'Daredevil' Returns, 'Bates Motel' Enraptures, 'Vikings' Builds, 'Pretty Little Liars' Departs

Daredevil – Season 2.Episode 1 (“Bang”)
The new season of Netflix's original series premiered on the streaming giant last week with a shockingly strong debut episode. The first season of “Daredevil” had its moments and definitely showed potential; however, nothing could have hinted at such a stellar season to come.

Season 2 is season 1 on steroids. The show is tighter, the writing sleeker, the action more combustible and the cast stronger than ever. The episode title says it all. “Daredevil” has come roaring back with a “bang.”

The credit for the newly enlivened tone of the series belongs to the introduction of The Punisher, a much-needed character juxtaposition to the series’ mawkish hero. Matt Murdock, the perennial moral overlord, has finally met his match. The Punisher is mainly teased in the opener and what a tease it is.

The series thrives on the electric energy of knowing something...someone major is coming. The series has hit its binge-worthy stride, and it is intoxicatingly addictive. New series showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Rameriz have given “Daredevil” the shot in the arm it desperately needed coming into season 2, leveraging it to its full potential. Episode Rating: 9/10

[Image by A&E]
Bates Motel – Season 4.Episode 2 (“Goodnight, Mother”)
Three seasons have all been leading to this: the institutionalization of Norman Bates. It was an hour fraught with grave tension from the outset as a troubled Norman's visions of "Mother" killing Emma's mom led him to the conclusion that Norma was actually the guilty party.

While his subconscious has believed that since the second season, this was the first time Norman consciously came to the belief his mother is a killer and the first time he openly confronted her with his suspicions. Finally allowing her to see how ill he really is.

The fracture between mother and son became a full-blown break as Norman's fervent belief that Norma was setting him up to take the fall for her crimes became too much for even Norman to "forgive" his beloved mother for. The most fascinating aspect of the entire meltdown between them was that each had come to believe and accept the unimaginable about the other; that their closest loved one is a killer.

The problem is that only one of them is truly guilty and one of them falsely believes themselves to be innocent. The hurt and betrayal Norman exhibited will certainly not be fading quietly into the night.

In yet another dazzling display of their spectacular talent, actors Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga stunned throughout the episode. Highmore's performance as the pained Norman was absolutely jaw-dropping. From the way, he conveyed Norman's equally conflicted feelings of love and betrayal to his fear and loathing towards Norma was sensational.

The crumpled expression as he tried to "get through" to her and his comically raised eyebrow at her kooky behavior in the pit were all marvelously measured; poignant without melodrama and humorous without veering into camp.

While the first half of the episode was an ensemble affair, the latter installment existed as a firm two-hander. It was up to Farmiga and Highmore to not only balance one another but push each other as well. As Highmore depicted Norman's shattering psyche and vigorous conviction of his newfound clarity, Farmiga played Norma's final realization and acceptance of the gravity of Norman's illness with profound despair.

“Goodnight, Mother” offered another fine example of her versatility as an actress. From how she played the comedic element of Norma's pit search to the dramatic sorrow of her irrevocable recognition of the extent of Norman’s illness.

As great as the stuff between Norma and Norman was so were all of the scenes with Romero, Dylan, and Emma. Romero came through for Norma in a huge way, using the stolen money to bankroll Norman's stay at the luxury asylum and agreeing to marry Norma. The show played that latter reveal particularly well as the audience got a swoon-worthy heads up to his change of heart when he told the snooty attendant about his marriage plans.

Speaking of matters of the heart, Emma's father gently probed into the depth of Dylan's affection for Emma and warned him about the change to her life now that she has a long one to live. There really is no stone “Bates Motel” leaves unturned, even when it comes to the innocent romance of its purest characters. Let's hope it ends well for them. Episode Rating: 10/10

[Image by HISTORY]
Vikings – Season 4.Episode 5 (“Promised”)
An episode that showed signs of mounting momentum offered viewers a more internal glimpse into its lead character. As stated before, Ragnar is a complicated character, and the way his mind maneuvers dilemmas is particularly fascinating.

In “Promised” viewers gained insight into his perspective on the breakup of his marriage to Lagertha, Bjorn leaving to go with her, the corrosive effect his darkest secret has had on him, the weight of his role as a king, and his spiral into drug addiction. As he told Yidu, the ambition of his youth has leveled out with the exhaustion of age, and his once-vibrant will is fading. 

Leadership was one of the main themes of the hour. The guilt Ragnar feels for establishing a settlement in Wessex, where his people were eventually massacred at the hands of King Ecbert. It's a burden of truth only Ragnar had been carrying to this point. Ecbert’s confessions as to his own blind ambitions similarly played into the leadership motif.

One of the key contrasts depicted in each character’s soliloquies was that Ragnar is chiefly motivated by the betterment of his people, while Ecbert is solely interesting in his own personal gain and glory. Rags is certainly egotistical, but in comparison to Ecbert, he appears downright selfless. The characterization of these two different and yet strikingly similar men provided the emotional engine of the episode.

“Vikings” pulled viewers in with a calm first half before dropping a shock and awe final quarter. Demonstrating the human propensity for a person turning on a dime, Lagertha took her shocking vengeance on Kalf, killing him on their wedding day. Despite promising to do it last season, she seemed to have developed genuine feelings for him since that time. Without her knowledge of Kalf betraying her again by ordering the assassination of Bjorn, her actions were hard to reconcile.

While she was right about him being a traitor, she did not know that, and working on instinct is a slippery slope for lethal intervention. Back in Kattegat, the most shocking moment of “Promised” saw Ivar kill a boy who had tried to wrestle a ball away from him.

It was one of those whiplash scenes “Vikings” has become famous for. Making your sympathy swell for a character before unleashing something entirely unexpected and disturbing at their hand. The series seemed to gain traction in this episode, charting a course towards a more definitive direction. Episode Rating: 8.5/10

[Image by Freeform]
Pretty Little Liars – Season 6B.Episode 20 (“Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars”)
The Liars bid farewell in a spring finale that tied up a few loose ends and left several hanging. First, there was that much buzzed-about twin reveal. It turns out Ali’s mom had a twin sister who is actually the biological mother of Charlotte. She has been the one appearing to Ali and has been working with Ali’s new husband to gaslight her.

They are out to avenge Charlotte and obtain the DiLaurentis fortune. Among the collateral fallout of this revelation is that Charlotte was actually Ali’s cousin, not her sister and that it’s highly likely Mrs. D’s killer is her evil twin.

“Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars” marks the end of season 6, a season that saw the reveal of ‘A’ and a 5-year time jump. No one can accuse the show of being uneventful. The finale brought with it a sense of nearing closure. As fans know the series is set to end with season 7. As “PLL” winds down, one can see where all of the original couplings are set to fall back into place.

Unfortunately, this episode reflected badly on both Hanna and Aria in that regard. Aria cheated on her boyfriend with Fitz and Hanna shared a kiss with Caleb, who is in a relationship with Spencer. Even though the Spaleb pairing is regrettable, it should be respected nonetheless. What is so hard about becoming single before you pursue someone else on this show? They are in their 20s, it is time to grow up.

Elsewhere, Mona made huge progress with Spencer and has hopefully broken through the glass ceiling of distrust that’s encased her. She will probably never be one of the “Liars,” but she does not need to be. With friends like them, who needs enemies? Spencer getting up from her seat to lord her height over Mona was another prime example of Spencer’s passive aggressive tactics.

Why Mona let it slide is interesting to contemplate. The good news is that there is still an entire season on the horizon to ponder and let’s face it, even though the show can be a tad frustrating at times, it is going to be very sad to see it go. Episode Rating: 7.5/10

[Featured Image by Netflix]