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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Supernatural S11 (Second Half)


What disappointing American television series will the Dice of Disappointment land on today?

...

Of course.

Supernatural
Series 11
(Second Half).



I tell a lie, Supernatural wasn't disappointing at all this year, because that implies I had high or even low-to-middling expectations of it. My actual expectations for it were that it would be the most boring part of my week, rehash the same plotlines over and over again, and devote a needless amount of time to its two flat, tired leads' angsty manpain - and it met, nay, exceeded, all of those expectations.

Picking up just after Sam was trapped in the Cage with Lucifer again, the second half of series eleven sees Lucifer returning, now possessing Castiel, and setting out to stop the Darkness, Amara. As the Winchesters, Lucifer, and Crowley all search for Hands of God, items imbued with God's power that can be used as weapons against Amara, Dean struggles with his connection to her. But when Metatron is contacted by God, who wants to write his memoirs before the world ends, events take a sharp turn.

This is another one of those series where writing a review is difficult, because I feel like I've already said everything I can possibly say about it, except perhaps that this half of the series takes all the flaws present in Supernatural before and amplifies them. I actually found myself skipping episodes because they were too dull to hold my attention even in short bursts - and I have a pretty high tolerance for being bored, as evidenced by the fact that I watched any of this series.

Even Rowena, who I praised before, has stopped being engaging to watch.

What I can say, maybe, is that there were glimmers of interesting moments a few times this series, and they all involved supporting characters with basically no involvement from the leads. A time travel episode involving World War II manages to genuinely create emotion and tension in its cold open depicting a French Resistance agent, Delphine, killing a Nazi officer. An episode late in the series includes as its B-plot Metatron and God talking in a bar, which manages to be in turns funny and terrifying, as God switches on a dime between forced humility and icy wrath. These were both engaging, vibrant moments that stood out all the more because everything else was tired and beige and just exhausting to watch.

But those moments also throw into sharp relief just how long this series has been going on, how stale it's become, because both of them involve characters we've not seen very many times before and locations and situations that are new to the series - they feel fresh because they feel like entirely different television shows, and as soon as those fresh and interesting scenarios come into contact with the trappings and recurring elements of the series as a whole, they immediately lose any vibrancy or intrigue they had.

It doesn't help that Amara doesn't do much to establish villain cred.

It doesn't help, either, that the entire concept of the Darkness is just ridiculous. 'God's evil sister who wants to hurt things' is an idea that could have very easily come out of a six year old's first story, not a purportedly professionally written and produced television show.

The series ends on a slightly odd note as well - or perhaps it's better to say that it ends on a very anticlimactic note, even by Supernatural's standards. Not entirely out of the blue, because the idea of familial reconciliation is one that had come up several times in previous episodes, as had the idea of God and Amara wanting to reconcile, but it nonetheless felt like a cop-out and a letdown, that at the end of the day all it really took was a five minute speech about love and forgiveness and reconciliation, and the aeons long conflict between these two cosmic superbeings was over and done with. You'd think that might have occurred to one or both of them before at some point, but apparently not.

Oh, two gay characters are introduced, though, and then they leave, presumably
never to be heard from again.

All in all, my conclusion on Supernatural is unchanged: It really, truly, deeply needs to stop. There is pretty much nothing left that could make it even remotely interesting to watch and, to be frank, I'm baffled that apparently people keep tuning in. But they do, which is why we now have a twelfth series coming up, this time featuring the return of Mary, Dean and Sam's mother - for a few episodes, at least, but probably not for very long, since if there's anything we learned from the 'Dean is a Knight of Hell' debacle it's that this show hates deviating from its tired, rotten status quo for more than about eighty minutes at a time.

My earnest prayer is that every single one of Supernatural's sets catch fire and burn to the ground between now and the end of series twelve's filming, and that the CW are left with no choice but to cancel it. It's not likely, but hope springs eternal.

Ugh. Just -- ugh. This show should have ended a long, long time ago.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Game of Thrones S6E6: Blood Of My Blood


I'm not a fan of humidity. Just getting that out there now.


Game of Thrones
Series 6, Episode 6
Blood Of My Blood.



So, we're in the latter half of the series now, which is the point where I pretty much always expect any series of a show, but especially Game of Thrones, which purports to be very plot heavy (although how true that is varies from series to series), to step up its game and start giving us more plot developments, greater momentum, and faster pacing. Thus far, this series has actually been pretty good for that: Every episode has had at least one plot development, and usually more, so going forward I'm basically expecting all plot all the time.

The action this episode is split between Bran, Jaime, Arya, Samwell, and Daenerys. Beyond the Wall, Bran and Meera are rescued by a mysterious man who is soon revealed to be Benjen Stark (remember Benjen from the first series?), nearly killed by the White Walkers but sustained by the Childrens' magic. As Bran experiences flashbacks of events in the past, Benjen explains that he is the Three-Eyed Raven now, destined to lead the charge against the Walkers. Meanwhile, at Horn Hill, Sam and Gilly arrive at Sam's family home to a warm welcome from Sam's mother and sister. When his father arrives, though, things quickly go sour, as he realises that Gilly is a wildling. In King's Landing, Jaime and Olenna attempt to enact Cersei's plan to free Margaery, but find themselves outfoxed by the High Sparrow, who now controls Tommen, resulting in Jaime being sent to retake Riverrun. On the road between Vaes Dothrak and Meereen, Daenerys reunites with Drogo. In Braavos, Arya attempts to assassinate the actress Lady Crane, but finds herself conflicted over it.

It bothers me when people compare the Sparrows to Occupy Wall Street, because
Occupy Wall Street never made bankers walk naked through the streets while chanting
'Shame.'

Let's start with Daenerys, since she only really has one scene: So, Drogo's back! That's a thing. He seems tame now, or tame-ish, in that he's not murdering everyone he encounters, so that's definitely a plus. Also, in a slightly amusing turn, we get Daario remarking that Daenerys would need a thousand ships, in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge callback to Euron saying he was going to build a thousand ships the previous episode. You know, on Pyke, an island with no trees whatsoever, so good luck with that.

Daenerys' scene really is just connecting tissue, and I imagine we're not going to see all that much of her until she gets back to Meereen and finds out what Tyrion's done. I don't foresee her being over the moon about that.

Bran's scenes - all two of them - are much the same: Benjen is brought back into the fold, and Bran wakes up from his visions, but since he doesn't understand them just yet, those scenes are really only there to give him a way (other than Meera dragging him along) to get back to Castle Black, and to establish that before long he's going to be our delivery system for Even More Crucial Backstory Details. But it's fine, because we get some glimpses of interesting stuff from it: Drogo's shadow over King's Landing, wildfire flooding the tunnels beneath the city, King Aerys demanding that everyone be burned and being killed by Jaime, and what seems to be Lyanna Stark's death? So it's teasing some very interesting things to come.

Arya, you know the Faceless Men will just send someone else.

In contrast, I honestly couldn't tell you what the point of Sam's plotline is. It gives us some details about what his home situation is like, but apart from Sam nabbing a Valyrian steel sword, nothing is really achieved. Also, my god, Gilly, it took you all of ten minutes to just tell them all that you're a wildling, for god's sake.

Which leaves Jaime and Arya, honestly the two meatiest stories of the bunch. I had fully expected Cersei's plan with Margaery to end horribly, but I had expected, you know, blood and stabbing and Margaery dying, and quite possibly Tommen dying as well, not the High Sparrow to reveal that his next magic trick will be brainwashing. I'm not sure why I didn't expect that, that's basically the raison d'etre of fanatical religious leaders.

So now Tommen's basically in the pocket of the High Sparrow, and it looks like Margaery may be in on it, given how quickly she went from 'give them nothing' to 'we all have to atone.' It seems likely that the High Sparrow is holding clemency for Loras over her head. I do like being surprised, so long as the surprise makes sense, so I'm okay with this particular plot twist. Also, Jaime's now being sent to Riverrun, there to reunite with Brienne, albeit with the two of them on opposite sides of the conflict.

Maybe Jaime will defect? Or just die. I'd be happy if he just died. I've never liked Jaime and I don't intend to start now. 

I think Daario's role in this show is just to stare awestruck at things Daenerys does.

Arya, meanwhile, gets to have a nice, human moment with Lady Crane, telling her that if she doesn't like the script she should change it to make Cersei more angry - which is both good acting advice, since that's how Cersei was, and relevant to Arya's own storyline involving the rising Stark death toll. I admit, I was a bit irritated when she didn't go through with killing Crane, though - not because I don't like Crane, she's actually a refreshing breath of warmth and normality and general niceness in a show where most characters are either huffy and brooding or scheming and malevolent, but because it feels like Arya not going through with it is the less interesting course of action.

Seeing Arya get closer to becoming a Faceless Man raises the stakes, as we see her desire for revenge move her closer to discarding all the things that made her want revenge in the first place, and if the show is going to have her back out of it, then it'd make more sense to do that at the critical moment where she's just about to finish her training - as it is, it feels like she's only halfway through her training.

I'm also a little confused by the Waif. We find out that she's been asking Jaqen if she can kill Arya, but why? I know that it's been established that the Waif hates Arya and sees her as a rival, except, you know, we know she doesn't. Arya's not actually a rival to the Waif, because the Waif isn't actually another apprentice - we've seen at least two different people wearing the Waif's face (and three different people wearing Jaqen's, one of which was the Waif previously), so she isn't an apprentice, she's a fully fledged Faceless Man pretending to be an apprentice for training purposes. Does she hate Arya because that's how the role of the Waif would feel? Surely the performances of their characters that the Faceless Men put on can't go that deep, because we've seen different men wearing Jaqen's face and fulfilling drastically different roles.

I would be okay with Jaime dying.

(I've also seen it suggested that Jaqen's trying to get revenge on Arya for naming him, except this Jaqen isn't the Jaqen she named, and the man originally called Jaqen has been dead for a very long time. The role of Jaqen might be angry and bitter, but the person playing him wouldn't be.)

Essentially, I'm very confused by the Faceless Men.

Next week, it looks like our main focus will be on Jaime's siege of Riverrun, while Sansa and Jon attempt to gather an army to retake Winterfell. At this point, I'm fully expecting Winterfell to be back in Stark hands by the end of series six - Ramsay has, to be honest, kind of run his course as a villain, and there's nothing he can do any more to shock any of us. But on the bright side, the Blackfish is back! We've barely seen him prior to this, but never mind.


Saturday, 28 May 2016

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress E7


So, earlier today, we broke 10000 views in a month. Given that the previous record (way back in, I think, either January or February) was just under 8000, this is pretty good, I think. So go you guys.

On a less positive note, I'd like to remind everyone that Mumei is twelve. Twelve. Please cease the barrage of creepy fan art.


Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Episode 7



So, this is a breather episode, it seems. There are a few problems with that, and I'll get to them in a bit, but it's not too surprising, since a little over halfway through a series (or cour - still zero idea of how many episodes this is going to be in total) is where breather episodes usually fall.

Arriving at a friendly station, the crew of the Koutetsujou is told that they need to leave the next day. Needing to buy parts to conduct repairs; resources to build more jet bullets; and medicine, food, and blankets for their people, it's a race against time to get everything they need, especially as Ayame - seeing that Mumei has never celebrated Tanabata and deciding that the people of the Koutetsujou need a little downtime - decides to also buy a bamboo tree and celebrate Tanabata at the same time.

Okay, so, my main problem with a breather episode in this series is that breather episodes are kind of meant to fulfill a specific purpose in a specific context. In a series that has a lot of struggle and death and darkness, they give the audience a moment's respite, so that they don't become jaded to the general tone of the show - this helps keep audiences engaged and also means that any shocking or unpleasant things the show did before or will do afterwards continue to be shocking and unpleasant.

I don't get why this was so awkward for Kurusu to see, she's just eating.

They also tend to be character development episodes, focusing on exploring character relationships, because that's an easy way to get emotional investment out of an audience in an episode where the stakes might not be overwhelmingly high. Thus, they require that the audience knows and sympathises with the cast of characters already, and then they often reveal new depths or sides to them.

But here's the thing: I don't feel any need for a breather. At no point has this series been dark enough or shocking enough or fraught enough to make me feel like I require an episode spent on lulzy holiday funtimes - what I've actually been crying out for is some development on plot, and while we get a tiny bit of that this episode (via a discussion Enoku has with some people about a power struggle between Mumei's brother, the Liberator, and the shogunate; and also via Mumei's brother arriving at the very end of the episode), most of it is spent having the characters engage in wacky, heartwarming antics.

The overall impression is that the writers think this show is a lot grimmer and darker than it actually is - and while I'm not saying I want it to be more dark, I am saying that it's not nearly dark enough to justify spending one of a very limited number of episodes on what feels like a pretty unnecessary breather.

Oh, hi, Mandatory Deceased Mother.

The other problem is that I don't care about any of these characters, except maybe Kurusu (and even then, barely, he just happens to be the most entertaining of the bunch), so all of the heartwarming character shenanigans are lost on me. I'm not actually invested in the Koutetsujou's morale, just like I'm not invested in Mumei's desire to eat rice, or Ikoma's poorly established big brother instincts. 

It was a fun enough episode, but I don't actually feel like I gained much out of it as far as understanding the world, the plot, or even the characters goes. It felt pretty but empty, trying to wring an emotional reaction out of its audience despite not having done the legwork for it. It almost manages to succeed at a few points, but when it does it's mostly via some quite cheap, manipulative tactics.

The one interesting subplot to me was Kurusu and Ayame's - sort of romance? He seems to be interested in her, and she's not interested. Again, this is a slightly manipulative tack for the show to take, as they try and engender sympathy for Kurusu by showing us hints that his austere, severe persona is just an act. The difference between it and its other manipulative tacks is that it's working, at least in my case. 

Traditional steampunk Tanabata clothing, I guess?

Still, the episode has some lovely music, including a piano version of the ending, so hats off to Hiroyuki Sawano, I guess? Honestly, the soundtrack is what stood out to me most about this episode.

Next episode, we're apparently back to a more action-y pace, as we see Mumei's brother, Biba, and his hunters in action. Is the station they're at going to be overrun by kabane? It kind of looks that way right now. Ah, well, should be interesting, hopefully. Maybe we'll find out more about this power struggle between Biba and the shogunate, especially as the Shogun is apparently his father.

...

Also, seriously, guys, Mumei's twelve. Twelve. She's a child. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

Kamen Rider Ghost E31+E32


I did consider doing two reviews today to make up for the absence of one yesterday (it really was a hell of a day), but instead I've decided to just leave it, meaning that next week will be a Grand Week of Disappointed Reviews about TV shows.

Like, seriously, at the moment it's looking like Gotham is going to be getting the best review of the bunch. I don't even like Gotham that much.


Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 31 + Episode 32



Oh, hey, it's the semi-mandatory 'characters are getting turned into children' episode that Super Hero Time shows are required, by law, to have every few years. Well, that's fine, it's often a pretty fun trope, although slightly oddly for this plotline, none of our main cast have been turned into small children. This is even weirder when you consider that Toei already has child actors for Makoto, Kanon, and Takeru, you'd think they'd at least try and capitalise on Alain awkwardly trying to look after a bratty, tiny Makoto for a few days.

In this fortnight's episodes, with Ganmaizer Fire having returned to the Ganma World, apparently no worse for wear, Adel calls upon two other Ganmaizers, demanding that they show him their power - which one of them is more than happy to do via firing bolts of lightning into the human world, turning anyone they hit into children. As Shibuya, one of Onari's monks, struggles with his mother, with whom he has a strained relationship with, and who has been turned into a small child, Makoto and Alain set out to close the gates to the Ganma World that the lightning bolts are coming through, but find themselves tangling with Gyro, one of Alain's former teachers. As Doctor Igarashi arrives at the household, though, Takeru starts viewing his memory, seeing a meeting between him, Saionji, Ryu, and the Old Hermit ten years ago.

Part of me wants to call this filler, if only because it ticks many of the boxes for what Kamen Rider filler usually looks like (tokusatsu cliche plot, focus on a minor character, monster of the week that's essentially a reused suit), but it's not, really: We get important plot developments regarding Ryu and the Old Hermit, namely that not only did they know each other, but they were both aware of the Ganmaizers, and created the fifteen Hero Eyecons specifically to counteract them. Perhaps more importantly, we also get plot developments in the form of Takeru actually, properly finding out about the Ganmaizers, and specifically their immortality - because while he's encountered Ganmaizer Fire several times, nobody has ever actually told him 'this is what it is, and it's immortal.'

Provisionally, these two shall be called Frosty Adel and Nostalgic Adel.

We also get some foreboding hints regarding Deep Specter, as it briefly shows enough power to easily overwhelm Gyro and destroy a gate in one fell swoop, resulting in the Ganmaizers loudly complaining about interference and danger. That might just be them grousing about the last gate being closed, but it's set up as something much more serious than that, with them yelling 'danger' again and again, and Adel wondering what could possibly be wrong. They're all kind of familiar with portals, so one closing shouldn't be cause for that much alarm.

(My personal theory regarding Deep Specter is that Eadith made it as a sixteenth Ganmaizer, since it shares a lot of design similarities with Ganmaizer Fire, but I'm very probably wrong about that.)

As far as the actual A-plot goes, though, it's pretty much fine. Not amazing, and not exactly inspiring, but a fun and well put-together plot about Shibuya coping with his mother's frankly slightly insane expectations for him. I know we're meant to see it as 'she just wants the best for him, and maybe she's slightly overzealous but she loves him really', but good god, we get about sixty flashbacks of her telling him to act like more of a man, and even more moments where, as a child, she yells at him for being a wimp, and what I'm getting at here is that I'm not shocked that Shibuya became a monk after all that. If someone spent that much time yelling at me about fulfilling an arbitrary standard of masculinity, I'd probably become a monk as well, just out of spite.

Also, this guy has to be, what, six to eight years older than Shibuya's mother?
Bit weird.

(Incidentally, I feel like Shibuya's father would get along very well with Gentaro. For, I mean, pretty obvious reasons, that's not a new and original observation.)

Gyro, meanwhile, doesn't make a very compelling monster of the week - we've seen the Ultima Eyecon show up and get beaten a few times now, so at this point having anybody use it feels a bit old hat and not very threatening - but he's also fine. He fulfills his role as someone sufficiently skilled and punchy to make Makoto go all evil-winged-eldritch-deer on him admirably.

Deer dragon motorbike fashion model.

Next week, we apparently have Takeru dying? I mean, he was already dead, but dying more. Again, that is, because he's died more and then come back once before. Obviously, he's going to come back again this time, so I don't really buy Adel's 'total victory.' Still, I do like 'the hero is indisposed and everybody else has to make a valiant stand against some big monster' storyline. I still very fondly remember when Go-Onger did that particular story.



Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Flash S2E23: The Race Of His Life.


The Flash
Series 2, Episode 23
The Race Of His Life.



I can't recall if I've talked here before about the fuss one of DC's writers threw over Jay actually being Zoom, talking about how it was disrespectful to the character and his legacy and suchlike. He got really worked up over it, and that always struck me as a bit weird, because, leaving aside entirely the fact that it's an adaptation and The Flash's ability to make changes and spin comics storylines in new ways has always been one of its greatest strength, I don't think that many people actually care about Jay Garrick.

This is relevant because once of the big twists this episode - and, if I'm being honest, a fairly disappointing one - was that the Man in the Iron Mask was the Flash of another world, and specifically, that he was the real Jay Garrick, whose name Zoom had taken when he decided to double up as both superhero and supervillain. This also apparently explained why he could use yellow lightning as the Flash, as he was siphoning off Jay's speed.

In this week's episode, Zoom approaches Barry, telling him that he wants to race him to determine who the fastest man alive is, saying that he'll murder Barry's friends if he doesn't agree. While the team quickly figures out Zoom wants to use the two of them racing to charge up a pulsar that will destroy every Earth except Earth-1, Barry is still intent on going through with the race. To stop him, the team locks Barry up, and attempt to enact their own plan to stop Zoom - with disastrous results.

The Wests.

I'm a bit lukewarm about this episode, if I'm being honest. The stakes never feel that high in it, and the challenge that Zoom presents never feels that heavy or difficult, which is weird, because prior to this episode he's been a pretty terrifying villain. 

It doesn't help, perhaps, that the plan to destroy the multiverse seems to come more or less out of nowhere, with our only hints towards it being Cisco's vibe in the previous episode, or that the 'to race or not to race' conflict seems kind of forced, with Barry seemingly not even entertaining other options despite the fact that he has no reason not to. He wants to kill Jay, sure, and he's meant to be blinded with murderous rage, but he never stops and thinks about other ways he could kill Jay that don't involve a race

Nor does it help that the plot's eventual resolution relies on time remnants, which is a plot device introduced this series that I've never much liked, not least because they make no sense. The show even acknowledges that they don't make sense, by skirting around actually explaining them whenever possible- but if you know that your plot device makes not a single lick of sense, don't hinge your finale on it.

Apparently Cavanagh will be returning for series three, albeit whether it's as Thawne,
Earth-2 Wells, or Earth-Insert-Number-Here Wells, or Earth-1 Wells, who knows.

In general, I did enjoy this episode, just not as much as I enjoy most Flash episodes. It had some great action scenes, and I really enjoyed the scenes where Team Flash (minus Barry) are plotting to send Zoom back to Earth-2, even though that plan essentially seems to consist of 'have Caitlin lure him in and then shoot him a lot.' I admit, I have something of a weakness for 'the supporting cast all have to team up to take down the villain,' so that was always going to be a pretty easy sell for me.

All of which leaves me with the ending to talk about. Specifically, our cliffhanger, which is Barry going back in time to keep his mother from being killed by Thawne. I don't think it's lost on anybody that this is leading into a Flashpoint storyline (which might well end with the Supergirl universe, and possibly Earth-2, being worked into one universe), but I'm interested to see how they do that, since the storyline of Flashpoint heavily involved Atlanteans and Amazons, neither of which are features of the Arrowverse just yet.

In all likelihood, it'll involve a slightly less bombastic dark future that'll be resolved in one or two episodes. That said, since we know that there's going to be a The Flash/Arrow/Supergirl/Legends of Tomorrow crossover, and those series are all starting again in the same week, perhaps that'll be what they start of with, stretching the storyline over four episodes in four different shows. That could be interesting.

Yay racing.

Anyway, I did really enjoy this series, and I am very much looking forward to the third series. Keep an eye out for that, because I'll probably be picking this show up as an ongoing again come September. If Arrow's story structure is anything to go by, the villain for The Flash's third series will be a slightly upset suburban dad, so that should be fun, I guess. 

Incidentally, apparently there's some kind of minor feud going on between Tom Cavanagh and Zack Snyder now. That's - huh. That's a whole thing, there.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Once Upon A Time S5 (Second Half)


Once Upon A Time
Series 5 (Second Half)



Sometimes I feel like I don't really have anything to say about Once Upon A Time anymore. It doesn't actually give me any new material to work with, since each arc - hell, each episode - basically involves looping about the same plot points the show's been rehashing since its second series. With nothing new or interesting to comment on, I'm basically left giving it the same review over and over again. At least Supernatural has the decency to get progressively worse every series, thereby allowing me to marvel at how it just keeps finding new lows. Once Upon A Time doesn't even do that, because to be honest, this arc was not concretely worse than the Camelot arc, or the Frozen arc, or anything like that.

Picking up after Hook's death halfway through this series, the second half of series five sees Emma, Regina, David, Mary Margaret, Henry, and Gold traveling to the Underworld, a domain (which is actually just Storybrooke with odd lighting) ruled by Hades where the spirits of people with unfinished business are trapped. As they set out to rescue Hook, they find themselves helping the people trapped in the Underworld with their unfinished business - but Hades has his own plans, including keeping them in the Underworld forever, and also abducting Zelena, Belle, and Zelena's daughter for mysterious purposes.

Those purposes are actually still pretty mysterious by the end of the series, as that plot thread gets dropped a little ways along. Zelena speculates that Hades wants to use her child as part of a time travel spell to travel back to before Zeus trapped him in the Underworld, but Hades drops that plan - after denying he ever had it, so who even knows - pretty quickly, and then it's never brought back up again. Instead, it's just a convenient way to get Zelena and Belle in on the action - Zelena so that she can have a redemption arc, and Belle because clearly we haven't had enough Belle-Gold relationship drama.

Just get a divorce or something, honestly just stop.

(Kill me.)

Once they're down there, those two and their relationship troubles (because Zelena, we find out basically without any build-up, is actually Hades' one true love and the only person who can start his heart beating again) become the main focus of the plot, with anything regarding rescuing Hook or escaping the Underworld taking a solid back seat to Zelena and Belle coping with their supposed true loves being evil.

Every other conflict the show has going for it gets wrapped up in bizarrely hasty fashion. Regina and Zelena's bitter, resentful conflict (wherein Zelena feels wronged by Regina for having the life she didn't, and Regina feels wronged by Zelena repeatedly wronging her) is wrapped up by them both regaining memories that reveals that they met as children and loved each other as sisters, because that - somehow makes things better?

I mean, Zelena killed Regina's boyfriend's wife and masqueraded as her for months, effectively raping Robin in the process; and she effectively killed Emma's boyfriend who was also Gold's son; and she stole a child - but apparently, no, that's fine so long as she and Regina got along as children. Good, great.

Yeah, sure, whatever, blue fire hair, very Disney, fine.

Meanwhile, Hook being Hades' prisoner is resolved in the most anticlimactic way possible, and while the show hints at having some genuine emotional weight when Hook has to stay behind in the Underworld near the end of the series, it immediately goes back on this with literal deus ex machina, as Zeus handily resurrects him. The Robin-Zelena custody storyline (who on earth comes up with these storylines?) is resolved by Robin being killed, so that Zelena - see above paragraph about her many crimes - can have sole custody of a vulnerable child, and everyone generally views this as fine. 

The show hints at Regina struggle with her dark side again, before less than two episodes later getting out of it by having her evil half separated from her good half so that she can literally murder her evil half. Who is chained up, by the way. And is a sapient being. I feel like there's a bit of a confused message there, when Regina's first act as somebody who is purely and wholly good is to viciously enact the extrajudicial execution of a restrained, sapient being, while two of her friends watch approvingly.

Are - are these the good guys? It feels like these are the bad guys. Gold, who is arguably the show's main antagonist, is coming across as more heroic than Emma, Regina, Mary Margaret, Hook and David right now.

Hercules shows up briefly. It's fine, I guess. Writing this review is making me
physically tired.

In a weird turn, the main plot ends - again, very anticlimactically - two episodes before the end, leaving the final episodes for a story about Jekyll and Hyde, and Henry trying to destroy magic. It's awful. It's just awful, and both of those episodes are really quite unremittingly terrible.

It looks like there's going to be a series six, with Hyde having arrived in Storybrooke along with a bunch of other 'untold stories' (except his story was - did I imagine reading that book? Because I'm pretty sure Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a told story), and Regina's evil side apparently still alive despite having her heart crushed, because - that makes sense I guess, I just don't care anymore, to be honest, I really don't, this show is exhausting.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Game of Thrones S6E5: The Door


Game of Thrones
Series 6, Episode 5
The Door.



Okay, wow, Benioff and Weiss really hate the direwolves, don't they? With Grey Wind and Lady having already dead, courtesy of their dying in canon, and Nymeria nowhere to be seen (again, courtesy of canon), this series has now also seen both Shaggydog and Summer dying (not courtesy of canon). I can see why, a little bit, because ever since the dogs have grown up, they've been CGI, and that's expensive and awkward. Still, though. Dogfaces.

In this week's episode, we focus on the North and Essos. At Castle Black, Littlefinger arrives with the Knights of the Vale, only to be turned away by Sansa. Going off advice he gave, though, Sansa tells Brienne to ride to Riverrun and ask the reformed Tully forces to join them, while she and Jon set out to try and recruit Northern houses not already in bed with the Boltons. Beyond the Wall, Bran learns the origins of the White Walkers, and later encounters the Night King in one of his dreams - and is quickly marked, allowing the Night King and other White Walkers to descend upon the Children's den. In the Iron Islands, the Kingsmoot begins. In Braavos, Arya is given the task of assassinating a popular actress, Lady Crane, who is currently performing in a bawdy rendition of Joffrey's ascension to the throne. At Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys gives Jorah a command, while in Meereen, Tyrion and Varys meet with Kinvara, the High Red Priestess of Volantis, to ask for her aid in keeping control of the city.

Everyone's talking about Bran's storyline - in what is probably a first in six years - so we'll get to that one last.

Awkward.

Daenerys' plotline made me a little irritated, because god knows I don't want Jorah to stick around. I would like him to die soon. Whether it's from greyscale or just tripping and falling off a cliff, I don't care, I'd just like him to exit the show as quickly as possible. But no, he's now got his 'discovering a cure for greyscale' storyline, and whether we actually see him doing that or if he'll just show up triumphantly in series seven, I don't know.

Meereen, meanwhile, was interesting? Kinvara is clearly being set up as a major power player in episodes to come, with a role that kind of contrasts Melisandre (since Melisandre is seemingly becoming softer and gentler and more human, even though it was only, like, a week ago in show time that she advocated sacrificing a small child) and is seemingly setting up some kind of internal struggle in the red priests, where Kinvara thinks Daenerys it the Prince That Was Promised, and Melisandre thinks it's Jon?

Varys' skepticism was nice, especially since he basically said what everyone was thinking, but it's a little out of character for him. This is a man who's meant to be cunning and a smooth talker, and he just suddenly starts interrogating someone who they're meant to be allying with like that? Obviously, there's meant to be something deeper going on here. Maybe Varys is a Faceless Man and doesn't approve of people worshipping other gods, I don't know.

Also awkward.

Braavos gives us more interesting stuff for Arya, as she struggles with having to poison a seemingly completely innocent actress, because, you know, assassins (and the Faceless Men are just assassins for hire, even if they do have their death cult schtick as well) don't just target bad people. We also get to see how Braavosi see the political conflict in Westeros, although I admit, I'm a little bit bewildered that they care. They're not Westerosi, after all, and the people of Braavos and Essos in general seem to see Westeros as a land of savages, so why do they care enough to put on bawdy plays about it? With surprisingly good casting, I might add, because Joffrey's actor does a pretty solid Joffrey impression at times there.

Going to Castle Black: I really loved the conversation between Littefinger and Sansa. Both Aiden Gillen and Sophie Turner do some astounding acting work in that scene, and I could literally watch an entire episode of Sansa threateningly making Littlefinger answer for his crimes. The one thing that did frustrate me was that she then turned away the Knights of the Vale, the only intact army left in Westeros. Look, we all know that the Vale's going to be joining Sansa and company sooner or later, may as well do it now instead of trying to force some suspense out of it.

Even given how horrible Littlefinger is, it doesn't make much sense for Sansa to turn him and the knights away, because Ramsay is worse and Rickon is being held hostage.

It makes the strategy meeting scene incredibly frustrating, because as they're talking about stopping by Riverrun to get the new Tully army (good plan), and asking the Manderlys and Karstarks for help (also a good plan), along with a bunch of smaller houses (bad plan), Sansa deliberately doesn't mention the massive army that they could be using to end this war.

Actually also kind of awkward, since they're stabbing someone in this scene.

In the Iron Islands, meanwhile, we get the Kingsmoot, with Yara appearing to have it in the bag before Euron appears and tells everyone his super-great and definitely doomed to failure plan to marry Daenerys. That storyline ends with Euron becoming king and Yara and Theon fleeing with a bunch of Ironborn, so they'll presumably have joined the Stark army by the end of the series.

Which leads us onto Bran, beyond the Wall. While we discover that the Children made the White Walkers (which is kind of disappointing), most of the fan focus has been on the final sequence, where the Night King marks Bran and then almost immediately shows up to wreck things, while Bran's still exploring the past in his dreams. Carrying on from the theme of Bran being able to sort of influence the past, because he's apparently literally time-travelling, not just seeing events as an observer, we find out that Hodor's inability to say anything except 'hodor' comes from - actually, what was going on there? Bran was in the past, and heard Meera yelling for Hodor to 'hold the door', and then Young Wylis (later to become Hodor) appears to be warged into by Old Hodor or something of the like, and starts thrashing and convulsing, screaming 'hold the door' over and over again, only stopping when Hodur dies in the future.

Please die immediately.

It's a heartbreaking scene, but it's also incredibly confusing. Obviously, this is some kind of side effect of Bran's time powers and his warging powers, but it's never really explained exactly how the two are interacting here, so all we know is that Bran managed to screw things up for everyone twice in one episode, got his own direwolf killed, and is now being dragged through the snow, soon to freeze to death.

Good one, bro.

Also, wow, they're cutting out a lot of supporting cast members this series.

Next week, it looks like Cersei and Jaime are putting their 'rescue Margaery' plan in action, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it'll also involve killing Margaery, and that Tommen might die in the struggle. Also, Meera and Bran are still fleeing the White Walkers, Samwell and Gilly get to Sam's home, and Daario's still flirting with Daenerys. Good, well, I think that's everything.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress E6


Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Episode 6



I'm actually a little bit torn on this episode. Taken on its own merits, I'd say it's easily the best episode of the series, managing to balance emotional moments with scares with some pretty good action scenes pretty well. Taken in the context of the wider series, it rankles that this episode gives us pretty much no plot development, apart from learning that Mumei was rescued by the 'young master' when she was a small child.

(He seems to be an adult in those flashbacks, so he clearly can't be all that young, but never mind.)

In this week's episode, faced with the rampaging Black Smoke, identified by Mumei as a fused colony of kabane in which a single one serves as its heart, the crew of the Koutetsujou hatches a daring plan to use a powerful cannon salvaged from the outpost to strip away the Smoke's outer layer of kabane - allowing Mumei to attack its heart.

It has too many arms, and that's not okay.

I said there was no real plot development, and that's true, but we did get shedloads of character development - mostly for Mumei, but we get a little bit for Kurusu as well. For Mumei, this mostly takes the form of a conversation with Ikoma as he digs her out from underneath some wreckage, in which she learns the magical wonders of teamwork and how it doesn't matter if she's weak because the Koutesujou's crew aren't just going to throw her away (and, I mean, literally as they're having this discussion, several people on the Koutetsujou are advocating for just that, but since none of them are main characters it doesn't matter). 

It's pretty hackneyed stuff, but it's kind of touching regardless, and that's largely down to a fairly solid performance by Sayaka Senbogi, although it certainly doesn't hurt that the writers avoid having Mumei monologue, instead mostly showing her change in heart through short interactions with members of the crew.

Also, in a nice turn, we actually get to see the results of that, with Mumei following a plan and working with a team in the latter parts of the episode, sharing her knowledge with the others and guiding them through defeating the Black Smoke.

I still really like all the oranges and reds in this show.

Kurusu's character development is more in the vein of showing some begrudging camaraderie with Ikoma, and it feels a lot less earned than Mumei's development. It pains me to say that, since I like Kurusu a lot more than Mumei, but with Mumei, we've actually seen her struggling with working as a team, and with her own ideas of weakness and usefulness, and we've got a chance to see how that clashes with Ikoma's ideas of teamwork, so when she has a change of heart, we've actually seen everything building up to that. Kurusu, meanwhile, has barely interacted with Ikoma, so the two of them starting to develop a grudging bash brothers dynamic doesn't feel earned at all - in fact, it feels like it came out of the left field.

(Still, I'm always glad to see more of Kurusu. He is easily my favourite character at this point, probably because he, Ayame, and the engineers are the only ones who consistently act like reasonable human beings.)

But the main plot of the episode is about dealing with the Black Smoke, and it's actually a pretty intimidating monster, being essentially a person-spider made out of people. The plan to defeat it being executed was one of the funnest parts of the series so far, and managed to work pretty much every member of the cast into it in a crucial role, as well as given us a decent variety of action. We got chase scene elements with the Black Smoke flinging itself after the train while they try to speed up, we got Ikoma and Kurusu cutting their way through stray kabane, and we got Mumei flinging herself into the Black Smoke to deliver the killing blow to its heart, which in an odd turn appears to be one of her former comrades.

D'aww. I ship them. I mean, I don't, but I could.

(Is there something you're not telling us about Black Smokes? Are they made from former kabaneri?)

It's a very slick, well done action scene, and that seems to be something this show is very good at - even in its worst episodes, the action scenes, at least, have tended to be pretty good. Of course, it certainly helps that we get some excellent musical work from Hiroyuki Sawano in this particular fight scene. 

It looks like next episode the Koutetsujou is going to reach another station - possibly Kongokaku, but I expect Mumei would seem a lot less cheerful if that were the case. I can only presume that this is going to go horribly wrong for everybody, so we'll see how that pans out, I guess. 

Anyway, halfway through the series! Or through this cour, at least. I actually have no idea how many episodes this series is going to be in total.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Legends of Tomorrow S1E16: Legendary


Legends of Tomorrow
Series 1, Episode 16
Legendary.



Okay, before we say anything, I'd just like to note my unending confusion with that one preview clip. You know, the one with everyone at a library fighting off robots, and the Flash is there, and a giant robot tears off the roof. Because the CW kept using that clip - which had full visual effects and everything - for promotional purposes right up to the very end, but it never actually happened in-show. Nothing even similar happened. Was this part of a seventeenth episode that was scrapped really late in production because of time constraints or something? I'm very confused and alarmed.

In the Legends of Tomorrow finale, Rip drops the team back at 2016, five months on from when he picked them up (so as to conveniently avoid the last five months of plot). Before long, however, they've called him back, saying that they won't be finished until Kendra and Carter have been rescued and Vandal has been killed. When the team succeeds in rescuing Carter, but not Kendra, they discover that Vandal plans to use the Hawks' blood to detonate three Thanagarian meteorites in three time periods, thus destroying the world three times over and creating a time paradox that will allow him to erase the entire timeline, from his life in Ancient Egypt onwards. Handily, though, the meteorites will make him vulnerable, so the team sets out to stop him in all three times.

I have a lot of problems with this plotline, not least of which is that it involves a lot of people talking about how they need to 'kill Vandal in each time period simultaneously' or 'Vandal needs to set off the meteorite in each time period simultaneously', but that makes negative amounts of sense because by definition if you're in different time periods then you can't be doing something simultaneously. Time periods aren't places, you can't perform actions in different times at the same time, that's a contradiction.

How did Kendra even escape?

My other problem with this plotline is that it snuffs out all of the 'we need Kendra to kill Vandal' stuff that has been running throughout the series. Yes, this is clearly done so that multiple characters get their shot at him, with Sara, Mick, and Rip and Kendra killing him across the different timelines, but it means that all of the stuff about how only Kendra can kill him just feels meaningless now.

Also, why three time periods? The thrust of Vandal's plan is that if the world is already destroyed once, then it being destroyed in the future is a time paradox, and time will be erased up until before the meteorites ever appeared. Okay, fine, that makes a certain amount of sense, but you only need to do it twice for that to work. Is one just a back-up plan? It doesn't seem like a back-up plan, because everyone talks about it as if it needs to be three times.

Apart from that, the episode was - mostly fine? 

I should be more excited for this showdown.

I mean, that plot takes up most of the episode, for obvious reasons, but while the rest of the plot is riddled with little problems, such as "Kendra, how do you know that specific army helmet is the one in Rip's ship? It's an army helmet. It's part of a uniform. Other people wear identical helmets," and "Rip, how do you know that going with the whole team to stop Darhk from killing Laurel would lead to Sara and Quentin dying as well? Gideon only seems to be able to track changes in the timeline as they happen. For that matter, with a timeship to hand, couldn't you just pick up a few more recruits to help even out the odds? Bring Vixen along, she did pretty well against Darhk once. Nab Barry from Central City and bring him along," it never quite gets in the way of enjoying it.

The emotional moment of the team reuniting in 2016 is over and done with way too soon, but it was nice while it lasted, with Mick having a bonding moment with Ray, and later going back in time to talk with Len before they ever joined the Waverider. We also got Sara finally finding out about Laurel's death, and she takes it surprisingly well, given that she's back to wisecracking by the end of the episode.

The episode ends on Rip inviting the team to help him defend the timeline, with all of them except the Hawks agreeing. Given that the show was apparently meant to have a revolving cast, I find the fact that six out of an initial cast of nine are returning to be a little suspect. We also get the arrival of a second Waverider, carrying somebody with a warning - someone who identifies himself as Rex Tyler.

One of these days we need to talk about how the LoT writers haven't realised that
Mick's gun is meant to shoot absolute hot, not just be a small portable flamethrower.

Okay, so, yes, he's Hourman and that's great, but more to the point, if he joins the team, we'll have Rip, Ray, and Rex, and given how many times I got Rip and Ray's names confused this series, I don't want that. It's even worse, as well, because 'Rex' sounds enough like 'Jax' that I could very easily get confused there as well.

Apparently, Legends of Tomorrow will be back this Autumn. Does this mean the CW is commissioning a full, twenty-three episode series of it? Probably not. Might not be picking this one up as an ongoing again, though, so we'll see. Still, I did enjoy myself - I'll definitely be watching, at the very least.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3 (Second Half).


Agents of SHIELD
Series 3 (Second Half).



Ah, Agents of SHIELD. My relationship with you over the years has been pretty mixed, not least because your quality yo-yos up and down to the most bizarre degree, but I've always been rooting for you, and you have, at least, never been afraid to mix things up. Not necessarily always for the better, I'll grant, but nevertheless.

It set the Inhuman alien - Hive, although he doesn't get called that until almost the end of the series - up pretty well as a villain, so I was pretty excited for this half of the series and seeing what kind of havoc it would wreak, and really, it didn't disappoint.

Picking up shortly after Coulson's return from Maveth, the second half of Agents of SHIELD's third series sees the team tangling with Hive, an ancient Inhuman with the parasitic ability to occupy dead bodies, and to 'sway' Inhumans by infecting them with its parasites, turning them into ardent followers. As Gideon Malec attempts to ingratiate himself with Hive, SHIELD attempts to hunt down and eliminate both it and Hydra - but when Daisy is swayed, the team is left racing to try to find a cure to Hive's sway, while Hive moves forward with his ultimate plan: To transform a large percentage of humanity into Inhumans under his control.

Oh, and Hunter and Bobbi get written out. I'd completely forgotten.

Well, let's start by talking about Hive as a villain, because it's fair to say that Agents of SHIELD has suffered from a lack of good villains in the past, and Hive's actually a pretty good one. Brett Dalton plays him as extremely soft-spoken, even almost monotone at times, but with a fairly noticeable sense of power and force behind his performance. It's nice to get to see Dalton, who is a genuinely talented actor, get to stretch his acting muscles a bit by playing a character that's fairly starkly different from Ward. 

A good villain is important in any series, and while Hive does lose a bit of scare factor from no longer being a mysterious body-hopping superbeing wandering around an alien world, that was always kind of inevitable, because it's difficult to have someone be the main villain for eleven episodes and still have them retain their mystery.

This half of the series is very much at its best when it's having the characters face off against Hive, and that only becomes more fraught when compounding factors like 'Daisy having seen a vision of someone dying' and 'Daisy becoming Hive's lieutenant' are thrown into the mix. An episode set almost entirely in the base, as Coulson and the others attempt to figure out which of the Secret Warriors has been swayed by Hive, is one of the best episodes in the series - tense, fraught, and with a genuinely shocking plot twist. 

Stylish Corpse Man.

There are other plots afoot in the series as well, of course - brief mention is made of Civil War in order to bring Talbot and Coulson's uneasy partnership back to the fore; May continues to agonise over Lash; and Fitz and Simmons finally get a proper romance (which I'm informed that fans have been adoring). Lincoln and Daisy continue their romance, and while they make a cute couple, I found it difficult to buy their romance as the all-consuming epic love the show sometimes tried to set it up to be, in part because there wasn't a huge amount of time sent setting it up.

That's unfortunate, because a lot of the last part of the series hinges on the audience believing that these two are madly in love with each other - that Daisy is enough in love with Lincoln that it'll blind her to pragmatism even when under Hive's control, that Lincoln is enough in love with Daisy that he'll behave totally irrationally, and, in the final episode, that Lincoln loves Daisy enough to choose to sacrifice himself.

The two actors cope with that material pretty well, but since the romance isn't well-established enough for the plotline it's meant to be engendering, the whole thing falls a bit flat.

Oh, hey, even Radcliffe matches the general colour scheme.

This series also sees the 'end' of Hydra, which in this case could mean either the actual end or just 'the end until we decide we need a massive evil spy organisation', and I would place my bets on the latter. It's a rather underplayed moment, but deliberately so, as characters point out that Hydra wasn't much a threat anymore, especially compared to Hive.

One thing that struck me about this series is that there were almost no crossovers, and that's a bit of a shame. It would have been nice to see Sif show up again, or an appearance from Matt Murdock or Jessica Jones. But that's just wishful thinking, I suppose.

Anyway, it looks like next series is going to have a bit of a focus on evil robots, with Radcliffe, a scientist introduced in this half of the series, apparently creating an intelligent robot called Aida. Also, Daisy's a supervillain now? What? I don't - why. How did that happen. Please explain, show. I'm cautiously hopeful for the next series, so we'll see what they do with it. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Flash S2E22: Invincible


The Flash
Series 2, Episode 22
Invincible.



No relation to the comics character of the same name, obviously.

You know, I was a bit reluctant to make this particular judgement call, but I think The Flash might have outdone its first series with its second. That's no easy task: The first series had a lot going for it, including a great villain and the advantage of feeling relatively new and fresh. But the second series has managed to outstrip it, and a lot of that is down to Zoom, Wally, and Earth-2 Wells. Two out of the three have pretty important roles in this week's episode, too, so that's nice.

Picking up shortly after the end of episode twenty-one, episode twenty-two sees Central City in the grip of 'the Metapocalypse', as an army of metahumans under Zoom's control rampages through the city. With Barry acting noticeably overconfident, Wally putting himself in danger to try to prove that his life was worth saving, Caitlin traumatised and Cisco haunted by visions of birds dropping dead, the situation goes from bad to worse when Black Siren, Earth-2's Laurel Lance and the last of Zoom's lieutenants, begins tearing down buildings with her sonic cry.

How has Singh not realised that Barry's the Flash yet?

So, evil Laurel, only a few weeks after she died on Arrow. It's nice to see Katie Cassidy back, although she doesn't have a tremendously huge role in this episode - she's mostly a standard villain of the week, and the fact that this is an Earth-2 version of someone the team knows and presumably is grieving is actually barely touched upon, in a slightly odd turn. Even odder is Barry just casually brushing off the possibility of telling Quentin and Sara about her, because - really, Barry? That seems like it's definitely not your call to make.

In fact, this episode seems stretched pretty thinly. The Metapocalypse doesn't cause the heroes much strife, nor does Black Siren (that's evil Laurel, in case you hadn't caught that), and more time is spent on Barry's overconfidence, which is a plotline that never really gets resolved.

While he doesn't get many scenes either, Wally (who remains a literal ray of sunshine) was my favourite part of the episode. That's partly because I have a soft spot for characters who act in a stupidly reckless manner, but also because he and Joe are really the emotional heart of this episode. Barry's overconfidence made him seem quite distant to me as a viewer, so I wasn't really all that emotionally attached to what was happening to him (in fact, I found him a little bit grating), but Wally's gnawing self-esteem issues and Joe's panicked concern were both pretty understandable.

The obvious evil duo.

(Although I did tilt my head a bit at Joe phrasing Wally's actions as 'using himself as bait' - no, Joe, he wasn't expecting you to turn up, remember? He was getting ready to go up against metahumans with pretty much just his fists.)

Again, it's a storyline that doesn't get all that much resolution, apart from Barry telling Joe that there isn't any way to stop Wally - but it is clearly leading into Wally joining Team Flash, and the end of the episode, which sees him discovering that Barry is the Flash, probably only cements that.

Zoom was also a lot of fun this episode. He doesn't show up very much (that's turning into a recurring theme in this review), but the scenes he has are great. Teddy Sears is very good at being menacing, and the scenes where he gives Laurel her orders and where he pulls a 'we're not so different, you and I' speech on Barry (with, to be fair, a reasonable point that they're both driven by their mothers having died - and killed by either a father or a father figure, to boot!) come across as deeply tense and sinister. It certainly doesn't hurt, either, that Zoom's tendency towards showing up out of the blue and inflicting ultraviolence on people means that any and every scene carries a risk of him abruptly appearing and doing something horrible.

Waaalllly.

Which actually comes into play late in the episode, when Zoom interrupts a dinner party to grab Henry Allen, drag him back to Barry's childhood home, and then murder him in front of Barry, reasoning that if he actually sees a parent die, then that should make him realise just how similar they are. It's a pretty shocking, unexpected moment, but then 'shocking, unexpected moments of extreme violence' has always been Zoom's schtick, to the point where it probably shouldn't be shocking or unexpected anymore (but it still is). 

Next week is the finale, and there's a lot of plot threads to wrap up. Zoom, just to start, but also the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask, as well as the apparent apocalypse coming to Earth-2 for reasons unknown. Next week also apparently has Zoom challenging Barry to a race, which seems like a slightly weird turn, but okay, fine, sure.