Review: DC League Of Super-Pets

DC League Of Super-Pets

Trailer

What would Snyder do with this?

Krypto the Super Dog (Dwayne Johnson) lives with owner and friend Superman (John Krasinski), protecting Metropolis from villainous threats like Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). But when Superman finds love with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), Krypto fears he will soon be on the outs. Combined with an evil guinea pig (Kate McKinnon) who finds a way to remove his powers as part of a plot to destroy the Justice League, a down-and-out Krypto must turn to a group of unowned pets, chief among them disgruntled dog Ace (Kevin Hart), to save the day.

One I took in with the nieces on a boring Saturday evening, but not a wasted one. Watching DC League Of Super-Pets, I couldn’t help bur reflect on one Dwayne Johnson, who really has become the guy in Hollywood, hasn’t he? There isn’t anything he doesn’t seem able to turn his hand to, bar serious drama and I suspect that we will be getting that someday, that doesn’t turn to gold. Blockbusters, comedies, TV shows, musicals, VA, the man seems capable of doing it all. DC League Of Super-Pets, a film which in different hands could easily be a very dismissible affair more in line with DC’s seemingly endless run of direct-to-streaming 2D animated features, is elevated to a different level because of Johnson, and because of what he is able to do with others.

He and Hart (the latter being so much better here than he was in The Man From Toronto) fall back into an easy back-and-forth here, based on foundations well established in their previous productions like Central Intelligence. It’s in that back-and-forth – Johnson as a sort of intentionally naïve straight man to Hart’s rock-em sock-em malcontent – that the film finds a lot of its humour, of a kind that will appeal to the kids and the adults in the audience in equal measure (and there is plenty just for the adults, especially anything that involves a Keanu Reeves-voiced Caped Crusader). A strong supporting cast made up of a large number of comedians and comic actors – Kate McKinnon as the wonderfully voiced villain Lulu, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne among a great many others – insure that DC League Of Super-Pets transcends its almost infantile premise and turns instead into something that, whisper it, is more Pixar than Minions.

So yes, bring your kids along to see DC League Of Super-Pets, you could do a lot worse with them. Go and see it yourself. You’ll be treated to a well-written 100 minutes of fun and comedy that blends child-friendly styles with adult-orientated material (what other “kids movie” would contain two bleeped-out swear words?), performed by a group of actors who were all in the higher percentiles of their field. And at the very top remains Johnson, a man who is rapidly approaching iconic status within the entertainment industry. He can do it all, and has just added “voicing a dog” to the list. Recommended.

(All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures).

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “The Face Of The Enemy”

I didn’t seduce you. Hope seduced you. And the more you ate of it, the less you saw.

Air Date: 12/12/08-12/02/09

Director: Wayne Rose

Writer: Jane Espenson & Seamus Kevin Fahey

Synopsis: A botched jump leaves a Raptor containing a combined group of Colonials and Cylons stranded in space. Onboard, Gaeta is forced to confront a shadow from his past: an Eight he grew close to on New Caprica.

Review

“The Face Of The Enemy” is the third, and last, BSG webisode series, after “The Resistance” between Season Two and Three, and the Razor Flashbacks that accompanied the larger Razor project. It was actually released in the lead-up to “Sometimes A Great Notion”, even though the events that it depicts very obviously take place after that episode: hence why I have chosen to cover it here, as otherwise it just doesn’t fit right. Coming out at just over a half-hour of material, it might be an elongated promotional exercise, but it does offer a very interesting look at a character who, while always important in his own way, is about to become one of the stand-out elements of Season Four’s second half.

Felix Gaeta just needs a bit more elaboration, or so the people behind “The Face Of The Enemy” appear to think. Not that he has been ignored this season, far from it, but for the most part Gaeta has been a fairly passive person. Coming off his perjury in “Crossroads (Part Two)” we’ve seen the annoyed officer who wasn’t happy dealing with Starbuck in “He That Believeth In Me”, we’ve seen the increasingly mutinous person on the Demetrius in “The Road Less Traveled”, we’ve seen the victim of a stupid shooter in “Faith” and the person who feels the need to sing to soothe that pain in “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?”. Our last glimpse, in “Revelations”, was of a very proud but bent over individual, probably coming back to his post too early and struggling to deal with the reality of having just one leg. And in “Sometimes A Great Notion”, Gaeta suffered yet another tragedy with Dee’s death. Onboard the stranded Raptor, Gaeta gets reminded of a different loss, and suffers a revelation of yet more pain. There is only so much one person can take.

Gaeta is a poisoned individual in a lot of ways, but we are yet to see the result of that poisoning becoming truly rancourous. That moment is coming soon, and the more singular course of “The Face Of The Enemy” will add to our understanding of that damaged soul, and how far it is willing to go in pursuit of…well, we shall see. “The Face Of The Enemy” showcases good and bad aspects of Gaeta’s personality in different ways. We see the good in his will to survive, his ability to adapt to difficult circumstances, and in his relationship with Hoshi, the last of which is a very firm indication that Gaeta can be saved from the black pit yet. We see the bad in his barely repressed anger at his circumstances, his addiction to painkillers and the manner in which he is capable of sudden bursts of extreme violence. I think the whole point of “The Face Of The Enemy” is set-up for this particular character, to insure that the audience truly understands how far he has gone down this dark road which, when married to his obvious capability in other respects, will produce something extremely dangerous.

Much of this is traced back to events on New Caprica, the moment when Gaeta went from a dependable CIC officer to an intimate part of major events. On that planet he sought means to aid the Resistance to the Cylon occupation even as he remained a key part of it, as we saw in “Occupation” all the way through to “Exodus (Part Two)”. But there was more to it than the information drops. No, Gaeta tried to do more, perhaps ahead of his more clandestine contacts with Tyrol, by engaging with the Cylons directly.

“The Face Of The Enemy” is concerned with making us understand the depth of Gaeta’s hatred for the Cylons, and there is little better way of doing that than the realisation that what he considered to be a positive moment amid a sea of misery was in fact just a Cylon manipulation. Not for the first time we see Cylons – and specifically female Cylons – use sexuality and romantic emotions as a tool to get what they want from Colonial men who should know better. Gaeta might not have given up the entire defence mainframe like Baltar did, but he still acted foolishly, out of a misplaced affection for an Eight model that perhaps reflects feelings he may have had for the model he was originally familiar with: we might recall he and Boomer dancing together in “Colonial Day”. Gaeta went to this Eight looking to do good, and still with a belief that some manner of cooperation with the Cylons might be beneficial: he got something else out of the deal, though “The Face Of The Enemy” is careful not to use words like “love” or even showcase an obvious sexual relationship (though the latter is implied). Now, years removed, he’s told that the interaction, the affection, was not only based on a lie but helped to condemn a large number of people to death. Gaeta thought himself the hero, a martyr for his actions as we saw in “Collaborators”. Now, he realises he was a Quisling, albeit unknowingly. The end result is painfully clear: in the mind of Felix Gaeta, alliances with the Cylons will only ever end to the benefit of one party, and “skinjobs” cannot be trusted.

The actual narrative of the episode is essentially Lifeboat in space, a scenario any sci-fi fan will probably have seen elsewhere, crossed with And Then There Were None. In a small cramped space personalities clash and enmities begin to boil over, before people start dying in increasingly suspicious circumstances. BSG leans in hard on the horror angle as the bodies pile up, the lights start to flicker and the blood begins to get smeared on people’s faces, perhaps as much as it has done since “A Measure Of Salvation”. There is a natural tension to be found from such things, and the only negative really is that the scenario probably needs a bit more time than 30 minutes to breathe properly (pun unintended). Once the first Eight dies, it’s hard to envision anyone other than the second Eight being responsible for the deaths, especially when her connection to Gaeta is revealed. Still, I liked the set-up and execution of “The Face Of The Enemy”, which showcased a good use of limited physical space. Yes, it’s a bottle episode, but like the best sci-fi shows BSG demonstrates that this doesn’t have to be a detriment to good story-telling. The purpose is to put Gaeta through the ringer, and this narrative accomplishes that.

This is the most we have seen yet of Lt Hoshi, a bit player who was introduced all the way back in “Pegasus” as I recall. He’s always been just background really, save for his interaction with Kendra Shaw in Razor, but he gets the time to become more of a character in “The Face Of The Enemy”. In some respects he’s just meant to be an avenue for telling us more about Gaeta, but we do learn a bit about Hoshi at the same time: his affection for Gaeta, his loyalty to comrades and his tendency to grasp at straws, at least insofar as the rescue effort goes. In the end, Hoshi doesn’t actually get what he wants in some respects, as Gaeta seems to end their relationship at the conclusion of this series – something confirmed by Jane Espenson – and it’s not clear how someone like Hoshi is going to fit in to whatever Gaeta might be planning. But he’s made an impact, and that’s enough to make him someone worth keeping an eye on as we go forward.

The series ends with violence, as Gaeta eliminates the Eight in a decisive fashion, and portends more violence to come, as Gaeta warns Hoshi that he won’t just stand idly by in the face of a human/Cylon alliance he does not feel is worth pursuing. If “The Face Of The Enemy” can be described as elongated set-up, then its closing moments do certainly make you wonder “Where do we go from here?”. The job of outlining a more one-minded, more ruthless and more dangerous Gaeta has certainly been accomplished: now we get to see just what this character, once so ancillary, is going to do that will up end everything, and make the collapse of Season Four a cold, hard reality.

I didn’t want to do what I did. I did it when the probabilities dictated it.

Notes

-Quite the wordy opening title: “Nine days after the discovery of a devastated Earth”.

-This was actually one of the very last things filmed during the show’s production, done concurrently with The Plan. That’s why there are no scenes in the CIC: the set had already been dismantled.

BSG rarely used the technique really – “You Can’t Go Home Again” and “Black Market” are the other major examples I think – but “The Face Of The Enemy” elects to go with an in medias reis opening which works in the context of the horror theme.

-In lieu of the usual main titles preview, we instead get a mixture of flashes for Gaeta here, of his past and of his future.

-Gaeta is looking a little dishevelled in the CIC. It’s subtle enough, but we can see it in the blotchy skin, the five-o-clock shadow, the bags under the eyes. He’s not in a good place, a week-ish removed from “Sometimes A Great Notion”.

-In the aftermath of Cloud Nine’s destruction in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”, the Zephyr appears to have become the Fleet’s go to relaxation destination. This despite the damage it took in “He That Believeth In Me”.

-Tigh’s advice to Gaeta is blunt and to the point: “Go get drunk, sleep for a week”. This appears to be Tigh’s preferred R&R combination.

-First appearance of “morpha” here since it was used to euthanise Socinus in “Valley Of Darkness”. This episode would indicate that, like real world morphine, it has addictive properties.

BSG doesn’t belabour the moment which establishes Gaeta and Hoshi as a couple, which I appreciated. We’ve had female/female intimacy in the show before, in “Faith”, but that was stylised to a degree. This is much more straightforward.

-There was a long-running question in the fandom about the sexuality of various characters, as tends to be the case. On the question of whether Gaeta was gay or straight, the answer seems to be a solid “Yes”.

-The original plan was for Gaeta’s lover to be the pilot Narcho, last seen in “Six Of One”, but this was changed when the actor proved unavailable. Similarly, the Eight was apparently meant to be a Six.

-A Cylon presence on Galactica is now normal, going by the way the Eights are walking around the flight deck unattended.

-It apparently takes 15 minutes for a Raptor to fly to the Zephyr? That seems like a lot, but I guess outside of combat the smaller ships are limited to a slower speed?

-The engineer briefly prays to a Poseidon medallion, which I think is the first time that deity has been mentioned on the show. His remit over sailing vessels seemingly extends to spaceships.

-The rules regarding “the red line” for FTL jumps make little sense to me, but I think the issue here is that having jumped beyond a point that is charted, the Raptor crew can’t jump somewhere else because they don’t know exactly where they are.

-Tigh is remarkably casual about the missing Raptor, just a step away from claiming it will just turn-up. That might reflect Michael Hogan’s limited time on set for this.

-Hoshi doesn’t come outright and say that he and Gaeta are involved but his manner of saying “me and Felix” leaves little doubt. Tigh’s reaction is interesting in a way, in that he largely has no reaction, or objection. We’ve come a long way since he ordered Boomer to stop fraternising with Tyrol in “Water”.

-“The Face Of The Enemy” is laid back about its music, relaying on old themes and wispy notes to maximise the disconcerting feeling in the Raptor. It works.

-I do like, similar to real-life examples of such electrocution, it takes a few seconds to realise what’s wrong when this Eight buys it.

-To add to the horror, the series takes the time to outline the less pleasant aspects of decomposition and how it’s inadvisable for the group to let the dead Eight’s model remain onboard, even if it costs them air.

-Gaeta’s list of people doesn’t have any familiar names on it, and it’s never explained what made them important. You’d have to presume they are members of the military, or maybe were involved in New Caprica’s government?

-I think this is the first time that we actually see’s Gaeta’s stump, which as a visual image is going to be important for coming episodes.

-Not sure we really needed the gasps as Gaeta starts discovering the bodies.

-In response to the Eight declaring she can connect to the Raptor systems, Gaeta says “I remember you did that once” in reference to “Flight Of The Phoenix”. It’s a measure of how much he is slipping that he equates the two Eight’s.

-Gaeta suggests that the dead pilot may have killed himself which, given it comes so soon after Dee’s death, is something that is foremost in his mind recently.

-Gaeta explains “Oh God” as he helps the Eight connect with the ship, which presumably should be “Oh Gods”.

-The Eight turns the screws on Gaeta by saying “You know where I am” regards her projection. Even here she can’t leave it alone.

-Hoshi outlines why he likes Gaeta: “He has a fire about doing the right thing”. It’s framed as a positive, but that fire is going to be issue.

-Does the air timer in the Raptor ever get altered on account of the people removed from breathing? It doesn’t seem to. You’d assume the Eight and Gaeta should have much more air than indicated.

-It’s grim, seeing the pilots’ throats slit. No sign of resistance either, so the Eight was able to do this quietly.

-“Another empty well” allows Racetrack to imply that the search for Gaeta is pointless, and she isn’t wrong. This isn’t a needle in a haystack, it’s a needle in an ocean.

-At this point, perhaps owing to decreasing power, the Raptor lights start to flicker, which adds to the horror feeling. It’s not subtle, but it works.

-As the Eight outlines, there is a fine line between hope and ignorance. Gaeta appears to indulge himself with both, to his detriment.

-The Eight isn’t subtle in the flashback: “Kill everyone on this list”. It does make you wonder why they later needed Baltar’s signature to do the same thing.

-The idea that Gaeta wasn’t seduced by the Eight but “by hope” is a bit airy, but I suppose is a good descriptor for what his mindset at that stage of the occupation.

-The Eight is brutally straightforward about the Cylon approach to whatever her interaction with Gaeta was: “Kill the ones your enemy values”. It’s a blunt outlook that seems more like a pre-“Downloaded” Cylon would think.

-Baltar’s whisper to Gaeta from “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” is revealed to be “I know what your Eight did”. As I recall the original idea was that Gaeta would have been involved in some kind of atrocity with the Sagitaron contingent.

-Gaeta’s killing of the Eight is a mirror image of his attack on Baltar, only this time it sticks. Is he picturing Baltar in this moment?

-While not made very clear, you have to presume that Gaeta’s move to inject himself with more morpha is a bid to end his life.

-As Gaeta prepares for death, he once again launches into “Gaeta’s Lament”, which in this case would appear to be a comfort rather than a healing exercise.

-How does Hoshi find the Raptor? The episode seems to indicate he’s just jumping around randomly. This is never brought up again, but the chances seen infinitesimally small.

-Nice image of Hoshi holding Gaeta’s hand on the gurney. It’s intimate, but not overly so.

-Gaeta doesn’t mess around when Tigh asks why he can’t just talk to him about his objections to the alliance: “Because you’re a Cylon”. The disdain is painfully evident.

-Interesting camera angle for this moment regards Gaeta, from below and tilted. The Dutch feeling is presumably intentional, to give Gaeta a more strange menacing appearance.

-Gaeta promises Hoshi that “I’ll protect you” during whatever is coming. Just why will Hoshi require protection? The question is rightfully left dangling.

Overall Verdict: Better than the Razor Flashbacks but perhaps not quite on the level of “The Resistance”, “The Face Of The Enemy” is a really strong effort, one that gives us a lot of really important characterisation for Gaeta, a proper introduction to Hoshi, some good set-up for episodes to come and tells a pretty decent story of its own accord. Season Four continues to impress, and long may that continue.

To read more entries in this series, click here to go the index.

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Ireland’s Wars: The Glen Of Imaal Disaster

It can often be very easy to view the military forces of any nation as a sterling, professional fighting unit. The uniforms, the guns, the other equipment on display, the impression meant to be experienced is generally one of power, precision and competence, at least if they are doing it right. But militaries are as prone to getting things wrong as much as anyone else really, and for much the same reasons as anyone else: inexperience, bad equipment, a succession of minor faults. The thing is, when militaries make mistakes, the results tend to be more catastrophic. The Irish Army of the Emergency was in many ways a military force having something of an identity crisis, flush with reservists called up to active service, new recruits, new equipment it was unused to using and facing the prospect that they would have to fight off an invasion of their shores by a much larger, better-armed and probably much more experienced military. It is no wonder then that tragedies in training and development occurred. The worst of such things during this period, and one of the worst days in the history of the post-revolutionary period Irish Army, took place in September 1941 in a a field in Co Wicklow.

On the 16th of that month, a group of Irish Army officers and recruits assembled in the Glen of Imaal, a remote part of the Wicklow Mountains that was, then and now, in use by the Defence Forces for training. There were about 60 men there, from artillery, anti-aircraft and engineering units. Some of the officers had only been commissioned that year, in the face of the invasion threat that hovered over Ireland in 1940. The person in charge of the group, whose orders were to receive instructions in the procedure for disarming mines, was a Lt Michael McLoughlin, who was understood to be an experienced instructor in such things.

The explosives that the group were working with that day were so-called “butter boxes”. These were anti-tank mines constructed by the Army Ordnance Corps, that consisted of a sizable wooden box, waterproofed, which contained around 25 pounds of explosive material, usually gelignite. The weapons were designed to be used against tanks and other vehicles of course, but also could have use as a means of destroying bridges and other physical structures. Thousands of such mines had been created over the previous two years in preparation for an invasion that never came. McLoughlin’s class that day was in the set-up and arming of such devices, and three of them were with the group.

In the course of his instruction, McLoughlin had gathered just under 30 of the party around him, with the remainder left a short distance away. McLoughlin had bent over the butter box to demonstrate how detonator should be properly inserted into such a device. According to different accounts McLoughlin may have had an inkling of what was abut to occur, with one remembrance stating that he had suddenly thrown his body over the mine. One survivor later claimed he had heard someone shouting “You have seven seconds!”, allowing him to seek cover. Whatever the circumstances, the device suddenly exploded, creating in the process a crater at least seven feet deep and over 20 feet wide. Given the close proximity of so many men, heavy casualties were inevitable: 15 men were instantly killed by the force of the explosion, with another to die of his wounds within the day, over over a dozen more wounded to some degree. The vast majority of the dead were quite literally blown apart: a handful were lucky enough to be blown clear.

The aftermath was grim. The wounded were driven to the Curragh military hospital, as medical staff and Garda went about the grisly task of collecting the body arts of the deceased, after the remaining two mines were safely detonated. Some of the more seriously injured were operated on during the night, while the local Garda station became crowded with survivors seeking to contact families. Five of the survivors were found to have serious eye damage, with three totally blinded. The long term effects for some of the men involved were severe; those with eye damage were sent to specialist military hospitals in England for treatment, while others developed symptoms of PTSD. One man, Henry Cotton, a Corporal at the time of the incident but later commissioned as an officer with the Ordnance Corps, broke into a Dublin home in 1947 and shot dead two men there. He would later be found guilty but insane, and spent eight years in a psychiatric institution. The funerals for the dead were large affairs, with those in Dublin attended by government officials: for McLoughlin and one other man originally from the North, the military cortege was obliged to stop at the border.

No formal inquest was ever held into the events of that day: one was started by the Curragh military hospital but was ceased at the request of Garda. No formal investigation on the part of the military appears to have ever really took place, though of course it is hard to see how such an affair would have been able to conclusively determine what happened. The device that had exploded was of course gone, and the nearest witnesses were either dead or severely injured. The matter has been left to lie on the not unreasonable assumption that some manner of fault, whether with the explosive in general or with the detonator, resulted in the mine exploding prematurely. The results, in this case, were enormously tragic. Whether it was a badly designed mine or something else, the episode perhaps reflected on the rather unready state of the Irish military in the context of the Emergency.

This is a short entry, as the details for the Glen of Imaal incident are basic, straight-forward and bear little sustained analysis. A mistake was made somewhere, whether it was in the explosive or the manner that it was handled after its creation, and there was little appetite for an in-depth investigation afterwards: all signs of a military that was not entirely at ease with itself. The death toll makes the affair more than worthy of note, even if in the history of Ireland in the Second World War it usually merits little more than a figurative footnote. What happened that day was a tragedy, and constituted one of the worst blows to the Irish Army post-1923: at least some lessons were learned.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: The Gray Man

The Gray Man

Trailer

That is one handsome man.

Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) is an elite covert operative, recruited straight from prison by the CIA’s Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) and assigned to the most dangerous of tasks. After Fitzroy is sent into retirement and replaced by the more clinical and upwardly mobile Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), the Sierra programme comes under threat: when Six comes into possession of data that proves Carmichael and his allies are criminals, he and agent Mirande (Ana de Armas) are thrust into a globe crossing mission to expose them, save Fitzroy and his kidnapped niece and defeat the predations of Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), Denny’s psychopathic contract killer.

This is a big gamble from Netflix, who so often throw just a small amount of money at feature productions. The Gray Man, with big name directors, a big name cast and enough action set-pieces to satisfy just about anyone, constitutes an enormous investment from a company who seemed to be leaking subscribers earlier this year. It pretty much had to be a hit, or else you’d imagine Netflix might be in a bit of trouble. Well, I don’t know how many eyeballs Netflix got on this product, other than mine of course, but from a quality perspective I’m happy to declare The Gray Man a hit, the kind of action spectacular that Netflix deserve some reward for bankrolling and giving this kind of platform.

I really enjoyed this one. There are moments when it gets ridiculously silly – a major shoot-out in the streets of Prague is the worst example, with American special-ops teams essentially committing a 9/11-esque atrocity and believing that they will get away with it – and other moments when it gets unexpectedly heartfelt, but at its core it knows what it is and what it wants to present, which is an old-school mano-a-mano style confrontation story between two heavy-weights jumping around fancy locales, with the requisite amount of explosions, death traps, adorable children who have been kidnapped and big men punching each other repeatedly. You can imagine this kind of story being made in different ways throughout the decades – maybe Russell, Stallone, Willis or Schwarzenegger would be Sierra Six in other eras – and this is 2022’s version of the same. It’s Bond, mixed with Bourne mixed with Plisken mixed with Torreto mixed with Hunte and while there is very little of it that could be called unique, its still a flavourful mash-up of styles made with skill, easily enjoyed provided you are willing to not take it all too seriously.

Our steely eyed hero launches us through a series of cool set-pieces, that range from trying to escape a hidden trap room in a MacGyver-esque way, to dodging bullets and bombs on top of a rampaging tram. The sense of thrill rarely leaves the production, and the Russo’s are old hands now at establishing the right pace for an action-adventure story. What would have been a predictable love plot with Ana de Armas – re-uniting with Gosling after Blade Runner 2049 – is dropped in favour of just more action and a different beating heart in the relationship between Six and young charge Claire (Julia Butters, last seen stealing the show in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood), and while the sentimentality in that regard is a little mawkish, it never goes too far. Most importantly, The Gray Man never loses sight of what it is, which is the story of a calm, cool, collected and unflappable secret agent taking on an uncaring bureaucracy and the toxic brash masculinity that said bureaucracy is defending. It never gets boring, it never gets slow and it doesn’t rest on its laurels when it comes to switching things between action beats.

Of course it is very silly in fundamental ways. It’s knocking on Die Another Day levels of ridiculousness and expectations of disbelief suspension, which is hard to do when the film briefly takes turns for the unfortunately realistic (like a fairly brutal torture scene that we could have done without, or several examples of people blowing themselves up to try and take out the bad guys). The Gray Man is simply the streaming version of the kind of Hollywood blockbuster best summed up by The Fast And The Furious franchise, and your ability to tolerate or enjoy it will be heavily influenced by your ability to tolerate or enjoy that kind of action flick. I can, when it is done well as it is here.

For all this, the weak point of the film is probably the lead. Gosling remains a conundrum to me and so many others, because he does have a certain presence, but his acting style tends towards the wooden and unemotional. Like an early-era Keanu Reeves, he seems like an actor who is trading more on his good looks than his acting ability, and yet there is still something about him all the same. If I had to make a comparison, I would say it would be to Matt Damon’s Bourne, a straight-laced and straight-faced killer, with enough behind the eyes to stop you from dismissing him as a plank entirely, but not so much that you don’t wonder just how it is he has gotten to his position. The idea may be that we have a spy here who does not want to be a spy, and acts accordingly, but I think I would have liked a bit more from Gosling, whose only real bit of proper acting comes late in the day as the character discusses, briefly, his traumatic childhood. He’s out-acted in spades by Evans, who leaps gleefully into the role of toxic alpha male Lloyd. It’s much the same character he played in Knives Out, only with special forces training and a mercenary army behind him, and the results are outstanding. Anyone can play a bad guy in these films as an irredeemable villain that you just want to see beat up and shot, but Evans manages to both do that and still make Lloyd weirdly compelling, a guy whose next raunchy quip or brutal putdown you actually want to see.

The rest of the cast is fine, without ever really being amazing. De Armas is transitioning well into being an action staple after her turn in No Time To Die, Page is suitably creepy as the CIA head honcho with more clever verbal ploys than brains, Thornton reminds us all that he still exists in a good father-figure role and there’s even room for Alfre Woodard, Wagner Moura and Jessica Henwick to make impactful appearances. I suppose there are none better than the Russo’s in terms of incorporating large casts into big-budget features effectively, and no one really makes a bad showing in The Gray Man.

Visually it’s a treat of course. The directors have given some mixed messages regarding just what they were intending for The Gray Man, with Anthony insisting it was shot with cinemas in kind and Joe giving some frank thoughts on how such arenas may well be on the wrong side of history already, but I didn’t find that small-screen avenue negatively effected The Gray Man all that much. The use of colour and tone is something that can be appreciated regardless of output device. There are some really good set-pieces: a hand-to-hand at the beginning that takes place amid a fireworks display; a “one against many” sequence onboard a disintegrating plane; that extended evisceration of Prague’s city centre, which despite its unreality is so expertly choreographed you just have to appreciate it; and a closing battle in a Croatian castle, where The Gray Man runs the gauntlet from sniper battles to a very John Wick-esque fistfight in a hedge maze. The influences are from all over, and at any given moment you might be thinking of The Raid or you might be thinking of Bollywood blockbusters like Ek Tha Tiger or something more in the same vein like the Mission: Impossible franchise. The Russo’s sample liberally, but it’s OK in this sub-genre: the resulting mix is a delight really, offering a myriad of forms and thrills to keep you interested.

In the end I feel like there is only so much criticism you can make about a film like this. It won’t be topping many film of the year lists, or even making a major swing at being in the top ten. But that doesn’t really matter. I said before that The Gray Man knows what it is and what it wants to show the audience, and that aura of confidence in itself makes all the difference. It’s a fun action-adventure with a committed cast, decent visuals and lots of thrills. It doesn’t make any amazing comments on the human condition, but it will get the heart racing at the requisite moments, and that is what it needs to do. This is a gamble that has paid off for Netflix, and I have a feeling the titular spy will be seen again. Recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Sometimes A Great Notion”

She kissed me good night 45 minutes ago, and there was joy in her eyes. So tell me, why would she do this?

Air Date: 16/01/09

Director: Michael Nankin

Writer: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle

Synopsis: The Fleet reels in the aftermath of finding Earth, as numerous figures confront the awful reality of what is on the planet’s surface. Apollo struggles to prevent a panic, but gets unexpected assistance from Dee.

Review

One of the key plot ideas of Season Four has been the growing collapse, of the Fleet structures, of military discipline, of certain characters. At the conclusion of “Revelations”, it seemed as if everything was going to be all worth it, only for the joy and hope of finding Earth to turn to ashes in an instant. Now, we deal with the aftermath, and the acceleration of the collapse that can only be considered an inevitable consequence. How can a military chain of command, an established political system of governance, a carefully crafted alliance between once-warring factions survive, in the face of the awful horror that is the reality of Earth?

The sense of despair that is all over “Sometimes A Great Notion” is very well carried off. There’s the obvious things, like Roslin burning the Pythian prophecies, and the more subtle things, like how the various members of Galactica’s crew stop adhering to the defined order. This is worse than the aftermath of the holocaust in the Miniseries, Adama’s brush with death after “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”, the divide of the Fleet in “The Farm”, the Cylon occupation of New Caprica. This is a deeper misery, one that is striking at the heart and soul of what is left of humanity. The drama of “Sometimes A Great Notion” is in seeing how everyone deals with this: some rise to the challenge, some fall down and others seek a way out.

Dee is an inspired choice of central character to guide us through all this. The episode gives D’Anna a little bit of time to play a similar role, but this is the Dee show through and through. She hasn’t really had this kind of focus since “Taking A Break Fromm All Your Worries”, but she’s never stopped being an important part of the Galactica landscape. Ever since her heart-to-heart with Adama in “Home (Part One)” Dee has been making a sizable impact: in “Revelations”, our exploration of how the Fleet processes this greatest of setbacks is focused through Dee’s experience, and it’s a brilliantly put together plot.

Once you view “Sometimes A Great Notion” through the prism of a person preparing for suicide, you come to realise how superb it is. Dee is numb on the Earth beach, then panicky in the Raptor back up, struggling to process everything and what it means for the future. From there, she appears to make a choice, one a first-time viewer won’t be conscious of until the end of the episode. She has decided to end her life, unwilling or unable to continue this gargantuan struggle through a universe where hopes and dreams are so easily crushed, and where a daily drudgery is her only reward. But she isn’t going to go without doing a few things first.

So she gets in her uniform and she goes about her day. She babysits for the Agathon’s, telling Hera with envy how the child has no idea what’s going on. It’s a nice moment, a pleasant bit of normality for her to relax into, sharing the idea of being blissfully ignorant of the larger heartbreak of the Fleet and being able to look forward to “just another day”. Then she meets Apollo, and chooses to be the person to inspire him a bit, reminding him of how they kept things together in the reduced New Caprica-era Fleet, something he can do again. In this we can perhaps see an effort to leave something behind her, in the form of a renewed and determined Apollo, who can help the Fleet when she is no longer in a position to. And then she decides to indulge herself, in the manner that we saw her do in “Sacrifice” and in the flashbacks of “Unfinished Business (Extended)”: putting on a nice dress, dolling herself up and going on a date with her husband, one which she proclaims to have been the “best fun” she has had in a while. Dee has stared into a figurative abyss where hope is no longer existent, and here she wants a reason to smile, a euphoria to enjoy, before she makes her final choice.

The suicide scene is shocking in the moment, but less so when you consider what we have seen. Dee becomes representative in the act, of a section of humanity that has reached their breaking point and has just enough lucidity left to make their final hours ones of positive interactions. That doesn’t make her choice any less heart-breaking, but there is perhaps a comfort in knowing that Dee was at least somewhat happy when she picked up that gun, a happiness that it would not have seemed possible to find if she decided to try and keep going. Depictions of suicide are always going to be things that will invoke a wide range of emotions, and where you come down on Dee’s mindset might well depend on your closeness to such an event in real life. You might disagree with my interpretation, and perhaps instead see a deeply wounded person who isn’t getting the support they really need. But that’s BSG. Hope has been at the heart of everything since Adama’s speech at the end of the Miniseries, and absent that hope it is difficult to begrudge someone this self-destructive act.

If Dee is representative of an high-emotion driven response to what has happened, then Roslin is something a bit different. She’s completely shattered by what is found on Earth, on a very deep level. It’s not just that the promise of humanity’s new home has turned out to be a lie, it’s that everything written down in the sacred texts has turned out to be a lie. Roslin has been at the centre of all of that, all of the destiny and “dying leader” stuff. She’s seen it first hand, in episodes like “Home (Part Two)” and “Rapture”. She was practically having a conversation with the One God in “The Hub”. It’s been built up and up in her head, and become intrinsically tied with her own existence.

So when it all comes for naught, we can understand what occurs with Roslin. The black pit she talked about in “Faith” opens up again, and where Dee responded with a collection of final acts ahead of an intended suicide, Roslin instead embraces this newly re-acquired nihilistic viewpoint and shuts down. She basically abandons her responsibilities as President. She burns the Pythian prophecies in a dramatic but very important act, and rejects Adama’s effort to comfort her. She also starts burning down her own life, refusing to continue her treatments, so in a way I suppose we could say that Roslin is undertaking a slower form of suicide. Very importantly, she also announces a belief that the choice made in the Miniseries – to turn and run in the face of the Cylon onslaught – was the wrong one, that they all would have been better off staying and dying there. She’s deconstructing every part of herself in other words, right down to the choices she made years ago. Our last glimpse of her is curled up in a foetal position as Adama gives his speech: we don’t get any firm indications that she is ready to snap out of it, but this dichotomy perhaps gives an indication of what might help her.

“Sometimes A Great Notion” leaves plenty of room for Starbuck, once again palling up with Leoben for a side adventure that still makes my skin crawl, and has since “The Road Less Traveled”. At least in this instance there is plenty going on to distract from it, namely discovering the truth of what occurred to her after “Maelstrom”. It seems she was somehow transported to Earth and crash landed there, and, oh yes, died in the process. Even Leoben, who among all the Cylons could be called the most unflappable, is so freaked out by the reality, and Thrace’s reveal that she is destined to lead everyone “to their end”, that he runs away from her (the Cylon reaction to all of this is perhaps too small a part of the episode).

So just what is Starbuck then, relative to what has only be revealed thus far? She’s not a Cylon, but that’s about as far as we know. Is she some kind of cosmically created clone of the old Kara Thrace, copied at the moment that Viper exploded? And all just to deliver a very vague way to a ruined planet? The finer details of the Cycle have never been clear, and it only seems to get more unclear. That seems especially the case, given that as some kind of angelic messenger Starbuck’s purpose has hit a dead end.

Dee responded to the horror by choosing to end her life, Roslin shut down and rejected the parts of herself that seemed intrinsic. Starbuck does some burning of her own, but a much more potent burning of what we have to describe as her former self. “Sometimes A Great Notion” doesn’t give us the space to know whether this is a cleansing act for Starbuck or a very dramatic display of denial, which at least will be an interesting thing for to explore in future episodes. But for now we are back to this swamp of a plot, which still amounts to only a little more than “Starbuck is crazy”, “Starbuck has a destiny” and “Yes Leoben, we should hang out more” none of which I can really describe as hugely appealing.

The Four of Five each get individual moments in “Sometimes A Great Notion” to mark themselves out, and in the case of Tigh some very important ones to forward the plot. Tyrol gets a glimpse of the person he apparently was on Earth 2’000 years beforehand, and from this brief look alone we see a very different kind of man to what Tyrol is currently: the effect on him is interesting in itself, he content to sit next to his blast shadow and wistfully remember. It’s implied that Sam and Tory were in a relationship, with Anders the composer of the Music; this reveal makes both uncomfortable, with Foster especially given her efforts to disassociate from humanity in the last episode. And Tigh gets the most interesting vision of all, a glimpse at the person he used to be and the person he used to be with, experienced as he wades out into that irradiated sea and perhaps contemplates death to at least some degree. The revelation that comes answers the key remaining question of the show’s run up to this point, namely Ellen as the identity of the final Cylon model. But in so doing, it just raises further questions as to the nature of Cylon resurrection, and how it got from Earth 2’000 years ago to the “modern” Cylons. That’s OK though: BSG needs something else to latch onto for the next ten episodes, and putting the identity question to bed helps with that at least. But there’s a hell of lot regards the Final Five and their existence on Earth that needs to be explained: I have not-so-great memories of the show’s efforts to do that, and I’m interested to see if it’s able to gazump me as the first half of Season Four has.

That leaves just Adama to talk about it. For the first part of the episode, he doesn’t seem to know what to do. He leaves Earth quickly and doesn’t go back. He tries to comfort Roslin, and gets nowhere. He ignores Tigh’s efforts to talk to him. While it is not a huge focus of the episode, it’s made clear that Adama just isn’t really processing what has occurred. It takes something much more personal in terms of hurt for him to have to confront the immense well of pain that is now lying at the heart of Galactica, and at the heart of himself.

We have to remember that Dee meant a lot to Adama. It was Dee who held his hand when he was shot in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”. It was Dee, alone of the crew, who got through to him about the unacceptability of the Fleet schism in “Home (Part One)”. Adama commissioned her as an officer after the discovery of New Caprica, and thought enough of her to accept both her marriage to his son, and her promotion to XO of Pegasus. And while they haven’t shared any scenes in a while, the manner in which Adama reacts to Dee’s death in this episode is more than enough to show us how deep that connection was. Adama had a lot of surrogate children on Galactica – we might remember his last conversation with Kat in “The Passage” for example” – and Dee was very much one of those: she was not just a daughter-in-law.

So when Adama is confronted with the awfulness of her suicide, it’s understandable that something not too far from his meltdown in “Revelations” takes place. The sloppy drunkenness, the maudlin tone, the sense that he has collapsed internally, it is all there (Olmos, one again, is amazing in this role). Once again he’s placed opposite his son, with his son – who really has more cause to be torn apart by Dee’s death really – looking comparatively stable and functioning, steely eyed as he refuses the bottle. Adama has reached a critical tipping point with this latest tragedy, and he goes looking for a means to resolve it: one way or the other.

The means he stumbles into is his conversation with Tigh. It starts with both men at obvious cross-purposes: Tigh conciliatory, penitent, Adama angry, sarcastic, fuelled with bitterness. The Admiral isn’t really here to have a heart-to-heart with his XO, he’s here to goad him, and boy does he do his level best to do the goading. After barbs directed at Tigh’s Cylon nature and then some very low comments about Ellen, we get to the point where Tigh is pointing a gun at the Admiral’s head, while the Admiral does the same thing himself. It’s a very quick and shocking deterioration in the relationship between the two men, and thankfully Tigh – of all people, Tigh – is in a position to see things for what they are.

For Adama to have a death wish is the real low point for humanity. The President is already absent from the wheel, but now the person who personifies the military is contemplating an end to it all. But he doesn’t have it in him to pull the trigger, which is a critical point really: we can thus see this whole episode as a very dangerous tantrum, with Adama railing against all of the awful circumstances he has had to deal with in the last few days, and basically giving a brattish middle finger to the universe in response. It’s fuelled by grief, by his frustration with Roslin and more than anything really by that obvious over-indulgence with alcohol. That Tigh, a character synonymous with alcoholism, is the one to say that Adama has had enough, is very telling. He gets through to his friend with some blunt words, that call back to a similar speech from the same man in “Hero”, that appears to just about knock the right amount of sense into the Admiral.

He can’t shut down, like Roslin has. He can’t run away, like Leoben has. He can’t deny things, as Starbuck has. He can’t remove himself from the stage, as Dee has. He is too important, and he has to keep going. Not unlike some of his comments towards the conclusion of “Crossroads (Part Two)”, Adama decides to urge people to move on and put it all past them. Their ancestors were in a similar situation, and made it to a new home. They found a liveable planet before that wasn’t on Pythia’s roadmap. There are star systems to explore, and other potential homes out there to be found. Adama re-takes command in the CIC, still a little drunk in the very moment, but the leader that he has to be. He gives his orders – including the immediately controversial maintenance of the human/Cylon alliance – and the Fleet moves on. The healing, such as it is, starts with that action. But nothing is cured yet.

Don’t you ever want to stop fighting it, Colonel?

Notes

-The title comes from the Ken Kesey novel, which was itself inspired by the lyrics of the folk song “Goodnight, Irene”. “Sometimes I get a great notion / to jump in the river and drown.” It fits the episode in more ways than one.

-Even the water of the Earth tide looks dead in the opening shots, black and cold.

-It’s noteworthy in these opening shots that the ground party are all standing alone. Everyone is experiencing the horror in a solitary fashion.

-Dee’s mutterings as her Raptor returns to Galactica are heart-breaking, a quiet repeated mantra: “Just don’t give up, just don’t give up, just don’t fall apart.”

-The scene on the deck, there are no words to fully get across how awful it is. All of those expectant faces, waiting for good news. Waiting for hopes to be fulfilled.

-Roslin can’t bring herself to address the crowd even slightly. “Get me out of here” she whispers to Adama, who has to escort her away from the baying mass.

-The source of the signal the Fleet followed is Starbuck’s Viper, her original one, last seen blowing up in “Maelstrom”. We don’t need Leoben to tell us this is going nowhere good.

-The episode doesn’t linger on it, but it’s notable how Colonial and Cylon are working together on Earth in terms of digging up remains and testing them. Happy families, for now.

-The Earth Centurions are a good prop, similar enough to what we know to make the connection clear, but different enough to be, well different.

-The revelation that the 13th Tribe was Cylon is certainly a bit mind-bending. Did they live alongside humans on Kobol? Is this why they didn’t go to the Colonies?

-Apollo asks Roslin to take charge of the political ramifications, but she has nothing to say. Adama needs a favour from his son: “Carry the ball”.

-Nuclear shadows from objects, or people, caught in such a blast are a real phenomenon, with the most noteworthy example being “Human Shadow Etched in Stone” at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

-Dee and Apollo might have had a marriage that was built on sand, but the connection between the two is never going to be closed. We saw that at the end of “Six Of One”, and we see it again here as she seeks him out.

-Dee is blunt in her advice regards what Lee should say to the Fleet: “Tell them the truth” Like her, she doesn’t think people need to be mollycoddled at this moment.

-Apollo basically asks Dee out on a date in this moment, and just like the final scenes of “Revelations”, you can delude yourself into thinking that it just might all be OK.

-Leoben and Kara don’t even acknowledge the terrible history between the two at any point, which is just a dreadful script choice. In 2022, it looks even worse.

-The Starbuck found in the Viper isn’t just dead from the crash, she’s cooked. It’s a good prop, and it’s good we only see it for a second.

-I’ll admit, I do like that Leoben becomes scared of Starbuck. He’s having his own crisis of faith, and this is his way of dealing with it.

-Anders thinks he wrote the Music for “a woman I loved”, and given the way Tory pops up here to back up this assertion, you get the feeling it was her. It’s been a while, but we have to remind ourselves that the two were getting sexual in “Crossroads (Part One)”.

-Burning the prophecies – essentially the same as someone burning a Bible to make a crude comparison – is a very powerful thing for Roslin to do. It’s a destruction of a lying past, that leaves only nothingness in its wake, reflective of where Roslin is at this moment.

-I’m really struck by Mary McDonnell’s performance in this scene. It would be easy for it to be hammy, but she makes it work, with limited dialogue and a limitation of emotion.

-“Burn…burn” is all that Roslin can say as she is left alone. It’s pretty haunting.

-Starbuck works hard to make a pyre, and sci-fi fans will of course think back to the conclusion of Episode VI. It’s a stunning visual image though, the fire against the black night and Thrace standing nearby.

-The music for this segment is “Funeral Pyre”, a mournful tune that sounds like a sadder version of “Resurrection Hub”. Kandyse McClure does some simple choral singing for it, and it works very well.

-Apollo’s speech to the Quorum, from his drunken memory of it, is actually pretty decent, framing the discovery of Earth as a means of breaking free from prophecy and pre-destination. I mean, it’s not that convincing, but it is as good as it could have been in the circumstances.

-It’s subtle, but we might notice that member of the deck crew sitting in this hallway, seemingly doing nothing. The collapse is evident in that.

-Dee’s final message is “Thank you for that”, for the fun night she has had with Apollo. It might be the most meaningful thing she’s ever said, because that night has made her ready to end her life. Still, she lingers at the door of the officer’s quarters, perhaps caught between maintaining the decision or inviting Lee in.

-Dee wants to “hang on” to the feeling of happiness that she has for as long as she can, perhaps as a means of steeling her resolve for what is about to happen.

-It’s another terrible shock to the system, when Dee brings that gun up to her temple and fires. It’s genuinely as big a surprise – bar “Revelations” – as BSG was ever able to pull, at least with me. Up to that point I thought the Dee plot was about humanity learning to go on with things.

-The reaction to Dee’s shooting is very well-handled, between the shock and the rather pathetic efforts of people to delude themselves that she needs a medic. The focus on Gaeta in all this is far more important than we might realise at the time.

-I like how Adama’s state in the morgue isn’t clear, until he answers Apollo’s query as to why Dee would have done what she did: a slurred “I don’t frakking know”.

-Adama offers the bottle, but Apollo rejects it, a good moment for Lee. He’s seen how far his father fell just one episode ago.

-The first of two important non-verbal ques for Gaeta in this episode as Apollo leaves the morgue. He’s looking for answers but not getting any.

-Echoing the conversation that the two had in “Home (Part One)”, Adama tells Dee’s corpse “I let you down”.

-Adama’s march through the corridors is a rare break from the cinema verite style, and what we see is mesmerising in all the wrong ways: crewmembers openly weep, brawl, drink, graffiti or sit around looking despondent in the hallways, a truly hellish vista. One person puts her hands in her pockets as the Admiral passes. It’s all broken down. The sequence is one of the most memorable of the entire show.

-Adama slams the gun down on Tigh’s desk, and you have to imagine this is meant to be a call-back to a similar moment in “Torn”.

-“Sit down, Cylon”. You know straight away this is not going to be a pleasant conversation.

-Adama ask bitterly if Tigh had been “programmed…to be my friend”. In his head Tigh’s Cylon nature still constitutes a betrayal, or at least an attack by an outside force.

-Adama really does go right for the sorest spot in this moment though, describing when Ellen allegedly came on to him as Tigh’s dead wife being “like a dog in heat”. It’s a nasty recitation of a gutter memory.

-What unfolds is a bizarre form of Mexican stand-off, with Adama threatening to shoot himself if Tigh doesn’t pull the trigger. Should we call it cowardly that Adama isn’t willing to do it himself?

-Tigh kills two birds with one stone when he refers to Adama’s mind state and abuse of alcohol: “I think we’ve both had enough”.

-Adama’s story of an uncle who used dogs to hunt foxes is a bit strange really, a tortured metaphor for his own potential desire to just lay down and stop trying. Given it’s a set-up for Tigh to literally wade into the sea at the conclusion it is a bit heavy-handed.

-In the end, the story seems to be Adama’s way of processing the mood of the Fleet: of being caught between continuing the struggle and accepting death. When put that bluntly Adama makes his choice.

-“And what are they gonna do without the old man here to lead them?” “Lead them where, Saul?” Isn’t that just the million dollar question now?

-We get a look at Apollo adjusting the survivor count at this point, our only look at it as the episode lacks main titles. Including Dee, it’s down 15. Taking away the crewmember D’Anna spaced in “Revelations”, that’s 13 unexplained deaths. Other suicides perhaps?

-Starbuck chooses not to reveal to anyone what she found down on Earth. More secrets is what the Fleet doesn’t really need right now, but I think this is one we can understand.

-Love that blunt graffiti outside the CIC: “Frak Earth”. Indeed.

-Adama’s orders are clear cut and unmistakable, lacking anything in the way of fluff: time to start looking at the right star systems for something else. No more crap about destined waymarkers.

-He also uses real-life classification for stars, which are based on temperature: F, G and K stars are those considered capable of supporting life. Our Sun is a G class.

-The second non-verbal que for Gaeta is the look we see on his face in this moment, which we could describe as a glower. Is it for the Admiral, the continued alliance with the Cylons, or both?

-Adama broadcasts to the Fleet and, like he did in the Miniseries, it’s a message of hope. Humanity did it before, and they can do it again.

-Very important is Adama’s final line here, that the discovery of a new home is “a promise I intend to keep”. That’s what will drive him now, not Earth, but keeping his word.

-D’Anna gets only a brief scene as a final goodbye to her and Lucy Lawless, where she embraces an inevitable death over a continuing struggle: “I’m getting off this merry-go-round”. The character perhaps deserved more, but absent the prophetical aspect of the show her relevance is limited.

-The Colonel does his own imitation of a fox and heads out to sea. Like others with Starbuck’s Viper, it seems like he has been “compelled” to do this.

-Tigh’s memory is the most vivid of those the Five experience, and I think is a good example of doing more with less: it’s a very basic set and a tight-in camera, but Hogan and Kate Vernon do what is required to make it work.

-“Ellen, you’re the fifth!” Did we really need this bit of explanatory dialogue?

Overall Verdict: This is a transition episode at heart, the needed aftermath after the devastating conclusion of what came before. But it is an extremely powerful bit of story-telling in its own right, one that explores brilliantly the effect of Earth’s discovery, and the varying ways in which people attempt to process what has occurred. It sets up the rest of the season very well, and I think can safely be considered another reason why Season Four is not the train wreck it has often been painted as being.

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Ireland’s Wars: German Bombing Of Ireland

In our last entry, we discussed the terrible consequences of the German decision to extend their bombing campaign of the United Kingdom to Belfast. The destruction meted out there would remain long in the memory, serving as a potent reminder of the kind of damage that such bombing could inflict. Ireland, by way of its stance of neutrality, would avoid such destruction during the Second World War, but not entirely. In several incidents through 1940 and 1941, German bombs would land in the south, with the most destructive killing dozens in a Dublin street: controversy continues to persist about why such things happened.

The incident in question had a surprising amount of preamble, much of the memory of such things lost perhaps owing to the lack of death and damage in comparison. On the 20th August 1940 a German bomber attacking a ship off the coast of Blackrock Island, Co Mayo strafed, presumably accidently, a lighthouse on the island, damaging the building but avoiding the keepers. Six days later, the Luftwaffe dropped four bombs on or around the Wexford village of Campile, hitting a creamery: this attack killed three people, and probably would have killed more but for the fact that the workers had left the building to take their midday meal at the time. Why this release of bombs occurred is not known for certain: the pilot of the aircraft may well have gotten lost and presumed he was somewhere over Britain, perhaps Wales. A popular story went around afterwards that boxes of butter from the creamery had been discovered among the Allied detritus at Dunkirk, and that the attack was because of this, but this has subsequently been debunked. Somewhat more credible is the idea that the bombing was in response to the exporting of butter from the creamery to Britain, but Ireland exported plenty of produce to Britain during the war without Germany determining to send a warning shot over it. Before the conclusion of the war, the German government would pay the modern equivalent of roughly half a million euro in compensation for the incident.

More was to come. On the 26th October bombs and incendiary devices fell outside of Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, avoiding people and property. On the night of the 20th December the same year, two bombs were dropped on the Dun Laoghaire area of Dublin, and then later more fell near Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. No one was killed, but a few were injured: the dropping of these bombs coincided with a heavy Luftwaffe raid of Liverpool on the other side of the Irish Sea, so was more than likely a case of mistaken identity by straying aircraft.

In the early days of January 1941 a spate of similar bombings took place, again coinciding with large scale raids over British airspace. Bombs were dropped throughout Leinster: in Meath, over Duleek and Julianstown, with no casualties; in Carlow, over Knockroe, where three people were killed inside a house that was hit; in Kildare, over the Curragh, with no casualties; in Wicklow, over Enniskerry, with no casualties; in Wexford, over Ballymurrin, with no casualties; and in several different points of Dublin, with no casualties. Some of the bombs hit the ground without exploding and were later recovered, their German markings confirming what was already widely known (though German authorities would continue to deny it for a while). In comparison to what was occurring over British cities this was all very small scale, and to some extent only to be expected in the kind of conflict that was the Second World War. Military aircraft and their ground support teams were more sophisticated than ever, but could still fall victim to faulty equipment, bad weather and the inexperience of their pilots when it came to reaching their targets. It would not be until May that a much more spectacular example of what could occur when such things happened would take place in Ireland.

It was the early hours of the 31st Mat when the German bombers appeared over Dublin. There are disputed reports about just how many bombers there were, and of what type: they did not fly in formation, but instead erratically, and appeared to be circling the city. This may indicate that the pilots were lost and knew it, and were trying to determine just what city they were over. For a time authorities in the city did nothing, but eventually Irish Army posts, who were manning several AA positions, fired flares in the colours of the Irish flag in a bid to communicate to the planes just where they were, followed by red flares meant as a warning to clear Irish airspace. The bombers continued in their circling, and eventually the order was given for the AA posts to open fire. But the gunners were not especially well-trained, and lacked any experience when it came to such combat, and were unable to hit any of their targets.

Sometime around 0130, the planes released three bombs. Just why the Germans would do so remains a mystery: if they thought they were over their actual target they presumably would have dropped more than that, but perhaps the bombs were simply a means of retaliating against the ground fire they were experiencing (see below for more discussion on this topic). Some then left, but others stayed in the vicinity, with one noted as flying so low in passes over Dublin that it became a target for machine gun fire. Again, those in control of the guns lacked the skill and experience to make the most of such circumstances, and none of the German planes appear to have been hit. One more bomb was dropped just after 2AM, before the last of the German planes departed.

The first bomb hit the Ballybough area, destroying two houses and injuring a few people, but fortunately killing no one. The second fell near Dublin Zoo, causing a small amount of damage to nearby Aras an Uachtarain, but again failing to kill anyone. The third fell on the North Circular Road near the area of Summerhill, creating a large crater but again causing no fatalities. Those parts of Dublin could consider themselves lucky.

It was the fourth bomb that did the most damage. This fell on the North Strand area of North Dublin, and in the process caused total destruction to 17 houses, severe damage to 50 more and partial damage to hundreds beyond. 28 people were killed, and 90 injured. 400 people were left homeless in the aftermath. The destruction and death toll was an appalling reminder of the kind of damage that could now be meted out from the air, and which the Irish government and military had been largely powerless to prevent.

As with the other bombings, what occurred in Dublin that night is most often put down to a case of mistaken identity. It’s presumed that the German bombers were meant to attack targets in Britain, or maybe Belfast, got lost, and then decided to drop a small amount of their payload on Dublin believing it might have been somewhere else. Some in Britain, as far as up as Winston Churchill, believed that the British military may have had an unintentional hand in the matter, with their disruptions of radio guidance beams of the Luftwaffe potentially causing them to go so far off course, though this is disputed.

The other theory of note is that the bombing was intended, essentially as a warning shot. The thinking behind this idea is that Germany was unhappy at the breach of neutrality that Irish assistance to Belfast during the bombings there represented, and that the bombs dropped on Dublin constituted a semi-official response. Hard evidence to back this assertion up is lacking: radio messages from German propaganda sources that suggested a bombing of Amiens Street station – not far from the North Strand – have been used as a possible smoking gun, but such messages more often than not had little link to actual military operations. Given the nature of the bombing – regards the amount of bombs dropped – and the behaviour of the planes in terms of their movements, it seems far more likely that they were simply in the wrong place, and dropped a desultory amount of bombs in recognition of this fact and, perhaps, as a response to the ground fire.

The day after the Dublin bombings, another small number of bombs fell on Arklow to the south, but without casualties. A month later, a similar experience was visited on Dundalk, where more minor amounts of damage were caused but no fatalities. In both instances the limited number of bombs again indicated an error by the Luftwaffe, off course when they should have been over Britain.

There was naturally a great deal of anger from all concerned with what happened. De Valera protested to Berlin, but it would not be until after the war that a measure of responsibility would be undertaken. When it was it was not Nazi Germany that did so, but West Germany, which diverted over £300’000 – seven million today – worth of Marshall Plan funds to Ireland to act as compensation, with the last of it paid by 1958. East Germany, and Austria, both at the time part of Nazi Germany, paid nothing. The money went to the survivors for the purpose rebuilding homes and getting on with their lives, with the Irish government adding to the overall fund.

The North Strand bombing was an especially brutal example of the kind of danger that Ireland was still in, neutral or no, even if it paled in comparison to the damage suffered by Belfast, or by any number of cities in Britain. The collective history of German bombings of Ireland paints a picture of an air force that all too frequently went wild with its targeting, and which did not factor in adequate care to such operations, but this is hardly surprising given the inherent inhumane practises of the political and military leadership of Germany at that time. The swing to Russia helped take the emphasis off the west for Germany, and meant that such incidents after 1941 were far less likely.

It would not be the only time that Ireland suffered a terrible loss from explosives in the course of the Second World War, but the next incident we will discuss was fundamentally different. The Irish military had grown greatly in size and was an army that was trying to be ready for an attack they were hardly ready for: in the Autumn of 1941 a training operation in the Wicklow Mountains would end up having fatal consequences, and shined a light on that state of unreadiness.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Reviews: The Bob’s Burgers Movie

The Bob’s Burgers Movie

Trailer

I know, right?

When a ruptured water main creates an enormous sinkhole outside of their restaurant, the Belchers – father Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) mom Linda (John Roberts), eldest daughter Tina (Dan Mintz), son Gene (Eugene Mirman) and youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal) – struggle to keep their business afloat. As Bob and Linda attempt to create money to make a vital loan payment anyway they can, Tina contemplates summer romance, Gene attempts to get the gig of a lifetime and Louise contemplates just how brave she really is.

Bob’s Burgers is one of those shows that I never disliked, but never got into consistently. As an animated sitcom, it definitely rises above some of the dross that shares that title, and I can think of far worse shows that got the movie treatment. But still, part of me wondered why it needed a 90+ minute addition to its 12 seasons, the kind of thing prone to “In SPAAACE” plotting and false sentimentality to sell tickets. Well, The Bob’s Burgers Movie does fall prey to those problems a bit, but mostly avoids the pitfalls to instead present what is essentially an elongated episode that could just as easily have been a three-parter. That is, it’s hard to know what it has even been made in this format.

So, the film trips along nicely for its running time of variously mild forms of comedy. We get that in Bob’s horrified reaction to his increasingly perilous circumstances, to Linda’s inane efforts to always look on the bright side, in Tina’s butt-centric fantasy version of long-time crush Jimmy Jr from across the street (complete with a lack of trousers), in Gene trying to make his band – the well named “Itty Bitty Ditty Committee” – and in Louise facing up the idea that she might not be as brave as she thinks she is. The film’s writers know how to intersperse enough jokes that the exercise never becomes a bore, and I have to give a good bit of kudos to the musical element of proceedings, which is always entertaining (it’s telling that untrained singers are able to carry these tunes as well or better than if they were trained), even if the sudden bursting into song at random can sometimes feel a bit distracting.

But there’s nothing really all that special about The Bob’s Burgers Movie, other than some slightly shiner animation style anyway. I think that the really key fault might be that, while it is funny, it’s not very funny, and if it’s not very funny then why make a movie out of it? I can’t imagine this ever becoming a big success in theatres if COVID hadn’t intervened, and it probably is better off in streaming, where it can be enjoyed without the needless expenditure of too much money. I suppose that is a a bit of a strange criticism given that I don’t want the plot of a movie extension to become something zany or maudlin (the film itself mocks this idea, with Gene’s dream of alien invasion occurring only because they want his band to stop playing), but I do want something to justify the exercise beyond just doing it. I suspect that fans of the TV show will find plenty to enjoy in the film version, and I suspect that it is for them, and not for me, that it was created. Casual viewers will probably not be enticed into watching the show on the back of this one. Partially recommended.

(All images are copyright of 20th Centuries Studios).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Belfast Blitz

Even before the invention of air planes, the idea of utilising aircraft in a military context had been the focus of theorists and fiction writers alike, many of whom would spend the time before 1905 and the time after prophesising that future wars would see a decisive element in opposing sides massing such aircraft to rein destruction down on the other. After World War One, where aerial bombing was demonstrated in an embryonic state, such thoughts only grew, and by the time the Second World War came about, a significant number of people believed that “strategic bombing”, that is the large-scale bombing of enemy targets, military or civilian, from the air, would actually end wars very quickly, as civilian populations would be unable to withstand such terrors. In the Summer and Autumn of 1940 Germany had attempted to make such a state of affairs come about in a systematic campaign aimed against British cities, but while they caused a great deal of death and destruction, they did not force the United Kingdom to submit. Neither did the Luftwaffe cease their bombing though, and in the Spring of 1941, they extended their targets to include other parts of the United Kingdom, and in so doing they brought the wear directly to the island of Ireland.

Northern Ireland had, naturally enough, been a part of the British war effort since the start of the conflict. Aside from contributing men to the military, and hosting regiments, air bases and naval assets, the North contributed in other ways: the Belfast shipyards was a key point for the Royal Navy in terms of the creation of new vessels and the upkeep of existing ones; the Belfast port in a larger sense was a vital launch point for merchant shipping; and different industrialists based in the North produced shells, tanks and planes in large measures. On the face of it, Northern Ireland operated as an equal partner in the United Kingdom when it came to the war.

But underneath the surface, there was definite problems that would take a crisis to become clear. Northern Ireland’s political leadership was in something of a stagnant state: in the most recent election, in 1938, the Ulster Unionist Party has returned 75% of the seats. James Craig had been Prime Minister from 1921 up till his death in 1940, and his administration had become increasingly maligned owing to his perceived lack of political nous and detached circumstances (he had urged London to introduce conscription to Northern Ireland, a policy Westminster wisely declined to pursue, and also encouraged a military invasion of Ireland). Craig’s replacement, J.M Andrews, was not much better, and he led a cabinet of fractured personalities, many of whom were simply not up to the task of forming a wartime government.

This can be seen in the sheer lack of preparations that had been made to mitigate any aerial bombing that Belfast might suffer. There was little in the way of engagement with the British military before or after war was declared in terms of Belfast’s preparedness in the event of an attack, with Home Affairs Minister Dawson Bates later accused of ignoring correspondence on the matter entirely. The city had some of the highest densities of population in the UK at the time, but could claim the fewest amount of publicly provided air-raid shelters: many homes instead bought their own private shelters, usually of the Anderson variety (a corrugated iron structure covered in earth). The city had few searchlights installed, no ability to create smokescreens and only a small number of barrage balloons. No night-fighter cover had been arranged to protect the city, and there were less than two dozen anti-aircraft points installed, many of which were not routinely manned. Most of the city’s youth population, in contrast to other cities in the United Kingdom, had not been evacuated. In essence, Belfast was, in the Spring of 1941, pitifully unready for the kind of aerial destruction that had already been visited upon other parts of the UK. This was not unrecognised either: two prominent parliamentary secretaries had resigned in the 12 months prior to the coming attacks on account of what one viewed as “slack, dilatory and apathetic” war preparations.

The Germans would not be so restrained when it came to their own preparations. In late 1940 Belfast had been the target of reconnaissance flights, which determined the measly state of its anti-aircraft defences in comparison to the numerous industrial targets in the city; plans for a series of bombing raids were made immediately, though the focus of the larger campaign remained on cities like London, Coventry and Manchester. Very limited bombing runs of Belfast took place in the early months of 1941, but these were more than likely not intended, instead possibly bombers aiming at other places, such as Glasgow, that overshot their routes and released their bombs at the first target they could find: strategic bombing was very far from an exact art.

The first larger scale raid of Belfast took place on the night of the 7th April, and also served as part of preparations for a much larger event. Six Heinkel He 111 dropped a mixture of high explosive and incendiaries bombs as well as parachute-mines over the city. The target was the docks, but residential areas nearby were also hit. 13 people were killed – one of them a soldier whose AA gun had misfired – and a Short Stirling bomber factory floor was destroyed: by the standards of destruction being experienced elsewhere, it was a pretty light attack all things considered. One of the German bombers would be shot down over Downpatrick by scrambling RAF fighters: the rest made it back to their bases in Northern France, where they were able to report that Belfast’s defences seemed insufficient to stand up to a much larger attack. It was all that the Luftwaffe leaders needed to hear.

On the 15th April, Easter Tuesday, a single German place was observed in the sky by spectators at a Belfast football match, perhaps a last reconnaissance flight ahead of the greater storm to come. That evening, 150 bombers – a mix of Heinkel’s Junkers Ju 88s and Dornier Do 17s, departing in sequence – took off from bases in Northern France and the Netherlands. The first were over Belfast by 2240, which was when the city’s air raid sirens sounded. What followed was up to six hours of destruction, as wave after wave of bombers arrived, deposited their payloads and turned back.

Accounts of that night can be deemed as confused and contradictory: for example, some claim the Germans first dropped flares to light up the city, others than it was simply the immediate fires that were started. But what is undeniable is the scale of the destruction as the bombs rained down. The first target was the city’s waterworks complex, which for a time was assumed to be an error, the Germans mistaking that complex for the docks, but it has since been realised to be part of German strategy to impede recovery efforts once incendiary bombs were dropped later. The docks, most especially the Harland & Wolff shipyards, would be hit, and several vessels under construction where damaged. But few parts of the city would escape being touched by what was going on.

Among the more prominent buildings to either be destroyed or badly damaged included parts of the City Hall, the Ulster Hospital, the York Road railway station, the Midland Hotel, numerous churches, tram depots and, of course, an enormous amount of housing. Several streets were essentially flattened, and all of their inhabitants killed or injured. What hadn’t been destroyed by the high explosive bombs was often engulfed in flames from the fires started by the incendiaries, with the water pressure of Belfast’s plumbing too low after the attack on the waterworks for fire fighters to be able to do their jobs effectively. The amount of fire reduced the availability of breathable air in the city, and while Belfast avoided the kind of firestorms that were so deadly later in the war it was still a major impediment to both escape and to efforts to quell the blaze.

Worse perhaps, the German bombing was done largely without opposition. The RAF did not interfere with what was happening, and some of the manned AA positions ceased firing in the mistaken belief that friendly planes were also in the sky. Some air raid shelters were hit, and in the panic that naturally engulfed the city others were killed as they went into the open seeking shelter, or as they attempted to flee the urban area entirely. The Luftwaffe would be able to drop their bombs with impunity until around 0500 the following day, when the attack was finally halted. Other cities were also hit that night, presumably by bombers that went off course and dropped their payloads at the first available target: Derry and Bangor both suffered from such attacks, with 20 people killed.

The Minister for Public Security, John McDermott, was paralyzed for a time in terms of response, owing to the destruction and damage to telephone lines, but eventually got through to other government officials, most notably Basil Brooke, the Minister for Agriculture, though he informally held a higher position of prominence than just that portfolio. With the city in flames and local fire fighting staff struggling to do anything to combat the inferno, McDermott received authorisation from Brooke to send a message pleading for help to the Dublin government. We should not underestimate how momentous such a request was: the Belfast government’s previous Prime Minister had called for the British to invade the south only a short time earlier, and Brooke himself had once spoken publicly on his belief that “Catholics are out to destroy Ulster”. But the situation in Belfast that night was desperate.

De Valera received McDermott’s message sometime after 0400 that night, and didn’t hesitate. Fire bridge trucks and personnel in Dublin, Drogheda and Louth were called out and sent north: allegedly crews were asked to volunteer for the assignments, and no one refused. Within a few hours 13 Irish trucks and over 70 men were in Belfast combating the fires. They would stay there for up to three days, many of them operating without food or rest, until relieved by firefighters arriving from other parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland, and prove vital in getting the fires under control. At a time when relations between Belfast and Dublin were difficult, and ahead of worst times to come, the incident is one of the stand-out examples of north/south cooperation since the introduction of partition. One must also acknowledge that the sending of the fire trucks must be viewed as a breach of Ireland’s stated neutrality policy, with Irish resources used to combat damage inflicted by one belligerent by another. De Valera certainly didn’t seem to care, protesting to Berlin about what had happened and giving his famous “they are our people” a few days later. In this we can see that de Valera had a clear political reason for doing what he did, but it is doubtful that the people whose homes and business were saved from the fires would have cared all that much.

Over 900 people had been killed in the bombings, which constituted the largest single day death toll, outside of London, that Britain suffered from such attacks during the war. Thousands of people had been injured. Hospitals were flooded, as were morgues. 50’000 homes, over half of Belfast’s supply, were destroyed or damaged. Over 100’000 people were left homeless for at least a time, while others simply fled the city for fear of further raids. A refugee crisis engulfed the rest of Northern Ireland, and some of the south’s border areas, for a time afterwards as people packed into wherever they could get to, which included countryside barns. It would take some time before many were confident enough to return to Belfast. It would take years to repair the damage.

Three weeks later, Belfast was hit again on the night of the 4/4th May. This raid, known in popular memory as the “Fire Raid” owing to the large number of incendiary bombs used, was less devastating than the first, with air raid sirens going off an hour before German planes arrived, the Luftwaffe dropping their bombs from a greater height than before and with less airplanes involved. Once again the dock area was a major target, and once again residential areas nearby were also hit. 150 people were killed in this raid, and fires re-started that necessitated more aid from the Irish government, which again was offered freely.

The recriminations about what had occurred began almost immediately. The government of Northern Ireland came in for strong criticism from civilians and MPs over the lack of preparation. Andrews’ administration was already not especially well thought of, and the inefficiencies of his cabinet had been badly exposed: he would be forced to leave office before the end of the war, replaced by Brooke. But the anger quickly spread to other targets. Claims from some in the media that German bombers had used the lights of Dublin and railways heading from that city northward to orient their attack inflamed some minds, who were only too willing to blame the south for their troubles and forget any assistance that had been proffered from that quarter: similar minds would later claim that Catholic citizens in Northern Ireland, or the IRA, had helped to guide the bombers from the ground, with no evidence to support such a theory. The IRA lacked the means for such things, and the truth is that even if German radio guidance beams did not extend to Belfast, the city itself, located at the end of Belfast Lough inlet, was not difficult to locate from the air.

The German response was initially celebratory, with the raids an example of the reach of the Luftwaffe in terms of its continued ability to hit major British targets. But the mood changed quickly enough, and within a short time Belfast was no longer mentioned in propaganda broadcasts. No more major attacks against Belfast took place for the remainder of the war. Some have placed the cause for this at the feet of Eamon de Valera, and formal complaints to German ambassadors about the attacks. The theory goes that, fearful of Ireland moving from a neutral status to one of more overt sympathy with the UK, Hitler decided to forgo future attacks on Belfast. He may also have been fearful of Irish-American opinion, given the United States was yet to enter the war. But this is just conjecture: it’s just as likely that the Axis decided they were better served focusing on targets that were closer to continental Europe, and the opening of the Barbarossa campaign the month after the last raid on Belfast was also presumably a factor in terms of available resources. By the end of 1941 the United States had entered the war, and an Allied presence in Northern Ireland was only to grow: Belfast was thus no longer such an obviously easy target.

Belfast would, as stated, avoid major destruction for the remainder of the war, but its role in the conflict would remain far-reaching: we will come to its position as, essentially, a large American base of operations, at some point in the future. For now, we move on, but only in terms of location. The topic will remain German bombing of Irish cities, but in the next entry we will look at a much more controversial, if considerably less deadly, instance of the same. Ireland would avoid wholesale destruction during the Second World War as a consequence of its neutrality policy, but it would not get out unscathed: Dublin would now feel the sting of the Luftwaffe.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review – Thor: Love And Thunder

Thor: Love And Thunder

Trailer

Shiny!

The God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), having returned to the height of his powers, decides to end his time with the Guardians of the Galaxy, seeking a greater purpose. He finds one in the form of Gorr (Christian Bale) “the God-butcher”, a man dedicated to killing all Gods in the universe with his magical sword, who targets the settlement of New Asgard as part of his quest. When Thor intervenes, he discovers his former lover Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is now bearing his former weapon Mjolnir and is capable of using its powers, but is hiding her own secrets. Along with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taiki Waititi) the two embark on a quest to stop Gorr’s deicide, and sort out their lingering relationship issues.

Some might remember my thoughts on Thor: Ragnarok, all the way back in 2017. It was a film that I thought was a perfectly well put together action-comedy, but one that signified an enormous problem with the MCU, in its inability to resist the temptation to always plump for comedy when the opportunity presented itself, even when the time and space called for drama. Ragnarok got away with it on the strength of its comedy, leaning into that aspect of itself all the time, and the genuinely good visuals. Waititi’s follow-up takes an unfortunate step back, by trying to balance the same kind of zany madcap comedy with a deadly serious, and surprisingly gothic, villain. In essence, having spent one whole film attempting to piss on the tone of 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, Waititi for some reason has decided he wants to resurrect it for approximately half of this flick, and the result is one of the most unpalatable mish-mashes in the 34-film history of the MCU.

The cutesy rom-com side of things is absolutely fine, good even. While the adherence to the comics plot of Jane Foster balancing her role as Thor with a terminal diagnosis of breast cancer can even here cause some tonal issues, it’s good to see this cast, who have more than enough experience with comedies, get their teeth into what’s on offer. So we have Thor going through a mid-life crisis where he wants to find a purpose, then gets upended by the return of the one who got away; Jane Foster, trying to workshop a catchphrase for her superhero alter ego; Valkyrie, setting off on a journey to save the children of New Asgrad with a keg of beer designated as “vital supplies”; and Korg, whose deadpan narration of events will always bring a smile to your face. Our heroes discuss love, leadership, purpose, as they attempt to save the day and fix their own lives, and all of is brimming over with the kind of wit and warmth that Taiki Waititi is already becoming something of an old hand at. Hemsworth, Portman and Thompson are good in their roles, with Hemsworth especially having a ball as this comedic version of the character that has never seemed further from the person we first met in 11 years ago now.

But then, oh but then, the Christian Bale stuff. I wasn’t the only one surprised when he signed on for an MCU film, though after watching it I suspect a relatively straight-forward make-up job and the chance to use his normal accent might have been big attractors, along with whatever he was paid. Gorr has potential as a villain, in the mould of a Killmonger: someone whose goal doesn’t seem all that unjust, he’s just going about it in a way that engenders heroic response. Waititi tries to get us there with a prologue dedicated to his justifications, which are acute, and his targets who are reprehensible. But then Gorr starts exhibiting glowing eyes, his skin turns white, he exhibits a penchant for terrorising children (that he has kidnapped and imprisoned in what I can only describe as a “living spider cage”) by ripping the heads off animals in front of them and generally monologues away to his hearts content. In other words, he becomes a more one-dimensional bore than he should otherwise have been, and especially with an actor of the calibre of Bale in the part. He’s perfectly alright in Love And Thunder, but this is just a footnote on the way to other, more notable, things for him.

Mix these two radically different elements together, and what you get is not the fusion Waititi and Marvel Studios might be hoping for, but instead something that will leave you feeling whiplash from the change of tone that is happening scene to scene and moment to moment. Love And Thunder just can’t settle on what it wants to be, going from a farcical sojourn in the city of the Gods (the terribly named “Omnipotent City”, wherein Russell Crowe makes his truly awful extended cameo as a Zeus with an Allo Allo-eqsue Greek accent) to the Gorr the Childcatcher terrorising his detainees for no reason. Never mind, here’s another Guns N’ Roses song, did you know they will be the musical theme of the exercise? Don’t worry, you’ll cop on about the time we get to #3 on their greatest hits. Love And Thunder just can’t settle on anything, and as a result the whole film just feels insubstantial, two hours that came out of throwing 50 ideas at a wall and seeing which ones stuck.

It does look good, I’ll grant you, though even in that department the tonal inconsistency is readily apparent. A highlight is the journey into a centre of the universe where colour doesn’t exist, and our heroes are forced to combat a group of monsters on a planetoid that will have you thinking of The Little Prince, but that’s put against the kind of kaleidoscopic colour that Ragnarok luxuriated in, and which is replicated in numerous sequences on the other half of the production. Omnipotent City scenes are a visual feast for the eyes certainly, but that hard work just partially covers up the gaps in plot and writing (and acting, in the case of Russell Crowe). It seems as if I am going against the grain when it comes to this kind of opinion, with even Waititi himself creating a stir when he decided it was OKto mock the CGI for his own film in a recent promotional exercise, but maybe I’m just not expecting total photo realism in my CGI: the work in Love And Thunder is enough, especially on a big screen and when the framing is done correctly, that I can’t see the metaphorical seams. Considering the manner in which CG artists are routinely treated by the studios, they perhaps deserve more support and less snark from the man nominally in charge of the picture.

Love And Thunder is a forgettable enough experience of its own accord, a tonally uncertain smorgasbord of ideas marked by some well done humour, some gothic horror and enough half-decent action set-pieces that it will be considered a mildly diverting two hours at worst. In the larger context of the MCU however, it portends badly. The streaming side of things has been doing gangbusters work this year in Moon Knight and Ms Marvel, and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness was lots of fun. But Love And Thunder makes the MCU, in its movie department anyway, look like it is treading water, relying on efforts to replicate what came before with a little bit of dark spice to shake it up, with nary a future direction of any major significance to be found (at the risk of spoiling, this is another MCU film who regretfully plays fast and loose with the idea of death as a major plot point). There’s no Infinity Stones to grab the interest this time, and not enough compelling reasons to keep following this subset of the MCU’s character base much further. It’s a malaise, and a lot of pressure is on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to arrest it. As for Love And Thunder, it’s one of the weakest MCU offerings, and not just in the last little while. This is perhaps the moment when Taiki Waititi lost his touch. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Revelations”

Earth…

Air Date: 13/06/2008

Director: Michael Rymer

Writers: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle

Synopsis: D’Anna and Apollo engage in a dangerous game of brinksmanship over the status of the Final Five, with everything on the line. The return of the Music leads to a closer examination of Starbuck’s Viper that may open the way to Earth.

Review

If there has been a unifying theme in the last five or so episodes, maybe all of Season Four to this point maybe, it is the issue of trust. It started with Adama and Roslin unsure as to whether they could trust the miracle that Starbuck represented in “He That Believeth In Me”, and now it has progressed to problem of how humanity can trust the rebel Cylons – and vice versa. In “Revelations”, probably the heaviest episode of the show to date in terms of the events it depicts and the manner in which it ends, we are presented with this seemingly intractable problem: how can these varying people and factions trust each other? The truce between the human and the Cylons was negotiated in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” with both sides making their own plans, and then you introduce the wild card of a Cylon model who was not privy to such deals and isn’t inclined to keep to them either. As D’Anna holds members of the Galactica crew, and Roslin, hostage, as Lee Adama keeps three of the Final Five in a position where he can kill them with a push of a button, and as neither side seems to be in a position to either back down or commit to action, we are treated to a wonderfully tense conundrum, not unlike that set-up in “The Eye Of Jupiter”, which gets a truly incredible conclusion.

It is a little hard to know where to start with “Revelations”, so much is going on, but why not settle up on Tory? Hers has been a fascinating journey to watch in the course of Season Four, from her hesitant efforts to butter up to Baltar in “Six Of One”, through her murder of Cally in “The Ties That Bind” and on into being some sort of power behind the throne for Baltar in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?”. The culmination of it all arrives here, as she becomes the first – and indeed, only – member of the Final Five to volunteer to go with the Cylons. Tigh, Anders and Tyrol have retained much more of a link to their human sides, for whatever reasons, but Foster was slipping the moment the Music came into her ears, and she severs the Colonial tie decisively in “Revelations”.

And she goes whole hog too. It has been a little difficult to see what kind of game that Tory is playing at times, but as of now we can just say that she identifies fully as a Cylon, and has treated her time in the Fleet after “Crossroads (Part Two)” as essentially that of some kind of saboteur, not unlike Boomer I suppose. Now, when she has the chance, she retires from this role and joins her “brothers and sisters”. Once done, she goes a step further and actively aids their cause as D’Anna has her showdown with Apollo, giving away details of the President’s temperament. Tory isn’t just a Cylon, she’s the “Lets end humanity” brand of Cylon it seems, one who is happy to encourage a game of brinksmanship where the entire Fleet is at risk. One suspects she might actually be happier if she was with the Cavil faction, such appears to be her level of vindictiveness towards her former species. Foster has been an antagonist for a while, but you always wondered a bit about her: from here we can’t really view her as any other way, and seeing where she goes now that she is part of this greater whole will be very interesting.

She is contrasted very ably with Colonel Tigh. It’s always really been him who was going to make the hard call when it came to revealing the true nature of the Final Five: Tory would never until it benefited her, Anders was too scared, and Tyrol seemed to have moved to the point where he simply didn’t care enough. But Tigh, despite his ridiculous behaviour with Caprica Six, has retained his humanity to a very obvious degree, making an effort to live and die as the man that he was his creed for the first half of Season Four. He waits as long as he can, perhaps out of cowardice, perhaps out of a misguided hope that the situation could change again. But when he runs out of options he makes the call. And it isn’t just because of the threat to the Fleet, or to all the hostages on the basestar, but because of one particular hostage: the woman that he now realises that his best friend loves.

So he decides, and we get another in a series of brilliant scenes between Tigh and Adama. Tigh lays it all out, in a manner that leaves us in little doubt that he has been rehearsing the moment. Adama reacts with incredulousness, denial, anger, and then a total breakdown. The range of emotions is varied, the impact devastating. The enormity of what has taken place is made clear by the depth of Adama’s breakdown, which is easily the lowest point we have ever seen for him, beyond “Maelstrom”. This is how much Tigh means to Adama, that this revealed secret will drive him to such a state.

More than revealing his true nature to everyone, it is revealing himself to Adama that is clearly the hardest part to Tigh. He is willing to both sacrifice his life and this key relationship in order to do what is right for the majority of humanity, which really puts him on the opposite spectrum to Tory. Indeed, he goes as far as to urge Apollo to pull the metaphorical trigger at the crucial moment, while standing bolt upright in the launch tube, more than willing to die. Whatever Tigh has done, in this he plays a heroes part. Things may have been better off if he had come clean earlier, if he had trusted Adama, but he makes up for it with this effort. He said he would live and die as a man, and is happy to die a man here. His reward is life and a nominal resumption of his status as XO, but if Foster’s role going forward is interesting, what will happen with Tigh, Anders and Tyrol is something else: it seems hard to believe that they will be able to go about their previous lives like they were, and that’s before we get to the events at the end of this episode.

The actual progression of this episode is something to see. Bit by bit it all gets ratcheted up, starting with D’Anna’s hostage taking in the opening scenes, onto the Final Five’s conundrum, then the Tigh/Adama showdown, the aftermath to the same, Apollo’s game of chicken with D’Anna and the final swirling confluence as guns get cocked and Starbuck tries to figure out just why her Viper is so important. The episode doesn’t have the same flow as others that have come before, and I think is the true culmination of the somewhat more serialised format that Season Four has had, but that isn’t a bad thing. Rymer has to inject a sense of urgency, of a situation that is changing minute-to-minute, and he accomplishes that.

One of the key elements of this is the absence of Adama. It’s so painful to see his breakdown, driven by grief and alcohol, until he is this sloppy, maudlin mess on the floor. Everyone has their breaking point, and this is it for Adama. The truth is that it’s like seeing your own father in such a stage for the first time, and it comes as a brutal shock to the system. Adama has been in charge for so long, even when he exhibited faults, like in “You Can’t Go Home Again” or “Sine Qua Non”. He always had a hand on the tiller, and the world seemed safer for it. Now, he’s out of it. Worse still, so is the XO. Helo is presumably the next in line, but he’s on the basestar. So is Athena. Kelly is in a jail cell. Who does that leave to take charge of the military side of things? Starbuck, whom so many do not trust? Gaeta, who is in a state? Are we down to Hot Dog?

Step forward President Lee Adama. He took the job on the basis of being a symbol of hope for the Fleet, but that isn’t what we need right now. No, we need the kind of person who will look down the barrel of a gun and not blink, and that’s what Apollo attempts to provide. Tory tells D’Anna that if pressured Lee will back down, though I’m not sure what she is basing that on: perhaps on the manner in which he came to compromises in tricky situations like “Bastille Day” and “Black Market”, or in how he encouraged the Admiral to retreat from New Caprica in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” or not go back there in “Precipice”. Hell, even the man’s marriage was a compromise.

But what Foster perhaps doesn’t realise is that we are no longer dealing with Apollo, this is President Adama. And the person he is channelling is not the man who left Zarek in charge of the Astral Queen or who left the black market to function or whatever else. No, I see Roslin in him at this moment, the Roslin who spaced Leoben in “Flesh And Bone”, who split the Fleet apart in “The Farm”, who was willing to try and steal an election, who ordered Baltar tortured in “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”. Lee is doing what he thinks Roslin would do in this situation, and that is to make hard choices and not back down.

The back-and-forth between Apollo and D’Anna is thrilling as a result. Like the set-up of “The Eye Of Jupiter” and “Rapture”, we have two people vying for an enormous prize, and the only question is to who is more credible with their threats: or are they both equally credible? The drama of the episode is in seeing both sides inch towards pulling the trigger and giving in to the cyclical violence that defines the human/Cylon relationship, and waiting to see if there is anything that can stop this seeming inevitability.

The only thing that can do that is to find Earth, and that’s what drives the crisis point. The road opens up towards that promised land in more ways than one: both in terms of divining the galactic location, but also in both sides finding a way to come to peaceful terms with the other. If “Revelations” has a flaw it is that the method whereby the first part of things is figured out is a bit weak, after so many waypoints, twists and turns on this road: just a signal coming out of Starbuck’s Viper, with it all a bit much to say that the Final Five were the key. In the end, Thrace flicks on a radio and that’s it. If the very end of the episode was different, I would have had a lot more to say here of a negative bent, but in the end you have to put the whole thing down, in many ways, as yet another cosmic test for all involved.

The second part of the equation is carried out much better though, as Lee asserts himself in the role of President and stops trying to be Laura Roslin, and stops trying to be his father as well. Instead, he goes back to that idealistic man who has made deals for the greater good before, and will make the biggest deal possible in this moment. In offering both a hand to D’Anna, and a place on Earth, he gets through the cycle of violence. The intractable problem has found its answer. In order to find the salvation of Earth, all of these people have to work together to save themselves. Once they do, all that’s left is to get their reward.

Which leaves us with the conclusion. Oh, the conclusion. The set-up is so amazing. Adama is brought out of his stupor. He makes the decisive call of everyone, Colonial and Cylon, jumping to Earth right then and there. He gives a speech. The Fleet celebrates. The music swells. It was perfectly done to make it seem like a glorious moment had arrived, one where the journey was going to be justified, where dreams would come true. Watching these moments for the first time, I figured that the remainder of Season Four would be about defending Earth from the Cavil-led Cylons, and preventing a repeat of the attack on the Colonies. I was excited by that idea, and I’ll happily admit, delirious at the scenes that were playing out in front of me. When you see characters that you like, are engaged with, and have been for some time, it is very special to see this kind of explosion of positive feeling.

And then. What an incredible moment of television is the very last scene? And not just the factual nature of what is presented, but that slow pan, the slack-jawed faces, the vista of destruction and the manner in which the show makes clear what has occurred without actually having anyone come out and say so. Everything that we have seen in “Revelations” up to this seemed to be indicating that human/Cylon cooperation was needed in order to get the prize of Earth but now, just like that, the reward is revealed to be nothing but an irradiated rock, presumably unliveable. The impact, coming as it did after that montage of joy, is like an earthquake. The emotional power of this moment, the sheer devastation of it, still hits me hard 14 years later. The Cycle, Starbuck’s Destiny, the Pythian prophecies, they have all come to naught. And, just in case anyone has forgotten, there was a six month wait for the next episode. Once the shock left, you’re just left with a tantalising two word question, that will dominate the last ten episodes of BSG: what now?

Something’s changed. I just don’t know what it is.

Notes

-I love that Starbuck greets Apollo by calling him “Mr Prez”. Here’s one person who isn’t going to be intimidated by the office.

-Apollo’s memory of being sent to his father’s study as a child is a potent one, almost idyllic, in comparison to what we learned about his childhood in “A Day In The Life”.

-I like that focus in on Adama’s empty chair as Starbuck remembers Leoben’s comments on how children must eventually replace their parents to reach their potential. The chair looms large for Apollo.

-D’Anna orders the Colonials to be taken hostage, and the Centurions don’t need a “please” this time, unlike “The Ties That Bind”. She’s firmly in charge.

-Roslin’s order to Adama is blunt, and begins a subtext where you wonder if Lee Adama is better off trying to be her when it comes to the Presidency, or should try and be his own man.

-He’s not a big part of this episode, but the time is coming when Gaeta is going to take centre stage. I love this look at him here, dishevelled, stressed, struggling with his new reality, but with more than enough pride to refuse an offer to be relieved. That mix is going to lead to bad places.

-D’Anna tells us that four of the Final Five are in the Fleet…so where is the Fifth? Somewhere else?

-It’s perhaps a little convenient, that the Four of Five all happen to be in the hanger for the Cylons arrival. On that, it appears that Tyrol is back among the deck crew.

-You have to admire Tory’s guile in this scene, in how she finagles her way onto the basestar without giving the game away. That manipulative streak is only growing.

-Adama makes a very important gesture as the crisis becomes acute, deferring to his son: “”Your call Mr President”. We’ve come a long way from “Crossroads (Part One)”.

-The count is down eight, presumably casualties from the battle depicted in “The Hub”.

-Tory’s smile as she is introduced to the other Cylons is remarkable. Rekha Sharma really does nail a mixture of actual joy and deviousness.

-Baltar thanks Roslin for not letting him die in “The Hub”: “I love living”. It’s a well-worded sentiment, but does speak to the self-interested streak within Baltar.

-Foster is portrayed as, quite literally, looking down on Roslin in the reveal scene, and you can’t get much more appropriate for her attitude now.

-The murdered hostage comes a little out of nowhere, and I did think the CGI could have been a bit better. It’s never raised again after this episode, which I do think is a bit strange.

-You know that plot pivotal things are about to happen when we get the return of the Music with a capital M. It ratchets up the tension considerably as it happens.

-Anders and Tyrol claim they have been “compelled” to go back to Starbuck’s Viper. The meeting in “Crossroads (Part Two)” was similar, but Tyrol has been “compelled” before, as far back as “The Eye Of Jupiter”.

-The soundtrack for Tigh’s march to Adama’s quarters is our introduction to “The Signal”, one of the stand-out examples of McCreary’s work for this season, thumping and vibrant, but also just tense.

-Adama’s reaction is perfectly pitched. He approaches it logically at first, bringing up how long they have known each other: “Think about this. When I met you, you had hair.” But you can see in his face, the fear that this is for real.

-It gets desperate then, with Adama bringing up the possibility of Tigh being implanted with some chip during “Occupation”. It’s as much of a reach as it was for Baltar in the Miniseries.

-The montage of Adama’s breakdown might be one of the most heart-breaking moments of the show. He way he throws back the whiskey, how he collapses to the floor. This is a man who has left the station.

-Apollo comforts his father, holding him like Mary held Jesus. It’s destroying Lee too, this sight, but he has enough reserve in him to urge his father to pull himself together.

-At this most terrible moment, Adama thinks about “all the people I sent to die” for something that is now shattered for him. That’s how much his world view has been destroyed. It calls to mind a similar sentiment from “Hero”.

-“I can’t kill the bastard”. With this, Adama washes his hands of the whole affair, deeming himself incapable of the kind of command needed. Apollo steps up: “I’ll take care of it”.

-Apollo is so angry about the state of his father that he just levels Tigh, but perhaps more devastating is his reply to the question of where Adama is: “Where you put him”.

-I do love the manner in which Apollo gets on the phone to D’Anna and doesn’t waste any time asserting himself. The pain of seeing the state of his father combined with the perception of Tigh’s betrayal has put him in a very new place.

-The jig is up for Tyrol and Anders as Tigh reveals who they are. Tyrol’s mute acceptance is a nice touch, with the arrest probably coming as something of a relief.

-Starbuck’s reaction is pitch perfect really: just mute shock.

-Like the idea of these advancing Centurions collaring the humans on the basestar so much I will overlook the dodgy CGI.

-A nice positive moment for Baltar when he volunteers to be the one who enters the Cylon CIC to reason with D’Anna. Then again he must know that his own life is on the line if both sides start shooting at each other.

-Love the dynamic here as Baltar is placed against Tory in a battle to influence D’Anna. While similar in many respects, there’s a fundamental difference in their philosophy, regards how you should live a life untainted by guilt or traditional morality.

-The music for this series of critical moments is “The Alliance”, which strikes me as a cross between “Resurrection Hub” and “The Signal” in tone, operatic, tense, fluid. It’s a really good accompaniment to the unfolding drama.

-Baltar’s logic is good: reminding D’Anna that Lee is more like his father then some might be willing to admit, and that she hasn’t been brought back into this cosmic game to wipe out humanity.

-Starbuck’s dash to the launch tube is certainly dramatic, but doesn’t make much sense: there are means of radio communication within Galactica.

-Some good camera work makes the point that we are, quite literally, a push of a button away from all of this being decided one way or the other.

-I like Starbuck trying to get through to Apollo by bringing up how the signal is a “message from beyond”. It sounds ridiculous, but there it is.

-It’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” again, as the Cylons parley aboard Galactica, only this time they brought some Centurions with them,

-Apollo rejects the misery of the “Cycle” and extends the hand in one of the series’ most potent exchanges: “All of this has happened before…” “…but it doesn’t have to happen again”.

-The President has given the four Cylons an “amnesty”, and we’ll see how that works out. Does this imply that being a Cylon is a crime in itself? Or is treason the four have been accused of?

-“So, the question is, where do we go from here?” Lee might as well be speaking for the entire audience really.

-When asked if he is ready to take the Fleet to its new home, Adama just says “I don’t know”. The kind of breakdown that he suffered is hard to come back from.

-It’s a nice scene between Apollo and Roslin as he prepares to step back from the Presidency and she hints he might have more work to do. It’s a reconciliation after “Crossroads (Part One)”.

-Adama is adamant that this is the conclusion of the journey, “the end of the line”. One can understand his willingness to just have it all over with.

-He suggests that a mass jump, without recon, to Earth is a necessary “hard six” roll, and boy isn’t that ironic considering what a hard six actually is.

-The track that plays over the conclusion is “Diaspora Oratorio”, and it is a hard listen. It’s just so hopeful, so uplifting, a song for the end of a journey. It does great work in making sure the final scenes are as big a gut punch as they can be, and is beautiful in its own right. The lyrics, in Latin, are a literal ode to the Fleet’s arrival at Earth: “Brothers and Sisters, Enemies and Friends, Embrace, For we have come home”. McCreary has called it his “most significant musical achievement” in BSG.

-Love Adama to Gaeta as the Fleet’s position is confirmed: “Take your time”.

-This is one of Adama’s more restrained speeches, but it works, as he sums up how the Fleet’s inhabitants have all lost much but now the journey is over. It’s accompanied by a great montage of the Fleet celebrating, most notably the people on the refinery ship from “Dirty Hands”.

-The explosion of joy in the CGI, it’s incredible. Having Apollo whip the jacket off and mount the DRADIS console was an inspired choice.

-“Revelations” takes the time for some specific reactions here: Baltar with his cult; the Agathon family; Tyrol with his son; Tigh with a bottle, because not all issues can be solved; and Starbuck speaking to the picture of Kat in the memorial hallway from “The Passage”. They’re all good snapshots.

-Anders comes up behind Starbuck in this moment, but she doesn’t turn. She said she’d kill him if he turned out to be a Cylon, and she even said it in that hallway, back in “He That Believeth In Me”.

-The descent into Earth’s atmosphere is little less than a race between all the ships. One thing is that the view of the planet from the orbit, with clear skies, doesn’t match with the nuclear winter we see shortly afterwards.

-Roslin said she wanted to see Adama pick up “that first fistful of Earth”. Well he gets to, a dead looking clump accompanied by a clicking Geiger counter.

-No music here, and that’s as it should be. After the beauty of the last few minutes, the lack of such audio marks this out more as a devastating event.

-How perfect is Mary McDonnel’s delivery of the one word that marks this last scene? “Earth…”

-The slow pan that follows might just be the very best shot of the entire series. Its languid pace is just perfect to let the horror build in the viewer, the unavoidable conclusion that Earth is nothing but an unliveable husk.

-While it goes unstated, the specific ruins this advance party is standing in is meant to be the Temple of Aurora that Apollo and Starbuck talked about earlier.

-Off in the distance, we see the ruins of a city, that at the time I thought might be San Francisco because of the bridge, but of course it wasn’t. It’s enough for it to be vaguely familiar, and yet inherently different. The filming location was a beach south of Vancouver.

-Incredibly, Ronald D. Moore was prepared for “Revelations” to be the final episode of the show, if the concurrent writers strike had prevented production from continuing. How depressing would that have been? I suspect the final scene might have been cut out if that had come to pass.

Overall Verdict: “Revelations” is a humdinger. Even before those last iconic few minutes, it’s a fine episode, full of tension, great performances and a progression of plot that marks it as one of the most momentous 42 minutes in the show’s entire run. And those last few minutes are simply stunning, constituting an incredible twist, that exhibits bravery in its conception and excellence in its execution. This is another top tier episode, in a show that has been firing on all cylinders since “Guess Whose Coming To Dinner?”

We’ll take a weeks break at this point, and when back it’ll be non-stop to the conclusion of Season Four.

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