I Know You Didn’t Think Disney and I Buried the Hatchet Just ’cause BB-8, or, Star Wars: Rebels Season Two

RebelsS2

[Insert PM5K’s “When Worlds Collide” Here]

Though I may not speak of it often and openly it’s important you understand that I haven’t simply abandoned the blood feud between Disney and myself that began with the unceremonious cancellation of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Years from now my descendants and the Disneys will probably be hiring bounty hunters to drag each other over state lines to stand trial for their various crimes against one another. That’s just their lot in life.

But between their deft handling of The Force Awakens, two spiffy Civil War trailers and Disney’s outspoken protest of proposed discriminatory legislation in Georgia my spite toward Walt’s lineage has cooled. As if sensing my softening sentiments Disney went in for the killing blow with last week’s conclusion to Season Two of Star Wars: Rebels with a finale that may not have apologized for Disney’s transgressions, but did effectively look me in the eye and shake my hand.

The worst part about the abrupt, unplanned ending of The Clone Wars was the dangling story threads of characters who were either introduced in or heightened by the series but were ultimately left without resolutions. It was something of a bitch slap to fans who’d become deeply invested in characters that, on paper, should have been little more than footnotes in some Star Wars encyclopedia in the bargain bin of Barnes and Noble, but over the course of five excellent seasons had become something much more.

Despite the undeniable quality and fun of Star Wars: Rebels, that slap still stung.

But the Star Wars M.O. of late is one of honoring the past. Much like The Force Awakens displays a reverence for the original Star Wars films and the new Rogue One trailer showcases a reverence for Fallout 3, Season Two of Star Wars: Rebels extends a true reverence to Clone Wars and, by extension, that series’ fan base.

In Tolkien terms The Clone Wars didn’t end before Return of the King even started, but based on what has been said in interviews with the cast and crew about what had been planned for the series, it definitely ended before the Battle of the Black Gate. And it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever get to see that battle outside of some tie-in book or comic. But Season Two of Rebels serves as, still in Tolkien terms, something of the Appendices to Clone Wars.

Old characters appear, unseen past events are eluded to and a few lingering story threads are picked up in earnest. It’s exciting watching characters from The Clone Wars interact with the cast of Rebels. There was a time when the characters organic to the animated Star Wars universe were so easily overshadowed by even the briefest promise of an appearance of a minor “real” character from the films, but now those same characters that had to fight for sunlight underneath the shadows of Anakin Skywalker or Yoda cast imposing shadows of their own when they show up in Rebels. It’s a testament to just how much of an impression The Clone Wars left on the Star Wars universe. Between the prequels and The Force Awakens, The Clone Wars carried the torch for the Star Wars franchise and the flame wound up brighter for it. This past season of Star Wars: Rebels put a concerted effort into acknowledging that.

So while I’ll never forgive Disney for canceling The Clone Wars, their posthumous treatment of their untimely victim has at the very least turned our blood feud into more of a scab feud. At this rate, maybe one day my descendants and Disney’s descendants might even institute a “no-kill” rule in their post-apocalyptic, gladiatorial honor-bouts.

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Daredevil Season 2, or, Turns Out I’ve Been Playing “Seven Minutes in Heaven” Wrong

daredevil season two

Marvel’s Daredevil

A quick note before the piece proper: while I don’t go into specific plot points here there’s perhaps “thematic spoilers” regarding Season 2 of Daredevil, which is to say I do go into how I feel some of themes of the season resolve. So, I don’t know. That happens.

In a summer blockbuster season poised to be a war of battles between superhero ideologies last weekend’s opening salvo may ultimately prove to be an early and decisive victory.

This week Batman and Superman will duke it out over “what it means to be a man” and in May, Captain America and Iron Man will clobber each other over government oversight, but Dawn of Justice and Civil War both have their work cut out for them, because the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil has the Man Without Fear and The Punisher waging an ideological fist fight between life and death. It’s a conflict that not only proves exciting for a Daredevil story, but ultimately necessary for the health of the superhero narrative at large.

There is no perfect superhero. Whether their code is one of great responsibility or sheer willpower or truth and justice there is no superhero that can take on every shade of evil world has to offer. For instance, heroic as he is there’s a cruelty to Hell’s Kitchen that Daredevil’s acrobatic beatings just can’t account for. There are crimes that a black eye can’t avenge. Rather than cover up this glaring hole in Daredevil’s modus operandi and let it slowly eat away at the credibility of the character and his world Daredevil Season 2 shines a skull-shaped spotlight on it in the form of The Punisher.

The Punisher is the kind of guy who’d call Batman out on his bullshit and blow the Joker’s brains out with a sawed off. He ends crime by ending criminals. Season 2 of Daredevil is largely built on top of the fundamental conflict between The Punisher’s more absolute methodology and Daredevil’s “Beat The Shit Out Of ‘Em And Let God And/Or The Criminal Justice System Sort ‘Em Out While They Recover In A Hospital Bed” strategy.

As a society we want to believe in Daredevil’s methods because in a sense civilization depends on Daredevil’s methods. Civilization depends on a belief there’s a good reason Batman doesn’t kill the Joker. We want to believe that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, but it’s an argument that never completely closes the loop around that last gnawing inch, that feral, animal cruelty of the world that defies logic and philosophy. There’s a certain inhuman brutality the world can display that Batman and Daredevil just can’t salve. A brutality that can seemingly only be punished with an equal and opposite severity.

Enter The Punisher.

Jon Bernthal turns in what may be his best performance, no small feat for an actor of his caliber, as The Punisher. His Frank Castle is the fourth live action iteration of the character but the first to really take on The Punisher’s larger mythological connotations – the personification of the Old Testament justice that stirs in our gut in the face of particularly pungent sadism. The Punisher’s world is one of absolutes. It’s a streamlined world free of checks and balances but it’s also free of accountability. It’s free of aspiration and hope and ascendance because it depends on reacting to the world we have rather than striving for the one we want.

Daredevil’s methods may leave victims wanting, and it may let the worst society has to offer off easy, but they also account for higher ideals like hope and redemption. Daredevil’s ideology hinges on a faith in the world that The Punisher’s doesn’t allow for.

Matt Murdock and Frank Castle’s philosophical fisticuffs boast no shortage of thrills and excitement but they also prove incredibly thoughtful. The master stroke of the show’s second season is that Daredevil is never proven right and the Punisher is never proven wrong. The end result is a nuanced and open-ended meditation on the imperfections of justice that proves to be one of the best stories Marvel has ever put on film.

The Man, or, True Detective Season Two

Just a couple of happy campers.

Just a couple of happy campers.

True Detective’s second season was built on the Shakespearian adage “all the world’s a stage.” Its four protagonists were assigned a part to play long before we the audience ever met them, a role that they can never embody, an impossible ideal of masculinity that dares to be aspired to.

The Man.

True Detective Season Two holds up the myth of masculinity that so often drives the behavior of the modern man and in no uncertain terms shouts “this is not working.”

It’s hardly clearer than when Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro visits his father. Troubled over his difficult relationship with his own son, Ray sits beside his old man, who stews in regret and vice, before the televised black and white alter of Kirk Douglas hocking the masculine Hollywood nonsense that has two generations contorted into impossible poses as they desperately try to fit into a fictional mold they can never match.

Ray’s life becomes defined by a moment in which he pursues vengeance that isn’t his to have, but no person, no culture, no natural law would dare deny him. He commits a sin that knocks his entire existence off course because that is the character he is meant to play. He does what his father would have done, what a Kirk Douglas character would have done, what he is instilling in his son should be done. He does what The Man would do and his entire existence is derailed for it.

Everybody Loves Raymond

Everybody Loves Raymond

Yet despite seeping through generation after broken generation The Man somehow remains undeniable. Paul Woodrugh doggedly clings to the ideal at the expense of his own personal happiness and mental health. He possesses no shortage of evidence that The Man is not a character he can ever be happy portraying and yet he chases the myth like a greyhound after a lure, perpetually behind, sprinting just to keep up. It’s telling that Woodrugh seems most at ease in the moments he is least burdened by having to act his societal part: guns blazing, fighting for his life. Staying alive while outnumbered and outgunned proves a far more possible task for Woodrugh than becoming The Man he thinks he’s supposed to be.

Frank Semyon chases a similar lure, some nebulous, undefined state of achievement that’s only concrete characteristic seems to be that it is consistently beyond his current circumstances. Time and time again Frank has the opportunity to leave well enough alone and settle into a comfortable role, but settling is not what The Man does. The Man does not lie down, he presses on, The Man ascends via whatever cobbled-together means he can concoct.

Womanhood provides Ani Bezzerides no sanctuary from the toxicity of The Man. Her life is spent playing the character that could have saved her from a bleak childhood trauma. She lives every moment as if the next could see her brought back in time to relive the pivotal moment of her girlhood because what happened to her as a child would never have happened to The Man.

One way or another all four characters learn that the role they’re aspiring to does not work. The Man is not a person. The Man is not a human being. The Man is a fiction, a two-dimensional character unattainable beyond the eye of a camera. The Man doesn’t live a complete life. The Man is not fulfilled. The Man is not secure. The Man is make-believe.

The waning moments of True Detective’s season finale are quiet and hopeful. The Man has taken its toll, but there’s an understanding arrived upon. An understanding that The Man is an old way, a fading religion from a dying age, and in the season’s final moments there is the spark of potential for something new.

Though the imminent protagonists of True Detective’s presumed third season likely won’t get the memo.