This is not gonna be a typical recap and review of Marvel’s Loki series on Disney Plus. I think the general consensus is that after that jaw-dropping finale, nothing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is ever gonna be the same ever again.
What I want to do instead is give my thoughts on Loki’s character arc and the debate of free will vs determinism. If there’s anything that we can learn from Variant-Loki, it’s that a person’s purpose isn’t limited to what other people say. When given the right motivation, even the worst people can learn to love themselves, find the conviction to do the right thing, and discover their own glorious purpose. So obviously, there will be spoilers!
The biggest lie that gets introduced right off the bat is the philosophy of determinism, that everything was predetermined and that free will is non-existent. If there’s anything I learned from The Matrix and The Good Place, it’s that in reality, while we are somewhat limited by our circumstances, our actions within those circumstances will always have consequences and we have the potential to create a change within said circumstances, even when powerful institutions try to prevent us from doing so.
Loki starts out constantly (and rightfully) questioning the TVA’s authority and eventually teams up with Sylvie to find the man behind the curtain, so to speak. In contrast, Renslayer digs in her heels and tries to find a sense of meaning even with the revelation that the entire TVA is a lie. As someone who’s Catholic, but deconstructing, I can relate to Renslayer’s personal crisis and have seen people dig in their heels and believe the lies created by various institutions in the hopes of finding something that makes sense and feels secure and safe.
In contrast, the truth of everyone in the TVA being variants allows for an opportunity for Mobius and the hunters to find their authentic selves, in a similar way that Loki did. Loki coming face to face with his “inevitable” death was a huge “Memento Mori” moment. I also like to think that while he was totally falling in love with Sylvie (which is not something the entire fandom is happy with, myself included), Loki was basically learning how to love himself as he was in the present. He may not be the Loki we knew from 2012 up until Infinity War, but this Loki learned how to love himself in a completely non-narcissistic way, which (according to Whitney Houston) is truly the greatest love of all.
He Who Remains is a very interesting “final villain.” He is very understated and way too chill, but that comes from just being omniscient (to some extent). He’s like a very genre-savvy MCU fan who knows Loki and Sylvie as well as what they seem to desire most. However, the paths the two Variants take deviate because by the last episode, Loki has a sense of conviction that came from seeing the multiple, equally bad versions of himself (literally) and the desire to make sure that Sylvie stays safe. I also think that Loki was trying to look for a third option that would dismantle the TVA while preventing a multiversal war, but obviously, that wasn’t going to happen.
The difference, in the end, between Loki and Sylvie is that Loki found a sense of conviction and the glorious purpose he so desperately desired while Sylvie was merely driven by revenge. While her desire for revenge is completely understandable, it won’t really get her far. Revenge isn’t much of a glorious purpose, nor is it much fuel for conviction.
So in the end, was it all for nothing? The entire Infinity Saga? Loki’s efforts to dismantle the TVA? Loki and Sylvie’s (ahem) questionable romance? I honestly don’t think so. Loki might have ended up in a different timeline, but somewhere out there is the Mobius he knew. I like to think that somehow, the TVA will be dismantled or at the very least reformed and repurposed because the real threat isn’t the multiverse itself, but the evil variants of He Who Remains aka Kang the Conquerer.
The Infinity Saga has ended and therefore, the Infinity Stones have served their purpose. (As much as I wish that Thanos could’ve been stopped before he snapped!) One era has ended and now a new era is beginning. And we don’t know what to expect.
I’m gonna close this philosophical contemplation with a quote from Angel that kinda sums up the idea of finding meaning within a universe that doesn’t make sense. “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do…if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.”
Of course, our actions actually do matter and they do make a difference. We shouldn’t be doing the right thing out of a sense of getting some kind of reward, though. Our glorious purpose is to just keep trying in the hopes that things might turn out right, that our actions can make the world just the tiniest bit better.
It’s no secret that a Black Widow movie was long overdue. For what it’s worth, long story short, I feel like this movie was very good. It’s by no means an “S Tier” movie on the same level as Captain America and the Winter Soldier, but we get to see Natasha on her own journey to redemption, revealing some things about her past that everyone wanted to know, and I hope that there will be more “interquels” with OG Black Widow in the future.
But non-spoiler: The best thing I can say about this movie is that I got a good sense of closure. If this is the only Black Widow movie we get, I’ll be okay with it. I loved the major characters, especially Red Guardian. He was a total ham and I hope he gets to show off more of what he can do in later materials. Yelena was such a great foil for Natasha and I love that she points out how ridiculous Natasha’s “superhero landing” was, even as she ended up doing it herself! So yeah. Definitely an A-Tier movie that I would probably put up there in the same level as the Ant-Man movies. Solid and enjoyable and definitely worth watching at the movies.
Spoilers from here on out!
Unique to the MCU films, we have an opening sequence with a darker and edgier version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I loved that there was an opening sequence, but I also missed having a creative closing credits.
The Ohio sequence reminded me a lot of Stranger Things in terms of aesthetic. And I’m not gonna lie, hearing “American Pie” was a real dissonance to me cuz I am way too used to Weird Al’s Star Wars parody version. In between the creative opening and the real start of the story, we finally find out what happened in Budapest. Sadly, it was not anything involving a couple of vampires. Instead, Natasha was on a mission with SHIELD, killing General Dreykov, the creator of the Red Room/Black Widow Program, with Dreykov’s daughter apparently dying in the process.
Natasha starts out her new life on the run while Yelena is deprogrammed from the Black Widow’s mind control and sets out to free the rest of the young ladies, sending the deprogramming antidote gas to Natasha. The vials put Natasha on Taskmaster’s radar and I loved the fight they had on the bridge. We can clearly see that Taskmaster imitated some familiar Avenger fighting styles, but I wish the fight choreography was more distinct because I could only recognize Captain America with the obvious shield. None of the Avengers use a sword!
Nitpicking aside, I love when, eventually, Natasha reunites with her sister and (down the line) breaks her foster father Alexei (Red Guardian) out of jail. As I said before, Red Guardian is a total ham. And his delusions about fighting Captain America can make sense from a certain point of view. He may not have fought Steve Rogers, but given that he was this Communist Russian hero, there’s nothing that says that he didn’t encounter Isaiah Bradley during the Korean War. He has such a big ego, he’s hilarious, and while he’s obviously got his ideals in the wrong place, he genuinely loves his wife and daughters.
Melina, Natasha and Yelena’s mother, is a lot more unnerving as the scientist behind the Black Widow brainwashing program. That said, she’s intent on taking Dreykov down. She’s a lot more understated compared to her bombastic, hammy “husband.” So as far as helping our heroes get the job done, I definitely liked her.
Blockbuster Buster pointed out that having a Super Soldier and a mad scientist as parents really explains why Natasha was always so close to Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. (Cue to Steve/Tony fanfics.) The brother/sister relationship she had with Steve can now be seen with the lens of Natasha seeing Steve as a healthier version of Alexei. (Sorry Steve/Nat shippers!) I also liked Yelena’s little bit about Natasha teaching science and having a husband who flips houses. It’s a small nod to both of the men in Natasha’s life (Bruce Banner and Clint Barton).
The second half of the movie focuses on Natasha, Yelena, Melina, and Alexei taking down Dreykov and putting an end to the Red Room/Black Widow Program once and for all. Dreykov is an antagonist that really makes me feel uncomfortable because he exploits young women and tampers with their bodies and minds without their consent. There are some major real world parallels here, but I’ll let y’all connect the dots. (Hashtag Me Too movement.)
What I liked the most about the overall story arc of this movie is Natasha getting closure on the Red Room and killing Dreykov’s daughter. Dreykov was the Big Bad of the movie, with Taskmaster being more of an enforcer, similar to The Winter Soldier.
And yes, I am perfectly okay with Dreykov’s daughter, Antonia, being Taskmaster. Within the narrative, she’s the living embodiment of Natasha’s biggest regret and also represents who Natasha probably could’ve been if she remained within Dreykov and was submitted to that level of mind control. Defeating Dreykov and dismantling the Black Widow program really calls to mind a famous quote from Labyrinth: “You have no power over me.”
The post-credit scene
While I’m still sad about the fact that Natasha is truly dead and gone, it’s nice that her grave has been honored with lots of teddy bears and flowers. I also liked seeing Yelena maintaining the grounds.
I was looking forward to seeing Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and she definitely didn’t disappoint. But I’m also glad that this was actually her second appearance. If this was the first instance that I saw her, she would’ve left a bad first impression. Blowing her nose and saying that she was allergic to the Midwest is very snobby and rude. It fits her character, but it doesn’t match the swagger she had during Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I mean, in the latter, she knew how to make an entrance and introduced herself in a way that got everyone’s attention and established her as someone who had a lot of authority and did not give three straws about what anyone else thought of her.
Also, why the heck would Yelena think that Clint Barton would be behind Natasha’s death? I guess we’ll find out in the Hawkeye series.
I am very happy that this was the first movie that I saw in theaters after getting vaccinated. It’s a movie that’s worth seeing for that unique cinematic experiences. This movie was a great sendoff to Natasha Romanoff and I look forward to seeing how Yelena will pick up the mantle.
Before Lin-Manuel Miranda created Hamilton, his biggest claims to fame were both related to Hispanic culture and theatre: Providing Spanish translated lyrics to the 2009 West Side Story revival and creating his own musical about the Hispanic-American culture–In The Heights. I listened to the original Broadway soundtrack every now and then and thanks to Howard Ho, I found a really good proshot of the musical and watched it in anticipation of the 2021 movie.
There’s a reason why this movie was always meant to come out in the summer. It’s the musical version of a summer blockbuster. What I’m gonna say, spoiler-free, is that this movie isn’t a one-for-one remake of the stage musical. And that’s honestly a good thing. For the most part. Minor spoilers ahead!
The big theme of In The Heights is the dreams that everyone has, symbolized by the phrase “El Suañito” which means “Little Dream.” Usnavi dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic, Nina has dreams of making it big at Stanford, and Vanessa dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Everyone in Washington Heights works hard and dreams big. Yes, this movie is basically slice-of-life with a bit of romance and a bit of drama. But the optimism of this film is very refreshing given how cynical and dark a lot of other movies out there have been.
Also, this is just me being petty, but this movie kicks La La Land‘s butt in terms of story and cinematography and having people who can, you know, actually sing. The actress playing Nina is by far the weakest singer, sorry to say, but she’s at least better than Emma Stone. Sorry not sorry!
Speaking of singers, though, Daphne Rubin-Vega was seriously awesome as Daniella. Most musical fans will recognize Rubin-Vega as the original Broadway Mimi from Rent. Rubin-Vega sounds a lot older now, but she puts so much spirit into her performance. Stephanie Beatriz is equally impressive as Carla, the ditzy salon lady. It’s very different from her signature role as Rosa from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Daniella and Carla are an official couple in the film and their relationship is treated very nicely.
Vanessa also gets some much-needed fleshing out. Her dream is a lot more specific here: becoming a fashion designer. Similar to Usnavi, she realizes that (much like The Wizard of Oz or It’s a Wonderful Life) all that she needs to inspire her is already in front of her, in the barrio. And of course, Anthony Ramos as Usnavi is just perfect. He plays the role with charm but he’s also a major dork, especially around Vanessa, and he’s a lot more realistic compared to his friends. Lin-Manuel Miranda as the Piragua Guy is also really nice cuz he gets to really sing some great stuff, especially in “Carnaval de Barrio.”
Standout moments: Obviously “96,000” was a big moment! I was dancing in my living room (one advantage of watching a movie at home) during that song as well as “Carnaval de Barrio.” I totally felt the pride of everyone waving the flags of their home countries. I almost want a Philippine flag just so that I could join in! “Paciencia Y Fe” had me tearing up (not an easy job but musicals do this to me every time). And of course, the way the movie ended was just pure heartwarming.
Overall, I think the director really wanted this to be more of a lighthearted, optimistic musical and John M. Chu did a really good job of doing that. The framing device of the film (Usnavi telling the story of Washington Heights to a group of kids) really suits his character arc and the overall theme of just being heard in the world. I liked that they included topical events without being heavy-handed about it. The struggles feel relatable, but they don’t hit you over the head with it which is a lot nicer than I can say about other ways the whole ripped from the headlines trope can be executed.
There are other minor changes to the narrative that, to me, don’t really affect the overall story. But if you’re a diehard fan of the stage show, I’ll admit that some of the drama/suspense gets taken away.
Minor Nitpicks/Minor Spoilers:
Minor nitpick #1: I don’t exactly know why Cuca was added to the film, however. Minor nitpick, but it would have been an easy fix to just rename Cuca as Yolanda, since Yolanda gets mentioned in “No Me Diga.” Then again, that might have led to a minor catfight since Vanessa calls Yolanda a skank.
Minor nitpick/spoiler #2: I wanted closure for Nina, Benny, and Kevin. Yes, Nina might go back to Stanford, but what’s she gonna do with her education? Where are Benny and Kevin gonna go? It’s stated (minor spoiler) that Nina will use her education to try and help her community, especially the undocumented immigrants, but it would be nice to see it on-screen. My personal headcanon is that Nina follows through on her dream, finishing her degree. Benny and Kevin might find a career with traffic reporting and Benny could’ve moved to California (however temporary) to be with Nina. In relation, I also think that Sonny can definitely get involved with the community in a very grassroots kind of way and advocate for immigration reform in his own way.
Minor spoiler/Minor Nitpick #3: Okay, it’s implied in the stage show (maybe in a previous draft) that Sonny and Graffiti Pete could’ve been in a relationship. There was a chance for them to kiss in the stage production and maybe future productions can throw it in. But come on! If Daniella and Carla can be in a relationship, I want Sonny and Graffiti Pete to kiss, dang it!
Final thoughts: If you can, please see this movie in theatres! If you plan to dance along at home, though, make sure you have friends who can dance along with you. This movie is definitely as sweet as piragua! Watch this movie and enjoy the songs!
I joke with my friends that I basically live on the Internet. When I say that, I mean that I spend a lot of time watching people on YouTube. One channel I subscribe to and watch on the regular is Council of Geeks, who does videos critiquing episodes of various shows, mostly Doctor Who. The host of the channel, Nathaniel Wayne (who also goes by Vera), has given me an ARC of his debut self-published fantasy novel Dreams of Fire. In their second channel, Break Room of Geeks, Nathaniel says that Dreams of Fire does away with a lot of cliches associated with the fantasy genre.
One way that Dreams of Fire stands out amongst the current trend of fantasy novels is that it’s a straightforward adventure with no romantic subplots. Another thing that I think makes Dreams of Fire unique is that while Ferris is an elemental with the ability to wield fire, the ability feels more like a curse rather than a superpower. Ferris’s main goal through the novel is to avoid the Science Guild–an organization that’s been experimenting on elementals for as long as Ferris has been alive. Don’t worry. This review is spoiler-free.
Ferris is a very relatable character. He’s constantly in fear and he doesn’t plan too far ahead. All he wants is to find a boat that can take him to freedom, wherever that may be. Ferris doesn’t get any wise old mentor who could help him hone his gift. The closest thing he gets is someone called The Shadow Man who is more of an annoyance to him. The Shadow Man proves to be a lot more complicated than he seems to be. Ferris also meets a fellow elemental named Poena, who is able to wield lightning, and she proves to be quite formidable in a fight.
The settings in this book reminds me of The Legend of Zelda. There are scenes that take place in a dense forest that’s riddled with fey, who are regarded as dangerous creatures. Later in the novel, it’s clear as to why–the fey are at war with humanity and elementals are unfortunately caught up in the middle, not fitting in with regular people, but also scared of the fey.
Aside from Ferris, the book also has chapters that focus on Garion, a half-breed and the only character connected to the Fey. He works with the humans as a Marshal in searching for elementals. I love Garion’s character design as shown in the illustrations. Garion reminds me of a Hobbit in terms of size, but he’s completely cloaked, wearing a red scarf that obscures most of his face.
The other POV character featured in this book is Professor Raines, who teaches about elementals and is part of the Science Guild. In spite of the fact that she works for the people that Ferris regards as the enemy, she’s not a Big Bad. In fact, there isn’t any real “big bad” aside from the authorities who want to keep all the elementals off the streets. There’s also this subplot-aesop of messing with something that’s beyond their understanding: studying the fey and putting these creatures in labs. It’s no wonder that the fey might regard humanity as threatening to them.
I think my only problem with this book is that I didn’t want it to end. And the way the book ended was not exactly what I expected, but I understood what Nathaniel was going for here. This was never really a “standalone” novel as it was like the first season of a show that has the hope of a second season. (Thank you, by the way, for not ending this novel on a cliffhanger.) I am really hoping that there will be a sequel.
The power generator blew on my block. Without power aside from phone data, I decided to stream Rent because all the musical fans on Twitter were quoting it a couple days ago. (“December 24th, 9PM, Eastern Standard Time…”)
Rent was the first musical I ever saw on Broadway. I fell in love with the musical in a really unusual way. It was part of a recommended reading list and a library that I frequented back in California just so happened to have the Rent libretto aka “The Rent Bible.” This also happened to be the same year that the movie came out. Aside from Wicked and Phantom of the Opera, Rent became one of my first post-Disney musical loves.
I’ll admit that the show is not a perfect one, but I still love most of the music. What I didn’t expect was how the themes of the musical would resonate in a time when everyone started panicking about catching a certain virus and struggling to pay rent. So leave all your jokes about “they should all just get jobs” at the door, thank you very much.
The song “Rent” really hits different in the 2020s with how bizarre everything felt. I also related a lot to Mark and Roger, who were both trying to create something in the midst of all the craziness. The imagery of everyone burning their eviction notices is also very poignant and dazzling.
Something I learned about while I was diving back into my love for Rent was that there was a recent production of Rent in the Hope Mill Theatre (England) and one choice they did as part of their production was that the characters would rarely, if ever, touch each other. It’s not something that can be noticed from the clips. (And sadly, I missed my opportunity to stream it), but given that they were doing this production in 2020, the threat of COVID was looming just as much as the threat of dying from AIDS did back when this musical was originally written.
If there’s anything we can learn from Rent, it’s that nothing is guaranteed, to make the most of the time that we have. Whether it’s the early 90s or the start of the 2020s, people struggle with creating and finding meaningful things and the existential dread of dying from something outside of your control. And in the 2020s, when we’re not sure what the future holds, making the most of each day and measuring our lives by the love we have makes life just a little bit better.
After the emotional rollercoaster that WandaVision put me through, I went into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier thinking I was signing up for an action-packed buddy comedy. What I got instead was a really good continuation of the Captain America films, complete with politics that felt all too real!
Politics and Captain America going together is nothing new. The original Captain America comics started out as WWII propaganda and they were published before America officially got involved. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War also had political themes.
Now I usually don’t like political themes or “ripped from the headlines” type of writing. I’ve seen way too many cases of it being done badly. At worst, the characters are basically standing on a soapbox and preaching to the choir. In the case of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, however, the political message is woven in naturally with the show because it connects to Sam Wilson and his character arc.
When we last left Sam Wilson at Avenger’s Endgame, he received Steve’s shield. The problem is that he didn’t feel worthy of it. He never used the shield during that opening mission. So in Episode 1, he gives the shield to the Smithsonian Museum. Not only does Sam have to deal with the looming threat of the Flag Smashers (an organization that appears to be modern-day Robin Hoods), he also has to help out his family with maintaining the family business. I loved that Sam’s family gets introduced in this series in the form of his sister Sarah and his nephews. But the scene at the bank where Sam couldn’t get a loan hit hard. (I know that crowdfunding could’ve dated this series, but many fans were saying that Sam should’ve started a “gofundme.”)
Meanwhile, Bucky is trying to readjust to living in the real world, complete with sessions with a government-appointed therapist. He’s got a list of names written in Steve’s old notebook of people he has to make amends with, but so far, he’s just been getting back at some bad guys he helped put into power. This storyline feels familiar to me for some reason… Some people liked Bucky’s therapist, Dr. Raynor, but TikTok sensation and former Air Force Veteran Nicque Marina pointed outhow similar Dr. Raynor acted to VA therapists she used to see. Dr. Raynor was government-appointed and while I liked her in Episode 2, she was pretty abrasive and I’m glad that she didn’t overstay her welcome.
Anyway, Episode 1 basically establishes the character arcs for Sam and Bucky as well as their personal, real-world, real-life struggles. And it ends with introducing a guy who embodies a lot of the stuff that Sam and Bucky lack: privilege and prominence. Hello, John Walker.
John Walker has his share of fans who have sympathized with him a little bit more than he deserves, I think. In my honest opinion, John Walker is a complicated character. Unlike other MCU antagonists, he doesn’t start as an outright villain with charisma. He’s the chosen soldier for the government, perfect on paper but lacking in essentials (like being able to speak more than one language). It’s pretty easy to see John Walker as representing how the world sees the American military, for better and for worse. And while he isn’t a racist character, he’s very privileged. He’s surrounded with Black people who uplifted and supported him: A Black marching band championing him at his old high school, a Black wife, and a Black best friend.
My personal beef with John Walker is his entitlement complex. Yes, the government chose him to be Captain America and he knew that he had a lot to live up to. But he still acted like an entitled, inconsiderate brat in a lot of ways, like thinking he can just ask Sam and Bucky to be his sidekicks when they did all the work. I won’t discredit John Walker’s military accomplishments. It’s implied that he’s in Special Forces (by the green beret he wore in Episode 5). Sam and Bucky dealt with HYDRA agents, went on the run from the government, and fought Thanos’s army twice. John Walker couldn’t hold his own in a fight with the Dora Milaje.
The entitlement issues come to a head in Episode 4. The debate about the super soldier serum gets discussed between Zemo, Bucky, and Sam. Later on, Walker has a similar debate with his partner, Lemar Hoskins aka Battlestar. While Lemar believed the somewhat true statement that the serum would just emphasize whatever strength the user already has, he forgot Erskine’s explanation of how the serum actually worked. And I can’t believe that a guy like him never heard of the idea that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Walker did not get enough comeuppance in the finale, especially given his actions at the end of Episode 4, but to me, him joining up with the ambiguously evil Contessa is exactly what he deserves. He thinks that he’s getting what he wants, but I’m hoping there will be an instance where the Contessa will ask him to do something he doesn’t feel comfortable doing. And if and when he realizes he got in bed with the wrong people, we’ll all point and laugh. For now, I’m just rolling my eyes at how basic and privileged he is. (Quoting Lincoln, dude? Really?)
Walker represents one of the many ideologies brought up in the series. Walker represents the government, white privilege, and extreme entitlement. On the other side of things are the Flag Smashers. On the surface, Karli and her cohorts come off as modern day Robin Hoods. They’re shown trying to redistribute vaccines to refugees. The problem is that the motivations of the group are kind of a mixed message. On the one hand, they want to have a more globalized society, with people being able to find jobs and housing and healthcare no matter where they reside. In essentials, it’s a good idea. But on the other hand, their desires come at the expense of literally half the world that was lost from Thanos’s snap. Karli is a teenager and it’s implied that the serum radicalized her into taking extreme measures. But her own followers were starting to get worried, especially towards the end.
I’m sad that Karli died at the end, but thematically speaking, I wasn’t exactly on the side of the Flag Smashers aside from their ally that spat in John Walker’s face. They represented extreme lawlessness, even with their best intentions.
A third ideology presented in this series came from Zemo, Sharon Carter, and Isaiah Bradley, who all represented various types of cynicism. Zemo’s cynicism is of the Ayn Rand/objectivist variety. He thinks that anyone who takes the serum is a supremacist and he’s not wrong, but Sam was quick to point out that Zemo’s viewpoints are just as extreme. (Side note: While I loved how efficient Zemo was in getting exactly what he wanted and his dorky dance moves, he still creeped me out when he was giving Turkish Delight to kids on the street. Dude broke the Stranger Danger rules from the 90s! Did nobody read CS Lewis?!) Sharon Carter is nihilistic and embraces her new chaotic neutral lifestyle, done with all the stars and stripes. She’s a burned spy and she has every reason to be nihilistic, but her taking advantage of that pardon at the end is opening a whole new Pandora’s Box of trouble! She is scaring me!
Finally, we have Isaiah Bradley, who’s cynicism is more than justified. His story is a mix of the comic Truth: Red, White, and Black and stuff from actual history like the Tuskegee experiments and Henrietta Lacks. This man was put in jail for essentially doing the same thing Steve Rogers did (only his brothers-in-arms ended up dying soon after they were rescued). It’s no wonder he lived a very solitary life with only his grandson for company. Bradley acts as a cautionary tale for both Sam and Bucky. All three of them were veterans who served their government, but were discarded after they were no longer seen as assets. (Side note: I am loving the conversations brought up amongst the veteran community.)
In the midst of all these conflicting ideologies, Sam is set on walking that narrow road, where he can define what the right thing to do is. He sympathized with the Flag Smashers, but cautioned against taking extremes. He understood Isaiah’s pain, but he chose to take a stand instead of falling into despair. I loved watching Sam’s journey throughout the series. I also loved that Sam didn’t get on a soapbox until the very end. For the most part, his actions speak for themselves.
The process of refining involves removing impurities from substances such as iron or silver. To me, Sam refined what being Captain America means and the ideologies behind the shield. His speech at the end really resonated with me because it felt timely and timeless. This series could’ve easily happened about a decade ago (complete with the politics) and it would’ve felt just as realistic because the struggle to find your place in the world and keep the powers in check is one that’s been around for a very long time. And like what Sam said “The only power I have is that I believe… we. Can do. Better.” Sam’s speech to Isaiah is equally relevant as he is defining how he is going to be Captain America. He wants to uphold the history of all the Black people who came before him, Isaiah included. I was so happy that Isaiah got a section of the Captain America exhibit dedicated to him!
My favorite thing about this series as a whole, though, was Sam and Bucky’s dynamic. They started out not exactly being the best of friends, but by the end of the series, Bucky was practically adopted into Sam’s community in Louisiana. Sam helped Bucky realize the difference between avenging and actual atonement. The time they spent fixing Sam Wilson’s family boat and the cookout in the finale will live in my mind rent-free. We do not get enough domestic Avengers!
Overall, I think this series is one that really reflects the politics of the 2020s. While there will sadly be people who won’t understand or refuse to acknowledge the lessons that this series has to teach, it’s gonna open a lot of discussions. And at the very least, it gives us a lot of insight into the struggles military veterans have to deal with and the importance of not going to extremes when it comes to politics or ideologies.
By now, Raya and the Last Dragon has been out in theatres for a while and will be on Disney Plus for free to watch by next month or by June. But I’ll do my best to keep things as spoiler-free as possible.
It goes without saying, but Asian stories, much like Asian cultures, are not a monolith. They do, however, have a different type of story structure and worldbuilding. Certain movie commentators were quick to compare how similar Raya was to Avatar: The Last Airbender and I can see why. When I first watched the trailer, Raya reminded me of Korra because of how she dressed. And if you watched the Honest Trailer, the premise is similar to Avatar in the sense that a world needed to be rebuilt.
What makes Raya unique are the major characters. Raya, in contrast to most Disney protagonists, is cynical. She has trust issues and her character arc centers on her learning how to open up and trust people again. She is both a warrior and a princess. She’s an amazing leader and I cannot wait to cosplay her when conventions are a thing again.
The reason why Raya has trust issues is Namaari from Fang, the main antagonist (aside from the Druun) who has what I call a “shonen rivalry dynamic” with Raya. Shonen rivals are common in anime. Think Deku and Bakugo from My Hero Academia or Goku and Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z or Naruto and Sasuke. The main character of a shonen anime always has a rival who acts as both a foil and an antagonist, but the rival isn’t always necessarily the main villain.
Sisu is an especially fascinating character to me. I don’t usually see “mentor” characters who have a more idealistic mindset. This is just a theory, but I think Sisu might be a child in dragon terms. The way she talks about her fellow dragons reminds me of a young child describing their older siblings. In the trailer, Sisu describes herself as the kid that didn’t contribute much to the group project and it’s established that she doesn’t have any specialized powers aside from being a good swimmer. Whatever other powers she gets in the movie were borrowed from the MacGuffin.
The supporting characters, while not as fleshed out as the main three, feel unique to me as I don’t usually see the comic relief sidekicks contributing to the main action, at least not in typical Disney movies. In fact, the only other instance where the comic relief side characters got involved with the main action was Mulan (the original, not the live-action version). All of them were very enjoyable to watch.
I also love that there are elements of Southeast Asian culture. I could recognize stuff that came from Filipino culture, especially the emphasis on food and gift-giving. (Incidentally, Sisu’s love language is totally gift giving and she’s a great example of how gift giving doesn’t mean spending big, but just the desire to give a gift to someone in the hopes of making them happy.)
Do I think this movie is 100% perfect? Heck no! Did I enjoy this movie? Totally! And I think it’s definitely one for the whole family. The moral of this movie is a bit of a mixed message considering real world implications, but it’s one that’s worth discussing. And at the end of the day, I love the idea of a positive, uplifting message in times such as these.
I really hope that there can be some kind of expanded material for this movie, in a similar vein to Tangled, which got its own series. I want to explore the world of Kumandra more because I really liked all the characters and want to spend more time with them.
And if you can’t take my word for it, I’ll share this video from a Filipino historian with a lot more cred:
I was pretty hyped for WandaVision, but unlike most MCU fans, I was mostly looking forward to all the sitcom shenanigans. I grew up with sitcoms ever since I was a kid. I got even more hyped when I heard they filmed the first episode in front of a live studio audience and that there would be sitcom theme songs created by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez (aka the team behind Frozen). What I didn’t expect was that this show would become a study in grief. In my honest opinion, the real villain of this show was a mix of individual and collective trauma and grief, something that is very relevant in the 2020s and if nothing else, for a spoiler-free option, you seriously have to watch this!
For this blog post, I want to give my overall thoughts on the series from beginning to end, with short recap and my thoughts on each episode. I’ll also be ranking the episodes and the theme songs.
Spoilers for WandaVision!
Episode 1: Filmed Before A Live Studio Audience
This episode is a throwback to the days of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Dick Van Dyke was even consulted for his knowledge on sitcom sets, as the main living room and the kitchen are based from his show. The opening to this episode is hilarious, with Wanda being dropped at the door just as Vision phased through.
The entire episode plays the typical “dinner with the boss vs forgotten anniversary” misunderstanding plot very straight, but Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany do an excellent job playing their sitcom roles. Their chemistry is charming and genuine. Bettany is a natural at playing a very awkward office worker. (He reminds me so much of Giles from Buffy, but that might just be me.)
My favorite thing about this episode is how much work was put into filming it. The behind the scenesvideos from Marvel’s YouTube channel show the stark difference between the 1950s/1960s color palette and how everything looked in black and white. I especially loved the costumes.
This episode is a great way to establish what the audience is signing up for: a throwback to old sitcoms with an underlying horrific mystery.
Episode 2: Don’t Touch That Dial
This episode is a throwback to Bewitched, but there are also elements of this episode that remind me of The Stepford Wives and Pleasantville. The plot revolves around Wanda and Vision trying to fit in with their respective groups. Wanda is meeting Dottie (played by Emma Caulfield) and the other ladies of Westview at a country club. There, she makes friends with Geraldine, who’s also having trouble fitting in. Meanwhile, Vision joins up with the local Neighborhood Watch and gets into some shenanigans when he gets gum stuck in his insides.
I loved the Pleasantville vibes of bits of red showing up around the episode (the toy helicopter and the blood on Dottie’s hands). Emma Caulfield was excellent in this episode as the Queen Stepford Wife. And overall, this episode was just fun to watch.
Episode 3: Now in Color
The theme song and overall aesthetic of this episode calls to mind The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, which fits the whole pregnancy plotline very well. The theme song is very bouncy and sweet and has a genuine, heartwarming vibe to it.
I’m pretty familiar with magical pregnancies in other shows, so it didn’t surprise me that Wanda’s magic went totally haywire and it was so much fun to watch the chaos. Wanda was honestly lucky that she didn’t have to deal with any actual pregnancy issues aside from contractions and labor pains, but that’s what happens when you go through 9 months in half an hour.
I also loved Geraldine/Monica in this episode. Her character reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore, a single lady working hard for a living. She becomes essential when Wanda goes into labor. The lady deserves a medal for being able to deliver twins without any proper medical training (as far as we know). It’s just sad that she ends up getting thrust out of Westview by the end, but it leads into the next episode.
Episode 4: We Interrupt This Program
What this episode lacked in typical sitcom format (like a theme song), it made up for with awesome characters. It also adds a layer to the overall theme of the series. Monica coming back from the “Blip” gives a glimpse of just how chaotic the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame has been for everyone.
This is the first time that I felt like Marvel was reading my mind. I mentioned on various social media platforms that I wanted something that focused on what SWORD was doing. I loved how Jimmy Woo mastered the card trick from Ant-Man and the Wasp. I loved how he and Darcy getting invested in the Wandavision show. The part where the SWORD/FBI agents identify Westview citizens felt very meta. Overall, this episode was great to watch!
Episode 5: On a Very Special Episode
This is when the decades and show references start to blend. The theme song is an 80s power ballad with an intro that’s a mix of Growing Pains, Family Ties, and Full House. The episode’s overall aesthetic is a throwback to 80s sitcoms, with the house reminding me a lot of Roseanne or the set of Who’s the Boss? Another sitcom trope also gets introduced: Wanda’s kids suddenly age up! Twice!
Billy and Tommy are adorable in this episode and I love both sets of child actors. The plot of the episode revolved around Wanda, Billy, and Tommy wanting to take care of a stray puppy that they name Sparky while Vision tries to figure out what’s going on with Westview, realizing that not everything is what it seems to be.
One small way that the decades of this episode blend is shown in Vision’s bit at his computer job: computers at work, email, surfing the internet, and Norm saying “cowabunga” feel a lot more 90s than 80s.
Wanda seems to show some signs of progress because she’s starting to talk about her grief, even if it’s just with her kids and dealing with all her uncertainty with Vision. But the chaos has started to close in. Which leads nicely into the next episode…
Episode 6: All-New Halloween Spooktacular!
Welcome to the late 90s and early 2000s! The theme song and the episode’s aesthetic is a full on throwback to Malcolm in the Middle. (Side note: The back of Agatha’s pants with a bedazzled “naughty” is so “Juicy Couture,” I can’t even.) This time, Billy and Tommy are narrating the episode, talking to the 4th wall about their uncle Pietro who came out of nowhere (played by Evan Peters) and worrying about their parents.
I really love the Halloween aesthetic and how adorable the kids were in their costumes. On top of all that, Billy and Tommy get powers! Tommy gets super speed and Billy gets telepathy and some magic-based powers.
Hayward goes full on jerk with an agenda mode and tells Monica, Woo, and Darcy that they’re out, but my favorite trio wasn’t going to go down without a fight! In Westview, Vision starts to explore how far Westview goes and things feel very Truman Show and Twilight Zone with how eerie things get. Even though Vision doesn’t remember anything about what happened before the start of the series, he is still an Avenger at heart!
Unfortunately, Vision trying to leave the Hex and failing forces Wanda to expand the barrier to save him, turning the entire SWORD encampment into a circus. The sad thing is that Darcy was part of the people left behind. Monica and Jimmy are running off to meet with people who will hopefully help them while Hayward goes off to set off another SWORD base.
Episode 7: Breaking the Fourth Wall
This episode that pays tribute to the mockumentary sitcoms of the 2000s and 2010s like The Office and Modern Family. Even the theme song is a good reflection of the aesthetic while also paying tribute to Happy Endings.
Wanda has taken a “quarantine-style staycation” and I’m so glad that she’s self-aware enough to know when to take a mental health day. Unfortunately, she has also sunk into depression, as she flippantly tells her kids that she’s starting to think that life is meaningless. I’m so glad the kids don’t hold what she says against her, but I can’t help but feel for Billy and Tommy.
Darcy and Vision carry on the “B Plot” of escaping the circus and getting back to Wanda. Their comedic timing is excellent. They work really well off of each other. The only downside is that Vision just leaves Darcy stranded instead of them just trying to off-road the truck or Vision flying with Darcy.
In spite of having a frickin tank at her disposal, Monica isn’t able to break through the Hex. So instead, she decides to break through on her own again and gains her Spectrum/Photon powers, which basically means that she is able to see different wavelengths of light amongst other things. She’s also able to find Wanda and tries to talk to her, but unfortunately, Agnes gets in the way.
Once Wanda gets to Agnes’s house, things get really spoilerific. If you don’t want to know anything major, please stop!
So I love Kathryn Hahn as Agnes. She has been excellent at playing the “nosy neighbor” while also making everyone suspicious about how much she really knows. By the end of the episode, it’s revealed that Agnes is actually the witch Agatha Harkness and in true Disney Villain fashion, she closes out the episode with her own theme song. Incidentally, this is the last theme song in the entire series. So kudos, Kathryn Hahn. You are officially a full-on Disney Villain now because you got the last song and it became the most viral sensation of 2021. *applause*
Episode 8: Previously On…
While I loved this episode for giving a lot of insight on Wanda’s past, I would have liked some scenes that checked on Jimmy Woo, Darcy, and Monica, especially since the previous episode had a post-credit scene that showed her running into “Pietro.” The best thing about this episode is that it provides a way for people to try and understand their grief in the form of Wanda just trying to piece past events together. Most therapy sessions start out with understanding childhood trauma (insert Freudian couch joke here).
I loved the part where Wanda watches Malcolm in the Middle with Vision. Watching sitcoms to deal with grief is a legit thing, you know. Friends became really popular after 9/11 because a lot of New Yorkers turned to that show for comfort, since it took place in New York and included shots of the Twin Towers. Best line of this episode: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
While this episode isn’t as plot-heavy, it’s an emotional ride. I almost cried when Wanda saw Vision’s body in the SWORD base and said “I can’t feel you.” (A call back to Infinity War.) The part where Wanda drives around Westview and her breakdown at the plot of land that Vision bought for her also really hit me in the feels.
Some fun trivia: The episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show that young Wanda watches in her flashback (“It May Look Like a Walnut”) is an episode that parodies The Twilight Zone and sci-fi B-movies. It’s the perfect “easter egg” reference for this show that mixes sitcom and sci-fi horror.
Episode 9: The Series Finale
After all the buildup from the past 8 episodes, the finale of WandaVision was great for setting up what’ll happen in MCU Phase 4. I was overall happy that Wanda and Vision got their own chances to shine, had a bit of a “superhero team up” moment with their kids, and that Wanda was finally called out for how her grief-powered magic affected everyone. Vision’s use of “the ship of Theseus” against White Vision was a very Age of Ultron moment.
My only issue with this episode is a lack of closure. I wanted Darcy to get a proper send-off! I want Jimmy Woo to get made the new leader, maybe retooling SWORD and turning it into ATLAS. Monica Rambeau was also majorly underused in this ep. If she could’ve overtaken “Pietro” that easily and escape, she could’ve done it last episode!
But ultimately, this wasn’t about closure, at least not for the fans. It’s really about Wanda getting some sense of closure and becoming the Scarlet Witch. And she was able to get that, even if it lead to her isolating herself in the mountains, reading the Darkhold.
Grief is the Real Villain
There were two types of grief at play in WandaVision: Individual grief and collective grief.
Wanda, Monica, and Director Hayward all show different ways of coping with individual grief. Wanda goes through the five stages of grief and chooses to isolate herself. Monica’s grief centers on the loss of her mother and trying to figure out her life after being “blipped.” Director Hayward wasn’t blipped, but became authoritarian out of a desire for some sense of control.
The aftermath of the “Blip” and the power of Wanda’s reality-warping hex act as a form of collective grief. Westview was a dying town and people were trying to just get by. In Wanda’s point of view, they all seemed miserable. And while her sitcom reality reformed the structure of the town, it came at the cost of everyone losing their free will and living with Wanda’s nightmares. She was unburdening herself onto a lot of people without their consent. The grief was literally felt by everyone.
The reason I feel like grief is the big bad of the whole show is because grief and the way people try to cope drive the way that everyone acts in this show, especially in the finale.
My overall thoughts
I loved this show. I can see this show being studied in film/communication and psychology classes in terms of how a show comes together as well as how individual and collective grief has to be approached. It was a fun, emotional ride.
4.5 out of 5 due to:
Emma Caulfield being majorly underused. If you’re gonna make her a red herring, have her be more prominent in more episodes. I seriously love her as Dottie and I wanted her in the 80s and the Halloween episodes!
A lack of closure for Jimmy, Darcy, and Monica who became the unexpected breakout stars of this series. MCU, keep reading my mind. I need to see these guys again.
A popular way that some people describe lack of scenic description in a story is “white room syndrome.” While I understand the analogy, I want to use my very limited theatre experience to offer a better way to give help for setting a scene.
Imagine, if you will, an empty stage.
An empty stage in a theatre, like this picture of the Globe Theatre in London, has no set. If you ever read Shakespeare plays (as opposed to actually watching them), you might come across dialogue like this:
SIWARD What wood is this before us? MENTEITH The wood of Birnam.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Back in Shakespeare’s day, they didn’t have fancy sets aside from the upper level. As you can see, the only “set” here is very minimal, with no extra stuff on the stage. Depending on the scene, of course, they added things to this stage to help convey the scene in the best way possible. Some theaters use backdrops, for example.
So what does that all mean when it comes to writing? In theater, similar to a novel, most of the time the audience can fill in the blanks for themselves. You don’t have to describe every single detail of everything in the room. Instead, I always imagine the settings of my books as being played out on an empty stage.
If you’re the kind of writer who loves to describe a scene before the action occurs, point out what’s important. The characters can also acknowledge the scene in dialogue, but avoid having them just describe everything around them. Example:
OBERON How long within this wood intend you stay?
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Other factors, such as weather, could also play a role in the scene, such as in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which literally begins with a storm. And yes, the characters in the scene are talking about the storm in the dialogue, but it’s pretty minimal:
ANTONIO: Where is the master, boatswain?
Boatswain: Do you not hear him? You mar our labour: keep your cabins: you do assist the storm.
GONZALO: Nay, good, be patient.
Boatswain: When the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers for the name of king? To cabin: silence! trouble us not.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
The point is that when it comes to putting description into a scene, imagine a stage with enough props, furniture, and a backdrop that can convey just what is necessary. The first minute of this part from Singin in the Rain is a really good example:
Trust that the reader has enough imagination to create a picture in their minds. I don’t even have that vivid of an imagination myself, but whenever I read novels, I can usually imagine enough to create a movie in my head. So, in the words of Shakespeare, “Screw your courage to the sticking place” and get to writing!
Books I can recommend that do a great job at setting scenes:
Pride and Prejudice, especially when Jane Austen describes Pemberley.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The narrative within The Mandalorian Season 1 was pretty straightforward. Mando’s character arc was to accept his newfound role as the caretaker for Baby Yoda (avoiding the actual name of The Child for spoilers).
In Season 2, however, the character arc isn’t as straightforward. It’s a lot more thematic. The theme for Season 2 is about Mando’s own identity and what it really means to be a Mandalorian.
Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in all things related to the Star Wars universe. Season 2 of The Mandalorian brought in a lot of characters from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels and other unexpected characters from the Star Wars films. What I want to focus on is how Mando’s beliefs in the ways of the Mandalore change throughout the season.
Spoilers for TheMandalorian ahead!
In Season 1, Episode 3 (The Sin), we are introduced to the people who rescued Mando as a child and raised him in their particular belief system. Mando’s family taught him to never remove his helmet in front of any living thing and that the Jedi were enemies of the Mandalorians.
In Season 2, Episode 3 (The Heiress), Mando finds out (from the titular Heiress, Bo-Katan) that he was essentially raised in a “cult” as a “Child of the Watch,” a group of zealots who follow what people who were actually from Mandalore would consider outdated beliefs. (The Children of the Watch would be the Star Wars equivalent of Puritans or Christian Crusaders.) Without going too deep into the expanded universe, all I’ll say is that Bo-Katan was originally from Mandalore and her plan is to restore Mandalorian society. She’s a lot more flexible about what rules Mandalorians should adhere to, as she frequently goes around with her helmet off. By the end of the episode, Mando also learns that in contrast to what he was taught, a Mandalorian was friends with a Jedi, as Bo-Katan was friends with Ahsoka Tano. In the following episode (“The Jedi”), Mando is willing to help Ahsoka out with her own agenda
In Season 2, Episode 6 (The Tragedy), Mando discovers that the armor he got from the episode “The Marshal” belongs to none other than Boba Fett. Initially, Mando questions whether or not Boba Fett is a legit Mandalorian. By the end of the episode, however, Mando allows Boba Fett to have his armor back as Boba’s father, Jango, was taken in by the Mandalorians as a foundling. On top of that, Boba and Fennec are willing to help Mando rescue the Child, who was sadly taken by Moff Gideon’s Darktroopers.
The biggest change in Mando’s character arc came in Season 2, Episode 7 “The Believer.” Mando’s former comrade turned “frenemy” Migs Mayfield questioned Mando’s beliefs constantly both in this episode and in the previous season. However, we quickly learn why Mayfield is so skeptical about belief systems in general. As it turns out, former Imperial sharpshooter Mayfield was essentially betrayed by his commanding officer, who left him and his troop to die in a scorched earth operation and didn’t even lose any sleep over the collateral damage.
It was in this episode that Mando is forced to show his face in order for a terminal to give him the code that will help him find Moff Gideon’s ship and, by extension, the Child. Kudos to Pedro Pascal for conveying Mando being so uncertain without his helmet. I also liked that Mando (and Cara who hated Mayfield at the start of the episode) allowed Mayfield to live at the end of the episode.
So what does it all mean?
Throughout The Mandalorian, Season 2, Mando had to figure out what was most important to him. I don’t think he completely abandoned the beliefs he grew up with, but he is learning (much like a lot of people this year) that there is a lot more to the ways of the Mandalore than what he knew growing up. Not everything is as black and white as it used to be, but what Mando held onto is knowing what was most important. That meant making sure he took care of The Child. Everything he did throughout this season was motivated by the desire to raise the Child in the best way possible and find the people who can help The Child learn how to hone his powers.
As amazing as the Season 2 finale was, especially given the fact that Mando finally took off his helmet in front of The Child, we don’t know where Mando’s character arc is gonna go from here. He fulfilled his mission of finding the right people to take care of The Child, but now he’s stuck with the Darksaber and the possibility of fighting Bo-Katan for the right to rule Mandalore. It’s also clear that his heart is broken at having to let The Child go.
My advice to Mando (and for Jon Faverau and Dave Filoni, if they ever read this) is that all you can do when you essentially lose your sense of purpose is to figure out what the next right thing to do is. I hope that in the next season of The Mandalorian, Mando can somehow get his Child back and ride off into the sunset with a Jedi tagging along. But that’s just me.