Friday, April 28, 2017

Waking Up The Ignorant: Dear White People Season 1 Raises The Level Of Dialogue!

The Good: Good characters, Decent performances, Engaging exploration of social issues, Genuinely funny
The Bad: Cops out on a few key moments
The Basics: Season 1 of Dear White People is smart, funny, and expresses well the complications of social interactions at an Ivy League college.

Before it aired, Dear White People got a lot of polarizing press, so much so that the sole reason I prioritized watching the first season today was that controversy brings in the readers. The thing is, from the outset, Dear White People Season 1 is surprisingly non-controversial in the statements it makes. The characters are not archetypes, the arguments are complicated and the show is anything but dry.

Dear White People fearlessly explores interethnic relations on an Ivy League University's campus. The season tackles racism, white privilege, satire, the genuine search for understanding, assimilation, and police violence, but the most impressive aspect of Dear White People is that the show is complicated and character-driven. Dear White People Season 1 smartly creates diverse (multi-faceted personalities, not just people of color!) and occasionally flawed characters who drive the stories. Instead of being a long diatribe or any sort of racist or race-baiting, Dear White People Season 1 just explores college activism and relationships with a fearless and honest quality to it. Even the aspects of the first season I was not happy about fit the characters - and they are college students who are still figuring out their values and what they actually want out of life and sometimes, that comes with experiments and mistakes. But at the core of all the issues raised in the first season of Dear White People are the characters.

And most of Dear White People Season 1 is incredibly smart and complicated. The season smartly keeps the plot going when it adds a time bomb, but in the best tradition of worthwhile television, the show does not wait long to set off the bomb . . . as opposed to playing for melodrama. In fact, the low points of Dear White People Season 1 are when it cops out on a few arguments that have no simple resolutions.

Samantha White is a sophomore at Winchester University where she has a radio show "Dear White People" to explore ethnic issues on campus. Samantha is a film studies major who learns that the campus's humor magazine, Pastiche is planning an annual party that is entirely insensitive to a particular group - this year is it a blackface party. Samantha makes waves at Winchester when she makes sure the party actually happens and then films the results. The blackface party allows sophomore Lionel to break out at the school newspaper by getting angry and crashing the event - and then writing about it. Troy, the son of the school's Dean, also uses the blackface party as a way to protect his father's institution by calling the police to break up the party.

As the various black student organizations try to figure out how to best bring attention to problems of ethnic relations at Winchester, Samantha takes a public hit for having a white boyfriend and the situation at the University reaches a fever pitch when a party starts to get out of control and the police are called. The white police officers overreact and pull a gun on Reggie, which sets off a chain of conflicts at the school which threaten to tear apart Sam and Gabe, Troy and his father and the dorms that many of the black students call home.

Dear White People Season 1 starts very strong and it does a good job of keeping viewers engaged. The show - largely - does an excellent job of portraying all sorts of different social groups with a requisite amount of respect and realism. Blacks, liberal whites, women, gay people, and hipsters are all represented with a decent amount of complexity and realism. In fact, the only group that is truly poorly represented is bisexuals. Most of the other groups fight emphatically against the stereotypes - for example, the primary gay character reacts to being called "girl" with the angry utterance that he is a man (demanding the respect that the stereotyped characters never do) - but the primary bisexual character on Dear White People embodies the worst stereotypes about bisexuals. Despite that, most of the other groups represented are treated with respect to their diverse views and complexities.

The only other strike (if it could be considered one) is that there is a little lag in the pacing of some of the later episodes. The show does an excellent job of avoiding becoming the Scandal parody that the season includes as a medium for the black students to come together for rowdy, critical viewings, but there are a few moments that tread toward melodrama or predictability. That said, most of the show is incredibly engaging and it frankly addresses a wide array of critical issues that divide the United States with a decent amount of respect and clarity.

For a television series that is so fearless on so many fronts, one of the key turning points in the plot for Dear White People comes as an action to end an argument too complicated to complete. That is not necessarily the fault of the writers of Dear White People; some debates do not have a resolution and no end point to the argument; they cannot be held responsible for not getting there. The problem with the scene is that the full magnitude of the argument is not even explored before the gun is jumped and the police burst in. This leaves the argument unfortunately unbalanced as the primary white character in the scene is clearly confused and genuinely seeing to understand the perspective of his friend, who happens to be black, but is getting (not literally) shot down.

Most of the first season of Dear White People does not skirt the issues and the plot events come organically as the result of character actions. In the first season of Dear White People, the key characters are:

Samantha White - A politically and socially-active film studies major who has a radio program, when she learns about a blackface party, she makes sure that it actually happens in order to bring the issue of interethnic relations to the forefront of Winchester University's student population. Samantha is dating Gabe and when that comes out, she is met with mixed reactions from her friends. Despite that, she finds herself falling more in love with Gabe and increasing her political activism on campus. But as she speaks truth to power, Samantha becomes conflicted when former friends like Troy and Coco organize a town hall meeting on campus while she works to protest the event. And when Reggie turns to her for support after having a gun shoved in his face, Samantha experiences tension in her relationship with Gabe and has to consider what she will stand for and what she will give up,

Lionel - Troy's roommate and a sophomore at Winchester University, he is an introvert who finally comes to terms with his sexuality. Around the time he comes out to Troy, he becomes more active with The Independent, the school newspaper that fights to deliver the truth to the student body. He pieces together who hacked Pastiche's account to make sure the blackface party occurred and, in an uncharacteristic move, lets out his rage at the event. He tries to report accurately the conflicts within the black community after Reggie has a gun pulled on him, which becomes difficult for him when learns privileged information on Troy,

Troy - The son of Winchester University's Dean, he has lived in his father's shadow for years. He is pushed to deal with administrators, alumni, and donors as a prop for his father when all he really wants to do is get high and have sex. He finds himself drawn to both a teacher and Coco, who sees him as a stepping stone to her own ambitious plans. He accepts Lionel's coming out unflinchingly and often finds himself in conflict with Samantha's more aggressive political views,

Coco - Samantha's former roommate, she is a pragmatist who has plans to find a man with whom she may form a power couple. She sees Troy as a means to achieve her goal. She argues against violence and radical change, which often puts her at odds with Samantha. She delights in one-upping the members of the sorority who once rejected her,

Gabe - A film studies major, like Samantha, and a former t.a. of a class she took, the two bonded and started a clandestine relationship. He is a liberal white man who is frustrated by being marginalized and vilified when he attempts to do what he believes is right when a party gets out of hand,

Joelle - Samantha's best friend, she sits and supports Samantha during her broadcasts. She loves the McRib and chicken nuggets. She holds a torch for Reggie, but recognizes that he has a thing for Samantha,

and Reggie Green - A student who frequently hits on Samantha, only to get the cold shoulder, he is a trivia whiz and a computer programming expert. He is at a party when the police are called and has a gun shoved in his face. Traumatized, he turns to poetry and Samantha to try to get through the ordeal.

Arguably one of the most impressive aspects of Dear White People in its first season is how much fresh talent is present in the show. To the best of my knowledge, the only performers I'd ever seen in the first season of Dear White People were Obba Babatunde and John Rubenstein who have recurring supporting roles. Led by Logan Browning, Dear White People has a young cast of incredibly talented performers who has impressive range, especially of body language. Marque Richardson, DeRon Horton, and Brandon P Bell contrast Browning's frequent delivery of powerful rhetoric with impressive physical performances where their body language tells much of their story.

Dear White People Season 1 is surprisingly funny and there are very few moments that are difficult to watch; the show maturely and smartly approaches its complexities in a fundamentally entertaining way. That makes the first season of Dear White People an essential show to watch!

For other works from the 2016 – 2017 television season, please check out my reviews of:
"Smile" - Doctor Who
The Walking Dead - Season 7
Thirteen Reasons Why - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 3
Iron Fist - Season 1
Love - Season 2
Santa Clarita Diet - Season 1
A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
One Day At A Time - Season 1
Travelers - Season 1
"Happy Fuckin' New Year" - Sense8
The OA - Season 1
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
"Invasion!" - Arrow
"All The Madame's Men" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"The Once And Future Flash" - The Flash
"Aruba" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Ace Reporter" - Supergirl
Luke Cage - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 1


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It Only Took One Week To Sell Me On Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner!

The Good: Incredible aroma, Truly revitalizes hair, Easy to use, Good ingredients (cone free)
The Bad: Comparatively expensive.
The Basics: Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner is pricey, but it actually works on all its promised fronts!

I have been away from home for over a week now and when I went on the road, my hair was unfortunately damaged. My wife encouraged me to try Just For Men ControlGX Grey Reducing Shampoo (reviewed here!), pretty much just for the review benefits, not because she disliked my greys. Unfortunately, it stripped my hair and left it very dry and brittle. So, I've been working on getting my hair back to lustrous, manageable and good-looking. Arguably, the most useful tool I have yet found in that pursuit is Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner.

Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner is a minty hair conditioner that is expensive. It's $12 for a 16 oz. bottle. The thing is, the fact that it works so well makes it worth the price. But that's the only real strike against Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner!

Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner is a blend of peppermint, tea tree and eucalyptus botanicals. The conditioner comes in an translucent bottle with the 16 fl. oz. being spread upward - this is a tall bottle, which is great for shorter fingers and makes it very easy to use in the shower when one's fingers and the bottle are wet. The Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner is itself an opaque white cream (it's not particularly fluid) that truly needs to be squeezed out to get access to it.

I am a huge fan of products that play off my senses to transform mundane experiences - like showering and conditioning one's hair - into an event. Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner does just that. The scent is strongly of peppermint and it is great in the morning to wake one up and actually reinvigorate the user. The scent is strong, but not overbearing and it endures in the hair for several hours after use, which I like and is an added benefit as far as I am concerned. But it makes every use both a cooling contrast to the hot showers I take and an experience that perks me up each time. It's like being inside a mint sundae!

What impressed me more than the smell was how impressively the Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner functions. Over the past week of daily use, my hair has gone from dry, static charged and easy to break to stronger, manageable and not at all dry. Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner cannot take all the credit - I have also been using Garnier Fructis Frizzy, Dry, Unmanageable Hair Fortifying Leave-in Conditioning Cream (reviewed here!). But it is the scent of the Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner that endures in my hair and I have noticed an acceleration of healing for my hair that was not present with the Leave-In Cream alone or other conditioners. Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner actually works to revitalize hair effectively!

The Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle has great ingredients. The conditioner is cone-free and uses almost-exclusively certified organic ingredients. This is an ethically-produced, highly-functional conditioner that does what it promises while giving an awesome boost to the energy level when one uses it.

It is hard to ask more from Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner . . . except that, perhaps, it get put on sale!

For other conditioners, please check out my reviews of:
Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Smoothing Conditioner
OGX Gravity-Defying & Hydration + O2 Conditioner
Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Masque w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar


For other health and beauty products, please check out my Health And Beauty Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Takes On "All The Madame's Men" As The Stakes Rise!

The Good: Direction, Performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Plot spreads the characters a bit thin.
The Basics: "All The Madame's Men" brings back more Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters and allusions, which twist on Madame Hydra's plan finally being revealed!

Reversals are tough to pull off these days in spy thrillers. That might seem counter-intuitive because spy thrillers tend to generate excitement and intrigue based upon the reversals in them, but the truth is that "the big twist" has become pretty passe. Viewers are more savvy than they used to be and there is so much more material in the genre now that fans of the spy thriller tend to be on the lookout for clues that might make a surprise reversal or be so familiar with the plots of spy thrillers as to see the reversals as an unfortunate end to a very predictable formula. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is, unfortunately, no different and part of the problem with some of its reversals is that they sometimes come out of left field; those looking for clues to the eventual reversal find not only red herrings pointing away from a character who executes a abrupt shift, but strong characterization contrary to the idea that they might so switch sides. "All The Madame's Men" begins burdened by one such reversal.

"All The Madame's Men" begins right after "No Regrets" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references as to where the prior episode concluded. After all, "No Regrets" saw the death of a "main" character (though, heroic end aside, the death lacked real impact given how little was known of the character and how little he as in the series) and climaxed with HYDRA's version of Agent May within the Framework switching sides. Having used a terrigen crystal on Daisy, May has committed to helping the upstart Rebellion within the Framework . . . whether or not such a reversal is at all realistic for the character May has become inside the virtual world.

Sunil Bakshi is giving a news report announcing to the world the death of the Patriot when May returns to where she left Daisy cocooned in terrigenesis. Attempting to escape the Triskelion, the pair run into Madame Hydra. Daisy is able to use her powers and she throws Ophelia out a window, which knocks Aida out of the Framework. There, the Watchdog Aida reconstructed discovers that he cannot kill May without Aida's permission. Back in the Framework, Mack, Triplett and Ward try to figure out what to do next, while Simmons and Coulson try to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. together in the power vacuum left by Mace's death. At the Triskelion, while Madame Hydra lays unconscious, Fitz's father convinces Fitz to take charge of HYDRA!

Fitz's first action is to use Bakshi's television show to stir up fear of Inhumans and set the citizenry against Daisy and May. At Resistance Headquarters, Coulson and Ward talk about their histories with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Simmons comes to understand the nature of Madame Hydra's Project Looking Glass. Madame Hydra is building the mysterious boxes that were illustrated in the Dark Hold (and that led to the creation of Ghost Rider and Morrow!). When Simmons and Triplett go in search of the site Simmons believes houses Looking Glass, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents left behind flounder. This allows Coulson to step up as the defacto head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and his first act is preventing Mack from killing May! As the Resistance works to expose HYDRA, Fitz completes Project Looking Glass!

Mace's death at the climax of "No Regrets" lacked some impact based on the fact that the character was only recently introduced and he had a conflicted relationship with the familiar S.H.I.E.L.D. characters. Given that his death was not chock full of weight, it seems strange that Aida could not simply revive his body and send him back into the Framework with a new programming . . . "All The Madame's Men" does not take any time to explore that possibility.

Seeing May back in action is delightful, regardless of how she came to that point. Ming-Na Wen leaps back into a more familiar version of Melina May and that is wonderful to see. Wen and Chloe Bennet play off one another incredibly well, as if they had not had any gap in acting opposite one another!

Just as May's return to form allows Ming-Na Wen to shine, "All The Madame's Men" gives Iain De Caestecker the chance to truly flex his performance of Fitz in the Framework. De Caestecker really rocked out his range in the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. when Fitz suffered brain damage. For no clear reason, Fitz's brain damage went away and his character was restored and De Caestecker went back to playing Fitz like he always had (at least, after he rescued Simmons from the distant world). "All The Madame's Men" reminds viewers what a powerhouse he has the potential to be as he plays Fitz not only cold, but truly vicious. Fitz easily slips into using fear and terror as weapons against the people within the Framework and De Caestecker makes the character creepy to watch with his efficient control of his visage!

"All The Madame's Men" finally does what Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has needed an episode to do in that it ties the early episodes of the fourth season to the current dilemma in the Framework. The appearance of the mystery boxes in the Framework makes the first several episodes of the season suddenly vital for something other than simply a plot tool that would lead Aida to be able to develop The Framework beyond what Radcliffe has made.

The thing is, the threat the boxes represent is not made very clear. Like the voluminous allusions to past episodes represented by Ward mentioning Victoria Hand, Fitz's father and Bakshi resurfacing, viewers who have not been fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. before the Framework plot will miss out on the richness of the writing depth.

Director Billy Gierhart does an excellent job of directing "All The Madame's Men." There is one key scene where characters are moving in the same place in both the real and Framework worlds. Gierhart makes the sequence tense and fast, while very clearly conveying what is going on in both places. It's rare that a network television show will have even a single sequence where lighting becomes essential to communicating an important aspect of the plot. Gierhart masterfully inserts an artful sequence that elevates "All The Madame's Men" above a simple pulp spy story, even if only for a few minutes.

Gierhart also manages to get a great performance out of Brett Dalton. Dalton has a chance to play Grant Ward as softer, longing a real connection with Daisy. Dalton makes Ward empathetic to watch in almost every one of his scenes and that is a real accomplishment for Dalton, who played his character so unpleasantly for the last two seasons he was on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Ultimately, "All The Madame's Men" takes a big step forward to resolving the threat of the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. by giving all of the characters something to do. "All The Madame's Men" reminds viewers of just how good the show could be when it tries to say something important and it does that very well.

For other episodes directed by Billy Gierhart, please visit my reviews of:
"BOOM" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"The Good Samaritan" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"The Ghost" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Absolution" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"AKA Take A Bloody Number" - Jessica Jones
"S.O.S. Part 2" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Aftershocks" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Ye Who Enter Here" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Nothing Personal" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Repairs" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.


For other elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a comparative list of how all the shows, episodes and movies in the universe stack up against one another!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A "Bells And Whistles" Toaster Oven: The Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven!

The Good: Cooks evenly and well, Very stylish, Easy-to-clean, Decent capacity
The Bad: Controls are not intuitive, Large footprint, Comparatively expensive, No "off" button!
The Basics: The Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven is more toaster oven than most anyone will need . . . and users have to pay for that overkill!

For the past week, I have been in one of my favorite places on Earth. The return to a place I have always loved has been a real divided experience for me. On the big plus side, I'm somewhere I love to be; on the minor negative side, it has changed. The kitchen, especially, where I am is virtually unrecognizable to the room I spent many happy hours in in the past. That said, the new kitchen is legitimately awesome and it is stocked with brand new products that I have had a chance to truly play with and now review. The first one I decided to focus on is the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven for the very simple reason that out of all the new appliances, it is the one I am most comfortable using! There is something intimidating about working in a kitchen where one is acutely aware that they are unable to afford to replace or repair anything they damage. Even I could (eventually) afford a Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven!

The Breville BOV450XL model is fairly new to the market and it looks very modern. Built with a stainless steel finish and a slew of buttons and a dial, the front of the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven prominently features a digital display that very clearly states times and temperature. The display face is excellent for anyone who goes into the kitchen bleary-eyed in the morning and forgot their glasses elsewhere!

The Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven is a toaster oven which has both multiple toasting settings and oven-heating settings. That means the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven is designed for toasting bread and baking small dishes. The Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven is 15 1/5" wide by 8 1/2" tall by 13" deep and because of the heating elements inside has an internal, usable space of 11" by 11" by 4". The internal space makes it just big enough to cook a small casserole, a small tray of muffins, three full slices of pizza or three whole bagels. This is a decent alternative on small cooking projects from a standard oven as the BOV450XL is generally more energy efficient than older models. The Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven is the first toaster oven I can remember using where the electric cord is so big and thick that I did not have any concern that it could be melted by the heat of the toaster over. However, for those who are concerned with footprint, the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven features a cord that ends in a very solid and substantial plug; trying to place the toaster directly in front of an electric outlet does not work as the plug pushes the unit away from the wall by at least three inches!

The BOV450XL is very stylish as it is a toaster oven that will thrill anyone who likes the look of brushed steel. The unit has well-obscured black feet and an obvious ceramic glass door.

Loading the toaster oven is quite simple. This is essentially a ceramic and metal breadbox-shaped toaster oven with a large ceramic glass door in the front. The top of the door in adorned with a very solid steel handle that projects away from the door. No matter how long the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven was in use, the handle never seemed to get too hot to touch! Opening the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven is as simple as pulling the handle down, which rotates the front door open. Inside the BOV450XL is a wire rack shelf which will support a couple pounds of food. The strong steel rack does not show any signs of buckling! After the dish or bread products one wants to toast are placed in the toaster oven, one needs only to set the controls.

Unfortunately, the conrtols on the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven are not intuitive to use and are often over-complicated. First, one must adjust a dial at the top. The dial sets the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven to various cooking tasks from "toast" and "bagel" to "pizza" and "Bake." How are cookies cooked different than simply baking them in the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven? I have no clue, but they are! After the type of heat is set, the rest of the unit operates on buttons. Adjustments can be made using arrow buttons under the display to increase or decrease time or temperature. When I started cooking pizza one night, I noticed the unit was default-set to think it was frozen and had adjusted somehow; given that it was not frozen, I had to find the accompanying button (which I did by graphic alone) to change the setting. After all of those buttons are figured out, one has to actually press the "start" button. If your food is done cooking early, one must hit the Start/Cancel button and it cancels (not pauses) it.

The Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven irked me because it did not have an "off" button. The unit shuts itself off after a minute, but there is something unsettling about toasting something and when it is done and the toast is pulled out, the toaster oven is primed and ready for the next slices. Perhaps this would be a big selling point to a restaurant, but for home use, it seems like the recipe for a safety issue!

On the cleaning front, the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven is very easy to use. Below the heating element, the bottom of the toaster oven is guarded by a tray that catches anything that falls off the cooking surface. As a result, keeping the Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven clean is usually just a matter of sliding the bottom tray out, wiping it off and sliding it back in! The ceramic door and the stainless steel also wipes clean with exceptional ease.

For the price, though, I would want a toaster oven that was more simple and direct to use. I like bells and whistles, but I like them to be easy to use; intuitive functionality based on a direct form. The Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven does not have that. The Breville BOV450XL Toaster Oven does, however, do all the cooking and toasting it promises while looking incredible doing it!

For other kitchen appliances, please check out my reviews of:
Black And Decker CTO6120B Toaster Oven
Samsung Stainless Steel Microwave
GE GSD2100NOOWW Dishwasher


For other kitchen appliance reviews, please be sure to visit my Home And Garden Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Quest For Savitar's Identity Dominates "The Once And Future Flash"

The Good: Good performances, Moments of plot, Moments of character
The Bad: Some truly forced character moments, Carlos Valdes telegraphs his performance
The Basics: "The Once And Future Flash" is yet another The Flash time travel episode, this time into a dark future where everyone he cares about is still consumed by the death of Iris!

The Flash has a lot of smart characters who are generally written as unfortunately dense. It seems like the sheer volume of smart characters in The Flash who fail to be imaginative or actually smart is troublingly high. Especially as Cisco has developed his powers to vibe, The Flash has been hampered by characters who are unfathomably lacking in creativity or intelligence. To wit, as the threat of Savitar has grown, it has taken until "The Once And Future Flash" for Barry Allen and the S.T.A.R. Labs team to actually figure out that the way to get ahead of the many adversaries The Flash might face is to actually go to the future and get the knowledge needed to stop his enemies. Fans of The Flash comic book know that Barry Allen makes multiple trips to the future and, in fact, managed to save Iris from the most tragic arc in the books by relocating her to the future before she could be killed by the Reverse Flash. While this was generally seen as a tremendous cop-out by readers, it illustrated that The Flash could think creatively and smartly. The Flash is stuck playing catch-up with its own source material.

"Abra Kadabra" (reviewed here!) led to "The Once And Future Flash" by inspiring Barry Allen to want to go into the future. The prior episode also saw the ultimate return of Killer Frost when Dr. Snow was wounded and "The Once And Future Flash" picks up right after that. "The Once And Future Flash" is also notable in that it is Tom Cavanaugh's The Flash directoral debut.

The snow is falling in Central City when Barry Allen figures out that 2024 is the year he should travel to in order to stop Savitar. Guided by the article in the time vault, Allen deduces that he must have trapped Savitar in the Speed Force before then. Iris, however, is distracted and asks Barry to look after Joe if she is killed by Savitar. At S.T.A.R. Labs, Killer Frost torments her friends before Cisco can rescue Julian and H.R. and they flee to a cell and wait for The Flash. The Flash commits to going to the future, which he does with Wally's help. Once there, though, he is immediately attacked by The Top and Mirror Master.

Barry escapes his enemies and is reunited with Cisco, who fills him in on the years since Iris's death. S.T.A.R. Labs is mothballed and the contemporary version of Barry Allen lives in its depths. Barry confronts himself and the future version tells him that he does not know who Savitar was inside the suit. Cisco asks Barry to stay and help clean up Central City, but Barry wants to leave . . . only to discover he cannot leave. Cisco brings Barry to Julian Albert, who has Killer Frost in a cell. Allen learns that Killer Frost and Savitar started working together in 2017 and he is frustrated when she will not tell her who Savitar is under the helmet. Barry and Cisco visit the wheelchair-bound Wally West, who was wounded in his own fight with Savitar. Cisco chides Barry for wanting to return to the past and Barry must decide whether to leave the decimated Central City or save the people who live there.

Grant Gustin's performance in "The Once And Future Flash" quite good. Gustin plays off himself in a way that makes his future self seem like the same character, just having carried the weight of the tragedy the other has not lived through.

The idea that Barry has gotten more clever in thinking to go to the future - especially such a conservative distance into the future - is undermined by the fact that it takes Barry so long to notice something is wrong with Cisco. Cisco in the future lost his hands to Killer Frost and cannot vibe. It seems strange to see Barry prepare to go back to the past and he not even ask Cisco for help in opening a portal. Sadly, Valdes telegraphs that Ramon is up to something in his performance. Cisco is not simply broken like the others, he's still smart and up to something.

Killer Frost in "The Once And Future Flash" is poorly-characterized at the outset. Dr. Snow appears aware that she can resist being Killer Frost, but simply doesn't want to control her powers. Given that the first person she sees is Julian Albert acting compassionately, it is not clear what actually sets her off. Her whole change into an evil Killer Frost feels forced in "The Once And Future Flash."

What "The Once And Future Flash" does well is create a mood and a sense of setting. The episode has some decent twists, most notably the idea that Killer Frost would work with Savitar and that she would utterly destroy Cisco's hands! The idea that Allen might have to stay in the wrecked future to fix problems that will essentially be undone by his fixing the past was well-covered in the Legends Of Tomorrow episode "Star City 4046" (reviewed here!), but the derivative plot feels surprisingly fresh.

Tom Cavanaugh directs the "The Once And Future Flash" so it looks great. Cavanaugh gets decent performances out of Jesse L. Martin (who plays another version of Joe who doesn't particularly like Barry Allen), Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker and Tom Felton. And Carlos Valdes ends the episode well. Cavanaugh does a good job of making this dark future distinctive from the Flashpoint tangent or Earth-2.

But even Cavanaugh is somewhat limited by thee material he is directing. "The Once And Future Flash" is another tease episode and it has some big issues - like why does Team Flash allow Barry to confront The Top without any form of protection?! - that allows the actors to play with alternate versions of their characters before disappearing them from the narrative. The lack of concrete answers is a bit frustrating as viewers of The Flash are ready for some answers, not just new plot threads to come unraveled!

For other works with Tom Cavanaugh, please visit my reviews of:
The Flash - Season 1
The Flash - Season 2


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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Against My Original Standards, I Fall In Love With The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary Trading Cards!

The Good: Awesome sketches, Very cool bonus cards, Neat common cards, Quality of cards
The Bad: Collectibility, One less impressive bonus card set, A few obscure autograph signers
The Basics: The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary may be a bear to collect, but the end result is a pretty fabulous trading card set!

It seems like the last ten years have just flown by for me. Ten years ago, the Star Trek trading card market underwent a fundamental shift from which it could never turn back: the trading card hobby became the trading card industry. I adequately kvetched about that when I reviewed the set that destroyed collecting once and for all with the Star Trek 40th Anniversary Series 2 trading card set (reviewed here!). Since then, the bar has been raised several times for Star Trek trading card collectors and when there has been even a shift toward the way card sets used to be, the set released has not performed nearly as well in the marketplace. Go figure; I guess most collectors actually want the impossible find!

So, last year, when Rittenhouse Archives produced their Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading card set as a premium trading card release, I vowed not to simply complain about how uncollectible the cards were. I found my happy medium last month when I reviewed the Rogue One: Mission Briefing trading cards (reviewed here!) and I decided to review the product with dual ratings; the substance of the set and separately with "collectibility" factored in. It is with that new sense of standards that I sat down to review the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading card set.

And WOW! The substance of the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary set is amazing. For the money, the set is a bit small (a true master set only has 359 cards), but the content is absolutely incredible!

Basics/Set Composition

The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary set was a set of trading cards produced by Rittenhouse Archives to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Original Series, instead of doing season by season celebrations of the 50th Anniversary. Boxes of the TOS 50th Anniversary cards contained only twelve packs with five cards per pack. One does not get a lot per box and the only guarantees are one common set and two autographs per box. One of the decent aspects of the Rittenhouse guarantee for this product is that one is guaranteed one of each of the two different autograph types on a box. Unfortunately for those trying to collect the set, there is not a single chase set that can be completed with even a single case of these cards!

The common set traverses the entire 80-episodes of Star Trek. The chase cards are focused largely on "The Cage" and "Mirror, Mirror" with generic crew cards and production artwork cards thrown in. The set has a beautiful tribute set to the late Leonard Nimoy (still nothing for Grace Lee Whitney, who also died since the last Original Series set!), a diverse array of autograph cards and sketch cards that are actually very dud-free. The element that makes the set virtually impossible to complete, though, are the 3 cut signature cards that made the cases a sell-out at the manufacturer's level and left a few very determined collectors hunting them down!

The TOS 50th Anniversary set consists of 359 cards. The 359 card set consists of 80 common cards and two hundred seventy-nine chase cards, eleven of which cannot be found in the packs or boxes.

Common Cards

The 80 card common set of TOS 50th Anniversary cards are a fairly cool design (though I still have not figured out how the form fits into the theme of the set/show). The common cards are die-cut so they have indents in the centers of the sides, top, and bottom. The corners are not squared; they have beveled edges. As a result, each card is a 14-sided (?,!) trading card with a text block at the top and one at the bottom that makes it vaguely resemble the viewscreen on the Enterprise bridge. Each card has gold foil borders around each of the four pictures on the front and a gold foil center that features the Star Trek 50th Anniversary symbol.

The common card set for the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary is another set that makes an episode by episode journey through all of the episodes of the original Star Trek. The twist on the familiar subject - other than the physical form of the cards - is that the backs are written as if they were Spock's logs about the plot of the episode. Spock makes perfect sense as the "writer" of the mission logs as he is the only character to appear in each episode and it avoids narrative hassles like "which version of Captain Kirk made the log for 'The Enemy Within' or 'Turnabout Intruder?'"

The writing on the cards is fun and done at a consistently high level of quality. The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary are written to sufficiently capture Spock's sense of humor and observations on humanity, while adequately telling the story of each episode of Star Trek.

The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary cards feature bright, beautifully-crisp images on each card. The four pictures on the front of each card tend to be different from shots used in prior sets, which is a nice thing. The photogaphy on the front of the cards also finds the right balance of character images without neglecting the special effect shots. The result is a structurally-weird looking common set that actually serves as a fitting tribute to the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek!

Chase Cards

The TOS 50th Anniversary set has two hundred seventy-nine chase cards, of which two hundred sixty-eight are available in the right packs! Some of those cards, though, are statistically improbable for a collector to pull from the packs or boxes. Ironically, there are some sketch card artists whose works are more rare than the Jill Ireland cut signature card that was pack-inserted!

The first level of chase sets are two expansion sets that explore "The Cage" and "Mirror, Mirror." Cards in each of these sets are found only two per box, which means that they take three cases to assemble each set (assuming one does not pull duplicates!). These two chase sets are substantive and incredible. The "Mirror, Mirror" cards feature foilboard borders that are shiny and distinctive. The "The Cage" bonus cards have neat purple borders and a thin gold border around the image on the card, which makes it look like one is using one of the Talosian's viewscreens to look in on the episode! These chase sets are reminiscent of the James Bond retro "throwback" sets that Rittenhouse Archives has produced for some of the older James Bond films. The result is essentially a flashy additional "common" set for two of the best episodes of Star Trek and it's hard not to gush over just how pretty the "The Cage" cards actually are!

Interestingly, Rittenhouse Archives continues to state the odds of its chase cards in terms of packs. I find this interesting because, especially in the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading cards, the odds for most of the bonus cards are more reasonably stated in terms of boxes or even cases! The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary two chase sets where their components are found one in every four boxes and three that have only a single card from the set in a case!

The Bridge Crew Hero cards are landscape-oriented acetate trading cards featuring the seven core Star Trek characters, plus Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Rand. The Bridge Crew Hero cards look good, but I found myself split on them. The rarity of the cards is high, the content is hardly audacious and as an avid convention-goer, the Bridge Crew Hero cards are another set that is unfortunate in its timing. This is yet another set that fans cannot use to get autographed by the stars of Star Trek. For sure, the four cast members featured who are still alive and represented in this set could make thes cards look amazing by signing them in gold, but it's a set one could never possibly get completely signed and that's sad. While that is not an inherent problem with the Star Trek cards themselves, whenever Rittenhouse Archives makes a new-looking, cool card like this, it is hard not to look at them and consider the alternative use for them! That said, the acetate cards are clean and crisp and look very good.

Also one in every four boxes is one of the nine U.S.S. Enterprise Concept Art cards. Rittenhouse Archives managed to get the original production artwork that pitched various looks (and feels!) of the U.S.S. Enterprise before the first shooting model was ever made. These cards might be the low point of the set; they are gold-bordered and brown and do not look overly distinctive (the back of each card is, essentially, a visual checklist of the set). Sadly, the designer of the U.S.S. Enterprise is dead, which prevented Rittenhouse Archives from using behind-the-scenes interviews on why each of the concept sketches for the Enterprise was rejected. For an unfortunately unremarkable chase set, the rarity of these cards is vastly disproportionate to their value.

One per case is a "Mirror, Mirror" card. Reminiscent of the mirrorboard cards made popular in the Star Trek Season 2 trading card set (reviewed here!), each of the cards in this subset feature big pictures of the main cast, Marlena, and the Enterprise. On one side of each card is an image of the regular universe version of the character, the obverse has the Mirror Universe version. These high-quality cards are a great alternative to the Season 2 Mirror, Mirror set at a more affordable price point!

Also one per case is one of the nine Leonard Nimoy Tribute cards. Since Rittenhouse Archives started producing trading cards, they have made Tribute cards to the now-deceased stars of Star Trek: DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and Majel Barret. The Leonard Nimoy Tribute cards are the first ones in the set that have been included in the packs (previously, they were casetoppers and there were only 3!). The standard trading card-sized Tribute cards are individually hand-numbered on the front out of 125 and feature bright, distinct images of Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek (no shots from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Star Trek films or his Spock Prime role from the new film universe). The tribute to Nimoy is a fitting one and this is one of the nicest all-Spock sets ever assembled!

Like most modern Star Trek sets, the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading cards feature autograph cards. Found one per box is a Silver Series autograph card and one "Black" autograph. The "Black" autographs are the same format as the Bridge Crew autographs from the Star Trek Portfolio Prints trading cards (reviewed here!). The "Black" autographs feature a much wider range of characters than the initial bridge crew run - performers like Sany Gimple, Michael Dante, and the grail Teri Garr! The Silver Series autographs are an incredibly popular, landscape-oriented autograph card with a single characrter image and the autograph - signed in silver ink - over a black starfield. The Silver Series Autographs feature the likes of William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig before going into the significant (and a few unfortunately indistinct) guest stars. The set has a Joan Collins autograph card and autographs from the now-deceased Grace Lee Whitney and Yvonne Craig. Regardless of the occasionally mundane subjects on the cards, all of the Silver Series autographs look incredible! Rittenhouse Archives assembled an impressive list of signers for the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading card set!

The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading cards also featured sketch cards found only one per case. The sketch cards in the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary were beautiful and there is something to the overall value of the set when one of the most common sketches comes from the acclaimed artists Mick and Matt Glebe! The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary features sketch cards from 42 different artists, with only 8 of them being done by artists who produced less than 25 sketches for the set. I have yet to see a lousy sketch from this set, with truly amazing works from Sean Pence, Kirsten Allen, Helga Wojik, and Melike Acar! Rittenhouse Archives advertised the set as featuring the best-yet sketch cards and they absolutely delivered!

Finally, found about one in every eighteen CASES was one of three Star Trek cut signature autograph cards. Rittenhouse Archives managed to get their hands on authenticated autographs from the long-deceased Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver and Jill Ireland. Ireland's material is the most plentiful, while Hunter's cut signature autograph cards are now the rarest Rittenhouse has produced for a Star Trek set. The cut signature cards for the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary might be virtually impossible to find, but they look amazing!

Non-Box/Pack Cards

There are eleven cards that cannot be found no matter how many packs one opens. These include the regular P1 promotional card, which is easily available in the secondary market, as well as the P2 promotional card which was exclusive to the Rittenhouse-produced binder. The two promotional cards are distinctive from the other cards by being heavily-embossed, gold foil cards that advertise the Star Trek 50th Anniversary!

One per case, there is an alternate version of the common card #40. The 40a Casetopper card is a "Mirror, Mirror" card that features different images and alternate text from the common card. The 40a is written as it if were from the perspective of the Mirror Universe Spock and they look cool. Having had casetoppers that were once autograph, autographed-costume, sketch or dual-autograph cards, it is hard to get truly psyched about an "alternate common" card as the Casetopper.

For every six cases purchased, Rittenhouse Archives gave dealers a Silver Series Leonard Nimoy autograph card. If the casetopper is lackluster, the six-case incentive is absolutely incredible! Featuring artwork of Nimoy as the Mirror Universe Spock, the 6-case incentive autograph from the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary matches the quality of the other silver series autographs and has much higher inherent value to it!

For every nine cases purchased, dealers were granted a Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary William Shatner/Leonard Nimoy Dual Autograph card! The dual autograph for this set is similar to the Shatner/Nimoy Dual Autograph from the Star Trek Portfolio Prints trading card set. Where that incentive card featured Kirk and Spock in their Mirror Universe garb (and, in Spock's case, facial hair), the Dual Autograph for the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary features a traditional promotional photo of the Captain and First Officer. Oddly, its value has been depressed since the cards were released in the secondary market, but this card is poised to explode in value given the more universal appeal of the traditional appearance of Kirk and Spock.

Finally, there are the Archive Box exclusive cards. Rittenhouse Archives expanded the SkyBox "Mirror, Mirror" trading card set with an Archive Box exclusive M8 card of Marlena Moreau! Because Charendoff designed the original "Mirror, Mirror" card back in 1998, the new card exactly matches the style and quality of the prior release!

Rittenhouse Archives also included a set of printing plates in each Archive Box and it is hard not to give the company a huge amount of credit for the way they released them. Some trading card companies release the printing plates in the packs and collectors have to desperately attempt to cobble together one of four possible printing plate sets to achieve a true master set. Rittenhouse Archives takes a different approach and it is far more humane to collectors! The Archive Box includes one set of all four printing plates used to make a single common card (and the casetopper!), so collectors get a set of printing plates as opposed to trying to reconstruct a whole set of cards in printing plate form.

For the serious collectors, there is a Rittenhouse Rewards card as well, the E10 expansion card that makes the 9-card Enterprise Concept Art card set into a 10-card set. Available only through redeeming points from wrappers, the E10 features the familiar version of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which is a cool way to cap off the lackluster subset.


The Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading cards are well-organized, look amazing and make a potentially stale subject feel remarkably fresh again. While the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading card set is a fairly small trading card set for the price one would pay attempting to assemble it, it is a true celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek. Those who are not obsessed with creating a master set will still find ample material to gleefully collect in the Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary trading card set!

This set culls images from Star Trek, which is reviewed here!

These cards are available in my online store! Please check out my growing Star Trek The Original Series 50th Anniversary Trading Card Inventory!

For other original Star Trek trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Star Trek - Season 1 Episode Collection trading cards
Star Trek - Season 3 Episode Collection trading cards
Star Trek In Motion
35th Anniversary HoloFEX Holofoil cards
Legends Of Captain James T. Kirk
The Art And Images Of Star Trek
Legends Of Spock
"Quotable" Star Trek
Legends Of Dr. Leonard McCoy
Legends Of Scotty, Sulu And Uhura
Legends Of Chekov, Chapel And Rand
Star Trek 40th Anniversary Season 2
Star Trek (2009 movie) cards
Star Trek Heroes & Villains

8.5/10 (substance/content)
2/10 (factoring collectibility)

For other card reviews, please visit my Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, April 24, 2017

"Ace Reporter" Brings On Girl Power Reporting . . . And Murderous Nanotechnology!

The Good: Main plot is engaging, Generally good performances, Good special effects, Good idea
The Bad: B-plot feels forced, Very simple plot with some predictable elements
The Basics: "Ace Reporter" finds a good balance in its main plot to make Kara Danvers and Supergirl compelling when murderous nanobots are staged to be released upon National City under the guise of a health care breakthrough!

After every underwhelming episode of a series, I find it tough to get enthusiastic about writing about the episode(s) that follow. With Supergirl being generally good in its second season, that has not been much of a problem. And yet, before "Ace Reporter" began, I found myself contemplating just how little I enjoyed "Distant Sun." When I reviewed "Distant Sun," I found myself stretching to come up with aspects of the episode I actually enjoyed. And, as "Ace Reporter" began, after a hiatus of several weeks, I found myself instantly unenthusiastic. So, I was pleasantly surprised when "Ace Reporter" (mostly) pulled off a decent Kara Danvers story.

"Ace Reporter" follows on the events of "Distant Sun" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references as to where the prior episode left off. After all, "Distant Sun" multiplied the villains for Supergirl and seemed to imply that Rhea would be the Big Bad of the season as it rushes towards its finale. With Rhea killing Mon-El's father and committing to getting Mon-El back, it seems like she is absolutely determined to kill Kara.

Kara arrives at the DEO where there is, much to her surprise, nothing for her to do. Out of work since losing her job as a reporter at Catco, Kara returns home where she is bored and spends her time baking. She is visited by Lena Luthor, who asks her to accompany her to a product unveiling being performed by Jack Spheer (Luthor's ex). At the press conference, Kara runs into her former editor, Snapper Carr and she is initially intimidated by him. Spheer reveals his Biomax medical program, which includes nanobots capable of healing wounds! On her way out of the press conference, Kara is approached by someone who claims to have information for her. That night, the whistleblower tells Kara he thinks the human trials of the nanobots were faked and that National City is being used as a testing ground by Spheer!

When the nanobots attempt to kill Kara (and do kill the whistleblower), she reaches out to James Olsen, but finds Carr blocking her access to Catco's resources. Carr follows a lead to a man who reveals to him that the "human trials" of Spheer's nanobots were limited to him signing a form! Moments later, the nanobots attack and Carr is barely rescued by Supergirl. Kara returns to her apartment and learns that Lena is out with Spheer. Danvers convinces Mon-El to help her crash the date and Kara uses the opportunity to interrogate Spheer about his human trials of the nanobots. Mon-El manages to steal Spheer's access badge and he and Kara break into the company. There they discover that not only were there no human trials of Spheer's nanobots, but that he is now made entirely of them! Kara works to expose the truth and prevent the nanobots from being deployed in National City where they have the potential to kill everyone!

Supergirl has neglected the professional-development story of Kara Danvers in its second season. "Ace Reporter" does a fair job of exploring that aspect of her character. Supergirl, from its very beginning, has had a whole "girl power" character aspect for Kara Danvers and "Ace Reporter" does a fine job of illustrating how effective the mundane identity of Supergirl can actually be. Kara Danvers acts like an investigative reporter in "Ace Reporter," working very hard to verify leads and find facts to reveal the truth. It is a refreshing return-to-form for Kara's character . . . even if this is the first time the show has truly given her a real reporting story of her own.

In "Ace Reporter," there is a Guardian and Winn Schott subplot. Schott is in the head-over-heels part of his romantic relationship with Lyra and that makes him careless in his guard duties for aiding Guardian. Lyra wants to make good on her family's crimes and she tries to help Guardian, but Olsen finds her methods more troubling than helpful. While it is good to see Guardian in action, there is something a little disappointing about the way the interludes with he rest of the cast distract from the Kara Danvers story. Supergirl seems so committed to being an ensemble cast piece that is seems unwilling to truly commit to a strong Kara Danvers story. In "Ace Reporter," the Guardian scenes feel very much like a dilution of a decent story.

Arguably, the reason the Guardian and Schott subplot is a part of "Ace Reporter" is that because from the very beginning, the viewer knows the nanobots are sinister and not the amazing health care breakthrough they appear. While trying to develop the friendship between Lena and Kara, "Ace Reporter" cannot drag that plotline out in a compelling way. Lena Luthor continues to be fairly convincing as a character committed to doing good things to make up for her horrible family's past in "Ace Reporter." Despite being emotionally entangled with Spheer, Luthor gives Danvers the benefit of the doubt when Kara brings her concerns about the ethics of Spheer's company. Lena Luthor is not a "sit back and wait" type character, so it is unsurprising when Luthor breaks her soft promise to Kara to confront Spheer, but it is refreshing to see Lena Luthor trying so hard to do right by National City.

"Ace Reporter" gives Melissa Benoist and Katie McGrath a chance to shine, albeit in limited ways. Benoist is feisty and tenacious playing Kara Danvers as an eager reporter. McGrath reaches her peak near the end when Lena has to make a tough decision and she plays Luthor as genuinely and convincingly conflicted in a very short amount of time. But most of the content of "Ace Reporter" does not allow the stars of the show to show off a lot of range or new aspects of their characters.

But "Ace Reporter" speeds along and is fairly engaging in a very watchable way. Supergirl is back and despite neglecting the background threat for the bulk of the episode, it stands up as an entertaining and engaging Villain Of The Week story.

For other works with Jim Eliason, please check out my reviews of:
"Moonshot" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Attack On Central City" - The Flash
"Attack On Gorilla City" - The Flash


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.
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The Best Of The Pynchon Clones? Ship Of Theseus May Well Be It!

The Good: Poetics, Concept, Decent story
The Bad: Protagonist is virtually impossible to empathize with
The Basics: The basis for the concept novel S., Ship Of Theseus manages to stand up in an intriguing way on its own.

A few years back, as I was finishing another run-through of Fringe (reviewed here!), my wife learned of the existence of S.. S. is a concept novel, much like some musical artists make a concept album; more than a simple book, it was intended to be a layered artistic experience. Before she picked it up for me, my wife described it as an activity book for literate adults. The concept was a clever one; S. came within a slipcase that, once opened, included an artfully-made volume of a novel entitled Ship Of Theseus. This particular copy of Ship Of Theseus is filled with notes, additional pages and other goodies that are meant to be a story outside (and inside) the content of the novel itself.

Being on the road now, I finally had a chance to give the art project its rightful amount of attention. As I sat down to read, though, I found myself a bit torn as to how to approach the work. Ultimately, I settled up doing multiple readings (and dual reviews). In order for S. to work as a concept piece, there had to be some merit to the "source material," the book Ship Of Theseus. So, for my first reading through the project, I decided to read and evaluate Ship Of Theseus as its own literary work. Ignoring all of the commentaries and added materials, this, then, is a review purely of Ship Of Theseus, by novelist V.M. Straka, as translated by F.X. Caldeira.

Ship Of Theseus has merit as a literary work. Evocative of the works of Thomas Pynchon, Ship Of Theseus is a sprawling, often surreal tale that winds and wends with little clear purpose, less resolution and even less explanation of how the things that happen actually occur. Like works of Thomas Pynchon, the lines are poetic and the journey itself is often the real magic of the novel.

An amnesiac becomes conscious while loping through the Old Quarter of a harbor city in a nebulous time period before World War I. The man knows nothing, is soaking wet, and has pain throughout his body. He ends up at a bar, where he sees a mysterious woman and, while conversing with her after watching her for a long time, he is abducted. The man wakes up on a mysterious sailing ship and he is told by the lone crewman who speaks that his name is S. S. is shanghaied out to sea and is horrified that the crew of the ship appears sickly, each has their mouth sewn shut, and is preoccupied with a mysterious job belowdecks that they rotate into. When the ship nears land, S. is given the opportunity to escape when a waterspout appears to destroy the ship and he desperately swims to land.

S. finds himself in a factory city where the locals are picketing Vevoda Armament Works. Apparently, three of the workers have gone missing and the workers have organized to demand answers. S. is taken in by one of the leaders of the movement and is too slow to warn the leaders when he sees one of Vevoda's henchmen plant a bomb in the crowd. Framed by Vevoda's newspaper-printing lackeys, S. and his compatriots take to the hills and attempt to make it to a safer city. But Vevoda's men chase the group and S. escapes the slaughter . . . only to find himself back aboard the mysterious and mysteriously-reconstructed ship! While S.'s heart aches for the mysterious woman he met only once, he finds himself on a convoluted journey that takes him to a mysterious island where he is given a choice and a purpose; to seek his past or avenge the deaths of the workers!

S. is good in a weird way. The protagonist ages in irregular intervals, pines for a woman he does not truly know and has no real interest in his life before the book. But he observes the world and thinks about the plight of those he encounters and he has a curious nature as he tries to discover just what it is the sailors do on the orlop deck.

Ship Of Theseus is not a book for those who love complete answers and stark rationality. S. develops a clarvoiyant power, for example. How? Why (other than plot convenience)? That is not answered in Ship Of Theseus. But the use of his abilities and the way the narrative winds is surprisingly engaging. In fact, one of the few concrete sections in Ship Of Theseus is a very fractured portion late in the book that describes the movements and activities of one of the world's most competent assassins. Even the chase through the hills that S. endures with the workers is more florid and surreal than the assassination passages.

Ship Of Theseus is, however, plagued by a somewhat nebulous and unlikable protagonist. S. does not actually stand for much of anything; he has no clear or consistent convictions and his lack of curiosity about his past before the Old Quarter becomes frustrating late in the book. For the bulk of Ship Of Theseus, S. is buffetted around by people and events that he is only tangential to. He spends most of the book not even influencing the events he finds himself at; he just is in the wrong place at the wrong time and he is running from people who aren't even interested in him, specifically.

That said, Ship Of Theseus moves right along on the plot front and the story does crystallize in its final three chapters. Once S. gets a direction, he goes in it full-steam ahead and the book becomes a very fast read as it moves toward its climax.

Ship Of Theseus has beautiful and poet lines as S. contemplates his surroundings and mentally-debates philosophy. Straka places S. in an adventure where the nature of his reality - much like the boat he is on - continues to change, which is where the book gets its title. The exploration of identity and setting, philosophy and reality is poetically laid out consistently along S.'s journey.

Ultimately, Ship Of Theseus is a somewhat pulpy, but clever story of a man shanghaied by pirates on a potentially magic boat who continues to find himself getting into trouble whenever he escapes or returns to the ship!

For other book reviews, please check out:
V. - Thomas Pynchon
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Bad Twin - Gary Troupe


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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