TV Review: Star Wars Rebels – “An Inside Man”

An Inside Man
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Star Wars Rebels reviews here.
After being mostly absent for several episodes, Thrawn returned in full force to Star Wars Rebels, and his presence absolutely elevated “An Inside Man”. He was undoubtedly the standout this week, as ruthless, efficient, and incredibly intelligent as promised.
The Rebels returned to Lothal in “An Inside Man”, teaming up with the growing resistance on that planet (led by Ryder Azadi) to infiltrate an Imperial factory. A factory that Thrawn, one step ahead as usual, had come to investigate due to the presence of insurgents in the workforce sabotaging the vehicles and equipment.
It would have been easy to demonstrate Thrawn’s villainy by having him kill off nameless Rebels and subordinates. But “An Inside Man” took advantage of the return to Lothal to raise the stakes as well as the audience’s emotional investment by unleashing Thrawn’s wrath on a familiar character from Season 1: Ezra’s friend, Mr. Sumar.Ezra and Kanan And the way Thrawn killed Sumar, by forcing him to operate a speeder bike Sumar had sabotaged, was incredibly effective.
Ezra and Kanan only managed to escape Thrawn’s clutches thanks to an unexpected ally: Agent Kallus, the titular inside man, who was also revealed to be the new Fulcrum. Several fans had predicted this twist, which made the reveal gratifying, especially relatively early in the season. I also liked the Rebels’ general unease about trusting Kallus. Not to mention the hilarious scene where Ezra Force-pushed Kallus through a sheet of glass to “make it look convincing”. Being an animated series really gives Rebels the freedom to do great physical comedy.
Kallus’s betrayal did not go unnoticed. The ever-shrewd Thrawn immediately suspected a traitor in the Empire, and though he didn’t name Kallus specifically, he clearly had his eye on him. This not only puts Kallus in a very dangerous position down the line, but also spells trouble for the Rebels. There’s a reason Thrawn hasn’t acted on Kallus’s betrayal yet: he intends to use the inside man to his advantage.
Also worth mentioning is the action in “An Inside Man”. The episode kicked off with an awesome and exhilarating speeder chase scene, and ended with a great AT-AT battle too. That last battle was very clever, with bits like Ezra’s chicken walker hiding behind the legs of a larger AT-AT for cover, or the AT-AT “sitting” on Ezra and Kanan’s walker to crush them. Which of course backfired when the two Jedi use their lightsabers to escape into the AT-AT through its belly.
The Kallus reveal and an abundance of Thrawn made for a notably great Rebels episode. That being said, I can’t wait until Thrawn is done passively observing and starts putting his plans in motion. His effectiveness as a villain will truly be determined by how hard the hammer falls when that time comes.

Rating: (4/5)

TV Review: Legends of Tomorrow – “Invasion!”

Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Legends of Tomorrow reviews here.
Whew! The DC TV mega-crossover ended on Legends of Tomorrow, and what an achievement it was. Part 3 of “Invasion!” finally delivered on the heroes vs aliens action for a dazzling and hugely entertaining hour of television.
Much of the praise I had for the first part of “Invasion!” also applies here. The same excellent character dynamics were present, with even more interactions than before. Like Cisco and Felicity traveling back in time with Nate and Mick and even rescuing them. Prompting another one of Mick’s excellent one-liners: “Great. Saved by geeks.”
Speaking of funny lines and character interactions: Ray Palmer (played by Brandon Routh, who also played Superman in 2006’s Superman Returns) saying Supergirl “kinda looks like my cousin”? Perfection.
Much like “Invasion!” part 1, the action this week was a lot of fun to watch. It wasn’t as good as on Tuesday, since superheroes fighting each other is always more fun than them fighting generic CGI creatures. But it was still an entertaining and thrilling climax that handled its many moving parts very well.
Legends of TomorrowOne of the criticisms I had when the crossover started was rectified in “Invasion!” part 3, as the aliens’ motivation was finally fleshed out. And wouldn’t you know it, they hate Barry Allen because of “Flashpoint” too! More specifically, they targeted Earth because of the unpredictable and threatening nature of metahumans. Barry resetting the timeline was the danger sign that prompted the attack.
Although “Flashpoint” may have been less significant than I had hoped when it came to the consequences of time travel, since then the effects of Barry’s decision have continued to have major ramifications. So in that sense, I’m glad. And Barry offering to turn himself over to the Dominators to save his friends and planet was a good, tangible way for him to atone for his errors. It also led to the powerful moment of the heroes standing by his side and refusing to give him up.
Even Cisco, whose time travel adventure this week caused him to realize how fickle the timeline can be, finally forgave Barry. It was a bit of an easy out, but it prevented “grumpy Cisco” from getting stale.
“Invasion!” wasn’t perfect when it came to balancing the needs of the individual shows and the crossover. But such a balance is near-impossibly difficult, and I’m glad this crossover managed to work in storylines from each of its member series.
For example, the Legends episode not only featured time travel, but also continued the intriguing subplot of Martin’s new daughter. A time travel aberration he couldn’t bring himself to erase, even though he initially wanted to. It was a good arc for him, and I look forward to seeing where it leads.
The only weird thing that stood out to me was Oliver keeping Kara at arm’s length all of a sudden. It was a little out of character and definitely a strange turn of events that kept Kara away for many scenes. Was there a behind-the-scenes reason for it, or did the writers simply not want Kara to overshadow everyone with her powers?
Overall, I would call “Invasion!” an ambitious and rousing success. Managing a 4-show crossover is difficult enough, but to have it be so consistently good throughout, and so wonderfully entertaining and satisfying by the end, is a fantastic achievement. And ending it with Oliver and Barry, the initiators of this yearly crossover tradition, sitting alone together and sharing drinks was a perfect touch. Well done!

Rating: (4.5/5)

TV Review: Arrow – “Invasion!”

Arrow - "Invasion!"
Wow. What a phemomenal episode. Part 2 of the “Invasion!” crossover also happened to be Arrow‘s 100th episode, and the show celebrated this landmark with a superb and incredibly emotional tribute to Arrow‘s legacy. Better than anything it’s done in 2 years, “Invasion!” was one of Arrow‘s best episodes ever.
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Arrow reviews here.
The bulk of “Invasion!” took place inside a shared hallucination between Oliver, Thea, Diggle, Sara, and Ray, who were kidnapped by the Dominators. In this dream world, the Queen’s Gambit never sank. Oliver never became the Green Arrow (Diggle did instead). Both of Ollie’s parents were alive, as was Laurel—whom he was about to marry. It was a perfect life, until the illusion started breaking and the awakened heroes tried to escape it.
It’s remarkable how well-written “Invasion!” was. Every detail in the dream world was intricately crafted to resonate on a character, story, and emotional level.
Oliver’s perfect life saw him surrounded by loved ones he’s lost, all of them telling him how proud they are of the man he’s become. Diggle’s guilt over his brother’s death manifested itself in the dream world as him becoming the Green Arrow to atone for his sins. Thea, who in reality gave up being a vigilante, was living free of suffering in a world where she never was one. Sara, happily standing by the side of the sister who never died, her bisexuality out in the open. And Ray, who never lost a fiancée because in this world he was engaged to Felicity.
After nearly 5 seasons, seeing the heroes in these situations felt wonderfully cathartic. And as the hallucination began to unravel and the heroes began willfully abandoning their perfect world, the emotion was cranked up to maximum.
Easily the most powerful scene of the whole episode was Thea refusing to leave the dream world. Willa Holland has evolved into one of the show’s emotional cores, and “Invasion!” demonstrated that wonderfully. She made a compelling and very heartfelt argument, tearfully imploring Ollie to let her stay behind. Suggesting that maybe this was their reward for all of their suffering and sacrifices. Which led to one of Oliver’s best quotes of the series:
Oliver and Laurel“I didn’t make those sacrifices for a reward, Thea. I did what I did because I thought it was right. And seeing all of this shows me that there’s so much more to do.”
The emotional freight train hit me in a few other scenes as well, especially the ones that involved closure. Like Ollie hugging his parents, knowing it was the last time he would do so. Or Sara getting to say goodbye to her sister. Or Oliver finally telling Laurel “I love you”.
“Invasion!” was essentially Arrow‘s take on the classic Superman story, “For the Man Who Has Everything”. Supergirl tried to do its own version last year, much less successfully. The reason it worked so well here is that Arrow has 100 episodes under its belt and used this plot device to celebrate its rich history. From the sense of nostalgia we got from seeing Moira, Robert, and the Queen mansion again, to the aforementioned emotion and catharsis.
Aside from great writing and stellar acting, “Invasion!” was also very well-directed, thanks to James Bamford. And it wasn’t just the action; things like circling camera shots stood out, or long uninterrupted takes in dialogue scenes that helped them flow better.
But the action was excellent as well. When escaping the hallucination, Oliver and company met resistance in the form of past seasons’ villains. The battle of Oliver, Sara, Diggle, Thea, and Ray versus Deathstroke, Merlyn, and Damien Darhk may not have been as dazzling as the superhero action on The Flash, but it was no less enthralling.
And the fight was just as well-crafted as the rest of the episode. Thea battled her personal demon, Malcolm. Diggle fought against Darhk’s ghosts, of whom his brother was a member last year. Ray shot members of Deathstroke’s mirakuru army, who had killed his fiancée. Ollie ended the fight by putting an arrow through Deathstroke’s eye. And there was that awesome shot of Thea firing an arrow that Sara caught and used to kill Darhk—much like Darhk had caught Ollie’s arrow and used it to kill Laurel.
Arrow‘s legacy isn’t just about 100 episodes of one show, though. The fact that it spawned 3 successful spinoffs and started the wider DC TV universe is also something to be celebrated. Which is why it’s so fitting that its 100th episode was also part of a mega-crossover. And that the episode ended in space. There will always be tonal dissonance between the show Arrow was and what it became, but I think “Invasion!” handled it very well. Who in 2012 could have possibly guessed that the then-grounded Arrow would come this far?
The B-plot of “Invasion!” dealt with Felicity, Cisco, and the Team Arrow recruits trying to find and rescue Oliver and company—with the help of Flash and Supergirl. This was a much more rushed affair, with a brief villain (Cyberwoman) and a far-too-hurried mini-arc for Wild Dog. But I can very easily overlook that because this subplot was there to serve the excellent main story. Plus, who can say no to a team-up between Barry and Kara? Especially if it involves fun action like them literally tossing Cyberwoman back and forth.
I can see some people being disappointed that “Invasion!” was more about Arrow‘s 100th episode than the crossover, especially if they’re not regular Arrow viewers. But heroes punching aliens for 3 episodes in a row would have gotten tedious. And Arrow needed this episode, now more than ever. “Invasion!” made me feel more than any Arrowverse episode has in 2 years. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rating: (5/5)

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD – “Deals With Our Devils”

Deals With Our Devils
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Agents of SHIELD reviews here.
Agents of SHIELD finally returned from its four-week hiatus. And though the long break took the air out of last month’s cliffhanger, “Deals With Our Devils” quickly recovered and proved to be an excellent episode.
The bulk of “Deals With Our Devils” dealt with trying to save Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie from the in-between dimension where they were stuck, rendering them invisible to their friends, thanks to Eli Morrow’s betrayal at the end of “The Good Samaritan”. Within that framework, a lot of interesting developments took place.
Most of those developments involved the Darkhold, which May took to Dr. Radcliffe in an attempt to save her friends. When the book proved “beyond human minds”, the non-human Aida stepped in. With this clever solution, she finally revealed Radcliffe’s secret to everyone by outing herself as an android. Yet again I appreciate the brisk pace in which SHIELD moves the plot along.
Using the Darkhold (presenting its knowledge in binary, which I thought was a nice touch), Aida constructed a portal, identical to the visuals seen in Doctor Strange, and saved Coulson and Fitz. I like the subtle way SHIELD tied into Doctor Strange with this. It wasn’t explicit—it simply by touched on similar themes, allowing for some details to cross over. MackI especially liked the idea of SHIELD using science to achieve something Strange would do with magic (in this case, the Sling Ring).
These actions weren’t without repercussions, though. The ending stinger showed Aida frantically working on what looked like a brain, probably with knowledge obtained from the Darkhold. I really like this kind of sequential storytelling, where each solution leads to a new problem. This lets SHIELD keep the plot moving by delivering quick payoffs and resolutions, without running out of story to tell. What did the Darkhold show SHIELD‘s resident Life Model Decoy? And what will the consequences be?
Robbie being stuck in limbo led to another great development as well. The Spirit of Vengeance refused to be dragged down to (presumably) Hell, and abandoned Robbie’s body to possess Mack instead. Even though it was temporary, it was really cool to have Mack—already a badass character—as a new Ghost Rider, shotgun-axe in hand, hunting down criminals on his motorbike. Plus, this revealed that Mack has a darker, possibly tragic side, which will definitely be explored in the future. And it allowed Robbie to physically confront his inner demons in a very strong scene.
Robbie was able to persuade Ghost Rider to release Mack and possess him once more by offering a deal: “If you help me settle my last score, I’ll help you settle all of yours.” Which means taking down Eli won’t be Robbie’s last mission as Ghost Rider after all. Whether SHIELD will follow Robbie’s future or leave it open-ended (to be possibly picked up in a spinoff) remains to be seen. With all the talk of being dragged to Hell, I would love to explore those metaphysical realms further. But I guess something like a battle with Mephisto is beyond this show’s budget.
Elsewhere, we finally saw where Simmons was. It seems Senator Nadeer’s request of Director Mace was to have Simmons study the mysterious cocooned Inhuman that was shown in her apartment a few weeks ago. She got him to break out of the Terrigen shell but was whisked away before we could find out who he was. Even though this subplot was pretty detached from the main story, I’m sure it’ll come back in a big way down the line.
I have only one very minor complaint about the episode, and it relates to structure. “Deals With Our Devils” opened with Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie presumed dead, but when they were revealed to be alive, the episode replayed the events of the first block from their perspective. And I loved that, because I thought it was a clever narrative device—the first time. But when the episode continued using this trick in a few subsequent scenes, it just became redundant.
That small quibble aside, I thought “Deals With Our Devils” was a remarkably strong episode, perhaps even the best of the season. Which is saying a lot, because SHIELD has been firing on all cylinders this year.

Rating: (4.5/5)

TV Review: The Flash – “Invasion!”

The Flash - "Invasion!"
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find my all of my reviews of The Flash here.
Let the crossover begin! “Invasion!” is here, and it was one heck of a fun episode!
The best thing about bringing together all the major players from 4 different shows is the potential for great character interactions. This is especially true for the Arrowverse, which is populated by a huge number of excellent and lovable heroes.
True to that promise, the character interactions in “Invasion!” were probably the episode’s strongest element. Kara’s arrival alone was a treasure trove of excellent moments as she met most of the Earth-1 characters for the first time, from the no-nonsense Oliver to the villainous Heatwave. The latter continued to be a wonderful comedic asset, especially as a counterpoint to the rest of the team.
Even aside from Kara, there were plenty of funny character moments, like Oliver’s exasperation with Barry’s fantastical antics or the ongoing joke of Diggle being stupefied by the escalating craziness around him. “You know why I’ve never done drugs? It’s because I was always afraid I’d see weird stuff!”
The character moments weren’t all lighthearted though. Cisco still hasn’t forgiven Barry for the death of his brother. And the Legends’ arrival with the message from future Barry brought the Flashpoint revelations to the forefront. In fact, it surprised me how heavily “Invasion!” dealt with the fallout from “Flashpoint”. But I was glad to see it. Barry needs to feel the gravity of his actions, even though he started to atone for them last week—and even if this makes Cisco a grumpier, less enjoyable character for a while. My initial disappointment at how inconsequential “Flashpoint” seemed to be is being rectified episode by episode.
The DC TV TrinityPlus, the “Flashpoint” drama led to my favourite scene in the episode, as Oliver firmly stood by Barry’s side even as everybody else refused to. Those two characters, the founders of the Arrowverse, have developed an excellent relationship over the years.
The second best thing about a 4-show superhero crossover? Action! And my God, did “Invasion!” deliver. No crossover is complete without superheroes fighting each other, and “Invasion!” used the old mind control trope to accomplish it. The result was the most eye-popping, spectacular superhero action I’ve ever seen on TV. From Oliver’s more grounded but excellently choreographed fights with Sara and Diggle, to Barry’s dazzling battle against Supergirl, Firestorm, Atom, and the others, “Invasion!” delivered the superhero extravaganza that was promised and then some.
The episode wasn’t perfect, though. I doubt any single hour of TV that juggles as many moving parts as “Invasion!” did could ever be perfect. So “Invasion!” was naturally very fast paced, to the point of feeling a bit frantic and disorienting. But at the same time parts of it were bogged down thanks to the “Flashpoint” drama.
And yet it’s hard for me to hold that against it, because what the episode accomplished was pretty remarkable. Even with so many characters and such a large-scale plot involved, “Invasion!” still found time to work in story threads from the separate shows involved. This includes continuing to deal with Wally’s newfound powers, and giving the answer to a question raised on Legends of Tomorrow, as Martin Stein discovered he now had a daughter.
Another equally expected weakness of “Invasion!” was in the villains, who were woefully underdeveloped. In fact, I don’t expect the Dominators to be explored much further as the crossover continues. They’re just plot devices to bring the superheroes together and put them in whatever situation makes for good television. Which is fine and par for the course in these kinds of stories, but it’s a notable weakness all the same. I did love the characters’ reactions to them, though, like Barry screaming “ALIENS?!” when he first saw them.
So far, “Invasion!” is everything I hoped for in this crossover, down to the expected flaws. A huge cast of wonderful characters interacting, superb hero vs. hero action, and a few Easter eggs thrown into the mix (the Hall of Justice!) made the first part of the crossover worth all the hype.

Rating: (4.5/5)