Netflix Tag-Team Review: Daredevil is Awesome

You might have guessed that I enjoy to collaborate, and given the fun I had with Hannah on the Age of Ultron review, I’ve been dropping some major hints! So when our Instigator-In-Chief, Gene’O, suggested a collaboration on Daredevil, I jumped at the chance.

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First, we’ll start with our overall views before we break it down a little and end on a verdict!

Mel – As a television show, Daredevil works for a number of reasons. It has a dark, edgy comic book feel to the production; great characters you can enjoy even if you don’t know their history, and a hero who is fighting his own personal demons while taking out the trash! I’ve always been a fan of Matt Murdock and, although I was nervous about how the character would be represented, I had high hopes for the show. I wasn’t disappointed.

Gene’O – I’ve always had a soft spot for Daredevil myself, and I was not disappointed either. In fact one of the things I like about the show is its “dark-but-not-too-dark” tone. It manages to be a serious show without taking itself too seriously. I think that’s mostly in the acting, and I have to say, the casting is phenomenal. Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk is an especially inspired choice . . . but let me not get ahead of myself in the intro.

The Good

Mel – The differing points of view. It is especially powerful when the audience is allowed to see through Matt’s eyes; what he hears, feels, experiences.

The fight scenes – the choreography is wonderful; some of the best I’ve watched. An example of that would be the corridor scene from Episode 2 ‘Cut Man’. It reflected the character beautifully and, to me, was a personification of Matt’s fighting spirit.

Gene’O – I agree about the fight choreography. It’s beautifully done. The two I find most memorable are the final showdown and this one, which is absolutely epic. [WARNING: BIG-TIME SPOILER HERE.]

I also think the points of view work well, but the thing that stood out the most for me were the relationships. This is a well-scripted and superbly acted show. The characters are complex, and there are a lot of emotional moments in this series that just feel genuine. That’s not something I expected in a Netflix superhero series. It was a welcome surprise.daredevil_netflix_claire

MelI have to jump in here, Gene’o because I completely agree about the relationships. I particularly enjoyed the character-centric episodes, “Nelson v. Murdock” being my favourite. The acting in that episode was superb; raw and extremely moving. Matt and Foggy’s relationship is one of the highlights for me – their dynamic works so well. I also enjoyed Matt and Claire’s chemistry, especially when we got to see his vulnerable side.

Gene’O – And I have one more. I like the way they handled the Daredevil costume. You know it’s got to be coming from the beginning, but it’s very late in the season before it’s even developed, and it’s an important element of the plot. I thought the reveal, when we finally got there, was a huge payoff and worked well.

Mel – I agree. The build up to the reveal was particular well-timed. I was so excited that, by the time we saw the suit, the tension was killing me! So cool.

The Not-So-Good

Gene’O – I had a hard time coming up with any of these, but this is a review, so we must find something to criticize 😉 If the show has a weakness, it’s in some of the supporting cast. Even though Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk is so good, he could almost carry the show on his own, I thought some of the villains could have been better.

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I don’t think there are any poor performances or terrible casting choices here, I just thought a lot of the bad guys were . . . well . . . forgettable.

And I may take some heat for this one. Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson annoyed me at times. I thought he overplayed some of the more serious dramatic moments, but that may be as much about direction as about Nelson’s technique. And he does get props for doing well with the occasional comedic bits.

Mel – You won’t get any heat from me about Foggy, though I loved his character I will admit. If I have a criticism it’s that, after the emotional roller coaster of “Nelson v. Murdock,” his ultimate acceptance felt a little rushed.

As for Vincent, he was superb. My favourite scenes were when he lost control. I loved his sinister energy, and the fact he turned into a rage monster. It was bound to happen, given how much he suppressed. That said, there were times he reminded me of Goren from Criminal Intent.

In an effort to be constructive, because I’m also having a hard time finding fault with the show, I did feel the transitions were a little lacking at times. I also agree about the villains in general, which is why I’m really looking forward to the next season and keeping my fingers crossed we get to meet ninja cult, The Hand.

Gene’O: LOL. Criminal Intent. I didn’t pick up on the Goren vibe, but I agree about the transitions. A few times, as I was starting a new episode, I went and scanned through the last 10 minutes of the previous episode to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I’m also hoping we get to meet The Hand, and I like the supernatural undercurrent that seems to be developing.

The Verdict

Gene’O — If you like action/drama with plenty of grit and the martial arts turned up to 11, give Daredevil a look, even if you don’t typically go in for comics characters. On a five-point scale, I give it a solid 4.5. I’m tempted to rate it higher, but it’s not quite perfect, though it is one heck of an entertaining series.

Mel – I’ll concede to the rating for an overall score, though there are some episodes (such as “Stick”) I would give a 5. Matt Murdock is a compelling character, and it’s not only his tremendous skills, it’s his heart, the vulnerability that pulls you in. He’s a hero who is struggling with his own dark side which, granted, is not a unique trope, but the show handles character conflict exceptionally well. Add in the action, the dark comic-book feel to the show, and the strong relationships and it’s a hit in my book!daredevil_netflix_charlie

Gene’O – Yes, some of the individual episodes are 5’s all the way. I agree about “Stick,” and I’ll add “Cut Man” to the list. There was absolutely no chance of me not finishing this season after that episode. Did we just write an entire review of Daredevil without mentioning Charlie Cox??? I’m a bit of a Charlie Cox fanboy, but even if I weren’t, I’d still have to say. He is pitch-perfect in this.

Mel – I could wax lyrical about Charlie Cox all day! You’re right. He’s perfect for the role, so colour me a fangirl for Charlie and Matt both!

Gene’O – Thanks, Melissa! This is so much fun!

Mel – It’s my pleasure. I think it might just be my favourite way to review! Fair warning though, I’m hoping to convince you to make it a feature. With all the great contributors here on Sourcerer, it should be a blast. I appreciate the chance to work with you on it.

But now we’ve had our say, it’s over to you. How would you rate Daredevil? What are your highlights from the show? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

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Your weekend music. I don’t blog a lot of pure pop here, so no idea how this plays. I find the video hilarious.

I’d intended to use this to prompt a well-laid-out discussion about the changing behavior of television viewers, which is important to this blog because we publish a lot of tv-related content. Didn’t get the post I wanted to write done, so here’s the shorter, simpler version.

People are watching television on demand now more than sitting down and watching episodes when they air. I think this is true even of people who get their tv from a cable provider rather than from places like Netflix or Hulu. I don’t have data to back this up; it’s just what I think.

That means, as time goes on, individual episode reviews are going to get us less and less, and posting them the day after an episode airs is also going to get us less and less.

Throw in the fact that Netflix is dumping entire seasons onto the internet at once, and we have both a scheduling issue, and an issue with the way we’ve been structuring the tv reviews. We have a little time to think about this — plenty of people are still looking for “just-after” reviews at the moment, but I’d like to get ahead of this.

So, bloggers and tv viewers. What’s the best way to blog a series that’s delivered all-at-once for an audience that’s watching at their own pace, and whenever they have time?

And what are you willing to share with us about your own tv viewing habits?

Sci-Fi Saturday Netflix Review: Sense 8

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I recently finished the first season of Sense 8, a sci-fi show created for Netflix by J. Michael Straczinski and the Wachowskis. Since I don’t have a Star Wars post today, I figure why not give it a review. The concept of the show is interesting. Eight people scattered around the world suddenly develop the ability to communicate telepathically and share one another’s knowledge and skills. Of course it doesn’t take long to find out they’re going to be hunted by a big bad who has similar powers.

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The Concept

The main characters are sensate, which can man any number of things in fiction. In this case it means the eight protagonists can share one another’s headspace in strange and fabulous ways. Their telepathic link works as s sort of bilocation. They don’t just hear one another’s voices in their heads, they can actually project themselves to the same location as other members of the group. They can even “let one another in,” a sort of consensual possession which leads to some truly weird sexual encounters before they learn to control their powers properly, and to a few awesome fight scenes. If you judge it according to the standards of typical American television, this show is w-a-a-a-y out there, people.

Here are a few things I liked and didn’t like about the show.

The Good

1. The acting and characterization are the best parts, and the casting is good. The characters, once you get to know them, are compelling.

2. The camera work is brilliant at times, and gives the series a cinematic feel, which is a strength with a piece of speculative weirdness like Sense 8.Sense8Logo

3. Lots of non-heteronormative characters are depicted in believable, loving relationships, and physical intimacy between same sex & transgender couples is actually depicted in the screen. This is a big one. The show is much more sexually explicit than I like my tv to be — definitely not something to watch while the kids are awake. But for the most part, the show gets this one right.

4. There’s a comic shout-out to the Matrix early on in the series that absolutely cracked me up. You’ll know that one when you see it.

The Not-So-Good

1. Sense 8 suffers from one of the problems Game of Thrones does: loads and loads of characters separated geographically and dealing with their own subplots. I never felt like I was seeing enough of any one character. I almost gave up halfway through the first episode, which introduced all eight, because the first 40 minutes is an incoherent mishmash of opening subplots and the incoherence feels deliberate to me. The show (sorta) brings it all together in the last ten minutes of episode 1 and ends with a good hook, which is why I kept watching. This way of organizing a long story works much better in print than it does on tv.

2. The pacing is uneven. Especially in the last half of the season, there were long stretches where I was thinking “ok, I don’t want to see this scene until you tell me what it has to do with the main storyline. And can we please get back to the action now?”

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3. Despite the fact that Sense 8 deals well with LGBTQ relationships, stereotypical tropes abound in the characterization. Why does the Korean character have to be an underground kickboxer with anger issues and a wise sensei? Why does the German character have to be a tall, blonde criminal from an abusive family? And *EGAD* one of the American characters is a second-generation Chicago police officer with a soft heart.

Add in a pixie woman from Iceland who deals with a horrific tragedy by retreating into the London club scene, drugs, and dangerously unhealthy relationships, and well. That’s half the cast. Scattering your main characters around the world and making them diverse is good, but building them from standard, predictable tropes takes a some of the shine off. I will say, though. This wasn’t an issue for me while I was actually watching. Could be that I’m not as sensitive to this stuff as I should be. Could be that the characters are well-drawn enough to compensate for the problem. Your mileage will vary with this one.

4. The show goes a bit overboard with graphic depictions of childbirth. Now, I’m not squeamish about anatomy and such depicted in film, and at least the producers worked hard to make it realistic. But I’m talking frontal shots of bloody, crowning heads. Seven or eight of them. Everyone has their limits with this sort of thing, and Sense 8 exceeded mine.

5. The ending falls flat. I was thinking for the first nine episodes that the story was building to a truly interesting moment, but that just never materialized. The finale is a standard “rescue the princess from the castle of the evil overlord” episode. It’s cleverly-enough done, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen. I want more out of a show with this much potential.

6. And finally, the big one. In terms of deciding whether or not to give another 12 hours of my life to this program, should Netflix decide to order a second season, this is what gives me the most pause. The whole story relies on extranormal phenomena, but just how, exactly, the characters’ powers and weaknesses work is not explained adequately.

Sense 8 risks running into the same problem Lost did. I like entertainment with fantastical elements, but I want to know the rules of the paranormal game up front so I can adjust my expectations accordingly. I don’t want to get two or three seasons in and find out things don’t actually work the way the authors led me to believe they do, or to end up feeling like the producers of the show are using the fantastical stuff to sidestep the need to actually resolve plot lines.

The Verdict

Watch this show if you enjoy at least two of these: utter weirdness, contemporary sci-fi with a dystopian twist, or Big Sexy Drama with martial arts and explosions thrown in. But don’t expect too much. If you’re looking for straight action adventure from your Netflix and a satisfying storyline, give Daredevil a try first. I’m on to Marco Polo myself. I think that one has real potential, but then, I’m a sucker for period fiction.

I’m developing a rating system for my reviews, and I’ve not settled on what to use in place of stars, nor created graphics. On a five-point scale, I rate Sense 8 a 3.5, and 1.5 of that is solely for the acting, fight choreography, and camera work.

Thanks to Hannah for discussing this show with me and convincing me to give it a chance. I find it worth watching and writing about, and I am interested to see what Hannah comes up with if she decides to post about it once she finishes the season.

Review: House of Cards Season 3, Episodes 10-13

And here we are, sadly, at the end of another season of House of Cards, and it’s been a bit of a perplexing one, full of intrigue, Russian diplomats, and Kevin Spacey’s confusing but charming accent.

(Psst—There will be spoilers here for ze end of ze season. Haven’t finished yet? Check out reviews of episodes 1-3, 4-6, or 7-9.)

Episode 10

This was one of the weaker episodes for me, partly because you could just feel heaviness in the writing, clunkiness in threads coming together to set us up for the end of the season.

Frank’s campaign is in trouble, especially after the debacle that sent the Jordan Valley into crisis. At a town hall along the campaign trail, Frank answers questions—or sort of. Most of the questions are things he can’t or won’t answer. Remy suggests screening future questions, and I’m wondering why as many politically savvy folks as this with a sitting president in a disastrous situation weren’t already doing that.

Back home, Frank gets a Message. Tim called. Anyone remember Tim? If you’ve seen season 1, you do–Tim is Frank’s former lover. And Frank panics when he returns Tim’s phone-call and is told that Tom Yates called to ask for an interview.

Oh hell.

Elsewhere, Frank continues to lose his head. The Jordan Valley situation is escalating, and Petrov announces that he will violate the Israeli no-fly zone in his personal plane. For some reason, Frank decides that’s a fantastic idea and decides to follow.

Claire, of course, warns against this. But Frank ignores her and suits up in Kevlar and a helmet. This is all The Most Ridiculous Thing because no sitting US president in modern times would have a tiny convoy in a superbly dangerous region of the world, protected by a Kevlar, a helmet, and about 3 armored vehicles.

Anyway, once he’s in Petrov’s bunker, the two start to negotiate. Frank agrees to scale back missile defense. Petrov has a difficult condition, though: Claire’s removal as UN ambassador. There’s this sort-of masterful moment when Petrov adds another layer to things by calling into question the Russian involvement in the bombing. Perhaps, Petrov suggests, they played Claire, and in doing so, played Frank.

When he returns home, Frank delivers the bad news to Claire. And then there’s Yates to deal with. The two have a few drinks together. They gaze a little-bit longingly at one another. They talk. Frank reaches for Yates’s hand. But then he sends him home.

Claire, meanwhile, is not only no longer UN ambassador, but is with a team of UN advisers who have news: the public likes Claire’s hair better blond. And so blond she will be, despite herself.

Across town, Doug is finding something new, something he hasn’t had before, with his brother’s family—family of his own. He seems happy playing with his nieces. He and his brother seem on more even footing than before.

Gavin, meanwhile, fesses up to Lisa: he doesn’t have AIDS, and his name isn’t Max. He’s leaving town, though. She should be safe, but if she ever gets in trouble, she should call—and he gives her Doug’s number. He also leaves a guinea pig with her—pretty sure that’s Cashew.)

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Episode 11

Claire is back to the role as FLOTUS, even if she’s not quite back to the role of adoring wife. One of the things that has marked season 3 is the growing gulf between Frank and Claire, and we get quite a bit of emphasis on that in this episode. At a fund-raiser, the women question how they can trust Frank; Claire assures them that even were they not married, she’d trust Frank. I get the feeling that’s really the opposite of what’s true, though.

Frank, Jackie, and Heather are readying for a debate between presidential candidates that will air on CNN. Frank wants Jackie to go after Dunbar for the wealth she was born into and for sending her children to private school. But Jackie now has step-kids, and they’re in private school, too. She’s not sure about the tactic. (And it doesn’t make much sense, honestly.)

She plans a covert meeting with Heather Dunbar. “I want to endorse you” is the message—but only if you’re willing to give me something I want in return. A Cabinet position, perhaps. But Heather Dunbar isn’t willing to play that game, and Jackie isn’t prepared to leave Frank’s side without a guarantee, so all is as it was.

And then it’s time for the debate. Claire is watching from a campaign office full of Underwood supporters. Yates is with her. Jackie, Heather, and Frank are onstage. As planned, Jackie hits Heather Dunbar hard about her background and where she sends her kids to school.

When the debate turns to Claire’s appointment as UN ambassador and the recent mess in the Jordan Valley, Claire doesn’t want to watch anymore. She leaves. The debate turns back to the kids, specifically that Heather’s kids are in boarding school—“maybe you didn’t want to raise them yourself” Jackie tells Heather. A collective gasp, and we know Jackie’s done. “Jackie, don’t your kids to go private school, too?” This from Frank.

Across town, Doug gets a message from Gavin–Rachel is still alive, and he’ll tell Doug where she is after he gets Gavin’s friend out of prison. I can’t help but think that this is a Bad Move for Gavin.

Jackie demands to see Frank, angry about his jab at her. He’s imperious, reminds her that they’re not equals. And Jackie says fine. Then we see her on TV. And she’s endorsing Dunbar. Remy, who we’ve already seen struggle with Frank a few times, issues a warning. And then he leaves.

And Yates is with Claire, who is donating blood as part of campaign photo-ops. He asks why she works so hard for Frank, especially after being fired. Claire, for her part, still seems suspicious of Yates’s relationship with Frank. Claire, who is clearly about to pass out, makes a rather important revelation: every 7 years she reevaluates the relationship, like it’s an office—and it IS an office.

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Episode 12

Frank and Claire have gotten the first chapter of Yates’s book. It’s not at all about what they thought it would be. The first chapter is all about Frank and Claire, about their relationship. Frank hates it, even if he finds himself agreeing with what’s on the page. Claire just doesn’t seem to know how she feels about it.

Naturally, Frank’s solution to the issue is to fire Yates and insist that he never publish the book. That’s more than ridiculous, and more than a little unenforceable, but Frank reminds Yates of what he knows—the first novel isn’t his.

On the campaign trail, it becomes clear that Frank and Claire are drifting further apart without Frank even being aware that it’s happening. But they’re in separate bedrooms. When Frank speaks warmly to Claire, she is cold.

Dunbar is ahead in the campaign, but only barely—and poll numbers are always expected to off by several points. Dunbar wants something that will guarantee her as the front-runner for the election. And that’s when she remembers the diary that Doug showed her earlier, the one that proves Claire lied about her abortion on TV.

Dunbar meets with Frank in the grubby little stairwell that served as a cigar room for Petrove and him. She tells him that she knows that Claire lied, that she has the journal that will prove it. Dunbar has impressed him—but Frank is a dangerous man to impress. On the way out, we get an aside that he’ll kill her if she harms Claire. We know he means it.

Jackie and Remy are now both officially free of Frank. They’re not free of one another, though, and we’re left wondering what this will mean for Remy, for Jackie, and for Jackie’s still-new family.

Kate and Yates are still sleeping together. He wants Kate to write a story about his book, about Frank’s attempt to suppress it, but Kate won’t. Conflict of interest and whatnot.

Claire, meanwhile, is going door-to-door in Iowa. In one of the most bizarre exchanges of the season, Claire meets a new mother whose politics do not align with Frank’s whose “Underwood 2016” signs in the yard are her husband’s. She goes into the woman’s house, and there’s dialogue about cheating, philandering, abuse—-all the things that Claire is dealing with, too, but without the means to escape that Claire has.

Not long after she leaves the woman’s house, Claire’s phone rings. It’s Frank, telling her that about the journal. He’s already working on a solution. But Claire’s hit a breaking point.

Meechum finds Doug, who has the diary with him. He rips out the page about the abortion and burns it. He wants to come back. But how can Frank trust him? He just burned up $2 million.

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Episode 13

Oh, there’s Rachel. She’s in New Mexico, working at a bar and at a supermarket and living in a dormitory/halfway house. She’s “Lisa” now, and she’s just gotten the new paperwork to become, permanently “Cassie Logan.”

But Doug, who is back in the president’s good graces, is looking for Gavin. He finds him in Venezuela and beats Gavin until he reveals Rachel’s location. From there he heads to New Mexico, where he buys a beat up van and then goes to a hardware store and buys everything on a Murder Shopping List: shovel, bleach, duct tape.

In their hotel, Claire demands that Frank be rough with her, that they have sex. She also demands that he look at her. He can’t. He calls and has her a room of her own made up and suggests she go back to Washington.

She does, and then she refuses to join Frank when he calls and wants her to return to Iowa. She refuses to answer his calls. She meets with Yates.

In New Mexico, Doug snatches up Rachel. She pleads to be released, even after he ties her up and throws her in the back of his van. But Doug can’t fail Frank again. He drives the van to a secluded spot in the middle of the desert. It’s beautiful, and lonely. He starts to dig a grave. For a few moments, we think he’ll change his mind. He even does, briefly, as he lets her go. But he can’t do that. She has to die, and the last we see of them for the season is Rachel’s body being buried, Doug shoveling dirt over her face.

Frank beats Dunbar in the Iowa primary. Claire is still in the White House, refusing to come out, and he must give his victory speech alone. He does so at campaign headquarters, saying she isn’t feeling well, and things go relatively well.

But back at home, things go awfully. He throws a tantrum. He wrenches Claire’s face to the side as he articulates the words, slowly and menacingly, “without me you are nothing.”

And that’s it. Claire has had it.

She’s leaving.

And that, folks, is where they leave us.

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