“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART II” (2015) Review

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“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART II” (2015) Review

Some five or six years ago, Warner Brothers Studios began a new tradition when its executives made a decision to split its adaptation of the last “HARRY POTTER” film into two novels. A year later, Summit Entertainment continued this tradition by splitting its adaptation of the last “TWILIGHT” novel into two films. And now Lionsgate has done the same by adapting Suzanne Collins’ last novel in her “The Hunger Games”trilogy with two movies. The studio ended the movie franchise with the release of “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II”.

This last film, which is based upon the second half of Collins’ 2010 novel, picked up where the 2014 movie left off – with Katniss Everdeen aka “The Girl on Fire” recovering from being attacked by her close friend, Peeta Mallark, after he had been brainwashed by the Capitol into regarding her as an enemy. After being attacked by a supporter of Panem’s President Snow during a propaganda campaign in District 2, Katniss is frustrated by rebel leader Alma Coin’s insistence that she stay away from the battlefields. Fellow tribute from the 75th Quater Quell Games, Johanna Mason, quietly suggests that she sneak aboard a supply ship leaving for the Capitol, where Commander Paylor is planning an invasion, during the wedding of former tributes Finnick Odair and Annie Cresta. Unable to control Katniss, Coin decides to assigned her to the “Star Squad”; along with childhood friend Gale Hawthorne, Finnick, and documentary director Cressida and her team. Led by Katniss’ former bodyguard, Boggs, the squad is order to remain in safety behind the actual invasion of the Capitol and provide video clips of their incursion for propaganda purposes. But Katniss and her fellow combatants encounter a great deal of danger from Capitol soldiers, explosive pods and mutated animals. Coin also assigns Peeta to the squad, despite the fact that he has not completely recovered from his conditioning. What starts out as a propaganda campaign for the squad, eventually becomes a dangerous and bloody mission that ends in tragedy and a great surprise.

This last “HUNGER GAMES” movie received a great deal of praise. But at the same time, these same critics expressed dismay that the last novel in the franchise had been split into two films. Surprisingly, I had no problems with how the adaptation of “Mockingjay” resulted in two films. Unlike the last “HARRY POTTER”and “TWILIGHT” adaptations, the two-part adaptation for this particular movie seemed to break at the right moment – namely the rescued Peeta Mellark’s attack on protagonist Katniss Everdeen. However, I did have a few problems with “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II”. I wish the screenwriters and director Francis Lawrence had featured a few scenes of Panem citizens rebelling against the Capitol . . . just as they had done in “PART I”. In fact, I wish they could have featured a few scenes of the rebels inching towards the Presidential mansion, before Katniss and close friend Gale Hawthorne had reached it. The movie seemed so fixed upon Katniss’ point-of-view (POV) that the entire sequence featuring the massacre of the Capitol citizens, Peacekeepers and rebel medics from bombs seemed slightly disjointed and confusing. I also wish that the screenplay had included a scene from the novel in which Katniss and her mother, Mrs. Everdeen, said good-bye to each other over the telephone. I never understood why they did not include that scene in the film. It would have been a great moment for both Jennifer Lawrence and Paula Malcomson.

Quibbles aside, I must admit that I really enjoyed “MOCKINGJAY, PART II”. I thought director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig did a very good job of adapting the second half of Collins’ novel. I had worried that Lion’s Gate Studios would insist that the screenwriters and Lawrence drastically change the story by giving it a less bittersweet ending. Lo and behold, no such thing happened.“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” – especially its ending – literally wallowed in moral ambiguity. More importantly, story allowed its heroine, in the end, to succumb to her worst instincts in a way that made sense to the saga that began in the first chapter. I believe it took balls for Suzanne Collins to end Katniss Everdeen’s struggles against the Capitol on that note. And I can say the same for Lawrence, Strong, Craig and the film’s producers.

I was also impressed by the movie’s portrayal of Peeta Mallark in this chapter of the saga. As many know, Peeta had spent most of “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART I” as a captive of the Capitol. He had been tortured and brainwashed via a tracker jacker venom into making an attempt on Katniss’ life. The filmmakers could have easily ignored Collins’ story and allowed Peeta’s recovery to be a quick job before he joined Katniss’ squad in the Capitol’s streets. Instead, they decided to follow Collins’ story and allowed Peeta’s recovery to be slow. By doing this, they allowed Peeta’s presence in the squad to not only endanger everyone, but have an impact on Katniss’ relationship with the Rebellion’s leadership.

More importantly, “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” continued the saga’s theme of the impact war has human beings. After all, this theme has been present since Katniss and Peeta found themselves in 74th Hunger Games arena in the first movie. But in these last two movies, audiences see how war impacts everyone and not just a group of tributes coerced into playing out a lethal war game for the sake of television ratings. The war eventually has an impact upon Katniss’ various relationships – especially with Peeta, her best friend Gale Hawthorne, her family and the Rebellion’s leadership . . . and also upon her psyche. What I found interesting in the combat featured in this film is that Katniss and her fellow combatants not only have to deal with the traditional weapons of war, but also the muttations and other technical wonders usually reserved for the Hunger Games. The most harrowing examples of the Capitol’s use of muttations were the flood of black tar on the Capitol’s streets and the lizard mutts’ attack upon the squad inside the Capitol’s sewer system. I found this sequence rather difficult to watch, due to the scary images, the level of violence and the devastating impact upon the squad. But I must say . . . I thought it was one of the most frightening scenes in the entire saga. And due to Lawrence’ direction, the cast’s performances, the editing team of Alan Edward Bell and Mark Yoshikawa, cinematographer Jo Willems, and the special effects team; I also found it very effective.

Speaking of the performances, there is not enough I can say about them. I could not find a misstep made by any member of the cast. “MOCKINGJAY, PART II” featured some really solid performances from the likes of Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Evan Ross, Stef Dawson, Sarita Choudhury, and Meta Golding. Natalie Dormer continued her excellent portrayal of television director Cressida. Patina Miller gave a more subtle performance as District 8’s Commander Paylor, who ends up playing a major role at the end of the rebellion. Although her screen time was somewhat limited in the movie, Jena Malone continued to give a colorful performance as former tribute Johanna Mason. Actually, she was not the only one whose screen time was limited. I could also say the same about Woody Harrelson, who portrayed Katniss and Peeta’s mentor Haymitch Abernathy; Jeffrey Wright as former tribute and the Rebellion’s tech man Beetee Latier; Elizabeth Banks as Katniss and Peeta’s escort Effie Trinket; Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ delicate mother Mrs. Everdeen; Willow Shields as Katniss’ quiet and highly determined sister Primrose; and Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman. Thankfully, they were all top-notch, as usual.

There were cast members who given opportunities to strut their stuff in one or two scenes. There was an excellent moment for Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, who as Rebellion commander Bogg, tries to warn Katniss about President Alma Coin’s true goals in a heartbreaking scene. Sam Claflin continued his excellent performance as former tribute Finnick Odair – especially in two scenes. One of them featured his character’s wedding to another former tribute Annie Cresta. And other featured his attempts to placate the still hijacked Peeta. One scene that featured an intense performance by Michelle Forbes, who portrayed Boggs’ second-in-command, Lieutenant Jackson. However, Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore received a good number of opportunities to showcase their talent. As President Coriolanus Snow of Panem and President Alma Coin of the Rebellion, the two performers gave interesting, yet contrasting takes on presidential villainy. Sutherland’s performance struck me as verbose, but with a slight edge of desperation, as his character struggle to deal with the possibility of defeat. On the other hand, Moore’s performance seemed a good deal more subtle . . . cool. I got the impression of observing a personality that proved to be a lot more manipulative than Snow’s and just as murderous in the occasional flash in her eyes.

The movie also featured superb performances from the three leads. Liam Hemsworth gave an interesting performance as rebel Gale Hawthorne. Very interesting. Hemsworth skillfully expressed Gale’s fervent aggression against Snow’s administration, but also a disturbing willingness to resort to any means necessary to end the war in the rebels’ favor. But for me, his best scene featured that moment when his character was unable to verify whether one of his weapon designs was used in an attack in front of the Presidential mansion. Hemsworth barely said a word, but his stark emotion is perfectly clear on his face. I think Josh Hutcherson had the most difficult role in this movie. He had to take the Peeta Mellark character on a journey from the murderous and brainwashed young man to someone who managed to find some semblance of peace in the wake of two Hunger Games and a violent war. Thanks to the screenwriters and Hutcherson’s performance, Peeta’s journey was not rushed into some futile effort to resume his old relationship with Katniss as quickly as possible. And this journey resulted in a beautiful scene in which Peeta finally told Katniss how she was needed to end this war against Snow – a scene that Hutcherson not only acted his ass off, but also brought tears to my eyes. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen seemed a bit more subtle than usual in this movie. I found this surprising, considering her role as the movie’s lead. I suspect that Katniss’ unusual subtlety came from having the brainwashed Peeta in her midst. I also suspect that Katniss’ unease toward Gale’s “by any means necessary” attitude toward the use of violence may have contributed to that unease. Lawrence really kept her performance under control in this film. But there was one scene in which Lawrence’s performance blew me away, when she openly expressed Katniss’ rage and grief against the tragedies she had experienced during the war.

I understand that “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” made less money than the previous three movies. Personally, I do not see this as a reflection of the movie’s quality. Sure, it had a few bumps in the narrative and the production. But so did the other three films. Frankly, I thought it was an outstanding conclusion to one of the best movie franchises I had the good fortune to see. And one can thank not only Suzanne Collins’ imagination and talent, but also Francis Lawrence’s first-rate direction, a well-written script by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and a talented cast led by the always superb Jennifer Lawrence that brought Collins’ story to life.

 

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Top 10 Favorite Episodes of the “STAR TREK” Television Franchise

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Below is a list of my ten favorite episodes from all five “STAR TREK” television series: 

 

TOP 10 FAVORITE EPISODES OF THE “STAR TREK” TELEVISION FRANCHISE

1 - 5.12 The Bride of Chaotica VOY

1. (5.12 VOY) “The Bride of Chaotica!” – Ensign Tom Paris’ latest holodeck adventure, “The Adventures of Captain Proton”, takes an unexpected turn when the U.S.S. Voyager gets stuck in an interdimensional reef in this hilarious and imaginative episode.

 

2 - 4.18-4.19 In a Mirror Darkly ENT

2. (4.18-4.19 ENT) “In a Mirror, Darkly” – This surprisingly entertaining two-part episode features the back-stabbing antics of Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise crew in the saga’s Mirror Universe.

 

3 - 3.16 Blood Fever VOY

3. (3.16 VOY) “Blood Fever” – While enduring pon farr, a lovesick Ensign Vorik unexpectedly passes it to Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres, affecting her relationship with Tom Paris during an Away mission.

 

4 - 4.10 Our Man Bashir DS9

4. (4.10 DS9) “Our Man Bashir” – While playing a 1960s secret agent inside one of Deep Space Nine’s holosuites, Chief Medical Officer Julian Bashir is forced to make life and death decisions for those crew members, whose transporter patterns are stored in the program during an emergency in this wildly entertaining episode.

 

5 - 4.07 Scientific Method VOY

5. (4.07 VOY) “Scientific Method” – Unseen alien intruders used Voyager’s crew as specimens for series of experiments that affect their physical and mental health in this weird and spooky episode.

 

6 - 6.19 In the Pale Moonlight DS9

6. (6.19 DS9) “In the Pale Moonlight” – This fascinating episode depicted Captain Benjamin Sisko and former Cardassian spy Elim Garak’s efforts to manipulate the Romulans into joining the Federation in its war against the Dominion.

 

7 - 1.28 City on the Edge of Forever TOS

7. (1.28 TOS) “City on the Edge of Forever” – In this Hugo Award winning episode, Captain James Kirk and Commander Spock are forced to go back in time to the early 1930s to prevent Dr. Leonard McCoy from changing time, when the latter accidentally disappears through a time portal, while heavily drugged.

 

8 - 5.10 Rapture DS9

8. (5.10 DS9) “Rapture” – An accident causes Captain Sisko to have prophetic visions involving the Bajorans’ religious beliefs and their future with the Federation.

 

9 - 5.18 Cause and Effect TNG

9. (5.18 TNG) “Cause and Effect” – The U.S.S. Enterprise-D becomes stuck in a time loop involving another Starfleet ship, but the crew manages to retain some memories of previous instances.

 

10 - 7.24 Pre-emptive Strike

10. (7.24 TNG) “Pre-emptive Strike” – In this bittersweet episode, helmsman Lieutenant Ro Laren graduates from Starfleet’s advance tactical training and is eventually ordered by Captain Jean-Luc Picard to infiltrate the Maquis and lure its members into a trap set by Starfleet.

“LOST” – Musing on Season Four and the Finale

“LOST” – MUSINGS ON SEASON FOUR AND THE FINALE

ABC’s megahit series, ”LOST’ is considered among the best television series on the air during this past decade. The magazine,”Entertainment Weekly” considers it to be the fifth best series in television history. I have to admit that it is one of the most original series I have ever seen. But after watching its Season Four finale – (4.13-4.14) “There’s No Place Like Home (Parts 2 and 3)”, I cannot help but wonder if the series’ reputation might be a little exaggerated. 

To put it bluntly, ”There’s No Place Like Home (Parts 2 and 3)” left me with mixed feelings. Mind you, it had its virtues. One of the best moments during that two hour broadcast was watching Yunjin Kim’s performance as the complex Korean wife who may or may not have witnessed the death of her husband, portrayed by the equally talented Daniel Dae Kim. Her performance was fantastic, whether she was expressing Sun Kwon’s horror and grief over witnessing her husband being blown up, while trying to escape a freighter that had been set up to explode. Whether he is dead or not, will be revealed in Season Five. But she believes he is dead. Which would explain the cold, avenging angel she has become in the months following the birth of her fatherless infant daughter.

There were other virtues in this episode:

*Evangeline Lily’s performance in a scene in which Sawyer (Josh Holloway) says good-bye to Kate. Yes, I am actually complimenting Lily’s performance. She is no Yunjin Kim, but I think that she managed to rise up to the occasion in that scene and in the episode’s opening scene that featured a continuation of Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate’s meeting at the L.A. airport in the flash forward, carried over from Season Three’s (3.22-3.23) “Through the Looking Glass”. However, I still dislike the Kate Austen character.

*The Two Kisses – For me, I was impressed not only by Sawyer’s good-bye kiss to Kate, but Desmond and Penny’s reunion kiss. Actually, I would say that the last one was more spectacular.

*The fight scene between Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Keamy (Kevin Durand). It seemed fitting for two men-of-action characters, such as themselves.

*I also liked the moment when Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Sayid joined Frank Lapidus for the first time, aboard his helicopter. There was nothing particularly special about it, but it seemed to have its own sense of magic.

*And there was Sawyer’s return to the island, where he meets Juliet on the beach. The scene started out light-hearted, until Juliet points out to the former con man of the freighter’s (and possibly the passengers on Lapidus’ helicopter) fate.

Unfortunately for ”There’s No Place Like Home (II & III)”, the flaws seemed to outweigh the virtues. Flaws that had a lot to do with contrived writing. First example? The bomb on the freighter. What was the purpose of that bomb? Why did Keamy even bothered to plant C4 explosions on that freighter, ‘The Kahana’? Even worse, why bother to wear a remote trigger linked to a heart-rate monitor in order to blow up the boat? What was the point of this plot twist . . . other than to kill Michael Dawson and place anyone aboard the freighter in danger? Did Keamy assume that the castaways would start making their way to the Kahana? What? It all seemed so contrived.

Speaking of contrivance, there is the object dubbed by ”LOST” viewers as ’The Frozen Donkey Wheel’. Apparently, this is the wheel that Ben (Michael Emerson) had turned to move the island or make it invisible. According to a ”Popular Mechanics” article, the wheel changed the island’s space-time connection to the rest of the Earth. Yeah. Whatever. Let’s just say that it did not impress me.

Another problem I had with this episode was the fate of Claire’s infant son, Aaron. Yes, I know that the fourth episode of this season – (4.04) “Eggtown” – made it clear that Kate ends up as Aaron’s guardian back in the States. Even after seeing how Aaron ended up in her custody . . . it still does not make any sense to me. I keep thinking of that scene near the end of the episode, when Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sun and Hurley part from Desmond and Penny, so that they could complete their rescue with a nine hour voyage to some nearby island. Why would Penny hand Aaron over to Kate? Why would Kate take custody of Aaron? Surely, she should have considered the possibility that her chances of keeping Aaron was not that hot, considering her fugitive status. Or why did Kate fail to ask Penny for cash and place where she and Aaron could hide out? The moment when Penny handed Aaron over to Kate seemed so contrived and stupid.

*And can someone please explain how a two-month old child was able to survive so many hours without his mother’s milk or food, along with a helicopter crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and nine hours of exposure to the sun, while in lifeboat with other castaways? I suppose one could say that ”the island” protected him. Yeah. Whatever. God, who wrote this shit?

Returning back to the Kahana, I have this question to ask – why didn’t Michael, Desmond and Jin warned the other Losties and crew members on the freighter to abandon ship, when they first discovered the C4? Why in the hell did they keep the matter a secret from the others? Why? What was the point? Drama? Another contrived reason to bump off Michael? This has to be one of the most stupid moments I have ever seen on television. To make matters even more idiotic, Jin hesitated to jump ship at the end, so that he could drag Michael along. ”Jin . . . darling, you have a wife and unborn child waiting for you. Why didn’t you get your ass up to the deck when Michael first told you?” Dammit, I hate such stupidity! I especially hate it when writers drum up this mess.

Finally, we come to the biggest pile of horseshit of the episode . . . namely, Michael Dawson’s death. After watching this episode, I can only say that Harold Perrineau’s return to ”LOST” was the biggest waste of his time and the time of his fans. What in the fuck were Cuse and Lindehof thinking? In a TV Guide interview, Perrineau had accused the two producers of bringing him back so that they could appease the bloodlust of the fans who hated Michael for his Season Two actions. I am beginning to believe that he might be right. Cuse and Lindehof could have kept Michael on the show for a while and allow him to deal with the consequences of his actions by facing the Losties. The only castaways who saw him were Sayid, the Kwons and Desmond, who did not even know him. And nothing much really came from his reunion with him. Sayid did expose him to the captain of the Kahana as Ben’s spy. But Michael did not really suffer from the betrayal, aside from one or two beatings. Sun seemed more upset about him being Ben’s spy on the Kahana than over what he had done in Season 2. And with the immediate discovery of the bomb, Jin and Michael immediately resumed their old friendship. After Cuse and Lindehof’s big announcement of Perrineau’s return, the actor managed to appear in at least five or six episodes out of fourteen, before his character was blown sky high in the Kahana’s destruction. All I can say is – ”What in the fuck?”

But the mixed quality of ”There’s No Place Like Home (II &III)” seemed a reflection of the entire Season Four. Some are claiming that this was the show’s best season. I wish I could agree. Season Four had started out as very promising. But in the end, it has not usurped my belief that Season One remains the best. Like its finale, Season Four turned out to be a curious mixture of the good and the bad.

There were plenty of good episodes during this season. Episodes like (4.01) ”The Beginning of the End” and (4.02) ”Confirmed Dead” not only led to the Losties being split into two camps, but it also introduced four new characters to the show – Daniel Faraday, Miles Straume, Charlotte Lewis and Frank Lapidus. Then came (4.03) ”The Economist”, which turned out to be my favorite Sayid-centric episode. Its flash forward eventually revealed Sayid as Ben’s troubleshooter – or hitman – who was killing colleagues of Ben’s enemy, Charles Widmore. Another standout episode turned out to be (4.05) ”The Constant”, a Desmond-centric episode. In it, the Scotsman encounters time traveling side effects from his exposure to an EMP discharge. Mind you, I found it a little confusing at times, but the emotional payoff was worth the confusion. Two other outstanding episodes – at least for me – were (4.08) ”Meet Kevin Johnson”, which revealed what happened to Michael Dawson and his son Walt, following their departure at the end of Season Two; and (4.09) ”The Shape of Things to Come”, in which the group of Losties under Locke, encountered Charles Widmore’s murderous henchman, Martin Keamy, and his band of killers.

There were also episodes that I found . . . decent, but not exactly mind blowing. There were (4.07) “Ji Yeon”, (4.11) ”Cabin Fever” and (4.12) ”There’s No Place Like Home (Part I)”. I take it back. The revelation that Jin did not make it off the island with Sun had taken me by surprise. And so did the appearance of Claire inside Jacob’s cabin with Christian also shocked me. Like the finale that aired on May 29, I have mixed feelings about (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”. I found the circumstances surrounding Jack’s appendectomy rather pointless. In fact, I am still a little confused over how it was supposed to add to the story. But I must admit that the events that led to Jack and Kate’s breakup in that episode’s flash forward was fascinating. This episode also provided another glimpse at Matthew Fox’s superb acting skills.

There were three episodes – out of fourteen – that I found troubling. One was (4.06) “The Other Woman”, a Juliet-centric episode. In this, we learned that Juliet had an affair with Goodwin – the Other who had been killed by Ana-Lucia Cortez in Season Two. We also learned that Goodwin had been married. The episode also revealed that Ben harbored an obsession of Juliet. And it also featured a knock-out, dragged out fight between Juliet and one of the Freighter passengers – Charlotte. But this is an episode that belonged to Season Three. Even worse, there was no real follow-up over Daniel and Charlotte’s presence at the Tempest Station and their actions with the gas. Frankly, I found the ending to be rather vague. Still . . . it provided another outstanding performance by Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet.

The second episode I had trouble with was the season’s last one – ”There’s No Place Like Home” (Part III)”. Since I have said all that I could about that episode and its predecessor, I might as well focus on what I consider to be THE WORST episode of Season Four – the Kate-centric ”Eggtown”. In this episode, Kate joins Locke’s group at the abandoned Otherville quarters, so she could find out if the quartet from the Kahana and the outside world knew about her status as a fugitive. The episode’s flash forwards revealed her trial, how she avoided jail time and ended up serving ten years’ probation. It also revealed that she became the guardian of Claire’s son, Aaron. Frankly, that last reveal proved to be the only interesting thing about this episode. Everything else struck me as a joke. One that left a bad taste in my mouth. And although I had praised Evangeline Lily’s performance in the finale, ”Eggtown” proved that on the whole, she has remained, at best, a mediocre actress during the show’s four seasons. The biggest travesty proved to be the trial, in which the defense called its witness – namely a lying Jack – first; the prosecution’s only witness was allowed to see the defendant in private; and because of this, the prosecution gave Kate a plea deal, because the witness (Kate’s mom) refused to testify against . . . conveniently forgetting the former castaway’s other crimes. One that includes attempted bank robbery. And what really annoyed me about ”Eggtown” is that it served as the beginning of a series of contrived events that led to Kate’s possession of Aaron. For me, Kate’s story arc proved to be the season’s biggest weakness.

Watching the finale made me realize something about ”LOST” that has made me reluctant to dub it as one of the finest shows in television history. Even some of the best shows I have seen – ”BABYLON FIVE” and ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” had its share of weak episodes or storylines that were dumped at the wayside. But those two shows and a few others have been consistently top-notch. I wish I could say the same about ”LOST”, but I cannot. I will admit that it is one of the most original television series I have ever watched. But that originality has been sabotaged every now and then by contrived writing and some pretty bad characterization. This has especially been obvious to me during the last half of Season Two – including the badly written (2.20) “Two For the Road”. Like ”Eggtown”, it was partially saved by a surprise ending. At least two-thirds of Season Three had left a bad taste in my mouth, including the contrived departure of Mr. Eko in (3.05) “The Cost of Living” and the atrocious ( 3.06) “I Do” and (3.09) “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

Aside from Season One, the series’ quality for each season always seemed to flip-flop. This show has yet to maintain a consistently top-notch season since the first one.