Supergirl 3×09: “Reign”, The Flash 4×09: “Don’t Run”, Legends of Tomorrow 3×09: “Beebo the God of War”, Arrow 6×09: “Irreconcilable Differences”, and Freedom Fighters: The Ray
So the crossover’s done, the Nazi invaders have been repulsed, and our heroes get a chance to unwind from all that drama and action with some nice Christmas-time celebrations . . . or they would, if they weren’t all having their mid-season finales this week. Even if the hiatus only lasts until January, this sort of event spells calamity and cliffhangers for everyone involved.
Legends of Tomorrow gets off the lightest in this regard. While the other casts of characters got to finish the crossover on a bright spot, the Legends suffered the loss of Martin Stein, so it’s probably for the best that this episode didn’t try to pile any more tragedy onto them. If anything, this week was an apology for how heavy things got last week by dealing with the Legends’ grief in the goofiest, most Legends-y way possible.
Since the last we saw of Stein was a tearjerking scene on his deathbed, this episode opens with a young Martin Stein buying a Furby/Tickle-Me Elmo hybrid for his daughter, using a toy suction cup arrow (complete with the Arrow theme music) to set off a Rube Goldberg device to get him the last of the toys, being chased through the store to the tunes of a Hanukkah song, then being transported back to Viking times with a cry of “Great Scott!” As if that weren’t enough, we immediately follow that up with Leo Snart of Earth-X playing therapist and giving the Legends grief counseling . . . with a giant Martin Stein puppet. That signals more clearly than anything that, while the characters are obviously dealing with a great loss, the show isn’t going to stop being lighthearted and fun. In fact, it may be more lighthearted and fun than it’s ever been, delivering what (in my opinion) is the best episode of the season so far, a wacky adventure that even tops P.T. Barnum’s sabretooth tiger, and I do not say that lightly.
How can you not love that this show did a plot that’s literally “The Legends Save Christmas”? The reveal of Beebo as the Vikings’ new god (“Our god is hungry for battle!”) is the hardest I’ve ever laughed at this or any of the other Arrowverse shows (and Ray fulfilling his desire to pose as a Norse god by playing a resurrected Beebo ain’t far behind). And the story moves with propulsive speed, wrapping up the Beebo plot by the halfway point, only to launch a new tangent when Damien and Nora Darhk arrive in a blaze of lightning, wearing Norse god costumes straight out of a heavy metal album cover, and demanding the Vikings worship them. This forces the Legends to do what they dread most of all: actually come up with a plan (right down to predicting what Damien’s evil quip will be and preparing a zinger to hurl back).
Still, it’s not all sunshine and Beebo worship. From the bigger plot perspective, learning that Mallus has the Time Bureau on the ropes, and getting a glimpse of him as some eldritch being from outside reality, that’s bad news. But on a far more poignant and personal level, this episode sees Jax decide to leave the Waverider.
That Victor Garber would be leaving the show this season was well-publicized weeks in advance, but until this episode ended, I had no idea that Franz Drameh would be making an exit, too. Given that Jax has never been a Legend without Stein right beside him, it makes sense that, in the wake of Stein’s death, he’d feel the need to be somewhere else, doing something else. Still, his departure feels a tad abrupt, and it’s sad to see him go after Drameh delivered his best performance yet just last week. At least he got a big Christmas party sendoff, which is probably the nicest exit anyone’s ever gotten from the team, and he’ll hopefully be available for guest starring at some point in the future.
On Arrow they’re not content to have just one person quit the team, though, and instead send all three of the newer Team Arrow members packing (though, as far as I’m aware, their actors are still with the show, so it likely won’t be permanent). This storyline . . . it had potential, certainly. And I did like that they didn’t draw out the mystery of who turned witness against Oliver for too long. But it seems like Rene’s betrayal wasn’t given quite the dramatic heft it deserved, while Curtis and Dinah’s outrage over being spied on felt overplayed. Digitally spying on people is, like, 90% of what Felicity does; should they really be so upset that she did the same thing to them that she does to everyone else in Star City?
While that reaction was frustrating, the downplayed reaction to Rene working with the FBI was just disappointing. For an illegal enterprise like Team Arrow, selling your teammates out to the cops is about the worst thing you can do. He had an understandable reason, sure, and that’s what makes the conflict interesting, but there should have been more fury directed at him, and certainly not another chance in the field given so easily. This was a prime opportunity for some major league drama and infighting among our heroes, and it just feels wasted.
There were some good points, though. The little bit of bonding between Quentin and Evil Laurel was quite well done, having Thea back in play is of course a treat, and that whole opening act at the wedding reception . . . you know that, if Arrow devotes a full fourth of an episode to the characters having a party, where the worst thing that happens is Curtis giving a drunken speech, it’s just build up for things to go to hell later. But while it lasted, it was nice seeing these characters just relax and have fun.
The ending shot was also kind of neat, though, again, better in concept than execution. We already knew Black Siren and Cayden James were working together, I’m pretty sure the guy next to Cayden is just a generic henchperson, and Ricardo Diaz’s one appearance prior to this isn’t enough to make me oh-so-shocked that he’s part of the same bad guy posse. The only real surprises are Anatoly and Vigilante being part of the villain team, both because this means they’re personally betraying members of Team Arrow, and because it raises so many questions about what exactly they’re doing. Vigilante is a guy who relentlessly hunts criminals, and now he’s working alongside one cyberterrorist and two different crime lords. What exactly did Cayden James offer to get them all onboard? That creates some intrigue going forward, but overall this Arrow episode was the real weak link of the week.
Meanwhile, over on Supergirl, there was no real fallout from the crossover to deal with (I can’t recall if anything that happened on Earths-1 or -X even got a mention), but there were some new wrinkles thrown in the status quo from two episodes back. Lena and James are progressing from mild flirting to full on face sucking, Mon-El is back but seven years older and sporting a new Saturnian wife, and Sam has adopted her Reign persona, moving her to massacre criminals and heat-vision her symbol into random buildings all over National City.
It’s a little unclear at this point just what the deal is with Sam becoming Reign. An early scene where she wakes up and tells Ruby she doesn’t remember anything about going off into the desert suggests some sort of split personality, but it could also be that Sam is Reign full time now, and is just trying to avoid any mention of it with her daughter. I’m hoping it’s not a straight up body hijacking, because the characterization of Reign as an excessively violent but well intentioned person (standing for “Truth and Judgement” instead of “Truth and Justice”) will be more complex if she’s an outgrowth of Sam’s personality, rather than her just being possessed by Kryptonian Satan.
On the Mon-El front, everyone’s trying to be very mature about it: Mon-El and Emra both apologize to Kara for how uncomfortable this must be for her, and Kara keeps herself professional and doesn’t blame either of them for anything. From a certain perspective, this is good; our characters are behaving like the reasonable adults they’re’ supposed to be. On the other hand, this means there’s not a whole lot of drama going on with this plot so far. It’s just all three characters going “this situation sucks, huh?”, without any real forward momentum or rising stakes (though Kara’s obvious pain at Mon-El and Emra enjoying all-you-can-eat ribs together was both sweet and hilarious).
And as for Lena and James . . . eh. They have good chemistry together, and in the show’s ongoing quest to find something for James Olsen to do, being Lena’s boyfriend isn’t bad, it’s just not knocking my socks off so far, is all. Though, given that Lena is James’s boss, and they’ve butted heads over how to run CatCo before, there could be some neat potential for this storyline down the road.
Now, all of those plot lines? Forget about them. They’re not what this episode of Supergirl is really about. They fill out the run time, set up some stuff for later, but what we’re really here to see is one frickin’ awesome fight scene!
Supergirl vs. Reign is the real showstopper, a brawl that makes up over 10% of the episode and switches between being humorous, epic, and savage. We have them tackling each other through the sky. We have giant freighters being powerlifted. We have a fist fight scored to inappropriate holiday music. We have a flaming car door being thrown through the air as a weapon.
And we have Kara losing. Brutally, bloodily, and with nothing her defeat can be blamed on other than she just wasn’t strong enough. Kara has had plenty of tough fights before, but there’s always been a sense that, if she just knew the right way to approach the problem, there’s no bad guy she couldn’t beat. Seeing Kara wrecked and bleeding, while Reign stands over her without a scratch, makes this threat feel real and serious in a way past Supergirl villains never really have, and has me plenty pumped for when it returns from winter break.
While Kara had to deal with an unprecedented physical threat, though, this week Barry faced an unprecedented intellectual threat as the Thinker’s plans begin to take shape. The writers promised us we would not be getting yet another speedster villain on The Flash this season, and they have not only lived up to the letter of that promise, but the spirit of it as well, giving Barry an adversary who comes after him in ways none of his previous villains have before.
Given that his father spent over a decade in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, framing Barry for murder is an especially cruel way of neutralizing him as a threat. Kidnapping Barry early in the episode, holding him in a high-tech forcefield cell, none of that felt real. Barry’s been in situations like that before, and there’s always some way to escape by using quick thinking and science (like vibrating so fast you become invisible). But coming home to find a murdered man in his apartment and Captain Singh leading the police through his door to arrest him, that’s something Barry can’t just Speed Force his way out of, and the ramifications going forward make the threat posed by the Thinker both serious in personal in fascinating new ways.
We also got a major change in the Thinker this episode, with Devoe downloading his mind into the body of a telepathic metahuman. I’ll be sad if this is the last we see of Neil Sandiland or of the kick-ass hoverchair, but Dominic becoming the Thinker’s new form was definitely a twist I didn’t see coming, and this innocent man having his body stolen adds a touch of monstrousness to Devoe, who until now hadn’t done anything worse than goad Team Flash into saving Barry from the Speed Force and letting some new metahumans be born. If the new actor can do a good job in the role, the Thinker is well on track to being one of the best Arrowverse villains ever.
Speaking of awesome villains, we also got the return of Amunet Black this episode. She bursts onto the scene (literally, she bursts her way through a window) wearing a Santa hat and doesn’t stop chewing scenery for one solitary second. Katee Sackhoff is clearly having a ball with the role, and the fact that she can talk about her unhappy backstory and give Caitlin a sincere pep talk without ever dropping the villainous theatricality is a triumph. It’s only a shame that Wentworth Miller’s impending departure from the Arrowverse means we’ll probably never see Amunet and Snart discover they’re each other’s soulmates.
Amunet’s return also gave us a good reason to have a Caitlin-centric story. I still don’t like how vague they are about what exactly makes Killer Frost a different personality from Caitlin, but the twist that Caitlin’s gone from being afraid of Killer Frost to being jealous of her (she’s got a drink named after her at Jitters and everything) is kinda hilarious. We also got to see some savviness from Caitlin, pulling a quasi-Superman II trick to knock out Amunet and her goons. Her kiss of death seems to be getting stronger, though; there was just the barest hint of chemistry between her and Dominic, and he immediately has his body stolen by a supervillain.
All in all, I’d say The Flash is winning Most Improved Show so far this season, doing a lot of great stuff that hearkens back to what people loved about the first season, while also going in some interesting new directions. Legends of Tomorrow has also stepped up its game this season; not as big of a quality shift as Season 1 to Season 2, but it’s doing some good work perfecting its style. Supergirl is about the same as it was last season, some good stuff mixed in with some bad. Arrow so far has been the real disappointment, delivering only a couple episodes (outside of the crossover) that I thought were really well done, while the rest seem full of wasted potential.
Still, for most of these shows, we’re less than halfway through the season, so there’s plenty of room for things to change in 2018. This column will be going on hiatus along with the shows, but when they come back in the New Year, so will I. And may Beebo bless us, everyone!
- Seriously, what happened to Lyra? Winn’s been on the periphery enough this season that her absence hasn’t been too noticeable, but a return to the alien bar can’t help but bring her to mind.
- Also, crazy Supergirl-worshipping preacher guy mentions having met the Kryptonian version of a Satanic priest who escaped from Fort Rozz and is hiding out on Earth, and no one seems too interested in that revelation. I hope she turns up later this season, because if she just exists to handwave how preacher guy knew so much about Reign, that’s a real waste.
- This season of Supergirl has just been light on aliens in general. Last season spent a lot of time establishing the many aliens living on Earth (and National City in particular), but so far, outside of our main cast and their family members, the only alien we’ve seen on Earth has been Sam. Coupled with (as far as I can recall) Cadmus going completely unmentioned, I wonder if Supergirl is doing yet another retool of the show’s focus. Or maybe doing alien prosthetics just got too expensive.
- Coming the week after the crossover, where Supergirl fought alongside the Flash and the Legends, it’s kinda distracting that Mon-El and Emra talk about how they need to get back to the 31st Century, and Kara doesn’t just go, “I know a guy.”
- Sara and Agent Sharpe are definitely going to hook up. When Sharpe said that she’s “not the husband kind”, Sara gave her the exact same sideways glance she gave last week when Alex mentioned her ex-fiancée was a “her”. Sharpe may as well have drawn a bullseye on herself.
- With Jax’s departure, only three of the original nine Legends introduced in the pilot remain on the show. While it’s sad to see him go, it’s kinda neat that Legends’s ensemble nature means characters can rotate in and out with no specific character being indispensable. They also soften the blow of Jax and Stein leaving by giving us a couple episodes with fan favorites Snart and Constantine.
- How did someone who grew up in the hellhole that is Earth-X become as touchy-feely as Leo Snart? However it happened, I’m glad it did, because seeing him try to talk people through their feelings while using the same camp supervillain mannerisms as Earth-1 Leonard Snart is a hilarious juxtaposition.
- Sara’s “Wah wah, Beebo love you” was a thing of beauty.
- Behind all the goofiness, there was a surprisingly subtle (by Legends of Tomorrow standards) strand of religious satire running through “Beebo the God of War”. There’s the obvious bit where the Erickson sister interprets Beebo’s simple, pre-programmed statements to justify her desire for conquest, but there’s also the running theme that, despite how the dominant religion changes, the way people live their lives (or at least celebrate their holidays) doesn’t change too much. Stein celebrating Hanukkah and his friend Chuck celebrating Christmas both go through the same gift buying frenzy, and whether the holiday’s called Yuletide, Odin Day, or Beebo Day, the secular gift-giving and carol-singing traditions always seem to win out.
- I love that Chuck, apparently a friend of young Stein’s, is the one who leads the angry mob against him to get the last Beebo.
- Oliver’s lawyer is named Jean Loring. I know she’s a character from the comics, but I can’t say I know anything about her other than she’s connected to the Atom in some way.
- I don’t know if the writers have any plans to follow up on Dinah’s “so many busted engagements” comment (her dropping that piece of backstory then walking away without explanation was the joke, after all). If they don’t, I hope the fanfic writers will regale us with stories of all the DC Comics characters she’s been engaged to then broken up with.
- The reception gave us a lot of continuity callbacks, from Quentin Lance and Donna Smoak briefly being a thing, to Oliver and Felicity’s neighbors from Ivy Town, to what was probably a reference to Roy, and even an allusion to Thea’s DJ/Assassin boyfriend, truly the greatest of all Arrow characters.
- It’s impressive that Curtis can get that drunk but still pronounce the word “vigilantism” that well.
- I notice there are six villains lined up at the end of the Arrow episode. Is there any chance they’ll be referred to as the Secret Six by the time the season’s done?
- I’ve seen some people complain about Barry not using superspeed to get Devoe’s body out of his apartment before the police got inside, but you have to remember that Barry is a forensic scientist. He knows that, even if he gets rid of the big ol’ corpse, there are dozens of little clues that would point to Devoe having been killed there. If he overlooked even a single drop of blood, then not only would he still be arrested for Devoe’s murder, but the obvious efforts to clean up the crime scene would make his claim that it was a setup seem even flimsier.
- This episode marks the glorious return of the inflatable Flash suit. Now we just need an excuse for it to be in every episode.
- I haven’t checked what future episode titles are going to be, but given Barry’s arrest, I will be deeply disappointed if The Flash doesn’t give us “On the Run” at some point.
- I love that, when he’s not on The Flash, Wally West is having his own, completely wild adventures. A couple weeks ago he mentioned fighting Starro the Frickin’ Conqueror, and now he’s in Cambodia for reasons that Joe doesn’t even want to talk about (hopefully fighting Titano the Super Ape, or maybe Mister Mind and the Monster Society of Evil).
- There is a deleted scene from The Flash this week of Ralph interrupting Barry and Iris on their honeymoon. It is hilarious, and it being cut from the episode is a travesty greater than ten million Hindenburgs.
- Mick stole forty toasters. That’s the same as four tens. And that’s terrible.
MVP of the Week: Cuddle-Me Beebo. If we could somehow get a scene of Gumball the Baby Dominator playing with a Beebo, that might be the most adorable thing since the invention of kittens.
BONUS CONTENT: In addition to our regular Arrowverse shows, this week saw the release of the animated series Freedom Fighters: The Ray on the CW Seed, serving as a prequel to “Crisis on Earth-X”. And it’s . . . kind of a mess. While the Vixen animated series has had some issues, its story structure has always been solid. The Ray, though, has pacing that’s just all over the place.
It starts with a huge battle on Earth-X between the Freedom Fighters and the forces of the Reich, including Overgirl, Dark Arrow, and what appears to be an evil version of Barry Allen as the Flash. There’s a lot of cool stuff in this battle, but so much time is spent on it that a third of the series is over before we’re even introduced to our main character.
When we are introduced to Ray Terrill (soon to be called the Ray), we get a fairly standard down-on-his-luck-Everyman-becomes-superhero story. There’s some good humor and character interaction here, though things are a little rushed given the aforementioned action-heavy opening. Then we get to the last episode, and things become extremely rushed. We jump straight from Ray meeting a guy at a bar and using his powers to save someone for the first time to him having a regular boyfriend and being a well-known superhero in Tulsa (even if people keep calling him Lightman instead of the Ray).
And then . . . it ends on a cliffhanger, with the ongoing plotline of the series completely unresolved. Given the gap between each “season” of the Vixen animated series, we can expect a year (minimum) to go by before we see anything more from this show, which makes such an unsatisfying ending feel like a real slap in the face. Given how long ago the first trailer for Freedom Fighters: The Ray was released, I can’t help but wonder if originally the events of this series were supposed to lead directly into the events of “Crisis on Earth-X”, but the scripting for the crossover changed while this show was already in production. So instead of a cliffhanger that gets people pumped to see what happens next in “Crisis on Earth-X”, we get a prequel that barely has time to begin telling its story before the end credits roll.
When we come back in January, I’m not sure if I should add Black Lightning to the shows covered here. The producers have stated it will not be set in the same universe as the Arrowverse series. On the other hand, neither was Supergirl, and they still made regular crossovers a thing; if Black Lightning runs long enough, it seems improbable the same thing won’t happen. What do you guys think?