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New Escapist Column! On “Jupiter’s Legacy” and the Netflix Bloat…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday evening. With the release of the first season volume of Jupiter’s Legacy on Netflix, it seemed like an opportunity to talk about the weirdness of the Netflix bloat.

The first season of Jupiter’s Legacy is eight episodes long, but covers about as much narrative real estate as the first two issues of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s comic book. The season doesn’t even get to what is effectively the big inciting incident for the bulk of the comic book, instead stretching certain plot points and certain threads past breaking points. It’s not that Netflix departs or deviates from the source material; it’s often quite faithful in quoting from the comic. It’s that the show can’t seem to even get started.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Luke Cage – The Basement (Review)

The second season of Luke Cage inevitably battles with the infamous Netflix bloat.

This is a structural problem with a lot of Netflix series, but particularly with the Marvel Netflix fare. It is a result of a combination of factors, from the production team’s commitment to telling a single serialised story in a give season to the need to pad all of these seasons out to fill thirteen episodes. To be fair, certain seasons are more affected by this bloat than others; the first seasons of Iron Fist and The Punisher tell simple stories in extreme slow motion, while the second season of Jessica Jones spends almost half a season building towards the starting point of its own story.

The first season of Luke Cage had its own particular twist on this issue of pacing and padding. The first half of the season flowed relatively smoothly, as reflected in the extremely positive pre-release reviews that praised it as a series that “should rightfully elevate [Cheo Hodari] Coker into the league of television auteurs.” When the entire series was released, reaction was a bit more muted, with a second half of the season that effectively extended a ninety-minute blaxploitation homage into six hour-long episodes filled with stalling tactics and wheel-spinning.

At the end of Manifest, Luke Cage was shot by Willis Stryker, which effectively (and literally) took the lead out of his own show for a three-episode trip to Georgia that lasted through Blowin’ Up the Spot, DWYCK and Take It Personal. To prolong the plot, Cage and Stryker fell into a pattern of attack-and-repeat; Stryker shot Cage with a Judas bullet in both Manifest and Blowing Up the Spot, while Luke forces a confrontation with Stryker in Now You’re Mine, only for the season to stall with an episode about the police chasing Luke in Soliloquy of Chaos before allowing a final fight in You Know My Steez.

That second half of the first season was disastrous, with characters dancing around one another in order to hit a mandated running time, the desperation obvious in the variety of contrivances that prolonged the drama. In contrast, the second season has much great balance and control, never descending to that level of clumsy plotting in order to justify the thirteen-episode season order. At the same time, there are points where the series is obviously stretching itself out in order to make this story last thirteen hours instead of eight.

While still imperfect, the second season of Luke Cage represents a significant improvement.

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Iron Fist – Eight Diagram Dragon Palm (Review)

Iron Fist takes a long time to say very little.

There are arguments to be made that series like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were somewhat over extended. Jessica Jones had an incredibly frustrating tendency to have Jessica capture Kilgrave, only for him to escape and prolong the series; AKA The Sandwich Saved Me, AKA Sin Bin and AKA 1,000 Cuts all played the same card. Luke Cage fell apart in its second half, taking its protagonist out of action for several episodes while essentially repeating itself over the final four episodes, with Luke going from fugitive to hero to fugitive to hero.

My kung fu is better than yours.

However, Iron Fist is particularly notable for placing this drag at the very start of the season. The first four episodes of Iron Fist can effectively be written off, accomplishing very little in terms of moving the plot forward and establishing a series of obstacles that are handily dispatched and which fail to either move the plot forward or provide keen insight into the characters. Luke Cage might have opened slowly with Moment of Truth and Code of the Streets, but at least it provided a sense of character and place. Jessica Jones built up its sense characters.

In contrast, the driving plot of Iron Fist only comes into focus at the end of Eight Diagram Dragon Palm. Which makes the preceding four episodes seem like a waste of time and energy.

“Yes, Father. I shall become a dragon.”

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