Thursday, 31 August 2017

Game of Thrones - 'The Dragon and the Wolf'

Apparently there are six thousand Dothraki in those trees back there.
Let's bring this on home.

Having bagged their wight, the newly unified Team Danaerys rock up to King's Landing for a meeting in the sombre atmosphere of the ruined Dragon Arena, where the Targareans' once-great beasts of mass destruction devolved into the draconic equivalent of scabby battery hens with atrophied wings and club feet(1). The Unsullied and the Dothraki rock up to look impressive, the former having apparently had shit all trouble crossing from Casterley Rock. There's some reunioning between Tyrion and Bronn and Podrick. Cersei sweeps in all imperious, gives Brienne the stink-eye when she catches her exchanging looks with Jaime, and even manages to maintain her sang froid when Dany rocks up with her dragons. Smasher tries to grandstand by demanding Theon surrender to him, but basically everyone including Cersei turns round and says 'shut the fuck up, Smasher; the grown-ups are talking.' The Hound eyeballs the Mountain and then kicks the wight out of its box towards the Lannister party, and if anything is scarier than a zombie getting all up in your face, it's the look on Qyburn's face as he examines its twitching, severed hand.

"Well, this looks nothing like anywhere people have tried to murder us
Smasher Greyjoy asks if the dead can swim and, learning that they can't, drops the mic and heads back to his fleet. Cersei agrees to a ceasefire, but only if the King in the North agrees to remain neutral between Team Dany and Team Cersei. Being the master of intrigue and subtle diplomacy that he is, Jon announces his ironclad allegiance to Danaerys and the whole conference goes south in a real hurry. Tyrion takes a risk to try and talk Cersei back to the table and weathers both death threats and a belly-full of Cersei's self-righteous blame deflecting(2), but seemingly to good effect as she magnificently announces that she will send her troops north to fight the Army of the Dead, and they can get back to killing each other afterwards.

And if you believe that, I've got a bridge to Dragonstone you might be interested in buying.

If chaos is a ladder, you just landed on a snake.
In the north, Littlefinger creepily persuades Sansa that she must take action to eliminate the danger presented by Arya. Arya is summoned before the court, but Sansa pulls a bait and switch, putting Littlefinger on what I will, for the sake of argument, call trial. She accuses him of all manner of wrongdoing, and it's a fair cop from start to finish. He claims there's not proof of anything, but Bran presents Greensighted evidence of his betrayal of Ned Stark (inadmissable, but his face,) and Sansa quietly rescinds her evidence acquitting him of Lyssa Arran's death so that the knights of the Vale won't help him. Presumably if pressed she would have claimed 'I was a child, I was scared,' and laughed at him while everyone swooned at her awesome turn of strength. Then Arya cut his throat. It's a big hurrah moment, because it means all that petty sibling rivalry bullshit was a pose – Arya later admits to Sansa that despite all she's been through, she doesn't think she would have survived what Sansa did – and because the audience knows that it's a fair cop, but as trials go it's a bit... swift. Tyrion was less railroaded.

I actually think Theon winning a fight may be one of the signs of the coming
of the Long Night.
On Dragonstone, Team Dany prepare to move out, with Jorah raising the point that travelling through the North might be risky for Danaerys given that the North has a fine tradition of being flame-throwered by conquering Targareans. Jon suggests that travelling together would send a better message, and Dany agrees with him, since he's done such sterling PR work to date. Theon and Jon make their peace, with Jon declaring Theon to be a Greyjoy and a Stark, and then Theon rallies the Ironborn to go after Yara by weathering a beatdown and finally coming back strong when his opponent essentially wears himself out fruitlessly attempting to knee Theon in the balls. It's good to see an Ironborn rallying scene which doesn't end with the defiant one concussed and a smash-cut to everyone else being flayed.

Jaime starts making arrangements to move the Lannister armies north and Cersei cusses him out for a chump. He talks about his word and she counters with 'family' in a way that finally opens his eyes to the fact that Cersei has become a complete monomaniac who would let the entire world burn if she got to raise her last child atop the ash heap. She assures him that they're sorted, because as much as pretty much everyone on the world hates them, they still have Smasher, who has actually gone to fetch the Golden Company to fight for them, thanks to the Iron Bank's money. She has also clocked the meaning of Viserion's absence. Despite this, Jaime leaves, mirroring Tyrion in basically daring her to set the Mountain on her, and rides off alone, sans even the company of Bronn (whom everyone is now worried about, since Cersei certainly wouldn't hesitate to set the Mountain on him if he decides to leave.)
"Are you crazy? Is that your problem?"
Sam rocks up at Winterfell and pops in to see Bran. As often happens with Sam, his perpetual state of bafflement leaves him entirely unflapped by the revelation that Bran is the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran tells Sam that Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targarean and Lyanna Stark, and that being born in Dorn means he's a Sand not a Snow, but Sam gets to drop a truth bomb on Mr Sees Everything(3) by revealing that Rhaegar's marriage to Ellia Martell was annulled to allow him to be secretly wed to Lyanna, which means that OMG, Jon is Aegon Targarean, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. He is also, at that moment, up to his bobbing arse in his aunt, because that turns out to be a side benefit of travelling together, in deference to the lack of other sex scenes in Season 7, and in continuing defiance of a total lack of visible screen chemistry.

Tyrion apparently spots Jon going into Dany's room and looks unhappy about it, I hope for sane political reasons, rather than because he's subscribed to Jorah's newsletter.

So, a couple of episodes after falling into a James Bond credit sequence, Jaime is heading for a crossroads rendezvous with Bruce Banner, Richard Kimble and the Littlest Hobo, Jon/Aegon inadvisably and somewhat unconvincingly boffs his aunt, Theon finally gets some iron in his spine, and the South is going to all kinds of shit. Anything else?

Right; that.

Season 8 is set to be where it all comes to an end, with the living versus the dead and the final resolution of the battle for the Iron Throne (which I actually hope to see melted to a puddle before the curtain falls.) Based on simple progression, I'm expecting every episode to be leaked before it is shot, and every major plot point to be a meme on Facebook well before the episode airs. Watching in the UK would have been frustrating enough even without the extra delay required by my life as a parent and partner to a shift-working midwife, because as soon as an episode finishes in the States the Facebook explodes with reviews, comments on reviews (which are much, much harder to spoilerproof,) links to YouTube videos discussing 'the six things everyone missed in that episode except me because I'm better than you'(4) or asking 'has Game of Thrones hinted at this thing that might be in its ending?' and memes depicting key plot points with a screen shot and a sassy commentary.

For 'The Dragon and the Wolf' I avoided most spoilers, but was aware going in that 1) Littlefinger was going to be killed, based in part on evidence from Bran's greensight, 2) Jaime was going to leave Cersei, and 3) the Wall was coming down.
"I'm sensing a subtle hint that there are still barriers to our rapprochement."
The problem, I suspect(5), is that Game of Thrones has gone from a geek property to the mainest of the mainstream. As a result, the original geeks who 'made' the show with their devotion and miniscule contribution to the viewing figures(6) are circling the wagons and feeling a desperate need to prove that they are more into the show, understand more about the show, and are all told just way, way more into it than any of these Johnny-come-latelys who only like it because it's popular.

Anyway, I suppose I ought to make my predictions for Season 8:
  • Beric Dondarion and Tormund will have survived to at least get an onscreen death.
  • Jon and Dany will have a huge bust-up when his heritage is revealed and she starts seeing him as a rival.
  • Sansa will give Jon an earful for sleeping with Dany. Jon will look like a kicked puppy.
  • Cersei's surprise forces will be intercepted by Theon, whom I suspect will give his life to save Yara.
  • Jon will ride Rhaegal at some point, possibly in desperate, mortal combat against the Night King. I'm not convinced that Rhaegal will do well out of this.
  • Alternatively, Jon will wrest control of Viserion, destroy the Night King and become a White Walker himself in the process.
  • Bran will continue to be omniscient, and yet kind of useless.
  • Cleganebowl was teased this episode, so it probably has to happen. Part of me hopes to see Sandor get a little religious, overcome his primal fears, and bring a flaming sword to that grudge match. I predict victory on points to the Hound and both end up dead.
  • Cersei's pregnancy will turn out to be phantom and she will go completely off the rails.
  • Qyburn will make something that murderously turns on him.
  • After a series of battles which leaves almost everyone dead, Cersei will either be assassinated by Arya or mauled to death by Nymeria.
  • Danaerys will take over what remains of the Seven Kingdoms, move her capital to Dragonstone and attempt to institute a more fair system of government.
  • Dorn will either go independent or be colonised by the Dothraki, leading to a horrible apartheid system.
  • Sansa will become the Queen in the North.
  • Jon will become the immortal King in the Really North.
  • Bronn will get his castle; he might even live to enjoy it.
  • In ten years' time we'll get a follow-up series called The Westeros Wing, in which Tyrion walks and talks a lot while trying to wrangle the mad idea of Westerosi democracy, while dealing with sanctions against the Dothraki because of their systemic abuse of ethnic Dornish, and the complex arrangements needed to adequately climate control the Really Northern embassy.
  • Either that or Direwolves will inherit Westeros.
Right or wrong, I'll see you all for Season 8 next year (or in 2019,) to find out.

(1) Wow; that's a miserable image to start out with.
(2) Seriously, the Dornish didn't murder Mircela because Tywin's death left you vulnerable, they did it because your family routinely employed an enforcer who was barely less than a monster before he was the undead and because your scheming has always been more vicious than well-thought-out. And because the Dorn plot went a bit cray-cray.
(3) A moment which would only be more satisfying if he'd given Gilly props for catching the annulment, but I guess she was just reading aloud to give the audience a head's up.
(4) Yes, I have issues with this style of analysis.
(5) Or a problem, perhaps.

(6) Or a subset of the larger body, at least.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Game of Thrones - 'Beyond the Wall'

Walking and talking.
Welcome, my friends, to the 2017 all-Westeros idiot ball championship.

Jon Snow and his band of heroes head north to do what heroes do in Westeros: Die like chumps. Now, I'll be honest, there are some lovely bits of manly banter as they make their way towards the approaching army of the dead (especially Tomund waxing lyrical to the Hound about Brienne of Tarth,) walking and talking like an arctic version of The West Wing, but this doesn't significantly distract from the fact that what they are doing and who is doing it is patently ridiculous. The Red Wedding is lauded as the ultimate skewering of high fantasy tropes in the gritty world of A Song of Ice and Fire, but this is a fucking quest right here, even if the Hound is too surly to ever admit it, and the King of the North is undertaking it in person, presumably because of some gruff wisdom imparted by Neddy Stark about responsibility and how if a man comes up with a knuckleheaded plan, he ought to incompetently execute the plan himself.
"Well, that's just super, Thoros. Now the zombie bear is on fire."
The party first gets fucked up by a zombie bear (zombear?) which, apparently ranging ahead of the main army on the off-chance, mortally wounds Thoros of Myr – he of the evident drunkenness and informed badassery – as well as taking out a few Wildlings whose fate was so staggeringly obvious they should have been showing off their fancy new red shirts before they left. Eventually they find a party of wights and run at them yelling, because intimidation is a big part of combat against ice-blooded revenants. To nobody's great surprise except theirs, a band of half-frozen fighters with four effective anti-wight weapons between them – Longclaw(1), a pair of dragonglass daggers being wielded by Jorah, and Thoros and Beric's flaming swords which, at this point, no-one bats an eye at – are quickly in hella trouble, at least until Jon takes out the leading White Walker. This causes all of the wights to shatter save one, which is doubly lucky since they needed to bring one back.

I'm starting to notice a pattern in Jon Snow's battle strategy...
And then they get spotted, and it's like there's a wight looking at them, and they're hogtying their captive, and it's all awkward for a moment until suddenly there's an army coming at them. Jon sends Gendry to run back to Eastwatch, without his hammer both so that he can run faster and to continue a trend for people handing weapons to one another this episode, with orders to send a raven to Danaerys for help – because that's going to do them any good – while everyone else winds up trapped on an island in the middle of a frozen lake, surrounded by wights and with the Night King and his power posse watching from a ridge. The advance of the dead is halted for a time as the ice gives way. Someone suggests making an end run to take out the Night King, but it's not really on the cards given the thousands of wights and the half-frozen lake in the way

"A Frey tried to test me once. I ate his liver in a pie with a nice ale."
Back at Winterfell, Arya confronts Sansa for apparently cosying up to the Lannisters and her 'beloved Joffrey' after their father was arrested. She's either mad about Ned's death or Sansa's handwriting. There's a lot that is unclear. Littlefinger drops some hints about Brienne being unreliable as she is sworn to both sisters, and seemingly in response to this possibility - or becuase she'll be damned before she walks into a room where Cersei is simultaneously present and breathing - Sansa sends her knight to King's Landing on her behalf. Sansa then searches Arya's room and finds her bag of faces, which is some seriously serial killer shit(2), backed up by Arya discussing how she could be Lady of Winterfell if she took Sansa's face, before handing her the plot dagger and leaving the room.
Seriously. No-one at any point is even surprised that people be setting their
swords on fire.
Gendry collapses at the gates of Eastwatch(3) and the garrison sends a raven to Dragonstone, and damn me, but they must have sent the good one. Whereas Castle Black failed to get word to Winterfell ahead of Bran and Meera, Wattoo Wattoo Super Bird is on Dragonstone before anyone but Thoros of Myr has died of exposure – and slow-onset undead bear mauling – on their frozen islet of death. Tyrion counsels caution, pointing out in diplomatic terms that this was a stupid fucking idea at best and sending the queen and figurehead of their opposition to Cersei and three weapons of mass destruction into an icy hellholeis throwing good stupid after bad, but Danaerys scathingly reminds him that his advice has not served her well so far(4). So, she jumps on Drogon and flies north, heading for an island in a lake in the unmapped far north without as much as a postcode to go on.

So, apart from the Night Kng, are these all Craster boys? Also, why don't the
dragons just flame the command ridge on their first pass.
Back on the island, the Hound throws rocks at the dead, inadvertently alerting them to the fact that the ice has refrozen. The band fights a last, desperate resistance, with Tormund almost dragged into the icy water before the Hound appears to rescue him(5). I'd say that I hope to see Tormund having his frostbitten legs amputated, but honestly if any of these heroes have a toe left they'll be lucky.

Then the dragons show up and start napalming the dead, with Drogon making a landing to pick up the survivors while his brothers provide covering fire, by which I mean they cover everything in fire. Jon fights off the wights to allow the others to board, but then the Night King kills Viserion with a giant fucking ice javelin. Danaerys is understandably a bit upset, forcing Jon to cover her for longer, although this doesn't explain why he keeps advancing so that he can't get back to the dragon and has to be left behind.

"Well, that's a bad fucking sign right there."
Now, I'm not so heartless as to feel glad that a dragon died, but you know what? After all the shit people have pulled this season, I am glad to finally see an actual logical consequence to someone's stupid decisions. I'd say the same about Jon falling into the water and drowning, but like Jaime Lannister he crawls out after the remaining dragons have cheesed it, and – managing somehow not to freeze to death – is rescued not by the intercession of Rhaegon(6), but by the sacrifice of mostly-dead Uncle Benjen, who holds off the army while Jon rides back to Eastwatch and takes ship to a conference of Kings which cannot possibly go well, swearing sexy shirtless fealty to Danaerys on the way.

Finally, the Night King raises Viserion as a zombie, as many have predicted.

"I'm blue baba-dee baba-doo."
'Beyond the Wall' is brotastic to the max, with the band of frenemies bonding and battling to a larger understanding of one another. Unfortunately, it is not so up on sisterhood, although with one episode still to watch, I'm holding onto the hope that Sansa and Arya are working together to try to goad Littlefinger into an open enough play that they can get shot of him without sacrificing the Vale as allies, largely because Sansa has explicitly said that the reason she can't get rid of Littlefinger is that they need the Vale so they can't act unless they have some sort of evidence.

Anyway, season finale next week (by which I mean it was on yesterday - the day before in the States - and I hope to watch it today,) so I guess some questions will be answered, others raised, and given the relatively low mortality rate of the last couple of episodes, a whole mess of folk be either killed or presumed dead.

(1) Which at one point Jon tries to return to Jorah, because apparently we needed to be reminded what a stand-up bloke Jon is.
(2) Although as has been noted, so far Arya has been more about the spree killing.
(3) Which is in itself remarkable. In Season one he would have been eaten by foxes or randomly jacked by bandits and then repeatedly slagged off for deserting for the rest of the year.
(4) Probably because Tyrion is very much advising for Season 5 or points backwards, before all this hero shit became de rigeur.
(5) And when Sandor Clegane has decided that it's hero time, you know the show is starting to lose its gritty edge.

(6) I was totally expecting that, I must admit, not least because it would have offered some explanation as to how he managed not to freeze.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Defenders

The Defenders.
Built as it is to binge, I thought it as apt to do a single, whole-series review of The Defenders as to do a blow-by-blow, especially considering my current rate of writing.

The Defenders, for the sake of internet historians of the far future, was Netflix’s answer to the Avengers, bringing together their corner of the MCU and uniting the four superpowered Defenders of New York who aren’t Spider-Man(1). Mind you, it takes its sweet time doing it, being a couple of episodes in before anyone actually meets up.

Danny Rand and Coleen Wing are chasing the Hand around the world when they get a tip off from a dying man that the real fight is in New York. They track down a weapons shop in New York and find a whole mess of dead martial artists. They confront the team sent to clean the crime scene, but they turn out to be a group of black youths offered the work by a man in a white suit. One of them is the brother of Candace, the hostess who was murdered at the end of Luke Cage, leading to the much anticipated ‘Luke Cage vs. Iron Fist’ event, in which Danny Rand bloodies his knuckles on Luke’s indestructible skin, before finally knocking him down with the Iron Fist. Then they both run from the law.

Now I have a lawyer. Ho-ho-ho.
Elsewhere, Foggy gives Matt some overflow, pro bon cases to help him kick the Daredevil habit. One of these is the case of Jessica Jones, who sort-of takes the case of a missing architect because someone calls to tell her not to. This leads her to an apartment full of explosives, and later brings the architect himself to her office with a gun(2). This particular Mexican standoff is interrupted when Elektra shows up, all Black Sky, to knock Jessica about and kill the architect. Matt shows up as her attorney, but she gives him the slip and is able to see him doing some ninja parkour shit(3).

Then there’s an earthquake.

Luke gives Danny an earful about privilege, and the four each make their way towards Midland Circle, an upscale newly built corporate headquarters full of evil and built on top of the big hole from Daredevil Season 2. Danny goes in all corporate to declare war on the Hand, only for their leader, the mysterious Alexandra, to order him captured. There follows a massive fight, with first Luke, then Matt and Jessica showing up to help, and the four of them finally being driven off by Elektra.

This restaurant scene has been a focus of the hype, and it was pretty cute.
Our totally not a superteam repair to a Chinese restaurant to regroup, with Matt and Danny explaining to Jessica and Luke who the Hand are(4) and that they will go after their loved ones. Stick then pops up to let us know that the Chaste – who were formed by the Elders of K’un-Lun, incidentally – have, other than him, been wiped out, give some deep background and name the five fingers of the Hand – Alexandra, Madame Gao, Sowande – the man in the white suit – Bakuto and angry Japanese challenge-seeker(5) Murakami. These five were booted out of K’un-Lun for trying to live forever and have been at it ever since. From scenes of the Hand, however, we learn that Alexandra blew the last of their stores of ‘the substance’ to resurrect Elektra. Jessica leaves, Alexandra catches up with them, but Jessica returns and hits the Black Sky with a car before another big brawl, in which Matt stuffs it by going after Elektra alone and trying to get through to her.

Our heroes get police protection for their friends, but play it coy with Misty for the sake of tension. Luke is able to capture Sowande, and from Alexandra’s actions and his taunting they realise that the Hand wants Danny. Stick kills Sowande after he tries to escape with Danny, and the rest of the team decide that Danny needs to be kept off the front line until they know what the Hand want with him. Danny isn’t having it, because he’s the Immortal Iron Fist, damnit, so they have to tie him to a chair. He and Luke bond a little, but then Stick uses drugged incense to incapacitate Luke and tries to kill Danny. Unfortunately, he drags it out too long, Matt and Jessica get back from finding the architect’s plans to blow up Midland Circle and bury whatever the hole leads to, and in the end Elektra clashes the party, kills her father figure and kidnaps Danny, before murdering Alexandra and declaring herself the new boss of the Hand.

Punchy punchy kick kick.
 Jessica, Luke and Matt are picked up by the cops in suspicious proximity to one stabbed guy and one decapitated corpse. They eventually break out of the precinct and go to Midland Circle, where they fight the remaining fingers of the Hand to an inconclusive result. Colleen meets them with a stack of explosives, which she and Clare go to set up while the others go down to rescue Danny, who has let himself be gulled into fighting Elektra, allowing her to redirect the Iron Fist and open the dome structure buried deep beneath the city, which turns out to be a vault covering a dragon’s skeleton. Because why the fuck not.

Gao explains that the Subtance is basically ground up dragon, and that removing the bones from beneath New York will basically fuck the city’s foundations, because never mind rock and roll, they built this city(6) on dragon’s bones. The others arrive and a battle royale ensues, while Coleen and Clare set charges and battle Bakuto and some goons. Misty shows up with the assist, and gets her arm sliced off before Coleen decapitates Bakuto, who inconsiderately falls on the detonator controls, starting an unstoppable countdown.

Matt gets the others to evacuate, while he tries once more to get through to Elektra, despite the fact that she was a dangerous, thrill-seeking egoist at her best. Murakami gets thrown off the lift, Gao gets fatalistic, Jessica catches the falling lift by its cables and Luke persuades the police to evacuate before the building comes down on top of Matt, Elektra, Murakami and Gao.

The police drop the matter. Jessica reopens Alias Investigations. Luke goes home to Harlem. Danny offers to pay for Misty’s treatment at a state of the art hospital (presumably doing great work with robot arms,) then crouches on a roof like he’s Daredevil. And Matt wakes up in what appears to be the Budapest convent hospital from Dracula.

So, that was The Defenders, a perfectly serviceable series which takes the uniqueness of the four Netflix Marvel series and combines them into something kind of generic. The best stuff stylistically is when they’re operating apart and cutting from the visual style of one series to another between scenes – perpetual darkness for Matt Murdock, seventies sepia-toned for Luke Cage, washed out noir for Jessica Jones, entirely bland television colours for Danny Rand(7) – but that only carries the story so far, and when they unite the series proves to share Iron Fist’s lack of a distinct visual language. Sadly, it also shares the lacklustre martial arts work, although having the other three means that you get their distinctive styles, and say what you will about Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, but there’s a thesp who put the hours in on his fight training.

Name dropping historical events liek s
The story is decent enough, but suffers somewhat from being basically what the League of Shadows/Assassins is all about in Batman/Arrow – take one city, add ninjas, stir until well and truly done – but with less ruthless Utopianism and more dragons. Elodie Yung does her best with what she’s given, but Elektra is just too much of a cypher and the Black Sky prophecy too vague for the show to paint a compelling picture of the Hand’s internal power struggles. It is also unclear how using up the last of the Substance makes them vulnerable when Bakuto has come back from the dead and can still shrug off bullet wounds in the chestal area. They still seem to have little to fear save decapitation and massive organ failure, putting them just one down on Connor MacLeod.

The Fingers of the Hand are a mixed bag, with Sigourney Weaver a menacing presence, but never a physical threat because of the characters frailty. Murakami has quirks, more than character – only speaks in Japanese, seeks a challenge(8) – and while Sowande has some personality, Bakuto is as bland as everything else coming out of Iron Fist, leaving Madame Gao to do most of the heavy lifting. It was also frankly disappointing that, after Stick warns Luke that Sowande can mess with the functions of his body and kill him without physical trauma, Luke turns out to be as impervious to the old pressure point deal as he is to blades, bullets and harsh language. 

And watching Danny try to kung fu Luke is priceless.
Truth to tell, Luke Cage is a bit of a problem here all around, his power set being basically a massive fuck you to all martial artists. One on one he could have a good fight against someone agile enough to make him wear himself out, but it never happens. Occasionally he gets slapped around by Danny or Elektra, but he really just gets up again. Danny, meanwhile, once more demands the question ‘how did you become the Iron Fist?’ I know he plunged his hand into the molten heart of Shao Lao, but how was this yoyo the greatest martial artist in K’un-Lun when he gets his arse kicked so much? He’s really got nothing but the Fist going for him a lot of the time, and not even that when he’s trying to charge off despite knowing that’s what the Hand wants, or getting suckered into shattering the vault created by a former Iron Fist. Never has a character so ably converted a strength into a liability.

Despite this, some of my favourite character moments in the series are between Luke and Danny, and I confess I’m broshipping them more than a little, and that at least is something that they’ve got right. Luke Cage might have another solo series in him, but I’d definitely take a Heroes for Hire show over Iron Fist season 2.

Speaking of characters, let’s talk about journeys.

Welcome to the Jungle.
Jessica Jones begins the long walk back to humanity, and probably has the best arc of any of the leads. Now in part this is because she appears at the start of the series slightly regressed from the end of her first season, still refusing to take on the cases being thrown at her since she became famous, and by the finale is seen opening up the office again. Luke Cage has a lot to do with that, of course, giving her the chance to cauterise one old wound for reals, but working with a team, be it ever so dysfunctional, brings her out of the darkness. It’s a shame not to see Trish and Malcolm play more of a part in that, but so it goes. We’ve got a lot of characters knocking around and some of them are going to miss out. I did like that they acknowledge her turning this particular corner by greeting Malcolm with something other than an angry insistence that he stop trying to get her to act like a human being.

Luke Cage and Danny Rand do their best work playing off each other. Danny is a big picture guy, while Luke looks after his own. They help each other see things from another perspective, with Luke knocking a sliver of sense into Danny, and Danny showing Luke that he can’t always protect his own by being insular. It’s disappointing that Danny doesn’t grow more significantly during the course of the series, but he is at least forced to confront the fact that he has issues, even if he doesn’t really do anything about them.

The big problem with Elektra is that she is less a character and more Matt
Murdock's issues.
And finally, Matt Murdock, who… Well, if he had died in this series, it would have been no more than he deserved, and actually an apt ending to the arc established in Daredevil. Unfortunately, they kind of take a weird direction with him. He is pitched as the team’s natural leader, but besides his reflexive secrecy, he repeatedly prioritises saving Elektra, even after she proves herself to have utterly embraced her dark side, leaving the team to their own devices because of this. One of my friends was pondering to what degree Jessica Jones gets a pass for being a bitch because she’s pretty, but Matt at least is willing overlook frankly a lot of murder, purely because he really fancies Elektra. I get it; she’s his dark reflection, and saving her means he is not damned, but this is an arc which does not sit well with this ‘natural leader’ thing, an informed trait if ever there was one.

So anyway, that’s The Defenders, which if nothing else provides strong evidence that secret ninja magic crime cults may be over as a thing. Compared to their appearances in Daredevil, the Hand just don’t seem all that mysterious. The Five Fingers are near-immortals with thousands of years behind them, but only Madame Gao has the right sort of unearthly feel to her. Sigourney Weaver does fine work with what she has, but lacks the time to get properly established. They just come off as regular – if highly successful – criminals, and even the dragon bones that they are digging for don’t really feel as epic as they ought.

In fact, ‘not as epic as they ought’ is pretty much the watchword of the series. Like the Avengers movies, it has a lot to fit in, and in doing so doesn’t reliably do any of it much beyond ‘quite good.’

(1) The fact that Spider-Man is a thing in the MCU does sting The Defenders’ cred a little. I mean, even if Iron Man has moved upstate, the friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler is only in Queens. Does spider sense not work on ninjas? Does MCU Spidey even have spider sense?
(2) The second of many times I thought Malcolm was going to get fridged.
(3) Not sure how she manages this, since she’s a good PI but he’s supposed to be able to track a heartbeat at half a mile.
(4) A spiel which goes down like a cockroach sandwich.
(5) That is literally his character: He’s angry, he’s Japanese, and he seeks for something to challenge him.
(6) And by implication, given how much time they spend talking about this being ‘just a city’ and that Elektra can expect to see many cities fall, many, if not all cities.
(7) Seriously, the sin of Iron Fist – well, one of them – is not really having a style to back up its lack of substance. It’s almost unique in being a series that needed its foreign language scenes to be dubbed instead of subtitled.

(8) And yet is not determined to pit himself one on one against the Iron Fist (which would probably be disappointing) or even the Black Sky.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Killjoys - 'Attack the Rack' and 'Necropolis Now'

So, clearly I'm running slow on my reviews. Bear with me.

Not the most successful interrogation ever.
Dutch is going all out for war and seeking to recruit the rest of the RAC. To do that, however, she needs to be sure that she isn't recruiting double agents, and thus she and her team set out to use knockout gas to disable every Killjoy in the Rack so that they can be cut-tested and the Sixes eliminated. It's a smooth plan, but goes south when the Hullen prove to be wearing anti-toxin injectors, one of the tech nerds having sold out the cause for the promise of immortality.

The brothers Jaqobis are captured and tortured to force D'av to reveal his magic goo powers, while Dutch confronts Banyon Grey and stabs her, only to learn that she has been tracking the Six infiltration herself, and thought that Dutch was a part of it. Dutch rescues her boys and manages to clear the Rack with the aid of Johnny and the DNA bomb, but the cost is massive and Banyon - a potentially strong ally - dies of her wounds. Worse, Aneela sees a demonstration of D'av's abilities. On the upside, the leaders of the other nearby RAC Cruisers are convinced... right up until Aneela blows up their ships and all of the Killjoys aboard.

Also, Turin shows doubts over Fancy's loyalty, causing the latter to go off in a huff.

"I don't think you understand how rich, posh and objectionable we are."
So, things are going badly for everyone but Aneela, and maybe Kendry, who moves up her campaign to become Aneela's second in command to a physical level.

In 'Necropolis Now', the team attend the funeral for the RAC leaders, a swanky affair led by Alvis and with top-level representatives of the Nine in attendance, at which a newly doubtful Dutch is hoping to solicit financial support for the war. She finds them less than receptive, and eventually realises that this is because, with their deal with the Hullen fallen through, they are planning to run away and leave the Quad to their erstwhile partners. As the dignitaries begin to die from mysterious causes, Dutch and D'av are trapped in a lift with the nobs and a bucket of sexual tension, while Johnny tries to find common ground with Pawter's sister. Unfortunately, it turns out that Louelle Seyah Simms is the murderer, using tiny robots developed by her mother to avenge her sister's murder, for which she also holds Johnny responsible. This leaves a dying Johnny to talk her down, while D'av and Dutch work to un-stick the lift and save their potential donors.

Family's always embarrassing.
Meanwhile, on the Black Root cruiser, Aneela cracks the secret of D'av's abilities, only for her aide to move against her. Kendry realises that the ship is Aneela's prison, somewhere she can be contained while the Hullen use her erratic genius. Armed with D'av's power, however, Aneela slaughters her guards and storms about in search of Kendry.

And then Zeph tells Dutch that the Remnant contains brain cells, complete with memories, with a DNA profile closely matching Dutch's.

Killjoys continues to be a cracking space opera, although it has lost some of its former joie de vivre in all the loss and desperate struggle for survival that's going on, and I miss that. Our heroes have also been on the back foot for a while, and that can be a grind. Thankfully, funding from the Nine and a possible break in the form of the Remnant may indicate a shift of footing. Also, Aneela is so far a slightly less compelling character than Dutch, although the revelation that the Hullen have (or had) a complicated relationship with their 'commander' has done wonders for this childlike monster.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Game of Thrones - 'Spoils of War' and 'Eastwatch'

A double bill review, as I was a bit too busy last week to get ‘The Spoils of War’ done.

This reunion is only going downhill from here.
Arya comes home to Winterfell and ducks the dim guards to see Sansa, and then is all ‘list of people to kill,’ and Sansa is all haha, but Bran is all creepy and then Arya fights Brienne to a standstill and Sansa is all ‘well fuck,’ especially since Littlefinger is getting a scheming look beyond his resting schemey face and pulling the whole ‘I loved your mother and I’m trying to get into your sister’s pants(1)’ bit on Arya. He also gives Bran the Valyrian steel dagger that basically started all of this, which Bran passes on to Arya. Meera meanwhile heads out for home, somewhat pissed that Bran has gone all distant chessmaster after all they’ve been through, although he explains that he isn’t really Bran anymore, which is why he isn’t claiming Winterfell. She feels that Bran died in the cave, rather than being transformed.

Danaerys Targaryan, not an axe-crazy burninator.
Jon finds his mountain of dragon glass, surrounded by pictograms showing coexistence between the First Men and the Children of the Forest, but the mood on Dragonstone is down because Cersei has pulled off quite a coup. Danaerys is pretty down on Tyrion, despite the fact that his plan was only flawed in not realising that Smasher Greyjoy just spawns randomly at the worst possible moment(2). Consequently, she decides against the blockade plan, and instead opts for a more executive course of action. Despite this, Missandei assures Jon and Davos that Dany isn’t some sort of axe-crazy burninator. Theon also makes it back, and Jon punches him.

Cersei has a more cordial meeting with the Iron Banker, who is impressed by her successes and willing now to speculate more on the Lannisters, since the Tyrells’ gold will cover their existing debts.
Cue Shirley Bassey.
Jaime and Bron saddle up with the loot, although the latter is a little stung that he still doesn’t have his promised castle. Reaching the shores of the Blackwater Rush, Jamie sends the gold across the river, but his force and its wagons of requisitioned grain are still on the banks when a Dothraki Horde comes over the hill. The Lannisters line up to weather the charge, but then suddenly there’s a dragon and it all goes seriously to shit(3). The dragon fucks up the Lannister shield line, allowing the Dothraki to get in among the infantry, and Drogon weathers a hit from Qyburn’s windlance and incinerates it in response. Jamie tries to run down Dany when she lands to pull a bolt out of Drogon’s wing. The dragon tries to torch him, but Bron knocks him into the Rush and apparently into a James Bond credit sequence.

In ‘Eastwatch’, Bron pulls Jamie out of the far side of the river(4) while Dany gives the surviving Lannister and Tarly troops the option of submission or death. Randyll Tarly refuses to bend the knee, as does his son Dickon, who is… well, basically he’s a loveable lunk here to make us feel something, and it works. Tarly senior may be a jerk, but it’s hard to feel that Dickon deserved incineration. Still, that’s what he gets, because the show is apparently still determined to show us that Dany is a terrible person, even as her posse assure all and sundry that she’s the actual shit. Tyrion at least is not happy with this, and reflects with Varys on the latter’s regret that he never took a stand when he served the Mad King. Meanwhile, Jon pets the dragon(5).
At Winterfell, Bran spies out the army of the dead in a flock of ravens, seeing them heading for Eastwatch-by-the-Sea before the Night King sees him. the Lords of the North start to wonder if Sansa wouldn’t be a better ruler than Jon the Perpetually Absent, which stirs dissent between Arya and Sansa. Interestingly, Arya pushes for a bit of decapitatory management, while Sansa argues for hearts and minds, where just a few weeks ago she was in favour of dispossessing the prepubescent lords of Umber and Kar-Stark of land and limb. Littlefinger jumps on the scheme train and allows Arya to think she is following him undetected as he gets the new Maester to bring him the raven message Sansa sent, asking Robb to bend the knee in order to save their father.

"No-one knows who I am."
At the Citadel, the Maesters refuse to treat Bran’s warning as an incontrovertible threat, spurring Sam to nick a bunch of texts and head out. He also manages to ignore Gilly reading out a section of text which basically names Jon the rightful king of Westeros. No-one tells him his father and brother have been incinerated (which I think reflects somewhat a conversation he had with Maester Aemon, because fucking everything is reflecting something else by this point, to the degree that the entire script is basically callbacks.)

Jorah turns up and agrees to join in Jon Snow’s latest ‘brilliant strategem’. Tyrion goes to King’s Landing to set up a meeting with Jaime, the idea being that they want to rock up with a wight as proof of the danger in the North. Qyburn tells Cersei about the meeting, and she gets all grumpy at Jaime for not killing him, despite Olenna’s truth bomb. She also tells him she’s in the family way, and intends to name him as the father this time, because what’s sauce for the dragon and all that.

"Are we nearly there yet?"
To bring the meeting off, Jon is planning to go north of the Wall to capture a wight. He travels to Eastwatch to do this, taking Jorah with him, and also Gendry, whom Davos collects from Fleabottom, along with his oh-so-subtle homage to his father, a warhammer with antlers on(6). They meet up with Tormund and also the Brotherhood, in a scene that could be subtitled ‘it’s a small world after all.’ Together, this dirty half dozen (plus one and some extras) set out into the north, which has never looked as frozen.

It’s been commented that Game of Thrones has lost its edge, with Jaime being dragged out of the water and Littlefinger and Arya’s rank failure to murder one another, but I suspect that this is because they’ve churned through so many (seemingly) main characters that they can’t kill off anyone more important than the Tarlys (who were totally included so that someone with a name could bite the big one) without derailing their main plots. Mind you, speaking of names…

Cersei reminds Jaime of their father’s attitude to the poor(7), and his insistence that ‘the Lion does not concern himself with the opinions of the sheep.’ While easily the most affecting scene this season has been Thoros helping the Hound to bury the poor couple he once robbed, it’s still a story of posh nobs occasionally being moved by the plight of the smallfolk, and it seems like death by mob would be a far more apt ending to Cersei’s story than murder by brother. Ser Davos is basically the voice of the common folk, and as per Tywin Lannister’s favourite saw, no-one gives a shit what he thinks. It’s starting to wear on him too.

“Nobody mind me. All I've ever done is lived to a ripe old age.”

No small achievement in Westeros. I suspect he will die for pathos reasons somewhere late next season, but part of me wants to see him on the Iron Throne, running the Seven Kingdoms with common sense practicality and disabling his enemies with liberal applications of fermented crab.

(1) I’m paraphrasing.
(2) In fairness, you could probably see a fleet heading out of Dragonstone from King’s Landing, although conversely Smasher’s fleet should have had to sail visibly past Chez Dany every time he’s been in and out.
(3) There has been much said about the tactics here, but the frontal charge makes a lot of sense if the goal is to make the Lannisters form up into a tight and easily dragonable formation.
(4) Establishing him as at least a gold award lifesaver, since it must have involved dragging Jaime out of deep water in full armour.
(5) Drogon lets him pet his head, rather than this being a euphemism for the most disturbingly anticipated aunt-on-nephew action in television history.
(6) Which he puts to use mortally clobbering a couple of guards, and he’s the nice one.
(7) “What was it he used to say about the needy? He had a phrase for them…”

“A shower of bastards.”

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Game of Thrones – 'The Queen's Justice'

"An impressive start."
In the words of Shang Tsung, IT HAS BEGUN!

Jon and Davos reach Dragonstone. Melisandre declines to meet with them, despite proclaiming that she has brought Ice and Fire together, instead leaving for the East after telling Varys that she will return, as she needs to die in this land, as does he. 

The visitors are none-too-subtly taken into not-quite-custody to be escorted - via a very choreographed dragon fly-by - into the presence of the title-rich Danaerys. Davos introduces Jon, only remembering after a stumble that he is King in the North. Jon and Dany spar over whether Jon is breaking faith by ignoring ye olde Starke's oath of perpetual fealty, or whether the Targaryan's already did that when the mad king set fire to all those Starks. Dany leans heavily on being the 'rightful' Queen, because that's always been such a clincher, and Jon learns the advantage of letting Davos talk you up, Fleabottom accent and all. No-one gets executed, which is a plus, but possibly only because the last Ironborn ships limp in to report the ambush from last episode.
"Your soul is mine."
Smasher Greyjoy rocks up to a triumphal welcome in King's Landing and hands over his Dornish captives in exchange for a somewhat equivocal promise of marriage once the war is won. Cersei poisons the last Sand Snake just as Myrcella was poisoned, and leaves her chained to a wall opposite her mother. Now, Cersei is definitely way too into lording it over the helpless, but given that the daughter – I'm sorry, the Sand Snakes have never really been in the show enough or interesting enough for me to learn their names – was complicit in the assassination of Myrcella, I really struggle to give a shit about her fate, however much the actresses play it up.

Hyped, Cersei decides that she no longer cares who knows she and Jamie are doing it, and rounds off a good day by persuading the Iron Bank's representative that she's still the smart money.

Flawless victory.
To put the icing on Cersei's justice cake(1), Smasher sails north to take out Dany's remaining fleet, after letting the Unsullied take an all-but abandoned Casterley Rock from a skeleton garrison. The bulk of the Lannister army marches on Highgarden, and in the space of two episodes Dany has gone from odds on favourite to an outside bet. Captured, Olenna Tyrell warns Jaime that Cersei is a monster who will be the end of him. She accepts a merciful death by poison, chugging her medicine before telling Jaime that she poisoned Joffrey by way of a final mic drop.

While Tyrion's military plans fall through hard, he does manage to persuade Jon and Dany to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and Jon is permitted to mine dragonglass on the island for the war in the north.

"That's enough!"
At the Citadel, Ser Jorah makes a full recovery and heads off to rejoin the Danaerys Targaryan Testosterone Brigade. Sam gets mad props from the Archmaester for his excellent work, and is tasked with copying out a massive stack of mite-ridden texts for disobedience, because the Archmaester is a fucking boss.

And in the North, Sansa is large and in charge – and getting more creepy advice from Littlefinger about basically running through every possible scenario in your head all the time – when Bran arrives(2) to tell her he's the Three-Eyed Raven, and rather eerily imply that he Greensaw the events of her wedding night.

So, that was one hell of an episode, turning the assumed balance of power on its head. The Unsullied have Casterley Rock, but are essentially trapped there with no food and no support. Smasher Greyjoy keeps popping up like a bad penny wherever he'll be most devastating, which makes a bit of a mockery of Team Dany's concerns about the difficulties of finding his fleet with her dragons. The dragons, meanwhile, have yet to either see use or be pitted against Qyburn's windlance. Hopefully Bran will be able to pull things more usefully together, assuming he isn't murdered by Littlefinger for having a claim to Winterfell.

I assume that things will start going a little wonky for Cersei next week, if only because, if they don't, then what was all the flap about for the last six seasons?

(1) The title clearly refers to Cersei's justice, not Dany's.
(2) And remember, Jon has also made it to Dragonstone in the time it's taken him to cart down from the Wall.