Friday, April 24, 2015

What's On My Pull List? (Curb Stomp, Spider-Gwen, and More!)

It's been a while since we did one of these, and I figure it's high time I update you on the comics that have made it onto my pull list at the Local Comic Book Shop of Awesome (also known as the Comic Stop - they're Seattle based and seriously rad). You can find the previous incarnations of this list here, here, and here

So for those of you new to us here and who don't know your comics lingo, a pull list is a list of comics that you have decided that you like and are pre-ordering through your local comic shop (LCS). Some shops let you do this for free, others ask for a nominal yearly subscription, but pretty much every comic shop I've ever heard of is one hundred percent okay with you telling them ahead of time what comics you want and will buy.

Why? Because for them, this is guaranteed business. They only have to buy the comics that people actually want, they get really good feedback on what people like and want to read more of, and the publisher knows in advance how well their book is going to sell. Plus, for you, you don't have to think much every week, you just show up and buy a stack of comics that have already been "pulled" from the shelves for you. Get it? It's like getting yourself a present every Wednesday!

Now, I am well aware of the fact that my pull list is more extensive than yours is apt to ever be. That's okay. I have pretty broad taste, and I make a point to budget for comics. Comics are a really easy way to tell companies like Marvel and DC what stories you like - when you pre-order you're sending a message that you approve of they way they interpret a certain character or storyline. And this can be seriously great. I mean, so many people pre-ordered Lumberjanes that the series was quickly bumped up from an eight issue mini to an ongoing series. That's great!

Plus, with the popularity of comic book movies right now, you can bet your butt that the film studios are watching to see which comics do well in stores. That will give them ideas on what to adapt for the next big project. Heck, Ms. Marvel has done so well in the past year or so that it's now rumored to be getting its own show on ABC. Just a rumor for now, but that's huge.

So, without further ado, these are the comics that I've added to my list lately. Some of them are limited run, some are ongoing, and all of them are fabulous.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl - Marvel - written by Ryan North, art by Erica Henderson

If you've never heard of Squirrel Girl, you're in good company. Pretty much no one had up until a couple of months ago, but it turns out that Squirrel Girl, or Doreen Green as she goes by in normal life, is basically the best Marvel superhero to come around in ages. Her superpowers are weird - she has the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel, as well as being able to talk to them - and she's kind of nuts, but that just makes the story fantastic.

And seriously, I cannot stress this enough, the story is fantastic. The first four issues have Doreen moving into her college dorm in New York City, only to be called away when the network of squirrel astronomers informs her that Galactus is approaching planet Earth and intends to eat it. But as she goes to defeat Galactus (and bear in mind that her superpowers are basically being a squirrel sort of), she also runs into Kraven the Hunter, Whiplash, some bank robbers, Tony Stark's security system, and more. It's pretty much silly ridiculous fun all the way through, but by no means is that a put down. No, this book is delightful and hilarious and you will love it.

Also, it's worth noting that Doreen is far from the superhero siren we're used to seeing. Her costume is full coverage, she herself has a relatively normal body type, and the comic itself is populated with a diverse cast of interesting people - basically, it's unusual in all the best ways. Pro tip: there is a tiny bit of flavor text at the bottom of each page. It's easy to miss but it's hilarious so you should totally read it.

In general, to be frank, you should totally read all of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl because your life will be much happier if you do. This might be the most positively I've endorsed anything since Pacific Rim.

Lady Killer - Dark Horse - written by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, art by Joelle Jones

So on a completely different tone, Lady Killer is a dark comedy look at the world of the 1950s housewife - if the prototypical 1950s housewife were an assassin working for a shady pseudo-governmental agency. It's a weird book, but it's great.

Our heroine is Josie Schuler, a lovely, loving housewife. Her husband does some kind of office work. She has two adorable blonde daughters. Her mother-in-law lives with them and Josie cares for her...about as much as you would care for your elderly, German, cranky mother-in-law. The twist, of course, is that Josie is also an assassin. Under the cover of selling makeup for Avon and "volunteering" at the "hospital", Josie goes off and performs secret missions for somebody or other, killing bad people and disposing of the bodies. Half the fun of the book is honestly just in the thrill of seeing someone in fifties housewife drag do incredibly violent things.

But the books do have more depth than I'm suggesting here. Josie, for starters, isn't doing all of this randomly, and her connection to the shady organization comes into question pretty quickly. Why is she an assassin? How the heck did she get this job? Those are all very good questions, and the book makes it clear that they will be answered.

Plus, there's a lot of drama to be mined from Josie's traversal of post-war gender roles. She has to play the part of the perfect housewife just to fit in, but there's also a sense that she enjoys her life. She really and truly loves her husband and children. She likes being a wife and mother, it's just that she also likes killing people for money. Truly, I can relate.

Well, actually I can. Because the beauty of this story is that it uses the absurdity of Josie's situation to actually make some good points about the struggle of home-work divide for working parents, specifically working mothers. Does being a mother who works make you a bad parent? Do you need to spend all your time at work thinking about how much you miss your children? Is this okay? It's pretty cool to see all of this addressed, and I don't mind that Josie is also just a deeply entertaining character to read. She's sassy and weird and it's great.

Spider-Gwen - Marvel - written by Jason Latour, written by Robbi Rodriguez

Aaand, there are a ton of these so I'm going to have to be more concise from here on! Okay. Spider-Gwen is about an alternate universe in which Peter Parker never became Spiderman. Instead, Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider and now she has superpowers. Also Peter Parker was fridged before the comic even started, and Gwen is deeply and meaningfully upset over his death. It causes her angst. Just like, you know, it's always told where Gwen dies so that Peter can have angst. Ah, reversals.

Anyway, the story is mostly about Gwen figuring out how to balance crime-fighting with her normal life. This is made especially hard when your father is a cop, as hers is, and when you're still a student with a life and responsibilities. Gwen's up against some pretty tough foes, not least of all the Daily Bugle, which seems to loathe spider people in any reality. 

Oh, and did I mention that Gwen is in a band? It's called The MaryJanes, it's a punk band, she's the drummer. This book is super fun, the art is fantastic eye candy, and it's just a wonderful look at an alternate universe where the girl gets to live.

Sirens - BOOM! Studios - written by George Pérez, art by George Pérez

I'm going to be completely honest: I do not get Sirens. I mean, I keep buying it, so clearly something in here is compelling to me, but I do not understand this book and I don't want to imply to you that I do. I really, really, really don't.

Still, as far as I can tell, it's interesting? Sirens is, I think, about a group of intergallactic warrior women superheroes who have all been gathered for one last battle against the forces of darkness. They come from all different times and worlds, and they have all different powers, but each of them is a Siren, a beautiful, deadly, skilled warrior who will totally succeed in fighting...whatever it is that they're fighting.

Not gonna lie, this book is bonkers. It's huge walls of text, completely impenetrable story, and art that kind of makes me cringe. But. It's doing something weird and unusual, which I genuinely appreciate. Plus, it's a comic entirely about badass women. Sure, I have no idea what these women are doing or who the hell they are, but they are badass and it is worth at least glancing at. Maybe you'll make more sense of it than I have.

Bitch Planet - Image - written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, art by Valentine De Landro

This comic I do understand, and I love it. Bitch Planet imagines a world in the not-distant-enough future where all non-compliant women are sent off world to "Bitch Planet", a space station devoted to reforming them and helping them to become "useful members of society." What makes the story interesting is that all of these women are in jail not for actual crime, but for the crime of being "non-compliant". Which means that they're there for being something society disapproves of.

The world of Bitch Planet is horrifying, but in very recognizable ways. The whole world is run by old white men who like to categorize people's appearances and choices and criminalize women who are fat or have bad hair or don't like shaving. They saturate the media with images of over-sexualized, hyper-feminine, utterly unrealistic "ideals" and then punish women for not conforming. Any woman who speaks up is deemed non-compliant and sent to be straightened out. The newest fad is getting a tapeworm. That sort of thing.

The actual plot is about the women of Bitch Planet staging a coup and gaining back their dignity, but it's a slow burn. A great burn, but a slow one. Still, worth the ride, and the backstory issues are seriously amazing. Definitely check it out.

Princess Leia - Marvel - written by Mark Waid, art by Terry Dodson

I will be the first to admit that I don't really care much about Star Wars. But I do like Princess Leia, so I am cautiously optimistic about this comic. It takes place directly after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, and has Princess Leia out scouting for the lost people of Alderaan, hoping to bring them to the new rebel base so they can figure out how to rebuild society.

The comic deals very honestly with Leia's privilege, as she confronts people from her world who have lived very different lives than her, and with the concept of grief on such a literally global scale. It's a good story, but it's not very far in yet, so I'm hesitant to give it a stunning review. Suffice to say, it's good and it will hopefully stay that way. Stay tuned.

Curb Stomp - BOOM! Studios - written by Ryan Ferrier, art by Devaki Neogi

Curb Stomp is not for the faint of heart, but this mini-series (it's only four issues long and three of them are already out) is a fantastic look at the racial, social, and gender politics of inner-city life. The story follows a gang in Old Beach, a rundown slum outside a booming city. This gang, the Fever, keeps the peace in Old Beach, fighting off the drugs and violence that spills over from the other boroughs. 

But all of this is put to the test when two rival gangs make a deal with the city's mayor to destroy the Fever and raze Old Beach to the ground so that a new casino can go in. The Fever are fighting literally for their lives and the existence of their community. It's an intense, harsh, sad story, and it's really well told. But it's also super gory and brutal, so exercise your best judgment on this one.

Silk - Marvel - written by Robbie Thompson, art by Stacey Lee

Sort of like Spider-Gwen, Silk is about an alternate world in which someone else was bitten by a radioactive spider. Only in this world there is a Peter Parker Spiderman. There's just also Silk, aka Cindy Moon, a classmate of Peter Parker's who was bitten by the same spider, gained superpowers, and then spent ten years being trapped in a bunker because some extraterrestrial weirdos were trying to eat her.

Now she's out of the bunker - sort of - and living her life. But it's hard to re-assimilate into society after ten years of Netflix and canned food. Cindy has a job and a place to live, but she has no idea what happened to her family after she was taken and she really has no idea how to actually be a person now. 

It's an honestly very touching story, but also lighter than I think I've made it sound here. Cindy's a great heroine, very light and silly and fun, and her story has a depth that makes it relatable as well as just ringing very true. Plus, we've got to give it up for her being one of the first Asian-American women to get her own superhero imprint!

Thor - Marvel - written by Jason Aaron, art by Russell Dauterman

This version of Thor, which tragically ends next month, puts a new twist on the story. With the Odinson no longer able to life his hammer, a new Thor has been chosen, and this time it's a woman. This mystery woman, whose identity has only just been maybe revealed, now possesses all the power of Thor, and that's a good thing because she has to fight off an invading army of Frost Giants, a corporation with serious exploitation problems, and Odin's crazed brother. 

To be fair, there's really not a whole lot here if you aren't already a fan of Thor, though. Like, it's still the same world of the comic, the Odinson is still a major character, and mostly it's basic Thor fights things with the hammer stuff. But it's very well done and it's nice to see a woman in this character, even if it's been rather brief. Sorry, I'm not overly enthusiastic about this title, but I do like it.

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier - Marvel - written by Ales Kot, art by Langdon Foss

Like Sirens, I'd be utterly lying if I said that I got this book. I don't. I really don't understand a single thing that is happening in this story. But, as I said before, I really do like to reward and appreciate artists and writers who are willing to go out on a limb and tell a completely different kind of story. Do I think it always works? No. Do I think they're pulling it off even half the time in this comic? Not really.

But do I think that this comic is still important enough to buy every month? Absolutely. It's got some really compelling kernels of story in between all the weirdness, and I just have to reward that. Roughly, the story is about Bucky Barnes (and Daisy Johnson, aka Quake) going on adventures in space. But it's also about Bucky's past alternate self trying to stop a horrible future, Bucky falling in love with a strange alien woman and maybe having kids but maybe not, and the possibility of an inevitable peaceful future.

It's weird. And dense. And super confusing to read. But it's also beautiful and unique and one of the most interesting things I've seen in years.

Batgirl - DC - written by Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart, art by Babs Tarr

As you may recall, Batgirl got a soft-reboot last year and Barbara Gordon (who is tragically no longer Oracle, since Oracle was retconned out of existence in the New 52) has a new costume and a new life. Now she's living in Burnside, which is basically Brooklyn, getting her Master's in computer science and living it up as a single girl in her twenties. Also fighting crime. But the crime fighting comes in a solid third, which causes problems between Barbara and her crime-fighting buddy, Dinah Lance.

The first arc of this new story has just ended, and it was really interesting, dealing with Barbara's pain in the aftermath of her being shot by the joker. I'm not really sure where this story is going next, but I have some confidence that it will be good. This creative team has proven itself resourceful. I figure they've got something neat up their sleeves. And it's nice to see that this new costume, yellow Doc Martens and all, has become the official Batgirl costume. It's on the merchandise now, which hints at strong DC confidence in the character. We might get a Batgirl movie one of these days, guys!

Spiderwoman - Marvel - written by Dennis Hopeless, art by Javier Rodriguez

Finally, another spider person from the Marvel universe. Spiderwoman, aka Jessica Drew, is a rather complex character because even the comics aren't sure what to do with her. Only five issues into the new series, she underwent a soft reboot and a complete costume change. Now Jessica is working as a private eye in New York City, hunting down people who've gone missing and generally being a do-gooder. The hitch is that she's not used to doing things on a small scale. 

She was an Avenger for years and is more comfortable with the burn and slash attitude that comes when you have a nearly unlimited budget. Now she has to be more careful and under the radar, and it's fun to see her try.

The story is fun, the art is newly de-sexualized and very vivid, and the story looks promising. I can't be more concrete than that, but it's definitely enough to keep me reading, if only so I can keep apprised of anything that might affect the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And that's all for now. I'm sure that as some of these series end and more come out that this list will change, but that's what updates are for! As for now, you should totally go check these comics out at your local comic shop. I, in the meanwhile, am going to curl with this week's stack of books and get some serious reading done.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x02 - Return of the Murder Child

It's episode two and Arya's back! She's not my hands down favorite character (that would be a tie between Osha and Podrick), but Arya always brings a sense of finality with her in the story. Like when she's not there it has the chance to get fanciful and overblown and sometimes the story expands more than it really should, but the instant we have Arya on our screens again, we know that crap is going to get real. I like that about her. 

This episode caught us up on most of the characters we didn't get to see last week, and otherwise just kept the storylines humming along. We didn't see anything of Margaery and Loras or Melisandre or Theon/Reek or Bran* or Osha and Rickon this week, but we did get to keep up the major basic storylines. So we got some forward momentum in a lot of areas, and then some other stories just kind of treaded water. Let's talk about the stories that moved forward first.

Our three main hubs of activity right now are King's Landing, The Wall, and Meereen. Over in King's Landing, Cersei continues to freak the crap out over the tenuous nature of her power. With her father dead, her husband dead, her eldest son dead, her younger brother a traitor and missing, her master of whispers fled, and a younger, prettier queen snapping at her heels, it's clear Cersei is feeling the heat. Heck, she even changed her hairstyle so it looks like Margaery's signature look. So Cersei falls back on she does what she does best: ruling with an iron fist.

First that means appointing people to the Small Council. Generally, she's appointing cronies to the council, because Tommen is really too young to be doing this and she needs yes men who won't argue too much with her. Cersei has the capacity to be a good ruler, but as a woman, no one is immediately inclined to listen to what she says. So she's stacking the deck and going for a shock and awe campaign before anyone realizes what she's done. She's going to rule this country if it kills her, which it very probably will.

The one hitch in her Small Council plans is her uncle. He came into town for her father's funeral and is annoyed that Tommen hasn't properly greeted him since he's been there. Cersei wants the man to be the "master of war" or something, but he's not so inclined. He heads back to Casterly Rock, and Cersei is left to deal with the issue of having to corral nobles who genuinely hate her. Fun times.

But the real issue this episode is much closer to Cersei's withered heart: her daughter, Myrcella. See, Myrcella has been in Dorne for a few seasons now, betrothed to the prince there. And, as Oberyn assured her last season, Myrcella is happy and safe. But now that seems to be threatened. Oberyn is dead and the Martells blame her for that. They blame her for everything really, and it's clear that some factions in Dorne would be happy to take their anger out on Myrcella. 

So Cersei plays the only card she really can play and gets Jaime involved. He might be only have one hand now, but he's still a damn good swordsman. More importantly, he's Myrcella's father (and uncle). He won't let the people of Dorne kill his daughter, so he's going to go off and rescue her. Kidnap her, if he has to.

It's a really interesting scene, actually, because it's the first time Cersei and Jaime have openly acknowledged that the children belong to both of them. Cersei's clearly still dealing with her anger that Jaime let Tyrion escape, but she also points out that it doesn't really matter now if anyone knows their children's true lineage. Who is left to care? Their father is dead, the Tyrells already suspect the truth, and most of the "pretenders to the throne" are dead. What does it matter?

I mean, it's interesting, but still kind of weird. Anyway.

Jaime is realistic enough to know that he can't go storming Dorne on his own with only one hand, so he goes off in search of help. That help? Bronn, who has tried settling into the quiet domestic life of a lesser noble but isn't really succeeding. To his credit, he seems to genuinely quite like his betrothed, a younger sister and perpetual victim sort of woman named Lollys. For all that Bronn is clearly more used to whores and women with a bit more backbone, I think he really does like her. When Lollys complains about her older sister and how mean she is, he assures her that mean people always get what's coming, no matter how long it takes. And, given all he's seen, I'm inclined to think he means it.

At any rate, Lollys and Bronn are planning their wedding, but they're interrupted by Jaime who has come to take Bronn with him to Dorne. At first Bronn resists, because he's still leery of getting involved with Lannisters after the mess with Tyrion, but he's won over. Jaime promises him that if they succeed he'll reward Bronn with a "much better bride", but what's nice is that Bronn doesn't seem all that keen to take him up on the offer. And it makes me deeply sad that a man not immediately ditching his fiancee is what passes for "nice" on this show.

Over in Dorne, of course, the matter of the day is what to do with Myrcella. Obviously political relations between the Martells and the Lannisters has soured even more than it had when the marriage was arranged, but there's not much to do about that now. Ellaria Sand, who we met last season as Oberyn's lover, is in deep, rageful mourning for her love. She demands Myrcella's head on a pike. But Doran, Oberyn's older brother and the actual ruler of Dorne, demurs. He refuses to let Dorne be a place where they kill little girls.

It's worth noting here that Dorne seems to be the place thus far introduced with the most gender equality. Though Ellaria is a bastard of no noble birth, she is allowed to address the ruler of Dorne openly. Myrcella is cared for and there is no agreement to gendered violence. Also, Ellaria mentions the Sand Snakes, who we will meet very soon, and those are a group of vicious women (Oberyn's daughters), who aren't just deadly, they're also very popular in Dorne. The only other place this woman friendly so far has been North of the Wall. And that has other problems.

Speaking of North of the Wall, the Wildlings are still settling into their lives at the Wall. More importantly, though, the Night's Watch is still settling into the idea that the Wildlings aren't the enemies. The enemy is the Walkers, which everyone now knows are coming. Everyone except Stannis, it seems, because he is planning to continue his ridiculous quest to be king by conquering the North.

He wants Jon Snow's help with this, of course. The Wildlings refuse to follow him and the North will not rally to him. As Jon points out, both groups refuse to follow one who is not their own. But Stannis doesn't like that (because Stannis doesn't like anything), and he wants a quick easy solution. 

If Jon deserts the Night's Watch and bows to Stannis, Stannis will make him Lord Jon Stark of Winterfell. It's all Jon has ever really wanted, to have a name of his own, and it's a really tempting offer. Making him Lord Stark would appease those Northern Lords who still refuse to follow anyone but the Starks, and it would also give the Wildlings somewhere to settle. Done, right?

Well, no. Jon refuses because as he points out, if he were to go back on his vow to the Night's Watch, what kind of Lord would he be? Not a very good one. So Jon is sacrificial and noble but still cannier than Ned ever was, and we get to see Samwell Tarly's mancrush on him go into overdrive.

Speaking of Sam, he's sort of floundering now. The whole castle is preparing for war, which isn't really one of Sam's strong suits. Meanwhile, his relationship with Gilly is kind of contentious, mostly because she's a Wildling who the other men hate, and because he can't give her what she really wants (marriage and security) because he's keeping his vows. No one is happy.

On the plus side, Gilly is learning to read from Shireen, Stannis' daughter. You might remember that she had some weird stuff on her face that made her mother ashamed? Yeah, well, apparently it's the remnants of a horrible disease that was cured but left horrible scars. What's interesting here is that Shireen is the only case anyone has heard of where the sickness was cured. Curious.

Okay, anyway, Sam's crush on Jon explodes when it comes time to elect a new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. The two options available are kind of meh. There's Thorne, the training commander who haaaaaates Jon with a passion, and then some other guy who we don't know all that well but who is old and probably not going to win. So Sam goes out on a limb and proposes Jon for the job. He makes it clear that Jon is a true leader, that Commander Mormount really wanted Jon for the job all along (which is true) and that they would all be lucky to follow him into battle.

Unshockingly, the vote comes down really evenly between Thorne and Jon. Thorne has the respect of the older men, while Jon has the devotion of the young recruits. The tie is only broken when Maester Aemon, who hadn't yet voted, casts his vote for Jon. And so we have a new leader in Castle Black: Lord Commander Snow. Awesome.

It's also nice that Jon's nobility and honorableness has finally gotten past the whining stage. He's much less annoying than he used to be - one might almost think he's grown up.

And then, on the other side of the world, we've got Daenerys and her mounting problems in Meereen. This week the problems come to a head when they finally capture a member of the "Sons of the Harpy". Dany and her council try to figure out how to deal with the guy, but while they deliberate, one of her advisors, a former slave, goes to the man's cell and kills him. Dany is outraged and also heartbroken, because the man swears he did it because she couldn't. She can't outright kill a man, not if she wants to call herself a true ruler. She must abide by the laws. 

Unfortunately, those laws also mean that she cannot ignore the murder of a prisoner awaiting trial. So Daenerys makes an incredibly hard choice. She has the former slave executed, even though she knows that doing so will enrage the former slaves of Meereen. And it does. Their cries of "Mhysa!" (mother) turn to literal hissing. A riot breaks out. And Daenerys is heartbroken. 

Then, that night, something surprising happens. Drogon reappears! Drogon, as in the third dragon, has been missing since the middle of last season or so, and he comes back, perches on Dany's roof and almost lets her pet him. Almost, but not quite. She's still too unsure of herself. She's lost the confidence she had as a conqueror. She needs to figure out how to find it as a ruler.

She'd better find it soon, too, because Tyrion and Varys are on their way to her, to vet her for being the future ruler of Westeros. But first they're making a quick stop somewhere else. That's all we know - they just got a quick check-in this week.

Finally, the last two storylines were about the Stark girls. As we recall, Brienne and Podrick had a near run-in with Sansa Stark last week. Well, this week that turns into an actual run-in, where Brienne and Podrick spot Sansa and Littlefinger eating at the same tavern they've stopped at. Brienne, being noble to a fault, goes right up to them and tells Sansa that she is hers to command. Littlefinger, however, pushes her past back in her face. She couldn't protect Renly or Catelyn, how will she protect Sansa?

More importantly, the last time Sansa saw Brienne was at Joffrey's wedding, and she feels the need to point out that at that time she was sworn to the Lannisters. Brienne accepts the point. So Sansa refuses her help, just like Arya did, and Littlefinger has Brienne forcibly evicted from the pub.

What's interesting here, though, is that it seems Brienne planned for this. She assumed her help would not be wanted, because she had Podrick ready and waiting with horses. They lead Littlefinger's horsemen on a merry chase before looping back around and catching Sansa's trail. Podrick tries to convince Brienne not to follow, but as Brienne points out, do they really think Sansa is safe? Nope. She's not, and Brienne has an oath to uphold, no matter what.

Meanwhile, Arya has finally reached her destination: Braavos. She's awed by the city (which looks a bit like Venice) and has the captain drop her off at the "House of White and Black". But when she knocks on the door and shows her token, she's turned away. It seems that here, as in Westeros, there is no place for a girl who's good with a sword. So Arya spends the night on the steps of the House and then in the morning goes into the city for food.

In the city, though, she is almost immediately targeted by a gang. Before she can kick all their butts (let's be real, she can totally do that by now), the man who turned her away at the House appears. She follows him back only to discover that he's not just some random guy, he's Jaquen Hagar, the man she met who first told her of Braavos and gave her that coin!

He tricked her because he can change his face, and it's heavily implied that Arya is about to learn that skill. Either way, her story ends with her being taken inside the heavy black and white doors, presumably to learn the high art of murder. Fun times.

So this week's episode was, like last week, a little slow and mostly setup. Which is fine. The seasons usually come to a crescendo later on, and I can deal with a little pacing and slow storytelling to start. But this episode was very much about people owning their identities and learning what that really means. Arya is finally getting the chance to learn murder, which she's wanted for years now. Daenerys is learning that a good ruler will never be universally beloved. 

Brienne is owning her nobility and getting considerably cannier with time, and Sansa has become quite observant and clever. Jon Snow is stepping into the role we've all known he was born for, while Cersei clings desperately to a role she fears won't be hers for much longer. And in Dorne, Doran and Ellaria are trying to figure out who they are now that they don't have Oberyn to define them.

It was a good week. Let's see what next week holds. 

Raise your hand if you have headcanons about all the badass ladies of this show creating a better kingdom together.
*Bran won't be in this season, apparently. Sad.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

'Sister Act' Challenges Our Ideas of Faith in Culture

Late Sunday afternoon, as I was relaxing after a busy Sabbath of church and meetings and groceries (because the rest day is almost never actually on a Sunday, am I right?), I was freaking pleased as punch to discover that Sister Act was playing on BET. And since I didn't have much else to do for once, I decided to settle down and watch it all. I had the time, it was near the beginning, and Sister Act is a movie I've always really loved.

But this time watching it was different. Not because I suddenly discovered something about the movie I didn't like, but rather the exact opposite. As I was watching it, I was filled with a sudden realization of why exactly I love this movie so much. I realized that Sister Act is more than just a spectacularly good comedy about witness protection and Whoopi Goldberg's singing voice. It's actually an analysis of all of the failings of the modern church and Christian culture mixed in with a clear path to rectify those things. And songs.

And all of a sudden, as I realized this, I saw why this film meant so much to me growing up. Because, make no mistake, I cannot overstate how much this movie meant. I seriously considered taking Holy Orders because of this film and I'm not actually Catholic.* This movie informed so much of who I am and who I aspire to be for one simple reason: it wasn't trying to make me feel good about my faith. It was just trying to tell the truth.

For my readers who aren't deeply invested in any particular faith community, I have to say, today's article isn't really for you. You're still totally welcome to read and all, but bear in mind that today I'm talking to the religious peeps out there. You know who you are. I'm talking about the ways in which faith culture, specifically Protestant Christian culture, has a lot of problems, and how Sister Act can show us how to solve them. Or at the very least how to diagnose them. So. Here we go.

Sister Act is a comedy released in 1992 that stars Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith going head to head in a battle over what it means to be a faith based community. The actual plot of the film is blissfully ridiculous and oh-so nineties. Goldberg plays Deloris von Cartier, a lounge singer at a terrible hotel in Reno, Nevada. Deloris is vaguely unhappy with her life, career, and relationship, but doesn't have any clear answers about what to do. Then she stumbles upon her (married) boyfriend, Vince LaRocca (Harvey Keitel), shooting a guy. Because Deloris' boyfriend is actually a mob boss. Whoops!

So Deloris runs for her life and is entered into police custody, overseen by Detective Eddie Souther (Bill Nunn), the only honest cop on the force. He puts her in the last place anyone would look: a convent.

And so our hijinks ensue. Deloris, who is, I should remind you, a lounge singer dating a married man, is unprepared for convent life. But just as much, the convent is unprepared for Deloris. Her cover is that she's a transferred nun, and only the Mother Superior (Smith) knows who she really is. 

So obviously silliness happens when the other nuns assume Deloris knows how to do the traditional prayers and all that and when Deloris assumes the other nuns have ever heard of pop culture. In both cases the assumptions are wrong, of course.

Mother Superior's main goal throughout the film is to keep Deloris, who now goes by Sister Mary Clarence in the convent, isolated from the other nuns so that she won't infect them with her vulgar, worldly ways. But the other nuns really like Sister Mary Clarence (Deloris), so they befriend her anyway. They even, upon discovering that she can sing, persuade her to take leadership of their choir. Because they suck.

And it's through this choir that Sister Mary Clarence starts to actually change the convent and is changed in return. While her most significant contribution at first is just managing to teach the women to sing in key, she also reminds them that singing isn't about "quacking" it's about making a beautiful noise unto the Lord. And when the nuns finally debut their new musical abilities at mass, the congregation is stunned not just by the vastly improved quality of their singing, but by the joy and fervor of their hearts.

Like, seriously, they sing so much and so well and with such funky groove (it was the nineties, I feel the need to point out) that people come into the old church just to see what the hell is going on. Young people. Neighborhood people. People who wouldn't otherwise come to church.

This sets the story off on an explosion of color and excitement. Deloris/Sister Mary Clarence uses this impetus to spark a change. She gets the nuns to take down their very literal walls and chain link fences, clean up their part of the street, and start inviting people inside the church. While they practice and focus on making the choir excellent and their music a true reflection of their devotion to God, they also admit that there needs to be some outpouring of that love on the community too. 

After all, Jesus said very clearly that we are to honor everyone. If we believe that Jesus wasn't lying, then that means that we are to honor people in very practical and helpful ways. The nuns fix up the outside of the church and start serving food to the hungry in the neighborhood. They start a community playground for kids. They actually talk to the people in their community and befriend them.

And the results? Freaking spectacular. The community responds by lavishing love on the church. The "fix the church roof fund" finally reaches completion, but more than that, the seats are packed every week for mass. People are kinder to each other. They care. And they are devoted to this place and these people who first honored them.

Crap. Hang on. Making myself tear up. Gimme a minute.

Okay. So obviously there's more to the story than this. Eventually, Vince catches sight of Deloris in one of these news reports on the nuns and tracks her down. His goons kidnap her and take her to Reno so they can kill her, but the nuns rally and come after her. Especially Mother Superior who, having been devastated that Deloris could turn this parish around in just a few months after she tried for decades, has decided to embrace her instead of turning away.

Naturally the nuns come and they save Deloris and Vince get's captured and everything is awesome. 

They even get back in time to sing for the Pope. And while Deloris is finally exposed as not a real nun, no one really cares. It's not like she isn't their friend, like she isn't an amazing woman who did a lot for their hearts. 

The film is admittedly vague on where Deloris herself ends up in terms of faith, but frankly, that's never bothered me. She doesn't become a nun, because that would be too easy, but I can't imagine Deloris comes out of that experience without some appreciation for faith. 

Better than that, though, the fictionalized accounts of how Deloris' desire to positively impact her community changes lives are a really good roadmap for how the church ought to act. Having grown up in the church, I definitely related to the idea that we were in some secluded cloisters, kept away from the world, with big walls to keep the world out and keep it from "infecting us."

Like, seriously, the way that Mother Superior treats Deloris at the beginning, keeping her away from the other nuns and making her shut up any time she tries to share about "controversial" topics, is extremely similar to my own experience in the Christian community in high school and college. I was "subversive" and "dangerous" and way too comfortable talking about sex and television and being friends with drama kids. There's this pernicious idea out there that we as Christians need to be afraid of the world. That the world is going to somehow get us dirty and make us bad.

Which is complete and total crap. For the record.

I mean, if you actually believe what Jesus says, then we as Christians and people of faith shouldn't afraid that the world is going to get us dirty. The world should be afraid that we're going to get it clean. Or something. That metaphor doesn't work super well when you turn it around.

But you get my point! This idea that we need to protect ourselves from secular culture is just complete bullshit. If we really believe in the sovereignty of God, then how could secular culture ever hurt us? Aren't we supposed to be out there engaging it? Making it better?

I have strong feelings about this because, well, that's what I do. This is my life mission. I engage with culture because I see it as representing people badly. I think that the media by and large doesn't do people justice. It doesn't honor them. So I complain and yell and blog and try to make it clear that we should not accept a culture that makes anyone feel like less than they are. And who are they? A glorious creation of God, to be honored and cherished.

Sister Act has a lot to do with that. It gave me a picture of what it can look like when we do open the doors and tear down the walls and engage. But more than that, Sister Act provided a vision of a two-pronged approach to faith and revival. Because before the nuns could love the people of their community lavishly, Deloris had to help them remember how to love their God lavishly. Like, that's a huge part of it. People were intrigued to come in because they heard the nuns worshipping with absolute abandon. That's not nothing, guys.

And finally, it's worth noting that Sister Act is also a searing indictment of Christian culture's whiteness. I mean, it's weird because the actual majority of Christians in the world are non-white (I mean like, a massive majority), but Christian culture, especially Conservative Christian culture is predominantly white and upper-middle class. 

We can see this represented in the film with Maggie Smith as the Mother Superior. The older white woman who stands for the status quo and the way things always have been. It's implied that St. Katherine's (the parish in the film) is in an older neighborhood that used to be all Irish Catholic but has changed over the years. It's more diverse now. Full of not-white people. And Deloris, for all of her sinful ways, knows a lot more about what it means to minister to those people than Mother Superior does. Deloris knows because she's been them.

This is important because as Christians we can start to get to thinking that race and class and gender don't matter, all that matters is your relationship with God. And that's true. To an extent. But it's also important to remember that race and class and gender play huge roles in people's lives, and to ignore that is to ignore the fullness of who those people are. We cannot get so bound in to the idea of a white Christian culture. We need to embrace the actual diversity of the church, because only then can we genuinely impact people's lives. Diversity is good. Embrace it.

The bottom line is that I've spent a lot of years being really unhappy with the church. Not my church specifically, but the church, the big concept of all Christians bonded together in God. I've been unhappy with it because I felt like there were walls and rules and not enough love for Jesus. I'm not saying Sister Act is the perfect movie. It's not. But I am saying that watching it has given me a very clear idea of how to change the church, how to make it closer to what Jesus calls us to. And that's really important.

Plus, the songs are awesome.

Shoutout to Kathy Najimy and Wendy Makkena for being the cutest nuns ever.
*I was raised non-denominational Evangelical Protestant - with a dash of Messianic Jew for flavor. Makes for really interesting holidays.

Monday, April 20, 2015

'Daredevil' Asks Us, What Does It Mean To Save A City?

So last week when I wrote my initial review of Daredevil, I'd only seen the first five episodes, as I pointed out in the article itself. Now I've seen all thirteen, and while I stand by my preliminary belief that it's a really good freaking show, now there's a bit more nuance to my analysis. Having seen all the episodes, I feel like I have a better grasp of what the writers and actors and directors were trying to say, and I like the show even more for that. 

Because Daredevil, as far as I can suss it out, isn't really a superhero show in the same way that Arrow and Agents of SHIELD are. No, it's actually closer in its philosophical leanings to more serialized dramatic shows, and in terms of the ambiguity of the questions it raises and the answers it refuses to give, I'd actually have to say that Daredevil shares more DNA with Parks and Recreation than it does with The Flash.

I know, that feels really weird to say.

But it is, I think, true. Daredevil isn't a show about superheroes, it's a show about people who happen to have superpowers, and that's a valuable distinction. Mainly because, as is so rarely the case in shows like this, the actions that Matt Murdock takes in his daily life as a lawyer are just as important to the story as the actions he takes as the "Devil of Hell's Kitchen." 

In other words, it's not that he's a superhero with a secret identity, it's that Matt Murdock the person is full of secrets and hidden compartments, but his ultimate motivation is the same no matter what form he's in. And that motivation, as we know from so early on in the story, is to save Hell's Kitchen. What makes Daredevil a genuinely great show, however, is that the villain has the exact same goal.

[This review is going to contain SPOILERS for all of season one of Daredevil. If you haven't watched it yet, I highly suggest doing so and reading my spoiler free article from last week in the meantime.]

So, like most stories, Daredevil is only as good as its villain. The villain in this show is Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), a shady backroom dealer who's actually a lot less shady and backroom than Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) would like. Fisk is a criminal, sure, but he's a criminal whose goal is to convert the tenements of Hell's Kitchen, a region devastated by the "Battle of New York" in Avengers into high rise condos and a business sector. He's hardly committing mass murder or ruling an army of space orcs here.

It would be easy to argue, as some critics have done, that the show suffers for this. That because Fisk's goal essentially boils down to gentrification the show isn't very interesting. Honestly, though, I find those arguments to be really insulting. Yes, Fisk's goal is to gentrify the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. He wants to push out the low income families who live there and turn it into another gleaming borough of Manhattan. That's not a boring or non-dramatic goal to me. It is very literally a matter of life and death.

See, what makes the show so compelling is that Fisk and Murdock both want to save the city, but they have utterly different conceptions of what it means to save a city. Murdock interprets that to mean that he should save the people of the city from the rich, powerful, and violent who prey on them, literally fighting off muggers and gang members in order to help the mostly low income people who live there.

Fisk, on the other hand, sees saving the city as more of a matter of tearing down the old to bring in the new. He doesn't care about the people of Hell's Kitchen, he's there to make the city itself better. So to Fisk's eyes, a city isn't the people, it's the architecture? Streets? I don't know. I have a lot of trouble sympathizing with his point of view.

But however you slice it, their end goals are both exactly the same and completely opposite. Murdock will consider the city saved when all of the people who live in Hell's Kitchen are safe and free to live their lives, and Fisk will consider it saved when all those people have been driven out of the city entirely.

And all of this conflict, the conflict of the show, arises from these two different interpretations of what it means to save a city. Which is just plain good writing. But wait, there's more.

Another important facet of the show is the sheer number of similarities between Fisk and Murdock as people. They are alarmingly similar men, though they prefer not to acknowledge that fact. Both men grew up in Hell's Kitchen and have strong emotional ties to it. Both men grew up with an overbearing, violent father and an absent or functionally absent mother. Both men were taught how to fight by their fathers and both men lost their fathers violently at a young age.

Heck, they even both were raised with aspirations of class mobility, with Fisk's father running for city council in order to raise his family's standing and Murdock's father choosing to gamble on the outcome of his own fights in order to get Matt a nestegg. But this is pretty much where the similarities end.

Because while Murdock's father was violent and overbearing, he was also loving. Yes, Jack Murdock was kind of a terrible parent - giving whiskey to a nine year old so his hands will stop shaking while he stitches up your face is not great parenting - but there is no question that he loved Matt and wanted the best for him. Fisk's father, on the other hand, was an openly abusive drunk who made his family so miserable that Fisk one day snapped and killed him. So they're a little different.

And it's arguably this small difference between them that explains why they have such different views of the city. For Matt, while his father did die a tragic death, Hell's Kitchen holds good memories. He had people who loved him, and even if he was lonely, he was lonely in a loved way. He knows what it is be part of the community as a beloved member, not an outcast. 

Fisk, on the other hand, doesn't associate Hell's Kitchen with good people, he associates it with the desire to rise socially and the ostracism he faced as a result of his father's shortcomings. So he has no desire to save the people - they're all garbage to him anyway. All he wants to do is make the city that his parents wished they lived in.

All of this adds a new light to Murdock's decision not to take a position at Landham and Zach but to start his own firm with Foggy. He doesn't like how Landham and Zach treats the people of his community, and he is much more committed to those people than he is to his own ambition or upward mobility. 

Fisk, on the other hand, is all about his own personal opportunity. So while Murdock looks at Mrs. Cardenas and "sees" a neighbor, Fisk sees an apartment that needs to be vacated.

Heck, even their choices of romantic partner are telling! Fisk falls for an art dealer with a codedly upper class European accent, a woman who appreciates fine wine and beautiful art and gorgeous suits, while Murdock's main love interest is a working class Hispanic nurse who fished him out of a dumpster.

Okay. So, what does all of this have to do with why the show is awesome and amazing and great? Well, the reason we get so invested in this story, and why I'll fight anyone who calls gentrification a bad villain motivation, is because these are real questions that we really have to answer. What does it mean to save a city?

Because here's the thing: there are a lot of cities that need saving right now. Like, most of them. While we didn't have a Battle of New York strewing alien garbage and debris all over us, the economic downturn has hit cities hard. We have an outbreak of police violence, protests all over the country, rising rent and rampant stories of corporate misdeeds. How do we save our cities? Is the answer to clean everything up, raise the rents, and make this is a nice school district? Or is it the harder answer?

The harder answer being that we have to examine how we are treating our cities now and take responsibility for them. The Murdock way isn't to tear down a tenement and call it good to build a nicer building in its place. It's to care for the people who live there. Fund after-school programs. Sponsor an inner-city soccer team. Give business to the mom-and-pops in your neighborhood. To clean up your local park and say hello to your neighbors. Better yet, actually listen to them when they say hello to you.

There's nothing inherently wrong with being poor, and low income families actually make great neighbors if you're not a jerk. But all of this takes effort. Saving a city by making it a community, that's hard. And frustrating. And exhausting. And wouldn't we all rather do something else with our time? Something more immediately satisfying?


I, for one, love my city, and I want to save it. I don't want gentrification, but I do want a nice place to live. So I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and do something about it. I'm going to save my city. The hard way. And so should you.

You know that Leslie Knope and Matt Murdock would be bros.

RECAP: Orphan Black 3x01 - Count Your Sisters

It's come. It's finally arrived. Orphan Black is with us once more, ready to grace our television screens with more dramatic twists, dubious science and legal claims, insane reveals, and Tatiana Maslany than we think we can handle! It's been too long since last season, dear readers. Too long.

Also since last season I've gone and moved and now my roommates and I get BBC America in our cable package. It was a very interesting sensation to actually get to watch the series premiere when it aired rather than the next day through slightly dubious sources. Before we get into the dramatic (and oh were they dramatic) events of this new episode, let's do a quick recap of where we left everyone last time:

Sarah had escaped from DYAD with the help of Marion Bowles, an executive at "Topside", whatever that is. Meanwhile, Mrs. S, in order to assure that Marion would in fact rescue Sarah, made an agreement to trade Helena to a military organization: Project Castor. And it turns out that Project Castor is the male version of Project Leda - a clone family, just this time with boys. 

Also Alison and Donny saved their marriage by covering up a murder together and Cosima had a radical medical recovery when she hallucinated Delphine and nearly died. Then Kira woke her up and showed her that Professor Duncan had revealed the key to his synthetic genomic sequence. It was hidden in a copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau that he gave to Kira before he committed suicide.

Are we all following nicely? It was a pretty confusing episode at the end of a confusing season, which, upon a second viewing, is still fun as hell, but definitely no more logical or sensical.

As my roommate, with whom I am rewatching season two at the moment, has point out to me, the show is really more entertaining than it is "smart." It's a fun, cool, catchy science-fiction thriller, but the plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you stop and think it through. Why don't the clones all just go public? Sure, there might be some recriminations in their personal lives, but it would keep them safe from more DYAD meddling, wouldn't it?

But silly questions like this really get away from the point of Orphan Black which is not and really never has been about the likelihood or realism of the show. Instead, the point of it all is to have an extended conversation about women's rights, specifically in relation to our biology and our reproductive capabilities. And on that front, it succeeds marvelously.

Like, sure, season two is a hot trainwreck of no one having good communication and everyone just needing to sit down in a room together and work things out, but it's also ten episodes that are all about women's rights to their own biological determination. Between Sarah protecting her daughter against scientists and foster mothers who think they understand her child better than her, and Cosima fighting to control her own body as she's slowly dying, to Helena and the way she's violated as strangers use her body to study reproduction, the whole season is about women's bodies. Heck, even Alison's story backs this up, as she's committed to a rehab against her consent.

The whole season and the whole show is about the ways in which women are not given control of our own bodies, and the contrivance that it's a show about human clones whose very DNA might not belong to them just really cinches it in. So, no, Orphan Black doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense from a plot standpoint and it is really soap operatic. But it's also one of the most feminist shows on television, and that's worth a lot.

Okay. Rant over. What happened in the season premiere?

To put it mildly, all of the crap hits all of the fans. But before that, the season starts with a beautiful garden filled with golden light and decorated for a party. Helena is the celebrant, of course, because this is her baby shower. Dressed in a sweet pink dress and with her unmanageable curls pulled back, Helena looks the happiest we've ever seen her as her sisters all gather around her to celebrate her "precious cargo." Alison even made cupcakes!

Everyone that Helena loves and considers family is there: Sarah in her leather pants and aviator sunglasses. Alison in a perfect pastel matching outfit, all tight and mannered and precise. Kira is dressed as a fairy while Cosima is kitted out in full Ukrainian folk costume. Even Felix is there, manning the barbecue with some traditional Ukrainian meats. It's everything Helena could possibly want in a perfect day, and so, obviously, it's a dream.

And naturally the show makes this clear by giving us some high octane nightmare fuel: a scorpion climbing out of Helena's stomach and up her face while she screams. Then she wakes up. In a tiny wooden box. With a scorpion. Welcome to Orphan Black season three!

This episode was all about setting up the storylines to come and expanding on the final revelation of last season (the boy clones). Tragically, Charlotte and Marion were utterly missing from the episode, but we did get an eyeful of two new characters: Rudy, the scarred clone in Marion's basement, and Seth, the mustachioed and not particularly bright clone sent in to do the dirty work. We also get to meet another Leda clone, but only briefly.

Anyway, the episode really kicks off when Sarah, after enjoying a brief few days of peace in the wake of all of last season's drama, is pulled right back in again. Delphine is back from "Frankfurt" and she has newly straightened hair and a newfound badassery. She's been promoted in the DYAD and in Topside, and now she's basically who Rachel was last season. She even says that to Rachel: "I'm you." And while it's comforting to have the person in charge of Leda be Delphine of all people, that also means that some stuff is going to have to change. Quickly.

For starters, no more puppy love between Delphine and Cosima. While Delphine still clearly loves Cosima and cares about her a great deal - she freaks out when she sees Cosima breathing without her cannula - Delphine has to care for all of the clones equally now. They're all her responsibility. So she breaks it off with Cosima and seals her fate: this is bigger than just one of them now, and she might be forced to make some very tough choices.

First off, we have to deal with that Castor clone who's been living in Marion Bowles' basement. Now transferred to the DYAD institute, the clone, Rudy, is demanding to only speak to Sarah, but when he does get to talk to her, he just is all vague and weird and creepy. Sarah doesn't care about it until, as she's leaving, Rudy tells her to "Count your sisters."

Sarah freaks out immediately, but Delphine has other stuff on her mind, starting, as it happens, with another impersonation job. Delphine has discovered that Topside, not happy with the way Rachel is running things, has sent an investigator to look into Project Leda. This investigator, Ferdinand (James Frain), is really more of a wet works guy. If he's here, that means that he might be ready to get rid of Project Leda altogether and destroy any evidence it ever existed.

Delphine can't let that happen, but she also can't let Ferdinand find out that Rachel is in the hospital wing. Remember how Sarah shot her in the eye with a pencil last episode? Yeah. That. She's in the hospital and has some brain damage. That's not going to make Ferdinand any less likely to kill them all. So Delphine pulls the nuclear option: getting Sarah to pretend to be Rachel so that Ferdinand will go the hell away.

Sarah's kind of reluctant to do this. She's enjoying her break and really wants it to stick around. Her life is going okay for once. Kira's safe and happy, Cal is around (though not in the episode), Felix and Mrs. S are healthy and on speaking terms with her. Why get involved in all this drama again when it will inevitably go wrong?

She keeps this attitude up until Mrs. S is attacked in her home by a masked assailant. Said assailant, who takes his mask off in order to reveal he's a Castor clone, wants to know exactly what she knows about Project Castor. And when Mrs. S demands he go away since she made a deal with Paul, the guy laughs it off. Paul isn't in charge of Castor and not in charge of him by any means. They want Duncan's synthetic sequence. There's something wrong with the Castor clones too, and they want a cure.

But S doesn't have a cure nor does she know where it is. (Cosima's keeping it hidden for now.) So Seth, the Castor clone, leaves unsatisfied and S is forced to tell Sarah and Felix what she did. She sold out Helena. Sarah is absolutely furious - which is a really cool character development since she hated Helena at the beginning of last season - and pretty much writes S out of her life again. Felix is more moderate. It was a war time decision, after all, and S was trying to save Kira. It's always about saving Kira.

Still, Sarah figures she knows a way to get Helena back. They have a Castor clone in the basement and she can do a prisoner swap. But to do that, she has to get Topside to agree, and the only way Topside will agree is if Rachel convinces them. Dammit.

So Sarah becomes Rachel for a day and conspires to trick the slimy and horrible Ferdinand. Only once he's there, Delphine and Sarah discover a problem: Ferdinand knows Rachel much better than anticipated and they have something planned. So Sarah has to improvise, which includes a really hilarious and terrifying scene where Sarah as Rachel interrogates Alison as Sarah, and figure out just what Rachel and Ferdinand were planning.

Meanwhile, Delphine goes straight to the source and gets answers from Rachel. It is worth noting that this is really the moment we realize that Delphine has depths we hadn't seen before, because her method of getting answers from a brain-damaged Rachel involves waking her up by pressing on the eye that was recently stabbed with a pencil. Ewwwwww.

But effective. Delphine gets some answers while Sarah discovers that Rachel was plotting with Ferdinand to have all of the other clones killed. Just completely wiped off the face of the map. Even worse, it's already been set into motion.

Sarah and Delphine do manage to call off the dogs and send Ferdinand packing, but it's a very close call. The clones are more embattled than ever and it's going to take all of their wits to get out of this alive. Even worse, as the episode ends, Seth breaks Rudy out of the DYAD holding cell, which means that any leverage they had to get Helena back is now gone.

Also, Alison had her own storyline this episode, largely separate from the others (as Alison's plots usually are). Donnie's newfound confidence got him fired from his job and now the two of them are trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage. Also Alison might be running for the school board (in order to challenge a neighbor she doesn't like) and the two of them continue to be a little too bloodthirsty to be sane or normal. But fun. They're the pop of color in an otherwise intense thriller of a show.

Next week promises to show us more of the male clones - this week we only got a couple scenes each, with Rudy's conversation with Sarah being the most enlightening - and I look forward to that. Rudy is creepy as hell, but interesting, and Seth clearly has some kind of neurological problem. No idea about Miller yet, but I look forward to finding out. And Mark? Mark and Gracie promise to be one of the most interesting storylines of the entire show. It had better deliver on that promise.

So. A good start and a fun season of dramatic reveals to come. Welcome back, Orphan Black!

Best character development.