May 1, 2015

Scars ~ Agents of SHIELD: The Art of Evolution

May 1, 2015  

Scars ~ Agents of SHIELD: The Art of Evolution
These are good people.
~ Skye

I apologize for not getting to this first thing. Stayed up too late last night tinkering with the site. My first impression of "Scars" was "wow." This limited edition print is available in the Marvel Shop, and Marguerite Sauvage did an exceptional job. It immediately reminded me of "Melinda," and you can read more about it at Entertainment Weekly. It looks like we'll be seeing Jiaying's story next week, the print depicting a woman with scars all over. From what the series has revealed so far, that could only be her: someone with Wolverine-level healing ability, who never ages, who was brutally experimented on by Hydra, and who was put back together in a desperate attempt by her husband Cal. Also, the product page told me. I'm sure the title references not only Jiaying's physical scars, but her emotional scars as well, and those of Skye, who so long searched for her parents and found what she never could have expected.

Depending on how deep you want to get (and the feelings in and for this show run deep), the title can also relate to every character that we love. I would expect there to be at least a bit about how each feels at this moment, or at the very least a look that just tells you everything. It wouldn't be S.H.I.E.L.D. if there wasn't some heartfelt emotion. The show's most important asset is people, after all, and the whole season, and series, has dealt with a great deal of turmoil. From the resurrection of Coulson to Ward's betrayal, from Fitz's near-death experience to Skye's transformation, and then finally finding out what happened to May, I think the change that dropped my jaw the most is Jemma. It's a tough race between them, one that no one should want to win.

One of the best moments of "The Dity Half Dozen" was Fitz exaggerating to Simmons about how Hunter had to restrain him from killing Ward. It was a funny moment, though tinged with pain because he was only half kidding. He surely wants some time alone to do as much damage to Ward as possible. But no matter how heartbroken Fitz is, I can't see him actually following through. FitzSimmons used to be a package, one and the same, so in tune with each other, which is why at first I thought Jemma's response to use a splinter bomb on Ward was nothing but a morbid joke with the friend she was finally winning back. Realizing Jemma was serious was chilling, and then when she tried to kill Ward, with no regard for her own safety, that was unexpected. I thought she might think better of it or wimp out. Neither one happened. When the nicest person you ever knew turns into someone you don't recognize, things are definitely bad.

I really love where the show has gone with Jemma. She was so innocent and sweet, and I loved her for that. Now she's deceitful (smoothly tricking Bobbi) and dangerous, and I love her for that, too. She's been written as a person, fleshed out with complexity. She's damaged and wants - needs - revenge. She'll never be the same after what she went through, what they all went through, but that's a good thing as long as it becomes just a part of her, the part that keeps her wary, and the distrust doesn't take over. I applauded her. I feared for her. It was interesting that Ward was disappointed in her. I'm actually glad she didn't succeed. Like many, I wished him dead after his betrayal, but he's still an interesting character and it seems the writers want him around for future storylines. And Brett Dalton is a treat on Twitter. I need as many of his AoS puns as I can get.

Okay, did I leave anything out? Of course I did! Lots of things.

Coulson and May, please, please make up. May, you know that a director needs to keep secrets, sometimes to protect people, sometimes to protect th organization. Compartmentalization can be important. People who don't need to know shouldn't know. Coulson, you know May. She has been by your side. She has unassailable integrity. You can trust her implicitly.

How about a big group hug? At least one for Coulson and Skye and one for FitzSimmons.

And Hunter and Mack reconciling? Mack did what he thought was right, but he was sorry for it. Hunter said he understood and forgave him. Mack seemed moved by that, though he tried not to show it. He hoped for it, but never expected it. Just a whole lot of "awwwww."

Though I never knew anything about the original character of Daisy Johnson until I started poking around her history, it was obvious Skye's power would be quite useful when she got it under control. But I never expected her to be so badass in hand-to-hand, and foot-to-face, combat.

And my favorite laugh of the night award goes to:

There's a lot of challenges ahead. We don't want to implode before we even get there. And Ward, more people.
~ Phil Coulson

I'm glad the writers didn't kill Ward off last year, for scenes like that and for scenes like this:

Whitehall broke her and I have tried to fix her, but I'm just not the right man for it. Just not enough good left inside me. She deserves better.
~ Grant Ward

Though he's duplicitous, untrustworthy, and does not deserve forgiveness, he showed he was capable of caring for someone else. Through all the excuses and the creepy way Ward trieds to convince everyone (and himself) that it was all "nothing personal," behind that smile that used to be lovely but now inspires fear, there is a spark of humanity left. It may not be enough for him to come back from the dark side, but enough to know that he wasn't enough for Agent 33. Leaving her in the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. because he couldn't help her was an enlightening moment. His talk on the phone with Coulson may have been the first honest moment he's ever had.

Of course, while Ward actually got away, Skye and Lincoln are now being held against their will. Gonzales is such a dick. I hope he gets on board with the good Inhumans as allies, because I always want to see more Edward James Olmos and I'd like to stop fantasizing about punch his face up real good. But even if his character is exasperating, he's a terrific actor with a commanding presence. Maybe he'll be in the spinoff as long as he makes it through the season, which only has two more episodes. Wow, this year went by quick.

Before I go, in case you've just come out of hibernation, Age of Ultron is in theaters today. Unfortunately, just like with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World, I will likely not get a chance to see Age of Ultron before the next episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., so some big plot point in the movie will likely be spoiled, as events it the show tie closely with the movies. I would never buy tickets far in advance because our plans often change. Life doesn't ever cooperate that way. And I always go with family, so schedules have to align. And since I always go off on a tangent, I want a shirt that says "Age of Voltron" on it. I always think of Voltron when I say Ultron and my brother recently sent me a pic of Voltron with the Avengers. I also need one with Ultron, of course, because he's just damn cool. Even just seeing commercials, never reading the comic books, I know that without any doubt. I mean, he's James Freakin' Spader! I can never praise him enough in The Blacklist and Boston Legal.

I was determined to get this in before Friday turned to Saturday, so I leave you now with the preview for next week. I'm nervous already.

April 30, 2015

The Blacklist ~ Leonard Caul

April 30, 2015  

The Blacklist, Leonard Caul

I haven't posted anything about The Blacklist for quite a while now. For that you can blame both my procrastinating during the long breaks and another favorite show of mine, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel has limited edition artwork for each of the final twelve episodes of SHIELD that I've been writing about, twice as many as last year. There are still three to go, so I doubt I'll get a chance to write about The Blacklist again before the finale. This season has been fantastic, but it takes me so long to finish certain posts, never knowing whether to concentrate on a few aspects or to just keep writing until words lose all meaning. I rely mostly on memory, because I hardly get the chance to rewatch and I never pause to take notes; if I did that, my family would wonder why I was ruining their viewing experience. Kept my TV blogging secret for five years and counting. I don't do a recap style anyway, so I never had the inclination to take notes. My style is more a reaction to the characters and their situation. So, you can usually find me just speaking off the cuff about the things that I loved the most about an episode - the feeling of it, how relationships change, how much Red gets hurt and still cannot reveal to Liz more than whispers of the truth. Then I rearrange that into something readable.

What you'll almost never find here are complaints about my favorite shows. They're my favorites for a reason. Something would have to be very wrong for me to project my own desires on them and be disappointed when they go another way. I never feel that they owe me anything. The writers generally know what they're doing and, while I imagine alternate scenarios for every scene, how it all ties together and what could happen, I don't presume that any ideas I have would be better. Where they are headed is for them to figure out in their own time and for us to discover the pieces bit by bit. I demand nothing other than beautiful drama, characters to care for, and an intriguing story. The Blacklist surely has a story to tell, and I am along for the ride as long as it stays true to its core: a dangerous man who betrayed his country and became a criminal mastermind, a broken man who lost his family and is trying to protect someone he loves and feels responsible for, and all the emotional baggage that come with that.

I'm running out of time here before the next episode, "Quon Zhang," which airs tonight at 9 PM Eastern on NBC. I actually sacrificed work for this, as usual. So, since I spent so long on that preamble, I think I'll just pick a few favorite moments to gush over. A few possible spoilers follow for those who aren't caught up to "Leonard Caul."

The first minutes of the episode with Liz and Dembe trying to get Red into the car without getting shot themselves, Red gasping for air, excruciating pain etched on his face, may have been the most intense scene of the series. And, yes, I do remember everything Red and Liz went through in the "Anslo Garrick" and "Luther Braxton" two-parters. There have been exciting moments, satisfying moments, funny moments, emotional moments, tense moments, unexpected moments, but this was something else. I was genuinely concerned that he might not make it, that he would never have another chance to reveal the truth to Liz. He is the show and it wouldn't work without him, so I shouldn't have been nervous, but I can't see him getting out alive in the end. From day one I've dreaded that, but in this episode I was concerned that it had come far sooner than expected.

I would include my tweet about the episode, but I'm mobile and can't access the desktop site. Anyway, if you're curious about my immediate reaction, follow this link. I'll replace it later with an embedded tweet if I get the chance.

This whole episode was a testament to Spader's talent. He has an innate understanding of how to play characters as people. The complexity of the role demands that in some scenes Spader play up the cold-blooded, menacingly jovial personality to protect his reputation in his dealings, and in others drop Red's guard to show the vulnerable and broken man beneath. He never fails to impress, but this episode showed even another layer. He was so convincing that I momentarily forgot that Red is irreplaceable and not likely to meet his maker...yet. In the end, surely. A number of times I realized I was holding my breath. Spader was captivating throughout, even when he was just listening to Tom, too tired and hurt to do otherwise. Until this episode's Petented Red Monologue near the end, he had few lines, mostly mumbled, blood choking the words. It was a superb performance that again managed to surprise me.

What didn't surpise me is that Dembe wouldn't leave Red's side, sending Liz in his stead to Red's apartment to get the machine to decrypt the Fulcrum. It's a small, lonely place filled with books, records, an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. And a kitty! At least he has company. Dembe knew Liz would see things there to reignite her hunger for the truth, including photos Red thought she would never see. This was a betrayal of Red's trust, now that I'm thinking about it. Though Dembe says he understands why Red hasn't told her, he obviously believes she should know.

Then there was Kate (Mr. Kaplan) saying she would stay, Red telling her to go, then giving him her gun and kissing him gently on the forehead. It was so sweet. I need to know her story. It's so touching to see people care about him.

Those moments made me even more nervous about the imminent attack, a situation even more dire than in the intense "Anslo Garrick" because there was no impenetrable box to hide in. The Director's kill team breach the door and toss a grenade. The sound of the action dims, the music taking over for a bigger emotional impact as Red's men are picked off one by one. Red alone in his bed, with just a gun and a hole in his chest. Still, taking out three guys before trying to get a weapon off one of them. Liz saving the day by bringing the Fulcrum to the Director, forcing him to call off Red's assassination seconds before the trigger is pulled, leaving Red stunned.

But not stunned enough to finally spill his guts to Liz. He almost took the secret to his grave and he still can't bring himself to say enough, even after he admitted to Dembe that he should have. Red almost got there with that beautiful speech. It looked like he was struggling not to. He wants Liz to know, but at the same time he's afraid to let her in. He seems to think the truth may destroy what's left of their strained relationship. But not telling her is even worse. He thought she should come to it in time, but the longer he strings her along the more likely he will lose her for good. Liz is a little ball of anger who's been though enough to nearly break her, and he hasn't handled her very well. That's just frustrated her more, and she has given up on Red ever being straight with her, teaming up with Tom to uncover the truth.

Until then, here's the entirety of the speech to savor again. It's one of Red's best.

"Liz, when I hired Tom Keen, it was at a time of profound transition in your life. You'd already left behind the relative safety and innocence of youth. Sam's care as a father had served you well, but you'd outgrown him. And I knew eventually my life would jeopardize yours. So, in an admittedly presumptuous and ultimately futile effort to keep you safe, I hired Tom, simply to be there, as a friend of a friend, to look after you from an arm's length. When I learned that your relationship had become intimate, I fired him. I should've removed him, but you were already in love with him. And Tom, he shifted his allegiance to Berlin in part to protect himself from me, but also because it allowed for an inextricable intimacy and commitment to you. And so you were married, and I couldn't stay away any longer. A confluence of peril had entered your life, and I wanted to be within reach, to have influence. I turned myself in to the FBI to point you toward a truth that, inevitably, you would have to discover for yourself."

I do not like the sneak peek for "Quon Zhang" involving Dembe and Samar. Please don't be the way it looks. Ugh, this show is going to kill me. If you missed it, you can watch below.

April 24, 2015

The Dirty Half Dozen ~ Agents of SHIELD: The Art of Evolution

April 24, 2015  

The Dirty Half Dozen
We have a chance to hit Hydra...hard.
~ Phil Coulson

"The Frenemy of My Enemy" was another episode that Agents of SHIELD knocked out of the park. Along with "Melinda," it's one of the best of this superb season. And that really means something, because the entire series has been stellar. Yes, the entire series. Despite some people's assertions, it was never struggling to find itself. It wasn't confused about what it wanted to be. It was never boring. It was setting up the dominoes. It was bringing in all these elements and introducing these characters to each other and to us.

Those who wrote it off either were invested so deeply in the comics version of the Marvel universe that deviations via other mediums are looked down upon, or those with an attention span so short that a show that doesn't establish every personality and spoil every future plot point within the first half of its first season is not worth the time. Sometimes people just cling to the written word and always say that's the best version. For me, while I love getting lost in the page as much as anyone, a superb actor bringing their heart to a complex character, easily weaving between emotions, is often far more beautiful. Then there are those who didn't like Coulson in the first place. That I will never understand. He is humorous, intelligent, and kind. His personality lit up the screen, and fans loved him so much that he was resurrected.

I've said it all before, but it's worth repeating. I hope some of those people rethink their decisions, not because the show needs them, but because they're missing a great, evolving story and acting that matches any Emmy-worthy series. Of course, though it has top-notch writing and acting and deals with normal life themes, such as friendship and betrayal, it does so through the prism of the fantastical, a show like this no one would ever think to nominate, or would ever dare unless they wanted to be laughed at by their peers. That's is a great shame, because the feelings created by shows like this I find are often as deep as any other. Just look at shows like Fringe, The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Supernatural or Buffy/Angel/Firefly (the Whedon Trifecta of emotional powerhouses) to see where I'm coming from.

Okay, so I went off on one of my tangents and completely forgot about this week's print. The Dirty Half Dozen is a fun title and another fantastic print, this time depicting the original six characters the series started with, albeit one now an enemy, or frenemy for the time being as the previous episode and its title showed. This print is one of the best of so far, definitely as great as "Melinda," and we'll see how it grows in emotional significance when the episode actually airs. I'm sure the episode will be something great, as they have all been important, fun, exciting, or poignant. Some more so than others, as with any series, but overall the quality has never waned. It only gets better, always topping itself, adding layers upon layers of depth. So I can't wait for next Tuesday. I kind of wish there was more time. The end is so very near, and last season's final episodes were so jam-packed with action and revelations that I was fearful for the characters the entire time. They've done it to me again.

Speaking of fearful, the two times I really feared for Fitz's life (not counting the split second when Mack saved him from the exploding wall) were both because of Ward! He can never make up for stranding Leo and Jemma at sea - Fitz nearly dying, their relationship changing because of it - and he still tries to talk to Fitz like a friend. I love how Fitz was ready to kill Ward, and also how Hunter and Coulson were ready for it.

Speaking of Ward, as much as I like hating the bastard who grew up in a terrible, abusive family, escaping into the eager arms of a manipulative organization whose goal is domineering cruelty, I still sympathize with him because he just really had no shot at a normal life. Now this emotionally withered husk of a human being may have found love with Agent 33. Although, likely he could snap her neck if it suited him. We'll have to wait and see if he can again be the same man who tired to save FitzSimmons by jettisoning them out of the Bus into the ocean rather than shoot them where they stood. And maybe he can do one better and actually own up to everything he's done rather than justifying himself.

Favorite Scenes, Or the Moments I Don't Have Time to Fit Properly into the Post

    Cal and Daisy. Wow, Kyle MacLachlan can make you sympathize with a "monster," as Cal has called himself. He only became that way because his family was ripped apart (his wife literally) and he was desperately searching for "Daisy" for so long. (I'll always call her Skye.) It was poignant how he wanted to make up for lost time, not knowing Skye was there to soften the blow of his departure, and MacLachlan played the eager, earnest, broken and betrayed heart perfectly.
    Coulson and Skye's reunion was agonizingly brief. He loves her and just wants to protect her, and that is very difficult to do when her father is a raging maniac (who would never hurt her intentionally, by the way) and Gordon intervenes to whisk her away.
    Fitz's aborted attempt to geek out over Deathlok's new upgrades was adorable.

Well, that's about it for me. I'm behind on work this week, and if I stop writing now I shouldn't have to make up for it on Saturday. I wish I could get more in depth on "The Frenemy of My Enemy," but I would need to watch it again and take notes. I will, but not today. Instead, I'll look forward to "The Dirty Half Dozen" after a nice, quiet weekend. In the meantime, we can all read about the artwork for the episode at Entertainment Weekly and watch the sneak preview below.

April 17, 2015

The Frenemy of My Enemy ~ Agents of SHIELD: The Art of Evolution

April 17, 2015  

The Frenemy of My Enemy
I'm not going down without a fight.
~ Phil Coulson

Looks like there will be a lot going on in "The Frenemy of My Enemy" and that Deathlok will play a big part in it. Unlike the last episode, which was all about May and the reason she got herself a desk job, next week seems chock-full of action, especially since it's so close to the release of Age of Ultron. I'm not saying nothing happened in "Melinda." There was a lot of kicking ass - both in the normal and Cougar Town meaning - but it gave the characters a bit of breathing room in this whirlwind ride they've been on by reaching into the past. Even Skye got a break and only had to deal with finding out Jiaying is her mother and that her father used to be a good man...and the details of May's story through Jiaying. Yeah, "only." The episode may be titled "Melinda," but it was an emotional filling-in-the-blanks for both Skye and May.

I love backstory that deepens understanding of characters, and I think that was a bit overdue for May. Although, it really couldn't have come any sooner. There have been a lot of other things that had to happen. The first season was out of the question, because the Inhumans storyline hadn't begun yet; the pieces had to be set up. They would've had to ramp up to Terrigenesis much sooner, while also dealing with the lead up to Hydra in the final episodes. The reason I'm mentioning this is I just stumbled upon an article about the episode where Coulson told Skye that May had become a completely different person after Bahrain. It said the series only answered a question with another question and would have been better if May had told us everything herself. Would it? Would she have been willing to share? It was too traumatic for her. That should have been enough for anyone to understand that May wouldn't just volunteer details about the worst moment of her life. It should have been enough to realize that this defining event would be explored again eventually, but some people are impatient and don't think too far ahead.

Great writers write to a character's established personality. If May suddenly opened up then critics would have had a problem with that, too. Those who don't know the full story need to realize that sometimes things are held back for good reason. It wasn't a crutch. It had nothing to do with not knowing where they were going, just filling in some vague details to placate the audience, and everything to do with being a necessity for the storytelling. Now with "Melinda" we have the rest of the story, that what May was forced to do destroyed her marriage, that she was looking forward to being a mother. Killing a child, even though that child had been crazy out of control and superpowered dangerous, ruined that for her, haunted her. This reveal wouldn't have been right last season. This was the time it could make the most impact, after getting to love May for who she is now, the hardened operative who knows the job comes at a high price. Seeing her fall apart in Coulson's arms, being so vulnerable and broken was a moment that will stick with me, and I assume all of us.

And there I go again getting a bit off topic and annoyed with a year-old article. You came here to see that pretty picture. Maybe you're interested in purchasing it. Well, that can be done at the Marvel Shop. It's a wonderful place full of Marvely goodness. And if you missed the previous seven limited edition prints, they all seem to still be available. That's good for me, because I'm still waiting to see all of them before I make up my mind since there are twice as many to choose from as last year.

If you're interested in learning more about this artwork by Nathan Fox then read "It's All Connected..." at Entertainment Weekly. But before you go, here's the preview for "The Frenemy of My Enemy." Actual show clips are a bit lacking because they squeezed Age of Ultron in there, too. What a ridiculous yet wonderful title. I kind of hope there will be "The Enemy of My Frenemy" in tribute to last year's "End of the Beginning" and "Beginning of the End."

April 14, 2015

The Avengers (and Clark Gregg) on Jimmy Kimmel

April 14, 2015  

I just wondered if any of you had ever considered working on the small screen.
Lately I haven't had time during the week for quick posts like this. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Art of Evolution prints I've been making time for every Friday are the exception...and they have not been quick. They take up at least an hour, sometimes three. I'd rather throw up a video and short introductory comment like this more often, but they usually turn into rambling essays. Who really still has that kind of attention span anyway? So here's what you came for if you don't watch Jimmy Kimmel and you've been busy today. I really loved the "surprise" of Clark Gregg asking a question like a fan. I say surprise because SHIELDTV kind of gave it away. ;)