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Legion Delivers a Confusing and Very Entertaining Premiere

Bo

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I imagine many people saw news of a new superhero show on FX and reacted lukewarmly. Upon hearing Legion was yet another entry in the already saturated X-Men franchise some might even have scoffed. If you’ve decided you’re not interested in yet another superhero show or X-Men show or have an overly-stuffed television schedule that can’t possibly fit another show, I’m here to tell you to make room. Legion’s premiere was a winner that everyone should give a shot.

It’s stylish, it’s different, and it’s a thrill ride of brain-twisting weirdness unlike any superhero show you have ever seen.

As a warning, this review contains spoilers for “Chapter 1,” as well as a content warning for attempted suicide.

Recap

The episode begins with a montage of main character David Haller growing up from baby to healthy boy to the full manifestation of his powers, which sent his life in a downwards spiral. We quickly get a sense of how badly this change affected him. David becomes violent, begins drinking, starts taking prescription pills, and eventually the montage ends with him hanging himself. It’s quick and effective.

So, not exactly your typical superhero here.

The scene transitions to David’s sister Amy lighting a candle in a cupcake. She is visiting him on his birthday in Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, and judging by their conversation he has been there long enough to grow used to it, but obviously not long enough for his sister to know he can’t take the cupcake from her.

It is also established that David hears voices and sees hallucinations. He sees them here as well, even as his sister insists he seems better.

Next we see David’s normal routine, which mainly consists of taking his prescribed medication and hanging out with his best friend Lenny. He also experiences more hallucinations. Quick note: Aubrey Plaza is delightful as Lenny. This character was written as a middle-aged man, but when Plaza was cast she insisted they not change anything. As a result she constantly references old TV shows and makes crass, but innocent remarks about women. Combined with her mannerisms, she really comes across as unisexual. She is so much fun to watch.

Also take note of the man in the greenery. They revisit him multiple times.

David and Lenny are watching a man drooling on himself when another main character comes walking down the stairs, one Sydney Barrett. All the while Plaza makes crass remarks. David is immediately drawn to her and tries to talk to her, but when he bumps into her, she does not like it and hurries away.

Legion then gives us another montage (they happen quite a bit) while David sleeps. There are a variety of shots: him as a child and teenager, him hanging himself, a variety of appliances flying around a kitchen, and his brief meeting with Sydney. A voice asks him about a devil with yellow eyes. After a shot of some very strange bald humanoid with a gigantic fat neck (gee, it has yellow eyes!), David’s bed crashes to the ground and breaks. A bunch of hospital staff rush into the room to subdue him despite David’s pleas that it’s not necessary.

I’ll take this moment to say the montages are a little bit exposition-y. Legion tried to pack a lot into its extra-sized premiere and the montages were a necessary evil to do so. As one of those weirdos who likes to see the drawn out details of character interaction, I do look at some of these as a missed opportunity. They did the job, but I can’t help but want more.

From here we see a group therapy session with his therapist, Dr. Kissinger. There’s reference to an incident with another doctor when David stopped taking medication. Sydney joins them and immediately contradicts the doctor’s insistence that David’s issues are mental, and whatever power he feels is not real. Immediately you wonder who Sydney is and what she’s doing there. Her words here are way too specific.

We also learn that Sydney does not like to be touched. She also prefers isolation. When she says that a person’s problems are “what makes you you,” David asks if she will be his girlfriend. She agrees, so long as he never touches her.

Guess what? Time for another montage! This one focuses on David and Sydney hanging out around the hospital. Perfect example of my earlier point despite the montage generally working. It makes their time seem like it took place over a long time, but considering they never wear anything different it’s more likely this all took place in the same day. There is a shot of them walking down the hallway holding a piece of cloth to substitute holding hands that is really adorable.

At the end of the day they stare out a window at the city, and Sydney shows him how she imagines herself outside the hospital. David uses their reflections to “kiss.” What a romantic.

Normally a sequence like this would do little to nothing for me. This one worked, though. Maybe it’s because I suspected something more to Sydney’s interest, or because I was happy to see David so eagerly respect her boundaries. We do still live in a world where such respect immediate from the man towards the woman is uncommon on TV. Whatever the reason, I really loved this. I felt like they actually cared for each other despite their short time together.

Unfortunately, it all comes crashing down when the episode transitions to David being questioned in a room about “the woman who disappeared.” This takes place after he left Clockworks. Another incident has taken place and the man questioning David claims to be looking for Sydney, all the while questioning whether she actually existed.

We quick cut back to Clockworks while Dr. Kissinger talks to David about hanging himself, before just as quickly cutting back to the interrogation (even here it was obvious this was an interrogation). The interrogator initially decides not to talk about David’s past, before sharing a moment with a colleague and changing his mind.

David talks about the decision to hang himself. He had recently been expelled from college, the voices bothered him terribly, and he decided to end his life despite the voices trying to stop him. Yet apparently no noose was found when the police found him, just David with burns on his neck. He’s asked, after another brief flashback of him telling Kissinger about his mental powers, whether he still believes he has those powers. David says he doesn’t believe that anymore, but asks if that’s why he’s being questioned, if his interrogators think whatever incident occurred is because of some power David has. Also revealed is that this vague “incident” has left some woman dead.

Back in his time at the hospital, Sydney comes to David’s room while he sleeps to tell him she has been approved for release. There’s also more respect of Sydney’s opposition to touching here which I really love. Obviously this news bothers David and he briefly tries to kiss her. I know, this goes against the respect I just said he showed but he does not react badly to being denied. It’s more of a “oops I forgot” moment.

The interrogator asks about her aversion to touching. David talks about not questioning it, since many people in the hospital have something that bothers them. He loses his cool and asks for a break. The interrogator leaves the room and travels through what turns out to gym. Various armed special forces types inhabit the place. He reaches a surveillance area where he talks with an older man, confirming that they know David has powers, and he may be the most powerful mutant they’ve ever encountered.

They believe David is innately aware of his powers but does not understand or control them. The older man wants to kill him but the interrogator asks to be allowed to keep going.

Back with David, he asks for the man sitting across from him to leave. Notice the carving of the dog. I suppose it is somehow related to the dog shown at the end of the previous scene. He slips into a memory of a scene we saw earlier where the kitchen appliances flew around the room. Notice again the yellow-eyed demon.

He returns to normal as the interrogator comes into the room with a bunch of men rolling monitoring equipment into the room. He notices they are all scared of him when he doesn’t immediately comply with them. The interrogator insists they are worried for him, because he is ill, but obviously we know he’s lying. David, however, lets them put the equipment on him.

Finally, we get a look at the incident which landed him in this room, which happened at Clockworks. Sydney readies to leave with Dr. Kissinger. She asks Lenny were David is, and Lenny stalls her by asking Sydney to bring her a candy bar she saw on TV. David comes rushing into the room and kisses her. As they kiss, the camera zooms onto and through David’s mind, showing images of his life.

When the episode returns, we see that the kiss sent both of them sprawling away from each other. David starts panicking while the other patients and staff try to restrain him. The lights go out. David starts walking among the other patients in the dark room, and the yellow-eyed demon shows up again. At this point I think it’s clear that thing means bad news. I was willing to give its evil appearance a pass at first, but something messed up is clearly about to go down specifically signaled by its presence.

The hospital shakes while Kissinger tends to Sydney. It becomes clear it is not actually Sydney. The episode cuts back to the interrogation room where David tells the man questioning him the kiss must have switched their minds. He thinks that was the reason she never let anyone touch her. He again panics, and Chekov’s pen on the table begins to shake.

Yes, I just spoiled you. Reading this means you either know what happens or were reading spoilers anyway.

The interrogator calms David down and asks him to continue the story. We see Dr. Kissinger walk back to the spot where the kiss happened. Sydney/David follows him. They follow the sounds of screaming and pounding fists to the hallway where the patient rooms are. Only the doors are gone and solid wall stands in their place. Eventually they find Lenny dead, half of her body sticking out of the wall.

No! Come on, Aubrey Plaza was so great! She can’t be done already!

Based on the story, David and the interrogator believe that after Sydney transferred into his body, she lost control of his powers and caused the incident which brought David to the room.

Sydney/David is rushed from the hospital despite his pleas that he was not Sydney. A black car pulls up and two people exit it. David insists that his interrogator was a third person in the car. The interrogator insists he’s wrong and that he wants to know who the people in the car were. David finally loses his cool and uses his power to send the pen flying into the interrogator’s cheek. He destroys the room with basically a flick of the wrist before gas is pumped into the room to knock him out.

While he’s out we get some recollections of David and his sister as children interspersed with Sydney sitting at a café somewhere. However, when a waitress walks away it is David sitting there, throwing into question whether the mind switch happened at all. Honestly, this is where the brain-twisty stuff might have been a bit much. It’s never made clear at all what the hell happened here. Was the switch fake? Was this David after their minds eventually switched to normal?

I honestly have no idea. David probably doesn’t either.

The memory continues with David showing up at his sister’s house on Halloween (notice the kids at the door wearing prison pinstripes). Amy and her husband are understandably cautious to see him. After serving him some waffles (David apparently loves waffles), she sets David up in a room.

And hey, Aubrey Plaza is back! Though Lenny is still dead. David hallucinates her, and she blames him for killing her. She doesn’t let him use the excuse that Sydney did it. However, she is not upset about her death. Then she warns him that “they” are coming to find and kill him. David breaks a lamp while panicking, and his sister comes down to check on him. And takes every sharp object in the basement before she leaves. I can’t say I blame her.

After David goes to sleep, we get the weirdest part of the episode, which says a lot considering how much weird stuff happens. While Sydney calls his name, he dreams of Sydney, Lenny, himself, and the other patients dancing in the hospital. Why is this here? What does it mean? I have no idea. I’ll leave the theorizing to those who know interpretive art symbolism better than I do.

When David comes to, he has been seated in a chair inside the pool in the gym. Powered cables sit inside the water to electrocute him if he makes a wrong move. David, however, laughs, thinking it’s all another illusion. The interrogator drops all pretense of helping him. He says he knows about David’s power, he knows about Sydney, he knows that people came for her the day of the incident, and wants to find her.

David says he went looking for Sydney, and we see the memory of him doing so. He calls the hospital only to be told they have no record of her. He hangs up when he spots the two people from the car earlier and hurries away. Eventually he gives them the slip, but Sydney’s head appears on the back of a man’s head. Then Sydney herself shows up. She tells him this isn’t real, it’s his memory, and she’s been projected into his memory.

Okay, Legion, seriously. This is perfectly timed confusion, and because of the X-Men universe, completely makes sense. Bravo.

The memory rewinds as they walk along, the two chasers back on David’s tail. Sydney tells him he is in a government facility and those people are not cops. She tells him to slide out of his chair and when he sees the lights, stay underwater until he sees her. Then the interrogator’s guys nab him.

David comes to back in his chair in the pool. He realizes the third person in the car he mistook as the interrogator was a woman. The swimming area heats up visibly, making everyone uncomfortable. The interrogator asks again where the girl is. Lights start appearing, and when the interrogator tries to electrocute David the button doesn’t work. David slips into the water and all hell breaks loose.

When he surfaces, Sydney is waiting with the two people from the black car. She introduces the man as Ptonomy and the woman as Kerry, before telling him “Melanie” is waiting for them. The episode ends with a badass breakout scene. They all blast through the special forces with ease, mostly due to a guy we don’t learn the name of who tosses the ground and boulders and shit around to smash people.

I’m just going to call him “The Boulder” until we learn his name. And maybe keep calling him that afterwards.

David eventually stops Sydney to get a reassurance that everything happening is real. Thank you, David! Because seriously, at this point everyone watching probably wonders the same thing. If Legion has taught us anything at this point, we should question everything happening. Sydney assures him this is real, that she came back for him and it’s real and she loves him. Then she reminds him to say it back and he does happily. Seriously, how do I love this relationship so much already? There’s not that much special to it.

legion i love you

Yeah, he was happy to say it.

Melanie Bird (played by the amazing Jean Smart) waits for them, and we cut to black when David takes her hand.

Phew, that was a long, fun, confusing ride.

Review

Legion’s premiere was something else. And to be clear, something really, really good.

I suppose some people will be turned away by the confusing nature of this episode. It jumps timelines from scene to scene, and keeping track becomes tough sometimes. David’s hallucinations make the validity of what you see hard to determine. Not everyone likes shows where you can’t be sure what’s real from moment to moment.

Neither does it help when Legion never clarifies certain things. Maybe I’m just slow to understand the whole mind switch, for example, but they never really explained what happened. Legion will require an investment from viewers; you’ll need to stick out the entire ride and journey into full awareness right along David.

Which is the point of the confusion, of course. We learn the story right alongside him. Our confusion mirrors his own. As the season progresses and David obtains a better grasp of his powers, his grasp on reality should tighten as well. So will ours along with him.

I think Legion actually did a good job establishing David and the world he lived in despite the jumpy nature of the scenes. Within the first ten minutes you had a good idea of what happened to David, how it affected him, what his life was like in the hospital, and how he interacted with those in his life. You also had a decent idea what he was capable of.

Turns out he can save the world through dance.

I suppose not everyone will like it. Some simply don’t take to this style of show. At the very least you need a main character who makes it worth the shifting timelines and plot points. Mr. Robot, for example, would not be half so good if Elliot was an awful character. Many shows fail at narratives like this specifically because of weak main characters, whether because of poor writing or playing second-fiddle to plot.

Which makes me highly appreciate how good a main character David proved to be. After all, character is king. He was charming, he was vulnerable, and he was relatable. He shared the audience’s confusion in ways that make the general confusion of the episode much easier to swallow. Most important of all, David was interesting.

Really, this episode succeeded in making every character they wanted to stick out do so. Lenny was highly entertaining. David sold every scene no matter how confusing. Sydney was a great mix of her own mental illness and a greater knowledge kept secret from David and viewers. The interrogator was terrifying.

Legion hit the mark with everyone. I can’t wait to see what happens with the entire cast moving forward.

And while everyone may not like the confusing stuff, I think the episode did a good job keeping you engaged while you try to figure it out. A big part of that is owed to the style. I’m a sucker for style. My failures to understand symbolism in dance aside, I love a show that flat out looks beautiful. Those familiar with Noah Hawley’s work on Fargo won’t be surprised by Legion’s visual excellence. That show has some of the best looking scenes of any recent television.

He keeps up the quality here. Legion’s premiere may actually have been better than Fargo here; the colors pop, the clothing feeds into the ambiguity of the timeline, and the cinematography is excellent. It avoids the default drabness superhero shows use to come across realistically. The general design is unique and perfect for Legion’s content. Honestly, even if you’re not sure what the hell is happening (probably by design), you will have fun looking at it all.

The one area the production might fail is the first full-scale fight scene to end the episode. I may have loved The Boulder, but the rest of the fighting came across kind of clunky. People just kind of stand there while the heroes run up and disarm them. I’m also one to hate the Stormtrooper effect. You know, where the highly trained killers can’t hit a target right in front of them with a precise automatic rifle for some reason. No theories about purposely letting the rebels go exist here, unfortunately.

The Boulder!

There are also those who worry the breakout here means Legion might now default to your typical superhero show. The team is assembled, the big bad government is after them, now David will develop his powers and take them down. I’m not worried about that. Noah Hawley is an excellent showrunner who I trust completely. Legion’s premiere gave me no reason to trust him less.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Melanie Bird is less than ideal from a moral standpoint herself, along with those who side from her. Sydney is too perfect, and her proclamation of love too easy considering she worked from the beginning to get David out of the hospital. I love their relationship in the premiere, but I’m not blind. Sydney almost definitely manipulated him.

One thing I can’t comment on is the handling of mental health and psychiatric institutions. It’s quite possible that the portrayal of both was handled improperly or insensitively and I’m unaware. I feel like they treated the issue of mental health with respect; perhaps Lenny is a little too comic relief without any focus on the reason she is admitted to Clockworks. Again, I trust Hawley here, and the nature of Legion guarantees we will see more of Lenny, both in memories and as a representation of David’s conscience.

To repeat my bottom line from earlier; give Legion a shot. Maybe the plot is too jumpy for you. Maybe you don’t think they can take the confusion of the premiere and make something coherent from it. I suppose such fears may prove to be right. I doubt it, though. This is one of the best showrunners currently working and a property full of potential for him to work with.

Legion is weird. Legion is confusing. Most of all, Legion is worth watching.


Images courtesy of FX

Bo

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and continues drifting wearily through the slog of summer TV.

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Culture

The Fandomentals 2018 SAG Awards Primer

Dan

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In the past few months, we’ve seen the opinions of everyone from the Television Academy to the Hollywood Foreign Press to the nation’s biggest critics. But have you ever wondered what actors in Hollywood think of each other? Well the SAG’s, the babiest brother of the major film awards shows, will answer that very question.

The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (you see why we abbreviate) has been putting on their own awards show since the ancient and far-off year of 1995. Despite its youth compared to most other awards shows, the nods it gives (voted on by members of the union) are sometimes the best indicators for success when the Academy Award nominations come up. As such, we at the Fandomentals want to make sure you are kept abreast of the nominations for this year, as well as give our own take on who should, shouldn’t, and will win this year. As with the Golden Globes, the Fandomentals Head Film Critic Jeremiah Sherman will weigh in on the movie end of things, while I will be picking up the slack on the television end. This year will also be the first year that the SAG’s will have a host, the wonderful Kristen Bell.

Film

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Image Courtesy Perfect World Pictures

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name as Elio Perlman

James Franco – The Disaster Artist as Tommy Wiseau

Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out as Chris Washington

Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour as Winston Churchill

Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq. as Roman J. Israel

Who Will Win: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. Jeremiah: Oldman all but disappears in his performance of Winston Churchill. It’s not just the makeup it’s the overall fact that when you look at Oldman’s Churchill, you’re hard pressed to find any trace of the Oldman we know. It’s the type of performance actors adore; disappearing into the character.

Dan: He was our preferred pick at the Globes, where he took home the trophy. So far he has swept nearly every award that has this category, and I doubt that this will change for the SAG’s.

Who Should win: Honestly, Oldman should win. Of the actors nominated his performance is actually the best out of all of them. It should be made clear the remarkableness of Oldman’s performance is not just its chameleon-like aspect but in its ability to make us believe it. It’s a stunning piece of craftsmanship that should be rewarded.

Who Got Snubbed: Jeremy Renner for Wind River. I don’t know if I think his Corey Lambert should win, but it is hands down the best performance I’ve ever seen Renner give. The haunted, stoic, and angry character is typical of Renner; but here he fills Lambert with longing, sadness, and confusion. Renner’s Lambert feels like the first real performance he’s ever given. That alone deserves at least a nomination.

Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Lead Role:

Image Courtesy Fox Searchlight

Judi Dench – Victoria & Abdul as Queen Victoria

Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water as Elisa Esposito

Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as Mildred Hayes

Margot Robbie – I, Tonya as Tonya Harding

Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson

Who Will Win:

Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Jeremiah: McDormand gives a gutwrenchingly honest portrayal of a grief-stricken and hell-bent matriarch in a small, fictional Midwestern town. It’s a potent performance and will most likely be lauded by her fellow actors, especially since they adore her. It helps that she’s won a Golden Globe for this role and has been putting in a strong showing on the awards circuit. Rightfully so, as she’s consistently one of the best yet somehow underappreciated actress working today.

Who Should Win: Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water. One of the more subtly daring performances. With almost no words, outside a lovely musical number, Hawkins conveyed to us a complete and fleshed out character. The relationship between Elisa and the Creature works in large part because of Hawkins’ deft handling of the material.

Who Got Snubbed: I know you’re expecting me to say Kristen Stewart for Personal Shopper and rightfully so. Even though she totally got snubbed, so did Danielle MacDonald for Patti Cake$. Her Patricia Dombrowski was a fierce and optimistic dream chaser. Patti’s obstacles are not end-of-the-world roadblocks, they are, everyday minor setbacks. Through it all, MacDonald gives us a performance that has us clapping our hands and stomping our feet when she takes the stage.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Image Courtesy Fox Searchlight

Steve Carell – Battle of the Sexes as Bobby Riggs

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project as Bobby Hicks

Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as Sheriff Bill Willoughby

Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water as Giles

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as Officer Jason Dixon

Who Will Win: Steve Carell for Battle of the Sexes. It’s not based on anything except Carell’s Bobby Riggs was wonderfully layered. A man beset by his lesser angels while also being, shockingly, one most keen cultural observers, and a seemingly inexhaustible daring self-promoter. Battle of the Sexes was never as good as it should have been but it wasn’t awful, and that’s due in large part to Carell’s Bobby Riggs.

Dan: As much as I loved Carrell, I have a sneaking suspicion that Hollywood’s need to reward shitty white dude characters will help continue Sam Rockwell’s dominance in this category. Even though Woody Harrelson puts in a better performance, Rockwell’s “redemption” arc seems to be resonating with the film world.

Who Should Win: Willem Dafoe’s Bobby from The Florida Project pulled off one of the most infamously difficult aspects of acting: he doesn’t appear to be acting. Of course, he’s acting, but his Bobby is free of any theatrical artifice or mannerisms. Even though there’s no noticeable difference between Bobby or Dafoe, the actor himself is nowhere to be seen.

Who Got Snubbed: Patrick Stewart for Charles Xavier in Logan. Logan was far and away the single best departure from the ho-humness that plagues the superhero genre. Stewart as Professor X gives a blistering and honest performance as a man in the final stages of his life. Unusually for a genre that is normally cavalier in its treatment of death, the tragedy of mental deterioration and death is made uncomfortably real by Stewart’s portrayal.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Image Courtesy A24

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound as Florence Jackson

Hong Chau – Downsizing as Ngoc Lan Tran

Holly Hunter – The Big Sick as Beth Gardner

Allison Janney – I, Tonya as LaVona Golden

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird as Marion McPherson

Who Will Win: Laurie Metcalf for Ladybird, if for no other reason than because I think the Guild feels a kinship with Metcalf. She’s a working actress getting a second wind in her career. I think the Guild will want to reward her for what is one of the best performances of the year.

Who Should Win: Mary J. Blige for Mudbound. A film that was all but buried by Netflix. It could have died a quiet death if not for Blige’s scathing turn as Florence Jackson. Blige conveys strength and vulnerability even from behind a pair of dark sunglasses. A wife and mother who sees her family fortunes crumble before her only to see them rise from the ashes is a tour de force for any actor. But for a first-time actor? It is astounding.

Who Got Snubbed: Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip. A comedic force-of-nature, Haddish’s Dina was a vulgar loudmouth who was still more human than caricature. Much has been said about the grapefruit scene, but little is said about the scene after. Dina takes her friends into her room, kneels, and leads them in prayer. An act of simple faith that isn’t part of a larger message. Haddish’s Dina is such an astounding comedic creation because she is a complete creation, with beliefs and ideas, and not just comedic foibles.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

Image Courtesy Fox Searchlight

The Big Sick – Adeel Akhtar, Holly Hunter, Zoe Kazan, Anupam Kher, Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano and Zenobia Shroff

Get Out – Caleb Landry Jones, Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Bradley Whitford and Allison Williams

Lady Bird – Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Laurie Metcalf, Jordan Rodrigues, Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush, Marielle Scott and Lois Smith

Mudbound – Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan and Carey Mulligan

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Željko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Frances McDormand, Clarke Peters, Sam Rockwell and Samara Weaving

Who Will Win: Lord help me I think it may be Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing Missouri. Deeply flawed but incredibly acted, it tries in vain to wrestle with the human complexity and the notion of justice. It’s burdened by the whiteness of its cast, and it’s narrative cowardice when dealing with racial issues. It has four women characters, but only one of them is given anything interesting to do or say. The others are merely decorative assets for their male counterparts. Needless to say, I’m betting SAG will just love all the great performances in this movie and overlook the inherent narrative flaws.

Who Should Win: The Big Sick is a movie I didn’t love, but it is a movie I liked a lot. I will say that it has a fantastic cast and it serves the movie well. Michael Showalter has nothing to say visually, but he is smart enough to stack his cast with heavy hitters. Kumail Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Zoe Kazan, Anupam Kher, and Zenobia Shroff make The Big Sick as powerful and poignant as it is. The script by Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon gives the whole cast grade A meat to sink their teeth into. Heartwarming and touching The Big Sick works as well as it does because of its cast.

Who Got Snubbed: Before you get your pitchforks and torches ready hear me out, Justice League. Justice League is by no means a masterpiece by any definition of the word, nor is it worthy of any actual awards. BUT the cast made that movie work it’s weird, herky-jerky magic. Collectively they made a series of disjointed scenes and overly produced action sequences work because when they were together the movie was actually kind of fun. Whether it was Aquaman sitting on Diana’s lasso of truth or Batman’s look of gushing love when Superman joins in the fight against whatever the bad guy’s name was, they sold the scene. I’m not saying they deserve the award but they sure as hell deserve a nomination more than Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing Missouri.

Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Image Courtesy Warner Bros.

Baby Driver, ST-C Robert Nagle

Dunkirk, ST-C Tom Struthers

Logan, ST-C’s Nuo Sun, Gary Hymes, Garret Warren

War for the Planet of the Apes ST-C’s Isaac Hamon, Terry Notary, John Stoneham Jr., Danny Virtue

Wonder Woman ST-C’a Tim Rigby, Marcus Shakesheff, Lee Sheward

Who Will Win: Wonder Woman. While the other films in this category did a great job with their stunts, Wonder Woman not only had a fantastic stunt cast, they also let the stunt actors BE characters. A good chunk of the best stunts in the film were by the Amazons, who were played by an extremely talented and athletic group of women. Rather than let the stunt women stay in the background, Patty Jenkins let them feature in front of the camera and for that, I think the Guild will reward.

Who Should Win: Wonder Woman, again. The beach scene alone is amazing, but it also had some fantastic work during the war scenes as well.

Who Got Snubbed: Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s sort of the norm for the SAG’s to snub December release films, but this snub in this category is more surprising. It’s hard to beat Star Wars when it comes to stunts, and Praetorian Guard fight on Snoke’s Ship was as standout a feat of action as any other in 2017.

Television

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie

Image Courtesy HBO

Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock: The Lying Detective as Sherlock Holmes

Jeff Daniels – Godless as Frank Griffin

Robert De Niro – The Wizard of Lies as Bernard Madoff

Geoffrey Rush – Genius as Albert Einstein

Alexander Skarsgård – Big Little Lies as Perry Wright

Who Will Win: Alexander Skarsgård. Already a success at multiple shows, and considering the tongue bath that the awards shows have been giving Big Little Lies, this seems like a gimme.

Who Should Win: Sadly, this category isn’t nearly as competitive as most of the others. The closest to Skarsgård in critical acclaim is maybe De Niro, but that’s probably just the built-in bias people have for the man.

Who Got Snubbed: Charlie Cox in The Defenders. A snub that can largely be chalked up to genre bias, Cox had perhaps the strongest storyline in a show stuffed to the brim with them. While Cox wouldn’t win, he’s at least as worthy as Blueberry Pumpkinpatch

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie

Image Courtesy HBO

Laura Dern – Big Little Lies as Renata Klein

Nicole Kidman – Big Little Lies as Celeste Wright

Jessica Lange – Feud: Bette and Joan as Joan Crawford

Susan Sarandon – Feud: Bette and Joan as Bette Davis

Reese Witherspoon – Big Little Lies as Madeline MacKenzie

Who Will Win: The real question is which actress in Big Little Lies will win. Considering there’s no supporting vs. main actress delineation, it could be any of the three. The best bet is Nicole Kidman, who can be counted on to give a flowery speech about female empowerment as she accepts her award.

Who Should Win: Susan Sarandon. While she’s gotten very little love, thanks largely to the sheer dominance of Big Little Lies, I still think Sarandon did a great job in making sure her Bette Davis transcends a simple impression.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

Image Courtesy NBC

Jason Bateman – Ozark as Martin “Marty” Byrde

Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us as Randall Pearson

Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones as Tyrion Lannister

David Harbour – Stranger Things as Jim Hopper

Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman

Who Will Win: Sterling K. Brown has been killing it at the awards this year, and his performance justifies that success. And in a category largely filled by more ensemble shows, he seems an easy choice for the Guild’s committees.

Who Should Win: David Harbour. It can be hard to stand out in an ensemble cast, especially when that cast is in a genre show. But Harbour has gotten a good deal of well-earned love for his performance. Transitioning from burned out sheriff to surrogate father finding his feet, Harbour helped Hopper maintain his position as the stable rock amidst the chaos around Hawkins.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

Image Courtesy Hulu

Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things as Eleven

Claire Foy – The Crown as Elizabeth II

Laura Linney – Ozark as Wendy Byrde

Elisabeth Moss – The Handmaid’s Tale as June Osborne/Offred

Robin Wright – House of Cards as Claire Underwood

Who Will Win: Elizabeth Moss. Another obvious choice, but this is a great place for the Guild to reward The Handmaid’s Tale for its work and topical importance.

Who Should Win: Claire Foy. She’s been great in both seasons of The Crown, and with the show moving past her it’s now or never to reward her acting.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

Image Courtesy Netflix

Anthony Anderson – Black-ish as Andre “Dre” Johnson

Aziz Ansari – Master of None as Dev Shah

Larry David – Curb Your Enthusiasm as Himself

Sean Hayes – Will & Grace as Jack McFarland

William H. Macy – Shameless as Frank Gallagher

Marc Maron – GLOW as Sam Sylvia

Who Will Win: Aziz Ansari. Despite his recent controversies, Aziz has gotten nothing but love for his turn in season 2 of Master of None.

Who Should Win: Anthony Anderson. Not only is he fantastic in his comedic moments, but he also does a good job during Black-ish’s frequent serious discussions of race in America.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

Image Courtesy HBO

Uzo Aduba – Orange Is the New Black as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren

Alison Brie – GLOW as Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder

Jane Fonda – Grace and Frankie as Grace Hanson

Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep as Selina Meyer

Lily Tomlin – Grace and Frankie as Frankie Bergstein

Who Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Thanks to the scary parallels between Veep and some modern-day politics, the character of Selina Meyer has gotten even more accolades than she did in earlier seasons.

Who Should Win:  For this category, the inevitable choice is probably the correct one.

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

Image Courtesy Hulu

The Crown – Claire Foy, Victoria Hamilton, Vanessa Kirby, Anton Lesser and Matt Smith

Game of Thrones – Alfie Allen, Jacob Anderson, Pilou Asbæk, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, John Bradley West, Jim Broadbent, Gwendoline Christie, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Liam Cunningham, Peter Dinklage, Richard Dormer, Nathalie Emmanuel, James Faulkner, Jerome Flynn, Aidan Gillen, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Conleth Hill, Kristofer Hivju, Tom Hopper, Anton Lesser, Rory McCann, Staz Nair, Richard Rycroft, Sophie Turner, Rupert Vansittart and Maisie Williams

The Handmaid’s Tale – Madeline Brewer, Amanda Brugel, Ann Dowd, O. T. Fagbenle, Joseph Fiennes, Tattiawna Jones, Max Minghella, Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski and Samira Wiley

Stranger Things – Sean Astin, Millie Bobby Brown, Cara Buono, Joe Chrest, Catherine Curtin, Natalia Dyer, David Harbour, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Dacre Montgomery, Paul Reiser, Winona Ryder, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink and Finn Wolfhard

This Is Us – Eris Baker, Alexandra Breckenridge, Sterling K. Brown, Lonnie Chavis, Justin Hartley, Faithe Herman, Ron Cephas Jones, Chrissy Metz, Mandy Moore, Chris Sullivan, Milo Ventimiglia, Susan Kelechi Watson and Hannah Zeile

Who Will Win: This is the closest thing the SAG’s have to a “Best Series” award, and it’s a tough race. Game of Thrones is always a contender, as are relative newcomers The Crown and This Is Us. But the most likely winner is The Handmaid’s Tale. Picking up the win at the Emmy’s and the Globes is always a good sign, and it’s doubtful that the chord that the series struck with audiences didn’t also reach the acting community.

Who Should Win: Stranger Things. Out of all of the series nominated, Stranger Things is the series that best represents a truly great ensemble. With this past season featuring great work from the adults (Sean Astin, Winona Ryder, and David Harbour) and the kids (Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, et al.), the series deserves a win. Sadly, it’s probably bogged down by the fact that it IS largely a child cast and good old genre snobbery.

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Image Via HBO

Black-ish – Anthony Anderson, Miles Brown, Deon Cole, Laurence Fishburne, Jenifer Lewis, Peter Mackenzie, Marsai Martin, Jeff Meacham, Tracee Ellis Ross, Marcus Scribner and Yara Shahidi

Curb Your Enthusiasm – Ted Danson, Larry David, Susie Essman, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines and J. B. Smoove

GLOW – Britt Baron, Alison Brie, Kimmy Gatewood, Betty Gilpin, Rebekka Johnson, Chris Lowell, Sunita Mani, Marc Maron, Kate Nash, Sydelle Noel, Marianna Palka, Gayle Rankin, Bashir Salahuddin, Rich Sommer, Kia Stevens, Jackie Tohn, Ellen Wong and Britney Young

Orange Is the New Black – Uzo Aduba, Emily Althaus, Danielle Brooks, Rosal Colon, Jackie Cruz, Francesca Curran, Daniella De Jesus, Lea DeLaria, Nick Dillenburg, Asia Kate Dillon, Beth Dover, Kimiko Glenn, Annie Golden, Laura Gómez, Diane Guerrero, Evan Arthur Hall, Michael J. Harney, Brad William Henke, Mike Houston, Vicky Jeudy, Kelly Karbacz, Julie Lake, Selenis Leyva, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Adrienne C. Moore, Miriam Morales, Kate Mulgrew, Emma Myles, John Palladino, Matt Peters, Jessica Pimentel, Dascha Polanco, Laura Prepon, Jolene Purdy, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Nick Sandow, Abigail Savage, Taylor Schilling, Constance Shulman, Dale Soules, Yael Stone, Emily Tarver, Michael Torpey and Lin Tucci

Veep – Dan Bakkedahl, Anna Chlumsky, Gary Cole, Margaret Colin, Kevin Dunn, Clea Duvall, Nelson Franklin, Tony Hale, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sam Richardson, Paul Scheer, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Sarah Sutherland and Matt Walsh

Who Will Win: Veep. Most of my reasoning is mentioned in my justification for Julia-Louise Dreyfus’s win prediction, but there’s no doubt her work wouldn’t be nearly as good without the team surrounding her.

Who Should Win: GLOW. A great show that seemed to fly under some people’s radar, it took a much different approach to the 2017’s theme of female empowerment. Mixing funny and emotional as deftly as any Jenji Kohan program, the show had its ensemble pulling double duty as actors and as wrestlers. Sadly, if there’s one thing with less respect than genre, it’s professional wrestling.

Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series

Image Courtesy HBO

Game of Thrones ST-C Rowley Irlam

GLOW ST-CS Shauna Duggins

Homeland ST-C’s Brian Smyj, Mark Fichera

Stranger Things ST-C Lonnie R. Smith Jr.

The Walking Dead ST-C Monty L. Simons

Who Will Win: Game of Thrones cleans up in technical categories, and have won this six years running. With each season getting bigger and sillier, so have the stunts gotten more impressive to match.

Who Should Win: GLOW. While losing best ensemble would be expected, losing Best Stunt Ensemble will be a bigger disappointment. Unlike other shows, GLOW is almost centered around stunts. It did a great job in having the wrestling look as real as real wrestling, while also capturing some of the painful qualities of it. As well, the cast was trained in professional wrestling, and pro wrestlers like Carlito put in some good work throughout the series.

The 24th Annual Screen Actor’s Guild Awards will be hosted by Kristen Bell, and presented on January 21, 2018, on both TNT and TBS, 8:00 p.m. EST / 5:00 p.m. PST

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You Have Acquired: The First Key

Shailyn

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Content Warning: this review discusses spoilers and themes of suicide as depicted on the show.

First Key of the Seven Keys? Check! Magic? Still a nope.

Recap

The pages might be blank, but Quentin seems to have the Tale of the Seven Keys down pat. He starts going on about this daughter of a knight who gets kidnapped by a witch. The only way to set him free? Find the seven keys, which unlock the castle at the end of the world. The first location the daughter travelled to on this quest? A little place called After Island. As in After Fillory, or somewhere at the ass-end of the Fillorian Ocean. But for Quentin and gang to join Eliot and gang, they’d have to hop on over to Fillory. Might be a tough fix, seeing as magic is still caput. But Mayakovsky had some magic batteries, once upon a time. So maybe if they find them, they can get a jump start. With a little Googling, they find he was last seen at a Hedge Witch bar getting turned into a bear? Yeah, sure.

Eliot’s got his court hard at work scrambling up a ship to sail out to After Island, but the Fairy Queen isn’t too fond of the idea of magic being back. That would make them equals again, no? Eilot gets a tour of his new ship, the Muntjac, which in true Fillory fashion is semi-sentient. In the interest of keeping things under tight control, the Fairy Queen commands Eliot to bring Fen and one of her courtiers along: none other than Frey, Eliot and Fen’s now full-grown child. Time sure does fly when you’ve been kidnapped from birth and forced to grow up in a different dimension.

Meanwhile, Alice is on Lamprey Watch. The vampire from last episode suggested getting a kitten. Apparently they have a sixth sense for the thing. It better work, because the Lamprey’s already gotten hold of a human skinbag to play host for it.

Q and Julia need Kady to get into the Hedge bar, and warily, Kady plays along. A chat with the barkeep reveals that Mayakovsky was with his Brakebills sweetheart, Emily Greenstreet, when the whole bear thing happened. Q pays her a visit, but seeing as she’s been drunk for a week, Emily isn’t exactly forthcoming. All she can confirm is that Mayakovsky was talking with a woman, “someone he owed,” right before he hulked out.

Eliot sets sail for After Island with a tearful goodbye to Margot, who’s staying behind to make sure Fillory doesn’t fall to pieces. Shortly after landing on After Island, Eliot locates the first key. Someone slap a Staples button. But wait, a catch. It’s hanging around the neck of the island’s priest. Said priest and key are the only thing that has been keeping at bay a vicious shadow bat that’s been preying on the villagers. Psych. Turns out it’s just Illusion magic and the priest’s a huge bag of dicks. Once Eliot pieces it together, with some help from maybe-daughter Fen, he turns the dickwad over to the justice of the people. Way to go King Eliot.

Turns out the big magic didn’t stop with Mayakovsky’s shapeshifting bar trick. Weird spells have been popping up all over New York City—a dinosaur at a children’s hospital, sex magic in Central Park—and wherever the whacky crops up, the same woman is always close by. The gang splits up to check it out. At Central Park, Q bumps into Alice and her new cat. Turns out she heard about the magic spikes too, and is searching for the same person. They catch word of the lady in question. Apparently, before she lit out of the park, she talked about finding the nearest tall building to fling herself off of. Yikes. Quentin and gang hightail it to the place in question to find Professor Lipton clinging to the roof. Q tries to talk her down. Turns out she swiped the battery from Mayakovsky. Q pulls her back to safety, but not before she drops the battery.

But hey, turns out there was another battery after all. And Emily had it. Before the gang can get to her, Kady swoops in and steals it for herself. Distrustful of the gang’s motivations, she’s ready to cure Penny first, save magic later. At the hospital the gang checks Lipton into, the Lamprey makes a sudden appearance. Except, the Lamprey is actually invisible, so how do we know this? Because Alice’s cat gets hissy and subsequently explodes of course. Poor cat. You shall be missed. Alice makes a break for it, but that won’t last long. Now it’s Quentin’s turn to get possessed. Hey, it wouldn’t be a season if Q didn’t get possessed at least once, right?

Review

We’re back in step this episode of The Magicians, but honestly, I’m a little conflicted. The show writing has grown into the habit of leaning into cliches, and justifying this by calling them out forthright. As humorous as it is, it does come across as a little lazy. Eliot and Fen’s changeling kid suddenly coming back a full-grown adult? Mayakovsky’s batteries? Being self-aware doesn’t necessarily negate the sin of being overly convenient.

As ever, I have never been married to the source material. But the show has strayed so far from the books’ beaten path that this attempt at getting back to it feels like we’re fighting through thickets with a weedwacker. The problem-solving is quick, it’s messy, and it calls attention to itself.

Still, I’m looking forward to getting to the part where we get the gang back together. I just hope that the majority of the quest takes place on the Muntjac. Quentin’s comment at the very opening of the episode, regarding the fact that the first key is “in Fillory” could possibly hint that the other keys could not be. To be frank, Brakebills and Fillory as locations are what make The Magicians unique. Considering Brakebills is bust with magic, it would seem in due process to focus a little more on Fillory this season.

Like Q and the gang, I’m kind of missing the magic. Half the charm of The Magicians has always been the theme of childlike magic. A return to nostalgia. The power of both the books and the first season lies in the material’s abilities to let us live vicariously through its characters’ sense of wonder. We, the geeks of many fandoms alike, have always dreamt of turning a corner and finding that magic was real. That there’s a place out there were fiction comes to life. This far in, the magic all feels a little jaded.

I’m ready to feel the wonder again. And what better way than by taking us far, far away from the convoluted events of the past season?

Let’s go on an adventure.


Images courtesy of SyFy

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The Flash’s Innocence Is On Trial

Matthew

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To quote Abed Nadir, “And we’re back!”. After that mixed cliffhanger, it’s finally the time to see what happened to Barry Allen in The Flash.

We pick back up with Barry being processed and pleading innocence to the captain of the CCPD. He gets out on bail and explains the issue to Team Flash. Iris makes a Chekhovian remark as she reminds everyone, audience included, that when Barry returned from the speedforce, he was talking about being innocent of a murder and this will most likely play a role later on. Barry states that, if convicted, he will not use his powers to escape and become a fugitive. Meanwhile, Joe recruits Ralph’s P.I. expertise and Clifford, in Dominic’s body, tries to convince Marlise that they are still on a journey together even with the recent “changes”.

The trial begins and the prosecutor starts making his case against Barry, painting him in a bad light and arguing that Barry murdered DeVoe in cold blood. Somewhere else, at a local bank, the B plot begins with a man whose face turns greenish and, seemingly unbeknownst to him, knocks people out as he exits the bank. At the courthouse, the prosecutors present the forensic evidence against Barry, such as the wedding knife/murder weapon and DNA under DeVoe’s nails. Joe and Cisco are called to the bank to investigate and Cisco gets a trace of dark matter from the metahuman.

During Captain Singh’s deposition, Cecille’s question is about why Singh hired Barry in the first place, to which he replies that Barry was eager to help the victims of crimes. The prosecutor then asks Singh about the numerous times Barry was late and about his “sabbatical,” implying that the captain could have covered for Barry’s second life as a criminal mastermind. This apparently leaves everyone considering this as a possibility.

Staking out the DeVoe’s residence, Ralph takes pictures of Marlise kissing DeVoe/Dominic. During a recess, Cecille tells the West-Allens that Barry could either make a deal or claim insanity, which Barry won’t accept because they aren’t true. Plus, Barry won’t testify and defend himself either because he doesn’t want to perjure himself. He doesn’t want to tell the people he is The Flash either, despite this being his best option.

Caitlin comes back to STAR Labs with the news that it was radiation poisoning that caused all the people at the bank to collapse, but since things tend to escalate around Central City, the radiation levels could lead to an atomic-bomb-esque explosion, wiping out the entire city.

Marlise is called to testify and gives a show in melodrama with tears galore, moving the jury members. Ralph arrives with the recently taken pictures, but upon presented with the evidence, Marlise conjures up a story about how she was in a lowkey relationship with Dominic and that Clifford knew and approved of it because he couldn’t provide certain physical pleasures. Even after that, Barry won’t out himself.

Iris decides to talk to Marlise and it doesn’t lead to anything but Mrs. DeVoe baiting Iris into telling the court that Barry is the Flash. As Iris tries to make her move, Barry speeds up to her and creates a sort of a bubble in time in which both of them can talk normally while everything else is stopped. Barry tells her not to do it because it would put everyone that has stood by them in the previous years at risk. In the end, Iris decides not to out The Flash, practically sealing his conviction.

Joe asks Ralph to use his powers to break into the DeVoe’s house, but he refuses when he realizes Joe is planning on planting some fibers from the West-Allen apartment there in order to frame Marlise for the murder — I guess this could be considered a re-framejob? I mean, we know that it was either Marlise or DeVoe who stabbed the corpse. Actually, what Ralph did was less of a “refusal” and more of a “speech on ethics and morality” that managed to convince Joe not to do as he planned.

The metahuman Fallout continues to obliviously make people collapse, but after a while, Barry finally catches on to it. The defense rests her case and proceeds to the closing arguments, but those get interrupted as Barry leaves the courtroom to tend to the metahuman near the point of blowing the city. Cisco and Wells trigger Killer Frost to appear so she can try cooling down Fallout, but she ends up receiving a power blast and passes out. The Flash creates a vacuum around the meta right in time so Cisco can breach the radiation to Earth-15, a place Wells claims to be deserted and abandoned. The plan works, but Barry gets burned, which doesn’t really mean anything since he has healing abilities.

The jury declares its verdict, finding the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree. As Barry goes back to the courthouse, he has a moment alone with Dominic DeVoe who continues on with his smug-ass super calculated plan that he won’t reveal. We have no idea what the fuck is going on which, frankly my dear, it’s far more frustrating that compelling.

Barry declares his innocence once again, but the sentencing is at hand. In a nicely done montage, the creative team juxtaposes the judges calling Barry “inhumane, unmoved, and with such a lack of regard for human life” with Captain Singh awarding the Flash with a medal of valor. The judge, in the end, sentences Barry to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Capping the episode, we see Barry arriving at his prison cell that, due to a phrase written on the wall, we know is the same cell that held Henry Allen at Iron Heights.


Images Courtesy of the CW

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