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Sister Power Prevails in Supergirl S2E15 “Exodus”

“Exodus” reminded me of why I loved and started to write about Supergirl in the first place and is the show’s best episode of 2017 so far. It puts Mon-El and Kara’s romance on the backburner, fishes out a criminally underused Snapper Carr (And the talented Ian Gomez, who embodies truth in a single passionate, yet cynical glance.), and best of all, puts the focus on the sisterly relationship between Kara and Alex Danvers. But this episode isn’t just long stretches of Kara and Alex pouring out their feelings, but is filled with some top notch action as writers Paula Yoo and Eric Carrasco and director Michael Allowitz have Alex basically go rogue and take out Cadmus all by herself when J’onn suspends her from Cadmus. Also, in an episode that guest stars TV’s Lois (Teri Hatcher as a mysterious alien) and Clark (Jeremiah Danvers) themselves, the most romantic moment comes from Supergirl catching Lena Luthor after she helps put her on the trail to Cadmus. They don’t get a ton of screen time, but Yoo and Carrasco continue to completely debunk the Luther/Superfamily rivalry and give them a genuine friendship even if they don’t have time for kombucha this time.

Even though Supergirl is pretty damn heroic in this episode carrying a spaceship filled with deported alien refugees (There are tons of political parallels in “Exodus.), the reporter Kara Danvers is pretty flawed. And even though “he’s rooting for her”, Snapper Carr is quick to point out those flaws that include basically only using Supergirl aka herself as a source for her pieces. He might come off as irascible, but Snapper is a true crusader for journalism ethics, which is kind of big deal in a time where journalists from the venerable BBC aren’t welcome at President Trump’s press gaggles.

Snapper humors Kara and interviews “Supergirl”, but she doesn’t reveal that she got information about Cadmus taking the alien registry from the DEO even off the record so there’s no story in his eyes. But Kara goes off the reservation and exposes Cadmus in a blog post. (Sadly not done in WordPress.) She’s a great superhero, but not a great journalist. These series of events causes Lillian and Cadmus to go into hiding, but it costs Kara her job. Now, she has an existential crisis in her civilian position, and you can definitely see the sadness in Melissa Benoist’s eyes as she sits on the window sill in a sequence tearfully framed by Allowitz. It’s a relatable sequence to anyone who has lost a promising job that they were passionate about. And yeah, Mon-El is there to reassure her, but that emptiness is still there as who knows what Kara Danvers is going to do with her life moving onwards.

Continuing the theme of going against authority, Alex Danvers decides to take down Cadmus all by herself. (With a little help from Maggie Sawyer, who is there for the smooching, snarking, and raygun blasts.) Her emotional bond with her father Jeremiah continues even after he steals the alien registry from the DEO, and she continues to passionately hope that there is good in him bringing her into conflict with J’onn and disagreement with Kara. One of “Exodus'” most shocking moments is J’onn shapeshifting into Jeremiah and coercing Alex into “betraying” the DEO by agreeing to team up with him. Thankfully, J’onn walks this back later in the episode after most of everything is set to rights, and their father/daughter relationship is intact.

But before the tearful reunion, we get to see Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima star in the queer, female starring remake of Bad Boys that everyone secretly (or not so secretly) wants. They use some gun play and detective smarts by using their buddy from the alien bar, Brian, to act as bait for Cadmus goons before springing the trap in a thrilling hand to hand combat scene. Then, Alex gets to unleash her inner Splinter Cell character and stealthily infiltrate the DEO and team up with her dad, who is in deep, deep cover and joined Cadmus to protect her and Kara. Alex believes in him so much, and they move fluidly in combat trying to stop Lillian from sending a group of alien refugees to the far end of space before Cyborg Superman has to ruin things. Alex Danvers is a true action hero, and because her abilities don’t require CGI, her fight scenes are better staged with longer takes.

Nonetheless,The Flash and Vampire Diaries director Michael Allowitz brings some powerful visuals to the forefront of “Exodus in both the action and emotion department. Women kicking ass is the throughline of the episode’s setpieces even if Guardian gets a killer save in the early going from Lena tasing her own mom’s goons before jumping off the roof because Supergirl will save her to Lyra saving her fellow aliens while Alex and Supergirl attempt to crash land an “alien ocean frigate”. A group fight scene featuring Maggie, Alex, and Winn at the alien bar is relentless as Alex uses pool cues and whatever she can find to fight off the goons and try to save the aliens from Cadmus. It shows her resourcefulness and that she is willing to do whatever it takes to protect anyone in need. This ruthless pragmatism comes in handy later in the episode when Alex threatens to blow up Lillian Luthor’s top secret base and then sets off some explosives to show her that she wasn’t bluffing. Alex Danvers has a darker edge compared to her adoptive sister, but her relationships with Maggie, Kara, and her father figures Jeremiah and J’onn give a warm humanity to a character who brutally beat a prisoner early on in the episode.

However, Allowitz’s finest moment is a tribute to Star Trek: Wrath of Khan as Alex and Kara touch hands through the glass while Kara strains to prevent the ship with the alien refugees from going into light speed. The shot is a subtle homage to the film, and no one makes a joke about Star Trek, but it’s iconic enough to be shorthand for a lasting bond of friendship that transcends life and death. Blake Neely’s score is also pretty heroic, and Melissa Benoist does these death howls to show much pain she is in while saving this ship. Kara and Alex’s relationship has been the bedrock of Supergirl since Season 1 and centering an episode around it makes “Exodus one of Season 2’s sturdier episodes. They resist authority separately with the help of the women they love (Lena and Maggie) to protect the Earth from an evil, xenophobic organization and then end up saving the day together in a glorious instant.

The past few episodes of Supergirl have focused on romance and villains of the week, but “Exodus” is grounded in the reality of the 2017 albeit through the spaceships and extraterrestrials. Allowitz opens the scene with a moment of broad comedy as a mom and dad sings along to the latest Bruno Mars hit single while the pre-teen daughter makes snarky little comments. But then they are stopped by the police, and the context immediately turns frightening as they are snatched up and sent to Cadmus’ prison base. This is a jarring sequence to watch, especially after the “Muslim Ban 2.0” executive order was signed into law by a man, who thinks that security briefings are optional before sending soldiers to be killed in action, perjury is no big deal, and it’s totally cool to conduct international diplomacy in full view of the public at a Palm Beach club for rich white people while eating wedge salads on taxpayers’ dime. Just like the random aliens that get rounded up in “Exodus”, people are getting snatched up and deported because of their religion and national origin instead of being treated like human beings. This real world connection adds weight to Lillian Luthor and Cadmus’ villainy and makes Supergirl part of the pop culture resistance in a way.

Paula Yoo and Eric Carrasco throw aside most of this Mon-El foolishness for an episode and zero in on the flaws and heroism of Kara Danvers and Alex Danvers through relationships, defiance of authority in various ways that even have negative consequences in the case of Kara’s job, and finally a breathtaking rescue sequence that is one of Supergirl Season 2’s most memorable.

Overall Rating: 9.0

TV Review: Supergirl S2E4 Survivors

spg204c-0006r-207945While investigating the murder of an unregistered alien, Kara and Alex find an alien fight club run by Roulette; Hank tries to get to know M’Gann better; Supergirl begins to train Mon-El.

The first rule of alien fight club is don’t talk about alien fight club. Yeah, that joke will probably be made in most of the reviews of this episode of Supergirl which further explores the second Martian survivor M’Gann and also gives us an alien fighting ring.

But, the episode is really interesting because it continues the themes of last episode as to who is “human.” There’s a tidbit in the episode focused on this as Roulette explains that humans don’t care about what happens to the aliens because they don’t see them as human, but other.

spg204b-0102r-207944And that’s a lot of the episode’s focus, about the “Survivors” of various planets and species on Earth trying to make a life. It’s about the aliens that are here attempting to go forward, but being treated as less.

And that idea of being a survivor extends to Supergirl figuring out what to do with Mon-El and J’onn trying to get to know about M’Gann. All are survivors from their home worlds and have to figure out what to do. Should they continue tradition or should they forge their own way forward? It’s an interesting debate and gets into real world debates such as inter-faith marriages for Jewish individuals and also an exploration of prejudices. It’s some good use of metaphor in entertainment.

spg204a-0107r-207936I think there’s also a case to be made that the concept of “survivor,” otherness, and trying to find your own also applies to Alex who clearly is crushing on Maggie. I’m cheering for these two to get together.

The episode as a whole is decent and gets us away from the usual alien attacks and the DEO and Supergirl have to deal with it. It also sets up a lot to come. The end of the episode has some twists I don’t want to ruin and is best to experience them. Some are telegraphed, but others are a bit more left field.

A good episode that sticks to positive themes while keeping the entertainment high.

Overall Rating: 8.3

TV Review: Immigrants Get the Job Done in Supergirl S2E3 Welcome to Earth

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In a single hour of Supergirl, writers Derek Simon and Jessica Queller grapple with racism, homophobia, and xenophobia through both metaphor and reality. Instead of going the original X-Men route where Stan Lee used a team of white teenagers to explore racism in the United States, Simon and Qweller deal with it head it on in pointed speeches from J’onn, who mentions how being taking the form of an African American man has had an impact on how he is treated, and new supporting cast member Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), who talks about how growing up lesbian and Latina in Nebraska, has caused her to connect with the more extraterrestrial citizens of Metropolis. Rachael Talalay’s (Doctor WhoTank Girl) direction of the scene captures why science fiction and superhero stories have captivated people of color and LGBTQ folks as she lovingly closes in on the different features at the aliens at the bar. Chyler Leigh (who plays Alex Danvers) also has magnetic chemistry with Lima, and even though, they are chasing a lead on a possible Kryptonian assassin of the president of the United States (played by a a positively regal), it seem like they are on a date at a gay bar. Text and subtext mingles to create an over the top, yet wonderful episode of Supergirl.

The main plot of “Welcome to Earth” is centered around the signing of the Alien Amnesty Act, which allows all extraterrestrials to become American citizens. There are overt parallels with the amnesty towards undocumented immigrants in the United States, and both the real policy and Supergirl one are connected to the fact that the United States is a nation of immigrants from all over the world. However, instead of having Supergirl fight against some xenophobic figurehead, Simon and Queller have her confront her own implicit racial biases towards Mon El (Chris Wood), who is from Daxam, a planet that was involved in a civil war with Krypton years ago. While Mon El is being held in DEO containment, Kara basically tells him that Krypton is a more “enlightened” planet than Daxam, which characterized as a lawless, warlike land. She is the good guy, but this is flat out racism. This scene is painful to watch, but shows that everyone (Even paragons of virtue like Supergirl.) have biases and prejudices that we need to overcome. This is in spite of Mon El’s inclusion in the plot being your usual run of the mill red herring deal as it’s revealed that an alien named Scorcher is behind the attack on the president.

Scorcher is the weak link of this episode. Her powers look cool, but there is really no substance to her character. She is just there so Supergirl and the DEO have something to fight and investigate. But Simon and Queller don’t revert to superhero comic politician cliches with the president’s reactions to her attack as she (slightly naively) continues to push the Amnesty Law even when she is attacked by an alien twice. These attacks are also a chance to show Supergirl’s unflinching heroism as Talalay zooms in on shots of her covering the president with her cape, or carefully using her freeze breath to make sure that the Amnesty Act is unharmed. It’s unfortunate that Scorcher is a pyrokinetic plot device, but she is a small setback in an episode filled with real world connections underneath a warm sci-fi veneer. Plus Lena Luthor returns in this episode and shows the signs of being a possible, excellent Big Bad as Katie McGrath delivers her lines to Kara with a casual friendliness even as she channels her inner Donald Trump and says that humans must have the ability to detect the aliens among them. Lena has the makings of a great villain because she thinks she is helping out (and making a buck) with this new technology, and because she isn’t impulsive like Metallo or Scorch, but quite the chess player.

Supergirl also continues to do an excellent job showing the difficulties that Kara has in her day job while also finally giving James Olsen some scenes that channel his undeniable charisma in Season 1 as he and Snapper Carr butt heads. By the end of “Welcome to Earth”, it is clear that he is the boss as he rewrites Carr’s choosing to take a moral stand instead of hiding behind the cloak of objectivity. Snapper does get to show off that he’s a journalist’s journalist as he pursues all angles (including religious) of the Amnesty Act and helps Kara channel her passion for the truth while filtering out her “pro-alien” bias to be an objective reporter. It’s nice to see Kara learn the craft of being a reporter instead of just using her day job as a way to set up plots, and the bias discussion with Snapper dovetails with a conversation she has with Mon-El where she admits her bias towards his planet.

Supergirl -- "Welcome to Earth" -- Image SPG203b_0160 -- Pictured (L-R): Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers and Floriana Lima as Maggie Sawyer -- Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Maggie Sawyer is truly a great addition to the supporting cast of Supergirl as she instantly connects with Alex Danvers with their similar take charge attitudes as they try to one-up each other at the scene of the attack on the president.. And on her own, she fills in a gap in Supergirl as she is connected to both the human and alien citizens of National City in her job as a police officer. She also happens to frequent an alien bar and be the ex-girlfriend of a certain prominent DC character, who gets revealed in a gorgeous flourish of CGI and yet another tense confrontation scene from Talalay. Talalay builds the connection between Maggie and Alex through glances similar to the looks Cate Blanchett throws Rooney Mara’s way in the 2015 LGBT indie film Carol. Add some sharp banter, and the fact that Maggie helped Alex have a more sympathetic view towards aliens and see them as nuanced individuals, and we have the start of a beautiful friendship, er, romance.

Supergirl soars to new heights in “Welcome to Earth” as Derek Simon and Jessica Queller pay tribute to the Super-mythos’ immigrant roots while taking racism, xenophobia, and homophobia head on through superpowered metaphors as well as great characters, like Maggie Sawyer, J’onn, Mon-El, and even Supergirl herself, who confronts her flaws in this episode while continuing to be adorable, especially in her interactions with Lynda Carter’s president, who is an alien herself…

Overall Rating: 9.5

TV Review: Family Comes First in Supergirl S2 E2 “Last Children of Krypton”

Supergirl -- "The Last Children of Krypton" -- Image SPG202b_0146 -- Pictured (L-R): Melissa Benoist Kara/Supergirl and Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers -- Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Even though most of the action deals with the emergence of Cadmus and the deadly effects of kryptonite, especially when you stick into a deadly ex-mercenary now named Metallo (Frederick Schmidt), “Last Children of Krypton” mainly focuses on the familial bonds between Supergirl and Superman, and Supergirl and Kara Danvers. With Cat Grant leaving her work and new boss Snapper Carr (Cougar Town‘s Ian Gomez) being just a general pain, Kara ponders leaving National City to be in Metropolis with Superman, who is one of the few people she can be comfortable with in both her superhero and civilian identity. Alex has been Kara’s rock since she landed on Earth, and this conversation drives a rift between them. Most of Robert Rovner and Caitlin Parrish‘s story is dedicated to the reconstruction of this bond and drawing a parallel in the relationship between Superman and J’onn as they go from not trusting each other to connecting over the loss of their homeworlds and finally becoming allies and teaming up in a badass, cross-cutting action sequence from director Glen Winter.

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It will be sad to see Tyler Hoechlin though as his two episodes playing Superman have kind of been a masterclass in playing the character, and his bond with Supergirl has just been plain adorable. The cold open where they joke about bullets and punching fists while easily apprehending a pair of armed robbers shows that unlike what Cadmus has been saying that these godlike beings truly care for humanity. But Hoechlin can do serious too in the Kryptonite subplot as he deepens his voice while confronting J’onn about some missing kryptonite that is being used by Cadmus to power up Metallo. Even though he doesn’t curse or drink alcohol and uses the word “jiffy” unironically, Superman in Supergirl  isn’t a naive boy scout, but a veteran superhero, who isn’t afraid to be confrontational. He is competent and cute.

The scariest parts in “Last Children of Krypton” isn’t when Supergirl is knocked out with a kryptonite blast (Her healing factor should be able to deal with that.), but when Kara Danvers is completely ignored by her new boss Snapper Carr after getting her big promotion to reporter last episode. Melissa Benoist does an excellent going from the pretty damn confident Supergirl to the too flustered to say a single word cub reporter. Ian Gomez is in complete control with his portrayal of Carr using a deadpan delivery with a side of passion when he tells Kara that she has basically been handed her job. And, on paper, this makes sense with her sudden promotion from assistant to investigative reporter. Rovner and Parrish don’t fall into the storytelling shortcut trap of quickly making Kara an excellent reporter, but give her a small victory when she hands in a story about the Metallo fight. Carr doesn’t throw her out of the office, but she is very much at the bottom of the food chain and is far from having the perfect dual life of skilled reporter Clark Kent and superhero Superman.

Supergirl -- "The Last Children of Krypton" -- Image SPG202b_0155 -- Pictured (L-R): Tyler Hoechlin as Clark/Superman and David Harewood as Hank Henshaw -- Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

On a technical level, “Last Children of Krypton” is an improvement from the season premiere with Winter making the action center around hand to hand combat and energy blasts instead of complex aerial maneuvers, which are difficult to do on a CW budget. J’onn mostly stays in his Hank Henshaw form, but Winter breaks out the Martian Manhunter effects at just the right moment for a big action climax or a sad mini monologue. Superman was a baby when Krypton fell, but J’onn had to see his entire people wiped out by the White Martians so he isn’t adverse to using more proactive means to keep his new home, Earth, safe. Just like last week, the best action scenes feature Alex Danvers as she joins the whole cast of Arrow by getting a nice little parkour scene while she is on the run from Cadmus goons, and her reunion scene with Kara is on the field of battle. The mirrored superhero fights in “Last Children of Krypton” have a kind of healing effect on the strained relationships between J’onn and Superman and Alex and Kara. They connect to the episode’s main theme and aren’t just there as some kind of “Well, it’s been almost 40 minutes. Let’s fight.” afterthought.

The only small flaw in “Last Children of Krypton” is the fact that secret government organizations like Cadmus have been done to death in superhero and science fiction shows. However, Rovner and Parrish add a couple new wrinkles to keep this well-worn trope from being boring. First, there is the fact that Cadmus’ goals are very similar to the “good guy” DEO’s goals as they both want to protect Earth from aliens. But the DEO has a more nuanced approached to dealing with extraterrestrials because they have two of them on staff. Next, Cadmus is the polar opposite of Non and Myriad from last season, who were Kryptonian supremacists while Cadmus is alien supremacists. Finally, there is the general mystery angle between who is pulling the strings because we have only seen some unnamed scientists and soldiers so far. It is probably Lena Luthor, but some dialogue about Alex’s dad Jeremiah seems to hint that he may be under their control. So far, Cadmus aren’t the best villains ever, but the parallels to the DEO keep things running for now while the best writing of Supergirl is reserved for the relationships between characters, and Kara struggling in her day job.

The cherry on top of “Last Children of Krypton” is the tearful goodbyes between Cat Grant and Kara as well as Supergirl. There is hugging all around as Cat decides to leave Catco and start on a new, unknown adventure. Her willingness to jump into the unknown acts as an inspiration to Supergirl, who is losing the support of Superman a little earlier than she though and is trying a new job as investigative reporter. These scenes show that there can be great emotional payoff to cultivating relationships between characters instead of focusing on plot twists and gimmicks, and hopefully, the writers of Supergirl will continue to develop the themes of family and friendship while the mystery of Cadmus deepens, and the Kryptonian Mon-El wakes up.

Overall Rating: 9.0

The Strangest Members of the Justice League

snapperThe Justice League of America is best defined by its core of main characters.  As opposed to other major superhero teams like the X-Men, Avengers, or Teen Titans, the core seven members of the team are considered as almost sacrosanct.  Without Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter, the League is considered to not be at full power (though Manhunter has been somewhat replaced on this list by Cyborg.)  That being the case, the membership of the League has mostly remained constant over its publication history, but as with every team there are always the odd ones that find their way in.

Snapper Carr – The modern reader of comics might not recognize it immediately at a glance, but the history of comics is the history of trends.  Characters that might seem to represent some diversity in the modern day such as Power Man/Luke Cage or Shang Chi were in fact added to comics as they helped to capitalize respectively on the popularity of blaxpoitation and kung fu films.  One character long before them was Snapper Carr.  Although he existed as a sidekick more than actual superhero, he was nonetheless a vital member on some missions, (such as the first involving Starro).  The character was inspired by the Beatnik generation which was somewhat popular at the time, and for those that might look for a related Marvel character, they would be wasting their time, because the trend of beatnik characters came and went long before Marvel got established.

daleDale Gunn – After the X-Men took over the medium of comics in the 1970s it was determined that the Teen Titans became DC’s best hope to fight against this success.  After the youth oriented book performed well it was decided to give the Justice League a makeover as well, and what resulted was what has become known as Justice League Detroit, a weaker version of the team, but one focused more towards the street.  Out were Batman and Wonder Woman, in were street level characters like Gypsy and Vibe, the latter of which was enough of an attempt to cash in on the breakdancing genre that was actually popular for a while, for those that remember their Electric Boogaloo.  The stranger character though was Dale Gunn, introduced as a ladies-man character that was the custodian/tech expert for the new team, who wore a superpowered suit of armor in his first appearance, but then just faded into the background.  Zatanna and Vixen both fell in love with him almost from the get go, but his impact was never really noticed after a few issues.

maxMaxwell Lord – Whereas the X-Men had Dazzler and the Outsiders had Looker, the Justice League never really managed to capitalize on the big hair and big money 1980s, or at least they wouldn’t have except for the influence of Maxwell Lord.  The character was essentially a Gordon Gecko rip-off, and one whose moral code was also somewhat skewed.  He served as the bank roll for the team, but had delusions of heroism at times, and eventually went bad when he almost had every superhero killed during Infinite Crisis.

Blue Beetle – The Justice League of the post-Legends DC Universe was one very different from what came before.  Legends was kind of an attempt to do the final clean-up on what had happened during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and it resulted in a new Justice League.  Whereas a lot of titles were getting darker at the time, or at least geared more to a mature audience, this team went the opposite route, becoming goofy.  Another trend at the time was that the Justice League becoming a dumping ground for characters who couldn’t hold their own series.  Thus the League assimilated Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom among others, but it really became the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold show, with their not-so-serious antics proving to be the fodder for most issues as opposed to real threats.  The character had been serious before, but never really recovered before being killed off.

drfateZan and Jayna – The so-called Wonder Twins didn’t come from the Justice League exactly, but instead came from the children’s show spin-off, the Super Friends.  It might have seemed likely that the characters might have just retired into obscurity as many others did, but they were actually revived for a time in the 1990s.  As a bit of a running joke before hand they never really caught on, and were used for only a few issues.

Dr. Fate/Guy Gardner – These two are not exactly the strangest characters exactly, except in how they were used.  Once again another influence of the post Legends Justice League, the writer Keith Giffen was a big enough fan of gender swapping some of his characters.  Not as in the usual sense of making a separate character like Supergirl or Batgirl, but in simply finding a way to switch genders.  It was done first with Doctor Fate and recently with Guy Gardner.

Ambush Bug/Super-Chief  – After Infinite Crisis the creators promised to give exposure to pretty much every character that had ever shown up in the pages of DC Comics.  This meant that some strange and obscure characters had to be brought in.  In this case it was a Firestorm led Justice League that contained among its members the Ambush Bug and Super-Chief.  They showed up for a couple of panels and then were never seen of again.

poisonivyPoison Ivy, Lex Luthor and Captain Cold – It turned some heads in the pages of the Waid led JLA when the rotating cast of team members included what was kind of Catwoman for one issue.  People wondered how it was that a thief was allowed membership to the team, even when she didn’t really join.  This was later rendered somewhat moot in the era of rooting for the bad guys in comics.  In the modern day, many series focus on villains, and Lex Luthor, Captain Cold and poison Ivy have worked alongside the Justice League, the latter in the most recent issue of Justice League United.  As villains become the new cool characters, it is not surprising to see some join the ranks of the superheroes.

To read the list of the strangest members of the League is partially a way to read the trends which have defined the medium of comics since the team’s inception.  There have been characters that have been stunts, or put in place to take advantage of what was happening in popular culture.  The team usually goes back to the main seven, but it is interesting to note that they are not always there, and sometimes some odd choices are made.