Screen Time [Sci-Fi Sunday]: The Outer Limits (1995): “Quality of Mercy” (S1: E13)


January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I’ve been dedicated every Sunday of January to celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.


Season One, Episode 13:
“Quality of Mercy”

Air Date: 16 June 1995
Director: Brad Turner
US Network: Showtime
UK Network: BBC 2
Stars: Robert Patrick, Nicole de Boer, and Mark McCracken

The Background:
The Twilight Zone (1959 to 1964; 1985 to 1989) wasn’t on when I was a kid; growing up, I only had the then-four channels of terrestrial television available to me so my sci-fi/horror anthology series of choice was The Outer Limits (1995 to 2002). A revival of the original 1960s show, The Outer Limits was an award-winning anthology series originally broadcast here in the United Kingdom on BBC 2; every week, a new tale would unfold, usually revolving around aliens, artificial intelligence, or other sci-fi, horror, or fantastical stories, though there were also a number of recurring themes, characters, and even semi-sequential stories to be found in the show’s long history. Considering my nostalgia and affection for the series, it’s great to see others also have a fondness for the show, and I’m always happy to revisit it when I get the opportunity.

The Plot:
Mankind is fighting a losing battle against an aggressive alien race; at the height of the conflict, Major John Skokes (Patrick) is captured and imprisoned alongside a young cadet, Bree Tristan (de Boer). While Stokes is determined to escape and return to the fight, his defiance is rattled when he discovers that the alien jailers have begun experimenting with grafting samples of their own skin onto Bree in an effort to make her one of them!

The Review:
“Quality of Mercy” begins with Major John Skokes being forcibly dragged and manhandled into a prison cell on an alien world but a physically superior, war-like race of aliens who have been locked in a one-sided battle against Earth’s United Nations Defense Forces (UNDF) for some time. An abrasive, proud, and stubborn military man, John’s first instinct in all things is to fight back, even when he’s clearly outmatched by his alien captors. This instinct extends not just to his defiance at being thrown into a cell, right when he’s at the peak of the war no less, but also to his determination to find a way out of the cell and to his initial militant attitude towards his cell-mate, the timid and terrified Bree Tristan. While John is a combat veteran who has fought on the front lines of the war for so long that he hasn’t actually been back to Earth in years, Brie is a cadet (second class) from Europa base who has only ever flown and fought in training missions. Captured during the “second Europa raid”, Brie estimates that she has been imprisoned and tortured for about three months and has been by herself for some time after her commander, Hartley, a much older and physically impaired man, died some time ago. She’s been kept there, in the dark and alone, ever since; forced to scavenge for food by chasing after the odd little rubbery parasites her captors toss to her and having lost all track of time and hope, Brie’s state of mind is only further fractured by the horrific experiments the aliens have been conducting on her as they have been routinely grafting their skin and DNA onto her body into an effort to physically transform her into one of them!

While John is determined to escape back to the fight, Brie is overcome by the futility of it all.

While Brie is off getting tortured, John busies himself exploring every inch of their cell, which is home to a pool of acid-like liquid and a curious red vegetation that seems more than a little inspired by the works of H. G. Wells. Although the diamond-hard walls cannot be breached, John is able to climb them to a barred ventilation shaft in the ceiling, through which he can hear the screams and desperate cries of Brie (and other humans) being tortured. After fashioning a cutting tool from a shard of the rock, John sets to work using all of his strength and free time trying to cut through the bars in the ceiling; although Brie is wracked by pain and despair at her condition, John offers her hope not only in his discovery but in giving her physical comfort. Having been caught up in the conflict, Brie has lived without love and passion or the touch of another, and derives much solace and comfort from even John’s hesitant attempts to console her. While Brie desperately tries to cling on the love and believes it’s what separates humanity from their enemy, John has been consumed by hatred; he is so resolute in his determination to escape that he’s even willing to go down fighting, if need be, but considers this a worst-case scenario. Feeling sympathy for her plight and virginity, having been so caught up in conflict that he has lost touch with the simple pleasures of life, John takes his sexual urges towards Brie and uses them as more motivation to cut through the bars, and pays the price for his stubbornness when his leg is shredded by a ravenous little creature in the vent and his hand is cut off at the wrist when he foolishly tries to keep Brie from being harmed further.

Brie is distraught as she loses more and more of her humanity and identity to the aliens’ experiments.

John’s determination stems from a deep-rooted need to get back into the fight because the future of humanity depends upon it; he was excited to deal a decisive blow against the enemy for the first time and to prove that they could be bested, and is angered at being captured right when he’s needed the most. John’s mindset contrasts heavily with Brie’s and both characters provide not only different perspectives on the conflict but to the world-building of this episode; John apparently embodies the single-minded, militaristic focus of those in the thick of the fight, while Brie seems very much against the war. Since John has been fighting pretty much non-stop for the last four years, he hasn’t seen what’s become of the Earth; Brie has however, and horror stories of a world turned into a police state, churning out munitions and training soldiers in a constant cycle to feed the war effort. John, however, remains adamant that humanity will come out of the war stronger than ever; he believes that the conflict will unite humankind, ending their petty squabbles and political and racial differences, to come together as one unified race. Forced into service by a standardised test and lacking John’s passion for the fight, Brie is ashamed to admit that she caved under torture and spilled everything she knew to spare herself further pain (though, as a mere cadet and a trainer, neither she nor Hartley had no information of real value) and she doesn’t share John’s fighting attitude or confidence that their enemy can be defeated. Of course, her will is only further sapped by the continual experiments and violations she suffers at the hands of their captors; the alien skin grafts cause her incredible physical pain and cannot be forcibly removed, despite John’s best efforts. Brie is taken away again and again, changing a little more each time, and her sense of identity and humanity degrade a little more each time she returns. At first, the graft is simply a leathery, reptilian wound on her arm but, soon, her entire back is converted into a sickening alien flesh and part of her face is lost to the aliens’ appalling visage.

John’s determination sees him gravely injured, but his resolve is shattered by Brie’s devastating revelation.

With Brie’s transformations becoming more and more severe, and John’s injuries effectively crippling any minor chance they had at escape, the two begin to realise that their options have become severely limited. With a heavy heart, John admits that he can’t fulfil his promise; earlier, Brie talked about how she and Hartley had planned to commit suicide but he was too weak to go through with it and she was too scared, and sadly John is unable to bring himself to put her out of his misery due to how attached to her he has become. Still, Brie is grateful that John was able to give her a brief, shining moment of hope for herself and for humanity and, with the end in sight, John tries one last time to comfort her with the knowledge that, although it may be the end for them, humanity will live on. John reveals that the UNDF has been feigning defeat and have held back a massive armada of their strongest fighters on the far side of the Sun, which were due to launch a devastating attack on the alien home world thirty days before John was captured. He fully believes that this desperate military strike will be a turning point in the war, and enough to strike a crippling blow against the enemy even though the two of them won’t live to see it, but he is left screaming in despair when Brie drops a bombshell of her own. When the alien jailer (McCracken) returns once more, Brie willingly goes to it and reveals that she was being changed back into one of them, thus exposing herself as a sleeper agent who has manipulated John into revealing humanity’s greatest military secret and assumedly dooming the human race to destruction.

The Summary:
“Quality of Mercy” is one of a handful (something like six to eight) episodes of The Outer Limits that really stuck with me, both as a kid when I first watched it and now, later in life. I remember enjoying this episode so much, being so influenced by it, that I plagiarised it for a short story assignment at secondary school! Although the episode is pretty much confined to one rather uninspiring location (an alien prison cell that looks to have taken a leaf out of Star Trek’s (1966 to 1969) playbook) and only really feature three character’s, its themes of human determination, and naivety, beautifully summed up as always by the narrator (or “Control Voice”; Kevin Conway): “Men of war have long known that warriors must often abandon those verities they defend. Peace, human kindness, love…for they hold no meaning to the enemy. And so, to win, do we become what we despise…and despise what we become? In the darkest of hours…in the greatest of battles…we must never forget who, or what, we are.“

The aliens are mysterious, physically imposing, and sadistic war-like race who have humanity endangered.

Although they’re not given a name, we are told quite a few things about the alien force that has imprisoned our main characters. They are a war-like race with little compassion and, though they can apparently understand human language and speak it through a machine, they have no understanding of concepts like “mercy”; they treat their prisoners like rats to be observed, forcibly experimented on, and dissected to learn more about their ways and their enemy. They seem oddly curious about human beings; they left Commander Hartley’s body in the cell with Brie for some time as if expecting her to do something with it (and John suspects that they eat their dead) and were fascinated by the differences between male and female bodies and sexual organs. Brie recounts with disgust and dismay how they forced her to strip down and violated her with probes and instruments, and of course she is horrified at the continued alterations being made to her body by their experiments. The aliens are depicted as huge, armoured creatures that tower over and physically dominate their captors, despite John’s best efforts to fight them back and, though we don’t see their forces in this episode, we do here many a horror story from John about how the alien’s ships have decimated humanity’s forces and proved to be a high-unconquerable enemy. And yet, despite Brie trying to encourage John to partake of the limited sustenance the aliens provide and talk him out of the futility of trying to escape or discover some weakness in their captors, John’s resolve remains absolute and steadfast His immediate focus is on learning the layout of their cell, figuring out how observed they are, and gathering as much information as he possibly can about where they are and what options are available to him, and he continually shouts defiance to his captors, taunting them with the revelation that he personally destroyed on of their capital ships and remaining adamant that they aren’t as indestructible as they immediately seem.

John’s desperation to give Brie hope may very well have doomed humanity to total destruction.

In the end, “Quality of Mercy” is a harrowing tale of desperation, deceit, and determination; John and Brie couldn’t be two more different, contrasting characters and they react to their hopeless situation in wildly different ways that both define and alter their characters and add to the intriguing lore of this world. Set in a future where humanity has been locked in an interstellar war for so long that Earth’s entire society has changed to become entirely focused on producing weapons, soldiers, and ships for the conflict and hatred for their aggressive, uncompromising alien enemy has become the norm, over-riding compassion, love, and the simple pleasures of life. John embodies this perfectly, being a good soldier who is frothing at the mouth to get back out there and fight, whether it means his death or not, and is defiant right up until the moment where he realises that the only way out is suicide. Of course, the most memorable moment of this episode is the shocking twist ending; this blew my mind as a kid, and I really think the episode does a great job of building up to this reveal as Brie is so timid and frightened and clinging to her humanity with everything she has and is positioned as an innocent victim of horrendous torture. The slow degradation of her body is juxtaposed with her failing hope for the future of humanity, and every action John takes is geared towards restoring that hope and finding a way out, and a way to fight! Ultimately, however, he is just another pawn manipulated by a superior alien force; the final shot of him screaming in hopeless defiance is extremely powerful and has stuck with me for decades. I’ve always enjoyed the bleak twist endings that closed out many episodes of The Outer Limits, and “Quality of Mercy” is easily one of the best for that thanks to how strong the two lead’s performances are and how well the episode uses every bit of its limited budget and run time.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Have you ever seen “Quality of Mercy” or the 1995 revival of The Outer Limits? If so, what did you think to it and what were some of your favourite episodes? Did you see the twist coming or were you as shocked as I was when I first saw this episode? What are some other stories of alien transformation and conflict that you enjoy? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to sign up and leave a comment below or leave a reply on my social media, and be sure to check back in next week for the conclusion of Sci-Fi Sunday.

Screen Time: The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Air Date: 25 November 2022
Director:
James Gunn
Network:
Disney+
Stars: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, and Kevin Bacon

The Background:
Although one of Marvel’s more obscure properties, and having undergone many changes over the years, the Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be a massive financial success when they made their live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). With the property deemed to have strong franchise potential and integral to the MCU, a sequel was inevitably produced and went on to surpass the box office of the first film despite criticisms regarding its pace and tone. Although director James Gunn had plans for a third film, the team’s future was briefly thrown into doubt when Disney and Gunn parted ways after learning of some controversial tweets and comments he made in the past. After addressing and apologising for his comments, and following an outpouring of support from fans and stars alike, Gunn returned to Disney/Marvel and developed of the third film started up once more. Gunn and his stars also signed on to produce this holiday special for Disney+, which he planned to serve as an epilogue for Phase Four of the MCU after having worked on the concept for some years. Following delays due to COVID-19, the special finally released on Disney+ in December 2022 and was met with positive reviews; critics praised the heartfelt homage to Christmas specials of old and the light-hearted comedy on offer, though some questioned the motivation behind the special and the inclusion of Kevin Bacon despite Gunn stating that it would set up some key events for the team’s third movie.

The Plot:
With Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt) still reeling from the death of Gamora (Saldaña) and the presence of her alternative self from a separate timeline, Mantis (Klementieff) and Drax the Destroyer (Bautista) head to Earth to bring Peter the greatest Christmas gift they can think of: his childhood icon, Kevin Bacon!

The Review:
The special opens with Kraglin Obfonteri (Gunn) shedding some light on young Peter’s (Luke Klein) childhood amongst the Ravagers to Mantis, Drax, and Nebula (Karen Gillan). As a boy, Peter was still very sentimental towards Earth (largely referred to as “Terra” out in the depths of space) and tried to teach Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) about its ways and traditions. Yondu, however, wasn’t just unimpressed at the idea of Christmas; he was enraged by it and forever ruined the festivities with his volatile temper. While Mantis is heart-broken at the story, Drax, in his usual boisterous fashion, finds Peter’s traumatic upbringing incredibly amusing, something even Nebula admonishes him for. The special does answer a lingering question I had about Taneleer Tivan/The Collector (Benicio del Toro), last seen as an illusion cast by the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), and presumed dead but he’s apparently still alive since he sold the entirety of Knowhere to the Guardians between movies. Because of this, the team has been too busy fixing the place up and restoring some kind of order and has been unable to indulge in festivities or even search for the elusive, alternative Gamora. Feeling a sense of obligation towards Peter, who’s revealed to be her half-brother since they’re both children of Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), Mantis is spurred to give Peter the Christmas he missed out on as a child. Confiding in Drax, the only one who knows her secret, Mantis is elated when the muscled-bound buffoon suggests bringing Peter’s childhood hero to him as the ultimate Christmas gift and head to Earth to kidnap Kevin Bacon! Although their arrival initially causes a stir due to Drax forgetting to activate the ship’s cloaking device, the two easily blend in amidst the glitz, excess, and cosplayers of Hollywood, unwittingly earning themselves a decent wad of cash in the process as enthusiastic tourists clamour for selfies with their pair.

To cheer Peter up, Mantis and Drax head to Earth to kidnap Kevin Bacon!

After blowing all their dough on shots and revels, Mantis uses her empathic abilities to obtain a map to Kevin Bacon’s house, where the EE spokesman is relaxing in his spacious Hollywood home and awaiting the return of his family. Although he politely sends the two away when they come calling, they’re easily able to barge into his house and a frantic chase throughout Bacon’s abode ensues, with Mantis hopping from wall to wall like her namesake and things escalating when Bacon desperately asks the local cops for help, which thankfully ends without any bloodshed. This sequence also showcases Mantis’s fighting skill as she easily takes down the armed cops and renders them unconscious with her powers, showing that she’s more than just the team’s emotional, compassionate conscious. These same powers are used to quell Bacon’s fears and, at the lightest touch and softest suggestion, he become enthusiastic about accompanying the two and helping them deck their ship out with Christmas decorations. However, once he’s heading out into the big black and sharing stories of his career, Bacon unknowingly lets slip that he’s simply an actor rather than some world-renowned superhero, much to the disgust of Mantis and Drax, so Mantis coerces Bacon into believing he truly is a hero so as not to ruin Peter’s Christmas once more. Bacon then believes himself to be a World War Two soldier, adopting a…well, “Australian” accent would be generous…then briefly pretending to be Bruce Wayne/Batman before Mantis demands that he be himself but not “suck”. Thankfully, Bacon is just happy to be out in space and takes it all in his stride, and Peter is astounded to find that all of Knowhere has been decorated with Christmas lights, songs, decorations, and even a snow blower. Though touched by their efforts, Peter’s joy turns to horror when he discovers that his friends have kidnapped his childhood hero, regardless of how excited Kevin Bacon is to be there to celebrate Christmas with them. After demanding that Bacon be returned to normal, the actor’s enthusiasm turns to terror; however, after learning of how influential his career was to Peter’s life, Bacon has a change of heart and decides to stick around and help out.

The Summary:  
Naturally, given the title and when it released, Christmas is a central theme of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special; it’s bookended by the God-awful “Fairytale of New York” song by The Pogues, the traditional Marvel Studios logo is overlaid by soft snow fall and Christmas lights, and the special opens with an animated flashback showing young Peter’s failed attempts to explain the sentiment behind Christmas to Yondu. He’s not the only one in the depths of space who struggles with the concept; Bzermikitokolok (Rhett Miller) and his band (The Old 97’s) to interpret the season through song recast Santa Claus as a superpowered master burglar who shoots missiles and has a flamethrower, much to Peter’s dismay. Drax and Mantis are equally dumbfounded by Earth’s traditions but soon enjoy the taste of Earth liquor, the excitement of a bar, and delight in the festive decorations littered across Kevin Bacon’s lawn. Those who delight in the action-packed adventures of the Guardians may be disappointed to learn that the Holiday Special is much more of a character-driven pieces; Groot (Diesel) is little more than a cameo (and looks a lot like a man in a suit, an effect I approve of) and the special primarily follows Drax and Mantis, which is pretty delightful as these two don’t always get much to do and it’s cute to see them bicker and Mantis ultimately gifting him with an inflatable elf he had grown fond of on their journey. Also, the special shows that the team is now aided in their efforts by Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova), a sentient dog that developed psionic powers after being shot into space by the Soviet Union and who has a strained relationship with Rocket Raccoon (Cooper), though she responds much better to doggy treats than criticism.

Ultimately Kevin Bacon brings the spirit of Christmas to Peter and the other Guardians.

Although Kevin Bacon is terrified by Mantis and Drax, and rightfully so, fearing at first an invasion of his home, then an attempt on his life by overly enthusiastic cosplayers, and finally overwhelmed by being surrounded by strange alien lifeforms, his excitement at being out in the galaxy comes through thanks to Mantis’s spell. Despite his fear, however, he is touched by Kraglin’s story of how much his movie roles impacted Peter’s life and he decides to stick around Knowhere for a bit, singing a song and helping to teach them about the true meaning of Christmas. While Bacon’s explains the virtues of family and goodwill so associated with the season, Peter encourages the others to open their gifts: Groot is delighted by his Game Boy and even Nebula gets into the spirit by gifting Rocket James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes’ (Sebastian Stan) prosthetic arm! Thus, Kevin Bacon parts with the team on friendly terms, and even promises to be back for Easter, having brightened Peter’s life considerably with his generosity. Equally moved by the team’s effort, Peter reveals to Mantis that Yondu quickly came around to the spirit of Christmas after being amused by Peter’s gift (the first of many small toys for his control panel( and that he even gifted Peter his trademark blasters in return. Mantis’s revelation, however, trumps even that present and Peter is thrilled to learn that he has a sister, ending the special on a sweet note about family and goodwill and all that heart-warming Christmas spirit.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special? What did you think to the focus on Drax and Mantis and their efforts to cheer Peter up with a most unusual present? Did you enjoy Kevin Bacon’s role as a clueless, well-meaning celebrity? Would you have liked to see a little more action in it or were you happy with the traditional Christmas message it delivered? Where do you see the team going in the future? What’s your favourite Christmas special? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to share them below or on my social media.

Screen Time [Christmas Countdown]: Hawkeye

Air Date: 24 November 2021 to 22 December 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Hailee Steinfeld, Tony Dalton, Alaqua Cox, Vera Farmiga, and Florence Pugh

The Background:
In one of their more blatant borrowings from their competitor, Stan Lee and Don Heck debuted Clint Barton/Hawkeye in the pages of Tales of Suspense all the way back in 1964. Originally introduced as a foil for Tony Stark/Iron Man, Hawkeye eventually became a member of the Avengers, was involved in some of Marvel’s most prominent storylines, and has even become a symbol of representation for the deaf community in recent years. Jeremy Renner helped the D-list archer become a household name after he was cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but was very much restricted to a supporting role compared to his other, more compelling peers. Marvel Studios sought to change this with the launch of Disney+, and Hawkeye was one of the first characters slated to have his own show exclusive to the streaming platform, which executive producer Trinh Tran aimed to explore his backstory, his time as Ronin prior to Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), and introduce his protégé, Kate Bishop (Steinfeld), to the MCU. Accordingly, the show was heavily influenced by Matt Fraction’s comic book run, in which these elements (and Hawkeye’s deafness) were prominent features. The show aimed to delve deeper into Barton’s mindset and how the Snap had affected him, while also formally incorporating elements from Marvel’s Netflix shows into the MCU proper, and further lay the groundwork for a potential Young Avengers project. Despite issues caused by COVID-19, the six-episode series was highly praised when it debuted on Disney+; critics enjoyed the banter between the two archers, the seasonal setting, and the chance to spend more time with Barton, while also praising the grounded action sequences. While there has been no talk of a second series, a spin-off for deaf antagonist-cum-anti-hero Maya Lopez (Cox) was put into production for a 2023 release.

The Plot:
Former Avenger Clint Barton just wants to get back to his family for Christmas but his life is thrown into disarray when he crosses paths with would-be superhero Kate Bishop and is thrust into the middle of a conspiracy from his past that threatens to derail far more than the festive spirit.

The Review:
I mentioned in my review of his debut appearance that I’m not overly familiar with the character of Hawkeye; I’ve definitely read more stories of his DC Comics counterpart and Hawkeye generally just pops up in any stories I read that feature the Avengers or other Marvel Comics characters. As a result, while I’m familiar with Matt Fraction’s work with the character, I’m by no means a die-hard Hawkeye fan. I’ve always been a bit dismissive of him; this isn’t because he doesn’t have any superpowers, I’ve just never really been motivated to seek out his stories. However, having said that, I am a fan of Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the character in the MCU; Hawkeye got a bit shafted in first Avengers movie, but has since become the heart (or, at least, moral compass) of the team. He’s shown himself to be a devoted family man, something none of his peers can boast of, a surrogate father and mentor and to have real emotional depth to his character, going on a killing spree as the vigilante Ronin after Thanos (Josh Brolin) wiped out half the universe (including Clint’s wife and kids, who eventually returned, of course) and being visibly broken after his best friend and partner, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), sacrificed herself to help undo Thanos’s actions. I think it’s cool that Hawkeye got the chance to spread his wings in a series devoted to him, but I do think Marvel Studios missed the chance to do a sort of spy/thriller set in the past that showed how Clint and Natasha first met and joined the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), which would also have shed new light on S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), but I suppose that still isn’t completely off the table and this is a good compromise as I can’t say for sure if a Hawkeye solo movie would land too well.

Burdened by grief, Clint is forced to protect Kate from the ghosts of his violent past.

When we catch up with Clint, he’s still carrying the grief and guilt over Natasha’s death; he’s unimpressed, to say the least, and somewhat insulted by Rogers: The Musical’s glorification of the Avengers and their strife and haunted by Natasha’s sacrifice. He’s also now shown to be partially deaf and wearing a hearing aid (which he turns off to spare himself Rogers’ cheesy songs and later, to tune out Kate’s incessant babbling) and is irked that the musical includes superheroes who weren’t even in the battle. And that’s not even mentioning the “Thanos Was Right” graffiti he spots in the men’s room; here’s a guy who lost everything, put his life on the line countless times, and lost his best friend to bring back untold billions of lost souls and his reward is seeing his exploits turned into a cringe-worthy stage show (Marvel Universe Live! had better action, costumes, and production value) and anonymous accusations that all that pain and loss was not only for nothing, but unappreciated by a certain few. He’s also shown to be uncomfortable with the hero worship some show him, dismissive and annoyed by fans, and cares little for his “branding”; in “Hide and Seek” (Thomas, 2021), Kate voices her concerns that he’s too “low key” to sell and thus has been denied his proper share of the limelight and a big part of their emerging partnership is her emphasising that Clint needs to open himself up more so he can inspire people the same way he did her. “Partners, Am I Right?” (Bert and Bertie, 2021) shows his counterargument to this; Clint has always seen himself as a weapon, rather than a hero or a role model, and he’s too traumatised and too weary from his losses and years of fighting to want to be in the public eye. Indeed, he begins the show simply wishing to spend a happy, if cringe-filled, Christmas with his kids – supportive daughter Lila (Ava Russo) and his sons, veritable blank slate Cooper (Ben Sakamoto) and young Nathanial (Cade Woodward). He’s stunned when he sees a report of his former murderous vigilante persona, Ronin, on the news and immediately sends his kids back home to their mother, Laura (Linda Cardellini); haunted by the deaths he caused while in the guise, Clint makes it his mission to track down whoever’s in the getup to protect them from reprisals and is aghast to find Kate under the mask. Concerned for her welfare, Clint’s paternal instincts kick in and he takes her to safety; dismissive of her because of her age and claim to be “the world’s greatest archer”, despite her obvious talent with a bow, Clint wants only to dispose of the Ronin suit, tie up his loose ends with the Tracksuit Mafia, and get back to his family for Christmas; he has no interest in a partnership or teaching Kate anything at first, but they slowly bond throughout the events of the show despite his crotchety nature.

Kate is overjoyed to be joining forces with her idol and applying her skills to superheroics.

While the show bares the name of Clint’s alter ego and his strife and character are at the forefront of the narrative, Hawkeye is, primarily, the Kate Bishop show. The series begins with a flashback showing young Kate (Clara Stack), already a keen archer, being inspired by Hawkeye’s bravery and heroism during the Chitauri attack on New York City, which left Kate’s father, Derek (Brian d’Arcy James), dead and saw her and her mother, Eleanor (Farmiga), saved by one of Hawkeye’s arrows. Vowing to protect herself, her mother, and others in the same way as her hero, Kate grew up studying fencing, archery, and martial arts; the first episode’s opening credits are essentially an animated montage showcasing Kate’s tenacity and will to succeed but, while she’s certainly gifted with a bow and in a fight, she’s young, inexperienced in the field, and has no real idea of how to best use her skills. This comes up constantly throughout the show as she’s forced to think on her feet, react to dangers with either fast thinking or her martial arts skill, and use her surroundings to her advantage, all of which shows her to be highly adaptable, but in over her head. However, she has good intentions; she puts herself on the line to rescue a one-eyed stray dog, Lucky (Jolt), and manages to scramble through most fights through luck, perseverance, and the element of surprise. Kate briefly adopts the Ronin identity when she becomes suspicious of her mother’s new fiancé, the swashbuckling, charismatic Jack Duquesne (Dalton), and becomes caught up in a murder mystery after finding Jack’s uncle, Armand Duquesne III (Simon Callow), dead from a sword wound. Since the Tracksuit Mafia have a grudge against Ronin, and Kate’s not exactly a pro at covering her tracks, she quickly finds herself a target and is blown away when her hero, Hawkeye, rescues her. She’s disheartened to learn that he plans to part ways with her as soon as the suit is destroyed and when he shows reluctance to teach her anything, but she remains persistent; when Clint allows himself to be captured by the Tracksuits to try and warn them off her, she uses her mother’s security company to track him and literally comes crashing in to rescue him. Though aggravated by Kate’s recklessness, inexperience, and methods when it comes to dealing with criminal scumbags (she’s just as likely to offer them relationship advice as she is a beatdown), Clint genuinely wants to keep her safe and thus severs their fledgling partnership when Yelena Belova (Pugh) becomes involved. Though devastated at failing to live up to her promise and the example of her hero and his fellow Avengers, a candid discussion with Yelena only fuels Kate’s desire to be a part of that life and she openly defies him, her mother, and her naysayers to aid her hero and show that she’s more than capable of living up to the mantle of Hawkeye.

Family is at the heart of Hawkeye and drives much of the plot and its characters.

Family is a key component of Hawkeye; Clint is torn between cleaning up the mess from his blood-soaked past and spending Christmas with his family; having already lost so much time with them during his days as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (essentially a glorified assassin) and Avenger, to say nothing of the five years he spent indulging his violent whims as Ronin, Clint just wants to have a quiet, peaceful life with his wife and kids and is constantly heartbroken at the prospect of breaking his promise to be home for the holidays. Refreshingly, his relationship with his kids is as strong as his marriage; his kids are generally understanding, sympathetic, and supportive of him, as is Laura, who never gives him a hard time or yells at him for prioritising his mission over his family. It’s not like Clint needs the guilt trip, either, as he carries the burden of potentially letting his family down throughout the show and nowhere is this evidenced better than during his heart-breaking phone call with Nate where, thanks to having lost his hearing aid, he’s forced to rely on Kate to act as an interpreter. As a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent herself, Laura understands Clint’s mission; his desperate desire to not only get rid of the Ronin suit but also recover a mysterious watch with ties to her past is only further fuelled by repeated references to the “big guy”, a dangerous individual who makes even the ridiculous Tracksuit Mafia more of a threat. Although he has no interest in taking on a partner after losing Natasha, Clint comes to see Kate as an equal and almost a surrogate daughter, and even builds his own network of allies after being forced to endure the theatricality of a group of live-action roleplaying gamers (LARPer) to retrieve the Ronin suit from firefighter Grills (Clayton English). Family is incredibly important to Kate, too; she’s more than a little perturbed to find Eleanor is engaged to someone else and, despite Jack’s efforts to be understanding and friendly, she is cold and aloof towards him. This turns to suspicion when she discovers a link between him and the Tracksuit Mafia; however, Eleanor refuses to listen to Kate’s claims and is horrified when she forces him into a fencing duel, accusing her of lashing out due to being at a crossroads in her life and still grieving over the loss of her father. Still, Kate is torn between being genuinely pleased with her mother’s newfound happiness and her vow to keep her safe; it brings her no pleasure to deliver evidence of Jack’s presumed misgivings, but she’s devastated to learn that he’s merely a patsy and that Eleanor has been orchestrating events to pay off a debt her husband owed to the “big guy”, none other than the kingpin of crime himself, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).

Backed by her goons, and against Fisk’s wishes, Maya is determined to avenge herself on Ronin.

The show’s themes of family are also exemplified in Maya Lopez, the head of the Tracksuit Mafia, whom Fisk regards as a daughter and one of his greatest assets. Deaf since birth, Maya communicates only through sign language (with helpful subtitles often appearing for our benefit) and violence thanks to being raised by her doting father, William Lopez (Zahn McClarnon), to be a keen fighter, thinker, and to closely observe and anticipate the movements and intentions of others using her other senses. Maya is thus a brutal and highly skilled fighter despite her lack of hearing and artificial foot; she was devested when Ronin murdered her father, the original head of the Tracksuit Mafia, and vowed to hunt him down and kill him, a vendetta that causes her close friend and second-in-command, Kazimierz “Kazi” Kazimierczak (Fra Free), to grow concerned not just for her welfare but for attracting undue attention to their organisation and angering the Kingpin. Distrustful and filled with rage, Maya has her goons target Kate as she’s their only lead to Ronin and refuses to listen to Clint’s claims that the vigilante is dead or Kazi’s attempts to reason with her; Clint goes so far as to ask Kazi to convince Maya to veer from her path as it can only lead to her destruction. Although Clint has the edge in terms of experience and adaptability, Maya proves the more agile and skilled of the two with her kicks and flips; still, Clint is able to subdue her and threatens to kill her if she continues to target his friends and family. Using a mixture of words and sign language, he attempts to relate to her since they’re both essentially living weapons but she only relents when she’s faced with the irrefutable proof that it was Fisk who ordered her father to be killed. As if Maya wasn’t bad enough, she has a whole gaggle of tracksuit-wearing goons at her disposal; the Tracksuit Mafia are a quirky bunch who all wear matching clothes and repeatedly end their sentences with “Bro”. The Tracksuits exhibit an amusing and interesting amount of personality; while they all dress and somewhat sound, look, and act alike, they’re not just mindless minions. They mock Clint and Kate, subjecting them to nonstop Christmas tunes while tied to kiddie rides, enjoy RUN DMC’s “Christmas in Hollies”, are fond of their lairs and offended when people question them and their methods, and are seen as both ruthless and clumsy, which ties into the themes of vulnerability and flawed characters.

Yelena is determined to kill Clint, while Fisk seeks to consolidate his stranglehold on New York.

Family is also a driving motivation behind Yelena’s vendetta; a flashback shows that, after the end of Black Widow (Shortland, 2021), Yelena was snapped away while freeing her fellow “sisters” from their programming. From her perspective, she instantly returned, finding her surroundings changed and life having moved on five years in the literal blink of an eye. Disorientated, her first thought was to find Natasha and she was devastated to learn that she was not only dead, but that Clint was responsible. I get that she’s blinded by rage and grief, but she’s very quick to judge Clint based on his bloody past considering how shady her own past is. Still, despite wishing to kill Clint, Yelena goes out of her way to warn Kate off him using her own signature (and awkward) brand of persuasion and even respects Kate’s ability and tenacity (it’s clear that she’s holding back during their encounters), but cannot condone her admiration of the man she believes killed her sister. Her final confrontation with Clint sheds some light on her motivations; refusing to fight, Clint relates a version of what happened to Natasha and takes a massive beating as Yelena works her grief out on him, blaming him for not fighting or trying harder and he’s only able to get through to her by sharing the secret whistle and knowledge he has of her from Natasha. It seems she’s jealous of the time Clint got to have with her and for not being there to try and stop her, and she finally realises that they both loved her and that she’s been consumed by anguish and gives up her vendetta (though their relationship remains noticeably frosty). And then there’s Fisk, making his official debut in the MCU and, presumably, tying the events of the Marvel Netflix shows closer to this shared universe; forced into a business arrangement with Fisk to pay off Derek’s debt, Eleanor angers the Kingpin when she not only tries to back out of their arrangement to keep Kate from knowing the truth but also tries to blackmail him. Garbed in his trademark white suit, Fisk exudes the same menace and authority as he did in Daredevil (2015 to 2018) with even the subtlest movements and it’s honestly fantastic to see him brought in as such a threat. He’s dangerous enough to put the wind up Clint and is known for reacting to insults with ruthless aggression; his threat is so tangible that Clint finally recognises Kate as his partner and vows not to leave until he’s been dealt with. Having trained and raised her as his own, Fisk admires Maya and demonstrates a respect and love for her but remains a natural manipulator and has a rage seemingly boiling under his skin. The audacity of Eleanor and Maya’s actions, and the reappearance of Ronin, enrages and insults him, leading to him personally attacking Eleanor after his plot to have Kazi assassinate her backfires. Here, we see his incredibly physical strength; he easily rips off a car door, shrugs off and breaks Kate’s arrows, and even survives being hit by a car and caught in an explosion when Kate’s forced to rely on her trick arrows to counter Fisk’s near-superhuman strength. Although wounded, the Kingpin manages to flee, only to be confronted by Maya; his attempts to reason with her apparently fall on deaf ears (…no pun intended) and result in his death at her hands, though we don’t actually see the shot or him die so I’m confident he’ll resurface at some point.

The Summary:  
Hawkeye stands out from much of the MCU by taking place during the Christmas season, which is a prominent theme throughout the series and lights, decorations, snow, and Christmas songs are everywhere. Even the first episode’s opening credits, styled after the art of David Aja, are sprinkled with Christmassy bells and tunes, and Clint’s primary goal is to get home to his family for the holidays. Although Kate constantly digs at him for refusing to open up to others and share his feelings, he’s only like this about the superhero life and his past; he relishes Christmas with his family, watching movies and wearing terrible jumpers and such, and a lot of his closed off nature is as much from his resentment at missing out on family time as it is the ghosts of his past. These ghosts are prominent elements throughout the show; although Clint is one of the more low-key Avengers, he has his fans and a reputation as a hero, which makes him extremely uncomfortable as he doesn’t want or ask for any thanks or special treatment but it proves useful in getting them information and co-operation from the LARPers and even winning the trust of Eleanor and Jack. However, this comes with a price; when Kate comes over with pizza and Christmas decorations, he accidentally lets slip a story about Natasha and, struggling with his grief, is barely able to tell Kate a version of his decision not to assassinate her and gets emotional reminiscing about her and the loss of his family during the Blip. This particular ghost resurfaces when Kate is tossed over a rooftop by Yelena; this time, Clint chooses to lower his would-be-partner to safety, and he makes a special trip to a plaque in the Avengers’ honour to bare his soul to his fallen friend when he makes the difficult decision to briefly return to the Ronin persona. Clint’s past is a driving reason behind Yelena’s distrust and hatred towards him; she questions why everyone has forgiven him for his murderous actions and Kate’s loyalty to someone she barely knows, especially after she deduces that he was the violent Ronin.

Archery, brutal hand-to-hand combat, and fun trick arrows make for some intense action scenes.

While Hawkeye’s emphasis is very much more on being an intriguing thriller full of character moments, there’s a fair amount of action peppered throughout to keep things visually interesting and engaging. Though just a man, Clint is extremely adept in a fight; he and Kate are similar in that they’re both adaptable and have to fight tooth and nail since they lack superpowers, though their accuracy with a bow borders on the superhuman at times. Clint is easily able to break or slip free of his bonds (amusingly leaving Kate clueless as to how he managed this), makes a habit of taking in and assessing his surroundings and potential threats, and is able to make seemingly impossible shots often without even looking. Both he and Kate can engage with multiple opponents at any one time, though Clint has the edge in experience even though the loss of his hearing aid can leave him disorientated. Their fighting and archery skills are at the heart of many of the show’s action sequences; there’s a recurring subplot regarding the retrieval and creation of Clint’s trick arrows, which allow him to blow up, ensnare, electrocute, disable, and even enlarge and shrink targets. Probably one of the best action sequences is in “Echoes” (Bert and Bertie, 2021) where Clint and Kate struggle to communicate when he’s rendered functionally deaf and must fight off Maya, Kazi, and the Tracksuits in a high-speed pursuit in a sequence taken almost beat for beat from Matt Fraction’s comic run. Yelena also contributes to some intense and thematically interesting fight scenes; her clashes with Kate are more like amusing scuffles between sisters since she’s not actually trying to hurt or kill the young archer, but her fight with Clint is as brutal and emotionally charged as Maya’s battles with the former Avenger since both are hellbent on avenging themselves on their opponent.

The show goes to great lengths to show the wear and tear this life has on its all-too-human characters.

This ties into one of the most intriguing aspects of Hawkeye; the depiction of emotional and physical vulnerability. As stated, and demonstrated, Clint isn’t superhuman and nowhere is this more evident than in this show, which routinely shows him applying frozen foods and ice packs to his many aches, pains, and bruises. Indeed, Kate is disappointed when her first lesson from her hero isn’t how to do anything exciting but how to dress and treat her wounds, and Clint repeatedly relates how living the superhero life has caused him a great deal of losses. Not only has he seen friends and colleagues perish, but he’s lost out on time with his family, is dealing with the burden of age and wear and tear, and a lifetime of explosive, high-octane action and dangerous situations have cost him his hearing. Kate, however, remains undeterred; she’s determined to learn from his example of being a regular person standing up to impossible situations and continuously tries to change his image and make him see that he’s an admirable hero since, while he has made his fair share of mistakes, his bravery and refusal to abandon her to her fate prove that’s not just some cold-blooded killer. Although she’s been raised in luxury and Clint sees her as somewhat spoiled, Kate has fought and grafted her whole life; she threw herself into her training specifically to live up to Hawkeye’s example and starts the series cut off from her mother’s money after damaging the college bell tower, meaning she has to break into the family home and her mother’s files to dig up any dirt on Jack. Vulnerability also comes into play with Maya; like Clint, she’s essentially a living weapon but one not yet slowed by age and injury. Rather than be a victim of her handicaps, Maya has learned to embrace them and use them to her advantage, proving to be an aggressive and driven adversary, but she’s just as vulnerable as Clint and Kate. Kazi is on hand to tend to her wounds but takes no pleasure in seeing her hurt, or on such a self-destructive path. It’s clear there’s more to their relationship than just being colleagues; she’s devastated when Kazi chooses his loyalty to the Kingpin and their criminal lifestyle over her and, just as she refused to give up her vendetta against Robin so too does he refuse to walk away and be with her, leading to a fight between the two that leaves him dead at her hand, much to her heartbreak.

An intense and engaging series that bodes well for the MCU’s street-level projects.

Overall, I was very impressed with Hawkeye. In this day and age, with where the MCU is now with all these cosmic, multiversal adventures, I can understand why some people might be disappointed to see things coming back down to Earth, literally and figuratively, for a more grounded series but, personally, I really enjoy that we can be galivanting around at the edge of perceiving reality one minute and then tackling street-level crime the next. Hawkeye is definitely the kind of character you want for a series like this and I’m really glad that Marvel Studios haven’t neglected to put some serious focus on their street-level superheroes; there’s so many stories to tell with guys like Hawkeye and villains like the Kingpin and it really helps to show how this world is alive and breathing both out in the universe and at home. While I’ve never been a massive Hawkeye fan, it was fascinating seeing a very human (if still very skilled), flawed hero grumbling and snarking his way through another jaunt into that life. The relationship between Clint and Kate was fantastic, with her being more optimistic and unorthodox in her methods and a quick study once Clint chose to actually share his knowledge, making her a fun addition to the MCU and, presumably the Young Avengers. The icing on the cake was including the Kingpin and I really hope we see more from him in Maya’s spin-off and future shows, but Hawkeye really impressed me with its deconstruction of what it means to be a superhero in the MCU and the toll that life can take on someone who just wants to leave the violence behind. And I haven’t even mentioned the glorious slice of cheese that was Rogers: The Musical and have only touched upon some of the intense action and exchanges seen in the film, all of which carry so much more gravitas as we see these characters hurt, dealing with the fallout from their fights and physical trauma, and struggling to cope with the burden of their past or living up to their expectations, whether self-imposed or otherwise.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Hawkeye? What did you think to the themes of grief, vulnerability, and family explored in the series? Did you enjoy the exploration of Clint, the insight into his background, and the relationship between him and Kate? What did you think to Kate and are you excited to see her return as Hawkeye going forward? Were you surprised to see the Kingpin make his return/debut and how would you like to see him used in the MCU in the future? What did you think to Maya and Yelena and their vendettas against Clint? Whatever you think about Hawkeye, drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Screen Time [Gazpacho Soup Day]: Red Dwarf (Series One)


In the episode “Me2” (Bye, 1988) of the classic British science-fiction comedy show Red Dwarf (1988 to 2020), it is revealed the Arnold Rimmer’s (Chris Barrie) last words were “Gazpacho soup!” and that he made a point to celebrate November 25th as “Gazpacho Soup Day” after a particularly traumatising visit to the Captain’s Table. While this is the perfect date to celebrate the long-running cult series, it clashed with another celebration this year so I’m a day late, but better late than never…


Series One

Air Date: 15 February 1988 to 21 March 1988
Director: Ed Bye
Original Network: BBC2
Stars: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, C. P. Grogan, and Mac McDonald

The Background:
In the mid-1980s, creative duo Rob Grant and Doug Naylor created a sci-fi comedy show for BBC Radio 4, Dave Hollins: Space Cadet; this, along with influences from sci-fi classics like Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974) and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams, 1978; Bell, 1981), served as the basis for what would become Red Dwarf. Putting character and comedy before genre, their concept of a comedy set in space featuring dysfunctional characters in an extraordinary setting was initially a hard sell due to its sci-fi trappings. Originally, Alfred Molina was cast in the role of Second Technician Arnold J. Rimmer but, when he dropped out due to difficulties with the character and concept, impressionist Chris Barrie (who’d previously worked with Grant and Naylor) stepped into the role. Liverpudlian “punk poet” Craig Charles was cast as Third Technician Dave Lister and, despite being an hour late to his appointment, singer and dancer Danny John-Jules was cast as “The Cat”, with the actors tackling their roles as being larger-than-life caricatures of themselves. Sardonic stand-up comedian Norman Lovett was cast the the ship’s neutronic computer, Holly, and gained a bit of a reputation, insisting on appearing on camera rather than merely a voice over and refusing to work unless his confiscated football was returned to him. Against all the odds and despite a tight budget, Red Dwarf finally made it to TV screens; however, while five million viewers tuned in to watch “The End” (Bye, 1988), those numbers dropped over the course of the series. Nevertheless, audience feedback was so strong that the BBC commissioned a second series, where the show really hit its stride and became a cult hit. About ten years later, Grant and Naylor revisited the first three seasons and enhanced them with additional digital effects, replacing many model shots and even excising some lines and jokes, which resulted in these Remastered episodes being largely criticised. Still, following this first series, Red Dwarf proved consistently popular even as the duo experimented with more outlandish concepts; after they parted ways and Red Dwarf disappearing altogether, the show returned with a three-episode special, which led to a questionable revival that focused on the far more jaded principal cast members.

The Plot:
When the crew of deep space mining ship Red Dwarf are all killed following a radiation leak, the ship drifts aimless in space for three million years. When the background radiation dies down the ship’s computer, Holly, releases slovenly technician Dave Lister from his incarceration in suspended animation and he’s left alone in the endless void with only the hologramatic recreation of his overbearing superior and bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer, and a creature who evolved from the ship’s cat for company.

The Review:
I grew up watching Red Dwarf, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. My dad was a big fan of the series and had taped each episode as they aired so we could easily just go to the shelf and shove in a VHS tape to watch it whenever we wanted, but our collection originally started from series two (Bye, 1988). In fact, I’m pretty sure that we were up to series four (ibid/Paul Jackson, 1991) or five (Various, 1992) before I had even seen the first series. This was because, back in the early nineties, re-runs didn’t really work the way they do now; we didn’t have catch-up TV or streaming services, VHS tapes were extortionately expensive and often only contained two or three episodes, and there weren’t any channels like Gold or Dave that constantly showed repeats. I remember being stupidly excited when the first series was announced to be returning to BBC2 in anticipation of the latest series, only to find that the first series was very different to what I have experienced so far, even from the technically similar second series. Of all the classic series’ of Red Dwarf, series one is easily my least favourite and, even now, I rarely choose to watch it over the second or third (Bye, 1989); while I can understand that the show was establishing itself and finding its footing, many of the episodes drag and aren’t very visually interesting to look at. You can tell from the live audience’s reactions that this sentiment was shared as many of the jokes fall a bit flat and the audience seems confused about the premise. This wouldn’t be an issue in the next series and wouldn’t reoccur until Grant and Naylor stopped working together and the show took a noticeable nosedive, but it’s unmistakable here and does somewhat stunt my enjoyment of the first series despite there being a few standout moments and episodes.

The show’s premise is surprisingly dark, with the human race extinct except for one slob.

The show begins with the titular mining vessel fully crewed and out in the depths of space. According to Officer Frank Todhunter (Robert Bathurst), the ship houses 169 crew members, from dosgbody technicians like Rimmer and Lister to officers and the ship’s captain, Frank Hollister (McDonald). The dynamic between Lister and Rimmer is established in the very first sequence of the first episode; Lister, a lowly Third Technician, is a lifelong slacker and career slob who is endlessly bored by their mundane duties, which include unclogging food dispensing machines. To amuse himself, Lister likes to wind Rimmer up with singing, humming, and other annoying habits, which has earned him no less than 247 complaints from his superior and bunk-mate. Truth be told, Rimmer is equally as unsatisfied with his job, which isn’t assigned to the ship’s service robots (known as “Skutters”) simply because the machines have a better union. However, Rimmer, believes wholeheartedly in the importance of their essential routine maintenance in keeping the ship and her crew safe on their long journey and is a stickler for the rules and professionalism even though it’s earned him a reputation as a “Smeghead”. This is the primary reason why Lister is so insubordinate towards Rimmer; he can’t stand Rimmer’s stuck up, kiss-ass attitude and would much prefer he got the rod out of his ass, but Rimmer is determined to impress and advance his career to get the respect he feels he deserves. Although Rimmer believes Lister is content to simply slob around with no ambition, Lister actually has a few dreams; his first love is music and he’s an enthusiastic (if terrible) guitar player; he also plans to buy a farm on Fiji where he can breed horses and own a sheep and a cow. He believes he’ll achieve this goal since he saves money by not buying deodorant, socks, and soap and because the prices on Fiji are ridiculously low thanks to a volcanic eruption leaving most of the land three feet below sea level. While Rimmer mocks this plan, Lister is determined to make it work, ideally, with Navigation Officer Kristine Kochanski (Grogan) by his side. Unlike in later series’, Kochanski is Lister’s dream girl who he has been working on plucking up the courage to ask out rather than a former flame who he longed to get back with, and he always makes sure to flirt with her during his many trips to the captain’s office.

Lister’s slovenly ways grate on Rimmer and conflicts with his status as the Cat’s “God”.

While Lister’s insubordinate attitude sees him getting numerous write-ups and reprimands, it’s his housing of an illegal animal that ends up with him being sentenced to the stasis booth for breaking the ship’s quarantine procedures. Refusing to give up his pregnant cat, Frankenstein, Lister is released to find that the entire crew has been wiped out by a radiation leak thanks to Rimmer’s sloppy work. Unlike in the novelisations, where Lister falls into a deep and self-destructive depression following the revelation that everyone he knows (literally everyone) is dead, Lister takes this news surprisingly well; he’s gutted that Kochanski’s dead and that his plan will never come to fruition but still coherent enough to crack jokes about overdue library books. “Balance of Power” (Bye, 1988) offers a glimpse into Lister’s despair as he sits alone in the bar, remembering the fun times with his friends; before the accident, Lister was surrounded by the equally slovenly Petersen (Mark Williams), Chen (Paul Bradley), and Selby (David Gillespie) and the three of them delighted in mocking Rimmer whenever possible, drinking, smoking, and slacking off together at every opportunity. He feels their loss deeply, but is largely ruled by his regret at never making a move on Kochanski, and his pining for her is a recurring theme throughout the series as he tries, and fails, to convince Rimmer to allow him to spend some time with her hologram. Unlike Rimmer, who believes wholeheartedly in the existence of aliens, Lister is of the belief that humanity is alone in the vast universe, but jumps at the chance to pull a prank on Rimmer when he mistakenly believes a garbage pod contains the remains of the fictional “Quagaar” race. Lister does suffer a crisis of conscience, however, when he learns that, during this three million year sleep, the cats evolved into a humanoid species, Felix sapiens, that worshipped him as a God, “Cloister the Stupid”, who would lead them to the promised land of “Fuchal”. The extent of this thread is explored in “Waiting for God” (Bye, 1988), where Lister learns from smell reading the Cat’s books and bible that the cats engaged in violent wars over differing interpretations of Lister’s dreams of opening a hot dog and doughnut diner on Fiji. Lister is distraught at having been “misquoted” but gains a modicum of catharsis when he’s able to pose as his holy self and help bring some peace to a blind, disillusioned, and dying elderly an elderly cat priest (Noel Coleman).

The neurotic Rimmer’s insistence on barking orders often leads to his humiliation.

A huge part of the series is the love/hate relationship between Lister and Rimmer, with both despising the other’s annoying habits and accusing them of holding them back. While Lister doesn’t really care all that much what people think of him, Rimmer is obsessed by it, constantly trying to impress his superiors and pass his engineer’s exam, only to be met with a series of embarrassing failures, including writing “I am a fish” four-hundred times. So desperate is Rimmer to pass his exams and become an officer that he often resorts to cheating (either using illegal “learning drugs” or writing the answers on his arms and legs as an “aid to memory”), but it’s also stated that his tendency to self-sabotage is just as to blame for his failures as his lack of capability as he wastes weeks creating revision schedules rather than actually revising. Lister is constantly frustrated by Rimmer’s neurotic ways and insistence on following rules and procedures, but Holly explains that he brought Rimmer back as a hologram rather than one of Lister’s friends since he was statistically the best person to keep him sane. Rimmer’s newfound intangibility and sudden death only adds to his neuroses; the first thing he does upon seeing Lister is blame him for choosing the save Frankenstein and thus not being able to help replace the drive plate, before whining that any dreams he had of advancing his career or having a sex life have been forever lost thanks to him now being dead. Rimmer finds solace in maintaining his officious and aggravating personality; he goes out of his way to insult and bring down Lister for being a lazy slob, and throws his weight around as the ship’s highest ranking officer to order Holly to perform menial tasks for him and give him access to the crew’s confidential files, which always results in Rimmer being embarrassed in some way. Interestingly, while Rimmer is later personified by his abject cowardice, he actually tries to attack the Cat when they’re properly introduced and shows so co-dependency on his slovenly bunk mate; he’s distraught at the idea of being turned off when Lister plans to go back into stasis and constantly denies Lister access to Kochanski’s hologram disc simply out of fear of whatever little life he has left being snuffed out completely.

The vain and self-obsessed Cat is more concerned with his appearance than helping others.

Rimmer also has little time or patience for the Cat, a suave, sharply-dressed, hyperactive humanoid with a propensity for dancing, traversing the ship via the air ducts, stopping to admire himself, and claiming everything he sees as his. Though he exhibits knowledge of his species’ reverence for Cloister/Lister, he’s not really a true believer and is more interested in sex, food, and looking good and disparagingly refers to Lister as a “monkey”. His curiosity often causes problems for Rimmer, who has restricted Lister’s access to his vices (mostly cigarettes and booze) to try and coerce him into co-operating with menial tasks; Rimmer’s horrified when the Cat finds Lister’s cigarettes and claims them for himself since they’re so shiny and manages to convince him to return the fags in exchange for being taught how to use the vending machines. This backfires on Rimmer and the Cat, however; not only does the Cat betray him, costing him some leverage in trying to talk Lister out of taking the chef’s exam and thus becoming his superior officer, the Cat gorges himself on fish and ends up suffers from stomach pains. The Cat is largely used as a comedic break; he wanders the corridors “investigating” and looking for food and showing off his “shiny thing”, a yo-yo that fascinates and excites him in its simplicity, much to Rimmer’s disgust and irritation. In “Confidence and Paranoia” (Bye, 1988), the Cat momentarily expresses concern when he spies Lister’s unconscious body but quickly moves on, more concerned with finding something to have sex with and then showing no interest in helping when Rimmer tries begging him for assistance since he’s more focused on playing with his Chicken Marengo. Later, when Lister recovers, the Cat does try to cheer him up with “presents” but ends up stealing his pillow and blanket and trying to take a nap, and even seems genuinely hurt when Rimmer snaps at him. The Cat plays a large role in the series, however, despite his comparative lack on screen time; not only is Lister deeply shaken by his influence over the Cat’s society, he’s determined to keep the Cat from losing a tooth in “Future Echoes” (Bye, 1988) in order to prevent his own inevitable and violent death. Though he’s unsuccessful, and the Cat is largely incredulous to the drama between Lister and Rimmer throughout the series, the Cat does end up socialising with Lister on a few occasions and has some fun moments, such as becoming paranoid about the presence of a dog, taking a crap in Rimmer’s boots, and roller-skating around with a megaphone and large bouquet of flowers trying to court any lady cats.

Driven senile from isolation, Holly is more capable of pulling pranks than running the ship.

Finally, there’s the ship’s computer, Holly, who boasts that he has an IQ of six-thousand (“the same IQ as six-thousand PE teachers”). Before the accident, Holly was merely a glorified announcement system, but three million years of isolation have driven him “a bit peculiar” and resulted in him dropping any formalities and indulging in decidedly un-computer-like conduct. Despite his high IQ, Holly has quite a few limitations; he can only sustain one hologram at a time, he can’t observe or communicate with anyone or anything in the cargo hold, and he’s frequently forgetful, meaning that he’s initially overwhelmed when he has to figure out the precise calculations needed to navigate the ship when it exceeds the speed of light following three million years of constant acceleration. To properly marshal his efforts, he even sets up an answering machine to keep people from bothering him, and he’s ill equipped to handle the lightspeed trip, which overwhelms him once it occurs (as he puts it, “me bottle’s gone!”) Rimmer also makes constant menial demands of him, demanding haircuts and answers to problems happening on the ship without consideration for Holly’s feelings or duties. As a result, Holly enjoys pulling pranks on Rimmer almost as much as Lister does, messing about with his hair and image file to give him Peterson’s arm and keeping the truth of the garbage pod from him for “a laugh”. Holly’s propensity for jokes and pulling pranks also extends to Lister, however; he later tries to stave off his boredom in “Me2” with an early April Fool’s joke where he claims that Norweb have dispatched fighters to claim debts owed by Lister. He also constantly interrupts Lister’s attempts to enjoy a heart-breaking film in “Confidence and Paranoia” when he finds himself at a loose end after reading every book ever written. Frustrated at the constant interruptions, Lister agrees to erase Holly’s knowledge of Agatha Christie in lieu of the computer’s inability to create a lifelike replica of a woman, only to be exasperated when Holly has no idea of what’s happened!

The Summary:  
One of the first things to note about series one of Red Dwarf is how long and boring the opening title sequence is; sadly, it wouldn’t be until the third series that things would get a bit more interesting and exciting in this regard, and every episode opens with a slow, dramatic, even ominous series of shots showcasing the vastness of the titular mining vessel against the endless black of outer space. It’s not particularly thrilling or engaging, and the presentation (like much of the series’ music) veers oddly towards the ominous rather than the comical. Thankfully, every episode after the first also begins with Holly providing either a bit of context to life onboard the ship, catching people up with the show’s general premise, and dropping a few jokes here and there, almost as a warm-up act to the remainder of the episode. The series also lacks a real appealing visual identity; every corridor looks the same, drab grey (there’s even a joke about this in “Me2” when Rimmer insists on repainting the walls from ocean grey to military grey) and boring grey labels cover all the food and drink throughout the series as well. Even the cigarette packets are unappealing to look at, as are the crew’s uniforms, though this does help Lister, the Cat, and the show’s other colourful guest stars to pop out a bit more with their wild attire. The show’s technology and sci-fi elements are primarily introduced in the first episode and recur in easy to digest ways throughout the series; robotic Skutters glide about the place performing menial tasks (they later showcase some amusing personality quirks, like begging Lister not to leave them with Rimmer, enjoying a movie, and flipping Rimmer off behind his back) and the ship is outfitted with dispensing machines that frequently malfunction. The stasis booth is the focus of the first couple of episodes and essentially functions as a brig for insubordinate crew members, but also allows Lister to survive the radiation leak, but the most prominent technology is Holly’s ability to “resurrect” dead crew members as holograms. We’re introduced to the concept through Flight Coordinator George McIntyre (Robert McCulley) but much of Rimmer’s neurotic behaviour boils down to him being recreated almost perfectly except for the large H on his forehead and the fact that he cannot lift or touch anything and is, essentially, a digital ghost.

The conflict between Lister and Rimmer is at the forefront of the series.

Perhaps more so than any other series of Red Dwarf, series one hinges on the chaotic relationship between Lister and Rimmer. The two cannot stand each other and are constantly finding ways to either put the other down or wind each other up and, while every episode explores their relationship in some way, “Balance of Power” (Bye, 1988) goes all-in with showing just how frustrated Lister is by Rimmer’s oppressive and borderline insane hang-ups. Rimmer despairs of Lister’s hygiene, his taste in music, his lack of ambition, and his slobby nature but is also paranoid about losing his fragile existence in favour of Kochanski. To that end, Rimmer arranges to hide the hologram discs from Lister and refuses to entertain even a short switch off, so Lister resolves to force him to listen to him by passing his chef’s exam. This shakes Rimmer, not just because he believes a chef is a “white-hatted ponce” rather than a real officer, but also because of the very real fear that Lister could actually succeed, especially given that Lister showcases flashes of intelligence and capability throughout the show and he actually tries to revise rather than making excuses like Rimmer. When his attempts at reasoning with Lister fail, he assumes Kochanski’s form and tries to talk Lister out of his efforts; however, while initially crushed by her rejection, Lister quickly sees through Rimmer’s charade, exposing him with ease. Their issues finally come to a head in the final two episodes; interestingly, Rimmer shows genuine concern when Lister’s pneumonia causes physical manifestations of Lister’s Confidence (Craig Ferguson) and Paranoia (Lee Cornes) to appear. In a flash of uncharacteristic concern, and despite how similar Paranoia is to him, Rimmer sees them as dangerous and symptomatic of Lister’s illness since, as long as they exist, Lister can’t recover. Rimmer even tries to distract Paranoia so a Skutter can sneak up on him to sedate him but is unsuccessful, but his concerns are largely out of his selfish desire not to be left alone with just Holly and the Cat for company. In the end, he’s proven to be right, and then gets the last laugh by swapping Kochanski’s disc with his own, creating two Rimmers. At first, both Rimmers and Lister are happy to be rid of each other; Lister delights in being free from Rimmer’s rules and irritations and the Rimmers deck their quarters out with everything they need to motivate (procrastinate) and succeed (self-aggrandise), much to Lister’s amusement.

The series eventually delves deeply into Rimmer’s issues and introduces some fun technology.

However, conflict soon grows between the Rimmers; one is noticeably more driven, more focused, and more demanding than the other and they eventually verbally attack each other and descend into childish squabbling. Lister is able to use this to his advantage, however, to learn the secret of Rimmer’s last words (“Gazpacho soup”). When Rimmer 1 shows up for his erasure in his finest attire and showing off his long service medals, he relates how he embarrassed himself at the Captain’s Table by sending back a bowl of gazpacho soup since he didn’t know it was meant to be served cold. Haunted by the experience, he blamed his ignorance for his subsequent lack of confidence and stunted career, raging at the injustice of such a simple mistake costing him his aspirations. When Lister wipes the other Rimmer, the series seems to end with them finally reaching a level of mutual respect…only for Lister to make a “soup-er” pun to keep their relationship decidedly antagonistic. Gags such as this are commonplace throughout the series, which primarily focuses its dialogue and jokes on grounded, relatable subjects rather than resorting to incomprehensible space jargon. This does happen a few times, however, and mostly lands quite well, but it’s just as amusing seeing Lister accidentally put shaving cream under his armpits, the crew’s interactions with the chirpy Talky the Toaster (John Lenahan), and making topical references about the French and Germans. Probably the best episode of this series is “Future Echoes” for its hilarious use of double takes and time dilations that see Lister have one-sided, out of synch conversations with Rimmer, frantically trying to prevent his death, and him and Rimmer puzzled at how they manage to get two babies on the ship without a woman.

The potential is definitely there but the show would quickly exceed the efforts of its first series.

Primarily, the show is focused on the four main characters; some fun personalities appear in the first episode before being reduced to ashy powder and the memories of them haunt both Lister and Rimmer alike throughout the series. The crew are joined by a couple of additional cast members in the form of Lister’s Confidence (a loud, outspoken, encouraging, and enthusiastic individual who compliments everything about Lister, however slovenly and unappealing) and Paranoia (a twisted little man who criticises everything about Lister and seeks to question him, bring him down, and attack every decision he makes). Frustrated by Rimmer’s overbearing nature, Lister jumps at the chance to spend time with Confidence, who’s won over by his musical “talent” and is so admiring of his “King” that he even keeps Lister’s discarded cigarette butts. Although Lister is a little uncomfortable by Confidence’s blinkered belief in him, he’s inspired by him to search for the hidden personality discs so he can finally be reunited with Kochanski. Lister’s resolve falters when Confidence reveals that he not only destroyed the medical unit but also killed Paranoia to keep them together and he’s distraught when Confidence takes his helmet off in the vacuum of space to bolster his confidence and instantly explodes as a result. Even despite some of its genuinely amusing moments and the pull of nostalgia, I still have to admit that series one is one of my least favourite of the show’s many seasons; everything’s a bit dull and lacking in visual variety and the characters and concepts would be fleshed out far better in even the following series. Even watching the Remastered version of the series doesn’t help as some of the CGI shots, additions, and changes made actually throw off the original jokes. In the end, there’s a lot of potential here; the dynamic between Lister and Rimmer is at the forefront and helps to carry series one to some funny moments, usually at Rimmer’s expense or at Lister’s slovenly ways, but the show definitely found its footing in later series and improved upon the foundations laid down by this first enjoyable, if somewhat awkward, season.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to series one of Red Dwarf? Were you a fan of the show and the concept when it first aired? Did the jokes and gags work for you? What did you think to the chaotic relationship between Lister and Rimmer? Were you a fan of the Cat and his surprisingly dark history? Which episode of series one was your favourite? When did you first discover Red Dwarf and which character, season, and ship is your favourite and why? Would you like to see more seasons and specials, maybe one that finally closes the book on the Red Dwarf story, or do you think it’s best to leave it be for now? How are you celebrating Gazpacho Soup Day today? No matter what you think, feel free to leave a comment about Red Dwarf down in the comments and on my social media.

Screen Time [Doctor Who Day]: The Three Doctors


On this day, the 23rd of November, in 1963, the longest-running and most successful science-fiction television series ever, Doctor Who, first aired on BBC One in the United Kingdom. Since then, the rogue Time Lord has gone through numerous incarnations, travelled throughout the entirety of the past, present, and the future, and is widely celebrated as one of the most iconic and recognisable mainstream cultural icons in the world.


Air Date: 30 December 1972 to 20 January 1973
UK Network: BBC One
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, Stephen Thorne, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, and William Hartnell

The Background:
In 1963, the Head of Drama at the BBC, Sydney Newman, commissioned a show to fill a gap in the BBC’s schedule that would appeal to both children and adults alike. After writer Cecil Webber created a brief outline for Dr. Who, a collaborative effort saw the concept refined into the debut episode, An Unearthly Child (Hussein, 1963), and Doctor Who captivated audiences with the following episode, which introduced the long-running and iconic antagonists, the Daleks. Doctor Who attracted strong ratings during its first season but, by 1996, star William Hartnell’s health was becoming an increasing concern, so story editor Gerry Davis came up with a genius idea to allow the actor to step away from the role while continuing the show. Davis conjured the idea of “regeneration”, a process all Time Lords would undergo when mortally injured or at the end of their lives and which would allow them to take on a new face and altered persona up to thirteen times. Patrick Troughton took over the role, eventually becoming one of the most beloved incarnations of the Doctor despite a great number of his episodes being lost. Fearing being typecast, and fatigued by the gruelling shooting schedule, Troughton left the role three years later and my first, favourite Doctor, John Pertwee, was brought on for the show’s big debut in full-colour and became one of the character’s most popular incarnations. In 1972, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the series, Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks decided to bring together the three actors responsible for the show’s success in the first of many multi-Doctor crossovers. Sadly, Hartnell’s poor health kept him from participating as heavily as was originally intended, but the four-episode serial drew strong ratings and decent reviews, despite some criticisms of the script and characterisation of the main villain.

The Plot:
Omega (Thorne), the solar engineer responsible for the Time Lords’ ability to travel in time, seeks revenge on the Time Lords after they left for dead in a universe made of antimatter. Desperate for aid, the Time Lords bend their laws to recruit three incarnations of the Doctor (Pertwee, Troughton, and Hartnell) for aid when Omega drains their civilisation’s power and threatens their destruction.

The Review:
I’ve always enjoyed the spectacle of multi-Doctor stories; Doctor Who is one of the few television shows or science-fiction properties where you can easily have an in-built excuse to have previous actors meeting up and going on a little adventure together, and something about seeing the past incarnations of the Doctor interact has always been appealing to me. I think a lot of it stems from the fact that Doctor Who wasn’t on television when I was a kid; they didn’t even air reruns of the show, so watching it was extremely difficult, but I grew up reading the novelisations by Terrance Dicks and had always tried to consume as much of the early days of the show as I could (within reason; a lot of it is unavailable of hasn’t aged too well). The top of my list, alongside the various Dalek adventures, were the multi-Doctor stories, and I’d always had a particular fascination for The Three Doctors (Mayne, 1972 to 1973). This is probably because it was the first of such crossovers but, either way, these types of stories have always been a favourite of mine, even if they’re not always actually that good.

With the Doctor, and Gallifrey, under siege, the Time Lords bring the Second Doctor in to help.

The Three Doctors is a four-part adventure set during John Pertwee’s tenure as the Third Doctor; after being captured and tried by the Time Lords at the conclusion of his second incarnation (and, apparently, as a cost saving measure) the Doctor was forced to regenerate into his third incarnation and left stranded on Earth, where he worked as a scientific advisor alongside the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) and continually tried, in vain, to repair his disabled time machine, the Time And Relative Dimension In Space (TARDIS). Accordingly, The Three Doctors begins in much the same way as many of the Doctor’s adventures during this time (and beyond): on Earth. While investigating cosmic rays, Doctor Tyler (Rex Robinson) comes across a series of unexplained, faster-than-light signals that leave him, and especially UNIT’s commanding officer, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Courtney), stumped. Intrigued by the signal, which appears to defy all known laws of physics, the Doctor takes Jo Grant (Manning) with him to investigate, unaware that the mysterious signal is causing those that tune into it to be abducted by a flash of light and bringing with it a strange, amorphous blob. This bizarre piece of camera trickery is intent on abducting the Doctor (with the others being taken purely by chance) but, rather than go out searching for the creature, the Doctor insists that they simply stay put and wait for it to find them, which results in a number of UNIT solders being killed when a number of aggressive, seemingly indestructible gelatinous aliens storm the UNIT base. Taking refuge in the TARDIS, but unable to flee, the Doctor begrudgingly sends a call for help to the Time Lords, who find themselves equally under siege from an energy-draining beam emitted from the void of a black hole. Although they cannot spare the energy and manpower (such as it is) to directly assist the Doctor, the Time Lord President (Roy Purcell) violates the First Law of Time by having the Second Doctor materialise in the Third Doctor’s TARDIS to help.

The First Doctor gets his successors on track, and they’re shocked to find Omega behind it all!

Unimpressed with his successor’s redesign of the TARDIS, the two Doctors immediately struggle to get along; both claim to be the real deal, both want to take charge of the situation, and both believe that they are more than up to the task without the other. Even after bringing the Second Doctor up to date with the situation via an awkward telepathic conference, the two Doctors continue to bicker, primarily because the Second Doctor continually gets distracted by his recorder and interfering with the TARDIS. In order to ensure that the two are more effectively able to pool their resources, the President bends time and space ever further by drafting the First Doctor to keep them in order. Though unable to physically materialise due to the Time Lord’s failing power, the First Doctor advises from the TARDIS viewscreen and is unimpressed with both of his replacements, whom he views as “a dandy and a clown”, and their inability to co-operate, but still able to identify the blob as a “time breach” that is intended for crossing through time and space. Much to the shock of Sergeant Benton (John Levene), who stays behind as the Second Doctor’s makeshift assistant, the Third Doctor allows himself to be taken by the time breach, but accidentally takes Jo with him. The two materialise in an antimatter universe full of the objects and people taken by the blob, and the same alien creatures attacking UNIT, where they reunite with Dr. Tyler, who agrees on the impossibility of their situation, all while being completely unaware that they’re being monitored by a mysterious, armoured individual who commands the blob-like creatures. Despite Dr. Tyler’s insistence they should try to escape and his scepticism regarding the antimatter universe, the Third Doctor’s wish to meet their host is granted and he is awestruck to come face-to-face with the legendary Time Lord, Omega. An enigmatic former scientist trapped in a regal armour, Omega is determined to avenge himself on his fellow Time Lords, whom he feels abandoned him to the antimatter universe after discovering the secret of time travel.

Omega overwhelms the Third Doctor but is enraged to find he can never leave his prison.

On the advice of the First Doctor, the Second Doctor disables the TARDIS’s forcefield and allows the entirety of UNIT headquarters to be transported to the antimatter universe, much to the Brigadier’s chagrin, and the Second Doctor and Sgt. Benton are captured and brought to Omega almost immediately. Omega is as angered at the Second Doctor’s attempts to deceive him as he is by the Third Doctor’s insistence that Omega is revered and honoured as a hero, by both himself and the other Time Lords. Omega cannot let go of his hatred and affront at his brethren and, apparently having been driven half-mad by his exile, desires to become a God. With completely mastery over his antimatter universe, Omega is freely able to conjure objects out of thin air and reveals that he survived his dangerous and deadly excursion into the black hole through sheer force of will. However, when the two Doctors stand opposed to Omega’s destructive intentions, the exiled Time Lord engages the Third Doctor in a telepathic battle against the “dark side of [his] mind” in an awkward slow-motion fight sequence that sees even the Doctor’s Venusian aikido overwhelmed. The timely intervention of the Second Doctor spares the Third Doctor’s life and convinces both of Omega’s unconquerable power; as powerful as Omega is, however, he requires the Doctor’s assistance to be free of his antimatter prison since he is forever bound to that world (the moment he tries to will himself to escape, he will ensure his destruction, and he only continues to exist because of his world). Wishing for the Doctor to take his place and allow him to escape, Omega has the two remove his mask, which they will require to keep the antimatter universe intact. However, Omega is enraged to discover that he has become a being of pure will, with no physical form, and is therefore unable to ever be free from his prison.

The two Doctors defeat Omega and the Third Doctor’s exile to Earth is finally lifted as thanks.

Pushed to the edge of his sanity, Omega resolves to destroy everything in a fit of rage, driving the Doctors and their companions back into the TARDIS, where the First Doctor leads another telepathic conference that directs them towards the TARDIS’s forcefield generator, which they hope to use to bargain for their freedom, and with it the very key to defeating Omega. All throughout the serial, the Second Doctor has been banging on about his recorder, having lost it early into the story; it turns out that it fell into the forcefield generator, and as a result was not converted from matter to antimatter. Initially, the Doctors planned to offer to use the forcefield generator to free Omega, but by this point the insane Time Lord has become content to live out his exile alongside his fellow Time Lords and thus spare their universe and friends from his reprisals. Infuriated at the Doctors’ attempts to placate him with “trinkets”, Omega casts the forcefield generator aside, thereby destroying himself and his antimatter universe when the unconverted recorder falls to the floor. The two Doctors are returned to Earth triumphant, though the Third Doctor laments that he/they couldn’t offer Omega any freedom other than death and the Second Doctor bemoans the loss of his recorder. After bidding farewell to the First Doctor, and an amicable parting between the Third and Second Doctors, Third Doctor is elated to find that the Time Lords have restored his knowledge of how to travel through time and space, and provided the TARDIS with a new dematerialisation circuit, thus ending his exile on Earth and restoring his freedom at long last.

The Summary:
When watching early Doctor Who episodes, it’s best to do so without a massively critical mindset. If you go into it expecting groundbreaking special effects and production design then you’re obviously going to be a little disappointed, and The Three Doctors is no different. The weird, blob-like entity that captures the Doctor is pretty laughable now, being a mere trick of light spliced into every scene its in, and is surpassed only by Omega’s odd gel creatures that shamble all over the place looking ridiculous. Omega’s antimatter throne room is pretty impressive though, and certainly far more visually interesting than the Time Lords’ control centre, and I won’t begrudge the serial for being hampered by the budget and technology of the time. Furthermore, I’ve always been impressed and amused by the ingenuity and adaptability of early Doctor Who; back then, with little money and some spray-painted Styrofoam, the showrunners would have the Doctor visit all kinds of strange, alien worlds or creature ridiculous alien lifeforms but, these days, it seems like the Doctor is constantly anchored to Earth. To be fair, the Third Doctor was similarly handicapped, but just one episode of modern Doctor Who probably has more money behind it than the entire first series of the Third Doctor’s adventures so you’d think that the showrunners could have him/her stray away from London every once in a while.

In addition to featuring some classic characters, the serial introduces a bombastic villain.

What makes the serial work, and what has always made Doctor Who work, is the fantastic use of characters, such as the Brigadier, whose stiff-upperlipedness always lends itself to some amusing moments as he would be frequently bamboozled by the Doctor’s technobabble and the increasingly bizarre events happening around him, and finding the return of (from his point of view) the first Doctor only perplexes him further. This serial also marks the first time that the Brigadier enters the TARDIS, which is an interesting statistic, and much of the comedy comes from his frustration with the Second Doctor’s easily distracted nature and inability to understand all of the complex time travel mumbo-jumbo happening around him. In comparison, Sgt. Benton is far more adaptable and willing to take the Second Doctor’s lead, though his trigger-happy nature clashes with the Doctor’s more pacifistic approach to matters. Although she’s not a scientist, Jo is probably one of the Doctor’s more capable assistants from around this time; she makes up for her lack of scientific knowledge with a boundless enthusiasm, does a good job of translating the Doctor’s technobabble, and catches on to the serial’s bizarre events far quicker than the Brigadier. In an interesting twist, the Time Lords find themselves in an unusual position where they have no choice but to break their own laws; though their energy is being drained and their civilisation and very way of life is threatened, the Chancellor (Clyde Pollitt) vehemently objects to the President’s actions, despite there apparently being no other option available to them. Although the Doctor has no love for the Time Lords or their stringent rules, he’s directly opposed to Omega’s plot to eradicate Gallifrey since the Doctor is all about the preservation of life. Those who are only familiar with modern-day Doctor Who may be surprised to see other Time Lords in this serial, particularly a Time Lord antagonist who isn’t the Master (Various), and I would love for the show to bring back some of the other antagonistic Time Lords as it really does help flesh out the universe beyond it always being the Doctor and the Master over and over again. Omega makes for a bombastic and intriguing villain composed entirely of antimatter and fuelled only by rage; he resents being left in exile and is so consumed by his lust for power and vengeance that he refuses to listen to the Third Doctor’s pleads that he (as in Omega) hasn’t been forgotten and brings about his own end simply because his rage and solitude have left him unable to control his emotions.

The squabbling Doctors must learn from their predecessor and work together to defeat Omega.

Of course, like all multi-Doctor stories, the main appeal of The Three Doctors is seeing the Doctor interact with his other incarnations. While it’s disappointing that the First Doctor was unable to take a more active role in the serial, making this more like The Two-and-a-Half Doctors, it’s interesting seeing his characterisation here; although the oldest actor of the three, the First Doctor is technically the youngest and least experienced of the Doctor’s incarnations, something which comes up in subsequent stories, so it’s somewhat amusing that he’s the more mature and rational of the three. While the Second and Third Doctors constantly bicker and get on each other’s nerves, the First Doctor remains impassive and logical, deducing solutions and offering insight that his successors have missed due to their more flamboyant natures. The Second Doctor is annoyed when the Brigadier describes him as the Third Doctor’s “assistant” and the Third Doctor finds the presence of his predecessor an unnecessary and dangerous event, at best, and an insult at worst. It is only when they and their companions are captured by Omega that the two Doctors finally set aside their grievances and agree to work together and, encouraged by Jo, are able to manipulate Omega’s antimatter universe in their favour. It’s great seeing the how different, and yet similar, all three incarnations of the Doctor are; each are extremely intelligent, proud, and stubborn Time Lords with their own aristocratic flair, and the more mischievous nature of the Second Doctor riles up not only his successor but both the Brigadier and Omega as well. While the Third Doctor is much more in control of his emotions, he frequently lets his predecessor’s playful ways get under his skin, and only the wise council of the First Doctor can help keep the three focused on the greater task at hand.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to The Three Doctors? Are you a fan of multi-Doctor adventures or do you find that they’re confusing and lacklustre affairs? Which of the first three Doctors was your favourite and what did you think to their interactions with each other? Were you disappointed that William Hartnell was unable to properly participate in the adventure, and what did you think to Omega? Would you like to see Omega and other antagonistic Time Lords return to the series or do you prefer the Doctor to be from a near-extinct race? How are you celebrating Doctor Who Day today? Let me know your thoughts on Doctor Who and its first multi-Doctor adventure down in the comments by signing up, or leave a reply on my social media.

Screen Time: Werewolf by Night

Air Date: 7 October 2022
Director: Michael Giacchino
Network: Disney+
Stars: Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Kirk R. Thatcher, and Carey Jones/Jeffery Ford

The Background:
Back in February 1972, Roy Thomas, Jeanie Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Mike Ploog (under the direction of the legendary Stan Lee) introduced readers to Jack Russell/Werewolf by Night in the pages of Marvel Spotlight. After a ridiculous ban kept Marvel from publishing stories about werewolves and other supernatural creatures, the writers were finally free to explore these elements, and Werewolf by Night, soon graduated to his own self-titled series later that same year. Coming from a long line of lycanthropes and sharing a complex history with Count Dracula and the cursed Darkhold, Jack Russell became a feral beast under the light of a full moon and was repeatedly targeted by a nefarious cabal known as the Committee, who also introduced the emotionally damaged vigilante Marc Spector/Moon Knight to Marvel’s readers. Despite being one of Marvel’s more obscure characters, Werewolf by Night was pegged for a big-screen adaptation back in 2001; after numerous drafts and delays, Crystal Sky Pictures seemed ready to begin shooting when the project simply vanished from their slate. Hopes for the Werewolf lived again, however, when Kevin Smith was denied use of the character for a 2019 project, and the character was officially announced to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s fourth phase in a one-hour, horror-themed special for Disney+. Director Michael Giacchino drew specific inspiration from the classic monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s and promised that the special would include some of Marvel’s most famous monster characters, such as Doctor Ted Sallis/Man-Thing. Upon its release, Werewolf by Night was met with largely positive reviews; critics praised the aesthetic and brisk pace, and the homage to classic Hammer Horror films, while also noting that the characters and certain visuals were somewhat disappointing.

The Plot:
A group of monster hunters gather at Bloodstone Manor following the death of their leader and engage in a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic, which will bring them face to face with a dangerous monster.

The Review:
I might not know much, if anything, about Werewolf by Night but I’m more than familiar with the Hammer Horrors of yesteryear, classic black-and-white terrors that laid the foundation for popular depictions of screen monsters such as Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man. I’m actually more a fan of the 1930 Hammer Horrors than the later renaissance spearheaded by the likes of Christopher Lee; there’s just something about the gothic aesthetic surrounding the likes of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. that I find endearing and appealing in its simplicity. Plus, those classic horrors are super brisk; you could probably watch all of them, or a good three or four, in just a few hours and that’s perfect for when you just want a short, sharp fix of horror rather than sitting through a two-hour feature film. Similarly, as someone who struggles to binge-watch even six-episode shows for these reviews, I couldn’t be happier that Werewolf by Night opts to simply be a short special presentation, clocking in at a little under an hour. I miss when Marvel used to produce one-shots to fill in gaps between movies and definitely think they would benefit from producing more one- or two-hour specials to flesh out some of their more obscure characters. Similar to how the old Hammer Horrors would open with some text or a voice over, so too does Werewolf by Night begin with an opening narration touching upon the malevolent monsters lurking in the darkness and those who hunt and kill them, with none being more prominent than the legendary Bloodstone family, whose patriarch has slaughtered monsters across the generations with the supernatural relic known as…well…the Bloodstone.

Jack and Elsa reach an agreement to allow him to free the Man-Thing and her to claim the Bloodstone.

Following the death of Ulysses Bloodstone (Richard Dixon), the Bloodstone is in need of a new master, a process determined by inviting monster hunters from all over the world to take part in a ritualistic hunt to establish who is worthy of this powerful relic. Ulysses is survived by his widow, Verusa Bloodstone (Harris) and his estranged daughter, Elsa (Donnelly); Verusa is Elsa’s stepmother and is greatly disappointed by Elsa’s lack of interest in continuing the family tradition. Once thought to be capable of surpassing Ulysses’s abilities, Elsa instead abandoned her duties and her training but is nonetheless determined to take the Bloodstone for herself. Verusa acts as the hostess for the gathering of hunters, with over two-hundred confirmed kills shared between the death-dealers. Jovan (Thatcher) is easily the most bombastic of the group, making an impression through his impressive beard and facial scars, though only Jack Russell (Bernal) can claim over a hundred kills just for himself. With the exception of Elsa, all present see their crusade as a righteous one, a mission of mercy for the cursed and their victims, though there’s a definite flavour of cult-like sensibilities to their hunt. The hunt itself takes place on the grounds of Bloodstone Manor, a dark forest that leads to an Maurits Cornelis Escher-like labyrinth guarded by members of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), which probably explains why the layout and logic of the labyrinth makes little sense. Sporting tribalistic make-up to honour his ancestors, Jack is randomly selected to head out into the woods ahead of the others and his life is deemed to be as fair game as the monster, and any of the other hunters. Despite his impressive reputation as a monster killer, it turns out that Jack isn’t there to hunt their quarry, the swamp creature we know as the Man-Thing (Jones/Ford), but is actually there to rescue him and even refers to him by his real name, Ted. Thus, Jack wants no part of the hunt and even suggests to Elsa that they forget they saw each other, Jovan is driven into a frenzy by his desire to earn the Bloodstone, attacking Elsa with his axe and being surprised and unarmed by her martial arts skill. She then uses Jovan’s axe to more literally disarm Liorn (Leonardo Nam) and kill him with his own wrist-mounted crossbow, proving that she hasn’t been neglecting her training in her time away from Bloodstone Manor.

Verusa triggers Jack’s transformation into the titular Werewolf and seals her fate.

Although the Man-Thing is incapable of communicating beyond a few grunts and creaks, Jack is fully capable of understanding him and promises to relieve him of the Bloodstone, which hurts and weakens him, and blast their way out of there and to freedom. Although Azarel (Eugenie Bondurant) isn’t quite so altruistic, her attack does lead to Jack and Elsa finding some common ground and agreeing to help each other in return for her getting the Bloodstone and him getting the Man-Thing to safety. Although sceptical about Jack’s motives and his relationship to Man-Thing, Elsa is duly convinced that the creature is only a threat when provoked or senses a threat when he calms down after she reluctantly refers to him by his real name and takes Jack’s advice to treat him like an old friend rather than a monster. After some pratfalling with the explosives, Jack succeeds in freeing his friend but, when he tries to pick up the Bloodstone, it rejects him because he’s also hiding a monster within himself. Naturally, Verusa is disgusted by Jack’s charade and has him locked up with Elsa for her part in freeing the Man-Thing; although embittered that Jack kept his secret from her, Jack assures Elsa that he has “systems” in place to manage his monstrous side and that he works hard to keep that part of himself from hurting others. Unfortunately for him, Verusa doesn’t need to wait for the next full moon to witness Jack’s transformation as she possesses the Bloodstone; fearing what he’s capable of, he desperately tries to remember Elsa’s scent and begs for a merciful death, but Verusa forces him to undergo a startling transformation into a ravenous werewolf with her family relic. Naturally, the Werewolf goes on an animalistic rampage, savaging and tearing his way through anyone he deems a threat, but even his supernaturally-enhanced strength is nothing compared to the debilitating power of the Bloodstone, necessitating Elsa’s intervention to keep him from being killed. Retrieving the Bloodstone, Elsa is spared an evisceration after showing compassion for the Werewolf and Verusa meets a gruesome end when the Man-Thing gets his hands on her.

The Summary:  
Werewolf by Night establishes itself as a very different kind of Marvel production right from the start; not only is the entire feature in black-and-white like the old Hammer Horror films, but the Marvel Studios logo and main theme have been altered to evoke the gothic horror aesthetic of those classic horror films, all the way down to flashes of lightning over the logo, a suitably Hammer-esque orchestral score, and even film grain to give it that weathered, 1930s feel. Everything about the special screams Hammer Horror, right down to the gothic Bloodstone Manor and its hieroglyphics depicting the generations of monster hunting to the stuffed monster heads adorning the walls and the presence of the Bloodstone family crypt. In fact, the only time colour is even used in the special is when the Bloodstone itself is on screen, with the gem shining with a piercing blood-red light and breathing colour into the film after Elsa claims it in the finale. Sadly, the visual presentation doesn’t extend to the cast of characters; it takes about thirty minutes to learn Jack’s name and none of the characters introduce themselves so it was pretty difficult to tell who was who. None of the hunters except Jovan really stood out and we never really get a sense of who they are or their backgrounds; even Elsa and Jack’s origins are left frustratingly vague and Verusa came across as a cackling pantomime villainess that, while suitable for the Hammer vibe of the special, didn’t exactly make her any more nuanced than wanting to destroy all monsters simply because they are monsters.

Both Man-Thing and the Werewolf end up being startlingly brought to life.

On the flip side, I have to say that it’s great to see a character as obscure and visually interesting as the Man-Thing finally make it into the MCU after years of subtle allusions and references. Although an entirely CGI creature rather than being a marriage of digital and practical effects like in the 2005 film, the Man-Thing certainly impresses when onscreen. While the Man-Thing is supernaturally powerful and capable of melting a man’s head with one giant claw-like hand, he also showcases a childish demeanour; the creature is in pain and frightened by his current situation and desperate to get to safety, there’s a definite sense of victory when Jack and Elsa are able to work together to free the lumbering swamp monster from his pain and bondage. Even better, we get to see the Man-Thing in full colour and even handing Jack a cup of coffee after he recovers from his transformation, showing that the creature isn’t just some mindless beast and has not just a measure of intelligence but also a sense of humour. Interestingly, Werewolf by Night bucks a trend of many werewolf tales by not drawing upon the classic An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981) for its transformation sequence; instead, Jack’s transformation is largely relegated to a CGI light show and silhouette, which adds an air of mystery to the Werewolf, for sure, but half the fun of a werewolf feature is the gruesome body horror of the transformation. The Werewolf’s look, in the few instances where he is shown, is a nice throwback to The Wolf Man (Waggner, 1941); a furry, voracious humanoid wolf, the Werewolf makes short work of Verusa’s TVA guards, mangling, mauling, and manhandling them as Elsa takes out the last two hunts, all while framed by flashing lights and with a generous helping of gore splattering across the screen.

While I enjoyed the Hammer Horror homage, I don’t feel the special lived up to its potential.

Ultimately, I’m somewhat torn; I enjoyed the visual presentation of the special, which is unlike anything else we’ve seen in the MCU and a fantastic throwback to the classic 1930s Hammer Horror films, but the characterisations are severely lacking. Obviously, it’s only an hour-long special so there’s only so much you can cram in there, and there’s something to be said for keeping an air of mystery around Jack and the Bloodstone family. However, it’s hard to care about the other hunters when none of them are ever named onscreen and they’re simply there to be cannon fodder for Elsa and the Man-Thing; even the appearance of TVA agents is a real head-scratcher and is never explained, nor do we learn anything about the Man-Thing’s backstory even as a throwaway line. The effects are pretty decent, but we don’t get to see the titular Werewolf until the last twenty minutes or so and even then he’s kept in shadow and framed in a way that keeps him monstrous to enhance his threat. I enjoyed seeing the Man-Thing in action, but I guess I was just expecting more monster action from this monster-centric special. I can understand wanting to showcase Jack as a human being trying to suppress his monstrous alter ego and I enjoyed that he goes out of his way to help monsters rather than hunt and kill them, but I didn’t find him a particularly compelling character. Similarly, there was some nuance to Elsa and potential in her conflict with her stepmother and her father’s legacy, but it just wasn’t expanded upon sufficiently enough for me. She’s just another bad-ass female fighter who distances herself from her family’s actions, but it’s not really explained why and all we’re really told is that Verusa and Ulysses recently Elsa for not living up to her potential (yet we see she’s the most capable fighter of all the hunters). In the end, I applaud the attempt at something new, visually and stylistically, and the introduction of monsters to the MCU, but, as presented, Werewolf by Night could easily be skipped or ignored at this point and I’d be surprised to see it directly referenced in later MCU projects.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Werewolf by Night? Were you disappointed by the lack of insight and characterisation in the hunters? What did you think to Man-Thing, his visuals and his portrayal? Would you have liked to see more monsters featured in the special? What did you think to the Werewolf, his transformation and his bloody rampage? Did you enjoy the references to classic Hammer Horror films? Would you like to see more from these characters, and are there any specific Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing stories you’d like to see adapted into the MCU? Whatever your thoughts Werewolf by Night, leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Screen Time: Moon Knight

Air Date: 30 March 2022 to 4 May 2022
Network: Disney+
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, May Calamawy, Gaspard Ulliel, and Karim El-Hakim and F. Murray Abraham

The Background:
In May 1975, Doug Moench, Don Perlin, and Al Milgrom’s silver-clad mercenary, Mark Spector/Moon Knight, debuted in the pages of Werewolf by Night. The character, who was inspired by 1930s pulp heroes like Lamont Cranston/The Shadow, evolved into one of Marvel’s more complex and bizarre characters thanks to his Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which went a long way to quash unfair comparisons between him and Bruce Wayne/Batman. Although easily one of Marvel’s more obscure superheroes, Moon Knight featured in a number of Marvel videogames and cartoons; a live-action appearance was also hinted at in Blade: The Series (2006) and development of a Moon Knight television series has done the rounds at Marvel Studios since 2008. Things finally got underway in 2019, when the series was greenlit for streaming on Disney+, with Marvel bringing in writers and directors to develop the series with a focus on the character’s Egyptian history and mythology. Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige specifically saw Moon Knight as a means to push the boundaries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) by offering a darker product than their usual output and through exploring the character’s DID. Oscar Isaac landed the title role and emphasised that the show would explore aspects of the Jewish faith alongside delving into the character’s complex multiple personalities, while Marvel scored another coup by getting Ethan Hawke onboard as the main antagonist (and without showing him a script). Meghan Kasperlik designed the eponymous vigilante’s costume, incorporating a functionality and an otherworldliness that would be in keeping with the show’s supernatural slant, alongside the more formal “Mr. Knight” suit. After some delays due to COVID-19, Moon Knight released in weekly instalments on Disney+ and was met with extremely positive reviews; critics praised the visuals and subversion of expectations offered by the series, and the bizarre nature of the show was particularly lauded, though some did question the execution and Moon Knight’s lack of screen time. Although Oscar Isaac didn’t initially sign on for future appearances, Kevin Feige stated that Moon Knight would eventually cross over into other MCU properties, and he and many of those involved were open to returning in the future.

The Plot:
Mild-mannered gift-shop employee Steven Grant (Isaacs) is plagued with blackouts and memories of another life thanks to suffering from DID. When one of his personalities, mercenary Marc Spector, bubbles to the surface, he learns that he’s actually Moon Knight, the cloaked avatar of the Egyptian moon god Khonshu (El-Hakim and Abraham), and Steven is drawn into zealot Arthur Harrow’s (Hawke) plot to “heal the world” through the malicious power of the Egyptian goddess Ammit.

The Review:
Moon Knight is a character I know next to nothing about beyond some sporadic appearances in Marvel videogames, and a general understanding of him, so his appeal, for me, has always been a very visual one. There’s something about his silver, hooded outfit and crescent moon gadgets that really speaks to me and I’ve always wanted to read more his stories but haven’t yet found an appropriate place to start. I’m a big fan of Oscar Isaac, Egyptian mythology, and the psychology and visual spectacle exploring a character like Moon Knight offers, however. I was hoping that Moon Knight would help to establish a contingent of street-level vigilantes in the MCU, ones whose concerns weren’t with sky beams and alien invasions, and delivering something a little more gritty and violent compared to the generally family-friendly MCU formula. When we’re first introduced to Steven Grant, he’s a simple gift shop clerk at the British Museum and having a great deal of trouble with his sleeping habits; suffering from insomnia and blackouts, he chains himself to his bed and rigs precautionary measures throughout his flat to track when he’s gone walkabout and stays up late playing with a Rubik’s Cube and reading up on the Ennead, a group of nine Egyptian Gods due to have a special exhibition at the museum. Steven’s tardiness and constant attempts to put his knowledge of and respect for Egyptian lore to better use as a tour guide earns him the ire of his boss, Donna (Lucy Thackeray), and he comes across as a bit awkward and frustrated with his lot in life. He wants more from life, and aspires to be more and put his knowledge to good use, but people frequently get his name wrong and he’s constantly shot down by Donna and held back by that quirky British politeness that keeps us from complaining. Steven’s only confidantes are his one-finned fish, Gus, and a mute, motionless living statue, Crawley (Shaun Scott), to whom he can freely vent about his issues and anxieties; however, he does leave regular messages for his beloved mother and has a crush on his co-worker (and actual tour guide), Dylan (Saffron Hocking). Although he has no memory of arranging a date with her, he’s excited at the prospect and consequently left absolutely devastated when his frequent blackouts cause him to miss entire days, thus ruining his chances with her.

Steven’s mundane life is thrown into chaos when he finds his body houses another, more violent personality.

It’s said that Steven’s blackouts have caused him to find himself in odd situations with no memory of how he got there, and he often treats many of the things he witnesses as nightmares, but his perception of reality is shattered when he finds himself being chased by armed men in the Austrian Alps! There, he not only discovers a strange golden scarab and encounters the measured and fanatical Arthur Harrow for the first time, but the mysterious, disembodied voice of Khonshu chastises him, calling him an “idiot” and a “parasite” and demanding that he “surrender the body to Marc”. Steven’s nightmare literally comes to life, however, when Harrow proves to be real and shows up at the museum looking to retrieve the scarab, which is actually a compass that can lead him to the tomb of Ammit, an Egyptian Goddess whom he serves and whose power he uses to judge whether souls are (or will ever be) capable of good or evil deeds. Recognising Steven as a “mercenary” who stole the scarab from his sect, Harrow is a former servant of Khonshu’s who became disillusioned with the moon god’s reactionary methods and has pledged himself to Ammit, who sees and knows all and judges people fairly according to their character, which he believes could’ve prevented some of the world’s most disastrous tragedies and wicked tyrants from rising to power if she hadn’t been betrayed and imprisoned by the Ennead. Like Steven, Harrow also hears a “maddening, relentless” voice in his head but he’s a far more emotionally composed and subdued individual, speaking with confidence and conviction and fully at ease with himself and his life’s mission. When he tries to judge Steven, the scales remain out of balance due to there being “chaos in [him]”; this chaos is Marc Spector, an alternate personality who inhabits Steven’s body and takes control of it whenever he’s in danger. This leads to a number of jarring and amusing jump cuts that show Steven having an episode and then waking up to find himself in the middle of a high-speed car chase or surrounded by dead bodies, but it’s not until Harrow’s jackal-like minion comes after him that Steven is forced to acknowledge that the voice in his head and his independent reflection are actually real and allow Marc to take control.

While Steven struggles to use the suit, Marc utilises it to be a brutal and efficient agent for Khonshu.

While Steven is somewhat awkward, a little sarcastic, very honest, and polite and speaks with the facsimile of a British accent, Mark speaks with an American accent and is a far more confident and self-assured individual. A disgraced and dishonoured soldier who turned to working as a mercenary, Marc is a dangerous and formidable fighter who carries a great deal of guilt on his shoulders; the avatar of Khonshu, Marc is charged with protecting the vulnerable and delivering Khonshu’s “justice” to the wicked, but this is contingent on Steven not interfering and Khonshu regularly admonishes Marc for not being able to keep Steven under wraps. Believing that he’s suffering from paranoid delusions and fully prepared to seek medical advice about his condition, Steven is confused and intrigued when Marc’s wife, archaeologist and adventurer Layla El-Faouly (Calamawy), tracks him down to finalise their divorce. After months of trying to get a hold of him and believing him to be dead, Layla initially believes that Marc is indulging in a deep cover story and is frustrated by his odd accent and behaviour, so she is understandably distraught to find that he not only doesn’t remember their life or adventures together, but also that Marc never confided in her about his condition. For his part, Marc has desperately been trying to keep both Steven and Layla safe; he’s distanced himself from his wife to keep her out of Khonshu’s grasp, since he’s always on the lookout for a new avatar, and the moon god effectively manipulates Marc into prolonging his service by threatening to take Layla if he doesn’t prevent Harrow from awakening Ammit. Marc is given the power to accomplish this through Khonshu’s “armour”, a wrapping of magical bandages that he can summon at will to become the titular Moon Knight. Armed with crescent moon weapons and capable of gliding on his matching cape, Moon Knight exhibits superhuman strength, agility, and durability, easily beating Harrow’s jackal to death and overwhelming a number of armed foes. The suit grants him accelerated healing and effectively makes him unkillable, allowing him to survive being shot at and impaled, but he’s not resistant to pain and loses his power when Khonshu is imprisoned in a small stone ushabti by the Ennead. Marc is well versed in the suit’s capabilities and has amassed quite the body count carrying out Khonshu’s will, but Steven is far more awkward; when he’s attacked by another jackal, Steven summons a literal three-piece suit and matching mask, much to Marc’s disappointment, and uses two far less lethal batons as Mr. Knight. However, just being granted superhuman abilities doesn’t make Steven a competent fighter and, when innocent bystanders are put at risk or the situation gets out of hand, Steven allows Marc to take control as Moon Knight so he can glide through sky, flinging himself across rooftops, and impale such monstrous creatures in suitably dramatic fashion.

Egyptian folklore plays a huge role in the series, with its Gods and myths playing an important part.

Steven greatly disapproves of the bloodshed, however, and constantly interferes whenever Marc or Moon Knight are close to killing; when chasing down leads in Cairo, Marc is frustrated by these constant blackouts, which see Steven trying to get them out of the country before Marc can hurt or kill anyone, but both of them are confused when the bodies continue to pile up without their knowledge and they’re left without a lead when Harrow’s men demonstrate their commitment through suicide. Thus, they’re forced to turn to the Ennead for help and Khonshu summons a meeting of their avatars within the Pyramid of Giza by manipulating the sky; this is a problem, however, as the Gods disapprove of Khonshu’s theatrical and volatile nature as it threatens to expose them to the world. While Khonshu claims to be “real justice” since he punishes those who’ve done “real harm”, Harrow believes that Khonshu is a fickle and unstable liar who preys on those with a strong moral conscious, and it’s true that none of the Gods have much respect for him. In attempting to warn of Harrow’s intentions, Khonshu condemns himself to the Gods’ avatars – their leader, Selim (Khalid Abdalla), avatar of Osiris; Yatzil (Díana Bermudez), avatar of Hathor; and the avatars of Horus (Declan Hannigan), Tefnut (Hayley Konadu), and Isis (Nagisa Morimoto) – by accusing them of abandoning humanity. This enraged outburst is all the ammunition Harrow needs to manipulate the Gods into imprisoning Khonshu, thereby stripping Marc and Steven of their superhuman abilities, by branding the moon god a paranoid, jealous, unhinged outcast who’s so off the deep end that he acts through a psychologically unstable avatar. Although she’s powerless to prevent Khonshu’s imprisonment, Yatzil gives Marc a lead on Ammit’s tomb out of respect for her previous relationship with Khonshu and, thanks to Layla’s connection, they’re able to locate a sarcophagus in the possession of conceited, condescending self-styled philanthropist Anton Mogart (Ulliel). While Harrow pursues them and ultimately destroys the sarcophagus in a demonstration of power, Steven uses his knowledge of Egyptian scripture and hieroglyphics to help piece together the location of Ammit’s tomb, proving his usefulness despite not being as physically useful as his alter or Layla in a fight. Along the way, Steven becomes excited at the prospect of an adventure and exploring an actual Egyptian tomb and a strange love triangle eventually develops between Steven, Layla, and Marc as Layla warms to Steven because of his honesty and morals and they share both a kiss and a tender moment when she reminisces about the adventures of her father, Abdallah El-Faouly (Usama Soliman).

Harrow’s machinations see Steven questioning reality and discovering uncomfortable truths about his past.

In contrast to Steven, who’s ungainly and full of self-doubt, and the mercenary Marc, Harrow is a well-spoken, composed, and enigmatic religious zealot and cult leader who willingly subjects himself to daily pain by filling his shoes with glass. His cane not only carries the likeness of Ammit but also contains a fraction of her power; with it, he’s able to determine whether a person is or ever will be good or evil, with the impure instantly dropping dead on the spot. Such is his allure and silver tongue that he’s easily able to manipulate regular mortals and Gods alike with just a few words and has swayed many to his cause; enough, in fact, to have established an idyllic society free from fear, crime, and selfishness where he is heralded as a savour, father figure, and leader. There, food is free, information and experience are openly shared, and everyone strives to better themselves…and all he asks is utter servitude to Ammit’s unbiased judgement. Having also spent time as Khonshu’s “Fist of Vengeance”, Harrow sympathises with Steven’s plight and encourages him to resist the moon god’s demands, but Steven finds the idea of pre-judgement disturbing and is disgusted when Harrow likens Ammit’s genocidal methods, which includes the murder of innocent children, to the severing of a diseased limb. Harrow’s cane grants him unique insight into Steven’s mind and this eventually impacts his relationship with Layla; although he tries to avoid discussing his bloody past and downplay Harrow’s poisonous words, he’s ultimately forced to admit that he was there when her father died. However, Marc was trying to save him and, for his insubordination, was also left fatally wounded by his former commanding officer, Bushman, and forced to accept Khonshu’s bargain in order to survive. This, however, is merely scratching the surface of Marc’s emotional damage; after being shot and killed by Harrow, Marc finds himself in his interpretation of the Duat (the Egyptian afterlife and just one of many “intersectional panes” that await us after death; since the Duat is impossible to comprehend, Marc interprets it as a psychiatric hospital in a reflection of his fractured mind. There, Marc and Steven exist as separate beings under the care of their therapist, Doctor Harrow, who tries to convince them that they’ve simply created an elaborate fantasy for themselves based on their love of adventure film Tomb Buster and to cope with a childhood trauma. Initially, Marc is more inclined to believe that he’s crazy and simply imagining everything rather than accept that an anthropomorphic hippo, Taweret (Antonia Salib), is guiding them to the afterlife, but is forced to face the truth when he sees the vast sands of the Duat for himself. Marc’s relief that he’s dead rather than insane quickly turns to desperation when the adorable Taweret urges the two to reconcile their unbalanced heart before they read Aaru, the Field of Reeds, as they won’t be able to find eternal paradise otherwise. Despite Marc’s best efforts to convince Steven not to dig into his fractured memories and to simply take control of Taweret’s boat for themselves, Steven is distraught to learn that he’s simply an alternate personality Marc constructed as a child to shield himself from the emotional and physical abuse of his mother, Wendy (Fernanda Andrade).

After reconciling his fractured psyche, Moon Knight and Khonshu take the fight to Harrow and Ammit.

Wendy was left devastated when Marc’s younger brother, Randall (Claudio Fabian Contreras), accidentally drowned to death while play-acting Tomb Buster alongside young Marc (Carlos Sanchez). She not only spitefully blamed Marc for it, punishing and condemning him, but constantly shunned him and took every opportunity to make him suffer despite the best efforts of his father, Elias (Rey Lucas). Terrified of Wendy’s reprehensible outbursts, Marc created the alternate identity of Steven Grant (Tomb Buster’s Indiana Jones-type hero) to give himself a normal, happy life to retreat to rather than suffer his mother’s abuse. Initially, Steven is overwhelmed by the truth (and the revelation that his mother has been both dead for some time and wasn’t the doting woman he believed she was) but his anger turns to sympathy after witnessing first-hand the immense guilt and abuse Marc had to suffer. He’s even more disturbed when he witnesses Khonshu’s manipulation of Marc; appearing before him when he was on the brink of suicide, Khonshu offered to make him into an instrument of vengeance and encouraged his self-deprecating view of himself as nothing more than a killer, an event that Steven interprets as the moon god simply taking advantage of Marc when he was at his most vulnerable. Finally having found common ground, Marc is so devastated when Steven is dragged from the boat by hostile spirits and turned to sand that he rejects the peace and tranquillity of the Field of Reeds to reunite with his “brother” in the Duat and return to life through the Gates of Osiris (and the intervention of Tawerert). Thanks to Layla freeing Khonshu from his prison, Moon Knight is restored to full health and power, with Marc and Steven sharing the body equally, rapidly switching personalities and between Moon Knight and Mr. Knight as a united force, allowing them to broker a new deal with the moon god. After Harrow kills the Ennead, frees Ammit, and has his followers conduct mass judgement, Khonshu battles his fellow God in a kaiju-like brawl across Cairo while Moon Knight tackles Harrow. He’s not alone in this endeavour, however; since it takes multiple avatars to seal Ammit, Layla reluctantly agree to temporarily become Taweret’s avatar, the Scarlet Scarab, gaining her own armour and wing-like blades to help fight Harrow. In the end, though, Harrow is summarily defeated following another of Steven’s blackouts and Moon Knight ultimately rejects Khonshu’s urging to kill Harrow and Ammit. However, while it seems as though Marc and Steven have finally found a peaceful co-existence and been freed from their service to the moon god, a mid-credits sequence shows that there was a third, far more violent personality all along when Khonshu has this psychopathic alter, Jake Lockley, execute the Ammit-possessed-Harrow.

The Summary:  
Moon Knight is definitely a different flavour for the MCU; while there’s many of the traditional elements we’ve come to expect, especially in the high-stakes, CGI-infused finale and Harrow’s abilities basically boiling down to shooting electrical bolts, the depiction of duality and conflict and suffering in its main character really helps it to stand out. These days, we’re used to the MCU dipping its toe into Norse mythology and cosmic deities so exploring the Egyptian side of things really added a unique slant to the show. Steven treats Egyptian culture with a great deal of respect and is dismayed that the once grandiose society has been reduced to trinkets, toys, and sweets; he showcases an intricate knowledge of Egyptian folklore and traditions, particularly when it comes to their burial techniques and beliefs of the afterlife, and Cairo and its pyramids and society take the spotlight from the third episode, lending themselves to some stunning visuals and parkour chases. I really enjoyed how the show went balls-in with the depiction of Egyptian Gods and lore as well; Khonshu is this terrifying, robed figure with a bird’s skull for a head, we’ve got anthropomorphic alligators and hippos, and eight of their most prominent holy figures were represented in the Ennead. The depiction of the Duat was incredibly striking as well; Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) delved into the afterlife through the Celestial Pane and Moon Knight runs with this concept, postulating that all religions and afterlifes not only exist but that they are also connected and that there is some kind of serenity (and judgement) awaiting us in death. This set the stage for the show’s biggest revelations but also delivered its most harrowing scene; seeing Steven find his inner strength and then turn to sand was absolutely heart-breaking and it was very rewarding (if incredibly easy) when Marc decided to go back for him rather than be at peace.

Oscar Isaac shines throughout Moon Knight, effortlessly switching between his personas on the fly.

Make no mistake about it, Moon Knight is the Oscar Isaac show. Just as Split (Shyamalan, 2016) showcased James McAvoy’s incredible range and versatility as an actor, so too does Moon Knight allow Isaac to show exactly what he’s capable of. Everything from his accents, his body language, and his little physical quirks helps to differentiate his personalities, to the point where Steven is horrified when he sees himself on security camera footage and can tell, simply through the way he’s carrying himself and the look on his face, that it’s not “him”. Mirrors play an important role throughout the film; reflective surfaces are plentiful, especially when Stephen is suffering from hallucinations, and he and Marc communicate through them. It’s absolutely captivating watching Steven have an emotional breakdown while Marc is pleading for control of the body, and Marc also exhibits his own unhinged side when he’s in control. Since he’s more composed and aware of their condition and what’s going on, his priority is always to shield Steven (and Layla) to protect them, even if it means pushing them away, lashing out, or fighting for control. The banter and interplay between Steven and Marc is a real highlight and an absolute testament to Isaac’s acting ability; the two bicker and squabble like brothers over the body, tactics, and even girls, with Marc threatening to throw them off a cliff and then forcing Steven to punch himself right in the nose for kissing Layla! This kind of physical comedy was also showcased in the first episode, where Steven was physically unable to hand the scarab over to Harrow and was jerked around like a puppet before blacking out so Marc could take control of the situation. As fantastic as Isaac as at switching between his personalities, you really get a sense of camaraderie and affection for the two when they’re split into separate beings in the Duat. Watching them endure Dr. Harrow’s manipulations while going on a painful and emotional journey of self-discovery was a harrowing experience and learning just how vindictive and abusing Marc’s mother was really drove home how damaged he was by the whole experience. It’s thus extremely cathartic when they come together for the finale, effortlessly sharing the body and their knowledge and experience to be a more effective whole, even though the hints to their more destructive third personality were peppered throughout the show and hint towards a greater conflict in the future.

Both Layla and Harrow prove extremely competent and the kaiju-like finale really stands out.

Moon Knight was also a visual highlight as well and I really liked how his costume was interpreted as a magical construct of bandages and that it granted him superhuman abilities; while different from the comics, Mr. Knight persona also looked brilliant and Isaac’s quirky movements and snarky behaviour in this guise helped to make it a real treat when it showed up. Unfortunately, both incarnations of Moon Knight are used quite sparingly; thanks to Steven and Marc’s blackouts, we rarely get to see much onscreen violence and are generally left with the chaotic aftermath, which I actually found to be quite an amusing and unique narrative device. It really helped to build the mystique around Moon Knight and this was reflected in the few fight scenes of his we did get where the character is so ruthless and nigh-unstoppable that it’s difficult to believe he’s at risk so limiting his appearances helped make him more special, like he was Steven’s “big gun” to bust out and solve a situation. Plus, there’s a decent amount of action on offer; we’ve got car chases, parkour, and some pretty violent scenes as bad guys are squashed and sliced up or people simply drop dead from Harrow’s power. Layla proves herself extremely competent in a combat situation, gunning down and taking out Harrow’s men and undead Egyptian priests and even trying to assassinate Harrow before she agrees to become the Scarlet Scarab. These abilities make her an even more effective combatant and she and Moon Knight are clearly positioned as equals for the finale, where Harrows proves incredibly formidable, though he’s presumably overwhelmed by the brutality of Jake Lockely. Furthermore, we get a big kaiju fight between Khonshu and Ammit; it can be presumed that the general public doesn’t actually see this since Khonshu and Harrow’s jackals were invisible to those not “touched” by the Gods, but if you told me back when Robert Downey Jr was bombing about in a suit of armour that we’d eventually see two Egyptian deities fighting in Cairo then I would’ve called you a liar! Still, as great as these bursts of action, suspense, and the occasional bit of horror are (particularly whenever Khonshu is on screen), the interpersonal drama is the heart of this story; Steven is a deeply troubled man, one who’s been allowed to live a normal, mundane life thanks to Marc shouldering all the pain and regret, and seeing his unsatisfied but still chirpy demeanour falter when he discovers the truth was pretty tragic. Yet, his moral resolve holds true; while he lashes out at Marc for lying to him, he quickly comforts his “brother” and is always pushing for them to do the right thing, whether it’s apologising for his violent actions with that trademark British politeness, begging Mark/Moon Knight not to kill, or out-right trying to remove them from violent situations when he’s in control.

The harrowing series ends with the suggestion that Khonshu is still in control of Marc through his third alter.

While it was a bit disappointing that we didn’t get to see more of Moon Knight or his fight scenes and it was admittedly a little cliché reveal that Steven wasn’t the true personality, there was an awful lot to like here. I found Marc’s justification for sparing Harrow to be a little odd considering the body count he’s amassed in Khonshu’s name (the souls of whom literally return to haunt and attack him in the Duat); I have to agree with the moon god that Harrow and Ammit’s threat was too great to let him live while other, less dangerous criminals were killed but I understand the sentiment. Not only did it tie into Marc’s now far more productive outlook on life and refusal to blindly obey all of Khonshu’s commands, it also led nicely into showing just how deep the moon god’s deceptions and machinations grow with Jake’s reveal at the end. All throughout, I was captivated by Isaac’s deeply emotional and incredibly impressive performance; watching him jump from an awkward, confused milksop to a focused and grim mercenary was fascinated and he was perfectly supported by a beautiful and adventurous co-star and juxtaposed by a disturbing and intense villain. Harrow is the best type of bad guy, one who truly believes that he’s doing the right thing in his intention to end suffering and selfishness by weeding out impurities and evil, and he’s so committed to Ammit that he’s more than ready to accept her judgement when she decrees that his soul is also unbalanced and tainted from his actions. Having formally been pledged to Khonshu, he knows full well what the moon god is capable of but, while he condemns Khonshu’s temperament and deceptive nature, he is grateful for being set on his path towards what he perceives as the greater good and often regretful of the lives that have been sacrificed to achieve that. Composed, measured, and a true manipulator, Harrow doesn’t necessarily need to pose a physical threat to be dangerous since he has Ammit’s power, a slew of disciples, and his principles behind him and yet he’s still able to fend off Moon Knight and the Scarlet Scarab in the finale. Supporting characters like Khonshu and Taweret also help to make Moon Knight incredibly enjoyable; I loved how Khonshu was this disgraced outcast, how dead set he was on his particular brand of justice no matter the cost to his reputation or the psyches of his avatars, and he was perfectly paralleled by the delightful Taweret and the scathing condemnation of the Ennead. For telling an incredibly moving and complex story of duality and guilt, delivering one of the MCU’s most visually impressive and brutally efficient superheroes, and delving into Egypt’s colourful folklore, Moon Knight definitely made an impression on me and I really hope that we see Marc, Steven, Jake, Layla, and Khonshu show up again for another round to see what other dark secrets and surprises are lurking in Steven’s fractured mind.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy Moon Knight? What did you think to Oscar Isaac’s performance and the depiction of his multiple personalities? Which of the two personalities was your favourite and did you guess early on that Jake Lockley would be involved? What did you think to the Ennead, Khonshu, and the other aspects of Egyptian folklore? Were you impressed by Harrow’s threat or did you find him to be a bit underwhelming? What did you think to Moon Knight and Mr. Knight, their suits and abilities, and Layla’s transformation into the Scarlet Scarab? Would you like to see more from these characters, and are there any specific Moon Knight stories and villains you’d like to see in the future? Whatever your thoughts Moon Knight, leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Screen Time [Venom Day]: Spider-Man (1994): “The Alien Costume” (S1: E8-10)


To celebrate the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Serkis, 2021), Sony Pictures declared September 27 “Venom Day”, a fitting date to shine the spotlight on one of my favourite anti-heroes, who made their first full debut in May 1988 and have gone on to become one of Marvel’s most iconic characters.


Season One, Episode Eight to Ten:
The “Alien Costume” Saga

Air Date: 29 April 1995 to 13 May 1995
Network: Fox Kids Network
Stars:
Christopher Daniel Barnes, Hank Azaria, Roscoe Lee Browne, Don Stark, Jim Cummings, and Edward Asner

The Background:
Given that Marvel’s resident wall-crawling hero proved to be popular enough to receive his own self-titled comic book barely a year after his blockbuster debut, it’s perhaps no real surprise that Peter Parker/Spider-Man has featured in a number of cartoons over the years. Nowadays, it seems like Spidey gets a new cartoon every other day of the week but, when I was a kid, his 1994 to 1998 cartoon was a must-watch piece of weekly entertainment. Produced by Saban following their success with the X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), Spider-Man (or Spider-Man: The Animated Series) was a fresh and fun adaptation of many of the web-head’s greatest adventures, even if it was a little hampered by some unnecessary censorship. Given that I was super into Venom at the time, it’s no surprise to me that the cartoon’s introduction and depiction of the character rank as some of its best episodes; so popular were Venom at the time that they were introduced in the first three-part saga of the series (and well before the creators adapted the “Secret Wars” comic) and even returned for a two-part follow-up a year later.

The Plot:
After rescuing astronaut Colonel John Jameson (Michael Horton) from a shuttle crash, Spider-Man (Barnes) finds his costume and abilities augmented by a mysterious black goo. When Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Browne) sends a number of super-powered goons to retrieve the “Promethium-X” Jameson brought back to Earth, Spidey finds his aggression and character altered by the suit, which is revealed to be a symbiotic organism! After ridding himself of it, Spidey is confronted with one of his worst foes imaginable with the symbiote bonds with disgruntled reporter Eddie Brock (Azaria) and transforms them into Venom!

The Review:
The “Alien Costume” arc begins with astronaut John Jameson digging up a mysterious black rock from the surface of the Moon; after narrowly escaping a Moonquake, he makes it back to the shuttle and his return to Earth with the newly-discovered isotope, Promethium-X, attracts the attention of the Kingpin since it promises to be more powerful and valuable than Plutonium. However, John’s return is hampered when the rock secretes a seemingly-sentiment, tar-like substance that attempts to consume the astronauts and leaves the shuttle on a collision course with New York City!

The shuttle crash and the acquisition of Promethium-X forms the central conflict of the arc.

Despite the imminent danger, Kingpin’s lead scientist, Alistair Smythe (Maxwell Caulfield), assures him that the shuttle will land without causing any damage to the city so he (as in the Kingpin) contacts Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino (Stark) to retrieve the Promethium-X once the shuttle makes its emergency landing on the George Washington Bridge. There, he comes into conflict with Spider-Man and, thanks to his superior size and strength and the shuttle’s precarious position, is able to best the wall-crawler and make off with the isotope. Although he saves John and his co-pilot, Peter is aghast when he is fingered as the one responsible for stealing the Promethium-X thanks to John’s incoherent rambling, his father J. Jonah Jameson’s (Asner) unrequited hatred for Spider-Man, and disgraced photographer Eddie Brock selling J. J. pictures that incriminate the web-head. Having been introduced in previous episodes as an embittered man desperate to regain his job at the Daily Bugle, Brock jumps at the chance to capitalise on Jameson’s hatred of Spider-Man with his photos.

The black suit overtakes Spider-Man and augments his strength and negative emotions.

This results in Jameson placing a $1 million bounty on Spider-Man’s head, forcing Peter to lay low. However, while he sleeps, the mysterious black substance from the shuttle is revealed to have attached itself to his costume and, following a harrowing nightmare, the goo overtakes Peter, who wakes to find himself garbed in a sleek black costume that dramatically augments his speed and strength. Overwhelmed at the suit’s capabilities, Spider-Man discovers he can now shoot organic webbing and change his appearance by simply thinking about it, but it quickly becomes apparent that the alien substance is also affecting his personality. Far more confident than ever before, even Spider-Man’s voice is slightly altered when he’s wearing the black suit, making him sound tougher and more aggressive than usual. Equally quick to anger, Peter threatens Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Patrick Labyorteaux), snaps at his doting Aunt May (Linda Gary), and comes close to killing destroying the Rhino after handily dominating their rematch. Although he manages to get a hold of himself, Peter’s demeanour continues to degrade into an enraged fury as he is hounded at every turn thanks to Jameson’s bounty; his overconfidence and anger causes him to become sloppy, however, and he learns the hard and painful way that the alien costume is vulnerable to high-intensity sonic waves. Spider-Man does himself few favours when he confronts Brock and Jameson, threatening them in the Daily Bugle and driving him to visit his friend, Doctor Curt Connors (Joseph Campanella), to find out more about the suit.

While Spidey disregards Connors’ advice about the symbiote, he uses to science to outwit the Kingpin.

As you might expect, Connors reveals that the suit is actually a living, alien symbiote that is seeking to permanently bond with Peter. Although he stresses the very real danger of the alien costume, Connors is unable to convince Spider-Man to remove to suit since he needs it to recover the Promethium-X. When John corroborates Spider-Man’s story of a guy in a rhino suit, Jameson angrily lays into Brock for lying to him, fires him, and is begrudgingly forced to withdraw his bounty on Spider-Man. Embittered by this development, Brock’s mood is further soured when he is also evicted from his apartment and when he is targeted by the Kingpin, who sends Herman Schultz/The Shocker (Cummings) after him to tie up the loose ends from the shuttle robbery. After saving Brock from being blasted into dust, Spider-Man tracks the Shocker to Smythe’s laboratory and finally recovers not only proof of his innocence from Brock’s apartment but the Promethium-X from Smythe. While the Kingpin was more concerned with selling the rock to the highest bidder, Spider-Man takes the time to properly investigate the Promethium-X and discovers that, while it is incredibly powerful and dangerous, its radioactive half-life is ridiculously small, which results in the Kingpin being left humiliated and with an inert rock in his possession.

After ridding himself of the symbiote, Spidey unknowingly births his greatest foe: Venom!

However, Spider-Man’s tumultuous emotions are driven to the edge when Smythe lures him to a bell tower by taking John hostage in order to recover the isotope; overcome with rage, Spider-Man destroys the Shocker’s gauntlets and is seconds away from doing the same to the mercenary before memories of his beloved Uncle Ben remind him that “with great power comes great responsibility”. Guilt-ridden and desperate to be rid of the alien suit, Spider-Man frantically tries to remove the symbiote but his efforts prove useless until he takes advantage of the church bell to cause the creature enough pain to separate itself from his body. However, Brock (who followed Spider-Man in a desperate attempt to extract a measure of revenge against the well-crawler), finds himself enveloped by the injured and enraged creature as he hangs helpless beneath the church bell. The result is a muscular, embittered, monstrous union of man and symbiote, Venom, who vows to destroy Spider-Man for ruining both of their lives. Venom makes their presence known as Spider-Man is settling the score with the Shocker and the Rhino on a rooftop; Venom actually saves Spider-Man just as he’s about to be destroyed simply to have the honour for themselves. In the process, Venom proves to be far stronger than Spider-Man, immune to his spider sense, privy to his secret identity, and possessing all of his physical and superhuman abilities but augmented thanks to Brock’s rage and workout routine.

Overwhelmed by Venom’s superior strength, Spidey is left relying on his wits to triumph.

Hopelessly outmatched, Spider-Man is left physically overpowered; his attempts to appeal to Brock’s better nature fall on deaf ears and Spidey finds himself at Venom’s mercy. Venom threatens to target, and reveal Spider-Man’s identity to, Peter’s loved ones and even leaves him dangling over a rooftop without his mask on at one point! Narrowly escaping with his identity intact, Peter is stalked by Brock at every turn and starts seeing Venom everywhere; with no choice but to take the fight to his foes, Spider-Man taunts Brock with newspaper clippings of his failures and baits Venom into following him across the city to the launch of another shuttle at a military base outside of New York. There, the two have a final confrontation up the support gantry that ultimately ends with the symbiote being driven from Brock’s body when the shuttle launches. Spider-Man then webs the writhing creature to the shuttle, sending it back into space, and leaves Brock in police custody, finally free of his alien nightmare… for the time being.

The Summary:
As much as I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon, there are some elements of it that obviously haven’t aged too well. The video transfer to DVD isn’t the best and the animation can be a little jerky at times. The editing is quite rushed here and there, meaning that episodes can quickly gloss over and bounce around certain scenes despite being fully capable of telling a well-paced story at other times, and there is a bit of dodgy CGI and the music gets very repetitive. Still, these concerns are largely minor and can be said of almost any cartoon produced in the nineties (or ever, for that matter) and, for the most part, the episodes are bright, action-packed, and well animated. Fittingly, the animation and presentation benefits Spider-Man the most of all the characters in the cartoon; vibrant and athletic, Spider-Man is a very dynamic character in the cartoon and capable of many superhuman feats despite not being allowed to throw a punch. Peter, despite closely resembling Nicholas Hammond, oddly looks bigger than his web-slinging counterpart but Spider-Man is expressive and vibrant throughout. The depiction of his black suit is equally top-notch; one of the arc’s stand-out scenes is Peter’s disturbing nightmare where Kaiju-sized versions of the black and classic costumes battle over Peter’s soul and he’s left hanging upside down in the middle of the city garbed in the sleek, sexy black suit. “The Alien Costume” may also be the first instance of the symbiote augmenting Spidey’s superhuman abilities and characteristics as this didn’t really happen in the original comics (at least not to the extent as it does in other media) and the three episodes definitely set the standard for Peter’s struggles with the symbiote going forward.

Spidey looks great, despite some dodgy animation, and Venom benefits from the multi-part arc.

Brock’s introduction is handled far better in the cartoon compared to the comic since he was actually introduced, and featured, in a handful of episodes prior to these three; angry and bitter, he’s been the victim of a string of bad luck and bad decisions that cause him to grow increasingly resentful of Spider-Man. Consequently, his transformation into Venom empowers him, driving him even more maniacal thanks to the symbiote’s power and abilities. Unlike in the comic books (at least at the time of these episodes), the symbiote is revealed to be incredibly old, well-travelled, and possessing knowledge of the wider universe and numerous worlds, indicating that it’s far more than just a near-insane parasitic lifeform. Venom looks fantastic in the cartoon, sporting their trademark fangs, talons, and long tongue as well as a hulking physique and a distorted, monstrous voice that, again, set the standard for how Venom are portrayed outside of comics. The episodes also do a pretty decent job of portraying C-grade villains like the Rhino and the Shocker as formidable threats; thanks to the influence of the black suit, Spider-Man’s anger and emotions are constantly in flux throughout the arc and are only exacerbated by the duo’s tenacity. Still, once Venom enters the picture, they make all other villains irrelevant; possessing knowledge and physical abilities that make them superior to Spider-Man in every way, Venom plays mind games with Peter, taunting and stalking him and overwhelming him both physically and emotionally. Just like in their first comic book encounter, Spider-Man is forced to use his initiative and wiles to outsmart his maniacal foes rather than trying to match them blow-for-blow. The end result is a far grander conclusion to their confrontation since Spidey utilises a shuttle launch rather than simply wielding a sonic blaster, which is a fittingly dramatic (if temporary) end to Venom’s threat as their story started in space and technically ends in space.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to the “Alien Costume” arc? Did you watch Spider-Man when it first aired or did you discover it later, perhaps on Disney+? What did you think to the depiction of Spider-Man’s black costume and how it influenced his powers and personality? What did you think to Venom’s depiction in the cartoon? What is your favourite Venom story or adaptation? How are you celebrating Venom’s dramatic debut today? Whatever your thoughts on Venom, feel free to sign up to leave them below or drop a reply on my social media.

Screen Time: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Air Date: 19 March 2021 to 23 April 2023
Network: Disney+
Stars: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, Daniel Brühl, and Emily VanCamp

The Background:
Unquestionably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become more than a success; from humble beginnings, it has evolved into a nigh-unstoppable multimedia juggernaut that has brought some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved, and obscure, characters to life in a way that no one could have ever predicted. Only a handful of the films produced by Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have met with any kind of negativity or mixed reaction, and in a world that is becoming increasingly bleak and cynical the MCU achieved an impossibility by making the Star-Spangled Avenger himself, Captain America, a blockbuster movie franchise. Although Marvel Studios had dabbled in television ventures before, most notably with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their various Netflix shows, they really ramped up their focus on TV productions to coincide not just with the MCU’s fourth phase but also the release of Disney+, the streaming service of their parent company. Unlike other MCU TV shows, these shows were spearheaded by Feige and focused heavily on maintaining and expanding the continuity of the MCU going forward. One of the first pitches for this concept was a “buddy cop” series the focused on the dysfunctional friendship and grating banter between Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Mackie) and James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Stan); the series aimed to not only explore this relationship and Sam’s struggles with accepting the mantle of Captain America, but also tackle relevant social issues such as racism and coping with grief and change. Although delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier eventually released weekly on Disney+ starting from 19 March 2021 and was the most-watched show on the service for some time. Critically, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was extremely well-received, with reviewers praising the show’s depiction of racism and the dynamic between the two leads, though some criticised the show’s pacing and execution. Still, the show was successful enough to earn not only a second season but also a fourth Captain America movie that will see both stars reprise their roles on the big-screen and continue the plot threads left hanging at the end of the season.

The Plot:
Six months after the events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), Sam Wilson struggles to live up to the mantle of Captain America and Bucky is still recovering from his brainwashing as the Winter Soldier. The two are forced to begrudgingly join forces with not only each other, but one of their worst enemies, to investigate a terrorist group in a worldwide adventure that tests both their abilities and their patience.

The Review:
I am a bit late to the party when it comes to Disney+ and their various original content; the main reason for that is the sad fact that neither my television nor my service provider actually carry the app, and I didn’t really want to be watching the shows on a smaller screen. Ordinarily, I would wait for the home media release but it seems as though we might have to wait a while for that, or might not get it at all, so I finally decided to get started on working through them earlier this year and was excited to finally sink my teeth into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier since it was the one that looked most like what I enjoy about the MCU. Naturally, given the title, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier primarily focuses on Sam and Bucky and the fallout from Avengers: Endgame. At the start of the show, Sam continues to run missions for the United States military as the Falcon, quickly making an enemy out of Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), and enjoying the chance to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Sam is determined (obsessed, almost) with helping people, trying to offer his services and council, and protecting others, even when it’s beyond him, but he is conflicted about taking on the mantle of Captain America.

Sam gives up the shield, feeling he can’t live up to expectations, and tries to help his family.

Believing that he’s not able to live up to Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) legacy, Sam delivers an emotional speech in Washington, D.C. at a ceremony (more like a eulogy) at the Smithsonian Museum for Captain America where he entrusts the shield to the museum so it can be displayed as a symbol of hope and unity. In a recurring motif throughout the show, Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) questions this decision, believing that times have changed, and that the world is “broken” and in need of fixing, and that Captain America is more important than ever before. Sam, however, remains steadfast in his decision to give up the shield since he can’t shake the feeling that it doesn’t belong to him, and instead tries to direct his attentions to reconnecting with his family. Sam’s sister, Sarah (Adepero Oduye), and his nephews Cass (Chase River McGee) and AJ (Aaron Haynes), maintain the family fishing business in Louisiana, but fell on hard times during the Blip and have struggled to stay afloat since the snapped were returned. While Sam is still somewhat stuck in the pre-Blip past, Sarah is faced with the cold, hard fact that she is out of options thanks to getting into debt; Sam, however, is determined to help, despite her cynicism, and is sure that he can help broker a new deal/loan at the bank and turn the business around. However, despite the adulation of the bank clerk for his heroics, Sam faces greater hurdles than he expected; things changed after the Blip, Sam’s income is questionable (apparently Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) didn’t pay the Avengers, which I find odd), and the Wilson’s don’t have the collateral or standing to qualify for a loan. However, there’s also an undercurrent of racial prejudice throughout this meeting; though Sam refuses to quit, Sarah isn’t surprised that they got turned away and somewhat resents Sam’s absence (whether by choice or by fate) and efforts to swoop in and save the day when she’s been struggling so hard for so long, by herself, to keep the business afloat.

Bucky and Sam clash over the shield, but are forced to unite against a new breed of super soldiers.

Already greatly troubled by these burdens, Sam is clearly conflicted when the United States government opt to reactivate the shield and pass the mantle of Captain America on Captain John Walker (Russell). The former Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes, isn’t quite as shy about hiding his feelings regarding the matter, however. Although he’s received a full pardon for his past crimes, Bucky is legally mandated to attend regular therapy sessions with Doctor Christina Raynor (Amy Aquino) and continues to be haunted by vivid, explicit memories of his heinous past. Although he routinely lies to and criticises her, Dr. Raynor sees through his bullshit and he reluctantly relates that he’s been going through a list of his victims and trying to make amends with their families or bring those responsible for his conditioning to justice according to Raynor’s strict series of rules that prohibit him from killing, harming others, or doing anything illegal in order to help stave off his nightmares. Bucky is aggravated that Sam gave up the shield; he believes that Steve trusted in Sam, that he believed in him, and that Sam threw it all away like it was nothing and his stoic demeanour cracks when he states that if Steve was wrong to believe in Sam then maybe he was wrong to believe in him (as in Bucky) as well. This causes a great deal of tension between the two, who already had a pretty frosty relationship to begin with, which only escalates as they investigate a terrorist group known as the Flag Smashers. Led by Karli Morgenthau (Kellyman), the Flag Smashers believe that society was better during the Blip and want to restructure the world to remove all borders, both political and social, but are radical in their methods. Karli, and seven of her followers, have been granted superhuman strength and durability thanks to a new version of the super soldier serum, and use that power to launch a campaign against the oppressive governments and conglomerates, particularly the Global Repatriation Council (GPC), who seek to return the world to the way it was before the Blip. Sam is first alerted to the group by his military liaison, Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez), who is badly injured trying to fight Karli during a bank robbery in Switzerland, and the bulk of the series revolves around his efforts (and the efforts of others) to track them down. Karli comes across as very sympathetic and morally grey antagonist; her idea for a united world free from corruption is an admirable one, but she enforces her ideals through extremism and violence, which clearly puts her in the wrong. With slightly different methods and motivations, she could have rallied people into a productive force for good but, instead, she is a revolutionary posing as a freedom fighter. In a very short time, she has amassed a cult-like following of people only too eager to offer them food, shelter, and resources and Karli is determined not to let the same people who were in power before the Blip return to positions of authority, and to go to any lengths necessary to bring about “One world, One people”.

Walker is made the new Captain America, but his psyche deteriorates from the pressure.

While Sam actively sympathises with Karli’s plight, and makes every effort to try and talk her down, neither Bucky or Walker share his unique approach to the situation; a former high school football star, decorated soldier, and American patriot, Walker initially struggles with the weight of expectation placed on him by assuming this mantle of Captain America. His wife, Olivia (Gabrielle Byndloss), and best friend, Sergeant Major Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett), offer him their utmost encouragement and support and Walker quickly takes to the public limelight, signing autographs and appearing live on Good Morning, America, and coming across as humble and appreciative of the opportunity (despite his impressive military record, physical fitness, and intelligence quotient) and selling himself not as a super soldier, but as a brave man looking to continue Steve’s legacy. Walker’s position as Captain America causes a great deal of friction between him and Sam and Bucky; although he helps them to (unsuccessfully) fight Karli and the Flag Smashers, his repeated attempts to work with them are met with reluctance and hostility (especially from Bucky, who quickly senses something is off about Walker). Bucky and Sam’s resentment of Walker is only exacerbated by his increasing arrogance and bravado; Walker’s mental stability is fractured further when he’s repeatedly left one step behind (or out of the loop) in the pursuit of Karli, is met with scorn and disrespect by the Flag Smashers, and is repeatedly bested in combat by both super soldiers and the Wakandan special forces, the Dora Milaje. He’s resentful of those with enhanced abilities, and the judgement he faces from the likes of Sam, and being forced to sit on the side lines, which causes him to blunder into situations full of piss and vinegar and even disrupts Sam’s attempts to talk Karli down.

Walker is driven to the edge by Lemar’s death, but given a new opportunity by the mysterious Val.

Walker is joined in the field by Lemar, who fights by his side as Battlestar. While Bucky is ready to simply force Walker to give up the shield, Lemar acts as the voice of reason and not only manages to keep Walker focused but tries to keep the peace between them and Sam and Bucky to better pool their resources. When Walker is distraught at being so handily beaten by the Dora Milaje, Lemar admits that he would jump at the chance to take the super soldier serum since the benefits would far outweigh any side effects, arguing that they could have saved lives (and spared themselves a lot of bloodshed) during their time in Afghanistan. This is all the convincing Walker needs to take the serum for himself, but his already unstable mind and quick temper are only exacerbated by the serum, and by Lemar’s death at Karli’s hands. Walker’s grief quickly turns to outrage, and he takes his anger and pain out on Nico (Noah Mills), Karli’s close friend, beating him to death with the shield in front of numerous bystanders, many of whom record the incident on their phones. Walker is so traumatised by these events that he actually tries to justify them as being part of his duties as Captain America, and a brutal fight breaks out between him, Falcon, and Bucky when Sam tries to reason with Walker and Walker’s paranoia kicks in. Walker rips Falcon’s wings off, half-crazed by ego and madness, and Falcon is forced to break Walker’s arm to get the shield off him. Although Walker avoids a court martial for his actions thanks to his service record, he’s stripped of his rank, benefits, and the mantle of Captain America. Understandably, Walker is outraged at this betrayal but is given a second (well, third, technically) chance by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who sympathises with his plight and offers him a new assignment as the U. S. Agent.

Zemo adds an extra dimension to the show, offering a twisted but logical perspective on the world.

Walker’s instability isn’t helped by Sam and Bucky’s decision to turn to Helmut Zemo (Brühl) for help; although Zemo is a dangerous radical and terrorist who cannot be trusted, he knows more about super soldiers than anyone left alive, but even Sam is aghast when Bucky orchestrates Zemo’s escape from prison and convinces him to aid them based on their common enemy. Zemo is only too eager to help rid the world of super soldiers, who go against everything he believes in, and the two reluctantly agree to utilise Zemo’s wealth and resources as a baron (not to mention his knowledge of Hydra and the super soldier serum). Zemo adds an extra dimension to the abrasive relationship between the two leads, riling up both Bucky and Sam with his mind games and taunts; Zemo questions the logic behind giving symbols and people too much power as you forget their flaws and it brews conflict. Despite being a bigot and a terrorist, Zemo makes some great points about the parallels between good and bad, heroes and tyrants; Zemo argues that his willingness to murder Hydra scientist Doctor Wilfred Nagel (Olli Haaskivi) shows he has the will to complete their mission, indicating his intention to kill Karli, whose attacks are becoming more and more frequent and dangerous. He also makes a convincing argument that to be superhuman is to be a supremacist, that Karli will not be able to stop herself escalating her methods and her goals, and basically comparing the Avengers to the Nazis and other supremacist powers on principal alone, while also expressing respect for Captain America for his strength of character. Zemo’s poisonous philosophies and mind games continually grate on Sam and Bucky, and his very presence causes controversy, especially when Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and the Dora Milaje come looking for him. Ayo only allows Bucky (whom she still refers to as the “White Wolf”) eight hours to make use of Zemo out of a fraying sense of respect, however while nobody trusts Zemo (and rightfully so), he actually proves to be super useful to the group’s investigation: he leads them to Madripoor, a desolate, neon-drenched haven for disreputable types run by the mysterious “Power Broker”, and to Nagel’s knowledge of the new super soldier serum. He often slips away from conflict and is ordered to stay out of the way, but actually goes out of his way to help Sam and Bucky, even donning his iconic ski mask to clear a path for his unlikely allies.

Both the Dora Milaje and the jaded Sharon disapprove of Zemo, but Sharon is hiding a dark secret.

Zemo’s even able to use Turkish Delight and his way with children to lead them to Karli, but doesn’t show his whole hand to maintain his leverage, which riles Bucky up almost as much as Zemo’s smug, self-righteous, condescending hospitality. Still, his single-minded campaign against super soldiers causes some problems for the more righteous heroes; he not only executes Nagel, but he wounds Karli and angrily destroys the majority of her serum vials, which only serves to galvanise her extremism further. Zemo is instrumental not just in aiding Sam and Bucky but also in granted Bucky some of the closure he desperately needs; his code words no longer trigger Bucky’s conditioning, and Bucky opts to spare him so he can face imprisonment, and the two even part ways with a kind of mutual respect and understanding for each other. Zemo actually proves to be more of an asset than Sharon Carter (VanCamp), who was driven off the grid to Madripoor after helping Sam and the other Avengers during Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo, 2016). Resentful that she was left without the aid of the Avengers and to fend for herself, Sharon is less than welcoming to them, especially Zemo, because she’s been forced to live on the run, without contact with friends and family, and has been alone this whole time. Begrudgingly, she offers them shelter and has set herself up as the owner and proprietor of an art gallery filled with stolen, priceless pieces; recent events have left her cynical of the whole hero gig and she openly criticises their devotion to a cause she no longer believes in. Distrustful and bitter, Sharon agrees to help in return for Sam’s help in clearing her name and returning her home; while Sharon brokers a deal with some clients, the three blend in at her party, resulting in the now-infamous clip of Zemo partying down to some beats! Although Sharon’s information proves fruitful, and she’s instrumental in stopping Karli and the Flag Smashers in the finale, she is repeatedly shown to be somewhat shady and untrustworthy throughout the show, making suspicious phone calls and even hiring Batroc to add a wild card to the final episode. When Sam, Bucky, and Walker join forces to chase Karli down, Sharon is revealed to be the Power Broker in a tense showdown that sees her gun down Batroc for having the insolence to blackmail her and then shoot Karli to save Sam’s life after his attempts to reason with her fall on deaf ears. Despite her odd behaviour, Sam arranges for her to receive her full pardon, but, while she gratefully returns to a governmental role, she makes a suspicious call to an unknown party promising to deliver full access to the government’s resources going forward.

A central theme of the show is racism and overcoming oppressive labels and bigotry.

A central theme throughout The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is of racism and the power of symbols, labels, and Captain America; racist struggles and undertones permeate every aspect of the show, from Sarah’s efforts to keep the family business afloat to Sam being referred to as “Black Falcon”, and there’s even an unsettling scene were some cops randomly accost Sam, with the implication that they only backed down after realising that he’s the Falcon. These racial tensions are explicitly emphasised through the introduction of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), an African American veteran super soldier who fought, and defeated, the Winter Soldier in the Korean War. Jaded and betrayed by his country, Isaiah was imprisoned and experimented on for thirty years to help replicate the super soldier serum, leaving him a cynical and tortured individual. Sam is angered that a Black super soldier existed and has been buried and forgotten, and how many people got screwed over just to make the shield and Captain America a thing, regardless of how much good both have done. Isaiah bitterly talks about the oppression faced by Black people everywhere, especially soldiers who put their lives on the line for their country only to face bigotry and hatred upon returning. Isaiah reveals that his wife died while he was in prison, and that a bunch of prisoners such as himself were subjected to super soldier experiments and sent on missions even if they were unstable. After some of them got captured, Isaiah learned that the higher-ups were planning on destroying the camp rather than let their dirty little secret get out and rescued his comrades, only to be left a lab rat whose only salvation came from a sympathetic nurse. Sam is moved by his tale, and desperate to use every resource he has to tell it to the world, but Isaiah doesn’t share Sam’s optimism since Black people have been oppressed and erased for generations; he maintains that “they” will never let a Black man be Captain America, and that no self-respecting Black man would want to represent such a flawed symbol.

Sam finally embraces the Captain America mantle and delivers an impassioned speech about responsibility.

Although Isaiah’s tale causes Sam to contemplate if he should destroy the shield, Bucky emphasises that the shield is a symbol of hope to many, including himself. When Sam calls in the favours owed to his family by the neighbourhood, even Bucky gets stuck in with fixing up the family boat, and apologises for judging Sam’s decision. He helps Sam train with the shield and Sam encourages him to find his own path in life rather than looking to other people to guide him, and to “do the work” to make amends for his past by offer his victims closure, or a service, to properly put his sins to rest and, in that moment, they forge their friendship (though they still maintain their grating banter). Bucky’s support helps Sam to conclude that, while Isaiah may have a point, he owes it to all of those who suffered and sacrificed to stand up and keep fighting…and take on the shield, which he eventually manages to get the hang of after an inspirational training montage. This culminates in Sam making a dramatic appearance in the finale garbed in his all-new Captain America costume, courtesy of Wakanda, which is heavily based on his Cap suit from the comics and incorporates elements from his Falcon outfit, including the wings. As faithful as the suit is, though, I do feel like it’s a bit “busy”; it’s got white and blue and red and all kinds of different parts and details to it, which is fine, but it does seem like it could be streamlined and simplified going forward. Crucially, while Cap has (presumably Vibranium) wings and his additional technology and abilities allow for particularly exciting chase and action sequence involving a helicopter and a rematch with Batroc, Sam refuses the super soldier serum and uses his position to make an impassioned speech to the GRC representatives, the crowd, and the press about the dangers of labels and the importance of asking why people do the things they do. In a poignant address, Cap emphasises that that they all have a chance to make real change, to help those in need, and acknowledges that people will hate and judge him for being a Black Captain America but, despite that, he’s still there, a simple man with a strong belief that people can do better and the importance of setting a strong example and wielding power responsibly.

After much loss, Sam and Bucky form a real partnership, while Val prepares her own schemes…

This comes after a dramatic and tragic final confrontation with Karli and the Flag Smashers, who launch an attack on a GRC conference; earlier in the series, Nico expressed his belief that the world needs heroes that “look like them”, that can relate to their plight, and even suggests that Karli has the potential to be as influential as Captain America because of her willingness to fight for those in need and to get her hands dirty in the process. Karli believes that the shield is “a monument to a bygone era” and serves as a reminder only of the people history forgot, and that the serum is the only way to bring about real change, and as part of that she only plans on killing people that “matter”, like John Walker and even Sam, as it will send a stronger message. This dismissive attitude raises the ire of Walker in the finale, but Sam consistently sympathises with Karli’s plight; for five years, the world completely changed the way it operated, offering aid and co-operating in a way that had never been seen before, but things have returned to normal and that is a jarring transition for many, especially the poor, underprivileged, and oppressed, who see Karli as a freedom fighter. Sam attempts to reach out to her, and convince her to come along peacefully, and is met with aggression and resistance; Karli rejects the notion that she’s a supremacist because she’s fighting against big, oppressive corporations but Sam argues that she’s killing recklessly, and heading down a dark path. Even when Karli threatens Sam’s family, he continues to try and reason with her and, when they go head-to-head in the finale, he refuses to fight her…or to back down…even as when she flies into a rage and mercilessly attacks him. After Karli is fatally shot by Sharon, she dies in Cap’s arms, leaving him with only an apology and regret at the unnecessary loss of life, and that tragedy fuels his big speech at the end.

The Summary:
I really enjoyed The Falcon and the Winter Soldier; everything about it was indicative of a top-notch MCU production, from the music to the presentation, characterisation, and world-building. It was literally like watching a six-hour long movie rather than an episodic show, and a lot of that is due to how well the two leads characters are written. Sam and Bucky share some relatable and entertaining banter and dick measuring regarding their knowledge of pop culture, the craziness of their superhero lives, and it’s clear that they have a begrudging, grating, almost brotherly relationship. Bucky despairs of Sam’s reluctance to make or share his plans and goes out of his way to match his efforts, even leaping out of a plane at two-hundred feet without a parachute just to prove a point. When Karli threatens Sam’s family, Bucky insists on suiting up with him and has his back, despite the two having an abrasive relationship; this is best seen in an amusing moment where Dr. Raynor forces the two to sit down for some therapy and they push back against Dr. Raynor’s methods, rile each other up, and are forced to confront their issues. Although the two agree to part ways and never see each other again following this, they are soon bonded by their mutual respect and come to trust and even help each other with their doubts and issues. Bucky even has a little flirty banter with Sarah (which Sam warns him about) and, by the end, is laughing and enjoying himself with Sam’s family and neighbours. Their dysfunctional, brotherly, odd-couple dynamic is one of the highlights of the show and it’s great to see them ending the season as trusted allies.

Walker becomes increasingly unhinged, but it remains to be seen if he’s truly redeemed himself.

A clear standout of the show was also John Walker, who gave a great turn as an unstable, violent, and unhinged version of Captain America. At first, he’s the humble, dutiful poster boy but it doesn’t take long for cracks to begin to show in his façade; the pressure of living up to Cap’s legacy weighs heavily on his shoulders and his ego and anger are only exacerbated by the disrespect and lack of recognition he receives from Sam, Bucky, and others. Walker has a tumultuous relationship with Sam and Bucky, who both see him as unworthy of the shield, and their attempts to join forces almost always become a war of words and very nearly lead to them coming to blows. The super soldier serum only escalates things further, finally granting Walker the power he so desperately craved but also driving him to sully his image by literally staining the shield with blood. However, Walker remains a complex and layered character; a tool of the system, he was used and abused just like countless other soldiers and left hanging after the government that made him washed their hands of him. After being stripped of the shield, Walker fashions his own, far less durable one and heads into the finale looking to kill Karli to avenge Lemar, but ultimately chooses to abandon his crusade in order to help save a truck load of hostages. Despite Sam and Bucky’s very valid reservations about Walker, he comes through in the end, but the series ends on a slightly ominous note with him rebranded to U. S. Agent and signed up to whatever Valentina has in store for him.

The longer run time allows for a deeper exploration of these complex and flawed characters.

Other highlights of the show obviously include Zemo, thanks to his moral ambiguity and his twisted philosophies that actually make a great deal of sense; his inclusion was a masterful addition and really added to the dynamic between Sam and Bucky, as well as allowing the character to shift gears towards a more comic-accurate depiction, and it was fun seeing him rile the two leads up. Equally, Karli proved to be a surprisingly sympathetic and relatable antagonist; just as Zemo predicted, she grows increasingly bolder and more violent in her methods, eventually becoming willing to die and execute hostages for her cause, which unsettles even her followers. Yet, even when pushed right to the edge, she has a vulnerability to her; her adopted mother gave her shelter and love, and she’s just looking to provide for those in need and to stand up for the oppressed, but has turned her crusade against corporate or governmental propaganda and symbols like Captain America and her physical strength more than matches the strength of her beliefs thanks to the super soldier serum, making for an extremely dangerous and unpredictable enemy to unite these unlikely allies. Another emotional highlight was Bucky’s quest for redemption; haunted by this past and lost in a world that has passed him by, Bucky is desperately trying to find some purpose in life but finds himself constantly hampered by his violent actions. Not even a cute little date with a waitress (Miki Ishikawa) helps to alleviate his guilt and it’s only through fighting alongside Sam and that he’s able to start to come to terms with his sins. This comes to a head in the finale when he finally heeds Sam’s advice and finds the courage to confess his part in death of his friend Yori Nakajima’s (Ken Takemoto) son; it’s clear that he’s still got a long way to go to find the peace he wants but he ends the show in a far better place that he started it thanks to the partnership (and friendship) he builds with Sam.

Sam resolves to use the shield as a positive for for real change, and to help Bucky through his trauma.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is full to the brim with the biting, witty banter you’d expect from an MCU production and some exhilarating and exciting action sequence; Falcon dives and barrel-rolls through the air in freefall, Bucky throws bombs with his cybernetic arm, and action scenes are given a real punch (no pun intended) thanks to the Flag Smashers being augmented by the super soldier serum. Sam’s refusal to enhance himself in this way might be a questionable decision given he’s taking on the mantle of Captain America, but it goes a long way to keeping him humble, vulnerable, and relatable; he’s just a normal man striving to do better, without the shortcuts that Walker takes. Ayo and the Dora Milaje also contribute to some epic fight scenes, particularly in the way they humble Walker and even subdue Bucky by disabling and removing his Vibranium limb. Even more impactful, though, are the socially relevant themes in the show, such as racism and the power of labels and symbols; it’s no surprise that Isaiah’s story is framed as a dark parallel to Steve’s, and it’s deplorable to hear about what he went through while Steve was heralded a hero for similar deeds. It thus carries a significant impact when Isaiah ultimately gives Sam his begrudging approval and respect after being won over with Sam’s determination to be a symbol of his people and all those who suffered to make America the country it is today. Isaiah is moved when he sees that Sam has made good on his promise and arranged for him and his fellow soldiers to finally be recognised and honoured at the Smithsonian’s Captain America wing, and I applaud the show for tackling these unsettling issues head-on, even if Sam’s big speech might be a bit on the nose. Overall, this was a fantastic experience; it was literally like a fourth Captain America movie and really helped to flesh out Sam and Bucky and the changes brought to the MCU following Avengers: Endgame. I do wonder how explicitly subsequent movies and productions will relate to the events of this show, but it was a fun journey to go on and I’m excited to see how all the loose threads will be connected together going forward and for Sam’s big-screen debut as the new Captain America.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? What did you think to the banter between Sam and Bucky, and the dynamic added to the duo by Zemo? Were you happy to see Sam accept the mantle by the end or would you have preferred Bucky become the new Captain America? What did you think to Karli and her motivations, and did you enjoy the moral ambiguity of the show’s characters? Did you enjoy the introduction of U. S. Agent to the MCU and what do you think the future holds for him? Are there any Captain America stories and villains you would like to see make it to the MCU? How have you been celebrating the Star-Spangled Avenger’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or Captain America in general, sign up to let me know below or drop a comment on my social media.

Screen Time: Loki (Season One)

Season One

Air Date: 9 June 2021 to 14 July 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, and Jonathan Majors

The Background:
It’s hard to deny that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has evolved from humble beginnings into a nigh-unstoppable multimedia juggernaut. Although Marvel Studios dabbled in television ventures before with the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their Netflix productions, the launch of Disney+ saw head honcho Kevin Feige produce a number of streaming shows that aimed to maintain and expand the continuity of the MCU going forward. Considering how popular Tom Hiddleston’s rendition of the Norse God of Mischief, Loki Laufeyson, has been since his first appearance in the MCU, it’s perhaps not surprising (or, dare I saw it, inevitable) that he was received his own spin-off series in which he would be revealed to have been causing mischief throughout history. The project was seen as the perfect opportunity to fill in some blanks in the MCU, expand Loki’s character and relationships, and help lay the foundation for Phase Four’s focus on exploring the vast multiverse and branching timelines within the MCU. Originally conceived of as a single-season show, Loki was extended into a second season to better develop the show’s intricate plot points, which explored the nature of Loki’s character and fate and the complexities of time and reality in the MCU. Loki’s debut episode was the most-watched series premiere on Disney+ the week it launched and the show was met with universal praise; critics loved the banter between Loki and Mobius M. Mobius (Wilson), the unique nature of its presentation and narrative, and the show’s focus on expanding the scope of the MCU beyond even the all-powerful Infinity Stones. While a second series is in development, the show’s fallout was established to have significant impact on the MCU’s fourth phase and immediate future thanks to establishing that time has been fractured and literally anything is now possible.

The Plot:
After stealing the Tesseract during the events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), an alternate version of Loki is brought to the mysterious Time Variance Authority (TVA), a bureaucratic organisation that polices time. They give Loki a choice between being erased from existence due to being a “time variant” or helping to fix the timeline and stop a greater threat.

The Review:
It’s actually been pretty fun catching up with the 2021 Marvel Disney+ shows this year; I was a bit late getting to them because my television and service provider don’t carry the app, and it just isn’t the same watching on a smaller screen. Since it’s looking like we won’t get a home media release, this seems like as good a time as any to catch up with Loki since Thor: Love and Thunder (Waititi, 2022) releases tomorrow, though I will say that I wasn’t too excited at the prospect of Loki getting his own spin-off series. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the character, but his death in Avengers: Endgame seemed like a fitting end to his story and continuing one with his character like a decision geared more towards cashing in on Tom Hiddleston’s popularity more than anything else. As it turned out, though, Loki proved to be one of the most essential and important aspects of the MCU’s fourth phase thanks to it delving deep into the multiverse and exploring the scope of the time travel elements introduced in Avengers: Endgame that would become so important throughout subsequent MCU productions.

Loki is apprehended by the TVA and coerced into helping hunt down a dangerous variant of his.

Loki begins by reusing footage from Avengers: Endgame to remind viewers that an alternative version of Loki stole the Tesseract from the Avengers during their time heist, and goes on to show that he teleported to the Gobi Desert; however, his attempt to subjugate a group of Mongolians is interrupted by “Minutemen” from the TVA, who arrest Loki for “crimes against the Sacred Timeline”. Although he is a formidable opponent thanks to his Asgardian durability and powers of illusion and deception, Loki is completely baffled by the TVA, who are able to slow his personal perception of time to a crawl while still allowing him to feel pain in “real time” and “rewind” him whenever he tries to escape thanks to fitting him with a “Time Twister” collar. Confused and insulted at the bureaucratic and humiliating methods of his captors, Loki is nonetheless powerless to oppose them and forced to stand trial for his crimes when he’s brought before Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Mbatha-Raw) in what amounts to a kangaroo court. He’s given no representation, has little understanding of the crimes committed against him, and makes a good point that it was the Avengers who disrupted the timeline rather than him. However, his proposition to hunt them down as recompense for their actions is dismissed since they were “supposed” to travel through time, but he wasn’t meant to escape. Naturally, Loki finds this accusation ludicrous; after all, how was he supposed to know that he wasn’t meant to take advantage of that situation according to his nature? His requests to meet with the Time-Keepers are denied as their “busy” dictating the “proper flow” of the Sacred Timeline, and is found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to be “reset”, much to his outrage. However, he’s spared from this vague fate by the intervention of TVA analyst Mobius M. Mobius, who recruits Loki to help investigate a series of Minutemen killings across the Sacred Timeline perpetrated by a mysterious individual who has also been stealing the “reset charges” the Minutemen use to “reset the timeline” after a divergence. The somewhat jaded but nonetheless approachable Mobius interrogates Loki to get to the root of his selfish ambitions; Loki desires little more than to rule the Nine Realms and believes that all life is beneath him, and that only he has the power and wisdom to maintain order across reality. Mobius is disappointed that Loki wants to squander his vast potential on merely oppressing others and forces him to relive, through a movie projection, his subjectively-recent failure against the Avengers and the mischief he caused as D.B. Cooper. Loki rejects the notion that he’s not in control of his own actions or destiny, which he adamantly believes is to rule, but Mobius questions Loki’s violent and selfish ways as they’ve brought him nothing but failure and, to press this point, shows Loki the life that his mainline counterpart lived: in a harrowing moment, Loki’s devastated to view the footage of his selfishness resulting in his mother’ Frigga’s (Rene Russo) death.

Mobius is a loyal agent of the TVA, which polices the Sacred Timeline, but has a fondness for Loki.

Mobius confronts Loki with the truth: that he wasn’t born to rule, he was born to cause pain and suffering in order for others to be the best versions of themselves. Mobius admires Loki’s mischievousness and adaptability, but is adamant that he can provide much-needed insight into his investigation. The vast, brass-hued offices of the TVA headquarters exists outside of time and is where disruptive “variants” such as Loki are tried for their crimes. The interior merges out-dated technology and aesthetics with advanced time-altering devices and a reality-warping science-fiction exterior. The TVA is all about rules, regulations, paperwork, and bureaucracy; time “passes differently” there, so no one really knows how long they’ve been there, and no magic works there. The purpose of the TVA is explained to a baffled Loki by Miss Minutes (Tara Strong), the organisation’s chirpy and pretentious anthropomorphic cartoon mascot; a long time ago, a devastating multiversal war threatened to destroy all reality itself before the enigmatic Time-Keepers (voiced by Majors) amalgamated the infinitesimal separate timelines into the Sacred Timeline, and stood guard over it to keep time flowing in the proper order. When “variants” deviate from the Sacred Timeline, it creates a “Nexus Event” which could cause full-scale madness as the timeline splits into multiple branches and heads towards another multiversal war. Thus, the Time-Keepers created the TVA to maintain and police the Sacred Timeline, removing variants and setting the timeline back to normal; Loki is not only sceptical but finds the prospect of “three space lizards” deciding the fate of trillions of lives to be an absurdity. He sees the TVA as an illusion, a desperate attempt at controlling “the weak” by inspiring fear in others, but is convinced of their power after finding that the Infinity Stones are powerless there (which is a fun shorthand to show just how the TVA is far beyond anything we’ve seen in the MCU up until this point). Curious, he views more of his counterpart’s life and, over the course of an emotional and distressing sequence, sees all of the character progression the “prime” Loki went through, including grieving for his father, Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins), reuniting with his brother, Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), and ultimately perishing at the hands of Thanos (Josh Brolin) to protect his brother and his fellow Asgardians. Having witnessed first-hand the potential for heroism and honour within him, Loki admits to Mobius that he doesn’t enjoy killing or hurting others; it’s just part of his own illusion to assert control of himself and others.

Hunter B-15 and Ravonna distrust Loki and question Mobius’ fascination with him even after learning the truth.

Since he can’t return to the timeline, Loki is intrigued to learn that Mobius’s target is another Loki variant who has been specifically targeting Minutemen, and he agrees to assist in the hopes of gaining an audience with the Time-Keepers. Neither Ravonna Renslayer or Hunter B-15 (Mosaku) approve of Loki’s involvement, seeing him as both a liability and an untrustworthy, insubordinate backstabber. Mobius, however, fully believes that Loki can provide unique insight into his counterpart’s thinking and methods and that anyone, even a Loki, is capable of change, despite this being directly against the Time-Keepers’ design. Ravonna is the only one in the TVA depicted as having met and communicated with the Time-Keepers, who are eventually revealed to be wizened, amphibious alien creatures who sit in a huge, foreboding stone chamber beneath the TVA and lord their presence and power by positioning themselves above all others. Ravonna is absolutely loyal to the Time-Keepers’ vision for stability and order; she enforces their will without question and, even when their true nature is revealed and she’s fully aware that she and everyone in the TVA (to say nothing of everyone ever) have been deceived and manipulated. She has a particular vendetta against Loki, whose variants have a reputation as troublemakers and has personally seen to it that many different versions of him have been “pruned” for violating the Time-Keepers’ laws. She has a close relationship with Mobius, one based on a shared belief in the TVA and on mutual respect; while he’s never met the Time-Keepers and is a little off put that she keeps trophies of his investigations in her office, it’s clear that they have a lot of faith in each other’s abilities, and she thus questions Mobius’s trust in Loki and the two even end up set against each other by the finale. After Ravonna literally stabs him in the back since she maintains that the TVA can’t have been for nothing, regardless of the truth, Mobius tries to appeal to her morals in an attempt to rebuild the TVA into something better to avoid stripping people of their free will, but she refuses and heads out to find her own purpose, clearly hurt that he threw away their friendship and mission in favour of Loki.

Sylvie is obsessed with bringing down the TVA and confronting whomever is behind ruining her life.

Still, Ravonna remains a vindictive, bureaucratic administrator; she had no qualms about arresting a female variant of Loki for “crimes against the Sacred Timeline” when she was just a little girl (Cailey Fleming) and guilty of little more than existing and playing with her toys. Although terrified, she swiped Ravonna’s TemPad and fled into the timestream, and Ravonna has been pursuing her ever since. Everywhere the variant went caused a Nexus Event as her timeline was erased and she wasn’t supposed to exist, so she found sanctuary at the ends of worlds and civilisations and, over time, grew to resent and hate the TVA for taking everything away from her. Renouncing the name Loki, she grew up to become Sylvie (Di Martino) and used the TVA’s own technology to hunt down their Minutemen and swipe their reset charges with the express purpose of “bombing” the Sacred Timeline and throwing the TVA into chaos. Unlike Loki, who relies on his daggers and illusions to combat and deceive others, Sylvie is adept at enchantment; through physical contact, she draws upon her victim’s memories to enthrall them with lifelike illusions. This power has the additional impact of revealing that Minutemen like Hunter B-15 and Hunter C-20 (Sasha Lane) (and, in fact, everyone at the TVA) are all variants who were plucked from their lives and turned into the Time-Keepers’ puppets. Although they are as condescending, narcissistic, and deceptive as each other, Sylvie is very different from her male counterpart; she’s more direct and brutal, for one thing, has a greater knowledge of the TVA and time travel, for another, and has a very different history thanks to Ravonna’s meddling. Not only was she aware of her true heritage from an early age, but she spent the majority of her life on the run from the TVA and thus wasn’t trained in magic by Frigga. Instead, she taught herself and, as a result, her powers and experiences are very different from Loki’s; like him, she is alone and finds it difficult to trust others, preferring to use and cast them aside as a means to an end, but she’s also become paranoid and self-reliant after a lifetime of running. Her goal is to infiltrate the TVA, tear it down from the inside out, and confront the Time-Keepers directly; a goal she succeeds at, only to learn that the Time-Keepers are merely mechanical constructs and part of a greater deception. Thus, she sets out to find the puppet master behind the Time-Keepers and is forced into an alliance with Loki to reach her goals.

In the ultimate narcissistic move, Loki falls for “himself” and throws the multiverse into chaos as a result.

Mobius knew that Loki wouldn’t be able to resist proving himself the superior of the two, but even he is astounded to discover that Loki has fallen for his female counterpart; although they are antagonistic with each other and constantly playing a game of one-upmanship against each other, especially in the early going, Loki and Sylvie are forced to rely on one another to survive. When trapped on Lamentis-1 and facing their imminent death, Loki delivers a rousing speech painting Sylvie as a survivor who was able to slip through the TVA’s fingers and almost single-handedly destroy their entire organisation and, when they hold hands and take solace in each other’s company, it causes a Nexus Event greater than anything the TVA have seen before. After being apprehended and subjected to a time loop where Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) repeatedly beats and berates him, Loki lies to Mobius in order to protect Sylvie and is visibly hurt when his former friend lies about her demise and relieved to learn that she’s still alive. Sylvie is furious when she learns that the Time-Keepers are mere puppets, and equally devastated when Ravonna appears to erase Loki from existence right before her eyes just as he was about to admit his true feelings to her. Since pruned timelines and variants are impossible to completely destroy or reset, they’re transported to the “Void”, a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with relics from deleted timelines (it even includes Thanos’ helicopter!) and home to Alioth, a massive cloud-like creature that hunts and consumes all life. When Sylvie learns of this, she transports herself there specifically to reunite with Loki and to push past the Void and to the man behind the TVA; this involves a significant risk as Sylvie proposes enchanting the monstrous Alioth. As this venture could cost them their lives, Loki and Sylvie share an intimate moment beforehand, one made more awkward by their inability to properly express, trust, or connect with others; Loki promises that, despite this chequered past, he has no intentions to betray her even if he gained his coveted throne and they promise to figure out where they go next once they’ve achieved their goal.

The Void is home to the monstrous Alioth and a whole slew of Loki variants.

Loki takes the concept of multiple timelines and really runs with it; in the MCU, divergent timelines are created due to time travel or going against the Sacred Timeline, and this can lead to completely new universes and new variations on characters and worlds forming. The TVA is made up of these variants, who have no memory of their previous lives, and is built on a series of rules that dictate how the timestream works: Minutemen can’t just travel to before an incident occurred since Nexus Events disrupt the time flow and can only be pruned in real time, and variants like Sylvie can effectively avoid detection by hiding out at the worst Nexus Events in history, such as cataclysmic events like the destruction of Pompeii. Reset timelines and pruned variants are sent to the Void to be consumed by Alioth, and Loki is stunned to find this hellscape populated by more of his variants: Kid Loki (Jack Veal), “Boastful” Loki (DeObia Oparei), Alligator Loki (Wally), and Richard E. Grant in a 100% comic-accurate costume as “Classic” Loki! The variants encourage Loki to focus on staying alive rather than trying to escape and take him to their underground shelter and share their Nexus Events: Kid Loki killed his version o Thor, Boastful Loki claims to have defeated all of the Avengers and taken the Infinity Stones for himself, Alligator Loki(who the Lokis are able to understand presumably telepathically, though we never hear his thoughts) ate the “wrong neighbour’s cat”, and Classic Loki used his magic to fool Thanos with an illusion and was arrested the moment he tried to leave his a self-imposed exile. Loki is dismayed to see all of his worst attributes on show: Boastful Loki betrays his comrades to President Loki (Hiddleston) and his rag-tag group of variants, who promptly turn on him and cause them to waste their energies in petty squabbles and fighting. Classic and Kid Loki lament their fate to constantly lie and cheat and betray each other, and to be doomed to the Void as the “God of Outcasts” whenever they try to change their nature, but Loki remains determined to kill Alioth and bring down the TVA.

Quite unexpectedly, Loki forges some real friendships and relationships but is constantly judged for his past deeds.

Despite his untrustworthy and deceptive nature, Loki forms a bond with Mobius that quickly develops into an unlikely friendship; a self-confessed fan of Loki’s, he fully believes that there’s more to the God of Mischief than the Sacred Timeline would suggest, and he’s personally hurt when Loki appears to have betrayed him and joined forces with Sylvie, a notorious killer. However, when he learns of Ravonna’s deception and the true nature of the TVA, he and Loki reach an understanding of trust and true friendship, only for Loki to be left devastated when Ravonna seemingly erases Mobius from existence in a scene that has more than a few visual, thematic, and emotional parallels to Loki’s murder of Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Thankfully for Loki (and the audience), Mobius is merely transported to the Void, where he has an emotional reunion with Loki before sharing a heartfelt hug with his newfound friend and heading back to the TVA to “burn it to the ground”. Loki also finds allies in his Void variants; while they refuse to leave the Void since it’s now their home and find the idea of challenging Alioth laughable, Kid Loki gifts Loki with a blade and Classic Loki, moved by Loki’s plight and ambition, uses all of his powers to distract Alioth with a full-scale recreation of Asgard at the cost of his life. Of course, his greatest and most unpredictable ally is Sylvie; although they are united in their desire to confront the one behind the TVA and in rejecting the idea that they’re not in control of their destinies, Sylvie is absolutely obsessed with getting revenge for her stolen life and refuses to make any compromises. Thus, the two come to blows since Loki has managed to change his true nature but Sylvie is unable to let go of her past. Seeing his intervention as a betrayal, she fights him in the Citadel at the End of Time with all of the multiverse in the balance, but he repeatedly tries to reason with her; he doesn’t want to hurt her, or anyone else, and tries to convince her that the situation is bigger than either of them but she sees it another of his deceptions to achieve his “glorious purpose”. Although Loki believes that he’s gotten through to her and the two share a tender kiss, he’s devastated when she uses the TemPad to send him back to the TVA and has her revenge on the one responsible for her pain.

Unable to let go of her pain, Sylvie kills He Who Remains and seemingly dooms the multiverse to all-out war.

This would be the enigmatic “He Who Remains” (Majors), an eccentric man clearly driven mad by untold aeons of isolation and the pressure of presiding over all of time and space in the Citadel at the End of Time, a surreal cosmic wasteland devoid of life where time has no meaning. There, the Sacred Timeline exists as a perpetual stream of boundless energy, like a concentric ring of water surrounding the ancient, decrepit, cracked citadel. Upon arrival, Loki and Sylvie reject his offer to reinsert them into the Sacred Timeline in a non-disruptive way and allow Loki to reign over all of his universe with the Infinity Gauntlet and give Sylvie the happiness she desires. He Who Remains is said to see all, control all, and be all that is left at the beginning and the end of time; accordingly, he’s easily able to avoid Sylvie’s attempts to kill him using a pre-programmed TemPad since all of life, our decisions, actions, and words, is recorded in volumes of typed up pages, like a movie script, providing him cosmic awareness. Although they’re angered and insulted at the idea of one man dictating the course of their lives, and everyone else’s, he admires their tenacity and adaptability but fully believes that his deceptive methods, and the TVA, were necessary to protect the Sacred Timeline from multiversal war and his far less benevolent variants. He reveals that, long ago, his variants discovered the multiverse and came together in narcissistic and self-congratulatory peace. Soon, some of them saw it as an opportunity to conquer new worlds and all-out war broke out; contrary to the Time-Keeper dogma, He Who Remains explains that he found Alioth (a creature “created from all the tears in reality”), experimented on it, and harnessed its power to consume all of time and space end to the mutiversal war. He then isolated his timeline and set up the TVA to not only keep divergences from arising but also keep his evil variants from creating more explicitly “evil” havoc. He then offers Loki and Sylvie two choices: kill him and risk something worse taking his place or take over as the overseers of the Sacred Timeline to ensure stability. Naturally, Loki and Sylvie are incredulous, but his explanation is simple: he’s tired and far older than his appearance would suggest and desires someone young and eager to take on the burden. Unable to see past that point in the conversation, and with the timelines beginning to diverge, he’s genuinely excited to see what path they choose. Fully aware that, eventually, he will end up back there as always, He Who Remains doesn’t resist when Sylvie kills him, resulting not only in the Sacred Time to rapidly and uncontrollably splintering into an infinitesimal number of branches but Loki finding all memory of him has been erased and a variant of He Who Remains has replaced the Time-Keepers as the overseer of the TVA!

The Summary:   
I was pleasantly surprised by Loki; as mentioned, I had become a little burnt out by the character (even though I initially believed that Avengers: Endgame would end with the revelation that he was still alive and causing mischief in the universe) because of how often he crops up and how popular he is, but Tom Hiddleston absolutely kills it in the role and it’s a joy to see him given more time to shine in this show. Like the other Disney+ shows, Loki’s presentation is absolutely top-notch and on par with that of its silver screen cousins; I initially wasn’t a fan of the multi-font title, but the shifting fonts really sold the idea of there being countless variants of worlds and characters and I absolutely loved the anachronistic, nonsensical presentation of the TVA. Nothing there makes any sense as there’s outdated computers and naïve office workers existing side-by-side with reality-warping technology and futuristic gadgets, all of which makes it very surreal and visually interesting. Even the sight of Loki garbed in a mundane shirt and tie and going through files of paperwork to get a lead on Sylvie ties into the bizarre nature of the show; for all their power, omniscience, and ability, the TVA is still reduced to filing paperwork and going through the motions of bureaucracy as dictated by an unseen corporate overlord. While it was jarring to have “Lamentis” (Herron, 2021) set largely on a train mid-way through the season, this allowed for a fantastic introspective discussion of Loki and Sylvie’s nature, differences, and characters and the show more than made up for it with the spectacle of Lamentis-1’s impending doom, the many visual Easter Eggs to spot scattered around the Void, and the cosmic eccentricity of the Citadel at the End of Time.  

Loki is full of great, and surprisingly emotional, performances from all of its cast.

As mentioned, it’s the performances that really help Loki to shine; although Hiddleston is playing a different, far less humbled and heroic version of Loki (this Loki was literally leading an alien invasion of New York City and causing untold death and destruction for his own ends mere moments before he was arrested), the implication is explicitly made that Loki has always been this misguided and tortured character. His issues go far beyond being overlooked in favour of his brother or undervalued because of his true nature as a Frost Giant and instead tie into the show’s overall themes regarding destiny. Loki believes it is his right to rule, to subjugate others to his will, but admits that he has no real desire to hurt or kill others; it’s simply part of the nature and the illusion of being in control he is projecting. His relationship with Sylvie and the other variants helps him to see the ugly side of his true nature almost as much as the noble end to his mainline counterpart and he very quickly grows beyond his own selfish desires. However, despite his growth as a character, he’s continuously judged because of his past misdeeds and his reputation as a trickster; even those closest to him, such as Mobius, Sylvie, and the other Lokis, have difficulty trusting that he’s not just playing some larger endgame to seize power for himself and, in the end, he has to prove it by physically opposing the one person he’s grown to care about (who is, ironically, “himself”). I was also surprised to find that Owen Wilson was a standout addition to the cast; I’m no fan of his but he excelled in his role, projecting a friendly and affable demeanour while also being somewhat conflicted. He truly believes in the TVA’s mission but also believes in free will and people’s capacity for change; little things like his desire for a jet ski and his loyalty to Loki above even the TVA help to make him an enjoyable character and I really liked the rapport between him and Loki.

Loki’s experiences see him change from a selfish trickster to fighting to ensure the stability of the multiverse.

Mobius and the other variants help to tie into another of the show’s themes, that of destiny versus free will. Even Classic Loki finds it difficult to believe that a Loki could ever be more than a conniving, backstabbing traitor, and Mobius is driven to reveal the truth of the TVA to Hunter B-15 and all of the Minutemen simply because he believes it’s not their right to take free will away from anyone, regardless of the will of the Sacred Timeline. Loki actively and adamantly resists the notion that he’s not in control of his actions; he recognises power, for sure, but not that he’s some mere puppet, even when the truth is staring him in the face. However, his desire to be free from the TVA’s machinations become secondary to the fate of all reality when he learns that killing He Who Remains will result in rampant timelines and the coming of an even worse, far less reasonable threat. He battles Sylvie not because he desires to be lord of all space and time but because he feels it’s their responsibility to keep the timeline safe and that they can be far more benevolent overseers of the Sacred Timeline. When the first trailers for Loki came out, I was concerned that it was going to be a throwaway show depicting Loki popping up throughout time to cause mischief but, instead, Loki greatly expands upon the idea of time travel in the MCU, showing that this rather mundane-looking organisation routinely prunes and maintains the Sacred Timeline but also opening up the possibility of different actors playing different versions of these characters. This not only gave us the great Richard E. Grant as a comic-accurate Loki but also opens the door for potentially limitless stories to be told now that the multiverse has been broken as a result of Sylvie’s actions.

Despite having grown close, Loki is unable to keep Sylvie from splintering the timeline into infinite paths.

Sylvie presented a unique opportunity for Loki to see himself in a new light and to discover new things about himself; primarily, how alone he’s been and his capacity for love. The romance between the two is volatile and chaotic, but it’s what separates him (both of them) from all their other variants. It’s something that simply shouldn’t be, and gives them the power to overcome Alioth and, effectively, confront “God” face-to-face. However, Sylvie has spent too much time alone and her nature is to be distrustful of everyone, even “herself”, whereas Loki undergoes significant character growth to form a true friendship with Mobius and to actually care about the fate of all reality. He’s aghast when he learns that Mobius and the others are variants who’ve lost their worlds and lives and his desire to expose the TVA is motivated as much by his own rejection of their dogma as it is his wish to open their eyes to the truth. While the other Lokis are content to live out their lives in the Void, he has something worth fighting for: his friends and, more importantly, Sylvie. When they come to blows over He Who Remains, he constantly tries to talk sense into her, which shows just how far he’s come, and is heartbroken when she sends him back to the TVA and seals the fate of the multiverse. His first thought isn’t for himself but to warn Mobius of He Who Remains’ malevolent variants, only to discover that his friend has no memory of him and that he’s too late: a variant of He Who Remains has conquered the TVA and Loki may be the only one aware of what’s happened to the multiverse as a result of Sylvie being unable to see the bigger picture. This ends the show with Loki in a unique situation; before, everyone judged him as a deceptive trickster but, now, people will have no reason to trust him because they have no idea who he is!

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Were you a fan of Loki? What did you think when the show was first announced? Did you enjoy seeing Tom Hiddleston take centre stage and what did you think to Loki’s character arc throughout this first season? Which of Loki’s variants was your favourite and what did you think to Sylvie and the romance between her and Loki? Were you surprised by the reveal of He Who Remains and what do you think will happen now that the Sacred Timeline has been disrupted? Are there any of the Loki variants you hope to see in the future? Feel free to sign up to drop your thoughts on Loki below, or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure pop back next Thursday (and next month) for more Asgardian content.