Horror Film Review: One Hour Photo (dir by Mark Romanek)

I guess some people might argue that the 2002 film, One Hour Photo, isn’t really a horror film.

It’s an argument that I can understand.  The film does have its scary moments, like the scene where Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) dreams that his eyes are exploding.  But there aren’t any ghosts or vampires or hockey mask-wearing slashers to be found in One Hour Photo.  Even the film’s most disturbing moment — in which we see that Sy’s apartment is nearly empty except for a giant collage of pictures that cover his living room wall — is more depressing than scary.

It’s really a very sad movie.  In fact, it’s probably even more sad today than when it was originally released.  Now, when you see Robin Williams’s sad eyes and you hear him talking about how reality can never live up to a photograph, it’s impossible not to think about the actor’s 2014 suicide.  I remember that, when One Hour Photo and Insomnia came out in the same year, there was a lot of talk about how unexpected it was to see Robin Williams playing such dark characters.  Now, of course, that darkness is a key part of Robin Williams’s persona.

In hindsight, it’s also sad because one watches the film with the knowledge that, even if Sy hadn’t lost it at the end of One Hour Photo, he still probably be a lost soul in 2019.  When we first meet Sy, he’s working at the one-hour photo lab in SavMart.  He talks about how much he loves developing pictures.  When someone mentions that they’ve been thinking about getting a digital camera, Sy nervously chuckles and says, “Don’t do that, you’ll put us out of business.”  Of course, in 2019, people take pictures with their phones and even digital cameras are viewed as being something of a relic.  If Sy were around and free today, I doubt he’d have a job.  If he did have a job, it’s doubtful it would be one that would allow him to cover his wall with someone else’s photos.  Instead, in 2019, I imagine Sy would be one of those people following strangers on social media and printing out all their pictures and probably sending them unsolicited DMs and private messages.

Sy is obsessed with the Yorkin family, Will (Michael Vartan), Nina (Connie Nielsen), and their son, Jake (Dylan Smith).  Even though the family barely knows who Sy is, he knows them because Sy has spent years developing (and stealing) their photos.  Sy views them as being the perfect family.  They’re the family that he wants to be a part of.  “Sometimes I think of myself as being Uncle Sy,” he says at one point.  But then Maya Burson (Erin Daniels) brings in her photos to be developed and Sy learns that the reality of the Yorkins is not as perfect as the photographs.  And Sy loses it.

Actually, there’s quite a few reasons why Sy loses it and the film suggests that, if the Yorkins had never stepped into SavMart, Sy would have found another family on which to obsess.  Something is missing inside of Sy.  Incapable of dealing with reality, Sy instead deals with posed pictures of happy times.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a throw-away line that attempts to offer some sort of insight into why Sy is such a lost soul.  Personally, I think the film works better without an explanation.  Why is less important than the fact that Sy exists.

In the end, One Hour Photo qualifies as a horror film not because of any paranormal danger but because it’s a film about the horror of everyday life.  You never know who might be watching you.  That friendly clerk who waits on you at the grocery store might be following you home and imagining that he’s a part of your life.  You never know.  One Hour Photo is the film that suggests that, lurking behind every friendly smile, there’s a blank Sy Parrish.  It’s a scary thought.

Insomnia File #40: The Spanish Prisoner (dir by David Mamet)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, at 3 in the morning on Wednesday, you were struggling to get to sleep, you could have flipped over to Flix and watched the 1998 film, The Spanish Prisoner.

Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) is an engineer.  He’s a quiet, polite, and always considerate man.  At one point, he’s told that he’s “too nice” and, watching him, you can’t help but agree.  Joe works in an otherwise bland office where the walls are covered with menacing posters that, in an accusatory manner, announce, “SOMEONE TALKED!”  Paranoia is in the air but Joe, for whatever reason, seems to be incapable of sensing it.

Joe has just invented something called The Process.  It’s deliberately left obscure just what exactly The Process is but we do know that it stands to make Joe’s boss, Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara), a lot of money.  When Mr. Klein invites Joe and the company lawyer, George (Ricky Jay), to an island retreat, Joe assumes that it’s so Mr. Klein can offer him a lucrative cash bonus as a reward for creating the process.  Instead, it turns out that Mr. Klein has no interest in giving George any extra reward.  Instead, Klein feels that Joe should just be happy to be a part of the company.

On the island, Joe takes a picture of a mysterious man named Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin).  Jimmy offers to give Joe a thousand dollars for the camera.  Joe, instead, hands over the camera for free.  Later, Jimmy tracks down Joe and apologizes for his behavior.  He and Joe strike up an unlikely friendship on the island.  Upon learning that Joe will soon by flying back to New York, Jimmy gives Joe a package to deliver to his sister.  Joe agrees.

It’s not until Joe is on the plane and in the air that he starts to wonder about what’s inside the package.  It doesn’t help that his secretary, Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon), won’t stop talking about you never really know anyone and how easy it is to trick an innocent person into becoming a drug mule.  Finally, Joe steps into the plane’s lavatory, unwraps the package, and….

And that’s all I can tell you without spoiling the film.  The Spanish Prisoner is a film about a dizzying confidence game, one that is full of nonstop twists and turns.  No one in the film turns out to be who you thought they were when you first saw them.  At times, it can be a bit hard to keep up with the plot but that’s actually a part of the fun.  The Spanish Prisoner keeps you guessing and, fortunately, Campbell Scott gives a likable enough performance that you’re willing to explore the maze at the heart of this film with him.  Steve Martin is also wonderfully sinister as Jimmy, using his own “nice guy” image to keep us off-balance.

As you might expect from a film written and directed by David Mamet, the dialogue is heavily stylized.  The characters all move and speak at their own odd rhythm.  Lines that should be innocuous take on a dangerous edge and it becomes impossible not try to read between the lines of even the simplest of exchanges.  It creates a rather dream-like atmosphere, one in which you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s just another part of the game.

The Spanish Prisoner is an intriguing mystery and one that seems like it will definitely reward repeat viewings.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure

Film Review: Captain Marvel (dir by Anna Bolden and Ryan Fleck)

Captain Marvel was …. well, it was okay.

I know that’s potentially a controversial opinion.  Since the movie was released last week, I’ve seen it described as being the greatest comic book movie ever made.  I’ve also seen it described as being, if not the worst film of all time, than certainly the worst chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Really, it depends on who you ask and how they voted in 2016.  Myself, I would argue that both sides are incorrect.  Captain Marvel is neither the greatest nor the worst movie ever made.  Instead …. it’s okay.  It’s a middle of the road MCU film, one that has more in common with the first Thor, Ant-Man, and The Incredible Hulk than with Black Panther or Doctor Strange.  It has its moments but there’s a reason why everyone’s favorite character is a cat who only has about 15 minutes of screen time.

Brie Larson plays Vers, who is an elite warrior for the Kree Empire.  The Kree are an alien race.  We know they’re aliens because they have blue blood and their planet looks like a more cheerful version of Blade Runner.  The Kree are at war with another group of aliens, the Skrulls.  The Skrulls are green shape-shifters and, for some reason, they have Australian accents.

Anyways, Vers can’t remember anything about her past but she’s haunted by nightmares that suggest that she might not be a Kree at all.  Instead, she might be an Earthling!  Vers gets a chance to investigate that possibility when, while escaping the forces of the Skrull general Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Vers plummets to Earth and ends up crashing into a Blockbuster Video.  Working with a youngish Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Vers sets out to discover the truth about her past.

Ever since this film was first announced, Brie Larson has been the target of a lot of unfair criticism.  A lot of it has centered around the fact that Larson rarely smiles in the film but you know what?  Brie Larson’s resting bitch face is the most empowering thing about Captain Marvel.  Vers is a warrior and she’s on a mission.  She has no reason to smile and giggle and jump around like some sort of manic pixie dream girl.  When Vers responded to a man telling her to smile by stealing his motorcycle, I wanted to jump up and cheer.  I mean, hell yeah!  Not only did she refuse to be pushed around but she also got a sweet ride out of it!  Seriously, the next guy who tells me that I need to smile more is losing his car.

Actually, regardless of what some people on twitter seem to believe, Vers does smile in the film.  She smiles when she’s talking to her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashanna Lynch).  She smiles when she’s talking to Maria’s daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar).  She smiles when there aren’t any men — or Skrulls — around, demanding all of the attention.  Both Maria and Vers are smiling because, finally, they can both be themselves.  It’s a scene that, like Vers stealing that motorcycle, feels far more honest and empowering than some of the film’s other more obvious and on-the-nose girl power moments.  Maria is a rather underused character, which is a shame because the brief scenes between Maria and Vers are some of the best scenes in the film.

That said, I still had mixed feelings about Brie Larson’s overall performance.  As good as Larson has been in so many other films, she often comes across as rather wooden and awkward here.  Larson delivers almost all of her lines in a rather flat monotone and she’s not helped by some painfully clunky dialogue.  Larson’s awkwardness is painfully obvious whenever she shares a scene with more experienced co-stars like Jackson, Mendelsohn, Jude Law, or Annette Bening.  Bening practically steals the entire film, to the extent that I would have preferred the film has been about her rather than Vers.

(Again, it’s easy to compare this film to the first Thor.  Just as it took the MCU a while to figure out what to do with Thor, one gets the feeling that they’re still not quite sure who Captain Marvel is supposed to be.)

The film’s main weakness is that, when compared to the more recent MCU films. there’s no sense of wonder to Captain Marvel.  Compare the blandness of the Kree homeworld to the vivid worlds of Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok.  Ben Mendelsohn brings a little bit of depth to General Talos but, beyond the shape-shifting, there’s not much to the Skrulls, either.  When Captain Marvel flies into space, there’s nothing transcendent about the moment.  It’s actually kind of boring.  Whereas previous MCU films made space feel alive, the universe feels flat in Captain Marvel.

To cite just one example, one of the film’s biggest battle scenes is over the possession of a lunchbox.  The villains think that there’s something important in the lunchbox.  However, what they don’t know is that Vers has already emptied the lunchbox and is just using it to distract them.  For some reason, directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Bolden show Captain Marvel emptying the lunchbox before the big battle.  As a result, there’s no stakes to the battle and, from the start, we know that it doesn’t matter who wins.  When, after a lengthy fight, the lunchbox is revealed to be empty, Brie Larson mutters a weak one liner that has no impact because there was never any suspense to begin with.  This is pretty basic stuff and it’s somewhat shocking that this film manages to screw it up.

Despite those flaws, Captain Marvel is occasionally diverting.  Samuel L. Jackson brings flair to even the lamest of lines and Clark Gregg has a welcome cameo as Phil Coulson.  Annette Bening plays two different roles and she kicks major ass in both of them.  (One of her characters is named Intelligence, which leads to this hilariously awkward exchange of dialogue between Larson and Bening: “Vers.”  “Intelligence.”)  Despite being buried under a ton of makeup and prosthetics, Ben Mendelsohn does a good job and Jude Law is amusingly arrogant as Vers’s mentor.  Hopefully, Lashawn Lynch will get a bigger role in a future MCU film.

And then there’s the cat.

The cat is named Goose and …, well, look, I won’t spoil it.  Let’s just say that he’s a very special cat and he steals every scene.  In this film, we discover that Nick Fury loves cats, as well he should!

Anyway, Captain Marvel is okay.  There’s a few good scenes and there’s a few clunky ones and finally, there’s Goose and that stolen motorcycle.  One gets the feeling that the most remembered scenes will probably be the ones that were inserted during the end credits.  Captain Marvel will return in Avengers: Endgame and I hope that she doesn’t smile once.


Trailer: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

Tonight we finally get to see the official trailer for Marvel Studio’s upcoming entry to their ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just like Marvel Universe-616 which was born at the Big Bang and continues to expand ever outward there doesn’t seem to be any sign of the MCU suddenly collapsing under the weight of fan expectations and the imagination of the writers and filmmakers who have been tapped by Kevin Feige and group to usher in the Golden Age of Comic Book films.

This past summer, fans of the MCU were treated to the spectacle (and surprisingly emotional) that was Avengers: Infinity War. Those who stayed for the final stinger at the end of the credits of that film were treated to a clue as to who may just save the MCU from Thanos’ snap.

Captain Marvel will be Marvel Studio’s first female-led entry to the series. Some have been in the camp that Marvel took too long to do such a project while a small, albeit very vocal group think Marvel have been bit by the SJW bug.

For the most part the majority of fans are just excited to see the adventures of one Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel finally up on the big screen. We shall see this March 8 whether Captain Marvel lives up to the hype and excitement that has been building since the end of Avengers: Infinity War.

Trailer: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

It’s still 6 months away, but with nearly everyone (puts on the hyperbole cap) in the known universe having been left in a state of disbelief with this past summer’s Avengers: Infinity War, the latest entry in the on-going Marvel Cinematic Universe just released it’s first trailer.

Captain Marvel, the MCU’s female-led entry and it’s Superman, finally gets to show some of it’s wares. Set, in the 1990’s with Blockbuster Video still king, Captain Marvel will tell the story of Air Force pilot Carol Danvers who also happens to be the hero known as Captain Marvel.

We’re not sure if the film will be an origin story or not, but from what was shown in the trailer, there’s a chance whatever original story we get it’ll be done through flashbacks. This is a Captain Marvel who is already is control of her abilities.

Captain Marvel set to soar this March 2019.

Film Review: Live By Night (dir by Ben Affleck)

Remember Live By Night?

Released in December of 2016, Live By Night was one of those highly anticipated films that ended up bombing at the box office and leaving critics cold.  The anticipation was due to the fact that Live By Night was the first film that Ben Affleck had directed since Argo won best picture.  It was seen as Affleck’s next prestige picture, the one that would remind everyone that he was more than just the latest actor to be cast as Batman.  Live By Night was expected to be a huge Oscar contender.  As for why it bombed at the box office, that may have had something to do with the fact that Live By Night is not a very good film.

It’s a gangster film, one that takes place during prohibition.  Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is the most boring gangster in Boston.  Or, at least, he is until he falls for the wrong woman and he ends up having to flee down to Tampa.  Once down there, Joe sets himself up as the most boring gangster in Florida.  There’s all sorts of themes running through Live By Night — racial themes, economic themes, even some heavy-handed religious themes — but ultimately, the main impression that one gets from the film’s story is that Joe Coughlin was a very boring gangster.

Anyway, Joe gets involved in all sorts of corruption and violence.  He brings down his friend, Dion (Chris Messina), to help him out.  Whereas Joe is rational and dull, Dion is violent and dull.  You spend the entire movie waiting for the moment when Dion will turn on Joe but it never happens.  I guess that’s a good thing since Joe and Dion are busy battling the Klan.  Joe may be a 1920s gangster but he’s got the political and cultural outlook of a 21st century movie star.

Joe knows that prohibition is going to end someday, so he hopes to make money through opening up a casino.  Standing in the way of the casino is a prostitute-turned-evangelist named Loretta (Elle Fanning).  Loretta is the daughter of the local police chief (Chris Cooper), with whom Joe has an uneasy friendship.  You keep expecting this plot to go somewhere but it really doesn’t.  Loretta’s just kinda there.  That said, we do get a hilarious shot of a tearful Chris Cooper repeating the word repent over and over again so there is that.

Zoe Saldana is also just kind of there, playing Joe’s Cuban wife.  Again, you expect a lot to happen with Saldana’s character but, for the most part, she’s mostly just a plot device who exists solely so that Joe can have some sort of motivation beyond simply wanting to get rich.

It’s a big, sprawling film that never quite feels like an epic.  A huge part of the problem is that Ben Affleck the director is let down by Ben Affleck the actor.  Regardless of what’s happening in the scene, Affleck always has the same grim look on his face.  At times, it seems as if he’s literally been chiseled out of a marble and you find yourself wondering if he’s actually capable of any facial expression beyond glum annoyance.  A gangster film like this need a bigger-than-life protagonist but, as played by Affleck, Joe always seems to be in danger of vanishing into the scenery.

I think part of the problem is that Affleck’s previous films all dealt with places and subjects that Affleck felt comfortable with, perhaps because he could relate their stories to his own personal experiences.  Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town both took place exclusively in Boston.  Argo dealt with the film industry.  Live By Night is a period piece set in the South and Affleck is obviously lost from the minute Joe arrives in Florida.

Live By Night, I think, could have been a good movie if it had been directed by someone like Paul Thomas Anderson and maybe if an actor like Colin Farrell played the role of Joe.  But, as it is, it’s just a rather stolid and uninspiring gangster film.

A Movie A Day #232: Tyson (1995, directed by Uli Edel)

If any heavyweight champion from the post-Ali era of boxing has lived a life that seems like it should be ready-made for the biopic treatment, it is “Iron Mike” Tyson.  In 1995, HBO stepped up to provide just such a film.

In an episodic fashion, Tyson tells the story of Mike Tyson’s rise and fall.  At the start of the movie, Tyson is a child trying to survive on the tough streets of Brooklyn.  The events that unfold should be familiar to any fight fan: Mike (played by Spawn himself, Michael Jai White) gets sent to reform school. Mike is taken under the wing of the legendary trainer, Cus D’Amato (George C. Scott). Mike becomes the youngest heavyweight champion, marries and divorces Robin Givens (Kristen Wilson), and eventually falls under the corrupting influence of the flamboyant Don King (Paul Winfield).  After failing to train properly for what should have been a routine fight, Tyson loses his title and subsequently, he is convicted of rape and sent to prison.

Tyson aired shortly after the real Mike was released from prison and announced his return to boxing.  Unfortunately, much of what Mike Tyson is best known for occurred after he was released from prison.  As a result, don’t watch Tyson to see Mike bite off Evander Holyfield’s ear.  Don’t watch it expecting to see Mike get his famous facial tattoo.  All of that happened after Tyson aired.  Instead, Tyson tells the story of the first half of Mike’s life in conventional biopic style.  There is even a montage of newspaper headlines.

The best thing about Tyson is the cast.  Even though the film does not delve too deeply into any aspect of Tyson’s life, all of the actors are well-chosen.  In some ways, Michael Jai White has an impossible role.  Tyson has such a famous persona that it had to be difficult to play him without slipping into mere impersonation but White does a good job of suggesting that there is more to Tyson than just his voice and his anger.  Scott and Winfield are both ideally cast as Tyson’s contrasting father figures, with Winfield especially digging into the Don King role.

HBO’s Tyson is a good starter if you do not know anything about Mike’s early career but the definitive Mike Tyson film remains James Toback’s documentary, which also happens to be titled Tyson.

6 Late Film Reviews: 300: Rise of Empire, About Last Night, Adult World, Jersey Boys, Ride Along, and Trust Me

Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list.  (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see.  December is going to be a busy month.)  With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.


1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)

Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film.  I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas.  The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.

At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons.  First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me.  Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies.  Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.


2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)

Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love.  (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.)  I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.

About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall).  All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears.  The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.


3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)

In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate.  Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college.  She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore.  Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack).  Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé.  However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).

Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it.  The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws.  Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way.  Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.


4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender.  In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together.  It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.

Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing.  It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks.  The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.

Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.


5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)

School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve.  In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect.  Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white!  You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?

On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James.  As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.

Trust Me

6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)

In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars.  He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children.  After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress.  Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production.  Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet).  However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye.  He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia.  When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her.  It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…

I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film.  As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone.  The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy.  As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.

And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws.  If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – The Mega-Recap


I have failed you, dear readers. I have failed you in my solemn commitment to share the odyssey of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I have failed in my grim responsibility to recap them without snark or sarcasm each week. And I have failed you utterly with regards to knowing when the show is going to air, and on what Tuesdays. There is no one to blame but me for my having fallen behind. One mis-step begat another, and another, until now… finally, we arrive here. To borrow a term and use it in an amusing way, here, at the Magical Place.

But do not fear!

For this MEGA-RECAP will connect the dots of this complex and sophisticated story the innermost twists and turns of which need to be absorbed over repeated viewings and recorded for your reference in this space… Here, I will connect for you the lines between S1E12 “Seeds”… all the way up to 4/1/2014 (oh God)… M.A.O.S. Probably too many acronyms floating around here, but that’s just a thought. Together, let us voyage through the complex storylines, elaborate characterizations, and non-ridicu… well. At any rate. I’ll provide a brief recap of what you might have missed… or not.

For your convenience, I have organized this Mega-Recap in this fashion, so you can bounce around if you wish:
S01E13 will take you to the first episode of the recap, T.R.A.C.K.S.
S01E14 summons forth T.A.H.I.T.I.
S01E15 will show you Yes Men

Mega this recap might be, but I have steeled myself to show more discipline and condense each episode somewhat. Apologies in advance, dear readers, because I know that this may necessitate leaving out some of the grand complexity of each of these totally unique and not-at-all formulaic episodes. In the future, I shall endeavour to do better for you. Well.

That elaborate housekeeping having been taken care of… enjoy? Enjoy!



Yes, it’s Ian Quinn (David Conrad) again. One of the few things that I feel this series has actually done pretty well so far is in providing us with some comic book style ‘mastermind’ villains. We have the still-enigmatic Clairvoyant, and Ian Quinn, Corporate Asshole. Having guys blow their money on evil is a grand comic tradition, and one that is certainly welcome here. Quinn is so off-putting that I enjoy him as a villain, and I’m looking forward to Agent Wooden and Agent Handsome delivering a series of punches and kicks to his face and torso. But that’s for another time, alas…

This time, the dastardly Ian Quinn has purchased something from a company called CyberTek for the low, low price of $10 million. I assume all figures are in U.S. dollars, so maybe it’s not actually that much. It’s being transported on a train through the Italian countryside, under the watchful supervision of Ian Quinn’s number one security guy. Coulson successfully negotiated (read: waved S.H.I.E.L.D.’s carte blanche around) to get the Italian police off the investigation, and Level 7 onto it. In lieu of letting the proper authorities handle things, Coulson’s team is going to infiltrate the train undercover in three different groups. Group 1 consists of agents May and Ward. She’s playing a cold, sneering aristocrat type, who says little, but radiates contempt with her eyes while he carries the luggage. Oh, and they’re married. This is such a departure from their normal characters, that I… ah, nevermind.

Team two is Simmons and Coulson as a father daughter pair. This pairing is engaging. Simmons thinks very poorly on her feet, so in preparation for being undercover, she’s given her character a ten page backstory about an absentee father and a strained relationship. Stan Lee makes his totally inevitable cameo here, berating Coulson for his failures as a father. Team three is Fitz and Skye as young lovers. Skye is charming and beautiful, Fitz is awkward. Giving these two more screen time seems like a way to try and find some male character that Skye actually has some chemistry with. Fitz and Skye aren’t bad together… it’s certainly better than some of the cringe-worthy scenes between Skye and Ward earlier in the season.

Oh, and May tells Ward that she told Coulson about them having clinically precise sex. Ward is alarmed, but we already know Coulson is cool. Guy’s not gonna make waves. I mean, he didn’t even make waves over the forty thousand different ways that S.H.I.E.L.D. screwed him on the whole ‘involuntary resurrection’ thing and the whole ‘without his consent’ affair. That Nick Fury. What a goof!

Things go pretty much how you’d expect. In his conductor disguise, Ward quickly dispatches two assassins in a quick sequence even James Bond would have been proud of. Realizing they’re made, he sends Simmons to meet up with Fitz and Skye. Coulson and Ward get made and bail out of the train, and Quinn’s agents turn the train invisible… wait what? Commercials! By the way, I want to give some credit to the storyboarding on this one… aside from a bunch of quick cuts to set up our premise, we barely had any jarring scene changes at all. Good work, guys!

So dudes in black SUVs are already after Coulson and Ward. Seems like someone probably gave them up. I WONDER WHO IT COULD HAVE BEEN? On the ActionPlane Coulson contacts his boy with the Italian polizia, Russo (Carlo Rota). Russo’s guys got jumped too, it seems, and they’re dead. Coulson explains that the train became invisible, and Russo seems weirdly unimpressed. Well, I’m sure that happens all the time in Italy. Coulson and Ward try and figure out what to do next, but between them they can’t even figure out how to work the computer. They talk about the whole Ward/May wooden lovemaking situation. Coulson berates Ward, then makes fun of him. It is enjoyable. Then suddenly Russo shows up at the landing ramp to the ActionPlane. Before he can do much more than say hello, he gets the old ‘lethal axe in the spine’ from a beaten, bloody Agent May. With a subtle hint of anger (reaaaaaaaaaaaaal subtle), May says “Wheels up in five.” Boom.

It turns out that May also fell off the train. Got captured by Russo. He was going to torture and presumably kill her, but May is kind of a badass. She escaped, facilitated the escape of Ward and Coulson. Now we know why she killed Russo. Good times!

On the train, Skye and Fitz debate the nature of the object being transported. Skye wonders if it could be an ‘084’, an ‘object of unknown origin’. Fitz says no, definitely an item supplied by Cybertek. Some light exposition. Then the jamming hits. Everything’s offline. What? We’ve been made? Security guys burst into the train car. Fitz downs one with a blindfire (good shot, Fitz!) and then Skye does more than enough to disable a comic mook, but since she’s a girl, he’s unaffected and knocks her down. Then, because Fitz is a geek and can’t fight, he goes sprawling as well. It’s at this time that Simmons arrives, and Skye comes back to her feet armed and dangerous. Unfortunately, because Skye and Simmons are both girls, Skye doesn’t shoot, and Simmons then grapples vainly with the mook until his grenade goes off… uhh.. “disabling”… them both. Seriously, is there any doubt that a male agent would have handled these two mooks? It doesn’t even have to be James Bond. But poor Skye gets manhandled even after ambushing the dude, clubbing him, and basically working his shit. He’s just a mook! Luckily the grenade was more of the ‘stun’ variety – using the same technobabble (biobabble? it’s a toxin, they claim) that makes the S.H.I.E.L.D. magic sleep gun (or night-night gun, as the parlance goes) work. Oh, then Fitz shoots the mook. Good on you, Fitz.

The train stops. Outside, a bunch of suits make the exchange. Skye demands that they follow the mysterious Cybertek item, so they do. Arriving at a magnificently-appointed Tuscan villa. Apparently these are just ubiquitous when dealing with Ian Quinn. You have to admire the man’s style. Fitz goes to disable enemy vehicles, while Skye goes into infiltration mode. Again! This is so exciting! Skye sneaks her way into the basement. Something tells me it’s just about time for the big reveal. OH SHIT IT’S MIKE PETERSON (J. August Richards)! He’s in, like, a healing tube or something. Then Ian Quinn shows up. He’s feeling smug. Quinn pops the tube. Not only is Peterson alive, but he’s kind of well. His face is badly mutilated. And the expensive technology from CyberTek proves to be a cybernetic leg to replace the one he lost in the explosion during the events of S1E10 “The Bridge”. Savvier folks than I point this out as the rise of “Deathlok”, a comic character. Good on Deathlok!

Peterson is thoroughly under enemy control. Quinn exults in his power, saying that Peterson can’t hurt him, and that he won’t stop Quinn from shooting him. Skye tries to negotiate with Mike’s better nature. Quinn tries to convince Mike to attack Skye, but he refuses. Instead, Quinn simply shoots her. Then, he shoots her again. Then, he bounces. Boom. My heart is ready to explode. Skye!? Nooooo! She was so charming! Taken before her time! Aaaargggh!

Anyway, in the finale… Peterson kills off all the Cybertek suits. No surprise there, Quinn doesn’t want to pay for the hardware. ActionTeam arrives though, before Skye expires. Peterson has orders not to engage S.H.I.E.L.D., Ward does one of my favourite cinema tricks where a guy with two guns can shoot as many normal mooks as he wants until he runs out of ammo before they can react, and the ActionTeam actually captures Ian Quinn! Coulson demands Skye’s whereabouts. When Quinn is glib, Coulson pistol whips that motherfucker! Yeah, Coulson! They find her, of course, but she’s in bad, bad shape. They put her in the healing tube at Simmons’ urgent instructions, and kind of… hope for the best. May sounds… strained. Upset. As she demands if it’s working. Coulson is a little more emphatic. It’s… a stunningly emotional moment for this show. Back on the ActionPlane, Simmons’ diagnosis is grim… but not definitive. The reaction shots are just as grim. Level 7 Vendetta, yo. May and Ward share a moment that could actually be called… emotional? Coulson remains in vigil beside the magic healing tube. Simmons sobs in Fitz’s arms. Ouch.

In the coda, Peterson falls back on his need to reconnect with his son. The Clairvoyant isn’t going for it. Someone pointed out (it may even have been the ABC synopsis?) that his prosthesis has ‘Project Deathlok’ inscribed on it. Well then!

Guys, this episode is WELL above average. I hope you didn’t abandon the show before seeing this one. It’s a good action piece, with plenty of stuff going on, some great Skye moments, and a lot more… emotion… than I’m used to seeing from this show. If every episode was as well conceived as this one, I probably wouldn’t have nearly so easy a time making fun of it. So I guess that would make the show poorer for me, but better for mankind. I will make this trade, showrunners. Jed Whedon, it is not too late!


(Seriously guys, what’s with the acronyms? Is it supposed to be funny?)

Cold Open: Once again, Ron Glass regrets the whole ‘without consent’ and ‘cruel reanimation’ parts of Coulson’s past. If you forgot since the previous recap… which was… ten lines above… Skye is in critical condition. At best. Let’s roll!

We’re in the S.H.I.E.L.D. hospital. Presumably, there is no better care that Skye could receive than this. Coulson is attempting to call Nick Fury. I assume because Sam Jackson wasn’t available, he’s on hold. Fitz blames himself, but Simmons laughs: “Like you could stop her from doing something she wanted to”. Good point, Simmons. Ward is her “SO” (what does that even mean? I know he’s not the CO. I guess he’s not the XO. Supervising officer? The hierarchy of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t that clear). He’s mad too. May blames Ian Quinn. Logical!

At the hospital, the doctors are telling Coulson that it’s time to decide whether to keep Skye on life support, and that her family should be contacted. Coulson breathes… is distressed… “We’re her family”… it’s kind of a tough scene. SCENE CHANGE! (It’s back!)

May kicks the shit out of Ian Quinn. “Wait, you can’t…” “Why, because you’re defenseless? Like she was?” Anger suits the character of Agent May. She seems comfortable in its embrace. Then she seems… emotional, after Coulson stops her. Coulson reminds May that the doctors at S.H.I.E.L.D. literally re-animated his corpse. Surely they can save Skye. Meanwhile, May needs to pilot the ActionPlane. Also, ActionTeam isn’t giving up custody of Quinn. Also, Coulson finally explains the truth of his return to life to the rest of the ActionTeam. It was at the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility in Bethesda, Maryland, where it was done. So, they’re bringing Skye to the same facility. Coulson delivers the full medical report on what was done to him to Fitz-Simmons, explaining that since Shepard Book managed to repair his heart after it was literally torn in half, if they can understand how that process worked… surely they can heal Skye’s injuries as well.

Ward and May, neither of them, would have flown halfway around the world in a desperate and probably ridiculous attempt to save Skye’s life. May points out that she and Ward need people like Coulson. Come to think, that’s probably why Phil’s in charge of this outfit, seniority aside. Oh, and they violated some S.H.I.E.L.D. bylaws or something, so they’re being ordered to stand by and prepare to be boarded. I’ve been waiting for one of these episodes, when the inevitable “bad decision makers” or bureaucracy inherent in S.H.I.E.L.D. complicates things. Coulson elucidates the situation nicely: “Really? All the war and chaos in the world, and S.H.I.E.L.D. sends a plane after us?” Guys, I saw The Avengers. Nick Fury doesn’t think like this, except when he does.

The ActionPlane is boarded by Agent John Garrett (a welcome appearance by Bill Paxton). He seems like a jerk. With him is Agent Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt) who seems like a cool customer. Garrett threatens Coulson because reasons. Oh, for once they’re going to explain this now! Garrett has been pursuing Quinn for some time. He makes a funny, describing the hilariously unsuccessful train job and subsequent Tuscan villa adventure as “your little Italian job”… and also explains that it set his investigation back. How it set him back is really unclear, since Quinn was taken into custody. This part is not addressed, but I’ll live. Anyway, Garrett is surprised to learn that Quinn actually had the guts to shoot someone himself, and explains that he, too, has lost agents in the pursuit, but seems to soften somewhat when Coulson explains about Skye. Trip and Ward know each other. They talk about nonsense downstairs, then things escalate into a totally pointless fistfight (this show is supposed to have action, damnit!) but Coulson breaks it up. He and Garrett came to an agreement. Garrett will interrogate Quinn on board the ActionPlane… and saving Skye is top priority. If only because she might know something essential.

Fitz-Simmons are trying to save her right this very second, of course.

Meanwhile, in the interrogation room / refuge for tormented young women / Mike Peterson chamber / hexagon walled room… Garrett shows up. Quinn is flippant. Garrett literally grabs Quinn’s tongue (yes! Seriously! It’s kind of awesome!) He explains that Quinn has no rights, no lawyer, and the only reason they don’t just throw him out the back of the plane is that Skye is still alive downstairs. Quinn appears to get the message. They talk a little about the Clairvoyant. Garrett calls it mumbo-jumbo, but Quinn cites a number of incidents in which the far-seeing eyes of the Clairvoyant led to disaster for S.H.I.E.L.D. The only thing the Clairvoyant can’t see is how they saved Coulson after his death or near-death or whatever at Loki’s hands. The gist of the plan is, either ActionTeam figures the whole thing out, in which case it’s in the open for the Clairvoyant to see… or they let Skye die. And Coulson obviously isn’t going to let Skye die. That would be ridiculous. She’s charming!

So it turns out that even the facility that Coulson was treated at doesn’t exist, and certainly wasn’t at Bethesda. Simmons admits that even she and Fitz only understand “70%” of what’s in Coulson’s medical records. May’s concerned that they may give the Clairvoyant exactly what he wants, even if they do save Skye. Coulson doesn’t give a shit. Yeah, Coulson, keep it real. Fitz-Simmons start trying to track Ron Glass’ whereabouts from the date that Coulson was stabbed. With some uh… “clever sleuthing”… Fitz-Simmons locates the site at which Coulson’s “treatment” “occurred” and they “head” “that direction”. May stays on the ActionPlane, but Garrett bolsters the away team as Coulson leads a group to investigate “The Guest House”. They don’t know the countersign, so they force entry. I’m sure this will go well.

What? A gun battle? You’re kidding. Coulson throws a flashbang, and it’s pretty much over. Garrett is growing on me. I hope Bill Paxton isn’t too busy to make a couple more appearances on the show.

With the guards down, there’s a countdown timer running to destroy the facility or something. Coulson assigns Garrett to figure out how to get them back out of the secure facility, while the ActionTeam goes in search of drug GH-325. Apparently this was the substance administered to Coulson. Meanwhile, on the ActionPlane, Triplette is being pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind him coming back either. Things are worsening on the ‘Skye’ front though, as she starts to seize. Hope we find that GH-325 Maguffin!

Shockingly, a search of the facility bears fruit. Fitz locates some GH-325 and absconds. Coulson would be right with him… except that he’s spotted a door marked T.A.H.I.T.I. Can that acronym possibly stand for anything? I’m not kidding here. This is getting a little absurd.

ActionTeam escapes the facility. Kind of. Coulson and Garrett are still inside, but whatever. Actually, Garrett goes back for Coulson, who is almost in a trance. He seems alarmed by the idea that Skye might be given GH-325. He’s even more alarmed when he and Garrett board the ActionPlane. Simmons already gave Skye the GH-325. It’s too late. But then … she stabilizes. Thank God. This show really can’t survive without her, unless we get a lot more Bill Paxton. Everyone’s happy except Coulson, who seems even more alarmed. This would be a great time for the show to explain things to us.

Garrett and Triplette take possession of Quinn. It’s kind of epic. Garrett and Coulson talk things out. As Garrett absconds, I pray for more Bill Paxton in our future. Please, Jed Whedon, deliver unto us more entertaining guest characters. Now that Ian Quinn is presumably gone (until his miraculous escape, or whatever), we need more entertaining guest characters.

Behind the T.A.H.I.T.I. door… Coulson is a little traumatized to discover half of a blue man hooked up to machines. Or something. The meaning of this isn’t real clear. Coulson’s explanation of his panic to May is that he didn’t want Skye to suffer, but that she didn’t, so he’s cool now. Dude isn’t gonna make waves.

Coda: Meet Lorelei (Elena Satine). For those who don’t know, “Lorelei” is the name of both an Asgardian in Marvel comics… and, probably more importantly, a Germanic myth similar to the Greek ‘Siren’ myth. Oh, and the Asgardian in Marvel? Based on that same German myth. I’ll let you guess what that probably means.


“Yes Men”

Previously On: Blah blah blah. I just recapped two episodes. Surely you didn’t miss anything important?

Cold Open: Lorelei (Elena Satine) and her boy toy (Robert Belushi) show up at a truck stop. She sirens up a biker leader named Rooster (Dylan Bruno). Then she murders the crap out of the newlywed she siren’d up at the end of T.A.H.I.T.I. Asgard!

Act I: Skye is alive! And … ambulatory! Thank God. I missed her. Simmons is determined to keep poor Skye in bed. There’s a little banter, but what it boils down to is that Skye is alive, and she’s the most gratefulest. It’s not a real word, but I bet you know what it means! There’s some awkward conversation between Skye and Ward. I’m not sure what the point of all this is. I mean, Ward is her “SO” and all… but this conversation is kind of dumb. It has some exposition in it, though. Skye wants to do some more training. She wants to become a badass. I am glad. They also remind us about the whole Mike Peterson subplot. So that’s still going on.

Coulson is trying to locate Nick Fury. He has an incredibly low-profile conversation between incredibly low-profile S.H.I.E.L.D. ActionMobiles. Shockingly, Nick Fury is missing? Has disppeared? Doesn’t want people to know where he is? I’m sure this will be going on. Also, Fitz-Simmons have detected Asgardian Magic. An Asgardian is about. “Asgardians are allies!” “Loki wasn’t”. Thanks, guys. Shortly thereafter, a half dozen totally inconspicuous S.H.I.E.L.D. ActionMobiles driving down the road stop when there’s a burst of incredible energy, and in a flash of awesomeness… the Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander, reprising her film character) appears! In a crater! In the highway! She doesn’t waste much time announcing that Earth is in great danger.


May’s worried about Coulson, but the thing is, Sif’s worried about Earth. Speaking of Sif, she’s shocked to see Agent Coulson still alive. She’d heard him slain at Loki’s hands. More importantly, Sif is hunting Lorelei. You know, that whole Siren bit. Lorelei is strong like any Asgardian, but also plus Siren. She escaped during the events of Thor: The Dark World when the dark elves screwed everything up, and a bunch of prisoners escaped. But Sif has brought a choker, which will solve the issue. Good times.

Rooster’s wife shows up at the biker bar. She causes a commotion, except everyone else is under Lorelei’s spell. So much for Rooster’s wife. Fitz has designed some higher caliber weapons for the ActionTeam. Shall I start the betting pool now on how effective small arms will continue to prove against metahumans, let alone Asgardians? The whole Lorelei thing isn’t great. It’s not great when the ActionTeam arrives at Rooster’s bar either, despite their inconspicuous arrival in a half dozen black SUVS. The local police open fire on them. Oops. Probably should have thought that one through, Phil son of Coul. Sif makes some fast cover for the S.H.I.E.L.D. boys by moving an RV with her meaty leg, then enters the bar to battle Lorelei. Lorelei comments that she does not fear Sif, and has beaten her before. This is hard to believe when she orders her bikers to attack, because the bikers are mooks. They cannot possibly hurt Sif. It’s kind of like when the villains in the “Superman” TV series fired all their bullets at Superman, then decided to throw their guns, like this would somehow be more effective. Just ridiculous.

Obviously, while Sif dispatches the mooks, Lorelei is out the back. She ensares Ward in her evil spell, and bounces. Why did Phil bring Ward with him, over May, again? Oh, right, because this show has to run forty two and a half minutes. Nevermind. Forget I even asked.

So the Lorelei collar is busted. Coulson assigns Fitz-Simmons to fix that shit. After Skye rants for a bit, he also assigns my personal favourite L7-type to aid in hunting Agent Ward down… electronically. Apparently Ward really is like a James Bond or Jason Bourne type… with lockers full of weapons, money, credentials… all over the world. Frankly, Ward never struck me as important enough for that before. I guess my bad? I shouldn’t have underestimated him.

At the New York New York, Ward scores with Lorelei! It is not clinical. It is not wooden. One wonders if he will ever be able to go back. … Of course, this is all in exchange for him providing Lorelei with an army, presumably to conquer Earth. Oops. Afterward, Lorelei reflects on her captivity. And on how she kind of thought Earth sucked. Ward talks about slaying Sif, but Lorelei points out that it’s a stupid idea. The other ActionTeam members, on the other hand…

Fitz claims that Ward and Lorelei don’t appear on any camera anywhere in Las Vegas. This is factually incorrect, because we saw them wandering around a casino floor. I don’t care how careful Ward allegedly is… he and Lorelei wandered around on a casino floor. Somebody saw them. Of course, Fitz then immediately locks Sif inside the ActionPlane’s holding cell. Apparently he’s somehow become hypnotized by Lorelei’s spells as well. Oops. Sif starts banging on her cell wall. Simmons decides to go investigate the source of all the banging, but discovers that she and Skye are locked in as well. Soon after, Coulson encounters Fitz, immediately deduces what has happened, and talks his way past him. Meanwhile, Lorelei is on the plane, and she dismissively crushes Agent May with one blow. Ouch. Meanwhile: The ActionBrig is opened, launching Sif… INTO OPEN SKY! It happened to Thor, you see. It’s comedy jokes, achieved through repetition!

After the commercial break, there’s a weird sexy showdown. May, Ward, Lorelei… Lorelei tells us that the unbelievably awkward and chemistry-less scenes between Skye and Agent Ward aren’t over. Great. Hoorah. Woot.

Meanwhile, Coulson reconvenes with Simmons and Skye. Simmons tries to brain him with a fire extinguisher, but you know, doesn’t. Since he’s still a clear-thinking individual. For some reason he seems to think that Sif is probably not dead and stuff. And sure enough, when the plane opens again, Sif gets back in to confront a Lorelei now armed with Sif’s own blade. Well… for now. Actually, I think it’s time for the big action piece. Sif and Lorelei begin swordfighting! Fitz was going to interfere and stuff, until he spotted Simmons. Who knows what’s going on there? But also, Ward and May are going to fight. From what I’ve seen so far, the outcome of that brawl is laughable and not in doubt, but I’m sure Ward will put up a fight of some kind.

Whoops! Looks like Coulson sucker punched Fitz right away. Good times. Oh, but Ward is putting up a fight. I hate to get my dander up again, but this is kind of absurd. Heralding back to my review of “T.R.A.C.K.S.”, despite the fact that the show has characterized May as being both faster and more skillful than Ward, she’s also a girl, so when she kicks Ward in the head, he’s fine, and he starts throwing her around. Dramatic tension, I get, but I’m not wild about how we’re getting it this week. Sorry, showrunners, you are doing a shitty job. I know this because even after May tackles Ward through a glass wall, he somehow is the one that comes up with the gun. Isn’t the whole point that she’s faster, with better reflexes? You know, to counteract his better upper body strength. Good thing the gun is empty.

And good thing Sif saves the day by collaring Lorelei.

Anyway, things wrap up tidily. Ward (bleeeeeeeeeeegh) desires another woman than May. Boy, I wonder who. Please, keep forcing that, showrunners! I really enjoy the terrible scenes between Skye and Ward! We need more of them! They are delightful! Kinda feels like May and Ward are dunzo. Coulson visits Skye to talk about how the GH-325 is of alien origin. Skye kinda doesn’t give a shit, since she’s still alive and all… but I really feel like we need to see Nick Fury on this show sometime soon. These convenient excuses for why he’s not around have already worn thin. It’s a bummer. My personal concern? This stuff is heavy plot stuff… we’re in… what, mid season 1? How is this show possibly going to survive multiple season on network TV? I feel like this series always needed to be a 13 episode cable affair. But that’s just me.

Coda: Agent May was listening in. She’s reporting to another master. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

This episode kind of annoyed me. It had some really good stuff going, though, so I won’t be too hard on it. The film tie-in was a welcome one. I feel like this show is going to need occasional guest appearances to keep it going. The next one practically has to be Sam Jackson giving at least a cameo turn as Director Nick Fury… but we shall see.

TV Recap: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Episode #12: “Seeds”

AgentsofSHIELD Sometimes it seems that all hope is lost. That a show with recognizable potential has past the point of redemption. That it’s game over. But that time is not this week! No! For indeed, peeking between the clouds of wooden acting and stilted dialogue, comes a new episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D…. and spoiler alert, people of Earth… it’s a pretty good one.

You heard me.

Now Apparently A Permanent Fixture Previously On: As random plots get tied together from earlier in the season, we always need these recaps, I guess. Basically, this time, we need to remember that Skye is looking for her parents.

Cold Open: S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy! Do they have a Sorting Hat at future Hogwarts? Oops, no time to worry. The students are at the pool, only, it’s uh… freezing. For no apparent reason. One student is nearly trapped in the ice when it rapidly freezes over his leg, but another busts the ice open with the hilt of a pool skimmer. Yikes!

Act I: After the briefest of cold opens, Fitz-Simmons are talking about how they designed a device that can freeze pools! Well, it wasn’t designed to be used in that way, but someone has apparently weaponized it. For that reason, Fitz-Simmons have been recalled to the Academy. Well, the SciTech Academy. Apparently there are three … Communications, Operations, and SciTech. I think that answers my incredibly important question about how they’re sorted into Houses. I guess you just apply for the division you’re suited for! There’s a rivalry between Sciences and Operations. Skye makes a funny about this to a passing Agent May, who confesses that Ward, Skye, and Fitz-Simmons are going to the Academy… she and Coulson are bound elsewhere. Skye is a little worried about Coulson, actually. Remember, how he had it kind of crappy last week? Ward re-assures her. There’s something about Ward this week that seems less wooden. Maybe I’m imagining things. I hope not though.

At the Academy, the Shield ActionTeam is met by the lovely Agent Weaver (Christine Adams), apparently some kind of administrator. Weird that they don’t make that clear. It also seems like Agent Ward outranks her. I wish I knew a little more about how S.H.I.E.L.D. is organized (and by a little more, I mean a LITTLE, not a lot. Please no one inundate me). Does being Level 7 give Ward clout automatically, as well as determine his secrecy rating? Is Level 7 a rank? Has this already been explained and I just blacked out? Anyway, Agent Weaver is worried they might have a bad seed at the academy. Ward tries to explain the meaning of this term to Skye who helpfully informs him that it is also a phrase that normal people know of! It was a very Joss Whedon moment. I assume that Jed must have had some hand in this scene. It’s fun to try and guess.

While Fitz-Simmons prepare for their lecture on how you should be careful of the potential of dorm room science projects to be weaponized into something dreadful… Ward and Skye visit the Wall of Valor, a memorial to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who have fallen in the line of duty. Skye wishes that she’d come up through S.H.I.E.L.D. the right way, but Ward talks her down. It’s a stunningly human moment from Ward. Did I drink a lot before this episode? I’d like to believe that, instead, Ward is finally a character instead of a caricature.

On the ActionPlane, Coulson and May rehash the whole ‘Coulson was dead and got brought back by mad science’ thing. More importantly, May has a line on one Richard Lumley (Boyd Kistner), former Agent, who vanished 23 years before. I have deep suspicions that he’s connected to Skye’s mysterious past! Sounds like fun.

At the Academy, Fitz-Simmons begin their lecture. Apparently they’re held in some reverence at the Academy. Meanwhile, Ward is interrogating the near-victim of the pool freeze, a young man named Seth (David Zovatto), one of the top students at SciTech. Seth admits that the academy is competitive, but that they don’t typically attempt to kill one another to gain pole position. He also claims not to know a student named Donnie Gill (Dylan Minnette)…

…Who at the same time is freezing over solid during Fitz-Simmons’ lecture! Fortunately, Fitz-Simmons are seasoned field operatives, and Skye and Ward arrive just in time to identify the freeze device responsible and smash it. Their combined efforts save young Donnie before he suffers much in the way of undue effects.

Oops, there’s the scene changes I’ve been missing. In a tinted limo, we’re re-united with hilariously evil CEO Ian Quinn (David Conrad) who you might remember from the Gravitonium debacle. He’s just here to tell us he’s involved in this somehow, before we’re back to the Academy.

Eh, it’s just some filler dialogue. Donnie has a 190 IQ, no friends, no enemies, has trouble relating, blah blah blah. The faculty is worried about him. Wards wants Fitz-Simmons to take the group to the students’ refuge, The Boiler Room. There’s another scene change in here, but I don’t even want to talk about it. I spent more words explaining that than the time we spent scene-changed. Ugh. Anyway, Ward ACTUALLY wants Fitz to go make friends with Donnie Gill. Simmons and Skye make fun of him, because he’s abruptly acting like a human being, and this is new for all of us. Humour helps break the tension. The rest of them will check out the Boiler Room. I capitalize it, because apparently the SciTech students turned the literal boiler room of the campus into a nightclub. No, I am not kidding. There appears to be no cover, and while Ward is twice the age of any student on campus, apparently real S.H.I.E.L.D. agents drop by from time to time.

Over at Donnie’s place, Fitz and he compare notes on being the biggest nerd on campus. Fitz is impressed by the cool gadgets that Donnie’s been working on. In his own time, he also invented weird things. You know, like technology that could be weaponized into a FREEEEEEZE gun.

In Mexico City, May and Coulson being unobtrusive in their bright red ActionCorvette. They are talking about Skye. Actually, May is doing almost all of the talking. This is a day for breakthroughs for everyone! Skye has finally completely won May over, we discover. This is actually nice to hear. I was tired of May being unbearably frigid toward poor Skye. Or maybe I was just bored after we had to deal with it from Ward as well? Hmm. Coulson’s got concerns about the whole ‘re-worked his brain and implanted false memories’ thing. May does not. I like that Coulson is dealing with some stuff to make him more interesting. He’s not so smarmy here, and he doesn’t feel like he knows everything anymore. He even says he’s ‘tired of secrets’. We all know that’s not true, right? He’s a man of secrets. Fortunately, about this time, they spot Lumley and go into pursuit mode.

It’s a hilarious kung-fu mismatch between Agent May and Lumley. He literally hits her with a pallett, which slows her down for a second, while Lumley attempts to flee. But then we discover that the unobtrusive and very stealthy bright red Corvette can fly. Well, then! Coulson identifies himself, and Lumley sags in relief. Or despair. Or something. “Oh good. This is about the baby girl, isn’t it?” Time to learn cool things!

Lumley tried to take a cyanide capsule. Coulson is horrified. What did he think they were going to do with him? Well, there’s a story! 24 years ago (this is the number associated with Skye’s infancy, in case you forgot) Agents Lumley and Avery were in China. A whole S.H.I.E.L.D. team had apparently been wiped out trying to recover an 0-8-4 (this is the code given to an object of unknown origin. Previous examples include the Peruvian artifact we saw earlier this season, or perhaps even the Tesseract itself (this is the dumb, generic name given to the Cosmic Cube in films such as ‘The Avengers’). It turns out that the 0-8-4 these agents were retrieving was a baby girl, who exhibited no special powers that they ever observed. One by one, everyone who knew about the kid was hunted down and destroyed, including Agent Avery. Lumley is the only other survivor. Before her death, Agent Avery faked a Level 8 (!! who the eff is level 8 if Phil Coulson is only level 7? Just Nick Fury? It all seems kind of arbitrary though, let’s not think too hard) clearance. Avery assigned the S.H.I.E.L.D. foster system to move Skye around every few months not because she wasn’t wanted… but to keep her safe. Wow. Let’s take a breather after that.

Back at the Academy, Skye has blended in. Because she’s very smooth, as we’ve seen, she apparently flirted with the bartender and convinced him that she’s a Level 7 operative at the Sandbox (a S.H.I.E.L.D. pure research facility). After she expressed curiousity over top candidates who might be interested in assignment there, she was pointed toward one of the lovely young ladies from the cold open. Ward decides to check it out. Meanwhile, up in Donnie’s dorm, Fitz tries to befriend the troubled young man. He also helps him solve a problem with power generation for some dorm room science project Donnie’s been working on. I’m sure that was a good idea.

Ward is not good at flirting with young S.H.I.E.L.D. cadets. The dialogue here isn’t that good, and neither is he. It’s kind of a bummer. He’s made great strides during this episode, but right here, I either want to punch him in the face, or do the Picard-style facepalm til the scene is over. Right up until young miss… whatever… drops a bombshell. Donnie and Seth are friends. They’ve been bantering for weeks about how they would get to meet the great Agent Fitz. Ward immediately spots the problem. They just now arrived… and didn’t know they were coming… and oh. Right.

Fitz decides to play hero after he realizes that he’s been had, and that helping Donnie with his science project probably actually means that he just taught Donnie how to power a full scale version of the FREEEEEEEEEEEEZE machine. Unluckily for Fitz, Seth is also present, and shoots him in the head. Probably non-lethally. But still. It all comes together now; Seth and Donnie have been in touch with comically evil CEO Ian Quinn (But he really just loves free enterprise, guys! Emphasis on the comically evil.), who seems to do nothing in life except fly around in his private jet and facilitate supervillains and weapons of mass destruction (though, to be fair, he may just not have had time to rebuild his magnificently appointed villa since we last saw him). Skye even confirms with Coulson that this is Quinn’s modus operandi.

Oh, right, we’re back on the ActionPlane now. Coulson is acting kind of weird toward Skye. I WONDER WHY. Fitz thinks that Donnie is still not a bad guy. Also, he abruptly realizes that the device he saw used exotic and rare materials that could never be obtained on the open market by cadets. They’ve got a financial backer.

In a parking lot somewhere, Seth is on the phone with amusingly sinister CEO Ian Quinn.

On the ActionPlane, we now learn that Seth’s father works for Quinn WorldWide. Remember how, to the rest of the world, Quinn isn’t full of cackleworthy menace? Hmm. Even Seth and Donnie probably don’t know that he’s hysterically foul. Quinn tells Seth he wants a full-scale demonstration to prove that the device is worth his time now that the ActionTeam is on the case. Then he hangs up the phone and immediately orders his pilot to turn around. Remember what I keep saying about him? It’s ha-ha funny! It’s heinous!

Donnie is having second thoughts about just randomly firing up their untested ice machine at full scale. Seth convinces him otherwise, and they push the big red button. Only, instead of doing whatever idiotic thing they thought they would do… well, even Donnie doesn’t know what dumb thing they just did.

On the ActionPlane, Coulson squares with Skye. He tells her the whole truth. The music rises as he does so. The music tells us how we should feel about each of these scenes! I’m still in shock over the fact that Coulson decided to square with Skye. Is this show getting like… a lot better? Please, dear reader, you tell me. Skye says that the truth about her past cannot be worse than what she imagined. Coulson assures her: “It is.” Rise, emotions! Obey that musical cue! The music is so ascendant, it can carry us through to other scenes…!

Agents Ward and Weaver witness the instanteous formation of a huge, dangerous storm system.

Skye is in tears.

Donnie and Seth are at the eye of the same storm. Seth is triumphant; Donnie is deeply concerned. While the device worked… they could be in terrible danger.

After the break… Donnie is yet more concerned. They seeded the clouds, only they did a REALLY good job. Ice is coming. Like, a capriciously lethal amount. He begs for Seth’s help to try and reverse the process. Coulson orders Ward to see if he can extract Donnie and Seth, but Ward takes one look outside and says: “Not so much”. The only remaining recourse is to land the ActionPlane in the eye of the storm and get the two young men out manually. Luckily, Agent May is a good pilot and stuff. I’m sure they’ll make it. Uhh… not before Seth is hit by a bolt of lightning though. An unfortunate consequence of holding on tight to a metal object that rises up above its surroundings. Donnie is knocked back as well, and the machine is totally fried. The ActionPlane descends, the ActionTeam is here to save the day… but Seth is already too far gone, despite Fitz-Simmons’ best efforts. Donnie is devastated.

In the aftermath, Donnie is being shipped out to the Sandbox, where S.H.I.E.L.D. can keep an eye on him. May wants to revisit the whole ‘she and Ward are making love with machine-like precision and wooden facial expressions’ thing but Coulson’s not concerned. She also seems genuinely upset, like a real human being, at how badly it must have hurt Skye that Coulson told her the truth. Coulson, though, is positively glowing, as he talks about Skye’s reaction… guys, it turns out that Skye is a hero, she’s an ‘up’ person, and she gives her all for the team. Now, I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, BUT ALL THE VIEWERS KNEW THAT ALREADY COULSON, GOOD GRIEF. We got over ‘conflicted allegiances Skye’ like ten episodes ago. As part of the exeunt, we see Donnie making ice with his finger. Hey, it’s the influence of farcically vicious CEO Ian Quinn! Makin’ dem Supervillains!

In a final segment, Coulson calls amusingly malicious CEO Ian Quinn to threaten to blow him out of the sky if he ever comes near a S.H.I.E.L.D. aligned nation again. Quinn’s unruffled, and tells Coulson that … ‘The Clairvoyant told me to say “Hello”‘. Because we can’t have two groups of bad guys. God forbid. They’re all one group of interconnected evildoers, responsible for all of the evil! The musical cue tells me dread, but I felt ‘yawn’. Tsk tsk. The music wasn’t powerful enough.

Guys, this episode was great! The best one so far, by a clear margin! I know that people have already fled this show, and believe me, I get it. No one watches it more times than I do, despite the pain and suffering it causes. But if every week was like this one, we’d have an above-average TV show. Isn’t that all we can ask for from the broadcast networks anymore? Anyway, I’ll join you all again next week, for another journey into the unknown. Meanwhile, I’m going to see how a guy gets entrance into the S.H.I.E.L.D. academy… seemed like a pretty happening place.