Category Archives: Television

iZombie: “Wag the Tongue Slower” hangs some decent plot progress on a slight case of the week

After last week’s fast-paced hour of watching Ravi metaphorically punch himself in the crotch over and over again, “Wag the Tongue Slowly” is a bit lighter and, for the most part, a lot more fun. There’s no particular aspect of the episode that stands out as excellent, but there are modest advances made on all the season’s important storylines so far and the murder mystery of the week is entertaining, even if it is predictable. Even still, the episode ends on something of a low note, which makes me concerned about how far and deep the overall sense of foreboding they’re building is going to go and what that means for the characters we’ve come to love over the last couple of years. iZombie has always had a feeling of tragedy about it, but that’s being explored this season to a far greater degree than ever before.

**Spoilers below.**

The episode begins and ends with Blaine still not having recovered his memories of his previous life, which doesn’t bode well for Major or, eventually, Liv, who would also like to someday not be a zombie. However, this is potentially good news for Blaine and Peyton, who are very cozy now. There’s an interesting dynamic between Peyton and her friends because of this, but there’s a problem: no one in the situation comes off looking particularly good. Peyton’s an Assistant DA, which makes her involvement with Blaine—amnesia or not—a pretty significant ethical issue. Ravi’s been a disaster over Peyton all season. Major is relatively chill, though more due to fatalism than anything else, and Liv was actually kind of monstrous towards Peyton this week, piling on a guilt trip as if it’s Peyton’s fault that the memory serum isn’t working.

It’s an ugly moment for Liv, and an interesting choice to include in an episode where Liv eats the brain of someone so unlikable, especially when it seems clear that this ugliness is all Liv. Similarly, at the start of the episode, before Liv even partakes of gossip brain, she gives a recap of Ravi’s exploits last week that borders on mean-spirited. It’s not as if Liv has always been a perfectly likable protagonist, but her friendships with other characters are central to the show and a key to its popularity. This unkindness is a sharp corner in Liv that hasn’t been explored before. There’s always been some question of how much of Liv’s personality is her and how much is from the brains she eats, and this episode presents another possibility—that the brains might (at least sometimes) act as an intensifier for Liv’s personality rather than taking over her personality.

Meanwhile, Major finally makes some progress in his search for Natalie, with Ravi’s help of course. I could have done with more of Major and Ravi hanging out together, but it’s good to see some actual movement on this storyline, even if it turns out to be frustrating. Major actually finds Natalie, who’s awake and apparently trapped by some zombie businessman who’s keeping her locked up in a hotel, although it doesn’t seem as if she’s there entirely against her will. Needless to say, she’s not happy to see Major, and she insists that he leave her where she is so he doesn’t get himself killed. Before leaving, Major gives Natalie a dose of the zombie cure and a heads up about the amnesia thing, which is, frankly, a strange place to leave things. It doesn’t explain who took Natalie or why, it doesn’t resolve Major’s hunt for her except in the most basic fashion, and leaving a syringe of the zombie cure out in the wild feels like set-up for it to be used for purposes other than its intended one. Ravi’s Don Quixote allusion is nice, as is the use of “I Don Quixote” in the background, though.

The murder mystery, as I already mentioned, is a predictable one, but it’s still fun to watch. Office gossip Cheryl is underdeveloped as a victim, and what we do learn about her isn’t flattering. It’s no surprise that she’s pissed off everyone she works with to the point that they’re willing to play a dangerous “prank” on her. It was mildly surprising that Cheryl’s death wasn’t actually intentional, but the basic method of her death was obvious as soon as they started introducing all the people she worked with and every one of them had strong motives. These fast-paced interrogation montages are something the show has done before, and I like it every time, but this time was made even better by the hilarious faces Clive makes throughout. His and Liv’s “Ahhhh!” when they learn that Cheryl was a gossip was perfectly timed and a laugh out loud moment.

The final piece of story that is touched on this week is the ongoing investigation of the murder of Wally and his family. Liv and Clive split a stack of messages from an online forum between them to look for evidence, and they find information that points them towards a local shooting range that turns out to be run by a man whose brother died at the recent Max Rager party. He claims to have solid proof of the existence of zombies—at least of the shambling type—and he’s also got a conviction that “you can’t murder what ain’t alive.” While the shooting range owner has an alibi and Liv and Clive don’t have any solid evidence against him, this surely isn’t the last we’ve seen of this fellow.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • “That can’t be the best use of taxpayer dollars.”
  • “Dude, don’t pitch problems.”
  • Ravi’s obsession with the porn actress was kind of extra gross after his behavior last week. Guess he’s just gonna wallow for a while in that hole he dug.
  • Wham Bam Gun Range. That is all.

Into the Badlands: “Leopard Stalks in Snow” takes some [possibly unnecessarily] dark turns

Into the Badlands has always been a show with sharp edges and dark corners, and “Leopard Stalks in Snow” takes things to perhaps the darkest place the show has ever been. We’re past the halfway point of the season now, and already we’re starting to see all the show’s disparate storylines begin to converge. This week showcases more than one significant reunion, a couple of big revelations and several potential major conflicts on the horizon. All in all, there’s a definite sense of an enormous storm brewing; it just remains to be seen if all this build-up is going to pay off in the end.

**Spoilers below.**

The pre-credits scene this week picks up right where last week’s episode ended. Lydia is reeling, disoriented and bloody after the explosion at the entrance to Quinn’s secret compound, and the men she led there are strewn about, some in actual pieces, as Quinn walks among them cutting the throats of the wounded. It might be the most gruesome scene of the show to date, to the point that it’s uncomfortable to watch. It’s saying something, really, that this isn’t the hardest to watch scene of the episode, to be honest, though Quinn’s quiet “Hello, Lydia” is chilling. Their reunion goes about as well as one might expect. Lydia is angry about Quinn killing Ryder; Quinn makes things all about himself; Lydia tries to stab her estranged husband; Quinn kisses her; and things get weird. I’m curious to find out if Lydia’s response here is real or if it’s calculatedly feigned. Either way, gross, and we don’t see Lydia again this week.

Sunny and Bajie get rid of Portia and Amelia early and unceremoniously, which is disappointing. I didn’t expect for those two to become a permanent fixture in the show, but the way they’re so quickly disposed of here—I don’t recall even seeing Amelia onscreen, and we only see Portia for a moment—borders on disrespectful and practically reduces them to furniture in Sunny and Bajie’s story. While Sunny does have a short talk with the man they leave Portia and Amelia with, that conversation is almost entirely about reassuring Sunny that he’s an okay guy and absolving him of responsibility for Portia’s injury. Sure, Into the Badlands has no dearth of interesting, complex and empowered female characters with stories of their own, but it wouldn’t have taken that much time to give Portia and Amelia the dignity of a proper ending to their story that wasn’t all about Sunny and his feelings.

Elsewhere, Ava catches up with M.K. and they continue traveling together, hoping to escape the Abbots, who are already hunting them using a device that can track M.K.’s gift. Before the Abbots catch up to the young fugitives, however, they’re sidetracked when the device picks up something else and leads them right to Bajie, who evades them by hiding underwater. Sunny follows the Abbots alone when Bajie refuses to go with him, and he catches up to them about the same time they catch up with M.K. and Ava, who are camping in an abandoned shopping mall Christmas display. This leads to the big showpiece fight scene of the episode, which is fine. We get to see Daniel Wu square off again Cung Le, which is cool; we learn that Bajie’s was once an Abbot as well, which is interesting; but the whole thing is marred by the tragically predictable fridging of Ava, who dies in the battle. And this after a genuinely compelling scene between M.K. and Ava where they Ava talks about her feelings of loss of identity now that they’d left the temple. This comes into play during Ava’s actual death scene, when she fears that if the Master lies, there may be no rebirth for her after death, just nothingness. Unfortunately for Ava, Sunny steals her thunder by having some kind of heart attack and collapsing, drawing M.K.’s attention away from her final moments so that it’s not just a fridging—it’s a poorly executed one in that the full impact of Ava’s death is considerably blunted.

I’m starting to think that, ultimately, the biggest and most interesting conflict of the season may end up being between the Widow and Tilda. Tilda’s big scene this week is with new butterfly Odessa, who is planning to leave after hearing that the Widow is planning to ally with Quinn to take down the other Barons. In response to Odessa’s concerns, Tilda shares her own story of how she met the Widow and why she calls the Widow “mother.” I’m not sold on the necessity of yet another story involving sexual abuse of a child, even if it does end with the Widow murdering her rapist husband and apologizing to Tilda for not doing it sooner, but it does set up a fascinating potential for future conflict. Tilda has deeply personal reasons for standing by the Widow, and Odessa brings an important outside perspective to challenge Tilda’s loyalty to her baron, but there’s an even bigger test of Tilda’s loyalty likely coming soon.

Last week, Veil finally escaped from Quinn, and this week she and Henry are found by one of the Widow’s butterflies and brought to the Widow’s estate where she meets Tilda again. The Widow offers Veil shelter and safety, theoretically anyway, in exchange for going back to work on trying to translate a book about the mysterious city that everyone is so obsessed with. However, when Quinn learns that the Widow is sheltering Veil, he demands Veil be returned to him as a condition of the alliance between himself and the Widow. Perhaps unsurprisingly, but nonetheless infuriatingly, the Widow, in the end, decides to turn Veil over to Quinn. It’s a horrendous betrayal of Veil, and the decision of a white woman to sell out a black woman to a white man for, essentially, personal gain is much worse than I think is even intended by the show. The Widow may think that she has a just cause and a greater good that she’s serving, but this action is also a betrayal of any principle she thinks she might have, and it’s solid proof that Odessa is right not to trust her. Veil’s expression of abject horror at the prospect of being sent back to Quinn is more than enough to paint the Widow as a villain here even if the Widow hadn’t just come up with some bullshit reason for why her conscience is clear. This isn’t the sort of thing she’ll be able to keep from her Regent, though, and Tilda isn’t going to like it.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • “Like you don’t have secrets.”
  • Sunny’s compunctions about killing have evaporated pretty quickly.
  • I’m curious how far in the future this show is supposed to be set. If it’s far enough in the future that a holiday as recognizable as Christmas has faded into obscurity and is just some weird thing ancient people used to do, it would be unlikely that an elaborate mall display would still be intact. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar had a similar scene in their other far future fantasy show, The Shannara Chronicles, and it was just as weird and out of place there. I guess they just like that juxtaposition of the future-fantasy with ruins of modern times, but it’s not nearly as visually interesting or thematically compelling as they seem to think it is.
  • I wish Tilda and Odessa would have had a couple more scenes before now to lead up to their romance a little slower. There was that one scene a couple episodes ago where I was pretty sure they were flirting, but that was it until now. For all that the Widow fills her home with younger women, Tilda often feels very isolated, and the emotional intimacy she has with Odessa feels very abrupt, which makes the physical intimacy feel rushed as well. I like these characters together, but I’d love to see their story have a little more space to grow at a more leisurely pace, especially considering that the conflict between Tilda and the Widow seems likely to be hugely important in the coming weeks.
  • I would also love to go at least one episode without having to listen to Waldo mansplaining something.

Doctor Who: “Smile” has too many ideas and not much to say about any of them

True to Doctor Who tradition, the second episode of season ten sees the Doctor and Bill Potts traveling far into the future. Usually these far future trips are less plot-focused and more character-driven, often with a commentary about the human condition, and “Smile” is definitely in all of those neighborhoods. If last week’s “The Pilot” was about introducing the show to new viewers and putting the new companion through some of her madcap adventuring paces, “Smile” (like “The End of the World,” “New Earth,” “The Beast Below” and others) is about testing the companion’s limits and challenging her (and the viewer’s) expectations about the future. Unfortunately, not every episode of this type can be a classic like “The End of the World” or “The Beast Below,” and “Smile” isn’t great, mostly because it gets a bit bogged down in being a sort of vaguely anti-technology polemic against emoji.

**Spoilers below.**

Our first glimpse of Gliese 581d is of vast wheat fields and blue skies over a beautiful, albeit stark, white building. It’s not a particularly unique setting for a Doctor Who episode, and it’s the sort of bland sci-fi futurist imagery that just screams dystopia. It’s fine. It is a kind of dystopia, as we’re soon to find out, inhabited by emoji-faced robots, swarms of murderous microbots (Vardies) and a ship full of refugees from a future Earth crisis. The Doctor and Bill arrive right after the robots have murdered the first wave of human colonists who were responsible for preparing the planet to receive the rest of the refugees, who have been kept in stasis. After making a macabre discovery in a greenhouse, the Doctor and Bill have to piece together what happened to the original people before a bunch of very confused robots kill them all.

The emotional core of the episode is Bill coming to terms with a future for humanity that isn’t what she expected or hoped, and Pearl Mackie continues to play Bill with such expressive sensitivity (balanced by heaps of cleverness) that this emotional journey mostly works. There’s some incoherence in the middle as Bill throws herself into uncovering the truth about what’s happened on Gliese, but for the most part it’s easy enough to understand Bill’s feelings. Her sadness and distress as she learns about the future history of Earth are relatable enough, though the episode would have benefited from spending a little more time on Bill’s feelings, just in general. Mackie is such a beautifully emotive actor that it’s a shame to force her to cycle so quickly between feelings-having and doing cleverly competent companion stuff without allowing the feelings to breathe.

One could make the argument that this was intentional and thematically consistent in this episode, what with the enforced cheerfulness that Bill is forced to perform for the emoji-bots, but it’s an episode that is, frankly, full of mixed messaging and missed opportunities for thematic resonance. It touches on several theoretically interesting ideas—the alleged shallowness and limitations of emoji-based communications, the potential for miscommunication when using emoji, and the gendered (and age-dependent) enforcement of public happiness—without managing to have much to say about any of them. As uncomfortable as it is to see an older white man constantly reminding a young woman to “Smile!” the episode has remarkably little to say about the phenomenon, which seems like a huge missed opportunity, and I would love to see this idea tackled by a capable female writer with some awareness of the discourse surrounding this particular patriarchal expectation for women and children.

When it comes to being critical of emoji, the episode is a little more capable, but it relies on a straw man conception of what emoji are, how they are used and what they might be used for in the future. Rather than making any kind of insightful point, there’s an underlying tone of a middle-aged man grumbling about kids these days. Similarly, the warning tone the episode takes towards human reliance on automated technology in general suggests a, frankly, boring Neo-Luddite alarmism about the dangers of artificial intelligence and the hubris of human ingenuity. This messaging becomes even more muddled when combined with the seemingly agrarian aspirations of the Gliese settlers, which is strongly at odds with the warlike, violent humans that are awoken by the end of the episode, whose first instincts are to defend themselves with force against the confused robots that killed their friends.

There are a whole slew of popular sci-fi concepts and tropes in play here, but “Smile” would have been a stronger episode if it decided to focus on one or two and commit to exploring a strong central thesis. It’s not a terrible episode, and Bill continues to charm (she’s the most promising new companion since Donna, in my opinion), but it’s definitely a case of an episode trying to do both too much and too little, with a lazy premise and overall lack of cogent vision.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

The Expanse: “Caliban’s War” reveals some things but resolves too little to be truly satisfying

I suspect I’m about to express an unpopular opinion, but here it is: I found “Caliban’s War” a little disappointing. It’s a solid enough episode, and it was enjoyable to watch, but not much actually happened or was resolved and after last week’s stellar penultimate episode it felt a bit anticlimactic. There’s still plenty to be excited about looking forward to season three, and I am excited and looking forward to it, but I was hoping to a more conclusive ending to this season or perhaps a bigger reveal. Instead, we got an hour that picks up right where “The Monster and the Rocket” left off and happens almost in real time before capping the season with a(n admittedly great, if grim) final montage. It’s fine, but it’s not as big or dramatic as it could or should have been. It just doesn’t feel like a season finale, which makes it even more sad that we’ve got to wait until 2018 for season three.

**Spoilers Below**

The biggest disappointment, for me, was the wrap-up of events on Jules-Pierre Mao’s yacht. Last week ended with guns drawn, and this episode starts with shots being fired. Cotyar is shot right away, and they’ve only got the one small gun against several of Mao’s security guys, so they’ve got to think their way out of the situation they’re in, which is hiding behind a table trying not to get murdered. There’s some excellent banter—I love the dynamic between Cotyar, Bobbie, and Avasarala—before Bobbie heads into the wall to go to their ship and retrieve her power armor, which Cotyar brought with them for, well, reasons, I guess. It’s not really explained, and, while it makes sense why the armor might have been brought, it doesn’t make a lick of sense why Bobbie wasn’t told about it before they found themselves pinned down in a room with only one door and no pre-planned strategy.

Bobbie’s journey to get the armor out of the ship is largely uneventful. She almost gets hit by an elevator, which it’s obvious is not going to hit her because if it did she’d be splattered all over. It’s an attempt at injecting some tension and drama into the situation, but the time could have been better spent elsewhere. Similarly, while Bobbie’s conversation with the electrician that blocks the final door to the ship touches on some season-long themes about loyalty and trust and choosing who and what to fight for and what hills to die on, it’s played for laughs in a way that undermines the message and cheapens Bobbie’s character growth. There’s a short scene with Cotyar and Avasarala that deals with some overlapping ideas about loyalty and obligation and indebtedness and honor in a more serious fashion, but the overall tone of about eighty percent of the Avasarala-Bobbie-Cotyar material this week is light enough to be at odds with, frankly, any serious message they’re trying to get across.

I can see the appeal of maintaining a degree of levity somewhere in such an overall dark episode, but this storyline could have been treated somewhat more seriously, especially since it’s the one storyline this week that ends on something of a positive note when Bobbie gets back to Cotyar and Avasarala just in time to rescue them from certain death. Unfortunately, this is where I started to resent the time that was spent in the elevator. We barely get to see any actual fighting, and it’s over very quickly. I’m starting to suspect that this is due to budgetary limitations; the armor is just a costume made to look cool, after all, and it’s possible that a long, well-shot close quarters combat action scene using it would be expensive, time-consuming or otherwise difficult from a production standpoint. Still, it’s too bad. We didn’t get to see the battle on Ganymede, which at least made narrative sense since they wanted to keep it vague so the event could be slowly revealed through Bobbie’s flashbacks, but I was certain that the fight on the Guanshiyin would be a major showpiece of the finale. Disappointing.

On the Rocinante, there’s a sweet reunion (though it’s a bit hand-wavy about where they are, how Naomi and Amos got back to the ship, and how long it’s been since they left Ganymede) that is broken up when they realize that the protomolecule hybrid is down in their cargo hold. Holden, predictably, wants to go down there and shoot it, which is exactly what he and Amos do and works out exactly as terribly as anyone who’s been watching this show for two seasons now could have predicted. Holden ends up magnet-ed to the wall with his leg crushed behind a huge metal box of stuff, and Amos retreats into the ship while the hybrid starts trying to dig its way through the metal bulkhead to get to the nuclear reactor that runs the ship. Some quick brainstorming by the crew doesn’t come up with any great solutions to the problem, but they do have a limited amount of time to figure it out and rescue Holden before he dies from his injuries.

They finally settle on a plan to seal off most of the Rocinante and then use pressure to vent the hybrid into space. The problem with this, however, is that it will almost certainly kill Holden as well. The crew spends half of the rest of the episode preparing to carry out this plan until Prax has a last-minute idea that allows them to get rid of the hybrid without killing the captain. Like Bobbie’s journey up the elevator shaft on the Guanshiyin, there are parts of this storyline that feel unnecessary, and Holden’s danger never feels quite real. The time spent preparing for the plan that is never actually used does offer some time for some excellent character work on the part of the crew. Though it might feel to the audience that Holden is going to be okay, the rest of the cast does a great job selling their anxiety and regret, and there are several truly excellent apology and goodbye speeches. It’s a bit of a State of the Crew recap to establish where all these relationships are at now at the end of the season, and if it’s a little heavy-handed and somewhat maudlin, it’s still entertaining.

The actual method by which they lure the hybrid out of the ship is fairly straightforward. Because the hybrid feeds on radiation, they can turn off the ship’s engines, take a nuke outside, open its casing and draw the hybrid out that way. When they throw the core of the nuke into space, the hybrid leaps after it, at which point Alex fires the Roci back up and points the ship’s afterburners at the hybrid to destroy it. If there’s anything perfect about this episode, this moment is it. It’s a clear (and beautifully executed) homage to the scene near the end of Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King, when Gollum wrests the Ring away from Frodo and falls into the lava of Mount Doom. Superficially akin to Gollum in shape, the protomolecule hybrid chases after the ball of radiation with similar intensity and the pose of the hybrid in its final moments, curled in an almost fetal position around the ball as the Rocinante’s engines turn on, is almost exactly the same as Gollum’s last pose as he falls to his death. I love it.

The episode ends with a longish montage in which three major things happen. Bobbie, having retrieved her armor, rescues Avasarala and Cotyar; Naomi confesses to Holden that she didn’t destroy their protomolecule sample, and, when she thought she might die on the Weeping Somnambulist, she gave the protomolecule to Fred Johnson; and, on Venus, the Arboghast, which had been descending to investigate the Eros crater, is spectacularly destroyed, broken down to its component parts, presumably by the protomolecule there. Of these, the fate of the Arboghast has a sense of momentousness that the rest of the episode’s events didn’t have, but it’s not entirely clear what has happened or why or how or what it means. Naomi’s revelation to Holden wasn’t the revelation I was hoping to see this season end with, but it’s also important. It would have been nice to get a little more of Holden’s reaction to this news, but we’ll have to wait until next season to find out how this changes things between him and Naomi. We’ll also have to wait to see what kind of hell Avasarala is going to rain down on Errinwright when she gets back to earth, though that wait was at least expected. I already have a feeling that season three is going to be epic.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I would love for more exterior shots or maybe a virtual tour of the Guanshiyin. The outside shots of it are gorgeous, as is the room everything happens in. It’s more than pretty enough that I can forgive the hallways for being somewhat generic and plain white, but it would be neat to see more of it even if they don’t put it all in the show.
  • Holy shit, shirtless Amos was fucking glorious.
  • I loved the evolution of Iturbi and Janus into science bros.
  • Amos seems to draw a distinction between “always trying to do the right thing” and “always trying to be a good man,” and this seems like the kind of thing that one could write whole essays on. It seems like a distinction without a difference to me, but it’s one of the few (maybe the only) specific comments the show has ever made on gender. I’m still mulling over it, though.
  • If we weren’t going to see Mei get rescued this episode, I could have done without that final scene of Strickland putting her into storage. I particularly disliked that smug little “sweet dreams” line, which practically broke the fourth wall.

iZombie: In “Eat, Pray, Liv,” Ravi digs the deepest hole. He lives there now.

After the big shake-up in the season two finale and dealing with the fallout from those events in the first couple episodes of season three, iZombie is already getting back to a more routine formula, and that’s not a bad thing. The case of the week concerns a murdered yoga instructor, and it’s a below average mystery at best. There are a couple of good Liv and Clive moments during their murder investigation, and it’s interesting to see Clive getting more comfortable with Liv’s zombie abilities, but the main events of the episode all concern secondary characters.

**Spoilers ahead.**

Major is working his way through mercenary training at Fillmore Graves, where it turns out that having been a personal trainer and generally fit still puts him way behind a group of guys who were apparently already mercenaries before they even became zombies. Major also doesn’t like the brain tubes that they eat at Fillmore Graves: “It’s like someone ate old brains, then yogurt, and then mommy birded them into a tube.” Which sounds about right, but Major has bigger problems. As we’ve already been reminded last week, the non-working version of the zombie cure that Major took will likely kill him if nothing else is done, and this week Major starts exhibiting some symptoms, mostly in the form of a persistent cough that Ravi diagnoses as a mild case of pneumonia. It’s a more tangible reminder, this time, that Major’s time is potentially very limited, and this episode sees him taking more steps to try and find Natalie, a quest that has a new urgency with Major being unable to deny anymore that he may be dying. Also of interest this week are Major’s several long, sad looks at Liv. He’s obviously still in love with her, but it remains to be see whether he is going to say anything to her about it or if he’s just going to keep suffering in silence.

Blaine’s dad, Angus DeBeers, is back and in a big way. First, Angus gets his lawyer to come with him to take back Blaine’s inheritance, which gives us yet another scene that proves Blaine isn’t faking his amnesia. Angus then spends the rest of the episode working with Don E. to open a new zombie club. It’s not entirely clear what exactly they’re planning to do here and how they’re somehow going to turn it into a revenge against Blaine, but they’ve got the place, it’s zombies only, and Don E. is about to go on a scratching spree. It’ll be interesting to see how these plans work out, especially for Angus, who doesn’t seem able to inspire much loyalty in his new lackey, judging by the wistful look we see Don E. giving Blaine at the end of the episode. And let me just say, Don E. staring wistfully at Blaine through a rain-covered window might be my favorite single image of the season so far.

The big thing I want to talk about this week, however, is Ravi and Peyton. I haven’t been thrilled with how Ravi has been behaving the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been concerned that his sad man story might be dragged out for a long time. I shouldn’t have worried. This is the episode where Ravi torpedoes his relationship with Peyton and possibly their whole friend group.

After Liv stops putting up with his constant moaning about Peyton and tells him to go talk to Peyton about it, that’s exactly what Ravi does. Peyton is at first receptive to his apology, as she’s been confused and hurt about Ravi’s coldness towards her, but things go off the rails quickly, with Ravi seeming to low key blame Peyton for his intrusive thoughts and then framing his apology to her in such a way that it’s clear he’s expecting his apology to be reciprocated. It’s the worst sort of sexist bullshit, and Peyton is not having it. She doesn’t have anything to apologize for, she’s not responsible for Ravi’s intrusive thoughts, and she’s got her own shit to deal with. It’s not often that we get to see a woman on television deliver such a great shutdown of men’s garbage like this, and it’s even rarer to see it portrayed as entirely justified and correct. It’s not that Ravi is completely unsympathetic; it’s just that he is completely in the wrong here and being monstrously unfair to and manipulative of Peyton.

Things get worse later on when Ravi and Liv get Blaine to come to the morgue so they can try to convince him to test the memory restoration serum that Ravi has come up with. Blaine, very understandably, doesn’t really want to have his memories back. He doesn’t remember the evil things he did, and his amnesia offers him the chance for a fresh start. Ravi argues that Blaine owes them this, and Ravi goes on a bit of a rant that culminates with him confessing his love to Peyton. Blaine finally agrees to test the memory serum, but Peyton isn’t immediately responsive to Ravi’s declaration of love, so Ravi goes out and sleeps with his old boss, Katty. This is found out when Peyton shows up at Ravi’s place. They’re talking in the foyer, Ravi kisses Peyton, and then Katty drops a wine glass in the other room, at which point Peyton walks into the kitchen and sees the other woman wearing no pants. The whole situation is on the one hand almost laughably contrived but on the other hand not exactly out of character for Ravi at this point. Once again, Peyton is not putting up with Ravi’s shit, though, and she leaves, immediately, and goes to join Liv and Major to listen to Blaine singing.

I almost feel bad for Ravi, but only in the way that I would feel bad for anyone who repeatedly punched themselves in the crotch for no reason. He just makes all the worst possible decision with how he deals with his feelings for Peyton, and it’s hard to watch. It’s, honestly, something of a bold move for the show. Ravi is a fan favorite character, partly because he’s generally delightful, and this storyline forces the viewer to see him in a very different and extremely unflattering light. That said, I am so glad that it’s made so clear that he’s the bad guy here. Peyton hasn’t done anything wrong, and Ravi hasn’t done anything right with her for a while now. We’re seeing something of a darker side to Ravi this season, and while I’m glad this storyline is moving along quickly I also hope the show doesn’t let Ravi out the hole he’s dug for himself anytime soon. He’s not the worst, and he’s not irredeemable, but they definitely should take their time.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Blaine’s new job is as a lounge singer, which is obviously/hopefully just a perfect excuse to have David Anders sing every week.
  • Justin seems nice, and I’m glad Major is making a friend. They’re adorable together, and I feel like there’s already a subtext of “It would be a shame if something happened to one of them,” and I hate that subtext.

Into the Badlands: “Monkey Leaps Through Mist” is a solid transitionary episode after last week’s big events

Sunny and Bajie are back this week, M.K. still doesn’t get much screen time, the Widow is reassessing her situation, a major character death is dealt with, and things are not going super well for Quinn. “Monkey Leaps Through Mist” is primarily an episode about regrouping after last week’s events, and, consequently, it feels relatively slower-paced, especially with only one fight scene. Still, there’s some good character work, a couple of surprises and the beginnings of what might be the show’s next major shake-up.

**Spoilers below.**

The pre-credits scene confirms Ryder’s death. I was pretty certain he was dead last week, but I was also pretty certain that Quinn was dead at the end of the show’s first season. Given this show’s tendency to the occasional soapy plotline, a fake-out wouldn’t have been terribly surprising. What is surprising, however, is the ease with which Jade takes up her husband’s title. Ryder’s regent, Merrick, administers Jade’s oath right over Ryder’s dead body, with no fuss at all. There is a slight tension to the moment, but only because viewers may be primed by years of pop culture consumption to expect a group of fighting men to reject the leadership of a woman. Personally, I appreciate the matter of fact subversion of that expectation, especially because it does seem so normal within the world of the show, or at least within this moment in that world.

The other thing that Jade accomplishes more easily than I would have expected this week is getting Lydia to work with her to avenge Ryder’s death. It makes sense that Lydia would want to kill Quinn for what he’s done—and even more sense when we learn that Lydia had always wanted more children but been unable to have them—but the arc leading Lydia to this feels unfinished. She hasn’t gotten much to do so far this season, and we’ve been shown that she isn’t exactly fitting in back with her father’s pacifist cult, but it still seems almost inexplicable that she would so quickly join with Jade, be given command of clippers (whether she knows where Quinn’s hideout is or not) and take up a sword to lead an attack. Fierce as Lydia is, there’s never been any inkling that she was a trained fighter and in fact we’ve only been shown that she’s quite capable of defending herself through sheer grit and has a willingness to kill when desperate. Which is something to build on, but this week’s developments are abrupt and somewhat disorienting. It’s easy enough to buy Jade’s elevation to Baron—she was always ambitious—but Lydia’s sudden shift from trying to make it work with her dad’s pacifists to leading the attack on Quinn is harder to justify as a natural character progression.

Sunny and Bajie arrive at a town that is controlled by a friendly acquaintance of Bajie’s, Nos, who trades in metal and sex slaves. They trade Nathaniel Moon’s sword for a way into the Badlands, but before they go they have to get through a night in Nos’s village. Bajie settles in well enough, enjoying the company of one of Nos’s Dolls, but Sunny is unsettled by it all, especially when he meets a little girl named Amelia and her mother Portia. Knowing that Amelia will soon be used as a Doll, Portia approaches Sunny to ask him to kill Nos, but he refuses. When Nos finds out about this, he cuts Portia’s face, and prepares to use Amelia sooner rather than later. This finally spurs Sunny into action, and he and Bajie manage to rescue Portia and Amelia before escaping in the vehicle Nos has provided to get them to the Badlands.

I liked this fight scene, but Sunny’s newfound set of rigidly (and stupidly) inflexible morals are going to get people killed. His proscription against killing for hire almost does get Portia killed this week, and he was willing to let a little girl be trafficked into sex slavery before killing an evil man. It doesn’t exactly speak well of where Sunny’s priorities are, and it’s not clear that he’s truly learned anything from this most recent experience. In the end, he still didn’t kill Nos, which leaves numerous other women and girls trapped in a terrible situation and sets up Nos to be a recurring adversary along with the Engineer and Nathaniel Moon, both of whom are still floating around somewhere and almost certainly wanting Sunny dead. This cycle is starting to get repetitive, but I’m encouraged by the fact that Sunny now knows that Quinn is alive and at least suspects that Veil may be with Quinn. It makes Sunny’s goal moving forward a little clearer. Now he just has to get there without trailing a bunch of pissed off murderous bastards behind him.

Elsewhere, Tilda is apologizing to her mother for disrupting the conclave. However, the Widow isn’t upset. She even praises Tilda’s instincts and encourages her to trust her gut feelings. The Widow is not happy with Waldo, though. Waldo advises that the Widow earn back the other barons’ good will by capturing or killing Quinn, but she’s having none of it. Instead, she says that she plans to ally with Quinn against the other barons, which seems like a completely terrible idea, but she basically tells Waldo that he needs to make it happen. I mean, honestly, this seems like the worst idea, and there’s not much attempt made to justify it in the text, either. It seems impulsive, which is in character for the Widow, but there’s no clear gain for her in allying with Quinn, who she doesn’t know well and who has turned into an unpredictable force of chaos. Granted, the Widow can’t have much of the information that the audience has about Quinn’s illness and deteriorating mental state, but that seems like even more reason for her to avoid him. Their opinions were never aligned before, so what on earth could she be thinking now?

Speaking of Quinn’s deteriorating mental state, he is not doing well following the murder of his son. He’s followed throughout the episode by visions of Ryder’s ghost, and ghost Ryder has lots to say, digging at every one of Quinn’s insecurities and fears until Quinn is having a full-on paranoid psychotic break and threatens to kill baby Henry until Veil is able to calm him down by reassuring him of her care and appreciation of him. It’s a week of close calls for Veil, who has already in this episode had to explain (and not very well) to Declan what happened to Edgar and why she’s hiding x-rays that still show Quinn having a tumor. All that tension leads, ultimately, to Veil’s newest escape attempt. When Lydia and her clippers show up, a booby trap goes off at the entrance to the underground compound, and Veil manages in the confusion to run out into the woods with Henry. It doesn’t take long for Quinn to notice she’s missing, though, and it remains to be seen how Veil’s latest gambit works out.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • “Peace through force and justice without mercy” might sound cool, but that’s no philosophy for an effective form of government.
  • I’m not convinced that it was really necessary to make such a big show about how vile Nos is, especially with Amelia. It was genuinely upsetting to watch.
  • When I first saw M.K. this week I thought perhaps he was rededicating himself to his studies. LOL. Nope.
  • Why is there a tree full of hanged men in the middle of the woods?

Doctor Who: “The Pilot” is a reasonably well-done soft reboot for the beginning of the end of the Moffat Era

Last time I reviewed Doctor Who it was the most recent Christmas Special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” which was enjoyable garbage. I haven’t been particularly excited about the show in several years, to be honest. Like many people, especially feminist people, I’ve found the Moffat era, well, trying, to say the least, so I was pretty certain that the best news about series 10 of the rebooted show was that it was Steven Moffat’s last one as showrunner. Then the announcement came that Pearl Mackie would be playing new companion Bill Potts, and she seemed delightful. Then a couple weeks ago the news broke that Bill was to be the show’s first gay companion, which brought a new round of both delight and apprehension. It turns out, however, that the first episode of the new series, “The Pilot” is neither as wonderful as long-time fans might have hoped nor as disastrous as pessimists might have thought a Moffat-penned episode introducing a black gay woman would be.

Peter Capaldi is back as the Doctor, and this time he’s been lecturing, for decades apparently, at St. Luke’s University in Bristol. Bill Potts works at the university canteen, but she also attends as many of the Doctor’s lectures as she can get to. The episode opens with the Doctor wanting to know why. He likes Bill—partly because, he says, when she doesn’t understand something, she smiles, which is a nice bit of characterization that, if it doesn’t set Bill apart from previous companions, is a great memorable line of description that quickly gives us an idea of who Bill is. At any rate, it’s a good sight better than Bill’s rambling story about her crush on a girl who comes into the canteen every day, which is cute—and it’s nice to see Bill’s gayness treated so casually—but also somewhat silly. When the Doctor offers to tutor Bill privately—on “everything”—Bill naturally jumps at the chance, although her emotionally distant foster mother is less than supportive.

The episode’s rather slight plot starts and ends with Bill’s newest crush on Heather, a quietly misanthropic girl with a distinctive star-shaped defect in one eye. Heather shows bill a strange puddle that is surrounded by a circle of scorch marks, and when Heather gets swallowed up by the puddle and then starts chasing Bill around, the Doctor gets involved. Amidst a great deal of the kind of 101 level exposition—TARDIS, cloaking device, chameleon circuit, bigger on the inside, Daleks, etc.—that will be redundant and boring to longtime fans but invaluable to first time watchers, we find out that the puddle is actually a sort of sentient space oil left by a now-departed spaceship. If that seems like pure, nonsensical speculation, just wait until the scene where the Doctor and Bill are talking it through and figuring out how it works by using basically the same kind of deductive reasoning used by Sir Bedivere and a horde of angry peasants to identify a witch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This would be funnier if it was obvious that it was an intentional reference, but it’s, frankly, just the kind of low-substance mystical gobbledygook that has characterized many Who episodes during Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner.

It’s fine, though. Bill’s not-quite-fledgling romance with Heather is sweet, and Pearl Mackie plays Bill with a lovely sensitivity and vulnerability that makes it easy to believe that Bill could be deeply affected by what has been just a fleeting connection with Heather. The scenes of Bill being chased by the drowned Heather from the puddle are suitably frightening in the ordinary PG way one expects of the show, and there are even one or two almost-jump-scares that heighten the sense of fear and urgency. The chase gets Bill onto the Tardis and offers as good an excuse as any for her to get a bit of a tour and for the Doctor to put the Tardis through her paces, again presumably for the benefit of new-to-the-show viewers. It’s a good way for everyone to get the lay of the land after so much time without regular episodes of the show, and it also takes time to introduce the beginning of what seems likely to be the season-long arc: What is the Doctor hiding at St. Luke’s, and why?

It’s not quite as whiz-bang as some other Moffat-penned episodes, but “The Pilot” is quick and snappy, filled with short scenes, fast talking, and lots of running around. It at times feels as if it’s going through a checklist of “Things Steven Moffat Wants Us to Know About the Doctor and His New Companion,” but it’s mostly coherent, albeit sometimes absurd. Increasingly in recent years, I find that the less I think about Doctor Who the more I enjoy it, and that is almost certainly still going to be the case in this new season. “The Pilot” wasn’t as bad as I worried it might be; it’s just exactly what the show has been since Steven Moffat took it over. I’m optimistic about Bill, who I’m already half in love with, but only time will tell if she’s going to get the well-written adventures she deserves. As a soft reboot of a well-loved show, “The Pilot” is a mostly successful, with enough information and thrills to hook new viewers, a promising new companion, and plenty of references to the show’s past to please old-timers.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • It’s good to see another companion with an actual backstory and identity outside of “companion to the Doctor.” Bill already has more depth than Clara was ever given, though it remains to be seen whether Bill will be more consistently written than the Ponds.
  • I like Matt Lucas, but Nardole was utterly forgettable in this episode. It seemed as if they didn’t know quite what to do with him this week, which is too bad.
  • Why didn’t Bill ask the Doctor about his appearance in one of the photos of her mother?