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It’s All About She-Ra!

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Elizabeth and Kori take a look at the rebooted Netflix series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

When not working on her degree or at her actual job, Elizabeth pursues her true passion of complaining at great length about pop culture on the internet. She serves as a Managing Editor for The Fandomentals. You can find her on Tumblr, Twitter and Steam @ohemgeelizabeth

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Mrs. Maisel Remains Marvelous

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Very few shows have ever made me fall immediately in love like I did with season 1 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. By the time the police escorted a drunken Midge off the stage of the Gaslight near the end of the first episode, this show had me. Heart, mind, and soul. The rest of the first season only deepened love. By the end, it was not only possibly my favorite show of last year, but my favorite show out right now, period.

Clearly I had high expectations going into season 2. Perhaps unfairly so. Can I really expect a show that drew me in so strongly to replicate that feeling again? Even if it remained as excellent as before, could it make me love so hard a second time? The short answer is yes. Yes and then some.

Landing the Joke

What stood out to me about this second season of Mrs. Maisel was the bold confidence Amy Sherman-Palladino, her fellow writers, the cast, and the rest of the crew have in their vision of this show. Everything wonderful about the first season not only remains, but cranks up another level. The dialogue moves as fast and wittily as ever. The actors have settled confidently into their characters. Side characters receive much-appreciated focus. The direction, cinematography, and costumes of the show remains stunning, easily ranking Mrs. Maisel among the best looking shows out right now.

Even better, the story managed to push a bit outside of the first season’s comfort zone and prove how its formula works in a variety of settings and scenarios. Where the first season found comfort in the Upper West Side of New York City, season 2 immediately moves Mrs. Maisel to Paris for the first two episodes. A later story arc takes the Maisels and Weissmans to the “wilderness” of the Catskills. Midge and Susie eventually go on tour around the northeast United States.

Not only does the show (and Midge) lose none of the charm navigating all these new settings, it only proves the true quality of both. Midge’s impromptu stand-up sets are as funny as ever, even when they require a surprised translator for a French audience. I shared Susie’s fear about the Catskills trip breaking the momentum of the season to date like it might stall Midge’s career. Then it turned into a wonderful multi-episode arc.

Mrs. Maisel plunges fearlessly into different settings and drags its characters along with them, forcing them all to adapt to the changing circumstances of their lives. The first season certainly focused a great deal on change, and season 2 takes it even further. Everyone has their life uprooted in some way. Some major, some minor, but no one escapes the season unscathed.

Midge, of course, is the star. Her comedy career continues on an upward trajectory, ending the season with her biggest step forward yet. The big change comes in the effect her comedy career has on those around her. The first season certainly sees major change in her life but most of it sees her charm her way upwards in Manic Pixie Dream Girl style, minus the man viewing her as such. Season 2 sees her comedy career take a serious effect on her life. Friends are left behind and relationships suffer. Her comedy dreams begin demanding sacrifices, forcing Midge to make hard choices in her life.

While Midge remains eminently likable and perseverant, she comes across appreciatively more flawed than in season 1. There’s a shade of reckless selfishness to Midge this season. She chases her comedy dreams with an almost single-minded focus disregarding those around her. Where everyone just kind of shrugged and said, “that’s Midge” during season 1, the same cannot be said this time around. Her perseverance alienates sometimes.

In the hands of a worse actor or writers, she would come across poorly. Rachel Brosnahan just remains so damn charismatic and fun, though. The writing also knows exactly when to stop at the line between endearing and annoying. It’s a truly remarkable balance combined with a performance that deserves every award Brosnahan will get while this show airs.

And speaking of the acting; Tony Schalhoub is even better this season. The Catskills episodes are him at his very best.

Midge’s parents receive a large focus this season. Midge’s mother Rose quasi-leaves Abe and moves to Paris, triggering the Paris arc to start the season. Both find out about Midge’s career this season as well. Abe, in particular, undergoes an arc much like Rose did last season, as everything he thought he knew about his children falls apart beneath his feet. This includes a revelation about Midge’s brother Noah that expands his character.

However, if I do have a major complaint about this season, it involves Midge’s parents. Rose, especially, is done a disservice. The first 3 episodes of the season focus greatly on her dissatisfaction with her life in New York. When she returns home, however, she quickly falls back into her old socialite lifestyle without further comment. Abe goes to great lengths to be different for her in the first half of the season. Over the second half, though, he also returns to the same habits that caused their problems to begin with. It’s a shame to see the good work done in the beginning of the season vanish like it does.

Susie also has a pretty wonderful season expanding on her life and personality. It’s no surprise to say Alex Borstein is absolutely wonderful; she’s funny, vulnerable, and possesses a fierce loyalty to Midge. She’s also understatedly charismatic. Season 1 established Susie as a loner with trouble making people like her. Season 2 flips this on its head multiple times, showing how Susie can create connections with people besides Midge. Her loyalty and charisma even lead to a huge opportunity for her management career heading into season 3.

She also gets to be really, really funny. Susie was obviously funny in season 1, but most of her humor revolved around Midge, like everyone else. Season 2 gives her a spotlight all her own leading to some of the funniest moments all season. There’s a multi-episode gag involving a plunger that might be my favorite joke all season.

In the end, it is still the Midge/Susie dynamic driving this show, and it was undoubtedly improved upon.

Mrs. Maisel’s bold confidence in itself really shines through in the skill with which season 2 expanded on all these side characters and introduced others, all without even the slightest hiccup in the show’s quality. Midge even gets a new love interest, a doctor named Benjamin, who blows Joel out of the water. There’s an immediate chemistry between the two despite Benjamin’s initial indifference. An indifference that, to be honest, made me worry about the subplot. Things weren’t helped by the massive Not Like Other Girls angle that makes Benjamin interested in Midge.

An episode later, I loved it. That’s just what Maisel does, and it earned a great deal of trust from me moving forward. Seriously, the Catskills was wonderful.

Speaking of Joel…I have to say I dislike him even more this season than I did in season 1. I know his character comes down to personal preference. My personal preference is that his character needs to change.

He’s so toxically masculine and pathetically insecure, even more than the first season, and it stands out poorly to me among so many other wonderful characters. At least in season 1 he was a guy who made a really stupid mistake and tried to rehab from it. I didn’t mind him. This time around he doubles down on both his mistake and his sense of entitlement regarding Midge. He wants to live a womanizing bachelor life yet throws hissy fits at the idea of Midge having anything without him.

However, Joel and the vanishing character growth of Rose do little to detract from a fantastic season for the entire cast. Mrs. Maisel did exactly what you want to see with a cast of characters in a second season; they grew them, expanded them, and continued endearing you to them.

Was that Political? It Sounded Political!

Mrs. Maisel also continues and grows its political streak in season 2. The main obstacle to Midge’s career is never her own ability or Susie’s ability to find gigs. No, in the end, it always comes down to sexism. Everywhere Midge goes, bookers think she’s a singer or don’t want to put her on because she’s a woman. Susie has to use fake pictures to sell her sometimes. Fellow comedians mock her on stage, but when she mocks them back, she gets in trouble.

There’s also a moment where Midge bases a set around pregnancy jokes and is rushed off stage for saying the word “pregnant.” Of course, this comes directly after a man who told jokes about penis growths.

I’d say your mileage here may vary. Perhaps Mrs. Maisel is too blunt with its feminism and will make you groan. The combination of Midge’s exceptionalism and the lack of subtlety won’t appeal to everyone. Personally, I think it straddles the line effectively and falls in balance with the style of the show. Mrs. Maisel isn’t trying to tell a story focused on rising feminism during 1950s America. The politics are an added source for jokes and conflict. Personally, I find those jokes hilarious.

The politics also extended beyond Midge and her career with some hints at Abe’s activist past, which has been set up as a major plotline for season 3. Ultimately, this is a show about a Jewish woman breaking into comedy in America during the 1950s-1960s. To ignore politics and the patriarchy entirely would feel inauthentic.

Regardless of time period, Mrs. Maisel is telling a story about a woman escaping expected gender roles to be the person she wants to be. It can’t help but be political. I think they do a pretty great job in that regard.

More deftly handled throughout season 2 was the issue of wealth and social class. Comparisons often arise regarding the difference in wealth between Midge and Susie. Sometimes this comes from giant confrontations, and sometimes the point is made more quietly, such as the differences in living quarters during the Catskills trip. Joel and his family exist somewhere between, well off enough to live close to the Weissmans but still struggling to keep a business afloat.

Like everything else, this tends to exist as a source of growth and character jokes. Mrs. Maisel clearly isn’t trying to make a larger point about wealth inequality or the privilege of the Midge and her parents. Conflicts pop up because circumstances demand it.

Overall, it all works. It also adds needed depth to a show that could have ignored these circumstances entirely. In many ways, season 1 did ignore much of this. Midge faced sexism, but not quite to the extreme she does in season 2. Midge’s wealth and privilege stood out, but was not directly addressed compared to Susie’s poverty. Like everything else about season 2, Mrs. Maisel expanded the realities of the world around Midge, Susie, and their friends and family. I think they did a fine job.

There’s so much depth here I can’t even comment on. Elements of the existence of women, the impact of being Jewish, of possible LGBTQ elements that may or may not exist. Mrs. Maisel is, at its core, a show trying to be funny. It’s a comedy. However, it has a lot there to dig into. More than I can get into here, and more than I could even recognize. Season 2 made these characters and their world so much bigger and more meaningful, and I love both the effort and execution.

Marvelous

I admit to a bit of bias when it comes to Mrs. Maisel. As I said to begin this review, I fell deeply in love in the very first episode and it’s possible my ability to recognize deep flaws has vanished. This show hits on just about every level for me. The jokes almost always land, the drama hits its mark, and anyone not named Joel has my undying devotion. I have zero practical knowledge of fashion and yet I deeply admire the clothing choices for every character.

There’s a reason season 2 of Mrs. Maisel will end up on a lot of Best Of lists for 2018. It’s funny, smart, beautiful, dramatic, and makes you care for its characters. It absolutely deserved an Emmy over the incredible second season of Atlanta, and it only got better this season. I’m left with the same question I had after the first season; can Mrs. Maisel replicate this quality? Can they possibly make me love another season as much as I did the first two?

I have a feeling they will.


Images courtesy of Amazon

 

 

 

 

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Castlevania’s Final Two Episodes Are Heartbreaking and Perfect

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It’s very rare that I call anything, especially a series completely flawless, but in the case of both the final two episodes of Castlevania and the series as a whole, they’re something truly without equal in the world of video game adaptations. Not only did the second season improve on the first, it completely perfected it to please both new comers and gaming veterans alike for an experience that is unmatched in quality story telling, faith to the source material, and just an overall thrill ride with tons of drama and excitement.

In keeping the essence of a perfect season it is only natural that both the climax and concluding episodes be the best of the entire season. The last two episodes are equally action packed and emotional spectacle, as well as a cathartic and bitter sweet farewell as we say goodbye to some of our favorite characters. Though only for a bit, as season 3 was already announced.

Now, the big question about season 3 for me is, which game will it be based on, 0r will Warren Ellis decide to go with something completely original? If he goes the game route, he’s got a few choices to pick from. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness would be the most logical, as it takes place only a few years after the third game and follows the rivalry between Hector and Issac. He could also the show take back to the original Castlevania and introduce Simon Belmont.

Finally, he could skip ahead a few hundred years and bring us the most beloved stories in the series and introduce Richter Belmont, Maria Renard, and the return of Alucard in Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the night. Both are considered the epitome of the series experience. He could also turn the clock and return to days of Leon Belmont, as the character was mentioned several times this season. If he decides to go for original content, no doubt we will see more Carmilla, which I’m totally on board with.

With all that in mind, I love what I’ve seen with this series: the characters, the gorgeous animation, the powerful story telling, and the love for the game that’s clear among everyone involved. I’m excited for the future of the series. While it is a shame that the game’s original developer Konami decided to squander one of many of their best game series, we can at least find solace that it will live on in this anime.

For Love

This is it, the final battle, and it begins where we left off: Dracula’s castle is now on top of the Belmont estate and his generals are still locked in a battle with the remainder of Carmilla’s forces that were transported with the castle. The moon becomes blood red, and it seems that Dracula is no longer amused by this betrayal. Our trio rises from the library as Sypha uses an ice pillar to help them ascend the broken staircase in front of the castle. On their way up, we get a nice portrait of Leon Belmont, hopefully a foreshadowing for the series. Sypha cleverly tosses the ice pillar away as she doesn’t want to flood the basement and destroy the library. We need more people like her in the world.

The three make their way into the great hall of the castle and suddenly all vampires’ attention is on them. In this fight, we get to see Sypha unleash her magical potential, Trevor’s fighting prowess and whip work, and even a nod to the many familiars and forms Alucard controls in Symphony of the Night. In the background, we are treated to fan delight as one of the best versions of a recurrent theme from the soundtracks of the games, Bloody Tears, plays triumphantly in background. Everything about this scene, which takes up half of the episode, is amazing and exciting. The three work as a single force: Sypha distracts them with magic, Trevor takes them on one by one, and Alucard overwhelms with sheer might. This maybe the last time we see them fight together but damn if it isn’t the best. Did I mention how awesome this rendition of Bloody Tears was?

If I had to choose a favorite part of this battle it would have to be Sypha’s duel with the Indian vampire. Her constant, fluid adaptability with her ice magic was impressive to behold. As was Alucard’s duel with the Geisha-esque vampire and the moment when Sypha saves him. I love Sypha, and I’ll just stop myself there. While the three are battling to get to Dracula, Issac is doing his best to defend his master from the armor clad vampires. It is this moment that we see the tragedy of Dracula, as Issac prepares to give his life for what Dracula represents. Instead, he transports Issac using the mirror to a distant desert, to spare him from a cruel fate.

The rest of the episode follows the fight against Dracula. All three play a part in it, but Alucard does most of the heavy fighting, including the eventual death blow. The fight is actually quite one sided as neither Trevor or Sypha can do much to damage Dracula, still their efforts are not in vain and make for some amazing fight sequences. Even the scene where Trevor’s punch to Dracula in the face was like hitting a wall is pretty hilarious. Yet it seems only the morningstar whip can really do any damage. There’s a couple of nods to previous Dracula fights in the game as well, like that giant meteor that appears in several fights.

Eventually the one on one fight between Alucard and Dracula leads to his childhood room, filled with toys, drawings, and children’s things. It is here that we at last see what humanity remains in Vlad Dracula Tepes and are treated to one of the most heartbreaking scenes in anything I’ve watched in a long while. “It’s your room. My boy. I’m-I’m killing my boy. Lisa, I’m killing our boy…We painted this room, we made these toys. Your greatest gift to me, and I’m killing him. I must already be dead.” Our hearts are filled with the pain of Dracula’s final realization of what grief has done to him, what monsters we are all capable of becoming.

I came here to have a good time and I’m feeling so attacked right now.

It’s in this moment that Alucard drives a stake into his father’s heart. Trevor removes his head and Sypha burns the ashes once and for all. We mourn the passing of one of gamings greatest foes, but we also mourn a son killing a father who indeed loved him. In the end, what little humanity was left in Dracula shined out. A perfect end to a perfect episode.

End Times

Most of this episode serves as an epilogue and a view of things to come for the series. Alucard wanders the castle, witnessing the damage the assault had caused, especially Sypha’s spell wreaking havoc in the clock tower gear room. Apparently Alucard was going to return to sleep but not while the castle is abandoned with all of the science and knowledge of the centuries. He plans now to stay and watch the castle since Sypha, you know, broke it. Trevor gives him the Belmont library; as above so below, it is all Alucard’s to guard, a home. The two share a beautiful moment of real friendship and a hope for better days.

Next up is Issac, who is confined to wander a new desert. He frequents an oasis nearby and is quickly harassed by several horsemen led by a scarred man. They plan to either sell or eat him which prompts Issac to attack them, flaying them bit by bit in violent fashion. The significance of this sequence is a new madness in Issac. After realizing he could have an army of undead now at his disposal by using his forge master skills, he begins to make one.

We return to Sypha and Trevor and their plans for the future. Sypha plans to return to her people but only for a short while. Life with Trevor was far too exciting for her to stay with them. There’s more evil to be destroyed, the night hordes remains, as well as Carmilla and the corrupted church. Their adventures are not over. Especially the big one that we see coming, a marriage between the two.

Hector and Carmilla appear next in Breila with her surviving order. It’s clear now that once she gets back on her feet she will raise another army. With Hector now her slave, she has an unlimited supply of reborn demons. Poor Hector gets a glimpse of the punishment he will pay should he disobey her.

The final goodbye between our trio is sweet and heartfelt. It may not be in the stars that they meet again but surely the memory of their fights will keep the friendship going for eternity. As we know, Alucard is always on a friendly basis with the Belmonts in the future. What kills me is the final scene. Alucard, now alone, explores the castle that is now his. Full of life and memories but now, like his father, dead and hollow. He returns to his father’s study and is plagued by the ghosts of a happy childhood. The season ends with him weeping, mourning his family.

I hope you all enjoyed this season of Castlevania, and hope to see you all when season 3 rolls around!


Images Courtesy of Netflix

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Carmilla Takes Center Stage in Castlevania’s Mid Season

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When a show is centered around the plight against one character, in a traditional sense, there are two things on opposite ends that can either go wrong or right. That villain can be either amazing or dull, and the story will either prosper or fail based on that. What I’ve loved about this season of Castlevania is that the concept of a single overarching villain is practically unheard of. Well, I mean sure if you had to place a name on the villain based on the series namesake it would have to be Dracula himself. However, the way he is portrayed in this series is broken, apathetic, and just seemingly tired of every one and everything.

I’ll forever love the writers for using this to showcase a more powerful, fleshed out, and just generally more bad ass secondary villain in the form of Carmilla. This isn’t to say Dracula is a horrible villain, far from it; with Carmilla though, we get a brand new look at conspiracies unraveling and an upset in the balance of power that was dominating the playing field in the war against humans. Even though Dracula’s forces lost the battle of Gresit in the first season, he was hardly defeated. It was merely a minor setback until Carmilla arrived to be honest.

While she is my favorite among Dracula’s cast of generals, she isn’t the only player moving or being moved. In the mid season we see the manipulation of Hector, the loyalty of Issac, and hilariously how quickly everyone forgot about Godbrand. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the mid season and it’s follow up breathe more life into our cast of heroes as we see real tension rise between Trevor and Alucard upon the discovery of the information in the Belmont library. We also get even more adorable moments between Trevor and Sypha, to which I say keep them coming because I need that cuteness in my life. Coming into the final two episodes of the series, I have to say at this point I have never seen a series so close to perfect that I’m truly sad to see it end.

The Last Spell

This episode opens with Issac meditating outside the castle and seemingly releasing Godbrand’s ashes into the wind while Carmilla speaks with an unknown person, telling them to have their forces ready at Braila. It seems her plans are finally coming into motion. After we hear literally the only time someone questions Godbrand’s disappearance.

In the Belmont library, Sypha continues to fangirl over books as she explains her realization of how poorly her people passed down information via an oral culture, until she finds a spell book about…penises. Oh, Alucard, if only Trevor judged you as hard as you do him. Oh wait, he does. Poor Sypha in that case. She’s completely defensive about his broken persona yet so supportive, and oh please stop making them so adorable. Ok I’m done, I promise.

We move to Hector, who seems to be truly enjoying nature while Issac gives his best impression of Anakin Skywalker’s “I hate sand” monologue. The dissent among the generals has caused Hector even more concern as the two speak in secret about Dracula’s apathy towards his own methods of culling the human race. He tells Issac that he wants a united decision between him, Issac, and Carmilla to move on Braila, to unite the army. Issac agrees, believing it will appease Carmilla into obedience. He doesn’t know how wrong he was. Hector returns to Carmilla and she showers him with nothing but praise and admiration. He also doesn’t know how wrong he was.

Issac returns to Dracula, admiring a transitional mirror in his study that is similar to the one in the Belmont library (hint hint cough cough) as he tells Dracula about Hector. Dracula finally agrees to the attack on Braila as he reminisces on his past, and we get a flashback to the slaughter of the merchants from a city called Kronstadt who had disrespected him. We are treated to a bloody spectacle as young Dracula in his prime slaughters with very little effort. That power and passion of course, was never to be seen again. It’s here we get to see a glimpse of the historical figure on whom he is based, Vlad the impaler.

Hector and Carmilla appear as he returns to the present and they bring up the attack on Braila. Dracula truly shows his madness and weakness in this moment. He has no idea that he might have just sealed his fate. It seems Carmilla is in complete control at this point. She moves the castle to Braila, where her forces already wait for an obvious coup; her demon army, made by Hector, moves on the Belmont estate and she stands as the only voice of reason among dissenting generals. Poor Hector finally realizes that he was used and now even he is under her control.

The episode ends with Sypha finding a locking spell to trap the castle in a single location. It isn’t finished but she can complete it, that is until Carmilla’s demon forces finally arrive at the Library.

The River

The following episode begins with the attack on the library by even more famous Castlevania monsters. The fan service is real. Trevor shows his own weakness until Alucard puts his mind into place. Alucard will get the transitional mirror working while Sypha finishes the locking spell all while Trevor defends them by being the awesome Belmont that he is. Alucard and Trevor have another bromance moment as Alucard suggests using the mirror to find Dracula’s castle and end things here and now. Poor fools don’t know what is actually coming.

We finally get to see Vampire Killer in action and Trevor’s beautiful ingenuity. Alucard finally gets the mirror working and the castle into sight as Dracula moves it into Braila. Turns out he didn’t care whether the vampires starved after destroying all the humans. Alucard’s job is made harder now that he has to find the castle again. The attack on the river town finally begins as Trevor unleashes his fury on a giant demon using some damn impressive acrobatics and Dark Souls dodging.

Carmilla begins her secret coup as she had Hector bring back the dead Bishop from the first season. As the Castle’s army marches into the city, she has him bless the river, making the water holy as his body burns away from its power. As the vampire army moves into the city they are greeted by another vampire army clad in plate armor and ballistae. In a stroke of brilliance, the bridge is destroyed and nearly all of Dracula’s army is dropped into the now holy river.

Trevor continues to defend his comrades in a spectacular fight, yet he is continuously pushed back. Toward the end, he is basically fighting with candlesticks, yet with some very real success. Back in Braila, Carmilla’s army use the ballistae to begin their invasion of the castle, and she explains to Hector that he betrayed Dracula while also toppling the patriarchy. The fight continues in the library as Sypha finally finishes the spell and Alucard has the castle focused in the mirror. Sypha begins the spell as the army enters the castle, slaughtering all vampires who oppose them.

Issac runs to Dracula to warn him of the betrayal. Not knowing of the spell currently being placed on the castle, Dracula tries to move the castle but both he and Sypha meet resistance with in another. Carmilla and Hector watch as the castle materializes and dematerializes causing a flood to take out Braila.

When the castle finally transports, it’s located front of the Belmont estate. Upon her success, Sypha gives off the most adorable little clap.

It seems the final battle is upon us. I can’t wait to see what the final two episode have in store for us, so see you all next week!


Images Courtesy of Netflix

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