Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Rings of Power S1E8 “Alloyed”

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky.”— J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings

Rings of Power

In its series finale, Rings of Power resolves its lingering mysteries (Who is Sauron? What’s the deal with The Stranger?) and sets up new paths, both dark and light, for its characters. Writers Gennifer Hutchison, J.D. Payne, and Patrick McKay predominantly focus on the Harfoots and Elves/Halbrand storylines with a slight side trip to Numenor showing how the defeat of their armies by Adar has started to destabilize this great human kingdom. However, “Alloyed” is mostly focused on setting up an epic conflict between good and evil that isn’t resolved until millennia later in the Lord of the Rings, and it nails this aspect while not neglecting the characters’ emotional arcs. Translation: this episode features quite a few hugs.

In their few appearance this season, the mysterious female mystics that popped up around the Harfoots’ storyline have been a bit of an annoyance, and in the end, just become a plot device to reveal more information about the Stranger (Daniel Weyman), namely, that he’s not Sauron, but a wizard like Gandalf, Saruman, or Radagast. (A closing piece of dialogue hints that he’s the first of those.) This sets up a really cool set-piece where the Stranger wizard-duels the three mystics, who are from Rhun in the east of Middle Earth, showcases his full power, and starts to speak in complete sentences while keeping his bond with the Harfoots, especially Nori (Markella Kavenagh). Kavenagh continues to be a delight as the reluctant hero, especially towards the end of the episode where she doesn’t know which direction to go with The Stranger. Rings of Power‘s writers have done a wonderful job making the Harfoots delightful, eccentric characters, and it’s fun seeing Sadoc (Lenny Henry), Malva, Poppy (Megan Richards), and Nori confuse the mystics even if there ends up being a sad cost in the end. They definitely embody ordinary bravey and will be (presumably) missed next season although I’m 100% here for The Stranger and Nori’s road trip through Middle Earth because Weyman and Kavenagh have adorably odd chemistry.

The main meat of “Alloyed’s” narrative concerns Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) working together to find a way to save the Elves from fading and dying forever using the one chunk of mithril that Elrond got from Durin IV before Khazad-Dum decided to sever their alliance with the Elves. This ends up being a hopeless situation with Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker) telling Elrond to shut down the forges and give up on Middle Earth until Halbrand somehow has all the answers. Celebrimbor treats him like some kind of savant even quoting his frankly creepy ideas about power over the flesh to Galadriel. Coupled with the smoky interior of Celebrimbor’s forge, Galadriel starts to figure out that something isn’t quite right with the supposed king of the Southlands. Credit definitely has to be given to director Wayne Che Yip for using Clark’s body language and glances between her and Vickers to build the big reveal that shifts the status quo of the series while also returning Galadriel to her original motivation of defeating Sauron.

Yes, the early season theories are true, and Halbrand is actually Sauron as his lies of omission all flood back to Galadriel in a powerful scene by the river when he reveals that he’s been manipulating her all along all culminating in a dream sequence featuring her dead brother Finrod. Everything from accepting kingship of the Southlands to helping him on the raft was all orchestrated. Yip, Payne, McKay, and Hutchison explore pivotal scenes from their relationship this season and twist it as Sauron offers Galadriel a place by his side to heal/rule Middle Earth featuring dialogue that is very close to what Galadriel says when Frodo offers her the One Ring in Fellowship of the Ring. And speaking of the One Ring, that idea is very much in play in a more subtle way than, say, the Death Star plans showing up in the Star Wars prequels as Halbrand wants to place the mithril alloy in Gil-Galad’s crown instead of spreading it out among three Rings, which is what Celebrimbor, Galadriel, and Elrond eventually do.

The Sauron/Halbrand reveal works because he acts like has all along this season instead of immediately turning into a mustache twirler. Halbrand’s ability to work the room and get out of dangerous situations has been a part of his personality and is aided by Charlie Vickers’ charisma as a performer. He got Galadriel to persuade Miriel to send Numenorean ships and armies to help the Southlands so, of course, he’s going to ingratiate himself to Celebrimbor and use it as a learning opportunity to expand his own powers after his failed experiments in the north of Middle Earth. Visually, Wayne Che Yip uses the dream/mind sequence to set up the rivalry between Galadriel and Halbrand with a glimpse of the classic Sauron armor in the river where they’re arguing. But it’s also failed friendship with Galadriel bringing aid to the Southlands, and everything that she did for him being worth nothing. Thankfully, she has a real friendship with Elrond, and the writers share a sweet anecdote from his childhood to show that Galadriel and Elrond have a genuine relationship to go with their political connection too.

True to its title, Rings of Power and “Alloyed” end up being about different kinds of power whether that’s the mystics’ fire and shape-shifting and helping the Stranger remember his abilities as a wizard, Celebrimbor’s craft in forging the Elven rings, or the darkness that Halbrand has only hinted at. But there’s also the power of the community of the Harfoots who work together to put the Stranger on the right path and feel sad when Nori leaves with him, but look for her return as Poppy takes over as trail finder. Rings of Power is at its best when it focused on the relationships at its heart instead of fanning the flames of fan theories. However, “Alloyed” pulls off both the Sauron/Halbrand reveal while also reinforcing the friendships between Nori and the Stranger and Elrond and Galadriel.

The first season of Rings of Power ends in a dark place, but not without hope, which is definitely what I expected from a Tolkien adaptation as Payne, McKay, and Hutchison make an origin story for the Elf rings, Mt. Doom, and eventually the One Ring compelling and watchable on a weekly basis and even added nuance to “evil” characters like Halbrand and Adar while finding shades of darkness and doubt in characters that appeared in Lord of the Rings like Elrond, Galadriel, and Elendil. Plus the show looks damn good from the costume choices matching Galadriel’s mental state in this episode to the almost ASMR feel of Eregion’s forge not to mention the various other locations in the show, like Forodwraith, Khazad-Dum, and especially Numenor and Valinor.

Overall Verdict: 8.4

TV Review: Lord of the Rings – Rings of Power S1E4 “The Great Wave”

The Great Wave

Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power hits the midway point with portents of doom and unexpected alliances in “The Great Wave”. Writers Stephany Folsom, J.D. Payne, and Patrick McKay continue the focus on the kingdom of Numenor beginning with a powerful, opening dream sequence where the queen regent Miriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) sees the island destroyed by the titular giant wave while she is blessing babies in the palace. Although she jails Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) for sedition, she is more open to working with the Elves and being faithful to the gods of Middle Earth, the Valar, then she initially let on leading to a surprising conclusion to this episode. As well as spending time in Numenor, “The Great Wave” turns its eye to how the humans of the Southlands are faring and offers a first glimpse at the mysterious Adar (Joseph Mawle) plus a return to Elrond’s (Robert Aramayo) visit to the Dwarves. The episode is chock-full with references that fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien-penned source material will appreciate, but lacks the visual wow factor and emotions of the previous episode as it sets up the back half of the season.

Miriel’s decision to either side with Galadriel and help the humans of the Southlands or continue an isolationist stance is at the center of “The Great Wave”. Galadriel might have great power, but she’s a terrible diplomat and gets a lesson in interpersonal communication from her cellmate Halbrand (Charlie Vickers). The characterization is a little condescending and feels like the writers needed some conflict to spin their wheels until the real reason why Miriel decides to help the Elves comes into play. Clark does get to show off Galadriel’s sheer presence and unyielding presence when she handles a palantir (A magic, seeing stone that can see far-off locations/possible futures) like a champ impressing Miriel, who is revealed to be barely hanging on by a thread because of her sick father Tar-Palantir. As regent, she’s very much an interim head coach, who wants to keep the country/team sailing smoothly and not tear everything down and start a new status quo. It takes an unsettling portent in a moment of visual splendor from director Wayne Che Yip to disrupt this.

The Southlands’ scenes explore the effects of the supernatural on Middle Earth’s status quo from a different perspective. Building off last week’s fog-obscured character reveal, Folsom, Payne, and McKay stay mystery-shrouded around the character Adar letting makeup and costume design shows that he’s been through some hard time and has an affinity to the Elves, hence, the name. These visual touches cause Arondir to freak out a little bit and have spawned even more fan theories. Mawle plays Adar with unyielding authority offering no terms except surrender to Arondir, who is to run the message to the humans of the Southlands. However, the real supernatural stuff comes from Bronwyn’s (Nazanin Boniadi) son Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) and his Morgul blade as he and his friend/bad influence Rowan (Ian Blackburn) go to the village to get supplies for the starving Southlanders.

The Great Wave
this kid is so fucking annoying for no reason…

However, I have mixed feelings about the Theo storyline. The inclusion of the blade and the namedropping of Sauron from tavern owner Waldreg (Geoff Morrell nails the creepy old man vibes.) add an air of menace and a connection to what’s going on with Galadriel and Numenor. Theo himself doesn’t get much characterization beyond being a scared, annoying brat, who has the plot armor to get around a legion of Orcs and return to the tower of Ostirith where the people of the Southlands are taking shelter. There’s a point about the seductive nature of power in his hunger to hold onto the blade, but mostly, I think the cool, evil sword is wasted on him. The final chase sequence does add to Brownyn’s mom of the year case as she runs through hails of arrows to find Theo with Arondir (A potential future step-dad?) in tow doing cool slow-mo ducks and dodges and tricks worthy of another heartthrob Silvan Elf (Legolas). I like that the writers and Yip keep showing how vulnerable the Orcs are to light, which could come in handy down the road.

Definitely compared to my reviews of the first three episodes, I’ve been a bit negative of this one, but “The Great Wave” wasn’t in a total wash, and lot of that was thanks to a return to Khazad-Dum. Elrond thinks there’s something secret going on in the mines and doesn’t buy Prince Durin IV’s (Owain Arthur) wife Disa’s (Sophia Omvete) excuses and ends up going on a mini-adventure through Khazad-Dum finally finding out that the dwarves have discovered a new metal named mithril. However, this series of events is more than just an origin story for the metal that corrupted the dwarves and saved Frodo’s life in Fellowship of the Ring, but further develops Prince Durin and Elrond’s friendship that they must balance with duty.

Both Elves and Dwarves think that they’re spying on each other, but Elrond also helps with Prince Durin’s strained relationship with his taciturn, my way or the high way father King Durin III (Peter Mullan) by saying that he wishes that he could have had one last conversation with his father, Earendil. Earendil didn’t actually die, but was placed in the stars by the Valar so Elrond has to basically relive the grief every time he sees the night sky. This anecdote isn’t just fan service for Silmarillion, but adds a dimension of grief to Elrond’s character, especially when he tells Durin IV to just have a conversation with his dad: something he could never have again. However, despite Prince Durin IV giving Elrond mithril as a token of friendship, or Disa’s gorgeous song to save the caved-in miners, there’s a darker edge to wrap up this plot as Durin IV basically comissions Durin III as a spy on the Elves. Duty comes before friendship yet again.

Even though it doesn’t do it in the most entertaining way with time-filling arguments and focuses on one-dimensional characters like Theo, “The Great Wave” gets Rings of Power to its mid-point goal with the Elves and humans of Nuemnor allying to fight evil in the Southlands. Thankfully, it’s not all sunshine and roses with some of the humans of the Southlands being followers of Sauron plus the whole vision of Numenor underwater, its feeble king Tar-Palantir, and Pharazon using the military expedition for political opportunism promising his men that they’ll be giving the Elves orders. However, hopefully, later episodes have more of a personal or emotional connection like the scenes with Durin IV and Elrond aren’t just focused on getting from narrative point A to point B.

Overall Verdict: 7.6

TV Review: Lord of Rings – The Rings of Power S1E3 “Adar”

Adar

The stakes rise in Rings of Power‘s third episode “Adar” that opens with the Silvan Elf Arondir (Ismail Cruz Cordova) and his comrades far from the humans they used to protect or their watch tower, but in the chains of the Orcs that have been living in tunnels underneath the Southlands because the sun burns their skin. They serve a mysterious being called Adar, who may or may not be the Sauron, the Big Bad of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Arondir’s plotline is a true plunge into darkness and mirrors the show as a whole taking a more tense tone with little bits and bobs of hope, especially in the Harfoots’ plotline with the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) being a little more helpful than he initially let on. However, the big highlight of “Adar” is the introduction of the island kingdom of Numenor that makes Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) arcs more compelling than floating around the Sundering Sea, introduces a bunch of new characters and political intrigue, and finally gives director Wayne Che Yip a chance to show off the sheer glory of this kingdom that makes its later offshoots, Gondor and Arnor, look like pale reflections with waterfalls, giant statues of former kings, and cool towers and architecture.

Even though it’s nice that Galadriel and Halbrand get picked up by sailor Elendil (Lloyd Owen) instead of floating on a piece of drift wood, Numenor is no picnic and is quite charged political situation. During a walk and talk exposition sequence, Galadriel explains to Halbrand that Numenor was given to the humans who helped the Elves in the war against Morgoth, but their relationship has disappeared. The current ruler of Numenor, Miriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and her advisor Pharazon (Trystan Gravelle) perpetuate a very boot straps-y myth of self-reliance and instantly call out Galadriel’s explanation of Numenor’s origins. Coupled with their xenophobia towards Elves and other humans, the parallels to the current day United States are pretty clear, especially in the individual treatment that Galadriel and Halbrand. Miriel’s xenophobia also comes out when she interacts with Elendil giving him grief because his name means “Elf-friend” and generally treating him like a land mine about to go off.

Because of her reputation and abilities, Galadriel is kept as a political prisoner, but, of course, she uses her Elf parkour abilities to break out and try to escape on a small skiff until Elendil finds her. Even though they’re initially both wary of each other, Elendil breaks the ice by speaking the Elf language Quenya and mentioning a Hall of Lore that becomes incredibly important in the young season’s overarching plot. With the exception of a really weird slow-mo riding sequence, the interactions between Elendil and Galadriel are one of the highlights of the episode and show that maybe there is a chance for Elves and humans to work together against an evil that is still very much present in Middle Earth as evidenced by what’s going on in Arondir’s story.

Adar

However, Galadriel doesn’t occupy all of Elendil’s time in “Adar”. Writers Jason Cahill and Justin Doble explore his family life too, including his relationship with son Isildur (Maxim Baldry) and daughter Earien (Ema Horvath). They introduce Isildur by him staring out into space during the middle of an intense exercise that’s part of his training to join basically the Numenorean navy, but he has the instincts and hero’s heart to save one of his comrades who almost falls overboard and goes out to sea. Later, we learn that joining the navy was Elendil’s idea, and he really wants to sail west to Middle Earth, which is why he was staring over the sea and fanboys over Galadriel. Isildur’s explorer spirit also inspires his sister to join the builder’s guild, and Baldry brings a lot of youthful energy into his performance while establishing that he’s light years from the Isildur, who famously cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger in the prologue of Fellowship of the Ring. The family interactions already add depth to Elendil’s character, who might be all laconic and no-nonsense about his job as a sailor (and more recently Galadriel’s minder), but also has an air of nobility to him.

Speaking of nobility, Halbrand has his own side-plot and semi-big reveal in “Adar” as he is turned away from working from a blacksmith because he doesn’t have a guild badge, attempts to con a smith out of a badge, and ends up in a back-alley, bare knuckle brawl. Vickers plays Halbrand like a pot put on simmer for most of the episode, but towards the end, Yip finally has him cut loose in a literal bone-breaking street fight that ends up putting him in prison where Galadriel ends up visiting him and regaling him with his true background. He’s a survivor and tries to do heroic things like rescue Elves from drowning because Halbrand is making up for the actions of his ancestor, the king of the Southlands, who cast in his lot with Morgoth. But, despite this reveal, Halbrand remains a slippery figure and the subject of many fan theories. Charlie Vickers brings a roguish charm to the role, especially in the scenes where he’s manipulating Numenoreans from Queen Regent Miriel to the local barflies to try to get what he wants in contrast with Galadriel, who is more straightforward due to her power and reputation.

Adar

Numenor might be the flashier storyline in visuals and running time, but “Adar’s” emotional core finds its emotional core with Arondir and the Harfoots. Wayne Che Yip gives the scenes of Arondir and the Elves in captivity the look of a fever dream that works with the more raw and unhinged character designs for the Orcs, who are incredibly vulnerable to the sun and wear hoods and helmets of bone to protect them. More so than the Peter Jackson films, Rings of Power leans into the fact that the Orcs are a twisted reflection of Elves, who destroy instead of preserving natural life. This comes to a head when the former Watchwarden (Simon Merrells) passionately refuses to cut down a tree for his captors, but tearfully, Arondir agrees to do it so he can scope out a possible escape route.

Ismael Cruz Cordova’s facial expressions are heartbreaking as he prays in Quenya and feels the guilt of taking a life while also having a glimpse at freedom. However, some well-placed arrows and a slobbering and genuinely terrifying take on a warg puts an end to this although Arondir ends up living if only to be brought before Adar as the episode comes to a close. Although both the Watchwarden and Arondir’s partner Medhor (Augustus Prew) end up dying in the several escape attempts this episode, “Adar” redeems them as heroic figures instead of the Silvan Elf equivalent of narrow-minded paper pushers like in the first episode of the series. It also shows the futility of resisting Adar and the Orcs in small groups and the need for a concentrated resistance effort like Galadriel has mentioned to Halbrand and even Gil-Galad and Elrond throughout the series.

Adar

Finally, Yip, Cahill, and Doble continue to explore the quirkiness and tragedy of the Harfoots as the caravan’s leader Sadoc (Lenny Henry) finds out that Nori (Markella Kavanagh) and Poppy (Megan Richards) have been harboring the Stranger while busting them stealing a page of star charts from his book. This leads to the serious consequence of the Brandyfoots being sent to the back of a caravan, which is a virtual death sentence because Nori’s father Largo (Dylan Smith) has a bad injury and can barely lift his cart. Although, tempered with gentle humor and even a bit of innuendo, Sadoc’s big speech to the caravan (Apparently, the hobbits’ ancestors loved public speaking too.) that includes a memorial for all the Harfoots lost on the trail shows how difficult life is for them in Middle Earth.

She doesn’t speak, but Richards’ face is heart-breaking when Sadoc mentions that the entire Proudfellow family passed away, and Poppy can see a similar fate for the Brandyfoots. “Adar” spends a little more time with Nori’s parents Largo and Marigold (Sara Zwangobani), who we find out is Largo’s second wife and really fears for what is going to happen to the family. Smith still brings the great comedic timing and wisecracks, but there’s definitely an air of sadness, especially as he strains and falls behind when the caravan leaves towards the end of the episode. However, this is where the Stranger comes in handy, shows that he can help and not just put out fireflies’ lights, and spawn even more fan theories. The Harfoots’ plotline seems a bit disconnected from what’s going on in Numenor, the Southlands, Khazad-Dum, and Lindon, but they represent kind, good, and definitely eccentric folks, who work together to survive in a (literal) big world that could be shattered if Adar’s evil is allowed to spread.

With its glorious introduction of the very flawed kingdom of Numenor as well as the emotions, tension, and tragedy in the Harfoot and Arondir storylines, “Adar” is easily the best hour of Rings of Power so far this season. The show’s theme of the need to put aside past differences and unite in the face of rising evil starts to emerge, and writers Jason Cahill and Justin Doble really get what makes the different factions of Elves, humans, Orcs, and Harfoots tick adding depth to characters as different as Elendil, Halbrand, Arondir, and Sadoc Burrows.

Overall Verdict: 8.7

Review: Shudder’ s 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time

Horror Movie

Lists and rankings concerning the best of anything are bound to be controversial by their very nature. Some might argue against the inherently subjective dimensions of the premise itself, saying it invalidates the entire exercise altogether. Others find validation through them, a way to dole out a few “told you so’s” in a debate. For me, lists aren’t about any of that.

A good list offers a service, a good excuse to go through the things being discussed by either engaging with them for the first time or getting reacquainted with them to test out the premise of the list. Shudder’s 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time does precisely that. It’s not interested in laying down the law in the field of horror in an inflexible way (despite what the series’ title blatantly implies), instead it’s all about giving viewers more than enough reasons to indulge in well-crafted scares or to get reacquainted with old haunts with a fresh set of eyes.

The horror streaming service’s new series is basically a spiritual successor to Bravo’s 2004 miniseries The 100 Scariest Movie Moments, an influential production in its own right that gave horror fans material to debate and revisit once it aired. The first episode of the Shudder series, which is currently available to stream, goes from entries 101-89, stopping on each one to give a general idea of what the film is about and why it’s memorable as a whole before finally landing on its scariest moment.

Horror movie
It Follows

I’m not going to spoil the whole list here, but I will reveal entry #101 as it sets the tone well and signals a desire to not just go over the same horror classics that have dominated these kinds of countdowns before. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014) kicks things off fast and intense in what I took as a kind of statement. It had that “this isn’t your parents’ best of horror list” feel to it and it imbued the following entries with a surprising sense of anticipation.

Part of what also made the first entry so exciting was how it presented the format for the series, especially when it comes to its commentators. Instead of going for a mashup of quick edits and cuts of speakers giving bite-sized observations on the movie, each segment focused largely on one leading voice supported by shorter horror expert interventions, which included directors, journalists, scholars, experts, actors, and celebrity fans. The tone was celebratory but focused, not interested in quick quips or in making fun of the movie (something that Bravo, E!, and VH1 would go on to do in their own countdown-type shows).

An impressive cast of commentators graces the screen throughout, too. Tananarive Due, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Tom Holland (the director of Fright Night and Child’s Play, not Spider-Man), Tony Todd, Brea Grant, and Gigi Saúl Guerrero are among the experts brought in to dissect each scary moment and their insight is the stuff of horror nerd dreams.

There’s a good mix of veteran industry names and newer or emerging voices within the community to make each discussion come off as fresh. Nothing feels recycled, giving every movie a chance to be seen through a different lens. This seems to be the aim of the series, to favor new interpretations and to dare consider films that haven’t had the chance to get much of a spotlight elsewhere.

Mulholland Drive

For instance, I never expected David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) to be one of the selections, but its inclusion was not only welcome but given the treatment it deserves as a unique film that freely indulges in horror in its storytelling. Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963) follows close enough to make the ranking come off as modern and not tied down by tradition or cannon.

I was also pleased to see the range of time periods on display as newer lists tend to add newer productions at the expense of older ones despite their relevance and overall filmic impact. On the contrary, the show goes lengths to reassure fans the old and the new can coexist and elevate each other. There’s even recognition of a previous selection’s influence on a movie that comes further down on the list.

All of this to say that The 101 Scariest Movie Moments of All Time is shaping up to be an invaluable piece of horror content, especially in getting viewers to watch more horror. It’s a fun, non-combative celebration of the genre that invites appreciation rather than contentious debate over which movie should come first or last. Give it a watch and then go and get scared watching the movies that made it into the list.

TV Review: The Lord of the Rings : Rings of Power S1E1-E2 “Shadows of the Past”/”Adrift

The Lord of the Rings : Rings of Power

After much hype and anticipation, Amazon Studios’ adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth stories dropped with its first two episodes this past week. The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power isn’t an adaptation of Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or even The Silmarillion, but instead uses the appendices and prologue from The Lord of the Rings novel to weave a story set after the defeat of Middle Earth’s first great foe Morgoth, but before the forging of the Rings of Power and the return of Sauron as seen in the first few minutes of the Fellowship of the Ring film. There are some familiar faces like Galadriel and Elrond, but also new ones like the Brandyfoots and Proudfellow families, Prince Durin IV, and the mysterious Halbrand and the Stranger. The first two episodes have a general through-line of evil rising across Middle Earth affecting all races from the High Elves of the West to the humans of the South and even the nomadic Harfoots. (Someone in the comments will probably say, “Harfeet!”) They generally do a solid job of introducing the characters, conflicts, and location in a visually dazzling way ; honestly, the show has better visuals than dialogue except for the Dwarves and Harfoots.

“Shadows of the Past”

The first episode of Rings of Power opens in a similar manner to the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring with a voiceover from the Elf queen Galadriel. However, she’s played by Morfydd Clark in the show, and her voiceover tells the story of her childhood in the deathless land of Valinor where two trees kept everything in perpetual light until they were destroyed by Morgoth, an evil so strong that he’s not even shown on screen and just depicted as a dark rot. This evil leads to an epic war where Amazon Studios has shown that no expense is spared in regards to CGI eagles, dragons, ships, and fireballs and also gives Galadriel her motivation in the series because her brother Finrod was killed by Sauron, who may have survived after the war and is being hunted by Galadriel and her Elves.

However, writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay subvert the epic quest narrative of both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and instead show a world between two wars from a variety of perspectives in a kind of “People’s History of Middle Earth”. Using a cool visual of the map of Middle Earth to transition between each location, director J.A. Bayona introduces different groups of characters, including the aforementioned High Elves Galadriel, her king Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker), and his herald/speechwriter Elrond (Robert Aramayo) plus the Harfoots, a kind of proto-Hobbit people, two mysterious Hunters, and a village of humans watched over by the Silvan Elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who is romantically interested in the town healer Bronywn (Nazanin Boniadi).

Even though they’re from disparate locations, they’re connected thematically by the lingering effect of evil on Middle Earth although Sauron is supposedly defeated. This theme is handled directly in Galadriel’s plot lines as she takes her battalion to the farthest Northern wastes of Forodwaith to seek out traces of evil. Elves using their weapons to scale a beyond icy cliff is a powerful image to show the extents that Galadriel will take in her quest for revenge as she repeatedly waves off her compatriots’ requests to take shelter and return to Gil-galad the next day. This leads to danger and a sleekly choreographed battle with an Ice Troll in a cave that is so cold that the Elves’ torches give off no heat and, of course, a mutiny.

The Lord of the Rings : Rings of Power

Throughout the episode, Galadriel is perceived as a rebellious figure, who still believes in the pervasive nature of evil even as Gil-galad holds a ceremony for her and her soldiers as well as giving them the opportunity to return to Valinor and basically live in Elf heaven forever. Through her tone of voices and the pain in her eyes, Morfydd Clark’s performance nails the fact that Galadriel is older than, say, Elrond and has seen true, primal, light-destroying evil and can tell it’s coming back even though this isn’t convenient politically for the Elves of Middle Earth. It all builds up to a spine-chilling climax where she would rather leap into the cold water of the Sundering Sea than have peace in Valinor. Bayona and cinematographer Oscar Faura flood the frame with life as the other Elves accept their eternal rest while Galadriel flinches, grabs her brother’s sword, and peaces out. Clark brings a lot of conviction to the role of Galadriel. I’m definitely invested in her story moving forward even if some parts of it are weirdly structured like Finrod doing a Bill Murray in Lost in Translation whisper to her at the beginning at the episode and revealing it at the end.

The scenes with the Harfoots and the humans of the South plus Arondir are more atmosphere-setting than jumping head-first into the series’ plot. And that’s totally okay for a first episode because we get to see the effects that the Elves’ war against Morgoth had on ordinary, mortal folks. The Harfoots have chosen the hiding in plain sight route, and a clever little setpiece shows why they weren’t mentioned in the great stories and tales. Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavanagh) is the standout in this episode with her firecracker energy and curiosity about the outside world, but Lenny Henry’s Sadoc Burrows brings wisdom and good humor as he pores over a book of symbols to explain the natural, or supernatural phenomena around him. They don’t get as much screen time as the Elves or humans, but a strange visitor is sure to change that.

Arondir, Bronwyn, and the various Silvan Elves and humans of the Southlands lack the charm of the Harfoots or the charisma and wow factor of the High Elves, but provide the most interesting perspective on the nature of evil with a side of colonialism and Elf/human tension. The reason why the Silvan Elves watch Bronwyn’s village is because they supported Morgoth ages ago and are afraid that they’ll turn to evil again. It’s super paternalistic and reminds me a lot of why the United States still has military bases in places like German, Japan, Italy, South Korea, and to a lesser extent now, the Philippines.

Because Elves are immortal, they see centuries as no time at all and still hold a grudge towards these villages for helping Morgoth even though the only thing that happens in them is the occasional bar brawl. The only reason that Arondir lingers in the village is because he is romantically interested in Bronwyn, who is from a village that helped Morgoth even more during the war. He sees evil as something in the past, but his watchwarden still thinks the humans in the villages are evil people and is glad to leave their outposts behind and return west. The interactions between Arondir and all non-Bronwyn humans show the tension between Elves and humans and their long memories versus short. Throw in the presence of actual evil in the village, and it introduces an intriguing element of moral greyness even if the characters in this plotline are about as compelling as Skyrim NPCs.

“Shadows of the Past” features a compelling protagonist in Galadriel and also introduces a variety of POVs during this era of Middle Earth while featuring lavish production values, especially the sequences in Valinor and Forodwaith. It’s a lovely appetizer before hopefully is an intriguing feast about unlikely heroes and an ever-pervasive evil.

The Lord of the Rings : Rings of Power

“Adrift”

Director J.A. Bayona continues to use imagery to weave together the disparate characters and locations with Galadriel swimming back to Middle Earth under the stars while Nori and the hilarious Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) investigate an amnesiac stranger (Daniel Weyman) who has fallen from the sky and has some kind of power involving flame, darkness, and other scary stuff. Richard and Markella Cavanagh’s chemistry is a highlight of this episode as they try to help out this “Big Person” while also fulfilling their duties as part of the Harfoot community even though the free-wheeling nature of the settlement is a good cover for them bringing snails and checking on their mysterious visitor. They have the same vibe as Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein’s characters from Lady Bird, but in the wilds of Middle Earth. Weyman’s performance as the Stranger almost has a Frankenstein’s Monster quality to it with him enjoying a meal of snails and then causing every firefly in Poppy and Nori’s lantern to go out. He will definitely be the source of many fan theories.

Another fan theory spawner is Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a pretty boy from the Southlands, who Galadriel ends up escaping with on a bit of driftwood after a pretty epic monster destroys the raft of a group of not-so-nice sailors that they were with earlier in the episode. Both Galadriel and Halbrand share a common hatred of Orcs because they had killed someone important in their lives, which causes Galadriel to immediately order him to take him to the last place where he saw them. However, she’s just a wandering Elf on the Sundering Sea, and Halbrand waves this off. The only thing they really have in common is survival at this point, and there’s even a parallel in Galadriel leaving her soldiers in the previous episode and Halbrand leaving his crew in this one as they try to accomplish their goals. Galadriel takes more of a backseat in this episode after anchoring the first one, but Halbrand being from the Southlands welds her storyline to the one of Bronwyn, Arondir, and the village.

There’s not a lot of great characterization and Bronwyn’s village continues to feel like a generic fantasy town setting, but Bayona does do a little mini-horror film with Bronwyn, her son Theo, and and one gnarly, bone helmet wearing orc that has been under the house and is scaring all the rats and mice. There’s jump scares, swarming rats, tight spaces, and this bit of the episode feels more Lovecraft than Tolkien. But it’s nice to see Orcs as slasher movie monsters and not just cannon fodder and to see how they would actually affect regular people in a village versus the trained warriors that usually fight them in the Peter Jackson films. The creature design works fits the recurring them of decay and rot with a bloated head spilling black blood. Also, we get to see Bronwyn be a badass and see her son Theo continue to be enthralled with the mysterious part of a blade he found that behaves similarly to one in Fellowship of the Ring. It’s nice to see that Middle Earth can continue to be home to different genres, especially horror.

The Lord of the Rings : Rings of Power

The final plotline in “Adrift” follows Elrond working with Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), who wants to build a forge and tower to create something with real “power”. Elrond suggests that they visit his friend Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) in the underground Dwarf city of Khazad-Dum aka the Mines of Moria. Writer Gennifer Hutchison uses some wonderful intertextuality with Elrond talking up Dwarven hospitality a la Gimli in the Fellowship of the Ring only to get spurned at the gate and only allowed in if he takes part in a ceremonial rock smashing contest, which he loses to Durin, but still gets to spend time with him thanks to the kindness and his good humor of his wife Disa (A warm, yet humorous performance from Sophia Nomvete aka the first female Dwarf to have a speaking role in any Tolkien property.)

When Durin and Elrond interact, the politics are cast aside, and Elrond gets berated for being a bad friend and not being there for his wedding or the birth of his two children. In another excellent use of how Elves see time differently from other races because of their immortality, Elrond basically treats 20 years like not seeing someone for a couple months or so. However, he still genuinely cares about Durin and spends the dinner asking questions about how he and Disa met (At work, of course!) before broaching the topic of working with the Elves. Of course, Durin III isn’t thrilled with and thinks that the Elves will exploit them although Elrond and Celebrimbor are genuinely curious in learning their methods that include singing to the stone to figure out where to sculpt or carve. This anecdote shared by Disa continues to show how Rings of Power is genuinely interested in showing the day to day life of the folks of Middle Earth along with its slow-burn return of evil/mystery men overarching story.

“Adrift” has good humor, a few scares, and Markella Kavanagh continues to be a delight as Nori Brandyfoot. The appearance of an Orc raises the return of evil stakes, and Bayona and Hutchison wisely show its impact on ordinary people instead of badass heroes like Galadriel. Plus seeing Khazad-Dum at the height of its glory is a genuinely cool use of set design and visual effects and puts Elrond in a different context than the first episode adding depth to his character.

In conclusion, the first two episodes of Rings of Power use the television medium to tell an epic fantasy story of good and evil from a variety of perspectives even if it is only starting to scratch the surface of this era of Middle Earth. The dialogue can be hit or miss, especially when the Elves start speaking in Fran Walsh/Tolkien-esque aphorisms, but this is a gorgeous, immersive fantasy story that reminded me why I fell in love with this world as a kid a little over 20 years ago. It also gives more prominent roles to women and characters of color than the source material, which is refreshing as well.

‘The Bear’ finds nuanced humanity in a toxic work environment

The Bear

Hey everyone! Sorry for the informal opening to this article, but I just wanted to let you all know that I’m happy to be back writing about television (And soon, comics!) at Graphic Policy after almost a four month hiatus. One day, I’ll go into why I took the hiatus, but I really missed analyzing the media I consume and sharing my thoughts on this website even if I feel like my memory/cognitive abilities/attention span have been on the decline for the past 4-5 months or so. Well, on to the article, I guess.

Hulu/FX’s The Bear was a show that was on my radar, and a couple weeks ago, I decided to watch it while folding laundry because I thought it would have good Chicago vibes. (Chicago is probably my favorite city in the United States.) It definitely did, especially any of the close-ups of the food (Fuck, I want Italian beef.), the opening of the penultimate episode, which is a historical/montage love letter to the city set to the dulcet tones of “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens, and funny anecdote featuring the Blackhawks and Bill Murray. However, the main reason that The Bear resonated with me is because it’s the most anxiety-inducing piece of visual media I’ve watched since Uncut Gems and captures what it feels like to be in a fast-paced toxic work environment that never lets up with frenetic editing, a jarring score, and its own unique sense of humor. Seriously, with the exception of flashbacks, we rarely get to see outside The Original Beef of Chicagoland. However, there are a moments of hope and beauty along the way, especially in the season finale.

The basic premise of The Bear is that after the suicide of his brother Mike (Jon Bernthal), award-winning fine dining chef Carmen (ShamelessJeremy Allen White) returns to his hometown of Chicago to run his family’s Italian beef restaurant that is drowning in debt, health code violations, and is barely staying afloat. Carmen seeks to change and modernize the restaurant while still staying true to its spirit while also dealing with the demons of his past experiences in fine dining kitchens and the loss of his brother. Writer/director/creator Christopher Storer uses slightly surreal imagery to show the fear, anxiety, and tenseness he feels, including an encounter with a literal bear and a darkly comic parody of a day time cooking show. Instead of going for boilerplate suspense, Storer and the other directors linger in a negative moment almost daring the characters to screw up. For example, Carmen’s sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who has formal training at the Culinary Institute of America and idolizes him, drops jus after refusing one of her co-workers’ help, and baker Marcus rushes his preparation (Odd Future’s Lionel Boyce and easily my favorite character) and ends up tripping a breaker for the whole restaurant.

The Bear

Although the season finale features big reveals and heartwarming moments, The Bear‘s arc is one of toxicity boiling under the surface, and everyone can be the asshole. Even Sydney, who is one of the show’s kinder characters, is a passive aggressive and doesn’t offer constructive feedback when Carmen switches the restaurant’s workflow to a French brigade model. The same goes for Carmen, who lets Marcus explore his creative side and create a custom donut for the restaurant in earlier episodes before throwing the donut on the floor towards the end of the season because he’s behind on his tasks and throws a full-on tantrum when the restaurant gets unexpected influx of to-go orders. The Bear can have its wholesome moments, but something overtly or passively aggressive is always on its way as the whole season untangles Mike legacy’s for the restaurant and Carmen as a person.

I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but my only experience working food service was a three month stint at Little Caesar’s when I was 16 so a lot of the lingo that Carmen, Sydney, and their compatriots throw around was confusing to me. The big one is everyone being called “chef” as a sign of respect, but this ends up being parodied by Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas), who calls Carmen “Jeff” and clashes with Sydney because she came into a leadership role without paying her dues. Colon-Zayas has killer sarcastic timing, but she also has a softer side like when she brings her son into the restaurant for Sydney to teach him how to work in the kitchen and any time she reminisces about Mike. This is just one of many ways the writers use the language of the kitchen to flesh out characters and create tension, especially during the to-go order fiasco. It seems like a script or a template at times, and Carmen often uses it as a crutch for how he’s actually feeling.

A character who always exactly says what he’s feeling and will somehow to make nearly every situation an opportunity for an overlong story or stale homophobic or sexual joke is Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who was Mike’s best friend and was basically the interim manager of The Beef before Carmen returned. A flashback sequence shows that Richie was basically trying to pattern himself off Mike, but is weighed down by insecurities and a gnawing feeling that he can’t do anything useful at the restaurant except for threaten cosplayers with his gun or run the cash register. Fittingly, he’s in his ex’s phone as “Bad News”, but The Bear‘s writers don’t just portray him as an asshole or a heel all the time. For example, he has a conversation with his daughter where he empathizes with her being bullied and loses the wise guy act for a minute even admitting to Sydney that she knows more about restaurant repairs than him.

This interaction and others in The Bear showcase its greatest strength, which is finding the humanity beneath the toxicity. If it wasn’t for capitalism and gentrification, we could noodle with doughnuts and braised beef risotto plus the bar down the road would still be open. Jobs could be pleasant and not hellscapes of verbal abuse delivered by Joel McHale (Who plays a chef from Carmen’s past.) and Jeremy Allen White. The Bear‘s final scene includes the whole staff of the restaurant plus Carmen’s sister and her boyfriend sitting down for a meal along with one lingering shot of Michael. Not all of the interpersonal issues between Carmen and the staff are solved, but the season wraps up with him finding some closure (and financial windfall) after his brother’s passing and a golden opportunity to do thing his and his staff’s way instead of trying to decipher Michael’s “system”.

The Bear is a cathartic, at times painful viewing experience for anyone who has felt trapped in a toxic environment and has had their hopes and dreams stymied by others’ expectations or forgot what work/life balance is. It also has yummy shots of food and some wonderful dad rock needle drops and is thankfully getting a second season to explore the new restaurant and the cast’s dynamic in that space.

Mini Reviews: Harley Quinn and The Sandman!

The Sandman

Sometimes, the staff at Graphic Policy read more comics than we’re able to get reviewed. When that happens you’ll see a weekly feature compiling reviews we just didn’t get a chance to write a full one for.

These are Graphic Policy’s Mini Reviews and Recommendations.

Logan

Harley Quinn S3E4 “A Thief, A Mole, An Orgy”. In yet another hilarious installment of Harley Quinn, writer Tom Hyndman casts his satiric sights on The Court of Owls that has gone from being a legitimate threat to a place of awkward orgies and pinata sacrifices. (There’s a reason the lights stay off.) Harley and Poison Ivy are at the orgy because the sentient, asexual plant Frank has gone missing, and he’s integral to her plan to terraform all of Gotham. But this episode isn’t all Bane with a dildo gags, and Jim Gordon (Christopher Meloni continues to kill it.) failing at campaign fundraising, and it explores the bumpier side of Harley and Ivy’s relationship. Kaley Cuoco finds a softer, less hyper side of Harley Quinn in her voice performance, and Lake Bell shows more of Ivy’s vulnerable side as her avoiding conflict turns into lying. Four episodes in, the writing team of Harley Quinn shows that a committed relationship can be just as interesting as a romantic build-up or break-up. This episode wasn’t as good as last week’s villain award showcase, but there were still some good laughs from Harley Quinn’s take on the Court of Owls and the general existence of Bane plus Hyndman’s nuanced take on Harlivy. Overall: 8.0

Sandman S1E1 “Sleep of the Just”. The Sandman Netflix show kicks off with a very faithful retelling of the first issue of the comics series written by Neil Gaiman. (He co-writes this episode with David Goyer and Allan Heinberg.) Basically, Dream of the Endless (Tom Sturridge) is accidentally captured by a wannabe Aleister Crowley-type named Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), who wanted his sister Death instead. Roderick’s motivation is sympathetic because he wants his son who died in World War I back from the dead, but ends up being consumed by his desire for power that leads him to abuse his son Alex (Laurie Kynaston) and his mistress Ethel (Joely Richardson). Director Mike Barker does a great job of showing how humans pale in the presence of Dream, who doesn’t speak for most of the episode, except in voiceovers. While looking like he’s made of alabaster, Sturridge exudes utter defeat with glimpses of hope (When his raven almost burns down the Burgess house) and anger. This culminates in an epic, fist pump worthy sequence to show just how powerful the Lord of Dreams is even with his possessions gone and realm in ruin. Along with focusing on the captivity of Dream, “Sleep of the Just” introduces the season’s antagonist, The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) showing him as a nightmare that strikes terror in a slow, creeping, yet polite way. Holbrook’s slight Kentucky drawl offsets Tom Sturridge’s more, let’s say, god-like voice. Basically, when Dream speaks, it’s just like the special word balloons Todd Klein made for him in the comic. Overall: 8.7

Review: ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK ‘GHOST ISLAND’ offers an intelligently mature look at death and ghosts

Nickelodeon’s Are you Afraid of the Dark revival has been a surprisingly refreshing take on YA horror that is unafraid to conjure up a fair bit of darkness to get its story across modern audiences. The first season, for instance, centers on a carnival that kidnaps children and turns them into zombie-like carnies, leaving a trail of broken communities and the threat of real harm in its path. It’s chockfull of horror references that fans of the genre can point to and say ‘that’s from [insert classic horror film or director],’ but it never strayed from its intentions of honoring the original 90’s show celebration of sitting around a campfire and telling scary stories.

Season 3, subtitled “Ghost Island,” aims to further the revival’s American Horror Story-like anthology approach with another self-contained story that’s as welcoming to newcomers as it is to fans of the original series and of horror in general. Having said that, and as far as the first episode of the new season is concerned, “Ghost Island” might be Afraid of the Dark’s most mature entry yet.

A lonely tropical island serves as the setting for the story, a place that carries the name of Ghost Island due to the legend of its haunted hotel. The legend is explored quite a bit in the first episode and it seems to center on room 13 of the building, the place guests never check out from. Whatever haunts this room makes anyone who steps inside disappear, leaving only tortured ghosts and disembodied voices as the only trace they were ever there.

As was the case with the previous two seasons, the driving force behind the series is the group of kids that make up the latest version of the Midnight Society (the club that opened each episode of the original series with a story around a campfire deep in the woods). Kayla (Telci Huynh), Max (Conor Sherry), Leo (Luca Padovan), Summer(Dior Goodjohn), and Ferris(Chance Hurstfield) make up the group, all enthusiasts of supernatural storytelling.

The reason behind their trip to Ghost Island is tied to the death of one of the original members of the club. She wanted her friends to specifically go and stay in the haunted hotel (so it seems) for reasons that will surely be revealed as the story progresses. The loss of this member is felt throughout the first episode with an intensity that gives it a serious tone, funereal in parts even. This Midnight Society is trying to come to terms her absence, with the death of someone they never thought they’d just lose forever. It raises the emotional stakes of the story and signals an interest in exploring the ways death manifests itself among kids, how it lingers.

Ghost Island
Are You Afraid of the Dark: Ghost Island

It succeeds at this thanks to the performances of the main cast, with Telci Huynh leading the pack as Kelly, the member who seems to be taking the loss the hardest. Huynh showcases a very nuanced interpretation of the character with an emotional range that captures how overwhelming someone’s death can be while trying to enjoy the early years of one’s life, where the expectation is fun and carefree-ness.

The rest of the cast stays the course, a mix of youthful energy and melancholy that jumps off the screen to entice its viewers with enough reality to say something meaningful even as ghosts threaten to bring the group into the others side.

The hotel’s manager, played by Julian Curtis, is another standout. He plays his part with a snark that’s all too familiar in these kinds of stories, but there’s a hidden element to the character that always makes itself known to great effect. Curtis doesn’t go for the classically annoying and oblivious authority figure. Instead, he feels like a key component of the mystery and is given the necessary presence to make him an important character.

What glimpses we get of the horrors in room 13 are brief but effective. Great care seems to have been afforded to the makeup effects for the ghosts that bleed through to the side of the living. Some of it is best appreciated in the opening sequence of episode 1, where we get a taste of how the haunted room disappears its guests. It’s among one of the revival’s most intense opening sequences and it features a nod to certain iconic visuals from movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Frighteners (1996).

Are You Afraid of the Dark: Ghost Island

JT Billings’ script and Dean Israelite’s direction expertly combine for a story that has elements of The Shining (1980) and another haunted hotel movie called 1408 (released in 2007), both based on the works of Stephen King. It’ll be interesting to see how these influences will inform the remainder of the 4-episode season, but what’ll potentially be most compelling for longtime fans of the original series will be spotting the references to classic AYAOTD episodes scattered throughout. Like the first season, a lot of thought is being put into the things the revival wants to homage and identifying them as they pop up is uniquely gratifying.

With the first episode of “Ghost Island” already up in YouTube for eager fans to see ahead of the premiere (July 30th), there’s no reason why you shouldn’t dive into this impressive and deep exploration of horror at a young age. Are You Afraid of the Dark: Ghost Island starts off with a genuinely creepy and unsettling haunting that means to contemplate serious themes and age-specific fears. Thus far, it stands to be further confirmation that Are You Afraid of the Dark isn’t just one of the best YA horror shows currently on air but one of the best straight up horror productions on television, period.

Review/Recap : Umbrella Academy S3E1: “Meet the Family”

Umbrella Academy S3E1: “Meet the Family”

Where We Left Off: When we last saw the wayward Hargreeve siblings they had just averted another apocalypse and used a Time Commission briefcase to return to the day after the first apocalypse they averted in season one. They arrive back at the mansion where their “father” is waiting and meet their replacements, the Sparrow Academy. 

What’s Happening: Everything. Like for real. This episode gave us an epic fight scene, showed off some cool new powers, there was drama, comedy, action and suspense packed into 52 minutes of non stop awesomeness. This episode gave us everything we have grown to love from the Umbrella Academy and then some, even the mellow moments set us up for something bigger and exciting.

The episode starts on a subway in Seoul Korea October 1,1989 where get to watch a cute couple flirting before we witness the birth of Ben. The narrator, the voice of Pogo (who is nowhere to be found in this timeline) , tells us a story about 16 women giving birth on the same day who weren’t pregnant when the day began. 16 is the part that catches your ear because that’s a number that’s a whole lot less than previously mentioned in the intro of season one. We are reminded that Sir Reginald adopted seven of them but this time around besides Ben there are six new team members and they call themselves the Soarrow academy.

Umbrella Academy S3E1: “Meet the Family”

The New Guys: Meet the Sparrow Academy, this time lines more put together version of the Umbrella Academy. Ben is back in the corporeal flesh and kind of a jerk as #2 making it hella hard for the Umbrella kids to fight him because, it’s Ben and they’re still reeling from his second death when he saved Vanya in season 2. Marcus aka #1 is strong and a skilled fighter who is all about his reputation. Fei aka #3 can summon birds, Christopher aka #7 is a floaty orb who resembles a large Hellraiser cube, Alphonso aka #4 is for lack of a better phrase a rubber man, Sloan aka #5 has telekinetic powers and maybe a hold on Luther’s heart and Jayme aka #6 can spit on people and induce hallucinations which is both gross and kind of cool if you’re into happy and fun acid trips.

Umbrella Academy S3E1: “Meet the Family”

The Bad Guys: Every season so far as introduced a clear villain or at least one of them by the time the end credits roll on the season premiere. This time around, there doesn’t seem to be a clear villain, except the glowing fire ball in the basement that so far seems kind of benign but, off-putting. So, it’s a bit early to call on who the big bad is this time around but, we know that there’s one in there somewhere because Marcus and a dog at the Hotel Oblivion have already disappeared into parts unknown. There’s also a guy on a bus with a bunch of audio tapes headed somewhere and based on his behavior , I think it’s an all grown up Harlan but, he couldn’t hurt a fly… or could he? There’s a red herring of a bad guy in here somewhere and I can’t wait to figure out who it is.

Best Lines: Too many to count. Sir Reginald is a one way zinger machine and Klaus is still the crowned prince of sass so, this episode was full of witty reads and fun asides so, the only way to pick a best line would be to have a multiple way tie and give you the whole script.

Umbrella Academy S3E1: “Meet the Family”

Episode MVP: Lila. In her brief and surprising cameo she managed to steal the show in her usual off kilter way. She pops up with a present of sorts for Diego and it isn’t the briefcase she stole. She manages to inject some levity and weight to the episode in a way that only her character could and now that she’s dropped the bomb that she has , I can’t wait to see how it all turns out and fits into this seasons story. She stole the show in that short but sweet drop in just like she stole the briefcase and Diego’s heart.

Best Scene: A tie between Vanya meeting in secret with Marcus to discuss a truce and basically telling him to leave her and her family alone in an ultimatum that was basically the classiest way I’ve ever seen someone simultaneously say “F*** around and find out” AND “You don’t want this smoke” leaving Marcus who is clearly aware of what Vanya can do shook and ready to make a deal and, the epic drug induced dance off to Footloose between the two academies because honestly, we all live for the dancing scenes in this show and it wouldn’t be a proper Umbrella Academy season without one.

Umbrella Academy S3E1: “Meet the Family”

Overall: Without giving too much away because seriously, you should watch it , this episode was for me the strongest series premiere of The Umbrella Academy. They introduced a lot of new characters , gave vibe checks for our returning faves (and not so faves) , gave us possible ways of how they’re going to have to save the world this time around and hinted at multiple possible story lines, side quests and new adventures for our favorite academy. The actress who plays Robot Mom deserves some kind of award for her micro facial expressions, demeanor and speech patterns because she is selling TF out of being a robot and it’s a complete 180 from her portrayal in the first season where we were shocked when we realized she was a robot. She is a perfect blend of the real life prototype person we met in season two and the Mom we saw in season one and I’m here for it , even if she’s worshipping an ominous glowing orb in the mansions basement. The new academy on the block have this kind of arrogance and suaveness that makes them seem cool AF , in a d***head kind of way where you can acknowledge that they’re way to cocky but, also you find yourself respecting their swagger. Overall , I thought this was the warm and chaotic welcome back that we have come to love, respect, admire and expect from the Umbrella Academy and I cant wait to see how it all unravels in the next nine episodes.

Rating: 9.5

TV Review: Winning Time S1E7 “Invisible Man”

The iconic Lakers/Celtics rivalry takes center stage in “Invisible Man” with a rematch between college enemies Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) and Larry Bird (A hick-ish Sean Patrick Small) being the talk of the country and also serving as commentary on race in the United States. However, on an immediate level, “substitute” coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) has to win the game, or he loses both his job and his old boss Jack McKinney’s (Tracy Letts) to former Laker Elgin Baylor (Orlando Jones in a bad wig), who accidentally calls Pat Riley’s (Adrien Brody) hotel room instead of a scheming Jerry West (Jason Clarke), who is doing the opposite of retiring.

Director Payman Benz frames the episode like a game of Monopoly, which is Jerry Buss’ (John C. Reilly) favorite board game because it relies on both chance and strategy, and it connects well to the plot of the episode. If Michael Cooper’s layup at the end of the Lakers/Celtics bounced another way (And the editing shows how desperate it is.), Westhead would have lost his job, and who knows if the Lakers would have won a championship under Baylor. So, it’s safe to say that Westhead is under a lot of stress this episode especially as the losses pile up. He gets talked over in the locker room and hides behind Riley, who shows a real talent for coaching and motivation, complete with shots of him slicking back his hair that hint at the legend he would become. There’s a great scene where Riley gets into it with Westhead and soaks him with cold water basically showing him the harsh reality of what will happen if they don’t win a game on this road trip. They’ve been buddy buddy up to this point, but coaching (Especially against the Celtics.) brings out an angry side of Pat Riley and lets Adrien Brody cut loose a bit with his acting culminating with getting thrown out of the Boston game.

While the coaching situation of the Lakers continues to be unresolved, writers Max Borenstein and Rodney Barnes thread the needle and show how the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson (And by extension, Lakers/Celtics) rivalry connects to race and white privilege in the United States. In demeanor, Bird is the complete opposite of Johnson with his one word answers to the press, Bud Light, and spit cup while Magic Johnson is all smiles and gives the journalists something to work with for better or worse. However, despite this and Johnson outperforming Bird on the court in the 1979 national championship game, the media treats him like God’s gift to basketball. Bird makes him feel invisible, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) uses this feeling to have a serious conversation with Magic Johnson about race in the United States, and how since Johnson was bused to an all-white school in Lansing, he’s been trying to stand out with his smile, charisma, and basketball game. However, Abdul-Jabbar tells him that the media will continue to chase Bird even if Johnson dominates him tonight or has a better season overall.

Invisible Man

This conversation between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson flows out of a very frank one that the Lakers captain had with Earvin Johnson Sr. (Rob Morgan) at the Christmas dinner that he and his wife host for the team after they’re upset by the last place Detroit Pistons. They start by making small talk about Abdul-Jabbar’s appetite, and how much Johnson Sr. respects Abdul-Jabbar and is glad that his son gets to play with one of the greatest centers of all time. However, the chat turns into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asking Earvin Johnson Sr. why Johnson doesn’t seem to harbor any anger about race relations in the United States and, on a lighter note, if he’s always smiled all the time. Johnson Sr. says that he has been puzzled by this too, especially since he grew up in Mississippi when lynchings were common. Benz, Borenstein, and Barnes also use this scene to frame two men who genuinely care about Magic Johnson and don’t want him to be overwhelmed by folks who would take advantage of him with Abdul-Jabbar starting to take on a kind of surrogate father role for Johnson. This is in contrast with his agent Dr. Day (Steve Harris), who urges him to immediately take a deal with Buick focusing on the money that Magic Johnson would make while Earvin Johnson Sr. warns him that the cars are less dependable than they used to be according to his friends who work at their factory.

The complicated relationship between Magic Johnson and Cookie Kelly (Tamera Tomakili) continues in “Invisible Man” as she doesn’t use his tickets to the Lakers/Pistons game, but buys her own nosebleeds ticket. However, Isaiah and Tomakili demonstrate great chemistry with Johnson almost missing the team bus to Boston and calls her family hinting at an actual future for their relationship. But then Payman Benz does a quick cut to Kelly’s friend Rhonda getting dressed in the bathroom after their conversation. Yes, Johnson slept with the supposed love of his life’s best friend, and the rumors about him picking out women in the crowd at different games to sleep with makes sense. Max Borenstein and Rodney Barnes continue to show that Magic Johnson cares about Cookie Kelly deeply, but he also wants to enjoy his life as a young NBA star and not settle down just yet. (This is probably why the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t sign off on the show!)

Invisible Man

The climax of “Invisible Man” is the Lakers vs. Celtics game, and there’s a lot on the line including Westhead and McKinney’s jobs, Johnson’s place in the Rookie of the Year conversation, and West’s sanity as he says that one loss to Boston is what led to the Lakers’ inability to beat them in the playoffs. Director Payman Benz shoots the Boston Garden like a haunted house complete with a racist, animated leprechaun, and both Pat Riley and Norm Nixon talk about the arena in the same hushed tones as a ghost story. And the ghost stories are true with the referees giving the Celtics every call to the soundtrack of Johnny Most’s (G. Larry Butler) incredibly biased/homer commentary while cutting to Buss and Bill Sharman sitting in the nosebleeds, and West getting taunted by his driver while listening to the game in the car because he doesn’t want to set foot in the Boston Garden again. Most and Chick Hearn’s (Spencer Garrett) makes the scene incredibly entertaining and also is a contrast between the old and new NBA.

Somehow, the Lakers win the game after Riley is ejected for saying he slept with the referee’s mother, and a fight breaks out after Larry Bird throws a ball at former All-Star/current ring-chasing enforcer/power forward Spencer Haywood (Wood Harris), who is finally getting some playing time from Westhead after benching him because of a misunderstanding that’s nagged at him the past two episodes. Like in the game at the beginning of the episode, the team is pretty much self-coaching, and the only reason Buss doesn’t fire Paul Westhead is because that would lose him McKinney too. However, Jason Segel taps into some rage and finally shows a little backbone with a “Fuck Boston” chant in the huddle and also giving the referees a piece of his mind down the stretch. He also has a good defensive game plan for Larry Bird, but Bird is that good telling his defender how and when he’ll make shots.

In the game sequences and through the reactions of the crowd in Boston plus animated and documentary-style elements like racist Boston fans putting human excrement in Bill Russell’s bed even after he won them 11 titles, Payman Benz shows how exciting the Lakers/Celtics rivalry was and also how it’s a microcosm of race relations in the United States through well-acted scenes with Quincy Isaiah, Solomon Hughes, and Rob Morgan as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Earvin Johnson Sr. Segel also brings a lot of fear and anxiety to the role of Westhead while Adrien Brody adds a little more confidence and charisma to his portrayal of Pat Riley with the ejection sequence showing that he makes a great head coach.

As someone who has said “Fuck Boston” many times (Including today when they beat the Brooklyn Nets on a last minute shot in the first game of the NBA Playoffs), I’m definitely biased, but “Invisible Man” is one of the stronger episodes of Winning Time with a compelling visual style (Sunny LA vs the Crypt Keeper’s Lair aka the Boston Garden), strong characterization for Johnson, Riley, Westhead, and a demon-facing West, and sociopolitical commentary about being Black in the United States using the ultimate NBA rivalry as the lens.

Overall Verdict: 9.0

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