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Marvel’s Jessica Jones Season 2

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Following on from the events of Season 1 (and last year’s The Defenders, barely referenced), life goes on for Marvel’s resident superpowered private sleuth, the titular Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter). Of course, the past is never too far away in this series, which makes the processing of trauma its key concern, and so the hard-drinking, poor-life-choice-making Jones must now deal not only with the ongoing PTSD born out of her enslavement by the horrifically evil Kilgrave (David Tennant), but fresh mental wounds opened up by her breaking his damn neck in last season’s climax.

She does, however, have plenty to distract her, thanks to her messy life and career. Indeed, the first few episodes of JJS2 throw out a number of seemingly disparate plot threads and character arcs that will doubtless cohere by the final episode in true hard boiled/film noir fashion (this season really leans into its noir influences, up to and including dry voice-over narration and moody sax on the soundtrack). A paranoid, overweight speedster wants protection from mysterious forces that may or may not be threatening him (he knows he’s not well – “With great power comes great mental illness,” he quips). An arrogant, high class PI (Terry Chen) wants to buy out Alias Investigations for the prestige of having a superhuman on his staff. Neighbour-turned-assistant Malcolm (Eka Darville) is bucking for more responsibility, while bestie Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) deals with a multitude of issues, from professional ambition to romantic drama to the continued oppressive presence of her toxic AF mother (a deliciously vile Rebecca de Mornay).

There are a lot of balls in the air to keep track of, but in terms of plot the season is definitely canting in the direction of the past, specifically what would be termed Jessica’s “super hero origin story” in a lighter series that could stand including such a trite descriptor. It turns out her powers are the result of being experimented upon by a shadowy black science outfit called IGH in the aftermath of the car accident that killed her parents. She has no memory of the period, but events conspire to force her to look inwards and backwards.

Not something she’s particularly good at – what sets Jones apart as a female protagonist is how incredibly flawed she’s allowed to be. She’s a self-destructive alcoholic who engages in dangerous sex and is absolutely loathe to turn her incredible powers of insight and deduction inwards – so, of course, that’s exactly what the series forces her to do. Krysten Ritter has really settled into the role since her first outing back in 2015. With a character like this, whose demeanour is predicated in prickly abrasiveness and snarky patter, there’s always a risk of drifting into affectation. Ritter give her layers, and it can;t be easy portraying the inner life of a character whose standard operating procedure is to pretend that inner life doesn’t exist.

Incredibly, Ritter isn’t the MVP in the acting stakes thus far – that honour goes to Carrie-Ann Moss, whose icy lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, has been a frequent flyer in the Netflix MCU properties but here really gets to shine. A medical and professional crisis shakes Hogarth’s normally rigid self-control and, what do you know, it tuns out that she can be just as self-annihilating and reckless as our eponymous heroine – she’s just normally better at hiding it. Moss is flat-out fantastic as a woman coming to terms with the fact that, for all her wealth, power, intelligence and sheer will, she’s vulnerable to things completely outside of control.

Understanding the limits of control is one of – if not the – major thematic concern of Season 2. For all that it deals with PTSD, abuse, addiction (Oh, Trish), the casting couch (Trish again), common across the board is the notion that characters are grappling with their frustration over their lack of control over their lives, or else learning to draw strength from understanding what they do have influence over. It’s all very Stoic. The past is set, the actions of others are difficult to change without conflict, scars are permanent, diseases are indifferent, and entrenched power structures and covert conspiracies alike grind ordinary people to dust, but knowledge and mastery of the self is a goal worth fighting for – and the only real goal attainable. It’s a smart and logical extension of the first season’s explorations – don’t forget, what made Kilgrave such a compelling and terrifying villain was his ability to take away that self-mastery from anyone.

So far (the first five episodes were released to critics for review purposes) season 2 lacks a singular villain of such narrative power, but this is, let us not forget, a mystery, and some confusion and murkiness in the early stages is to be expected. What makes Jessica Jones great television is its thematic coherence – it knows what its about, more so than any other Marvel series on Netflix or off. If the new season manages to carry that forward through to the final episode, it’ll be one for the books.

 
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The Tick Season 1 Part 2

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The second half of the first season of the third television iteration of Bed Edlund’s big, blue, befuddled superhero, The Tick, picks up where it left off: accountant turned superhero Arthur (Griffin Newman) has been captured be returned megalomaniacal supervillain The Terror (Jackie Earl Haley), and The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz, still brilliant), Arthur’s sister Dot (Valorie Currie) and hyper-violent vigilante Overkill (Scott Speiser) must mount a rescue.

While The Tick in general delights in parodying the entire swathe of superhero culture and history – and demonstrates plenty of deep dive nerd cred while doing so – the back half of season one is more concerned with the somewhat convoluted internal history of the show’s setting, delving into relationships, back-stories, old rivalries and romances. As a result, it’s more plot-focused than the first six episodes, and less funny – its hard to keep the one liners coming when you’re trying to sketch out a narrative that starts with the Tunguska Blast of 1908 (the show’s ground zero for superpowered heroes and villains), plus decades of relationships and rivalries.

Of course, in this instance “not as funny as the first half” means “still pretty goddamn funny”. This is a show where an artificially intelligent boat (voiced by Alan Tudyk) ponders the ramifications of identifying as a gay man; where a supervillain obsesses with the movie Whiplash; where a talking dog (voiced by Townsend Coleman, who voiced The Tick in the animated series back in the day); where the title character, still mystified by his origins, spends an episode convinced he’s a robot, much to Arthur’s consternation.

It’s delightful stuff, unafraid to be silly and unashamed to be poignant. Stepping to the emotional foreground in this run of episodes is Arthur’s stepfather, Walter (Francois Chau) an amiable Asian-American retiree whom Arthur utterly resents. The show gets a lot of mileage out of Arthur’s largely unfounded anger at Walter, playing it mostly for laughs but never forgetting there’s a complex emotional dynamic at work under the surface. It’s an incredibly well-written relationship, and the show makes sure to leave narrative threads dangling that indicate it’s only going to get more complicated down the track.

Hopefully there’ll be something down the track to look forward to; tucked away on Amazon Video, The Tick has mostly flown under the radar here in Australia, which is a shame. It’s an absolute delight of a series: riotously funny, defiantly geeky, and big-hearted – a rare bit of alchemy by any measure. If you enjoyed the first six episodes, you’ll be well served by the remainder of season one. If you’ve yet to sample The Tick’s weird delights, marathon the lot.

 
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Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 3

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Ash vs Evil Dead is, for fans, a kind of pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming experience. A continuation of the beloved cult classic Evil Dead trilogy originally directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Drag Me to Hell), and starring the mighty Bruce Campbell (My Name is Bruce, Bubba Ho-Tep) as the titular Ash Williams; the series overflows with goofy charm, graphic violence and absurdly cathartic humour.

AVED has now hit its third season and FilmInk managed to catch the first five episodes (of ten) and can happily report that watching Campbell and company shred deadites and chew scenery has lost none of its lustre. In fact if anything season 3 seems a little more focused than previous entries, possibly because the action remains mostly localised to Ash’s hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan (actually located in New Zealand – where fellow AVED superfan, Travis Johnson, recently visited).

Ash now runs his dad’s old hardware store – adding dildos to the shop’s inventory and shooting cheesy TV ads for publicity – and basks in the fame of being a small town hero instead of “Ashy Slashy” the murderous pariah. Of course shit goes bad quickly and Ash is forced to re-team with Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to face down evil in the form of returning Dark One, Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and deal the additional burden of fatherhood, as he meets the daughter-he-didn’t-know-about, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neil).

If that all sounds like kind of a lot – especially for a show whose episodes run under half an hour a piece – you’re not wrong. In fact the premiere episode, “Family”, groans under the weight of the heavy plot load and skews the comedy a little too close to weightless slapstick at times. Happily this appears to be the exception and not the rule, as second episode “Booth Three” features an emphasis on mood building before everything kicks off, and showcases an inspired semen gag that rivals season 2’s gross-out episode, “The Morgue”.

The following three episodes “Apparently Dead”, “Unfinished Business” and “Baby Proof” bring the series barrelling towards an epic confrontation that, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to watch yet – but if the first half of the season is anything to go by, it’s going to be a big one.

AVED season 3 gives you more of what you want, but also takes the time to ruminate, however briefly, on themes of parenthood and legacy. Bruce Campbell is, as always, majestic playing the role that made him famous but the supporting cast are also strong, now comfortable in their roles, with Ray Santiago in particular giving Pablo nuance, elevating him above mere sidekick status.

Ultimately Ash vs Evil Dead is a gleefully loopy fever dream, a hugely entertaining adventure and a love letter to the fans. That letter is bound in human flesh and inked in blood, naturally, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 
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Everything Sucks!

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They say high school is the best time of your life – except for when you’re living it. As the title of Netflix’s new high school ten-episode series suggests, Everything Sucks!, set in the mid-‘90s in Boring, Oregon, follows freshman student Luke O’Neil (Jahi Di’Allo Winston – Proud Mary, The Upside) and his AV club friends as they join forces with the drama club to make a movie. It’s nostalgic, it’s all that and a bag of chips, and it sets out to answer the question: has high school always sucked this much?

Turns out, it has. Everything Sucks! is full of first-relationship drama, coming-out drama, over-dramatic drama students – basically, all the drama you remember from high school and could want from a teen show. And while much of this makes you cringe, it’s surprisingly not in an overdramatic, Riverdale-esque way; rather, it’s so realistic that it takes you back to the days when you were sitting at the lunch tables, cringing at the drama yourself. Things are kept light, however, by our absolute gem of a main character: Luke O’Neil is serious, yet joyful; funny, but dramatic, and is somehow the only teenage character within our traditional band of misfits and losers with his feet somewhat planted on the ground, even as he tackles first loves and first heartbreaks.

But the others have got nothing but drama on their mind. Quiet principal’s daughter Kate (Peyton Kennedy) is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality; Emaline and Oliver (Sydney Sweeney and Elijah Stevenson) are the Shakespearean leaders of the drama club who have hit puberty way sooner than everyone else, McQuaid (Rio Mangini) is nothing but a pessimist, and Tyler (Quinn Liebling) is the most awkward, Showgirls-loving high school boy you’ve ever seen. Put all of these people in a room and make them work on a highly ambitious student film together, and you’re sure to butt heads and change lives.

With relatable characters and interesting-enough drama, Everything Sucks! is worth the watch – its short episode length is a saving grace, too; any longer would be too much. The only problem may be figuring out who this is for: packed full of Tamagotchis, Hi-C and VHSes, Everything Sucks! is chock full of nostalgia that may not always translate or come across as relatable to a younger, high-school aged audience. Yet the show is neither deep nor adult enough to draw a wide older audience, being written much more like a young adult’s show. Hopefully the show will find its audience along the way – after all, high school is all about figuring out who you’re meant to be.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E15: “Will You Take My Hand?”

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The Federation-Klingon War is nearing its end, as Klingon battlecruiser zero in on the planet Earth. The Federation’s only hope? The USS Discovery, enacting a plan for a surprise victory under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). When the price of victory proves too high, however, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) may be forced to betray her captain a second time.

Star Trek: Discovery comes to a temporary conclusion with this first season finale, although fans will be comforted by the show-stopping cliffhanger that promises a second in the future. The season-long story arc is by-and-large brought to a tidy conclusion that should mostly please most viewers; anybody left not enjoying it at this point likely didn’t enjoy the entire series. Sure, there are problems with the episode, but they are relatively minor in contrast to the satisfying way the story comes to an end. The series’ strongest asset from episode 1 has been Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance as Michael Burnham, and she gets plenty of strong material with which to work. Discovery has played with conventions of Star Trek quite a lot, and while I’ve chafed with some the decision to base the series almost exclusively from Burnham’s point of view has delivered tremendous dividends.

If one overlooks the slightly preposterous cliffhanger that led into this episode, there’s a remarkable amount of pulp fun to be had here. Fans of Michelle Yeoh will have an absolute ball, as will fans of the inexperienced and enthusiastic Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman). It occasionally over-steps its mark – there’s a string of rather sleazy moments in a Klingon nightclub that the episode could really do without – but ultimately this feels like a very traditional episode of Star Trek. More than that, it feels like a franchise statement of purpose; it just feels a little weird that it took 15 episodes for the series to get there. There is even a beautiful little cameo for the longer-term Star Trek fans in the shape of Clint Howard, who as a child actor played the alien threatening the original Enterprise in 1966’s “The Corbomite Maneuver”.

In the end, Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery finishes on a much firmer footing than when it began. You can see the traditional Star Trek ensemble beginning to form, although I hope Season 2 spends a little bit of time fleshing out Lieutenant Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Lieutenant Commander Airiam (Sara Mitich). Both characters have been there on the bridge and in the crew mess hall since the beginning and seem ripe for interesting stories and characters. I also hope we are done with the Klingon Empire for now: the redesign was poorly thought-out, and their ongoing civil drama during the series’ early episodes really worked to drag things down.

Discovery has carved itself a worthy place alongside its fellow Star Trek series, despite what felt like some very poor and uneven episodes during the first half of its run. Its gradual improvement – the story shifting to more interesting places, and its characters finding some consistency – has been wonderful to see. Anyone who abandoned the series last year should absolutely give it a second viewing. Anyone who’s enjoyed the whole ride needs no such encouragement. They’re probably rewatching the first episode already.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E14: “The War Without, the War Within”

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The USS Discovery has successfully returned to its own universe, only for the crew to find the Klingons have almost completely overrun the Federation. While plans are drawn up for the final offensive, within Discovery the consequences of recent events take their toll.

With its sojourn into the Mirror Universe complete – at least for now – Star Trek: Discovery returns to its original storyline, bringing the entire season full circle to the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. It is a war that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) helped to start, and it is becoming evidently – and satisfyingly – clear that it is going to be down to Burnham to help finish it. That is all presumably going to go down in next week’s season finale. That leaves this penultimate episode to essentially do some tidying up.

It’s an episode packed with character moments, and on the whole they are great ones. The big emotional beats come with Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), recently revealed as a surgically constructed Klingon sleeper agent but now with his own personality permanently restored. He must face Stamets (Anthony Rapp) after murdering his partner. He must face Burnham after almost murdering her. The best scene of the episode comes when he arrives in the mess hall, expecting to eat alone – only to be greeted by Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who refuses to abandon him despite what has occurred. It’s a beautifully moment for Tilly, and emblematic of how much more smoothly the series is handling its characters in the season’s second half. In her early episodes she was a victim of same kind of awkward writing that made viewers of the 1980s hate Star Trek: The Next Generation punching bag Wesley Crusher; she feels far more rounded and focused here. It’s a shift that is visible in most of the regular and returning cast.

The other major element of this episode is Terran Emperor Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), rescued from her own universe by Burnham and now an unwilling guest of the Federation. While it is always a pleasure to see Yeoh on screen, the inclusion of Georgiou in the context she is presented here stretches credulity. By the end of the episode it stretches further still, and would seem to require intelligent and highly competent people to act like complete idiots for the sake of a dramatic cliffhanger. It will require a wait until the season finale to see how this evil Georgiou’s story plays out, but it is not looking promising.

“The War Within, the War Without” does feel like a let-down after the high drama of the previous few episodes, but that is ultimately more a factor of those episode’s climactic nature than any specific shortfall on this episode’s part. It is an act of re-centering the story and setting up the climax. In that regard it does a tremendous job. The path through Discovery’s maiden voyage has been a shaky one, but it is important to celebrate and applaud how effectively it is reaching its end.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E13: What’s Past is Prologue

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With Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) revealed as a native of the Terran Empire universe – one who has manipulated the entire USS Discovery crew to get home to his own reality – Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) must ally with the Terran Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) to stop him from overthrowing the Empire and taking an invasion fleet back to Burnham’s own universe.

Star Trek: Discovery is certainly packing the quality into the second half of the season, with “What’s Past is Prologue” delivering another top-notch episode packed with action, strong moments of character, and hugely rewarding pay-offs for viewers that have stuck it out through the whole season. The episode is almost entirely climax, but it’s a 45-minute climax that feels genuinely well earned. It does not simply come with a ‘fist-in-the-air’ thrilling moment for the fans; it comes with several.

What seems particularly impressive is how the episode plays on elements from the season’s earlier, much shakier episodes. There is more than one callback to particular moments or themes, most effectively a brief scene between Burnham and Georgiou in which two women – each having lost the other in their own universe – both hold ID pins of the woman they lost. I recall a huge sense of disappointment when Discovery’s original set-up – two women – was disrupted and replaced by one woman working for a white middle-aged man. In that moment it’s tragically clear that the same white middle-aged man destroyed them both. Whether intentional or accidental, it feels like a potent moment.

The episode also allows the Discovery crew their moment to shine, since while Burnham is off fighting Lorca they are tasked with the parallel mission of saving literally every alternate universe in existence. It really shows how well these characters are now working on screen. Saru (Doug Jones) displays an appropriate sense of intelligence, bravery and level-headedness for his rank and position. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is a much warmer and more accessible character. Tilly (Mary Wiseman) feels less grating and much more confident. Really it’s only the latter of these changes that feels intentional; the other two really feel like a writer’s room slowly homing on what makes the characters work and what pulls them back. It’s a process I’d have rather seen play out before the series was produced, but it is fantastic simply that it has happened.

Star Trek: Discovery is feeling like a much stronger series towards the end than it did at the beginning. It isn’t simply a matter of early episodes setting up revelations in later installments. The things that worked the best in this 2017 episodes have been retained and improved, and the bits that struggled or even flat-out irritated have been removed, pared away or at least temporarily sidelined. With two episodes to go, I have my fingers crossed that the series can jump from this current creative high to deliver something genuinely spectacular to keep the audience enthused until Season 2 begins.

 
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Altered Carbon Season 1

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Life is cheap when it becomes a less finite resource.

That’s one of the central tenets driving Altered Carbon, Netflix’s new prestige series that’s looking to occupy a similar niche in the cultural ecosystem as Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Expanse, and American Gods. Like those shows, it’s a big, beautifully designed expensive genre effort that’s steeped in sex, violence and mature themes. Like Westworld and American Gods in particular, it’s also digging into some heavy themes and intriguing ideas that are sometimes overwhelmed by the ubiquitous blood ‘n’ boobs, and sometimes foregrounded in jarringly obvious ways when the show worries we’re not paying enough attention. When it’s more concerned with telling its story rather than justifying its existence, though, it’s hell on wheels.

In the far future (’bout five centuries hence) first imagined by author Richard Morgan in his 2002 novel of the same title, humanity has colonised the stars, and technology allows human consciousness to be recorded, downloaded, and transmitted. This makes immortality an attainable, if prohibitively expensive, goal. It also makes people less attached to their physical forms – called “sleeves” – since the human form can be upgraded, repaired and replaced. The very rich have become the very old. Called “methuselahs” or “meths”, their hugely expanded lifespans have allowed them to concentrate obscene hoards of wealth and power – and distanced them to a nigh-unimaginable degree from the hoi polloi toiling further down the societal ziggurat.

Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs

Our guide into this world is Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman for the most part, but also Will Yun Lee and Byron Mann in flashbacks – a man can wear many faces in this world), street rat turned elite soldier turned revolutionary turned criminal, decanted into a new body some 250 years after he was last killed at the behest of ludicrously rich Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) for an important job: solve Bancroft’s own murder.

Naturally, a man of Bancroft’s wealth and privilege survived his own shooting thanks to a wireless digital backup of his persona, but he has some hours missing and wants the mystery resolved. Our man Kovacs must negotiate both the rarified and decadent world of the methuselahs and the dirty and dangerous streets of Bay City (future San Francisco) in the course of his mission, crossing paths and swords will all manner of weird characters and situations along the way.

It’s a noir/hard boiled pastiche, of course, and Kinnaman makes for a pretty great Chandler-esque hero, doggedly pursuing the truth while wrestling with his own bloody past of violence and loss. Showrunner Laeta Kalogridis smartly expands the book’s first person point of view, adding new characters for Kovacs to interact with, such as Vernon Elliott (Ato Essandoh), a former soldier who Watsons along with Kovacs’ hard-punching Holmes, and expanding others, such as Poe (Chris Conner), an artificial intelligence who runs the hotel Kovacs uses as his headquarters and who presents in the form of writer Edgar Allen Poe.

Atoh Essandoh and Chris Conner as Victor and Poe

Also in the mix is cop Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), who has her own reasons for tagging along with Kovacs; criminal thug Dimitri (a nigh-unrecognisable Tahmo Penikett), who deploys sadistic violence in the service of unknown masters; Miriam (Kristin Lehman), Bancroft’s duplicitous and possibly guilty wife, and a whole host of corrupt cops, shifty lawyers, black market entrepreneurs, sex workers, and cannon fodder for our guy to interrogate, intimidate, and frequently obliterate.

Yes, there’s a lot of furious action in this one – one of the key elements that sets author Morgan apart from a lot of other heirs to the cyberpunk mantle is his unwavering appreciation of a savage smackdown. Altered Carbon has plenty of imaginatively-framed fight scenes and delights in exploring the possibilities inherent in a world where artificially enhanced fighters know that death is (probably) temporary. The ethical implications thereof get a good run-through, too; flesh is very much treated as a commodity in this world, with married gladiators murdering each other for the promise of an upgraded sleeve at one point, and at others, indentured prostitutes letting methuselah johns live out their sickest fantasies. Humans are resources to be exploited in the most horrible and debased ways, and while the immediate visceral effects might shock, its the inherent structural power imbalance the series depicts that continues to trouble after viewing, especially when you contemplate how well it mirrors our own lives, mired as we are in late stage capitalism.

Which is to say that Altered Carbon is at times a challenging work, but the violence and the sex is generally in service to the themes the show is exploring – even if it’s simultaneously indulging our more atavistic impulses at the same time. Indeed, the show works better when it’s grappling with its more philosophical themes through the action of the narrative; it’s actually when characters, such as revolutionary Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry), a figure from Kovacs’ past, are giving voice to their philosophical musings that it feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to justify its excesses by laying on a too-thick veneer of respectability.

These thematic concerns are pretty common to cyberpunk media, though, and Altered Carbon is definitely and defiantly a cyberpunk work, drenched in neon and smoke, steam and rain, the high tech and the low life codified by William Gibson back in the day and now arguably more popular than ever. It’s an absolutely gorgeous series and totally looks the business, helped in large part by Netflix’s willingness to throw shedloads of money at the project. The obvious visual template is, of course, Blade Runner, but let’s face facts – complaining that a cyberpunk series looks like Blade Runner is like grousing that there are too many people wearing hats in a Western. The show never feels small or set-constrained; this is a big universe we’ve been introduced to, and it feels like it.

Hopefully it’s one we’ll return to in the future. There are two further Takeshi Kovacs novels to be mined, but Kalogridis has also left space for further expansion, altering the source material in surprising and interesting ways that bode well for the future. It’s a dark, violent and exploitative future, of course, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E12: “Vaulting Ambition”

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Still trapped in a parallel universe, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is brought towards the Terran Empire’s Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). While Burnham plays a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the galaxy’s most powerful woman, back on the Discovery Saru (Doug Jones) fights to unravel the mystery of Lieutenant Tyler (Shazad Latif) while Stamets (Anthony Rapp) searches for a way back to reality.

A surprisingly good episode of Discovery is followed up by an even better one: “Vaulting Ambition” may be the shortest episode of Star Trek since 1974, but it packs a lot of plot developments and drama into its 35 minutes. By the time it ends, characters appear in different lights, events of previous episodes make a lot more sense, and there is now a very clear over-arching storyline to the season – and not necessarily the one you might think. This is almost certainly the most plot-critical episode of Discovery so far.

That also makes it a near-impossible episode to review without ruining it, and it absolutely is an episode worth watching before reading much else about it. Suffice to say it rewards the patience of those viewers that have stuck with the series this far, and it retro-actively repairs a solid proportion of the problems that dogged a lot of the early episodes.

It is wonderful to see Michelle Yeoh back, even if it is as the rather silly Emperor of the Mirror Universe’s Terran Empire. She is such a wonderful and likeable actress that she tends to lift whatever material or role she is given. It is particularly lovely to see her interact with Sonequa Martin-Green again; their interplay back in the series’ first two episodes promised a great relationship that was snatched away from viewers much too soon. It is also a great episode for Doug Jones as Saru: whenever the series backs off from emphasising Saru’s nature as a fearful empathic danger-senser the character sings.

While the episode is great, the series remains incredibly shaky and uneven. While some surprises here explain away a few of the more confusing creative choices of the past few months, they don’t explain away all of them. As we near the end of the first season, however, it is feeling less like the colossal misfire I feared it to be and more like the wobbly and uncertain first seasons that have affected many previous iterations of the franchise. Both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine got off to deeply rocky starts, and if Discovery can hit its second season running with its already-strong cast, a redefined sense of purpose, and most of the more tiring elements stripped back or removed, this could actually be the series its initial potential suggested.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E11: “The Wolf Inside”

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The USS Discovery is trapped in a mirror universe in which a violent Terran Empire subjugates all other civilizations. While Saru (Doug Jones) and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) attempt to cure Lt Stamets (Anthony Rapp) of his spore-afflicted state, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Tyler (Shazad Latif) masquerade onboard the mirror universe USS Shenzhou to gain the data needed to return home.

All due credit to writer Lisa Randolph: “The Wolf Inside” picks up an awful lot of tiresome and dramatically weak plot threads and weaves them into something that – for a week, at least – manages to be a genuinely entertaining hour of television. The core problems left from the previous episode do remain, but they feel somewhat mitigated. The mirror universe still feels a very worn-out Star Trek trope in which to place a story, but at least it leads to a solid moral dilemma: keep one’s cover by destroying an anti-Empire rebellion, or try to warn the rebels and risk losing any chance the Discovery getting back to its own reality. That feels authentically Trek in nature; to be honest, quite a lot of moments in this episode do.

Of course, Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) recommends staying undercover and murdering a bunch of aliens, thus re-confirming his status at Star Trek’s worst-ever captain. Isaacs is a fantastic actor, but he really does have to work hard to make Lorca even remotely believable given the way he is written. Much more convincing and enjoyable this week are Saru and Tilly. The latter gets another chance to show intelligence, ambition and drive – she works best when the writing moderates her gushy awkwardness – while Saru seems to act like a proper commanding officer in every scene he’s in. This really is the painful part of Discovery as an ongoing series: the characters are all great, but as a viewer one must roll the dice every week to find out what version of the character they’re going to get.

One long-teased plot development finally hits, likely to nobody’s surprise. It’s a little clumsily revealed and executed, but Randolph does pull it around in the end to a slightly unexpected and satisfying end point. There’s also an end-of-episode cliffhanger that again will likely surprise no one, but has a good chance of entertaining nearly everyone. It’s not the character return we likely wanted, but it’s a return many of us will be happy enough to take.

“The Wolf Inside” ends having ended one somewhat annoying plot thread, but there are still quite a few hanging out there. We’re still stuck in the mirror universe. Stamets is still in weird spore territory. Dr Culber is still in the same state that he was last week. What this episode commendably manages is to pass those problems along, and simply tell a dramatic and mostly enjoyable story around them. In the rollercoaster of quality that is Discovery, this is one of the fun bits of the ride.