American Gothic e07: Strong Arm of the Law

Guest Star

When I read the mini-blurb on the DVD for this episode, I was mentally prepared for a substandard episode, a one-off with no relevance to the overall arc of American Gothic, a bit of a filler in fact. In one sense, that was an accurate impression, if you consider the story purely in respect of its plot. But it was a thoroughly well-made filler, it put Gary Cole in a position whereby Lucas Buck could be seen as an anti-hero, and it made space for a couple of scenes that subtly amplified the momentum of the series.

On the other hand, it did begin with what’s quickly becoming the show’s own cliche: Caleb and Boone, sneaking about at night, where they shouldn’t be, and coming across something horrific. This time, it’s a man being drowned in his own bath-tub, by a gang of four men in pig masks.

That’s the episode’s most serious weakness. The plot’s about four strangers in town, Northerners, from Flint in Michigan, here to run a protection racket among the stupid Southerners of South Carolina. A straightforward issue: the men are lawbreakers, a disruptive influence in an orderly small town. Why they should have killed off Will Hawkins is never explained. It’s a dramatic introduction, and as Will Hawkins voted for Lucas Buck’s opponent as Sheriff, it gives us a way into the wider picture, which is that Trinity as a whole immediately assumes these strongarm boys are working for Good Ol’ Sheriff Buck, but this is before we or Buck encounter them and no reason is given why they drown this man, or what purpose it serves them.

What we do get is a degree of unrest among the townfolk, and a substantial level of concern from sad sack and generally put upon Deputy Ben Healy, who can’t rightly rid himself of his conscience but who is too much of a weakling to be anything more than ineffectual. He even gets beat up on the street by these four charmers – one heavyweight drunkard, one rapist, the smooth, calculating leader and his shaky, unstable younger brother (played memorably by Richard Edson, whose face will be immediately recognisable even as his name isn’t).

Buck is playing this with his usual coolness. That everyone accepts the Northerners as just another one of the Sheriff’s tentacles is telling, and indeed Buck’s first step is to sound the quartet out on coming under his direction, though whether this is a real offer or just a means to get a close-up look and size them up is never defined.

Certainly Caleb thinks the Sheriff is conspiring with the bad guys, which he reports to Gail for her story. And he’s curious enough to sneak into their room, where he discovers a metal suitcase under the bed, filled with money, jewellery and at least one gun, which he takes.

This results in an invasion of his bedroom, at night, by three of the gang in their pig masks, to get it back. They’ve filled Caleb with fear, enough for him to openly call for Merly. When she doesn’t appear, he summons up his courage and, filled with some supernatural power, directs an animal roar at them that frightens them away. Caleb smiles in relief and thanks Merly, but the clear implication is that what Caleb has done has not come from the White side of the Magic line…

But let’s get back to the plot. I said three of the gang: Lucas has already picked off one of the gang, the drunk, intercepting him in the early morning, being dropped off after a night with one of the local tramps. A little more booze, conning the man into thinking he’s confessed to murder but been so drunk he can’t remember doing so, a little more booze and he falls asleep.

And wakes in a confined space at Will Hawkins’ funeral. Inside the coffin.

Lightweight member two is disposed of more briefly. He’s fixing to rape Gail, who’s already punched him in the balls, but Buck applies the traditional swing of the shovel to the back of the head, and lugs the unconscious body away, never to be seen (or spoken of) again.

This provokes Lowell into marching into the Sheriff’s office and attempting to ‘bail’ Earl and Just Eddie out, nudge nudge, wink wink. Buck provokes an assault, which gets Lowell into the cells, where somehow his belt gets wound tightly around his neck. Fortunately for all concerned, he’s saved at the last moment by the good Sheriff, and rushed to hospital where he recovers. As soon as Buck pushes himself into the operating theatre.

Now there are two, Lowell and Barrett. The Sheriff offers the pair a last chance: they can hand over everything they’ve stolen to him, and go to work under his aegis – as tyre salesmen – or they can go back north. Predictable to the end, the brothers run. South.  There’s a roadblock waiting, Sheriff and Deputy. Lowell attempts to drive round it, flips the car. He’s stuck in it, Barrett’s trying to crawl away. Buck offers them one final chance. He cuffs them together around one of the car stanchions and flips them a knife. No, it’s not an original scene, it wasn’t when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons used it in Watchmen ten years earlier, but it’s still effective. The knife won’t cut through the handcuffs but it might through a wrist, if they’re motivated enough.

Then he sticks a flare in the petrol tank.

This is all disturbing to DeputyBen, our conspicuous conscience. But he has the pain in his ribs to compete with the pain in his decency. The show suggests the latter is not the worst.

So: a filler, yes, but one that impacts on the overall picture, filling in a lot of unobtrusive background. One other thing does bother me, however, and that’s the boarding house where Caleb and Doctor Matt live. In episode 3, Caleb’s placed in the temporary care of Loris Holt, who runs the boarding house, which is supposed to be filled with African supernatural exotica. Actress Tina Lifford hasn’t been seen since, the statuary has disappeared, and the house currently seems to be being run by a blonde MILF.

Checking imdb reveals that Ms Lifford does appear in other episodes, one of which, according to their episode guide, I should already have watched, in fact last week, as episode 6. It appears very much later on the DVD. I’m assuming that the DVD arranges the episodes in the intended order, that reflects the overall arc, just as my Homicide:Life on the Street DVDs reflect the intended order, not the sometimes asinine placing of episodes by NBC.

Well, although it’s quite obvious that American Gothic is a superb series, it lasted only one episode. With CBS scheduling episodes out of order, and confusing the audience over what’s supposed to be happening when in a season-long arc, we have here one of the reasons why it ended up cancelled…


Deep Space Nine s05 e25: In the Cards

Any time these two are the stars…

So here we are, on the eve of War. Everyone’s tense, grim and gloomy. People and shops are leaving DS9 for healthier climates. Captain Sisko’s dinner party for the senior staff (except Jardzia Dax, missing for a second week) has fallen flatter than a flat thing that has been flattened by being run over by a steamroller. And Kai Winn is dropping in for a meeting tomorrow morning.

When the Kai arrives, it is with troubling news. She is here to meet with a representative of the Dominion, the egregious Weyoun. The meeting is at the Dominion’s request: they wish to conclude a non-aggression pact. Sisko is concerned, as is the Kai. For the first time, they are completely in accord, they are prepared to work together towards the common goal of Bajor’s preservation.

Portentous stuff. And guess what? That’s the  B story. And it’s deliberately so.

The A story is basically a joke, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Sisko, like everybody else, is down, and Jake wants to cheer him up. The ideal opportunity arises: an auction that includes a framed 1951 Willie Mays rookie baseball card (that even I know is a bit legendary). Jake wants to win it for his Dad, make him happy so, with Nog in reluctant tow, the pair set about trying to ge it. Much havoc and hilarity ensues.

At least, that’s the theory. The inversion of the usual Serious A/lightweight B formula was deliberate, and arose in part from the plan to do a ‘bottle’ episode, cheap’n’cheerful, as a contrast to the major events to come in the season finale next week. And generally it was well-received, though to be honest it bored me, and I felt it to be too contrived.

Some of this is, and I have called myself out on this many times, that I CANNOT watch Deep Space Nine without thinking of the way that TV serial fiction is conducted in the Twenty-First Century. I can’t see it in its own terms, precisely because Deep Space Nine, especially at this time, with the Dominion War brooding, was so perfect for the current day treatment.Some of this is that I started this rewatch because I’d seen some of the series back in the day, and loved it, but never saw beginning or end, and this is the last but one of those episodes from then, and next week’s is the last one I remember, and I don’t find this A story funny or even plausible. It disappoints me by being given prominence over the prelude to War, over the revelation of other facets to Kai Winn, over Sisko’s last advice to try to keep the situation fluid, avoid choices where every choice is fateful and tainted. Instead, we have to watch an obsessive quest for a baseball card that gets inflated into an all-round feel-good story that we’re supposed to accept as A Jolly Good Thing All Round (except for Leeta).

So, basically, Jake and Nog get massively outbid for the lot by the mysterious and paranoid Dr Giger who, it turns out, is working on a cure for mortality that is deliberately ridiculous, who’ll trade the card in return for several McGuffins in the form of unusual materials, for which our young pair have to barter with half the station staff, except that he’s commandeered the quarters below Weyoun and the Jem’Hadar, who suspect assassination and kidnap everybody, including Jake and Nog, only refuses to believe their ‘innocent-victims-of-implausible-circumstance’ story, so Jake spins a yarn about Spacefleet Intelligence and Time Travel, which convinces Weyoun their first story was true, so everybody’s happy, Sisko gets his card, the staff all cheer up thanks to what J & N have done for them, and Weyoun is interested in Giger’s stupid machine.

The B story is left without an ending. But it’s the season finale next week, and we all know what’s coming then, don’t we?

I understand the reasoning, I respect the intention, and if the A story hadn’t been so intentionally stupid, I might have enjoyed the result. But once again i have to go against the grain and say that this was not, in my book, a good episode.


American Gothic e06: Meet the Beetles

A popular woman…

Behind its deliberately flat, punning title, and its cheerful descent into the gross-out aspect of horror, this episode of American Gothic nevertheless displayed enough subtlety to keep us from taking its path too much for granted. There isn’t necessarily going to be a complete reset at the end of any given story: the characters are too well-rounded to be entirely predictable.

This week’s story focused around the person of Selena Coombs, schoolteacher and southern bad girl. With her slow-moving ways, her dry, breathy tones and that accent, you would be looking at Brenda Bakke a long time before you started thinking of vanilla sex. Certainly that doesn’t appear to have been in the mind of Heck Waller, who has gone missing before things start, or Coach Bender, who has provided Selena with a private key to the school pool so she can don a backless black swimsuit and slowly do the breast stroke at night.

Both Heck and Coach are middle-aged, married men, bored with wives who aren’t as young as Selena, both under the delusion that they can get off with her, even though her contempt for them is as pretty naked as it gets. Maybe they’ll get lucky if she feels bored enough to play vicious games,  and they’ll put it down to their irresistability. But in reality, it gets them dead.

Heck turns up as a skeleton, under the old Temple place (now the new Buck place, Lucas having foreclosed on his loan and planning to set up a mansion), found by accident by Caleb and Boone. A skeleton, stripped to the bone. Even though Coronoer Webb only played gold with him last Friday. Thanks to my reading of Alfred Bester, I was aware of carpet beetles, and how they’re used to clean the flesh off corpses donated to medical school, and my mind went leaping, accurately, ahead.

Heck’s transformation brings State Police Lieutenant Drey to Trinity, a smooth guest performance from Bruce Campbell, openly suspicious of Sheriff Buck (Selena’s his girlfriend, two guys sniffing round her go missing, wind-up dead, equals four in Drey’s book). Because the same thing happens to Coach after he tries a little late-night swimming practice with our lady schoolteacher and has to be choked off by the ubiquitous Sheriff.

All’s not entirely well between Buck and Selena either. She’s in Drey’s protective custody, and in his faux-honest manner, Buck’s dropping hints that she might be everything Drey clearly hopes she is. And Gail’s investigating in the hope of finding the Sheriff’s finger in some kind of pie. She even visits the Trinity Museum of Natural history, where the not-in-the-least-creepy Mrs Constantine shows the the Bug Chamber, the colloquial name for the Flensing Room, you know, where the local collected beetles strip the flesh from bodies…

And there’s all these creepy shots of beetles, everywhere, which might not gross everybody out but was doing it for me.

But what of the show’s main topic? Caleb is disturbed by discovering Heck’s skeleton, but he’s even more disturbed by discovering a lop-sided gravestone in a corner of the graveyard, with his name on it. Dreams about digging it up plague him, dreams of his own leech-covered face, but when he does dig it up, who should appear but Sheriff Lucas Buck, and what should the coffin contain but cash? $30,000 worth in fact, for Caleb, a down payment for someone with the strength of mind to seize an opportunity, not to live in a boardinghouse forever.

Caleb’s tempted, and Merly’s disappointed. Her ghost fades out. Caleb comes to a decision.

Gail, snooping round Selena’s home in her absence, until disturbed by Drey, discovers hordes of flowers and heartfelt cards from Ossie. Drey goes to the museum. My sphincter muscles tighten. Gail goes to the museum. MrsConstantine sends her to the Flensing Room, where there’s the distinct sound of beetles munching. Inside the chamber, they’re munching on Drey, who’s chained inside. Still alive, mind you.

But Gail isn’t allowed to get him out. The lid is closed again by the Director of the Flensing Room. Whose name is Ossie. No, it wasn’t Lucas Buck, who arrives to save the day.

So all’s well that ends well, by implication at least in the case of Lieutenant Drey. Buck’s still trying to push his way with Gail, talking about the illusion of free will: whether she stays in Trinity or returns to Charleston, she’ll think it’s her decision. But it won’t be.

And then a reasonably pretty middle-aged woman enters, Heck’s widow. She hugs Buck, is so grateful, though he doesn’t know why. It’s the money, see. The Sheriff has given her and Coach Bender’s widow a substantial sum of money each, to tide them over is such times. $15,000 each. Isn’t that generous?

I’d barely finished laughing at that before the show demonstrated its superiority with its double ending. First, Selena in the pool again, Lucas come to talk. The charade is over, she’s had her sport, played up to Drey, who never quite suspected her enough of being the killer. Selena pouts that just because she is free, sometimes, with Lucas, don’t mean she’s easy. Still, it’s over, and he leans towards her… and she turns and swims away.

And Caleb, kneeling by his bed, saying his prayers. He’s been good, he’s resisted temptation (again), he’s sorry for lashing out at Merly. He expects her back, expects her forgiveness, her presence. All he gets is darkness, and his own tears.

Let’s leave it at that,eh?


Deep Space Nine s05 e24: Empok Nor

Station in distress

Though I don’t remember anything at all of these few episodes I originally watched almost twenty years ago, this episode epitomises why I was so enthusiastic about Deep Space Nine when I had been basically ambivalent about what came before it. It’s an excellent drama, taut, tense, character-driven, and containing that indefinable sense of danger, as it at any moment it’s going to take a step that it can’t go back from. And though it’s ending does, as usual, reassert the status quo, it’s done in a manner that satisfies, and which arises directly from the nature of the protagonists.

In that respect, the episode was subliminally aided by its immediate predecessor, in which recurring character Michael Eddington was killed off, informing us that other recurring characters might not be entirely sacrosanct.

‘Empok Nor’ was essentially a Chief O’Brien solo, especially as no other member of the cast appeared outside the open or the close. Part of DS9 is breaking down and can neither be repaired nor replaced except by salvaging the equivalent equipment from its abandoned sister station, Empok Nor. O’Brien leads a team of two engineers, two security officers and Nog, fast becoming a very useful cadet. However, as Cardassian practice is to booby-trap abandoned stations, O’Brien also takes Garak, as a specialist booby-trap defuser.

There’s an interesting bit of foreshadowing needle on the way. Garak keeps prodding O’Brien over his war record, the hero of Settlik III, despite the ample evidence that O’Brien takes no pride in what he did, that he regards it as an act of war, necessary but not to be celebrated, and that it is part of his past: he is an Engineer, not a soldier. Garak at this point is just trying to get under O’Brien’s skin, and O’Brien is not letting him, truly.

Things change once the party arrives at Empok Nor. Garak defuses the booby-traps, allowing everyone to get on with the salvage, but there’s an unexpected line of defence: two fanatical Cardassian soldiers, released from stasis. They detach and blow up the runabout, leaving the Federation party stranded, and begin stalking them.

What’s worse is that they are under the influence of a psychotropic drug enhancing their xenophobia. Before we learn this, we see Garak accidentally put his hand on some seemingly innocuous blue slime that appears too merely be evidence of Empok Nor’s decaying state (the station, a duplicate of DS9, or Terek Nor as it was, hangs symbolically at an angle in space).

The Cardassian soldiers kill two of the crew. Garak goes off to hunt them, killing each in turn. He’s getting increasingly into it, in fact he’s contaminated by the drug, as is evidenced when he kills the last remaining security officer himself. And it takes all his restraint to keep himself from killing Nog, who he needs to lure O’Brien into a trap.

Because that’s what Garak wants. An opponent he regards as worthy of him, an opponent he wants to see as as much a killer as himself, and to break O’Brien down to his level. In order to protect the last remaining crew member under his charge, O’Brien has to enter into personal combat with Garak, combat he’s going to lose.

But, and I’m not criticizing the episode for this because it was the only possible and character-faithful outcome, O’Brien beats Garak by being what he is: an Engineer. An impromptu trap, an impromptu bomb. It was the perfect response to the set-up, and the perfect ending to an episode that, rather than be an old-style ‘Let’s all dump on Miles’, instead showed the Chief in all his settled qualities.

Garak survives, the drug neutralised, a couple of ribs broken, severely chastened. O’Brien will testify, at the autopsy, that Garak was not in control of himself. The final line, delivered with a lack of emotional energy that was ideally suited to the downbeat close, had Garak musing that had he been any closer to the explosion, it would have killed him, and O’Brien’s almost shy rejoinder that that was actually the intention.

A sober note on which to close another very strong episode. Only two more left in a very good series, and them I’m back in unknown territory again.  Seasons 6 and 7 are already ready, locked and loaded. Another year of this…

American Gothic e05: Dead to the World

There are a number of reasons why American Gothic was cancelled after only one season, and I’ll be getting to those further down the line. But I wonder if, underlying them, there wasn’t a certain degree of queasiness at the depths into which the show could sink. There’s a lousiness to Sheriff Lucas Buck, a festering sickness to his machinations. Gary Cole was doing an incredibly good job in letting both aspects of Buck – the external, hail-fellow-well-met, town benefactor and the evil bastard – show simultaneously.

American Gothic is about corruption. It’s about trying to corrupt the decency of a ten year old boy, to turn him as evil, ruthless and conscienceless as his biological father, a man who acts not only out of the desire to do everything he wants to do, but who appears to wish to taint everything and everyone around him, just for the unholy pleasure of him.

I take it back, that’s a phenomenal performance by Cole, and to achieve it it requires some bloody good writing, and a willingness to put sick and twisted situations into play, in a subterranean manner, by implication rather than direct showing.

‘Dead to the World’ was a multi-strand episode, spinning three stories across each other effortlessly. It began with a flashback, ten years, to Deputy Buck picking up his girlfriend, Nurse Holly Gallagher, for the hospital, late at night. Holly G has stolen a file for Lucas, on a new baby, Caleb Temple. Unfortunately for her, she realises just why Buck has been so interested in this baby that has nothing to do with him. She also gets mad at how she’s been manipulated and promises to expose Buck, tell all of Trinity about him. So he drives her car off the bridge, into the river.

That’s confident story-telling for you. There’s no mystery here, the episode makes plain what it’s about. Except in one respect.

We move to Caleb next. He and his best friend Boone are practicing archery for the contest at the fair. Both are using pretty basic equipment, both are good but Boone’s better. Which is where Sheriff Buck steps in. Caleb doesn’t want anything to do with him, he’s naturally suspicious of the man, finds him creepy and a little bit oily in his constant attempts to insinuate himself into Caleb’s life (it’s one realistic flaw in Buck that he, like many people, doesn’t quite know how to talk to children: he comes over as ever so slightly patronising).

Buck’s determined that Caleb will win. He taunts him into killing a crow, which Caleb instantly regrets, he replaces Caleb’s bow with a lightweight, deluxe model, he sets out to drive a wedge between him and Boone. In the end it fails: Caleb wants to win, as does Boone, but the latter innocently as good, and if young Chris Fennell isn’t as good as Lucas Black, he’s still good enough to sell that as natural.

So Caleb, in mid-contest, hands back Lucas’s gear. He can still win it with a bull’s eye off his last shot, but falls short. Boone wins, Buck’s frustrated, the boys are still mates.

The third element of this episode centres upon Deputy Ben Healy. He’s out visiting a family. The implication of domestic violence is laid out immediately, though she’s too scared to confirm it. Or maybe there’s another reason. It’s allowed to slip out in passing but this isn’t any ordinary family: cabinet-maker Waylon Flood is second husband to Barbara Joy, and stepfather to Benji. Ben is Benji’s father.

Waylon’s one of these upfront bastards, a junior league Lucas Buck without the breadth of evil. He’s a nasty, stinking, small-minded little brute, throws his fists around, petty tyrant and always super-confident that he is right and ain’t no-one gonna mess with him. Ben’s not out for a fight but he still gets kicked in the balls, smacked in the face and punched in the stomach.

Ben’s determined to handle this himself, especially after Dr Matt warns him of the psychological damage this could all do to Benji, growing up with this as his role model. Ben rejects Buck’s offer to help and confronts Waylon again in his workshop, openly accusing him of cowardice, prepared to fight. But Waylon backs down. Ben isn’t aware but Buck has pulled up outside. Waylon starts to sweat, promises there won’t be no further trouble. Damn right there won’t. Believing he’s made his point, Ben leaves. Waylon’s still trembling. Buck returns, looks at Waylon. He backs off, stumbles, brings down a heap of stacked wood, knocks him off balance. His arm falls onto the bandsaw…

The speed with which it’s done is another American Gothic trademark. The show’s masterful at the slow creation of tension and the abrupt crash that jerks the viewer out of their seat.

But the main strand tonight is all about Gail, and all about Holly G. Miss Emory is still investigating Caleb’s birth and his Mama’s suicide and visits the Gallagher home to speak to her old schoolfriend, the attending nurse. Only then does she learn that Holly is dead, from ten years past, from mum Janice, a fluttery sort of woman, a beautician, selling makeovers, make yourself perfect.

The Sheriff confirms the details of the tragedy. Despite copious efforts with divers, the body was never found. Gail promptly heads for the bridge, hires two guys to help her. The diver finds the car immediately, only fifteen feet down, and T.J. (a fine bit of continuity from last week) winches it up. There’s no body inside. And the driver’s seat is set too far back for Holly to have  reached the pedals…

Janice is taking Gail’s attempts to find out just what happened as an attack on her. And for good reason. By a slightly dodgy contrivance, Gail discovers Janice is paying for a Sanatorium: Holly G is alive. And well, in body, but not in mind. She doesn’t recognise Gail is concerned only about if her boyfriend is there. Her boyfriend is: Lucas Buck appears out of nowhere yet again. Four minutes without oxygen has led to brain damage. Holly G lives, but all her abilities, all the potential her mother worshipped in her, is dead, and Janice can’t bear to see what’s not perfection.

And then we’re given a perfect example of just how effective Lucas Buck can be. Confronted with Gail’s accusations, and especially that he was driving, he conducts his own version of Show Not Tell. He drives Gail’s car to the bridge, to demonstrate. We immediately fear he’s going to try to disappear her too, but no, Buck’s more subtle than that. He knows the road so well he could drive it blind, and closes his eyes. He starts to go faster, telling Gail about how he broke up with Holly G that night, how she couldn’t take it, how she grabbed at the wheel and he lost control.

Just like a panicky Gail is grabbing at the wheel. On the bridge, the car slews. But this time Buck brakes before going through the fence. Leaving Gail with a perfect cover story she cannot counter. Not to mention a forceful kiss from the Sheriff.

Janice’s refusal to accept her damaged daughter is a final nasty touch in an episode of nasty touches. Gail tries to break through Janice’s shell, remind her that her daughter is alive, and would rather be home, but Janice’s fear surrounds her, she backs away.

Which makes the little scene that almost closes out the episode all the more effective in stinging the audience’s heart. Janice has brought Holly G home to her own room. Holly’s in her nurse’s uniform, Janice is reading to her from a text book, three vital signs. She names two, asks Holly G to give her the third. Smiling happily, Holly says, “Lucas Buck.” After a moment of immobility, Janice beamingly replies, “That’s right, blood pressure.” And she folds her arms round her dughter, telling her that she’s perfect.

And it is perfect. It’s a small moment, there in the dark, a miniature suggestion that it might be possible to get people to be brave, to now allow themselves to fall into the shallow courses Lucas Buck has dug for them. No more than that, not spelled out, for us to read for ourselves.

In contrast to the final scene, Buck in a hot tub, Selena teasing him with hot candlewax. Buck genuinely can’t understand why Caleb rejected the chance to be a winner. Stupid game. It’s not over, it’s along way from over.

Uncollected Thoughts: Crisis on Earth-X

The TV promo

Where there are four DC Universe TV shows appearing on the same network, you’re going to get crossovers, especially as three of those shows are practically incestuous to begin with, having spun-off each other.

Last year, the crossover was spread over four consecutive nights, with each of the shows retaining their own identity and concerns for the most part against the background of invasion by distinctly unconvincing CGI aliens. It was fun, but most of that came in the last part, when everybody got together for a mass superhero brawl.

This year, it went a whole lot better. Firstly, the four-parter was stripped over only two nights, in blocks of two hours (for which Arrow shot forward three days),which maintained the momentum far more successfully, and secondly it went out under its own title, Crisis on Earth-X, and played as a distinct, four part mini-series, which worked fantastically.

The title alone had a nostalgic ring for veterans like me. Ever since the first JLA/JSA team-up back in 1963, Crisis has been the DC got-to title for big events. And Crisis on Earth-X is personally significant to me because that was the title of Justice League of America 107, all those years ago, my gateway back into reading comics.

The mini-series borrowed the same principle but built its story upon a colossal twist. This further forward in time, their Hitler has died (in 1994) and a new Fuhrer is in charge, supported by a female General. The Fuhrer is an expert archer with a mainly green leather costume, the General is a superstrong, flying, blonde-tressed Aryan type: yes, it’s the Earth-X Oliver Queen and Kara Danvers Queen – his wife!

And supporting this unlovely pair of versions, we have the Reverse-Flash, still wearing Harrison Wells’ face and, if we don’t have enough allusions to early series, another expert Archer called Prometheus, under whose mask is… Colin Donnell, aka Tommy Merlin.

The main thrust of the story is that Super-X-girl is dying due to some form of radiation poisoning and needs a new heart – that of Kara Danvers. As she’s going to be on Earth-1, attending Barry and Iris’s wedding, our villains bust in on the ceremony (does anyone have any objections? Pouf: Minister is vapourised).

The wisdom of trying this on just when the Church is crammed packed with the superheroes of four whole series may be questionable but not to Green-X-Arrow: in fact, the show is heavy with speeches, from him, from Super-X-girl and even from poor Tommy (before he chucks a cyanide capsule down his throat after being captured) wholeheartedly espousing Fascist ideology, and despising the heroes and, by extension, all the other 52 worlds of the Multiverse, as weak, deserving only of serving their betters.

It’s horribly contemporary, though nobody makes that connection outside the audience, and the F-word is never used, though Nazi is bandied around with comfortable ease. But this strength through purity, contempt for the weak, the poor, the non-Aryans: tell me that doesn’t ring a bell with a lot of what we see around us.

The Comics promo

I particularly liked the way that each show abandoned its individual identity in favour of the four episodes going out as Crisis on Earth-X. This was particularly welcome in the case of Supergirl, which I’ve given up watching.

Generally, there was a common core cast of the principals and a couple of essential supporting characters, with the other supporting players having only relatively limited roles, in passing. For instance, Kara brought her sister Alex with her to the big wedding (whereupon Alex copped off with Sarah Lance at the rehearsal), and Oliver Queen brought Felicity.

The Flash got the best of it, but then the story was mainly taking place in Central City and was built around Barry and Iris’s wedding, so having the full cast play through was pretty much a given. And whilst only Sarah, Mick, Jax and Professor Stein went to the wedding, the positioning of Legends of Tomorrow as the close-out show again ensured the rest of the Legends got a good look-in too.

There were more than a couple of surprises along the way. Russell Tovey turned up for the back half as a Concentration Camp victim on Earth-X, imprisoned for being gay but, as advertised, he’s also a superhero, the solar-powered The Ray. Though the Ray is actually from Earth-1, once the whole thing was done, he went back to Earth-X to continue the good fight, but his lover (from Earth-X) decided to stay on Earth-1 for a bit. His lover was captain Cold, the Earth-X version, Wentworth Miller enjoying subtly camping things up as ‘Leo’ Snart, his interactions with Dominic Purcell a total delight.

And despite the vapourised Minster, Barry and Iris did get married at the end. They’d had the ceremony, all they needed was the Licenced Minister, so Barry speed-snatched John Diggle out of Star City.

Not to be outdone, having rather loudly turned down his proposal in part 1, because she did not want to get married, Felicity had a sudden change of heart, and got Dig to tie her and Ollie’s knot too. Aww!

But there was one thing I didn’t expect, not in itself but especially not in a more or less self-contained mini-series with only a minor degree of relevance to each show’s ongoing plotlines. I rigorously avoid spoilers, so I have had no idea where the Legends plot of Professor Stein and Jax trying to separate themselves as Firestorm, to enable the former to return to his wife, daughter and grandson, was going to lead. Was Victor Garber leaving? He is the first name in the credits, after all.

So the cliffhanger for part 3 was that he and Jax had separated to speed up what needed to be done to get everyone home to Earth-1, but they were all being attacked by machine-gunning Nazis, and Stein made a run for the lever he needed to pull, and was shot. In the back.

In the final episode, he made the final effort and pulled the lever, but at the cost of another bullet. So he was rushed back to the medbay on the Waverider, and his physical suffering fed back to Jax, but it rapidly became very clear, that Martin Stein should be dead from his wounds, that he would be if he wasn’t sustaining himself on Jax’s life-force, and that Jax would die alongside him. So Stein refused to drag Jax in with him. And he died.

It was a shock and it was felt by everyone. Next week’s Legends is the Fall Finale and I’m eager to see where they go with this now: I mean, Stein could ‘survive’ as a ghostly voice in Jax’s ear, as Firestorm, or maybe Franz Drameh is out of the series two, and depending on the reaction to Russell Tovey, I’m guessing on the Ray joining the Legends before the season is over.

But this was really a surprise, even if it did turn the last part into Two Weddings and a Funeral (I’m sorry, but the producers were angling for that, obviously).

Speaking of Supergirl, I didn’t see anything to suggest I’m missing anything, and with the exception of Sarah helping Alex get over her separation from Maggie (and I don’t mean by that that her… head was turned by a lesbian one night stand, you filthy-minded sods), there was nothing to do with ongoing continuity there: Kara/Melissa Benoist was in it for the mini-series story only, and thank the TV Gods for that.

So, a palpable hit by being almost purely superhero geek from start to finish. Keep this format for 2018 and, as one who has recently watched Justice League on the big screen, take a bloody big dose of Crisis and inject into everyone who will have anything to do with the sequel: this is how you do it, you pompous bastards!

The nostalgia…

Deep Space Nine s05 e23: Blaze of Glory

Which man is in control here?

With the season ending coming up fairly soon, and the momentous events planned for it, it was about time for a reminder of the political background against which the series has been operating since mid-season. There’s a war approaching, but we’ve been carrying on as if everything were normal for so long that the viewers needed a jab in the bum.

Thus there was a lot of exposition-heavy dialogue at the start of this episode, designed to bring the audience up to speed. There’s nothing new, except that the Maquis have been more or less wiped out, but at least we know where we stand.

But this is merely an adjunct to the real purpose of this episode, which was to complete the story of Michael Eddington: former Starfleet security chief on DS9, traitor to the Federation, Maquis leader, Federation prisoner.

An intercepted message from a Maquis remnant to ‘Michael’, refers to 30 cloaked missiles, fired at Cardassia as an act of revenge: like the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, this is the first domino: an inevitable sequence of events will ensue, leading to total, Quadrant vs Quadrant war.

Sisko’s not having it, not on his watch. ‘Michael’, to him and everyone except one slightly dopey member of the audience, is obviously our man Eddington, and Sisko is determined to get him out of his cell and co-operating on stopping these missiles, whether he wants to or not.

Eddington doesn’t care. The one thing he was loyal to, that he believed in, his life’s goal, is dead and buried. If the Federation is about to go down in flames, he’s content to burn with it. Even when manacled and on board Sisko’s runabout, en route to the Badlands, he’s maintaining this nihilistic attitude, though when Sisko forces him to the helm whilst they’re under attack by two Jem’Hadar ships, he combines his Starfleet and Maquis training to get them out of there safely.

Much of the middle of the show is, effectively, a war of words, a battle of ideologies. If it’s meant as a final definition of Eddington’s character, then it fails: the man  emerges as much an enigma as ever. But, unless we can come to a conclusion about whether the Maquis cause was good or bad, we will never decide to our satisfaction on whether Eddington was hero or villain or, more accurately, the precise balance between the two which was the real situation.

Instead, we get considerably more genuine insight into Sisko, a creature of ego, from Eddington, which I personally found pretty acute.

Our unlikely war buddies eventually track down the ‘launch site’ to fog-shrouded Athos IV, where they land. The place is crawling with Jem’Hadar,through whom they have to fight their way. Eddington, by now, ha had ample opportunities to shoot Sisko in the back, but has refrained from doing so because he knows one thing that Sisko doesn’t: it’s a con.

A great big, booming, impudent con. There is no lunch site, there are no missiles, war will not start today. Instead, it’s been a carefully planned ruse, to manipulate Sisko into freeing Eddington and bringing him here, to rescue a Maquis band that includes Eddington’s wife, Rebecca, and escape to start again.

At least there’s no War, not yet anyway. So Sisko does the humanitarian thing and co-operates. But the Jem’Hadar are the fly in the ointment. They weren’t meant to be here, they’re the tail-end of the chase. Sisko and Eddington form a rearguard as the others, including Rebecca, are sent on ahead. Straightway we know, and almost immediately Eddington is wounded, enough so that he has to stay behind, whilst Sisko gets the Wagon Train through… A glorious death in a lost cause, and who’s to say Michael Eddington wouldn’t have wanted it that way.

Yes, of course it’s a cliche ending, but perhaps because Eddington, to the end, was never quite defined, never pinned down and anatomised in full, it works. The man died for his beliefs, died to protect his wife: there is always something inherently noble about that.

Though it served as a necessary reminder of the political background, the episode’s real purpose was to end this thread, not just Eddington but the Maquis. It was felt that there were too many unresolved stories heading towards season 6, and one of them had to be seen off, and buried. The rest was lagniappe.

There was a B-story and an essentially comic one, about Nog establishing respect from the Klingons whilst he’s working security, but it was really not worth interrupting the A-story for, so I’m going to ignore it.