“Shadow And Bone” 1st Look Images Highlight Fan-Favorites

The crown jewel in Netflix’s treasure-chest of fantasy properties is undeniably The Witcher. Even in its temporary absence, they’ve filled the fantasy void with…well, news of other Witcher spinoffs, for the most part. But as much as we all love the grimdark franchise and want to keep tossing our coins to Geralt of Rivia, let’s be real for a moment: Shadow And Bone is right there. Just a few months out from release, and Netflix has barely even begun marketing the upcoming fantasy series based on Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling novels and starring Ben Barnes. An aesthetically-pleasing but light-on-substance teaser trailer debuted in December, and accumulated over a million views on YouTube: proving there’s an audience for this series. So where’s the promo, Netflix?

Shadow And Bone
Jesper Fahey, Inej Ghafa, and Kaz Brekker | sea.ign.com

On its way, I guess. Today’s drop of first-look images (shared exclusively with Entertainment Weekly) and character posters (which I won’t talk about as much in this post, because although they feature better costumes overall than the images, they don’t shed much light about plot details) certainly gives the impression that Netflix is going to bless us with a real trailer in the coming days or weeks, and not wait until a month before the series premiere to start their marketing campaign, as has been customary for them with their more niche originals. Shadow And Bone has the potential to appeal to many demographics, including fantasy fans still waiting for all those Witcher spinoffs and prequels to materialize, and I’m glad the streaming service recognizes that.

The big question about the series – which the new images and accompanying interview with EW do not adequately answer, in my opinion – is how much of a balancing act it will be, as Netflix tries to intertwine two of Bardugo’s Grishaverse stories into one cohesive whole. On the one hand, we have the saga of Alina Starkov and The Darkling, which plays out in Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy (the first installment of which is also titled Shadow And Bone). It’s trope-filled, but still enjoyable, and The Darkling’s controversial popularity should make any and all discourse about the series…lively, to say the least. On the other hand, there’s the more uniquely compelling Six Of Crows duology, which takes place several decades after the events of the Grisha Trilogy and follows a group of young criminals plotting and carrying out an epic heist. With the two stories distanced by time and space, and sharing very few elements besides Grisha magicians, there’s no word yet on how they’ll be narratively or thematically connected…though showrunner Eric Heisserer teased a “very exciting” link.

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | yahoo.com

I was under the impression that, while Alina’s story would be the overwhelming focus of season one, we would also be introduced to the various future members of the Six Of Crows gang during their formative years, and only see them properly team up in the finale: since it seems that the main events of Six Of Crows won’t be covered until Shadow And Bone‘s second season at the earliest. But one of the new images (the best of the bunch, to be honest) reveals Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa, and Jesper Fahey already working as a trio…so who knows how this will all work out. I suppose they’ll have a completely original subplot in this season, which both alarms and intrigues me.

Out of all the Crows, only Inej Ghafa gets her own character-specific image – promising a larger role for the fascinating anti-heroine, and a breakout performance from Nepalese actress Amita Suman. Just based on Suman’s quiet confidence and lethal poise, it looks like Inej, one of my favorite characters in the Grishaverse, is receiving the kind of faithful page-to-screen adaptation that fans of other book series’ would kill for – and speaking of killing, Inej comes armed with at least 14 knives, and gymnastic agility. Dubbed “The Wraith”, she’s perfect at moving undetected through the grungy streets of Ketterdam, hunting Kaz Brekker’s enemies with terrifying efficiency.

Shadow And Bone
Inej Ghafa | thegeekiary.com

Alongside Suman’s Inej, I’m afraid Freddy Carter’s Kaz Brekker doesn’t stand out nearly as much as he should. That could be attributed to his dark and dull attire, and the fact that neither his sleek black gloves nor weaponized cane are visible in the image, but it’s an underwhelming first look at such a commanding and stylish character from the books (Kaz’s poster does slightly better in this regard, but still doesn’t quite capture the antihero’s essence, in my opinion). I have a similar nitpick with Kit Young’s Jesper Fahey, whom I would have liked to see introduced in a more characteristically colorful outfit and haphazardly wielding his twin pistols. And don’t even get me started on Nina Zenik, whose barely visible behind her boyfriend Matthias Helvar, bundled up in a nondescript shawl.

Even Mal, Alina’s on-and-off love interest and one of the most widely hated characters in the Grishaverse fandom, has a more stylistically and visually interesting first-look image than Nina. There is no universe, real or fictional, in which that should be possible (but actor Archie Renaux nonetheless deserves credit for pulling it off).

Jessie Mei Li looks like a great Alina, and hopefully brings enough charisma to the role to make the character interesting. But I’m afraid she’ll be both literally and figuratively overshadowed by The Darkling, her nemesis, occasional love interest, and the series’ big bad, at least for now. Ben Barnes’ Darkling has the palpable seductive qualities one would would expect from a man who can manipulate shadows, and he’s the series’ star power – like Henry Cavill’s Geralt in The Witcher, Barnes will be front and center in all of Shadow And Bone‘s marketing, whenever that gets off the ground: possibly to the detriment of his less well-known costars.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling | ew.com

So what do you think of the new images for Shadow And Bone? If you’re a Grishaverse reader as well as potential viewer, which character are you most excited to see in live-action? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Raya And The Last Dragon” 2nd Trailer!

The first trailer for Disney’s Raya didn’t make that big an impact when it dropped several months ago, despite its stunning animation, stellar voice-cast headlined by Kelly Marie Tran, and beautiful Southeast Asian setting. It caused plenty of heated discourse, though: as many fans understandably felt cheated by the way the film blends several vastly different Southeast Asian cultures, traditions, and myths; and others drew unfavorable comparisons to Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend Of Korra, saying Disney had blatantly ripped off the popular Nickelodeon series’.

Raya
Raya And The Last Dragon | collider.com

The second trailer – released today, completely out of the blue as far as I can tell – is bound to be a shock for anyone who genuinely loved the first trailer for its maturity, somber tone, and grandeur. We’re about two months out from Raya‘s release, and suddenly Disney has decided to market the film as Lord Of The Rings by way of…Fast And Furious, I guess? I’m not complaining, because this movie still looks ridiculously awesome (emphasis on the ridiculous), but Disney’s misleadingly epic teaser trailers are becoming a bit much at this point. Then again, anyone who actually thought Frozen II was going to be a dark fantasy about the impending dangers of climate-change based on one scene of Elsa running over water was probably setting themselves up for failure.

But the key difference between Raya And The Last Dragon and other Disney animated family films is that Raya actually does have the stunning, gravity-defying action sequences its trailers promise. According to directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, a cut exists of the movie that could have landed it an R-rating for violence. That may be exaggeration, but their insistence that the film’s fight scenes are inspired by those of franchises like John Wick certainly gives me hope that we’re in for something spectacular when Raya leaps onto our screens in March, armed with her iconic wavy-bladed kalis, whip, and magic powers.

Raya
Raya | slashfilm.com

Thankfully, Disney Animation has broken recent tradition and given Raya an actual villain to bounce off of, and to fight. Although I appreciated Frozen II‘s villain twist (“the crimes and misdeeds of previous generations, if left unaddressed, are the greatest evils of our time” was a clever and brilliant message, albeit completely undermined in the film’s third act), I’ve been missing real Disney villains lately: their unapologetic campiness, their swagger, and their braggadocio. Raya’s nemesis, named Namaari and voiced by Gemma Chan, might not have a campy bone in her body, but she’s got the swagger, she’s got the braggadocio, and most importantly, she’s got back muscles that most Disney villains would kill for. I don’t know whether to ask for her workout regimen or her hand in marriage.

There’s always a chance that Namaari and Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, who recently made her triumphant comeback to social media after years of relentless harassment from embittered Star Wars fanboys) will join forces by the end of the movie to defeat some greater evil, but before that happens we’ll get plenty of duels between the two, as they both hunt for the last dragon – the only creature capable of saving the land of Kumandra from an ancient evil. Set to modern epic music, the trailer invites us on a globe-trotting quest around Kumandra’s warring regions alongside a fellowship of anti-heroic misfits, including a con-baby with a troop of monkey minions. Each region seems to reflect a different part of Southeast Asia, from the forests of Indonesia and the Philippines, to the river-delta villages of Bangladesh. The new trailer showcases more of the area’s diversity than the teaser, while memorable sequences from the teaser are noticeably absent: the sequences that had viewers comparing Raya and Korra’s blue outfits and similarly-styled ponytails.

Raya
Raya | etonline.com

But the new trailer does confirm that the mysterious masked man seen battling Raya in the teaser was, in fact, her father – and the ritual guardian of Kumandra’s dragon gem, as I guessed at the time. Daniel Dae Kim will voice the role, which will surely be brief: he barely gets to speak a single line in the trailer before we cut to Raya placing flowers at a shrine with a statue of him. It’s somehow comforting that, with the world as unpredictable and chaotic as it is, you can always rely on Disney Animation to kill their protagonists’ parents. Some things never change.

But what about you? How excited are you based on this new trailer? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

Jodie Turner-Smith Will Lead “The Witcher: Blood Origin”

Although I initially had my reservations about Netflix’s fast-paced attempts to expand a single season of The Witcher into a multi-medium franchise with prequels and spinoffs before the second season had even started filming (in fact, it still hasn’t wrapped), I have since changed my mind for two reasons. Firstly, because The Witcher has proven to be my go-to rewatchable comfort show during quarantine, and I’ve plunged deeper into the grimdark fantasy’s extensive lore (both book-canon and video game-canon, mind you) with each successive rewatch. I appreciate the series more now than ever before, and I’m itching to return to The Continent and explore more of its monster-infested forests, bogs, and mountains.

The Witcher
Jodie Turner-Smith | finance.yahoo.com

Secondly, because Jodie Turner-Smith joining The Witcher‘s prequel spinoff in a lead role is the kind of casting that immediately sets this prequel, titled Blood Origin, apart from a crowd of fantasy stories that will soon flood every streaming service imaginable. Turner-Smith’s filmography is still relatively sparse, but her breakout role in 2019’s Queen & Slim is finally paying off – with Turner-Smith having just recently landed the role of Tudor queen Anne Boleyn in a psychological drama based on her life and execution, and now joining Netflix’s Blood Origin in a lead role that has the potential to elevate her to a whole new level of success.

From the brief description we’ve been given by Deadline, Turner-Smith’s role already sounds intriguing – she will play a character named Éile, “an elite warrior blessed with the voice of a goddess, who has left her clan and position as Queen’s guardian to follow her heart as a nomadic musician.” But “A grand reckoning on the continent will force her to return to the way of the blade in her quest for vengeance and redemption”. What Deadline doesn’t note is that The Illuminerdi broke exclusive details about the casting call for Éile’s character back in November, which additionally confirm that she comes “from a Clan of Elves that use knives as their primary weapon”. At the time, Netflix was interested in actresses with a history of dance and stunt work, suggesting that Jodie Turner-Smith’s part will be strongly action-oriented.

The Witcher
Fringilla Vigo | looper.com

Black heroines in the fantasy genre are rare, but Black action heroines (in any genre) are rarer still. The Witcher has thus far mostly excelled at portraying complex women with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, from endearingly brutish queens like Calinthe to politically-savvy sorceresses like Yennefer. The exceptions to the rule, unfortunately, were characters like Eithné and Fringilla Vigo, both Black women, and both suffering from cardboard-thin characterizations. Fringilla in particular deserved better writing. Her pivotal part in the season finale should have been thrilling, but ultimately disappointed because she wasn’t morally complex enough to sympathize with, nor evil enough to actually hate. With Éile having to balance being a heaven-sent singer and a knife-wielding warrior, I imagine her character will be far more compelling.

Blood Origin will follow her journey during or shortly after The Conjunction Of The Spheres, an era of chaos in The Continent’s prehistory, when worlds and dimensions collided violently, scattering their inhabitants far and wide. With Humans and Elves forced to live in close proximity with an assortment of abhorrent monsters and bloodthirsty demons, powerful sorcerers began construction on the first Witchers – elite mutant assassins capable of hunting and killing the great beasts roaming in the wilderness. Blood Origin was originally believed to follow the first Witcher’s journey (and rumors swirled that he would be played by Jason Momoa), but I hope for Jodie Turner-Smith’s sake that she’s either the actual protagonist, or at least doesn’t get overshadowed in her role.

The Witcher
The Witcher | pcgamer.com

But what do you think of Jodie Turner-Smith’s casting? And tell me, honestly, how many times have you rewatched The Witcher during quarantine? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Middle-earth Explained: Lindon And The Elves Of The Second Age

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Lindon
“The Grey Havens” by The Brothers Hildebrandt | baltimoresun.com

Lindon is by no means a name familiar to most Tolkien fans, so it’s understandable if you need a reminder about where it is in Middle-earth – though, in fact, both The Lord Of The Rings books and films did very briefly enter Lindon in the saga’s emotional climax. Described in Amazon’s synopsis as an “elf-capital” with “majestic forests”, Lindon is more recognizable as the Elven land west of the Shire where the Grey Havens were located…and from which Frodo and Bilbo set sail at the end of the Third Age, seeking out spiritual healing in the Uttermost West. This bit tends to be confusing for many first-time Tolkien fans, particularly movie-goers; the films don’t set it up as well as they should, and it never gets explained, leading to the entire sequence often being mistakenly interpreted as an allegory for Frodo dying.

But if you’ve ever wondered what happens to the Bagginses after they sail into the sunset at the end of The Return Of The King, then this is the post for you – and in the process, you’ll also learn everything you need to know about Lindon and its people before Amazon brings them to life on the small screen.

Amazon’s Middle-earth series, while still titled The Lord Of The Rings, is set thousands of years before the events of the trilogy, in the Second Age of Middle-earth during a time of mighty empires and epic heroes…but our story begins even further back, in the First Age. The world was flat like a tabletop, and still newly formed, and there were really only two continents: the westernmost of the two being Valinor, the land of the gods (or Valar, as they’re called in Tolkien’s myths), and the easternmost being…well, Middle-earth. The race of Elves originated in the uncharted forests of Middle-earth early in the First Age, predating the creation of the sun and moon by at least a millennia or two and explaining their collective fascination with stars, the only real source of light during their formative years as a species. The Valar had foreseen their coming, and what with the Elves being the subject of a whole bunch of prophecies, and a particularly nasty Dark Lord named Morgoth roaming through Middle-earth at the time, it was in everyone’s best interests for the Valar to herd the Elves westward, and over the sea into Valinor. Along the way, some Elves got fed up and went home, or got lost, or found other places to settle down…to keep things simple, I’m referring to those stragglers as Silvan Elves, though the proper blanket term for them is the Nandor. Anyway, remember them: they show up again later.

Of the Elves who made it all the way to Valinor and flourished there under the benevolent influence of the Valar, the most prominent and promising were always the skilled, hotheaded people known as the Noldor. But just three stolen gemstones and two dead trees later, Valinor had been plunged into chaos, and most of the Noldor recklessly took off for Middle-earth, pursuing Morgoth, the culprit, with an unholy vengeance in their hearts – all while openly rebelling against the Valar, who had insisted they stay put in Valinor while the gods dealt with Morgoth themselves. The Noldor established countries and civilizations of their own in Middle-earth, most of which toppled to ruin at the end of the First Age: when the Valar finally defeated Morgoth in battle, trampling mountains into the sea and flooding the entire region known as Beleriand until only a sliver of it remained; that sliver being Lindon, a coastal landmass just barely big enough to contain the entire suddenly displaced population of Beleriand – and not just the Elves, but the Men and Dwarves too.

Lindon
Elves “At Lake Cuivienen” by Ted Nasmith | pinterest.com

The Second Age opens with the Valar offering all of the exiled Noldor a chance to repent for their crimes and return to Valinor. Many Elves agreed to do so, but many more did not – instead choosing to stay in Middle-earth. Nonetheless, the option to sail back to Valinor was still available to all Elves at any time, and only made more accessible when Círdan the Shipwright completed building his Grey Havens in Lindon in the first year of the Second Age. But while Círdan presided over the Havens, he was never called a king – that title belonged to his adopted son, Gil-galad, who had become High King of the Noldor at a young age, and was by this point acknowledged as the highest-ranking Elven King in all of Middle-earth. Gil-galad stayed in Lindon even while many of his people migrated further eastward, settling new lands in Eregion and beyond.

Amazon’s description of Lindon as an “elf-capital” is both misleading (the closest thing to a city was the Grey Havens) and accurate, in a way: Lindon was a rural melting-pot populated by both Noldor and Silvan Elves, the latter of whom had lived there long before Gil-galad’s arrival. Tolkien hinted at the notion of a deep divide between the Elves from Valinor and those of Middle-earth, which I expect to see explored further in Amazon’s series; as the two peoples clash after their long estrangement, in a cultural and societal conflict. Meanwhile, Dwarves lived in the Blue Mountains that encircled Lindon – though their underground mansions of Nogrod and Belegost were both at least partially-destroyed by the turmoil of Morgoth’s fall.

Midway through the Second Age, Gil-galad warded off an attempt by the Dark Lord Sauron to infiltrate Lindon disguised as an emissary of the Valar named Annatar. Though Gil-galad could not guess at Annatar’s true identity, he sent warnings to his Elven kinsfolk across Middle-earth about the mysterious stranger – warnings that were ignored in Eregion, where Annatar was allowed to become a powerful and influential figure, overseeing the construction of all but three of the great Rings of Power. Those remaining three were secretly given to Gil-galad, Círdan, and Galadriel for safekeeping after Annatar betrayed the Elves of Eregion (*pretends to be shocked*), forging the One Ring to control them all.

Sauron’s brutality in Middle-earth drove many Elves back under the protective aegis of Gil-galad, whose power was still too great for Sauron to challenge – but some, out of fear and grief, fled across the sea to Valinor, never to return. Gil-galad brought in aid from Númenor to help conquer Sauron, unintentionally sparking a grudge-match between Sauron and the island kingdom of Men that eventually resulted in Númenor and most of its population being dragged into the ocean abyss; Valinor being removed from the Circles of the World by divine intervention (though still accessible via the “Straight Road” open only to Elven ships); and the earth being made round. Lindon lost many of its beaches, but otherwise scraped by.

In the final years of the Second Age, Lindon’s Elven armies played a pivotal part in bringing about the defeat of Sauron (albeit a temporary defeat). The last Númenórean refugees led by Elendil joined forces with Gil-galad’s Noldor and Silvan Elves in what became known as the Last Alliance, and together they pursued Sauron south across Middle-earth, into the mountains and volcanic wastelands of Mordor. There, on the slopes of Mount Doom, Gil-galad was burned to death by Sauron’s fiery hand: and with him died the kingship of the Noldor. His Ring of Power, Vilya, was saved by his young herald, Elrond, who later used it to heal Middle-earth’s hurts from his dwelling in the refuge of Rivendell. Lindon, meanwhile, faded in significance in the absence of its noble King, becoming little more than a rest stop on the one-way trip to paradise for world-weary Elves and occasional Ringbearers.

Lindon
The Grey Havens | looper.com

So next time you read the books or watch the movies, and get to those heart-wrenching final scenes at the Grey Havens, spare a thought for what was once the greatest realm of the Elves between the Mountains and the Sea in the Second Age – and think ahead to Amazon’s series, which will allow us to finally witness Lindon in all its glory.

Tell me what place in Middle-earth you’re most excited to see, and be sure to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Who’s Who In “WandaVision”

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

As WandaVision‘s central mystery expands across several decades of television history and at least two distinctly separate realities, so too does its cast of characters, both major players and bit parts. And with Wanda raising the stakes dramatically in episode three, it’s becoming more important to tell characters apart and work out the most important details in any Marvel Cinematic Universe property – who’s connected to whom, and who’s working for whom? WandaVision hints at the idea that charming newlyweds Wanda Maximoff and Vision are being manipulated by dark forces lurking within their quaint suburban community of Westview: but after yesterday it’s looking more likely that Wanda herself has a hand in causing the strange events that plague her and her husband from day one of their married life together.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

Wanda Maximoff

WandaVision
Wanda Maximoff | cnet.com

Our series’ heroine has always been something of a lone wolf. After the events of Avengers: Endgame, with Vision dead, her strongest tie to the Avengers family was severed – and it looks like she decided to finally follow Hawkeye’s lead and just retire. But Hawkeye already had a family with which to settle down. Wanda first had to build one of her own, which would require her to do…whatever she did to bring back Vision back to life, possibly only in her dreams. Noting how violent her reaction has been to the S.W.O.R.D. logo whenever it pops up in Westview, many fans have speculated that Wanda was working with S.W.O.R.D. (which stands for Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division in the MCU) to resurrect Vision when she went rogue and decided to hijack the experiment, eloping with her android boyfriend into a pocket dimension that she created on the site of the real town of Westview…or which someone else created for her, in order to lure her into a trap. Either way, it’s beginning to look like the citizens of the real Westview are now trapped there with her against their will, and are the real victims in this messy situation.

Allegiance: let’s mark her down as a free agent for now. It may turn out she’s being too heavily manipulated to see the chaos she’s causing, but honestly, it looks like she has a lot of control over Westview and is enjoying her newfound power. So even if she’s not entirely at fault, I don’t think she’s blameless either.

Vision

WandaVision
Vision | indianexpress.com

How did Vision go from being killed by Wanda to being resurrected by Thanos, to being killed by Thanos, to being resurrected yet again in WandaVision? Well, extrapolating off the theory that Wanda was working with S.W.O.R.D. to resurrect the android post-Endgame, my guess is that S.W.O.R.D.’s tech was capable of rebooting Vision – but without any of his past memories, including those he shared with Wanda. Learning this could easily have spurred Wanda to betray S.W.O.R.D. and steal the android’s partially-rebooted body for her own purposes, and would explain why Vision’s memory seems so fragmented. He clearly remembers Wanda, or at least has been convinced to think he does, but he seems clueless about his past, and even his purpose in Westview: unlike Wanda, who enters the sitcom reality with a clear motive to settle down and fit in. But he’s also inquisitive, which will serve him well in the coming days/decades.

Allegiance: I believe he’s linked to Wanda, at least for now. He’ll probably try to exercise his free will as the couple clash in later episodes, but I have a nasty feeling Wanda will be able to tug him along whithersoever she goes. Doesn’t mean we won’t get an epic battle sequence out of it, though.

Agnes

WandaVision
Agnes | hollywoodlife.com

Many of us are so convinced that Wanda’s overly-friendly next-door neighbor Agnes is actually the evil witch Agatha Harkness from Marvel Comics that it’s become almost second nature to refer to her as Agatha. With literally every clue pointing towards this being the case (apart from the similar names, Agnes’ wedding anniversary is the same day the Salem Witch Trials started, she wears a witchy brooch, and even owns a rabbit named for Harkness’ son in the comics), it seems almost too easy a connection to make. Personally, I suspect Agnes will be Agatha in some form or another, and is probably still a witch, but I’m not convinced Marvel isn’t totally reinventing the character as a more sympathetic antiheroine, a victim of manipulative forces. My guess: she’s responsible for luring Wanda into the pocket dimension surrounding Westview at the orders of Mephisto, Marvel’s devil, and is thus aware of what’s going on – but isn’t fully evil.

Allegiance: Agatha Harkness being Mephisto’s right-hand woman in the comics paves the way for Agnes to fill a similar role. But her small panic attack in yesterday’s episode makes me think she’s unwillingly serving the devil and trying to escape from him. There’s an interesting story to be told there about the toxic and abusive relationships endorsed by the same patriarchal system that many classic sitcoms upheld.

Dottie And Phil Jones

WandaVision
Dottie Jones | decider.com

Dottie (and, to a lesser degree, her husband Phil) is perhaps WandaVision‘s biggest enigma to me at the moment, and I’ve cycled through several theories about who – or what – she is. Her high status among the citizens (particularly the women) of Westview strongly implies that, like Agnes, she may be a witch. And with witches and Mephisto going hand-in-hand in Marvel comics, it’s not too much of a stretch to extrapolate that she could be working with the devil to steal Wanda’s twins – after all, she did lead the eerie communal chant of “For The Children”. But I’m beginning to wonder if the lemonade glass exploding in her hand and revealing her red blood (in the black-and-white episode) was an attempt by Mephisto to alert Wanda to the fact that Dottie, whether she’s a witch or not, is also a third-party intruder with her own agenda in Westview.

Allegiance: if Dottie has an ulterior motive for wanting Wanda to hurry up and have kids, what is it? Like Mephisto in the comics, she could be trying to absorb young Billy and Tommy into her soul to increase her demonic power…or, if she’s not evil, she might be trying to protect the children before someone else has a chance to kidnap them.

The Townsfolk

WandaVision
Mr. Hart, Vision, and Mrs. Hart | dailyadvent.com

Despite how it looks, not everybody in Westview has some grandiose plan to steal Wanda’s babies – and now that episode three has confirmed that Westview is a real town in the real world, it would seem that most of the background players in WandaVision are just regular people who got sucked into the sitcom fantasy against their will. Judging by how close Westview appears to be to a large S.W.O.R.D. complex, some of these people might be low-level S.W.O.R.D. staffers, nonthreatening to Wanda. Vision’s co-worker Norm could fall into this category (his actor, Asif Ali, also played a low-level Cybertek employee in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Others, like Herb and possibly the mailman Dennis, might have a better idea of what’s going on – Herb even begins to disclose the truth to Vision, telling him that “Geraldine” arrived in Westview “because we’re all…she came here because we’re all…” before being stopped by Agnes, who confronts him with a panic-stricken expression. We’re all…trapped, I assume? Dennis has his own bizarre run-in with Agnes while walking past Wanda’s house, where they exchange what seems like coded banter.

Allegiance: most of these folks, with the possible exception of Herb and Dennis, probably don’t have any strong allegiances that will put them at conflict with Wanda, Mephisto, or even neighbors like Agnes. If that changes, I’ll be sure to point it out.

“Geraldine”

WandaVision
“Geraldine” | elle.com

Long before WandaVision premiered, it had already been confirmed by Marvel that Teyonah Parris would be playing Monica Rambeau in the series, so “Geraldine’s” secret identity was never much of a mystery. Set photos and promotional material had also revealed that Rambeau, last seen in the MCU as the young and impressionable daughter of retired test pilot Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel, would now be working with S.W.O.R.D. in some capacity. If WandaVision were following the comics exactly, this would totally make sense: there, S.W.O.R.D. deals with space and explores alien worlds, and MCU Monica grew up surrounded by aliens thanks to Captain Marvel’s dealings with her mother. But MCU S.W.O.R.D. tackles “sentient weapons”, making Monica’s chosen career path a little more confusing. In the comics, Monica also has superpowers – which I think Wanda might have accidentally given to her when she wrapped Monica up in a hex-magic cocoon and tossed her out of WandaVision.

Allegiance: Monica seems loyal to S.W.O.R.D.; though a conflict could arise if S.W.O.R.D. responds to Wanda’s actions with further violence, and Monica cautions them to go gentle. Monica was raised to see the good in everybody: I think she’ll sympathize with Wanda’s pain, and genuinely want to help her.

“Ralph”

WandaVision
Mephisto | looper.com

In the first three episodes of WandaVision, we’ve learned more random details about Agnes’ mysterious husband “Ralph” than we’ve learned about Agnes herself…but where is he? Who is he, really? Until he shows up in person, we won’t know – but my suspicion is that he’s none other than Mephisto himself, and that his marriage with Agnes is more metaphorical than anything (but literal enough that Agnes actively avoids her “mother-in-law”), a way of hiding in plain sight while observing Wanda. Agnes’ remarks about him paint a disturbing picture of a repulsive character whom Agnes wants to leave, but can’t.

Allegiance: if “Ralph” truly is Mephisto, he serves no one but himself, but freely manipulates those around him, like Agnes, Dottie, and of course, Wanda.

So what do you think? Which WandaVision characters do you want to know more about heading into episode four? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“WandaVision” Episode 3 Welcomes Wanda’s Twins To Westview

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

Now awash in technicolor splendor, Wanda Maximoff’s eerie suburban reality gets a shake-up in the third episode of WandaVision, with the series’ increasingly dangerous protagonist unceremoniously making room for two new additions to her faux family by kicking out an unwelcome visitor who had slipped through the cracks in last week’s episode. But as the invisible barriers around the town of Westview shrink ever inwards, it seems many of our characters – including Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) themselves – are starting to catch on to the fact that the world they know is actually some kind of custom-made, maximum-security prison…and Wanda herself is possibly the jailor.

WandaVision
Vision and Wanda | cnet.com

This week’s episode strands us in the middle of the 1970’s, an era of acquired tastes: from the over-the-top fashion and hairstyles (I could write a whole separate blog post about Paul Bettany’s hair alone), to a whole new line-up of beloved classic sitcoms to mine for material, including The Brady Bunch; which WandaVision subtly parodies with this week’s opening sequence graphics and new design aesthetic. But though the change in decades has spontaneously updated every character’s appearance and wardrobe (I feel for the citizens of Westview, never knowing what time period’s atrocious fashion sensibilities they’ll be saddled with on any given day), it appears that the story has picked up right where we left off…in the late 60’s. Wanda’s entire maternity spans about a day, during which the world around her moves ahead by years.

Time and space don’t seem to mean much within the poorly-defined boundaries of Westview. Not only is the year and decade changing with each passing sunrise, but the exact location of the town is hard to pin down too…since there doesn’t seem to be anything beyond its outskirts. Wanda’s doctor (played by Randy Oglesby) seems excited to head to Bermuda for a vacation, and even packs his bags and starts his car to leave, only to promptly change his mind with the ominous phrase: “Small towns, you know. So hard to…escape.” Taking all the clues into consideration, it’s safe to say Westview is a prison in that no one is able to leave – that is, unless you get Wanda mad and she telekinetically body-slams you through the side of a house and catapults you out of her mini-universe. I’m not sure that’s a risk worth taking just to get to Bermuda, but hey, it’s an option.

So who’s running the prison? The most likely candidate is still the devil himself, Mephisto, and his henchwoman Agatha Harkness from the comics – who’s probably already shown up in WandaVision as Wanda’s nosy next-door neighbor, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn). Once again, we hear from Agnes about her as-yet-unseen husband, “Ralph”, whom many of us believe will turn out to be Mephisto himself: Agnes’ comment that he looks better in the darkness only adds to the mystery surrounding this character.

But this week’s episode also puts a new possibility on the table, and it’s one I never initially suspected: could HYDRA be behind all this? The covert Neo-Nazi organization hasn’t been very active in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Age Of Ultron, where – interestingly – their last major act was unleashing Wanda Maximoff and her twin brother Pietro on the Avengers, in an unsuccessful attempt to divide and conquer the superhero team. But Wanda’s old HYDRA handler, Baron von Strücker, was referenced in one of WandaVision‘s tantalizing commercial segments, and this week’s commercial features another nod to HYDRA, spoofing the Calgon “Take Me Away” advert from the 70’s with an important message about the rejuvenating powers of Hydra Soak: a bath powder that comes in a cute little blue package and features the tagline “find the goddess within” – a possible reference to Wanda’s latent mutant powers, unlocked by HYDRA’s experiments on her? This ad diverges slightly from the pattern established in the previous two, but not so radically that we can throw out everything we’ve theorized.

WandaVision
Hydra Soak | newsweek.com

Some Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have been quick to point out the similarities between Hydra Soak and the blue soap used by HYDRA to mind-control citizens of their alternate reality in The Framework, in the long-running MCU-adjacent series’ fourth season. If that is what WandaVision is referencing with Hydra Soak, it’s theoretically possible that HYDRA is using some form of Framework technology to keep Wanda’s mind and spirit trapped in her sitcom bubble, while her unconscious body would remain in stasis – perhaps at some other location entirely. I’m nervous to jump onboard this theory because S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have been burned before, but I can’t deny it piques my interest going forward. Forget Ultron infomercials – give me more of that HYDRA mind-control soap!

But I’m not ruling out Wanda as the series’ big bad either. Whether provoked to action by her “mama bear” instincts, or motivated by some subconscious agenda, Wanda once again displays the cool-headed confidence and decisiveness that suggests that she has at least some control over Westview and its people, including interlopers like “Geraldine” (Teyonah Parris), and is in fact holding them hostage as extras for the sitcom she wants her life to be. It’s still hard to say what’s her doing and what’s not – for instance, when Vision gets put on rewind for asking too many questions about Westview, is that Wanda trying to shield her husband from the truth, or someone else stepping in to shut him up? – but Elizabeth Olsen effortlessly conveys the brokenness and bewilderment that makes this mystery work. Wanda herself doesn’t seem to know whether she’s really in control, but she clearly enjoys the feeling: so watching her step into her power and struggle with the consequences should be thrilling.

Compare that to Vision, who needs irrefutable facts and data to back up any decision he makes, and is clearly uncomfortable living in a world where he doesn’t know his place or purpose. Again, we’re seeing the very highest quality of acting from stars who’ve never really had a chance to shine in the Marvel films – and I’m thoroughly excited to see Paul Bettany take us on a journey of self-discovery with the innocent Vision as he begins to exert his independence from Wanda, as I assume he will after learning that his wife re-animated his corpse.

But as the intertwined wedding rings in the closing credits suggest, these two are bound together by something – and now it’s clear that will be their twin sons, Billy and Tommy, making their long-awaited MCU debut at last. In the comics, both boys grow up to be Young Avengers; with Billy becoming a sorcerer like his mother (and one of Marvel’s most prominent gay superheroes), and Tommy inheriting his uncle Pietro’s super-speed (a power which Vision also possesses in the MCU). Billy, in particular, is incredibly powerful – but both boys spent their infancy in the comics being hunted by demonic entities who wished to absorb their strength. WandaVision has teased that storyline, with all of Westview pressuring Wanda to have children and possibly using magic to induce her sudden pregnancy. It’s understandable why the couple are trying to hide that they’re expecting throughout episode three.

“Geraldine” is unlucky enough to be on hand when Wanda goes into labor (nine months early), and helps deliver baby Tommy – after first having a bizarre run-in with the stork painted on Wanda’s nursery wall, which comes to life and pursues her fish-patterned pants. The chaotic scene is exacerbated by an incident on the front lawn, with Wanda’s neighbor Herb (David Payton) cheerfully sawing away at the fence separating his property from Wanda’s with a hedge-trimmer. Following the birth, Vision finds Agnes also outside, questioning Herb about “Geraldine”. Vision confronts the two, and gets a string of vague excuses for their strange behavior – culminating in Agnes implying that “Geraldine” shouldn’t be allowed around Wanda because she doesn’t have a family, husband, or even a home, and Herb trying to let Vision in on some secret about the town only to be silenced by an uncharacteristic outburst from Agnes, who frantically implores him to “stop it!”.

The brilliantly edited sequence cuts back and forth from Agnes’ sinister gossip to the scene inside the house, where “Geraldine” and Wanda are making small-talk while looking after the newborns. Wanda casually mentions that she has a twin, and namedrops Pietro, sparking a glitch in reality as “Geraldine” suddenly blurts out that “he [Pietro] was killed by Ultron”, exposing her true nature as an intruder to Westview. Wanda circles her around the cribs menacingly, and then pauses, catching sight of the sword-shaped necklace pendant around her neck: the same sword she saw last week on a helicopter in her rosebush, and on the mystery beekeeper who emerged from the sewer.

WandaVision
Monica Rambeau | metro.co.uk

But chillingly, when Vision enters the house just a few moments later and asks where “Geraldine” went, all Wanda says is that she had to leave in a hurry. There’s no happy sitcom ending this week: only a haunting shot of Wanda standing above her twins’ cribs, smiling down at her babies. And a final scene, set to “Daydream Believer”, of “Geraldine” flying through a night sky past a Westview billboard and hitting the earth hard, while armored vehicles and military personnel surround her. She’s been flung out of Wanda’s reality, clearly, and back into her own – confirming two things: firstly, that she is Monica Rambeau, an Agent of S.W.O.R.D.; and secondly, that Westview exists in the real world as well as in Wanda’s. In the real world, the town is encircled by roadblocks, force-fields, spotlights and barbed wire…but there are lights in the windows of visible houses.

So is WandaVision the harrowing account of an entire town being held captive by a mutant sorceress and distorted into a sitcom fantasy? I expect more answers when the series returns next week, with an episode some are speculating will recount Monica Rambeau’s adventure in flashbacks, explaining what’s going on outside the WandaVision bubble, allowing us to catch up with old friends like Darcy Lewis and Jimmy Woo, and hopefully clarifying whether the population of Westview is really being forced to wear 70’s clothes against their will.

Episode Rating: 10/10

Middle-earth Explained: Numenor And The Men Of The West

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Numenor
Numenor | io9.gizmodo.com

One such region is Númenor, the “breathtaking island kingdom” mentioned by Amazon in their synopsis as one of the focal points of the series. “Breathtaking” is indeed an accurate descriptor: although the reign of the Númenóreans was relatively brief in the grand scale of Middle-earth’s history, they are incredibly significant to Tolkien’s saga – representing the very height of human vanity, and arguably one of the furthest falls from grace since the rebellion of Melkor in the First Age and the Kinslaying of the Elves in Valinor. In the Second Age, thousands of years before the time of Aragorn, his Númenórean ancestors built a vast empire spanning the oceans and unmapped coasts of Middle-earth…an empire that would ultimately collapse into ruinous calamity, at least partly because Tolkien had a lifelong obsession with the Atlantis myth and had to take it out on his fictional characters. And now Amazon’s Second Age series (which for some reason is still titled The Lord Of The Rings) will take us on an epic journey alongside the Númenóreans, through their heyday and their terrible fall.

To understand Númenor, we have to go back to the First Age of Middle-earth, and the frequent alliances between Men and Elves that forged a seemingly unbreakable bond of friendship between the two races. The First Age ended in a glorious triumph of good over evil, with Middle-earth’s entire pantheon of gods, the Valar, arriving in a divine cavalcade to finally defeat the dark lord Morgoth and disperse or destroy his armies of orcs and dragons: but defeating a dark lord is hard work, and sometimes requires you to destroy large portions of the world to do so – and thus, there was a refugee crisis in Middle-earth as Men and Elves had to flee from their ancestral homelands, trying to get out ahead of the rapidly disintegrating coastlines and crumbling mountain ranges. Thankfully for Men, the Valar were feeling pretty generous and decided to simply lift an island out of the sea as a gift to humans and compensation for their countless sacrifices. This island, most commonly known as Númenor, had many names: but one – Andor – literally means “The Land of Gift”.

As if that wasn’t enough, the gods also decided to give significantly longer lives (around 200 years, on average) to the Númenórean people, so they could enjoy their Land of Gift even longer and reap the benefits they had earned. This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t.

But throughout the early Second Age, the Númenóreans were content with what they had: their star-shaped island and its farms, forests, rivers, seashores, and single mountain. This mountain, named the Meneltarma, rose out of the center of the island and was crowned by a holy shrine and a nesting-place of many sacred eagles. But because Númenor was situated directly in between Middle-earth and the divine lands of the Valar in distant Valinor, and because the Meneltarma was so tall, a person standing at the mountain’s summit on a clear day could just about see the shores of paradise to the west (because the earth was canonically flat in the Second Age). Elves from Valinor sometimes even visited Númenórean shores and delighted Men with their company and rich gifts, which had no equal in Middle-earth. But the Valar strictly prohibited Númenóreans from returning the favor and sailing to Valinor.

The first king of Númenor was Elros, the long-lived twin brother of Elrond Half-elven, but Amazon’s Middle-earth series will likely begin sometime after his reign – during an era of “relative peace”, as their synopsis claims, and presumably not long before the forging of the One Ring in Second Age 1600. I suspect the series will open in the waning years of Tar-Meneldur’s reign, a blissful period of time depicted in The Mariner’s Wife, Tolkien’s only nearly complete tale of the Second Age. This would naturally segue into the story of Meneldur’s son, Tar-Aldarion: under whose reign the kingdom became an empire, with fleets of ships (often personally piloted by Aldarion) constantly departing to Middle-earth’s shores, setting up outposts and colonies there. His rule was not tyrannical or cruel, but his restlessness was an omen of worse to come. And after his death, his colonists became hostile to the indigenous peoples they encountered, and hurt the earth in their hunt for resources.

Numenor
The Druedain | theonering.net

Prior to Aldarion’s reign, a group of forest-dwelling Men known as the Drúedain had also lived in Númenor – but as the empire expanded and its people became more dissatisfied with the gifts they had been given, the Drúedain predicted the doom that would soon follow, and they abandoned the island over the next few centuries, returning to Middle-earth and disappearing from history for thousands of years: until the Third Age, when they would reappear as the Wild Men in Rohan and Gondor. In them, I see the perfect viewpoint characters for Amazon’s series, as they embody the down-to-earth, hobbit-like qualities of Tolkien’s most iconic heroes.

By this point, war was raging between the Elves and the dark lord Sauron on the mainland – though this would not have initially affected Númenor had its colonies in Middle-earth not become so crucial to the kingdom. Tar-Minastir and his successors sent forces across the sea to aid the Elves in battle, provoking Sauron to turn the full force of his hatred towards the island. He was able to bring at least three Númenórean lords into his service using Rings of Power, and they became terrible Ringwraiths. But even on the island itself, the shadow of Sauron inspired darkness in the hearts of Men: kings became as greedy for life as they were for power and wealth, and their fear of death led some to resent the immortal Elves or speak openly against them. Elven ships stopped coming from Valinor. Those who still held the Elves in reverence were called the Faithful.

Upon the death of Tar-Palantir, the last good and wise king, his daughter Tar-Míriel’s throne was quickly usurped by her cousin, a reckless and easily corruptible man named Ar-Pharazôn. He rejected the Elves and their help entirely, and concentrated his power solely on maintaining the empire he had stolen. In his arrogance, he sent a great armada to Middle-earth to capture Sauron, and the dark lord willingly surrendered himself up to the king, gaining free passage into Ar-Pharazôn’s court – and eventually an enviable position as his most trusted counsellor and right-hand man. Seduced by Sauron’s charismatic malice, Ar-Pharazôn ran his empire as the dark lord saw fit: inciting violence and panic among his citizens (remind you of anybody else?), and instituting a new religion based around the ancient evil of Morgoth, for whose temple Sauron demanded a steady flow of human sacrifices. These victims were often political prisoners from among the Faithful, Sauron’s chief enemies.

As Ar-Pharazôn’s life neared its natural end (and lifespans were steadily diminishing in Númenor, as the Valar slowly retracted their gifts), the king turned to Sauron in desperation, demanding a cure for death. Sauron, seizing his opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, instructed him to build a fleet of ships capable of sailing into the west – breaking the ban of the Valar – and storming paradise: for only in the uttermost west of Valinor could deathlessness be obtained. Ar-Pharazôn was too far gone to see through his lies and immediately started building his fleet: but the Faithful, led by Elendil of Andúnië, built their own in secret, preparing for the inevitable catastrophe.

In Second Age 3319, Ar-Pharazôn’s mighty fleet departed into the west, with the king himself joining his army on the perilous journey – while Sauron remained in his lofty temple, laughing at the ignorance of Men. Ar-Pharazôn reached Valinor and set foot in the undying lands of the gods, but the Valar, themselves afraid of the king’s power, prayed to the One Above All, Eru, to help them in that hour…and, well, they got more than they bargained for. Not only were Ar-Pharazôn and his army crushed beneath a mountain, but Númenor itself was unmade, and the island descended into the abyss. Most of the population died, and the few that survived were the Faithful, escaping in their own ships back to Middle-earth. Eru also took the extra measure of reshaping the earth into a globe so that mortals could never again reach Valinor, but would instead spend their days sailing west in a never-ending, self-destructive search for paradise.

Downfall of Numenor
Downfall of Numenor | silmarillionseries.com

And as for Sauron, who was caught up in the downfall…he died so hard that, even though his soul escaped intact, he was never again able to appear beautiful to Men or Elves. His greatest weapons, which had been seduction and deception, now became brute strength and violence. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing Elendil and the Faithful back to Middle-earth and continuing the fight against their new “kingdoms in exile” all the way into the Third Age, when Aragorn – Elendil’s last legitimate heir – was instrumental in his ultimate defeat.

And there you have it. The moral of this story is that (a) imperialism is evil, obviously, and that (b) you should be content with what you have – because the gods can take it away, and they will likely do some planetary redecorating while they’re at it.

But what do you think? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

What’s Up With The WandaVision Commercial Breaks?

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

The first two episodes of Marvel’s WandaVision, despite being relatively short to emulate the classic sitcoms they’re based on, were packed full of zany details, hidden Easter eggs, and clues pertaining to the larger mystery that the series brilliantly starts building right from the get-go. It’s pretty obvious at this point that something is deeply wrong in the charmingly antiquated town of Westview, and that both the town and its residents are being manipulated by something – or someone. But perhaps the strangest element in the series so far is its strategic usage of commercial breaks.

WandaVision
The Salesman and Saleswoman | tvline.com

About halfway through each episode, the WandaVision broadcast is interrupted by an in-universe commercial, where a smirking salesman (played by Ithamar Enriquez) comes onscreen, accompanied by an eerily grinning woman (played by Victoria Blade), to briefly explain why we should be purchasing some newfangled household appliance or accessory. At first, this might just seem like a funny gimmick to make the ad-free streaming series feel more like an actual TV sitcom, but these infomercial segments do more than just add to WandaVision‘s retro aesthetic. The products on sale in these segments, and even the salespeople themselves, appear to be intrinsically tied into the series’ over-arching mystery.

As many fans (myself included) have already pointed out, the products have connections to the larger MCU – and, specifically, to traumatic and painful moments in Wanda Maximoff’s life story, which you can read more about here. The first commercial advertises a toaster called the Toast Mate 2000, designed by none other than Stark Industries. Although this episode of WandaVision technically takes place about a decade before Tony Stark’s birth (sort of), it’s clear from context that this innocuous toaster is a symbolic stand-in for the Stark Industries bomb that killed both of Wanda’s parents during a period of civil unrest in her home-town of Sokovia – the impetus for her initial resentment of Stark, and part of her motive for hypnotizing him into taking the Mind Stone. The toaster’s single, blinking red light (a bold use of color in the black-and-white episode), and the device’s unsettling, fast-paced beeping sound just before popping out two fully-toasted slices of bread, makes this metaphor particularly creepy and morbid – but hey, it can apparently warm meatloaf and cherry pie. The machine’s sinister and demanding tagline reads: “Forget your past – this is your future!”.

Before we move on, I’d like to note that the Toast Mate 2000 probably also doubles as a clever nod to one of Vision’s most notable nicknames in the comics, “the talking toaster”…making Vision, quite literally, Wanda’s Toast(er) Mate. This series is so unapologetically weird.

WandaVision
The “Toast Mate 2000” | geekslop.com

The second commercial is much shorter, and has a mini-story to it, more like a modern advertisement. Our salesman is dressed to the nines, clearly getting ready for an evening out, and voice-over informs us that “a man is never fully dressed without two important accessories”, which turn out to be “his special lady” – because misogyny is just as prevalent in these ads as in real-life ones – and “his Strücker”; a fancy, expensive-looking Swiss watch. As the camera zooms in on a display model of the Strücker watch, we can see that its face is marked with the tentacled-skull logo of the Neo-Nazi group, HYDRA. Strücker is obviously a reference to HYDRA scientist Wolfgang von Strücker, who used the Mind Stone to experiment on Wanda and her twin brother in a vile attempt to create a superhuman. It’s safe to say the memory of being locked in a cell for months and exposed to the raw energy of an Infinity Stone was probably uncomfortable for Wanda, at the very least. The watch’s tagline is marginally less creepy than the toaster’s, but perhaps more significant: “Strücker – he’ll make time for you.”

The commercials are different in style and tone, but they have striking similarities – even apart from featuring the same two actors. They both contain unnervingly sexist dialogue: with the Toast Mate 2000 being marketed towards housewives to save them the embarrassment of burning their husbands’ toast, and the Strücker commercial suggesting that women are accessories to complete a man’s formal attire. This could just be a jab at the insidious sexism prevalent in the era’s marketing (and too often carried over into modern day marketing, including for the early days of the MCU), or it could have a larger thematic meaning we can’t quite grasp yet. Another similarity is with the sound effects: the beeping of the toaster and the ticking of the watch, and how both accelerate rapidly.

If we assume these objects really are meant to represent Wanda’s worst memories, there’s a few reasons why they might be being advertised to her or to others in Westview. Perhaps these ads, like the toy helicopter Wanda finds in her rose-bush, the voice in the radio static, and the entire character of “Geraldine”, represent attempts by S.W.O.R.D. to infiltrate WandaVision using subliminal messaging to get into her head that Wanda has re-contextualized into something that fits with the internal logic of her retro reality. They might be trying to help her fill in the blanks of her past (though if that’s the case, they’re doing an awful job of it, focusing on the things she least wants to remember).

WandaVision
The “Strucker” | esquire.com

To me, it seems more plausible that this is the work of someone like the devilish Mephisto, believed to be the evil mastermind behind WandaVision. And if that’s the case, I think there’s a good possibility that perhaps Mephisto isn’t directing these ads at Wanda herself, but at the other inhabitants of Westview – extracting Wanda’s memories of the most formative moments in her life and selling them off as part of an elaborate attempt to strip away her identity. So far we haven’t seen Wanda herself view or acknowledge any of these ads, and she doesn’t own a Toast Mate 2000, nor does Vision wear a Strücker…but maybe someone else in Westview does. And as more of Wanda’s traumatic memories get sold off, and she becomes more content in her new life as a result, perhaps time is running out for her to wake up to reality – lending a sense of urgency to the commercials, and explaining the sped-up sound effects in both. Mephisto himself might be the salesman, while the woman with him could be another version of the sorceress Agatha Harkness (whom many of us believe is currently disguised as Westview’s resident gossip, Agnes).

Whatever the case, it’s clear that a pattern is being established in these commercials: so keep a close eye on them going forward. Next week’s should logically feature a nod to Wanda’s time with the homicidal robot Ultron and/or the death of her twin brother Pietro Maximoff, and may give us more details about how the commercials fit into Wanda’s story, and who the salespeople really are.

But what do you think? What do you expect from next week’s WandaVision commercial? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

That Grim Reaper Clue In WandaVision Episode Two Could Be Huge

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

The first two episodes of WandaVision, which dropped on Disney+ this morning, certainly gave us plenty to talk about – and potentially theorize about. Although it’s still too early to predict exactly what great big catastrophe Wanda Maximoff and her family are headed towards, we can already begin to see clues coming together and potential story threads emerging from the tangled web that is Wanda’s new reality. The quiet suburban paradise that is Westview is not what it claims to be on the brochure, and there’s reason to believe that multiple powers are at play behind the scenes, manipulating the entire town – and especially the Maximoffs – for their own agendas. But what are these agendas? What do these dark forces want with Wanda, or her husband, or her soon-to-be-born twin sons?

WandaVision
Grim Reaper | gamesradar.com

The most prevalent theory in the fandom – and a very convincing one, at that – is that the prime mover of events in WandaVision is Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the Christian Satan, and the lord of a fiery pocket-dimension he calls Hell (but which isn’t, technically). This theory is backed up by little references scattered throughout the first two episodes of WandaVision: from the name of Agnes’ adorable bunny (Señor Scratchy is a cute and devastatingly clever play on Satan’s real-life nickname, Nick Scratch), to the fact that Agnes basically just comes out and says it in episode two, noting that the devil’s in the details, but “that’s not the only place he is”. Agnes herself has long been believed to be Agatha Harkness, a sorceress from the comics who is Mephisto’s trusted acolyte and partner-in-cosmic-crime.

And as for who Mephisto is in Westview, well, there are good theories about that too: some fans think he’s Agnes’ mysteriously absent husband, “Ralph”, whom she’s only namedropped about a dozen times at this point. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out to be “Ralph”…or if “Ralph” then turned out to be the salesman who routinely interrupts the WandaVision broadcast to advertise painful memories from Wanda’s past, disguised as historically-accurate household appliances and accessories…or if the company behind those vaguely disturbing infomercials turned out to be the same company that Vision is working for in Westview – you know, the company where nobody knows what they produce, market, sell, or even do on any given day. It’s all connected, as they like to say in the MCU.

But as you can probably sense, I don’t think Mephisto is necessarily the main villain of WandaVision. I’m sure he’ll be a villain, and I strongly believe he’s the one who’s secretly in control of Wanda’s dream-world, feeding her wish-fulfilment and fantasies to keep her content until the day when she gives birth to her twins, and Mephisto arrives (or more likely sends Agatha – sorry, Agnes) to kidnap the kids and harness their chaotic power for evil in a ritual sacrifice or something similarly unpleasant. But if that’s not main villain behavior, then what is? Well, I think there’s a few ways this could go, actually, but simply put – my theory is that Ultron (yes, that Ultron) is coming back, and he’s bringing a brand new comic-book villain with him.

WandaVision
Ultron | editorial.rottentomatoes.com

I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous. But let’s start with the opening credits for WandaVision, episode two – a fun little black-and-white animated montage modeled on the Bewitched opening sequence, that follows Vision as he glides through the walls of the Maximoff family residence. Caught up in the moment, you could easily miss the fact that at one point he passes straight through a wall that is, uh, filled with bones. I know I did, the first time around. But more importantly, you might (and I did) also miss the distinctive four-pronged helmet that is lying amidst all those bones – the helmet which belongs to a Marvel Comics villain named the Grim Reaper.

The Grim Reaper, wearing his helmet and wielding a scythe/buzz-saw/helicopter hybrid weapon has featured prominently in a number of comic storylines over the years, so just having him show up in WandaVision as an antagonist would make sense even if he serves no larger purpose. He’s also a powerful necromancer – and maybe that has something to do with the way in which Vision has been restored to perfect health after having his head bashed in by Thanos. Certainly it could be useful, given the Reaper’s helmet is lying in a small graveyard. But I believe there’s more they can do with the character, and there’s even precedent for it in classic comics. Allow me to explain.

1991’s Reaper And The Robot story arc featured the Grim Reaper and a familiar robotic fiend, the genocidal super-computer known as Ultron. In the MCU, Ultron has only been utilized once as a villain, rising to power in Avengers: Age Of Ultron and briefly enlisting Wanda Maximoff to his cause before betraying her trust and then acting all shocked when she and her brother Pietro betrayed him in turn. Ultron died a couple times, with Wanda ripping the heart out of his main body, and the last of the robot warrior skeletons into which he had uploaded his consciousness being pulverized by Vision at the end of the movie. But Ultron is almost beyond human comprehension – it’s hard to say for certain that he died, especially now that Vision is out here proving that you can literally have your head crushed TWICE and still come back in some shape or form.

In the aforementioned comic storyline, Ultron takes refuge from the Avengers in an underground lair that just so happens to be situated within a sewer system, where the Grim Reaper finds him. WandaVision episode two, meanwhile, ends with an anonymous character (randomly dressed as a bee-keeper) emerging from a manhole cover in the middle of the road, the implication being that people are infiltrating Wanda’s world through the sewers. This character is wearing the logo of S.W.O.R.D. on their bee-keeping uniform, which would seem to suggest they’re not out to harm Wanda but to rescue her from whatever trap she’s landed in, but that being said, the character in question definitely doesn’t appear friendly – especially not with their face strategically kept in the darkness. It’s gotten to the point where theorists are legitimately considering whether this person is the Spider-Man villain Swarm, an obscure character comprised of a humanoid swarm of mutant Nazi bees under the control of a dead German scientist whose skeleton they hold onto for…reasons. As much as I’d love that kind of a bizarre plot twist, I think it’s far more likely this character is either a harmless S.W.O.R.D. agent from the outside world, or the Grim Reaper.

But if the Grim Reaper is around in Westview, and if Ultron is supposedly down in the sewers, what happens next? Well, in the comics storyline, they meet and team up – with Ultron’s primary motive being to design murderous robotic versions of superheroes, including Wanda’s twin brother, Pietro Maximoff. In the MCU, it might not be possible to do this without first obtaining his body from wherever it was buried: and that’s where having a necromancer on your team suddenly makes sense. Without knowing the themes of WandaVision yet, it’s hard to say how this plot-point would or could be integrated: but I imagine there would be some kind of struggle between Wanda and a resurrected Pietro, perhaps more emotional than physical, and we’d finally see Wanda confront all the regrets and mistakes from her past that she’s pushed into the darkest recesses of her mind. Subtly supporting this notion is the existence of those strange infomercial segments interspersed throughout WandaVision, that hint at parts of Wanda’s past she’s tried to forget: including the death of her parents, and her history as a HYDRA lab experiment. And based on how the series is proceeding, episode three’s commercial will likely bring up another painful chapter of her life – her time with Ultron, and her brother’s death.

WandaVision
Wanda and Pietro Maximoff | popsugar.com

If this storyline is adapted in any way, some elements will surely be altered. Perhaps Mephisto will be involved (in fact, I’d expect him to be), or perhaps Ultron will be radically different from how we last saw him. But with the pieces all falling into place, I can’t not present this as a possibility. We know so little about how WandaVision will play out, this is the perfect time for truly wild speculation.

On that note, what do you think? What are your best guesses about WandaVision, and what villains do you particularly want to see? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“WandaVision” Episodes 1 & 2 Review! SPOILERS!

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR WANDAVISION!

A year’s worth of quarantines and COVID-19 delays has changed us all, Marvel Studios’ classic formula and release date calendar included. Thus, WandaVision, originally slated to follow two more traditional Marvel installments (Black Widow and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier) onto the scene, is now kickstarting the MCU’s fourth phase of movies and Disney+ streaming series’. It’s a bold and potentially risky move: WandaVision is the kind of experimental property that Disney was probably afraid to lead with, due to its, shall we say, zanier qualities.

WandaVision
Vision and Wanda Maximoff | marvel.com

But as the MCU expands across multiple new mediums and genres, WandaVision probably offers the most authentic taste of what’s to come in the near future. Refreshingly unpredictable, quirky, and a bit more mature in tone than what we’ve come to expect from Marvel, the series’ first two episodes released this morning offer up a complex yet intoxicating concoction – blending the charm of retro black-and-white sitcoms with a dash of chilling psychological horror. Ironically, the only ingredient absent from the recipe is superheroes – and I’m okay with that.

With no Avengers running amuck, and with both Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) trying to hide their supernatural origins from their neighbors, WandaVision‘s quaint suburban utopia is perfectly normal in every way, at least at first: and only hints of the larger cinematic universe are able to bleed through, mostly via brief, jarring, infomercial segments that interrupt each episode about halfway through, advertising some bizarre product with a hidden MCU connection – a Stark Industries toaster, which refers back to Wanda’s own complicated history with Tony Stark, and to Vision’s famous comics nickname; and a classy Swiss wristwatch named for Wanda’s old handler, Baron Von Strucker, and bearing a small, sinister, HYDRA logo.

But for the most part, we’re simply following Wanda and Vision’s day-to-day misadventures in the picturesque town of Westview, as if we were being dropped randomly into the middle of actual sitcoms. The first two episodes span two decades of television history – the first set in the 50’s, with a familiar aesthetic borrowed from The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy, and the second in the 60’s, with cute nods to Bewitched: including a near-identical animated opening sequence and some suspiciously witchy behavior. Each episode comes with a new theme song written by Frozen songwriting duo Kristen-Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez, but the cast of characters remains the same, their ages and appearances largely unchanged even as they advance rapidly through time.

Elizabeth Olsen is at the top of her game, bringing out the best version of Wanda Maximoff yet with the help of extremely well-written dialogue and witty jokes that land well more often than not (the live audience laughter is give-or-take, though it works with the setting). Olsen has great comedic timing, and, crucially, all the charisma and earnestness of the real-life sitcom heroines from this era. She finds opportune moments to subtly channel the sophistication of The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s Mary Tyler Moore, the casual confidence of Bewitched‘s Elizabeth Montgomery, and the unbridled campiness of I Dream Of Jeannie‘s Barbara Eden, depending on what any given scene requires – but her performance is entirely her own, and never crosses the line into parody. Paul Bettany, meanwhile, lends a surprising amount of physical comedy and slapstick humor to the series, as well as his character’s signature brand of sardonic wit. Combined, the duo are more compelling and more naturally romantic (I’d even go so far as to say “adorable”) than we’ve ever seen them to date. With the series jumping into the 50’s setting right off the bat and providing no explanation for why or how two characters last seen in the modern world (one of whom even died – twice) are now living in an oldschool sitcom, Olsen and Bettany’s relatable performances act as necessary anchors for the audience – the couple seem just as unsure and unsettled as we all are, but do their best to ease into Westview’s flow without making a stir because (a) they don’t really have an alternative, and (b) who wouldn’t do the same, placed in a similar situation?

WandaVision
WandaVision | vox.com

Of course, their actions lead to some hilarious hijinks (a particularly funny one involving a mix-up with a wedding anniversary that neither Wanda nor Vision can remember, because, well, they haven’t actually gotten married yet), but the couple seem to be doing pretty well playing catch-up on everything they’ve missed, while making new friends in town.

In fact, one could argue the neighbors are a little too friendly, and too quick to forgive and forget any of the couple’s oddities in pursuit of some ulterior agenda. Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), Wanda’s next-door neighbor on the right (“my right!,” Agnes unhelpfully elucidates), pops by periodically to check in on Wanda or help her out of a predicament with a well-timed pineapple. In episode two, Agnes also provides Wanda access to the town’s high society cliques, including the event planning committee headed by a woman named Dottie (Emma Caulfield), who goes from hating Wanda’s guts to endlessly praising her. Eventually it becomes creepily clear what prompts this change of heart: Dottie’s motto, which she and her friends recite in a reverent chant, is “For The Children”; a simple message that glosses right over the fact that Westview has few, if any, junior members at all – until Wanda herself suddenly becomes pregnant near the end of episode two.

If you’re familiar with the comics, you’ll know that Wanda’s twins, whom I expect will arrive at some point in episode three, are of great interest to multiple dark powers lurking in the Marvel universe – including the evil sorceress Agatha Harkness, and the devil himself, who typically goes by the name Mephisto. Many fans have already caught onto the fact that Agnes is probably Agatha Harkness in some form or another, but Mephisto is probably already in Westview too. Agnes seems to confirm this in episode two, after Dottie remarks that “the devil’s in the details”, when she whispers to Wanda in an aside that he’s in other places too. Mephisto hasn’t shown up physically yet, at least not that we’re aware: he could be the salesman in the aforemtentioned informercial segments, whose products are all fragments of Wanda’s traumatic memories, and who is accompanied by a tall woman who might be another version of Agatha too. Or he might be Agnes’ mysterious husband, “Ralph”, whom she mentions in passing so many times he has to be significant. Even Agnes’ pet rabbit, Señor Scratchy, has a Mephisto connection: Scratch is a term often applied to the Christian devil, and Nicholas Scratch is the name of Agatha Harkness’ son, an ally of Mephisto.

There’s a distinctly creepy undercurrent to WandaVision – quite literally, as episode two’s cliffhanger reveals that anonymous characters from the outside world have been moving underneath Westview via the sewers, dressed in bee-keeping uniforms for some unbeknownst reason. There are loud noises in the night, a strange voice cuts through radio static to loudly address Wanda by name, and a colorized toy helicopter shows up in Wanda’s black-and-white rosebush. The show’s visual iconography feels straight out of an arthouse horror picture: a crimson splash of blood on Dottie’s hand, constantly flickering TV screens, Mrs. Hart (Debra Jo Rupp) laughing while her husband chokes to death on the floor. The implication is that WandaVision sometimes glitches – but whether that’s because of someone inside manipulating Wanda, or someone outside trying to exert control, or Wanda herself losing control over what she’s created, is unclear.

Certainly it looks like agents from S.W.O.R.D. are trying to break through to her from outside, and that Wanda is unintentionally absorbing them into her world, rebooting them with new identities and forms – in much the same way that, while dreaming, you might still be able to hear noises in the real world, but your brain contextualizes them within the dream’s internal logic. For instance, we the audience know that Teyonah Parris’ character is not who she says she is to Wanda, a cheerful young debutante named “Geraldine”, but is in fact a S.W.O.R.D. agent named Monica Rambeau (whom you may remember from Captain Marvel). But Wanda doesn’t know that, and Monica doesn’t seem to know either – she’s been so deeply absorbed into the fabric of Wanda’s reality that she’s forgotten her own.

WandaVision
Geraldine and Wanda | elitedaily.com

It’s easy to see why. WandaVision masterfully recreates the world of classic sitcoms, employing practical effects and only the most rudimentary digital effects to convey Wanda’s chaos magic. From the shifting aspect ratio to the cinematography, to the hard work of the hairstyling and costume departments, to the period-accurate slang and mannerisms (for example: Wanda and Vision begrudgingly respect the constraints of unseen network censors until the 60’s, when Wanda converts their two beds into one), everything in this faux reality feels perfectly authentic, and detailed enough that I can’t wait to rewatch it again and again. My only major complaint is that I fear we won’t spend enough time in any decade to feel truly settled in one – though I rather suspect that’s the point, since Wanda and Vision are facing the same struggle: not being able to fit in no matter the era and changing social norms, and despite their best efforts to disguise their differences.

In episode one, Vision promises Wanda that their star-crossed romance will finally have a happy ending in Westview…but, well, considering that he’s actually dead and she’s about to lose everything again, we’ll see how long that lasts.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

May Calamawy Joins “Moon Knight”!

Although Oscar Isaac has yet to be officially confirmed as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Moon Knight (though it’s pretty clear at this point that he will indeed be donning the antihero’s iconic mantle), the series is moving full steam ahead with a production start date already set for March, and has now begun casting other key supporting roles. May Calamawy has become only the second cast member to join the series, playing an as yet unnamed character who will join the Moon Knight on what Marvel president Kevin Feige described as a globe-trotting, “Indiana Jones-type” adventure.

Moon Knight
May Calamawy | refinery29.com

Calamawy, a Bahraini actress with Egyptian heritage, has risen to stardom through her popular role on Hulu’s Ramy, where she portrays Ramy Youssef’s  younger sister, Dena Hassan, and has helped to break barriers for MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) representation in TV. She will have a chance to do so again in the Moon Knight series, where she is likely filling the role of Marlene Alraune: an important figure in Moon Knight’s backstory. A casting call that MCU Direct was able to reveal back in September of last year suggested that Marvel was searching for actresses of any ethnicity, and in the same age-range as Calamawy, to play a character believed to be Marlene.

At the time, Marvel provided only a few details about the character, including that she would be “a manipulative operative working for a secret organization”, possibly hinting at a connection to the MCU’s S.H.I.E.L.D., or even S.W.O.R.D., which is being set up to have a major role going forward: S.W.O.R.D. agents will be tasked with trying to restrain Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision, and will likely show up again in the Secret Invasion series. In the comics, Marlene’s character has never had ties to either of these organizations, but then again, she’s also been little more than a rip-off of Marion Ravenwood from the Indiana Jones franchise – so I don’t mind if her backstory gets rewritten to better suit the modern setting.

Moon Knight
Moon Knight | superheroes.fandom.com

Marlene in the comics is a stereotypical “archaeologist’s daughter” (not to be confused with the very similar “scientist’s daughter”), and is most often utilized as a love interest to Marc Spector, a.k.a. Moon Knight. While accompanying her aging father on his final research trip to Egypt, she accidentally becomes embroiled in a fight between Spector and his nemesis, The Bushman, who kills her father and attempts to kill her too but is stopped by Spector: who is left mortally wounded in the attack. Spector is then revived by the ancient Egyptian moon deity Khonshu, and given a second chance at life in exchange for his services as an assassin and mercenary, carrying out the god’s dirty work on earth. Marlene accompanies Marc Spector occasionally on his crime-fighting missions, and has some fighting skills of her own that she’s able to put to good use, but most comic readers still only know her as Spector’s on-and-off girlfriend, who at one point leaves him for her ex-husband and then reunites with him later. The MCU has never been great at creating truly messy romantic drama, but WandaVision seems like it might finally reflect a widescale shift towards writing more complex romantic relationships – so I guess we’ll have to see what happens.

But regardless, this is still very exciting casting, and bodes well for Calamawy’s career beyond Ramy. I hope that we’ll soon see other MENA actors join Moon Knight in significant roles, making up for the MCU’s earlier, dated, and deeply offensive portrayals of Middle Eastern characters as terrorists. This stereotype continues to be perpetuated in mainstream media – just last month, Wonder Woman 1984 tried to get away with it too: in what may have been an ill-conceived and tasteless attempt to pass it off as just another hallmark of the 1980’s films upon which the DC sequel was based, like troubling depictions of women, dubious consent issues, and queerbaiting.

Moon Knight
Marlene Alraune | comicbookrealm.com

So what do you think about Calamawy’s casting, and how excited are you for Moon Knight? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

1st Synopsis For “The Lord Of The Rings” Revealed!

TheOneRing.net has long served a dual function as the largest online community of J.R.R. Tolkien fans and a base of fandom research into any and every adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings: in the late  1990’s and early 2000’s, a vast network of spies frequently wrote in to the site from the Peter Jackson trilogy’s set with spy reports that gave fans a first taste of what Jackson was concocting down in New Zealand, preparing them for many of the trilogy’s biggest and most controversial moments; both perfect page-to-screen translations and drastic (and often controversial) divergences from the text. TheOneRing.net developed a good reputation for their work, and eventually became a semi-official channel for New Line Cinema, tirelessly relaying new information to the fans while providing necessary feedback to the studio. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy undeniably benefited from that unprecedented level of communication between the filmmakers and their audiences.

The Lord Of The Rings
empireonline.com

These days, TheOneRing.net (or TORN, for short) does not yet enjoy the privilege of being able to officially coordinate with Amazon Prime Studios regarding their upcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work – and thus, I’ve had to take many of their recent reports with a grain of salt. But last night, after a lot of hinting and teasing, TORN proved that they are indeed back in the game, having gotten their hands on the very first official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings series. IGN was later able to confirm its authenticity with their own sources, and I myself am fairly confident this is the real deal. It doesn’t read like a fake, which would likely have thrown in some hyperbolic details about what to expect, just to cause chaos and commotion in the fandom.

Rather, the synopsis merely goes over much of what we already knew about the series, adding a little bit of context for general audiences and some intriguing sentences that caught my eye. Let’s break it down:

“Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”

The Lord Of The Rings
denofgeek.com

Confirmation, if you needed it, that the series is in fact set in the Second Age of Middle-earth (which you can learn more about here on my blog), and that the title “The Lord Of The Rings” is still deliberately misleading. This period of time is bound to be darker and more brutal than the era of The Lord Of The Rings proper, though Amazon is setting the stage for a story with similar themes and characters. Some of the very same characters will, in fact, cross over…but more importantly, Amazon is promising us “unlikely heroes”, a character archetype that is pivotal to the enduring success of The Lord Of The Rings and sorely lacking from the myths of Middle-earth’s earlier history.

During TORN’s livestream, guest star Molly Knox Ostertag (the host of last year’s popular Tolkientober fan-art challenge) tackled this subject quite eloquently, explaining that the “little guy” is what makes Tolkien’s work so approachable even after so many decades: because we can all relate to small, ordinary people like Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam, whose small, ordinary acts of kindness end up saving the world. Readers need to have an emotional investment in a character or a relationship in order to keep reading, and hobbits are so down-to-earth, so humble and so unassuming, that it’s hard not to get invested in them and their journeys through Middle-earth. The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s posthumously-published compendium of First Age myths, was initially unpopular with fans because it lacked hobbits or any hobbit analogues that could keep readers grounded amidst all the epic battles, tragic romances, and stories of somber heroes doomed to die gruesomely. The Second Age has that problem too, which is what Molly Ostertag noted: unless we have a “little guy” to get attached to, where’s the emotional investment? That’s why the mention of “unlikely heroes” makes me hopeful this issue will be remedied without having to bring in hobbits, who don’t really exist yet in the Second Age, at least not as we know them.

With the scope of this series sprawling across the entire map of Middle-earth and even beyond it, the presence of small characters and microcosmic stories is that much more essential. But speaking of what lies beyond the map, let’s touch on that for a moment – the synopsis does confirm that we’ll explore regions of Middle-earth that have never been glimpsed in any previous Tolkien adaptation, like Númenor and Lindon. The “furthest reaches of the map”, however, could very well refer to the mysterious lands east and south of Mordor. And who better to explore these lands and their unique cultures than the two Blue Wizards, who (according to Tolkien’s last writings on the subject) arrived in Middle-earth’s uncharted east during the Second Age, and there proved to be pivotal in the war against Sauron? When this topic came up on the livestream, Molly Ostertag suggested that the Blue Wizards should be depicted as a lesbian couple – yes, yes to all of that. I’ve long felt that one or both of the Blue Wizards should be a woman of color, and the thought of two queer women of color using magic in Middle-earth is indescribably empowering.

The synopsis ends by talking about “legacies” that will live on long after our main characters are dead and gone, implying to me that some of the main cast might revolve periodically throughout the course of the series. This wouldn’t surprise me: the Second Age spans over three-thousand years, and even the longest-lived humans of that era couldn’t survive that long if they tried (and trust me, they did). But while it could be an interesting and shocking gimmick for a few seasons, it could also prevent audiences from ever becoming attached to any season’s human cast – as the immortal Elves would likely be the only constants from one season to another in that case. Compressing the timeline into a few hundred years isn’t ideal either, though, so I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what Amazon has in mind.

The Lord Of The Rings
The War Of The Last Alliance | winteriscoming.net

That’s pretty much all there is to say about The Lord Of The Rings‘ synopsis, but there is one last thing I want to add. Near the end of TORN’s livestream last night, host Justin posed a thought-provoking question to each of the guests: what they wanted to see or hear next from the series? There were a lot of good answers, but I knew right away what my answer would have been, if I were asked.

I want TheOneRing.net to be as intimately involved with the Amazon series’ production as they were with Jackson’s trilogy. Although the level of coordination between TORN and New Line Cinema was unprecedented, it was beautiful because of how it allowed our fandom a firsthand experience of the adaptation of our favorite story and the ability to observe the filmmaking process up close, and gave the studio a trusted outlet through which to speak directly to fans. On that fateful night that Return Of The King pulled off a clean sweep in thirteen Oscars categories, Peter Jackson and his crew even opted out of the New Line Oscar Party and attended TORN’s fan-event instead. These days, it’s traditional for studios to give all their biggest scoops and press releases to the major Hollywood trades, allowing news to spread more quickly to a wider audience, but taking a step back from fans in so doing. The creation of a link between Amazon and TORN would go a long way to making all fans feel a lot more welcome…while allowing Amazon a window into the Tolkien community that can help them gage what fans want to see.

So what do you think? Does The Lord Of The Rings‘ synopsis pique your interest, or leave you underwhelmed? Do you want to see Amazon honor those old bonds of fellowship with TORN? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!