Monthly Archives: December 2013

I Bet Even Covert Operatives Eat Curly Fries

Hope we're not missing anything back at the house

Hope we’re not missing anything back at the house

Season seven isn’t very good.  I’m normally the first person to follow that statement with “… for a Buffy season,” but, nineteen episodes in, I must admit that it doesn’t just fail to meet the normally high Buffy standards, it misses some rather basic storytelling marks.  This episode leans heavily on tension that doesn’t exist, has characters behaving like their Bizzaro equivalents, and makes ineffectual plays for emotion.  That’s certainly more than enough to qualify “Empty Places” as a bad episode, but all of these things are clearly meant to be the culmination of earlier events.  They’re not.  Episode 19/20 is the point in the Buffy formula where things typically take a turn for the dark (see “Choices,” “The Yoko Factor,” “Spiral,” and “Seeing Red”) and this one follows suit, putting Buffy in the bleakest position ever… without actually having earned it. Continue reading

I Don’t Get Called… I Take Messages

I'm not crazy, you're crazy!

I’m not crazy, you’re crazy!

One of the disadvantages of this season’s intensely serialised storytelling is that the show has lost much of its variety.  The few forrays outside the realm of apocalyptic epic (e.g. the Gunn and Sparky caper) have felt more distracting than refreshing.  “Shiny Happy People” proves that Angel can still colour outside the lines, even ones it drew itself.  I won’t say that I’d become desensitised to all the doom and gloom, the series has done a good job preventing that, but the time was still right to change gears.  Rather than trying to top the Apocalypse thus far, Jasmine takes us in the opposite direction and the effect is satisfyingly creepy.  All the peace and happiness makes for a new kind of dread and Fred is an inspired choice to serve as the audience’s surrogate. Continue reading

Why Would Faith Kill a Person Who Studies Vulcans?

I spy with my little eye

I spy with my little eye

Leave it to Nathan Fillion to breathe new life into this flagging season.  Caleb’s able to do in one episode what The First failed to do in 17 as “Dirty Girls” finally starts to make this apocalypse feel apocalyptic.  To be fair, the sudden appearance of a new baddie does nothing to help the season’s structure *cough* Jasmine *cough* but that structure was fairly flat to begin with and the evil, superpowered, misogynist priest is more than worth the trade. Continue reading

One Mistake at a Time

No, I don't know what they were thinking either

No, I don’t know what they were thinking either

Well, that wasn’t bad.  Actually, I’ll say that it was pretty good.  Was it?  “Fixing SHIELD” has become such a high bar that it’s impossible for any one episode to meet it, a fact which makes stories like this one hard to evaluate.  While “The Bridge” still embraces many of the show’s flaws, it takes some steps to address others; should I criticize it because it can’t erase nine weeks of poor decisions in one fell swoop?  No, but I also shouldn’t pretend that it exists in a vacuum.  Much as this episode might work as a piece of entertainment, the show’s still underachieving. Continue reading

Look Out. The Monkey’s Thinkin’ Again

Subtle

Subtle

“Inside Out” requires more than the usual dollop of suspension of disbelief.  None of the events are what I’d call story-breaking, but there’s an awful lot packed into this episode that needed a bit more room to breathe.  I’m not going to complain too much.  This series has had the plot pedal to the metal all season and that sort of pacing inevitably leads to stumbles, I’m surprised it took this long.  Between Connor’s sudden turn to the dark side and the strained exposition attempting to tie everything together, this episode is asking the audience for a lot of slack.  But the series has earned it.  All the buildup kept me excited to see what would come out of Cordy, even as evens around the reveal fizzled. Continue reading

This is How Wars Are Won

Aren't I mother enough for you?

Aren’t I mother enough for you?

I called “Storyteller” the last great episode of Buffy and while I stand by that, “Lies My Parents Told Me” is good enough to give me pause.  Not because it comes so close to greatness, but because it stops so definitively short of it.  That’s an odd way to describe it, but it’s not as if this episode tried for greatness and missed the mark, it’s more like it approached greatness and then decided it wasn’t what it wanted.  It’s ironic for the series to cop out this thoroughly in an episode where Giles preaches about the need to make hard decisions.  ME crafted a scenario that could finally deliver on this season’s promise of the elevated stakes and then, much like most of the sixteen episodes that preceded it, delivered nothing but words.  I know that The First is all talk, but surely someone else on this show could do some damage. Continue reading

A Turgid Supernatural Soap Opera

I can see where hanging with Gwen would make you feel important

I can see where hanging with Gwen would make you feel important

“Players” isn’t nearly as bad as I remember it being.  It still isn’t particularly good, but Gunn’s not so excellent adventure takes up a minimal amount of screen time and the B-story manages to deliver on all fronts.  It’s not just Gwen’s return that drags this story down (although that certainly doesn’t help) it’s the way it twists itself into knots to elevate Gunn.  Charles has been wallowing in the sidekickery all season and I can understand the desire to give him the rub, but such episodes almost never work.  The mere fact that there’s a need to prove he’s not “just the muscle” is evidence that he actually is.  Couple that with the fact that with Gunn looking not so bright on his side quest and the AI team getting by better than fine without him and you’ve got an episode that only serves to undermine his worth as a character. Continue reading

Why Can’t You Just Masturbate Like the Rest of Us?

Let me explain a few things

Let me explain a few things

Well, here we are; the last great episode of Buffy.  There are still some good episodes left in the season, maybe even a very good one, but this is the last time that the series would truly challenge itself and break new narrative ground.  I’ll admit that my love of “Storyteller” probably has a lot to do with my love of meta-storytelling but, as meta-stories go, this one’s ingenious.  We get the distorted view of Buffy’s world through both Andrew’s shaky cinematography and his melodramatic (and hilarious) imaginings and while the ostensible point is that we shouldn’t lose ourselves in a fantasy, Andrew’s fiction only ends through one on Buffy’s part.  Running through all of this is a summation for the series up until this point.  Buffy declares itself a fictional construct in the same breath that it questions the value of such things.  It’s beautifully layered bit of narrative and by far the best episode of the season Continue reading

The Index Asset Evaluation and Intake Process

That's right Skye, wait in the van

That’s right Skye, wait in the van

I had some hope than an episode written by Jed and Maurissa would help elevate proceedings on SHIELD; the direct involvement of showrunners almost always filters out the noise and clarifies a show’s voice.  But the only thing clarified here is the fact that SHIELD doesn’t really have a voice.  Mae’s background has been one of the few tantalizing bits of serialization on this show, a mystery that promised to make her something other than a stock character if only we gave it a little of patience.  Well, after eight episodes of hearing hints about Mae’s background, “Repairs” lets us… hear about Mae’s background.  Clunky exposition is not the way build character, particularly when its connection to current events is tenuous at best. Continue reading

It Drags You Down to Hell… and Leaves You There

Funny enough without a caption

Funny enough without a caption

Angelus’ return has been a delightfully intense chapter of Angel and its conclusion doesn’t disappoint.  The first time we saw Angelus, however briefly, was at the end of “Awakening,” probably the single best look at Angel’s character in the series’ run.  “Orpheus” isn’t quite on the same level but it’s still an extremely good episode and its intense focus on our hero makes it a fitting bookend for this mini-arc.  Flashbacks have always been wisely used on this series and this trip down memory lane is no exception.  It’s inherently satisfying to see some of the gaps in Angel’s history filled in but, more important than the chronology, this episode explores the space between the soulful and demonic egos.  It’s conclusion underscores a fact that’s been hinted at since the series’ beginning; that space is an illusion. Continue reading