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Samurai Jack Pushes On




The final season of Samurai Jack continues where it left off, and does so in style. The action of the newest episode is more focused than the first one, devoting itself almost entirely to a confrontation between Jack and the Daughters of Aku.

The Fight Begins

And as far as confrontations go, it’s a savage one. Before the Daughters attack, Jack encounters an enormous beetle drone, much like those he had fought since the beginning of the series. He destroys it effortlessly, with a single throw of his new polearm. It’s a perhaps deliberate contrast between the enemies from the older seasons, and the threat that he faces immediately afterwards.

The Daughters’ attack has little in common with the anticlimactic demise of the massive robot. They strike ruthlessly and without warning, quickly destroying Jack’s motorbike, disarming him, and forcing him on the defensive. It’s clear that it takes all his skill just to survive, much less strike back.

There have only been a few other occasions where Jack was so outmatched. The first one was during the graveyardfight in Jack and the Zombies, where he desperately fought off hordes of undead, and what eventually saved him was Aku’s ignorance of his sword’s properties – that it couldn’t harm the innocent. Then there was his fight with the Minions of Set, where he only survived through literal divine intervention. He had faced many challenging enemies, but those fights, just like the one in this episode, have a level of desperation you can’t see elsewhere.

The Daughters of Aku are each incredibly capable. They might not be a match for Jack individually, but they dominate the battle through cooperation and stealth. They coordinate their attacks, and frequently vanish, only to strike again from hiding. Anyone with less martial skill than Jack would have been dead before they knew what hit them.

Jack’s strategy throughout the fight isn’t concerned with victory, so much as with survival. He flees the Daughters into an ancient ruin, that reminded me of Angkor Wat and similar architecture. There, he leads them on a chase through the crumbling halls. It’s a very tense sequence, with a contest of stealth that Jack ultimately loses, utilizing light, shadow, and the recurring element of a green lightning bug. The tension is real, and captivates the viewer instantly.

The pursuit reaches its climax when the Daughters chase Jack into a burial chamber. The assassins spread out, searching for the samurai, as he hides in one of the sarcophagi. What caught my attention there was the music: far more intense than is usual for the show, underscoring the palpable tension of the situation.

The Daughters do finally locate Jack’s hiding place, and he once again has to desperately fight for his life, using whatever he can get his hands on—a sword, and then a battleaxe, stolen from the tomb. He soon loses both, and flees deeper into the complex. There, he enters a labyrinth of tunnels, and faces a lone Daughter of Aku. In a pitched, hand-to-hand fight, he headbutts her and finally strikes a telling blow, slitting her throat with her own sword… but also earning a knife to the stomach.

This moment deserves some attention. Early on in the episode, Jack dismisses Aku’s mechanical assassins as “just nuts and bolts”. But when he sees the Daughter’s human face under her cracked mask, and the blood flowing freely from her throat, it’s clear that she’s very much flesh and bone. How much does it affect him? It clearly does, to some degree—we see his shock when the blood spurts. His pain and fatigue might be overriding it, however.

In the old seasons, Jack only ever strikes robots with his sword, because the cartoon couldn’t show blood and injuries. Has Jack really not killed a single living being until now? And given the level of self-awareness and consciousness some of those robots have, is there really a difference? Regardless of Jack’s feelings, we, the viewers, know that the Daughters are Aku’s victims themselves. The death of one of them is therefore a tragic event, devoid of any real triumph. Aku’s evil claimed another innocent, this time by Jack’s own hand.

Hearing the others’ footsteps, Jack staggers towards a window, using Scaramouche’s vibrating knife, which he had retrieved from the Daughter, to collapse the tunnel behind him. He falls into a river, trailing blood. He managed to escape, and kill one of his pursuers, but he’s wounded and lost most of his equipment. All he has is a loincloth and Scaramouche’s dagger, which he might well have lost. Things aren’t looking up for him.

Jack has had Enough

So, that’s the chase-and-fight sequence that occupies most of the episode. But that’s not all there is to it, by far. Soon after the Daughters’ first attack, we witness another testament of Jack’s deteriorating mental state. This time, instead of seeing visions of his parents, and others he’d failed to save, he has an argument… with himself.

As he huddles under an empty metal shell to hide from the assassins, Jack witnesses a vision of his younger self, berating him for keeping up the useless fight. The apparition argues that he lost his sword and has no hope of ever beating Aku or returning to the past. Why not let go? Let it end and finally find peace? Or, in other words, just die?

The real Jack argues that he’s doing just fine without his sword, and that the assassins are “just nuts and bolts”, like I mentioned. His words lack a certain conviction, though. He doesn’t seem to have any alternative to his inner voice’s thoughts of suicide than to keep running and keep hiding. Even if the Daughters hadn’t appeared, or if he’d been able to defeat them, how long could he wander and hope Aku doesn’t destroy him?

And then we see the vision of a rider, once more. This time, it doesn’t appear to be triggered by Jack’s guilt, but rather his despair and lack of purpose. Its meaning and source remain a mystery.

As an aside, the fight between Jack and the Daughters uses a framing device of sorts. We see a wolf walking through a forest, and attacked by a pack of massive cat-like monsters. When Jack finally gets away, we also see the wolf lie bloodied among the bodies of its enemies.

Aku isn’t Doing too Well

Finally, I’d like to talk about something that appears in the very beginning, ironically enough. The episode opens with someone who was conspicuously missing from the first one: Aku. Despite some speculation, he’s not gone or indisposed. He still dwells in his lair, receiving supplicants. Not all is well with the shape shifting master of darkness, however. When his scientists inform him about a new, powerful beetle drone (the same one Jack off-handedly destroys), he starts to pretend he doesn’t care about Jack at all, and slithers away.

What follows is an absurd sequence that serves as a dose of the old series’ humor in a new season that is otherwise considerably darker. Aku has a therapy session… with himself as the doctor. The parallel with Jack’s internal dialogue is certainly no coincidence.

Jack’s continued existence is a source of considerable depression for the Deliverer of Darkness. He had apparently destroyed all the possible pathways to the past, and hoped that Jack would just die. But, as we know, Jack does not age.

And so, Aku is stuck in a situation he can’t seem to solve, worried that the samurai will torment him for eternity. Thus, ironically, Jack’s adversary is as tired as he is of the unending stalemate. When Aku expresses a wish for someone to dispose of his problem, things take a turn for the serious, as the assassins appear and the battle is joined.

An End is in Sight

The second episode of the fifth and final season of Samurai Jack raises the stakes and keeps driving the hero to his limit. We get the strong impression that it needs to end soon, one way or the other. Not only through the dialogue and monologues, but through the general atmosphere and design of the new episodes.

There’s a very real sense that Jack’s endless quest has gone on long enough…even Aku feels it. And things seem to be heading towards a resolution.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

Michał is a natural meddler, driven to take fiction apart and see how it works. In The Fandomentals, he examines fantasy and gaming with a critical, and somewhat cranky, eye.



Earn Tries and Fails to Stunt in Atlanta





At this point, anyone who watches Atlanta is used to Earn being treated a bit unfairly. He doesn’t ever really fit in anywhere. People treat him as lesser and take advantage of him. We saw it happen last week with Tracy. He’s a bit of a pushover and people constantly take advantage to crap all over him. Poor Earn. This week, Earn tries to use an influx of cash to stunt on people the way others stunt on him. Let’s just say it doesn’t go very well.

Failed Adventures in Stunting

Through a very upset white mom – who repeats some offensive lyrics she’s upset about right in front of her daughter, despite being upset her daughter heard them to begin with – we learn that Paper Boi has a new single. This new single gives Alfred and Earn a nice pay day. Time to celebrate.

Only Earn decides he’s going to celebrate by throwing money around to come off as a bigger deal than he is. He decides to do this basically only because of a Paper Boi fan stunting on him at the beginning of the episode.

It’s not very often that Earn comes off as a complete idiot, but he does here and then some. I get it; he faces so much shit so often that he saw a chance to dish it back out. Problem is he just isn’t someone capable of faking to make it. He tries to buy VIP tickets at a theater with a hundred-dollar bill, only to be told they don’t take bills that large, then sees an older white guy buy a ticket with one of his own. The usher just walks right over him. He goes to a club and tries to use another hundred (maybe the same one?), only to have the owner call it fake and kick him out. Desperately, Earn rents a limo and heads to the strip club with Alfred and Darius, only to have the DJ call him out and the club snatch his money away with every charge they possibly can.

To cap the night, he finds Michael Vick racing people outside the club and foolishly bets some money of his own on beating Vick.

It’s one thing to see Earn go through hard times as a product of circumstances at least partly out of his control. It’s another to see him inflict the hard times himself. Everything that goes wrong for Earn here happens because he chooses to be a prideful moron. He reeked of toxic masculinity throughout this episode, which is not normal for Earn. One guy hurt his feelings and he wanted to restore them. You can really see it in the way he refuses to let Van pay for the movie tickets instead.

He decided to value his worth based on the money he had on him and ended up looking even more like a fool than usual. You can see how he ends up bouncing back and forth between Van’s house and homelessness. Earn always came off a bit too smart for his circumstances in season 1. Atlanta’s making his failures a bit clearer this season.

Damn if it wasn’t fun in an awkward, cringing kind of way, though. The Michael Vick “race” might be a contender for Atlanta’s best ending scene.

All about That Paper Boi

Meanwhile, Alfred has a better, calmer day that seeded the possibility of even worse news for Earn; the possibility of Paper Boi getting a new manager. Along the way we got another look at Atlanta’s wonderful ability to blend different tones into a scene without anything feeling out of place.

Alfred’s time in the studio with Clark County showed him a different side of the rap game he hasn’t been a part of yet. One with connections to sponsorships, professionalism, and success. I know I mentioned last week how Paper Boi doesn’t appear to be into this for the attention, but the subtitle for this season is “Robbin’ Season”. What better way to live up to that title than having another manager steal Paper Boi from Earn?

I don’t think it is coincidence that Earn looked like such a fool in an episode where Alfred gets a look at proper management. Specifically, Earn looked like a fool trying to fake one image he can’t pull off. Just like he doesn’t seem to have any of the connections or sway to actually manage Paper Boi. He can get him some crappy gigs at radio stations. A better manager would have him raking in more dough for more enjoyable work. I can’t help but think Alfred will realize that soon enough.

Alfred even seemed to deliver a warning like this at the end to Earn. He sees how inadequate Earn currently is and how badly he failed at playing the big shot. Earn had the money to play the big shot but no idea how to actually do it. He dressed in a crappy sport coat with a crappy Coca-Cola shirt and let everyone step all over him. He looked like someone trying to play a role rather than someone who actually belonged in the role.

I can’t imagine Alfred will let Earn slide for much longer. Not when he sees how others conduct business. Earn’s only hope is that Alfred’s distaste for the consequences of greater fame win out over whatever ambitions he has.

It might also help when he sees how scary and fake Clark County and his crew were. Seriously, how does Atlanta manage to be so funny, dramatic, and terrifying, and often from line to line without skipping a beat? I can simultaneously believe that Alfred and Darius both thought of Clark County as a fake and a joke while also thinking he was completely terrifying. I just hope his entourage didn’t actually beat the hell out of that producer.

Final Thoughts

This season has a couple clear themes so far. One revolves around the growing fame of Paper Boi. He and Earn have more money, more fame, and more success than they did last season. However, it’s not playing out like they thought. Earn had money to throw around like he’s never had yet he still didn’t matter. He’s still an awkward dude struggling just to have a life with the mother of his child. Alfred has begun to matter in the Atlanta rap scene, yet it’s bringing him little more than unwanted attention from unwanted people.

Both are stuck in this awkward transition between fame and irrelevancy that so many possibly rappers never move past. It’s why I can’t help but think Earn will lose his job. He can’t take Paper Boi higher, and Paper Boi will need to go higher if he wants to remain relevant. It’s one thing to have a dream, and another to see the reality of the dream. Atlanta has tried to show those downsides a bit.

Of course, the other running theme has been about robbin’ season. Whether it’s literal theft like the season’s opening scene or Earn’s own self-inflicted theft of his newfound managing wealth, Atlanta has managed a clearer, more consistent feel to its second season. I loved the self-contained feel of the first season, but so often interesting things would happen and then be forgotten. The first season was more of a loosely collected series of stories than a connected narrative.

The second season so far has managed to have the entertaining, isolated adventures while also managing a stronger running timeline and set of events. Even if I have questions about how long Earn has suddenly been back in Van’s house. I hope Donald Glover and company keep this up. Atlanta has been really great through three episodes.

Images courtesy of FX

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Gotham Reunites its Dynamic Duos




Last time we were in Gotham, Ed’s murderous side was making a return, Bruce seemed ready to give up his drunken nights, and Sophia was having tea with Lee.

We learn this week Sophia doesn’t just want to make good with her sister-in-law. She wants the Narrows to submit, along with a tax. Lee’s willing to kiss the ring, but she knows the people in the Narrows can’t afford a tax. Sophia gives her until the end of the day to give an answer.

Bruce has made his way into the city to reconnect with Alfred, asking him for help. But Alfred doesn’t want anything to do with Bruce. He’s still hurting from being fired like he was just the help.

Elsewhere in the city, Ivy attacks the bar Harvey’s working. He’s not there, but that doesn’t change the fate of the patrons that are there. Jim realizes that Harvey was the target because he was the one to kill her father. They find him at his apartment, but even the threat of Ivy isn’t enough to convince Harvey to work Jim again. He heads off on his own to find her. Using the footage from tapes Ivy sent to news outlets, Jim figures out where Ivy’s been staying. There, he runs into Selina. She was hoping to talk Ivy down. Jim warns her not to engage with her, which means Selina is certainly going to engage with her before the end of the episode.

Lee and Ed are brainstorming to figure out their Sophia problem. Lee’s willing to submit to her, but Ed doesn’t want to give in so easily. He knows there’s something Sophia must want from Lee and they just need to figure out what that is. So he enlists a crackpot team of Gotham’s finest spies, i.e. a bunch of street kids.

Bruce goes to the Siren’s club looking for Selina. After Alfred’s rejection he needs someone to talk to. Selina doesn’t have the time for him, as she’s too busy worrying about Ivy. But she does give him the signature ‘Selina Kyle’ kick in the behind he needs to pull his head out his ass.

Harvey calls Jim with a lead on Ivy, which isn’t suspicious at all considering how resistant he’d been to working with Jim only a short time before. Sure enough, it’s a trap. Ivy has Harvey under her control. She orders Harvey to kill Jim, then himself before she leaves to attend to her other plans.

Jim manages to stall Harvey long enough with some low blow comments to get close enough to knock him out. When he awakes, the toxin has worn off. He remembers enough of what she said to figure out she’s targeting Gotham’s wealthy at an event. Back at the GCPD, they learn the Wayne foundation is having an event that evening. Jim gears up with his force, but Harvey stays behind, still raw from Ivy controlling him.

At the event, Bruce is giving the opening remarks when Alfred walks in. Bruce stops reading the prepared speech in front of him and starts speaking from the heart. His speech becomes one to Alfred, an apology and admittance to what he means to him. It’s the start of a reconciliation. But when he speaks to Alfred directly, he reminds Bruce he’s more than the darkness he sees in himself. It’s still not the thing Bruce is ready to hear and he walks off, leaving Alfred. As he does, Ivy takes the stage with some armed thugs under her control in tow. Alfred, ever the hero, tries to take her out, but he gets knocked out instead.

Jim arrives just moments after she’s taken her first victim. He and the GCPD get into a firefight with Ivy’s intoxicated thugs. Bruce sees Alfred in danger and grabs the tactical gear of a passed out thug to get to him. When Bruce gets to him Alfred implores him, he can do more than just help him.

Bruce does dispatch some of the attackers, but he and Jim cross paths. He’s wearing the gear of Ivy’s men and he has a gun he just took from an attacker. Jim takes the small leap to assume he’s with the others and shoots him. The bullet hits his bulletproof vest and Bruce flees from Gordon, vanishing by the time Jim gets to the rooftop.

Back at Ivy’s, Selina has been waiting for her. She’s not there to reason anymore. Selina destroys the last of the Lazarus water. Their fight comes to a stalemate with Selina ready to kill Ivy if she tries to kill her. Ivy cuts her losses and leaves with one last warning to Selina, don’t get in the way again.

While trying to deal their Sophia problem, Ed’s also been getting more visits from the Riddler. His hallucinations have progressed outside his reflections. The Riddler now follows him around, taunting him with Lee’s death. He almost tells Lee at one point, but instead, he tries to deal with it himself. The only way he knows how to silence the Riddler is by silencing himself, permanently. He gets as far as having a noose around his neck before the Riddler offers an alternative that doesn’t involve them dying. So, he turns himself over to Arkham, preferring being imprisoned there than risk hurting Lee. But the Riddler has one more riddle for Ed. The real reason he wanted to end up in Arkham was to get close to Oswald. He calls Ed ‘Riddler’ and it’s enough to bring the personality to the surface.

Sophia and Lee meet in the Narrows. Lee tries to bargain with the dirt she has on Jim but Sophia isn’t having it. They aren’t having a meeting; it’s an ambush. Sophia’s men kill Lee’s and Sophia smashes Lee’s hand with a hammer herself.  Sophia’s now the uncontested Queen of all of Gotham.

Back at the manor, Alfred is treating Bruce’s wounds, just like old times. Bruce’s actions at the fundraiser proved what his words couldn’t. He has changed and he is truly ready for help. And Alfred’s back to stay.

At the GCPD Jim does the thing he’s been trying to do for weeks. He comes clean to Harvey. He admits Sophia used him and she’s behind the Pyg. He’s also resolved to take her down.

All the Dynamic Duos are Back

Reunion brings back some of Gotham’s best pairings while establishing new rivalries. Bruce and Alfred reconciling was enviable. But I do appreciate Bruce still had a little bit of resistance in him when Alfred told him he was more than his darkness. Bruce has been trying to drown himself for the best part of the season. One fever induced future vision quest isn’t going to completely rid him the trauma of killing Ra’s Al Ghul. It was ultimately his own actions that proved Alfred’s words. Bruce chooses to put himself in danger for the sake of protecting others. It didn’t erase his darkness, just proved he could still move forward in spite of it.

Jim and Harvey’s reunion is a wake-up call for both men. Harvey realizes his lone wolf act will get him killed faster than anything else. Jim, on the other hand finally admits he betrayed Harvey for the position of Captain.

The Riddler and the Penguin’s reunion may have been the briefest of the episode but it holds so much promise. Their partnership the first time around was one of the most interesting times for both characters. They’ve always played off each other better as allies than enemies.

In a reverse of Ed and Oswald, Ivy and Selina facing off against each other as former friends brought out interesting dynamics for them both. Ivy’s villainy still feels a bit generic compared to what I’m used to on Gotham. Killing Gotham’s wealthy because they’re not eco-friendly is a bit hard to get behind. Gotham, in general, doesn’t seem like the greenest city so where is she going to stop? But her encounter with Selina did give me shades of what I’ve been wanting from her. A reconnection to her former self, even if they’re enemies now.

It also shows Selina’s genuinely good heart. She cares deeply, even if she has a coarse way of showing it. She’s been a dealt a shit hand by the city most of her life, but she destroys the Lazarus water because it’s too dangerous.

It’s clear at this point Sophia has become Jim’s opponent for this season. It feels like she could be the main antagonist for the season, but Ivy and Jerome prevent that from being a certainty right now. She was horrifically ruthless this episode, and this is after she orchestrated the murder of her father.  It was hard seeing Lee get knocked down so far. Especially after she’d come into her own as the leader of Narrows. She tried to play by Gotham’s rules, just a little too late.

Next time promises more fun with duos, a Cat and Bat team up, some antics with the Riddler and Penguin, and a Jim and Sophia confrontation.

Images courtesy of Fox

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Faith, Trust, Pixie Dust





Quentin and gang are off to find the Sixth Key, leaving Julia and Fen to fuck around with the fairies. But what if the fairies are the “key” to everything after all?


Quentin and Alice are still fighting over what happened in the Library. Alice insists that she is still on their side. Frustrated, Quentin relents and gives Alice the Quest Book. It turns out the sixth key is in Castle Whitespire. You know, where Eliot and Margot just got overthrown? Quentin, Alice, and Josh — Kady has gone MIA — all cross over to Fillory, onto the now flying Muntjac. Eliot and Margot are still a little bit in denial over the whole dethroning fiasco. Desperate to take Fillory back, they let the others take the lead on the whole questing bit. But they drop Q and gang off at Castle Whitespire, so that’s nice. The quest to getting the next key? Some sort of puzzle involving Fillory’s two half moons. But Josh is only able to solve it by smoking some weed.

Meanwhile, Julia and Fen are still on their saving fairies bent. Julia wants to stage a full-scale revolt, but Sky has been unable to convince the other slave fairies that they actually have magic. Even if she could, there’s still a huge catch: as long as the fairies have their collars on them, they cannot do magic without dying. Hoping to get to the bottom of it, Julia reveals to Irene McAllister that she knows about the McAllister fairies. But with the twist that Julia actually wants to catch a fairy of her own. Irene agrees to give Julia one of the collars, if Julia will bring her a fairy.

Penny is ready to contrive a new escape plan. He learns from Sylvia that there’s a weird room in the library where those who are about to “move on” from the Underworld go to spill all the secrets they never told anyone. Penny corners one of these patrons when they get, convincing them that what lies on the otherside is actually a fate worse than hell. They gives up his MetoCard to “Beyond”, just so Penny can swoop it up. Until Hades makes an appearance. You know, Hades. God of the Underworld? He and Penny have a little chat. In the end, Penny hears him out, and decides to give his sentence to the Underworld Library a shot. He gives the MetroCard to Sylvia instead.

Eliot and Margot bring the Floater Queen and King Idri on board the Muntjac to bargain for their help in retaking Fillory. They’re not having it. Turns out Loria and the Floaters are marching full-out war on Fillory. So Eliot and Margot play the last card they have: magic. Once they complete the quest, they promise to teach the gifted of the Floating Island and Loria magic. Making them just as powerful as Fillorians.

Julia and Fen zip on over to Fillory to chat with the Fairy Queen. Turns out long ago, magicians hunted down fairies on Earth into extinction. Only a few, like the Fairy Queen’s mother, escaped into Fillory to build a new world. They convince her to help them free the enslaved fairies. The McAllisters clap a collar on the Fairy Queen, and put her where the hold the rest of the slaves. But as Julia and Fen search the mansion for the machine, the McAllisters claim removes the collars, they discover it is in fact only a guillotine. The magic, which binds the collars to the fairies, is a fairy deal. A deal which can’t be broken. Except by the Fairy Queen.

As the McAllisters prepare to decapitate all their slaves for their magic essence, the Fairy Queen breaks down and ends the deal. She and the fairy slaves massacre the McAllister family. Only Irene escapes. In repayment for her help, the Fairy Queen thanks Juliet. But she also warns her: the next Key is in the Fairy Realm. And it is the only thing keeping the realm intact. The fairies will not give it to them.


The pacing of this episode was wonky. I mean, more wonky than usual. It seems like a day or two surely must have passed, between Julia’s storyline and Eliot and Margot’s. Are we expected to believe that Quentin, Alice, and Josh have been slaving over the sixth Quest puzzle for a day and a night, in secret? I liked the storyline with Julia and the Fairy Queen fine, but there were just way too much fairies in this episode.

Not to mention, I seem to have missed the part where someone screamed, “Beam me up Scotty!” Because the level of convenient teleportation in this episode was insane. How was everyone getting in between Fillory and Earth with such ease? The Quest Keys? The Fillory clock? It doesn’t even matter, because the rule established in previous episodes until now has indicated that every method of world-jumping is imprecise. It’s based on Narnia, for Christ’s sake. You might find a way to cross over, but you never know when or where you will cross over. Who decided to throw that out the window?

While I enjoyed Alice’s monologue at Quentin over his double standards, it still did ring of too little too late. Yet again. I agree. Why should Quentin get to be surly or indecisive while Alice doesn’t get a pass? Because he’s the protagonist or something?

This hearkens back a bit to the original core of The Magicians as a story. A commentary on fantasy versus expectation. And the dangers of seeing yourself as the protagonist in your world. The effect that has on those you love. Except we haven’t been on that train of thought for, what, like a season? That’s my main issue with every semblance of a character arc which has been crammed in this season. Without the context, without the time put in to these characters, these character moments just crop up like classroom motivational posters. All prose and no impact.

The Magicians is burning the candle from both ends, rushing to get to the end of the Quest. Just as they rushed to defeat the Beast. To defeat Reynard. But what they could really use is a good, slow burn.

Images courtesy of SyFy

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