The Wait is Over: Overwatch Returns

The Wait is Over: Overwatch Returns

The Overwatch beta has finally returned, satiating the palates of many Blizzard fans and FPS addicts alike.  After nearly a month-and-a-half of downtime, the servers went live with a massive influx of new content based on popular demand from players and careful planning from developers. The highly anticipated team-based shooter came back with a new game mode, new maps, Versus A.I., a more detailed statistics page, skins, and a desperately needed player progression system.

Drawing from the popular FPS game mode commonly known as “King of the Hill,” “Control” pits two teams in a best-of-three battle for control of various objective areas. All combat centers around these areas, with players struggling to maintain a dominate foothold on the capture point until they reach 100% control. After the first objective has been captured by a team, the second objective point opens and so on. Once a team has effectively secured two of the three objective points, the game is over.

 Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Control offers many great opportunities for exploring different team compositions. Teams may find that a high damage build will allow them to wrestle control from the opposing team, while using heroes with strong zoning and defensive capabilities to maintain the point until it is captured. Additionally, with players crowding one area, each hero type is able to explore high-intensity game play. Heroes such as Pharah or Hanzo may find great success with their AOE ultimates, but tanks such as Reinhart, Winston, and D. Va are able to defend and zone these tight spaces. The two Control maps, Nepal and Lijang Tower, both offer great vantage points for ranged assassins, such as Junkrat and Widowmaker, to pick off defenseless heroes in the fray. Every match in Overwatch is dynamically evolving, so the possibilities are endless.

 Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Speaking of the maps, the Blizzard art department has delivered once again with a high level of polish and finesse. Every map in Overwatch features vibrant colors, rich lore, advantageous spots for every type of character, and many fun Easter eggs for the keen eye. As is the case with all of Blizzard’s IPs, Overwatch finds a good balance between the functionality and aesthetic of its visual components. With the addition of unlockable skins and sprays, Overwatch brings a high visual standard while allowing for player-invested uniqueness to bring more life into the game.

Before the beta servers went down, the Overwatch hype seemed limitless. The game was universally praised for its addictive and high-quality gameplay; however, there was a serious demand for some sort of player progression system. This was a tricky problem to solve on Blizzard’s end. Unlike Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone where player progression is directly tied into the characters, cards, or skins you unlock, the gameplay of Overwatch hinges on having access to all of the available characters. Blizzard had already committed to the pricing model in which players pay a flat fee for the game title and receive all future content patches and heroes for free. The onus was on the developers to create a player progression system that is meaningful and fits within their pricing model without being disingenuous. What they created seems to fit the bill.

The progression system in Overwatch, rather than leveling up individual heroes, centers on earning experience through gameplay and leveling up the player’s account. This allows the player flexibility in playing whatever hero they need/want and rewards them even if their team loses a match. Players earn more experience if they win a match or perform well enough to receive commendations at the end. Experience is obtainable in Quick Play and the new Play vs A.I. mode; however, Quick Match will offer more experience. Every time a player reaches a new account level, they will receive a Loot Box. Opening a Loot Box feels much like the sensation of opening a card pack in Hearthstone, where sight, sound, and anticipation come together with great reward. These Loot Boxes contain common, rare, epic, and legendary player icons, skins, emotes, sprays, voice lines, victory poses, and highlight intros. Boxes may also contain credits which allow you to directly purchase the items you want.

 Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Image ©2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

This system focuses on one thing, which is the center of Overwatch’s theme: thanking players for playing the game. Ultimately, Overwatch is about fun and playing with friends. While the game has a highly-anticipated eSports scene, casual players will have a very hard time not having fun in Overwatch. The short game times allow players to quickly recover from a loss and the leveling system rewards them for their time spent. As has been the case with Blizzard’s recent titles, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, Overwatch continues the trend of elegantly simple design opening doors towards complexity for the hardcore gamer, while maintaining approach-ability for casual players. Blizzard has removed all of the unnecessary bells and whistles in the interest of making a truly solid game, and Overwatch has delivered on that promise.

It's Time for Developers to Stop with the Illusion of Choice Based Games

It's Time for Developers to Stop with the Illusion of Choice Based Games

It's definitely a lot to ask of game developers, but I think gamers have earned it.

Every game has a budget, and the content always becomes a question of quality vs quantity. Some games do have very different endings based on your choices, but those tend to have a lot less voice acting, plot, and cutscenes dedicated to each, or just very few choices. It becomes a lot easier if you do away with voice acting and fancy graphics, but that results in a fairly niche product these days.

Having played games like The Walking Dead, Mass Effect, and Life is Strange in the last few years, and having played numerous other games with the same theme/mechanic of "choice" here and there I'm starting to feel as if even though the genre of choice based games is growing and becoming more popular each year, it isn't actually growing as an art form in the development community.

Games like The Walking Dead are first and foremost trying to tell a story. They're not games about replayability, they're going for something just a bit different than watching a really engaging TV show. All the little choices along the way are about defining your character, becoming your character. They may or may not actually change the surrounding world. Are they story-based games, or choice-based?

Almost every choice-based game that's come out this year or previously relies on the illusion of choice and the illusion of freedom and power in the game’s world. This illusion can only carry the game so far. While these games offer you "hard", often emotionally testing decisions to make, your decisions can rarely have any real lasting effect on the outcome of the story. The only reason decisions are hard to make in any context is because they have consequences. When decisions don't actually have any tangible consequence, they lose power over us. They disengage the audience from being emotionally involved in the content.

For example;

  • Whether you try to save Bob from the zombie mob, or save Jim from the zombie mob, Bob will always end up dying.
  • Whether or not you blame Steve for the crime or blame Perry, whichever one is the true criminal still pulls off one last murder.
  • Whether or not you choose to study extra hard for that test, or break into the school swimming pool at 2AM, you still get a B minus on the test.

Replaying any "choice" based game doesn't ever show you how differently things could have turned out if only you had chosen differently. Most stick to a rigid storyline that allows for little deviation or player intervention. And that makes a lot of sense from the developer's point of view: allowing the player to radically change future events in their game would basically mean writing a whole different story, one that may never be played by a large percent of the game's audience. This diamond based story structure, where you start and end at the same point while the journey there can change, is not the most empowering form of storytelling for the gamer. While you still have the opportunity to make a few decisions, your decisions do not carry much consequence, so what is the point at all?

I think a big problem is how mechanical games are with how they treat completion. They overload you with information that guides players every step of the way, and in the end it diminishes the sense of exploration and choice. Open world games have lists for quest and side quests, with pointers and markers showing you exactly where everything is. In GTA, every mission is delineated down to the last step, which essentially cuts off player agency aside from those few canned instances of “choice.” Despite the game being open world, it ends up feeling no more unrestrictive than a corridor shooter.

Deus Ex gives you choice without you knowing. Generally, you’re thrown into a level, and the onus is on the player to discover and engage with NPCs and the environment to complete and improve your completion of a mission. There’s so much detail in every level and casual choice in every mission that it feels both dynamic and organic in how it presents choice. Better yet, there’s so much to be missed that consequent playthroughs have players discovering a whole bevy of things they never expected. You start to realize and wonder about all the different ways to do things. What if I don’t listen to him and run away? What if I kill that important NPC hours before the boss battle with him/her?

Furthermore, it doesn’t incorporate a morality system, it doesn’t punish you for playing the game a particular way, and because of this, choices are made based on the predilections of the player, not artificial systems imposed by the game that are tied to rewards. Players are motivated by their own reaction and input.

And yet, I think games that rely on choice as their main gimmick are required to put in that effort - to write a story not everyone will choose to play - in order for it to be a worthy game.

One example for a way to make games with significant, consequential decisions in a game could be Front Mission 3 for the original PlayStation. Front Mission 3 had one seemingly insignificant choice at the start of the game that led to two completely different campaigns spanning dozens of hours each. Each campaign put you on a different side of the same war, which led you to meet new party members, fight against some party members of the other path and overall gave you a very different perspective on events. How did they do that? By having most of the story be told via dialogue boxes, text-only and only having 3D graphics for the small cutscenes immediately before and after a battle.

It completely demolishes the replay value of these games when you find out that none of your choices really mattered - and I don't mean in a philosophic or spiritual way that says "ooh, your fate was always to come to the lighthouse at the end of the game and die tragically!" I think too many games that know they rely on the illusion of choice try to use "fate" as a plot device to hide the fact that they put less effort than was required into making a game actually based around the idea of choice.

Developers are too focused on length of play as opposed to quality of play. A game doesn’t have to be 50 hours for it to be worth the money. Leave the world open to the player without the restrictions and without the complete disclosure of where everything is. Let the game be beatable in 2, 10, 50 hours. Let the player decide how much time they want to spend in the world and how they tackle it. I’ll keep coming back to the game if it has enough there to offer me a unique play through another time around.

If we can't start to offer players choices that affect the future of their story more significantly, we need to stop making so many choice-based games.

Beta For The Division Announced

Beta For The Division Announced

Ubisoft has confirmed when most players can get their first taste of the long awaited RPG/Shooter. Also, several members of the gaming press have gotten hands on time with the game, making launch expectations as well as its RPG elements more apparent.

What Might To Expect From Star Wars Episode 8

What Might To Expect From Star Wars Episode 8

Episode VII marks a triumphant return to form for the franchise -- one that also seems to lay the framework for how future entries could expand upon the series' lore.  (Rumors and Spoilers within)

Is the killer app dead?

Is the killer app dead?

Is the console killer app dead? See what John has to say about the current generation of gaming and console exclusives. 

"Jessica Jones" Season Review

"Jessica Jones" Season Review

It may be trite to say, but Jessica Jones truly does offer a story far different than anything seen thus far in the M.C.U..  Even something as unique as DareDevil contained several of the elements one might expect from a traditional comic book story.  In many ways Jessica Jones is a fresh departure from such a formula; not only do we get Marvel's first female protagonist, but a show that successfully dares to tackle some very difficult themes. The show may not be perfect, but it's a truly unique story that is carried by its several damaged, but compelling characters.

Jessica Jones delivers an fascinating villain in the form of David Tennant's Kilgrave.  "Gifted" with mind control, he illustrates the damage someone with only selfish ambitions can cause when given such power.

Having always got what he wanted on a whim, Kilgrave is understandably narcissistic.  It's a deceivingly simple backstory that actually creates a twisted - but convincing - explanation for his fixation on Jessica.  As he says in the series, no one in his life has ever said "No' to him, but her.

It's refreshing to have a villain who's not hell bent on ruling the world or chasing after some cosmic macguffin. His only desire is her and it obviously is an obsession.  That is what makes Kilgrave more terrifying then anything, ultimately he's just a stalker with a god complex, but also with the power to act like one.

His motivations being of such a lower nature, gives a much realer feel to the suffering he inflicts.  It helps set the stage for the uniting theme of the show: trauma.  Jessica Jones makes a point to explore the various types of it, as well as the lingering effects it can have a person's psyche and life.

Jessica's best friend and surrogate sister, Trish Walker (played by Rachel Taylor), is the survivor of an abusive upbringing as a child star.  Once reliant on Jessica for protection, Trish's story deals with her overcoming the sense of helplessness she once felt.

 Luke Cage on the left and Trish Walker (Hellcat in the comics) on the right.  Expect to see Luke in his solo series sometime in 2016.

Luke Cage on the left and Trish Walker (Hellcat in the comics) on the right.  Expect to see Luke in his solo series sometime in 2016.

Equally as compelling is Mike Colter as Luke Cage.  Damaged from the lose of his wife, Luke really shines whenever he and Jessica are on screen together -- something that luckily happens often.  Considering how intertwined his experiences are with hers, it would have been easy for his story to feel forced.  It's satisfying how they manage to connect it in the end, but it really is the chemistry between Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter that makes it hit home; really selling his grief and her guilt. 

Everyone at one point or another is inflicted with such pain, but no one more so then Jessica.  Both before and after Kilgrave, she carries around a sizable amount of guilt.

The show does not hide the extent of the trauma Jessica has suffered; making it perfectly clear that Kilgrave raped her.  The show aptly handles such difficult subject matter, never sensationalizing it and treating it appropriately.  Between both Jessica and Hope Shlottman (played by Erin Moriarty) the show explores the real consequences such a crime can have on one's life.  Without neglecting the effects of such trauma, Jessica is still written as a strong and capable character.  Krysten Ritter is able to convey both sides of Jessica remarkably.  

While her's and Kilgrave's relationship is the fuel for the series best dramatic moments, one can't help but feel that he's too much of the focus.  There are points where it feels like the show is "spinning its wheels", most notably when Jessica plans to lock herself in SuperMax and when she attempts to torture a confession out of Kilgrave.  

The show may have been better served with a few standalone episodes, side stories that provided a breather from the main arc.  While having Kilgrave captured did provide some scenes with a chilling Hannibal Lector vibe, it was more then a little absurd; it's hard to believe Jessica would think any permissible evidence would come of it.  Both sequences ultimately felt a bit preposterous and contrived.

Much of the same can be said of Will Simpson a.k.a. Nuke.  It feels way too coincidental that the random cop Kilgrave happened to mind control, would also be an ex-special forces operative/crazed super soldier.  His guilty conscious and desire for payback are understandable and early on his relationship with Trish and Jessica actually make for an interesting dynamic.  However, as Simpson becomes increasingly gung-ho he feels more and more out of place within the grounded nature of the show.

Admittedly, it is satisfying to see such a weird and obscure character brought off the page, but that just makes it harder to ignore that he so "happened" to be the unlucky smuck Kilgrave - by complete chance - choose.  Then again it is the Marvel Universe, perhaps if someone else was picked they might have turned out to be Jessica Drew, Moon Knight, or maybe even Squirrel Girl (one can only hope). 

At least Squirrel Girl might have been more sensible and less nutty (sorry) then Jessica's neighbor Robyn ended up being.  A "tolerable" source of comic relief, her presence becomes truly irritating when she very suddenly becomes important to the main narrative.  She - this obviously crazy woman - is somehow able to convince members of the Kilgrave support group to not only confront Jessica, but attack her, despite having never met Robyn before.  Jessica may had been dismissive of their troubles, but the fact that she is able to incite them is ridiculous.  Furthermore it only serves to enable another character's death, which lessens its impact as it subsequently feels preventable.

While certainly not as loony, the subplot of Jeri Hogarth's (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) divorce was unsatisfying as well.  Its great that within such a high profile show characters like Jeri and her fiance Pam can have a homosexual relationship without any character suggesting it's out of the ordinary.  Yet it felt so removed from everything else that it was an unwanted distraction.  It even prompted moments where Jessica acted out of character -- particularly when she dangled Jeri's ex (the Doctor) over the subway tracks.

Not without its faults, Jessica Jones is worth a watch if for nothing else because it so different then anything Marvel has done before.  Aside from those standards, the show admirably handles difficult themes while showing how such issues affect its plethora of fully formed characters; its commendable in its own right.

WWE 2K16 Let's Plays

WWE 2K16 Let's Plays

Watch the guys fight for the World Heavy Weight Belt in this triple threat let's play.  

Fallout 4 Glitches/Exploits

Fallout 4 Glitches/Exploits

Wanting to have a leg up in the Wasteland? Look no further we have the information you need. 

Fargo "Before the Law" Review

Fargo "Before the Law" Review

Noah Hawley continued to demonstrate his literary and cinematic genius with his superb writing and picturesque directing with the latest installment of FX's critical darling. This episode mimicked a Western theme with the numerous showdowns throughout the episode with so many characters receiving his or her opportunity to stand out from his or her opposite. Although the plot remained sedentary with little actually occurring, viewers received revealing scenes for each character that exhibited new and intriguing traits. Also, Hawley dropped another hint at aliens with the light beam above the butcher shop at the conclusion of the episode with Orson Wells' voice over of the War of the Worlds. The trajectory of this part of the storyline remains unclear, but viewers most likely will go along for the ride with Hawley's terrific writing.

First, the Gerhardt clan faced the problem teased in the premiere with the incoming Kansas City crime syndicate. The problem has exploded in terms of the family's leadership with patriarch Otto suffering a stroke in the premiere, so Dodd and his mother Floyd have a war on their hands against the other. Dodd plotted find Rye in order to gain Rye's support for Dodd as head of the family business while mother Floyd wanted Rye found because he represented a potential loose end for the Gerhardt's operations. These selfish interests of the different family members set up a major conflict in the story that will likely result in death. All members of the family sided with Floyd, but Dodd insisted that his time has arrived to run the operation. In typical Fargo fashion, subtle humor dominated the showdown between Dodd and Floyd at the dinner table as Dodd emphatically claimed that he should be the head of the operations, yet his mother commanded him to eat his food and to remain quiet as she essentially scolded him. Thinly veiled sequence such as this makes Fargo such a great show.

 Jesse Plemmons as Ed and Kirsten Dunst as Peggy

Jesse Plemmons as Ed and Kirsten Dunst as Peggy


Moving on to everyone's favorite murderous couple, Peggy and Ed handled the aftermath of Rye's death in which Peggy routinely attended the salon to work while Ed stayed put in order to erase the mess of his struggle with Rye in the garage as well as dispose of his body. Peggy's encounter at the salon really yielded no significant moments aside from the obvious tension with her boss. Her interaction later in the episode with her boss substantiated theories of her homosexuality as several critics and fans noticed last episode through her aloofness at dinner with Ed. Of course, this tension may have resulted from running over Rye and bringing his shattered body home, but Ed mentions throughout dinner that he wants to be closer to Peggy and have kids and actually have sex. Peggy seemed to be against his ideal life of tranquility with her; therefore, the idea of Peggy perhaps being a lesbian arose, an idea which this episode has added more evidence. Before discussing Ed, the direction of Hawley with his juxtaposition of Peggy and Ed with their reactions to the aftermath of Rye's murder created a striking portrait of their minds. The abrupt insertions of Peggy hitting Rye and Ed fighting Rye demonstrated how these traumatic events are still very much in the minds of the characters. Therefore, at the end of the episode, the tense showdown between Lou and Ed created such great tension as Ed frantically attempted to hide the fact that he was chopping Rye's body in the back of the butcher shop.

 Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan

Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan


Finally, due to the late date of this review, the showdown between Mike Milligan and Hank will be the last item of discussion. This riveting standoff provided such a great criticism of the world today where so many ridiculous events occur on a daily basis. Milligan says that this encounter is truly an anomaly because both men were able to have a tense but rational conversation without anyone performing an rash actions. Milligan looks to be an intimidating force this season and hopefully lasts the whole season in a fashion similar to Lorne Malvo from last season.

Thanks for reading. Apologies for the late review, but our reviews for this week's epsiodes for Fargo and The Leftovers should be up before the next installments of each series on Monday and Sunday. Come back for more content. Follow me on Twitter @mlozano2 and have a great day.

Fargo "Waiting For Dutch" Season Premiere Review

Fargo "Waiting For Dutch" Season Premiere Review

After last year's excellent first season on FX, many critics and viewers wondered if Fargo showrunner and head writer Noah Hawley can possibly top the first season. Well, "Waiting for Dutch" is any indication, Fargo's sophomore season will surpass its first. The top notch writing paired with a diverse and talented ensemble cast has Fargo fans salivating for more. The writing has a natural mix of humor and darkness that provides the familiar tone present in the film and the first season. Somehow Hawley manages to make the bland Midwest setting into its own character with it own unique ambience. The premiere does so much well, that one should expect another Emmy quality season from Fargo.

From the opening scene, this awkward sense of calmness pervades throughout the scene with the two men talking about Dutch, also known as Ronald Reagan to most folks at home. In a brilliant bit, they touch upon a significant issue of the time with the American Indian Movement. The director speaks to his Indian actor with subtle racist remarks that make the entire conversation awkward for the two men and, most importantly, the viewers. The subtle humor plugged into the conversation seems small with a background actor asking for a blanket and the director himself saying that he understands the struggle because he is Jewish. Meanwhile, everyone on set and in front of the television screens is waiting for Dutch, just as the episode's title suggests. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning that relates to the change Americans awaited with Jimmy Carter out of the presidency and the change that was to occur with the Democrats out of the White House. Surely, Noah Hawley's scene contains much more than meets the eye, especially because it establishes the 1970s setting and acts as the first scene for the entire season.

 Kieran Culkin as the young Rye Gerhardt

Kieran Culkin as the young Rye Gerhardt

Moving on from the opening scene, the show introduces the Gerhardt boys Dodd, the oldest, and Rye, the youngest, who argue over Rye's role in the family business. The conversation shows that family comes first for the Gerhardts and that everyone needs to put in his (or her) work in the business. However, Rye does not agree with Dodd and responds, "That's like Jupiter telling Pluto, 'Hey,you're a planet, too.'" Dodd's attempt to make Rye feel like an integral member to the business fails, so Dodd tears down poor Rye and compares his younger brother to the comic strip in a piece of bubblegum that everyone discards. Next, the show introduces the entire Gerhradt clan that runs a family drug business. The Gerhardts face a problem from an incoming drug outfit attempting to swallow up the business while tragedy strikes at the most inopportune time as Gerhardt patriarch Otto suffers a stroke. In addition, an impending power struggle in the family looms between Gerhardt matriarch Floyd and eldest son Dodd.

The major catalyst of the episode and, most likely, the season is Rye's rampage in the diner as he tried to force the judge to change her decision on a court case. During their exchange, the judge provides a detailed and memorable account of Job and the Devil as a metaphor for the situation she and Rye are in at the moment. After she defends herself against Rye with bug spray, Rye's shooting spree claims three casualties. The entire diner sequence really is a work of art as the camera allows viewers to focus on the stark contrast of the blood against the vanilla milkshake or the snow as well as the exterior shots of Rye shooting the waitress in the diner. Then the situation becomes very weird as Rye witnesses a UFO! Just the inclusion of aliens in such a grounded world really demonstrates the confidence Fargo carries to include such a shocking twist to its already complex true crime story. However, Fargo is so exquisite that critics and viewers have accepted the UFO sighting as a natural element of the mysterious American Midwest that is so rarely portrayed on television. Back to the story, Rye wanders into the middle of the road while watching the UFO while a speeding car hits him after the UFO's departure.

 Ted Danson as Sheriff Hank Larsson (left) and Patrick Wilson as Lou Solverson (right)

Ted Danson as Sheriff Hank Larsson (left) and Patrick Wilson as Lou Solverson (right)

Following the big diner showdown, young Lou Solverson and Sheriff Hank Larsson show off their police work. Lou meticulously and methodically examines the crime scene. He frighteningly recounts the events almost perfectly except for Rye's fate. However, Lou's one flaw in the investigation is his manipulation of the facts to fit a specific story in his head while Hank offers little resistance aside from questioning how Rye's shoe managed to hang on the tree. This calculated approach from Lou creates an uneasy tension because he has no idea how huge this murder scene is in its relevance to the impending crime family war in the Midwest hinted at the conclusion of the episode.

Finally, the complicated storyline of Fargo manages to reach innocent married couple Peggy and Ed, played by Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemmons, respectively. Something dubious resonated int he atmosphere because Peggy clearly acted strangely at the dinner table. At first, Ed's talk of settling down as owner of the butcher shop with multiple children upset Peggy, perhaps, because Peggy is not fully invested in heir marriage. However, further patience revealed that Rye was indeed still alive in the garage after Peggy rammed him with the car. The struggle between Ed and Rye really worked well because the viewers already understand why each man is fighting to the death. Ed wants to protect his vision for his family while Rye constantly tries to prove his value, as his brother mentions earlier, as man who can handle a larger role in his family's business. Ed kills the heavily wounded Rye with many questions to ask Peggy. However, Peggy is mind-numbingly naive as she really struggles to explain the situation to her husband, but a series of different shots discloses that Peggy was totally calm with her knowledge about Rye. She desires change in her life, so she uses this murder event as a means to persuade Ed to move out West but to no avail. Consequently, she convinces Ed to cover up the murder. Her decision to hide the body reinforces the notion that she wants some type of change in her life, but, unfortunately, Peggy and Ed are not prepared to handle the severe consequences of Rye's death and the horrible events surely to follow.

Overall, this episode somehow exceeded every aspect of the first season in terms of humor, suspense, direction, atmosphere, etc. Season 2 surely looks to be a treat for viewers everywhere. Touching on the final scene very briefly, Joe Bulo's cold and calculating presentation to the head members of the rival crime syndicate produced such an exciting yet chilling vibe for the show due to the men in the room. Each man reflects Joe Bulo: cold, calculating, efficient. This meeting is a highly organized business attempting to tear down the mom and pop crime family of the Gerhardts. Hawley mentioned how big corporations invading mom and pop businesses will play a significant role in the story. This scene might be related to Hawley's tease. Fargo Season 2 is more complicated but better than the first and will be great for the next 9 weeks on FX.

As always, thanks for reading. Write down your thoughts on the episode in the comment section. Look back here for a new review next week. Follow me on Twitter @mlozano2 and the site @nerdcavenetwork.

The Leftovers "Off the Ramp" Review

The Leftovers "Off the Ramp" Review

Wow! What an amazing episode to follow last week's excellent entry into the sophomore season for a show that received a fair amount of criticism for its overly depressing tone. The Leftovers has increased in quality each week since its premiere. One concern looms in the air in that each episode so far has focused mainly on a few characters whereas last season the majority of the episodes touched on the lives of every character from Kevin to Jill to Meg to Patti and to many others. Once all these characters converge on the screen in the same episode, something truly beautiful surely will occur in order to definitively claim this year's top spot for television shows.

Anyways, this episode followed the stories of Laurie and Tommy in the aftermath of last season's finale. The mother son combo has built a small but seemingly effective operation in which they attempt to lure fragile spirits away from the hands of the Guilty Remnant. Laurie has put her past career as a therapist into practice yet again to help reintroduce damaged people into the world that they abandoned for the Guilty Remnant. Basically, the operation involves Tommy infiltrating each Guilty Remnant chapter in order to find any individual who exhibits signs of pain such as sobbing while cleaning dishes in Susan's case or unwillingly giving up a watch as in Howard's case. On the other hand, his mother rehabilitates these individuals with a loving approach in which she provides cots, toilet paper, and clothing for each person as soon as he or she enters the therapy session room. Laurie stays with each person to provide some comfort and guidance while she furiously types on her laptop to complete her book on the evils of the Guilty Remnant's practices. This entire process, by the way, affects only one person, if Tommy and Laurie are lucky, as viewers later discover is not always the case. However, much sacrifice between Tommy and Laurie has touched the several people they have managed to help.

Before breaking down Tommy and Laurie, a few minor storylines provided many thought-provoking, interesting, and truly devastating outcomes. First, Meg returned to the show as an apparently high ranking member of the Guilty Remnant. She commanded the members who kidnapped Tommy with such ease and strength that she clearly wields some type of leadership role in the Guilty Remnant's operations. Her relatively brief appearance provided two truly shocking moments. First, she essentially raped Tommy who was handcuffed inside the truck and was powerless to whatever plans Meg had in mind. Tommy seemed to enjoy Meg's actions eventually, but this scene is quite shocking considering that members of the Guilty Remnant deny themselves of all worldly pleasures. After this chain of events, the male members doused Tommy in gasoline before Meg frighteningly stared at Tommy with an imminent threat of setting him afire. (Side Note: Great acting from Liv Tyler to give such a stoic performance in such crucial scenes for both her and Chris Zylka's characters.) After her decision not to burn him, she remarks, "Tell your mom Meg says hello." This thinly veiled threat truly affects Tommy later in the episode when he breaks down in front of his mother over the torture he endured as an undercover member of this sadistic cult.

 Liv Tyler as Meg

Liv Tyler as Meg

Now, the truly devastating story in this entire episode is Susan's redemption and destruction. Susan abandoned her family for the Guilty Remnant for a few months, but Tommy managed to spot her sadness and bring her to his mother. She readjusted herself in order to enter the real world yet again, as her reunion with her husband and son provided such a poignant moment for the show that definitely evoked happiness in viewers everywhere. (Honestly, I personally cried a little at such a touching scene with an amazing score. Props to Max Richter, the man in charge of the score.) Therefore, one can understand any viewer's sadness at the heartbreaking twist in which Susan crashes into a truck; consequently, her actions claimed the lives of her, her husband, and her young son. As Tommy mentions, "She [Susan] was fucked up." Unfortunately, she faced numerous problems in her life while she also lived an extended period of time in loneliness in her stay with the Guilty Remnant. This powerful moment stings viewers, but it also helps them realize that life spirals out of control at times where some people, unfortunately, feel that the only viable option is death. This outcome should never be a solution because anyone can find an outlet to speak about their feelings, yet the sad reality is that some individuals do not find these services or that friend or that loved one in time. The Leftovers punched its viewers with a painful dose of reality and exhibited how such a tragic conclusion damages many other people.

Shifting to Tommy, whom this review has already mentioned several times, he reveals his "powers" that he received from Holy Wayne. Towards the end of the episode, he pleads to his mom that they need to offer something to the people they save because those people have huge gaps of emptiness within themselves after the habits and influences of the Guilty Remnant vanish. Therefore, his solution is to provide that comforting hug to individuals just as Holy Wayne provided millions of people. Tommy wants these people to believe in something. His gift provides a sense of hope and unburdens the stress in each person's life. Although his gift may seem manipulative or dishonest, his reasons for his lie merit a legitimate excuse because of the positive impact he will have on people's lives, especially if his arc follows a similar trajectory as Wayne's story arc last season.

 Amy Brenneman as Laurie Garvey

Amy Brenneman as Laurie Garvey

Finally, Laurie provided an outstanding episode that undeniably has viewers cheering for her endeavors this season. She is such a wonderful person and, excuse the language, a badass. She steals back her laptop from the landlord of the office building for her book. And, merely minutes later, she runs over two Guilty Remnant members with her car to the sound of loud music blasting away as she escapes the scene. Laurie represents courage and freedom because she battles for what she thinks is right. Her encounter with the publisher for her book exhibits these qualities as she strangles the publisher for his unwarranted criticism of her book, an action which may have been warranted because he clearly did not read the book very carefully. He called Laurie a whack job and lunatic during her tenure as a brainwashed member of the silent cult. Laurie's actions may seem extreme, but she defends herself and fights for Jill and all the other individuals throughout the world under the trance of the Guilty Remnant. Finally, her breakdown with Tommy demonstrates the tremendous burden crushing her shoulders with her book, patients, son, financial problems, and much more. Laurie definitely deserves some type of award. (Here's an idea. How about voters award Amy Brenneman an Emmy for her magnificent performance in this episode? Truly, an Emmy worthy effort in this episode alone from Amy.)

Some final notes include the beautiful music from Max Richter that appropriately prepared the mood for each scene without the use of any actual songs such as the first two episodes of this season. The writing was top notch as is expected with The Leftovers. One great quote from the episode is "I love my book." This response is so genuine and moving because Laurie is an amazing woman who speaks her mind as seen when she scratched and clawed to protect the spirit of her book. The Leftovers is developing into  this year's best show with yet another tremendous installment in an already hauntingly beautiful series.

Thanks for reading. Apologies for the late review, but I will try my best to be more punctual next week. Look forward to a Fargo review by Thursday for an even better episode than the premiere. Come back for more content. Follow me on Twitter @mlozano2 and have a great day.