Review — The Mandalorian

It’s been a while since I’ve actually reviewed something, and since I watched the whole first (and for now only) season of The Mandalorian in one sitting while staying home sick from work, I thought now would be a great time to talk about it, since it’s still fresh.

Since it is relatively new, though, this review will be completely spoiler-free. I was intending to add a spoiler-section at the bottom as I normally do, but my typical commentary went on long enough, and I didn’t feel I had much to add that required spoiling. So if you’d like to chat, feel free to comment and I’ll add spoiler tags if necessary.

My understanding is that everybody loves this show. It’s got everything from Space John Wick to Baby Yoda, what’s not to love? Well, I’ll tell you something contentious (to incentivize your reading): I thought the show was okay at best.

The biggest problem I had can be tied in a nice little bow, too. Every character the show told me to root for felt… edgy. The Mandolorian is the resident Batman/John Wick/whatever of Star Wars. So cool he never even takes off his helmet. He gets a pass because this is long-established Mandalorian lore, but I believe it is still worth mentioning. You have Cara Dune. Ex soldier and so awesome she can mop the floor with several guys at once ’cause she has a huge gun. You can tell she’s competent because our resident Batman likes her and wants to team up. You have Kuiil, who is so wise and obviously always right that you’ll be facepalming every single time the other characters don’t listen to what he has to say. And of course, you have Baby Yoda, who is so adorable that even when he’s being stupid you can’t help but ugly cry every time he’s on screen. And so on. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea.

Tied to the concept of edgy characters, this show had a serious problem with presenting and solving problems to the character. Often, these problems would arise without warning, or worse, would be solved out of nowhere, or both!

It felt like everyone was cool stereotypes that had X amount of their #cool scenes, and only failed when the plot felt it was necessary for them to be less competent. Successes and sudden salvations felt unearned because the show taught me that success and failure alike cannot be predicted.

For example, in the very beginning, when Mando (which is a stupid abbreviation, given “Lando” is already a character) is fighting the blurrgs, he is suddenly attacked. He does not hear footsteps and has no inclination that danger is near. Interesting that a master bounty hunter failed to notice a huge primal beast. Then, in the same fight, he is saved, again without warning, by Kuiil. This is more forgivable, as Mando is a little preoccupied with possible death to notice a tiny man coming to his rescue (even if he is on another blurrg). The stakes feel weird in this scene because danger was both presented to and taken away from our hero without his input in the situation at all. He was just… there. If the actor had been replaced with a punching bag, the entire scene could have played out exactly the same way (given that blurrgs are a punching bag’s natural predator, of course). This scenario happened multiple times throughout the show, but this is the best example of it because it shows both problem and answer being solved suddenly, and in the same scene to boot.

How do you solve this? Easy. You present the characters, and the audience, with a problem that seems like there is no way out. Then, when the character makes a clever use of the resources they have available to win the day, that success feels earned. If the character notices a crumbling wall earlier that day and later uses that crumbling wall to get away from the bad guy, it turns into foreshadowing and makes our hero look more competent. When salvation comes out of nowhere, the opposite happens.

The show, as a whole, also does a poor job making me care. The Mandalorian protects the asset in a way that is—as the show tells us—uncharacteristic of somebody like him. This is fine, I have no problem with that concept, but it fails to tell me why I should believe he would do such a thing. Spoilers I won’t mention aside, character choices like this are important enough to at least hint at their root. Also, the Mandalorian has a very strange gauge for who he can and can’t trust. He implicitly trusts some strangers with the most valuable baby in the galaxy while he goes off to kill people, then doesn’t trust a droid who was practically designed to protect him. Now I know what you’re going to say. “But the plot! But the plot!” And I get it. The reason he doesn’t trust droids makes sense. My point is more that he trusts random people for no reason. Also, he doesn’t trust that protector droid, but in a previous episode he leaves the baby alone on his ship with a droid he knows even less.

Overall, though. It’s a great series and has some awesome moments. The scene where he gets trapped behind a door (and the way he gets out) is incredibly well done, and did a great job at making the Mandalorian feel awesome in ways other scenes failed. The Mandalorian Armorer very much feels like a “rest zone” in a video game where you come back to upgrade your gear, and while the armorer herself is pretty one-dimensional like the other characters, I couldn’t help but enjoy every minute of screen time she had. Maybe she was my edgy OC whereas the other characters simply didn’t vibe with me.

P.S. I thought the way they ended the season was weird, as they revealed a thing that seemed too important to throw into an “after credits” style scene, but after talking to my brother about it, he made a good point. You need something to tease the next season with, and revealing it earlier in the episode/season would have left nothing to be excited for for later.

Review — The Boys

It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed anything (one nonfiction book, a convention?, and a podcast are all that I’ve done in the last year), and it’s been especially long since I’ve done any piece of media. Wait. I still haven’t done a review of Yesterday? Putting that on my to-do list so I don’t keep forgetting. Anyway, I recently watched Season One of The Boys, which was different in a lot of ways. Two things to note here: I won’t throw in any spoiler-related commentary until the end, which will be obvious. The second thing is that it really deserves its R (X?) rating, as there is lots of swearing, gore, and sex. This review itself won’t be too graphic, though, so if you’re just interested in my thoughts, you’re good to go.

Now, I don’t really watch TV shows. As a rule, they are very time consuming and require your full attention, so as a rule of me enjoying efficiency and multitasking, I tend to spend my free time elsewhere. I was interested in The Boys though, because its premise was very similar to one of my favorite book series The Reckoners, written by Brandon Sanderson. (You can read my review on the first book here). To sum up both plots, the premise is that superheroes are evil and exploiting the world to suit their wants and needs (mostly wants), and the main characters are a group of normal people teaming up to take them down. In The Boys, this takes the form of “the superheroes are all apart of a super big corporation that only cares about making money, so superheroes are the posterchildren for printing fat stacks.

So, ups and downs of the first season? Well, I’ll start with the bad news, which is that exactly one character in the entire show has any likability (if you really need a hint, it’s Starlight), and everyone else is either evil and self-righteous, or consumed with revenge. (Okay, I do also like Mother’s Milk and Queen Maeve, but I’m not exactly rooting for either of them to succeed). Since I didn’t like any of the characters, basically anything anyone did disappointed me. “Oh, no, what have you done…? Oh no, not you, too… Really? Was that necessary?” And so on. Nothing that happened was satisfying, it was just… interesting enough to keep me going. Side note: I think the casting on this show is amazing, it’s the characters themselves that make me wince.

The show would be a lot better if Hughie, the main character, is likable. But he just isn’t. When his girlfriend is killed at the beginning of the first episode (the inciting incident, it’s in the trailers), he gets wrapped up in everything in order to get revenge. When he’s faced with some difficult decisions, he makes interesting choices for sure, but he is never painted in a light that makes him relatable. Maybe that’s subjective, but I had a hard time agreeing with any of the decisions he ultimately made. (I’ll also say that he often operates in a moral grey. When he did the ‘right thing’, sometimes I shook my head in confusion, but when he did the ‘wrong thing’, it felt out of character. His personality can be confusing sometimes.)

That said, the story was interesting, and expressed compelling social arguments, which I love. And all of those things were introduced in a very believable way. This doesn’t happen in the show, but if I’m running for president and I get the opportunity to set my opponent’s house on fire with the guarantee I will never be found out, why wouldn’t I do that? A lot of the stuff the character actions in the show fits that mentality. It also has some really good humor, like when Butcher is talking about the Spice Girls, and when the conversation ends the scene cuts to “elsewhere” and The Spice Girls is playing.

If you had asked me if I was enjoying the series after any episode, I would shrugged. It definitely wasn’t a ‘no’, as I continued watching it, but I often felt too uncomfortable with what was happening to really say I liked it. The season finale though, is really good. I love how all the pieces were put in place for the second season, because it gave me hope that I can finally start cheering some of the characters on.

Alright. Spoiler Free section is over. Now for the episode commentary.

I have three big issues with the first season. The first is the most glaring issue of the fact that Compound V is so secret and so hard to get, but later we find out basically anyone with money knows about it. I simply cannot believe that it could be so well hidden if simple folk like Starlight’s mom know the full “truth” of what is going on. That’s a simple fix, too. Tell people you can make their child a superhero as long as they grant custody for a few weeks and sign a waiver saying the kid might die in the process. The parents are provided no details on how they are superfied. Done.

Second issue is also based in my suspension of disbelief. There is no way in a million years that Vought would have The Deep “out” himself after what Starlight said at the convention. I believe it is conceivable that the public wouldn’t settle down, but basically throwing away one of the Seven to save some PR is ridiculous. What they probably would have done was hire some random guy to confess publicly, hand him ten million dollars, then shove him off to Antarctica in case anyone wants to crucify him for something he didn’t actually do. There would definitely be people lining up to take the fall if there was enough incentive. It seems especially weird that they ship him off since they don’t make any moves to replace Translucent or The Deep after they’re both gone. Why did Lamplighter need to be replaced if the other two weren’t important enough for it? I get that he publicly retired (which I just know will be revealed not to be the case), but it still seems weird that The Seven is now The Five and Vought is doing basically nothing to acknowledge that.

My last problem is that I hate how Butcher shot Starlight at the end of Episode 7. It does nothing except frustrate the viewer. It didn’t even advance the plot! Butcher might have assumed she was luring Hughie into a trap, but the fact that Hughie runs after she is shot makes it really hard for me to believe that she could ever see any good in him, especially with how that conversation ended. “Hey, you made my job even more of a nightmare than it already was, lied to me about being a nice person, ruined my whole perception of reality, then had your friend shoot me so you could run off without redeeming yourself? Uh, no, I don’t think I’m going to be seeing you again, sorry.” But also, if they wanted to go that route, it stands to reason that she should become an enemy of the Boys at least for a while. Instead, Hughie redeems himself in thirty-minutes as far as the audience is concerned.

As far as the final episode goes, though, I thought it was fantastic. Homelander really pulled a curveball on me in the situation with Butcher, and the reveal that Butcher’s wife is still alive (and has a son) wasn’t really surprising, but it was compelling, and made me very interested to see how that interaction plays out. I’m also really glad that Starlight finally joined the “good” side, and now that all the main characters are playing for the same team, I feel like I can finally root for them. Mostly Starlight though because everyone else sucks.

P.S. I don’t want to know more about Black Noir. I loved scenes like where he stole the piano from that guy with just a look.

Me — The Most Important Piece of Media

I want you to think about all the media you’ve consumed over the course of your life. All the TV you’ve watched, the books you’ve read, and the games you’ve played. If you had to pick one thing, what one thing had the most impact on who you grew up to be? Now, I’m not asking you what your favorite piece of media is, although they might actually be the same thing.

I’m sure a lot of people from an older generation would pick a movie. Maybe a classic TV show. Somebody very young might pick a game like Fortnite (although, to be fair, they might not have experienced their “Most Impactful Thing™”). I would be willing to bet that a lot of people my age would pick Harry Potter, given that we got to grow up with the books and it touched so many millions of lives. It’s certainly not what I would pick, but I don’t think my answer would be all that surprising to anyone, either.

My favorite game is Dragon Quest VIII. My favorite movie is Dumas’ The Counte of Monte Cristo (2002). My favorite book is, well, a hard choice, but anything by Brandon Sanderson will be up there.

But I would say that of if you took one piece of media out of my life so that I would never have experienced, the Kollin that would be the most different from any other Kollin would be the one that hadn’t watched Avatar: The Last Airbender.

I’ve reviewed Avatar before, but that post is mostly just me gushing (poorly) about why it’s so great. (Side note: That post is already almost three years old… Next week is the show’s 14th birthday… oh boy.) I didn’t analyze why the show is great then, and I won’t do it now. You can look up YouTube videos (or even series) on that premise that explain it better than I can.

I will explain why it’s so important to me, though. First, it has a magic system that is so simple and easy to understand, yet involves interesting complications. Once you understand waterbending, you can follow the train of logic that leads to bending the water in plants, or blood, or the very air itself. The magic system is so simple, yet so robust. I love magic systems, and while I don’t quite have the fanaticism that Brandon Sanderson has, magic is my favorite tool to employ in the fantasy wheelhouse.

But more than that, Avatar has amazing characters and plot. Every major character is incredibly well fleshed out, has important character arcs, and they each have long journeys to take. The show has a level of storytelling that is compelling in the same way the magic is: it’s easy to follow (especially in it’s episodic nature), but the overarching implications are more complex and interesting. You don’t have to watch Zuko and Iroh’s separation at the end of Book Two to feel the emotions in their reunion at the end of Book Three, but it is far more emotionally rewarding and cathartic if you do.

I had a dream less than a month ago in which I knew I was dreaming, and I had full control. So far, that is the only time that’s ever happened to me. So what did I do? I fought off a bunch of dudes with earthbending. I often have mental images of characters in my stories that I like to imagine myself embodying. (The one that’s been on my mind the last few months is a large, perhaps elven character carrying a staff.) Regardless of day or time, though (and especially in the shower,) I still find myself enjoying the image of lifting and launching rocks with what is basically just martial arts.

Am I embarrassed to admit that? Yeah, a little, but I think retaining a piece of the kid inside you is very important. And the little kid inside me loves to shoot rocks at people.

Me — My Dislike for Televised Media

I’m not a big fan of televised media as a whole. It’s characteristics don’t synergize well with my personality for a number of reasons, and as such I don’t watch a whole lot of things. It has led to this new problem, though, that I can’t relate to analogies people bring up in movies or TV shows, even classics, so there’s this barrier that happens between me and other writers. It’s something I need to work on, and I’ve tried forcing myself to start a weekly classic movie night, but it has never stuck.

I’ll say this much—I like movies way more than TV, and this is almost entirely because of the time investment. I really don’t want to watch the same characters dealing with the same issues over and over again for twelve one hour long episodes for ten seasons. That’s just… insane to me. One season I can get behind, but investing hundreds of hours watching one thing? What a waste of time. (And yet here I am complaining when I’ve binge watched almost 500 hours of Critical Role. Humans are nothing if not contradictory.)

I can enjoy movies without complaint because I know it’ll be over in three-ish hours. It’s not something I’ll spend the whole day getting a fraction of the way through. I’ll meet the characters, experience their story, and be done. Rarely are movies made with the intent of cliffhangers to explore in the sequel. We can’t all be the MCU.

But the biggest roadblock for me is the fact that TV shows tend to be much more character driven than plot driven. I know how to write a plot. Telling stories is my jam. The thing that my writing is lacking in is character, so I would learn a lot more from TV than movies.

Okay, I do have an explanation for the Critical Role thing. The biggest reason why I’m not just watching televised media constantly is that it demands all of my attention and focus to consume it properly, and if you know anything about me it’s my incessant need to be multitasking whenever I can. I’m not just playing games, I’m listening to podcasts. I’m not just eating I’m making a new playlist of music. You get the idea. I can’t do that with movies or TV, so I can’t help but feel like I could be spending my time more efficiently.

Also, going to the movie theater is awful. $10 for 2 or 3 hours of entertainment, are you kidding me? I would expect a video game to entertain me for at least 15 hours with that price. (You’ll notice I dislike going to see things in theaters in particular.)

I really don’t have much free time to myself. Even devoting enough time to watch one new movie a week feels like a lot, and I no longer consider that free time. In an ideal world I would have a time every week where I just sit down and watch a new movie, but my schedule doesn’t currently allow for that.

So until that day comes I’ll sit here twiddling my thumbs and grumbling about how I dislike television like an eighty year old man that doesn’t understand texting.