Spotlight: Star Trek Discovery Season 1 (Full Season)

Warning: some spoilers for the first season of “Discovery” follow.  Read at your own risk.

Space…the final frontier.

I mentioned this already when I did a brief review of the first three episodes, but “Star Trek: Discovery” initially inspired little more than skepticism in me.  It seemed like it was going to go too hard into the dark and edgy territory, forgetting what Star Trek’s roots were all about.  But after watching the entire season, I can safely say my fears were completely unfounded.

“Discovery” not only succeeds as a show, but proves that Star Trek still has a place in modern television.

 

Reusing old images is fun!

 

Back when I reviewed the first three episodes, I said that the two-part premiere had some rough spots.  And, looking back on the season as a whole, I can definitely say that it is probably the weakest of the entire season.  It does its job well enough, but it throws a lot of elements at you at once.  It sets the tone for the rest of the season, and gives the crew of the Discovery motivation to do what they’re doing.

I won’t spoil too much, but suffice it to say that Burnham’s character becomes infamous after the events of the two-part premiere.  She’s being carted off to a new prison roughly six months later when her trip is interrupted and she finds herself on-board the USS Discovery on the whim of its captain, Gabriel Lorca.  He offers her a position on the ship, which she initially refuses but quickly comes to terms with what her options are and decides to accept.

At first I thought the show was going to revolve around the mystery of Discovery and what was happening on the ship, because the first episode (episode three) that features the ship gives it a very mysterious air.  But the mystery of what the ship is working on is very quickly revealed.  I wouldn’t call it a detriment though, as most shows that hinge on a mystery like that tend to get drawn out and stale.  Rather, dealing with it sooner allows “Discovery” to move forward and into new territory.  And that seems to be a common theme.  The show shifts and changes as the season goes in, due in large part to some serious re-tooling going on behind the scenes.  The original show runner, Bryan Fuller, was asked to leave the show about a year before it premiered.  Some of his original ideas were left in place, but the show seemed to struggle with them.  Eventually, it seems that the show moved off in a different direction, and all for the better.  The second half of the season is even better than the first.

One of the greatest successes of “Discovery” comes in how it was able to combine the meaningful plots of the older Star Trek shows with the lighter, more action-oriented pacing of modern television.  But what might be an even bigger success is how it managed to create an appealing, engaging cast of characters so quickly.  Paul Stammets, Discovery‘s engineer, is a breakout favorite among show watchers, but I grew particularly fond of Sylvia Tilly as well.

 

Sylvia Tilly

 

Tilly is one of those characters whose defining trait upon first meeting her is her social awkwardness.  She talks a lot when she’s nervous.  Much like my initial reaction to “Discovery” as a whole, I was prepared to grate my teeth and be annoyed by her character, because television shows usually play up this trait so much it becomes annoying.  But Tilly becomes a great character in her own, taking on the mantle of Stammets’ protege.  She is often a source of comic relief, but doesn’t become the useless character I feared she might.  She’s actually given a decent amount to do.  And later on in the season, when Stammets is out of commission for a time, she is given an opportunity to show off what she knows and directly contributes to the success of the ship’s missions.

One of my favorite scenes with her happens fairly early on in the season.  Take a look.

Speaking of characters, it’s also one of the only major places where “Discovery” drops the ball.  Most of the show’s issues can be chalked up to the re-tooling going on behind the scenes and are forgivable.  But there are a couple of character arcs that could have been better.  For instance, Michael Burnham herself, who functions as the lens through which the audience views everything.  I mentioned before that Burnham becomes infamous after the premiere episode, and that’s due to a key choice she decides to make.  Well, at the end of the season the show attempts to tie together her character arc, insisting that she’s learned a lesson about violating principles and that her character is a better person for it.  And that’s nice and all, but I don’t feel like it’s entirely earned.  After the premiere and first couple of episodes, Burnham’s character development is mostly left on the back-burner in favor of the rest of Discovery‘s crew.  Sure, she’s is typically front and center when it comes to the action sequences, but it isn’t really until near the halfway mark when she gets a love interest that her character begins to show more development.  The second half of the season definitely showcases it better, giving her situations of moral complexity that force her to make decisions based on her principles.  But the sudden “I’ve learned my lesson” speech in the season finale seems a little misguided to me.

Another disappointment comes in the form of Discovery‘s captain, Lorca.  When he’s first introduced, there’s a distinct air of mystery around the character.  What his motivations are and why he decided to recruit Burnham in the first place are some of the questions that go unanswered for most of the season.  The only problem is, once the mystery around him is cleared up, Lorca becomes a very one-note character, almost cartoonish in a way.  It’s a disappointing endpoint for such an ambiguous and interesting character.

I could go on and on about “Discovery”, but I’ll spare you the time.  All I’ll say is that it’s definitely worth a watch, especially for those Star Trek fans who have been pining for a new show ever since “Enterprise” ended back in 2005.  It doesn’t do everything right, but everything that is there is damn good.  It’s a first season worthy of the Star Trek name, and I’m glad that they wrapped up the major plot lines in the season so that with the second one, they can go in newer and better directions.

Because let’s face it: an entire show about a war would get tiring eventually.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of March for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Advertisements

Let’s Talk About Plot Twists

The Sixth Sense

 

Warning: spoilers for multiple stories lie ahead.  Read at your own risk.

Love ’em or hate ’em, plot twists are an integral part of modern storytelling.  You know what I’m talking about…those moments in stories that make you go “HOLY CRAP” or “WHAT THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE!”  But the question is: when is a plot twist good and when is it bad?

For my personal taste, a good plot twist is one that makes you reevaluate what came before.  To start with, I’m going to use an example from something I’m betting not all that many people know about: the television show “Fringe”.

For those who’ve maybe never watched the show, it’s similar to “X-Files”, only instead of investigating weird, far-fetched supernatural stuff they investigate weird, far-fetched science stuff.  The basic premise is this: FBI agent Olivia Dunham investigates after everyone aboard a commercial airline flight is killed by a strange contagion that caused their skin to fall off (in spectacular, gooey fashion).  The case leads her to Dr. Walter Bishop, a man known for extreme experiments in science…who is also now in a mental health facility.  Because of the facility’s rule allowing only family members to visit, Olivia must track down Walter Bishop’s estranged son Peter.

 

Over the course of the first season, the three deal with bizarre and terrifying cases, ranging from killer computer viruses to a bio-engineered monstrous animal.  As the season progresses, an overarching plot involving parallel universes starts to unfold.  In the season finale, the trio stop a bad guy from crossing over into another universe to do bad things.  As things come to a close, we realize that the three have grown close together.  Peter finally starts to accept his father despite his failures.  And Walter has a poignant moment standing in front of-

 

 

…hi-his son’s grave.

……

Wait what?!

And this is where, if the twist is good, your mind goes into overdrive.  You start seeing the clues, putting the pieces together, realizing that certain little things you initially thought were innocuous actually hinted at a bigger truth.  In this case, the truth is that the Peter we know in the show actually belongs to a parallel universe.  And, in this case, your mind is likely to go back to a scene earlier in the season where Walter is talking to Peter and mentions a time when Peter was deathly ill.  Walter says he became consumed with saving him, but that Peter eventually just got better.  Obviously, with the twist at the end of season one, we know that’s not what happened and Walter’s version of Peter died.

There are also other, smaller hints throughout the season that you’d probably never catch on your first viewing.  For example, during one very early episode, Walter is rambling about eye color when he says Peter’s eyes are green.  But when we cut to Peter, we can clearly see that his eyes are blue.  Initially, you likely brushed it off as just Walter being not altogether there.  However, with the added information we get at the season’s close, it takes on a newer significance.  Same with another scene where Peter is holding a G.I. Joe toy and says something like “weird…I always remembered the scar being on the other side”.  Again, innocuous on its face, but hinting at a greater truth.

Another great instance of this kind of plot twist comes from “The Sixth Sense”.  I’m sure most, if not all of you, know the story by now: Bruce Willis plays a psychiatrist who helps a young boy that claims he can see ghosts.  Spoiler alert: Bruce Willis is actually dead the entire time.  He’s just another ghost that the kid can see.  But what’s genius about this twist is that unlike “Fringe”, where most of the clues are only really recognizable upon re-watching the first season, “Sixth Sense” actually replays snippets of scenes from earlier in the movie during the climactic reveal, giving them new meaning and context.  That scene with his wife in the restaurant?  It shifts from being the portrayal of a couple falling out of love to that of a widow grieving for her lost husband.

And it doesn’t even show all the clues the movie had in it.  There’s actually a scene where Bruce Willis is standing behind the kid as the kid reaches for a doorknob.  There’s a quick close-up shot of the knob that shows that Willis has no reflection.  It’s truly crazy how much foreshadowing the movie does right under your nose.

Now let’s move on to the other side of things.  When is a twist bad?  For my money, it’s simple: when the twist is done for pure shock value and offers very little payoff.  For example, one of the seasons of “24” reveals that the president of the United States (or former president at that point…I can’t remember for sure) is in league with the bad guys to do…something I guess.  I don’t remember if there was a good explanation for it.  What little I remember tells me it was more done for shock value than anything else.

Another example comes from the video game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”.  In the game, a character named General Shepherd sends one of the playable characters to an estate in the middle of a forest somewhere to retrieve data on the enemies operations and help stop World War III.  Only, at the end of the mission, Shepherd shoots and burns the playable character alive upon receiving the data, revealing that he was the mastermind behind it all and was just covering his tracks.  It’s a moment that screams “epic” at first, but once Shepherd reveals his motivation later on things fall apart quickly.

It’s as if the writers had to hamstring together an explanation last-minute.  Basically, there was a nuke that went off in the previous game, killing a whole bunch of soldiers.  This made General Shepherd mad or something, so he came up with a convoluted plan to start World War III in an effort to drive up recruitment and get more soldiers…

…who will then more than likely die in the ensuing global conflict, leaving General Shepherd with a far larger body count than he would have had otherwise.

It’s best not to think about it too much.

(If you’re curious, I did write an entire story analysis of Modern Warfare 2 over two years ago.)

Another example of a twist that underperforms is in “The Village”, another movie by M. Night Shyamalan.  For my part, I actually liked the twist itself.  But at the same time, I admit that it does have a lack of payoff for the story.

The plot of “The Village” is as follows: a colonial era village lives in fear of monsters that lurk in the woods around the town.  But later on, it’s revealed that the monsters are nothing more than the village elders wearing outfits in an effort to keep people from moving away from the village.  And the noises they keep hearing in the woods are made by things like wind chimes.  Then, at the very end, it is revealed that the movie actually takes place in modern times, with the village elders starting the village in the 1970’s as a way to escape the traumas they experienced in modern society.  They’re basically an Amish-like cult.

While the twist is cool, there’s very little payoff for it.  We already know that the spooky noises are fake and that the monsters are just old people in costume.  It does give us an explanation for why the elders did all those things, but it doesn’t feel very satisfying.  It feels…anti-climactic in a way.  Not only that, but the twist has some serious explanations with plausibility, the most notable of which being how did no one ever see a plane flying over the area?  The movie tries to explain this away by saying they set up a no-fly zone over the area the village is set in, but it still seems far-fetched.

I could talk about more plot twists, but that would make this post go on longer than it needs to.  And it’s already long as it is.  So to recap, for a plot twist to be good, it needs to redefine or alter the arc of the story in a way that makes sense.  Twists that are thrown in there for shock value (which is something broadcast television shows seem obsessed with these days) tend to collapse under the weight of their own implausibility.  The quality of twists can be highly subjective, but in the end I think most people would agree that it needs to be logical.  It needs to follow some sort of common sense.  Otherwise, its artificial nature is plainly obvious for everyone to see.

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Consistency in Fiction

Just the other day I watched the fall finale of “Star Trek: Discovery” season one.  I thought it was a good end for the mid-season and does a great job of bringing things to an epic climax while also teasing what’s to come.  And “Discovery” itself I feel is a great modern take on the “Star Trek” franchise: with more nuanced characters, a darker tone, and updated special effects.

 

I mean DAMN…that’s a nice view.

 

But not everyone on the internet is happy with the show.  A decent amount of long-time “Star Trek” fans (or “Trekkies”, if you will) have been complaining about the show since day one.  In all fairness, “Discovery” has a lot to live up to.  It’s the first “Star Trek” show since “Enterprise” wrapped up back in 2005.  But I noticed something about a lot of the complaints I saw: they seemed downright nitpicky.

After I watched the two-part pilot episode, I noticed a lot of people complaining about things like the technology the ship was using, the look of the Klingons in the show, and other things like that.  There was even someone who complained about the fact that the ship had a ready room (basically the captain’s office).  Apparently it was a problem because ready rooms weren’t introduced until “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (“Discovery” takes place roughly a decade before the original series).

All of this got me thinking about the idea of consistency in fiction.  My internal rule for this has been that a show or book or whatever should be consistent with itself.  It should follow its own rules that it sets or makes up.  I don’t really care about whether or not something is scientifically accurate (fiction is called “fiction” for a reason after all).  But it has to be within reason.   And this is where, in my opinion, the complaints about “Discovery” go too far.  I mean think about it…this is a franchise that has been around since the 1960’s.  Something had to change in all that time.  “Discovery” shouldn’t be bound by a sixty-year-old television show that was subsequently bound by the special effects of its day.  Sure, some things look different now, but do we really want to go back to the way things looked in the ’60s?

 

I mean this guy looks totally believable and not at all cheesy, right?

 

 

But if, for example, “Discovery” suddenly decided to say that the transporter can now beam people through time, I’d be crying foul with the rest of the Trekkies because that literally makes no sense and fundamentally changes the established rules of “Star Trek”.  A ship having a ready room or hologram communicators doesn’t really change the nature of the show.  It’s just a minor detail that got caught up in overzealous continuity policing.  It’s similar to when people complained about the film “Gravity” and how paper doesn’t float in space the way it did in the movie.

It’s like yeah great…thanks for pointing out that important detail.  You must be fun at parties.

I think what it comes down to is that, while consistency is nice, as time passes things eventually need to change.  Another big complaint I heard when “Discovery” first debuted had to do with the captain of the ship, Lorca.  People complained that he wasn’t like a regular Starfleet captain.  Most likely, they were comparing him to Kirk and Picard, the two fan favorites.  But much like the special effects, these characters were a product of their time.  Especially in the case of Kirk, who existed in a time when television was full of larger-than-life heroes who were impossibly good at everything they did.  Sure, those characters were great.  Kirk and Picard were great.  But in an era post “Game of Thrones”, “Breaking Bad”, and “House of Cards”…shows which were full of flawed, nuanced, and often downright evil characters…men like Kirk and Picard don’t fit in.  Lorca, with all his ambiguity, still manages to come across as a well-meaning guy.  But he does has his flaws, and I think that’s what “Star Trek” needs in a modern television landscape: flawed characters with occasionally ambiguous intentions.

Besides, I’m glad we’ve moved on from having a first officer who looks like he wants to sex everything that moves.

 

Yeah I’m looking at YOU, Riker.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: Stranger Things Season 2

 

Warning: minor spoilers for “Stranger Things” follow.  Read at your own risk.

Ain’t no hype train like the “Stranger Things” hype train.

If shows like “Daredevil” and “House of Cards” put Netflix on the map when it came to the push for original programming from streaming services, “Stranger Things” is the one that put them over the top, as if to say “dude…this is serious business”.  The stellar first season was a massive hit.  And ever since the teaser trailer for season two dropped during the Super Bowl, the hype train has been steadily chugging along.  So the question becomes, does the second season live up to the first?

 

Spoiler alert: bad things happen to Will this season.

 

The first thing many people will likely notice is the difference in pacing.  Compared to season one, season two does a lot more building up and creating tension before anything really happens.  In fact, it’s not until the third episode when things start to get moving.  And this was a common theme I noticed in reviews: the slower pacing.

There seems to be this weird assumption in critic-land that having slower pacing than before is somehow a bad thing.  I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.  In many ways, it’s a good thing for this season.  It gives us some room to breathe, especially when compared to the breakneck pace things moved at in season one.  It also allows us to view these characters when they’re not under constant threat.  We get to watch them live their lives.  And it’s refreshing to just see some of these characters on a normal day, before everything inevitably goes crazy once again.  This season definitely has a larger focus on inter-personal relationships and conflict.

 

It’s especially refreshing to see Joyce Byers under normal circumstances, as she spent pretty much the entire first season as a nervous wreck on the verge of collapse.

 

Now, this does mean that each episode doesn’t necessarily have that cliffhanger hook that makes you want to keep watching, but that’s fine.  This is the second season.  At this point, we should be tuning in because we’re invested in the characters themselves, not because we have to see what comes next.  That’s something I’ve noticed a lot in modern television, and is particularly evident in broadcast television (i.e. not cable or satellite).  Advertisements for new episodes often are built around teasing a “shocking twist” that you’ll “never see coming” and will “blow your mind”.  Cliffhangers aren’t bad by nature, but if they’re used as the primary hook for a show without any substance behind them (such as complex characters), it just feels cheap and soulless to me.

But I digress.  “Stranger Things” season two introduces us to some new characters as well.  First off, we have new kid Maxine (Max for short) and her step-brother Billy, who basically spends the entire season being a massive a-hole.  Because of her step-brother and her family situation, which we learn a bit about later in the season, Max is a more hard-edged character than the other kids, although she does eventually end up following along with them.  And this is one of my only real gripes with this season.  While I appreciate the injection of new blood into the dynamic of the kids, Max and her step-brother don’t really seem to serve much purpose aside from causing tension within the group (although Max does have a pretty badass moment at the end of the season).

 

Sean Astin also stars in this season as Joyce’s new boyfriend. You’ll likely remember him as Sam from “Lord of the Rings” or from “The Goonies”, one of the movies “Stranger Things” took inspiration from.

 

 

Speaking of gripes, the various plot lines in this season may become a point of contention for some, as certain plots end up more fleshed out than others.  There was one in particular for me that fel underdeveloped.  As season two opens, we’re treated to an action scene with an unknown group of people fleeing the police.  It turns out one of them has psychic powers and a connection with Eleven.  It’s a great opener that entices us in with a bit of action.  My problem comes from the fact that this thread isn’t explored until near the end of the season.  There’s only one episode that centers around these people, and its only purpose seems to be to push Eleven in the right direction.

Oh yeah…Eleven’s back.  Spoilers I guess…although if you saw any of the trailers you already knew that.

Despite the complaints I or others may have, no one can doubt that the magic that permeated “Stranger Things” season one is still here.  Even if the beginning’s slower pacing rubs some people the wrong way, the season ends on a very strong note with some great character moments.  I’m always impressed by just how well-written and acted this show is, especially when it comes to the kid characters.  It’s funny too, because apparently when the Duffer brothers were shopping the show around to different studios, the studios wanted to cut the kids characters out entirely.  And now it’s hard to imagine the show without them.  It’s hard to imagine the show without any of the characters we’ve come to know and love.

And that’s the key thing: characters.  The characters are why we’ll return to Hawkins for season three.

Well…that and the spooks.  Everybody loves the spooks.

 

SPOOOOOOOOOOOOKS

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: Star Trek Discovery (first three episodes)

It’s been a long time coming.

“Star Trek: Discovery” is the first Star Trek television series to air since the end of “Star Trek: Enterprise”, which ended its run twelve years ago back in 2005.  In terms of its place within the Star Trek universe, “Discovery” is set between “Enterprise” and the original “Star Trek” television show.  And it has nothing to do with the reboot movies.

But the question is, was the wait worth it?

 

The USS Discovery.

 

I must admit…I was initially skeptical of the show when I saw previews of it.  I was afraid it was going to go too far into the dark, gritty realm of things.  But after watching the first three episodes, I can safely say that while the tone is a bit more grim than the usual Star Trek fare, it works for the time period of the show.

When the show starts, we find ourselves not actually on board the Discovery, but rather a ship known as the USS Shenzhou.  The first two episodes can basically be considered one as they form a two-part pilot which serves as a prologue to the series.  In the first two episodes, we meet Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) the first officer of the Shenzhou, who is quickly established as the main character and the lens through which we view most of the events.

The two-part prologue does a good job of setting the backdrop for the rest of the series.  We see the Shenzhou encounter the Klingons, an encounter which sets into motion the war between the Klingons and the Federation (something fans will remember being part of the original series as well).  To be fair, the first two episodes are a bit uneven.  There’s a little too much witty quipping at the beginning for my liking, and some moments feel a bit rushed for time’s sake.  An example of this would be from the second episode when the Vulcan character Sarek, who from what I can tell was Burnham’s mentor as a child, telepathically speaks to her over thousands of light-years because they once melded minds a long time ago.  It’s a scene that just feels out of place and weird, not to mention its only purpose is so that Sarek can essentially tell Burnham not to give up.

Speaking of Burnham’s childhood, that’s something the pilot episodes handle really well.  We get snippets of Burnham’s past which fleshes out her character as someone who has experienced tragedy and hardship, as well as dealing with differences between cultures (Burnham ends up living with Vulcans for some years).  It helps set her up as a conflicted and nuanced character, one who will make drastic decisions whose consequences impact the arc of the show.  I would have liked a little more time spent on these however, as most of the flashbacks last less than a minute.

 

Michael Burnham

 

I don’t want to say too much more about the first two episodes so as not to spoil it for people who haven’t watched it yet, so let’s move on to the third episode.  While the first two episodes feel more similar to the recent Star Trek movies, the third episode introduces us to the meat of the show.  It picks up six months after the events of the pilot.  Burnham’s circumstances have changed a lot, and against her will she finds herself suddenly on board the USS Discovery.  There, she meets Captain Gabriel Lorca, who is immediately mysterious about his motivations.  In fact, Discovery’s whole mission is shrouded in mystery.  In the third episode we do get a decent bit of information about what Discovery is trying to do, but even so at the end of the episode it’s hinted that there might be more going on.

In terms of quality, the third episode is definitely the best.  It’s the most consistent and engaging of the three I’ve seen, and it sets up a nice, enticing mystery for us to get invested in.  Some might object to the whole “science co-opted by military” theme going on, but I think it makes sense considering the time period.  Starfleet is desperate for an edge in the war against the Klingons, so it makes sense that they might resort to more drastic measures.  And I like the idea that no one is perfect.  Sure, everyone loves Captain Kirk and Captain Picard, but they were men for a different time.  Television is much different than it was back in their eras, so it wouldn’t make sense to just replicate their shows but with higher quality effects.  Hardcore Trek fans may nitpick on a lot of things, but Star Trek needs to show that it has a place in a more nuanced storytelling landscape.

My only major concern with the series is that, due to it being a prequel to the older Trek Shows (aside from “Enterprise), everything they do might turn out to be moot.  For example, that big information reveal in the third episode revolves around the Discovery’s main experiment, something that would give them a drastic edge in the war against the Klingons.  Only we know that it can’t work out because it’s never used at all in any of the other shows.  My fear is that this will become a recurring trend with “Discovery”.  They’ll build up these new, awesome experiments Discovery is doing, only they’ll all fail because the continuity of the Star Trek universe demands it.

That being said, one of the small things I enjoyed was that “Discovery” has elements of wonder in it, something that I missed from the recent movies (which are basically just sci-fi action flicks with a Star Trek skin).  There’s a scene in the first episode where Burnham is struck with awe at the majesty of space, and it’s something that stuck out to me.  Hopefully, that sense of wonder doesn’t get completely lost in the mix, because it was a crucial element to why I liked Star Trek in the first place.

I have been impressed with what I’ve seen so far, so I highly recommend it to any sci-fi fans looking for a new show.  Sure, you have to subscribe to CBS’s All Access program to watch it, but if there was one show that would make it worth it, it’s “Discovery”.

Although there are…other ways you could watch the show.  Don’t worry, I won’t tell.

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: The Defenders

Warning: spoilers for “The Defenders” and some of the other Netflix shows will follow.  Read at your own risk.

So it’s finally here…the event we’ve been waiting for.  “The Defenders” brings all four of the Netflix superheroes together so they can kick some butt.  And maybe throw bad guys through a building or two (I really gotta stop making that joke).  But the real question is, was it worth it?  Is “The Defenders” everything we hoped for?  Is it everything we wanted…nay…deserved?!

Well…yes and no.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty of the show, I wanted to point out a couple small details I appreciated.  After “Iron Fist” and its bland title sequence, I was glad to see they brought back the nuance for “The Defenders”.  During the title sequence, we see each of the four characters forms overlaid over aerial maps of New York.  Now, I can’t be certain considering I know basically nothing about New York, but I believe that each character is overlaid over the particular part of the city where they live and operate.

 

 

So Daredevil would have a part of Hell’s Kitchen while Luke Cage would be laid over Harlem.  But the detail in the title sequence goes beyond that even.  I didn’t really pick up on this until near the end of the first episode, but each character has a particular color associated with them, a color that you can see during the title sequence itself.  During the show, scenes that particular character dominates are color corrected to have an abundance of that character’s color.

 

So Luke Cage’s scenes have a yellow glow to them…

 

…while Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s scenes are full of vibrant red.

 

Jessica Jones has a deep blue, while Danny Rand is green.  This little detail takes to the sidelines once the characters finally start to meet up with each other, but it’s still a cool aspect of the show.  It’s not essential, but it’s these little things that fans love.

But anyway, on to the main event.  Like I said before, the answer to the question “was it worth the wait” is a little bit of a mixed bag.  The breakdown (at least for me) seemed to go like this: the first half of “The Defenders” is great while the second half gets a little sloppy.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first four episodes, watching as each of the heroes runs into their own problem to solve.  It was nice checking back in with these characters and seeing what they had been up to, although the first episode does spend more time on Luke Cage than anyone else.  Which makes sense, considering he was being carted off to jail at the end of the first season of his show, so they have to deal with that to get him back into place.

It was fun watching each of these characters do the thing they do best, with a slow buildup towards the inevitable meeting of the heroes.  The problem is that after these four characters meet and begrudgingly agree to work together, the show seems to lose a bit of momentum, as the next few episodes mostly feature the characters sitting around and debating their next move before the final showdown begins.

And it’s at this point that you realize just how weak Danny Rand is as a character when compared to the other three.

 

 

 

Now, to give some credit to the writers, they at least tried to give Danny a more interesting arc than just “I’m the Iron Fist…it is my destiny to destroy The Hand…blah blah blah”.  In the first episode, Danny has a nightmare about the apparent massacre of the people of K’un-Lun, showing that he feels guilty over leaving them.  The problem is that, after the first episode, this is never mentioned or referenced again.  In fact, Danny is played as more of a laughingstock than anything else, especially in the second half of the season.  Any time someone mentions that he’s the Iron Fist, everyone else in the room seems to have the same reaction of “the hell are you talking about?”  A good example of this would be when Murdock tells his friend Foggy that Danny’s the Iron Fist and Foggy remarks “I’m not even going to pretend I know what that means.”

I didn’t mind this approach at first, but the more I thought about it the more it bothered me.  You see, instead of trying to fix the flaws in Danny’s character they turned him into a literal joke.  The other characters pretty much just make fun of everything he says.  They took the lazy route and played Danny up for laughs instead of trying to make him feel deserving of a place on the team.  This is made all the more insulting once you realize that Danny is integral to the entire plot of the show.  The Hand needs him to complete their master plan.  Without him, their whole scheme falls apart.  In this sense, Danny feels less like a character and more like a maguffin, existing only to move the plot forward toward the inevitable battle against The Hand.

And speaking of The Hand, their big leader in this show is revealed to be a woman named Alexandra, played by none other than Sigourney Weaver.  Initially, I was excited to see her in this show, because Sigourney Weaver is a total badass.  Remember “Alien”?  Remember “Aliens”?  Yeah…total badass right?  But here she’s given very little to do aside from look imposing and make not so subtle references to the fact that she’s older than she appears, like when she calls Istanbul Constantinople.  She also has some very cringe worthy dialogue later on, even breaking out the “we’re the same, you and I” speech at one point.

 

Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver)

 

 

She is given a motivation though.  At the beginning of the show we are shown that she’s dying…all of her organs are systematically shutting down one by one.  This encourages her to push The Hand’s plan into fast-forward mode, despite the objections.  Because as it turns out, The Hand’s immortality revolves around a mysterious substance that they have run out of.  This bit didn’t make much sense to me, considering that we’ve seen people resurrect in the other shows without the help of this substance.  So why now do they suddenly need more of it?  Seems to me like another maguffin to get the plot where it needs to go.  Because, as it turns out, they used the last of this substance on Elektra.

Speaking of Elektra, what the hell is her motivation here anyways?  After her death at the end of the second season of “Daredevil”, Elektra is brought back to life by The Hand.  But her memory is erased so she can be turned into The Hand’s ultimate weapon.  Through some more not so subtle moments, we realize that this conditioning isn’t going to last forever, and that Elektra is starting to remember who she was.  But the thing is, once she remembers who she is, she still serves as an antagonist for no apparent reason.  If she remembers who she is, then why the hell would she be fighting against the man she supposedly loves?  It makes no sense.

And what’s so important about her being the “Black Sky” anyways?  Everyone goes on and on about it, but it’s never clearly explained what it actually means.

However, despite the flaws, “The Defenders” is a fun time.  The best scene is definitely the fight at the end of the third episode, where all four of the heroes come together for the first time and battle a bunch of The Hand’s henchmen.  But after that, the show starts going downhill.  It never gets to the point of being unwatchable, but through some strange plot choices and sloppy pacing, the second half definitely isn’t as strong.  I especially didn’t like the shenanigans they tried to pull in the last episode.  I won’t say much out of fear of spoiling it for those who haven’t watched it, but I will say this: they try to make you think that one thing happened, only to turn it around in the last thirty seconds of the show and be all like “ha we tricked you” even though most people will probably see it coming from a mile away.

At the very least, there isn’t any pointless filler.  Each episode moves things along the main plot.  So while it might not be everything we hoped for, it’s still well worth a watch, especially if you’ve gotten invested in the characters.

And now, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to go on a more personal rant…

I really wish The Hand hadn’t been the villains for “The Defenders”.  It takes things to such a cheesy, comic book level that it’s hard to take seriously sometimes.  It’s a group of frickin’ immortal ninjas for crying out loud!  Part of the reason I really enjoyed these Netflix shows at first was because of how different they felt from the standard superhero fare.  The first season of “Daredevil” hardly feels like a superhero show at all.  It plays like a gritty crime drama but with a superhero twist.  But as time went on The Hand became more and more apparent as Marvel rushed things out the door in order to get them into place for “The Defenders”.

I would have liked to see the four heroes fight against a crime syndicate for their first outing together.  Now I know someone is going to say it…”but…The Hand is a crime syndicate”.  It is, but it’s still a crime syndicate of immortal ninjas.  I would have wanted to see them face off against regular criminals, not a bunch of silly mystical types who, despite all the hype over being super secretive, take some really obvious actions.

A whole army of ninjas clad in black rappelling up the side of a hospital?  Sure seems stealthy to me!

I think it would have been more interesting if, for example, Wilson Fisk had been exposed but not captured at the end of “Daredevil” season one.  He could then escape to run things from the shadows and give the heroes a threat to deal with when they finally came together.  And with the addition of Danny Rand, they could have started teasing the existence of a mysterious organization known as The Hand.  Then, after the four heroes came together and defeated Fisk once and for all, The Hand could step out of the shadows and reveal that they were manipulating Fisk the entire time.  That would then give The Defenders another threat looming over them as they go about their own business.  Because, with The Hand gone, there’s no bigger threat anymore, not to mention that Danny Rand’s character has no purpose anymore, since his whole thing revolved around The Hand’s defeat.  I can’t really see their next big villains standing up to a bunch of supernatural martial artists.

And with that, I’m off.  Blog writer AWAAAAAY!

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: “Iron Fist” Season One

Warning: spoilers for season one of “Iron Fist” follow.

…Oh boy……

Ever since “Iron Fist” premiered on Netflix back in March, it’s been panned by many critics.  It’s easily considered the worst of the Marvel Netflix shows and possibly even one of the worst shows on Netflix period.  The reception to it was so bad that Finn Jones, the actor who plays the main character in the show, blamed Donald Trump for the negative perception of the show.  According to him, because of the wide distrust of the president people can’t root for Danny Rand because he’s a white billionaire superhero.

 

This is the appropriate reaction to what you just heard.

 

But I digress.  “Iron Fist” is currently sitting at a 37 on Metacritic and a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Why?  Were critics just being unfair?  Was the show really made more for the fans like Finn Jones also suggested?  Or was there something else, a reason that the show was so negatively received?

Well, as it turns out, there was a reason.  You see, “Iron Fist” season one is boring.  Like, really boring.  I have to admit that I struggled watching through the entire thing.  That’s not to say that there aren’t good points to the show, but they’re faint pinpricks of light in an otherwise gloomy sea of tedium.

And the problem starts with Danny Rand himself.

Now, to be fair to Finn Jones, I don’t think he’s a bad actor.  He does a serviceable job here.  The main problem is the character.  But before we get into that, we have to give some backstory.  As a kid, Danny Rand was in a plane crash with his parents in the Himalayan mountains and was the only survivor.  After being rescued by a pair of mysterious monks, Danny spends his formative years in a place called K’un-Lun, a mystical monastery that is only accessible every fifteen years.  There he learns martial arts and gains the power of the Iron Fist, turning him into a mystical living weapon.  He returns to New York fifteen years after his supposed death and tries to reclaim the life he once had.

The thing is, Danny Rand is perfect…too perfect.  In fact, he’s so perfect he’s boring.  He spouts off Zen sayings left and right.  He’s in total control of his emotions (at least in the beginning).  And he’s practically unbeatable in a fight.  I mean he walks into the dojo of Colleen Wing (one of the side characters) and almost immediately schools her in martial arts.  It’s ridiculous.  And then later on, any time his company runs into a scandal, he always does the morally righteous thing.  And I mean always.  There’s nothing interesting about his character because there’s no flaws to his character.  At least, not until like three-quarters through the season when the writers suddenly decide that his guilt over the death of his parents clouds his judgement and renders him unable to summon the Iron Fist most of the time.  If this was implemented from the beginning of the season, that would be one thing.  But the way it just shows up later is jarring.

 

The impeccable Danny Rand.

 

Danny Rand reminds me of that stereotypical rich guy who constantly shares pictures of his vacations on Facebook or Instagram.  You know the type: you constantly see them posing in sun-bathed tropical locales or other exotic locations.   And they’re always spouting off life wisdom like they know that’s best for everyone else.

But enough about Danny.  What about all the side charac-

They’re boring.  Just…boring.  Aside from Colleen, the dojo teacher that becomes his love interest, none of the characters really have anything important or interesting going on (except for maybe Joy…I found some of her scenes to be kind of interesting).  I don’t care about the day-to-day business of the Rand corporation.  I don’t care about corporate backstabbing.  And I certainly don’t care about a boring subplot dealing with painkiller addiction.  Seriously, screw that noise.  It’s like the show is caught between being a bad superhero show and a bad soap opera.

And the pacing…oh god the pacing.  It’s so off.  Like I said before, the main problem with “Iron Fist” is that it’s just boring.  I hope you like martial arts poses because I swear that at least sixty percent of this show is people striking martial arts poses and talking about what they’re going to do next instead of, you know, actually doing it.

 

Who cares about plot when you can strike some sick poses brah?

 

Even the title sequence is boring.  “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, and “Luke Cage” all had nuance in their title sequences that hinted at certain aspects of their characters or overall themes for the show.  What does “Iron Fist” have?  A silhouette of a man leaving inky trails all over the place as he strikes a bunch of poses.

 

Whoo…it’s so good guys. I’m not even being sarcastic…

 

And speaking of pacing, my god the show has no idea how to build or sustain momentum.  When the show isn’t being dull and full of people talking or striking poses, things seem to happen way too quickly.  For example, the end of the first episode has Danny being drugged by his former friends Joy and Ward Meachum, then being placed in a mental hospital.  And then he breaks out of the mental hospital at the end of the second episode.  Like…what?  This is the kind of stuff you do in the middle of the season, not at the beginning.  Not only that, but the show spends the first four episodes or so dealing with Danny trying to prove his identity.  And there isn’t even a real payoff to it.  The conflict is abruptly resolved and the people trying to keep Danny from getting back into the company are suddenly like “hey Danny we’re your friends again…we can just forget about that whole mental hospital thing right?”

There are so many little things with this show that I could complain about.  A villain becomes a not-villain only to suddenly become a villain again later on in the season.  The characters spend way too much time talking about duty and honor.  The last episode feels like it belongs in an entirely different season.  Certain things just happen without any real explanation (I still don’t understand how Danny suddenly winds up in a freaking penthouse after being kicked out of Colleen’s dojo).  Characters make decisions that don’t make any sense.

It’s a mess.  But if I keep going, this review will go on forever.

In the end, I feel like if the show had been done with a lighthearted tone, things probably would have worked out better.  The silly nature of Danny’s character and all the overemphasized martial arts combat doesn’t really blend well with the show’s dead serious tone.  But even if they did go for a lighter tone, then it just wouldn’t fit with the other shows.  Any way you slice it, “Iron Fist” just fails to deliver.

And yet, it was still Netflix’s most binge-watched drama.  Kinda sad when you think about it, but that’s the power of Marvel.  People will watch it regardless, especially because of how the stories are interconnected.

All I can say is that I hope “The Defenders” was worth it.  Because Marvel has seemed to be in a hurry to get that out the door for the past couple of years, and that has led to a decrease in quality for the Netflix shows.  The second season of “Daredevil” felt disjointed at times, with two major arcing plots that didn’t seem to mesh together well.  The second half of “Luke Cage” season one saw a complicated villain being swapped out for one that had very little depth and whose only motivation is revenge against Cage.  But clearly, “Iron Fist” was hit the worst.  There’s so much unnecessary subplot that could have been left out in favor of focusing on making Danny not suck as a character and giving him an origin story that’s actually enjoyable to watch.  But as it stands, “Iron Fist” season one is only worth watching for the connection to “The Defenders”.

If you watch it on its own hoping for a good standalone story, you’ll most likely end up disappointed.

 

But hey, at least there’s martial arts poses…right?

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.