Supergirl 3×07: “Wake Up”, The Flash 4×07: “Therefore I Am”, Legends of Tomorrow 3×07: “Welcome to the Jungle”, and Arrow 6×07: “Thanksgiving”
It’s fitting that these episodes aired the week of Thanksgiving, when most American viewers will be sitting down to a large family dinner, because there was a lot of table-setting going on. Many things were established that will likely have a huge dramatic impact later in the season, but spending so much time setting up things for the future means that, for most of these episodes, it feels like very little is happening.
This can probably be chalked up to timing. In two weeks, all four shows are going to have their mid-season finales, which will almost certainly be filled with shocking revelations, shakeups to the status quo, and other dramatic events. But between then and now, we’re going to have the “Crisis on Earth-X” mega-crossover, so whatever groundwork needs to be laid for the mid-season finales can’t affect the characters too much right now, or they’ll be too busy dealing with that to focus on punching Nazis. Still, it made for a largely underwhelming week of episodes.
Arrow had the largest number of plot threads to incrementally move forward. The FBI finally moves in to arrest Oliver for being the Green Arrow, but he’s out on bail within minutes, and we won’t get to find out what evidence they uncovered until the trial. John (with Curtis’s high tech assistance) is taking steps to deal with his nerve damage, but he’s still going to be out of commission for a little while, forcing Oliver to wear the hood again, but (he insists) only temporarily. The Anti-Vigilante Referendum passes, but the consequences aren’t being felt yet. Cayden James is back, and hints at what his true motive might be, but much about him remains a mystery. And we get lots of characters finally finding out secrets that were kept from them, as well as establishing a new secret: Oliver lying to William about being Green Arrow again.
Oh, and Thea’s awake.
On a scene-by-scene basis, most of this is done very well, and any scene where two of our main characters are in a room talking through their emotional issues works gangbusters. Dinah and Quentin discussing their respective loved-ones-turned-supervillains is a great bit, especially the way they make such a bizarre set of circumstances feel grounded. Felicity and Curtis having a spat is surprising, but it makes perfect sense, doesn’t feel forced at all, and keeps their dynamic from getting stale. John and Oliver having a fight isn’t so surprising, we’ve been there before, but a fight where they’re both equally pissed at each other and have an equal right to be pissed? That’s a nice new twist on an old formula. And that short little scene where Oliver talks to a comatose Thea? I was getting misty-eyed there, ‘cause Stephen Amell’s performance was just that good. It’s only when you look at the episode as a whole, and realize how slowly things are progressing, that it starts to disappoint.
Oddly enough, while Arrow suffered this week from dealing with too many plot threads at once, unable to give any of them enough development, Supergirl and The Flash could have used more plot threads to fill out their run time. Both of those shows were split neatly into an A-plot and a B-plot this week: one involving the main heroes dealing with someone they’re not sure they can trust, and the other serving as an origin story for the season’s main villain. And in both cases, the villain-centric B-plot turned out marvelous, while the A-plot with our main cast felt like there wasn’t quite enough there to sustain an episode.
Supergirl was the worst about this. Mon-El suddenly returning to Kara’s life, only to reveal that (thanks to time travel) he’s been away for seven years and has a wife now? That’s a great twist, but in order to save the twist for the end of the episode, we spend most of the hour with Mon-El being needlessly cryptic and uncooperative. Unless you’re going full comedy-of-errors, a story that hinges entirely on a misunderstanding to provide conflict is always irritating, but it’s especially so if a character deliberately creates a misunderstanding for no other reason than that the script demands it. The only way to retroactively save this episode’s plot is if the next episode reveals some sort of Prime Directive for time travelers, where they’re not supposed to let present-day folks know they’re from the future (though given that Winn mentions early on that Mon-El’s ship was buried under the ground for 12,000 years, seems like that cat should have already been out of the bag).
The Flash was a bit better in this regard. Given that Barry was introduced as an obsessive investigator before he ever became the Flash, an episode where he relentlessly tries to prove someone is a villain, only to be constantly stymied and see his friends come to doubt him, that’s all good. The core of the story works, it just feels like it hits the same beats too many times. By the third time Barry’s investigation turns up nothing but he still insists Devoe is guilty, to the mounting incredulity of his friends, it got kind of annoying.
It also suffers from a couple of really stupid moments. The most obvious is Barry sneaking around the Devoe household without so much as a mask to hide his identity, but the other is when the Devoes initially complain to the CCPD about Barry harassing him. At that point in the episode, Barry had only spoken to Devoe twice, both times being very polite, and only asking questions so long as Devoe agreed to let him. While I can believe a sufficiently entitled person would complain to a police captain about that, I can’t believe that Captain Singh would take those complaints seriously. He even tells Joe, “You don’t just go to someone’s house and start asking questions!” ‘Cause, you know, that’s exactly what police do, all the time. If the writers wanted to have Singh chew Barry out, they could have just had him point out that Barry is a CSI technician, not a police officer, and so should not be interviewing suspects on his own.
But, as I mentioned, while the A-plots had their problems, Supergirl and The Flash did some amazing stuff with their villainous B-plots.
After spending several episodes teasing us with Sam’s superpoweredness, this week’s Supergirl finally has her investigating what’s going on with her, and the results are amazing. Giving her a Mirror Universe version of the Christopher Reeve Superman origin (complete with a “Fortress of Sanctuary” rising out of the desert instead of the Arctic) was an inspired idea. And the way Sam shifts from confusion, to wonder, to terror at what she finds out about herself is both great acting and promises to make her a far more interesting Big Bad than either Non or Rhea.
And on The Flash we get an in-depth backstory on not only Clifford Devoe (now officially dubbed “The Thinker”) but also on his wife Marlize (still waiting to be dubbed “The Mechanic”). I’ve talked several times about how this season of The Flash is giving its villains much more personality and development than past seasons have usually done, and this flashback storyline proves it more than anything else. I don’t think The Flash has ever devoted this much time to a villain’s backstory; even Hunter Zolomon’s flashbacks did little beyond invoking the old traumatic-childhood-incident-leads-to-serial-killing trope. Here, we get to see how Clifford and Marlize begin from a place of innocence and altruism, start sacrificing morality to pursue their dream of a better world, face tragic consequences for their decisions, but through it all maintain their love for each other. If the show can continue to portray the duo with this level of complexity and sophistication, then they might very well unseat Slade Wilson and Eobard Thawne as the Arrowverse’s best villains.
And . . . now it’s awkward transition time.
I know I made a big deal about the shows this week spending too much time establishing plot points for the future rather than delivering the goods in the here-and-now, but that doesn’t really apply to Legends of Tomorrow. Retroactively, this episode turns out to be an explanation for Grodd joining Mallus’s Neo-Legion of Doom, but until the stinger reveals that detail, it’s just another fun outing from our Legends.
A time-displaced Gorilla Grodd building an empire in the middle of the Vietnam War and plotting to start World War III is exactly the sort of shenanigans I expect and love from this show. And I have to say, every time Grodd appears in the Arrowverse, his CGI seems to have improved greatly. In Season 1 of The Flash, Grodd was kept almost entirely in shadows to hide any deficiencies in the effects. Now we not only have multiple scenes of him interacting with people in broad daylight, but an extended sequence of him attacking the Waverider and jumping around on top of the moving ship. It’s a delight, and the idea that this isn’t a one-off, but that a giant telepathic gorilla is actually going to be part of our main villain team-up this year has me so excited.
On the more serious side of things, Mick meeting his dad in the jungles of ‘Nam was a great little character piece. We get so much of Mick as a lovable thug on this show, it’s easy to forget the violence and insanity at the core of his character, but this episode not only brings that back up but addresses where it comes from. It’s interesting to see Mick initially have the same sort of attitude towards his dad that Snart had towards his, but where Snart the Elder was every bit the abusive monster who forced his kids into a life of crime that Snart the Younger claimed, Mick has to face the fact that, while his dad may not have been a good person, he was still a better person than Mick himself ended up being and can’t serve as a scapegoat for Mick’s crimes. The moment where Mick is surprised to hear that his dad actually wanted to have a kid, and the moment where he’s about to tell his dad how to be a better father to him, but then can’t bring himself to do it: they’re both emotionally powerful and surprisingly understated for this show.
This is still Legends, though, so this dark character drama was interspersed with movie references, spitting-in-unison, and the name “Dick Rory”, as it should be. The best running gag of the episode might have been just how uncomfortable and out of his depth Nate was dealing with the Rory family drama. One of the great strengths of Legends is trying out a lot of different character pairings, and Nate and Micke teamed up together is definitely a well worth revisiting.
- While I complained about there being too much setup for future plots this week, I do love what The Flash established for this season’s plot going forward. Team Flash now knows that Devoe is the Thinker, but they don’t know what he’s planning, nor do they have any evidence against him, and because there’s now an official record of Barry harassing Clifford Devoe, they can’t just shove him in the Pipeline prison without making Barry a suspect. Having to actually prove a villain’s guilt, rather than just worrying about how to beat them, is a different sort of challenge for our heroes, and I’m loving the potential.
- It’s kinda weird that the heroic Superman has a Fortress of Solitude, while the villainous Reign has a Fortress of Sanctuary. Seems like it’d be the other way around.
- It was obvious from the outset that there was more to Cayden James’s plan this week then just blowing up a bunch of people. Just two weeks ago he pulled the old supervillain trick of pretending to be planning mass destruction in order to trick the heroes into doing what he wants, so it was no surprise that he was doing the same here. Still, setting the whole thing up to get footage of Team Arrow attacking police officers just before the referendum on the Anti-Vigilante bill was a nice twist.
- But I’m hoping that Cayden James blaming Oliver for his son’s death is also part of some manipulation. Seems way too similar to Prometheus’s motivation.
- Thea waking up from her coma was awful sudden, and the explanation for it came and went so fast, I have to hope it will actually be an important plot point later on. Either way, though, having Thea back is just aces. One minute in the same room as William, and she’s already living up to the Cool Aunt prediction.
- Stein recruiting genius scientists from throughout history isn’t quite as goofy or wonderful as the Council of Wells, but it was still great. The best part is how Isaac Newton apparently assumed he was going to be a permanent member of the Legends now.
- “When Mick and I started, we were doing Predator, then we ran into Mick’s dad, and now we’re doing Apocalypse Now.” You can’t sum up an entire TV show in one line of dialogue, but that one comes pretty close.
MVP of the Week: Thea Queen. I know she was only two scenes, and was unconscious in one of them, but screw it: she’s back!
Sorry this is so late, but since I’m on American Central Time, this week isn’t technically over yet. I’m back from my Thanksgiving vacation now, and hope to be a lot more prompt in posting about next week’s “Crisis on Earth-X” two-night event. See you then!