Review: Westworld Season 2. Episode 1

After what feels like an eternity of waiting, Westworld has returned to our screens to bring violent ends to these violent delights.

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Westworld Season 1 ended with a multitude of questions that still needed answering. Whilst we do receive a small handful of answers to kick-start the new season, Episode 1 unfortunately leaves us with two new questions for every one we have answered. It’s in this vein that the episode finds its core thread, it’s a new beginning both for the TV show itself and the characters within.

It’s an episode that deals with self-discovery on quite a large scale. Whilst the story of Bernard took center-stage, the motif of self-awareness ran strong throughout every storyline and I find it highly doubtful that this theme will suddenly dissipate in the coming weeks.

The episode itself, whilst intriguing in the numerous plot points it established, was slow at times. Despite being an hour and a half long episode, it didn’t feel the need to rush events too far. Instead it took a slower approach to proceedings, giving characters plenty of time to re-establish themselves with the audience. What did disappoint however was that new characters were often given one line introductions and then left to sink or swim. Gustaf Skarsgård’s new character Karl Strand, Head of Operations for Delos, feels highly important to this seasons storyline, but received little in the way of introduction or fleshing out. This isn’t unheard of for Westworld though as season 1 was inherently a very slow show until the latter stages. I have enough faith in the character work shown by the show so far that all these characters will be given enough time to fully develop in future episodes.

So, unsurprisingly, it was characters of old who stole the show this week. As always the acting was fantastic across the board, but it was great to see Evan Rachel Wood depict a much darker version of Dolores Abernathy. If I was a betting man I would say that her relationship with James Marsden’s character, Teddy Flood, will be one of the better threads of the season. It’s also worth noting that The Man in Black once again had an episode stealing scene, this time with the younger version of Robert Ford.

I’m certainly intrigued to see where the story takes us across the course of Season 2. The time-jumping is also something that makes it openly different to Season 1, as rather than secretly installing different timelines, the show is instead using them as a device for confusion and to engage attention.

Roll on Episode 2 and let’s just hope that now we’re fully integrated back into the world, things can pick up slightly quicker than they did in Season 1.

Final Score: 8/10 Porgs

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Star Wars In Animation

If you’re a fan of the expanded universe of the Star Wars canon, then you’re likely to be aware that this week we had to wipe away the tears as we big farewell to Star Wars Rebels. It would have been easy to write up a review of Star Wars Rebels, but I want to go deeper, to really appreciate Star Wars in animation and the incredible Universe that Dave Filoni has helped to craft.

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First off, I want to make it clear that when Filoni’s first venture into Star Wars animation, The Clone Wars, came out I didn’t actually watch it. I think it was around the time that Disney bought LucasFilm that my interest in the series was reinvigorated and I went back and watched everything that I could. What I found wasn’t some children’s TV show that focused on toilet humour and weakly constructed storylines (Although, admittedly, Filoni’s work isn’t impervious to this content). Instead I found a complex and bold programme that incorporated the best aspects of the Prequels and Original trilogy and used them to help build character and story.

Rather than being overly bogged down in the politics of the prequels, Filoni knew where the fine line lay for The Clone Wars, incorporating what made the politics in the prequels interesting, but doing so in a way that it never felt overwhelming. Mixing that with the large scale action that, rightly, dominated that era of the Universe and Filoni had achieved what many wanted the Prequel film trilogy to be.

Furthermore, rather than playing it safe and having the series only revolve around pre-established characters, Filoni took chances and had characters such as Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano (A brand new character of his creation), Jedi Master Plo-Koon and Duchess Satine Kryze of Mandalore take on important roles in the series.

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It’s been 10 years since The Clone Wars Movie hit theaters, and the gradual growth of Ahsoka Tano as a character is perhaps the greatest success of Filoni’s time spearheading the LucasFilm foray into the animated medium. A character who was initially hated by fans when she was first depicted on the big screen, coming across as a petulant child who was far more suited to the Prequel Trilogy films than the seasons on television that were to come. Ahsoka has grown into one of the most popular Star Wars characters of all time, not just among fans, but in the heart of Dave Filoni himself.

Stating on multiple occasions his close ties to the character, Filoni has seemingly become protective of the former-Jedi and it’s not hard to argue that she acts as the anchor across all of Star Wars animation. After first appearing in The Clone Wars, Ahsoka later debuted in the wildly popular Star Wars Rebels, the first animated show since the Disney takeover of LucasFilm.

Rebels itself has helped to introduce an entirely new generation to the world of Star Wars. The people who grew up too early or too late to fully appreciate The Clone Wars finally had their outlet, a series that documented not a large-scale war that spanned hundreds of planets, but instead a more family orientated story that told the beginnings of the Rebellion.

Relying almost entirely on brand new characters, it would have been far easier for Rebels to fail where The Clone Wars had succeeded, but Filoni proved once again why many consider him to be the heir apparent to the legendary George Lucas. The emotional connection that fans built to the crew of the Ghost was real, and as we now find ourselves saying our goodbyes to the series, it is easy to say that Filoni has crafted a lasting legacy.

Characters such as Sabine WrenKanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger are now treated by many fans as equals alongside the classic characters of Luke SkywalkerHan Solo and Leia Organa.

Forces of Destiny is perhaps too new to critically judge on the long form axis that this article has adopted, but it should be noted that whilst the show faces more criticism than the other two animated series, it has also staked a claim for its importance to the women in Star Wars, both in-canon and the fans. That may be a topic that I as a white man am not best qualified to talk about, so I implore you to go out there and find someone who is and hear their thoughts on the matter.

As such the animated content of Star Wars is perhaps LucasFilm’s best kept secret. It alludes the general public, but for those who watch it isn’t rare to see the compliment that the TV shows often eclipse the quality of the film series. But those voices are only growing louder. What that means for the future of Dave Filoni and the Star Wars animation is as of yet unclear. At the time of this writing we do not yet know what Filoni’s next venture is, whether it be another animated series, a live action TV show or even a Star Wars movie. But what we do know is that should Filoni decide to step away from animation now, he has already done more for the Star Wars universe than arguably anyone other than George Lucas himself, and that’s not something we should be overlooking anymore.

Review: Star Trek: Discovery Series 1

Star Trek Discovery, the most under-appreciated show on Netflix… in one nerd’s opinion anyway.

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When it comes to “Netflix Originals” I tend to find that they go one of two ways, either they are extremely good televsion or film productions (Usually the former), or they exist somewhere between poor and downright awful. Fortunately I can say with sincere confidence that Star Trek: Discovery’s first season is one of the better shows that Netflix has to offer.

First airing on CBS over in the US, before being made available the day after on Netflix, the latest take on the Star Trek franchise is an incredibly fun, compelling and emotional adventure that is worthy of the name.

What stands out about Discovery, is that it doesn’t feel like any other sci-fi show, it actually feels like a Star Trek series of old, except with a larger budget and better writers. Kicking the series off with an extremely tense and gripping opening episode, the show does a great job of having you hooked from kickoff. But what serves the series the best is perhaps the content which it adopts throughout the course of the series.

With there being 3 recent blockbuster sized Star Trek films in recent memory, the writers of Discovery did a good job in establishing this separate universe and timeline. By making the overarching story of Discovery being about a war against the Klingon’s (A key species in Star Trek lore, but one which was largely left out of the recent films), the show takes advantage of having an exciting core story which leads to various action set-pieces, whilst also being smart enough to write in various sub-arcs which all hit home.

The acting ranges from serviceable to pretty damn good in places. Doug Jones (Saru) and Mary Wiseman (Sylvia Tilly) are particular stand outs throughout the season and offer up some of the more compelling characters. Fortunately, due to the scale of the season and not being limited to a 2 hour long film, most members of the USS Discovery do receive solid to substantial character development. However, there are a couple of recurring non-crew members who do lack the development of others.

All in all the first series of Star Trek: Discovery was a joy to watch, particularly the final handful of episodes which keep you clinging to your seat and make it very difficult to turn off the TV. There are twists and turns which keep the enjoyment and surprise high at all times, but more importantly they don’t feel like twists for the sake of them, everything seems to make sense for the Universe that has been established.

While there is no set date for the confirmed second series, Star Trek Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman told The Hollywood Reporter that “ideally” he wanted the show to be back on “the early side of 2019”.

Final Score:

8/10 Porgs.

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