Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Any Requests?

Any requests for what you'd like me to cover on the blog? Obviously, I'm limited in the access I have to stuff, but I've a fairly large collection. 

Also, which series/films I've done do you particularly like? Just curious for some feedback!

The Doctor Who Pubcast

Here be the latest of Nick's and my Doctor Who Pubcasts. Previous instalments are also available...

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

"Are you gay?"

Before I say anything else, I should praise the way this film is shot by Sam Taylor-Wood. I'm not sure about the washed-out colours ("grey", yes, very clever), but she has shot the film with a lot of style and used some rather neat narrative tricks, particularly the montage illustrating the contract between Ana and Grey; large pieces of text are difficult to get across well onscreen, but Taylor-Wood delivers here. She does as good a job with the source material as can be done. The script also adapts the novel well.

However, it's still based on the novel by E.L. James and it's intrinsic virtues and flaws. The novel does not pretend to be literary fiction, but it is rather well-written, with good prose, engaging characters and a fast and dramatic plot. It may not be very deep, but there's nothing wrong with that. It would have been better if James had employed a proper proofreader instead of letting her husband do it, but it isn't a bad novel. Except in its message. And the film cannot help but follow suit.

The main problem I have with both book and film is Christian Grey. I dislike him as a character, I would intensely dislike him as a person if he was real, and I find him a somewhat disturbing subject for female desire. He's a bully, a control freak, a stalker, and he and Ana have an abusive relationship. There. I've said it.

And none of this, I hasten to add, is in any way to do with BDSM. I have issues with how the media (and this is a prime suspect) treats BDSM as being about dominant males and submissive females whereas, in reality, it's just as likely to be the other way round. Indeed, BDSM has its origins in gay culture and remains something of a gay-heavy subculture. But BDSM itself is a perfectly healthy thing, done safely and consensually. 

The problem with Christian isn't that he's a dominant, and there isn't a single sex scene in the film which wouldn't be perfectly ok in a different context, but that he's a weird, damaged control freak who does what he does out of a desire to hurt women as revenge for his mother's failings- pretty basic misogyny. There are lots of alarm bells. For a start, he wants to dominate a woman who isn't into the lifestyle when he meets her, which is in itself deeply dodgy. He's trying to psychologically manipulate her into submitting to him when she has no prior desire to do so. That's deeply creepy and I'm of the opinion that Ana is rushed and pressured into "consenting". That's more than a bit rapey.

The book, and the film by extension, could do a great deal of harm, firstly in propagating misleading ideas about BDSM and, most worryingly, encouraging naive women in the audience to enter into abusive relationships masquerading as such.

BDSM aside, it's not exactly feminist to present a rich man as a wish fulfilment figure, as though the place of a woman is to marry a man who can look after her and just be an ornament.

All that said, Jamie Dornan does an excellently nuanced job of playing the character. He does the best with an impossible job, and impresses. And that's something that can be said of the film as a whole: it does a good job of adapting material which is deeply dodgy in what it is saying.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Grimm: Cry Havoc

"If it's any consolation, Kenneth is dead..."

... And now so is Juliette. Who saw that coming? It's quite a twist, as is her entire character arc throughout the latter part of the season. Bitsie gets to bow out with an awesome death concluding an awesome storyline. Yes, Kenneth dies too, but that's less important; he's just an ersatz Prince Viktor, and still feels like a blatant replacement, filling in a part originally planned for Alexis Denisof.

This is a big season finale, a highly entertaining one, but it's sadly devalued by both Debisof's absence and the fact that it opens with the revelation that Kelly is dead through means of showing, not telling, as Mary Elizabeth Madtrantonio didn't even appear in the episode in which her character died. These things matter, to put it mildly.

Still, everything else is sufficient to bring the standard up. It's a good finale, it really is, but there's a certain epic quality missing through the lack of said personnel. The dogs of war bark, and bark well, but they don't quite bite.

It's nice, and near, to see the late Kenneth being framed for the Jack the Ripper murders. And it's nice to see Kenneth getting arrested (his fake surname, from his passport, is "Bowes-Lyon", the late Queen Mother's maiden name!), but then taken to an honest, old-fashioned bout of fisticuffs with Nick. In which Nick, predictably, kills him.

Meanwhile, Juliette seems to be getting on with the deliciously evil King, who, it seems, is called Frederick, and who casually abandons Kenneth to his death. There's one more twist, however; just as we think the King has won, and is leaving Portland in a helicopter with his granddaughter Diana... she kills him. It seems this little princess, the child of Sean and Adalind, is firmly with the resistance.

Nick, though, has lost everything- both his mother and his fiancée. Still, it seems to be all over... until that FBI woman arrives, indicating that Trubel may have accepted her offer. What's been happening with Trubel? We have an agonisingly long wait to find out.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: The Education of a Magician

"Can a magician kill a man by magic?"

"I suppose a magician might. But a gentleman never could."

And on we go. More creative direction from Toby Haynes, more faithful adaptation of the novel by Peter Harness and more top notch villainy from Marc Warren. This continues to be a superb piece of television fantasy for all the reasons mentioned previously. And now we're getting to the really good bits. Jonathan Strange's adventures in the Peninsular War were always my favourite part of the novel, and they're just as extraordinary here.

Norrell, back at home, is rather passive, but malevolently so. He intercepts the letters between Mr and Mrs Strange lest he lose control of information, and he callously informs Mrs Pole of her awful fate, and the fact that he will not help her, and sends Childermass to destroy her rather nice tapestry. She is collateral damage in the cause of "respectability". Yet Norrell does not come across as evil, merely obsessive and addicted to missing the point, a bit like a bad boss.

Strange, meanwhile, is slowly learning, in Portugal, to rely less on books and structure and more on gut instinct, as far from Norrell as a magician can get; order versus chaos. (And it's interesting to think of the Gentleman in those terms, is it not? Chaos seems to often equal faerie, hence Norrell's dislike). One knows instinctively that Norrell would not approve of his raising the dead. Wellington (a superb character) cares not; to him, "Merlin" may as well just be a military engineer, a problem solver at his disposal.

But the episode's most powerful scene belongs to Stephen Black, a character thus far as marginalised on the narrative as he is I the narrative, as the Gentleman shows his horrific birth among the chains and disease and death of a slave ship, reinforced by the simple question "What was the name your mother gave you?" Much as the Gentleman may dangle the prospect of kingship at Stephen, we know (as the Gentleman seemingly does not) that this could surely never happen.

The end of the episode- Childermass takes the bullet as Lady Pole attempts to assassinate Norrell- is shocking. But not as shocking as the scenes in the slave ship. It is clear that the novel, like the series, is not just a superlative Gaimanesque fantasy, but has things to say about the world. And it's bloody brilliantly, too.

Humans: Episode 2

"The synths steal their job; they steal the synth."

Well, it seems as though the second episode is no less superlative than the first. This is intelligent, literate, hard sci-fi which is so damn good that it's Scandinavian roots are showing. We have a solid plot, strong characters, a well-developed theme and visual flair. This reminds me, more than anything, of Borgen.

Gemma Chan continues to astonish with a performance of outstanding subtlety. The part of Anita- an apparent automaton with slight hints of humanity and a distinctly maternal instincts- is particular challenging as the viewer is carefully studying each individual mannerism and modulation of voice. It's a stern test, but one that is passed admirably by her, and to s lesser extent by those laying other synths. But a special mention has to go to Rebecca Front, cast against type as a tyrannical nurse synth, dispassionately bullying William Hurt's sympathetic George. 

Laura is increasingly and incrementally creeped out by Anita, hence the seemingly decisive ending. Laura may not be the most sympathetic character, being a workaholic who struggles to connect with her husband and children and sees Anita as a threat to her role, but she continues to be our identification character. Matilda, meanwhile, is our rebel. How and the younger two children are, thus far, passive characters who exist in terms of Laura's character developments; Joe is there, in contrast to Laura, as a character seeing synths as no more than household appliances.

The most disturbing scenes involve Niska, and a paedophile client; disgusted, she kills him and flees, in grave danger but, at least, true to herself. Of her fellow fugitives we seem to learn that Leo is some kind of cyborgs but the others- Fred, Max and Mia ("Anita")- are presumably synths? I'm sure we'll get the backstory in due course.

As yet it's far from clear where this is going, but I'm hooked. This is an extraordinary piece of drama.

Grimm: Headache

"Well, this should be a jolly good romp!"

Eh? Jelly Burkhart dies this episode. The cliffhanger is even Nick receiving her head in a box. And yet, due to obvious behind the scenes issues, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio doesn't even appear in the episode in which her character dies. That's weird and awkward.

In less surprising news... yes, Sean is indeed Jack the Ripoer as we all thought. It seems that his blackouts are dues to obsession by said fiend, who came back to life when he was resurrected at the start of the season, which is suspiciously similar to a certain episode of Buffy. Still, at least our heroes have a plan to scare the cheeky Cockney geezer away.

But the real villain here is Juliette. It is she who helps Kenneth in setting up the trap for Kelly. And not even the "surprise" return of Trubel can save her. Still, there's no getting round the convoluted awkwardness of Kelly only ever appearing off-screen. At least we meet the baby, though, and my- hasn't she grown?

This is, of course, an excellent and bloody exciting episode, revving up the excitement for next week's finale. Still, the absence of Kelly is a big problem.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: How Is Lady Pole?

Something different today: a guest post from MrVortexOfDoom, whose YouTube channel you would be wise to have a look at, particularly if you happen to be partial to a bit of Doctor Who.

He and I will be alternating episodes of this splendid serial, and then going head to head for the finale.

That's the compere bit over with; let me hand you over to MrVortexOfDoom...

“I see no one. Or rather, I see roomfuls of people – and not a Christian amongst them”

What really annoys me about peoples’ appreciation of British telly is the fact that we in Britain can't recognise the fantastic and clever product being made in our backyard – while Americans lap quality like this up. Of course, our friends in the US regularly have at least a dozen hours of superb product to digest per week – while all we seem to want is more reality nonsense and documentaries about cats. 

Episode two of “The TV fantasy of 2015” (according to Rolling Stone .com , don’t’cha know) deals this out in spades. Having just finished rereading the fantastic novel by Susanna Clarke, you realise several things. 

1. Somehow, the BBC has managed to get the film rights back from New Line Cinema after the film giant collapsed – that’s why the adaption has taken 10 years to get to us. 

2. How much of an epic struggle it has been to get the monster 782 pages down to a workable mini-series.

And:  3. How much of a challenge it is to pack the iconic scenes into each episode. You read the chapter on the French discovering the rainships & the epic Sandhorses sequence and you think “well, I’m never going to see THAT on screen”. And then, they only go and show it. A brilliant &  breath-taking achievement.

However, what really is striking me about this is the attention to detail, taken faithfully from the novel. Writer Peter Harness could easily have chosen to cut the references to antiquarian times and antiquarian books of magic in favour of seven episodes of CGI and effects. But instead, in a bold move that’s not pleasing everyone, you really feel that the past history of magic is oozing through every minute. I cheered at every namecheck of days long gone – Sutton-Grove, Ormskirk, Mary Absalom, Ralph Stokesey, Lanchesters’ History Of Birds (and a wonderful set-up with Revelations Of Thirty-Six Worlds – which has a great pay-off later (I hope)).

And as well as all that, the episode continues to lay further intriguing questions at your feet. The constant cawing of ravens through the soundtrack. The influence of Fairie and the real world gradually being intertwined (Segundus & Stranges’ shared dream and Stephen's mysterious extra servants bell). The very fact that Segundus can sense magic being performed (store that in your mind palace for later). And a second lovely little set-up with the St Marks Square, Venice paintings. 

Of course, you could just discount all that and go goggle-eyed about how FANTASTIC Lost-Hope looks. But that would be a disservice to the source material and the sheer effort put in to what was considered in many areas an unfilmable novel. 

Enzo Cilenti as Childermass continues to rule every scene he’s in, looking moody in the background (it’s a fun game to spot just how much he’s taking in and observing). However, top billing for episode 2 in my eyes must go to Alice Englert and Bertie Carvel. Englert's Lady Pole starts to unravel badly with all the “fairy stories” taken directly from the text. And Strange himself is starting to believe just how far he can go in the magical world – with just one person standing in his way. 

And here’s a top piece of trivia for regular llama stranglers. Alice Englert's mother? Of all people, Jane Campion !! (Oscar-winning director of The Piano, In the Cut and the Top Of The Lake miniseries). If that juicy morsel doesn’t get you looking forward to episode 3, I don’t know what will.

VoD 2015  

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: The Friends of English Magic

"All magicians lie, that one more than most..."

I've been looking forward to this dries for ages; I loved the novel. Susanna Clark really has written a wonderful work of fiction, a Regency magical fantasy that wonderfully fuses the world of Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian with that of Neil Gaiman, building a wonderfully compelling world and peopling it with fascinating individuals. Go and read it now.

I had high hopes, therefore, of this series, and so far (I'm actually three episodes in) my hopes have been entirely full. It's a largely faithful adaptation by Peter Harmess, with a little necessary structural jiggery pokers so that Jonathan Strange can be involved early on, made visually sumptuous by the ever-creative Toby Haynes, one of the best directors currently working in British telly. But s large part of its triumph lies in the wise decision to leave so much of the novel unchanged to the point that I frequently findyself recognising pieces of dialogue.

Bertie Carvel, fresh from playing Nick Clegg in Coalition, is a triumph as the charismatic and chaotic Strange, while Eddie Marsan slightly underwhelms as the sour and miserly Norrell, although I'm aware that others have praised his performance. Still, I must also praise Paul Kaye for a splendidly mad Vinculus (but is he an uncomfortable Jewish Fagin stereotype or am I overthinking things?)and Marc Warren, whose performance as the sinister Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair is magnificent. Also impressive, albeit in the smallish part of Drawlight,is Vincent Franklin, whose performance in Cucumber should rightfully elevate him to leading man status.

It's early days yet, and this episode is, as always for first episodes, set-up. But it does a good job of achieving said set-up, nicely establishing Jonathan Strange as someone expected (not least by his own father) to end up as a rich, useless dilettante but who ends up pursuing magic to impress his belle, Arabella. Norrell's miserable and awkward nature is established, as well as his Faustian pact with the Gentleman. It's clear that we have a Roundhead magician and a budding Cavalier one. I'm also impressed with Childermass, at this stage far more interesting than his employer.

So far so excellent, but let's see how it goes...

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Humans: Episode 1

"Those robots are the Singularity!"

It's prime time hard sci-if on Channel 4 courtesy of this remake of the Swedish original, with inevitable name checks for Asimov and Capek. Wisely, there's nothing other than the synths themselves (creepily lifelike robots) to indicate that this isn't the present day; excessive futurism would alienate us from a parable which has a lot to say about our lives; yes, we have robots (sort of) and the Singularity looms, but Capek's "robots", in the original Czech, meant "serfs". There are issues of class here, not only in the "human" rights of any sentient robot slaves, but in the lazy decadence that looms for their owners.

Narratively speaking, all this requires an Everyman (Tom Goodman-Hill's easygoing Joe), an everywoman (Karherine Parkinson's Laura, thus far the main character, with more time for work than family. She is, in effect, the primary audience POV character and, interestingly, is troubled by synths. There are also three, er, every children: Vanessa is the rebellious genius, Sophie is there to be young, cute and to illustrate certain parenting duties, and Toby thus far seems to be the token boy and little else. They're all well-rounded and likeable enough to get away with the fact that they are, essentially, archetypes. They are also our way in to the drama, with Joe purchasing a synth, Anita, to do the housework so that he and Laura can spend time together.

Anita- a standout superb performance from Gemma Chan, is at once creepy and captivating, and the family's getting used to her neatly gets the exposition out of the way. The language of IT is used to discuss then, with "primary users" and "secondary users". They are treated and thought of like household appliances, but wasn't the same true of Roman slaves?

There's no suggestion, at this point, that she might be sentient, but there are already uncomfortable issues about having a robot "slave"; as Matilda puts it, why should she spend years training to be a brain surgeon when a synth can do it so much better? The human race is being threatened with uselessness.

But that's not all: an early flashback sequence with the mysterious Leo (Colin "Merlin" Morgan) establishes that a select few synths, all mates of his, have achieved sentience, complete with feelings. We observe one of them ("Fred")being caught, in rather upsetting scenes, all the more redolent for the fact that Fred, a recaptured escaped slave, is portrayed by a black actor. Then there is Niska, a synth who works on a brothel and insists on feeling every degrading moment. Towards the end the camera lingers uncomfortably as she is taken from behind, silent.

Oh, and the flashback establishes that Anita was one of these sentiments, until she was kidnapped five weeks ago. We know, unlike the Hawkinses(?), that she is sentient, although this does not rob her closing comment about the moon of its impact; not only does she have a soul, but there is poetry in it.

We meet an old man, the irascible and American inventor Dr George Millican (William Hurt), who has become attached to his rather endearing synth, Obi, which helps him with his failing memory. It seems this synth is past its sell-by date, though, and must be consigned to the scrap heap like an old, broken fridge.

There are a lot of promising strands here in what already looks like one of the dramatic highlights of the year. Humans is already outstanding telly.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Daredevil: In the Blood

"If he had an iron suit, or a magic hammer, maybe that would explain how you get your asses handed to you."

It's early days, I know. Even Buffy seemed distinctly unpromising at this stage. There's nothing wrong with Daredevil per se, it's just that it isn't catching fire yet. The characters seem well-rounded, well-written and performed, but I don't know them yet. 

Perhaps I should bear in mind that this is all set-up at this point; Matt is still floundering a bit and yet to put on the red spandex, and even Wilson Fisk, the focus of this episode, is yet to become a true Kingpin. He's an intriguing character- ruthless, yet also nervous and chivalrous around Vanessa, the lady he likes, and there are intriguing hints of a hard early life in Hell's Kitchen.

The ostensible focus of the episode is on Anatoly and Vladimir, our two Russian brothers, wannabe crimelords, and their ambitions, only to be cruelly snuffed out by Fisk, who ends the episode by personally killing Anatoly with his bare hands after his date is ruined. It's a nice way of establishing how Fisk, nervous around girls and only occasionally getting his hands dirty, invisible to the Internet and ostensibly law abiding, is the true threat, not whatever thugs may currently be top of the pile. As Matt muses to Claire, if one crimelord inevitably replaces another, what's the point of him? I suppose he will come to find an answer.

We also see a tightened by of a wary anti-corruption partnership between Karen Oage and Ben Zurich but, as Zurich makes clear, they're playing for high stakes. This is more immediately so for Claire, captured and roughly treated. Daredevil may have dramatically rescued her, but it's his fault she was put in harm's way at all. Still, the experience seems to have deepened their bond.

It's a good episode, yes. But I'm still waiting for the engines to fire up. 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: S.O.S, Part 2

"Yeah, and I thought my mom was bad when she started watching Fox News."

This is it, then. No more Agents of SHIELD for an awfully long time. This isn't the most dramatic of finales, but it wraps things up nicely and points towards a new status quo, although those never last long. And we end with quite a cliffhanger.

It starts positively, with Coulson managing to persuade Cal to go all Dr Jekyll again and help SHIELD against his wife; at last he picks a side. Cal also tells Coulson about Jiaying eating people, that elders used to sacrifice themselves for her, and that village in China was essentially a farm for her eternal life. 

In other news, Mack manages to free Skye, but Inhumans still control the carrier. Meanwhile, Ward and Kara have set up a trap for Huntet, trying to free the tortured Bobbi. Instead it is she who selflessly takes the bullet, and it's only at the very end that we discover that she will love. Kara is not so lucky, dying suddenly and randomly, realistic for a combat situation. There are parallels here between Hunter and Ward, both losing their woman. Ward is naturally devastated in an obviously character-shaping way; it's not surprising to see him take over HYDRA at the end, twirling his metaphorical moustache like a pro. His entire arc thus far has just been one big supervillain origin story. I hear he's to be next season's big bad.

Things are looking up, though. Both Skye and Lincoln are on board, and Fitz has a doohickey to deal with Gordon. May thinks things are bleak, though; she actually calls Andrew from a mission, for the first time since Bahrain.

We end with a big, exciting fight during which Cal finally kills Jiaying, Fitz kills Gordon and Coulson dramatically catches the Terrigen crystals before they hit the floor and kill everyone. He begins to die, from his hand outwards... until Mack saves him by, er, chopping his hand off.

The epilogue is long and dramatic. Coulson, arm in sling, briefs Skye on his plan for her to lead a team of "gifted a". Cal, in the episode's most featherlight scene, is found to have had his memory wiped. He will never again remember his daughter, or the best day of his life: the 2nd of July, 1988.

May is back with Andrew in what seem to be the stirrings of an actual personal life. Who'd have thunk it? Mack is staying, after persuasion by Coulson and his being put in charge of all alien artefacts.

Most dramatically, and heartbreakingly, though... earlier, Jemma Simmons tried to talk to Leo Fitz about what he said to her, a season ago, at the bottom. Of the ocean, and his irritated reply was "Why now?". The answer, of course, is that every day may be our last: carpe diem. We end with Fitz asking Simmons out on a date, walking out of the room... and said artefact swallowing Jemna whole.

That moment made my jaw hit the floor. This may not have overwhelmed, as season finished often do, but I was certainly sufficiently whelmed. It's going to be a long wait until Season Three...

Grimm: You Don't Know Jack

"It's not that easy being pregnant, cutting up your mom, and waiting for someone to kill you!"

Looks as though the season is going to conclude with a loose three parter, as an intriguing story about Jack the Ripper still being alive and his victims being Wesen (Is he a Grimm? Or is that misdirection?) is mixed up with loads of juicy arc stuff and heavy hints that both Kelly Burkhart and Trubel are going to be turning up soon. It's also an episode in which Jiloette and Adalind seem to complete an almost total switching of their respective roles, with Juliette hobnobbing with Ken while Adalind appears more and more like one of the gang, carefully protected by Nick. He is the father of her child, not Juliette's.

But we begin with the charred remains of Nick's trailer, and an attempt to salvage as much as possible of the books and heirlooms amassed by his family over generations. It's a downbeat beginning to an episode in which so many things seem to be going wrong. Juliette lures Kelly into an obvious trap set by Kenneth. The potion so carefully prepared by Rosalie, and for which Adalind has sacrificed so much- desecrating her mother' corpse and giving up her Hexenbeist abilities in an Exorcist-type spectacle- is contemptuously smashed into pieces by Juliette. Oh, and Henrietta is shockingly murderec by our mysterious Jack the Ripper figure.

Who is Jack? Research establishes that he is old, some ninety years older even than 1888, and that his removal of his Wesen victims' organs is for some mysterious purpose. We finish the episode not knowing, but... Sean's bleeding episodes are accompanied by memory loss, and his waking from his slumbers from some kind of body of water. Could it be...?

Oh, and we leave with Juliette seemingly about to make Nick shoot one of his mates. 

I'm calling it: with this season Grimm has ascended from a quite good but ordinary show into something great. What now?

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: S.O.S, Part 1

"I am capable of finishing my own..."


Here we go, then. War. It's all very confused at the start, not least because Jiaying compounds her "provoked" killing of Gonzalez by instigating what looks like a SHIELD attack against her own people.  Oh, and you know that eternal youth thing? That's from killing and absorbing people. Just so we know.

Jiaying is thus, after weeks of ambiguity, firmly defined here as a baddie. That's good plot structure, but it's also, perhaps, a little troubling that the only character to advance the pro-civil liberties point of view about the compulsory cataloging of those who are different is now firmly defined as a villain. Could the programme be defining itself as in favour of authoritarian policies? Hmm. We'll see. And either way it doesn't detract from the quality.

Skye is the piggy in the middle here, but it is she who discovers what is going on and she, with naturally conflicting motives and, indeed, definitions of family, is both the hero and the emotional heart of the episode. 

Bobbi, it turns out, is alive, but she's in the nasty, torturing clutches of Ward and Kara and, noble though her defiance may be, there's little apparent hope for her, much as May and (of course) Hunter set off to save her. Her fellow one time turncoat Mack, it seems, is sticking around for a bit, but only for the duration of the current crisis. 

With SHIELD's various agents' positioning on the chessboard established, Jiaying further cements her villainous credentials by killing Raina; the precognitive, as the cliche goes, simply knows too much. The Inhumans are on the warpath, aided by a rather cool Inhuman lady who can make loads of copies of herself. Jiaying's lot clearly have the upper hand.

This doesn't mean that Jiaying is winning in the fight for Skye's allegiance, though; her daughter realises that Raina was murdered, and works out pretty much everything that her mother has done.  But things look bleak at the end; Bobbi is used as a fatal trap for Hunter, and Inhumans overrun the helicarrier as Mr Hyde takes a load of those serums and suddenly starts looking exactly as he did in the comics. 

Looks like a splendid season finale, then. Much of this episode, as ever for a part one, is set-up, but it had me riveted. What next,

Grimm: Iron Hans

"So will you be a pawn, or will you be a queen?"

This time the story of the week isn't quite as high quality as we've recently come to expect, but it is solid nonetheless; a camping night for teenagers coming to terms with their inner hunter is singularly appropriate for Wesen who are integrated into civilised society, resonant with themes, and well-suited for some character development for Monroe, hinting at possible past killings. We will probably hear more about this.

The killer is a nice twist, though, and Jeff Fahey is a rather huge guest star. But, again, this all essentially plays second fiddle to the arc stuff, where Prince Kenneth (again, an oddly Scottish Christian name for Central European royalty) informs Adalind that not only does he know of Juliette's situation, but smells an opportunity. Where an extraordinary well-directed sequence sees Juliette's "remember" clips of herself and Adalind. Where Adalind informs Sean that the child she is carrying is Nick's.

Of clear plot significance is Rosalie agreeing to help find a cure for Juliette and protect Adalind. But the real biggie is Adalind asking Nock, father of the child in her belly, to be her "hero" and protect her. From Juliette. Oh, how the roles are reversed.

We end with Kenneth outing to get Kelly and, shockingly, Juliette setting Nick's motorhome cum library on fire. Things are heating up. Oh yes. This promises to be a dramatic last few episodes. 

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Scars

"I was expecting a raised eyebrow, but ok..."

I trust you've all seen Avengers: Age of Ultron in between blog posts?

We begin with a recap, retcon even, concerning what Coulson has really been up to over the past year. It begins well (Patton Oswalt! Yay!) and proceeds to drop the bombshell that the Theta Protocol was in fact Nick Fury's secret helicarrier as seen in said film, now the property of a more-or-less united, and now rather well-resources SHIELD.

The fallout from last episode proceeds, as Agent 33/Kara is un-brainwashed and Skye keeps watch at Lincoln's bedside. Lincoln, however, is a little dubious about his "rescuers", pointing out (correctly) that their wish to categorise him is more than a little dodgy on civil liberties grounds; this will run and run way past the episode's explosive ending and, I suspect, on to our cinema screens with Captain America: Civil War.

Cal and, indeed, the narrative, implored us not to trust Raina's claims about what she foresees, a clever bit of misdirection as Jiaying apparently learns of the mysterious Kree artifact hidden deep within the helicarrier- a stone that can liquefy itself in true modern CGI fashion. The narrative puts our sympathies with Jiayibg, particularly if the viewer happens to be a civil libertarian like myself, and we are full of foreboding when Hunter announces that he has located Afterlife; SHIELD are coming. 

Coulson and Gonzalez debate what to do. Ever the dove, Coulson gives some ground to the hawkish Gonzalez by accepting that he, not Coulson, should handle the diplomatic niceties with Jiaying. Revelations tumble after one another, with Skye admitting to Coulson that Jiaying is her mother while May tells him what really happened in Bahrain. But there is much foreboding: Raina foresees the coming of SHIELD, and Afterlife in flames.

This eventful episode also sees Mack's resignation, his differences with Coulson teaching breaking point, while Coulson realises that he, Fitz and Hunter have become a little too much of a clique. 

Things get dramatic as May, travelling with Bobbi, turns out to be Kara, still in league with Ward. Ward shoots Bobbi, and it really seems that she's dead, especially as Ward apparently shoots her again, several times, at the end of the episode. 

The negotiations between Jiaying and Gonzalez seem to start well, albeit with a certain veiled prickliness, with Cal being released to SHIELD as a sign of good faith. But it soon becomes apparent that Gonzalez wants all Inhumans to be catalogued- tyranny in Jiaying's boom. And mine. Despite what happens next, I'm with her on the principles.

But what she does next- murdering Gonzales and manufacturing a fake casus belli for a war with SHIELD- is both shocking and framed to make us side with SHIELD. But what is and is not justified in the pursuit of liberty...?

Friday, 12 June 2015

Grimm: Mishipeshu

 "Most crime everywhere is Wesen-related..."

I'm British and therefore know sod all about Native Americans; we mostly still think it's ok to use the phrase "Red Indian", after all. (Although, conversely, we also think the portrayal of Apu in The Simpsons is vaguely racist, and the less said about Short Circuit the better.) But this is one of the best stories based on Native American lore that I've seen in all of popular culture, dealing directly with racism, and using the Wesen as metaphor (remember when that happened every episode) in a rather neat and, it seems, appropriate way. And there's a CGI goat ghost, which is always good.

I also like the non-linear beginning, fast forwarding to a future scene of Hank trying to kill Nick, deceptively exciting when shorn of its context. It's good to see Grimm showing the confidence to do clever things it never would have attempted a few seasons ago. This episode's story of the week follows the recent run of good 'uns.

Meanwhile Juliette, in her extended car crash since becoming a Hexenbeist, is arrested for brawling in a bar, embarrassing her policeman fiancĂ© somewhat. It's clear that the arc or is moving into the foreground in these last few episodes of the season, hence the relatively straightforward "a" plot here.  Juliette is getting the upper hand in her frequent verbal sparrings with Nick, which are taking place more and more often. 

The ending is exciting, with a bit of extra-judicial killing at the end, but there's so much going on in the arc right now: roll on next episode...

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: The Dirty Half Dozen

"I thought her gift was spinning really fast to collect gold rings..."

Things speed up for the finale as the opening moments strongly suggest that Raina's Inhuman "gift" is precognitive dreams, people overhear Jiaying saying that Skye is her daughter, and Lincoln is in HYDRA's clutches with Mike Peterson, both  at the mercy of their Dr Mengeles. 

(Incidentally, we get a reference to all previous experiments ending up with fatalities aside from "the twins" from Avengers: Age of Ultron!!!)

But much of this episode consists of negotiations for a merger between the SHIELDs of Coulson and Gonzalez, Cavalier and Roundhead respectively, as Coulson attempts to persuade a sceptical audience of his audacious scheme to send in s small squad to rescue the two captured "specials" from HYDRA. A squad that happens to include both Ward and Agent 33! Brilliantly, the casting vote goes to May, increasingly suspicious of Coulson in recent episodes, and this brings out all of her suspicions as he tries to persuade her. That's good character advancement.

Jiaying, meanwhile, is much less dynamic, deciding to abandon Lincoln to HYDRA's torturous clutches because HYDRA can trace Gordon's movements and a rescue would therefore be too dangerous for the majority. She is very protective of her charges, but cautious and definitely a Roundhead. Skye isn't; she's going on a rescue mission, behind her mother's back and per the advice of Raina, despite her suspicious behaviour. Cal, in particular, distrusts her deeply.

Heartwarmingly, Fitz and Simmons are connecting again; looks like the shipping is back on. Mack and Hunter make up and are friends again. But, now that the set-up is compete, the episode speeds up into the excitement of the mission itself, during which we just know that Skye and Coukson's squad are going to turn up at exactly the same time and bump into each other.

They do. It all gets very exciting. Skye uses her powers to save Lincoln, just as Raiba had foretold. Bakshi is killed. Ward escapes, leaving Kara to SHIELD. Gonzalez is still a dick. But the mission is a success and, in an obvious sign that this episode runs into a certain current movie, Coulson reveals that Nick Fury is alive...

More please. This season has gone lightning fast.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Grimm: Hibernaculum

"Sort of like an animal heat orgy!"

Wow. A car chase on Grimm. A pretty damn good one too, and a strong opening to yet another in a run of very strong episodes. This one, though, is better directed than most.

We also very definitely establish Nick as alone, and lonely, in a house without Juliette, while Juliette herself is with, of all people, Sean. But it's not long before we get to a story of the week: this episode's Wesen are snake people who seasonally require human warmth, invariably fatal for the human in question, if they fail to arrive for hibernation at an, er, hibernaculum. Again, the dilemma here is that these Wesen are dangerous but most of them have committed no crime.

A nice character touch sees Monroe, a watchmaker, suffering from shaking hands after his ordeal at the clutches of the Wesenrein; as a character he's arguably been mildly neglected lately so this is good to see. He and Rosalie receive a shocking and somewhat revelatory visit from Juliette, but this results in her vowing revenge on the pair of them, seemingly unable to help her, on top of Nick and Hank. Which is nice. Juliette seems so well these days.

The mildly comical ending can't hide the more somber tone of the arc plot here. Things are getting very dark, and that's how I like my Grimm. More please.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Grimm: Heartbreaker

"It happened!"

A tragic fairytale, this; a beautiful girl who can never know love because, if a bloke fancies her, he dies. Horribly. And so on through generations of guilt. No wonder there's a tradition of mothers deliberately mutilating their daughters' faces for this race if Wesen. Poor Bella. The climax means she isn't brutally mutilated by her mother, but she's cured, and mutilated anyway. Still, at least we end with the hope that she may find love. And it's nice that Nick and Hank conclude she has committed no crime. Once again it's an affecting story of the week, with much pathos, but not too much incident so as to overshadow the arc plot. And there's a nice thematic parallel in the unintended side effects of magic potions for both Bella and Juliette.

Speaking of Juliette, she's not in a good mood. The spell book seems to show nothing to help either herself or Sean, and she's heartily sick of all things Wesen. Sean has his own problems, of course, with those bloody dreams, and now his private eye friend tells him that Viktor has been returned to Vienna. 

Instead of Viktor we meet the young, driven, ruthless and annoying Kenbeth, who seems to miss nothing, certainly not the obvious fact that Adalind is preggers again. Clever boy. Even cleverer, and to establish his dastardliness, he kills the private eye in the course of setting a trap for Sean but then proceeds to do little more than gloat at Sean, beat him up, and let him go. Definitely a job application for the position of moustache-twirler-in-chief. 

Not sure about Kenneth, but this season provides us with yet another quality episode.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Penny Dreadful: Fresh Hell

"What would Dr Frankenstein be without his creature?"

So, at last the second season starts on Sky Atlantic. It looks as though last season's big bad is going to be witches, but in the meantime we have character arcs to set up for the new season, lushly and beautifully shot by James Hawes as always.

We add to the feminine theme of witches with a riff on Bride of Frankenstein as Billie Piper returns to play said monster, while her prospective mate finds another grimly Victorian job with poor conditions, this time working in a waxworks exhibit, a la Madame Tussaud's, except much more influence by lurid crimes and, well, penny dreadfuls. His boss, I'm pleased to see, is played by the excellent David Haig. 

Elsewhere, Ethan dithers about whether or not to return to Anerica while Vanessa remains her delightfully weird, brooding self. He tells her of his blackouts, after which he wakes to much blood. Much will come of this, especially as an inspector from the Yard is investigating the deaths of his pursuers from the end of last season.

Meanwhile, it's made clear to Sir Malcolm by his poor, bereaved wife that, after presiding over the deaths of two children, their marriage is henceforth to be eked out as a cold, artificial she'll with the two of them living apart. His surrogate daughter, Vanessa, is now his only family. No wonder she runs into his arms, able to confide in no one else. The witches, it seems, led by the mysterious Mistress Kali, are after her soul...

A very promising opening, if not quite up to the heights of last season's opener. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season.

Grimm: Double Date

"Olive or Twist? I love that place. Prices will scare the Dickens out of you though."

Oh, Monroe. You are awful.

There's a trend this season of the stories of the week both being particularly strong and being well-integrated with the fast moving arc-plot, and this excellent episode is no exception. In fact, aside from Adalind's and Viktor's interminable treading of water in Vienna, this has been a fine season.

The threat here is a gender-fluid Wesen, with two distinct personalities, one male and one female, sharing the same body- it's impossible not to see this in terms of trans issues, whether intended or not. The fact that there is only one Wesen here, and not a couple, is cleverly held back as the central mystery, although both Mrs Llamastrangler and I worked it out well in advance.

The ending is harsh, though: the Wesen (looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon in Wesen form) is trapped in male form, with the female form, Stacy, effectively killed. Linus is arrested, a man in a dress facing jail time and heartbroken by the loss of his soulmate. I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with what this says about transsexual issues, but it's a moment filled with pathos.

As far as the arc is concerned, newly Hexenbeistly Juliette is still estranged from Nick, and Sean is still experiencing dreams of his shooting which are beginning to become dangerously real. Nick finally tells Hank about Juliette, while Juliette asks Sean of all people for a place to stay.

Meanwhile, Adalind is visited by the King, and told that Viktor is to return to Vienna, with another family member to replace hm. This feels rather awkwardly sudden. Did Alexis Denisof leave abruptly?

Whatever, this is still a brilliant piece of serial telly.