Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Flash Season 8, Episode 18: The Man In The Yellow Tie

This week on The Flash, we get the long awaited return of a fan-favorite villain (sort of), Meena continues to be a better character than Iris ever was and Chillblaine returns. Oh, and John Diggle's back for some very unsatisfying closure.

Overall it's not a bad episode, and I particularly enjoyed seeing Barry train Meena to become a speedster. She's like a breath of fresh air on the show, and I'm wondering what they're gonna do with her now that she's been established as Central City's newest speedster. I have a horrible feeling they may have introduced her as cannon fodder, so she can sacrifice herself to save Barry or rescue Iris or something like that.

I was never a huge fan of the Matt Letscher version of Thawne, as I always liked Tom Cavanagh much better in the role. Heresy, I know, since most fans have long preferred the Letscher version. So his appearance here wasn't the jaw-dropping revelation to me that it likely was to some. Plus we didn't even get to see properly see him as Evil Eobard, as he shows up this week as a kinder, gentler amnesiac version. 

The writers have sang that particular song many times before, so do not be surprised if his memories return next week and he's restored to his evil, scenery-chewing glory.

As for Diggle, the producers bring him in this week to finish a storyline that began all the way back in the series finale of Arrow. I'll be going into this in more depth below, but for now let me just say they wrapped up his arc in the most frustrating and infuriating way possible. In fact it made me so legitimately angry I almost threw something at my TV!

Lastly, it's come to my attention there's a woman in Vancouver (where The Flash is filmed) who regularly walks up and down the streets of the city with her pet duck waddling behind her!

I hereby request— make that DEMAND— that the producers of The Flash feature the Duck Lady and her friendly fowl in an upcoming episode, STAT! I can see it now— she'll be pushing her cart past Jitters, and some interdimensional monster will suddenly appear and threaten her and her duck. Right on cue, Barry will speed to the scene and rescue them both!

Get on this NOW, Eric Wallace!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Note: In order to avoid confusion with the two Thawnes, I'll be referring to the Matt Letscher version as Eobard, and the Tom Cavanagh one as Thawne.

Meena Dhawan zooms through a forest, trying to catch the much faster Barry— who's training her how to use her speed. Suddenly she trips, and accidentally fires off a blast of her black energy, which hits Barry and knocks him over. She apologizes, but he's more concerned about how and why her blast seemingly knocked out his powers (hmmm...). She says her speed's about to run out, so he tells her that's enough training for one day.

Elsewhere, Cecile enters a bank to make a deposit. Suddenly a trio of robbers enter and order everyone to get on the floor. She tries to grab her phone to activate her Flash alert, but one of the robbers points his gun in her face and tells her to freeze. She looks around at the other terrified patrons, and is able to see their tangible fear. Somehow she figures out she can take their fear and physically transfer it to the robbers (!). As she does so, each of the robbers collapses in terror and are incapacitated until CCPD arrives.

Back at STAR Labs, Chester scans Cecile and confirms her psychic abilities have increased 1000% for some reason. Cecile senses Barry's troubled, and he says he's worried about Meena and her powers.

Barry goes to Fast Track Labs to talk with Meena— saying he's there on behalf of the Flash (wink, wink). She shows him the device that generates her speed— the Biometric Lightning Oscillation Chamber, or BLOC for short. She says it harnesses natural lightning and turns it into artificial speed.

She then introduces her partner and Chief Engineer, Eobard Thawne— the original, non-Wells version! GASP!

Barry's stunned to see Eobard, as he's the man who killed his mother and caused him to become the Flash. Eobard doesn't seem to recognize him, and sticks out his hand. Barry reluctantly shakes it. Meena asks if the two have met before. Eobard doesn't think so, and Meena explains he has retrograde amnesia. As Meena busies herself elsewhere, Barry accuses Eobard of being the Reverse-Flash, but he insists he has no idea what he's talking about. A shaken Barry leaves the lab.

One Year Ago
Meena interviews Eobard, and says he has no qualifications to work at Fast Track. He stares at her board, walks over to it and finishes an equation she'd been struggling with for months. He recognizes she's trying to create artificial speed and says he can help. She hires him on the spot.

The Present
Barry zooms to Lian Yu, where the Wellsian version of Thawne is being held. He asks Thawne how he got his speed back and escaped. Thawne has no idea what he's talking about. Barry says Eobard must be from another timeline, and wasn't fully erased by the Black Flash.

Barry draws the BLOC and shows it to Thawne, who says it's really HIS invention, that he created two centuries from now when he was younger (convoluted!). He said it worked, but not the way he intended. Barry realizes Meena's powers are erratic because she's tapping into the Negative Speed Force— which will eventually turn her evil. He speeds off to stop her.

Once Barry's gone, Thawne tells someone in the shadows they can stop hiding. John Diggle emerges, and shows Thawne the "cube" he found several years ago. He said it opened for him once, but closed before he could see what was in it. For some reason he thinks Thawne can help him open it again. Thawne tells him he'll help, as long as he gets to see what's inside.

Back at Fast Track, Meena enters the BLOC for another speed infusion. Just then Flash zooms in and stops her, claiming the BLOC is filling her with Negative Speed Force energy that'll twist her mind. He's too late though, as she activates the machine. He tries to pull her out of it, but she knocks him and Eobard unconscious. Her eyes glow red as she steps out of the BLOC, and hisses that she needs more speed. She zooms out into the city, and begins absorbing energy from power lines.

Back on Lian Yu, Thawne tells Diggle the cube closed on him because he wasn't ready, so he needs to accept its power. Diggle concentrates, and the cube actually opens, filling the cell with green light. Diggle then sees visions of galaxies and cosmic phenomenon. Suddenly he slams the cube shut and throws it, causing it to vanish.

Thawne screams at him, asking why the hell he did that. Diggle says he's not ready to live a cosmic life, and only wants to be with his family. Thawne's furious, as he planned to use the cube's power to escape, and says Diggle's life will never amount to anything. Diggle disagrees, saying the love of his family is all he needs. He calls his wife Lyla as he walks out.

Well that was all pointless!

At Fast Track, Flash comes to and realizes his speed's been negated by Meena's powers. Eobard confesses he originally wanted to become a speedster, and helped Meena build the BLOC to make it happen. For some reason it could only transform one of them though. When Meena had a heart attack, he realized the BLOV was the only thing that could save her, so he shoved her into the machine. It acted much like a defibrillator and saved her life— granting her superspeed as well.

Eobard says he's in love with Meena and can't live without her, and begs Barry to save her. Barry realizes he's being sincere, and promises to try. Just then his speed returns, and he zooms out to find Meena. He finds her at the Keystone Cleveland Dam, soaking up energy.

Barry tries talking her down, warning her that millions will die if she destroys the dam. He gets her to chase him, hoping to burn off the speed she's absorbed. It begins working, and Barry throws a Speed Force lightning bolt at her, which knocks her unconscious.

Barry approaches Meena and asks if she's OK. Suddenly she conjures up lightning in the sky, which strikes Barry and knocks HIM out (lots of knocking out in this episode!). Eobard, who's riding with Chester & Allegra in a STAR Labs van, is impressed that she's now summoning Negative Speed Force energy directly, without the help of the BLOC.

As Barry lies unconscious, Meena stands over him and says he's pathetic. Eobard jumps out of the van and begs Meena to come back to him. She says the Meena he knew is gone, and raises her hand to kill Barry. Eobard throws himself in front of him, and tells Meena he loves her.

His confession sparks Meena's memory, and she snaps out of the Negative Speed Force's control. Yep, they actually played the Love Conquers All card for the hundredth time. Flash comes to again, and sees what happened. He says Meena and Eobard will be OK now that they're together again.

Later at Fast Track, Meena thanks Barry for saving her (even though Eobard's the one who did it). Barry says there may be a way to utilize the Negative Speed Force without being corrupted by it— as long as she concentrates on her love for Eobard while accessing it. Sure, that might as well happen.

Just then Team Flash gets a call from Ray Palmer, aka Atom. He explains how Eobard is alive and well in the present, recapping his plotline from recent episodes of Legends Of Tomorrow. He claims the Time Wraiths saved Eobard from Black Flash, and assigned him to protect a Fixed Point in time (in the 1920s, I think). This incident caused him to turn over a new leaf, and he died helping out the Legends.

Chester wonders how Eobard could be in the present if he died in the Fixed Point. Barry says maybe the Time Wraiths brought him to 2022 for a reason. He says they're all lucky they did, as he saved the city from Evil Meena.

Elsewhere, a woman runs from a mugger. Cecile approaches and uses her newfound powers to incapacitate him. She smiles and walks away, as we see a Mystery Woman watching from the shadows.

Meanwhile, Mark calls Caitlin from apartment, and asks where she is. She says Barry trashed her makeshift lab, and she's staying with her mom to deal with it. He tells her to get her ass home, as he knows how they can bring back Frost.

Back at Lian Yu, Thawne's lying on his bunk, reminiscing about the times he's defeated Barry. Suddenly he hears a voice, saying the energy from Diggle's cube led him here. Thawne asks who he is, and he says he's both an old and new friend. He steps out of the shadows and we see it's Evil Deon, who says he's going to help Thawne fulfill his destiny.

Thoughts:
• This week's title is likely a play on the Season 1 episode The Man In The Yellow Suit. Although when I first read it all I could think of was Curious George's The Man In The Yellow Hat!

• I loved Meena's intro, in which she's speeding through a forest and says, "For the next three minutes and fifty two seconds, I Am the Fastest Woman Alive." 

This was clearly a takeoff on the intro that kicked off the early seasons of the show, in which Barry introduced himself as "The Fastest Man Alive." I really miss that version of the opening titles, as it was a lot of fun and had more personality than the current soap opera version.

By the way, I like Meena quite a bit, as she's quite a fun character— much more so than some of the regulars! In fact last week I said that Meena and Barry had so much instant chemistry together that I wouldn't mind if she became a full time cast member and replaced Iris!

Unfortunately, this episode establishes that she's already spoken for. Darn.

• Superhero Landing!

• Meena looks at her smart watch, which says her Artificial Speed is down to just 3%. She tells Barry she has to hurry back to her lab before it runs out, and zooms off.

So... I guess her speed remains constant until it's completely exhausted, so she has the same amount at 3% that she does at 100%? That's certainly convenient!

• Cecile goes to the bank to make a deposit, and of course a gang of robbers bursts in.

Because this is Central City, the bank robbers can't just carry ordinary everyday guns, laws no! Instead they're all armed with some sort of blasters powered by glowing green ampules.

Cecile then tries to covertly activate her Flash Alert app, and the Main Robber yells, "Hey Teacup! You trying to be a hero?" See? I'm not the only one who noticed how incredibly tiny she is!

• Once again, Cecile's being portrayed like she's freakin' Professor X. It appears she now has the ability to visualize a person's emotions— like fear— and physically transfer them to someone else! It's actually kind of a cool power, and perfectly executed here.

So I guess the writers are turning Cecile into Rainbow Raider 2.0, or maybe Psycho Pirate 2.0. I guess I don't have a problem with that per se, but... where's this coming from? How'd she suddenly gain this amazing ability completely out of the blue, with absolutely no buildup? That's not how writing works, guys! You can't just have a character turn into Dark Phoenix for no good reason! You gotta plant seeds for a transformation instead of springing it on the audience out of nowhere.

• Back at STAR Labs, Chester scans Cecile to find out how she's "leveled up" like she has. As he does so, he utters another of his Black History Month oaths, saying, "Fiery Frances Sumner! According to Gideon, your empathic capacity is up a thousand percent!"

Frances Sumner was the first black man to receive a PHD in Psychology— which has nothing to do with telepathy or other psychic powers. So once again, one of Chester's exclamations is completely random and is irrelevant to the current situation.

• Cecile then says to Barry: "I can feel a massive wave of concern wash over you. You're worried about something. It's way more than just me." Barry replies, "It's the new speedster I'm training, Meena Dhawan."

Note that he says this instead of, "Yeah, I'm concerned about the fact that my wife is lost somewhere in the Still Force." I know I keep saying it, but Team Flash literally DOES NOT CARE about Iris!

• Barry tells the others about how Meena accidentally blasted him with her lightning. Allegra replies, "OK, accidental attacks, artificial speed... Is she gonna go all Spock Flash?"

She's referring to the Season 7 episode The Speed Of Thought here. In that episode, Barry was slowly but surely losing his powers, so he built an Artificial Speed Force generator to recharge them. Unfortunately for reasons, this ASF turned him into a hyper-intelligent genius— one who was completely devoid of empathy and emotion.

• Barry zooms over to Fast Track Labs (as himself) to check up on Meena. 

The part of Fast Track is played by the Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers Corporate Office in Burnaby, British Columbia— just a few miles outside of Vancouver.

The interior of Fast Track— including the tree— was also shot at Ritchie Bros.

• Barry meets with Meena, who acts as if she's never met him before. That's because technically she hasn't! It took me a minute to realize that she only knows him as the Flash. So many people in Central City are aware of Barry's "secret" identity at this point that's it's honestly surprising and novel to find someone who isn't!

Not A Nitpick, But An Observation: Meena describes how she gets her powers: "It's a biometric lightning oscillation chamber, technically. We call it the BLOC. It's built with quantum computing to remotely harness lightning from the Earth's upper atmosphere and turn it into artificial speed."

So Barry's speed generates lightning, while Meena uses lightning to generate speed! Interesting!

• Barry then meets the man who helped Meena build the BLOC— the original Eobard Thawne, who's somehow come back to life.

Eobard's played here by Matt Letscher, who hasn't been seen on the show since Season 3's Flashpoint. Thank Thor they finally brought him back! For five long years now, fans have been whining for and demanding his return— to the point where I was actually getting sick of hearing about him. Maybe now that he's back they'll finally shut the hell up about it.

As for HOW he can be back, I gave up trying to figure out the whole Thawne timeline long ago. At this point I have absolutely no idea how either version exists, and I'm convinced the writers don't either. Clearly the answer to how they're still alive is "Because."

The Flash has been more soap opera than superhero opus for quite some time now, and never has that been more true than in this episode. Check out this first encounter between Barry and Eobard, as the camera just can't stop giving us reaction shots of the two of them meeting. That's Soap 101 right there!

• As Barry tries to determine Eobard's angle here, Meena gets a call and excuses herself, saying, "Hey, Avery."

That's likely Avery Ho, who also works at Fast Track Labs and was introduced as a potential love interest for Bart. She first appeared earlier this season in Impulsive Excessive Disorder.

• Eobard then has a lengthy flashback, explaining just how he was hired at Fast Track. As Meena interviews him, we see his "deliberately comical" resume, which is so pathetic it doesn't even include his address or email.

It also contains just a couple of hurriedly written past jobs, at Hewitt Mair Labs and Mia Whitter Industries. The Flash loves to use the names of prominent comic book creators or production staffers in its scripts, but I couldn't find anyone with either of those names working at DC Comics or on the show.

Eobard's lame resume is so bad that Meena actually mocks it, saying he's wasting her time. He then does the old "Character Sees A Partial Equation On A Board And Casually Finishes It, Astounding The Person Who Started It" bit, as he actually gets up and solves it. This impresses Meena so much she hires him on the spot!

Thing is though, he had no way of knowing Meena would be working on a theorem he could finish for her. Which means he seriously thought his pitiful resume would work!

Also, note that Meena has one of those clear "white boards" that this show seems to love so much. I get why they use them (to make it easier to film people scribbling on them), but no one in real life would ever buy one.

• During the flashback, we see Meena's been prescribed Metoprolol. It's a real drug, used to treat angina and hypertension, as well as lower the risk of death in the event of heart failure. A bit later we'll learn that Meena does indeed have a heart condition.

• Jesus Christ, is it ever daylight on Lian Yu? Asking for a friend.

• Barry pays a visit to the other Thawne, trying to figure out how he can be in two places at once. Thawne sits in his cell reading a copy of The Count Of Monte Cristo, which is about a man who's wrongly imprisoned, and gets revenge on all those who betrayed him. Subtle!

• Barry tells Thawne about the BLOC that his counterpart built with Meena's help. Thawne says HE actually invented the BLOC "hundreds of years from now." He says it doesn't get its power from lightning as Meena said, but from the Negative Speed Force.

Barry's stunned by this revelation, but he shouldn't have been. The Negative Speed Force typically cancels out his powers. At the beginning of the episode, Meena accidentally blasted him with her lightning, and he temporarily lost his speed!

Add to that the fact that Meena's lightning is BLACK when she runs, and... it looks like Barry's not really paying attention!

• After Barry leaves, Other Thawne gets a visit from John Diggle, of all people!

Back in the series finale of Arrow, Diggle found a mysterious box that eerily called to him. He picked it up and opened it, revealing a bright green light inside before it snapped shut again. According to this episode, he's been traveling the Arrowverse ever since, trying to find a way to open the box again. 

Most fans (myself included) naturally assumed that the mystery box housed a Power Ring, and that the producers were planning on turning Diggle into the Arrowverse equivalent of the John Stewart Green Lantern from the comics.

It made perfect sense, as both characters are black, share a first name and were seemingly chosen by a glowing green space object. What else could there be in the box but a Green Lantern ring?

There were even rumors that Diggle would be spun off into his own Green Lantern series. This was great news, as I've long been a fan of Green Lantern comics and I couldn't wait to see Digg in his own show.

Then in one of the biggest instances of Franchise Blue Balls ever, three lonnnnng years have gone by and there's still no sign of a Green Lantern show.

So what's the problem? Why the huge delay? Who's in charge of The CW, George RR Martin?

I don't pretend to understand all the behind the scenes machinations, but from what I gather there's some sort of rights issue preventing them from launching a Green Lantern series. Along with the fact that The CW's in very dire straits these days and has even put itself up for sale.

So apparently the producers decided to deal with Diggle's dangling storyline (ouch!) by resolving it here on The Flash. And in an extremely disappointing move, they did so by having him finally reopen the box, see the cosmic wonders that were his for the taking, only to have him reject them in lieu of growing old with his family.

Are you f*cking kidding me?

I was VERY disappointed by this entire scene. No, that's not right— I was actively angered and pissed off. Enraged, even.

I suppose one could argue that Diggle did the right and noble thing by choosing family over adventure. But this is a goddamned superhero show! People tune in to see exciting comic book-inspired adventures! They don't want freakin' This Is Us with a glowing green box!

It makes me wonder why they bothered to bring Diggle back at all. I mean, why bother unless he's gonna put on the Power Ring and fly off?

Honestly I'd have preferred it if they never brought up Diggle again at all. Just leave his storyline open and had lots of fun and exciting unseen adventures in space. Feh!

• Diggle asks for Thawne's help to open the cube. Thawne agrees, but not before spouting a monologue loaded with DC Comics references and shoutouts. There's a LOT to unpack in his little speech, and I could easily write 50,000 words on it all, so I'll be as brief as possible:

—Thawne consents to help Diggle, saying, "You've come to the right place. I've seen transmatter technology like that before, forged at the Orrery of Worlds with the power to travel across realities."

Transmatter Technology
In the comics, both the Justice League and the Justice Society had transmatter cubes that let them travel between Earth-1 and Earth-2. The Legion Of Superheroes, who lived in the 31st Century, regularly used transmatter portals as well, to travel around Earth and even to other planets.

Orrery Of Worlds
A concept first introduced in DC's Final Crisis miniseries. It was basically a map of the 52 different worlds in the Multiverse. Thawne's use of the term doesn't make much sense here, but whatever.

—Thawne then tells Diggle,"Think of what your future could be. All the light you could bring into this world. All the cosmic odysseys that await."

Cosmic Odyssey 
A comic miniseries published by DC in 1988. In it, the Anti-Life Equation somehow became sentient and threatened to destroy all of reality. Highfather, leader of the New Gods, teamed up with the evil Darkseid to destroy it. They were joined by Superman and a host of other heroes— including John Stewart, who replaced Hal Jordan as Earth's Green Lantern. That can't be a coincidence, as for years now fans have insisted that Diggle is the Arrowverse version of Stewart.

—Lastly, Thawne tells Diggle, "Do it, John. Do it. Drink of The Bleed Mandrakk hid within the cube. Feel its power. Break through the Source Wall, for when you break through that wall, all those worlds that await will be yours."

The Bleed
In the comics, The Bleed is the empty space between universes, named after the void's red color.

Mandrakk
In Final Crisis, an evil being known as Mandrakk, aka the Dark Monitor, attempted to consume the entire multiverse (seems like a popular pastime among cosmic villains).

The Source Wall
Part of the New Gods mythology, it's a boundary that separates the Multiverse from the Source— the energy field that created all of reality. The Source Wall was apparently a physical barrier, as it was decorated with the bodies of various gods and other cosmic entities that attempted to pierce it.

Worlds Await
It's a phrase that pops up a lot in the Arrowverse. I think it may have started as the tagline of in-house advertising for 1986's Crisis On Infinite Earths miniseries, but don't quote me on that.

So with all that explained, there's just one major question remaining: How the hell does Thawne know about all this stuff? He's never been presented as a particularly cosmic entity, so his detailed knowledge of such things is both puzzling and surprising.

• All through the episode, Diggle consistently refers to the flat, octagonal cosmic box he found as a "cube."

I kind of feel like the producers don't understand what a cube is.

• Back at Fast Track Labs, Eobard preps the BLOC and tells Meena, "You set the oscillation levels at 52 million joules— that's more speed than you have ever absorbed before."

Was that yet another New 52 reference? You know, the DC Comics revamp came out a whopping ELEVEN years ago in 2011. Why is this show so obsessed with this event, and constantly act like it just happened?

• Meena enters the BLOC, where she's filled with a heaping amount of Negative Speed Force energy. I gotta say, she does a GREAT "crazed supervillain" face!

• Once Meena's taken over by the Negative Speed Force, we cut to a commercial. Instead of the usual flash of yellow lightning to signal a break, we get a burst of black Negative Speed Force lightning. Cool!

• Barry battles Evil Meena, who throws a bolt of Negative Speed Force lightning at him— which cancels out his powers for a few minutes. 

Has this Negative Speed Forces Cancels Out The Positive Speed Force always been a thing on the show? Based on Barry's dialogue it seems like it has, but I honestly don't ever remember it happening before now. I'm pretty sure the Reverse-Flash never negated Barry's speed before though, because if he did he would have just killed him long ago and gotten it over with.

I'm calling this a Big Ol' Retcon!

• Eobard infodumps his recent backstory to Barry, saying he fell in love with Meena and told her he always felt he was destined to do great things. To that end, they built the BLOC together to make him a speedster.

Unfortunately they discovered the BLOC would only work for one person (?). Eobard planned on using it, but when Meena had a heart attack he stuck her in it to save her— which turned her into a speedster instead.

I'm fuzzy on the whole "The BLOC Only Works On One Person" thing. Do they mean once it gives someone superspeed, it can't be used again till their powers wear off? Or does the BLOC calibrate itself to the first person who uses it, and from then on it'll only work on them?

• By the way, I couldn't help but notice how much Eobard's storyline mirrors that of August Heart (aka Godspeed) from Season 7. Both were deadly evil speedsters, both suffered from amnesia and both turned out to be really nice guys once they lost their memories.

Of course August Heart instantly turned into Godspeed again the second his memory was restored. I would not be at all surprised if the exact same thing happens to Eobard next week when his amnesia is inevitably reversed.

Are the writers really so creatively bankrupt at this point that they're recycling the exact same storyline so soon?

• Eobard goes on and on about how much he loves Meena and how she's his entire world. In the grand Hollywood tradition of Middle Aged Male Actors Who Have Hot Young Girlfriends, Matt Letscher is currently 51, while Kausar Mohammed (who plays Meena) is 30.

• Meena attacks Barry with her Negative Speed Force energy, which of course cancels out his powers. It also knocks out his suit comm, as he's unable to contact Chester. A few minutes later his speed returns, and the comm magically comes back online. 

So... was that just a coincidence, or is his suit communicator powered by his speed?

• Behold this actual line of dialogue from this episode:

Chester: "Okay, Meena's attacking power junctions all over the city."
Barry: "Why would Meena need electricity?"
Eobard: "Her speed is supposed to be temporary."
Barry: If Meena runs out of speed, the Negative Speed Force will lose its grip on her. It's making her absorb electricity to make more speed and maintain control."

There's not a single word of that last sentence that makes the least bit of sense, but let's just move on or we'll be here all day.

• Evil Meena goes to the Keystone Cleveland Dam in order to absorb all its electricity.

The Keystone Cleveland Dam been seen on the show before, as it first appeared way back in Season 1's The Sound And The Fury

So is the dam in Central City or Keystone? Despite the name, I think it's in CC, because the Team Flash van arrive there in minutes. On the other hand, Keystone is a sister city of Central City, as the two are allegedly separated by a river. So it's entirely possible it could be in Keystone City.

Wherever it is, it's nowhere near Cleveland, Ohio, as Keystone and Central City are in Kansas and Missouri, respectively.

• Barry seemingly drains Meena of her speed. She then summons a bolt of lightning and zaps Barry with it. But then we're told that he's lost his powers again, meaning he was hit with a blast of Negative Speed Force lightning. So Meena can apparently just yank that down out of the sky now? If that's true, then why didn't Reverse-Flash do that every time he saw Barry? He could have zapped him, canceled out his speed and killed him at his leisure. RETCON!

• After kncoking Barry unconscious, Meena prepares to kill him by vibrating her hand through his heart. Hey, that's Thawne's signature move! How the heck does she know about that? Did the Negative Speed Force teach it to her?

• Eobard manages to drive the Negative Speed Force out of Meena and save her with— you guessed it— the Power Of Love. No, really!

Ah, but it gets better! We then get this actual exchange:

Meena: "We built the B.L.O.C. so we could help people. But, if we can't use it without me turning into a super villain..."
Eobard: "Then it's not worth the risk. Especially if we don't even know how we tapped into the Negative Speed Force to begin with."
Barry: "What if there was a way around it? Whenever I start to feel like I'm in over my head, I think about the person I love most. She helps guide me home, like a lightning rod. Just like tonight, when the Negative Speed Force corrupted you...
Meena: "Eobard brought me back. So, you think that our bond could help me control my powers?"
Barry: "It would take some tinkering with the B.L.O.C., but if Eobard's your lightning rod, there's nothing you can't accomplish together."

That's right, folks, this sci-fi technobabble machine that turns people into supervillains can be overridden by LOVE. 
Jesus wept.

Who are scenes like this supposed to be for? Surely the writers don't believe the audience actually enjoys this kind of crap, do they? This "Love Conquers All" plot magic hooey is fine for fairly tale fantasies and romantic comedies— but superhero shows, not so much. 

It all feels incredibly lazy, like it's the producers' go-to move to get themselves out of any corner they write themselves into.

• Team Flash then gets a Zoom call from Ray Palmer, aka Atom. SEVERAL things here:

First of all, Ray takes time out of his busy schedule to explain how Eobard is back. It's a magnificent piece of narrative bullsh*t, and a thing to behold:

Ray: "As for your question, I was out having retirement drinks with Nate, and turns out the Legends had their own encounter with Reverse-Flash this year. Yeah, apparently the Time Wraiths saved him from Black Flash."
(Flashback of Original Thawne talking to White Canary, aka Sara Lance)
Eobard: "My powers stripped, I was re-educated and assigned here to protect this fixed point."
Sara: "As penance for your past crimes."
Eobard: "Believe it or not, Sara, I came to see their point. That history cannot and should not be changed.:
(Present Day)
Atom: "Thawne spent years protecting the timeline. Until he died helping the Legends. Pretty tragic twist, huh?"
Chester: "Wait, if Thawne from Flashpoint became a hero, but then died, how could he be here?"
Barry: "Maybe when he sacrificed himself the Time Wraiths saved his life again, brought him here."

Holy crap. That's actually amazing, as none of it makes the least bit of sense. As I said earlier, the answer to how Eobard's alive and well again is: Don't Worry About It.

Doesn't make for very compelling viewing when the writers can't be arsed to figure out major plot points, and simply choose not to worry about it.

Secondly, according to Ray, the Time Wraiths apparently took pity on Eobard for some incomprehensible reason, and decided to give him a second chance by making him Guardian Of A Fixed Point In Time. When he was killed, they gave him a THIRD chance and brought him back to life in the present day.

Well that was all very nice of them! It's also complete and utter nonsense. May I remind everyone the Time Wraiths look like nightmarish, decayed zombies who hunt and kill speedsters who use the Speed Force to alter time. When the hell did they become so altruistic and benevolent?

Lastly, seeing Ray Palmer show up again ought to make me happy. Instead it infuriates me, as his appearance reminds me how the Legends Of Tomorrow producers senselessly wrote him out of the show in Season 5 for no good reason. Feh!

• At the end of the episode, Cecile's out roaming the streets, seemingly looking for crime to fight. She sees a mugger and incapacitates him with her newly souped up mental powers— smiling the whole time.

So is Cecile going all Dark Phoenix on us here?

By the way, after Cecile walks off, we see a Mystery Woman secretly watching her from the shadows. You'd think a psychic meta like Cecile would have detected this hidden observer, but I guess not!

Based on the back of the Mystery Woman's head, she looks a lot like Rosa Dillon, aka the Top. No idea why she'd be tailing Cecile though.

• Chillblaine returns in this episode, after taking off a couple weeks. He contacts Caitlin, and tells her he knows how to bring back Frost. He then shows her a drawing of some sort of cryo chamber he's apparently invented.

Seems like the only way that would work is if they dug up Frost's body and stuck her in it. I don't see that happening though, so I predict he's going to use it to give Caitlin ice powers of her own. Then I guess he hopes that any trace of Frost that's still in Caitlin's body will awaken and take over or something. 

Whatever his plan is, I guarantee it involves Caitlin developing ice powers, since she's the only person in her family without them.

• In the tag scene, Thawne gets a visit from Deon, who says it's time for him to fulfill his destiny.

It's pretty obvious at this point that this isn't the Deon we all know and love. He's clearly the Negative Speed Force, as all four of the Forces apparently have evil counterparts.

As we all know, Barry & Iris accidentally created the Four Forces while trying to restore his speed. Did they unknowingly create Negative Forces while they were at it? Or did they spring up on their own at a later date?

The IKEA Cult!

I got this email invitation from IKEA this week. Holy crap!

Uh, thanks there, IKEA, but if it's all the same to you, I think I'll skip your little Midsommar bash this year. And every year after! I don't care to be sewn into a bear skin and burned alive during the big festival, thanks!

I always felt there was something a little... cult-like about IKEA. Now I know why!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Orville Season 3, Episode 2: Shadow Realms

This week on The Orville we get a dark and disturbing episode, one that strays firmly into Cronenbergian body horror.

Shadow Realms was co-written by Star Trek veteran and The Orville executive producer Brannon Braga, who cannibalized several of his own episodes to cobble together this one. While this is nothing new for The Orville, I gotta admit it's a little disappointing. We're in the third season of the show now, and it's high time it started going its own way and stopped following precisely in the footsteps of its inspiration.

Once again, it's clear that series creator Seth MacFarlane has officially dispensed with the humor this season, as there's absolutely nothing remotely funny to be found in this episode. The lack of humor this season is apparently quite upsetting to a lot of fans, who've taken to the internet to voice their objections (imagine that!). For the record, I'm fine with the more serious tone. It feels like the show's grown out of its awkward teen years (in which it tries to be funny in order to be liked) and finally become an adult!

As I watched the episode, I realized the main plot could be seen as a metaphor for toxic relationships. Doctor Finn's ex-husband shows up, and even though she's completely over him and has moved on with her life, he hopes to rekindle their romance. As his attempts to reconnect with her become more and more aggressive, he literally transforms into a horrifying and disgusting subhuman thing. It's as if he's literally becoming the physical embodiment of her malignant feelings toward him! 

Do I think Braga had any of this in mind when he wrote the episode? No. No I do not. But you gotta admit it all fits!

It's also interesting that unlike most iterations of Trek, there's no magic cure in this episode. Doctor Finn can't fix the infected crewmembers, as they're irrevocably transformed into aliens. There's no chance for recovery for them, and no happy ending. That's unusual for a show like this, and I appreciate that the producers didn't take the easy road here.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Mercer calls the senior staff to the briefing room, where he fills them in on their next mission— they're to pick up Vice Admiral Paul Christie, who will oversee negotiations with the Krill. If successful, the Union will then have access to the Naklav Sector, which lies deep in Krill space. Claire looks troubled at the mention of Admiral Christie's name.

Later in Sick Bay, the Admiral surprises Claire by stopping by. It's clear the two of them had a prior relationship at some point, but she's strangely chilly toward him. He asks her to dinner to catch up, but she tells him she's busy. Paul apologizes to her for an incident that happened twenty five years ago.

Sometime later, the Orville hosts two Krill delegates at a party in the Mess Hall. Mercer says he hopes this treaty will become permanent. The Krill Ambassador says not to get his hopes up, as the minute the Kaylon are defeated, the Krill will resume hostilities with the Union. Okay then!

Claire does her best to avoid Paul at the reception. She grabs a bottle of booze and asks Kelly if she'd like to skip the party with her. The two women then get plastered in Claire's quarters. She confesses she was once married to Paul (!), but never felt like his partner. She gave him and ultimatum, and he ended up walking out on her.

Sometime later Paul & Mercer meet with the Krill Ambassadors to discuss access to the Naklav Sector. The Krill give them very strict guidelines, allowing only a single ship to enter for now, and outlining a rigid route and warning them not to deviate from it. Paul says that's fine, and selects the Orville to make the first foray into the region.

Paul says he's interested in exploring the Kalarr Expanse inside the sector. The Krill bristle at this, warning them that the Expanse is a gateway to the underworld, where demons dwell and possess the souls of any who approach— causing them to commit acts of depravity. When Mercer says they'd like to see for themselves, the Krill say they won't stop them, but they won't save them either.

The Krill then leave, but not before praying for the Orville's crew— who they fear are all going to die (!).

Mercer, Kelly and Paul then confer with Admiral Halsey, to decide whether to approach the Kalarr Expanse. Halsey urges caution, but Mercer points out the Krill are all superstitious religious fanatics. He doesn't believe the supernatural hooey, and says exploration is always a risk. With that, Halsey gives the mission his blessing.

That night, Claire's having dinner alone in Mooska's. Paul approaches, and asks to join her. She reluctantly agrees, then congratulates him on the Krill negotiations. He announces he won't be leaving the ship, and is going on the mission with them.

Paul then shows her he still carries his wedding band, made from Xelayan Sun Stone (Plot Point!). He asks if there's any chance of a reconciliation, and Claire shoots him down, saying she no longer feels anything for him. Hurt, Paul gets up and leaves.

Mercer then orders the Orville to set course through Krill space for the Kalarr Expanse.

Paul enters the Astrophysics Lab, where he chats with Isaac. He points out that both of them were romantically involved with Claire, and asks Isaac what makes her happy. Isaac says her children and career. He somehow senses that Paul misses Claire, and says he feels the same way (!).

The Orville moves through the Naklav Sector, and approaches the Kalarr Expanse. The crew's unnerved by the fact that the Expanse is devoid of any stars, and looks completely black. Just then the ship picks up a distress call inside the Expanse. Mercer orders them in to check it out.

The Orville discovers the source of the signal— a massive, organic-looking space station. Scanners show it has a breathable atmosphere, so Mercer decides to take a landing party to check it out. Paul insists on going as well.

Mercer, Kelly, Claire, John, Talla and Paul take a shuttle over to the station. They dock with it and enter. Inside they find the station's dark and empty. Mercer orders them into teams of two to explore. He and Paul approach a wall of glowing white pods. While Mercer's looking elsewhere, Paul sticks his face close to one of the pods. It suddenly bursts open, startling him. He suggests they hurry back to the ship.

Back on the ship, the Away Team, er, I mean landing party meets in Engineering for some reason. Isaac says there are no life signs aboard the station, and can't understand its purpose. Claire wonders if the station itself is a life form. Just then Paul doubles over in pain and collapses. His face shrivels and distorts.

Cut to Sick Bay, where Claire's treating Paul, who appears to be growing a couple of extra eyes. She says his DNA's changing, and isn't sure she can stop it. Mercer recalls Paul saying the pod opened in his face, and Claire says if she had a sample of it she might be able to help him.

Mercer, Talla and John all don environmental suits (FINALLY!) and return to the station. They find the wall of pods, and Talla collects a sample from one that opens. John ominously points out that the station's no longer broadcasting a distress beacon— it's now sending out its coordinates.

Back in Sickbay, Paul wakes and tells Claire he's scared. He begs her to put the wedding ring on his finger (Plot Point!) and she says she won't let him die.

Mercer calls Claire from the shuttle, and says they found a bacterial spore on the station, which must have infected Paul. Talla recommends decontamination when they get back to the ship. Claire goes to tell Paul the news, and finds he's gone.

Just then the Orville's power goes out, as the engines shut down and the ship's plunged into darkness. Claire tells Nurse Park she's gonna check on her kids and leaves. Park hears a noise, and finds Paul's ripped-up uniform lying on the floor. He turns around and screams as a creature attacks.

The shuttle approaches the ship and sees it's dead in the water. John says they'll have to dock manually. They do so, and John says he's going to Engineering to try and restore power.

Claire reaches her quarters, but finds them empty.

Elsewhere, Marcus and Ty Finn are searching the darkened corridors for their mother. Mercer & Talla reach the Bridge, where Kelly, Gordon and Charly are trying to restore limited power. 

Down in Engineering, John says the power dampening field must be in one of the ship's one hundred and thirty two conduits, so he and Isaac start physically searching them.

Marcus & Ty hear something chasing them in a corridor, and run to the Mess Hall to hide. Lt. Redshirt, er, I mean Woodson finds them, and offers to escort them back to their quarters. Suddenly a creature attacks Woodson, spitting a green goo in his face. He instantly transforms into one of the creatures.

Marcus and Ty flee for their lives, and make it to the Bridge. They tell the others what they saw, and Claire realizes Paul's become one of the aliens and is transforming the rest of the crew. She theorizes that's how this Arachnid race reproduces. Talla says she's going to find John and warn him, and Bortus escorts Claire to Sickbay, where she hopes to find a way to reverse the alien threat.

John manages to restore partial power to the ship. Just then he encounters two Arachnids, and manages to lock himself in the Brig behind a forcefield. Talla sees John's predicament, and lures the creatures to the Shuttle Bay. They attack her, but are no match for her enhanced Xelauan strength.

Elsewhere, Isaac's walking through a corridor and encounters one of the Arachnids. It examines him, but realizes his robotic body is incompatible with its spores and moves on. Isaac releases John from the Brig, and the two return to the Bridge. John restores communications. Talla brings the corpse of one of the Arachnids to Sickbay for Claire to examine.

Meanwhile, the crew detects the approach of an Arachnid ship, which no doubt picked up the station's homing signal. Unfortunately the Orville still doesn't have Quantum Drive, and can't escape.

Claire examines the Arachnid corpse and realizes its immune system hasn't fully formed yet. She theorizes she could whip up a virus that would kill the creatures, while being relatively harmless to the crew.

Mercer points out that the Arachnids were once their shipmates, and didn't ask for what happened to them. He says they should try to communicate with them, to give them a chance to leave peacefully before releasing the virus. Claire says she knows how to get the message across. She has Talla scan for Xelayan Sun Stone, and she detects a small amount in Engineering.

Claire goes to Engineering, where she finds Arachnid Paul— still wearing his Xelayan Sun Stone wedding band. She tells him about the virus, and offers him and his fellow creatures the chance to go. He refuses, so Claire orders the virus released into the vents. Arachnid Paul painfully growls no, and says they'll leave— but "not forever."

Sometime later, Claire's dining at Mooska's again. Isaac comes in to check on her well being, which surprises her. He tells her that he and Paul discussed her, as she was something they both had in common. She admits she's missed Isaac, and invites him to join her.

Thoughts:
• Jesus, this episode was dark! Not just in tone, but illumination-wise as well. I had to lighten practically every screencap just so I didn't post a bunch of black rectangles!


• I'm still amazed by the increased level of detail in the physical and digital models of the Orville this year. It's especially noticeable when you compare it to the Season 1 and 2 version, as it now looks unnaturally smooth— almost like a cartoon!

Even more amazing— instead of opaque white windows, we can now see through them and into the ship. You can even see people milling around on the Bridge! Awesome!

• The episode begins with Mercer briefing the main characters, er, I mean the ship's department heads— Kelly, Bortus, Claire, John, Talla and Isaac. For some reason, Gordon and Charly are there as well. But why? They're the helmsman and navigator respectively, neither of which are department head positions.

I get why the real world reason why they're there— because it's a TV show and the audience expects to see all the characters. I can't think of any good in-universe reason for their presence though.

• Claire's less than enthused when her ex-husband (more on that in a second!) Admiral Paul Christie boards the ship to oversee the negotiations with the Krill.

Paul's played by James Read, a prolific character actor who's been in virtually everything, including stints on soaps such as General Hospital and Days Of Our Lives.

Nice Attention To Detail/Canon: The ship's lighting seems to be turned way down while the Krill Ambassadors are on board. Someone remembered their deadly susceptibility to bright lights! Well done!

• At the Krill reception, Bortus investigates a tray of hors d'oeuvres. He sniffs one, then jerks his head back in disgust when the smell apparently doesn't agree with him. 

Wait, is this the same Bortus from Krill, who demonstrated how he could eat literally anything? Even a drinking glass? So why's he being all dainty & selective now?

• After skipping out on the reception, Claire confesses to Kelly that she was married once— to Paul!

Wait, what? That's certainly a new character development! When the hell was she ever married?

Back in Season 1's Into The Fold, Claire and Isaac had the following conversation:

Isaac: "I have noticed that many other families on the Orville include two parents. Where is your counterpart?"
Claire: "I don't have a husband."
Isaac: "Was he destroyed?"
Claire: "No."
Isaac: "Did you grow to despise each other, and terminate your coupling?"
Claire: "I chose to be a single mother. I always wanted kids, but never found a man I wanted to have them with."
Isaac: "Ah. Artificial impregnation."
Claire: "You're getting a tad personal, don't you think?"

OK, I guess there's some slight wiggle room here, as technically she didn't actually state she was never married— but she never said she was, either. I'm calling this revelation a big ol' retcon!

• During the negotiations, the Krill have a laundry list of demands to be met before they'll let the Orville into their space. Among the items: they want to place a tracking device on the ship to monitor its whereabouts inside their territory. Admiral Christie reluctantly agrees. 

I guess they must have installed that while we weren't looking, because it's never mentioned again.

• Admiral Halsey's back! He makes a brief cameo as Mercer and Paul confer with him as to whether to enter the Expanse or not. At one point Paul calls him "Tom," which I'm pretty sure is the first time we've ever heard his first name.

• Halsey asks if there's any evidence to support the Krill superstitions surrounding the Expanse. Mercer replies: 

"No. In fact, from what we gather, none of their ships have ventured into the Expanse in more than a century. The copy of the Anhkana we have in our database has a few passages about 'shadow realms.' Lots of colorful language about soul-sucking demons with eight eyes and huge fangs. Horror movie stuff."

Later on when the Orville crewmembers transform into the Arachnid species, we see they do indeed have eight eyes and huge fangs! Well done!

• Heh. Even in the 25th Century, people will still be looking at their phones while they eat!

• Paul sees Claire dining by herself in Mooska's and asks if he can join her. She reluctantly agrees, and the first comment out of her mouth is, "So when do you leave for Outpost 55?" YOWCH! Message received, loud and clear!

• As the ship prepares to enter Krill space, Mercer gives the crew an "inspirational" speech. We then get a montage of various departments listening to him. There's the Shuttlebay, where we get a good look at the new shuttle design, as well as the needle-like Pteradon fighter that debuted last week.

We then see this unknown room. It looks a LOT like Engineering, except everyone's in it's wearing a green science uniform. I guess it must be some kind of lab?

• Paul's surprised to find out that Isaac once dated Claire. Desperate to reconnect with her, he asks Isaac if he knows what makes her happy. Isaac replies with a list of her favorite things, including listening to the rain and her preferred sexual positions (!).

Someone did their homework, as back in A Happy Refrain, Claire did indeed tell Isaac of her love of sitting on the porch in the rain.

As for the sex thing, that apparently happened as well, as Claire discussed it with Kelly in the same episode:

Claire: "It's the best it's ever been for me. And maybe it's okay that it doesn't look like I thought it would. Maybe it's okay that it looks like a woman and a vacuum cleaner. I think I'm in love with him."

• The Orville makes it through Krill space without incident, then approaches the Kalarr Expanse. The crew marvels that the region is completely devoid of stars. 

The Orville didn't invent this "starless void" trope, as it's been around for decades and was used in pretty much every iteration of Star Trek. I get why they use it here though, as it makes for a spooky and unnerving visual. It's also a bunch of hooey, as it would be nigh impossible to find a large area of space where no stars were visible.

Isaac says the Expanse extends for 800 parsecs. A parsec is 3.26 lightyears, which means the Expanse is 2,608 lightyears across. Sounds pretty big, till you realize we can see stars up to 16,000 lightyears away with the naked eye. Which means even if the Expanse was somehow completely devoid of stars, there'd still be distant ones visible outside its border.

Verdict: A starless region of space is pure science fantasy bullsh*t! And yes, I realize I'm being ridiculously obsessive here, but whatever.

• As the ship enters the Expanse, it finds a creepy-looking space station. I love how the second they see it, Mercer & Kelly both stand in unison and walk toward to the main viewer to... get a closer look at it I guess?

• The alien space station is very... crustacean-like. Nothing wrong with that, as it adds to its alienness!

• Isaac scans the station and says it's pressurized, and surrounded by a breathable atmosphere. We then see his readout, and it looks for all the world like it's showing us the atmosphere actually encases the outside of the station!

I guess that's a thing that could happen, although I'm not really sure what the point would be.

• I love this shot of the shuttle exiting the rear of the ship. I especially like how the interior of the Shuttlebay is visible and in perfect perspective. The FX really have been leveled up this season!

• it made me laugh to see 2/3 of the Away Team, er I mean Landing Party standing in the shuttle rather than sitting comfortably. I guess they're only flying a couple thousand feet, so it doesn't really matter, but.. there ARE plenty of seats in there, guys!

This isn't anything new, by the way. The characters stood like this in the first two seasons as well.

Also, back in the The Original Series, Kirk, Spock & McCoy were always going on dangerous missions to various planets— something that would never happen in any branch of the military. 

By the time The Next Generation rolled around, the writers addressed this "unrealistic" problem by sending Commander Riker on away missions, while leaving Captain Picard safely on the Bridge. 

Looks like The Orville's decided to go the TOS route, as the entire senior staff rides directly into the fray!

• Nothing good ever happens where there are doors like this.

• Critics of this episode complained that the crew willingly entered this potentially deadly alien environment without wearing any kind of protective gear whatsoever. 

Sadly, I can't argue with that! In fact I can't think of any reason for them NOT gear up in spacesuits, other than so the episode can happen. Disappointing!

• Ah, but the stupidity doesn't stop there! Not only does the whole Landing Party waltz into an unknown environment in their space pajamas, but they seem determined to ignore any kind of safety protocols. For example, Kelly almost touches a pulsating organic wall with her bare hand, till Claire tells her to knock it off.

Then John leans in close to a glowing alien hornet's nest, and even turns his back on it!

And of course Paul— who's an ADMIRAL, mind you, and presumably smarter than the rest of the team— sticks his head right in front of a glowing alien seed pod, which of course explodes in his face.

It's almost like these people are trying to get killed!

• Naturally the pod sprays some kind of alien spores into Paul's face, which begin mutating him. Kudos to the makeup department here, for making the Admiral looks suitably gross and disturbing! I was surprised they didn't make his giant eye blink, but eh, it was still plenty unsettling!

• Mercer, Talla and John return to the station to collect samples that might be able to help cure Paul. Now that the horse is out of the barn and down the road into the next county, they FINALLY don protective spacesuits.

Note that their suits are color coded, as Mercer's has glowing blue lights and Talla's has red.

• More character stupidity, er, I mean plot contrivance: despite the fact that Admiral Christie is mutating into an alien man-spider, Claire doesn't throw up a forcefield around his bed. 

Even if the Orville doesn't have that kind of technology, surely they have some means of quarantining patients who pose a threat to the rest of the crew. Instead she just leaves this potentially infectious patient lying right out in the open in the middle of Sickbay— again, for no other reason than so the plot can happen.

• Last week I noted that the Orville's powered by a large glowing orb, similar to the beryllium sphere over on Galaxy Quest.

In this episode, Paul cuts power to the ship, and we get a shot of Engineering as the glowing orb seemingly dissipates and vanishes! So I guess it isn't a solid, physical object after all, and just a big ball of energy? Odd.

• The first time the shuttle flew over to the station, it took a minute or less each way. When Mercer & Co. revisit it, it takes them at least ten times that long to return to the ship. Long enough for them to contact Claire and tell her they've collected a bacterial sample, long enough for the mutated Admiral to escape and cut the power, long enough for Claire to go off looking for her kids and long enough for Nurse Park to get attacked. 

Why such a big difference? Were they driving along reeeeeally slowly the second time they came back?

• Was this Nurse Park's last show? It certainly seems like it! The Arachnids aren't killing the crew when they attack, they're reproducing by mutating them into their own kind. It's strongly implied that he's been turned into an Arachnid! 

Whether he was among those killed by the crew or went off with Arachnid Paul at the end isn't clear.

Park first appeared back in Cupid's Dagger, and has been a background regular since.

• As Marcus and Ty search for their mom, they're intercepted by Lt. Woodson. Of course Woodson's a literal redshirt, as seconds later he's pinned down by an Arachnid and mutated into one of them!

• John recreates a scene from ALIEN as he crawls through a darkened Jeffries Tube, er, I mean engineering conduit. He's even chased through the cramped tunnels by one of the Arachnids, just like Captain Dallas in ALIEN!

• John manages to restore limited power to the ship. I love how the Bridge readouts are then pale yellow instead of their usual glowing blue, to indicate they're not at full power.

• John escapes from a couple of Arachnids by hiding in the Brig behind a forcefield. Quite rightly, once he's inside there's no way to get back out. Wouldn't make much sense for the field controls to be inside a jail cell!

Good thing the forcefield was apparently still at full strength, even though the rest of the ship only had partial power!

• This is probably our best look we get at the Arachnids during the whole episode. They're a pretty cool design, and are a combo of CGI and rubber suits. Obviously when they're jumping around and running on walls they're digital, but I'm pretty sure they're real in the closeups.

• Talla uses her Xelayan strength to battle several Arachnids in the Shuttlebay. Looks like she's a big fan of the WWE!

• Isaac has a close encounter with one of the Arachnids, which ends up ignoring him because he's inorganic. You know, it would have been a really good idea to have sent HIM back to the station to collect the spore samples, since he can't be transformed! But no, sending humans into a deadly biological hot zone is fine too.

• This is some Heavy Duty Nitpicking, but whatever. Claire says she can't figure out a way to revert the mutated crew unless one of them agrees to a physical. Right on cue, Talla enters with one of the Arachnids she killed. Claire beams and says, "We have a patient!"

Yeah, that's not a patient, that's a specimen! "Patient" refers to a living subject.

Told you it was Heavy Duty!

• Gordon detects an Arachnid ship on its way to the station— presumably to take over the Orville and mutate the rest of the crew.

So despite the fact that the Arachnids act like primitive, animalistic horror movie monsters, somehow they're apparently smart enough to develop space travel and quantum drive. Interesting.

Also, I love the fact that each race on this show has their own specific ship colors. The Union ships all glow blue, Krill vessels are green, etc. It's a nice bit of visual shorthand.

• Claire's able to figure out which Arachnid was Paul by scanning for his wedding band. Lucky that this savage and brutal alien— whose only thought it to turn others into his own kind— didn't rip the ring from his finger.

• Claire discovers the Arachnids' immune systems don't fully kick in until about two weeks after they first mutate. She figures she can use that weakness to infect and kill them all.

I was gonna say that two week delay seemed like a pretty big design flaw in the Arachnids' biology. After all, being susceptible to disease for the first couple weeks of one's life would be mighty dangerous. But it turns out the same thing happens in humans! It takes a whole two to three months for a baby's immune system to fully kick in!

So never mind, and well done writers!

• Claire develops a virus that'll kill the Arachnids. Just as she's about to release it though, Mercer stops her— pointing out that these aliens used to be their crewmates and didn't ask for what happened to them.

That's a very Star Trek issue to raise, as the franchise has always been about seeking out new life and communicating with it.

On the other hand, Mercer's eleventh hour protest comes completely out of nowhere, and even though he's right, it felt unearned and tacked on. Not to mention the fact that just a few minutes earlier Talla straight up murdered at least two of them, seemingly without a second thought.

• Claire eventually talks Arachnid Paul and his brethren into leaving the ship peacefully. So... just how the hell did they do that? Did Mercer give 'em a shuttle to fly over to the station? Or can Arachnids survive in the vacuum of space, and they all just jumped out the nearest airlock?

Apparently it's none of our goddamn business, as their means of escape is never addressed.

• So just how many of the Orville crew were turned into Arachnids? Eh, it's impossible to know— especially since there's no way to tell them apart, and we could have been seeing the same four or five over and over.

Based on what we see in the episode though, I'm estimating there were at least twenty Arachnids.

Note that there's no infamous Star Trek Reset Button here, where everything's put right in the final scene of the episode. Instead, a large number of the crew were wiped out as they were irreparably transformed into a completely different race. There's no last minute restoration, no real resolution and no happy ending. The crew poked around where they didn't belong and got a bloody nose for it.

• In the tag scene, Isaac goes to Mooska's to check on Claire and make sure she's OK after Paul's untimely death. She's touched and more than a little surprised by his uncharacteristically human gesture. She admits she's missed Isaac, and asks him to join her for dinner.

So I guess this means Claire's forgiven Isaac for the whole "Betraying The Human Race To The Kaylons" thing, and is willing to start up their romance again!


• This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:
Really only one I noticed, as Gordon & Charly both make humorous quips about Vegas.

This Week's Star Trek Swipes:
Holy cow, where do I even start with this episode? Get comfortable, as this is gonna take a while!

— First off, the idea of a spooky and deadly region of space has been done before in Trek. In the Enterprise episode The Expanse, the alien Xindi attack Earth. Starfleet orders Captain Archer & crew to retaliate, but unfortunately the Xindi homeworld lies in the middle of a deadly void. Vulcan Ambassador Soval warns Archer about this area:

Soval: "They're inside the Delphic Expanse."
Archer: "What's that?"
Soval: "A region of space nearly two thousand light years across. Vulcan ships have entered it, but only a few have returned."
Archer: "Sounds like you're talking about the Bermuda Triangle."
Soval: "There have been reports of fierce and dangerous species, unexplained anomalies. In some regions, even the laws of physics don't apply. Twenty years ago, a Klingon vessel emerged from the Expanse. Every crewmen on board had been anatomically inverted, their bodies splayed open— and they were still alive. You'd be more than foolish to pursue this course of action."

In Shadow Realms, the Krill Ambassador warns the Orville to stay the hell out of the Kalarr Expanse, as "it's a gateway to the underworld, where demons lie in wait to possess the souls of those who dare stray within their reach." Pretty much the same thing!

— Then there's the TNG episode Identity Crisis. In it, the crew discovers that an Away Team that visited Tarchannen III five years earlier were all unknowingly infected with an alien parasite. This microorganism is now causing the Away Team members— including Geordi LaForge— to mutate into an alien race. Doctor Crusher theorizes this race reproduces by infecting other species and turning them into Tarchannens. Fortunately she's able to reverse the process and restore Geordi at the last minute.

Shadow Realms borrows HEAVILY from this episode, as the Orville crew explores the Kalarr Expanse, where they encounter the Arachnids— who reproduce by infecting other species with bacterial spores that transform them into their own race. Unfortunately Doctor Finn isn't able to cure the infected, and they permanently become Arachnids.

— As close as those examples are though, they pale in comparison to Shadow Realms' resemblance to TNG's Genesis. In that episode, the Enterprise-D crew is accidentally infected with "T-cell virus" (whatever that is) that causes them to devolve into primitive life forms. Commander Riker becomes a caveman, Counselor Troi some sort of amphibian and Worf transforms into a terrifying proto-Klingon creature.

Captain Picard and Data return from a mission, and discover the ship is powerless and drifting in space. Once they board, they attempt to restore power while avoiding the now-monstrous crew.

Shadow Realms is practically a shot for shot remake of Genesis, right down to the crew wandering the darkened halls of the powerless ship as they're attacked by alien monsters. Heck, both episodes even feature a crewman who gets mutated into a humanoid spider— complete with multiple faceted eyes! Jesus Christ!

Not surprisingly, Identity Crisis, Genesis and Shadow Realms were all written (or co-written) by The Orville's Executive Producer Brannon Braga. He seems obsessed with writing episodes in which the various crews mutate, and pretty much plagiarized his old scripts this week!

On the other hand, Genesis first aired back in 1994, which was a whopping twenty eight years ago. I guess it's acceptable for writers to repeat an idea once every three decades or so!

This Week's Best Lines:
Paul: "You're as beautiful as ever."
Claire: "Save your charm for the Krill. You're gonna need it."

(Claire discusses her marriage to Paul with Kelly.)
Claire: "I gave him an ultimatum, and... he walked away."
Kelly: "Were you devastated?"
Claire: "At the time, I was crushed, yeah. I questioned everything about myself. Every way I turned it over in my head, I kept feeling like I was the one at fault, like I made a huge mistake. But when I remember it now, it's like... I'm watching someone else's daughter. I'm sad for her, but I know she needs to learn her own lessons."

Paul: "Anything your cartographers could share with us would be greatly appreciated, especially concerning the Kalarr Expanse."
Krill Ambassador: "You... do not intend to enter the Expanse?"
Kelly: "Why wouldn't we?"
Krill: "It is a domain of evil."
Mercer: "What do you mean?"
Krill: "Demons dwell within the Expanse."
Kelly: "Could you be a little more specific?"
Krill: "The Anhkana warns of Shadow Realms. Gateways to the depths of the underworld, where demons lie in wait to possess the souls of those who dare to stray within their reach. They corrupt all that is holy. Within their grasp, even the most righteous can be forced to commit unspeakable acts of depravity."
Mercer: "Do you have any direct evidence that these 'demons' really exist?"
Krill: "It is written in the Anhkana. That is all the evidence we need."
Paul: "We appreciate the warning, and we'll take every precaution, but that area covers more than half the sector. We are explorers. So if it's all the same to you, we'd like to see for ourselves what's out there."
Krill: "We will not stop you. But do not expect us to save you."

Admiral Halsey: "I'm just suggesting the possibility that their claim, absurd though it may be, could indicate the presence of some real threat. And because they're Krill, they process it through the lens of their religion."
Kelly: "Which still doesn't give us much of a road map. I mean, their religion is... confusing, to say the least."
Paul: "All religions are confusing. How do you think the priests stay in business?"

(Paul discusses Claire with Isaac.)
Paul: "I've heard from a few folks on board that you two were... involved."
Isaac: "That is accurate."
Paul: "Well, you know, I was with Claire, too, a long time ago."
Isaac: "Then we share a common experience."
Paul: "After all this time, she's moved on, but I'm afraid that I haven't. I hope you don't mind me telling you this."
Isaac: "No, sir. I have observed many such paradoxes in human relationships."
Paul: "Well, to be blunt... I was hoping you could give me some insight into what makes Claire happy these days."
Isaac: "Dr. Finn values her children above all else. She has often stated that she would sacrifice her own life for them."
Paul: "Go on."
Isaac: "Her career as a Union medical officer is also a crucial part of her identity. She is highly empathetic and takes great satisfaction in helping others."
Paul: "She always has."
Isaac: "Her recreational interests include music, dancing, fine dining, rain showers and sеxual relations. Her preferred mating positions include..."
Paul: "Whoa, whoa, whoa. That's... plenty helpful, Isaac. Thank you."
Isaac: "Am I to understand that you find it a challenge to process her daily absence?"
Paul: "Yes, you could say that."
Isaac: "It is another common experience we share."

Claire: (to Arachnid Paul) "Take your people and go, or I swear we'll destroy every last one of you."
Arachnid Paul: "Not Paul. More. You... will... see."
Claire: "See what?"
Arachnid Paul: "You will be... of us."
Claire: "Finn to bridge."
Mercer: "Mercer here."
Claire: "Prepare to release the toxin. Start with the Engineering deck."
Mercer: "Understood."
(Arachnid Paul shrieks.)
Arachnid Paul: "We go."
Claire: "Thank you."
Arachnid Paul: (ominously) "Not... forever."
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