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*TV REVIEW* The Deuce finds that seeing is believing in “Show and Prove” 

*TV REVIEW* The Deuce finds that seeing is believing in “Show and Prove” 

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             SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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So, contrary to what we were led to believe in the pilot, Vincent’s deep dive into the dirty intricacies of the mob business is far from over. After slick-haired, sharp-dressed mob capo Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) cordially invites him into a profitable business venture requiring the efforts of brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer), the fair-mannered Martino brother starts to see the bigger picture behind his recent success story down by the “wrong side of the river”. Rudy wins him over by metaphorically splashing said big picture right in his face during a walk down The Deuce. “Human garbage”, as Rudy so plainly calls it, is everywhere, along with a dreary lack of progress and livelihood; their walk about town manifests into a grand tour of all these things, thanks to Ernest Dickerson’s carefully structured, widely-framed directing. With some time and an increased assortment of resources, Vinnie could very well be on the cusp of something greater than pulling $700 a week at a restaurant he doesn’t even own.

That sort of broad sell is the driving force behind what keeps the cast of The Deucestanding afloat amidst the intangible, stagnant pool of water that pollutes its crowded setting; it’s also the thesis to this week’s episode. In “Show and Prove” the exposition means nothing if the sell carries no weight. Vincent’s won over because Rudy’s artificial sentiment jives with the feeling of stagnation and scumminess he’s just recently escaped from (which, in a way, is one half logical and one half ironic, considering the new set of circumstances he finds himself in). Although we as viewers can already dissect the illegitimacy of Rudy’s stern remarks on West 42nd, Vinnie’s trending upward as a manager seeking opportunities to garner a position worthy of his capabilities. Eventually, you’d imagine that he’ll come to his senses, but for right now he’s got Bobby working the construction chain like a fiddle, and the money’s good.

Others like Ashley are literally selling their bodies to achieve their own desired levels of personal gain. A somewhat heartbreaking arc in the pilot episode, her ambitious attempts to satisfy both herself and C.C. spills over into a network of multiple storylines here. After bearing it all for potential film suitors to see in a provocative photoshoot (one that Shay suggests she shouldn’t have paid for in the first place), she returns to both Shay and Darlene about it, which prompts Darlene to confront Fat Mooney at his bookshop over rightful compensation. Right in line with that sense of worth she was looking for with Louis last week, she (literally) gets her money‘s worth at Fat Mooney’s, confiscating the remaining tapes of her video “sex”capade and later reporting them to Larry.

Ashley’s preferred solution is so simple it’s not even glanced at for the remainder of the episode; those chomping at the bit to find out if Bernie Wolf’s underground film producers are interested in her will have to wait patiently until at least next weekend. Darlene’s situation, however, goes beyond what Larry wants and what Darlene needs to keep him happy. Their exchange at the diner once again highlights the leverage and the power represented in the pimps that run The Deuce, and unfortunately for Darlene Larry’s vigorous clutch on her self-worth means her frustration-fueled search for satisfaction won’t get any answers anytime soon.

There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel for her in “Show and Prove”, when she ventures off to the library to read and check out books. Later on, we see her distance herself from the busy trappings of the bar she’s in, taking a break from whetting the sexual appetites of empty suits with every flip of the page from whatever novel she picked out. Obviously, Larry could give less of a shit, and it’s difficult to imagine that his aggressiveness towards Darlene has ceased to intensify. We continue to watch her try to learn and grow for her own benefit, but what sucks for her so far is that she’s trapped in a relationship designed to dumb her down to a dispensable commodity.

Eileen’s self-worth is also without question, but unlike Darlene it’s also without restraint; far be it for any one of those pimps down at the diner to try and scoop her up. As a result, her arc goes in a completely different direction. Eager to demonstrate a progressive display of independence, she considers Fat Mooney’s monetary exploitation on a trip to the Bronx, filling in for a fellow prostitute on the set of a homemade porno. Her fascination at the shrewd set design and film antics (the Campbell’s soup trick at the end of the production is as interesting as it is hilarious) prompts her to steal some of the pornographers’ work – she’s on to something here.

Before we get there, though, we are once again reminded of the family dynamic she’s involved with back home: an honest one that paints an arresting picture of the type of relationship a woman in her position would have with an exuberant, miss-informed son and a loving – albeit disapproving – mother. And again, Maggie Gyllenhaal is incredible throughout. As the daughter seeking a stable source of contribution for her family, she exhibits an enthusiastic drive that makes me root for her even despite the knowledge that she’s simply going back out to fuck for cash. At the porno scene up in the Bronx, she gives us a calculating, analytic version of Eileen that practically transports us into her thoughts. Without saying a word, she tells us everything she’s thinking when she glances away to the side after being showered with fake jizz; an instance that transitions into a healthy dose of inquisitiveness when Naomi provides her with a clearer understanding of all the materials on set.

The most enthralling half of “Show and Prove”, however, is the one that illustrates the day-to-day workings of the average escort. Police officers Flanagan and Alston from the pilot return to inject more of that nonchalant communal interaction from last week, cheating a street-cleaning system within their precinct by shuttling prostitutes and raiding bookshops with hidden porn tapes. While the latter is relatively straightforward, the true nuance of their excursions this week lie within the former. By treating the ladies they rack up on street corners to Chinese food and harmless conversation (and then later sending them right back out when the coast is clear from fellow lieutenants), they collect a better understanding of the personnel they’re exploiting – while also covering the fact that homicides are occurring at a rapid rate elsewhere. I liked that we got to see Alston sympathize for them and even try to talk some sense into Loretta, and the overall procedure of it all is intriguing in the sense that the police back then seem to have exerted their creativity in all the wrong places.

After this week, C.C. and Lori’s relationship easily springs forward as the most engaging dynamic thus far. The bedroom scene, shown in two separate shots, portrays a gripping accrual of affection as C.C. prides Lori over her appearance before he opens up about his personal insecurities. I can’t help but feel like his “lonely pimp” monologue is straight bullshit – particularly because, you know, he is still a pimp – but the show has already established his work philosophy so it succeeds as a sort of dramatic irony. The man’s sell is so convincing that Lori practically feeds off his rage when she refers to her former pimps back in Minnesota (“I hear you, Daddy”). That level of dominance has her eating up his every word in the movie theater, and later when she’s rescued from an escort gone (horribly) bad.

But even still: what’s Lori really thinking after C.C. stabbed that fake cop? There’s a certain level of shock there that keeps her quiet when she passes by Ruby and Shay; as if the fantasy and the dreams her pimp provided are fading. She had a rough night, a night that could’ve reached a fatal conclusion, but the man who expects to bred a family with her simply shrugs it off as procedure and trots her back out into the street. Unlike Vincent’s involvement with Rudy, Lori is clearly struggling with the lifestyle presented to her. Sometimes, drinking the kool-aid isn’t as easy as experiencing an educational night around the town.

Before I conclude, here are some extra notes from this week’s episode:

  • Predictably, Abbey dropped out of college this week and moved into a new living space with a bunch of unidentified individuals. Drugs and booze (and possibly some sex) will probably be slung around like candy in the weeks ahead.
  • I highly doubt that Bobby’s role in the construction business is coincidental, considering Chris Bauer played Frank Sobotka in The Wire and that character wrestled with managing the docks and handling the mob that he conspired with.
  • Unfortunately for detective Grossman, his argument for Mike Epstein and his remarkable 1969 season doesn’t quite hold up in retrospect. Despite his culturally-driven impact being compared to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays here, Epstein managed to only play five more seasons in the Major Leagues, amassing just 78 homeruns in that span (although he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004).
  • “Careful with those meat hooks. I’m delicate like a teacup.”
  • Who else got serious The Wire vibes by the roundups that bookended the episode, and Rizzi’s roll-call?
  • I forgot to also mention that Vinnie is Rudy’s latest tenant, and that Rudy has already offered him a dried up gay bar called “Penny Lane”. Besides the lightning-fast rate at which Vinnie’s character arc is moving, I found the fact that I picked up the Beatles reference at the same time Tommy Longo did to be the most standout part of this episode.
  • Sandra, the anthropologist who acknowledges Darlene at the bar, is most likely going to expose the sex trade in Times Square someway, somehow. I just don’t know when or how she’ll manage to do so yet.
  • Also, screw Larry for breaking Sandra down to tears. Man, these pimps are assholes.
  • The shot at the movie theater where C.C. and Lori are centered and the man in the far right corner is openly receiving oral just about sums up the directional quality of the entire installment (which is a very good thing, in case you were wondering).
  • I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing more of Paul very soon; I guarantee it.


THE VERDICT:

“Show and Prove” wasn’t as much about moving the needle as it was about digging deeper and deeper into the constructs of its setting and character themes, but it definitely proved that the show’s glacial storytelling pace could be much more engaging than you’d think. Between C.C. showing Lori the ins and outs of daily prostitution, to Rudy and Vincent coming up with a promising business agreement, The Deuce picked up right where its pilot left off with a flurry of strong scenes, great performances, and brilliant direction.RATING: 9

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The Deuce Leaves 1970s New York Wide Open to Rich Character Study

The Deuce Leaves 1970s New York Wide Open to Rich Character Study

Hey guys! As an avid fan of The Wire and some of David Simon’s other work, I can’t begin to describe how much of a thrill it is to finally be at the forefront of one of Simon’s new television series. I hope that school and work won’t keep me from staying on top of this show on a weekly basis, so I will do what I can to cover The Deuce after the conclusion of each new episode. Hopefully, this will be a fun and exciting venture for both me as a writer and all of you guys as readers!

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                                                            SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!!!!!

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Here in America, sex sells. It’s everywhere, from television sets and mobile devices to click bait ads and highway billboards. We, as human beings, are so prone to it as an avenue of enjoyment that for some it has emerged as a profitable lifestyle, an essential element of survival and steady income. In The Deuce, David Simon’s latest look at the Dickensian Aspect of human society, that avenue has only just begun to consume the masses.

Set in the unrestrained trappings of 1971 Times Square, The Deuce opens its telling story with a corpulent cast of characters who are all working to stay afloat with the changing times. For some, like James Franco’s double-take in the form of twin brothers Frankie and Vincent Martino, that involves dodging lifelong debts with shady individuals and making an honest living amidst the descent of a family in shambles. For others, like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Eileen “Candy” Merrell and Dominique Fishback’s Darlene, they’re faced with making enough cash to provide for one’s kindred son or searching for purpose behind the tint of a Jack Conway movie.

The Deuce‘s bread and butter is its power to speak volumes in its character moments.”

In-between the various bits of pertinent character exposition such as these are the sprawling moments of dialogue where The Deuce assures that the disco-laden background is little more than window-dressing. Don’t get me wrong, here: there is much, much personality injected into both the direction and cinematography in the pilot episode.The Deuce’s bread and butter, however, is its power to speak volumes in its character moments.

Following the funky, colorful intro (a huge “Yes!” moment for fans of The Wire‘s classic minute-long opening sequences, I’m sure), we are instantly treated to an abundance of them. For example: Gary Carr’s C.C. steals the show right away with his pinstriped suit and womanizing inducement. That power he holds over unsuspecting Minnesotan Lori (Emily Leade) segues into a potent diner scene where we are introduced to the rest of C.C.’s “employees”. Both scenes are practically an endowment of the show’s current sex climate, from the immediate stripping of Lori’s innocence, to the whisked away passion illustrated deep within the pupils of Ashley’s eyes. The firm grasp that a man in C.C.’s position over the pliable hearts of his ladies of the night is ever-present, and is a shadowy feeling that carries over into the work presented by his other colleagues like Gbenga Akinnagbe’s Larry Brown and Method Man’s Rodney.

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It helps that The Deuce is so well-casted and acted – I’ve seen this pilot twice, and could not for the life of me pick out a single negative exception – but the show’s marriage of actor and script help transcend its dizzying array of character beats. The pimps run their half of Times Square not only because they’re resourceful and good with singling out women with daddy issues; they have a necessary rapport with the beat cops, which is decorated beautifully in one of the episode’s most grounded, “1970s era New York” moments. Maggie Gyllenhaal predictably runs away with her material, dishing out tough love to a lucky teen on his birthday in one scene and looking worn out over voice messages and excursions from the night before in another; she’s easily the most compelling individual to watch here.

Other well done interactions and dynamics involve Abigail’s (Margarita Levieva) brief run-in with Officer Flanagan, and Vincent’s withdrawal from his disloyal wife and her mob-ridden family. Both their arcs take off as the episode thrusts them into separate bursts of enlightenment, and it’s impossible not to assume that a major seed has been planted with Abby shoo-ing off Flanagan to chat it up with Vincent a little while longer. That scene in particular is one of the few instances in The Deuce where the wheels are spinning towards something bigger – the origins of Times Square’s porn industry boon, perhaps? – but the human interaction is so nuanced that the viewer could easily acknowledge that without the writing being on the wall.

“The show’s marriage of actor and script help transcend its dizzying array of character beats.”

The Deuce also seems confident that, in time, its community approach will become a discernible factor that helps it stand out amongst its peers, and the pilot does right by this level of ambition. There’s so much to consider when C.C. passes by Vincent in a quiet apartment hallway and acknowledges him by name, or when a cautiously eager Lori learns the tools of the sex business trade from Eileen on one of her first nights working corners. Worlds are bound to collide as the season goes on, and that’s made an exciting prospect by just how profound and matter-of-fact the show projects these engagements.

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1970s Times Square has probably never looked or sounded both so beautiful and so ugly in a television series. Shot with the same level of gritty filtering that easily separated The Wire from just about everything else at the time, The Deuce is a cacophony of authentic atmosphere, careful lighting, immersive audio cues, and subtle visuals. This episode is one of the most faithful re-imaginings of any time period I’ve seen in a TV show, from C.C.’s tricked out Cadillac and the voluptuous outfits of the city’s prostitutes, to the lines of garbage on street corners and trails of marquees darting down for city blocks. Even the drowning state of blaring horns raging down Times Square is edited with a grin-inducing practicality. This elevates some scenes in ways that are difficult to describe, but I was consistently blown away by the level of accuracy on display here.

 

The Verdict:

Some of the greatest stories ever told take time before they truly take off, and although The Deuce still needs to prove itself in the coming weeks, I’m already sold after its markedly impressive debut. Covering dozens of characters, a multitude of story arcs and only a portion of a city that appears larger than life, The Deuce finds an immediate strength in being a character study heavily reliant on realism and careful observation from the viewer. Like its spirited, critically-acclaimed predecessor, it prefers to put its puzzle pieces together methodically, but understands the need to give enough substance and meaning to them for the experience to be worth revisiting. If Simon’s previous works are any indication, it’s going to take a while before we see the porn industry make a notable presence here – but if the build up is this good, this flavorful, I’m more than willing to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

 

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THE DEUCE – TV REVIEW: “PILOT”

RATING: 9.4

+ Performances

+ Script

+ Absolutely nails the time period from an aesthetic standpoint

+ Dripping with various themes, memorable interactions, and character development

 

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*MOVIE REVIEW* – “Baby Driver” Is The Best Parts of Guardians of the Galaxy, Drive, and La La Land All Wrapped Into One

*MOVIE REVIEW* – “Baby Driver” Is The Best Parts of Guardians of the Galaxy, Drive, and La La Land All Wrapped Into One

Baby Driver, in all of the best ways, emulates the joy and euphoria I used to indulge myself in over long, restless nights of playing 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Cruising down long, winding roads, swerving through traffic at blazing speeds, and creatively finessing my way around squads of relentless police vehicles behind a personalized soundtrack tailored to the ebb and flow of the chaos before me were virtual thrills that constantly came to mind during the wide assortment of action sequences that pepper the film’s 113-minute running time. But Baby Driver doesn’t only work as a car enthusiast’s adrenaline-fueled wet dream come to life; it establishes itself as a one-of-a-kind experience with a remarkable personality all its own. What starts as a music-timed sequence of j-turns and powerslides evolves into an engaging story with a brisk pace, a colorful cast, and a dynamic lead that perfectly embodies the spirit and ambitions that director Edgar Wright sought after here.

 

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Ansel Elgort is Baby, a wheelman with a heart of gold (and a cassette tape collection that would make Peter Quill blush) who’s stuck in a lifestyle he can’t seem to escape. Suffering from Tinnitus – a direct result of a fatal incident he was involved in as a child – he sounds out the drumming in his ears with iPods aplenty, and music for days. It helps him find his own rhythm in the world, and somewhat augments his capabilities as a getaway driver. Like the condition he lives with for the rest of his life, however, his elite prowess behind the wheel lingers with him wherever he goes. After coming square with an arrangement he has with Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby considers his future; one that is highlighted by the effervescent presence of diner waitress, Debora (Lily James). Doc has other ideas, and before you know it one refreshingly clever reference to another movie (*cough cough, Scorcese, *cough cough) foreshadows what those other ideas may lead to. The film presents the tone of Baby’s relationships to both Doc and Debora through his music: a staying force that both channels the fantasy and bewilderment that encourages people to strut down the block with swagger and dance feverishly when they’re in love, and frames the blood-soaking grit and realism that provides the viewer with a pertinent emotional connection to Baby and his plight.

 

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Baby is a central component to everything that goes on in Baby Driver – from the successful bank heists, to the swirling black hole of chaos that shortly follows. Edgar Wright makes this apparent through two wonderfully constructed elements: the film’s soundtrack, and its direction. The action here is breathtaking in more ways than one, gracefully capturing the video game-esque fluidity of Baby’s driving skills and the various amount of ways he manages to slip through the fingers of the authorities. What heightens these moments of frenetic bliss is how the music coincides with their rhythm. Car doors slam in unison to thumping kick drums and bangs of drum hats. Bullets fly in sync with guitar riffs. Abrupt cutoffs in the music being played are timed with bodies falling onto the hoods of vehicles and sudden car crashes. Hell, even the little things like fingers slapping through stacks of cash, toe taps and hazard light sounds match the beat of whatever’s playing in the background.

La La Land‘s penchant for mixing music with the sounds of daily activity scream throughout the action in Baby Driver in the sense that the effects of it here transcend past superficial swagger; we get a genuine sense of who Baby is as a person. His soundtrack is his temple, quieting out the deficiency that’s scarred him eternally, but it’s also his link to the past and the youthful exuberance that’s carried over into adulthood. As an orphan and an aspiring DJ, his careful curation of 60s soul, 70s classic rock, 80s hip-hop and 90s indie pop all translate into his love for others and the innocence he tries valiantly to retain throughout the course of the movie. Thanks to a rock solid performance by the lead man, Elgort makes his shoes easy for us to fit into. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I smiled over watching Baby express himself to his deaf foster father (played brilliantly by actually deaf comedian CJ Jones) and flirt helplessly with Debora over coffee; it’s impossible to not be able to relate to him.

 

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Baby Driver does well for itself by seeking out quality in quantity with its cast. Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Eiza Gonzalez among others round out the film’s delicate grouping of characters with spirited performances. This movie quickly acknowledges the impact the actual robbers could have on the message Wright methodically exposes, and does right by the various slate of partners Baby’s assigned to by making each one unique and compelling. It also helps that their backstories are peeled away slowly, and the ambiguity behind their personalities isn’t compromised in the process. The second half of Baby Driver nosedives out of its more lighthearted trappings to elicit a sort of trigger-happy thriller, and while the transition lacks some of the magic that makes the first half so special, it manages to work because of the tonal shift provided by the intensifying heist squad dynamic – and the flexible soundtrack, too.

Along with directing the film, Wright was also directly involved in the screenplay, and it shows with the way he plays to the strengths of each and every actor and actress involved. Foxx is unapologetically belligerent, Hamm ranges from cool and collected to reckless and deranged, and Jon Bernthal practically revises his role as Shane from The Walking Dead. Sign language-laden dialogue between Baby and Joseph provide bountiful comedic relief while failing to stray from its strong emotional context. Then there’s Kevin Spacey, who’s cold, calculating delivery is basically authentic at this point. He commands his screentime in just about every scene, registering as a sort of surrogate father for Baby as he holds a firm hold over his team. The script overall is consistently grin-inducing, with plenty of  humorous remarks and metaphors that both stand out on their own and keep the upbeat spirit of the film pacing through it like blood to veins.

 

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Again, Baby Driver rests its laurels squarely on its main character, and its thematic scope never interferes with its narrative focus. Although the cast generally gets enough time to be fleshed out, Wright manages to find key connections to Baby as he struggles with keeping his hands clean and his conscience on a virtuous path. The film’s gradual descent into darker territory is handled carefully, and the push/pull that Baby constantly wrestles with gets rightfully brushed up to the forefront in the film’s climax. In a way, Baby Driver becomes a much different movie here, but the energy and immediacy of its action – along with its beautiful marriage of particle effects and musical cues – cease to waver. Very rarely can an action film provide such a broad spectrum of emotions and moods yet still maintain the essential components that arrested the viewer in the first place.

 

 

The Verdict:

The sole purpose of a summer flick is to provide popcorn entertain for all to enjoy, but Baby Driver‘s ambitions drive it (pun intended) way past conventions in all the best ways. It’s got the musical dexterity of a personalized iPod spanning decades of greatest hits, matched with a creative focus that molds both ingredients into a final product we’ve never quite seen before. The uniqueness of the film’s approach wins over in so many ways that it’s immensely difficult to find an area where it’s at fault. From colorful characters and a clever sense of humor, to masterfully-orchestrated set-pieces and a brilliantly-used soundtrack you’ll be rushing to research soon after the credits roll, Baby Driver emerges out into the hot summer sun as one of the very best films you’ll see this season. It’s already a personal favorite of mine.

 

 

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RATING: 9.5

+ Ansel Elgort and Co. deliver on all fronts

+ Loving marriage of music and technical/sound effects create an atmosphere dipped in rhythm and swagger

+ Brisk pace and compelling story/character development

+ Fantastic set-pieces galore

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Action Movies, Baby Driver, Movies, Uncategorized

 

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FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

Relative to active players, Clayton Kershaw has no level comparison at this stage in his career. His contributions on the mound are so unparalleled one could get away with assuming he’s been performing an entire standard deviation better than any other hurler in the game since his arrival. With a league-leading 2.06 ERA, 2.60 xFIP, 67 xFIP-, and 23.8 K/BB ratio since 2011, his 42.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is almost a third higher than the second-best WAR recipient among starting pitchers in that time frame!!

All of this is meant to assure you that, no, the Kershaw apprentice I am about to cover is not going to produce an MVP-caliber campaign in just 150 innings pitched, or a K/BB ratio higher than about 95% of all relief pitchers in the same season. However, 2016 had said apprentice showing flashes of a particularly golden Kershaw season that should at least whet the appetite of those chasing a potential late-round ace.

Here’s what Kershaw accomplished in his 2012 season, which – for fun – is going to be the comparison point I will be using for Player “X”.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

 

Now, let’s take a look at Player “X”‘s numbers from this past baseball season.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

Notice any similarities? In 121 innings pitched, Player X managed to keep pace with a full season of (2012) Kershaw in regards to K/BB%, HR/9, and FIP-. He even bested his superior in FIP, leaning on a 48.1% groundball rate that justified his ability to control the home run ball – and also calls foul against those putrid BABIP and LOB% rates. He’s a late-round-instead-of-mid-round sleeper due to his injury woes (in four years of MLB service, his 121 innings pitched in 2016 is his career high), but amidst the skepticism lies a 28-year old in his physical prime, with a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour and a ridiculously scary cutter/slider hybrid – and in 2016, it looks like he may have put everything together.

With the suspense on high, I now present to you: Player X – James Paxton. 

 

Regardless of the outlook, he’s a guy I’m targeting in all leagues because his improvements a season ago were the product of a simplified delivery . Where he was all herky-jerky in the offing is where he has subtracted to achieve promising gains in velocity, which correlates with the increasing amount of success he experienced with his “slutter”. That pitch produced massive amounts of missed swings, as it accumulated 28% and 35% whiff rates in August and September of last year, respectively. As a result, he racked up an outstanding 11.7% swinging strike rate in general, which would’ve ranked 16th in baseball among all starting pitchers had he qualified.

However, the new delivery Paxton relied on in 2016 made the biggest difference in regard to his command. Between 2015 and 2016, his first-pitch strike rate shot up by almost nine percent, helping shave his walk rate by over five percentage points. In layman’s terms, his control went from Francisco Liriano to David Price in one whole year!

The sustainability of this level of performance hinges entirely on both the repeat-ability of his delivery and his own health; two factors that could fall squarely on its head right at the dawn of the 2017 season. So, Paxton should be, at best, a back-end member of your pitching staff in any league – but a draft pick nonetheless. Take him knowing the risks involved, but well aware of the upside he carries if everything falls in place at once.

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Before being traded to the Red Sox this offseason, Chris Sale was THE difference between a win or a loss for the Chicago White Sox every five days. Despite pitching in a homer-friendly ballpark behind the worst offense in the Majors according to WAR, Sale demonstrated a poise and longevity on the mound that extended past his unforeseen durability. As a result, he’s been a top-5 fantasy stalwart as a starter – but I can’t help but feel like he continually flies under the radar alongside the Kershaws and Scherzers of the world.

Therefore, Player “Y” seems like an incredibly appropriate sleeper comparison; he, too, was just about the only true saving grace in his ballclub a season ago, but he went relatively unnoticed in a year where rookie pitchers flooded fantasy baseball message boards and Kyle Hendricks nearly rode a Changeup and a World Series run to a Cy Young nod. Like with Kershaw-Paxton, we’re gonna start with two identical seasons and start with one from Sale’s career. This time, however, we’re going side-by-side with the 2016 performances of both starters.

Here’s an advanced look at what Sale’s 2016 looked like:

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Source: Fangraphs.com 

 

 

Now, Player “Y”:

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Source: Fangraphs.com

A gradually declining groundball rate and subsequent drops in whiff and swinging strike rates led to Sale having his first +1 HR/9 season of his career, but none of that mattered because he still produced a 5-Win (I.E. Cy Young-caliber) season off the heels of a career-high 3.58 ERA. Because he didn’t throw 226 innings like his superior, however, Player “Y” amassed just a 2.8 WAR mark in 179.2 innings pitched – but you wouldn’t know it if your only source of comparison were these two tables.

That 5-Win threshold is the upside possessed by Danny Duffy, the well-deserving recipient of a 5-year, $65 Million contract extension about a week ago. Before we dig a bit deeper into his fantasy value, let’s take a look at what he brings to the table:

Yep; he sure did break the Kansas City Royals single-game strikeout record for a starting pitcher! This was the pinnacle of what could have been a hardware-heavy campaign had Duffy pitched a full 34-35 starts with 200 innings – but, again, we must consider exactly how he’s reached this point.

Like Paxton, he (super-duperly) changed his delivery in 2016, opting to work exclusively from the stretch a-la Yu Darvish and Carlos Carrasco (the latter of which I’m sure one good friend of mine will appreciate seeing acknowledgments here). Again, like Paxton, this led to an uptick in velocity, and universally jaw-dropping increases in command. You think Paxton’s walk rate was bad? Duffy never posted a double-digit K/BB rate in his entire Major League career up until this point. You know what his K/BB% was last season? 20 percent!!

Add in the night-and-day difference in plate discipline-based peripherals, and what we – and millions of restless Royals fans – got in return for his advancements was a pitcher we didn’t see coming, but probably should have all along. Believe it or not, Duffy has a devastating slider AND changeup! By just simply finding the strikezone, his slider picked up a six percent jump in whiffs relative to his career usage, while the changeup induced swings and misses at a rate of 19.78 percent; eight percentage points higher than his career averages prior to 2016. The respective strikeout rates on both pitches last year? 41.1 and 30.1 percent! In regards to whiffs, Duffy virtually carries Sale’s slider, Marco Estrada‘s changeup, and Max Scherzer‘s fastball (fun fact: last season, both fastballs carried just a single percentage of disparity).

Until he finds a true groundball offering (his two-seamer, quite frankly, is a shit pitch that generates far more fly balls than anything else), home runs are going to be Duffy’s bugaboo, and unfortunately I can’t envision a season going forward where his Bronson Arroyo-esque HR/9 rate in 2016 will deflate to anything considerably lower. Also, the wheels fell off rather abruptly in September/October, during which he posted a 5.50 ERA and served up nine bombs (despite his xFIP sitting at a pretty 3.56 mark during that period). Endurance from Duffy is going to be a question mark going into 2017, as he bested his professional baseball career-high in innings pitched a year ago; Kansas City paid him like an ace, but there’s no guarantee he drops a top-20 campaign on us just yet. He’s also an injury risk in just about the same vein as Paxton, so there’s that, too.

Still, he’s the (slightly) healthier, more reliable option of the two lefties I’ve covered here, which makes him a much safer draft pick in either the middle rounds or that awkward phase in the draft where all elite names are off the board and owners begin to farm for key position depth in certain areas. That being said, I absolutely love everything about Duffy post-delivery change, and I personally wouldn’t mind reaching a little for his services on draft day. In leagues that include quality starts, strikeout-walk rates and/or innings pitched, I highly recommend that you do as well.

 

Other left-handed starters to consider on draft day (Some are recommended for deeper leagues):

Sean Manaea

Robbie Ray

Blake Snell

Daniel Norris

Matt Boyd

Julio Urias

–  Tyler Anderson 

Tyler Skaggs

 

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A Tribe Called Quest Retrospect: “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” is more than just a thoughtful sendoff to a legendary artist

A Tribe Called Quest is hip-hop personified.

Their music catalog ranges from a decade of funk-infused beats, jazz samples and head-bobbing instrumentals that inspire the average listener to not only have a great time, but get lost in the grounded nature of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s wordplay. Those who witnessed their meteoric rise to stardom in the 90s are blessed beyond their understanding, and ’till this day the transcendent stylings of their previous work (more specifically their first three albums) stand up tall amongst the body of work from today’s hip-hop offerings.

A Celebration of Hip-Hop, A Re-acknowledging of Society 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDxKVYUHBdA

We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service has done a great many things since it’s relatively sudden release this past November, but one of them is not resort to taking a victory lap. Off the heels of Phife Dawg’s mournful passing, Q-Tip, Jarobi White and DJ/Producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad decided to mold the project they were already constructing (Side note: they still had one more album under their Epic Records label), pulled over a large tabling of featured artists (Consequence, Andre Benjamin, Busta Rhymes, Elton John, Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, etc.), and re-established the group’s style of hip-hop with a more modern touch.

Not only does it sound absolutely incredible (seriously, blast this thing behind some home speakers or something), but it pays homage to the genre Q-Tip and co. fell in love with growing up: celebrating everything hip-hop represents while aggressively tackling both the context and musical aesthetic it has always preached about.

The featured artists are not only here for flavor, as each and every one of their appearances alongside the Tribe add a weight, a purpose, and a sense of togetherness to every beat, hook, and lyric. When Andre 3000 jumps on “Kids…” with Q-Tip to gloss over the tainted state of influences and tendencies children absorb, the southern-inspired hook complements their fluid back-and-forth with all the grace – and social commentary – of an Outkast joint. The dynamic duo of Consequence and Busta Rhymes in “Mobius” create an entirely new style of self-aware Tribe music, with the former artist lobbing up a plethora of social issues (pre-conceived notions against rappers, the media, etc.) for the latter to slam down with a flurry of lyrical vengeance.

We should even take a moment to acknowledge “Melatonin”, one of my personal favorites in this album. Here, Q-Tip gives us a wildly vivid idea of the influence of drugs on artists and its correlation to people dealing with incessant fame, then closes it out with a hypnotizing outro following Abbey Smith’s excellent chorus.

Tribe is Life 

In the grand scheme of things, We Got it From Here is a love letter to both hip-hop and those who have helped keep it alive, but the essence of Tribe’s ambitions are not forgotten for a second. Whether you listen to the entrancing piano and synthesizer of the John Elton-featured “Solid Wall of Sound” or the Jack White-peppered guitar sweeping through the Jazz stylings of “Ego”, ATCQ reinstate their position as one of the greatest musical acts we’ve come to witness while remaining extraordinarily innovative – and refreshingly humble. Elsewhere, they sendoff Phife Dawg in the best possible way, leaving the memory of his legacy all over their work here without wallowing in his loss. It’s a beautiful album that reminds us of the preciousness of life and the swiftness in which it can be taken away, but not before being about the four guys demonstrating how they elevated a music genre to new heights twenty-six years ago.

 
 

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Sherlock: “The Lying Detective” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Lying Detective” Review **SPOILERS**

I had acknowledged in my review of “The Six Thatchers” that Mary’s death could be good for Sherlock in the sense that Holmes and Watson’s relationship could once again become the focal point. It’s a shared character arc with a relevant history; one that we, as fans, have greatly appreciated since the moment they took on their first case together. Considering the separate instabilities of both gentlemen (Holmes and his drug problem, Watson and the loss of his beloved wife), it’s only appropriate that the show hone in on their woes, and “The Lying Detective” does that with impeccable craftsmanship.

There were many defining moments in “The Lying Detective” that convinced me of Sherlock‘s return to glory, but those mean nothing without the episode’s mesmerizing first thirty minutes. The way Sherlock mentally undresses the state of his latest client, “Faith”, and then quickly becomes keen of her suicidal disposition is wonderfully presented with the visual of his heroin usage hindering his thinking process. The casual stroll down the streets of London is book-ended with a pair of fantastic scenes where Sherlock continues to peel off more underlying factors in his client’s life while she acknowledges his growing empathy for her. Sherlock visually deciphering the dimensions of her apartment in-between all that is a marvel for the eyes to behold, especially when considering the heightened presence his drugs have started to take. The twist at the conclusion of this act, with Mrs. Hudson apprehending Mr. Holmes and interrupting Watson’s therapy session, brings every element the episode initially touches on together. From this point on, I was virtually at the edge of my seat in a way Sherlock hasn’t demanded in quite some time.

For pretty much the entirety of this week’s episode, everything seemed to just…click. Even if you took out the discovery that “Faith” the client was actually Sherlock’s secret sister, Eurus, I’d still love the way she quietly encouraged Sherlock’s explicit curiosities and suppositions. Seeing Sherlock both remain on the Mount Olympus of deductive reasoning and establish his genuine care for her well-being, even in his relatively unstable state, was remarkably effective. Ditto for Holmes’s elaborate scheme revolved around Watson, which would have been pretty darn enthralling even without the exposition of Mary’s “Miss Me?” DVD. His uncanny ability to both surmise Culverton Smith as a serial killer and manufacture a proud display of media-crazed contempt against him perfectly aligns with the fractured condition of his friendship to John.

The brilliance in this specific series of events was hiding in plain sight, but Sherlock makes it work in cohesive bliss by playing off of tired tropes. Toby Jones’s gradual descent into revolting maliciousness makes it far too easy to bet on Smith’s wicked turn against Sherlock at the end – yet that’s the point all along. Holmes drags John up, down and around Culverton’s hospital to milk every ounce of festering vile the foul-toothed gentlemen possesses, knowing that his immense wealth and social stature will retract all of the detective’s hostile accusations. Watson is little more than a witness to the increasingly intense animosity between Holmes and Smith, yet that’s exactly what Sherlock wants.

 

toby-jones

 

The drug-infused disposition coupled with the publicized baffling Sherlock generally experiences during this sequence is the perfect fuel for John’s eventual lashing out, and the show gets there at the height of his anger. The residual effects of watching Culverton do stuff like proudly advocate a discussion about serial killers in front of innocent, young children still lingers with Watson. However, the moment where he punches his longtime partner in the face is produced from an exclusive outlet of emotions; this couldn’t be more personal. Here, Watson truly realizes what it’s like to be in a position to make a difference, and decides to act on that impulse. Mary is dead in part because he didn’t do enough to protect her, but Sherlock – regardless of his efforts – shares some of that responsibility, yet here he stands wasting his genius and making a mockery of himself. For Sherlock, that feeling, that perception, is the expectation of weeks’ worth of planning; for John, that’s the reality. (Side note: Having re-watched this episode, it’s really impressive how layered [and how much more enjoyable the second time around] Sherlock’s plan is.)

Mary’s overall involvement in all of this is very polarizing, but I can’t help but be amongst the minority who are neither pleased nor bothered by her hallucinogenic appearance. I kinda see what Sherlock was after by giving Watson a voice in his head that he could see, but this is such an overused technique that it became frustrating to have at all. Personally, I don’t think Mary was around long enough to be a convincing figure in this light, and I felt that both the therapy sessions and the reluctant team-up with Holmes carried enough emotional ties to Watson’s plight; there’s not much else we could’ve possibly gotten from seeing him mentally wrestle with a ghost. This is a complaint that’s pretty much cancelled out, however, by Watson’s reveal that he merely cheated on Mary by simply texting the girl on the bus, and that he is prepared to be the man Mary “thought he was”; a gripping little instance that hits home thanks to Martin Freeman’s touching delivery.

That and Benedict Cumberbatch’s predictably brilliant performance headline an extraordinary tabling of acting in “The Lying Detective” that elevates the rest of the episode’s shifting plates. Sian Brooke faces no easy task as the secret Holmes sister, but she champions the role with a gravitating, deceptively commanding approach to the script. Whether she’s parading around glaring vulnerabilities to Sherlock as Faith, or slowly taking over an innocent-turned-tense therapy session right before Watson’s eyes, Brooke quickly leads us to determine that Eurus is quite the compelling individual.  The aforementioned Toby Jones comes off a bit stale at first, but once the script grants him more flexibility later on he absolutely takes off with the character’s malevolence. We even got Una Stubbs stepping out of the Baker Street residence and into an Aston Martin(!), showing us a more refined side to Mrs. Hudson (“You’re not my first smackhead, Sherlock Holmes!”) and flaunting that endearing chemistry she’s always shared with the main cast.

 

1-1

 

Few episodes in this entire series could top the highs displayed here, and part of that has to do with the excellent way it closes out. Sherlock and Watson’s hug not only resurfaces their relationship back on solid ground, but gives it an added depth: by seeing the worst in each other, they’ve emerged more enlightened than they once were, and are more emotionally entangled. To snatch that away so suddenly with Eurus murdering Watson would be a stretch – even for a show of this caliber – but I love the volatility behind the cliffhanger. We have to question the note and the tiny living space in which it presided, as well as the former lover Eurus once had – all of which could factor in the season finale in a huge way. There’s an open-endedness to those final seconds that should have many heads spinning, because if nothing else Eurus could be synonymous with far more variables than we could imagine.

 

 

Here are a few extra notes I’d like to cover before I conclude:

 

  • “And you know why they dropped you, dear? Because they know you.”
  • The scene where Smallwood leaves her private number with Mycroft is obviously an invitation for something more than a few drinks, but I can’t help but think that there’s a deeper intention at play. I have terrible memory with secondary characters, and I haven’t seen “His Last Vow” since the night it originally aired, so I have very little to tack on my suspicions – but surely this potential fling Smallwood is pursuing is for non-intimate reasons, right??
  • I’m still bothered by the severe lack of supervision over Sherlock on Myrcroft’s part. At one point, he says that Sherlock going rogue is a legitimate security concern, yet his little brother is roaming the streets high off of heroin with a roommate who supplies him behind closed doors. I get that Sherlock purposefully used as a part of his grand scheme, but I would think big brother would be on top of keeping him clean above all else.
  • Mrs. Hudson reaches unforeseen levels of badassery this week, and it really doesn’t stop with the car. The way she effortlessly figured out where Sherlock laid out his latest “unsolved problem” was just awesome, and she even had a chance to embarrass Mycroft (“He has no idea what an idiot you are!”)
  • Watson now knows that Irene Adler is still alive, and the first thing he tells Sherlock to do is text her back. This was a proud moment for me, seeing as how John uses the tragedy of his own marriage to give his close friend solid insight. He wants what’s best for Sherlock, and realizes that he may be missing out on the kind of special relationship he had just lost with Mary. If Sherlock could also have that, John would rather he did; stubbornly brushing it aside with occasional texts seems insulting to Watson.

 

 

The Verdict:

 

Sherlock came back in full form this week, placing its attention back on its central dynamic in a dark, riveting ninety minutes of expertly-written entertainment. The use of this week’s latest bad guy lent to the growing conflict between Holmes and Watson in the best possible way, while the eventual resolve was met with a brilliant character reveal and a (potentially) devastating cliffhanger. “The Lying Detective” still consists of a few ill-advised decisions, but I can’t remember the last time I watched Sherlock and was as immersed in what was currently unfolding and excited for what’s to come afterward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9

+ Toby Jones as Culverton Smith

+ Sherlock’s grand scheme to get Watson to his boiling point

+ Faith, and then that Eurus reveal!

+ Basically every scene with Mrs. Hudson

– While not a terrible idea, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ghost Mary

– Would like to see Mycroft watch over Sherlock more intently, drugs or no drugs

 

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Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” Review **SPOILERS**

 

I’ll get right to it here: I did not really like “The Six Thatchers” or the big death at the conclusion of the episode. It’s not that it wasn’t thrilling or mysterious enough, or that it was covering non-compelling material; I was just simply frustrated, confused, and rather bored with everything that was going on.

Sherlock‘s been around for about six years now, spending most of its time on the air establishing its main character and the personal relationships he shares – often to remarkably impressive degree. But here, in an attempt to shift the narrative stylings in the form of a “Skyfall meets Cowboy Bebop” conundrum of spy hijinks and secondary emotional ties, the show follows its newfound ambitions all over the world (and quite literally here, I might add) but leaves its heart somewhere at the conclusion of season three’s “His Last Vow”.

The biggest slip up amongst all of this was the decision to put John on the sidelines, and put Mary at the center of the main plot. By fast-cutting through Mary’s pregnancy, we practically lose out on the underpinnings of her relationship to Watson (why she refers this safer lifestyle, how far her love for him stretches out, etc.) and give way to a montage of self-indulging comedy that, while funny, undercuts the potential emotional weight that the new baby could’ve had. Baby Watson exists in “The Six Thatchers” for no other reason than to be cute and assume the responsibility of irritating Sherlock  for once. Moreover, this new shift in dynamic convinces Mary to brush back her new family when one of her old “A.G.R.A.” squadmates resurfaces and seeks revenge. Although the flashbacks do a serviceable job of acquainting us with Mary’s past, it’s one lacking of interest and any defining bit of substance. Once  the episode ended, I couldn’t help but think of how inconsequential Ajay’s drive would have been had Sherlock decided to leave the missing Thatcher statue alone and just focused on solving the bland murdering that led him into Mary’s mess in the first place.

And yes, I say this having acknowledged the role that Mycroft’s deceitful secretary wound up playing: another plot point in “The Six Thatchers” that falls terribly flat. Her grand reveal comes without suspense, doesn’t expose enough interesting information about either A.G.R.A. or the “Ammo” acronym that’s whispered across the episode’s running time, and leads to the fatal shooting and killing of Mary conveniently right before Watson shows up to the scene.

Speaking of Watson, he spends a good portion of the episode simply reacting to what’s going on without playing an integral enough role. He begins to pursue a puzzling affair with a lady he meets on a train, but that boils down to little more than another mystery for the show to tackle later on. (Side Note: why John neglected to dish this out to Mary after discovering her ties to A.G.R.A. is beyond me.) Elsewhere, he’s either noticeably distanced from Sherlock’s detective work, or the last person of importance to stumble upon the big reveals. It’s too convenient to have him project his anger at Sherlock, having arrived to the Aquarium moments after Mary leaps in front of his partner and takes a bullet for him; Sherlock’s vow to protect John’s wife may be broken, but it’s not his fault that Mary sacrificed herself. Had the episode spent more time with John acclimating himself with childbirth and the effects his marriage may have been having with his investigative partnership, I’d actually care quite a bit more about Mary’s passing and how it may drag him down going forward. Unfortunately, his woeful hatred over Sherlock is splashed on us in the blink of an eye, and a central dynamic developed over years of solid writing becomes shifted in utter contrivance.

The only thing that truly worked in “The Six Thatchers” was Sherlock himself, but even his own personal arc is mishandled. I appreciated the valiant effort he took to look after John’s wife in the advancements of keeping his vow, and Sherlock’s newfound empathy resonated all throughout the show’s cast of characters. Compared to the arrogant brainchild that commanded the screen in Sherlock’s pilot episode, this version of the famed detective speaks volumes of the level of maturity he’s collected since he first teamed up with Watson.

Unfortunately, the rest of what makes Mr. Holmes so fascinating – his incessant obsession with Moriarty, the drug influences that were hinted at last season and in the Victorian-era special – either takes a curious backseat, or is used in an ill-advised attempt to further Mary’s plight in the episode. I wish there was a deeper element in play that surfaced from Mary’s death – even if it didn’t directly consist of an impending return for Moriarty – but there isn’t, and even when the show briefly focuses on Sherlock’s psychological standing, it glosses over it and covers his tracks. Why exactly does Mycroft find it fair to ignore the fact that his brother killed a man in cold blood and nip the whole Magnussen affair in the bud? What kind of approach will he or someone else take in ensuring that Sherlock’s not actually losing his mind? I don’t know myself, and the show makes no attempt at acknowledging it here. Absolutely ridiculous.

 

 

The Verdict:

“The Six Thatchers” is a mess of an episode that fails to succeed in a shifted narrative. By ditching the more investigative aspects of the series, we are denied of the key elements that make the show so great, while being treated to an avalanche of flashbacks and exposition that hardly resonate on any level. Yet even on its worst day, Sherlock manages to be passively entertaining. Benedict Cumberbatch and the rest of this amazing cast do splendid work as always, and there are a few visual sights to behold in “The Six Thatchers” (specifically Sherlock’s one-on-one fisticuffs with Ajay) that keep the whole thing from becoming a total loss. Mary’s death also suggests that both the Holmes-Watson dynamic may once again become the center of attention, and that Holmes’s obsession with (posthumous?) Moriarty may finally lead to something worth waiting three whole years for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 6

+ Sherlock’s determined efforts to protect Mary shown true character growth

+ Some fun moments, including that crazy fight scene between Sherlock and Ajay

– Watson’s severely underused, and his emotional ties to Sherlock and Mary are barely explored

– Focus on Mary’s past generally uninteresting

– (Very) weak reveal at the end

– Events from “His Last Vow” are glossed over like nothing

 

 

 

 

 

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