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Acceptance

Two months ago Don Draper lost his job. Of all the people and possessions in his life, very little has ever meant as much to Don Draper as his position as Head of Creative at the Sterling Cooper & Partner’s Advertising Agency. He has cheated on both his wives but to advertising he has always been true. It even seemed like he fell in love with Megan because of her interest in his creative work. Her ability to keep calm and being good with children no doubt played a part but the first time he slept with her was in his office one night after she expressed a desire to be a copywriter.

When things at work don’t interest him or go his way, Don often indulges in his other passions. Don is at his absolute best when he is being challenged. In season four, he is at his most driven because he has to produce great work or else the new company that they worked so hard to build will crumble. This is also when Don Draper is at his happiest. He swam and kept a journal. He casually dated but was largely faithful. That was a Don as we had never seen him before and have never seen since.

In light of this, the final image of Mad Men’s seventh season premiere is rather accurate. Don sits in his New York apartment balcony, cold and alone. While he is still married, Megan is on the other side of the country and when they are together their interactions are awkward. Credit has to be given to both the actors and the writers for painting a realistic portrait of the couple as strangers. Everything is just a little too forced. And Don apparently can’t just live in California because he has to ‘work’.

 

Jon Hamm plays Don Draper as he is left out in the cold in Mad Men's Seventh Season premiere, Time Zones.

Don Draper must die so Dick Whitman might live.

And here is the big surprise of ‘Time Zones’; Don is still secretly working in advertising. Yeah, I seen it coming too. Via the proxy of Freddy Rumsen, who viewers may remember was also told to take some personal time back in season two. The episode and his hiatus were billed as six months leave but Freddy didn’t reappear until season four. The pairing of Freddy and Don is likely a conscious decision by the Matthew Weiner so that the audience will make the same connection. However, there is one key difference. Freddy came back sober, having dealt with his problems (of which Freddy reminds Don) but Don doesn’t seem interested in dealing with his personal issues. He just wants to work.

Maybe he just doesn’t know where to start. Don is the most dysfunctional character in the entire show, although Roger Sterling is coming up fast behind him. Don drinks too much, smokes too much and sleeps with far too many women. The latter seems like his biggest issue and he admits as much to a woman on a plane. When he states ‘I thought it would be different this time’ in regards to his marriage to Megan it is easy to believe him and feel some sympathy for him too. This is a man who is lost and clueless as to what to do about it. There is a sense that he has to do something or else Megan may be lost to him forever.

Other than give up on advertising and just move out to California to be with Megan, there doesn’t seem to be many options for Don. He isn’t a quitter, even when he should, which is why I doubt this final season will end with Don committing suicide. That theory has been around for years due to the falling man in the intro but I think the falling man more simply just represents corruption and debauchery. Don has struggled to be a better man and ultimately the viewer will want to see him succeed.

 

Jessica Paré as Megan welcomes Jon Hamm's Don Draper to California in the Season Seven Premiere of AMC's Mad Men, Time Zones.

A welcome sight off the plane.

It probably doesn’t help that everywhere one looks in the show characters are miserable. Roger Sterling has done a Jesse Pinkman and become part of a continuous party/orgy. If there is a betting rig on who will die this season my bet is on Roger and probably by AIDS. Ken is overworked. Ted is avoiding Peggy. Peggy is ashamed and alone and ends her days crying on the floor in her horrible apartment with annoying tenants. Betty once again doesn’t make an appearance in a Mad Men premiere. Of all the cast, the only two characters who stand out as being happy are Joan and Pete. Joan is elated at being given more accounts and works hard to keep her newest from leaving but even then there are cracks. It is momentary flicker, but her standoffish reaction when a business professor asks for something in exchange for helping shows that Joan has not yet forgotten Herb.

Pete Campbell, on the other hand, is happier in California than he ever was with Trudy. He even goes so far as to hug Don. Wow, that’s confident. That estate agent played by Jessy Schram will certainly pop up again, though whether it is in Pete’s bed or Don’s is a harder question to answer. Another questions that the show needs to clarify is whether Megan knows that Don has been given time off. All he tells her is that he has to work, which is ambiguous. Megan will be less than enthused if she finds out Don has just been giving ideas to Freddy for months rather than moving to California with her.

Or maybe not. It is hard to say whether Megan cares what Don does at this point. But Don cares and he will spend this season has he has done many others; in an existential no-man’s land. The true ending to the series will be when Don Draper accepts that is Dick Whitman. Don’s biggest talent has always been advertising. He sells ideas. Facts rarely matter because Don has always sold things based on the emotions they evoke. That is how he has lived his own life too; selling himself to people through love and passion. But that isn’t enough anymore. People don’t want the idea, they want the man. Megan already knows so I doubt much will change for her. His new, bestest bud Pete knows too and looks past it. But they don’t really matter. It matters that Don still doesn’t know who he is.

New

Last Sunday HBO’s Game of Thrones returned with a quietly powerful episode. There were no great battles, only a handful of exchanges between key characters and the infamous inn scene with Arya. Many expected that scene to occur in the season three finale but it actually works better in the season four premiere. This episode set up a lot for the upcoming season and the inn scene is no different. Arya has always been strong-willed and fierce but the inn scene is where she really takes her first steps on her path of revenge.

Nothing reflects the beginning of a new path better than the opening moments where Charles Dance’s character, Tywin Lannister, has Ned Stark’s Valyrian greatsword melted down and re-forged while the melody of ‘The Rains of Castamere’ plays in the background. That scene is haunting. To add insult to injury, Tywin tosses the wolf pelt on the fire too. He is literally destroying everything to do with the Starks. It signifies the end of the War of the Five Kings, at least in the immediate sense. Robb Stark is dead, Stannis Baratheon is playing with magic but lacks an formidable army with which to challenge the throne, Balon Greyjoy’s son Theon was captured by Lord Roose Bolton’s bastard, Ramsay Snow and Tywin seems a lot less concerned about Daenerys Targaryen than Robert Baratheon was. There is little left to do but clean up and impose some kind of order.

Charles Dance and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau return as Tywin Lannister and his son Jaime in season four of HBO's Game of Thrones.

Valyrian steel can’t buy me love.

Tywin’s first order of business is Casterly Rock, home of the Lannisters. In the third season, he denied Tyrion the Imp his rightful place as Lord of Casterly Rock and now we see why. Tywin presents Jaime with a sword and commands Jaime to set aside his position in the Kingsguard to rule at the Rock. Jaime declines and more impressively gets away with it. Previously, both Cersei and Tyrion were commanded to marry and refused but were forced to acquiesce. Cersei is awaiting her nuptials but Tyrion is rather unhappily married to Sansa. It says a lot about Jaime that he can get away with saying ‘no’ to his father.

Their relationship is a strange one. Tywin seems to expect a lot from Jaime but Jaime is largely more concerned about doing what he himself feels is right. It is an element of the character that comes out more and more now that the war is over and will put him at odds with both his father and his sister. In fact, I don’t think the episode did enough to show Jaime’s loyalty and integrity. For a character that shoved a child out of a window for witnessing his copulation with his own sister, he actually winds up being one of the most sympathetic and dare I say honourable characters in the series.

Contrast that with Tyrion Lannister. Dwarves are as trusted as bastards in the Westeros land despite the fact that Tyrion has been a rather dutiful son who is just trying to impress his father. First he serves as Hand of the King and rallies the troops to win at the battle of Blackwater, then he becomes Master of Coin and reluctantly marries Sansa Stark, and now he acts as a diplomat, greeting the Dornish in preparation for Joffrey Baratheon’s marriage to Margery Tyrell. Thus far in the series the Dornish have seemed to be a silent side note. If you haven’t read the books all you’re likely to know about Dorne is that it’s hot and they are possibly the only rival to Highgarden for fruit and wine.

Pedro Pascal and Indira Varma make their first appearance as Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand in the fourth season of HBO's Game of Thrones.

The Red Viper promises to bite back against the Lannisters.

That all changes with the arrival of Oberyn Martell, brother of Prince Doran Martell. In books he comes to King’s Landing to take a place on the small council as well as for the wedding festivities but that wasn’t mentioned in last Sunday’s episode. In both cases he comes for vengeance. Just as Tywin’s burning of the wolf pelt represents the end of one blood feud, Oberyn represents the rise of a new enemy for the Lannisters. The Martell’s have not forgotten the supposed rape and murder of their sister and her children at the hands of Gregor Clegane during Robert’s rebellion. It is a crime that the formidable Oberyn demands that the Lannisters answer for.

Of course, it would be wrong to count out the Starks just yet. Their words, Winter is Coming, isn’t a threat. It is a warning to the Starks themselves and they have shown themselves to be remarkable at weathering the coldest of storms. Jon Snow continues to serve in the Night’s Watch, despised but likely their best hope of surviving a wildling attack. Sansa is making some new alliances. And Arya is on her way to becoming an accomplished killer. The inn scene shows how Arya can be when there is something that she desires. And I don’t just mean Needle. The appearance of Polliver presents Arya with an opportunity to strike a name off of her list. When that chance comes she is absolutely ruthless. She pounces and with methodical movements she stabs Polliver exactly how he murdered Lommy. By the confidence of her actions and the taunting use of his own words, there can be no doubt that Arya was out for blood. And if you still thought Arya was innocent, just look how she smiles at what she has accomplished as she rides away.

So what can be expected from the rest of the season? A lot more backstabbing that’s for sure. Arya’s dark path will continue while trying not to lose her sense of self. Similarly, Daenerys will be torn between being the Mother of Dragons and protecting those that she has freed. The Lannisters will prepare for their own wedding whilst fending off the demands of the Martells. Stannis Baratheon has been suspiciously absent for this first episode but when he does reappear he likely won’t be much closer to seizing the Iron Throne than he was when we left him. The Red Wedding may have changed some of the players but it didn’t change the Game of Thrones.

Rise

For wrestlers and wrestling fans around the globe, tonight is the biggest night in the business. Whether you love or hate Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment company, the success and exposure of their annual event WrestleMania. This is the event that made Hulk Hogan the megastar that he is today. This is the event that cemented Stone Cold Steve Austin when he refused to tap out to Bret Hart. This is the event where John Cena defeated John Bradshaw Layfield for his first WWE Championship and begun his road to the dominant figure that he is. Known as the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania has lived up to that name for years.

Recently, WrestleMania has not been up to scratch. For the previous two years the headline match has been The Rock vs. John Cena. This is not criticising that match or those performers. The Rock put a lot of effort to get back into ring shape and his matches with Cena were great for the most part. On the other hand, he had no business being anywhere near the WWE Championship and Cena had no need to win another Royal Rumble. The WWE creative team used the title to contrive another match between The Rock and Cena. An event that had once been about the uplifting and grounding of new and promising talent had become nostalgia and glorifying the past.

Underdog Daniel Bryan will take on the COO of WWE, Triple H at WWE WrestleMania XXX on the WWE Network.

The Goat plays The Game.

Until about a month ago, WrestleMania XXX looked set to repeat those same mistakes. Dave Bautista, better known by his ring name, Batista, returned to the WWE, fresh off his role as Drax the Destroyer in the upcoming Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy. In any other circumstance, Batista’s return would be welcome but he came back and immediately won the Royal Rumble, guaranteeing himself a title shot against Randy Orton. A nice little hark back to the days of Evolution but this was supposed to be Daniel Bryan’s year. Supposedly, his return also caused CM Punk to walk out of the company for this very reason: WrestleMania wasn’t being used to promote fresh, new talent.

Rumour was that Punk was set to face Triple H, which is considered a pretty big deal within the WWE, and Trips took it personally when Punk walked out instead. Where Daniel Bryan would have ended up on the card at that point is unknown. His place now is certain though and this is what makes this WrestleMania more exciting than those in recent memory. WWE has the opportunity to cement Daniel Bryan as a star and a major player in the company if he goes over Triple H and wins the triple threat match. The WWE have the chance to raise up a new star much like the WrestleManias of old did and I sincerely hope they don’t screw it up.

Daniel Bryan’s rise has been compared to that of Stone Cold’s, who has been confirmed to be present at this year’s WrestleMania. Hopefully he doesn’t actually get involved, though an unclean win over Triple H would give the Bryan vs. The Authority storyline some momentum going forward post-WrestleMania. It would just tarnish the resolution of Bryan finally winning the WWE Championship after a year of trials and tribulations and constantly being screwed out of opportunity after opportunity. Think of this as the season finale. This season’s story arc has to be resolved so that the show can move on. If the climax is half assed the next season will suffer for it.

The Shield look to reassert their dominance against Corporate Kane and the New Age Outlaws at WWE WrestleMania 30.

Either a spear is coming or Reigns ate some bad Thai food.

And let’s get one thing straight; Daniel Bryan has to win the WWE Championship. Even if Batista wins by pinning Orton and Bryan instead beats Batista at the next pay-per view, Extreme Rules, it will have stunted Bryan’s ascension into the top level of wrestling stardom. Bryan needs to win here. There is only so long that you can bait fans and pull away at the last second. If the WWE pull away here or in some way swerve and deny Daniel Bryan the WWE Championship, then the fans may get tired of waiting for something that, in their eyes, might never happen.

Other matches than the main event also seem to be promoting younger talent. The pre-show fatal four way tag match has The Usos defending the Tag Team titles against Los Matadores, The Real Americans and Ryback and Curtis Axel. These are all fairly young men who could have big careers ahead of them if they could find the right foot hold and get the crowd behind them. The most promising so far would seem to be Cesaro and for that reason I see him splitting from partner Jack Swagger as a result of this match, whilst the Usos retain the titles.

An another tag match, The Shield take on Kane and The New Age Outlaws in a very real new guard vs. the old guard. Kane and the outlaws have been around for so long and have had their own storied careers that losing to The Shield here really does them no harm. For the Shield to lose here on the other hand, would make them look weak, even after a year of near total dominance. They need to pick up the win here. Likewise, Bray Wyatt needs to pick up the win in his match with John Cena. WWE will be reluctant to have Cena lose at WrestleMania but at this formative portion of his career, Wyatt needs to come off strong. Give Cena the win at Extreme Rules if you must but Wyatt should win at WrestleMania.

 

The Eater of Worlds, Bray Wyatt and his family hope to crush John Cena at WWE WrestleMania 30.

Bray Wyatt’s time is now.

The Andre the Giant memorial battle royale also has the potential for creating or cementing some new stars. While it would be nice for The Big Show to win it seeing as the two men share a growth disorder, I would much rather see someone like Titus O’Neil, or Big E or Damien Sandow or Cody Rhodes pick up the win here to give them some new win underneath their wings. There are also three spots left open. Some cameo appearances by couple old legends are likely but this could also be a great opportunity to debut some talent from NXT.

Other matches include Brock Lesnar Vs. The Undertaker and the Diva Championship Invitational. Paul Heyman’s mic work in the Lesnar/Taker feud has been excellent but this is WrestleMania so we all know that the Undertaker is leaving with another notch on his streak. AJ Lee deserves to retain the title since no one else in that ring can touch her in terms of the character work that she has shown over the past year but don’t be surprised if any one of the Total Diva’s cast leaves with the belt.

So that is how WrestleMania is looking at the moment. Lots of potential to cement some new talent and continue the rise of a few others. Maybe CM Punk will return as well but don’t hold your breath. Find out the results for yourself by watching tonight at 7pm Eastern or 4am Pacific via the WWE Network or local Satellite and Cable providers.

Freedom

Round Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been one of experimentation and change. The recurrent theme of what has become known as ‘phase two’ of the Avengers Initiative is genre shifting; a placing of the characters into situations more outside of their comfort zone. Iron Man 1 and 2 were fairly straight forward action dramas with some comedy, whilst Iron Man 3 was silly and comic in its portrayal of Iron Man and his enemies. Thor was a light hearted fish out of water romp with nothing too challenging in its plot, whereas Thor: The Dark World chose to show a rather conflicted god of thunder dealing with issues much more grounded in magic and myth. Captain America: The First Avenger was a historical war drama very much committed to telling a back story but Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political action film about betrayal and the compromising of one’s ideals.

While it would be nice to say that this has led to a deepening of character and story, that hasn’t always been the case. Iron Man 2 showed that having a battery for a heart had consequences and that Tony Stark, the flawed being that he wasn’t, didn’t necessarily deal with it the right way. Iron Man 3 instead gave Stark post traumatic stress which fails to have any lasting impact other than ‘I built a lot of Iron Man suits’. The Dark World, unwilling to completely shed the comedy of Thor, awkwardly interrupts action scenes with witty remarks, such as Darcy mispronouncing Mjolnor as it flies past. Thankfully, Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to pull this off almost flawlessly, delving into the character motivations and circumstances of Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff as well as the titular character.

Captain America was always going to be a hard sell in the modern world. The values of freedom and patriotism in America are heavily criticised these days with many seeing freedom being America’s own brand which it forces upon people. Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, is aware of this and it unsettles him. How S.H.I.E.L.D. operates makes him uncomfortable. The fact that his own director and partner lie to him make him question what he fought for in the first film. This is good writing. The actions of the first film define the character and have consequences. The Winter Soldier doesn’t just reference The First Avenger, it is informed by it and grows out of it.

Chris Evans and Scarlett Johannsson team up as Stever Rogers aka Captain American and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow in the Marvel movie Captain America The Winter Soldier.

Yay, non-uniform day!

In the end, Captain America is pitted against S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, drawing battle lines and forcing characters to take sides. One such character is Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. This is the first film where I have actually enjoyed the Black Widow. Yes, she kicked ass in Iron Man 2 and she was cool in The Avengers but there wasn’t much depth to her performances in those films. In both of those movies she was little more than a hot girl in a tight body suit spinning around as she kicked and shot people. Nice to look at but without substance. I don’t blame those movies. Iron Man 2 was her introduction and The Avengers had no time for this kind of thing.

Black Widow and Captain America are two sides of the same coin. Romanoff is willing to do anything that is asked of her simply because she believes herself to be on the side of good. She gets shaken to the core and begins to rethink her personal beliefs when S.H.I.E.L.D.’s true motivations are revealed. Rather than taking orders, she becomes willing to do what is right for what she knows is good, not what someone tells her is good. Black Widow needed this movie, probably more than even Captain America did. After this film, A Black Widow stand alone project is believable.

Not to be outdone, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury undergoes his own character development. Even more so than Black Widow, Fury has not only done some questionable things but as also ordered others to do some dubious tasks, all in the name of freedom. He accepts the sentiment of wielding fear as a weapon to maintain peace. However, there are events transpiring at S.H.I.E.L.D. of which even he has no knowledge of. Of course, this being Nick Fury, he quickly forms a gambit of his own but he still must confront the fact that this world where freedom and integrity are so readily exchanged for peace and happiness is one which he helped to create. Nicky Fury has been very much a side line player for the Marvel Cinematic Universe so it is nice to see him move to the fore front for once. And as ever, Samuel L. Jackson oozes charisma.

Anthony Mackie makes his debut as Sam Wilson aka Falcon in Marvel's Captain America The Winter Soldier.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a black guy with military grade personal flight equipment.

As if those three weren’t enough, Cobie Smulders makes a return as Agent Maria Hill, Revenge star Emily VanCamp stars as Sharon Carter and Antony Mackie makes his debut as Sam Wilson, aka Falcon. Wilson’s work here really was superb, working in line with Chris Evans but never stealing the spot light. He was a gentle source of comedy, one that never broke the tension. Falcon joining The Avengers full time would be great as I would really like to see more of this character. A reappearance by the Winter Soldier himself wouldn’t go amiss either.

The Winter Soldier almost gets away with a perfect run but there are a few cracks. The ensemble cast feels like it is there to cover up Evan’s inadequacies as a leading actor. He is decent but he doesn’t command the screen in the same way Hemsworth or Downey do. The character almost feels too good as well. Sure he is forced to face a world far removed from the ideals he knew but he never needs to compromise and is basically proven right in every argument. It would be nice if he failed at something. Structurally, the build up could have been lessened to devote more time to the final battle which suffers because it tries to divide the time it does have between five separate locations.

On the whole, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a great film and a solid inclusion into the second phase build up to The Avengers: Age of Ultron. It actually got me excited for the next Avengers film in a way that I wasn’t before. Personally, I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World slightly more but that is largely down to personal preference. For anyone, whether a Marvel fanatic or a casual viewer, looking for a fun and interesting film I would certainly suggest giving Captain America: The Winter Soldier a look.

Naked

Finally, I’ve caught up on Kill La Kill. Not that it is a particularly long series; only twenty three episodes have aired as of yet, far from the impressive three hundred and sixty six episodes that Bleach can boast or the mammoth six hundred episode series of One Piece. I haven’t fallen out of love with anime either. While I don’t watch it as avidly as I once did, I still find the entire medium to be really powerful and entertaining, at least when it is at its best. There so much anime out there that finding one that actively captures your imagination can be a tough slog.

It didn’t even take me that long to watch all the episodes so far; a couple of weeks at most. Unlike when I was overloaded from my Bleach binge, the problem here was simply time. Lately, western, live action television has just been so demanding that I’ve struggled to find the time to invest in anime. The Blacklist and Chicago Fire are just two such shows that I have found myself really enjoying and that is to say nothing of the fact that Game of Thrones will return in two weeks as well as the imminent release of the HD remastered version of Final Fantasy X. And The Americans just recently returned. And I’ve been curious about True Detective.

So you see the dilemma. As far as first world problems go, it is a biggie. But recently I did find myself with two weeks where not all the shows had quite fully returned from their mid-season breaks and thus I decided to devote some time to a new anime; Kill La Kill. Why Kill La Kill? Honestly, it was off a recommendation from a friend and I was intrigued to see what Trigger, founded by animators Hiroyuki Imaishi and Masahiko Ohtsuka, could do outside of their previous Gainax employment.

 

Ryuko Matoi dons Senketsu in order to do battle with Satsuki Kiryuin and her Elite Four.

Can’t complain that you’re not looking her in the eye now.

Gainax is probably best known for their work on Neon Genesis Evangelion and most recently Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann which was directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi. Watching Kill La Kill, it really shows that Imaishi came from Gainax and was involved in Gurren Lagann. The art style seems very similar but the animation itself is also very dramatic marked by very stylistic moments of poignancy. Even in terms of story, there are clear similarities such as a very simple goal acting as a gateway into a much grander plot. This isn’t just used by Imaishi; it’s evident in many anime shows and western television programmes but whether conscious or not, it seems that Kill La Kill was, at least, inspired by Imaishi’s work on Gurren Lagann.

If you are unaware of Kill La Kill, the story follows a high school student, Ryuko Matoi, who transfers to Honnouji Academy in search of her father’s killer. The school is ran by the student council president and heir to the Revocs Corporation, Satsuki Kiryuin, a cool and detached girl who offers to tell Matoi all that she wants to know provided that she can defeat  her and the elite four, who are the school’s club captains and Satsuki’s own personal defenders. Wielding a scissor blade, which is exactly what it sounds like, Matoi takes on the school and soon finds herself defeated. Following the advice of a mysterious disrobing teacher, Matoi returns to her father’s house and finds a hidden trap door. In the basement, Matoi finds Senketsu, a sentient Japanese sailor school uniform that when worn by Matoi transforms and gives her superhuman abilities at the expense of her dignity.

Scantily-clad but empowered not only describes Matoi’s transformed state but also the series as a whole. There is a lot more fan service in this series than other shōnen anime such as Dragonball Z or Bleach. This is certainly true after the introduction of ‘Nudist Beach’ an anti-clothing group that is opposed to Satsuki and the Revocs Coporation, a clothing conglomerate, with many of the characters disrobing, though it stays firmly in ecchi rather than hentai by covering sensitive areas with sunspots. Mostly this is played for comedy such as the reactions of certain characters to the aforementioned sunspots suggesting that they can see what the audience cannot, but there are also moments which are extremely disturbing because of the nudity. Satsuki’s relationship with her mother Ragyo Kiryuin is certainly an example of how creepy the series can be.

 

Ryuko Matoi's teacher, Aikuro Mikisugi, strips while divulging crucial information.

Beating the boys away with a scissor blade.

Don’t let the fan service fool you. The action in this series is fast paced and hard hitting, becoming more interesting to watch than many battles I’ve seen from the Bleach anime, though it is fairly grounded in the Dragonball Z mode of things, i.e. can’t beat an opponent? Here’s a new transformation. The series can also get as dark and depressing as Attack on Titan and Neon Genesis Evangelion, especially around episode fifteen or so.

It is the music and the clothing motif that most drew me into Kill La Kill though. Musically, the soundtrack to Killl La Kill is brilliant, subtly capturing both the dread of any given moment with the optimism of the next. Ryuko Matoi’s battle with Nonon Jakuzure which uses actual orchestral pieces such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 “Fate” is one of my favourite fights from the entire series. The clothing motif as well, I found intriguing. We all wear clothes and even subconsciously we have clothes that we prefer to wear because they are more comfortable or for sentimental reasons. Imagine then if that was what clothes wanted you to think, either because they were trying to befriend us or because they are malevolently biding their time. According to creator, Imaishi, the concept sprung from the similarity of the words fashion and fasism in the Japanese Language. It is a really cool little idea that really brings the entire series together. There’s also a slight connection to 2001: A Space Odyssey that I don’t think was intentional which I found interesting but I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to watch.

Kill La Kill is a really enjoyable new anime, although it does have its pitfalls. As above, battles tend to be won less because of strategy and more because of some previously undisclosed ability. Also a lot of the major plot points are pretty predictable and you will probably see them coming before they happen. But while the flaws are annoying, they are minor annoyances in what is a very pleasurable and intense series. If you are looking for a new anime to try, Kill La Kill gets my vote.

Loyalty

A day late but here it goes.

Three episodes into The Americans’ second season and the series already plays like a completely different creature from the first season. Different is not bad, though personally I enjoyed the start of the first season more. My fiancée, on the other hand, would say that she has enjoyed the start of this season more than the previous one. At least it has maintained a level of derisiveness, but has the series really changed that much over two seasons?

Arguably, on the face of it, very little has changed at all. The same dark humour and tension that drove the first season is still apparent. The series still presents everything from the Russian’s perspective, although Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell’s characters are no longer quite as dedicated to the cause as they once were. It is actually quite an interesting shift in the dynamic between the two leads. While Rhys’ Philip Jennings was once more sympathetic to the American ways, he seems to have become the colder, harder one in this season while Russell’s Elizabeth has softened substantially. I guess nearly dying will do that to you. That said,­ Philip isn’t above questioning their orders when it starts to involve their children. Whereas previously, they might have believed in their cause, to both characters this it has become a job they must do and they both are questioning what their job means for their children in the long term.

The children themselves are becoming more and more prominent both in terms of the espionage and the show. The first season ended with Philip and Elizabeth’s daughter Paige, played by Holly Taylor, poking her head through the house and this second season has upped the ante by showing her skipping school to visit her ‘aunt Helen’. Given that both Philip and Elizabeth are having doubts about the validity of their missions it seems unlikely they will be keen to include Paige were she to find out but the central agency in Russia may want them to. She would no doubt be considered the perfect spy; born and raised in America, indistinguishable from the average American in every way but completely loyal to the Soviet Union.

Paige Jennings, played by Holly Taylor, has a talk with her mother, played by Keri Russell, in FX's The Americans.

There is another cold war brewing Paige and her parents.

Whether Paige would really be loyal to the Soviet Union though is another matter. In the first season, she seemed unconvinced when Elizabeth attempted to justify some of the Eastern European actions. Furthermore, she may not appreciate the lies which may cause her t have an identity crisis when she does finally find out. Paige is in the strange position of not really being American or Russian. While she may have no strong desire to sell America out to the Soviets, it is equally hard to believe that she could sell out her own parents to the FBI either.

Unless she does so by mistake. During her trip to meet ‘Aunt Helen’ in the most recent episode, she met a girl on the bus and bonded over how annoying parents can be. This is one of the things that this show does well. The Americans really captures the sense of paranoia and intensity of the era. This girl could just be a friendly acquaintance, someone for Paige to vent her frustrations to or she could be someone more sinister. Given that another undercover family was murdered in their hotel room in the season two premiere, someone may be targeting suspected Soviet spies and they may be using Paige to get to Philip and Elizabeth.

Everything that has happened in this second season has really revolved around that murdered undercover family. It sparked Philip and Elizabeth’s concerns over their children and has kept them busy enough that Paige has had time to snoop around. In the previous season, the biggest threat to the Jennings’ way of life was the FBI but this event has thrown everything into question. Through Stan Beeman, played by Noah Emmerich, the viewer is privy to the workings inside the FBI; so we know that the murders weren’t the work of the American government.

Noah Emmerich plays FBI agent Stan Beeman in FX's The Americans.

Can Stan come any closer to capturing the undercover spies this season?

That raises the much bigger question of, if not the American government then who? The next suspect would probably be the Soviet Union themselves, perhaps wrapping up loose ends if they have at some point decided or realised that the experiment of KGB agents impersonating American families has failed. Maybe that family, much like the Jennings, began to doubt the righteousness of their mission and when the central agency found out, they were terminated. That would put Philip and Elizabeth at risk not only from their enemy but also from their own government. Another option, though unlikely, is that a third party unrelated to the FBI or the KGB took out the family. For what purpose remains to be seen.

More significantly, the murders have forced Philip and Elizabeth to address what will happen to their children when they are gone. While in season one, Elizabeth probably would have wanted Paige and Henry to know about their Russian origins, now she seems not so sure. In The Walk In, she chooses to burn a letter she promised to give to the murdered family’s son. Elizabeth has probably grown the most over the series, going from cold and loyal to a more family orientated and emotional person. She recognises the hurt that the truth would cause to the murdered family’s son and chooses not to divulge that information. The true would likely be true of her own children. The truth would not bring them closer or ease the grief if anything untoward happened to Philip and Elizabeth.

The second season of The Americans has moved in a new direction but it is still just as tense and potent as ever. So why then does it feel like the show has missed a step in its return? Perhaps my expectations were just too high after the fantastic first season or maybe although there are new issues driving the story the execution itself lacks freshness. That being said, I remember people said the second season of Breaking Bad was too slow and not enough happened and look how big that became. So I won’t be giving up on The Americans just yet.

Innovation

From one award ceremony to another, Wednesday the 12th of March will mark the 10th annual British Academy Game Awards. Along with Spike’s VGX awards, the BAFTA game awards are probably the one of the most prestigious gaming award shows in the world and will give out awards for categories such as Best Game, Game Design and Performer, as well as awards for individual genres. The ceremony will also be hosted by comedian and avid gaming fan, Dara Ó Briain, so not only is it an opportunity to recognise quality work within the gaming industry but it is also a lot of laughs.

Unlike last week’s Oscar nomination article, this won’t be a category by category analysis, not even for the big prize of Best Game. That is largely because the category is a two horse race between Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us. Grand Theft Auto V should win because as a series it continues to innovate and change with every passing era. It incorporates entertaining and interactive storytelling with openness and places as few limitations as possible on the player. Grand Theft Auto V is the kind of game that doesn’t have an ulterior motive, it just wants you to have fun in whichever way you want and that kind of approach to gaming should be rewarded. That being said, I wouldn’t be wholly surprised if The Last of Us pulled out a win.

However, the nominations for the various awards to the BAFTA gaming awards highlights some interesting points in relation to three games; Papers Please, Beyond: Two Souls and Batman: Arkham Origins. Firstly, I’m really happy to see Papers, Please being nominated for four awards, most remarkably Best Game. I’m not so deluded to think that the game could pull out the win there but I would be hopeful that the game might pick up one of the awards from Game Design, Game Innovation or Strategy and Simulation.

Papers, Please by Lucas Pope is up for four awards at the BAFTA Video Game Awards

Surprisingly, immigration simulation is compelling.

If you are sitting, reading this, and wondering what the hell Papers, Please is, don’t worry; I had no idea that this game existed either until I watched a Zero Punctuation video review by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw over on The Escapist. In the game you take the role of an immigrant inspector and must process the applicants who attempt to pass through the border. At the end of each day, the player is paid based on how many applications were successfully processed, including rightfully turning someone away, and then the player is given the decision of divide up the income between things like food, heating and medicine. The country appears to be a kind of Soviet state and have some rather harsh policies at times, sometimes forcing the player in to a moral dilemma of turning someone away because you will be paid and can feed your family or letting a woman through so that she can be with her husband.

The interface is extremely basic but capable of being more heart wrenching than many of the most realistic games I’ve ever played simply because it offers the player a struggle between self-happiness and the happiness of others. It can genuinely make you feel like a monster to have to detain someone so that you buy medicine for your child. In the later stages it becomes a struggle imply to quickly process immigrants because of the quantity of fact checking required. The game doesn’t look pretty and sounds dull but actual game play is actually very intense and emotional.

Beyond: Two Souls could learn a lot from Papers, Please; especially, perhaps, that less is more. In an October 19th review, I noted that the story of Beyond: Two Souls was ‘pretty good, though…nothing Oscar worthy’. And yet, because the game was largely story driven, it’s exclusion from the Story award at the BAFTA Game Awards must feel harsh. Quantic Dream games have always been story driven, to the point where some consider them to be more along the lines of interactive films than legitimate games. Whether that is true or not, one would have suspected the game to at least be nominated for the story award given that is what it was geared towards. That is not to say it should win. Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, The Stanley Parable and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons would all be more deserving winners. Yet, few games have ever been so bold to employ nonlinear story telling in gaming to such a degree and while I don’t think it ultimately works because it undermines the ability of the player to make impactful choices, the effort at least deserved a nomination.

Batman Arkham Knight, the final installment in the Arkham series will be released on Playstation 4, X-Box One and Windows PC later this year.

Back to bust Batman’s balls once more.

However, if Beyond: Two Soul’s story award snub was an insult to the game then Batman: Arkham Origins’ exclusion from the entire show must be absolutely damning. Oh, how far it has fallen from the Game of the Year days of Batman: Arkham Asylum. It is not hard to see why Origins was overlooked though. Aesthetically the game looks no different from Batman: Arkham City whist the game play feels unresponsive and lacks the fluid movement of the previous games. The inclusion of Black Mask and assassins such as Slade Wilson quickly fades out, leaving Batman battling the same villains that he has for the previous two games and collecting the same equipment with which to do it. The game is as buggy as any game I’ve seen from Bethesda Games as well. There is nothing innovate about this game and what they did basically lift from the previous games, they didn’t even do well. Here’s hoping the recently announced Batman: Arkham Knight will do the series justice but it’s going to take more than the batmobile to repair this damage.

Who knew the gaming industry was capable of such scandal? Keep an eye out this Wednesday for the winners and see if Papers Please pulls out an upset over Grand Theft Auto V (unlikely, I know) or watch the battle of the lookalikes when Ashley Johnson, who plays Ellie in The Last of Us, takes on Ellen Page’s character Jodie Holmes from Beyond: Two Souls. Whoever wins it’s a great night for the games industry and gamers alike.

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