Harley Quinn 2×03 “Trapped” review

Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access/Amazon Prime Video)

STAR TREK: PICARD S01E04 “Absolute Candor” review

Star Trek: Picard airs new episodes Thursday’s on CBS All Access in North America. Internationally, episode air on Amazon Prime Video the following day.

Synopsis

The crew’s journey to Freecloud takes a detour when Picard orders a stop at the planet Vashti, where Picard and Raffi relocated Romulan refugees 14 years earlier. Upon arrival, Picard reunites with Elnor (Evan Evagora), a young Romulan he befriended during the relocation. Meanwhile, Narek continues his attempts to learn more about Soji while Narissa’s impatience with his lack of progress grows.

Review

Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access/Amazon Prime Video)

With the former Admiral Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) now out in space I went in to “Absolute Candor” with high expectations about the trajectory of the story. I instinctively felt like Star Trek: Picard was done with all the setup and moving on to the real meat of the story.

On the whole I was correct, but “Absolute Candor” still finds a way to set up even more plot threads as the complex narrative continues to slowly knit itself together.

When we last left Picard and the crew of the La Sirena they were bound for Freecloud in their hunt for scientist and synthetic junkie Bruce Maddox. But where we pick up it seems that the crew has taken a detour to make a stop at the planet Vashti, much to Raffi’s (Michelle Hurd) distress.

As with previous episodes, “Absolute Candor” tantalisingly teases out Picard’s history with the planet and its Romulan residents. We learn through the course of the first act that Picard and Raffi helped settle Romulan refugee’s here during the supernova evacuation efforts.

Flaskback scenes clever paint a very different picture of the Admiral during this period. We see a Picard older than we left him in Star Trek: Nemesis but warmed by his experience helping the Romulans. These scenes also introduce the Qowat Milat, Romulan warrior nuns. Yes I really did say nuns. Through the course of the episode we learn that they bind themselves to a hopeless cause as part of their discipline.

The Qowat Milat are harboring a young boy, Elnor, with whom Picard has formed a bond. He brings the young Elnor a book, The Three Musketeers, and the two indulge in some fencing.

All these scenes are expertly constructed to show us how Picard was prior to the disaster on Mars. It cleverly fills in more of the gaps and tugs at the heartstrings when seeing how cold he because in the intervening years after his exit from Starfleet.

It’s at this point when “Absolute Candor” pulls its first twist. As Picard and the young Elnor fence, he receives a call from Raffi and we learn that this is the moment he learned of the attack on Mars. It’s an incredibly heavy moment which arrives during a time of true levity for the episode and the series as a whole.

Another piece of the puzzle has arrived.

In the present we get to glimpse more of the relationship between Picard and Raffi. There’s more of an understanding between them now and so the dialogue and interplay is more balanced. He understands she isn’t (currently) in this mission for the long haul and she understands she needs Picard to further her goal.

As the two heatedly discuss returning to Vashti it brings about the second emotional turning point in the episode. Picard has a rare moment of weakness in regards to his health and explains to her that this might be his last chance to return to the planet. Though only a passing phrase in their conversation it lands heavily on the audience that Picard is almost thinking of this mission (and conversely Sir Patrick may be thinking the same of the show) as his victory lap or his last chance at redemption.

Of course all of this plays in brilliantly to the political undertone of the show. When the La Sirena arrives at Vashti things have radically changed. A Romulan underground threatens the delicate balance of peace, non-Romulans are no longer welcome and there are plenty of political factions and greed within the populous. Picard is no longer the welcome saviour, now he’s the unwelcome outsider.

All of these build up serves as the introduction for the adult Elnor, played by Evan Evagora. Unlike the other Qowat Milat, the adult Elnor holds a grudge against Picard for what he see’s as being abandoned by him.

This new facet of Romulan culture feels different to everything we’ve seen before. I really appreciate that Star Trek: Picard is digging further in to their culture but some of the setup around the Qowat Milat feels very Klingon to this Trek fan. The devotion to honour feels a little like the path well trodden for the franchise.

No spoilers for the third act from me as the culmination of the plot is something which I feel the audience needs to earn. It’s as exciting as it is well crafted. I will say the closing moments of “Aboslute Candor” finally show off a good space battle and that the episode has one final twist to unfold!

Elsewhere there’s plenty going on over on the Borg cube with Soji (Isa Briones) and Narek (Harry Treadaway) but honestly it felt dull this week. The scenes of them sliding along a Borg corridor in pure glee felt strangely out of place and unecessary. Whilst I understand Narek is trying to lure Soji to trust him, the moment just felt sloppy amongst what was an incredibly tight narrative.

Hats off to Peyton List for being possibly the most delightfully evil Romulan we’ve ever met though. Here’s hoping she’s the daughter of Denise Crosby’s Sela!

Verdict

“Absolute Candor” features another tightly woven narrative that saunters from a poignant opening through to an exciting conclusion.

8/10

Star Trek: Picard is set to star Patrick Stewart, Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Isa Briones, Harry Treadaway, Alison Pill, Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco and Evan Evagora. The series debuts on CBS All Access on January 23, 2020 followed by a release on Amazon Prime in the UK and internationally on January 24.


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Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)

BIRDS OF PREY (2002) S01E13 “Devil’s Eyes” review

Birds of Prey is available now on DVD and digital. The series can be streaming on DC Universe in North America.

Synopsis

Harley Queen hypnotizes Helena, who reveals the trio’s secrets. Kirk Baltz and Ian Reed Kesler guest star.

Review

And now the ends is near and so we face… the destruction of Gotham?!

Finally, after twelve episodes of build up we get the pay-off which we have all been waiting for. Harley Quinn (Mia Sara) emerges and Birds of Prey obliterates all its shackles to show us exactly what it was capable of.

Watching back “Devil’s Eyes” is a constant sore reminder of just how this should could have been had it been able to break free from all of the network conventions of the era.

Firstly, given the fact they knew that the series had been cancelled, Rachel Skarsten’s Dinah finds herself much more in control of her abilities and is a fully functioning member of the team. She’s more mature, she able to interact with more than just Alfred (Ian Abercombie), Helena (Ashley Scott) and Barbara (Dina Meyer) as she is given scenes – outside the clocktower no less! – alongside Detective Reese (Shemar Moore).

Likewise Moore is also able to join the action more as Birds of Prey finally moves on from the sexual tension between Reese and Huntress. Following the kiss at the end of the previous episode their relationship feels more balanced and more functional moving through this episode.

Alfred is even given a moment to get in on the fight as the clocktower is besieged by the unhinged Dr Quinzel.

There’s an aspect of the writers throwing absolutely everything at the screen because this was the last episode and because they loved their cast so much. The family aspect of production is never more evident than in seeing the entire cast, Rob Benedict included, in a scene together.

Something which Birds of Prey lacked when it came to its overarching plotline was more motivation for Harley. We knew she wanted her Mister J back and revenge for him being locked up. But her plans were really only one-and-done episodic stories. It lacked the finesse of an ongoing plan which built towards her actions in this episode.

I thoroughly enjoy her sudden use of a New Gotham scientist to steal a metahuman power to hypnotise and then using that power to take over the city. In fact I’d call it bloody genius for this series and easily the best idea they had outside of the pilot’s flashback scenes. But the downside is that once again it’s wrapped in some very dated storytelling tropes.

This scientist, whom we have never met, has a device which is able to transfer metahuman powers. The device itself looks like a throwback to Adam West’s Batman series which I hope was on purpose. At the throw of a giant switch you could almost imagine their brains being swapped. Of course this being “adult” television the poor metahuman has his eyes burned out and dies, leaving Harley with some trippy VFX where here eyes used to be.

It leads to some eleventh hour development for all three of the Birds as Huntress finds herself under Harley’s spell. Barbara is forced to get back up out of her chair and gets a couple more opportunities to kick some ass whilst Dinah steps up to become the field agent leader of the team whilst Barbara works on her spinal chord device.

There are speed bumps along the way. Harley takes control of Alfred which is maddening to watch and this leads to Wade (Shawn Christian) being killed off in an effort to make Harley and Barbara mortal enemies. Poor Gibson is brainwashed in to losing his mind which leads to him thinking he’s King Kong. It’s all quite hokey but if you have stuck with the show this far then honestly you will be eating it up.

It all culminates in a third act battle for the clocktower as Birds of Prey destroys its sets in what feels like a genuinely apocalyptic battle on a very small TV budget. The original version of the fight was soundtracked by the brilliant “All The Things She Said” by Tatu which has been replaced on home video due to licensing issues. The original is still available on YouTube if you want to see the scene how it was originally conceived.

The series absolutely leaves nothing on the table as everything gets involved in the tussle which see’s Barbara almost use lethal force on Harley.

As the series draws to a close there’s a feeling that none of these characters quite lived up to their comic book counterparts but all of them because lovable in their own ways. Made real by some great performances and brought together in a series which really stands as an early attempt to create a cinematic spectacle on a TV budget.

Verdict

Birds of Prey closes out its one and only season with an episode which aims big and, for the most part, achieves to be the series it should have been all along. It’s a sad reminder of what could (and should) have been.

8/10

Birds of Prey stars Ashley Scott as Helena Kyle/Huntress, Dina Meyer are Barbara Gordon/Oracle, Rachel Skarsten as Dinah Redmond, Shemar Moore as Detective Jessie Reese, Mia Sara as Dr Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn and Ian Abercombie as Alfred Pennyworth.


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Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access/Amazon Prime Video)

STAR TREK: PICARD S01E03 “The End Is The Beginning” review

Star Trek: Picard airs new episodes Thursday’s on CBS All Access in North America. Internationally, episode air on Amazon Prime Video the following day.

Synopsis

Completely unaware of her special nature, Soji continues her work and captures the attention of the Borg cube research project’s executive director. After rehashing past events with a reluctant Raffi, Picard seeks others willing to join his search for Bruce Maddox, including pilot and former Starfleet officer Cristóbal Rios (Santiago Cabrera).

Review

This week Star Trek: Picard finally takes to the stars as Jean-Luc (Sir Patrick Stewart) heads off world as the series begins to unravel its own complex arc.

“The End Is The Beginning” is a very literal title as this episode wraps up what has really been three episodes of setup and gets down to the nitty gritty of what’s going on and what needs to be resolved. That’s not to say this episode answers all your questions though. Far from it.

In fact “The End Is The Beginning” instead cleverly wraps up the small threads which began in episode one (reviewed here) and replaces them which some much larger plot strings which helpfully propel the series in a much more engaging (there’s that pun again) trajectory.

The setup we’ve witnessed so far has been nothing short of gripping. This week we open with more flashback scenes which deal with the attack on Mars by the rogue synthetics. This time we see the ramifications this had on Picard and Raffi’s (Michelle Hurd) careers at Starfleet. On first watch it was difficult to go beyond seeing the classic communicators on some brand new uniforms.

But the scene itself is actually telling us a lot more than it appears on first watch. We really get a deep glimpse into the relationship between the two characters which helps to make their present day interactions all the more emotional. We see them in a period where they were much more comfortable which each other. There’s a warmth between them at the start of the scene which unravels as he explains more of the meeting with Starfleet which ended with his resignation.

Hurd is currently my favourite new addition to the cast alongside Orla Brady. She really owns this scene as her world is clearly taken away from her due to Picard’s actions. It adds to much weight to her characterisation in the present day scenes that, overall, I would say this is the most emotional episode of the three so far.

Some reviewers have called out Star Trek: Picard for not being the shining beacon of hope that many feel Star Trek should be. I would suggest that this episode drives home the point that all is not lost and that Admiral Picard is the one who is going to give hope back to Starfleet and the rest of the galaxy.

The episode traverses much of the series ensemble cast now that they have, for the most part, been established. We spend amble time aboard the Borg ship being excavated by the Romulan task force as Soji (Isa Briones) meets with the programme director Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco).

Yes Hugh finally makes his debut in the series in this episode and he is not as we last left him. Though he appears closer to human he still appears to have visual scarring left from when he was assimilated in to the Borg collective. The series keeps his motivations for heading up the project a mystery but it seems there is much more to be de-assimilated than meets the eye. Particularly if you happen to be a Romulan.

Presumably at some point Picard will need to visit the cube and I can’t wait to see what that will have in store for us. The show seems to be carefully sticking to the “safe” areas of the cube for now, eagle-eyed fans will have noticed the sign proclaiming the number of days without an assimilation and I wonder just how long that will remain stable.

The Soji character is proving there’s almost as much going on in space as there is on Earth. As she delves in to the hangover Romulan Ex-B’s face there almost seems to be a more mythical element creeping in to the story.

This week we finally get to meet Santiago Cabrera’s Chris Rios. Though he only appears in a handful of scenes he certainly makes for an interesting addition to the cast. He has clear ties to Starfleet in his past which are going to be interesting to unravel going forwards. The fact he has (presumably) programmed an EMH to look just like him is also a little… quirky.

Once again I have to single out the amazing score of Jeff Russo. His work on this series is outstanding. There’s something heartwarming and yet emotional heavy in so much of the music that it is equally as compelling as the story and characters themselves.

Verdict

“The End Is The Beginning” puts a full stop in the setup of Picard‘s grand mystery and fires the starting gun on what looks set to be a compelling storyline going forwards.

8/10

Star Trek: Picard is set to star Patrick Stewart, Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Isa Briones, Harry Treadaway, Alison Pill, Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco and Evan Evagora. The series debuts on CBS All Access on January 23, 2020 followed by a release on Amazon Prime in the UK and internationally on January 24.


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Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)

BIRDS OF PREY (2002) S01E11 “Reunion” review

Birds of Prey is available now on DVD and digital. The series can be streaming on DC Universe in North America.

Synopsis

Two of Helena’s former classmates are murdered at their high-school reunion; Reese gets closer to learning Helena’s true identity.

Review

At some point Birds of Prey had to delve further in to the past of Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott). Given that both Batman and Catwoman were only gifted to the show for it’s opening narration it fell to the writers to try and craft a story which took place following the tragic events which took place early in Helena’s life.

Team that with the popularity of high school series Smallville and what do you get? A high school reunion episode with an X-Files twist!

“Reunion” is another prime example of Birds of Prey taking a classic TV cliche and presenting it with a contemporary twist. In fact, this is possibly one of the most inventive episodes of the season as it allows the writers to do something different, whilst bringing it full circle back to the development of Huntress’ character.

As an episode “Reunion” signifies Birds of Prey‘s most self-aware story to-date and stands alongside only the finale as one of the later episode to make sure of the great recurring cast alongside the leads.

Dare I say, the episode has everything a Birds of Prey fan could want: Helena/Reese plot development, a healthy dose of metahuman villainy, further screen time for Barbara (in scenes culled from the original pilot) and even some time for Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) to work alongside the rest of the team.

But there are still some design flaws on show. The episodes budget does mean that the VFX on our camouflaged villain are somewhat hokey but in line with what we have come to expect for a series of its time. Though they would stand up well against other series of its era, by modern standards the show does look somewhat dated when it incorporates these kinds of effects.

Given there are only two episodes left “Reunion,” as I have said, utilised footage from the unaired version of the series pilot. These scenes were the original break-up between Barbara (Dina Meyer) and Wade (Shawn Christian). The sudden change of heart is attributed to a (newly filmed) dinner between Barbara, Wade and his parents from earlier in the episode. His parents feeling that her disability is ultimately too much for them to endorse the relationship.

Birds of Prey really only toyed with using Barbara’s wheelchair as a social issue on a couple of occasions and always tied to her relationship with Wade. Though the most acceptable method of utilising the plot point at the time, the writers missed out on an opportunity to use this to start more challenging conversations about how disabilities were perceived.

Ultimately the episode belongs to Helena. Ashley Scott is able to branch out and show a softer side to the character as she meets an old crush from her high school days. Helena shy? No, not our Huntress! But yes there’s more depth to her character that comes through her exposure to people from her past.

The vulnerability that having a case so close to home has for her is also able to, finally, bring the story with Detective Reese (Shemar Moore) on leaps and bounds. When she finally opens up to him and reveals her true identity – poorly hidden by her lack of a mask – it feels like a major turning point for the series. Sadly it comes a little too late to be able to save it from cancellation.

Verdict

Birds of Prey utilises its metahuman database to veer off course in to The X-Files territory with interesting and ambitious results.

7/10

Birds of Prey stars Ashley Scott as Helena Kyle/Huntress, Dina Meyer are Barbara Gordon/Oracle, Rachel Skarsten as Dinah Redmond, Shemar Moore as Detective Jessie Reese, Mia Sara as Dr Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn and Ian Abercombie as Alfred Pennyworth.


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