s great, the villain is great, Jeri Hogarth is super great, solid supporting cast with the exception of Pryce Cheng…
But just because you put all of the pointless wheel-spinning in the first half of the season doesn’t mean there isn’t any pointless wheel spinning. So it’s top ten, but it still takes a tumble from its first season.
The only walking dead anyone needs.
Man this show is fun. Just fun. And such a great central cast… Liv, Major, Ravi, Clive, Payton, Liv and Ravi a second time for emphasis, I am going to miss these guys like crazy when the show ends next year. Even the villains are fun to watch. It’s why I’m glad that four seasons in, Blaine DeBeers has never truly paid for his sins. I need him lurking around launching schemes.
That said… they kind of had the opposite problem as anything ever from Marvel Netflix. The Marvel Netflix offerings struggled to fill 13 episodes (or even eight… Jesus Christ, Defenders…), while this year iZombie could have used an extra nine to flesh out a couple of their central themes more. Bother Love’s zombie supremacist church, Fillmore Graves’ struggle to maintain order, the growing movement to just nuke New Seattle and be done with it, all of these could have used a bit more time.
…Except that might have led to it taking even longer to bring down the corrupt, brain-skimming Fillmore Graves soldier that Liv identified in the season premiere. Not ideal.
#7. Black Lightning
[Insert your own pun about electricity]
Now, this is how you do a 13 episode season, Marvel Netflix. Black Lightning is nearly all thriller with very little filler. The lead works, his family mostly works like gangbusters (his ex-wife is a bit of a drag early on, because saying “don’t be a hero, [main character]” is never a strong choice), Tobias Whale is a villain I’m glad to have stick around for multiple seasons… plus few if any pacing problems, and unlike, say, Luke Cage*, when Black Lightning takes on systemic oppression of African-Americans, they make the systemic oppressors the bad guys.
Look, this close to the top five, I’m going to start running out of bad things to say about shows. Let’s just be okay with that.
*Obviously Luke Cage and Black Lightning don’t need to be in direct competition. There are… [checks spreadsheet] 15 shows on this list with white male leads and they don’t have to battle each other for the right to exist, we do not need to pit the two black leads against each other any more than we needed to pit Supergirl and Jessica Jones against each other two years back. I’m just saying, they each attempted this one thing, but Black Lightning did it better.
Girl of Steel, Heart of Gold
The CW’s most unapologetically liberal and wonderfully hopeful show. Even getting punched into a coma in the fall finale can’t rob Kara Zor-El/Danvers of her compassion for all, even her enemies. Plus the second best A-plot of any CW show. The central cast is all delightful, Mon-El was much improved (and he was pretty fun in season two), Brainiac Five was great, Saturn Girl was decent (so she’s telekinetic now? You are just determined to write out Cosmic Boy)… there are probably ways that Supergirl could push from good to great, but it’s most of the way there most days.
Okay. Top five. We’re into the photo finishes here, people.
FYI, I’m done acting confused as to why this show is so good. I have embraced it.
Man this show is good.
What started as “Castle but instead of a mystery writer it’s the literal devil” has become a brilliant ensemble show that, yes, at its heart, still involves the ex-King of Hell helping the LAPD solve murders, but is also television’s sharpest theological deconstruction. From sympathy for the Devil to the introduction of God’s ex-wife to pointing out the part of Cain and Abel nobody considers (Abel was a dick), now that Lucifer has started playing with the divine, it’s addictive television. And the cast doesn’t have a weak link. Not even the kid.
Sure they forgot about the whole Sinnerman thing for half the season but man this show is good. I am so glad I get at least ten more episodes. (#LuciferSaved! We did it, Lucifam!)
#4. Legends of Tomorrow
The best band of misfits you could ask for.
Few shows capture pure fun like the last two seasons of Legends of Tomorrow. I’m not saying it’s pure good times, they emotionally crushed me at least twice this season (I asked you to stop writing out Arthur Darville, Zod damn you), but every episode delivers at least some high-octane time travel shenanigans. Time Agents Ava Sharpe (the badass who hooks up with Sara Lance and it’s adorable) and Gary (the comic relief one) were good additions, and bringing Matt Ryan’s John Constantine into the show almost but not quite makes up for writing out two of my very favourites this year you bastards. That’s three of my very favourites gone, with only… what’s the count now… five absolute favourites left! (They’ve managed to add three.)
It might, if anything, be a little too glib, but rumours circulate that next season might correct that. Oh, please don’t let this show hit a fourth season slump like Flash and Arrow did, I live for these kooky time travellers.
Just the BEST kind of weird.
Legion is visually and narratively daring and inventive like nothing else on television. A longer runtime for their second outing didn’t create padding so much as gave key moments room to breathe, spending entire episodes on emotional beats that might have gotten condensed to a single scene or montage with only eight episodes. A phenomenal cast, brilliant cinematography, few shows command full and undivided attention like this one, where every frame feels significant.
I just wish they hadn’t done that thing they did in the finale. But they did. So regardless of how it may lead to an interesting and different third season, it’s down to third place for you, Legion.
…I kinda want to rewatch the whole thing. Good thing I’ve never deleted an episode from my PVR.
Back in the 90s and early 2000s I never thought I’d see this show. What a time to be alive.
The one show on this list giving Legion a run for its money in terms of visuals is Preacher. Gotham is trying its best but it’s not there yet. Preacher has addictive scripts, brilliant visuals, and an excellent cast. I need this show to run for ten seasons, each bigger and bolder than the last. If they’d come up with character arcs for Tulip and Cassidy as good as Jesse’s, this would be the uncontested champion. As it is… that title falls elsewhere…
#1. The Tick
The Wild Blue Yonder is your guarantee of good times.
It’s not just that The Tick is almost aggressively fun, or that the whole cast is superb (down to the voice of Alan Tudyk as Danger Boat, Overkill’s sentient boat/lair) and wonderfully well written. It’s that The Tick, above all others, is constantly the best version of itself. There are no filler episodes, no pacing issues, no underwritten Tulips or brutally unsettling finales or unnecessary villain swaps or villains too obnoxiously good at predicting the heroes’ every move. There is virtually nothing I did or could roll my eyes at. It’s just 12 episodes of exceptionally good, exceptionally fun, perfectly crafted television, and by the time it was done I loved it to death. I cannot recommend The Tick enough.
And we made it. Twelve awards given out, twenty-two shows ranked. Remember when this started, and there were only seven? And ranking them was so fast I did a bonus section on Elementary and Doctor Who and whatnot just to keep it going? Man. Simpler times. Well, it probably can’t get more crowded than–
The DC Universe streaming service launches soon, doesn’t it. Damn it.
Well… if there’s no legal way to watch Titans and Doom Patrol in Canada, I probably don’t have to write about them, right? Right?
Round two, in which we tackle the season’s best characters over many categories. We’ve got new faces, returning champions, upsets, and two of the hardest-fought categories there are.
Lots to get through, let’s get to it.
(A kind of significant spoiler for Jessica Jones season two lies ahead)
Best Male Lead!
Good lord but this category was a slugfest. Stellar work from some notable names, any one of whom would have taken gold in past years. But only three(ish) can make the podium.
I guess nothing is technically stopping me from just handing out six titles, “Gold, Also Gold, Still Gold, This One’s Gold Too,” but once you havea format you should really stick to it, you know?
Honourable mentions: I honestly can’t honourably mention these guys enough. What we have this year is seven stellar performances in a race that came down to inches. Cress Williams makes an impressive debut as the titular hero in Black Lightning; Jon Bernthal continues to do great work as Frank Castle in The Punisher; and Dominic Cooper’s Jesse Custer from Preacher was a lock for the podium until our gold medalist pulled some serious moves late in the year.
Bronze: Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, Lucifer
Image: Warner Bros.
This season Lucifer dealt with an identity crisis, made a rival into a friend and had a friend become an enemy, and finally confronted his feelings for his crime-solving partner Chloe Decker, and throughout it all Tom Ellis crushed it. The charm, the rage, the way he slays a one-liner, he’s phenomenal in this role. No wonder he fought so hard to keep it.
Silver: Peter Serafinowicz & Griffin Newman as The Tick & Arthur, The Tick
So, yeah, three-ish. Because one of the year’s better entries hinges not on one hero, but a double-act between an invincible but easily confused hero and his anxiety-ridden but clearheaded partner.
Peter Serafinowicz is note-perfect as the Tick, who makes up with strength and unbending confidence in destiny what he lacks in clarity about who, what, and why he is. And Griffin Newman gives a star-turn as the show’s real central character, Arthur, terrified of what might be his heroic destiny, but driven by a need to see the Terror brought down. The Tick is the heart, Arthur is the soul, and they’re perfect together.
Gold: Dan Stevens as David Haller, Legion
Now… if I were calling this “Best Male Hero,” this might have gone a little different, because David Haller has a few flaws in the “hero” department, strictly speaking. But as the male lead, Dan Stevens brought his performance to a new level. Even putting aside his confusion and hope and rage and grief as the season plays out, even putting aside the subtle but growing hints that David might not be all we think he is, even putting aside “Behind Blue Eyes…” and damn but that’s all some impressive stuff to put aside… I likely would have had to give this one to him based on “Chapter 14” alone, in which David imagines all the other ways his life could have gone. David the remorseless billionaire (who might be more Farouk and than David); David the heavily medicated schizophrenic just trying to get by; David the homeless man screaming at nothing, and all of them are just attempts to distract himself from the powerful grief he’s feeling in the wake of the previous episode’s revelation. And if that weren’t enough, by the finale he’s having entire arguments with buried aspects of himself, meaning there are whole scenes that are just three distinct Davids.
Dan Stevens gave us one of the great virtuoso performances of the season, comic TV or otherwise. I’m a little apprehensive about where the show’s going next season, but I’m confident that Stevens will be worth watching when it happens.
Best Female Lead!
In a perfect world, this category would be every bit as competitive as its male counterpart, but sadly we are not in that world yet. But it’s getting closer. Much closer than year one of this series, to be sure, and if there’s a lack of female leading parts in this genre, it sure ain’t from lack of talent.
Honourable mentions: Simone Missick’s material finally started to rise to her level on Luke Cage; Rose McIvor remains a delight as iZombie’s Liv Moore; Nafessa Williams made Anissa “Thunder” Pierce as compelling a hero as her lightning-tossing father on Black Lightning; Ruth Negga will be a shoo-in for her work on Preacher the second she gets a proper story; and last year’s champion, Caity Lotz, is still killing it on Legends of Tomorrow. There are just a few ladies inching ahead of the pack.
Bronze: Jessica Barden as Alyssa, The End of the F***ing World
Somehow we’re in a place where male protagonists can be serial womanizers and alcoholics like Don Draper or mass murderers like Frank Castle, and that’s all fine, but if a female protagonist is less than perfect then out come the judgements. Other people, women specifically, have made this argument better than me… say, right here, or here… but the unlikable female protagonists of the world deserve as much love as the Don Drapers and Zack Morrises. Because seriously, as a YouTube series I’ve begun following accurately puts it, Zack Morris is trash.
This brings me to Alyssa.
Alyssa is making no effort to be “likeable.” In order to deal with a lack of attention from her mother and the exact wrong sort of attention from her step-father*, Alyssa has built a shell of unpleasantness and hostility, a suit of emotional armour whose physical counterpart is her baggy coat that once was her father’s. In lesser hands, and with lesser material, we might be rooting for James to follow through on his plans to kill her.
But Jessica Barden shows us the pain and fear hidden underneath her angry exterior, the young woman just trying to find a way to exist in a world that doesn’t seem to want her. She makes an incredibly sympathetic character out of someone trying her best to be unloved… well, except by James.
She had me rooting for these messed-up crime-spreeing kids right up until the cut-to-black end. Okay, fine, her co-star Alex Lawther helped with that, but this ain’t his category.
(*If I had a category of “characters I want to see fed into a wheat thresher,” that step-father would be right at the top, under the Thinker.)
Silver: Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Zor-El, Supergirl
Silver medalist three years running. Well, there’s a reason for that. She’s great at her character and her character is great. Her struggles at dealing with the return of her now-married lost love Mon-El; her determination to find a non-lethal solution to Reign, choosing love over hate; her silent and painful shock over events in the finale; “Is this what exercising is like? Why does anyone exercise?”; and of course that hella cute rendition of “Intergalactic Planetary” we discussed last time, all made Kara the DCW-verse’s best lead. Looks like she’s set to play double duty again next season. Well, based on Crisis on Earth-X, she is up for it.
There is just, once again, one person who edged her out.
Gold: Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones
(And to a lesser extent, The Defenders)
Krysten Ritter’s performance as the hard-drinking, anti-social, haunted-by-trauma PI Jessica Jones was excellent in her first season, and one of the best parts of The Defenders, despite her being stuck in some Iron Fist nonsense. This season, she hit new levels as The Killer (goddamn but that villain needed a better nickname) showed Jessica a bleak and horrifying possible future, a frightening look at what she herself might become if she keeps down the path she’s on. Jessica’s emotional breaking point, “AKA Three Lives and Counting,” is a riveting hour of television thanks a combination of Ritter’s performance and someone else we’ll be discussing in a minute.
She is, simply put, phenomenal. Why don’t she and Dan Stevens have Emmy nominations, exactly? All award shows are nonsense.
Except this one.
(Which, again, is not a show.)
Best Male Supporting Character!
They’re comic relief, emotional support, love interests, and minor villains, or some combination thereof. They’re the supporting cast, the fine line between a strong show and some vigilante ranking to themselves on a rooftop.
Honourable mentions: Shaun Sipos nailed Krypton’s best one-liner as Adam Strange, that being “Mr. Strange was my father. Call me Doctor… actually, better stick to ‘Adam.'” Preacher’s Joseph Gilgun deserves a shout-out just for Cassidy’s hotel drug-binge with the angel Fiore (sadly his plotlines were kind of static or reactionary last season); James Marsters put his back into the most interesting character arc on Runaways.
Bronze: Hamish Linklater as Clark, Legion
When we first met Clark in the pilot, he was just an unnamed interrogator for the sinister mutant-hunting organization Division 3. Then in the finale, they walked us through everything he’d been doing since the Summerland Group’s explosive and violent rescue of David in said pilot. Suddenly instead of a nameless bigoted bureaucrat, he was a dedicated soldier, trying to keep the trauma of his… significant injuries from harming his relationship with his husband and adopted son, who loved him and whose hearts broke to see him hurt so bad. Clark refused desk duty when he returned to work. His country was still at risk, the mutants who slaughtered his men were still at large, so if they wanted him behind the desk, it would have to be, as he put it, “a field desk,” because he was going to be out in the field until this matter was resolved.
And when the Shadow King was exposed, he had the strength of character to say “You’re right, that’s a worse threat, I’m on board.”
In one montage, lasting a small fraction of one episode, Hamish Linklater turned a fairly generic small-V villain into a truly sympathetic character, one worth rooting for. Something Agent Jace couldn’t manage in an entire season of The Gifted despite essentially losing his young daughter twice.
This season, as the former Summerland Group has joined forces with Division 3, Clark’s an important part of the team. And he’s a loyal teammate, too… but he never fully takes his eyes off of David. He sees the threat David’s power level presents, and he’s not going to turn his back on it.
Linklater’s performance might not be as big as Aubrey Plaza’s or as theatrical as Jemaine Clement’s can be, but he is consistently solid, always interesting, and it was great having him upgraded to regular. Especially since he may be even more important next season.
David may be our protagonist, but Clark might be the hero we need. Well, Clark and Syd. But this isn’t Syd’s category.
Silver: Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer, Legends of Tomorrow
It’s weird calling Brandon Routh a “supporting character,” since he’s currently top-billed. But the politics of credit order is what it is.
Legends found a new approach to Ray Palmer this season: the eternal optimist. No matter what’s happening, Ray’s got a smile and a can-do attitude, even when they’re visiting his own childhood and learning that it wasn’t as nice as he thought. Only Ray would care about saving a baby Dominator (the alien invaders from last season’s crossover), only Ray would save Nora Darhk’s life in the hopes that she’s not beyond redemption, only Ray could cling to that belief post-torture by Nora and her father Damien, only Ray and his love of musicals (I feel that was new, but sure) could break through Zari’s wall of cynicism.
And they managed all of that without Ray’s relationship with Nora or Zari becoming romantic.
And wow but Brandon Routh is just killing it. The goofy grins, the hope and cheer, the moral quandary over Nora’s fate, the occasional musical number, trying to conceal an alliance with Damien from his teammate, using a Tickle-Me-Elmo-esque doll called Beebo to teach Vikings that climate change is real (ya heardme), escaping captivity and torture and being excited that his team left him a sink of dirty dishes to clean, he nails every bit of it. Brandon Routh as always been good at this character, but this is his best season yet.
Gold: Rahul Kohli as Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti, iZombie
Rahul Kohli’s always been great as Liv’s boss and confidant, Ravi Chakrabarti. He’s got a lot of wit and charm, and brings a great deal of heart to the show. Ravi’s long been one of the best parts of iZombie.
Then this season came along, and Ravi’s attempt at zombie vaccine came with a side effect: once a month, for a few days, Ravi goes full zombie, brain cravings and everything. Which means this season Ravi got to have his personality shifted by some brains. We had nudist Ravi, heroin addict Ravi, and best of all, vain Instagram starlet Ravi, which was hilarious. And aside from that, working with Isobel gave us Ravi the reluctant parent… and opened the door for Rahul Kohli to deliver the most heartbreaking scene in the show’s history. Which is saying something, since three out of five of Liv’s love interests have been killed right in front of her.
This man is a treasure. Can he be Doctor Who when Jodie Whittaker’s ready to move on in 2022?
Best Female Supporting Character!
There may not be as many female leads as we might like, but damn if they aren’t cleaning up in supporting roles.
Honourable mentions: Gemma Whelan as the police detective realizing that maybe her partner’s not worth being infatuated with and that the teens they’re chasing might not be so bad on The End of the F***ing World; Tala Ashe’s dry cynicism as Zari was fun on Legends of Tomorrow; the divine Aubrey Plaza as Lenny in Legion; Wallis Day brought Nyssa-Vex from kind of generic femme fatale to a highlight of Krypton, to the point where I’d actually be fine with her being Superman’s grandmother; Madelaine Petch embraced being a full-blown over-the-top gothic heroine as Cheryl Blossom on Riverdale, and it is awesome; and over on Supergirl, Katie McGrath is still excellent as Lena Luthor, and Chyler Leigh’s ugly-crying superpowers remain as Alex Danvers. She just got nudged off the podium for the first time by some other amazing supporing ladies.
Bronze: Aimee Garcia & Tricia Helfer as Ella Lopez & Charlotte Richards, Lucifer
Image: Warner Bros. Also, sorry for cropping you out, Dr. Linda, you’re good too, but I’m already pushing it here.
Charlotte and Ella– Well why don’t you come over here and MAKE me choose between them.
That’s what I thought.
Charlotte and Ella were both introduced in season two, and are two of the main reasons Lucifer went from guilty pleasure to appointment viewing that year. Aimee Garcia plays Ella Lopez, eternally positive CSI, while Tricia Helfer played the Goddess, Lucifer’s mother and angry ex-wife to God, who occupied the recently murdered body of sleazy defence attorney Charlotte Richards. Ella was simply a ray of sunshine, brightening every scene she appeared in, but “Charlotte” brought the show to a whole new level.
Well, things have shifted since season two. With Goddess now departed from the world as we know it, Charlotte’s soul is back in her un-murdered body, but there are some complications. She has no memory of the year in which Goddess was joyriding in her body, but what she does have is a dim but terrifyingly haunting recollection of spending a year in Hell. Amoral lawyers tend not to make it to the Good Place. Charlotte’s now desperate to avoid returning to Hell, and thus is trying to reform in any way she can… but are good deeds truly good if you’re only doing them for selfish reasons? If your redemption is motivated by self-preservation, is it really redemption? It gives Tricia Helfer a whole new and meaty character to dig into, and she once again excels at it.
Ella, meanwhile, remains an eternal delight. They’ve leaned into how delightful the character is to the point where she got her own spotlight episode, “Boo Normal,” which paid off a few hints about Ella talking to ghosts in an unexpected but much appreciated fashion. Aimee Garcia carried the episode so effortlessly we barely even noticed how little Lucifer was in it.
I’m not saying Tom Ellis isn’t a generous actor, in fact I suspect that he is, but regardless it is not easy to steal a scene from Lucifer. These two, however, manage it regularly. Highly talented ladies playing great characters.
Silver: Emma Dumont as Polaris, The Gifted
(Full disclosure… I did meet Ms. Dumont in person back in April, and found her to be an absolute class act, clever and funny and much friendlier than she needed to be, but I already had all of these opinions by then, so they’re still valid.)
The focus of The Gifted might be the Strucker family, but the show’s beating heart is Polaris. Her relationship with Eclipse, her struggles in prison early in the season, the stakes of her fight for mutantkind’s future being drastically raised by her unborn child, and being one half of the debate over which path is better, Professor X’s or Magneto’s. Given her parentage and mistreatment at the hands of the mutant-hating authorities, she leans a little to Magneto, even if the producers won’t let her say his name. And all of this without the endless hand-wringing we get from Eclipse and the Struckers.
It became clear within a couple of episodes that The Gifted was at its best when it focused on Polaris, and Emma Dumont’s performance has a lot to do with that. She’s stellar. Looking forward to what she gets up to from here.
Gold: Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeryn Hogarth, Jessica Jones
Hey, remember last time, when I said that Jeryn Hogarth’s story on Jessica Jones was the best of the year, how it didn’t even matter how unconnected it was from the main plot, and how that was mostly due to Carrie-Anne Moss’ riveting performance?
So with that in mind, how else was this going to go? Of course Gold goes to Carrie-Anne Moss.
Damn she was good.
The names that came out to plays villains this season. Michael Emerson, Kirk Acevedo, Alexander Siddig, John Noble, Jackie Earle Haley, Signourney goddamned Weaver. An immense amount of talent menacing the season’s various heroes. But who had the menace? Who had the gravitas? Who made evil fun to watch? In short, whose evil scheme reigned supreme?
Honourable mentions: Odette Annable did double duty quite well as Samantha Arias and the worldkiller Reign on Supergirl; Jackie Earle Haley just missed the podium with his spooky and funny turn as the Terror on The Tick; Billy Russo was exactly the force of violent nature needed to be a nemesis of The Punisher; and this is the first time since he started playing the role that Neal McDonough hasn’t made the podium for his endlessly entertaining performance as Damien Darhk, and that kills me a little, because damn but he and Courtney Ford (as Nora Darhk) were a blast.
But given these great villains, what choice did I have? Very little.
Bronze: Janet McTeer as the Killer, Jessica Jones
That spoiler is coming up after the photo, by the way, in case you want to skip to Silver or anything.
In the early parts of the season, Jessica is tracking a killer, one as strong as she is but far more ruthless. After a long and winding road, she and the Killer (god damn she needed a better nickname…) finally come face to face, just in time for Jessica to learn the truth… the Killer is Jessica’s mother, Alisa Jones, who also survived the car wreck Jessica thought killed her whole family, and also ended up with powers after some well-intentioned but ethically questionable experiments by Dr. Karl Malus. But where Jessica is a surly alcoholic with some anger issues, Alisa’s mood swings are far more dangerous. Alisa’s rage turns homicidal with alarming little provocation.
Janet McTeer takes Alisa from a calm and loving mother to a savage, rage-filled monster on a dime, but stays believable in whichever mode she’s in. She sells the rage that makes Alisa a threat, and the love that makes Jessica willing to risk everything to help her, and the sadness at knowing that she’ll always be a weight around her daughter’s neck.
Silver: Navid Negahban as Amahl Farouk/the Shadow King, Legion
Short version… Navid Negahban was so good at this role I instantly stopped minding that Wonder Woman’sSaïd Taghmaoui quit the role for some damn fool reason.
After a season of hiding behind the masks of the World’s Angriest Boy in the World (their phrasing), the Yellow-Eyed Demon, and Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny, the Shadow King finally stepped into the light, appearing to David via their mental channel as his old self, Amahl Farouk. Farouk is a charmer, a sophisticate, and a master of mind games even beyond telepathy and mind control. He knows exactly how to manipulate the players, exactly how to twist David’s allies into enemies… and the cruellest ways to hurt his enemy. Negahban plays him as a perfect blend of gentleman and monster, and this is important… if you truly want to explore the notion that fighting a villain doesn’t automatically make you a hero, make sure it’s a properly villainous villain.
Gold: Pip Torrens & Graham McTavish as Herr Starr & The Saint of Killers, Preacher
Preacher basically split into two halves in season two, and each had a perfectly cast, perfectly menacing villain coming after Jesse Custer and friends.
In the first half, after being teased throughout season one, the unstoppable cowboy terminator known as the Saint of Killers stalks Jesse from Texas to New Orleans, and Graham McTavish makes him absolutely terrifying.
And in the back half, Pip Torrens was perfect as Herr Starr: utterly humourless, utterly without empathy, shrewd, cunning, manipulative, and completely fascinating. Just witness his tryouts to gain his position in the Grail.
They’re both perfect, and I can only hope they’ll be making Jesse and company’s life difficult for years to come.
The Tricia Helfer Award for Rookie of the Year!
Named for the incredible impact Tricia Helfer had on the second season of Lucifer, this is an award for new characters on an established show who really added something to the program. And this year…
Well, this is slightly awkward. It’s Janet McTeer, Navid Negahban, and Pip Torrens again. Same order, even.
I suppose I could hand this out to Tala Ashe (Legends of Tomorrow) or Tom Welling (Lucifer), they were both good, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Fun as they were, they didn’t have the same effect on their shows as our medallist villains. Alisa Jones’ murderous rampage was key to Jessica’s post-Kilgrave character arc; Amahl Farouk gave David’s parasite-turned-nemesis a new and highly engaging face, allowing for real showdowns between them; and the arrival of Herr Starr kicks Preacher into high gear, just like it did in the comics.
So, see above, I guess? Moving on.
The Wentworth Miller Award for Best Guest Star!
For four years of the Arrowverse, seeing Wentworth Miller’s name in the credits meant we were in for a treat. Whether he was a recurring foil for the Flash, a crewman of the Waverider, a member of the Legion of Doom, or a benevolt doppelganger from Earth-X, Miller’s take on Leonard “Captain Cold” Snart was one of the most consistently great things in the franchise. Looks like he’s done now. They left a door open for a return, but he sure seemed to be doing a farewell tour.
So in honour of Captain Cold, a category for those who aren’t major regular or recurring characters*, but drop in for a handful of memorable episodes.
*At the moment. Snart was a regular on Legends for a season.
Honourable mentions: Jon Hamm as the narrator of Legion’s lecture sequences on madness and delusion; Matt Ryan brought his stellar take on John Constantine to a few episodes of Legends of Tomorrow, and it worked so well he’s a regular next season (YAY).
Bronze: Michael Emerson as Cayden James, Arrow
Nobody’s said “Mr. Queen” with quite this much menace since Slade Wilson.
Arrow once again went with a warm-up villain, while the real big bad got everything into place, and it couldn’t have asked for better than Michael Emerson. Cayden James is a crypto-terrorist who blames the Green Arrow for the death of his son, and takes his grief out on the entire city. This is a role Emerson could play in his sleep, after his fantastic roles on Lost and Person of Interest, but he showed up to work every episode he was in. There’s a reason Stephen Amell was excited to have him on the show.
Silver: Adrian Pasdar as Morgan Edge/General Glenn Talbot, Supergirl/Agents of SHIELD
I’ve been a fan of Adrian Pasdar since the short-lived 90s series Profit, which ran for a few weeks when it debuted but would have run for five seasons and a reunion movie in today’s premium cable/streaming market. I’ve been a fan that long because he’s pretty consistently amazing.
This season he stopped by Supergirl for the season’s first act, providing an entertainingly sleazy adversary for Supergirl and Lena Luthor while Reign was blossoming. Then once National City didn’t need him anymore, he returned to Agents of SHIELD for their final act, and here’s where he soared.
Pasdar took General Talbot, both adversary and ally for the past four seasons, and brought him from stern general with brain damage-spawned anger issues to traumatized POW to a good man out for redemption to a formerly good man on a rapid slide into utter madness thanks to exposure to the world-bending element gravitonium. He went from broken ally to all-powerful madman at risk of cracking the Earth like an egg, and Pasdar made it a hell of a ride.
Gold: David Tennant as Kilgrave, Jessica Jones
For one episode, David Tennant returned to Jessica Jones, as Jessica hallucinated her old abuser as a personification of her fears that she’s crossed too many lines to ever come back. After a violent incident, Jessica unravels, torn apart by guilt over her actions and fear that she’s nothing but a killer like her mother (after all, as Kilgrave points out in the line that gave the episode its name, she’s taken three lives and counting). And the more she spirals, the more imaginary Kilgrave pushes her towards the edge. In one episode we’re reminded of everything David Tennant brought to season one. While for Jessica’s sake it’s good he’s dead, it’s hard not to miss that purple bastard a little.
Also his rendition of Trish’s pop hit “I Want Your Cray-Cray” was pretty fun.
Whoof. Long one. Next time the rankings, which should go faster than last year.
Okay, nerds, it’s on. One season, 12 months, 22 shows submitted for consideration… well, “watched” is probably a better term… And now, for your reading pleasure and because I seem to enjoy it enough to maintain a massive spreadsheet tracking everything, it’s time for the biggest edition yetof Tales From Parts Unknown’s Annual Best of Comic TV Award Show*!
(*Not a show. It’s a blog. I shouldn’t have started this by lying to you.)
So, without a bunch of ado, here’s a quick list of this year’s competitors, with links to my write-ups where they exist.
Woof. That’s a lot. Welp, let’s get this party started. With what I’m going to assume it everyone’s favourite category, based on absolutely no information.
Best Fight Scene!
Because why wouldn’t this be your favourite? We’re talking about some of the most impressive sequences on television in here. And these three stood out.
Honourable mentions:Lucifer unleashing his wings (which he’d spent the season resenting) to protect Chloe and take down the minions of the Sinnerman might be Lucifer’s most visually stunning scene; Crisis on Earth X managed some epic action beats, but the honourable mention goes to Ray Palmer’s entrance for being the entire television season’s best stand-up-and-cheer moment; Black Lightning’s assault on Lala’s condo showed us what the electric hero was capable of.
Bronze: The Obligatory Hallway Fight, Defenders, “Worst Behaviour”
Ever since Daredevil set the gold standard with its epic single-take hallway fight, every Marvel Netflix show feels the need to have a hallway fight of its own. But this time they impressed, not just interms of choreo, but in use of music (the hip hop beat enters the score seconds before Luke Cage makes his entrance) and in the fact that for a change they made it as well-lit as they could.
Silver: David vs. The Shadow King, Legion, “Chapter 19”
David Haller and Amahl Farouk have technically been acquainted for David’s entire life, since Farouk used to live in the back of David’s mind, but as season two comes to a close, they finally come flesh face to flesh face for the first time. And what follows is a telepathic duel which… describing it would be a disservice. Merciful Zod but it is a thing and a half to see.
Gold: The Billy Joel Fight, Preacher, “Viktor”
Finding out that his one love, Tulip, has been taken by New Orleans gang lord Viktor Kruglov, Jesse Custer goes on a rampage to find her. A rampage that leads him to Viktor’s chief torturer, who accidentally manages immunity to Jesse’s powers by putting on headphones and cranking Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” This scene… this scene is everything that makes Preacher’s fight scenes the best in the business. It doesn’t even need to be set to “Uptown Girl” to work, but the fact that it is brings it to a whole other level.
Sometimes a show makes you laugh. Sometimes it makes you cheer. Sometimes it thrills you with an action sequence. And sometimes it reaches into your chest and rips out your heart.
I mean obviously there are spoilers.
Jesus. How could there not be spoilers. Meet me at “Best Story” if you don’t want to get spoiled on some painful, painful death scenes.
Honourable mentions: Rip Hunter’s farewell to Legends of Tomorrow involved emotional goodbyes to his former ship’s AI, Gideon, and to Sara Lance, ending in “I should very much like to see my wife and son again,” before he sacrificed himself to buy the Legends some time; the damage done to Trish and Jessica’s friendship by her choice in the season finale of Jessica Jones was pretty heartwrenching. But these are the three that hurt the most.
Oh god. Just writing about them is… could whoever is cutting onions in here knock it off, please?
As Lucifer’s third season draws to its climax, Cain is eager to regain the Mark (and accompanying immortality) that he spent so much of the season trying to lose. He’s changed his mind about dying, and thinks the best way to regain the curse of immortality is to kill God’s favourite angel, Amenadiel. But someone else takes the bullet: Charlotte Richards, who’d been seeking redemption ever since she got her body back from the Goddess that had commandeered it last season. Her death cuts the whole cast deeply, but before most of them can react, a miracle happens: Amenadiel regains his wings, absent since early season two. And with a simple statement of “Let’s go home,” he carries Charlotte to her rest.
You’re just going to have to trust me that the waffle iron bracelet is significant, I do not have time to go into that.
Silver: Goodbye to Isobel, iZombie, “Insane in the Germ Brain”
We hadn’t known Isobel long. A teen girl who had had herself smuggled into New Seattle in the hopes of having the zombie virus replace the lethal, incurable disease she was suffering from. Instead, she turned out to be the first case of zombie immunity. Potentially good for mankind, not so good for anyone who wanted Isobel to live to see Infinity War. Ravi and Liv did their best to make her remaining days special, including a date with the star of their favourite show Zombie High, which went better than Ravi approved of… and finally Ravi agreed to teach her to drive. One day too late. After an episode full of Isobel playing dead as a prank, Ravi arrives at Liv’s apartment to find that Isobel isn’t playing this time.
And Rahul Kohli tore our hearts out.
AGH. Why did I rewatch that. Excuse me, I need a minute… it is really dusty in here…
Gold: The Big Death, Crisis on Earth-X
I’m not embedding a video.
I’m not finding a picture.
I can’t. Not this one.
Just know that as one of the original Legends of Tomorrow cast prepared to shuffle off the mortal coil, I was literally screaming “Don’t do this to me” at the screen. In vain. They did that to me.
From mini-arcs to character arcs to seasonal arcs, these are where comic TV did its best storytelling Jax wasn’t ready for him to go I wasn’t ready how could anybody be ready no, no, moving on, “Biggest Heartbreak” is done, I’m okay, we’re all okay…
Honourable mention: Thunder’s origin story, from discovering her powers to donning her proper super suit on Black Lightning; the reluctant resurrection of Lenny on Legion.
Bronze: Ray and Nora, Legends of Tomorrow
He’s the world’s most cheerful and optimistic superhero, she’s the daughter of a mass murderer raised to unleash a time demon on all of history, and somehow they brought delightful screwball comedy to what was already one of the season’s most fun shows.
Ray Palmer developed a nanotech gun to bring down magical assassin Damien Darhk, but ends up shooting his daughter Nora instead. This sends Ray, the Waverider’s most decent soul, into a spiral of guilt. See, a couple of episodes back he’d met Nora as a child, when she was a sweet, innocent kid just hoping to stop being possessed by a demon all the time. And considering one of Ray’s best friends used to be a thief and arsonist, and now fights to protect history, how can he condemn Nora to a slow, painful, nanite death when there’s a chance that sweet kid is still in there somewhere? What seems like a classic Ray Blunder is actually a sweet moment of compassion that begins a whole new relationship for Ray and Nora. To her occasional chagrin.
It’s never a romantic arc, but it’s a sweet one, since Ray never gives up hope that Nora can be redeemed, and real-life spouses Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford make a hilarious duo throughout “Daddy Darhkest.” I’m looking forward to where they take it from here, now that Nora’s been signed as a full regular for season four.
Silver: Crisis on Earth X
The biggest CW crossover yet was filled with laughter, tears, character combos I’ve been waiting years to see, impressive action sequences, and thrills, all with a central theme of love and connection. It’s gonna be hard to top, although heading to Gotham and introducing Batwoman is a good start. It was everything a superhero crossover should be.
And now we all try to avoid eye contact with Defenders.
Also fun? Watching what each show did to free up filming time for the main crossover characters.
Gold: Hogarth’s Revenge, Jessica Jones
Diagnosed with ALS, Jeri Hogarth is facing an early end… which means this is the exact wrong time to screw her over. Jeri’s spiral into depression and resurgence into revenge is one of the most riveting things about Jessica Jones’ second season, thanks mostly to a stellar performance from Carrie-Anne Moss. So much so that I never once cared how disconnected it was from anything else happening.
Okay… that’s some things shows did well, what did a whole bunch of shows do badly?
You know what’s worse than a bad plot point? A bad plot point you have to watch five variations of over the course of the year.
What the hell is Adam Strange doing in Krypton? He’s not a time travel character, Zeta beams don’t send you through time. No, he’s on this show because somebody up the ladder wouldn’t let them use Booster Gold, and they couldn’t just use Rip Hunter because heaven forbid Krypton share a character with Legends of Tomorrow. (Look, I don’t know that Arthur Darville would have done it, but it does seem to film in England, that would have helped.)
Not so long ago everyone wanted a Marvel-style cinematic universe where all their IPs were connected, but as the cracks between Marvel’s TV and film branches grow wider, suddenly everyone’s going the Fox X-Men route, with no shred of shared continuity. The Gifted and Legion will never cross over, just like how Logan, Deadpool, and New Mutants are completely separate.
DC has the Arrowverse, arguably the most successfully interconnected TV universe, but it doesn’t include everything. Gotham and Krypton are in their own separate worlds, the upcoming Titans and Doom Patrol shows will be in their own world which may or may not include SwampThing, we still don’t know where Black Lightning fits… I know DC’s big on multiverses but this is more continuities than they need.
Meanwhile, over at Marvel, the Netflix shows still won’t say “Hulk” out loud, won’t include Avengers Tower in the skyline, don’t acknowledge that they share a city with Spider-Man, and only begrudgingly and very vaguely refer to anything from the movies; Agents ofSHIELD name drops the movies whenever they can but gets referenced by nobody in return, not even Inhumans, and man could Inhumans have used the shot in the arm a few SHIELD guest stars could have provided; and Runaways is entirely self-contained, without so much as a Stark Industries billboard to be seen.
Trying to connect film and television universes remains a fool’s errand, but the real problem is that every time they do this, every time they build a new silo that’s forbidden to touch the others, it means certain characters are being locked away from appearing on any other show. These characters are just on The Gifted, these characters are reserved for Marvel Netflix, these characters can only be in the movies, and that creates limitations that rob us, the viewers.
Spider-Man can’t fight the Kingpin (we’ll be lucky if Kingpin meets Luke Cage, and at this point he ought to), Supergirl can’t tell Seg-El that his grandson isn’t his only legacy, Green Arrow will not be leading an all-new Suicide Squad, Professor Xavier’s son and Magneto’s daughter can’t meet each other or say their fathers’ names out loud, Adam Strange is doing his best Booster Gold impression on Krypton, and Marvel’s two shows about Inhumans have nothing to do with each other. There’s no need for them to tie their own hands this way, but they just keep doing it.
Silver: “I’m ten moves ahead and you don’t even know the game”
When Prometheus had spent years setting up a master-plan to destroy Oliver Queen, planning every move to counter anything Team Arrow might attempt, it made for a solid season. When Ricardo Diaz somehow did the same thing without Prometheus’ personal connection to Oliver’s past, it was less impressive. Throw in The Thinker on The Flash, a little bit Starr on Preacher, the seemingly unstoppable Hiram Lodge on Riverdale, and to a lesser extent Sofia Falcone and whoever else is out-thinking Jim Gordon this week on Gotham, and I’m getting a little over nigh-unbeatable masterminds.
Cheers to The Tick for subverting this one. The Terror claims to be another inscrutable mastermind, having planned out every part of the season’s events like a master jazz musician, but it turns out that he’s a jazz musician in the sense that he’s been making this all up as he went and claiming it was a master plan. More of that, please.
Gold: Heroes behind bars
I have never, once, not ever, seen the main character of the show I’m watching get sent to jail and thought “Well this is an interesting turn of events, I wonder what story-doors this will open!” Never. Not even on Orange is the New Black, where the lead character going to prison is the first thing that happens and opened up literally every story they told. I am far more likely to think “Damn it, how many episodes of Jake Peralta in prison are you going to make me sit through? I’ll just catch up when you’re done.”
Ten different comic shows put at least one of their protagonists behind bars at some point. Ten. That’s a lot. Eleven had cops/authorities who couldn’t be trusted. Three made “lead character is under arrest” their season finale cliffhanger. Two framed their lead character for murder. Almost three, but the frame attempt on Alfred Pennyworth didn’t stick.
Some of these were better done than others, some of them made corruption in law enforcement a vital part of their story, but when there are this damned many the good ones get a little drowned out.
Cheers to The Tick for avoiding this one by giving superheros in its world an easy out when dealing with the police.
Okay. Back to the positive to wrap Part One up.
Best Musical Interlude!
New category, because so many shows decided to step up to this particular plate.
Honourable mentions: Legends of Tomorrow for choreographing Damien Darhk’s return to life and magical murder to “Return of the Mack;” Riverdale for devoting an episode to Carrie: The Musical, which I’d heard was a legendary bomb. Still, it’s less special when Riverdale does a musical number, because “Let’s do a song” is Veronica and Archie’s answer to everything.
These three, on the other hand, were special.
Bronze: Careless Whisper, Legends of Tomorrow, “The Curse of the Earth Totem”
Rip Hunter, now a fugitive from his own Time Agency, bonds with Kid Flash over Cisco Ramon’s patented speedster-strength alcohol, manages to steal a time portal from the hapless Agent Gary, and he and Kid Flash escape into history.
“He could be anywhere, any time, causing a whole mess of problems,” says Rip’s ex-protege Ava Sharpe. And where/when was he?
Forget the stupid “Snyder Cut,” which probably doesn’t even exist. Give me a full version of that.
Sure it’s short, but Arthur Darville’s commitment to overdramatic drunken karaoke is killer.
How to improve on that? Make it a montage.
Silver: Karaoke night, Supergirl, “Schott Through the Heart”
What really makes this one work is that several of the cast, including legit Broadway stars Melissa Benoist and Jeremy Jordan, are deliberately singing below their ability (or hamming their way through the Beastie Boys) to make this sequence a true “co-workers karaoke night” and not a “musical theatre kids karaoke night,” Observe, and delight.
Gold: “Behind Blue Eyes,” Legion, “Chapter 19”
Yes we covered this one above in “Best Fight Scene” but it is both and it was amazing. And the song choice turns out to be very fitting. David’s love is vengeance, and they may never be free.
(The captions help, since Farouk is doing his verse in Farsi.)
Yes I embedded that same video twice, and I stand by that decision.
Ahhh. That helped. That took the edge off of all those ‘Biggest Heartbreak” clips. Okay. Next time, the best characters!
Okay. One more before the awards and rankings begin. One last-second entry in the race. Let’s do this.
Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.
This instalment: Luke Cage is back with a more coherent season.
Short version: The first Marvel Netflix show to improve in its second outing fixes a lot of its old problems, but chooses not to learn about pacing.
Luke Cage, everybody.
Following the events of The Defenders, Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Hero of Harlem, is back to trying to bring down his old enemies, Councilwoman-turned-gang lord Mariah Dillard née Stokes (Alfre Woodard) and her chief henchman/lover Shades (Theo Rossi). But before long, Luke’s stuck in the middle of a war between Mariah and a Jamaican gang lord calling himself Bushmaster. He’s as strong and bulletproof as Luke, only faster and with some actual fighting skill. The Stokes family has been wronging Bushmaster’s family for generations, and now he’s out to finish off the Stokes clan once and for all. Which, at the moment, is just Mariah. Also, something about Luke just bugs the guy.
When heads start rolling (literally) and blood starts spilling, how will Luke protect Harlem?
The answer is “gradually.”
Misty Knight: After one season of Luke Cage and one of Defenders, it looks like they’re finally figuring out how to write Misty Knight, freshly returned to the NYPD after some time away. As she chafes against a department that doesn’t seem to want her, the aftermath of her partner turning out to be corrupt, an old rival determined to keep her sidelined, and being short an arm in the wake of Defenders, Misty’s having some trouble finding her purpose, and even more trouble finding a way to sort out this gang war within the law. Some of which is aided mid-season by a shiny new robot arm from Danny Rand. Simone Missick does a good job with the role, and between her and Punsiher’s Dinah Madani, it looks like Marvel Netflix might be figuring out the Badass Female Co-Leads they like so much. Maybe even Iron Fist will manage to hahahaha sorry, sorry, I thought I could get through it.
Stokes vs Bushmaster: The real heart of the season’s story is Bushmaster’s blood feud with Mariah, And maybe it has one too many turns along the way, but overall it works. Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi, and Mustafa Shakir surely act the Hell out of it, especially Woodard. Mariah’s fall began in season one, but in season two she is absolutely unhinged and it’s clear Woodard is having a blast with it. In lesser hands, Luke being forced to change allegiance between them over the course of the season wouldn’t have worked, but to me it honestly felt like Luke being backed into a corner, never knowing who’s the lesser of two evils, or how to keep the innocents of Harlem safe.
And Shades goes on a fun journey in the back third.
Racial politics: They don’t hammer us with “Life sucks for black people in America,” but they get their message across, particularly with Luke’s response to Misty questioning his disregard for the law… “When has the law ever helped us?”
The theme of “The name you chose vs the name you were born with” works well across multiple characters.
Mike Colter’s still pretty solid in the role.
The threat of Judas bullets, the one bullet that could kill Luke, is elegantly erased early on. Which is good, because it lets Bushmaster and Mariah prove that there are so many more interesting ways to hurt the bulletproof black man than “better guns.”
This season ends not on a cliffhanger, per se, but an unsettling note, and unlike last season it’s not going to be thrown out during the first episode of a different series. Improvement.
And in his one appearance, Danny Rand is the least annoying he’s ever been. Still slightly annoying, since he can’t get through a scene without bringing up chi and K’un-Lun, but a definite improvement. The Power Man and Iron Fist team-up still works better than Iron Fist’s first season implied it would.
Pacing, always pacing: In an interview with EW, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker defended the season’s pacing, saying that trying to make each episode worth watching individually is “Brittany Spears shit,” trying to make a “pop album,” while his slow-burn approach is more Coltrane or Led Zeppelin. He’s not trying to make hit singles, he’s trying to make an album to experience in its entirety. And that critics who think he needed a shorter episode count would have “edited Bohemian Rhapsody.”
This isn’t a 75 minute double-album, this is a 13 hour TV show, so that does not excuse the pacing problems. Allow me to elaborate. Lightning round!
-In the beginning, Luke’s trying to track down heroin being sold under his name; Mariah and Shades are trying to go legit; to aid with this, Mariah reaches out to her estranged daughter Tilda; Misty’s trying to fit back in to her old precinct despite the missing arm and notoriously crooked late partner; Claire Temple is concerned that Luke’s anger is getting the best of him; and Bushmaster is preparing to take his revenge on Mariah. Does any of that seem like it needs three episodes to cover? Because they sure took three episodes to cover it all. Gotham could have done it in one. Do not let yourself be unfavourably compared to Gotham.
-Also that Luke Cage-brand heroin just vanished. I’m still not sure who was behind it or why.
-Given that every time Luke or Misty tries to go to Mariah for information, all they get is verbal abuse and mind games, the sixth or seventh time it happened it started to get old. That is wheel-spinning nonsense.
-Episode eleven features multiple flashbacks to Bushmaster’s backstory. Episode eleven. That is too late in the game, way too late. Even if any of this was new information (it was not), we would have been well past caring exactly how his hatred for the Stokes clan began. In fact, I was now 100% on board with whatever he had to do to bring Mariah down. “Show don’t tell” does not mean “Tell, and then five episodes later get around to showing.”
-The one-episode team-up of Luke Cage and Iron Fist works well, but it also lifts right out. He doesn’t teach Luke how to fight better, or take on some actual dangerous minion of either side, he just drops by for a week to talk about chi and stillness and have one admittedly fun action scene against random goons before heading back downtown right before Luke really needed backup. Episodes 10 and 11 out of 13 are no place for filler.
If just one Marvel Netflix show properly used 13 episodes, maybe we could talk about jazz vs pop, but as it is, y’all need help. Moving along…
The further collapse of Claire Temple: Claire used to be Marvel Netflix’s MVP. But not lately. She was diminished by Iron Fist, started to recover in Defenders, but… if she’s going to be a thing in this franchise, she really needs something to do besides show up and tell the protagonists that they aren’t heroing right. That’s… basically all she does, regardless of the show. “Don’t kill people, Iron Fist. Be less aggressive, Luke Cage. I have no wants of my own, I serve the male hero’s* arc and then leave.” Her difficulties with Luke’s anger come from a real place, and there is a heartfelt and powerful scene explaining why she can’t be around him when he’s so driven by anger, but her constant pressure on him to reconcile with his father (that’s also a plotline, forgot about that one) seems less like her knowing Luke needs this, and more like Claire projecting her own issues onto Luke and not seeming to care about his feelings at all, and so even if she’s right she went about it the wrong way and never got taken to the mat on it.
*She’s been in all of one episode of Jessica Jones, that’s why I said “male hero.”
Other random notes…
-Hanging a lampshade on your refusal to say “Hulk” out loud does not excuse refusing to say “Hulk” out loud.
-In the finale, Luke says he needs to “make Harlem great again,” which, ew, Black Lightning knew to only have the bad guys say that, and then later they make a very blatant Godfather homage. Pick a metaphor. Trump or Corleone. They don’t mix.
-I don’t understand why Mariah thinks Harlem always supports her and always will when we saw how fast Harlem turned on Luke for losing one fight.
-Alfre Woodard’s performance is good for the most part, but it leaned a little close to Fish Mooney levels of camp. That’s too much camp for this show. She hits Maximum Mariah by episode ten and then had nowhere to take it for the next three hours.
-“There’s a bulletproof black man, Misty, protocol is out the window.” Please. If this was in the same universe as all the other Marvel properties, Luke isn’t even in the top five oddest things that have happened in New York.
Episode nine, “For Pete’s Sake,” in which compromises are made, deals are struck, parent/child relationships are either repaired or destroyed, Tilda learns a horrifying secret about her past, and Luke and Bushmaster square off for a rematch. Would have made a decent season finale. Their actual season finale is fine, this isn’t another Iron Fist situation where the actually decent finale was followed by an hour of nonsense, but episode nine worked well.
Episode eleven, “The Creator,” had me wishing Danny Rand had stuck around. That’s not a great sign. I repeat: the second-to-last (or antepenultimate, which is a fun word) episode is too goddamn lateto be flashing back to the villain’s childhood.
Simone Missick as Misty Knight. They’ve set up some interesting conflicts between her and Luke for next season.
Tips For Next Season
Since they’ve made it clear shouts of “Episodic narrative, figure it out” are going nowhere… You’re going to consider bringing back Diamondback next season. Fight it. Fight that urge.
Overall Grade: Bish
I liked more of it than I didn’t, and they fixed a lot of season one’s problems, but I still dream of a Marvel Netflix show with no nonsense or wheel-spinning.
Okay! Finally time to get down to the annual awardshowblogs! …What’s that? I said I’d put Gotham back in the rankings? And I still have how many season four episodes left?
Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.
This instalment: Got a few more quick entries to knock off here.
Short version: And now, five shows with nothing in common except “Based on the comic book.”
Why haven’t I written a full blog about Legion, you might ask? I mean… you haven’t. I know that. Nobody has asked that, I’m just saying you might. It’s an incredibly rich, thoroughly innovative show that isn’t just unlike other comic TV, it’s pushing the boundaries for television in general.
But therein lies the problem.
There is so much to this show. Nearly every episode of season two, and most of season one, has so much to unpack in terms of story, visuals, how Noah Hawley is challenging our every expectation, that I couldn’t possibly cover it in a single blog post. I can sum it up in a speed round or I can do a podcast where we drill deep into every episode. There’s an episode where after David, our central character, suffers a stunning and tragic loss, we break from the story as we knew it to see a half dozen other ways David’s life could have gone, only to realize that all of these alternate paths are David processing his grief. I could spend a whole post on that episode. So for now, here’s the highlights, and simply know that in not watching it you’re doing yourself a disservice.
What are the basics? In season one, at some impossible-to-name point in the 70s or 80s, mental patient David Haller finds love with a fellow patient, Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller), then finds out he’s not crazy, he’s an incredibly powerful mutant telepath/telekinetic (teleporter, question mark?). On the run from mutant-hunting government agents Division 3, David joins the Summerland group, a team of mutants led by Melanie Bird (Amy Smart), wife of another telepath Oliver Bird (a delightful Jemaine Clement), and learns that the reason he’s felt crazy all of his life is that since birth, the malevolent telepath Amahl Farouk, aka the Shadow King, has been living in the back of his mind.
And it all gets even stranger than it sounds.
Season two. After finding out he’s lost a year since we last saw him, David rejoins his mutant friends, who have now gone to work with their former enemies Division 3. The Shadow King, no longer in David’s mind, is out to find and reunite with his old body. Which it’s generally agreed would be bad. Thus, Division 3 and the Summerland mutants work together to hunt him down… but a version of Syd from the future wants David to help Farouk get to his body.
And it all gets even weirder. And makes us question how much of the premise and actions of season one we really understood or can trust.
What went right? Most things. The cast was all strong this year, although Amy Smart got a little sidelined, which is unfortunate. The art design, aesthetics, every frame has a style to it… a style often custom-engineered to make the viewer uneasy. The soundtrack was great, featuring several amazing cover songs.
There’s so much. There’s so much. Jon Hamm narrating lectures on delusion, madness, mental illness as plague, that all pay off… and then keep going a little? And then pay off again. Dan Stevens’ performance. Hamish Linklater’s continuing transformation from generic villain to tragic hero. David’s dance fight against the Shadow King’s posse. Navid Neghaban’s complex, layered performance as Farouk, done with hiding behind masks. Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder as Cary and Kerry Loudermilk. So much. Nobody, nobody is testing the limits of what comic book TV can be like Legion.
What went wrong? I can’t explain without a certain amount of spoilers. So… read at your own risk.
Season two finale spoilers
Now… this isn’t ALL bad. Noah Hawley’s onto something with one of the issues his finale raises: did we just assume David is a hero because he was fighting a villain? Should we? But I have some issues here. Lots of shows do the bit where the villain turns the hero’s allies against them, and many do it the way Farouk does here. By revealing secrets the hero had kept, and twisting half-truths and some deceits buried inside them to turn allies into enemies. Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Preacher, Luke Cage, Legends of Tomorrow… hell, Gotham does it multiple times a year. But the villain isn’t supposed to be RIGHT. There’s supposed to be a way to walk it back. It’s not supposed to take the one relationship that has been the show’s beating heart since the pilot and make us wonder if it was ever what we thought, or if it were something else, something horrifyingly different. Basically… you can twist a plot so hard that it moves past being a shock and becomes a betrayal. A betrayal of the audience, taking away the narrative conventions that let us keep a grip on all of this weirdness and leaving us adrift.
In short… the finale pulled a cliffhanger that was truly unsettling. And not “How many episodes of Jake Peralta in jail are they going to make me sit through” unsettling, but “Can I still trust this show, or could I ever trust this show?” unsettling.
Still… you can’t love a show for defying all conventions and then decry it for not caring about simple, black-and-white, good guy vs bad guy narratives. Just… they did some things I didn’t care for.
Also “designing an entire season to erode viewer comfort” might not be a strength of the show to everyone.
What should they have done? Well… I don’t want to say “Don’t have done that thing at the end” until I see how season three plays out.
Let’s move on to something simpler.
What are the basics? Our theme this year is “family.” Alex Danvers breaks up with the first great love of her life, Maggie Sawyer, over a disagreement about having kids down the road. Winn Schott confronts issues with his estranged parents, including one supervillain. J’onn J’onzz has an unexpected reunion with his father, only to face losing him a second time to… let’s just call it Martian Alzheimer’s. Lena Luthor and our central character, Kara Danvers, try to cling to the surrogate family of everyone I just mentioned, especially since Kara is still getting over losing her boyfriend, Mon-El. But before long things get shaken up. Turns out Mon-El went to the future, where he joined the 31st century’s greatest superteam, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and he’s come back to the past with two teammates: the hyper-intelligent Brainiac 5 and the telepath of Titan, Imra Ardeen, aka Saturn Girl… aka Mon-El’s wife.
More troubling… Samantha Arias, Lena’s second-in-command and latest member of the Danvers extended family (along with her teen daughter), is slowly transforming into Reign, a Kryptonian killing machine known as a Worldkiller. The name is not a hyperbole. Supergirl and the DEO, along with Lena Luthor, try to save Sam from fully becoming Reign, and in the process save the world.
What went right? The cast is still quite charming. Melissa Benoist is great, Jeremy Jordan is super charming, Chyler Leigh is funny and kickass and has ugly-crying-superpowers. Katie McGrath is still killing it as Lena, although I think she might have gotten worse at hiding her Irish accent. Which… that isn’t actually a negative for me, just saying.
I’m liking the new, matured, more confidently heroic Mon-El, and his Legion of Super-Heroes teammates were very well cast. Imra’s good and Brainy’s funny. [Sidebar: More Brainy next season? Yay! Wait… less Winn? Not yay.] Odette Annabelle, who I’ve liked since Cloverfield and even managed to enjoy in the final, half-assed season of House, does great work in the double role of Sam and Reign. Plus Adrian Pasdar dropped by for a few episodes as Lena’s rival, the corrupt media mogul Morgan Edge. Shame he had to drop off the radar halfway through, but it did free him up to go back to Agents of SHIELD.
The Reign arc has a lot of stages. It’s not oppressively static like, say, The Thinker over on The Flash.
Of all the CW shows that don’t rhyme with “Smack Smightling,” Supergirl does the best at tackling political topics. Race relations, immigrant struggles, LGBTQ+ issues, and a much more successful take on gun problems than Arrow managed last year. Something about the exchange between Lena and James made it feel more like a debate and not simply hammering talking points. It might be Katie McGrath, she can sell a great deal.
Everyone staring as Kara, ready to leap into action, slowly unbuttons her shirt instead of dramatically ripping it open. “What?” she asks. “I like this shirt!”
What went wrong? It does feel like Morgan Edge was there to kill time until the Reign arc was ready for its second act. And once Reign had surfaced, he was sent off to prison. Wished off to the same cornfield as Maxwell Lord and Snapper Carr before him.
They are still working on how to use James Olsen. It’s getting better. James and Lena started hitting it off, causing problems for James when Lena and Supergirl had a falling out.
Sam became besties with Kara and Alex a little quick. Like, right away. I feel like she’d known the gang one episode before everyone was lining up to be surrogate aunts to Sam’s daughter Ruby (I’m also lukewarm on Ruby as a character, though I see her value as a plot point). It was like Danny McBride at the end of Pineapple Express*.
And if the DEO develops earplugs that neutralize someone’s scream power, have them remember to bring said earplugs when they’re likely to run into that person.
*Remember? They all go out for breakfast, and Seth Rogen and James Franco are best pals now, and then Danny McBride says “Can I be best friends with you guys too?” and they say sure, ’cause they’re all high, and suddenly we’re pretending he was an equal part of the movie and not, at best, the Leo Getz to their Riggs and Murtaugh**, and then he’s also on the posters, and maybe it’s just because Eastbound and Down had become a thing, but that’s how they thought they could do a follow-up with just McBride and Franco and it was Your Highness and it was awful and you know Natalie Portman at one point thought “I showed my ass in a thong for this?” I’m sure you all know exactly what I mean. Anyway Sam becoming instant co-best friends with Kara and Lena, while important for the story, felt a little like that.
**Oh, just Google it if you don’t know.
What should they have done? I guess if I were to dig into it, maybe a first act that paid off later in the season, rather than a bunch of Morgan Edge stuff that stops mattering halfway through the year. Oh, and no more villains with magic screaming powers. Especially no more villains with screaming powers that are somehow still a threat after the DEO develops a countermeasure.
Supergirl’s fun and charming and unabashedly liberal. Maybe there are a few more ways to nudge it from good to great, but they’re eluding me right now.
…What even is this show? Why is this show? And why can’t I stop watching it?
What are the basics? Riverdale, the town with pep… no, you know what, you can’t just tell people what happens on Riverdale. Any description of plot points ends up sounding like you’re making fun of the show. I’ll demonstrate. I’ll describe two plots, one of which is real, one of which is a parody, and you guess which is which.
Jughead, as gang leader of the Southside Serpents, challenges the leader of the rvial gang the Ghoulies to a drag race for gang supremacy in order to stem their sale of the party drug jungle-jangle, but Archie gets involved and things go both fast and furious.
In an attempt to win over Veronica’s stern father, Archie gives up football to go out for the wrestling team. When that doesn’t work, he tries joining the mafia and helping defend against Montreal drug lord Papa Poutine.
So… which one is real?
Trick question. They both are. Even… especially the parts about Papa Poutine and jingle-jangle. Jingle-jangle is discussed in serious tones all season and by god the cast commit to it. They take the existence of a drug called jingle-jangle that’s served in pixie sticks deadly seriously. And that, readers, is what ultimately works about this show.
They know exactly what show they’re making. They’re making a trashy soap filled with noir mysteries, gothic heroines, vigilante gangs, hooded would-be serial killers (for all of his menace the Black Hood’s success rate is so-so), and a crime lord trying to corrupt and conquer what we’re told used to be a quaint and innocent town, and for some reason they are doing it with Archie characters. I don’t know why the creative head of Archie Comics went to Greg Berlanti and said “I want to make a hybrid of Veronica Mars and Dark Shadows and I want to do it with Archie characters, want to help?” but I’m beginning to see why Berlanti said “Absolutely I do.”
This show is compulsively watchable. Maybe not always (often?) good, per se, but very watchable. It gets into your head, man. You just need to know where they’re going with this.
That said… Season one started with the murder of a teenager and descended into evil nunneries, Archie banging his sex predator music teacher, gang life, secret drug empires, and a little bit of incest. Keep all of that in mind and then hear me when I say that season two got dark.
I didn’t care for Archie’s slide into darkness. Archie’s unflinching goodness, albeit cut with a certain amount of standard teenage dickishness, was one of the strengths of season one, and now he’s forming posses and starting gang fights and joining the mob. Quite the turnaround.
I also don’t like that evil mostly wins here. Sure the Black Hood is caught, but Hiram Lodge’s Sinister Plan to Rule All Riverdale seems to be proceeding unopposed. Well, except for alienating his family, but that’s neither here nor there, and we’ll see if his wife Hermione stays against him for long. Hiram’s got total control now, and it’s not like Betty and Jughead can just call the FBI. If Arrow taught us anything it’s that the FBI won’t take down a criminal organization that has seized control of a city’s government and police unless they also get to arrest a vigilante who is trying his best.
Sorry to be back on that but goddamn Agent Watson, check your priorities.
Okay. Two more. Let’s put the “speed” back in “speed round” so we’re not doing three of these. Time for zombie murders!
What are the basics? Zombies are not out in the open, since rogue elements of zombie military group Fillmore Graves created thousands of zombies in Seattle. The city is now walled off from the rest of the country, and human/zombie relations are not at an all-time high. In between solving murders with her partner Clive Babineaux, medical examiner Liv Moore finds a new cause: smuggling humans into Seattle so that zombieism can cure their fatal illnesses. Creating new zombies is an act which carries a death sentence, as thanks to certain parties skimming brains for the black market, Fillmore Graves is struggling to keep the zombie population fed as it is. Which creates opportunities for Seattle’s OG morally shady zombie entrepreneur, Blaine DeBeers, and his father Angus, who escapes captivity at the bottom of a well, turns out to have gone crazy in said well, and starts preaching to hungry zombies that humans are naught but food. So… that’s not helping keep the peace.
Geez. For a 13 episode season there was a lot going on this year.
What went right?
-Liv’s boss/confidant Ravi’s attempted zombie vaccine from last season means he goes zombie for about five days out of every month, and his eating brains results in nudist Ravi, heroin addict Ravi, and Instagram diva Ravi, and Rahul Kohli was nailing it.
-What a thoroughly entertaining cast this show has.
-All the lampshade-hang meta-jokes from “Yippee Ki Brain, Motherscratcher!”
-Highest on the above list, instead of a cooking montage, Liv grabs the brain-of-the-week and takes a bite. “What?” she asks Ravi, seeing his stare. “I don’t feel like cooking.”
-This exchange, and Ravi’s desperate backpeddling:
What went wrong? -I don’t remember Liv’s reactions to specific brains being quite this over-the-top. Like Legends of Tomorrow and levity, Happy Endings and rapid banter, or Legion and subversion of narrative expectations, it may be possible to have too much of a good thing.
-With this many plots, it’s not always easy to progress them all equally, or know which one is most important.
-The show seems to think that Liv the human smuggler vs. Fillmore Graves the oppressor was a clearcut good guy/bad guy scenario, but it was a little more complicated. The fact is that Chase Graves was trying to keep Seattle from being nuked into glass to wipe out the zombies, and every time Liv made a new zombie she made it harder to keep everyone fed, grew the unrest, and sent more hungry zombies to be radicalized by Angus’ Brother Love. So… Liv wasn’t entirely in the right here, and they never felt like acknowledging that.
-There was an inspector from Fillmore Graves named Enzo Lambert, who was some bizarre hybrid of Inspectors Clouseau and Javert. He wore a cape and had a ridiculous French accent and was not helpful in solving murders, and I couldn’t figure out why he existed. And then I saw “Daniel Bonjour” in the guest credits and I thought “Is he a comedian I don’t know doing a bit? Does he have a French character and he’s doing that on the show, like how Steve Smith would guest star on shows under the name Red Green?” But it turned out Daniel Bonjour doesn’t even play Enzo, he plays Liv’s new romantic interest Levon, and now I’m even more confused.
-Liv knew in episode one who was skimming brains, so why did it take until episode 12 to deal with him? Jesus.
What should they have done? As we head into the final season, a clear, central story might help. And maybe if Liv eats the brain of a LARPer, she doesn’t have to speak like King Arthur every goddamn sentence. None of the LARPers they met during the investigation did that.
How we doing? 3100 words. Damn. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent so much time on Pineapple Express.
But I’m not sorry.
Zombies naturally take us to…
The End of the F***ing World
Image: Channel 4
I’ve been reminded that this quirky little show, made in Britain but available on the Netsflix, is based on a comic. Probably much more accurately than your iZombies or Lucifers or definitely Riverdale. So it’s germane to the conversation.
What are the basics? Alyssa is a somewhat nihilistic teenage girl, looking to escape an unhappy home situation. She thinks she’s ready to have sex, and thinks that quiet, withdrawn James is a good place to start. James is pretty sure he’s a psychopath, as he hasn’t really felt anything since his mother died years ago. He thinks he’s ready to start murdering, and thinks that unsmiling abrasive Alyssa is a good place to start.
When Alyssa wants to escape her tuned-out mother and creepy, douchey, potentially or even probably abusive step-father, she and James hit the road together, and meet many terrible people while two female detectives, who are trying to adjust to their relationship recently becoming briefly sexual, chase after them. Things get bleak.
What worked? The two leads are quite good, and make interesting, relatable characters out of, on paper, hard to like teens. The detectives work as well. And the writing’s sharp. The eight episodes fly by. And there’s a good character twist for James, and he begins to figure out what his actual issues are.
What didn’t? Man it gets bleak towards the end.
What should they have done? …Well, unlike a lot of comic book shows lately, they were directly adapting a specific story, so I don’t know what choices they had.