Sunday, August 13, 2017

Minimal MacLachlan, But Bowie Returns! Twin Peaks "The Return Part 14"

The Good: Good performances, Wonderful special effects, Awesome blending of reality and surrealism
The Bad: Virtually plotless, Some of the character leaps require real suspension of disbelief
The Basics: "The Return Part 14" meanders, but it does it so well most viewers will just recall how they fell in love with Twin Peaks instead of being bothered by the ambling!

As Twin Peaks rushes towards its conclusion for the new season, the show has exhausted the pleasant shock factor of revealing the return of characters from the original Twin Peaks (reviewed here!) and now it is in something of a "put up or shut up" place. The new season has to deliver on the promise of the disconnected threads seeded throughout the earlier episodes and move toward some sense of closure in the storylines of Dale Cooper and Cooper (Bob). As "The Return Part 14" begins, that burden seems like it is being lifted as the episode starts making concrete connections between the two main investigative bodies of the show - the F.B.I. and the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department. Between that and the vintage footage in the episode, "The Return Part 14" puts more characters in touch with the fantastic elements of Twin Peaks than ever before.

"The Return Part 14" follows on "The Return Part 13" (reviewed here!), which managed to focus most of the plot's events on Twin Peaks and elevate the menace of the Bob-infested Cooper. "The Return Part 14" is cool in that is starts to link Doug Jones and Agent Cooper in new and interesting ways . . . through Diane. The sense that the episode is getting more concrete takes a weird turn when Director Cole discusses his Monica Bellucci-related dream.

FBI Director Cole calls Lucy Moran at the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department. Truman informs Cole that they have found diary pages that might indicate there are two Coopers. Agent Rosenfield fills Agent Preston in on the Blue Rose investigations starting with the first case that Cole investigated with Philip Jeffries and involved a doppelganger. Diane arrives and claims that Cooper mentioned Briggs to her the last time they met. Diane reveals that her half-sister is Jane, married to Doug, living in Las Vegas. While describing his current dream, Cole and Rosenfeld recall a time Agent Cooper told them about one of his dreams. In Twin Peaks, Chad (the corrupt cop) is arrested and the Sheriffs make a trip out to Major Briggs' listening station, but they find the Jack Rabbit's Palace to be nothing more than a stump now.

Making the trek according to Garland's directions, the four encounter a woman from the surreal dimension and when a vortex opens above them, Andy is taken. There, he encounters The Giant and comes to understand that the woman on the ground is important. Andy comes out of the experience much stronger and articulate. Returning to the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department, the mysterious woman is put in protective custody and she is mocked by the other two residents of the jail. Working security at the Great Northern, James learns from his co-worker, Freddy, that the younger man's hand is now gloved because The Fireman (The Giant) told him to after an experience with a vortex of his own. And at a bar, Sarah Palmer's dark side comes out when she is accosted by a drunken asshole.

It's hard not to get excited for anything these days that includes a surprise cameo by David Bowie and "The Return Part 14" is no exception. The archive footage that Lynch used to return younger versions of himself, Kyle MacLachlan and David Bowie to the screen makes for a delightful interlude in the middle of a weird dream sequence analysis.

"The Return Part 14" once again raises the level of surrealism in Twin Peaks as more people in the town encounter the extraordinary. The woman from the other place speaks in static and has no eyes, which is freaky. Andy disappearing when the vortex opens and seeing generally random images that he does not understand is deliberately unsettling. Andy makes for an interesting character to be teleported into the other dimension because he is a character who has, historically, had difficulty articulating thoughts and being taken seriously.

On the literal front, "The Return Part 14" suffers some because it pushes the boundaries of suspension of disbelief. Viewers are expected to believe that the two young ruffians from the original Twin Peaks both grew up to be in law enforcement?! Seriously?! Both Bobby and James became law abiding citizens - Briggs as a deputy sheriff and James working in private security. While James has only been seen in the new season of Twin Peaks before as a lurker and a singer, his sudden appearance in private security seems strange. Similarly, Bobby Briggs was a pretty literal, pragmatic, kid - how he came to accept the surrealism of his father's work makes much less sense than James completely buying Freddy's story. James was always characterized in the original as a dreamer, so his character arc for the twenty-five year leap makes less sense for his occupation, more sense for his acceptance of the fantastic.

Part of the magic of "The Return Part 14" is that the episode is almost over before it occurs to the viewer that Kyle MacLachlan has only appeared momentarily as part of Andy's out-of-world experience (as a visual implication of the two Coopers) and very briefly in the vintage footage that Bowie completely upstaged him in. It is fairly impressive that the show manages to go that long and be that engaging without its protagonist or antagonist.

On the acting front, Harry Goaz and Grace Zabriskie steal the show. "The Return Part 14" actually allows Goaz to play Andy as something more than a fool and that is refreshing to see. Zabriski manages to expertly transition with the most subtle of face movements. Zabriski plays Sarah Palmer and the moment Palmer is approached in a bar, all the viewer can think is "this is the woman who lived in the presence of the ultimate evil longer than anyone else" and Zabriski makes that idea pay off. The scene she is in includes a pretty wild special effects sequence, but it is the acting whereby Zabriski turns on a dime from horrifying to horrified to threatening with a change of her expression, mobility and voice is the true special effect of the episode.

"The Return Part 14" is an episode that feels smartly dense, but it starts to open cracks in the Twin Peaks universe. The Black Lodge was a mysterious alternate dimension with near-impossible entrance and exit points before. Cooper's escape from the Black Lodge earlier in the season is minimized some by Andy's easy transition to and from an alternate dimension and Freddy's story that indicates the same. The burden as "The Return Part 14" concludes is on David Lynch to explain why the Black Lodge was so difficult to escape from when the vortexes appear to be much more common than anyone knew before.

"The Return Part 14" gives viewers hope that Lynch might be able to pull it off.

For other works with Monica Belucci, please visit my reviews of:
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The Brothers Grimm
The Passion Of The Christ
The Matrix Revolutions
The Matrix Reloaded


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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For A Limited Time, A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts Were Oddly Fun!

The Good: Good flavor, Affordable, Easy to prepare
The Bad: Packaging/environmental impact, Not terribly nutritious.
The Basics: The A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts are a lot of fun, even if they are best when heated . . . which can be unsettling for those who love root beer!

Every now and then when I see a new product hit the shelves of my local grocery store, I just say to myself "I'm going to wait this one out." I live in a comparatively small community and as a result, new products are often slow to catch on. The net result is, many new products hit the shelves and hit the clearance rack there disproportionately fast. The Kellogg's A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts were a product that, when I first saw them in our store, I said "I give it three months." Well, last week, it was three months and boom! . . . there they were on the clearance rack at 40% off. And I was still eager to try them!

The A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts are a Pop Tart that are somewhat undermined by their own concept. These are a Pop Tart that taste best warmed . . . which is pretty much the opposite of its intended flavor, root beer (which is generally better cold). Despite that weird contrast, the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts end up being pretty good.


Kellogg’s Pop Tarts are toaster pastries, which are basically semi-hard flat bread pouches filled with a flavored filling. The filling has the consistency of peanut butter and some, like the Limited Edition A&W Root Beer flavor, come with frosting on them. The frosting is hard and on the A&W Root Beer flavored Pop Tarts has a lighter frosting swirl that is akin to the foam atop one's mug of root beer.

A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts come in a box of eight with the Pop Tarts paired up in thin foil pouches. The foil pouch helps to protect the Pop Tart and keep it fresh.

Ease Of Preparation

Pop Tarts are one of the easiest foods in the world to prepare. Simply tear open the foil pouch and pull a Pop Tart out to eat it. It is truly that simple. Of course, you should dispose of the foil wrapper in an environmentally appropriate manner. Outside that, preparation is unnecessary as Pop Tarts taste great at room temperature, though these Pop Tarts definitely have more flavor when heated.

But, for those who like them hot – which makes the filling more like a warm pie – A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts may be heated in a toaster, toaster oven or microwave. I actually like heating the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts in the microwave for thirty seconds because it makes the corners softer and makes the pastry a little less dry.


A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts smell surprisingly neutral. Their coating has a more generic chocolate scent to it than the scent of root beer, which surprised me. Regardless, these are a Pop Tarts flavor that is only truly aromatic when it is warmed.

At room temperature, the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts taste like a sweet pie crust. The bready portion of the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts is sweet, only slightly dry in its flavor, but not distinct or clearly root beer flavor. The root beer flavor comes out only through the filling. The filling is a very true root beer flavor - dry, earthy, sweet and with an odd element to its flavor that actually insinuates fizz! Plain and unheated, the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts taste like a bready version of what they are supposed to; root beer.

Served warm, the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts are aromatic and inviting with a weird root beer scented steam. In the mouth, they burst with dry, sweet, root beer flavor, managing to overcome the simple dry cake flavor of the pastry shell. The center seems to flavor the entire pastry when served warm, so the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts taste like a lot of hot root beer!

Regardless of temperature, the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts have a slightly dry aftertaste to them, though it does not last long after one has consumed the last of them.


A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts are not the worst option as a component of a breakfast. A single pastry is considered a serving, which is weird given that they come sealed as two-packs. One A&W Root Beer Pop Tart has 200 calories, 45 of which are from fat! With 5 grams fat, one A&W Root Beer Pop Tart gives you 8% of your RDA of fat and 7% of your RDA of sodium. The 36 grams of carbohydrates provide 12% of your daily recommended intake! On the plus side, this flavor Pop Tart does have 10% of your RDA of Vitamin A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Iron and Vitamin B6, which makes it more nutritious than some juices!

While there is not a lot to laud in the nutrition department, the ingredients in the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts are not actually bad. Made primarily of Enriched Flour, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, it is actually a surprise how the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts are not worse in the nutrition department than they are! The ingredient list quickly becomes a chemistry equation after gelatin.

There are notations that the A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts contain wheat and soy ingredients. They are not marked as Kosher, though I am not certain why that is.


A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts are very easy to clean up. Simply throw away the foil wrapper in an appropriate place, brush up the crumbs and you are done! Kept in their foil wrappers, A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts will remain fresh for a while; the ones we bought last week have an expiration date of September 20, 2017.


A&W Root Beer Limited Edition Pop Tarts are good, if not especially good for you, but for a breakfast pastry, they hit on just the right side of weird and delicious, especially when heated, to be worth recommending.

For other Pop Tarts, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Vanilla Latte Pop Tarts
Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts
Frosted Chocolate Peanut Butter


For other food reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 6, 2017

"The Return Part 13" Solidifies The Focus On Twin Peaks!

The Good: Good acting, Moments of character, Good ending, Most of the episode's mood
The Bad: Somewhat aimless plot for the latter half
The Basics: "The Return Part 13" mixes wonderfully concrete elements in Cooper and Dougie's stories with somewhat pointless Twin Peaks scenes.

As the new season of Twin Peaks enters its final third, the story is well-beyond the novelty of the prior cast members appearing and the show is committed to actually resolving the massive plot threads it began many episodes prior. "The Return Part 13" does a lot of things that are necessary to achieve that goal, most notably, returning Cooper to the narrative. As well, Richard Horne becomes relevant as he ends up in the same time and place as Cooper.

"The Return Part 13" picks up after "The Return Part 12" (reviewed here!), which was delightful in that it included the return on-screen of Audrey Horne, played by Sherilyn Fenn. Given the delight that fans had at her return, "The Return Part 13" had a lot to live up to. "The Return Part 13" does a good job of blending surreal and weird elements with concrete ties of elements and characters in the Twin Peaks universe. Unfortunately, it feels like David Lynch had half an episode and had to fill out the back half, so he threw in a ton of homages to the original Twin Peaks, including Big Ed's return to the narrative and James Hurley performing the song he sang back in the day with Donna.

At Lucky 7 Insurance, the Mitchum Brothers bring Dougie back, where they present Bud Mullins with a lot of expensive gifts for paying out his their claim. Cooper's agent at the firm, Anthony, is given a day to take care of Dougie. Dougie returns home to find that the Mitchum brothers have bought a gym set for his son and Janie is quite amorous to him. In Western Montana, Cooper arrives to confront Ray, who attempted to kill him. Cooper is given the opportunity to arm wrestle to take over Ray's territory and insists on Ray's life instead. When Cooper wins the match and kills the boss, he interrogates Ray about the scheme to murder him. Cooper asks Ray for the coordinates that Ray was given.

In South Dakota, the police discover that Dougie Jones is supposed to be both an escaped convict and a missing F.B.I. agent. The insurance agent approaches a police officer on the take for a poison to kill Dougie. When the time comes for the agent to attempt to kill Dougie, though, he breaks down and is unable to go through with it. At the RR Diner in Twin Peaks, Shelly gets a call from her daughter before Norma is visited by the man she is seeing, who has franchised her diner. Audrey confronts her husband with an identity crisis that he is unhelpful in resolving.

Kyle MacLachlan is amazing in "The Return Part 13." MacLachlan's arm wrestling scene is an impressive feat. MacLachlan embodies Bob with a vicious streak and a power that is impressive. His physical restraint in the scene is contrasted brilliantly by the very active physical performance of the man who plays Ray's boss. MacLachlan's role as Dougie is minimal in "The Return Part 13," but he continues to play him as appropriately stiff and out-of-touch as Dale Cooper slowly becomes conscious within Dougie's body. MacLachlan commits to a face-plant into a glass door as Dougie that is unsettling for its realism.

While the performances and moments of character - when they exist - are quite good, the plot goes from being delightfully focused and possessing a sense that the show is working to tie together important plot elements, "The Return Part 13" becomes aimless in its second half. Sure, it's nice to see Big Ed (though Everett McGill looks like "David Lynch pulled me out of retirement to eat a fucking cup of soup?!" over the closing credits) again and the reunion of Dr. Jacoby and Nadine is delightful for the sheer volume of crazy in the scene's subtext. While James may be stuck in his past, the viewer is not and we need something more than just to be trapped in Twin Peaks.

David Lynch starts "The Return Part 13" strong, but seems unable or unwilling to keep the focus and intensity of the first half of the episode in the second half.

For other works with Everett McGill, please visit my reviews of:
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Twin Peaks
Licence To Kill


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Marginally Disappointing, Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Chocolate Bars Do Not Live Up!

The Good: Good flavor, Decent ingredients, Good corporate ethics
The Bad: Expensive, Not at all indicative of a true caramel flavor
The Basics: Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars are more like chocolate toffee bars than salted caramel bars.

I have been enthusiastically going through a little slipcase of chocolate bars I recently got in. The packaging for the Green & Black's chocolate bars instantly intrigued me when I saw them at my local discount store. Tonight, I decided to take a break from my work to enjoy the Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars from the slipcase of chocolate I bought. Unfortunately, the Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars did not quite live up to my expectations or hopes for what a good caramel chocolate bar could be . . . especially for one with dark chocolate.


Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars are one and three-eights inch by one and five-eighths inch rectangles of chocolate that are about three-sixteenths of an inch thick and connected side by side and in rows, to form a bar of ten segments. Each bar comes unified in a foil wrapper. The foil-wrapped chocolate bar is sealed in a cardboard package.

Each chocolate bar is sold in a way that it is easy to segment and control portions. In this form, the 3.17 oz. bar, the chocolate bar represents two and a half servings. Each bar appears solid (the Caramel flakes and sea salt are embedded, as opposed to acting like a filling) and is stamped with the Green & Black's logo.

Ease Of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the cardboard and then opening the foil wrapper from around the actual chocolate. There is no trick to eating Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars.


The Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel bars have a strong cocoa aroma. The dark chocolate scent is pleasant and inviting for anyone who loves dark chocolate. The aromatic nature of the dark chocolate is uncommon, but very basic.

In the mouth, the Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel bars are dry, with little salty flecks. The sea salt in the Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars manifests more as a crispy texture than an actual flavor. There is almost no hint of caramel in the flavor palate of these candy bars.

The Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bar have a strong, dry aftertaste that lasts in the mouth for several minutes after the last of the bar is consumed.


These are candy, so they are not overly nutritious. That said, the Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars are made of generally good ingredients, justifying their expense. The primary ingredients are bittersweet chocolate, organic raw cane sugar and organic glucose syrup. There is nothing unpronounceable in these candies.

A serving from the Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars is considered four rectangles from the overall bar, which is a somewhat silly serving size for a bar that is segmented into ten pieces (as that means one whole bar is two and a half servings). From four squares, one takes in 210 calories, including 150 calories of fat. There are 70 mg sodium and 2 grams protein in each serving. There is a decent amount Iron (20% RDA) in each bar, but no significant quantities of any other major nutrients. The biggest nutritional detraction in the Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel are the 17 grams of fat per serving and the 50% RDA of saturated fat that comes from the 10 grams of saturated fat!

These are not Vegan-compliant, nor are they recommended for anyone with a nut allergy as they are manufactured on machinery that processes tree nuts. They are not specifically marked as kosher (I'm not sure why), but Green & Black's uses sustainable cocoa farming for their cocoa, which is nice! They do have an allergy warning for wheat and milk.


The bars of these Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars remain fresh for quite some time. The bars we picked up last month had an expiration date of October 10, 2017, though they will certainly not last that long as I will have consumed mine well before then! One assumes that if they are kept in a cool, dry environment they will not melt or go bad. It is hard to imagine just what it would take for these to go bad outside melting and refreezing.

As for cleanup, just throw the packaging away when you're done! These chocolate bars are made such that there is no real cleanup needed, unless one is eating them in a hot environment. Under that circumstance, it is likely one would need to wash their hands, though these bars do not melt as easily as cheap or milk chocolates. When this chocolate melts into most fabrics, it will stain.


Green & Black's Pure Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel chocolate bars are interesting, but lack a strong caramel flavor to sell the promise of the bars

For other Green & Black's chocolate reviews, please check out:
Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bar
Pure Dark Chocolate Raspberry & Hazelnut chocolate bar
Pure Dark Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars


For other chocolate reviews, please visit my Chocolate Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

American Gods "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney"

The Good: Fine direction, Decent acting
The Bad: Forced elements pertaining to direction, Dull characters, Disappointing plot, Kills the season's momentum.
The Basics: "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" takes a divergence in the American Gods story to pay lip service to Mad Sweeney's story and conflict.

As much as I came to appreciate the first season of American Gods, the truth is that it is a show that requires some faith to invest in and it is a wildly erratic season. The eight-episode season meanders for four episodes, gets a purpose in its fifth episode, has strong rising action in its sixth episode and then takes a radical detour for its seventh episode. "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" is the seventh episode and it diverges significantly from the tone of the a-plot of its prior episode.

"A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" picks up the Laura Moon subplot from "A Murder Of Gods" (reviewed here!) instead of continuing the throw down that Mr. Wednesday began in that episode with Mr. World. Laura Moon was the recipient of an entire backstory episode - "Git Gone" (reviewed here!) - earlier in the season and the fact that she gets a second episode focused on her family and her is surprising. Despite the title, "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" is much more a Laura Moon (and her family) story than it is one that truly develops Mad Sweeney.

In the morgue, Anubis reconstructs a body while Mr. Ibis offers him a drink. Ibis sets to writing the Coming To America story starting in 1721. He writes about the people shipped off to America with the sentence of "transportation," people condemned to indentured servitude in the Colonies. His story flashes back to the story of Essie MacGowan. Essie MacGowan grows up in Ireland, hearing stories about the supernatural creatures like banshees and leprechauns. She is raised to leave cream and bread for the leprechauns and her donations are accepted by the enchanted folk, including Mad Sweeney.

Essie MacGowan's story continues with her getting sentenced to seven years transportation after her lover, the young master of the house where she works, denies that he gave her a necklace, making her appear to be a thief. Essie escapes her sentence by seducing the captain of the ship she was being transported on. Essie marries the captain, but then robs him and flees. After years of shoplifting, Essie is caught in London and sentenced to death. The influence of Mad Sweeney and a pregnancy allow her to escape death with transportation again, this time she ends up in the colonies. While Essie's story is being relayed, Laura, Mad Sweeney and Salim go on Laura's detour until she releases Salim to follow his quest to find the Djinn. Laura and Mad Sweeney steal an ice cream truck.

"A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" is heavy with Emily Browning, who plays both Essie MacGowan and Laura Moon. Browning infuses Essie with more innate passion than Laura has possessed. Ironically, Essie becomes colder and more methodical than Laura as she develops from an apparent innocent into an outright thief. Browning makes the transition well, though she is relegated to playing Laura as cold and snotty in her non-Essie scenes in "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney."

Browning does fine as Essie, but like Laura, Essie is not a particularly interesting character. Indeed, much of Essie's story is overwhelmed with a blaring, retro-pop soundtrack and were that and the narration from Ibis not present through much of her story, its inherent boring quality would be far more evident. Essie MacGowan is a woman who is raised with a faith and when it lapses, she suffers; it's a simple story and it is vastly overstated in "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney."

Pablo Schreiber is fine in his distant supporting role of Mad Sweeney. Mad Sweeney is proven to be both bound by gratitude and belief and near-immortal in "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney," which seems to imply that leprechauns like him are some form of divine, like Vulcan, Odin, and others in American Gods.

Fundamentally, Laura Moon is not a particularly interesting character in American Gods an fleshing out the story of a character who begins as a pretty strong atheist with a family backstory that is very much one of belief does not make Laura more engaging. Like Shadow Moon, Laura has found herself rather abruptly thrust into a world packed with divine beings and creatures and given that she is pursuing a full resurrection, she just seems snotty in "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney." In fact, "A Prayer For Mad Sweeney" implies that Mad Sweeney feels indebted to Essie MacGowan's family for his continued existence and in conflict with Wednesday's wishes for Laura. The episode does not explore that aspect enough to be truly satisfying, though.

The result is an episode that tries to force viewers to care about some of its (until now, generally) peripheral characters and it makes the attempt with inorganic tricks and without a satisfying sense of development.

For other episodes that are deep character studies, please check out my reviews of:
"Duet" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Alex"- Supergirl
"Step In The Arena" - Luke Cage


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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