The basic premise of The Plot Against America is to reimagine what would’ve happened if Charles Lindbergh and not FDR had won the 1940 US presidential election. It is based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Philip Roth. The story is told through the eyes of the Levins family; A Jewish working-class family living in 1940s Newark, New Jersey.
The background of the story is that Charles Lindbergh (Ben Cole) is campaigning hard all over the country, where anxious crowds are waiting to hear him speak. Lindbergh flies a plane down to his campaign rally appearances while selling an isolationist agenda to the American public, and he is also opposed to joining the war effort against Nazi Germany; Lindbergh even has a campaign slogan consisting of repeating the same phrase over and over again at every single rally: “The choice is simple. It is not between Charles Lindbergh and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is between Charles Lindbergh and war.”
This show draws you in slowly; it takes the first two episodes to get a tangible sense of the characters and where the story is going. The tension grows in every episode; the plot moves slowly, but it works well. The world these characters inhabit feels authentic. And the clear depiction of this working-class neighborhood made up of mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants in 1940s Newark, New Jersey, was well crafted.
You get to know this Jewish family well; you get a good sense of this family and their suburban life. There are slow warnings of potential danger to their community through news reports on the radio and newsreels. The depiction of the slow and steady rise of fascism and the terror that it causes within the Jewish community is remarkable. All those things are put together brilliantly.
We get a closer look at the story through the eyes of young Philip Levin (Azhy Robertson), as he comes to terms with the reality of things. The audience also begins to come to terms with the high stakes at play alongside young Philip. We have to lean in and pay attention to each scene closely.
It is impossible not to avoid the obvious comparison between this show’s premise and the rise of Donald Trump. The idea that a celebrity with no political experience becomes a politician and turns out to be a populist and a right-wing nut job — appealing mostly to the lowest common denominator of voters is eerily similar — once elected, this right-wing hack turns the whole country into a fascist regime and The United States’ decline is set into motion.
It is chilling to see how Lindbergh uses a populist agenda and turns to members of the Jewish community to do his bidding. We have Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro), an influential leader in the Jewish community, who becomes a strong supporter of Lindbergh, normalizing many of Lindbergh’s rhetoric and, in a sense becoming the “token” Jew of the campaign.
I cannot help but see similar and modern parallels within many leaders and influential Hispanic community members who supported and continue to support Trump and his right-wing anti-immigrant agenda.
The performances are excellent. Morgan Spector (Herman Levin) and Zoe Kazan (Bess Levin) are fantastic. Both characters sense the danger of Lindbergh’s rhetoric but cope and approach the imminent threat to their community differently. Winona Ryder (Evelyn Finkel) is outstanding as this naive and over-trusting follower of Rabbi Bengelsdorf. The kid that plays Seldon (Jacob Laval) is a scene-stealer.
Kudos to David Simon for this remarkable and thought-provoking adaptation. I must confess that I have never seen The Wire; I’ll get around to it eventually. However, I’m a massive fan of The Deuce, which is one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in the last 20 years. Both of those shows were David Simon creations.
At its core, The Plot Against America is speculative and alternative history. Notwithstanding, it is also a clear warning of a dystopian horror that might await us in the not-so-distant future if we allow populist, isolationists, and xenophobic demagogues to rise into political positions of power.
Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿
THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA (2020). Streaming now on HBO
Happy to say, I was surprisingly captivated and highly entertained with this TV Series. The Flight Attendant is based on a 2018 novel of the same name by bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian. This adaptation is a frenetic dark comedy — a murder mystery that pushes the pace from beginning to end.
Our flight attendant slash heroine Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) wakes up next to a dead body and with no memory of what happened the night before. The dead body belongs to Alex (Michiel Huisman), a passenger on Cassie’s Bangkok flight with whom Cassie goes out on a wild night of partying and drinking.
After waking up next to her dead date, Cassie frantically runs out of the hotel to avoid the Thai authorities and rushes to rejoin her flight crew back to New York — Within a few hours of hotel staff discovering Alex’s dead body, the FBI gets involved in this international homicide investigation.
Upon the flight’s arrival in the US, the flight attendant crew is interviewed by FBI agents, at which point Cassie becomes their main suspect.
The frenetic pace of the show picks up immediately after Cassie returns to NYC. She goes on this quest to piece together the mystery surrounding Alex’s murder. She learns about Alex’s shady business dealings and dangerous partners. However, this show’s most notable and unique thing is how Alex keeps showing up in ghost-like visions throughout the plot’s critical moments. He seems to be embedded in Cassie’s conscience, where some of the most engaging and emotional scenes between Cassie and Alex take place.
Cassie is this out of control, functioning alcoholic, but in a fun and entertaining way. Kaley Cuoco is excellent here; Her comedic timing is flawless — her body language, facial gestures, and delivery come naturally. No doubt all those years in hit sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory has paid dividends. Her alcoholism and self-destructive behavior are crucial to the plot, and Cuoco rises to the dramatic occasion. In lesser hands, this character would have been annoying and not as likable.
The entire casting is solid, but the most notable performances come from the three supporting female stars; Cassie’s brutally sarcastic best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet), a power attorney representing underworld types. Zosia Mamet is superb here, and her presence on screen is intense. Megan (Rosie Perez) is fantastic as Cassie’s flight crew supervisor. Megan is involved in a sub-plot of international corporate espionage, selling her husband’s company secrets to agents of the North Korean government. Also, the Mysterious femme fatale assassin Miranda (Michelle Gomez) is outstanding.
The plot and dialogue are all well put together, some things feel a bit preposterous, but it ends up working well. All in all, The Flight Attendant is an incredibly charming, fun show to watch. It is high-quality escapism and it is suspenseful enough to keep you invested in every single episode. I am looking forward to season 2.
Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿
The Flight Attendant, (2020). Streaming now on HBO MAX
You don’t have to care, like, or even understand chess to be fascinated by it and to admire those who have mastered it. There are only two chess-related movies that I have thoroughly enjoyed: Pawn Sacrifice (2014) and Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993). They are both based on real-life characters.
There is also an excellent book that I love; The Eight (1988), a beautifully written novel by Katherine Neville, about the quest to track down a chess-set that belonged to King Charlemagne — it remains one of my all-time favorite works of historical fiction.
And it is safe to say that I can now include The Queen’s Gambit as a new personal all-time favorite when it comes to chess-related works of historical fiction.
The Queen’s Gambit is based on the 1983 Walter Tevis novel by the same name. I have never read any of his books, but I’ve been searching for a mass market paperback copy of The Steps of the Sun by Walter Tevis for a while now. Original editions of Tevis’s books have become very popular and expensive as of late — even used and somewhat worn down paperback copies are selling at higher prices than average. But I’m not complaining; I’m glad they are in high demand — Still, I’m planning to hold off until prices come down a bit.
This Netflix 7 episode series is about a Kentucky orphan on a quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. We follow Beth (Anya Taylor-joy) from the moment her mother kills herself by driving straight into oncoming traffic with young Beth in the backseat. She is placed in an all-girls 1950s orphanage where the children are given a daily diet of tranquilizers until Beth develops a pill addiction, which she carries into adulthood.
She meets the school janitor Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), who teaches her chess and becomes an early mentor and father figure. Bill Camp is always great in everything he does, and he is great here also. Beth Eventually gets adopted by a childless couple, and her journey into chess competitions begins soon after.
There is an extremely high level of quality to the production of this show. The set designs, costumes are all well put together. The chess competitions and chess matches are smartly portrayed. The tension is palpable in just about every chess match. The speed-chess scenes were remarkable. There is engaging and precise world-building that will make you want to become part of the world that these characters inhabit. However, this show is much more than only chess competitions and the mental stress of chess. It is about addiction, childhood trauma, feminism, and communism. Plus, it tackles mental health issues and the thin line between genius and madness.
The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother, Alma (Marielle Heller), is crucial to the plot. Alma’s self-discovery journey late in life after her husband leaves her is parallel to Beth’s journey. Marielle Heller is outstanding here playing this functioning alcoholic, coping with 1950s housewife life, while at the same time abusing alcohol and cigarettes.
The casting of all the supporting characters is on point here. The young Russian chess prodigy is a scene-stealer played by Louis George Ashbourne Serkis (Andy Serkis’ son). Young Beth (Isla Johnston) is just about identical to older Beth — easily could be the same person. Jolene (Moses Ingram) is solid as a fellow orphan and Beth’s closest friend. The two chess-head brothers who travel from tournament to tournament are hilarious. Even all of the cold war era Russian chess champions that Beth plays against are well cast.
Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) is praiseworthy as Beth’s first tough tournament competitor and eventual friend/lover. Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is exceptional as this weird and eccentric US chess champion; he competes against Beth and later befriends her. Her platonic relationship with former chess competitor turned photojournalist Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) is another critical component of Beth’s personality and psychology. There is plenty of symbolism in the type of relationships she has with all the men in her life.
Anya Taylor-Joy is unbelievably good here, in a captivating and soulful performance. This is a complex character with deep psychological issues. Beth has an amazing mind, but alcohol and pills fuel her strategic vision for chess. Her psychological dependence on pills and alcohol are an intricate part of her process of finding focus and finding clarity when envisioning chess techniques and strategies. But at the same time, they are also threatening to become her undoing. Beth can be sweet, charming, and messed up all at once, and Anya Taylor-Joy captures all the complexities of this character beautifully.
The Queen’s Gambit gets better and better with every single episode. The writing, acting, and directing are brilliantly brought together. I felt like it could have been two episodes longer. Nevertheless, Netflix has once again delivered another excellent limited series.
RUN was a guilty pleasure watch. The premise and concept of this limited HBO series are somewhat irresistible to me. We have two former lovers, Billy (Domhnall Gleeson), and Ruby (Merritt Wever). They made a pact to each other during their college years, that if either one of them ever texted the word “RUN” to the other, followed by a return text with the same word—then they will both drop whatever they are doing, and meet at Grand Central Station and be there for each other.
Now in their 30s, Ruby is married with kids. Billy is a successful motivational speaker and author. It seems like they have previously texted RUN to each other throughout the years, but this is the first time that the text was actually returned. The ex-lovers meet up and embark on a cross-country Amtrak train ride.
The whole idea of dropping everything in your life and making a wild run has crossed my mind multiple times, and perhaps this is why this show appealed to me from the get-go.
Episodes for the first season are roughly about a half-hour long with 7 episodes. Pretty easy to power through the whole thing in one sitting. It is a fun show, with lots of tension and slow revelations. Layers and layers of information about the characters are slowly revealed, so you have to be patient to see where the story is actually going. The tension keeps on building up with each episode.
The supporting characters are essentially the main obstacles in this love story. Billy’s assistant Fiona (Archie Panjabi), is stalking and blackmailing Billy — she is holding some dark and compromising secrets regarding Billy.
Ruby’s husband, Laurence (Rich Sommer), seems to be aware that his wife has run off to be with someone and is willing to forgive her if she returns home to her family. All the supporting characters added along the way add a very compelling dynamic that worked well for me. Most notably, the inclusion of the character Laurel (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), A taxidermist, who collects roadkill, and gets involved in the plot.
There is this exciting sub-plot between Laurel and police officer Babe Cloud (Tamara Podemski) that develops midway through the first season,
Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson have solid chemistry together. I was all-in on the idea that these two were once lovers. The sexual tension was believable. Wever’s performance is pretty intense and remarkable. She has this uncanny ability to deliver lines in a very deliberate manner. The character flaws between both characters are worth exploring further…. if there is a second season, which I hope there is.
In the final months of a dreadful 2020, I got the chance to finish up the year watching the second season of one of the most enjoyable book adaptations in recent memory.
His Dark Materials is based on a series of books by Phillip Pullman, who also serves as showrunner for the series. Season 1 was mostly based on book 1 of the trilogy, The Golden Compass.
This second season is based on book 2, The Subtle Knife, and season 3 will be based on book 3, The Amber Spyglass.
In season 2, we continue to follow the adventures of Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her Daemon Patalaimon (voiced by Kitt Connor) as they explored the alternate world that Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) opened up after killing Roger (Lewin Lloyd) at the end of season 1.
Season 1 was excellent — there was a lot of exposition, lots of world-building, and many moving parts coming at you pretty fast. But it all worked well, and things came together nicely by the end of the season.
We catch up with Will (Amir Wilson), who is also exploring this new alternate world. Will and Lyra’s eventual encounter will put our two heroes on the path to fulfill the Witches Prophecy. They both need to rely each other, as they find themselves on a journey full of obstacles,
The Magisterium senses a dire threat to their control and power and dares to cross into this parallel reality to stop Lord Asriel and Lyra. The idea of witches and non-believers challenging the dogmatic and authoritarian ways of the Magisterium is dangerous for their hold on things and the power of The Authority. Here, at the intersection of politics, philosophy, witches, religion, and multiple worlds is where the series becomes more exciting and compelling.
Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is brilliant yet again — she is pure magic whenever she is onscreen, and she is way more manipulative and deceptive in this second season. Mrs. Coulter is by far one of the most outstanding villains on TV.
In a sense, Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) becomes a more sympathetic and less villainous character in this season. The onscreen chemistry between Lord Boreal and Mrs. Coulter is exceptional.
Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda) is terrific again. I enjoyed how they have continued to develop this character from the first season. I was glad to see Lee’s Daemon, Hester (voice by Cristela Alonzo), getting a bit more involved in the plot than in the first season.
Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), a physicist who studies dark matter, is crucial to the plot. Dr. Malone allows the audience to understand better what dust might be, and we get to go on this journey of discovery along with her.
But the young characters are the heart and soul of the story here. The loss of Roger haunts Lyra, and Will is obsessed with finding his father. The bond between Lyra and Will is a critical factor as both characters move forward.
According to the prophecy, Lyra is supposed to be the girl “destined to bring about the end of destiny.” This is why everybody is supposed to protect Lyra — Will, Lee, and the Witches are supposed to protect Lyra at all costs.
The set up to the eventual war between the multiple worlds is set in motion in this season’s final episode. We see Lord Asriel appealing to the Angels as he tries to raise enough support to wage war against The Authority. The post-credit scene with Roger in this season’s final episode is shocking and sets up season 3.
I really cannot recommend binging this series enough.
Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿
HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2). Streaming on HBO MAX
It originally came out in May 2019 on Netflix, but it wasn’t until this past summer of 2020, during the confinement when I finally had the chance to sit down and binge on seasons 1 & 2. The show runs for roughly 30 minutes at 10 episodes per season, making it very easy to binge through the whole thing in a few sittings.
It’s essentially a dark comedy but with a lot more drama than comedy; the humor and comedic moments are hilarious, but when the drama arrives, the show gets dark pretty fast.
We have Jenn (Christina Applegate), a widower searching for her husband’s killer, who was the victim of a hit and run driver. She spends most of her time obsessively looking for speeding cars passing through the scene of her husband’s death, with the hopes of finding a lead to the hit and run driver who killed her husband. She theorizes that perhaps the killer might be living in her neighborhood. Christina Applegate was nominated for an EMMY for this performance, probably her most intense performance ever. She is remarkable here.
While attending a grief support group, Jennifer meets Judy (Linda Cardellini). Judy is an upbeat, positive-minded person but seems to be hiding a secret. Her interest in befriending Jenn is suspicious. Linda Cardellini made this character likable — at first, I was taken aback by her decision to get close to Jenn, but as the show progresses, you cannot help but root for Judy.
On a dual role, playing twin brothers Steve and Ben, James Marsden adds a unique dynamic to the plot. Katey Segal’s addition to the cast was an excellent choice; her character has a manipulative, sinister vibe to it. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this character in season 3, especially when she gets to interact with Jenn, which will feel like an unofficial Married with Children reunion of sorts.
The acting is what makes this type of material work. The entire ensemble cast is excellent—lots of drama, emotions, and heavy emotional content. The writing feels real and raw. The acting and the writing come together naturally and organically. The dialogue is sharp and witty. Once the two female leads are established as characters, their personality traits remain consistent. The rest of the female characters, like Detective Perez and Jenn’s mother-in-law, are well written — all the supporting characters are compelling and exciting.
There is this unique display of affluential, upper-class living portrayed by the luxury and flawless appearance of the houses inhabited by most of the central characters. They present this illusion of perfection, which is a mirage of the chaos, misery, and overall unhappiness in their personal lives. There is a particular scene when Jenn is crying her eyes out while an immaculate-looking kitchen surrounds her; A perfect example of the facade her character exhibits.
Season 1: It is mostly about Jenn’s grief and her family dynamics.
Season 2: We get to know more about Judy and explore her backstory further. There are many layers to Judy’s backstory, and season 2 gives you a more in-depth look at her life.
Netflix announced in July 2020 that a 3rd and final season would be coming, but there have been rumors of a possible cancellation, which would be sad and unfortunate. This show deserves to come full circle and bring Judy and Jenn’s story to a conclusion.
The whole concept of this series is to essentially reimagine and reinvent Post-World War II Hollywood as an alternative history of the golden age of American cinema; Where real-life Hollywood figures are mixed in with a bunch of fictional characters.
At the center of the story, we have a group of aspiring actors, writers, and directors attempting to challenge the bigotry, sexism, and homophobia of the Hollywood studio system. Created by Ryan Murphy, Nip/tuck (2003-2010) Feud (2017), there are 7 episodes, each running roughly about one hour long.
There are many things that work well with this show, and there are a bunch of things that do not work well. To me, the real-life characters were much more complex and a lot more interesting than the fictional characters.
Jim Parsons sheds his Sheldon Cooper persona brilliantly playing real-life Hollywood agent Henry Wilson who was Rock Hudson’s real-life agent. Wilson was a highly controversial figure in Hollywood’s golden age, known for developing a unique and specific “look” from his young male clients. Henry Wilson comes across as this awful person, but he is probably the most compelling character in the whole show. I could not wait to see more of this character. Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) is excellent as a young version of Hudson, who has recently arrived in Hollywood and is signing on with this nasty piece of work, Henry Wilson as his talent agent.
There are plenty of well-written scenes, and the costumes are excellent. The show is beautifully shot, capturing the glitz and glamour of the era. But on top of all that, my other favorite thing from this show was Dylan McDermott (Ernie), based on real-life Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers. Ernie operates a male gigolo prostitution racket out of a gas station, where rich men and women would pick up young men from the station to have sexual encounters with. It was also well-known that closeted older rich gay men will often use this system to meet young men.
Many legendary and infamous Hollywood real-life stories are depicted throughout the show, like the notorious “Hollywood Orgy” parties organized by George Cukor. The show explores the predatory and abusive level of exploitation of young stars by people in positions of power and influence, which resonates deeply with the current MeToo movement.
And, of all the fictional characters, Mira Sorvino (Jeanne Crandall) has some of the best scenes, mostly relating to the abuse of power and the level of exploitation by powerful men. Her character is super compelling, considering Sorvino went through similar issues with Harvey Weinstein.
Queen Latifah (Hattie McDaniel) is terrific here, completely owning her scenes. Noel Coward (Billy Boyd), making a brief appearance, was a nice addition. Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), Vivien Leigh (Katie McGuinness), Tallulah Bankhead (Paget Brewster): All of them portraying real-life figures are exceptional.
However, to me, the show became less and less interesting as the fantasy and alternate history element took over. Discerning what was real and what was not became murky and confusing at times. I sense that the main point here was to expose the level of prejudice, racism, and sexism that existed in Hollywood in that era — and how complicit Hollywood studios were in elevating certain stereotypes. Still, this show would have been much more effective in delivering their intended message by minimizing this parallel reality within the real-life storylines and remaining a lot closer to the truth. Nevertheless, HOLLYWOOD is a hyper surreal and compelling show to watch.
The legend of El Cucu finally gets a spot on mainstream TV — Based on a Stephen King novel and adapted for TV by best-selling crime novelist Richard Price — The Outsider is not a straightforward murder mystery like I initially imagined; it is a detective crime drama with a huge supernatural component.
The premise is not as simple as it seems: A kid has been murdered in a small town, and all of the forensic evidence points to the local little league coach Terry (Jason Bateman) as the killer. But coach Terry seems to be well-liked by all the town locals. However, plenty of evidence points to him being miles away from town at a conference when the murder happened.
Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) is a grief-stricken cop who has tragically lost his kid recently. Ralph is hell-bent on solving this crime and is convinced coach Terry is guilty.
The paradox of being in two places at the same time becomes, at first, the main obstacle our protagonist must solve. This is a dark but slow and steady show. It can be a bit frustrating if you are not into slow-moving plots. Nevertheless, there are some solid elements to The Outsider that merits watching it.
There are some weird but pretty cool camera shots and angles. We have different and exciting characters that feel real; they seem like regular people confronted all of a sudden with the supernatural, and we get to see how they attempt to rationalize things that they cannot explain rationally. The entire ensemble cast of supporting characters is excellent.
The character of Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) is the best thing about this show; she adds a particular dynamic and energy to the plot. Stephen King fans will immediately recognize this character from the novel Mr. Mercedes (2014). This show introduces her as this quirky, weird private investigator who has this extraordinary ability to see things from a unique perspective.
El Cuco (The Coco) is a shape-shifting supernatural entity, primarily known in Hispanic cultures, but there are versions of this entity in just about every culture worldwide. It is also known as El Cucuy, El Cucui, and Coca. However, the lore of El Cuco was mildly presented and loosely explored in the show. Nonetheless, they explained that this entity feeds on the suffering, grief, and sorrow people feel after a tragedy and how it copies the identity of people it has come into contact with by scratching them.
If there is a second season, I would love to see them tackle more of the folklore of El Cuco and expand on this entity and its connection to similar cases all over the world.
First of all, I’m a true O.G. fan of this series — I watched the first season the same week it initially dropped on YouTube Red way back in 2018. I think it took me a couple of nights to watch the whole thing; I would watch it late at night after getting home from work — I pretty much did the same thing when the second season moved over to Netflix.
Needless to say, I binged the fuck out of season 3 the same day it dropped on Netflix. I watched the whole thing in one sitting on New Years Day — it was an excellent way to start 2021.
Season 2 ended with this insanely well-choreographed High School fight scene between the rival Dojos of Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai. Which ended on a cliffhanger with Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) going over a stairwell down a few stories and landing on a railing, leaving him paralyzed and in a coma.
Robby (Tanner Buchanan) is on the run from the cops for kicking Miguel over the stairwell and leaving him in a coma. Robby is more of an outsider in this season; He feels betrayed by all the people he once trusted.
Season 3 is darker than the first two seasons, and all of our favorite characters are in a state of disarray, but the rivalry between the two Dojos is the one true constant throughout season 3. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel La Russo (Ralph Macchio) are still beefing with each other just like in the previous two seasons.
Here is where our three main characters and the rest of the Karate Kids find themselves:
DANIEL LA RUSSO:
Daniel is in a tough spot with his car dealership — His top competitor is making deals with Daniel’s Japanese business partner, threatening to shut Daniel off from his Japanese car importer. And in a desperate attempt to save his dealership, Daniel goes back to Japan to try to work things out with his car distributor, Doyona International. While in Japan, Daniel decides to visit Mr. Miyagi’s Tomi village in Okinawa. Tomi village has completely changed to how it looked in Karate Kid II, and now it resembles a typical American town center, full of name-brand American retail shops.
Here Daniel reunites with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto). This Karate Kid II reunion perfectly nails the Karate Kid franchise’s essence, and it filled me with warm nostalgia for these characters. Chozen teaching Daniel new techniques and pressure points was one of the highlights of season 3. Chozen should return in season 4; maybe this time around, he can visit Daniel in the States.
Season 2 ended with Jon Kreese (Martin Kove) taking back control over Cobra Kai Dojo, casting out Johnny and leaving him in a bad spot. Also, Johnny received a notification on Facebook that Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) had accepted his friend request….more on her later.
Johnny is still trying hard to make amends with Robby, but Robby wants nothing to do with him. The relationship between Miguel and Johnny continues to be central to developing his character and the overall plotline, especially as Johnny attempts to help Miguel with his recovery— Johnny’s rehab techniques are ridiculous and outlandish. Still, you have to suspend disbelief and go along with it for the sake of the story. There are some bizarre scenes, like when Johnny sets fire to Miguel’s feet to see if he feels anything or when he dangles an old porn magazine from the 80s over Miguel’s head so he can reach out and grab it.
We also get more of Bobby (Ron Thomas) in this season. Bobby’s expanded role in season 3 is great; he provides a bridge to the original Karate Kid film and to Johnny Lawrence.
Johnny’s relationship with Miguel’s mom Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), continues to grow this season. Carmen begins to sees that Johnny is a good man underneath it all. However, Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) returning to the Valley and to Johnny’s life throws him for a loop. He seems conflicted between Ali and Carmen — I think this whole love interest conflict stuff is critical for the growth and development of the Johnny Lawrence character and his road to redemption.
I’m happy to see Carmen given more screen time this season — I still believe that she might be connected to Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) or Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) from The Karate Kid III movie. She did say that Miguel’s father was “a very bad man.” And those two are both very bad dudes indeed.
Now back in charge of Cobra Kai Dojo, Kreese reverts to his original philosophies of the Karate Kid Movies with “Strike Hard, Strike First, No Mercy,”…. and the whole idea of the “Enemy” is out there type of stuff.
However, Kreese gets his moment in the sun here — he gets to be humanized a bit with flashbacks to his younger days. We get to see John Kreese’s origin story and his time in the Vietnam War. We learned that his mother was an alcoholic and committed suicide. We get to see where Kreese got his initial Karate training and philosophies and how those philosophies are rooted in his military experience. We get hints of a young Terry Silver as one of the members of his military team. The whole Vietnam flashback stuff is full of easter eggs and teasers for season 4… I think.
Also, Kreese is planting seeds of deception with Robby, turning him against both Daniel and Johnny. This plot twist is setting us up for something big on season 4.
The return of Ali Mills is beyond crucial here…She brings both Johnny and Daniel together beautifully. She tells them hard truths, like telling them that they are both very much alike and that they have a hard time admitting it. It was pure magic watching Ali return to the Karate Kid extended universe.
MIYAGI-DO VS COBRA KAI:
The power of mentorship continues to be the central theme here. We see how the passing of wisdom and knowledge can have both negative and positive influences on all these young karate pupils’ lives.
Samantha (Mary Mouser) continues to grow and develop as a character. In season 3, she is dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions and personal conflicts. This Samantha character is a compelling one, and I feel like the Miyagi-Do legacy rests on her shoulders.
Eli/Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) has some dark scenes but seems conflicted throughout this whole season. His rivalry with his former best friend Demetri (Gianni Decenzo) is still going strong.
Tory (Peyton List) gets a lot more screen time, and we get a small but better glimpse of her background. I initially thought that she was connected in some way to Terry Silver or maybe even Mike Barnes (the villains from Karate Kid III). We got to hear Tory’s mom speak off-screen, but we never got a chance to actually see her or find out her name. There is a good chance that Tory might be related to Julie Pierce (Hillary Swank) from The Next Karate Kid movie or Jessica Kennedy (Robyn Lively) from Karate Kid III. And now that we know a little more about Tory and her home life, I get the sense that she is in some way related to a character from Karate Kid III…. In any case, Tory is slowly becoming the primary and lone villain of the series.
Of course, there are some insane, hard-to-believe things going on in the plot, like the idea that in 2020-2021, we have rival karate Dojos running around fighting each other with no government or authority figures present….it is straight-up escapism at its best.
As I said earlier, Season 3 is a bit darker than the previous seasons. Most of the comedic parts are centered around Miguel’s rehab and Ali’s return.
All the characters continue to be massively compelling and appealing. Especially Johnny’s sentimentality and references to the 80s…. the 80s and 90s are near and dear to my heart, so I can directly relate to Johnny.
Cobra Kai is slowly becoming the Daniel LaRusso slash Johnny Lawrence buddy dramedy show. The chemistry between these two is terrific. I cannot get enough of them every time they share some screen time.
I get the sense that in season 4, they will take this whole concept of mentors and students to a higher level, especially with the potential return of Terry Silver and Mike Barnes.
This entire three seasons of Cobra Kai has provided a brilliant blueprint for how a successful revival of a series or franchise should be put together.
The Mandalorian First season was excellent, but the second season is unbelievably fucking good. Here is the thing, if you are a hardcore Star Wars fanboy like myself, you are going to love season 2. if you disliked the sequel trilogy or barely stomached them as much as I did, then you are in for a special treat.
In this season, we continue to explore other parts of the galaxy. Also, the western sci-fi elements are still there, as well as some Eastern philosophical vibes. The show’s episodic nature makes it a lot more exciting to watch; I was impatiently waiting each week for a new episode to drop. And after the whole season was done, I binge through the entire thing in one sitting, well, almost in one sitting; I had to go to work at some point.
Season 1 brought forward everything we love about Star Wars, especially the original trilogy’s tone, but there really wasn’t any direct connection to the Skywalker saga. However, In this season, the Easter eggs begin to drop early on. The nostalgic nods are sprinkled brilliantly throughout each episode, and things are put in place for established characters to show up at some point.
The structure for every episode is nicely executed, and the side quests on every episode worked well for me. We get to explore new systems, new characters, new villains, and new heroes in each new episode.
Episode 1 — THE MARSHALL (Episode 9, In chronological order from season 1): Written and Directed By Jon Favreau.
Din Djarin AKA Mando (Pedro Pascal) has been tasked with reuniting “The Child” with the Jedi — he seems skeptical and somewhat reluctant at first, but as we all know; This is the way.
Mando goes to a Tattoine mining town searching for a fellow Mandalorian to assist in his quest to reunite Baby Yoda with the Jedi. The mining town is called Mos Pelgo and is run by the local Marshal Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant), who shows up wearing Bobba Feet’s armor. Cobb explains he bought the armor from some Jawas. Mando wants Cobb to give up the armor since it doesn’t belong to him. Cobb makes a deal with Mando to surrender the armor if Mando teams up with him and with some Tusken Raiders to destroy an underground Krayt Dragon.
Some of my favorite and most memorable highlights from this episode are Gor Koresh (John Leguizamo) playing this underworld crime figure type and the scene-stealing Pell Motto (Amy Sedaris). But Temuera Morrison showing up in the last scene was fucking amazing. Is he supposed to be Bobba Fett? Has he been living in the outskirts of Tattoine all these years? or is this mysterious character a member of the original clone army who has survived all this time living in hiding in Tattoine? Whatever the case might be, this was an extraordinary scene.
Episode 2 — THE PASSENGER: Directed By Peyton Reed — Written By Jon Favreau.
Mando’s mission in this episode is to transport a passenger to another planet safely. This passenger is referred to as “frog lady” who carries a jar of eggs to be fertilized and save her species from extinction. The main plot conflict here is that Mando’s ship cannot use the hyperdrive because it would jeopardize the eggs. She is putting them in a tough spot and making them vulnerable to pirates and space criminals.
There are a bunch of cool space chase scenes all over this episode. We get to see the Razor Crest battle and outmaneuver new Republic X-wing patrols. The idea of including the X-wing patrols in this episode was a rad decision. Probably the weirdest and most awkward episode of the season, but lots of fun and lots of cool visuals.
Episode 3 — THE HEIRESS: Directed By Bryce Dallas Howard — Written By Jon Favreau.
This episode has a lot to digest; Mando ends up in a compromised position and needs urgent assistance — when three Mandalorians show up to rescue Mando. They immediately removed their helmets, revealing their faces, which we know is believed to be forbidden by the Mandalore way.
The rescuers’ leader is Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who is on a quest to capture the DarkSaber, which is currently in possession of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). Important to note that Katee Sackhoff initially voiced the character in the animated series.
We learned that Mando belongs to a fundamentalist faction of Mandalorians who follow an ancient creed called “The Way.” On the other hand, Bo-Katan belongs to a different faction of Mandalorians called “The Watch.” We hear about a past war between followers of The Way and members of The Watch due to their conflicting ideologies. The Way stood against more progressive changes to their ancient creed, and thus division and infighting began.
There are so many well-executed action sequences all over this episode. The battle scenes in tight corridors within the imperial ship are excellent, pure Star wars fan service. The Razor Crest is left in bad shape by the end of the episode and literally falling apart
Episode 4 — THE SIEGE: Directed By Carl Weathers — Written by Jon Favreu.
The first thing I have to say is that Carl Weathers should direct more episodes. I was very impressed with how he put this episode together and the choices he made.
This episode’s side quest is for Mando and friends to break into an old and almost abandoned imperial base operating in Nevarro. The thing is that this imperial base is not entirely abandoned and is full of Stormtroopers. There are also Speeders and Tie fighters, which are direct throwbacks to the original Star Wars trilogy.
Mando returns to the planet Nevarro from season one to perform emergency repairs on his ship. We get to see Cara dune (Gina Carano) and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) return to the story. Also, we have the return of Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) from the first episode of season one.
Episode 5 — THE JEDI: Written and Directed By Dave Filoni.
Man, this episode kicks some major asses. Mando arrives at a forest system called Corvus, where he is supposed to find a Jedi. He finds Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who I guess has been living in hiding for all these years. In the way this episode is presented, I get the sense that Ahsoka has been living like a Ronin warrior.
We learned Baby Yoda’s name (Grogu), and we have a small cameo by Michael Biehn, but most importantly, the foundation for the Ahsoka Tano spinoff series is set in motion.
Episode 6 — THE TRAGEDY: Directed By Robert Rodriguez —Written By Jon Favreau.
I loved this episode — where things move at a fast pace, and we get to see Robert Rodriguez execute some of his trademark action sequences; Rodriguez fits Star Wars like a glove and should be involved in future Star Wars projects for sure.
The monster size revelation here is that Bobba Fett (Temuera Morrison) is alive and back in the middle of things. They decided to make Bobba Fett’s armor look small and tight-fitting, which I do not have any issues with; let us remember that Bobba is older, and it makes sense that he has somewhat outgrown his armor. I wasn’t a big fan of Bobba Fett growing up, but this series got me overly excited about the idea of Bobba Fett being back in the Star Wars Universe. He still remains fresh and exciting, as we have so much more to explore about this character.
Baby Yoda goes to an ancient Jedi temple and sits on a rock that serves as a medium to connect with other Force-sensitive beings throughout the galaxy. We get to see Dark Troopers introduced, and they are AWESOME.
The only small beef I had with this episode was trying to understand a continuity issue regarding Mando’s jet pack. Maybe I need to watch this episode again and see if it makes sense.
Episode 7 — THE BELIEVER: Written and Directed by Rick Famuyiwa.
This episode is pretty intense; Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr) is back and teaming up with Mando this time to access a base that holds information on Moff Gideon’s coordinates. Bill Burr shines bright here. Mando taking off his helmet for a good chunk of this episode is pretty compelling stuff.
Episode 8 — THE RESCUE: Directed by Peyton Reed — Written By Jon Favreau.
This is where everything comes together beautifully. Some of the most exciting and suspenseful moments in all Star Wars history happens in this episode.
The Mando fight scene with the Dark Trooper is terrific. Moff Gideon is creepy as fuck, especially when he delivers this epic line; “Assume I know Everything.” Gideon and Mando dueling it out was also a pretty fantastic scene. We learned that the DarkSaber could only be taken by winning it in combat.
Then we have the build-up to the most astonishing surprise in recent Star Wars history. We see a lone X-Wing showing up, then a cloaked figure emerges from the X-wing, lights up a green lightsaber, and awesomeness ensues.
By now, the whole world knows that Luke Skywalker was the mysterious figure arriving on the X-Wing. Luke’s battle scenes were out of this world, similar to Vader’s Rogue battle scene. Also, R2D2 showing up was glorious, and of course, the emotional scene between Mando and Baby Yoda was very touching. All in all, this was a special episode and a gift for hardcore Star Wars fans such as myself.
I was not too impressed with Luke’s de-aging. This is the same company behind Nick Fury’s de-aging in Captain Marvel and Michelle Pfeiffer in Ant-Man. So I assume that those productions had bigger budgets, and higher emphasis was placed on CGI effects. Hopefully, as we advance, we get to see an improvement in Luke’s de-aging special effects.
MANDALORIAN SEASON 2 FINAL THOUGHTS:
I have to say that this season opens up the door to fix what Rian Johnson and Disney did to Luke in a big way. The timeline of his arrival in the show makes sense since Luke is supposed to be starting a Jedi Academy, and Grogu could become the star pupil.
The Book of Bobba Fett is coming out in December 2021, and I’m beyond excited to know that Robert Rodriguez will be behind this project.
When it comes to Star Wars, There is no such thing as too much fan service. Mandalorian has delivered two unforgettable seasons. This is precisely what we hardcore fans have been hoping for all along, unlike the sequel trilogies that lacked a singular vision. The Mandalorian under Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni seem to be organically following a singular vision in terms of knowing exactly where the show is heading and what the endgame will be.
I am looking forward to more Star Wars content from Disney+.