Pop Culture Review: March 2019

Captain Marvel

The Captain Marvel teaser in the end credits scene of Avengers: Infinity War has had me looking forward to meeting this character since last Spring. I went into this film, the 21st instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with five hopes.

  1. That it would make me feel nostalgia for the early ‘origin’ films of the MCU (Iron Man, Thor, etc..)
  2. Being set in the 1990’s, it would also make me feel occasional pangs of nostalgia for superhero films from this era, and 90’s films/the 90’s in general
  3. That the film would feel as if it’s existed all this time, as if it’s only just been discovered in the archives or you just happened to have missed it previously
  4. Subtle connectivity to and Easter eggs for the rest of the MCU
  5. That I’d leave the cinema even more ready to see Avengers: Endgame.

It delivered on all of the above and then some. Not only was Brie Larson great as Captain Marvel, Sam Jackson nailed the younger Nick Fury and Ben Mendelsohn (a.k.a Krennic!) was a surprise standout as Talos. There a few plot devices that I feel would warrant a second viewing and I’m toying with trying to fit one in before Endgame drops next month.

You could probably get away without seeing Captain Marvel before Endgame, this is more a focus on the character rather than the ongoing MCU story, but why would you want to? Seeing this will give so much more depth to the character of Captain Marvel when she inevitably turns up on screen in Endgame.

After Life

After catching up with (and finishing) GLOW this month, nothing seemed to compare to those 80’s ladies in spandex who might just have given me my new favourite TV show. Then came After Life, a new black comedy from Ricky Gervais on Netflix. I’ll admit I’ve fallen behind on some of his recent work (Special Correspondents for one) and I didn’t know a lot about this new show going in, so I had almost zero expectations on that front.

Episode one was alright, enough to encourage you to stick with it, although I’m a big enough fan of Ricky’s work that I probably would’ve kept going regardless. By the end of episode two I was ready to rank it in my top three things he’s ever done (alongside The Office and Cemetery Junction). By the end of episode five I was contemplating whether it might even earn the top spot.

The finale continued at a similar high standard, but knowing that a second season has already been commissioned took me out of the resolution of certain story arcs and felt as if they had less weight. I’m looking forward to seeing where Ricky takes the show in series two. The ending suggests it’ll be a slightly different direction, but I hope this doesn’t mean that some of the fantastic characters from this season won’t be returning.

Weezer – The Black Album

The not-so-long wait since Pacific Daydream (2017) for Weezer’s thirteenth album was disrupted in January of this year, with the surprise release of a covers album from the band, The Teal Album. On a first listen I enjoyed this collection, the novelty soon wore off though, with all of the covers sounding a bit like their single release of Toto’s Africa last year – good renditions that don’t add anything particularly interesting or new.

The Black Album continues a similar trend to Weezer’s last few (original) albums for me, some standout tracks that I’d rank up there with my favourites from their back catalogue, some that I could honestly take or leave. I wouldn’t say that I’m anywhere near as incensed as some with direction of the sound, I think Rivers Cuomo is doing exactly what he wants and I respect that, artists have no obligation to please people. Fortunately there are enough people still listening (and paying) to allow Weezer to keep doing whatever the hell they choose.

My favourite track from the record is easily High As A Kite. I’m loathed to say “because it sounds like their old material”, there is a certain haunting quality to it though that is what I enjoyed so much about The Blue Album and even 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End. I think this is more the direction I hoped The Black Album would’ve taken. Equally I would’ve accepted something more experimental. That’s not to say this album isn’t diverse, but I’d rather it had been a bit more daring.

Star Wars Resistance

The first season of the latest Star Wars animated series concluded this month and the pay off of sticking with the show for 20 weeks (plus the mid season break) was worth it. I’m willing to admit that the initial kid orientated tone took a little time to settle into. I think this was partly due to the staggered delivery of the content. I’m increasingly less comfortable with having to wait a week for the next episode of a show and the relatively short length of these (around 20 minutes) didn’t help. I’m sure I’d have felt more connected quicker if we’d had two episodes a week.

Towards the end of the season the storyline weaves into The Force Awakens in a satisfying way and concluded by offering some higher stakes for the future. The second season now seems more compelling than the premise for the show perhaps did when the first season was announced.

I’d recommend Resistance to anyone who considers themselves to be slightly more than a fair-weather Star Wars fan. Some will get a kick out of the Saturday morning cartoon vibe of the show. There were moments in the season where it felt more familiar to some of the cartoons I grew up watching than it did the Star Wars films and that’s not a bad thing. I’m still really enjoying the range of takes on Star Wars that we have in this new era of content.

Album of the Week (2019)

This year I’ve set myself the challenge of an album a week, either a new release or something I missed previously. With (almost) all the music I could ever want to listen available for a £9.99 monthly Spotify subscription, this is, admittedly, a far easier challenge than it would have been 15 years ago. That in itself is exactly why I want to do this. When you have everything you don’t appreciate anything.

By breaking it down to one set album a week, I can dedicate some time to the record in the way I might have done when one single album cost £9.99 (if you were lucky). I’ll continue to update this page with the album I’m listening to each week. I’m also slowly compiling a playlist featuring one song from every album. Click here to listen to the tracks added so far.

25/03 – 31/03: American Football – American Football

American Football

18/03 – 24/03: Hanson – String Theory

Hanson - String Theory

11/03 – 17/03: Kid Gloves Productions – The Drunks & The Nomads

Kid Gloves Productions - The Drunks and The Nomads

04/03 – 10/03: Weezer – The Black Album

Weezer - The Black Album

25/02 – 03/03: Millencolin – SOS

Millencolin - SOS

18/02 -24/02: SWMRS – Berkeley’s On Fire

SWMRS - Berkeley's On Fire

11/02 – 17/02: The Bombpops – Fear Of Missing Out

The Bombpops - Fear Of Missing Out

04/02 – 10/02: The Interrupters – Fight The Good Fight

The Interrupters - Fight The Good Fight

28/01 – 03/02: Cary Brothers – Bruises

Cary Brothers - Bruises

21/01 – 27/01: MxPx – MxPx

MxPx - MxPx

14/01 – 20/01: The Prodigy – No Tourists

The Prodigy - No Tourists

07/01 – 13/01: The Longshot – Love Is For Losers

The Longshot - Love Is For Losers

01/01 – 06/01: Reel Big Fish – Life Sucks… Let’s Dance!

Reel Bigh Fish - Life Sucks Lets Dance

Beer Tours: Norwich

Surely Norwich, home to Alan Partridge, isn’t up to speed with the craft beer revolution? Turns out it is, and seems fairly well versed in it too. It’s not just craft beer either, we saw signs that suggest the city could be a surprising rival in subculture for say Brighton or Bristol. Once again, it’s incredible what you find when you scratch the surface.

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The Cottage9 Silver Road, Norwich NR3 4TB

This pub on the edge of the town centre is affiliated with Norfolk based Grain Brewery. It’s not all Grain beers though, The Cottage also has a decent selection from other brewers. The staff were keen to talk us through all of these, offering samples and even insisting we tried pairing one with some dark chocolate. The pub is known for it’s resident ginger tabby who we sadly didn’t get a chance to meet. We were however greeted in the beer garden by another friendly cat who the owners of The Cottage have unofficially adopted.

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St Andrews Brew House – 41 St Andrews St, Norwich NR2 4TP

On the surface St Andrews Brew House looks like a one off, dig a little deeper and you’ll learn it’s part of the The City Pub Group. Alike the other pubs in this chain, they do brew on site, offering a few options at the bar unique to this location. The highlight of this stop was the food menu, with their ‘British Tapas’ mezze dishes offering a number of vegetarian and vegan friendly options. This pub is not to be confused with the Scottish based St Andrews Brewing Co.

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The Mash Tun – 16 Charing Cross, Norwich NR2 4AL

The Mash Tun is set across two floors, with a craft bar downstairs and a ‘gin palace’ above. Their selection on keg is the best in Norwich and is conveniently laid out on a board adjacent to the bar, which was particularly useful when visiting at peak time on a Friday night as the venue did get busy. Beer aside, The Mash Tun is worth visiting for the photo op with a particular neon sign that I now want for my lounge (you’ll know it when you see it!).

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The Plough – 58 St Benedicts Street, Norwich NR2 4AR

The Plough is another pub affiliated with Grain Brewery. Unlike The Cottage, The Plough didn’t offer much in addition to their Grain beers (most of which were available here on both keg and cask, to suit your preference), their range from this brewery is perhaps wider though. The pub’s fair sized beer garden would make this a good starting point for a Summer session.

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Brewdog – 1 Queen St, Norwich NR2 4SG

Norwich’s Brewdog is one of the bigger and seemingly busier of the brewery’s worldwide chain. As such, it does have a wide selection, with 25 beers on tap and a separate in-house ‘Bottle Dog’ selling bottles and cans for takeaway. It lacks some of the character of their smaller bars dotted around the UK, but is still an essential stop on a Norwich city crawl.

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Redwell BrewingThe Arches, Bracondale, Trowse, Norwich NR1 2EF

Situated 2 miles outside the city centre is Redwell Brewing. Their tap room, based within the brewery itself, is open to public on Friday evening (5 – 10pm), Saturday (12 – 10pm) and Sunday (12 – 8pm). It’s a lively space which regularly hosts pop up street food vendors, workshops and live entertainment. The tap room bar’s paddle boards offer an opportunity to try a selection of their beers, before taking in some table football or marvelling at the Redwell unicorn.


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Beer Tours: Southampton

Southampton should be somewhere near the top of your list to visit for beer if you haven’t already. The city is undoubtedly leading the way for craft on the South Coast. The majority of the stops on this tour are within walking distance, although you may need to plan for a taxi or two if you want to include some of the hidden gems outside the city centre.

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Overdraft383 Shirley Rd, Southampton SO15 3JD

Overdraft has two locations locally (this being one, the other in nearby Winchester). They’ve made the best of what appears a lot like a shop unit from the street, with an exposed approach to the decor inside. There’s space in the bar area for up to 10 cask ales and 10 kegs on draft so is worth the trek out to see what’s on tap, despite no sign of bottles and cans. If you’re visiting on a Tuesday be sure to take advantage of their 2-4-1 offer on tacos!

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Unity Brewing CoBelgrave Industrial Estate, 10 Belgrave Rd, Southampton SO17 3EA

Unity are well known locally for brewing some of the most interesting and innovative beers around. If you’re hoping to visit Unity on your Southampton trip, you’ll need to plan around a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon/evening as their taproom opening is limited to these times. If you don’t make it out here, Unity is well distributed throughout Southampton (and increasingly further afield) so you’re more than likely to find a beer or two of their’s elsewhere in the city.

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The Butcher’s Hook Alehouse7 Manor Farm Rd, Southampton SO18 1NN

In terms of selection The Butcher’s Hook Alehouse in Bitterne more than delivers, despite its relatively small size. At peak times you may find it difficult to get a seat, or even in the door, but it’s worth trying to ensure you don’t miss out on this essential Southampton stop. All of their cask, keg, bottles and cans are listed clearly on a chalkboard to allow you to easily peruse everything on offer. Be sure to take a group photo using the digital screen on the wall, it’s only £1 and money raised is donated to charity.

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Caskaway Tasting Rooms – 47 Oxford St, Southampton SO14 3DP

Caskaway Tasting Rooms, located near Southampton’s Ocean Village district, claims to be the city’s “first micropub”. Their collage wall of pump clips from past beers on tap is a fitting tribute to the consistently high calibre of brews that have passed through this nautical themed bar. Caskaway offers table service and has additional seating in both it’s courtyard beer garden and “al fresco” area out front on Oxford Street.

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Dancing Man Brewery – Town Quay, Southampton SO14 2AR

Dancing Man Brewery is one of Southampton’s biggest venues dedicated to craft and yet is perhaps the city’s best kept secrets, as you’re unlikely to find their beers outside of this site (a conscious decision made by the brewery). Based in one of Southampton’s oldest buildings, Dancing Man Brewery is a far cry from the converted shop and industrial units we generally come to expect on our craft beer adventures. You will often find the downstairs bar to be packed out and the first floor restaurant booked up, a testament to their equally fantastic food and beer.

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Belgium and Blues184 Above Bar St, Southampton SO14 7DW

Situated in Southampton’s cultural quarter, Belgium and Blues boasts two floors, a gin bar at street level and a beer cellar below. Their range, as you might expect, has a heavy focus on Belgian beers, which is unique not only for Southampton, but also for much of the UK. If the Belgian style isn’t your thing, they also always have a fair selection of other types of beer on tap and in bottles/cans.

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The Rockstone63 Onslow Rd, Bevois Valley, Southampton SO14 0JL

The Rockstone is the most traditional pub looking pub of the Southampton tour, described above the front entrance as “a country pub in the centre of town”. It’s another popular spot in the city and is worth booking in advance for peak times if you’re hoping to sit inside. Alternatively, there is extensive seating out front. The Rockstone is also known for it’s notorious burger menu, which includes nine vegan options!

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Brewdog18A Upper Bannister St, Southampton SO15 2EF

The Southampton branch of the Brewdog chain is located a little further off the beaten track for one of their city centre bars, and is easily one of their cosiest as a result. Beer wise they never seem to have quite the selection of exclusives you’d expect from a flagship bar, but do a good job of flying the flag for both the local players and respected names in craft beer.


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My twin suns moment

The past week has been notably lacking a new Star Wars film in cinemas. It didn’t have to be this way, I think everyone is in agreement that May’s Solo would’ve done at least a few more quid at the box office had it been delayed to December. I’ve been making use of this lull in the film release cycle to catch up on the few remaining books and comics I’ve yet to read, ahead of everything that’s set to come in 2019.

The past 3 years have consisted of 4 films, 25 novels, 35 graphic novels and 11 seasons of animated shows. How did I end up here? A fully fledged Star Wars canonista, aged 30. Seeing A New Hope live in concert last month reminded me of the moment where it all begun for me over 20 years ago. 

I was at a family gathering sometime around Summer 1997. Some of my relatives were in another room making a big deal about having a copy of A New Hope on VHS. I can’t remember for sure which point I joined them in watching the film, I think it was when Threepio and Artoo’s escape pod lands on Tatooine. I had no prior knowledge of Star Wars and I probably only watched a scene or two that night, but I was intrigued by what I’d seen. Luke staring out at the binary sunset still stands out in my mind from that first viewing.

Binary Sunset
Image © Lucasfilm 1977

I had no idea at the time that this was the height of a renewed interest in the franchise thanks to the special editions being released in cinemas. Shortly after I managed to borrow a boxset of the trilogy and watched all three original films in full.

I’m grateful for my introduction to Star Wars. It will always feel like old stories passed down, rather than something that belongs to me. I think this has helped me in subsequent years to respect and accept the stories that creators chose to tell in this universe, instead of having some delusional sense of ownership that leaves me offended when I don’t like decisions made by those trusted with the saga (no, it’s not my Luke, it never was). 

The years that followed were interesting. We were all aboard the hype train (we didn’t call it that back then) for the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In my childhood innocence and unbeknown ignorance, it was a while before I realised the consensus was that the first of the prequels wasn’t very good. This didn’t change much for me and I spent the time between this film and the next figure collecting, lego building, game playing and comic reading. 

We didn’t have the luxury of a film a year at that time, or even film every other year. I was 11 when The Phantom Menace came out in 1999 and 14 when Attack Of The Clones followed in 2002. A lot changed for me in that time. Even more changed by the time Revenge of The Sith was released in 2005. At 17 my mind was occupied elsewhere in life and my interest in Star Wars was a footnote to everything else going on. I eventually saw it at the cinema and didn’t give it much thought after. The revival years were done. I’ll admit, the tail end was mostly lacklustre.

I had a passing interest in the franchise after this, but my collection of merchandise I’d amassed remained boxed up in the loft for the best part of a decade. I was apprehensive when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and announced it was planning to make more films. It wasn’t until the Autumn of 2015 that I gave any thought to the new release upon us. I allowed myself to be quietly excited about seeing The Force Awakens in cinemas and booked tickets for opening night. Before I knew it I was counting the day, hours, minutes, watching episodes 1 – 6 in preparation.

Thursday 17th December 2015 was a beautiful day, and it will be a day long remembered. The film was a welcome return to the series and left me feeling bitten by that same bug from Summer 1997. Before the year was out I’d started on the Star Wars Rebels animated series. Once I’d caught up on this I dived into years worth of The Clone Wars, a show I barely knew existed. By July 2016 I was at Star Wars Celebration in London. It was a good time to be a reborn Star Wars fan.

This past year has been a little rockier, the divisive response to The Last Jedi has left the fandom feeling a bit more like 2005 than 2015. Sure, the negativity is amplified by the sarlacc pit that is social media, but this is nothing we haven’t seen before. Looking to horizon I’m optimistic about the release slate offering something for each generation of fans. I’m planning to write more about the saga as it continues. Thank you for allowing me, in true Star Wars fashion to go back in my story before stepping forward.

Beer Tours: Wimborne

Wimborne is a market town in Dorset, with a population of 15,500. It was once home to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. It has a town crier who is also a well known underground DJ. Right now it’s experiencing it’s very own craft beer revolution. It could be regarded in the scene as a “best kept secret” but my guess is that won’t be the case for much longer.

If that opening paragraph has intrigued you enough to make the trek to Wimborne, the rest of this post will hopefully provide some insight for your pilgrimage. The first thing to know is that currently the best time to visit Wimborne is on a Friday evening. This is when the town’s key craft brewers open their taprooms to the public.

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The Brew Shack – 3 Old Manor Farm Buildings, 187 Leigh Rd, Wimborne, BH21 2BT (NOW CLOSED)

The Brew Shack is the smaller of the Wimborne’s breweries, but has barrels of potential and is only really just getting started. Based at The Old Manor Farm Buildings, a short walk from the town centre, The Brew Shack is a good first port of call on your Wimborne crawl as it both opens and closes early (3pm – 7pm). There’s not a lot of room inside, so depending on the time of year you visit you may struggle to get in. The Brew Shack currently have five flagship beers to try, as well as single batch brews, all across a variety of styles. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the pale / IPA beers tend to go first, so get there early!

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Eight Arch Brewing Co – 3A Stone Lane Industrial Estate, Wimborne, BH21 1HB

From The Brew Shack I recommend crossing town (by taxi, or 30 minute walk) to the Stone Lane Industrial Estate, home of a brewery set to take the country by storm, Eight Arch. Having focused initially on perfecting their core styles, Eight Arch have recently started to branch out with more adventurous beers and collaborations. The past two years have seen expansions at the Eight Arch tap room. Throughout this time their Friday night session (4pm – 8pm) has been accompanied by an outdoor street food offering from Flaming Peaches (who do cater for vegetarians/vegans).

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The Tap House11 West Borough, Wimborne, BH21 1LT

From Eight Arch it’s a short walk to The Tap House, an overall more traditional ale house, but a good stop over on route to Wimborne’s mecca of craft beer, The Butcher’s Dog. The Tap House is a Cask Marque CAMRA recognised pub, who serve ‘real ales’ straight from the cask, with mostly local beer on offer but some from further afield also. If it’s your first time in Dorset it’s a chance to sample some of the county’s more remote/rural brewers. There is a also a Wetherspoons on route to The Butcher’s Dog but I’d advise skipping that.

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The Butcher’s Dog6 East St, Wimborne, BH21 1DS

The Butcher’s Dog is what makes the effort of trekking out to Wimborne worthwhile. Locally they are leading the way for how a good craft beer pub ought to be. They have 14 beers on tap across a variety of styles and breweries, plus a bottle fridge that is always stocked full of interesting alternative options. The beers on tap are always clearly listed on a large board next to the bar. The downstairs and bar area can get a little crowded on a Friday night, but there is also a spacious upstairs room and landing. They regularly host tap takeovers from some of the best British craft brewers, but these tend to be on a Saturday night rather than Friday (a welcome reason to come back if you’re local!).

Public transport links to Wimborne are limited and do make visiting the town difficult. You can get a bus from Bournemouth or Poole Town Centre, where the London Waterloo to Weymouth train line also stops. The last buses out of Wimborne leave before midnight, be sure to check listings in advance.


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Marvel’s Daredevil season 3 is a return to form for the Netflix universe. [SPOILERS]

Daredevil
Image © Netflix 2018

It’s been an eventful month for Marvel’s Netflix universe with the cancellation of Iron Fist and Luke Cage. The best chance of burying the bad news was the arrival of Daredevil season 3.  I was a few days late getting started (I had a minor detour with the surprise appearance of Prison Break season 5 on Netflix) and by this point reviews and opinions were already starting to surface online.

I went into the first few episodes with IGN’s 9/10 score in mind and to be honest, I wasn’t seeing it myself. The pacing felt clunky, the dialogue seemed loaded with exposition and the drag and drop of a scene from season 2 into episode 1 felt like a complete waste of screen time. Perhaps it’s worth remembering that Daredevil is the last of the solo shows we’ve returned to following the Defenders team up, plus it’s been two and a half years since Daredevil season 2. I’ll accept there was a bit of leg work to bring us up to speed, I’m just not convinced it was handled as well as it could’ve been.

Once the season got past this and the plot threads set up in the first few episodes began to make sense the show really hit a stride which didn’t let up for the rest of the 13 episode run. I read one criticism of the Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) origin story in episode 10, which claimed it killed the momentum. Maybe it’s because I enjoyed the flashback, but I actually felt this was the pause the season needed before heading back into the final 3 episodes.

Karen Page
Image © Netflix 2018

By the end of episode 12 I was ready to join those making the bold claim that this season is one of the best of the Marvel Netflix universe to date, providing the finale had a satisfying conclusion. I think they just about managed it, even if it wasn’t necessary the strongest episode of the season. I will go so far as to say I think it’s the best season this year (Jessica Jones season 2 is a close second), I need a bit more time to decide where it falls overall.

I think it would be fair to say that the storyline of the season itself was fairly predictable, save for the big surprise at the end of episode 8 that Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley) is Matt Murdoch’s mum! The strength of the season was in the individual stories and was defined by it’s characters. The four stars of the show (Matt, Foggy, Karen and Fisk) each had a compelling and believable story arch.

Charlie Cox’s portrayal of Matt Murdoch and Daredevil continues to be one of the highlights of the Marvel Netflix universe. His handling of the role and the character’s changing state of mind is so good I was getting just as pissed off and fed up with him as his allies in the show were in the first half of the season.

Fisk
Image © Netflix 2018

Wilson Fisk has long been billed as the best villain of the Marvel Netflix universe. Vincent D’Onofrio’s returning performance makes a strong bid for retaining that particular title. I didn’t find Fisk to be as intimidating a character as he was in season 1, possibly because of what we’ve seen him be reduced to between then and now. That said, the scene in which Karen visits Fisk’s apartment and tries to antagonise him by revealing she killed his friend James Wesley was one of my favourite moments in the season and was genuinely terrifying.

Bullseye
Image © Netflix 2018

Special Agent Ben Poindexter a.k.a Dex, a.k.a Bullseye, played by Wilson Bethel was a great addition to the cast and his own story weaved expertly in and out of the other characters’ own plots. The character of Ray Nadeem managed a similar feat, but I wasn’t convinced by Jay Ali’s performance, which felt flat and left me unfazed when he was finally shot dead by Dex in the finale.

The “hallway scene” from season 1 has been used as a gold standard for action sequences since the show debuted in 2015. There were more than a couple of clear attempts to top it this time around. I’m not going to say any one of these scenes were better than the other, or the original, they were all entertaining in their own way. The prison escape was the moment this season started to win me over and is worth watching even if you have no interest in the show (what are you doing 800 words into a spoiler review?) just for an appreciation of the choreography.

Nelson Murdoch and Page
Image © Netflix 2018

The end of the season puts a bow on the story and effectively leaves our characters back where they started at the beginning of season 1, planning to restart their law firm. We, of course, see Bullseye in surgery, leaving the door open for him to return (much the same as Billy Russo at the end of season 1 of The Punisher). There’s no clear indication however of where the show goes from here and perhaps the same can be said for the Marvel Netflix universe as a whole. For a long time we were building towards The Defenders crossover event. It’s been made clear that there are no plans to repeat this and with two shows cancelled but two seasons (Jessica Jones season 3 and The Punisher season 2) still in production, I think we can expect an announcement (and possibly answers) about the future of the project soon.