Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The 2017 Hulk Thor: Ragnarok Is Cool!


The Good: Excellent sculpt, Good skin coloring, Good balance
The Bad: Helm coloring, A little expensive
The Basics: The 2017 Hulk from Thor: Ragnarok Hallmark ornament is pretty awesome, but it is a little light on some of the coloring detailing needed to make it perfect.


Hallmark does a pretty good job of rendering ornaments pretty fast from the year's current blockbusters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This year, Hallmark focused on the autumn film release from the MCU: Thor: Ragnarok and produced two ornaments from the film. The second of the two Thor: Ragnarok ornaments is the Hulk, in his gladiator costume!

For those unfamiliar with it, in Thor: Ragnarok (reviewed here!), Hulk is found by Thor fighting as a champion for the Game Master on a distant world. Having been hulked out for years, Hulk fights as a gladiator until he is stopped by Thor.

It is Hulk, with his helmet on, in mid-leap, which is the subject of the Hulk Thor: Ragnarok ornament.

Basics

The Hulk ornament recreates the gladiator version of the mutated Bruce Banner in solid plastic, with his plumed gladiator helmet. The ornament, released in 2017, is a decent recreation of the violent, insensate, character as he appears in the cinematic rendition of Hulk from Thor: Ragnarok. The Hulk ornament looks just like the crazed version of Bruce Banner from mid-fight with Thor.

The Hallmark 2017 Hulk ornament is made of a durable plastic and has him in an action pose. This Thor: Ragnarok ornament measures out at 4 1/4" tall, 3 1/4" wide and 2 1/2" deep. Hulk is sculpted with bulging muscles, with his arms raised as if he is about to pound the crap out of Thor. His legs, chest, and arms are all well-muscled and Hallmark even made strain lines in the character's neck. Hulk's mouth is open as if in a roar and the rest of his head is covered in a helm. The plumage on the helm is one of the ornament's weak spots, but to be fair it is very hard to make something based on something that fine look like it is realistic.

The coloring for the Hulk ornament is generally good. The paint job includes the handprint - like war paint - that Hulk has on his chest. The helmet's plumage is not colored with a realistic sense of depth and shading, so instead of looking like hair or feathers, it looks like a solid block, which is not at all realistic. The Hulk ornament features skin coloring that is generally accurate, though.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Hulk could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. This is just an ornament, a low-cost (comparatively) option for those who might not want to shell out for the more expensive Marvel ornaments. This Hulk simply hangs on a tree.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Hulk ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Marvel Universe Christmas Tree, Hulk is essential, but the gladiator Hulk version is really only for those who love that incarnation or Thor: Ragnarok. The ornament has a steel hook loop embedded in the top center of the character's back. From that hook, the Hulk ornament hangs perfectly level. This is a well-balanced ornament!

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (click here for my review of that!). Since then, Hallmark has gotten into every major franchise from Disney to Twilight to the Marvel Comics universe. This Hulk ornament was not at all limited. I would not bet, given how late in the season it was released and how it has not sold out at any of my local Hallmark stores, that it will not be an ideal investment piece.

Overview

The 2017 Thor: Ragnarok Hulk ornament is cool and a neat rendition of the Hulk, but not a flawless ornament for fans who truly want the depth of the rendition of the Hulk from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

For other Marvel Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2017 Deadpool
2017 Thor Thor: Ragnarok ornament
2017 Spider-Man: A New Kind Of Hero Spider-Man: Homecoming ornament
2016 Team Captain America ornament
2011 Thor ornament
2010 Defender Of Justice Iron Man 2 ornament

7/10

For other ornament reviews, please check out my Ornament Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Memento Mori" Gives The First Season Of The Punisher A Perfect Ending!


The Good: Incredible performances, Artful direction, Good character moments, Excellent plot progression, Themes
The Bad: Nothing!
The Basics: The Punisher's first season closes with "Memento Mori," which makes for the season's second perfect episode!


Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first season of The Punisher is that, going into the season finale, it's not really possible to say "What a long and bloody road we took to get here . . ." The Punisher could have been a constant bloodbath, a dumbed-downed, blood and gored-up, triggerhappy vengeance story, but Netflix managed to make something smart, complex and emotionally real. For sure, there has been blood, but it's hard to look at the first season of The Punisher and argue that it was more violent and gory than, for example, Daredevil Season 2 (reviewed here!) where there was violence with Daredevil, The Punisher, Elektra, and blood-draining ninjas.

So, as "Memento Mori" opens with Frank Castle beaten to a pulp as a result of the events of "Home" (reviewed here!), it is with the promise that The Punisher will not diverge from the formula that got it to this end: it has to be smart. And wow, is it!

Madani and Lieberman bring Frank Castle to her parents' home where Madani begs her father to treat the severely wounded Castle. Dr. Madani gets Castle breathing, while at his own lair, Russo extracts a bullet from himself. Russo takes his cash, the police walkie-talkie and kills his way out of Anvil. After Castle recovers, while the CIA and Homeland are hunting him, Lieberman brings Castle money and advocates for him to retire. Castle, though, is determined to finish what he started. Madani lets Castle leave, but tells him that if she sees him again she'll be forced to either arrest or kill him. Madani returns to Homeland Security where she is called onto the carpet by James and Hernandez.

Lieberman returns to his wife and kids to begin the period of readjusting to their lives together. Curtis Hoyle wakes up to Russo in his apartment. Russo keeps Hoyle at gunpoint in his apartment, but Castle manages to box the two in by sniping from across the street. Castle negotiates for Hoyle's life and Russo and Castle agree to finish their conflict that the carousel where their conflict began. But when Castle and Madani converge upon the park, they discover Russo's endgame is not as simple as a shootout.

There are very few preconceptions I had going into "Memento Mori." The biggest assumption I had in advance of sitting down to the episode was that there was a decent chance that Russo would survive the season, leading Madani to become disillusioned enough to become a Punisher herself. As horrific as some of the events in "Memento Mori" are - the sounds of the gagged teenagers crying is particularly unsettling, arguably more than the visual gore - there is the sense throughout the episode that it actually could go any way. With both Russo and Castle shot, there is the feeling either or both could die and as the episode races toward its climax, "Memento Mori" feels anything but predictable.

"Memento Mori" starts, uncomfortably enough, like a medical drama with the gore coming from Frank Castle's wounds and the medical procedure needed to save him. Director Stephen Surjik seems to realize quickly that the level of gore is moving toward disturbing, so Russo's exit from his facility is treated with more speed and art than realistic gore. That helps to make "Memento Mori" accessible. So, too, does the fact that the episode quickly transitions into characters talking and people exploring the consequences of the prior twelve episodes.

The realism of the Lieberman's awkwardness is magnificent. Jaime Ray Newman watching Moss-Barach and the kids playing cards allows her to present Sarah Lieberman with wordless charm. Newman is great at showing the build-up to the Liebermans' reunion quickie. Impressive as well is the level of detail that writer Steve Lightfoot and Surjik put into the piece where Russo can easily recognize - and the viewer can credibly believe - the sound of Castle releasing his rifle's magazine.

Surjik creates a beautiful-looking season finale with "Memento Mori." The simple shot of the clouds over New York City is artful and the falling coffee mugs are fantastic. Surjik taking the time to show things like Curtis putting on his prosthetic leg continues the sense of realism that is seldom shown on television. In fact, it is funny for how realistic most of the episode is that Surjik has Hoyle's coffee maker work at superhuman speeds.

"Memento Mori" reveals well the level of personal betrayal Frank Castle has been feeling for the latter half of the season by showing the moments leading up to Castle's family getting slaughtered. The scenes with Frank Castle and his family are heartwrenching. Russo continues to be well-characterized as the ultimate villain of The Punisher through the illustration that he has made his own narrative.

Ben Barnes makes a truly disturbing transition over the course of "Memento Mori." Russo goew from being a military minded man with some sense of his own personal ethos to a deranged maniac without ever seeming like the transformation is inorganic. Barnes is terrifying as Russo in almost every scene he is in in "Memento Mori."

"Memento Mori" is a series of surprises and revelations and it is incredible. The performances are wonderful by all involved and the fact that Frank Castle both develops as a character and remains true to his moral core makes for compelling television. Whoever thought that The Punisher could create a legitimate tearjerker?! But "Memento Mori" is that; it develops from a series of tense, action moments that manage to bring about plot resolution to big character moments to the season's ever-present exploration of the effects upon a soldier of their actions while at war.

"Memento Mori" is an amazing end to an incredible season of television. The balance of art and realism, horror and heart makes for - and no one is more surprised than me! - a perfect season finale.

For other Marvel Television Universe season finales, please visit my reviews of:
"AKA Smile" - Jessica Jones
"World's End" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"And Finally . . . Black Bolt" - Inhumans

10/10

For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Accurately Unpleasant, I Find No Justification For The Existence Of Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar!


The Good: Melts well, Nothing truly bad in it, Easy to work with, Accurate flavor
The Bad: Comparatively expensive, Brutally spicy hot
The Basics: Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper cheddar is not much of a cheese flavor, but it acts as a perfect medium for one of the hottest peppers on Earth . . . which makes for an entirely unpleasant culinary experience.


It turns out that one of the consequences of moving just a bit out west is that I moved out of the primary distribution area for one of my favorite companies: Yancey's Fancy. I love Yancey's Fancy cheese, so when I was recently in New York again, I made a point to finally stop by Corfu, NY to visit the Yancey's Fancy cheese factory. Actually, I ended up going to their factory store there, which was quite exciting for me as it was filled with all sorts of Yancey's Fancy cheeses I had never seen before.

I picked up a bunch of new-to-me Yancey's Fancy cheeses and the first one I decided to try and review was the Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar. The reason I chose to start with Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar was because the moment I returned home and showed off my finds to my wife, she commented "You know 'ghost pepper' is super-hot, right?" To which, I responded honestly, "Um, no. I thought it was like peppercorns." So, my return to Yancey's Fancy cheeses begins with the one I am least likely to enjoy, whatwith me not generally being a fan of very spicy hot foods.

And the Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar is as hot as anyone who knows peppers would assume it is. There's no depth of flavor, nothing one might want to use this cheddar in, it is that hot and unpleasant. My review is based on eating the 1/8th of an ounce that I could actually stand to consume before I give the rest of it away.

Basics

Yancey's Fancy is a manufacturer of Artisan Cheeses in upstate New York. The intent of most Yancey's Fancy cheeses is that they will be cheeses that hold their own as snacks that may be served to consumers in fancier settings. They specialize in cheddar cheeses that have different flavors infused into them: champagne, jalapeno, various nuts, etc., as well as more exotic cheeses like gouda with bacon. Yancey's Fancy cheeses come in wheels (usually ten or twenty pounds each) and most stores chop the wheels into blocks. Online, it is fairly easy to find the cheese in one pound blocks or in the 7.6 oz. prepackaged package.

The Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese is exactly as its name implies. This is a solid white cheese with actual red and black pepper bits in it. Mixed throughout the cheddar block are the actual chunks of black and red mashed up ghost pepper, though none of them are bigger than a 1/16" in diameter. Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese comes encased in a soft black wax which allows the cheese to maintain its shape and solid state. The black wax helps consumers distinguish it from other flavors of Yancey's Fancy cheese.

Ease Of Preparation

Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese is a cheese, so more often than not, it is used on its own or as an ingredient in a recipe. Preparation of the cheese is pretty simple, starting with removing the plastic wrap it is sealed in. When that is done, simply peel back the wax coating on the outer edges. This happens with remarkable ease. The Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese seems to not adhere to the wax. This makes it a very easy cheese to separate from the wax coating and it may be placed on a cutting block or plate ready to be cut!

Unlike some cheeses with other things embedded in them, Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese is very easy to work with. My cheese plane easily sliced through the block with ease; this cheese is not so hard to fracture or otherwise fall apart. It is exceptionally easy to work with on its own or as an ingredient. This is a fairly soft cheddar cheese.

When the cheese is sliced, it melts nicely. For those who would use it as an ingredient, it melts well onto or into other things.

Taste

On its own, the Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese smells fairly strongly of peppers. The pepper smell is an aroma of red and black pepper smells. There is no real scent of cheddar in the bouquet of the Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar.

In the mouth, the Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar is creamy, lightly salty and then it is fire in the mouth. The Ghost Pepper Cheddar loses any subtlety or flavor and the mouth is simply filled hot spicy dryness.

The heat from the Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar endures in the mouth for about eight minutes after the last of the cheese is consumed.

Nutrition

Yancey's Fancy New York Artisan Cheeses are not intended to be all that one lives on. But for those who try, the Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese is not a healthy option. The ghost pepper does not seem to add anything of note to the cheese of nutritional value. A serving size is considered a one inch block (1 oz.). In that, there are 110 calories, 80 of which are from fat. This cheese has 25% of one's daily recommended saturated fat intake and 11% of the RDA of sodium. On the plus side, it does have 20% of the RDA of calcium and has six grams of protein.

Obviously, Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese is a dairy product, so those who are lactose intolerant will have problems with it. This cheese is made primarily of natural aged cheddar cheese, ghost pepper mash and trisodium citrate. That makes it mostly natural and it is marked Gluten Free.

Storage/Cleanup

As a cheese, Yancey's Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese should be kept refrigerated. So long as that happens, it ought to stay fresh for several weeks. The package I picked up from the factory store just yesterday had an expiration date of November 1, 2018.

Ghost Pepper Cheddar is a cheese, so it is not going to stain or ruin anything unless it is ground into a fabric. Baring that, cleanup of nonporous surfaces is as easy as wiping them with a damp cloth. The pepper bits in the cheese might be enough to stain lighter fabrics.

Overall

Yancey’s Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese caused an issue for me in my rating system. I could barely stomach 1/8 of a serving and I am not a fan of super-spicy things. The thing is, Yancey’s Fancy Ghost Pepper Cheddar gets the ghost pepper right, but it is not much on the cheese front. The cheese flavor is weak and quickly overwhelmed and replaced by something utterly unpleasant. So, the cheese is impossible to recommend based on the fact that it tastes terrible . . . but, that's accurate for ghost peppers. Ultimately, I settled on an 7.5/10 with a strong "not recommend." While some might argue that it deserves to be rated higher based on how well it captures the ghost pepper flavor, I kept coming back to the idea that it wasn't much of a cheese; there's no real delightful cheese flavor to it in advance of its horribly spice. Regardless of any subtleties of the reviewer in me, the cheese connoisseur knows that I will never, ever, again try even a bite of this cheese. This is a wretched example of what Yancey's Fancy can create, like a twisted mad scientist took over the factory and wanted to prove they could makes something obscenely hot and they succeeded. . . . but that does not make it worth consuming.

For other Yancey's Fancy cheese reviews, please check out my takes on:
Steakhouse Onion Cheddar
Pepperoni Cheddar Cheese
Buffalo Wing Cheddar

7.5/10 (NOT RECOMMENDED!)

For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Essential Conflicts Of The Punisher Come "Home!"


The Good: Good acting, Decent pacing, Compelling character moments, Impressive direction
The Bad: Moment of predictability, Graphic violence becomes so realistic it stops being at all entertaining
The Basics: The Punisher gives the viewer two significant catharsis's in "Home," which is challenging and difficult, but still manages to be wonderful.


As The Punisher rushed toward its ending, the show created a final series of conflicts that were compelling and worked to close the book on the story of Frank Castle and David Lieberman (in case the show only got one season) and seed enough for a second season. "Home" is the penultimate episode of the first season of The Punisher and it is bold in the way it sets up both its plot and the potential for Madani to evolve into another Punisher.

"Home" picks up very shortly after "Danger Close" (reviewed here!). Castle and Lieberman, on the run from Russo and Rawlins, are forced to turn to Madani in order to try to get Sarah and Zach Lieberman back from Billy Russo. "Home" leads to another cold conflict between Frank Castle and Billy Russo and the dynamic in the episode is dramatically different from the prior episodes where Castle believed Russo was his old friend.

Frank Castle comes in to the Department Of Homeland Security. There, he makes a tape for Madani detailing Cerberus, the people involved and his involvement in the illegal CIA-run death squad. In the same building, David Lieberman tries to reassure his daughter, but Leo figures out quickly that her father and Frank are probably going to go rogue to get Sarah and Zach back safely. Madani learns, from Frank, that Frank himself was the triggerman on her partner in Kandahar's murder. Lieberman quickly locks up the computers, preventing Russo from getting access to the Micro video and the video confession Castle made for Madani. Castle orchestrates a prisoner exchange: Lieberman and Castle for Sarah and Zack Lieberman. While Frank is turned over to Russo, Lieberman appears to be killed during the exchange.

Russo interrogates Castle, desperate to find out what happens when Lieberman's computer timer reaches zero (before it happens). With less than five hours until the clock reaches zero, Russo becomes more desperate and David Lieberman is reunited with his family. When Rawlins enters the interrogation, Castle turns verbally agressive. At Homeland Security, Madani tries desperately to find out where Frank Castle has been taken, while Lieberman tries to explain the past year of his life to Sarah. With three hours on the clock, Castle makes his move and prepares to sacrifice himself in the attempt to end Rawlins and Russo.

"Home" is an episode that starts quiet and turns absolutely brutal as Rawlins tortures Frank Castle. The episode combines surreal imagery from inside Frank Castle's mind in a compelling transition that illustrates well Castle's conscious and unconscious minds. Through the use of surreal dance scenes, Jet Wilkinson smartly illustrates how a torture victim might escape into their own mind as the brutality of the experience increases. The Punisher very compellingly explores the idea that torture does not work as a means of getting reliable information and it is refreshing to see that on television today.

The set-up with David Lieberman being "killed" during the prisoner exchange is well-executed, but a fairly obvious conceit. But while that conceit is predictable, the episode does not belabor that or drag it out for especially long. Instead, Lieberman is quickly revealed to be alive and the episode refocuses on Lieberman being reunited with his family, Lieberman standing up to Madani to protect Frank Castle and Castle being tortured mercilessly. The Lieberman family reunion is a decent catharsis, which plays as one of the episode's more enjoyable moments opposite the brutality of Castle being tortured.

Russo is revealed in "Home" to be more complex than he initially appeared. While Rawlins tortures Castle, he is presented as a man whose power has gone completely gone to his head. Maniacal and twisted, Rawlins becomes obsessed with torturing Castle. Russo, on the other hand, maintains his moral core (in his own twisted way) when he makes a promise to Castle for a clean, quick death. Upset by how Rawlins will not allow him to give Castle a fast death, Russo has to make a decision about where he truly stands.

"Home" is one of Jon Bernthal's best ever performances as he embodies perfectly the exhaustion that comes with portraying torture. Bernthal plays the dance scenes beautifully, with an uncommon calm and plays the character of Frank Castle in a way that is compelling and incredibly rendered. "Home" gives Bernthal the chance to show off how deep of a performance he can give.

Ebon Moss-Bachrach plays David Lieberman magnificently with a sense of desperation at one of the episode's key moments that helps the emotional core of the piece land. Amber Rose Revah continues to embody Madani as the consummate professional and Paul Schulze is terrifying as Rawlins as the C.I.A. operative goes completely over-the-top.

"Home" might be bloody and uncomfortable, but it continues the trend of The Punisher making compelling, realistic and disturbing television.

For other Marvel Television Universe penultimate episodes, please visit my reviews of:
"A Little Song And Dance" - Agent Carter
"The Dark At The End Of The Tunnel" - Daredevil
"Bar The Big Boss" - Iron Fist

9/10

For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Such A Good Idea, Such A Poor Execution! How Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate Fails.


The Good: Good flavor when made properly
The Bad: Expensive, Irksome packaging, Can only be properly made with milk, Shockingly high fat content
The Basics: Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate is a product I wanted to love, but found myself more and more disappointed with than I ever would have thought!


I am not a fan of the illusion of choice. I am a big believer in labeling things truthfully and letting consumers make an informed decision about the product they are considering purchasing. So, when I first came across Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate - when a tin canister of the powder was gifted to me - I was actually ecstatic. I am a big fan of (most) all things chocolate mint and Trader Joe's has a much-deserved reputation for high-quality products. Sadly, Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate is not one of those products because it offers the illusion of choice.

The packaging for the Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate indicates that the beverage may be made with water or milk - milk being the parenthetical addition to the directions. The truth, however, is that the Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate must be prepared with milk in order to get any seriously decent results. Whenever I get anything new, in terms of food and drink, I play culinary mad scientist and I begin by making up the product with scientific precision to the directions. In the case of the Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate, I tried three times to make the beverage with water, but each time I created a drink that was chunky, separated fast, and was a poor representation of the flavors. I tried again with milk and voila! Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate was absolutely delicious. The truth, however, is that there is no real choice in preparing the Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate: if one wants something other than a messy disappointment, they must make it with milk.

Basics

The Peppermint Hot Chocolate mix is part of the Trader Joe's premium Hot Chocolate line. The mix comes in an 8 oz. sealed foil package that is stuffed into a decorative tin that makes it a complete pain to try to get the powder out. The tin is cute, but the mix is fairly inaccessible from the tin given the relative size of the tin and the size of the packet that houses the actual hot chocolate mix.

As one might expect, the Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate is not an instant beverage; it is a powder that must be reconstituted into the promised hot chocolate.

Ease Of Preparation

The Peppermint Hot Chocolate mix is not all that simple to make. The tin that the packet comes in is cute, but the foil packet for the actual cocoa mix is stiff and quite a bit larger than the actual tin. And it's a tremendous pain to open. So, there's usually some loss of product simply by trying to open the packet of cocoa after extracting it from the tin. To get around this, I recommend using scissors to actually cut the foil packet, as opposed to trying to find a way to tear it open. Then, when done with the cocoa, fold the packet up so shoving it back into the tin does not cause it to disperse cocoa powder like a fungus releasing spores.

Once one has extracted the foil packet, measure out three Tablespoons of the powder into a mug that is at least eight ounces large. Then, heat up (at least) 3/4 cup of milk (or, if one is looking for a crappy, chunky, beverage, water) to just below boiling. Pour the heated fluid into the mug with the powder and stir vigorously. If you used milk, the drink will become a rich, creamy brown fluid. If you used water, you'll end up with a mostly brown beverage that will inevitably have some chunks still in it (or fused to the bottom of the mug).

Taste

Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate smells divine when it is properly prepared. The aroma of chocolate enters the nose immediately after the scent of peppermint invites the airway to open up and breathe in the scent. Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate smells absolutely amazing!

In the mouth, the Trader Joe's Peppermint Cocoa is delightfully minty. Trader Joe's did not skimp on the peppermint flavor and the mint flavor dominates with a cool, sweet flavor. The chocolate flavor in the Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate is not to be outdone, though and the dry, rich chocolate flavor asserts itself as soon as the peppermint flavoring allows. The result is a beverage that actually manages to embody well both promised flavors!

The Peppermint Hot Chocolate has a slightly sweet aftertaste that does not endure long in the mouth at all.

Nutrition

Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate is a Hot Chocolate mix and therefore not the most nutritious things ever, though the Peppermint flavor could be far less nutritious than it is. The Peppermint Hot Chocolate has a few ingredients that cannot be easily identified, which is nice. The primary ingredients are bittersweet chocolate, cane sugar, and coconut oil. It is not vegan compliant as a result of the milk powder in the mix. There is no actual mint in the ingredient list.

What is not a mystery is how high this product is in sugars. In each serving of Peppermint Hot Chocolate, there are 140 calories, sixty of which are from fat! There are a whopping five grams (25% RDA!) of saturated fat, so while one might be tempted to curl up and enjoy this while resting, they are likely to pay for it later on! There is no cholesterol (2 mg) and only 3% of one's recommended daily allowance of sodium out of a single serving of this beverage! There is a negligible amount of protein, but not enough to live off this. In other words, this product is not a nutritious food product.

This product contains milk, soy and coconut. Because there are no notations on it, one must assume it is not Kosher or gluten-free.

Storage/Cleanup

So long as one leaves the Peppermint Hot Chocolate powder in its packet, in its tin canister, it ought to stay usable. One assumes it will last quite a while and dissolve appropriately when one attempts to use it. The tin I received a few days ago had an expiration date of September 12, 2019, so it's not a bad product to stock up on (if one likes it!).

Cleanup is very easy. If the product spills while dumping it into the mug, simply wipe it up or brush it up with a dry or damp cloth. If it has already been reconstituted with water or milk into hot chocolate, simply wipe it up. Light fabrics are likely to stain if this gets on them, in which case consult your fabric care guide to clean it up.

Overall

Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate is a good idea that is tremendously expensive, fairly messy, obscenely fatty, but - when made properly with milk - yields a pretty fantastic result!

For other hot chocolate reviews, please check out:
Stephen’s Gourmet Chocolate Mint Truffle Hot Cocoa
Land O'Lakes S'mores Hot Cocoa
Swiss Miss Mint Premium Cocoa

4/10

For other beverage reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Ignoring The Conceits, "A Life Spent" Builds The Dark Future Of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Well!


The Good: Decent performances, Good plot progression and pacing, Moments of character development
The Bad: Predictable plot reversals - especially with Abby
The Basics: "A Life Spent" progresses the story of the various Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in their dark future as they try to piece together what life is like on the Lighthouse and how they might save the Earth.


If viewers of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. were to actually believe the events of the two-part season premiere for the show's fifth season, Earth is destroyed and most of the familiar Agents are now in a distant future. The season's direction has become clear by the time "A Life Spent," the season's third episode, begins: the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are destined to return to the present from the distant future and participate in events that should restore Earth. The idea that the Earth could be destroyed on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a preposterous one given the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for viewers who decide to play along with the conceit, the season progresses in "A Life Spent."

"A Life Spent" follows on "Orientation, Part 2" (reviewed here!), which found the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - less Fitz - trapped on one of the last human outposts in the debris field which is Earth in the distant future. There, most of the Agents have become indentured to the mercenary Grill, Simmons has become a geisha working for the Kree overlord Kaius, and Daisy and Yo-Yo have the potential to be hunted like animals if ever their status as Inhumans is revealed. The facility upon which the Agents find themselves is dark, dank, and dangerous and they have very few allies among the humans, who are now an endangered species living under the heel of the Kree who swept in after Earth's cataclysm.

Kasius greets an emissary on the Lighthouse from Basha, who is concerned about an impending ceremony. When there is conflict between Kasius and the representative, the Kree leader turns to Simmons for aid. In the bowels of the Lighthouse, Coulson, Rodriguez and Mack slave away for Grill while Coulson tries to decipher the notebook he found of Virgil's. Daisy Johnson searches with Deke for her friends, living in denial that she might be the cause of the Earth's destruction. May and Tess spring Coulson and Mack for some dangerous work on the trawler, leaving Rodriguez to try to steal scrolls out of Grill's office. On the other levels, Simmons encounters Abby, an Inhuman who is anxious about showing off her abilities in order to escape the Lighthouse. Simmons realizes that Abby has the ability to consciously change her molecular density!

On the trawler, Coulson and May search for a chunk of Earth that is noted frequently in the journal. En route, Grill's man on the trawler attacks the team and they are forced to retaliate, much to Tess's chagrin. But soon, the ship discovers a transmission nearby that appears to be coming from the surface of the Earth. Abby is put into the ring against Lady Basha's champion and it is only with Simmons's help that the Inhuman girl manages to survive. When Grill's man instantly turns on the trawler crew, it is up to Rodriguez to save them!

"A Life Spent" does a decent job of reminding viewers of the skills and relationships of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Simmons is a medical doctor and her training and experience got her into trouble in the prior episode; in "A Life Spent," she uses her medical knowledge, S.H.I.E.L.D. training and experience with the Inhumans to try to save Abby's life. Simmons is guided by compassion and that comes through in the way she treats Abby. Elizabeth Henstridge does a decent job of emoting with only her facial expressions when Simmons is forced to watch Abby get pummeled. Director Kevin Hooks does a good job with keeping the audio and visual distortions Simmons is suffering through consistent and unsettling.

The real heroes in "A Life Spent" are the Inhumans. Rodriguez earns her place on the full team by stealing Grill's scrolls, getting them to Johnson and ultimately coming to the aid of her team. Rodriguez proves in "A Life Spent" that she does not only move fast, she thinks fast and the result is satisfying, if unfortunately predictable, television. At the other end of the spectrum, Daisy Johnson turns on Deke and does her best to get to Simmons, in the process outing herself as an Inhuman. Johnson's arc feels much more like filler in "A Life Spent," but with it comes the promise that her arc might actually go somewhere in the subsequent episodes.

While the discovery of a signal from Earth offers real potential for future storylines and exploration of this dark tangent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the episode's truly exceptional moment comes from one of the most simple scenes. May and Coulson reconnect and in their exchange of dialogue they completely rekindle their chemistry and the potential they had of advancing their relationship. When Coulson places his hand on May's shoulder, it is the most intimate moment of the new season and it is filmed by Hooks in a way that highlights the very basic connection between the two characters. It's nice to see.

On the performance front, "A Life Spent" is fine, but most of the performers are playing familiar characters and they do not show off anything in this episode that we have not seen from them before. They are solid in their roles and they help to move the plot forward at a respectable pace.

"A Life Spent" is the first episode of the fifth season that illustrates that, regardless of how ridiculous the notion is that the setting might not simply be undone by the end of the season, the journey in this horrible place might actually be worth investing in!

For other works with Pruitt Taylor Vince, please visit my reviews of:
True Blood - Season 6
Beautiful Creatures
The Walking Dead - Season 2
Constantine
The Cell

7.5/10

For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for a comprehensive listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Friday, December 8, 2017

If It Weren't For The Sound Function . . . The 2017 Death Star Ornament Would Be An Abject Failure!


The Good: Accurate sculpt, Good sound clips, Balance is fine
The Bad: Somewhat silly light effect, Tremendously expensive, Bland coloring
The Basics: The 2017 Death Star from the Star Wars Storyteller ornament line is a redundant ornament with little "wow" factor.


Star Wars fans are, if Hallmark is to believed, where the money is at. It might help that the source material for Star Wars is fairly conservatively doled out (a film a year of late, after decades with a film every several years), that other major franchises are comparatively untested in the merchandising (Marvel Cinematic Universe) or seem to be spiraling entirely out of control (the Star Trek franchise). Whatever the reason, Hallmark is betting big on Star Wars in 2017 and that bet is carrying over into 2018 and, most likely, 2019 with their expensive, connected ornaments in the Storyteller line. The first of the Storyteller ornaments I've picked to review from the Star Wars line is the 2017 Death Star ornament.

For those unfamiliar with the Death Star, this is the massive Imperial weapon of mass destruction in A New Hope (reviewed here!) and the subject of the more recent Star Wars spinoff film Rogue One (reviewed here!). The giant sphere, that is no small moon, is responsible for the destruction of Jedda City, an Imperial records facility, and the entire planet of Alderaan before it is destroyed by Rebel pilots.

Hallmark has the station alone as the subject of the 2017 Death Star ornament.

Basics

The "Death Star" ornament faithfully recreates the Imperial planet killer in its general detailing. The ornament, released in 2017, is a larger casting of the previously-released Death Star ornament with new light and sound features. Measuring four inches in diameter, the Death Star ornament is a touch larger than most other Star Wars ship ornaments, which is probably why it comes with the hefty $39.95 price tag. Given the simplicity of the ornament, despite the amazing sound feature, the price is certainly a dealbreaker for more casual Star Wars ornament collectors.

The Hallmark "Death Star" ornament is made of a durable plastic and is an accurate sculpt of the spherical war machine. The Death Star ornament features the dish embedded into the surface of the sphere from which the Death Star's weapon fires and it has the molded hemisphere that is made to look like a trench. As well, the paneling on the different hemispheres is well-rendered for the ornament, though not so finely that it actually appears to be trenches, crannies and towers all along the surface. But for the broad strokes, Hallmark made the Death Star instantly recognizable.

The coloring for the Death Star is very simplistic. The two tones of gray hardly capture the realistic depth and shading of the monstrous sphere.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the "Death Star" has both a light and sound function, as part of the new Storyteller line. Unfortunately, to power the light and sound function, one must connect the Death Star ornament to a Magic strand - a specifically-engineered light strand from Hallmark that allows chips in the various ornaments on the strand to interact with one another. When properly attached to a Magic cord, the Death Star may be activated.

When the button on the Death Star is pressed (or the button on any connected Storyteller ornaments that interact with the Death Star), the ornament gets around to playing various sound clips and ship noises from the Battle near Yavin 4. The sound clips are cool, loud and clear. When the Death Star is the ship in the strand that is active, it lights up from within, most notably when the Death Star sound effect indicates it is being blown up. The sound effect is cool, but hardly enough to justify the ornament's inflated price.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Death Star" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, the "Death Star" ornaments is an important addition, though it was produced twice before in ornament form. The ornament has the standard steel hook loop embedded into the top center of the station's top. From there, the ornament hangs perfectly well-balanced.

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas from properties like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Tron. The "Death Star" ornament seems to be overproduced relative to the demand and the fact that many collectors seemed to hit their budgetary limits by the time this ornament hit the shelves. The comparative quality of the ornament seems to be offset in the minds of those who buy it by the fact that it is a necessary addition to the full Storyteller sequence. As such, while the Death Star might sell out, it is unlikely to be a good investment piece for the foreseeable future.

Overview

The Death Star is a necessary piece for those committed to completing the Storyteller line of Star Wars Hallmark ornaments, but for those not so inclined, it is a surprisingly easy ornament to pass by.

For other Hallmark ornaments of Star Wars ships, please check out my reviews of:
2006 Imperial AT-AT
2009 Luke's Landspeeder
2010 Rebel Snowspeeder
2011 Slave I
2012 TIE Interceptor
2013 All Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST)
2014 Sandcrawler
2015 Y-Wing Starfighter
2016 T-70 X-Wing Starfighter

4/10

For other ornament reviews, please check out my Ornament Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Mourning Martin, "Beebo The God Of War" Transitions Well!


The Good: Decent performances, Good plot transitions, Good use of humor, Special effects
The Bad: Feels very much like a bridge episode that meanders through ideas
The Basics: "Beebo The God Of War" visits Legends Of Tomorrow and acts as a generally good send-off for the Waverider's fallen comrade.


As the DC Television Universe shows reach their midseason finales, Legends Of Tomorrow hits an interesting period of reshuffling in its cast. The midseason finale for the least-defined DC Television Universe show is called "Beebo The God Of War" and it picks up the Legends Of Tomorrow narrative in the wake of "Crisis On Earth-X, Part 4" (reviewed here!). "Beebo The God Of War" also redirects the Legends Of Tomorrow story back to the emerging conflicts with Damien Darhk and Mallus.

It is impossible to discuss "Beebo The God Of War" without referencing the big character change for Legends Of Tomorrow coming out of "Crisis On Earth-X, Part 4." After all, the prior episode of Legends Of Tomorrow saw the death of Professor Stein and the effective end of Firestorm. At the same time, Wentworth Miller returned to the DC Television Universe, this time as Leo Snart from Earth-X, a dramatically different iteration of Cold. "Beebo The God Of War" begins with a burden to appropriately reflect upon Professor Stein's death (a moment robbed in the prior episode by ending the episode with dual weddings instead of Stein's funeral), while integrating Citizen Cold to the team that is still adapting to the presence of Zari Tomaz.

In Central City, 1992, on the fifth night of Hanukkah, Marty Stein uses physics to land the last Beebo toy in a toy store. Running away from shoppers, Stein is teleported to the past. Aboard the Waverider, Leo Snart attempts to bond with his new crew by having the grieving crew talk to a Dr. Stein puppet he made. His therapy session with Jax is interrupted by a time quake. Gideon informs the crew that a Level 12 anachronism has occurred and Lance orders the crew to put their feelings aside so the Waverider can go back to the 11th Century to prevent Leif Erikson from forming a colony in the Americas. The Waverider goes back to New Valhalla (North America) and when Jax sees that the anachronism is Marty Stein, he frees the younger version of the Professor.

The Vikings have deified the Beebo toy and Stein insists the crew must recover the plush toy. Jackson advocates for the right to tell Stein about his older self's sacrifice, but Dr. Palmer rejects the idea. Snart, who is concerned about Rory's drinking, makes the Waverider a dry ship much to Rory's chagrin. When Sharpe contacts the Waverider and Lance figures out that time is setting fast in reaction to the anachronism, Lance accepts Sharpe's offer for help and brings her aboard for the mission. Lance, Sharpe and the rest of the Waverider crew work to usurp Freydis, Leif Erikson's sister who has adopted Beebo as the tribe's god, in order to restore the natural order of time. But, no sooner is Beebo thwarted than Damien Darhk appears under the guise of being Odin and the anachronism grows!

The puppet Dr. Stein is hilarious and if Legends Of Tomorrow was a lesser show, it would seem like an obvious merchandising ploy. Similarly, the Beebo toy is a cute little macguffin that fits the episode, as opposed to being a cheap spinoff toy.

"Beebo The God Of War" is reminiscent of the Star Trek episode "A Piece Of The Action" (reviewed here!) as it illustrates the consequences of a primitive civilization possessing any form of advanced technology. "Beebo The God Of War" plays out the comedic threads to the concept very well. The episode is pretty funny for the portions focused on the titular character. The moment Mick Rory sets the doll on fire, "Beebo The God Of War" makes an abrupt transition. The good thing about "Beebo The God Of War" is that when the moments of the episode that can use and sustain humor are done, the Legends Of Tomorrow episode does not try to force them back in.

The second half of "Beebo The God Of War" does a decent job of refocusing Legends Of Tomorrow on a more serious path. Jackson has the chance to try to speak frankly with the younger Stein, Snart has a heart to heart with Rory contrasting the two characters' pasts, and Sharpe abandons Lance. Jackson's mourning - and subsequent bad decisions from a temporal perspective - are played out as very real. Snart's concern for Rory is a good idea and his return effectively re-establishes that partnership. The hurdle Leo Snart and Mick Rory have is that they do not actually know one another and they are haunted by the memories of the people who wear their new comrades' faces. As such, Snart takes an aggressive anti-drinking stance that feels very invasive. Rory, for his part, growls through most of his interactions with his new Snart buddy.

Wentworth Miller continues to evolve the character of Leo Snart and watching him onscreen in "Beebo The God Of War" reminds viewers just how potent his absence has been for the episodes he has been gone from. Miller seems to delight in playing Snart with very open emotions, as opposed to having to deliver all of his lines with a leer. Miller is up to the challenge of redefining Snart and he steals his scenes in "Beebo The God Of War."

While "Beebo The God Of War" pushes Legends Of Tomorrow forward by presenting a proper on-screen introduction to Mallus and providing the long-promised, much awaited appearance of John Constantine, it is hard not to feel like Franz Drameh is just getting totally screwed by the franchise. Drameh plays Jefferson Jackson and he is the third character on Legends Of Tomorrow to lose his power or super-suit. When Ray Palmer lost his A.T.O.M. suit, he drifted for an episode and then miraculously had a new suit made before the big crossover event. Similarly, when Dr. Heywood has lost his ability to steel up, it comes back pretty fast. Drameh plays half of a super-powered entity and the loss of Martin Stein immediately called into question the usefulness of his character in Legends Of Tomorrow. Sadly, "Beebo The God Of War" seems to mortgage the character entirely, as if the writers could not figure out how to keep Jackson vital without his super-power. This is an unfortunate twist for the character as Jackson had been developed over the prior two season of Legends Of Tomorrow as the Waverider's Chief Engineer. It seems like inventive writers would have found a way to keep Jackson around even if he never again left the ship.

So, with two crewmembers gone, Lance learning that Rip Hunter is in prison and two new characters to the Waverider, Legends Of Tomorrow goes on hiatus feeling more of a plot urgency than a sense that the characters know where they are going and how to save their own series. But, at least, Dr. Stein remained dead through "Beebo The God Of War."

For other works with John Noble, please visit my reviews of:
"Return Of The Mack" - Legends Of Tomorrow
Fringe
The Last Airbender
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

7/10

For other television and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

More Pretentious Than Delicious, Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar Organic Chickpea Puffs Disappoint


The Good: Good corporate ethics, Do not taste bad, Good ingredients
The Bad: Comparatively expensive, Disappointing flavor, Not actually nutritious
The Basics: The Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs from Hippeas are a letdown for anyone looking for a flavorful snack that matches the quality of the ingredients.


I like supporting small companies, especially ones that have a clear, progressive ethos guiding them. I want to do my part for the liberal agenda and when I heard about Hippeas, they seemed like a great company with a positive social agenda. In addition to doing good things with their profits, Hippeas belabored the quality of their ingredients: gluten-free, Kosher and Vegan-compliant, Non-GMO organic ingredients that were healthy; Hippeas seemed to be working very hard to establish its products as positive for the environment and for consumers. So, when my local grocery store in the middle of the "meat and potatoes" part of Michigan was forced to clearance some of their Hippeas products because no one was buying them, I rushed right in to buy them up.

Now, sadly, I find myself regretting that decision. As I sat down to consume my first back of Hippeas products - Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs - I came to realize that perhaps these snacks were not selling out in my area not because they were not they style of the consumer base, but rather because they were not very good. Call me crazy, but if I'm eating a snack that claims to be cheddar flavored, the first thing I expect when I taste it is something recognizably cheese-flavored!

Basics

Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs are a ready-to-eat snack that attempts to fill the same niche as cheese puff but for people with dietary restrictions or picky eating habits or higher moral standards than most consumers. Packaged in a 4 oz. plastic bag, the Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs are kept fresh until opened. After unsealing the the top of the bag, consumers have access to the snack inside.

The Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs look just like white/yellow cheese puffs. They are approximately 2" long and 5/8" thick and are textured much like a traditional cheese puff snack.

Ease Of Preparation

These are flavored, puff chick peas - intended to be a ready-to-eat snack food -, so preparing them is as easy as opening the bag they come in and consuming them. There is no trick or work beyond that needed to eat Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs.

Taste

The Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs smell remotely cheesy. I love cheese and I like some truly smelly cheeses; the Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs smell like cheese that has gone a little bad. Or like a gym locker that was recently cleaned out . . . the smelly clothes aren't in it, but the smell still lingers. Actually, the smell of the Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs is almost identical to the smell of sneaker rubber on a gymnasium floor.

On the flavor front, the Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs taste like puffed corn or rice and sawdust. The distinct flavor of wood shavings and salt is the dominant flavor of the Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs. The Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs taste almost nothing like cheese as they transition from bland and airy to sandy and woody. The flavor transitions with the texture as the Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs move in the mouth from greasy to dry.

The Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs leave a light, chickpea aftertaste in the mouth after the last of the sawdust flavor fades.

Nutrition

Hippeas are not at all impressive on the nutrition front. While the company seems to be a cool company with a positive social message, more than being anything good for anyone, the Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs seem to actually just be not bad. In other words, where most snack foods are nutritional detriments, Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs don't put anything bad into a consumer's body. The unfortunate flipside is, they don't actually put anything particularly good or beneficial into a consumer's body, either. A serving is considered 28 grams, approximately 20 chickpea puffs. With the standard recommended serving size, the puffs have 5 grams of fat! That's 8% of the RDA of fat, though none of that comes in the form of saturated fat! The Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs have 130 calories per serving, with 45 calories of that being from fat. There is 2% of the RDA of calcium and four grams of protein, which acts as a decent counterbalance to the fat content! There is also a smattering (8% RDA) of Iron in the Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs.

The ingredients list for these Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs is fairly short, which is nice because the ingredients are all-natural and most are organic. Hippeas are made primarily of Organic Chickpea Flour, Organic Rice Flour, and Organic Sunflower Oil. There is nothing unpronounceable in these puffs and the ingredients are generally healthy. There are no notations about any potential allergens in the Hippeas factory, so these seem to be a great snack for those who have a nut allergy to enjoy!

Storage/Clean-up

Just as with the preparation, Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs are low stress when it comes to storage and cleanup. Storage is simple when the snacks are kept in their bag at room temperature or cooler. Kept sealed in their bag, these puffed chickpeas would not have expired until January 1, 2018.

Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs are easy to clean up after as well. Simply wash your hands after eating, though they do not leave one with any sort of residue on one's hands.

Overall

Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar organic chickpea puffs are one of the least flavorful snacks for those who have a boatload of dietary restrictions, failing to thrill anyone who likes flavor.

For other snack reviews, please visit my takes on:
Wickedly Prime Sweet 'N' Cheesy Popcorn Mix
Quest Beyond Cinnamon Roll Cereal Protein Bar
Kala Beautiful Beans Simply Peppered roasted fava beans

2/10

For other food and drink reviews, please Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

"Don't Run" Makes DeVoe Into A Proper Villain For The Flash!


The Good: Decent performances, Generally well-constructed plot, Moments of character development
The Bad: Forced humor, A few plot contrivances
The Basics: The Flash finally starts to illustrate a dark side to DeVoe in "Don't Run!"


Fans of The Flash might have more to hate from the recent, massive, DC Television Universe crossover than fans of the other three shows produced for The CW. After all, in addition to killing the narrative momentum of The Flash, the crossover included both the would-be and actual weddings of Barry Allen and Iris West in episodes of other shows (not The Flash!). So, as The Flash returns for its mid-season finale, "Don't Run," it has the feeling of recovering from a stumble and is likely to leave viewers instantly bewildered if they are picking up from the prior episode of the show.

"Don't Run" follows up more directly on the plot events of "Therefore I Am" (reviewed here!) than it does of the immediate predecessor, "Crisis On Earth-X, Part 3" (reviewed here!). "Don't Run" returns the focus of The Flash and Barry Allen's life to The Thinker, Clifford DeVoe. "Don't Run" is the first overtly sinister on-screen action of Clifford DeVoe as he abducts Barry Allen. The episode also marks the return of Killer Frost's adversary, Amunet Black.

At S.T.A.R. Labs, Cisco and Harry are decorating the tree when Dr. Snow and Ralph Dibny arrives. The men note that they have been hanging out with Killer Frost, which upsets Dr. Snow. As Barry and Iris go through their gifts after their abrupt wedding (and their return from their honeymoon), Barry notes that he does not feel the need to use his speed powers when Iris is with him. DeVoe and his wife make plans to help DeVoe overcome his body's deterioration. While Harry is counseling Dr. Snow at Jitters, Amunet Black arrives to abduct Snow and Barry is abducted by a floating chair-equipped DeVoe.

Black brings Snow to a metahuman she has incapacitated and is in need of medical attention, while DeVoe imprisons Allen in his laboratory. Snow realizes that Dominic Lanse has telepathic abilities. Joe West arrives at DeVoe's home where he and Harry are unable to find Barry or a way into DeVoe's laboratory. Harry returns from the trip frustrated and advises Iris to make a tough decision. Dr. Snow and Lanse attempt to escape, but are captured by Black. When Snow attempts to remove the foreign object Black embedded in Snow, Snow uses the surgery as an opportunity to stage another escape attempt. DeVoe makes a bold move to try to get rid of the Flash, solve his deteriorating body problem and move on to the next phase of his plan!

The fourth season of The Flash, rather smartly, has not followed the same formula as its prior seasons. In addition to not having an enemy to defeat who is a Speedster, Barry Allen has known just who his adversary is. As a result, this midseason finale - unlike the three that have preceded it - is not about revealing the Big Bag and that part of the formula is refreshingly stirred up in "Don't Run." The weakness of the way that the villain for the fourth season of The Flash has been presented is that he does not seem particularly villainous. After all, in the prior episodes of the fourth season, DeVoe was revealed to have been a metahuman, accelerated his abilities to become super smart and he engineered the escape of Barry Allen from the Speed Force prison (in the process creating more metahumans). Until "Don't Run," DeVoe has not actually done anything that is demonstrably bad.

That changes in "Don't Run." Before "Don't Run," DeVoe was just a desperate man trying to save his own life. He manipulated circumstances to create other metahumans, but even that was not a particularly evil act. In "Don't Run," DeVoe forcibly abducts and imprisons Barry Allen. By the end of the episode, he and his wife have stepped over the line of desperate people into super-villains and the transition is pretty good. In fact, one of the few character and plot issues with "Don't Run" is how the subplot with Dr. Snow plays off of the a-plot. Marlize DeVoe built the chair for The Thinker; it seems like the surgery in the episode would have been well within her skill set to perform. The burden on the rest of the episodes in the fourth season is to prove that DeVoe is villainous beyond his desire to survive. What makes DeVoe want to control or change other people is still a mystery and it seems like (thus far) DeVoe would just be happy if he could effectively educate people, so his sinister plan actually has to rise to the level of villainy AND make for a sensible transition.

The surgery subplot is not the only character issue in "Don't Run." Suddenly all of the men of S.T.A.R. Labs talk like frat boys. That is a troubling change for fans of The Flash. So, too, is Cisco Ramon's utter stupidity in his final scene (really, he can't turn off the interdimensional message device?!). It seems like since Ralph Dibny showed up and joined the team, no one on the team is written to be as smart as they had been.

Katee Sackhoff returns as Amunet Black in "Don't Run" and Sackhoff seems to delight in playing the villainous metahuman as completely crazy. The most impressive aspect of Sackhoff's performance is that she plays the big-smiling sociopath amazingly well. But at one of the episode's key moments, Sackhoff is able to soften her performance and deliver a surprisingly inspiring monologue. Sackhoff ties together the disparate character moments without making either seem like they are not two halves of the same whole. That type of balancing act is actually pretty tough to pull off, but Sackhoff manages to do it.

Ultimately, "Don't Run" is another episode of The Flash where the titular character sits out most of the episode's important events. While Barry Allen is captured, he waits around. Iris West-Allen has to go through a whole "burdens of command" moral dilemma and Dr. Snow has to fend for herself to save a life; Barry Allen does shockingly little in the piece. As a result, The Flash continues to play second fiddle in his own show. Indeed, even Cisco seems more powerful in "Don't Run" than Barry Allen!

The net result is a midseason finale that puts a lot of burden on the rest of the season to actually make the viewers believe in the villainy of DeVoe and the ineptitude of the S.T.A.R. Labs team.

For other midseason finale episodes on The Flash, please visit my reviews of:
"The Man In The Yellow Suit"
"Running To Stand Still"
"The Present"

5.5/10

For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |