Final Fantasy VIII Remastered

I haven’t played Final Fantasy VIII since soon after it was released. Or at least, soon after it was released on PC. That said, it is still a game that means a whole lot to me. FF8, along with Pokemon Gold and Silver, was on of the first games that I closely followed prior to release.

I was a Final Fantasy fan before FF8. I had read about Final Fantasy 2 (4) in Nintendo Power and searched it out, but instead found the original Final Fantasy for NES in a Wal-Mart bargain bin. I played and loved that, but I didn’t have a SNES and did end up upgrading for some time. Still, I managed to experience Final Fantasy 3 on the SNES before that by playing it at a friends house. I ended up being obsessed with the game for several years, paying an exorbitant amount to get a used copy from Funcoland once I finally did get an SNES. That same friend also showed me the PC port of FF7, which gave me a chance to experience some of that game long before I got a Playstation.

It is a time that is hard to imagine now, but in 1998 my family did not have a computer. Not one capable of accessing the internet, at least. My ability to follow the pre-release hype of Final Fantasy VIII was limited to biking up to the public library for 1 hour of dial up internet access a day or for a few minutes at the school computer lab after school got out, as well as whatever I could find in EGM or Game Informer.

I followed it obsessively anyway. The scattered updates of grainy shots from E3 and the like. Text descriptions of cutscenes. Releases of character art that let me imagine who those characters might be. Then it was released to solid reviews, though with undercurrents of disappointment about how different it was from Final Fantasy VII.

I got it when it was released for P.C. My family had a modern (1999-era modern) that was not quite up to the task, but it worked well enough. I never truly grasped the junction system, appear to have straight up missed swathes of the story and gave up on the game not too far before the final dungeon. I still liked it well enough, but I was put off by the technical problems enough that I never reinstalled the game when my family upgraded our computer and when I finally got a Playstation, I moved on to games like Suikoden 2, Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy 9.

Something about the remastered release drew me, though. For some reason I really wanted to play the game again. I am glad I did. I understand how the game works much better now and I am still a fan of the look of the world.

The junction system has always been strange, but it is a flexible and interesting character building system. It kind of turns the characters into blank slates for the player to completely remake into whatever image desired. The only combat function that you have to have available is attack. Whatever other skills you want to use are up to you. It lets you summon your guardian forces whenever you want, but it turns out that they are much more situational in usefulness that I thought years ago. The big change is turning magic into a consumable resource and letting the player junction magic to stats, attaching the magic to that stat and increasing it by a not particularly obvious formula. One part that is clear is that the more of the magic you have, the greater the effect on your stats.

So casting magic is not generally a great idea, but instead conserving to make your stats better. Junctioning a strong magic to Squall’s strength is generally enough to handle most of the game, as it makes him so much stronger than everyone else.

I don’t know that I want to get into all the other changes: drawing magic, triple triad, enemy levels, guardian forces in general, how the game handles weapons. The game is strange, but all of its strangeness kind of works when put together.

I do want to comment on the story. For one big complaint, the back half of the story seems rushed and maybe unfinished. It spends a lot of time really building up the characters and the party, then as it seems to shift into high gear the end appears. When I gave up on the game way back when, I had no idea how close I was to the end of the game, I was thinking I was closer to the three quarter mark.

When I first played this game, I thought the cast was cool. I still think that about the designs are cool, but these characters as a bunch of dorks. I don’t mean that as a criticism; I think they work exactly as intended. When I was a teenager, I saw cool teenagers. As an adult, I see a bunch of stupid kids. I think I was right both times. Squall worked really well for me this time. His friends see a taciturn badass, but his being closed off is out of fear, not for any other reason. Irvine and Zell are projecting different kinds of cool, but it is clear how much they are faking it. Quistis attempts some maturity, but that is as much a projection as the boy’s attempted coolness. What all of them want is to know that other people like them, but none of them really think that is the case. The only one that seems to avoid that is Rinoa, and she has her own problems. Selphie seems to have come up with a genuine way of dealing with her emotions, with her happiness seeming to be less of a front than the others.

It contrasts nicely with the more adult Laguna, who still has his own problems. I feel like the game could have done a better job of fleshing that part of the game out, but it mostly works. I don’t know that the Edea and Cid stuff does; I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around what is going on there.

The big tragedy of the game is Seifer, but in the intended story and the execution. He is just like the other party members, but he ends up on the other side of the conflict, sticking with the Sorceress that they have a childhood connections with. He is delinquent and a jerk, but he wants to be loved as much as the others. He thinks he is the hero of this story, but it is hard to tell exactly what he is doing because the game doesn’t give the player enough information about what Seifer knows. It is still touching at the end when his cronies finally convince him to abandon his quest.

Final Fantasy VIII is not my favorite Final Fantasy game. In fact, I would probably put it in the lower half. But playing a game like this, that I don’t exactly love, reminds me of why I was and am such a big Final Fantasy fan. Games like FF8, or 10 or 13 or 4 , game that I like but I think are flawed, may outnumber the ones that I do absolutely love. But they are all so interesting and generally enjoyable that I can’t help but want to play them. I guess that means I should get back to Final Fantasy XV.

Addams Family

I feel like I shouldn’t like this version of The Addams Family. Sure the character designs for this adhere pretty closely to the look from the original single panel comics, but the movie does all the things that tend to sink bad modern animated movies. Gratuitous pop culture references, obnoxious needle drops, star-studded voice casts that aren’t really voice actors, cardboard stories. Somehow, though, I found myself very entertained by it anyway. That might just be my natural affection for the Addams family. This movie turns their satire of old money weirdness into a tale about immigrants, but it keeps the charm of this group of delightful weirdos. It isn’t the best movie you are likely to see this year, but it is a more than passable way to spend 90 minutes.

The plot is barely worth recounting. The Addamses, the consummate weirdos that they are, are driven out of their home country, due to racism that feels sadly timely. They settle in a New Jersey swamp and begin to raise a family. Some fifteen or so years later, someone builds a housing development in the swamp and suddenly the Addams have neighbors. This is happening when the extended family is coming into town for Pugsley’s Mazurka ceremony, where he becomes an Addams man. Wednesday wants to learn more of the outside world and go to the local middle school. The ‘normal’ people clash with the Addams. Everyone learns some sort of lesson.

There are plenty of good bits with the people reacting to the strangeness of the Addams. Whether it is Wednesday and Pugsley being caged schooled, or the constant murder attempts, or anything with Fester, they are fun. The Addams Family works because they combine the outwardly spooky traits of the Addams with their treating everything like normal. They are a happy family that just so happens to be filled with psychopaths. The movie goes overboard with the ‘normal’ people though. Does the town need to be named Assimilation? DO they need to sing a song about how great it is to be just like everyone else? There is a movie where that stuff would work, but this movie is either pushing it too far or not pushing it far enough. Go full brainwashed weirdness with that stuff, or dump entirely. Doing just a little bit of it muddles exactly whether these are normal people or cult members. Actually, the Addams family would likely love to be living next to a cult. There are good individual sequences and a good message in this movie but it only barely overcomes the junk that would sink a movie with lesser characters at the heart. (See The Angry Birds movie.)

One way this movie was never going to satisfy me is that it wasn’t going to replace the 90’s movies as my favorite versions of these characters. I won’t claim to be overly familiar with the comics, but I did watch quite a bit of the TV show on stuff like Nick at Night (a quick google search suggests that Nick at Night never aired the Addams Family; so while I watched it somewhere in the early 90’s, it wasn’t there). The movies, especially the sequel Addams Family Values, are what I really loved. This movie was never going to be that. But I am judging what it is, not what it is not. This movie stays true to the characters and the family, has some good jokes and is rarely actively obnoxious, but just as rarely actually truly outstanding. It is worth seeing.

***

Gemini Man

Gemini Man is a movie I wish I liked more than I do. It is this weird juxtaposition of a throwback to 90’s sci-fi thrillers and a movie that is pushing technological boundaries as far as possible. Ang Lee is more thoughtful with his approach than I believe most directors would be, but this movie still feels like it did not fully consider the ramifications of the events in the plot. Still, as unsatisfying as the story ends up being, it does feature a collection of largely excellent actions scenes to make it at least worthwhile.

Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, a government assassin who feels the years catching up with him and decides to retire after nearly missing a shot on a job. He meets up with an old marine buddy, who uses his connections to look into the man Brogan just assassinated, and learned that he was not a terrorist like Brogan was told. Before they can go forward, the old friend his killed. Brogan realizes that he is next and teams with an agent sent to watch him, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, to escape and figure out what is going on. He is escaping from Clay Verris, who reveals that his top agent is a younger version of Brogan. After a few showdowns where neither agent can get the upper hand, Brogan gets to the bottom of things.

As I noted above, the action scenes are really good. There is an excellent motorcycle chase and a brutal fight in some catacombs. It is not quite John Wick, but they are good. It also is more worried about the inner lives of its characters, or at least with Brogan and Junior, than most action movies are. It is also just filled with terrible, obvious dialogue. Like early on when Brogan laments that he “hates looking in the mirror.” It was bad enough then, but later the movie calls back to that line to tie it directly to his struggle with his younger self. The movie is full of stuff like that. Its bad. The plot is wild, though mostly internally consistent. I’ve heard some people complain about dropped plots, but it holds together well enough if you just pay attention.

I know some people are really into the technical aspects of this movie, but I am at best neutral when it comes to what this movie does. I do not get the appeal of high frame rate. I understand what it is and why it is technically better, but my eyes have been trained to watch movies at the regular rate. The same goes for 3D, which even when done well is not really a positive. The high definition stuff is good, I guess. I have some appreciation for the movie pushing boundaries, but that can’t be the only justification for its existence. There is enough good otherwise here to make the movie worthwhile. I guess the HFR and 3D stuff did not do anything to make the script terrible.

Gemini Man falls just on the side of being worthwhile. Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead fun to watch and the action scenes are well executed. The movie, however, is dragged down by some terrible dialogue and convenient plotting. It ends up feeling like something of a missed opportunity.

**1/2

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep8

Titans Season 2 Episode 8: “Jericho”

Jericho is an excellently executed episode that is unfortunately largely free of anything surprising or revelatory. That would not be a big deal, but the show has held back telling this portion of the story all season, alluding to the tragedy that happened with the Titans last tangled with Deathstroke, only to reveal to be exactly what one would expect.

Jericho takes place a few years in the past. After Deathstroke killed Aqualad, Dick forged a friendship with Deathstroke’s son, Jericho, to find him. The episode mostly focuses on its namesake, showing how is yearning for friendship brings him to the Titans. He tells his version of the story of who Deathstroke is while bonding with the team. Jericho has been through some stuff, including having his throat slit and being rendered mute. The Titans are uncomfortable using Jericho and are going to cut him loose. Then Dick learns of Jericho’s power. By making eye contact, he can possess another person, gaining complete physical control of them. This leads Dick to come clean with Jericho and invite him to join the Titans. At the same time, Deathstroke learns how the Titans are getting info on him and arranges to meet with his son to make peace. The other big revelation is who Deathstroke’s target was. It wasn’t Aqualad or Donna, but Donna’s Themyscrian protector. It all comes to a head in a rather predictable way that leaves the team completely shattered.

This is an episode where the characters’ motivations are as clear as they have been in some time. All of them want revenge for Aqualad, but their discomfort with deceiving Jericho is clear. As is Jericho’s devastation after learning that he has been lied to, both by the team and about his father.

For once, even Dove makes sense. Dove really has turned into the worst written character on this show. Most of the others have a clearly understandable position and arc. Hank/Hawk is a junkie, and his drug is being a superhero. He wants to do it so bad, but he knows keeping it up will kill him. His struggle is not jumping back into action as he so clearly desires to. Dick wants to save people, but he doesn’t want to be manipulative like Batman. However, acting like Batman is all he knows and he consistently falls short of his own standards. Dawn/Dove, though, is all over the map. Is she a junkie like Hank? Does she want to be a hero or leave that life behind? Who knows; it seems to change every episode. In the last flashback she told Dick to be Batman; in this one she says not to. Dick calls her out on this, but neither the character nor the show has a satisfying explanation. Dove, as originally conceived, was a superhero representing peace. Her arguing caution and peaceful solutions works. Her goading others into action or sneaking out to get some violence in does not. The character is just kind of a mess.

One odd touch is that Rose is not mentioned at all. She has made it clear that she knew her brother, but in none of the scenes featuring the Wilson family is she seen or even mentioned. It was only five years ago; she would have been ten years old. There are several possible explanations for this, from the pathetic, like is the show just decided not to show young Rose as a cost cutting measure because it would have required another actress, to the clever, like a reveal that Rose is not actually Rose Wilson, Deathstroke’s daughter. Maybe it was just a blind spot in the writing. Whatever the reason, it was notable.

I hope this is the end of the flashbacks and side stories. The show seems to have mostly dealt with the past and it has enough new stuff to deal with. It should be gearing up for the stretch run here. I have a feeling there is more to come though. Deathstroke is the big thread to resolve, but I am curious how deeply the show is going to delve into Conner or if it is going to go back to the Starfire thread it started the season with. What I really want to see is a deepening of relationships in the present; with as little time as the season has spent in the here and now, it feels like any sense of interpersonal dynamic on this team, as currently constituted has been lost.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 7

Titans Season 2 Episode 7: “Bruce Wayne”

Picking up where last episode, and the one before it, left off, “Bruce Wayne” starts with several problems. Deathstroke has escaped, the older team members are mad at Dick for changing the plan, the younger team members are upset at being left out, Jason is traumatized from almost being killed, and Conner is dying from being shot at the end of last episode.

This episode gives viewers the first good look at Titans’ Bruce Wayne. I’ve heard complaints about him, but I think he works. Iain Glenn does not present as imposing a Batman as we are used to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make for a good one. In this episode, he comes off as something like an Adam West or Roger Moore as James Bond; a little jokey, jovial. It might not be the right fit for this show, which seems consistently mired in humorlessness, but it worked in this episode, especially as Bruce’s job was to be the voice in Dick’s head. Throughout the episode, Bruce follows Dick, visible only to him, and critiques him on how he is trying to get to Deathstroke. I am curious if we are going to see him for real, either as Bruce Wayne or Batman, but as Dick’s snarky imaginary version of Bruce I thought he was pretty good.

Dick spends most of the episode operating on his own, using his detective skills to try to track down Deathstroke. While he is gone, the team fractures. Jason has some sort of tunnel vision, constantly seeing himself falling. Meanwhile, everyone else is finding remnants of the last old problems left in places to upset them. For reasons I don’t understand, they blame these things on Jason. The only ones not taking part in the blame Jason game are Conner and Kory. Conner because he is dying, Kory because she is busy trying to prevent that.

I am a little confused about parts of the follow up to last episode. Not confused with what happened, but confused why the show decided to sequence things the way it did. In the last episode, Conner left Eve to escape from Mercy and CADMUS. The episode set it up to appear like that was the last we would see of her. She even gave Conner some last minute (terrible) advice. As the episode ended, with Conner shot with Kryptonite bullets, Mercy then managed to recapture Krypto. In this episode, Eve escapes from CADMUS again, with Krypto in tow. So the end of the last episode existed to set things up for one scene this episode in which we really learned nothing. Eve even contradicts her bead advice. She needs to be there to give Kory the information she needs to save Conner.

Judging by the end of this episode and the title of the upcoming one, next is another flashback episode. I hope we finally get fully to the bottom of the Titans/Deathstroke feud. I am not sure I picked a great season of a show to try to do these reviews. Mostly because the only characters that seem to have any sort of ongoing arc are Dick and Jason. And the jumping back and forth between timelines and stories has consistently stalled the development of a lot of the characters. I know that in the comics Deathstroke was something of an arch nemesis for Dick and it makes sense for him to be the focus, but it kind of feels like everyone else is getting lost in the shuffle.

What I Read September 2019

Three books in September, and I guarantee at least three in October. I feel like I am in a better rhythm that I have been in the past few years. Also, I am focusing on short books, which helps make it look like I read more.

Smoke and Summons

Charlie N. Holmberg

I’ve enjoyed Holmberg’s previous work, though I admit I bought it mostly due to its low price point and how aggressive amazon was at putting it in my face. But again, I really liked the Paper Magician books and the few other books of hers that I’ve read. Smoke and Summons starts a new world for her.

This book follows a pair of protagonists. Sandis is a slave to a man who uses her as a vessel to summon powerful spirits. When she sees another vessel killed by her master, she escapes. She eventually meets Rone, a thief who has the special power to be invincible for one minute a day. Forced together by chance, they work together to try to evade both Sandis’ master and save Rone’s mother from some people he robbed. It feels like it maybe takes too long to get an understanding of how this world works, but the book moves so fast it is hard to hold that against it. I’ve already got the second book on my kindle and I’ll get to it soon-ish.

Diamonds Are Forever

Ian Fleming

I don’t know that I actually like Ian Fleming’s writing. This is the fourth James Bond book and it really didn’t do anything for me. In this one, Bond gets a mission to hunt down an international diamond smuggling syndicate. There does not appear to be any direct connection to the cold war here; it is a pure mob problem.

In this book, Bond goes undercover as a diamond smuggler, with the help of Tiffany Case, who works for the Spangled Mob, a gang run by the Sprang brothers. They fly to Las Vegas, where Bond goes undercover to figure out the diamond smuggling pipeline. He does, and kills the Spangs in the process. He mostly does this by working Tiffany. Tiffany hates men because she was gang-raped as a teenager. Luckily (gag), Bond’s manliness is able to overcome that and she falls in love with him. It is a quick read, and suitably entertaining and action packed throughout.

Jade Darcy and the Affair of Honor

Stephen Goldin and Mary Mason

I feel kind of bad about this. I got this book for Christmas and kind of scoffed at it. It has a cheesy cover and what I thought was a goofy title. (I left out the “Book One in ‘The Rehumanization of Jade Darcy’” bit from the title above.) I was prepared for some cheesy late 80s science fiction.

Affair of Honor isn’t the most complex science fiction story ever written; it is honestly pretty simple. Jade Darcy is a former commando with enhanced reflexes. She has fled humanity, living on a planet as far from Earth as possible and working as a bouncer and a mercenary. The book spends a lot of time setting up the character of Jade Darcy. Too bad it didn’t have a little more interesting of a plot to put her in. It works, but it feels a little flat. Another human comes to the planet where Jade has isolated herself from humanity. Instead of facing this person who is looking for her, she takes on a dangerous mission from an alien who has a grudge against the alien race that killed Jade’s family. They assassinate an enemy general, but instead of escaping without a trace, Jade’s employer leaves something so they know who did it, as a matter of honor.

That turns to Jade, after meeting the other human and making some peace with her own people that she finds out what honor means to her. This book was largely a lot of fun.

What I Watched September 2019

Movies

Falling Inn Love — A woman wins a contest to own a B&B, which turns out to be a trap to stick them with a dilapidated old inn. A cheap romance ensues. Its fine for what it is. **

Plus One — A rom com starring Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid. They are friends who have a lot of other friends, mutual and otherwise, who are getting married. So they agree to be each other’s plus one. Eventually, a real relationship blossoms. It is actually very well executed, and Erskine and Quaid are charming. ****

The Goldfinch read review here. **1/2

Hustlers read review here. ****

Ad Astra read review here. ****1/2

Tall Girl This movie isn’t a terrible teen dramedy, but I was never hooked by the concept. It starts with a voice over talking about how the viewer knows that really tall girl, and I don’t. That is not an archetype I am familiar with. I don’t even know anyone who can relate. **

Between Two Ferns I have watched some Between Two Ferns interviews, this movie doesn’t have quite enough of them. The actual movie is nothing special, but the interviews within are amazing. I had a lot of fun with it, despite its foibles. ****

TV

Derry Girls S1&2 A fun little comedy set in 1990’s Ireland that feature some teen girls, and one boy, coming of age. The show takes a few episodes to find its footing, but once it does it is pretty entertaining. I don’t have a lot to say about it, it is a fun show that doesn’t take too long to watch.

Carnival Row S1 wrote about it here.

Frontier S3 — I’ve got to be honest, I completely lost the plot with this show. It doesn’t help that I started it months ago before finishing it recently. By the time it got to the end, I didn’t really remember who a lot of the characters were and what were their relationships to each other. I really like Jason Momoa and there is a lot of good stuff in this show, but I needed to have paid closer attention than I did.

Four Weddings and a Funeral This is based on a movie and while there are some winning performances and it is generally a solidly entertaining show, it mostly serves to make a strong argument that romantic comedies should not be ten hours long. It just takes too long to get where its going, with structure that isn’t really designed to last that long. Still, I was generally entertained by it.

Wu Assassins S1 — This kind of feels like a CW show that just so happens to star actually good martial artists (no disrespect intended to Arrow’s largely very well done fights). It is a fun martial arts fantasy. I don’t have a lot to say.

Magnum, pi S5&7 wrote about it here.

What We Do In The Shadows — The movie What We Do In The Shadows was amazing. It was my introduction to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. What is shocking to me is that the TV show manages to keep almost everything that was good about the movie, and introduce some new fun wrinkles. It takes the concept, a mockumentary tv show about the everyday life of vampires, and transplants it to America. It all works. The addition of Mark Proksch as an energy vampire is great. It is just one of the funniest shows on TV.

Unbelievable — This is a show that I should write a full post about. It is a difficult show, an excellently made show. Kaitlyn Dever, who was great in Booksmart, stars as Marie Adler, a young woman who was raped in her apartment. She tells the police, but the force her to repeatedly recount her story and then she recants when it just becomes too much. Eventually, they charge her with false reporting. Three years later, two detectives in another state, played by Merritt Wever and Toni Collette, find themselves working a series of cases with a similar MO to that of Marie’s rapist. The show follows along two tracks, the first with Marie in 2008 as she deals with the fallout of her rape, the other in 2011 with the detectives trying to unravel these crimes. It is a really well made procedural that manages to deal with some really complex issues with a confident hand. This is one of the best TV shows of the year.

Carole & Tuesday — The first half of a new anime from Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo director Shinichiro Watanabe. This appears to take place in the same or a similar universe to Cowboy Bebop, set on a terraformed Mars. Carole is an orphaned musician working part time jobs to get by, Tuesday is the sheltered and stifled daughter of a powerful politician. She runs away and meets Tuesday, and the two form a band. The back half has the duo on an American Idol-like talent competition. There is a lot going on. I am not a big music guy, so I am not sure this is the show for me, it I am generally enjoying it quite a bit.

Disenchantment S2 I like the first season—which I believe was actually the first half of the first season and this is the second half—well enough, but this second season really sees Disenchantment grow into its own. This is still a Groening show that prioritizes plot over jokes, kind of like the inverse of Futurama, which had plot but was mostly about jokes. However, this season feels more comfortable in its style. The world is getting more interesting and more distinctive and the characters seem to have found much more comfortable roles. It is a comfort food show for me, but I still think it is really good.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 6

Titans Season 2, Episode 6: “Conner”

I think I am just going to have to resign myself to not liking how Titans handles its episode to episode storytelling. Instead of building momentum from one episode to another, this show seems determined to restart after every episode. With some forethought, the flashbacks in Aqualad and scenes from this story with Conner could have been weaved into the previous four episodes, instead of each being quarantined as its own discrete chunk. It is a storytelling choice, but one that I think has hampered the show this season, at least when watching it week to week. It feels like a choice made for a binge model, where the viewer can just blow through the whole season in a weekend.

“Conner,” instead of following up on the end of the last episode, with Jason apparently plummeting to his death, shifts gears completely, introducing eventual Superboy Conner to the mix. As a stand alone episode, “Conner” is pretty great. It starts with Conner escaping from Cadmus Labs along with a dog names Krypto. This episode finally starts to introduce some Superman into a series that has been dominated by Batman so far.

Mercy Graves, Lex Luthor’s chauffeur, bodyguard and aide-de-camp, shows up to the wrecked Cadmus and tasks Dr. Eve Watson with finding Luthor’s escaped experiment. Conner wanders the city like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. He has the body of a young adult, but the understanding of a child. He is a largely blank slate, but he does have memories of the two men who provided the DNA that mixed to create him, those being Superman and Lex Luthor. Those memories eventually draw him to Smallville and the home of Lionel Luthor. The episode expects the viewer to have a baseline of knowledge of who Lex and Superman are. Assuming you do, it works. The weird mixture of the two in Conner’s head make for some illuminating character work. It does a great job of showing who Lex and Clark are, even though neither of them appear, excluding a picture, in the episode. Conner ends up having dinner with Lex’s elderly father, a kind seeming old man who Conner’s Lex inherited memories reveal as an abusive drunk.

The second half of the episode follows Conner and Eve Watson as they try to escape from Cadmus and Luthor’s goons, while she slowly explains the events that led to Conner’s creation. That culminates in the two of them visiting the lab where Conner was created, and since he is experiment 13 he sees the remains of the other 12 experiments. Then the show finally, finally resolves the cliffhanger from the previous episode, while leaving another in its wake.

This episode introduces the best character on the show so far. No, not Conner. Krypto. Conner saves the dog at the opening, and the two of them are together from then on. Krypto is a good dog. The mid-episode reveal that Krypto has powers is excellent, as he catches an rpg and tosses it back to the man who shot it. He acts as something like Conner’s conscience. He knows not to go to the Luthor farm, his barking pulls Conner back several times when his dark side takes over. He is just a great dog.

I find myself enjoying every episode to one degree or another, so I can’t complain too much. Next episode is titled Bruce Wayne, so it looks like where are going to get some Dick stuff. I assume it will be with the team in the present, but who knows. At least I am caught up now.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep5

Titans Season 2, Episode 5: “Deathstroke”

“Deathstroke” picks up right where “Ghosts,” episode 3, left off. Jason Todd has been captured by Deathstroke. His is strung up in Deathstroke’s and Dr. Light’s hideout. After getting the better of Dr. Light (really, Jason’s repeated clowning of Dr. Light is making the other Titans look foolish for the difficulty they’ve had dealing with him) Deathstroke stops Jason’s escape attempt.

Back at Titans Tower, the rest of the team learns what has happened to Jason. The older Titans are still not treating the younger members like real members of the team. Rose continues to be a truth telling shit stirrer, able to identify people’s problems, but comments in ways seemingly designed to set people off.

Dr. Light finally gets fed up with working for Deathstroke and decides to take on the team himself, only for Deathstroke to put a pretty definitive end to that plan, and set a trap for the Titans at the same time.

Things start to look up for the team when Starfire finally arrives in San Francisco. She immediately gets to helping Raven deal with her growing powers. She is the calming influence that the rest of the team needs. Especially with the deal that Deathstroke has proposed, trading Jason for Rose. While the older team members debate handing Rose over, Gar, Rose, and Raven listen in. After listening to them debate handing her over to her homicidal father, Rose tries to escape. Eventually, it comes down to a showdown between Raven and Rose, and we get a look at just how powerful Raven is now, as well as a first look at Rose’s powers.

Back with Deathstroke and Jason, the show finally gives a better idea of what Deathstroke’s specific beef with the Titans is. It is hypocritical, which is kind of Deathstroke’s thing. He makes it seem as though Dick is the cause of his enmity, which is the opposite of what we just saw in “Aqualad,” where Deathstroke appeared on his own and started a fight with the Titans.

This episode did have the first instance of me actually liking Hawk. He is as abrasive as ever, but he has a moment of vulnerability that actually works to make the character endearing. As much as he didn’t seem to like him when he was around, he sees something of himself in Jason and can’t rest while Deathstroke has him. Dawn, though, continues to be confounding. A couple of episodes ago she was the one moonlighting in her costume, now she is determined that the Titans are done. She goes after Dick to shut the team down once they finish things off with Deathstroke.

Dick outlines a plan that, while not actually including Raven and Gar at least lets them know what is going on, before a swerve sets up Dick facing off with Deathstroke alone. It ends with a cliffhanger that calls back to Jason Todd’s death in the comics more than thirty years ago.

I love how this show gives its characters a chance to breath, instead of being all plot or action. The problem is that several of its characters are not particularly well drawn or interesting. Hank and Dawn are generally the worst. Donna is mostly a cipher. The show noticeably picks up when Starfire is around. There is chemistry between her and Dick, between her and Raven. Most of the younger characters are fine, though the show needs to give Gar something to do. With the addition of Rose and the next episode apparently introducing Conner Kent, maybe it is time for Hawk and Dove to get that retirement they seem to be looking for.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep4

Titans S2, Ep 4: “Aqualad”

Did I start this project with any idea that I would immediately fall a month behind? Actually yes, I kind of suspected this would happen. But I am committed to catching up and to sticking with it through the rest of the season.

Aqualad starts five years in the past with a proper introduction to Deathstroke as he commits a handful of murders. Because that is what Deathstroke does; kill people. It also introduces, but does not name or identify, Jericho.Then it switches to showing the original Titans in action as a team, with the five of them brutally taking out a trio of car jackers. Five original Titans, with the four we already know—Donna, Dick, Dawn, and Hank—as well as previously unseen (and maybe unmentioned) Garth, who is the Aqualad from the title. They return to the tower for what appears to be a birthday party for Garth.

The show kind of falls down in its portrayal of the relationship between Garth and Donna. Garth keeps pressuring her for a date, while Donna studiously avoids him. That is despite Dawn’s pushing her to him. It isn’t quite clear why Donna is not into Garth, but it doesn’t really matter. She makes it clear that she is not interested, and everyone is ignoring her wishes. It feels kind of gross, with them all pushing her to a relationship she clearly does not want. Now, it is possible she is supposed to appear more conflicted than she does. Donna is leaving for Themyscira soon and does not want to start something that will inevitably be forced to end. It works a little better as the episode goes on, but maybe it should have started with a scene of them actually connecting. It also feels as though there is some information that the show is still holding back. I feel like I’m all over the map here, but only because the show is all over the map. Despite the title of the episode, this episode is about Donna Troy. However, I came out of it feeling like I knew less about her character than when I went in. Without knowing what Donna actually wants, her actions in this episode are inexplicable.

The other big thread in the episode is a little more explanation of who exactly Dr. Light is. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot there. “Would your pedestal be so high without the insights from my spectacular failures?” he shouts at a contemptuous colleague. Dr. Light sucks, and everyone knows he sucks. The team takes him out with minimal effort.

Everything ends in tragedy when Deathstroke returns, setting up another flashback episode to tell the other half of this story. It also has Dick making a connection with Jericho, who is Deathstroke’s son, which seems to be part of his revenge plot.

I’m not sure how well this flashback episode works, because it leaves so many unanswered questions and killed the momentum the show had built up with last week’s episode. We still don’t know who hired Deathstroke, who he was actually hired to kill. We also don’t know what has set him coming after the team again in the present. “Aqualad” merely served to kind of focus the questions we should be asking about Deathstroke’s plot. It did give a bigger look at Donna than episode has yet, but I don’t think we actually learned anything about her. It kind of feels like a missed opportunity.