Thursday, 31 March 2016

Star Wars Rebels 'Twilight of The Apprentice' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

'Twilight of The Apprentice' is the season finale of season two of Star Wars Rebels and there is only one word that can adequately describe it, epic.  A double length episode that focused purely on the Jedi/Sith conflict, featured three inquisitors, the crippling of Kanan, Ezra beginning to turn to the dark side, the return of Darth Maul and Ahsoka fighting Darth Vader.  There is not a minute of this episode that isn't amazing television.  It was emotional, it was intense and there were so, soooo many lightsabre fights.

When Kanan, Ezra and Ahsoka travel to the planet Malachor to find a way to defeat the inquisitors they discover an underground battlefield full of Jedi and Sith bodies, as well as a massive Sith temple.  The three of them discover an inquisitor, one we've not encountered before, and Ezra is separated from the group.

Ezra stumbles across an old man who claims to be an enemy of the inquisitors and the reason one is on Malachor.  The old man is in fact Darth Maul, who appears to have discarded his Sith teachings and simply calls himself Maul.  Despite being a former Sith Ezra begins to trust Maul as the two of them travel deeper into the temple.

Together Maul and Ezra retrieve a Sith holocron, before rejoining Kanan and Ahsoka who are busy battling the inquisitor, who has now been joined by the Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister.  Ahsoka immediately recognises Maul and she and Kanan are initially wary of him.  Maul manages to convince them that they are fighting a common enemy and even joins the Jedi in the fight against the inquisitors, fighting alongside Kanan and Ahsoka.

Agreeing to team up with Maul to reach the top of the temple to find the knowledge they seek the four of them make their way to their destination.  Along the way they are forced to split up, with Maul going along with Ezra.  The two of them are attacked by the Seventh Sister and Maul manages to overpower her, giving Ezra the opportunity to kill her.  Ezra refuses to do so, instead leaving it to Maul to end her life.  

Once they reach the top of the temple they see that Ahsoka and Kanan have been ambushed by the Fifth Brother and the Eighth Brother.  Maul tells Ezra to go on without him to activate the temple whilst he goes to help Kanan and Ahsoka.  Maul manages to kill the Fifth Brother, with the Eighth Brother falling off the temple to his death.

Maul then reveals to Kanan and Ahsoka that their is no secret knowledge at the top of the temple, but Ezra is instead activating a device that will turn the whole temple into a battle station that he intends to use against his enemies.  Maul tells Kanan that he intends to take Ezra as his apprentice and attacks, injuring Kanan and blinding him.

Before Maul can deliver a killing blow Ahsoka stops him and the two of them battle.  Despite being more than a match for Mauls skills Ahsoka backs down to let the injured Kanan finish the fight, who despite having lost his eyesight, uses the force to beat Maul, throwing him off the temple.

At the top of the temple Ezra activated the device with the Sith holocron before realising it's a trap and attempts to deactivate it.  He is unable to do so, witnessing instead the arrival of Darth Vader.  Ezra attempts fight Vader but is quickly overpowered, his lightsaber destroyed in the process.  

Ahsoka arrives and fights with Vader, giving Kanan and Ezra the chance to remove the holocron and stop the temple from powering up.  The temple begins to fall apart, forcing Kanan and Ezra to flee to the Phantom.  Still fighting with Vader, Ahsoka damages his mask, revealing part of the face of Anakin Skywalker.  Ahsoka tells Anakin 'I won't leave you, not this time' and the two of them are inside the temple as it explodes.

The episode ends with an injured Kanan and Ezra returning to Chopper base, where they are greeted by the rest of the crew, and Captain Rex learns of the loss of Ahsoka.  Maul pilots one of the inquisitors tie fighters away from Malachor.  On the planets surface a badly injured Vader limps his way out of the ruined temple, whilst beneath the surface Ahsoka retreats into one of the underground chambers.  Back aboard the Ghost Ezra is meditating with the Sith holocron, his eyes briefly turn red and the holocron opens.

'Twilight of The Apprentice' is without a doubt the best episode of Star Wars Rebels ever produced, it's easily on par with the best episodes of The Clone Wars.  

Malachor is an amazing setting for the finale, with the planet beneath a planet that houses thousands of dead Jedi and Sith along with the gigantic temple, light only through cracks in the upper surface that create a star field with shafts of light streaming down in places.  There's very little information given across in the episode about Malachor in the episode, or what happened to the force user who were fighting there, and that's fine.  It adds a sense of mystery and foreboding to the alien landscape.  Malachor is unlike any other place we've been to in the television shows or films, it feel big and epic and scary and dangerous and it's a perfect place to have so much happen in this episode.

The reintroduction of Maul into the series is a genius idea.  Not only is it bringing back an all time fan favourite, but it's adding a new element to the mix that was missing before.  In the Clone Wars there were multiple factions beyond the Jedi and the Sith/Separatists, you had the Mandalorians, the bounty hunters, Maul and Savage, it felt like a bigger universe with layers.  

So far Rebels has pretty much focused on the empire and the rebellion.  Pirates will occasionally turn up from time to time, but are never a serious threat, just a minor obstacle.  Maul gives the writers of Rebels the chance to bring in a third party that can actually go on to make a lasting impact.  He's only been in the one episode so far and he's already made a huge impact with blinding Kanan alone.  

Without a doubt Maul will be returning for the third season, whether as an enemy or in some cases an uneasy ally again will remain to be seen, but one thing is certain, his effect on Ezra is not over.  With Ezra having dark side leanings since season one it would seem like Maul really helped to open the door to that part of Ezra's abilities, and whether in person or through the Force I'm sure that Maul will be trying to continue to reach out to him and bring him further into the dark side.

One of the most important parts of the episode has to be the confrontation between Ahsoka and Vader, something we all knew was coming when Ahsoka first appeared in the series.  Master and apprentice met once again, with devastating results.  

The moment when Ahsoka breaks open Vader's mask and seems Anakin beneath was chilling, and watching Ahsoka accept the truth that she has been trying to fight against most of the season is heartbreaking.  The fact that we also hear Anakin's real voice, once again provided by Matt Lanter from the Clone Wars, mixed in with his Darth Vader one adds to this.  She doesn't have the anger or sadness she showed during the events of 'Shroud of Darkness', instead it's almost like a calm settles over her as she accepts her fate.

I think Ahsoka knew that she couldn't beat Vader in a fight, but she chooses to stay with him instead of running with Kanan and Ezra through a sense of guilt for not being with him during the events of Revenge of the Sith.  She's shown in the past that she feels that she should have been with her friend when the Jedi fell, and her promise not to leave him is her trying to deal with this guilt.

Despite what some people are saying on the internet Ahsoka appears to have survived the fight with Vader, as we briefly see her entering one of the chambers beneath Malachor.  I do not think that her walking away from the screen into darkness is a metaphor for her being dead, I do not believe that it was her force ghost.  Ahsoka is one of the most beloved and important characters in the expanded Star Wars universe, and her death would not be left ambiguous or half seen, the creators would want to give her a fitting end.  Whilst her encounter with Vader here would have been one, the fact that we do not see her die leads me to believe that she must still be alive, and that we will see her again in season three.

The epic scope of the episode's visual scale and amazing fights were matched with it's music, with series composer Kevin Kiner producing some of the best work on the series to date.  He gives Malachor a creepy and haunted feel, but manages to ramp up the score for the lightsaber duels, even giving us pieces of 'Duel of the Fates' when Kanan and Ahsoka fight Maul.  It's the last scene of the episode where the music really stands out though, as we're given a montage of shots without a single line of dialogue.  Kiner's music works so well with these evocative images to create a sense of awe at what you've just seen, sadness at the 'loss' of Ahsoka, and anticipation for the next season.

'Twilight of The Apprentice' is the best episode of Star Wars television.  It's also a great showcase for how to produce an amazing season finale story, one that takes what the season was building up and turns things up to eleven.  It gives more than I was expecting it to and set the bar for a lot of other shows this year.

Season two may have ended, but Rebels is far from finished as it sets the stage for some amazing storylines to come in the future.


Retro Review: The Last Train

Plot Summary:  A group of strangers are travelling on a train from London to Sheffield with only one of them, a scientist called Harriet Ambrose, aware that a meteorite is on a collision course with Earth.  On her way to Sheffield to reach the safety of a government bunker before the impact Harriet is shocked to discover that the calculations were incorrect and the meteor hits early.  As the meteor hits the train is passing through a tunnel where it is thrown off the tracks and the passengers injured.  Harriet takes a canister from inside her bag and releases a cryogenic gas that 'freezes' the occupants of the train carriage.

Upon waking the passengers are unaware that they were frozen, believing instead that they were just unconscious for a short amount of time.  They manage to climb their way out of the tunnel and find the world completely changed, with subtropical vegetation growing amongst the ruins of Sheffield.

Several members of the group split off and search through the city.  Smooth talking criminal, Mick Sizer, finds the skeletal remains of his friend and girlfriend in his old hideout.  He collects tools and supplies and repairs his van, providing the group with transport.  Elsewhere, another group are attacked by a group of wild dogs, with several of them being killed.

The remaining survivors gather together and search through the city for the bunker that Harriet was heading to.  They manage to find the bunker, but instead of providing them with shelter the facility is deserted and stripped of valuable supplies.

Harriet discovers what she believes to be the remains of her boyfriend, one of the head scientists at the facility, and a cryptic message left by him encouraging her to travel to a shelter in Scotland called 'Arc'.  Harriet manages to convince the rest of the group that they were frozen for a lot longer than they first thought, and that their best hope for survival is to travel north to Arc.

At the same time that Harriet is convincing the rest of the group that they need to take the perilous journey across the country, Anita, the youngest member of the group, discovers a wild looking young woman called Hild, who brings a new set of problems for the survivors as she's being hunted by another group who want her unborn baby.

The survivors begin their journey towards Arc, struggling to stay ahead of the vicious group following them whilst trying to find enough food and water to survive in the apocalypse ravaged wilderness.

Analysis:  'The Last Train' was a six part post-apocalypse television drama produced by ITV and aired over five weeks between April and May 1999.  The series was written by Matthew Graham, who at the time was best known for brief stints working on 'Eastenders' and 'This Life', but would later go on to work on 'Doctor Who', as well as create both 'Life on Mars' and it's spin-off series 'Ashes to Ashes'.

'The Last Train' is a perfect example of television trying to capture some of the science centric fears that captured the public imagination at the time, specifically the idea of an object impacting with earth and wiping out civilisation.  With both 'Armageddon' and 'Deep Impact' released the year before 'The Last Train' proved to be a much smaller budget version of those stories, but one with a huge difference, civilisation doesn't survive.

Perhaps it's something inherently British, but it seems that where American media depicts people coming together and winning out over the outside threat, whether it be an asteroid, alien invaders or a deadly virus, Britain tends to create stories that show the aftermath of these kind of events, such as 'Survivors' in the 1970's, which 'The Last Train' takes quite a few ques from.

Another feature of British television present in the series is the relatively short, with only six episodes to tell its story.  The first two episodes very much feel like one, both of them being set in and around Sheffield and basically establishing the characters and their upcoming journey.  After that each episode deals with separate parts of the journey, episode three has the group trying to find supplies and running afoul of a big cat (no, really, they get hunted by panther), episode four gives us the first real confrontation with Hild's group and the loss of one of the survivors, episode five focuses on a walled community they find that seems too good to be true, and episode six finishes the story as the survivors reach Arc.

I can't help but feel that if this were an American show that the series would be closer to twenty episodes, filled with flashbacks to before the apocalypse to help build characters pasts.  Instead we only get brief introductions to the characters, with much of their back story being told in brief snatches of dialogue between characters over the course of the series.  Instead of being shown more than we'd want to know about these people we get to know them over the course of their journey in the same way that the other characters do.

Despite not using flashbacks and a short episode run most of the characters get given the room to grow and develop, forming new relationships and evolving to survive in the new environment.  For me, the standout character of the show is the criminal Mick Sizer, who begins very much out for himself and even wants to abandon the group in the very first episode.  By the end of the series he's become one of the groups leaders and is even willing to sacrifice himself for the safety of the group, even allowing himself to be crucified by the 'others' instead of helping them get into Arc.

My biggest criticism of the show is the final ten minutes.  The story reaches a conclusion and ends at a point where it feels somewhat unfinished.  The survivors have reached Arc, discovered that the inhabitants woke up 40 years before, and that their descendants are the people hunting them.  The two groups come together and join as one inside Arc as Hild gives birth to her baby.

That's all well and good, the show got the survivors to Arc, which is the end of the story, but we're left not knowing if the two groups are going to become one group.  We don't know if Mick and Austin have survived their crucifixion.  We don't know what's going to happen next.

Perhaps this is part of British storytelling, where quite often these kinds of short lived stories are left intentionally vague or open ended for people t make up their own minds.  But here I think that it's an ending that leaves you feeling a little deflated.  By the close of episode six I'd become invested in these characters and their survival, and finding Arc doesn't feel like the end of their story, but the beginning of the next chapter.

If the show had returned for a second series of six episodes I'm sure that a lot of these questions about what was going to happen to them next would have been answered, we'd see how the group goes on to survive in the new world, but that really wasn't the point of the series.  It wasn't about the long term lives of these people, it was seeing several strangers, some of whom hated each other, come together as friends and a family in a journey for survival.  On that end it succeeds, it tells a good, strong story with interesting characters.

The setting works brilliantly well too, with the British countryside giving us a very different post-apocalypse landscape than ones we're used to from American television and film.  It's cold and wet, with a landscape that's unforgiving and dreary.  It's shocking how easily England can be made to look like the end of the world with very little effort made.

One of the things that struck me when watching the series again was just how similar it is in a lot of ways to 'Lost', it's got a central group who survive a crash in a large vehicle who have been thrown together by circumstances outside of their control to survive while a group of unknown, almost nomadic assailants stalk them.  A lot of the characters are similar too, with the group having a doctor, a police officer, one a criminal, a lone parent, a pregnant woman, it's easy to draw similarities with the survivors of Lost.  Add into the mix mysterious underground bunkers, wild animals in habitats not their own, help from a female member of the 'others' and children being highly valued by the other group and it starts becoming unclear which show you might be describing.

If you like shows like 'Lost' or 'The Walking Dead' then 'The Last Train' is going to appeal.  Yes, it's old, and it definitely feels like a product of the 90's, but as someone who grew up in 90's Britain it just fills me with nostalgia, from the world before the apocalypse to the occasional mention of 90's boy bands it's hard to escape that 90's feel.

'The Last Train' takes a very British approach to a genre it rarely tackles, and succeeds in making an interesting addition to post-apocalypse drama that is definitely worth the watch.


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Walking Dead ' East' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

Next week sees the season finale of The Walking Dead hit our screens, and as so often in the past it falls to the penultimate episode to put pieces in place for whatever is to come in the final episode.  In this case it's putting several of our main characters in the hands of the Saviours or outside the safety of the walls of Alexandria.

For Carol it feels fairly natural, she's reached a point where she's afraid of killing, afraid of the toll it will have on her so she chooses to leave the community and get away from the situations that have been forcing her to kill people.  Unfortunately her leaving Alexandria is a perfect excuse to have others chase after her, and pretty soon Rick and Morgan have set out on her trail.

In an almost perfectly timed, but completely unconnected excursion, Daryl has left Alexandria on a revenge mission to try and track down Dwight and the remaining Saviours who escaped the fight that cost Denise her life, prompting Glenn, Michonne and Rosita to chase after him.

Out of the two the Carol story is the one that makes the most sense.  She has a real personal reason for leaving Alexandria, whereas Daryl is acting without thinking.  He's blaming himself for Dwight being alive, blaming himself for the death of Denise and wants to get payback for the events of last weeks episode.

It might be understandable, but it's stupid.  Daryl knows that there are Saviours alive in the surrounding area, at least half a dozen from the attack, and must surely realise that he's no match for all of them.  At the very least his actions will get him killed, and will then leave Alexandria without his help, but he knows that the Saviours want to get into Alexandria, and he's putting himself in a position to be captured by them.

Carol is running away from the conflict, she's trying to get away from the Saviours, but Daryl is running straight towards them.  As such Daryl, and those who go out after him feel a little stupid.  Actually, with Rick and Morgan knowing that four of the main fighters are already gone yet choosing to leave too they're pretty stupid too.

Don't get me wrong, the episode is very tense, with the ever present danger of the Saviours it means that most scenes have an undercurrent of tension as you're waiting for something bad to happen.  Thanks to Denise being killed mid sentence in the middle of her big speech last week I found myself anxious when Glenn and Michonne were trying to talk Daryl into coming back with them because I was expecting an attack at any moment.

It's better than the tension of the walkers, who have been a mild nuisance for the most part, and unless there's a big crowd, prove to be very little trouble for our heroes.  The Saviours, however, add a while new element of fear and dread to the show.

The episode makes good use of this tension, from the early parts of the episode where Carol is confronted by Saviours and forced to kill  to the very last scene where Daryl takes a bullet from Dwight.  Yep, you read that right, the episode ends with Daryl being shot point blank.

From the angle of the gun and the fact that you can see his face as blood hits the screen Daryl isn't shot in the head, more likely the shoulder or upper back, and there's a line of dialogue from Dwight as the screen goes to black that says 'you'll be alright', so it's doubtful that Daryl is dead, but it's certainly raising the stakes.

Things don't look too much better back in Alexandria as Maggie has complications with the baby, doubling over and hitting the ground in pain.  Whilst Maggie's life, and that of her child, are in immediate danger, this complication could also be putting others in similar danger, as the only doctor around that our group knows about lives at the Hilltop community, which will surely be forcing yet more people out beyond the walls of Alexandria.

'East' is definitely a setup episode, one that is here purely to serve the season finale, but it's a tense one that builds on the events of the previous weeks episode.  Is Daryl dead, where's Carol, what's going to happen to Maggie's baby are all questions that fans will be itching to hear answered, but the most important is, with so many beloved characters in the hands of the Saviours, who's going to be becoming acquainted with Lucile?


Monday, 28 March 2016

Arrow 'Broken Hearts' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

So it looks like the photograph tweeted by the shows Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim a few weeks ago really wasn't a fake.  He tweeted a picture of Ollie and Felicity standing at the altar with the words 'Not a dream sequence.  Not a hallucination.  Not an alternate reality.  Not a flash forward to a potential future.'

Whilst what Guggenheim said was indeed true, the two of them standing at the altar was not exactly honest either though, as this weeks episode saw the two of them engaging in a fake wedding ceremony in order to draw in the rogue archer Cupid.

It would seem that despite all of her secrets and double dealings Amanda Waller was true to her word when she promised to let members of the Suicide Squad (sorry, Taskforce X as we can't say Suicide Squad on TV because of the film) and Cupid is a free woman once again.  Instead of going straight though, Cupid ha turned her bow on those in love, as she feels that love is a weakness and should be destroyed.

The Cupid story, and the way that it tied into the fallout of the break up of Oliver and Felicity might be the main story of the episode, but it's not the most interesting.  Mixed in with the relationship drama is the much more interesting story of Damian Darhk in court.

With so much of the past few seasons being focused on Laurel becoming a hero or her personal struggles with addiction it's good to see her in a court setting, getting to flex her muscles as a district attorney for once, especially as it plays such a big part in the main season story.

The inclusion of Cupid feels like both a way of injecting action into what would have otherwise been a much more character focused episode (though they could have done everything without her and used the island flashbacks to provide the action quota for the episode) and to bring the Olicity story to a boil.

With the romance between Oliver and Felicity seeming to divide many of the shows fans their break up and the drama surrounding it was sure to be a point of annoyance to some, whilst massively important to others.  Thankfully this episode manages to give over a lot of time to the story, whilst also bringing it to some form of resolution that will give those who aren't a fan of it a break.

The two of them try to work together on the Cupid case, even going so far as to perform a fake wedding to try and lure Cupid into a trap.  Despite for a moment looking like they might patch things up, ultimately Felicity decides that she can't be around Oliver anymore and takes a break from team arrow in order to get her head around things,

The impassioned vows that Oliver makes during the fake wedding ceremony, and the speech Felicity gives to Cupid all seem to be going down the route that the two of them might have finally realised that they're meant to be together and that Felicity has forgiven Oliver.  It's a television trope, the idea that the broken couple come back together after taking down the villain together, and Arrow manages to buck expectations and goes against the trope by having Olicity official break up.

I'm sure that this won't be the end of the story, we know for a fact that Felicity will be back in Oliver's life at some point close in the future for the mystery funeral, but how long the two of them will spend away from each other and whether they'll end up back together is yet to be seen.

Despite being the secondary story for the episode the scenes with Damian Darhk in court were definitely the most interesting, not least of all because of Captain Lance putting himself on the stand as a witness against Darhk, a move that was sorely needed to ensure that Darhk wouldn't escape justice, but one that could very well mean the end of Lance's career and possibly even puts his life in danger.

It's an incredibly well acted scene, with Paul Blackthorne proving once again that he's one of the most criminally underused members of the cast.  Every development he's had this season, with bringing him further into team arrow has been great and the scenes where he's with the rest of the team are fast becoming some of my favourites.  He's bringing a little something extra to the mix with him not being a costumed hero and being older than the rest of the group.  I'm starting to like him for a lot of the same reasons I like Professor Stein whenever he's with team Flash.

Despite stopping Darhk from getting out of jail the villain doesn't seem too annoyed at being locked up, and has managed to sneak a ring into prison with him.  For a villain that has so far proven to have multiple plans at work and HIVE backing him I'm sure that he has something up his sleeve to deal with this situation.

'Broken Hearts' isn't the best episode, and definitely spends too much time on the relationship drama when it should be giving more time over to the courtroom and the Damian Darhk story.  Like the Olicity relationship this episode is sure to divide fans.


Sunday, 27 March 2016

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 'Parting Shots' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

Marvel have been looking to make some more television shows for a little while now to cash in on the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and join their growing roster of Netflix series.  One of these proposed shows was a spin off from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that focuses on Bobbi and Hunter on the run as wanted people.

Whilst the pilot for 'Marvel's Most Wanted' has already been filmed 'Parting Shots' acts as a pre-pilot or backdoor pilot for the show that removes Bobbi and Hunter from the show in a satisfying way as well as setting up the main concept for the new series.

Following on from the previous episode Bobbi and Hunter  have stowed away on Malicks plane and have followed him to Russia, where he is working with members of the Russian government to establish a sanctuary for Inhumans.

They quickly discover that there is more going on than they first thought as a member of the Russian cabinet and military is an Inhuman, and is planning on assassinating the Russian President for refusing to agree to the plan to build an Inhuman sanctuary.

With the help of Mak and Daisy, Bobbi and Hunter are able to stop the assassin and save the president's life, but get themselves arrested in the process.  Despite Coulson managing to get the President of the United States involved to get them out the two of them are under international suspicion as being Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and make the choice to leave the organisation to protect their teammates.

The main bulk of the story is an entertaining spy story, with the team infiltrating an enemy base, Bobbi stealing a Russian uniform and going under cover whilst Daisy tries to hack into their system, despite not knowing cyrillic.

The episode has some great character moments, fun banter and some cool action as Bobbi and Daisy try to fight the Inhuman shadow monster that's been unleashed to kill the president.  Whilst normally this would be a great episode, the loss of Bobbi and Hunter means that every time Bobbi does something action packed or Hunter makes you laugh out loud it just highlights how much their loss is going to be felt on the show.

Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. has added a lot of cast members over the course of it's time on the screen, and some of the original characters from season one haven't had as much of a chance to do as much as they once did, but with characters like Bobbi, who's on par with Melinda May as far as action goes, and Hunter, who is easily one of the funniest cast members I can't help but feel that their absence will be more of a negative to the overall quality of the show, despite them getting their own spin off series.

The final scene where Bobbi and Hunter are in a bar and get their 'spy goodbye' in the form of the rest of the team silently toasting them goodbye is surprisingly effective and gives the episode an emotional resolution, especially when it's Mak' turn to say farewell.

Whilst a lot of backdoor pilots can be dud episodes because they're introducing new characters or new concepts, 'Parting Shots' works well because it uses characters we're used to and the story is part of the overall season narrative.

The loss of Bobbi and Hunter will be felt going forward, hopefully 'Marvel's Most Wanted' will be a success and we will get the characters back on our screens, if not 'Parting Shots' proves to be a great farewell to them both.


Trans Woman Banned From Using Pub Toilet

Joanna Louise was denied access to the toilets
due to being transgender.
When a trans woman went to meet two of her friends at one of her local pubs, the Foresters Arms in Ramsgate, Kent, she expected to receive hospitality and good customer service but was instead met with transphobia and hate.

Joanna Louise, 30, was in the Foresters Arms meeting two of her friends, including another trans woman, when she was told by bar staff that she was unable to use women's restrooms by order of the owner.

When I spoke to Joanna she told me that at the time she and her friends were the only customers on the premises, but were still repeatedly told that they could not use the women's toilets because the bar owner is worried that they would lose business if a transgender woman was seen using them.

Joanna was warned to avoid trying to 'sneak' into the toilets and said that she was closely followed by a member of staff when she went to use the outdoor facilities so that they could keep an eye on her.

Much of the confrontation was filmed by Joanna, and can be viewed below.  The barmaid in the video is clearly seen telling Joanna that despite being the only people in the pub she would be unable to use the toilets.  At one point the barmaid tells Joanna 'I'm not discriminating you, I'm not discriminating...I don't give a flying fuck, but it's not my rule'.

Joanna told me that the barmaid said that the rule was laid out by the landlady, and was told that she would be checking the CCTV, and that if Joanna were to use the women's toilets the barmaid would be held responsible and be fired.

Even when presenting the bar staff with her drivers license and credit card, both of which clearly state that Joanna is legally female, she was still denied access to the bathroom.

Shortly after making the video of the confrontation Joanna left the pub.  She uploaded the video to her social media asking for help from her friends as to what she should do.  Since then the video has spread across Facebook and Twitter.

Joanna has said that she has received an outpouring of support from within the transgender community, with members of the trans community not only standing in support of Joanna and her right to use the correct bathroom.

Many trans people have taken to Facebook to complain about the actions taken against Joanna on their profile page.  Since then, however, the owners of the Foresters Arms have taken down their page to prevent further negative reviews and comments.

Gay Star News have reported on the incident, and have claimed to have spoken to the pubs landlady.  They say that when they asked if she had instructed staff to block trans people access to the bathroom's.  The landlady reportedly claimed that the video posted on social media was 'illegal' and that they had been instructed not to answer the press before hanging up.

Speaking to Joanna on the subject she has told me that the event has left her feeling shocked and distressed.

'I was shocked, I was so taken back when it happened.  I didn't ever believe that it would ever happen to me.'  She said about the incident.  'The next day I was full of anxiety, I couldn't eat, I just felt completely drained.'

Joanna has described the incident as leaving her feeling 'terrified' and that she is afraid to leave her home due to negative backlash she may face for highlighting the incident.

On the advice of friends Joanna has closed many of her social media outlets and to changing her identity on the ones she has kept open in order to avoid messages of hate and harassment.  She has also been staying with friends and family as she does not feel safe staying home on her own.

Despite the incident proving to be deeply traumatic for her, Joanna has said that the outpouring of support she has received has proven to be very positive and that she hopes her incident can raise awareness of the issue.

It is important to remember that under UK law a transgender person cannot be denied access to the bathroom that matches their gender identity.  According to the Equality Act 2010, even someone who has simply stated their desire to transition is protected under these laws.

Joanna is transitioning, and has legal ID's to confirm that she is female, the Foresters Arms had no legal standing to deny her access to the women's toilets as she is legally female, and protected under the Equality Act law.

It is important for trans men and women in the UK to know that under the law you are entitled to use the bathroom that corresponds to your gender identity, this does not require a legal change of gender, this does not require genital surgery.  If you are denied service as Joanna has been it is against the law, and I urge you to help raise awareness just as Joanna has done.

At the time of this article going to print Joanna is still considering whether to take legal action against the Foresters Arms.


Friday, 25 March 2016

Star Wars Rebels 'The Mystery of Chopper Base' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

In the last episode of Rebels the fledgling rebel alliance managed to finally find a planet that they could use as a base after almost an entire season of searching.  Now that they finally have a place where they can hide their ships and supplies and train their troops things have begun to look less than perfect.

When a member of phoenix squadron goes missing whilst setting up a remote sensor unit Sabine and Rex go out to try and track her down.  Instead of finding their missing pilot they come across giant space spider things that attack them and make off with Rex as a captive.

The rest of the Ghost crew manage to track down the spiders to their underground lair and initiate a rescue mission for the veteran clone trooper.

'The Mystery of Chopper Base' moves away from space opera and action to horror territory as the crew of the Ghost descend into the dark and winding tunnels beneath the planet's surface to hunt the giant space monsters.

The action takes place in tight, confined spaces, with creatures coming at our heroes from multiple directions at once.  It's tense and nerve wracking and possibly even scary for younger audience members.

Eventually the Ghost crew manage to discover that the spiders are repelled by the sensor units, and rather than abandon the planet that they'd tried to hard to find over the season, simply set up a ring of the devices around the base to keep the monsters out.

It's a clever plan, one that will hopefully allow them to keep using Chopper Base, and possibly make it a lot harder for the Empire to find them if they do scout out the planet.  Whether or not the monsters will be kept at bay by the sensors forever, or if they'll eventually find a way inside may end up being a followup story to this one, though it will have to wait until next season.

The episode ends with Kanan, Ezra and Ahsoka setting out on their mission to find Malachor, given to them by Yoda in 'Shroud of Darkness'.  The goodbyes are handled well, with Ezra and Zeb sharing a moment of camaraderie that shows how far the two have come since those first few episodes where they absolutely hated each other.

Kanan and Hera also get some time given over to their goodbye in the episode, which goes a way to further raising the question of whether or not the two of them are romantically involved or not.  There's always been a sense that the two of them are a couple, but nothing has ever been expressly shown or said about, but when it comes time for Kanan to leave you can clearly see that the decision is a hard one for both of them.  Just like the fate of Chopper base, the relationship between Hera and Kanan will have to be something that the series will have to explore in it's third season.

The next episode is the season finale, and will be focusing on the Jedi's and the force, so it's nice that the last episode covered the rest of the rebellion, even if it was only in a small way.  It shows us that the rebel alliance as a whole is moving forward, that it's getting closer to becoming the group we see in A New Hope.  It's also good to see that AP-5 is still with the rebellion and is still getting to have snarky conversations with Chopper.

A fun space monster episode that manages to find the time to squeeze in some neat character development moments.


Thursday, 24 March 2016

Supernatural 'Safe House' Review

One of the worst things about Supernatural is its tendency to kill off side characters, which is sad as often the inclusion of a lot of these characters not only make episodes better, but build upon the world of Supernatural.  Whenever a character is set to 'return' after being killed off it tends to be done as a ghost, a dream sequence or another half thought out way to get them back with the Winchesters, and often feels weak.

'Safe House' manages to not only bring back two of the best supporting characters the show has had, but uses in such a way that they are massively enjoyable, doesn't take away from their deaths and even gives an incredibly touching moment too.

The episode follows Sam and Dean as they investigate what they believe to be a run of the mill haunting in a house that they discover Bobby and Rufus investigated a few years before.  The time frame as to when Bobby and Rufus were there is left vague, with passing references to 'the apocalypse' which narrows it down to about 9 years of the show, and the mention of Lilith at the end which would place it around season 3 or 4.

The two teams discover that it's not just a regular ghost they're dealing with, but a Soul Eater, who rips people's souls out of their bodies, traps them in it's nest and feeds on them.

The two stories run in tandem, with the flashbacks interwoven into the regular story in such a way that not only allows both stories to reach similar points at the same time, but even adds to some comedic moments, such as Sam and Dean complaining that there has to be an easier way to dig up bodies before jumping to Bobby using excavator to do the very same.

The fact that Bobby and Rufus are back, but don't actually come back and interact with Sam and Dean in any way is probably the best decision of the episode, it gives us a fun and engaging adventure that focuses on Bobby and Rufus on their own merits, it shows the kinds of hunters they were without Sam and Dean around.

The episode didn't add anything to the overall story, it barely mentions Amara and Castiel, what it does manage to do is to give us a monster of the week story that manages to feel part of the bigger world.  It doesn't feel like a throw away episode.  Maybe it's the return of two characters, one of which every Supernatural fan loves, maybe it's the structure of the two narratives intertwining and meeting that makes it stand out, or maybe it's just the great banter and fun moments in the script.   Whatever it it, 'Safe House' is an episode I found myself strangely invested in, despite knowing that Sam and Dean would be fine and how Bobby and Rufus' stories ended I was totally engrossed in it.  

The biggest drawback of the episode is the fact that it reminds you of some of the great characters that the show has had over the years, Bobby, Rufus, Ellen, Jo, Ash, Samuel, Charlie, Meg, Ruby, Kevin, so many characters have come and gone over the years that it's hard to actually name them all, and all of them had something about them that made them a pleasure to watch, whether you loved them or hated them.

Having Bobby and Rufus back reminds you of what's missing from the show, of how big a world Supernatural could have if it just stopped killing people.  It leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth, which hits home even more in the moment when Dean and Bobby see each other in the Soul Eater's nest.  They don't speak to each other, they just exchange a look that says so much more.

It's a great episode, and one of the best of season 11, one that doesn't add anything to the greater story but reminds us of a time of the show we've lost, where Sam and Dean weren't alone, when Bobby was still there looking out for 'his boys'.  It stands out because of its heart.  


The Flash 'Trajectory' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want to have certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

After a couple of weeks off our screens and the shock reveal that Zoom is Jay Garrick/Zolomon Hunter, The Flash returned by introducing yet another speedster into the mix, Trajectory.

Some might think that it'd be a mistake adding another speedster to the show, especially as there are already two evil speedsters and one of those is still the big bad for the season, but Trajectory not only added a cool new rogue to the ever expanding gallery, but actually went a long way towards moving the Zoom storyline forward in an interesting way.

The episode opens with Barry in training for his upcoming fight to take down Zoom, with him trying and failing to reach enough speed to jump across a river.  Frustrated that he can't seem to reach the speeds that Zoom possesses the team (minus Wells but including Jessie) decide to hit the town to get a little R&R.  It's nice to see Jessie included in these scenes rather than being cooped up in Star labs still, with her not having an 'evil' counterpart on earth-1 like her father her not being allowed out of the labs felt a little strange.

As always the members of team Flash are much more interesting and fun to hang out with than those over on team Arrow, so watching them hang out in a nightclub is just as entertaining as watching them taking down a supervillain.  We also had a fun moment as Barry introduces Wally to Jessie and tries to explain their awkward relationship.  Also, did anyone else think that Jessie's metahuman watch going off around Wally might be hinting at the idea that he may already have powers of some kind?  Maybe something that will allow him to copy Barry's speed for example?

Sadly for team Flash, they never get a night off, and the club is attacked by a red and yellow blur that steals everyone's money, the first introduction of Trajectory.

Despite the show already having two other superspeed villains Trajectory manages to stand out on her own and be different enough to be entertaining, and no, not just because she's a woman.  Trajectory turns out to be a scientist, Eliza Harmon, working at Mercury Labs who had been helping Caitilin to develop the Velocity 9 speed formula.

Despite having only worked on a small part of the Velocity 9 formula Eliza was able to replicate the full thing and tested it out on herself.  Whilst the formula did grant her super speed it also acted like a drug, not only making her crave more, but also damaging her psychologically to the point where she was developing a split personality.

It's this difference that sets her apart from Zoom and Reverse Flash, that Eliza is more of a victim of Velocity 9 than a bad guy doing evil for her own ends.  She's essentially high when she's got her speed, and she's trying to make sure than she can have more Velocity 9.

Recognising that Eliza isn't a bad person Barry even tries to reach out to her in their final fight, to give her a chance to stop what she's doing.  Sadly Eliza seems to be too far gone into her addiction and takes even more Velocity 9, before running so fast that her lightning turns blue and she appears to evaporate (my money is on her having either gone into the speed force or ran fast enough to travel between dimensions/in time).

During the course of the episode as Barry realises that he can't match Trajectory for speed he begins to question if taking Velocity 9 himself is worth taking the risk, despite knowing how dangerous it is.  It shows Barry struggling between his desire to get faster in order to stop Zoom, but not wanting to break his own morals.

Luckily for him Harrison Wells is on hand to remind him that part of what makes someone a hero is their refusal to compromise and go against their morals in order to make things easier for himself.  It's a powerful moment for Barry, and one that sets him on the right course, as well as reflecting the journey Harry has made since arriving on Earth-1 and the things he has had to do in the quest to try and get his daughter back.

During his final fight with Trajectory, though, Barry sees that Harry is right in his belief of him, as he manages to make an impossible jump that was even bigger than the one he failed to make at the start of the episode.  Barry is learning to believe in himself and his own abilities and not to take the easy way out, even if it's for a good reason.

Trajectory's 'death' proved to be one of the more important parts of the episode, as it gave team Flash an important piece of the puzzle that is Zoom.  Realising that it's Velocity 9 that causes speedsters to reach faster speeds than Barry, and turns their lightning blue Barry suspects a connection between Zoom and Jay.

When Cisco vibes whilst holding Jay's helmet he sees a vision that gives him the key piece of information that we the audience already have, that Jay and Zoom are the same person (or at least look the same).  This revelation is sure to effect the team greatly, and makes the fight against Zoom a lot more personal for them.  

'Trajectory' might be a villain of the week episode, but it gives the show an interesting and even sympathetic new villain (and one who looks great too) and manages to add a lot to the overall season long story with Zoom, with effects that are sure to be felt for the rest of the season.


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

BBC's Trans Documentary 'Swansea Sparkle - A Transgender Story' Gets Things So Wrong

Before I get into this in depth I want to make a couple of things very clear from the outset, firstly, this is my opinion and only reflects the view I myself had on the programme.  Secondly, any of the issues I have with the documentary are with the people who produced it, not towards the people who took part.

Last night the BBC aired a new documentary focusing on the trans community in Wales, specifically on three individuals in the lead up to a trans event called Swansea Sparkle, from which the show gets it's name.

Now, it should be noted straight away that the show did do one thing that most documentaries on the trans community do not, it included someone who identifies as a transvestite.  It's important to remember that the trans umbrella covers many different types of people, including transgender, gender fluid, transvestite, non-binary and transsexual people to name but a few.  Including people from more than one of these categories is a good thing, however, what 'Swansea Sparkle - A Transgender Story' fails to do is to explain what a transvestite is, and how they differ from someone who is transgender.

For someone who is a part of the transgender community I understand these differences, I know how a transvestite and someone who's transgender differ.  The general public probably don't though.  Without explaining these differences it can become quite muddy to the general population who don't have any experience with the trans community and it could leave them with the wrong ideas.

Paul, who is the founder of a local support group for members of the trans community as well as being the person behind the Swansea Sparkle event, makes it clear during the course of the film that he still considers himself male, but dresses in women's clothing and goes by the name Sadie when cross-dressing.  Without him, or the shows narrator, explaining that a transvestite is someone who wears the clothes of the opposite gender but does not wish to transition it could lead to audiences into believing that all people who are trans are like this.

Some of this confusion will be expanded upon when the documentary introduces us to Rhian.  Rhian is transgender.  The narrator tells us this, Rhian tells us this.  Yet every single time she is spoken about by the filmmakers she is called Robert, and referred to using male pronouns.

Even the BBC's on promo for the show disrespects Rhian's identity.
If someone is transgender, if they are open about the fact that they are transitioning then it's vitally important that they be called by their real name and pronouns, not the ones they were assigned at birth.  The show does not do this though, instead they misgender and dead-name her throughout, even though she, and the people in her life, use the correct name.

It doesn't matter if she's close to the beginning of her transition, it doesn't matter if she's still coming out to people, it doesn't matter if she's still learning how to do makeup, it doesn't matter than her voice is deep or masculine.  She is a woman and she should be given the basic respect of being treated as such.

When the documentary fails to do this, repeatedly, it not only disrespects Rhian, but also reinforces the notion that transgender women are men.  If the show has just introduced us to a transgender woman, but refuses to call her a woman or use her name then why should anyone else who's watching this,

This is further expanded upon when the narrator uses language like 'men who want to transition fully to women', 'him becoming a woman' of 'dressed as a girl' when talking about trans women.  Surely anyone watching this who isn't educated on the subject will be thinking that trans women are 'really men' because that's how they're referred to, and a 'documentary must be right because it's factual'.

A prime example of some of the sentiment such poor documentaries can help to build.
A lot of people take television at it's word, especially if it's a news or documentary programme, and just like the tweet above people will take what they're being told and repeat that.  And this documentary is telling people that trans women are men in dresses, that they should be called he and him and called by names that are not theirs.

If the BBC are going to produce a documentary on transgender people then they need to take responsibility to make sure that they educate those watching it on the subject.  When they are exploring people from different parts of the trans spectrum they need to make sure that the people watching it understand how a transvestite differs from someone who is transgender.  This show does neither, it doesn't educate at all.

'Swansea Sparkle - A Transgender Story' shows a snapshot in time from the lives of three trans people without giving any background or perspective or explanation.  For someone in the trans community who's watching this isn't an issue, we know about the trans community, we already have a lot of that info.  For someone who isn't a part of the trans community, who's suddenly dropped into the middle of these people's lives it's like expecting someone from the 18th century to understand a documentary on the Internet.  They might understand some notions, but without the education to go alongside it, it'll be alien, and the wrong conclusions may be reached.

Misinformation about the trans community can greatly affect the lives
of people within that community in a negative way.

As well as misgendering those involved in the documentary and seeming unable to even find any basic information about the trans community to share with the audience it would seem like the people who made the show got the 'trans documentary checklist'.

We get treated to so many tropes within just 40 minutes that if you were playing the trans documentary drinking game you'd struggle to make it to the 20 minute part, even hardened drinkers.  We get treated to shots of makeup and nail polish, oh god there are so many shots of makeup in this one piece that they can fill the BBC stock footage archive for years!  We get our participants putting on makeup.  We get them putting on their clothes.  We get shots of wigs and fake breasts.  We get pre-transition photos and discussions about family.  We get sad parents who are upset about having a trans kid (more on that in a bit).  We even have the use of the word tranny.

It's not bothering to try and educate people or give a true and fair representation of the trans community, but instead seems to be trying to produce yet another programme that ticks every trope box, no matter how disgusting or harmful it can be.

One of the ones that I've seen way, way too often that this show uses is the inclusion of the parent of a trans teen who feels like their lives will in some way be made worse because their child is trans.  Yes, Llyr's father seems to be supportive of his daughter, but the fact that he turns around and expresses the fear that he could be mocked or ridiculed because of his daughter is disgusting.

Transgender children are the ones suffering, they're the ones having to struggle through being trans.  Their parents discomfort that some of their friends might look down on them or mock them is literally the last thing that should be a worry when it comes to transgender teens.  But, this show says forget about the bullying, forget about the harassment, forget about the mental anguish they go through, forget about everything but the disappointment and pain the parent go through.

But then the documentary doesn't seem to be concerned with telling stories that help trans people or to treat us with respect, so of course they're going to be more concerned with the way a trans child will hurt the poor cis parents.

Another thing that the show included that really, really angered me was the inclusion of one of Rhian's friends laughing as they played the song 'Dude Looks Like a Lady'.  Now, this is mostly personal for me as I've literally had someone stop their car in the middle of the street, wind down the window and shout that song at me.  However, showing friends of trans people mocking trans people shouldn't be done in a television programme.

Yes, it might happen behind closed doors, and it might be friendly banter that those people don't mind (we've all been in those kind of friendships where friends joke around with each other like that) but including it in a documentary could end up telling the public that it's okay to openly mock trans people because their friends do it.

There is so much wrong with this show for me to be able to go into fully in this article, I spent most of my time watching it shaking my head and groaning in frustration.

There are some real people in this documentary with real stories that are worth telling, but the people who made this awful programme ignored that.  They ignored any information about the trans community.  They ignored their responsibility to educate and inform.  Instead they made yet another documentary that mocks trans people, that perpetuates wrongful stereotypes and puts getting ratings above anything else.

I feel bad for Paul, Rhian, Llyr and the other trans people involved in this show.  They went into this trying to tell a good story, trying to make things better for the trans community and to spread a positive message.  Instead they've been dragged into yet another trans-exploitation piece, one that mocks them, one that could even get them the hate of fellow members of the trans community.

I urge members of the trans community not to blame those who took part in the show for its failings.
I'd like to ask anyone who has watched this show and is left feeling angry and disappointed to remember that it's not the fault of those who took part, but the people who made the film that are to blame.  Complain to the BBC, spread the message that the show was incorrect, but please don't take it out on those brave enough and kind enough to share their stories with the rest of the world.

After the poor Miss Transgender UK documentary and now this, the BBC has proven that it has a long way to go to produce content about the trans community that can actually benefit people, rather than being for sensationalism and ratings.

For those who have not watched the documentary and are morbidly curious you can view it by clicking here.