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Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 3, Episode 9) – Deaths-Head, Revisited

When it comes to Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, there are some who say that his being drafted into service during World War II, had a profound impact on his life.

Returning from the war, his mind seemed to be filled with a number of topics that he wanted to get out. From injustice to racism, Serling saw these topics being kept from the public’s eye, and sought to bring them to light via his writings and projects.

The Twilight Zone was where many of these ideas could be brought to life, usually with some form of the supernatural, or science fiction thrown into the mix. In November of 1961, the show would address a real-world atrocity, intermingled within the show’s fifth dimension.

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As the show opens, we see a man walk into a hotel and ask for a room. As he signs his name to the guestbook, the woman assisting him grows nervous. When she makes note of the name he’s signed (“Mr Schmidt”), she timidly mentions that the man reminds her of someone during the war.

TZS3E9-1Mr Schmidt seems amused by the woman’s nervousness, but claims he was actually stationed at the Russian front during the war. When he asks about a prison camp in the village, she claims he is talking about the Dachau Concentration Camp.

“Most of us, would like it burned to the ground,” she claims.

These words cause the man to narrow his eyes at her, before he heads out the front door. It is then that Rod Serling’s opening narration begins:

“Mr Schmidt, recently arrived in a small Bavarian village, which lies eight miles northwest of Munich. A picturesque, delightful little spot one time known for it’s scenery, but more recently related to other events, having to do with the less positive pursuits of man: human slaughter, torture, misery and anguish. Mr Schmidt as we shall soon perceive has a vested interest in the ruins of a concentration camp, for once some seventeen years ago his name was Gunther Lutze. He held the rank of a captain in the SS. He was a black-uniformed strutting ‘animal,’ whose function in life was to give pain, and like his colleagues of the time he shared the one affliction most common amongst that breed known as Nazi’s: he walked the earth without a heart. And now former SS captain Lutze will revisit his old haunts, satisfied perhaps that all that is awaiting him in the ruins on the hill is an element of nostalgia. What he does not know of course is that a place like Dachau, cannot exist only in Bavaria. By it’s nature, by it’s very nature, it must be one of the populated areas…of The Twilight Zone.”

Taking a cab to the abandoned camp, Lutze enters through it’s gates. Exploring the ruins, a smile graces his face, as he imagines the bodies of the dead hanging from now-empty gallows, or recalling how he joyfully denied water to a pleading prisoner.

Suddenly, the sound of a door catches Lutze’s attention, and he finds himself staring at the face of a man in a striped uniform.

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Lutze recognizes the man as Alfred Becker, but is surprised how it seems he hasn’t changed since he last saw him, 17 years ago. Lutze assumes Becker is the caretaker of the camp, when a howling sound catches the former officer’s attention, causing him to look uneasy.

When Becker keeps calling him captain, Lutze demands he stop, but Becker claims that it is who the man was.

“I was a soldier, Becker!” bellows Lutze in defense.

“No captain,” replies Becker, “You were a sadist. You were a monster who derived pleasure from giving pain.”

Lutze responds to this by claiming that Becker should not dwell on the past, when the howling sound is heard again.

TZS3E9-3Becker claims that it is the sound of the victims, moaning their disdain to the man’s denials that he was at all involved in the atrocities that he committed in this place.

Lutze attempts to escape through the front gates, but they are suddenly locked. It is then that Becker reveals some rather unconventional information: Lutze had escaped to South America after the war, but he left that safe haven to return to Dachau..but why?

Lutze confronts this question, claiming he felt enough time had passed, that people would forgive “the little mistakes of the past.”

Becker looks insulted that the deaths of many is considered a “little mistake,” but he explains that since Lutze is now here, he is to be put on trial for his crimes.

TZS3E9-4These words cause Lutze to attempt to flee once more, but he suddenly finds himself in Compound Six of the camp, with a group of people staring at him, as Becker reads the charges.

Lutze struggles with a nearby door, his voice growing louder as he tries to drown out the indictments being read, before the howling sound of the prisoners overwhelms his own voice, and he passes out.

When he comes to, he finds Becker next to him…telling the man that he has been found guilty. When Becker also claims it is time to pronounce sentence, Lutze merely laughs, claiming that there is noone there to do such a thing, and the caretaker is making something out of nothing.

TZS3E9-5“They’re in your mind,” sneers Lutze, “You’ve planned your vengeance out of a crazy quilt of your imagination, sewn together with thin level-threats of wishful thinking…why didn’t I kill you when I had the chance!?”

It is then that the man remembers…he did kill Becker, the night the Americans came to liberate the camp. Becker’s death was one of many, in the captain’s desperate attempts to destroy ‘the evidence’ of what had happened there.

Lutze charges at the man, but suddenly finds himself outside in the main area of the compound…where Becker’s voice is heard. The jury’s sentence is that the former captain be rendered “insane.” Soon, Lutze feels the pain of the tortures he inflicted on others: the bullets piercing flesh, the rope of a noose around his neck, and the unspeakable tortures put upon those, behind closed doors.

TZS3E9-6As Lutze cries out and lays in agony on the ground, Becker walks up behind him.

“Captain Lutze,” he says, “if you can still reason, if there is still any portion of your mind that can still function, take this thought with you: this is not hatred, this is retribution. This is not revenge, this is justice. But this is only the beginning, captain, only the beginning. Your final judgment…will come from God.”

A few hours later, the cab driver returns, and upon finding Lutze unresponsive on the ground, alerts the authorities.

TZS3E9-7A doctor has Lutze taken to a hospital, but is perplexed: he seems to be insane, but is unsure what could have caused such a thing. As he packs his medical bag, the doctor looks at the dilapidated structures around him.

“Dachau,” he says, with a tinge of distaste. “Why does it still stand? Why do we keep it standing?”

Serling’s voice returns, closing out the episode:

“There is an answer to the doctor’s question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes…all of them. They must remain standing, because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone, but wherever men walk God’s Earth.”

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Revisiting the episode for this posting, I did notice a few more things than I did during my previous viewings.

While he could bring about intriguing subject matter, Rod Serling could get a bit “wordy” in his scripts, and that does happen quite a few time during Death’s Head. Then again, maybe he feels that Becker explaining things to Lutze, is similar to schooling the naive members of his television audience about what happened in places like this (including Becker showing Lutze a number tattooed on his arm). There may have been some even after all those years, who still weren’t fully aware of what went on in the camps.

Reliving the past or going back to a place (or time) that held special meaning, has been viewed in a number of episodes of The Twilight Zone. However, Serling has shown that in many cases (such as in this episode and The Incredible World of Horace Ford), not all trips down memory lane are like we remembered them.

Watching the episode now, one thing that stood out was how the concentration camp looked more like a re-purposed film set…which it was. Apparently, the studio had built a fort for a western television series, and after a few changes, it became Dachau.

Oscar Beregi Jr plays Lutze in the episode with an aire of pomposity at times (he could almost be seen like a bullying high school jock, coming back to his old stomping grounds). An uncomfortable smile plays across his face, like that on a man who feels he has gotten away with his crimes…though when the tables start turning, one can see that Lutze is very much a coward trying to keep control as the rug is pulled out from under him. Beregi’s bellowing voice also shows him trying to regain some form of authority, as he finds his reality crashing down around him.

What is rather notable about the character, is how he doesn’t seem to question some information that Becker knows (such as how he escaped to South America after the war). This is where the character gets a tad questionable in my eyes regarding how Serling writes him.

Alfred Becker is played by Joseph Schildkraut. An Austrian-born actor, Schildkraut would be better-known for his portrayal of Anne Frank’s father Otto, in the Broadway and film productions of The Diary of Anne Frank. Schildkraut’s role plays Becker as a man who is almost like the voice of a conscience over Lutze’s shoulder. His voice never rises to the volume of the captain’s, but the way he conducts himself with “quieter” movements, seems to show he is in total control of the situation.

In many of Serling’s films, he often had little love for those that were the bullies, or looked down upon others. The Twilight Zone episode here shows Lutze being a man who got an extra degree of punishment for his crimes against humanity, though there is the thought that if punishment escapes men like this on Earth, it will eventually catch up to them after their life has expired.

In the end, Death’s-Head Revisited offers a brief history lesson in an okay episode. One has to wonder, as we seem to be headed into another dark area of human history…can human beings truly learn from the past, or are we forever doomed to be trapped in a neverending cycle?

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 6) – The Prisoner

Another week, another new episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

After time on two desert planets and a forested world, our leading man’s latest journey keeps him out among the stars, but not far enough out of trouble.

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) reaches out to a mercenary he knows named Ran (Mark Boone, Jr), looking for work. What he gets is a prison break job, where he’s teamed up with Ran’s assistant Mayfield (Bill Burr), a Devaronian named Burg (Clancy Brown), a crazy Twi’lek named Xi’an (Natalia Tena), and a droid named Zero (voiced by Richard Ayoade).

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), Burg (Clancy Brown), Xi’an (Natalia Tana), and Mayfield (Bill Burr) encounter a mouse droid.

Mando finds there are added stipulations, but takes the job. However, it just feels like this deal is getting worse all the time.

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After a few minutes with this week’s crew, it feels like Mando has fallen into a combination of Suicide Squad and Rogue One with this episode. This is one of those scenarios where it seems the operatives were chosen for their skills, and if they happen to work well as a team…well, that’s just a bonus.

We get some hints of people having knowledge of Mando in this one. From Ran to Xi’an, there are small bits of information that their paths have crossed, but we’re left in the dark regarding most of those past exploits. There also is a continued mention of Mando’s disliking of droids, and a little more information on his ship, the Razor Crest.

Rick Famuyiwa directs his second episode of the season, taking us from open desert terrain, to the confining hallways of a New Republic prison ship. There’s definitely some flashbacks to the sleek-white interior of the Tantive IV from Episode III & IV, mixed in with some new elements as well (after the fall of the Empire, the New Republic now has the credits to afford droids to guard their prisoners).

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Mayfield (Bill Burr) encounters some deadly droids.

Fortunately, The Prisoner ends up not relying so much on nostalgia like last week’s episode, The Gunslinger. The little shout-outs to certain areas of the Star Wars universe in this episode, are a little more unexpected. We get a minor reference to The Last Jedi, while one of the character’s call-outs to a certain prequel species, shows that racism is still alive and well in the galaxy.

With a crazy crew of characters, I was hoping there would be some faces here that would be more memorable. Alas, the characters are pretty much here to serve their basic purposes of being colorful scum, that feel like we’ve seen them in other popular culture materials. I’d dare anyone to watch this, and not think of Xi’an as a Twi’lek “Harley Quinn,” or Burg as the team’s “Drax.”

The highlight of the episode is seeing how resourceful the Mandalorian can be in a tight spot, and when things really start to go downhill at one point, some of what he does brought a smile to my face. Pity that I couldn’t have enjoyed the rest of the episode as much as one little scene at the end, where Famuyiwa gets a little “house of horrors” in how he stages a tense scene or two.

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Xi’an (Natalia Tena) sees red.

Just like last week, The Child is relegated to a smaller role, as our focus is mainly on Mando. All showings of The Child in this episode, seems mainly to let us know he’s still alive, but that’s about it.

In my humble opinion, The Prisoner is definitely better than The Gunslinger for an overall story that doesn’t rely on nostalgia, but it doesn’t give enough decent characters to really make me care much for plight of most on-screen.

With two episodes left in the season, The Mandalorian started out strong, and seems to have become rather middling with it’s recent stories. With two episodes left in this season, I am hoping the first season will conclude in a way that will make us eager for season 2.

Final Grade: B

 

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 5) – The Gunslinger

Half-way through it’s first season, The Mandalorian has become a runaway hit for the Disney+ streaming service. Each new episode has revealed a little more about the helmeted lead (played by Pedro Pascal), and opened our eyes to the galaxy beyond the live-action feature films.

For the fifth episode, writer/director Dave Feloni, takes us back to a familiar locale.

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After a space battle severely damages his ship, The Mandalorian is forced to seek repairs at the nearest spaceport…which happens to be in Mos Eisley on Tatooine.

Needing to pay for the repairs, Mando accepts a request to help a rookie bounty hunter named Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale). The assignment leads them out to the Dune Sea, intent on capturing an assassin named Fennec Shand (Ming Na Wen).

 

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) hitches a ride on Tatooine.

 

While we have seen some locations this season that reminded us of places we knew from the older Star Wars films, this is the first episode that drops us back into a familiar locale…but things have changed since we were last here.

Mos Eisley does not seem to be the bustling spaceport we once knew, with Feloni showing us a place affected by the downfall of the Empire (and most likely the death of local crimelord, Jabba the Hutt!). This could be a sign that while the New Republic may be good for certain areas of the galaxy, it might be hurting newer areas that have opened up in the often-overlooked Outer Rim Territories.

The search for Fennec Shand utilizes a bunch of touchstones we’ve come to associate with the planet over the years. From speeder bikes to dewbacks, the episode is a veritable drinking game of callbacks…pity that the story can’t really overpower the visual moments (or composer Ludwig Göransson’s “south of the border” musical flourishes) .

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Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale) relaxes in a familiar locale.

As a new bounty hunter looking to make a name for himself, Toro comes off almost like a mixture of Hayden Christiansen and Shia LeBeouf in tone. Canvalle’s acting reminds me of the way Hayden spoke as Anakin Skywalker, and I do wonder if this was intentional. Like Anakin, Toro is someone who wants to prove himself, and in some cases, is willing to do whatever it takes.

Much of the story between Toro and Mando is focused on the mission. I feel there could have been some moments where Mando could have opened up more and given Toro some deeper life-lessons, but The Gunslinger doesn’t want to slow down and smell the roses. It’s storytelling is pretty straight-forward, and there aren’t a whole lot of surprises to be found here.

Fennec’s role is also much more brief than I had expected. I was hoping we would have gotten more time with her, like with Gina Carano’s introduction in last week’s episode, Sanctuary. Alas, it feels like Ming Na’s role is over before she’s had much time to register with us.

While The Child is involved in the story, it’s role is much smaller this time around. Much of the interaction with him is done through a docking bay mechanic (played by Amy Sedaris), who provides some minor comic relief during the story. Out of all the new characters in this story, Sedaris’ role was the only one that stuck in my mind after it was all over.

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A docking bay mechanic (Amy Sedaris), finds a hidden surprise.

The Gunslinger drops us back into familiar territory, but the storyline just doesn’t feel as engaging as in previous episodes. Toro and Fennec have their moments, but pale next to Sedaris’ docking bay mechanic who steals almost every scene she’s in. Writer/director Dave Feloni does manage to give us a teaser at the end of the story, possibly hinting that the adventure on Tatooine might have future repercussions for The Mandalorian’s journey.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 4) – Sanctuary

Since it’s premiere on Disney+, The Mandalorian  has become one of the most surprising things to come out of Disney since the acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd.

Creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and showrunner Dave Feloni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), have managed to channel into the gunslinger/samurai mentality that George Lucas often cited in various parts of the Star Wars saga. The episodic nature of the series is one part Saturday afternoon serial, and one part Spaghetti Western, with each week revealing more about our title character, and his place in the world of Star Wars.

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and The Child

Following events at the end of episode 3, The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and his new companion (simply known as The Child) attempt to lay low on the planet Sorgan. However, Mando comes across two unexpected encounters.

The first is a woman named Cara Dune (Gina Carano), A former shocktrooper of the New Republic who has settled down in the area.

The second is a small group of villagers, who request Mando’s help to take care of some marauders that threaten their isolated community.

Given the action-packed pacing of the first three episodes, it stands to reason some will be disappointed with how “simple” Sanctuary is. However, it’s the first real “breather” we’ve had since the show began, and I welcomed the chance to see Mando and the Child interacting with other beings. It’s one thing to see characters in intense situations, but it’s another to learn more about them when they aren’t being fired on from all sides.

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Cara Dune (Gina Carano) teaches the villagers

Cara Dune proves herself to be another worthy addition to the ever-growing cast of supporting characters. Seeing her team up with Mando to assist the villagers, gives us some more insight into her, let alone how her own training can be utilized to help the people. While Cara may have turned her back on the New Republic, that doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of helping others in need.

The village doesn’t feel that far removed from a native tribe, intermingled with a Japanese village from the days of the Samurai (those who have seen Akira Kurosawa’s films will surely see some connections!). Our main contacts to this world are a widow named Omera (Julia Jones), along with her daughter, Winta (Isla Ferris).

While Winta happily acclimates The Child into the village’s younger ranks, Omera seems to quickly take an interest in the Mandalorian. Her character isn’t that far removed from the young woman we’ve seen in Westerns, entranced by a strong-but-silent newcomer. In Omera’s case, it almost feels like her type of character is a little “too soon” for the series. The writers still manage to keep her interesting, even if she seems a little “by-the-numbers” at times.

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Omera (Julia Jones) converses with the Mandalorian

The effects provided by Industrial Light and Magic in this story, really works within the environment. This is the first time we’ve seen The Child really stretch his legs, and while certain scenes may involve an animatronic figure, computer-generated effects are used in a sparing way, almost hearkening back to the days of Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park.

Episodes like Sanctuary are a great way to use the slower moments to understand more about characters. We learn not only about the galaxy post-Empire via Cara, but more about the Mandalorian code, and a few more hints about our lead character’s past. The storytelling of Mando being tempted with a life of simplicity however, feels a little too soon to tell, given we’re only four episodes into our adventures with him.

Most will probably discount this episode given it’s tone, but for managing to “simplify” where others want a lot more, I feel it’s a bit more worthy of praise than most will give it credit for.

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Final Grade: B+

TV Series Season Review: Stranger Things 3

I was originally dragged into the series Stranger Things, by some friends who claimed it was right up my alley. What I had thought was maybe some cheaply-made rip on Steven Spieberg’s Amblin Entertainment productions of the 1980’s, soon had me enamored with the mysterious story unfolding around it’s characters.

Four years later, the series is back for it’s third season, this time moving us out of the chill of late fall, and into the sun-drenched world of summer in Hawkins, Indiana.

As the Fourth of July approaches, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobbi Brown) are in the throes of young love, much to the ire of her adoptive father-figure, Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour).

Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) are also continuing their relationship, and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) has returned from camp, with news that he too has joined the dating scene (however, with no proof of this mystery girl to be had).

Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) meanwhile, struggles to feel included in his friend’s activities, as they each seem to have grown beyond the simple pleasures of Dungeons and Dragons.

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L to R: Max (Sadie Sink), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Eleven (Millie Bobby-Brown)

As for the older kids, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) are interning at The Hawkins Post, with Nancy struggling to prove her worth to the uncouth men in high places.

Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) has taken a job at the new Starcourt Mall, scooping ice cream while fending off snide remarks from his co-worker, Robin (Maya Hawke).

For this season, the Duffer Brothers seem to have decided that the two themes to focus on, are “relationships,” and “change.”

We see this in a big way with our younger cast, but not just in regards to romantic relationships. We also see relationships in regards to family and friends, and how sometimes it can be a struggle to keep connections with those close to you. This is also notable in regards to Dustin, who chooses to spend more time with Steve than his old friends.

For the adults, the theme of relationships snares Jim Hopper, and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). With Joyce no longer frantically looking around for her son (though still mourning the loss of former boyfriend Bob Newby (Sean Astin)), she is given the chance to be more of a person this time around, as she tries to help Hopper with his fatherly ups-and-downs.

Hopper also gets the chance to move outside of his comfort zone, and we see him doing (and wearing) things that are quite unnatural. David Harbour really gets to chew the scenery in a number of scenes, and I was quite amused by some of his reactions.

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One of the stand-outs from the series, has been Millie Bobby-Brown’s character of Eleven. While she has slowly emerged into the world from her isolation, this season gives her the biggest shove yet.

This also comes in the form of  Max taking a sisterly-approach towards Eleven, and helping her expand her world-view. While Mike gives her plenty of attention and Hopper gives familial care and discipline, Eleven is still struggling to create her own identity, and it’s nice to see a character like Max help Eleven figure out who she is, and wants to be.

We also see the world of our characters expanded upon, with the addition of Starcourt Mall, along with the introduction of Mayor Larry Kline (Cary Elwes).  It’s a big new world that we’re seeing, and in that sense, that enlarged atmosphere feels like it causes the story to trip up in places.

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We’ve been no stranger to multiple story threads weaving their way through the show, but there are times season 3’s overall storyline feels a bit too cumbersome. From Dustin building a radio tower that intercepts a secret code, to some rather mysterious business-dealings happening around town, I found myself almost having to keep a scorecard regarding what was going on, let alone a number of new characters the show was trying to make me believe were important to the plot. Heck, the show even tries to cram in characters that I didn’t even think we’d need from previous seasons (though one does have a pretty fun introduction)!

This season is also the first time that the cameras feel like they’re angling for product-placement dollars. From Eleven and Max gallivanting around the mall, to almost everyone in Hawkins having jumped aboard the New Coke craze, I could easily have sided with Will Byers, longing for a return to the simpler times of the first season.

When it comes to the supernatural element of the show, the ante (and budget) has been upped significantly. The new menace in question, hearkens back to the likes of The Thing or The Blob, while also dealing with some elements from last season. It was definitely not what I expected, and ended up taking the “horror” tones of the show, into some areas that may make some viewers feel uncomfortable.

There is also an added human menace in the background for much of the show too, that almost comes off feeling a little…cliched. Then again, given we are dealing with the 1980’s, it was probably to be expected, but it really pushed against the believability factor for me…and that’s in a show with a girl that has psychic abilities.

Aside from an overstuffed story and my gripes here-and-there, I was happy to see that the handling of the evolution of our main characters, is still a key priority in the series.

The show creators have said they could see the show lasting for 4-5 seasons, and if it can continue to grow character-wise like we’ve seen in the last seasons, it makes one wonder what will become of our characters…and, how many of them will live to see the end of the series.

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Final Grade: B+

 

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 21) – Cleaved

Well…here we are. After four seasons and over 76 episodes, it all comes down to this.

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With no way to fully take down the Solarian warriors under Mina Loveberry’s control, Star proposes a radical solution: destroy the magic power that controls them. Star reasons that if she can destroy the Realm of Magic, it will undo the spell her mother (Moon Butterfly) used to help Mina bring the warriors to life.

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However, such a decision comes with a heavy price: not only will Star and others who wield the magic lose their powers, but the dimensional portals the magic controls, will be closed forever, shutting off all access to the majority of Star’s inter-dimensional friends…including Marco Diaz.

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I don’t think any of us thought that when we first saw Star Comes to Earth four years ago, one of the biggest selling-points of the series would end up being the thing that had to be destroyed. At times, Cleaved almost feels on par with season 3’s episode Toffee, given that we’re dealing with the destruction of magic, but in a slightly different context.

While Eclipsa and Moon have parts to play in this story, Star and Marco are front-and-center for the majority of it. We do get to find out what happened to Tom from several episodes ago, though it feels like one of the weaker revelations in this story (almost like the writers needed to get themselves out of a corner, and keep him in the story somehow).

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We also get some fan-related callbacks, as well as some unexpected revelations before the end of the episode, including just what “the whispering spell” incantation is (though it’s true purpose still is unrevealed).

For me, these 22-minute episodes have often been a way for the series to give us more emotional stories, and there is plenty of emotion to be had here (with one moment regarding Moon really getting me ‘right in the feels’). However, I also had to focus my attention on this episode’s story as a whole…and in that sense, Cleaved comes across as a good-but-not-great final effort for Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Maybe if the large, final storyline of the series had been packaged as a 2-hour movie, it might have felt more satisfying. Given what we’re dealing with in the 22-minute time-frame here, things feel a tad uneven, like there’s a rushed attempt to tie up a few loose ends before we get drawn into the final conclusion.

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Speaking of conclusions, I had some ideas just where the story could end, and I was surprised to find I was…maybe, 35% on-the-nose? The other 65% was definitely something I couldn’t have foreseen, but I do feel that some of the stories following the season 4 Coronation episode, were hinting at what the conclusion would be.

In the end, it’s interesting to think how far Star Butterfly has come as a character after 77 episodes. From a hyperactive girl creating flaming rainbows, to a young woman who is willing to make a major sacrifice if it will help others, it has been quite a journey.

This wasn’t the ending I would have envisioned, but from an emotional and dramatic storypoint, Cleaved manages to do a decent job. It didn’t feel quite as satisfying an ending episode as Toffee from last season (or the conclusion to another great Disney animated series: Gravity Falls), but I doubt there will be many upset with how it all turned out.

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Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “Ho-ho-ho, you don’t have any skin!”

Final Grade: B+

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Best line from episode (said by Marco Diaz): “O-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho, down goes the zipper.”

When I first started watching Star vs the Forces of Evil over 4 years ago, I noticed a lack of people writing reviews after the first few episodes. That led me to start filling the hole I found online with these reviews of my own. Out of a number of things I’ve written about on this blog, this series is the only one I’ve reviewed from (near) it’s start, all the way to the end.

While Star has not had enough outstanding material to put it up with some of the best animated series I’ve seen, it’s weirdness and acknowledgments of “magical girl” anime, were what kept me watching, and to see what Daron Nefcy could bring to an American-made magical-girl series.

One of my biggest disappointments, was while Star did garner it’s own rampant fanbase online, it seemed that many did not share in a lot of the show’s mysteries that intrigued me. There were not hundreds of people trying to decipher the Mewni alphabet we saw, wonder about the backstory of obscure characters, or try to draw conclusions around the dozens of things we saw that were never given answers to. While the Gravity Falls fandom would have been analyzing everything being thrown at them, the majority of the fandom for Star, seemed more hung up on which of the fanships being shouted about online, was “the one, true faith.”

While I am sad I didn’t really find an all-inclusive community to discuss the show with during it’s run, I was happy that I did have the chance to meet some of the cast and crew.

Along with getting the chance to speak with Daron Nefcy and Dominic Bisignino at The D23 Expo a few years ago, a highlight was running into Adam McArthur outside the convention hall, and getting a one-on-one meeting with him (plus, Marco gave me a Birthday shout-out in one of the show’s livestreams a few years ago too!).

A lot of younger fans have expanded on the series in numerous ways, with all manner of fanart and comics that have shown up online. As for me, I took the ticket and rode the ride as far as the tracks would take me when it came to the series (and the un-finished Joe Books comic series and the two Disney book publications tied into it). Much like how the series Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 I read in my teens/twenties ended, Star vs the Forces of Evil’s final episode assures us that the adventures will continue, but for us in the visual realms of animation, it seems that the portal has officially closed.

This may not be the end of Star articles for me, as I may do a few more introspection articles on the series, or another Top 10 episode list. For now however, it’s time to wrap up this last episode review for Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Good night, and good luck.

 

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 20) – Pizza Party / The Tavern at the End of the Multiverse

As we move into the final episodes of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s fourth (and final) season, it looks like Mina Loveberry is not going to make things easy.

With a massive army of Solarian warriors and major threats to the monsters of the kingdom, things may be taking a turn for the worse in this latest episode.

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– Pizza Party –

In a shocking revelation, Moon reveals that Mina is actually working for her, but promises she can quell Mina’s bloodlust, if Eclipsa surrenders the crown to her, and leaves Mewni, along with Globgor and Meteora.

This story is one where there’s quite a number of revelations and head-butting to be had. It could have easily spiraled out-of-control between several of our characters, and ended up becoming a major shouting match, but I was surprised at how the story managed to weave everything together in a satisfying way. There’s plenty of things going on in this segment, that kept me eager to see what would happen next.

Earlier in the season, I was wondering about Moon’s feelings towards Eclipsa after events in season 3. I had a feeling she might harbor some ill feelings towards Eclipsa, but I definitely didn’t think she was capable of doing what she did. We also see that the Magic High Commission may have also wished Mina to return things to “normalcy,” but it looks like it is more for their benefit, and not that of the kingdom. In a pop-culture sense, it feels like Moon and the Commission, acted like the Mob in The Dark Knight, hiring an unstable individual to take care of their problem…but not realizing just what they were getting themselves into!

One other major surprise is in the opening, where we get a little backstory into who Mina was, before she was drafted into Queen Solaria’s Solarian Warrior program a long time ago. We also get our first animated viewing of Solaria in the flashback as well.

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Best line from segment (said by Eclipsa): “Oh to be perfectly honest, at this point I-I’ll skip the speech and be on my way!”

Final Grade: B

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– The Tavern at the End of the Multiverse –

Before Mina can attack them, Star, Marco, Moon, and Eclipsa are magicked away by Hekapoo, to the Tavern at the End of the Multiverse. The tavern functions as a neutral zone, and Hekapoo feels she’s saved the group from certain death. However, Eclipsa, Moon, and Star do not want to just sit around doing nothing, while Mewni is in peril.

While Moon and Eclipsa have a heart-to-heart over a game of pool, Star is surprised to find Glossaryck at the tavern, and forces him to have a discussion with her.

We also get some “ticking-clock” imagery from Mewni, regarding the fate of the monsters there, as well as what being attacked by a Solarian warrior’s sword can do to a monster (which is so shocking, it even freaks Janna out!).

This segment continues the trend of shocking revelations that we’ve seen over the last few segments. We get some regarding Moon, and a few regarding Star. Star’s revelations though, might be the most emotionally-charged of this entire segment. We get a return to The Grandma Room as glimpsed all the way back in season 2, to discuss something we saw there…and what it may mean for the future of Mewni.

It is very nice to see the writers didn’t waste their final 11-minute segment for the series. The talking that goes on here is quite revelatory, and it never feels like any of the time is being wasted.

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Best line from segment (said by Eclipsa): “My whole, entire life has been ‘a time like this,’ Moon. You learn to enjoy these moments.”

Final Grade: B+

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Eclipsa, in The Tavern at the End of the Multiverse): “That’s it! That’s it! You’re done-you’re all done! Game over!”

And then…there was one. One episode to go, and Star vs the Forces of Evil, comes to an end.

Join me soon, as I review the final episode: Cleaved. At the end of the first season, Glossaryck of Terms mentioned that something can be cleaved in two ways. It can be cleaved apart…or cleaved together.

Just what could this final title possibly mean?