Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 3, Episode 20 - The Fallen

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.




Plot

With Thea near death, Ra's Al Ghul has finally made an offer Oliver Queen can't refuse. For Nanda Parbat houses The Lazarus Pit - a magical pool that can heal those near death. Oliver will gladly sacrifice himself to save his sister's life, but will his allies - particularly Felicity - allow him to make that choice?

Five years earlier, Oliver, Maseo and Tatsu race to stop the release of the Alpha/Omega bio-weapon on Hong Kong.


Influences

Son of the Demon. Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (the ritual involving the Lazarus Pit and the scary fortress - as Felicity calls it - having a secret passageway out through the catacombs). Various stories involving The League of Assassins by Dennis O'Neil. Ollie and Felicity's night together is reminiscent of the night shared between Oliver Queen and Marianne in Green Arrow #76.


Goofs

Thea's leap from The Lazarus Pit involves some rather obvious - and clumsy - wire work.

Apart from giving Katie Cassidy an excuse to appear in this episode, there seems little reason for Felicity to unburden herself on Laurel Lance of all people.  To quote the woman herself, "Are we friends now?" Cassidy's wooden reaction to Emily Bett Rickard's breakdown doesn't help how unnatural the scene feels.


Performances

Stephen Amell does some great wordless acting during Thea's surgery and in the scene immediately after the title cut.  It's the first time we've seen Ollie so shaken and he conveys it well without saying a word.

John Barrowman is famed for his campy performances but his reaction to Thea's injuries as Malcolm show that he can play it subtle when needed.

Emily Bett Rickards dominates this episode as Felicity shows a new fire in her efforts to save Oliver as he's saved her so many times before.

As before, Matt Nable plays Ra's Al Ghul perfectly, with just the right sense of menace and sympathy. You really believe he regrets the actions he's taken to push Oliver to this point, even before he tells his own tale of how he came to join The League of Assassins.


Artistry

The chase scene in the flashback as Ollie and the Yamashiros go after a military vehicle is a thing of beauty.


Trivia

In the comics, The Lazarus Pits are naturally occurring pools of an unspecified chemical mixture. The Lazarus Pits are capable of restoring the near-dead to life and Ra's Al Ghul has used the pits to extend his life for several hundred years.  The effects of The Pits are temporary, however, and they lose effectiveness over time.

In the comics, The Lazarus Pits cause temporary insanity in the person resurrected by them. They also give them a measure of super-human strength while they are possessed by the madness. On the show, this seems to be true of Thea as she leaves The Pit.

On one occasion, a dying Joker was placed in a Lazarus Pit and it temporarily restored his sanity.

On another occasion, Black Canary was placed in a Lazarus Pit and it healed the damage to her vocal cords that prevented her from using her Canary Cry.

In the comics, each Lazarus Pit can only be used once.  However, Ra's daughter Nyssa discovered a way to make The Pits last forever though these pits had more unpredictable effects. For instance, one of Nyssa's pits changed Mr. Freeze's wife Nora into an insane lava monster.

There is some suggestion The Pits may cause permanent insanity with extended use, though it is possible Ra's Al Ghul was mentally unstable before his discovery of The Pits.

In keeping with the DCTVU version of Nanda Parbat, The Lazarus Pit here is a special healing spring ala The Fountain of Youth.

Malcolm Merlyn claims Ra's has used the waters of Nanda Parbat to live for over 100 years and that in rare instances those waters can be used to raise the dead. He further claims the waters change a person's soul and that the person who comes back will not be the same as the one that died.

The Pit leaves the resurrected Thea with a wildly erratic form of amnesia. She recognizes Malcolm Merlyn as her father and calls him Dad, apparently not remembering her reasons for hating him. She doesn't recognize Oliver but does believe her brother Ollie to be dead. She doesn't remember that her mother Moira is dead and seems to believe that she and Merlyn are on good terms.  She seems to be fully recovered by the time she returns to Starling City. At the very least, she's back to hating Merlyn.

Ra's story to Felicity about his past suggests that the League of Assassins was founded long before he joined it. In the comics, Ra's founded the organization.


Dialogue Triumphs

Felicity: Oliver...
Oliver: I'd prefer that we didn't do our usual 'Please don't go' dance.
Felicity: We're not going to. Because I'm coming with you.

Felicity: I need a favor. A really big favor.
Ray: The last time you asked me for a big favor I had to loan you my helicopter.
Felicity: Don't need your helicopter.  I need your jet.

Diggle: (scoffing) League of Assassins. You're feared for your bravery. And power. But all I see are a bunch of weak men running from their lives. Trying to escape. That's not powerful Maseo. Or brave. It's cowardly.
Maseo: Do not presume to know me until you've held your dying child in your arms. Until you've told him everything would be okay. So that the last words he'd ever hears are a lie. You know nothing!
Diggle: I'm sorry.  What was your child's name?
Maseo: Akio
Diggle: Do you think Akio would be proud of his father right now?

Ra's Al Ghul: You have a great fire within you. I can see now why Oliver loves you.
Felicity: If you knew the first thing about love you would not be ripping Oliver away from his family.
Ra's Al Ghul: I am merely helping him fulfill his destiny.
Felicity:  Yeah. I know all about the "Survive My Sword" prophecy. And I am here to tell you that I could really give a crap. Me and John and - God help me - Malcolm are not going to let this happen. And we have resources. And we will go to war to get Oliver back.
Ra's Al Ghul: You know, many lifetimes ago I loved a woman immeasurably. And she loved me. And we had a son. And then a daughter. And for many years I felt I was the most fortunate man in the world. My life was bliss. And one night a man came to my door and gave me a horrible choice. To leave without saying a word to them. Or to stand and watch them tortured and then killed. And I left without a farewell. And to spare them pain, I endured an agony worse than death
Felicity: Sounds like you gave up too easily.
Ra's Al Ghul: There is one immutable truth about life - it is often more cruel than it is fair. And it rarely provides an opportunity for any of us to find closure. And all your posturing and all of your threats of war... they merely delay the inevitable, causing you to forfeit the opportunity you have which was denied me. You need to tell Oliver goodbye. Tell him how much you love him.Tell him whatever it is your heart needs to express. And do it now. Before he is lost to you forever.

(After Felicity and Olvier make love)
Felicity: So... that happened.

Oliver: Hold! I am Al Sah-Him! Wahreeth Al Ghul! Heir To The Demon! And you will obey!

Diggle: Oliver... Oliver, I don't know what to say.
Oliver: I do. John, you're the best man I've ever known. Whatever happens, you're my brother.
(The two slowly hug)

Ra's Al Ghul: The word "assassins" has fallen victim to many abuses of language. It's real meaning hidden beneath the sediment of lies and falsehoods. In truth, Assassin comes from Hashishiyya, which means "Those who stand apart from society". Now, every man and woman in here have renounced their past life and forfeited their identity in the name of something new. And it is a cleansing only achieved by fire.


Continuity

The address of Thea and Ollie's apartment is 455 Merced, Unit 10.

The League of Assassins use smoke signals to communicate.

Ray Palmer owns a private jet as well as a helicopter.

Ray refers to the events of 319 and Roy's farewell to Felicity.

Malcolm Merlyn suggests consulting with STAR Labs to see if they might be able to help Thea.

Ollie tells Felicity about the events of the flashback scenes in 314 and how he briefly returned to Starling City and killed Thea's drug dealer.

Ollie's name in the League of Assassins is Al Sah-Him - The Arrow.

Felicity drugs Oliver using the same powder used on Thea following the resurrection ceremony.

Oliver takes on the title Wahreeth Al Ghul - Heir To The Demon.

Maseo/Sarab confesses to aiding in Oliver's attempted escape. Ra's forgives him, for the actions were those of Maseo - not Sarab.

Oliver is branded with an arrow-shaped brand below his right shoulder.

In the flashback, the vial containing the virus breaks during Ollie's struggle with the soldier holding it.


Location

Nanda Parbat


The Fridge Factor

Thea is reduced to being a damsel in distress for the entirety of this episode  And the soul-changing effects of the Lazarus Pit doesn't seem to have changed her much at all.


The Bottom Line

An episode that is far more than the sum of its parts, though some of the individual parts are unforgivably weak. For all of Merlyn's warnings about The Lazarus Pit changing people, Thea seems fine by episode's end after spending the entire episode in such an inert state she could be replaced with a house plant and nobody would notice.  That said, Emily Bett Rickards and Stephen Amell knock it out of the park with this episode and David Ramsey and John Barrowman do surprisingly well with the little they have. This episode wasn't much for big reveals but it has set the stage for the end of the season and the final battle.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Flash Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 19 - Who Is Harrison Wells?

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.



Plot

As Joe and Cisco journey to Starling City to look for more information on Harrison Wells' past, Barry must contend with a shape-shifting metahuman back home in Central City.


Influences

52 and the Green Arrow comics of Judd Winick and Andrew Kreisberg (both made extensive use of Everyman)


Goofs

Most of the crowd Barry runs into as The Flash while chasing after Everyman the first time seems remarkably unperturbed about a costumed superhero in their midst.

How did Laurel find out Barry Allen is The Flash?  It's not a secret Team Arrow was likely to let slip and The Flash's presence in Starling City when he visited was low key enough it's unlikely she would have heard about it and put two and two together.


Performances

The scenes between Paul Blackthorne and Jesse L. Martin are pure magic and both actors play off of one another well.

Daniele Panabaker gets some of her best moments ever in this episode. She has the dramatic conflict of her loyalty to Wells vs. her belief in Barry Allen's essential goodness and righteousness. Her motivations in doubting Barry are rooted in selfishness yet completely understandable.  And then there's the comic scenes later where she deals with Everyman disguised as Barry Allen and the momentary guilt of thinking Barry just made a move on her before Iris walked into the building.

For that matter, Grant Gustin clearly has a lot of fun playing Everyman in the same scene, having no idea what the relationships between Barry and Caitlin or Barry and Iris are and playing his hand quite badly.

Surprisingly, Tom Cavanagh doesn't have much screen time this episode given that Harrison Wells' name is in the title.  But the last ten minutes and his discussion with Joe about their dead wives... you still ALMOST believe him even though we now know that "Harrison Wells" is a lying scumbag.


Artistry

The scenes of Harrison Wells walking around his home to light music are well-shot and the music is very well chosen for the scene.


Flash Facts

We see a billboard for Ferris Airlines as Barry runs to Coast City in the opening scene.  Coast City is the home town of Hal Jordan a.k.a. The Green Lantern and he was employed as a pilot at Ferris Aircraft in the comics.

In the comics, Hannibal Bates was given superpowers by Lex Luthor and joined the new Infinity Inc. company Lex Luthor sponsored as part of his efforts to sell metagene activation therapy for a price. Given the name Everyman, Bates had the power to shape-shift into the form of anyone whose genetic material he had consumed.  He usually ate hair or nail-clippings but built up a taste for human flesh. He became an honest to goodness supervillain for a time, contesting most frequently with Green Arrow. He was eventually killed by the Green Arrow villain Cupid.

The DCTVU version of Everyman seems to have similar powers to his comic book counterpart, save that he merely has to touch a person to be able to copy their appearance.

Hannibal Bates was named in honor of the fictional killers Hannibal Lectre and Norman Bates. The former was a cannibal and the later dressed like his mother when killing people.

On Arrow, Hannibal Bates was one of the names on Oliver Queen's list of people involved in The Undertaking.

Wells theorizes early on that Everyman may have the power to absorb superpowers or memories from the people he touches. This turns out to not be the case.

The District Attorney of Central City is a woman named Cecile. This may be a reference to Cecile Horton née O'Malley - a defense attorney who represented The Flash when he was put on trial for the murder of The Reverse Flash in the comics.

Another 52 reference - the camera on the squad car that recorded Everyman, disguised as Eddie Thawne, shooting two police officers is Cam 52.

Cisco modifies one of Sara Lance's sonic devices for Laurel Lance. Not only does he make the decide more powerful but he fits it onto a choker-style necklace. This is a reference to the classic Black Canary costume, which featured a prominent choker.

 Cisco's name for the new device - The Canary Cry - is a reference Black Canary's famous sonic scream power in the comics.

Cisco working with sonic weaponry could be another hint to his eventual destiny as the hero Vibe...


Technobabble

Dr. Wells notes that programmable matter was only theoretical until Everyman's shape-shifting proved it possible.

Cisco's "metal detector" actually detects abnormal sound waves and tachyons.

Barry conducts a GSR (Gun Shot Residue) swab which proves Eddie's hands are free of lead, barium and antimony.  In other words, it would not be possible for him to have fired a gun recently despite what the video-taped evidence shows.

Caitlin theorizes she can create a serum that will stop Everyman from morphing by terminating the polymerization reaction, essentially forcing the bonds to revert to their original form.

Cisco was able to bump up the specs on Sara Lance's original sonic device, quadrupling the range and tripling the resonance. He also fit the device onto a choker-style necklace.

Hannibal Bates cells' have the ability to transmogrify at a rapid rate.

Caitlin's serum operates by creating a cortical reaction around Everyman's cells, depriving them of their electrical charge.


Dialogue Triumphs

Barry (opening voice-over)  
I'm getting faster. Faster than I've ever been and I wonder if it's because lately something's chasing me. I know what it is that's stalking me. It's my past. It's getting closer and as fast as I am I can't help but feel like my past has almost caught up with me.

Eddie: No priors. No arrests. Not even a speeding ticket. And everyone who knows this woman - co-workers, neighbors - say she's the kindest, nicest most honest woman they've ever met.
Barry: So unless she woke up this morning and out of nowhere decided to become a criminal...
Eddie: ...maybe we should be looking for a metahuman?
Barry: Yeah.
Eddie:  One that can control people's minds. Coerce them into becoming thieves. Is that possible?
Barry: Is that a real question?

(Barry has just carried Caitlin, at superspeed, away from Harrison Wells' front door)
Caitlin: Wha- are you spying on me now?
Barry:  Caitlin, what were you doing at Wells house?
Caitlin: I was going to talk to him and get some answers of my own.
Barry: You can't!  You can NOT talk to him!
Caitlin:  
Oh, so I'm just supposed to stand by and watch all of you ruin this man's life? Or my life?!
Barry: What are you talking about "your life"?
Caitlin: Those nine months that you were in a coma were the worst of my life! I lost my reputation, my fiancee. And through all of that Harrison Wells stood by my side. He told me everything was going to be okay. If Dr. Wells is who you says he is, everything I've done since the minute I set foot in STAR Labs has been a lie.
Barry: Caitlin... if I am right about all of this and you tell him what's been going on, I'll never be able to get my dad out of prison.
Caitlin: Barry...
Barry: If not for me, just do it for him.
Caitlin:  (sniffling) I can't believe you're pulling the dad card.  That's dirty pool, Barry.
Barry: Just until Joe and Cisco get back... please?

(After Barry runs Eddie out of an interview room and onto the street)
Barry: Okay, look... you get to STAR Labs. They'll set you up with a burner phone. I'll contact-
Eddie: No!  I run now, that surveillance video is the least of my problems. No way I don't smell guilty. No way they'll let me stay on the force.
Barry: Look, you said it yourself.  If we don't find Hannibal Bates, you'll go to prison for a crime you didn't commit. I won't let that happen! Not again!
Eddie: This isn't like your dad, Barry.
Barry: Eddie...
Eddie:  When your dad was put away, you were a kid. There wasn't anything you could do. But you're not a kid anymore. You're a scientist. Hell, you're The Flash. You are going to find Bates. And you are going to clear me. So go do it.

(As they are digging where Cisco detected tachyons and find something)
Cisco: Please tell me that's not what I think it is.
Quentin: Okay, that is definitely a hand.
Cisco: Okay, see, I thought that was a foot, but a hand is just as bad.


Dialogue Disasters

The exposition in the scene at Joe's house with the pizza is incredibly clunky.


Continuity

Coast City reportedly has the best pizza on the western coast of the USA in the DCTVU.

At this point Joe and Barry have been investigating Harrison Wells for six months.

Harrison Wells lived in Starling City when his wife died.

When explaining Cisco's absence, Caitlin says he's helping his brother Dante, whom we met in 116.

Quentin Lance asks Joe about Barry's health following the lightning strike. Quentin and Barry met back in A208.

Laurel Lance refers to having met Barry back in A308.

Laurel Lance reveals her secret identity to Cisco and asks him to modify one of the sonic devices Sara Lance used as The Canary.

Quentin Lance's coffee levitates out of his cup once he is in the immediate presence of what turns out to be Harrison Wells' body, just like the chemicals in Barry's lab  levitated out of their beakers right before he got struck by lightning in The Pilot.

This is one of the rare occasions Caitlin, not Cisco, names a villain.

Joe persuades Quentin not to report the dead body they found together.

In her research, Iris discovers six crimes over eleven months committed by people who had air-tight alibis but were still caught on video committing crimes.

Barry Allen and Eddie Thawne are both right-handed. Everyman is left-handed. Iris realizes Everyman is an imposter based on this fact.

Cisco's payment for creating The Canary Cry? A picture of himself with Black Canary, in her full costume, which Laurel instructs him never to show to anyone on pain of death.

Cisco later confirms the body they found is that of Harrison Wells through two separate DNA tests.

When Laurel asks how he got The Canary Cry made so quickly, Cisco says he's gotten some experience working with sonic devices recently.  He's referring to his work with the Pied Piper technology, which began back in 112.

The DA of Central City is now aware of the existence of metahumans as is Captain Singh.

Eddie tells Iris the reason he's been so distant lately is that he has been working with The Flash in secret.

Everyman has no memory of what he originally looked like.

Barry quotes Dr. Tina McGee's comments about Harrison Wells becoming a completely different man following his wife's death in 118.

Cisco made a 3D Model of the STAR Labs building to try and figure out what went wrong with the particle accelerator.  Examining the whole model allows him, Caitlin and Barry to find Wells secret room, where they see the Reverse Flash costume. The Tachyon device and the newspaper from the future showing Barry Allen's disappearance.


Location

Starling City


The Boomerang Factor

The idea that Everyman might be more than just a shapeshifter keeps Barry from just running up to him and grabbing him early on.  There's no reason for their final fight to take as long as it does, other than to give the visual effects team a chance to show off by letting Everyman keep changing faces during the fight.


The Bottom Line

A rare treat this. For once the villain-of-the-week subplot doesn't feel tacked on. Indeed, the best bits of acting in this episode center around it and there's a farcical element to Everyman's invasion of STAR Labs disguised as Barry Allen. There's also a rare logical reason why Barry's speed can't be used to defeat this week's guest villain quickly (No Pun Intended) despite the relative lack of strength in their power levels.  The bits with Joe West and Quentin Lance are pure fan-service but they're well-acted by Jesse L. Martin and Paul Blackthorne. The bits with Laurel and Cisco aren't bad but they clearly exist only because they needed to justify Laurel getting Black Canary's signature power in a hurry somehow.  Oddly enough there's very little of the titular Mr. Wells.  Well, up until the last ten minutes and the biggest cliffhanger ever.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Tithe #1 - A Review

For the past several months, a hacktivist group known as Samaritan had been robbing mega-churches' bank accounts and donating the money to small, local charities. Now, with their latest heist, they've stepped up their game, robbing the churches physically while leaving behind evidence of the church leaders' moral and legal misdeeds. Two FBI agents - one a company man and devout Baptist and the other a white-hat hacker who doesn't believe in much of anything - have been assigned to the case, charged to bring down Samaritan at any cost. But whose cause is the righteous one?


Matt Hawkins' conceit for this series couldn't be more timely. Hawkins makes his own religious and political leanings clear enough in his afterword to this first issue but the story itself is not quite so clear as to where our sympathies should lie, save that they should not rest with the money-changers who have taken over the temples. Both FBI agents - the skeptic and the believer - are presented as men concerned with doing their jobs and following the law, even if they disagree upon Samaritan's ultimate goals and the means used to achieve those ends.

Even Samaritan itself is not entirely presented as a positive entity, with some members being presented as good people trying to fight corruption but others shown as being scornful of religion in general and not just corrupt churches. It's an unexpected bit of moral complexity in what I thought was going to be a simple modern-day Robin Hood story. I hope we'll continue to see this level of writing in the issues to come.


The artwork by Rashan Ekedal serves the story well. Ekedal's style is streamlined but effective, managing a nice balance between complex line work in the close-ups and simplicity in its far shots. And the colors by Bill Farmer are well suited to their respective scenes.

Doctor Who - The Twelfth Doctor #7 - A Review

In another time and another place, a scientist who had lost his wife and children in an accident developed a suit that would enable him to traverse the void between realities. He found another world - one where an accident had killed his alternate universe counterpart - and leaped into the space between.

Now the scientist is in our world.... and he hasn't come alone. He's been followed by The Fractures.

The Fractures are the repairmen of The Void.  Auditors of reality who destroy all that might threaten the continuity between worlds. Only The Doctor might be able to save the day. But while he might be able to fight The Fractures, can he do it without a family from being broken apart in the process?


Once again Robbie Morrison has expanded the Doctor Who universe with his creation another unique and terrifying monster. While The Fractures are reminiscent of The Reapers from the episode Fathers Day, Morrison differentiates them by making them formless Lovecraftian monstrosities. The horror is enhanced by the fact that The Doctor cares little about the miracle of Void travel being possible and worries only about the possibility of all reality being erased because of one man's desire to explore and save his family. Given The Doctor's own past, one wonders if the hypocrisy of this will be pointed out...


The artwork by Brian Williamson is excellent. I commented in my review of the previous issue that the only flaw to Williamson's work was a few instances of over-inking a few panels here and there. There are no such flaws in this issue.

Superior Iron Man #7 - A Review

The Superior Iron Man is growing out of control and Pepper Potts was just barely able to thwart his efforts to buy his own media empire.  Now the new Tony Stark must face Pepper's ally - the old Tony Stark!  Well, an old Iron Man suit containing an A.I. based on Tony's memories from eight years ago, created for just such an emergency... but close enough!


It should be no surprise that this series continues to be a wonderful read.  The action of the issue, featuring a battle between one of Tony's earliest suits and his latest digital symbiote suit, is a thrilling one. And the dialogue is filled with Taylor's trademarked witty banter.


The artwork was finished by two separate teams but you'd never know it from how well the images fit together. Both Yildiray Cinar and Felipe Watanabe are to be commended for their pencils on this issue.  The inks by Ruy Jose and Cinar are also excellent as are the colors by Guru-FX.