The Anti-Ilvermoarnyey Rant

Okay, so I can’t help it. Everyone’s all excited about the new Pottermore reveals and honestly, each one has been pissing me off more and more. Chatter would have you believe that Potter-universe is a deep, wonderfully magical place, but there are giant holes and gaps that increase each time that Rowling posts a new bit.

All of my problems with the recent additions have to deal with J.K. Rowling’s blatant ignorance of American cultural history and present (something pointed out since the first posting). Sure, she wrote up a new magic school and you can get sorted into one of Ilvormony’s (is that misspelled? Not sure. Don’t care) houses! It ought to be cool as an American to have a piece of Potter-verse on our doorstep instead of being completely ignored (I mean, did the US, Canada, or Mexico get even one mention? What about the rest of the world?). Unfortunately, the new houses are stolen from indigenous tribes’ religions! As that second link points out, the ‘history’ that Rowling was setting up for North American wizarding world’s relations to indigenous tribes was bad enough in the first place, but this reinforcement is terrible.

Perhaps as bad as the Ilvermoney’s (Did I get it that time?) houses is the ‘histories.’ First, there’s no distinction made between Canada, US, and Mexico. We’re all lumped together as ‘North America.’ Time frames where incredible amounts of change happened are lumped together and glossed over that the lack of details makes the fiction meaningless. Harry Potter’s wizarding world has always been removed from the ‘Muggle’ or ‘No-Maj’ world (which, okay, what the hell? How does ‘No magic’ become ‘No-Maj’ and why is North America using a different name anyway? A multitude of languages has always been spoken on this continent, but if we’re predominately English, French, and Spanish speakers, why aren’t we using Muggle or another language’s word? No one would reinvent the wheel. If Muggle’s the Brit word since forever, then our word should be at least related to it.) Ahem, anyway, magic history and muggle history often seem divided, which honestly makes the wizards seem rather stupid. Why doesn’t Mr. Weasley know how to work the damn Tube station? People manage initial contact with the concept without having a teenager describe it to them. But particularly in the case of US history, divorcing the magic and muggle worlds is a huge slap in the face. Consider, for a second, coming from Virginia in the Civil War and getting a letter telling you to go north to learn how to deal with this weird crap you’ve been doing. Or being a slave-child or coming from a reservation and going to school that tells you ‘Never share your power with your (filthy) Muggle parents!’ Those examples are from over a hundred years ago, sure, but recent considerations aren’t much better. Conflicts were numerous (and ongoing) when America began desegregation, didn’t this affect the magic school as well? Everyone just, got along?

Oh, yeah, and despite the population of an entire continent, we only have one wizarding school? Where does that begin to make sense? My imagination has been running away with me on what America’s wizarding history ought to look like, and I can come up with six schools and one university just for the US. I will admit too much ignorance in Mexican and Canadian histories to write up schools for them as well.

I just find it completely ironic that Rowling’s twitter has been exploding with Brexit texts this week, even ones calling out racism, and she (and whoever’s beta-ing this shit) has completely participated in cultural erasure. As an anthropologist, I’m angry at the disregard for myth structures. As a writer, I’m angry at the lazy world-building. As a reasonable human being, I’m freaking pissed at the mistreatment of non-white culture. Stay as excited as you want to about the new products being unveiled this year, but this has firmly placed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in my “Do Not Watch” list.

Preacher: Take Me to Church

I’m sure in recent weeks the pun on Hozier’s song and AMC’s new show Preacher has been made more than a few times, but I couldn’t resist the urge. There’s something about the slow, steady rhythm and blasphemous nature of ‘Take Me to Church’ that fits right in line with the attitude and delivery of Preacher.

That delivery is amazing so far. I’ve enjoyed the show so much that I’m having hard time finding a place to start talking about it. The episodes are tense, character-driven, cinematic beauties with a dark humor and a flair for violence. What could wind up being ridiculously unbelievable characters are acted (and directed and written) with just enough down-to-Earthness to make the ludicrous things that happen sympathetic. Cassidy is just a fun loving guy (well, vampire) that just happens to wind up in these terribly bloody fights. Tulip is smart, clever, and completely capable of getting whatever she wants in a scene (respect, a map, surviving) except for Jesse. And Jesse wants a quiet no-hassle life but people won’t stop pushing for him to do his new job and he feels compelled to protect innocents.

I’ve only seen the first three episodes so far, but there’s some great dynamics happening with the main three characters and the other lead supporting cast. The relationship between Tulip and Jesse is the hardest to figure out so far, but that’s half the point of the presentation. The audience meets Tulip in the middle of a fight, who then goes on to prepare for the next wave of attack, protect a couple of kids by getting them out of harm’s way before the fight even starts, and then she’s off. While she gives a small speech about love during all of this, she never brings up Jesse’s name or any details about this ex of her. That part becomes clear later on. Without this early scene, she’d likely come off as the psych-exgirlfriend. She still does in some of her scenes with Jesse, but bits and pieces of their past are coming to light through the show and it’s obvious that something deeply traumatic and wrong happened–something that pushed Jesse away from their old lives and made Tulip cling to it and her mental image of Jesse even harder. There’s unfinished business and Tulip seems to need Jesse to complete, not because she needs her man, but because he was there when the business started. All parties need to be there to see it through–including Jesse if she has to drag him back kicking and screaming (which she just might at this point…) So, really, the greatest part of Tulip and Jesse’s relationship is the fact that it pulls double duty as a plot.

One of the other fantastic aspects of the show is the sets and cinematography. Like other AMC shows (Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels come to mind), Preacher‘s not afraid to use longer, wider shots. Instead of bouncing from face to face, as most shows do during conversations, Jesse and Cassidy lounge on pews, furniture, whatever’s handy. The show loves to feature the long, dusty road up to church. You get to see Jesse’s truck sitting in the background when he goes into a place. Basically, there’s a strong sense of world in this show that helps envelop you in its reality.

I’m really liking this show so far and hopefully we’ll get many more seasons of Preacher (and hopefully it doesn’t eventually disappoint like some things). Definitely go check out the first few episodes on amc.com or double check your On Demand for access.

Didn’t see this coming

Urban Fantasy is a genre filled with wizards and witches, vampires and werewolves, monsters and heroes. There’s so many books in this genre that it can be hard to find one, or even a series, that can keep entertaining for more than a few pages. Everyone seems to need a gimmick and that can make the world setting either unbearable or inconsistent. About eight months ago I stumbled upon the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. Almost literally too–I was in the library and just happened to pick it off the shelf to see what it was like.

In many ways, Verus is just like a lot of others in the genre. He’s a loner wizard with a couple of friends, a little bit of magic, and even more powerful enemies. However, he stands out in a lot of ways. Instead of becoming a massive superpower inside of a few books, Verus has actually been losing power in some ways. The books have been more about stripping Verus down until he’s relying solely on himself. His wits in the climatic moment have been the solution far more times than any grand plan (like Dresden) or sheer magical ability (like the Iron Druid or Anita Blake). Verus is a reactionary character, which is sort of ironic considering his magical power is divination.

That’s the beauty of the world setting here, too. Divination can be a tricky, tricky magic to have and that’s Verus’s one trick. In his world, if you’re good at one magic, you tend to only have the one magic. It seems to break down into mental abilities versus elemental abilities and about the only thing that can be used by most mages are gate spells, but that’s not something Verus can actually do on his own. Divination, or at least Verus’s understanding of it, doesn’t seem to lend itself to the gate magic very well. He also has a hard time looking far into the future because of a very basic world setting rule: Everyone’s got free will. This rule means that until someone makes a decision, it’s impossible to know what they’re going to do exactly. Verus’s magic runs more along the lines of predictions and probable outcomes–his magic basically makes it easier to compute what people are going to do given certain variables. In a conversation that can be tough, since people’s word choices change how the dialogue would go. Combat situations or long searches are easier for him to predict because the cause and effects are more formulaic.

One of the other big details I’ve noticed about Alex Verus is that it’s not very hard to interpret the character as asexual. Sure, a couple of times Verus has found a woman attractive, but he’s never really flirted with them. His bed’s unoccupied except for himself and that doesn’t seem to bother him in the least bit. (In fact, he’s so used to sleeping alone and being alone in his flat that in like book 2 or 3 it throws him off when someone’s sleeping out in the living room). Verus doesn’t go on for great lengths on how attractive the people in his world are. He doesn’t have a long list of ex-partners that crop up and make his life hell. Hell, in the seven books that are out so far, Alex hasn’t mentioned ex-partners, or trying to date. At this point in most series, the protag has had notable on page sex, but not Alex. He seems to like Anne and possibly wouldn’t mind coming to some sort of romantic situation with her, but he’s not obsessed with any one part of her anatomy. When she’s reintroduced each time, there’s no overture of how sexy she is and how much he can’t stop thinking of her. She’s simply Anne. The only key to how much Alex likes her is relayed through others, who point out that everyone else believes Anne is downright creepy. Alex never sees that in her, just treats her like a person like everyone else. There’s only one character in the series that has gotten the ‘attractive’ character tag multiple times in a row and Alex turns that around saying that the woman is the kind of attractive that makes her super-intimidating. The only other woman to which Alex showed a bit of obvious attraction turned out to be a charm mage–meaning that she was manipulating Alex’s hormones and brain waves into liking her (which when he figures that out makes her suddenly unattractive to him). In a genre where characters are often bumping uglies when they’re not dealing with monsters, Alex stands apart. I’m not sure the author intended for this to be true about Alex, but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope Alex stays this way.

The series does have some downsides (somehow, for being full of Brits, my brain isn’t translating them that way. It could be American bias, but I’m thinking there’s something about the syntax that’s just slightly off), so it’s far from a perfect read, but if you’re looking for something a little different in a genre filled with fairies, fireballs, and overwhelming odds, Alex Verus might just be the breath of fresh air you’re looking for.

Houdini & Doyle

All right, so Houdini & Doyle has started playing in the USA on Fox. I first heard about the show back at 221B Con at the beginning of April. The show premiered over in the UK first and is re-airing over here. I don’t mind the delay, really. The original broadcast was back in March, which would have been lousy timing since like all of television was coming back for their final halves. I probably would have over looked this drama and never realized the fun I missed out on.

Because that’s the first thing I noticed about the show, it’s fun. In an era of too many detective shows and too many supernatural elements, finding an enjoyable take on the genre can be a challenge. But Houdini & Doyle does its best to escape from repetitive dullness of the case-of-the-week formula with engaging, complex characters. The main cast captivates, but so do the side characters. This last week we got more details about the police chief and what’s likely to be a recurring plot with Houdini’s mother.

Of course, the really intriguing ones are Houdini, Doyle, and Constable Adelaide Stratton. The show focuses on these three characters and their evolving relationship as Houdini and Doyle assist the police investigations into crimes where the ‘supernatural’ may occur. Doyle is attempting to prove the supernatural each time and Houdini is trying to disprove it. In a lot of ways, it’s like putting Richard Castle and Adrian Monk head to head while giving Detective Juliet O’Hara (Psych) the lead on the case. In the show, Doyle and Houdini share an adversarial friendship so that even when they disagree (which is about every time one of them opens their mouth about the case) they still display a healthy amount of respect. After gushing at their first meeting, Stratton shows them the same respect, often being the one who will engage with both the supernatural or mundane explanations. The other two might be the initial draw, but without Stratton in the mix, this could easily become another too-quirky buddy-cop dramedy (like Battle Creek or The Good Guys).

One of the things that keeps the trio interesting is also the limits and abilities of each character. You could make a character sheet easily out of what we’ve seen so far. Houdini, naturally, knows how to lockpick, pickpocket, escape bonds, and a host of other tricks involved with his time on stage. Doyle has medical knowledge and research skills. Stratton has her police knowledge and access to those records. They wind up complimenting each other beyond personality and even into their abilities, creating a much more cohesive investigation team.

The show takes place in the early 20th century, a notably sexist time frame, and instead of ignoring this, the show has made opened commentary on it. We as an audience know when Doyle and Houdini are sent to Stratton that it’s because no one is taking her or them seriously. Stratton even directly addresses this point. And she even points out when they whack her with a paradox when interviewing a particular witness, “So if I fail, it’s because I’m a bad investigator, but if I succeed it’s because I’m a woman?” Doyle and Houdini like to puff themselves up on occasion as being defenders of women, but they’re quickly called out on their microagressions as well. At the same time, this element of the storytelling isn’t overdone. It’s there and acknowledged, but not to the almost teeth-grinding way Agent Carter addressed the same topics.

We’re already in the middle of the season with only six more episodes to air. I’m already keeping my fingers crossed for a second season. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed intelligent dialogue and interesting characters and I’m hoping the rest of the show won’t disappoint.

“Fear” the Walking Dead

I’m not huge into zombie media. The classic monster type is at the top of ‘things that freak me out.’ Give me vampires or demons or any of horror’s other plethora of creatures, but please please please, not the zombies! Which is why The Walking Dead was such a surprise for me. I started watching it because so many people were talking about it and since I can never seem to get into sports, I need a conversation starter of some kind. So I downed the first episode and the second and then seasons. It’s not a perfect show, but there’s something I love about The Walking Dead that brings me back most weeks. So when AMC announced that they were doing a spin-off called Fear the Walking Dead, I–like so many other fans–was completely psyched. More stories in this world? And it’d fill those empty months between TWD episodes? Awesome!

Unfortunately, like so many other spin-offs and recent creations, Fear the Walking Dead isn’t living up to the hopes and dreams. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for a whole season. Zombies aren’t the reason I’m into these shows, so I didn’t care that we barely saw them during the first season (though one of my friend’s consistent complaints was that we weren’t seeing enough of the undead). The show built up and built up these characters, some I cared about, some I didn’t, but hey, they’d have to spend some time doing that, right? Unlike TWD, there’s no precedent for the Fear cast. No comics to fall back on and bring out loads of information, just brand new people for the writers to explore. The show fell a little flat, but that’s not uncommon, especially in such a short season of a brand new show.

But then, at the beginning of the second episode of season 2, Fear gave us the perfect analogy of what’s really wrong with their show. If you haven’t seen it (and don’t mind being spoiled), that episode starts with two children playing in the sand. They’re happy and content playing in the perfect day sunshine. Zombies lumber up the beach towards them. Oh no! The children are in danger! Except, hold on, the zombies are blocked off by a well constructed fence. The element of danger we as the audience feels completely dissipates. As the episode drags on, the main cast encounters this little family and we get more exposition about how the world is now. We get treated to the same argument we’ll be seeing the rest of the season it seems–Strand does not want anyone else on his boat and while the others grumble about it, they don’t seem quite willing to do anything (I say this not having seen the episode on 5/1).

So the problem is that we have a complete lack of tension. The characters manage to have all of these perfect save moments–when Strand and Nick were escaping from the facility and everyone happened to come together at the same door, one of them even having the needed key card! Ofelia has an infection and oh look, Nick managed to find the right drugs! The sources of conflict should be many with the world setting alone, but the families were protected first by the military and then by the boat they have now (and oh man, when it broke down, Travis managed to fix it in a day!) Instead of giving these characters experiences which they’ll draw on in the future, that will harden them into the necessary group of survivors that it takes to make it in this world, the group is little better than the Hilltop or Alexandria from TWD. They’ve got a slight ability in this world, but really, this seems much more like a group that would get torn down to about half before running into Rick’s group and eking out a life, maybe only one or two of them surviving until season 6. Of course they shouldn’t be perfect badasses from the get-go, but it seems like they’re being treated with kid gloves by the writers. We never worry about this core group because on the rare chance they encounter something, they dodge it almost perfectly.

The other should-be source of tension would be the interpersonal relationships of the main group. Strand has his secrets and keeps reminding everyone that the boat is his so his say is final, but the other characters only seem to have minor frustrations with this. Sure, Travis, Maddie, and Daniel have a couple of conversations, but I’m almost surprised that episode from 5/1 had previews saying that conflict was going to come to a head. Daniel spends a lot of time telling Ofelia that Maddie and her family are only going to look out for themselves, but he seems to be saber rattling. In fact, Maddie and the other members of her family only ever seem to try and bring more people into their survivors unit, so I don’t understand Daniel’s continued paranoia about them. They’re eight people and the yacht isn’t that large, why haven’t they gotten on each other’s nerves more? Alicia and Nick are getting along fine, Nick has wormed his way into ‘acceptable’ with everyone on board (except maybe Daniel who trusts only his daughter), Chris roams however he wants with no one caring. Strand isn’t quite Shane from TWD and Maddie isn’t quite Dale. It feels like the creators spent a lot of time making an ideal zombie survival group without giving them the personalities that would butt heads.

Basically, what we’ve got so far is just a great and long lesson in what a project looks like without that tension to keep a viewer on the edge of their seat. This is what happens when it’s too much exposition and not enough action. (They even managed to drive to Strand’s house without incident at the end of last season, come on!) At this point, my interest in the show has waned. Maybe I’ll pick it back up when the whole season’s available for a quick watch, you know, if I need some low-key background noise.

Quick Impressions, TV Catch-Up 10/16

Another week gone by already? The Fall TV Line-Up has rolled out most of its shows (I’m still waiting for Constantine. Yeah, I’m a little excited for that one.) and the drama is ramping up. The pile of new shows keeps growing–this week saw the premiere of The Walking Dead and I caught up on the opener for Arrow’s season 3. So let’s run down some of the best and worst of the week.

Best: The Walking Dead. Any surprise there? ‘Bout the only people I’ve heard not liking this show are the ones who aren’t into horror or zombies. I’m not typically into the zombie genre, but this one’s infected me. Season opener took us right back to where we finished last time and we finally got what’s left of our crew back together–excepting Beth. The show gave just enough worry–were they or weren’t they going to bash Glen’s head in?, was Tyreese going to be able to handle the Walkers and that fucker in the shed?, would Carol get to stay with the group?–and yet gave us the full impression that the characters have developed into survivors. The characters proved to be clever, resourceful, and a cohesive team. We can easily reach the same conclusion Sgt. Ford did: this isn’t just a group anymore, it’s a unit, and these are the guys you want escorting you over a long distance. To top off the fantastic story, the camera work on TWD is amazing. They don’t stay tight on actor’s faces unless they’re gauging a reaction–and usually they stick to showing multiple character reactions to a situation at a time. They work at showing you all the details that the crews put into the sets, makeup, costuming. For horror, setting plays a huge role, and TWD not only acknowledges that, but puts their sets and shots to work at that angle. I can’t wait for Sunday’s next episode.

Worst: Once Upon a Time. Gah with this whole season already. Despite having a largely female cast, this show does not help out feminism in the least. The representation is poor with a side of shitty. White after white after white after white, and heteronormative so bad I feel like gagging. “Happily Ever After” on this show always boils down to “man and woman marry.” This season they bring in Elsa from Frozen who has to search for her sister Anna because apparently Anna fucked off on some quest and got lost. Looks like Elsa won’t be our Big Bad this season (or at least the front half of the season), but the antics going on in this season are annoying. Regina’s trying to do something about Marian (who conveniently is in a frozen state and Regina has gotten her heart?) so she can get Robin, but her way is to go to find the writer of Henry’s fairy tale book and make them rewrite the book. Never mind that we established at the end of last season that the book would only replicate events as they happened–that was like the point of the season 3 finale–she’s out to find who made her a villain and demand a rewrite. Maybe she’ll find the script writers and we’ll get a better show. (While Regina’s at it, could she do something about Hook? As neat as the pirate concept was for two seconds, his constant need to follow Emma around until she’s ready to love him makes me want to throttle him. Also, why the hell has Hook been able to shake the ‘bad guy’ persona, why has Gold been able to toss off most of it, and yet Regina’s still wallowing about on the point?)

C’mon!: How to Get Away with Murder. Still an awesome show, hence the mention two weeks in a row. Once again, the characters are the real draw here. The part-“present”, part-“past” way of telling the plot is a bit aggravating, but the format quickly becomes the norm. However, this last week, the show decided to include a subplot (I’m guessing at this point that it will become multi-episode) that lowers my respect just a smidge. Apparently, one of the character’s fiancé had a thing with a member of the same sex back at boarding school. The argument between the character and fiancé turned into a heated “well, that was back in school. It was a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. These things happen. You know I love you.” –An easier solution would have been to have the fiancé say, “Hey honey, I’m bi. We’ve never talked about our ex’s. You’re who I’m with now. Don’t give a shit about what that asshole says. He’s just trying to rile you up. That’s what he’s always done.” I’m hoping I’m wrong, but something about how they skirted the word bisexual grates on my nerves. Either they avoided the word to avoid the word, or they want to wind up testing the relationship with having the ex teasing and pushing the characters. (And there I showed a bias. I acknowledge that… but I think I could count the amount of LGBTQA+ characters as less than 10 between the 15-ish shows I’m keeping up with, and intersectionality is running slimmer.)

Best?: Selfie. I don’t typically go for comedies and I was honestly going to pass on this one until I saw that John Cho was the one costarring with Karen Gillian. Selfie is an update of Pygmalion –only a little attention shows through the veneer. The update put in some interesting twists though. While Henry is still advising Eliza, they both work at the same company and they seem to be at least near equals in their work environment. Instead, the show focuses on how each character totally sucks at communication with practically everyone in their lives. Eliza is a stereotypical young adult obsessed with social media and Henry is a stick-in-the-mud “traditional” sort of guy. For the sake of comedy, their tropes are pushed to extremes. The first two episodes were only all right, but the show has begun to hit a stride by having minor character development. Both characters are sick of being lonely and both acknowledge that they can’t change without a little influence. The major downside of the show is the unlikelihood that they can maintain the premise. Internet culture is constantly changing. The characters are going to have to grow and change too, or the show will become too dull and flat. Where will the show go when the culture and characters change? I’m not entirely sure, but for now, I’ll keep up with this one. The leads play too fantastically together to pass.

Working on Best: Arrow. Anyone who started season 1 with show should give themselves a small pat on the back. In comparison, the first season of Arrow was leaps and bounds better than other CW shows–probably what helped make it such a big hit for the network. However, the early acting of the show could grate the nerves to an unbearable degree–and all those flashbacks to what happened on the island were a wandering drag for a while. By the end of season 1, the flashbacks had more obvious tie-ins with the present plot and the actors learned more of the craft. The Arrow production team has always strived to improve and their efforts show. Starting out in season 3, the entire acting troupe has stepped up their game and the writers continue to work on fleshing out characters–even though they don’t quite seem to know what to do with Diggle. (I wish they’d make a summer mini-series out of Suicide Squad. That would be cool.) All said, though, the best part of the show has always been the characters facing the consequences of actions. You aren’t likely to see a character repeat a mistake on this show (ten imaginative points to the show for having a distressed Laurel acknowledge her recovering alcoholism with a “All I know is a bar is the last place I should be right now.”) because the characters have been there, done that, and ready to move on. With two seasons under their belt, Arrow has a lot of decisions made and a lot more to make as the season continues. Can’t wait to see where this season goes.

I’m still hoping that Forever will flesh out it’s minor characters, Supernatural still fails to impress, and American Horror Story: Freak Show definitely delivers on its early promises (although what is with dragging songs from the future into the 1950’s?) That’s going to cover it for Quick Impressions this week. Here’s hoping that the exciting shows this fall continue to impress and that some of these others will get their act together.

“Go dark.” –did Agents of SHIELD production crew get that command, too?

Last season Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (to be hereafter referred to Agents) left us with a shattered intelligence agency, injured team members, and more traitors than allies. Most of the first season wound up feeling more killing time than action packed story-telling–probably because the production crew knew that Captain America: Winter Soldier would bring S.H.I.E.L.D. to the ground–something with which Agents would have to cope. The last few episodes of the season, Coulson’s team had to contend with the collapse, with traitors in their midst, and then stop Agent Garrett. The team saved the day, but not without losses.

Season 2 picks up a few months after last season’s close. Throughout the episode we’re given little updates on our main team. For starters, Skye is doing field work with Trip and Mae. Agent Barkley (Lucy Lawless’s character) is a new face on the show, but she’s an undercover operative with a team of mercenaries.  Coulson isn’t around. He’s been looking for agents, out recruiting and having to meet with people face to face in order to ‘get a read on them.’ Fitz and Simmons are working in the lab on cloaking technology and identifying metal for their most recent mission.

All on the surface looks slightly problematic. Scratch the surface and the raw pain comes through.

The first symptoms of the pain? Fitz. The beginning of his scene shows him withdrawn, but that’s a bit of a false start. He communicates, but sometimes he pauses to search for the right word. When the metal they brought back begins to bleed, Fitz asks Mae, “Can you see that?” The relief that comes over him when she does is palpable, suggesting that in the interim months, Fitz has seen many things that others haven’t.

More pain follows. We finally see Ward. He’s locked up in the new base’s basement and demanding that if he’s going to talk, it’s going to be to Skye. When she’s finally forced to face him for the first time in months, she notices the self-inflicted injuries. Ward went through a ‘dark patch’ (I think those were his words), and the way he flinches when Skye references his murders suggests that he might not be through yet.

Skye is hurting, too. She doesn’t want to talk to Ward, but she does. She follows orders without question in this episode. We see the way the rest of her team, but Skye’s pain comes through with Chloe Bennet’s performance more than any actions and lines. Overall, though, she’s calmer and interjects less thoughts.

Then there’s the plot–We find out that Talbot has only sent Hydra off into the dark. Agent Berkley commands one of her subordinates to cut off her arm in order to save her life. Meanwhile Mae, Trip, and Skye continue on towards their other prize of the mission, even though they’re pinned down. We’re led to believe that not everyone makes it out of this encounter alive–with Agent Berkley’s SUV flipping and most likely killing her and one of her subordinates.

At the climactic moment, Coulson reveals even more. That while we knew SHIELD would have to downplay their existence, that SHIELD needs to ‘disappear’ and ‘operate from the shadows.’ In that speech, we learn that Simmons has been gone and that Fitz is deteriorating. He’s gotten worse.

Darkness isn’t only in play with the plot and character development. The warehouse for the undercover job, the new base, Ward’s cell, the base they break into, all feature dark rooms with only just enough lighting to see. Added on top of that, everyone’s favoring dark clothing, making the bright blue uniform Trip and General Talbot wear a fantastic pop of color.

Word choice hints at the darkness, too. Hydra has ‘slithered,’ SHIELD has to ‘fight from the shadows,’ a focus on stealth technology, the cell wall becomes ‘opaque,’ the command for an abort mission is to ‘Go dark.’ While out of context the choices are obvious, they repeat the motif in the episode.

We are given one shining moment of hope, though. Skye, Trip, and Mae are successful at stealing their objective. Coulson gives a rally idea in his speech–that SHIELD will fight on to honor those they’ve lost. While it isn’t much, it’s what SHIELD has to hold onto.

Honor and duty–if those remain SHIELD’s first two stones in its reconstruction, there may be hope for them yet.