Supergirl 3×10: “Legion of Superheroes”, The Flash 4×10: “The Trial of the Flash”, Black Lightning 1×01: “The Resurrection” , and Arrow 6×10: “Divided”
The Arrowverse is back!
Well, mostly. Supergirl, Arrow, and The Flash returned from their midseason hiatus this week, but Legends of Tomorrow won’t be back till mid-February (when it will move to yet another different timeslot). However, we did get a new DC/CW superhero show added to the lineup, with the series premiere of Black Lightning!
For a while I wasn’t sure whether to cover Black Lightning here, since the producers have said it’s not set in the same universe as the other shows, and they don’t currently have any plans for Barry to pop out of an interdimensional portal like he did on Supergirl. But I decided to include it thanks to a short video the CW made to promote the return of their superhero shows, where the various Arrowverse heroes are shown suiting up for battle, with a quick Black Lightning cameo at the end. The video obviously isn’t canon, but it indicates someone at the network wants to see the character in the same room as the other heroes, so for now I’ll be treating the idea of Black Lightning having some connection to the Arrow(multi)verse as more of a “when” than an “if”.
So let’s talk about the new guy. I’ve gotta say, Black Lightning had a very strong first episode. It was smart of them to make Black Lightning a hero who’s already been active for a while (albeit coming off a lengthy retirement). While we’ll probably get his origin story at some point, skipping over how Black Lightning got his powers and first became a crime fighter (beyond a quick reference to avenging his father’s death) frees up a lot of time for this series premiere to focus on just telling a good story.
First and foremost, this episode was about getting us to like and understand Jefferson Pierce (alias Black Lightning). Other characters are introduced who will undoubtedly be important later, but pretty much all of the characterization that matters is focused on our leading man. What we see of Jefferson is that he’s a good man, a heroic man, even when he’s not putting on a costume or shooting lightning bolts. Aside from his previous career as a superhero, he’s also apparently got one of those inspirational teacher-comes-back-to-his-old-gang-ridden-high-school-and-cleans-it-up stories in his past, becoming a high school principal the students actually admire and look up to.
But despite that, he’s also clearly someone who’s let his idealism and desire to do good be tempered by harsh experience. Where once he was a larger than life hero standing up for everyone in Freeland, he’s let his circle of influence shrink to just his family and his school. When a gangster shows up at the school and almost pulls a gun on his daughter, Jefferson goes to the gangster’s boss and asks him pretty please to keep that guy away. When some cops pull him over for the third time in a month because of some racial profiling BS, he obviously wants to give them what-for (even causing nearby electronics to flicker as he flexes his power) but chokes it back. And Tobias Whale, the vicious gang boss Jefferson started his superhero in order to kill, is still walking around free, healthy, and in charge.
This combination makes Jefferson very likable, while also giving him a clear character based hurdle he has to overcome, and makes his return to his heroic roots quite satisfying. That said, I hope we don’t have too much of Jefferson being a reluctant hero who needs to be poked and prodded into fighting crime in the episodes ahead. That made for a very good premiere, but it can become tiring quickly. Still, at least our hero didn’t wait till the end of the third episode before taking any action against the bad guys (*cough* Luke Cage *cough*).
Speaking of *cough* Luke Cage *cough*, like that show this one is quite obviously framing itself as a black superhero show, with a predominately black cast and themes of oppression by the police and the influence of gangs on the community. That connection to real world issues gives an extra weight and depth to both heroes and villains, and makes the show feel very gritty and raw. It kinda reminds me of the early episodes of Arrow, where they rooted the superheroics in the reality of income inequality, urban decay, and a justice system that favors the wealthy . . . and given how quickly that got phased out, maybe we should be enjoying these more grounded parts of Black Lightning while we still have them.
As for the supporting cast, they were mostly fine. Not sure where they’re going with Jefferson’s ex-wife or his cop friend, and his old like-a-father friend who gives “people need a hero” speeches was kind of cliché. Jefferson’s daughters are really just stock types at this point (no TV dad is complete without a Rebellious Daughter and an Activist Daughter) and mostly seem to be there to give Jefferson someone to worry about. But that last scene where Anissa develops superpowers of her own suggests that there’s much more planned for them.
The villains (the ones still standing, anyway) are very promising, though. Lala is a type we’ve seen before, the gangster who sees himself as helping the community by giving them opportunities, and who can be very friendly and polite, but will instantly turn violent at the slightest sign of disrespect. While not anything new, the character is written and acted with great skill, making him genuinely frightening but still keeping a little depth there. Meanwhile, we have Tobias Whale, our presumed Big Bad and Black Lightning’s personal nemesis, and . . . he’s a crime boss named Whale who shoots people with a harpoon gun and feeds them to his piranhas. In a premiere that otherwise grounds itself so hard in reality, it’s nice to know we’ve got an antagonist waiting in the wings who, like the great Mr. Burns, has “crossed the line from everyday villainy to cartoonish supervillainy”.
A very good episode, and a great way to start a series and get me pumped for more.
Moving on from series premieres to returning shows, Arrow, Supergirl, and The Flash all had some major events from their mid-season finales to deal with.
Surprisingly (for me, anyway, as it’s usually at the bottom of my Arrowverse show list), Supergirl handled this the best. After Kara got absolutely thrashed by Reign back in December, the obvious question is how fast/well is she going to recover, and what will Reign do now that National City’s defender is out of commission? Wisely, Kara’s physical recovery is almost instantly swept aside thanks to a magic healing tank in the Legion of Superheroes’ spaceship, and her story instead becomes about dealing with the emotional impact of such a brutal and public defeat, symbolized by that old TV standby: the coma dream.
Given that dream sequences and journeys into a character’s mind are a great way to get creative with visuals, it’s a little disappointing that Kara’s coma dream is just her stuck in her apartment. Still, it was a good way of representing the fear she feels about going out to face Reign again, held inside her apartment only because a part of her doesn’t want to open the door to the harshness outside. Plus, the scene where she tries to heat vision the door was suitably awesome.
A little detail I liked about these dream sequences is how Kara looked in them. I knew something about her was off, but I didn’t put it together until the episode was over. Throughout the dream, Kara isn’t wearing her Supergirl outfit, just the ordinary clothes she might wear straight out of bed. But until the end, she’s not wearing her glasses, and her hair isn’t in a ponytail, which we almost never see from her when she’s being Kara Danvers. This juxtaposition gave her scenes a sense of oddness that’s perfect for a coma dream, and given how she’s dealing with a conflict between her Supergirl and Kara Danvers identities, having her wear Kara’s clothes but Supergirl’s hairstyle and lack-of-glasses-ness is a brilliantly subtle way to represent that. If this was intentional by the wardrobe department, bravo.
Meanwhile, with Kara busy fighting her own subconscious, lots of supporting characters got a chance to shine. Reign takes her crusade up a notch, punishing not just criminals but anyone who she feels isn’t doing enough to stop them, either, and her scenes are suitably creepy (aside from her still-adorable scenes with Ruby, which is admittedly a bit of a cheat coming of the mid-season finale’s jump scare ending). James and Lena get some kinda cute new couple awkwardness, though I was a bit distracted by Lena’s dress, which perpetually seemed one shrug of the shoulders away from falling off completely. However, this led to a hilarious scene of J’onn having to pretend to be Kara in front of Lena to protect her secret identity, giving Melissa Benoist a great chance to flex those comedy chops.
And, of course, we have the titular Legion of Superheroes themselves, or at least three of them. Mon-El and Imra were all right, and actually had a good reason for being reluctant to get involved, but the real standout was freshly defrosted Legionnaire Brainiac-5. Super-genius characters are very hard to write well and can easily come off as annoying, but Brainy is written and acted to perfection. The way he’s self-assured, yet constantly has to backpedal when his train of thought doesn’t match up with everyone else’s, makes him seem intelligent yet funny and (dare I say it?) adorkable.
Plus, they gave us a climactic battle scene where five different superheroes faced off against Reign. Even if it was mostly a fairly standard people-stand-around-and-throw-CGI-at-each-other battle, it gave us a lot of cool bits, like Imra revealing her telekinesis, J’onn taking his fight with Reign underground, and the absolute highlight of the episode: the Legion’s ship blasting the tunes of Jon Bon Jovi. Between this and Supergirl rolling up to some White Martians while “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” came out of a flying convertible, I want these musical battle entrances to become a regular thing on Supergirl.
Add in a tease at the end that Reign won’t be a solo act for long but will be adding more World Enders to her team, and this was definitely a great way for Supergirl to return.
The Flash, meanwhile, had to deal with the fact that (as awesome as its mid-season finale was) Barry going on trial isn’t something you can blow past in the first act with a magical healing tank. Well, they could have just started the episode after the trial had already ended, telling us the evidence was too stacked against Barry for him to hope for acquittal, but that would have felt kinda cheap.
So instead we spend much of the episode on a court case that can never get too interesting because the outcome is never in much doubt. The Devoes are far, far too smart to leave a weak link in the physical evidence against Barry, and since Barry refuses to lie or do anything underhanded, the only real question is whether he’ll out himself as the Flash to escape the charges. When Iris barged into the court room to reveal Barry’s secret, I very briefly thought they might go through with it, but then Barry rushed to stop her, which deep down I knew he would. Outing Barry as the Flash, making him (and, by extension, the rest of his friends and family) high profile celebrities would be too big of a change for a show that loves to maintain a certain level of status quo.
I don’t want to sound too negative on this episode, because there were some very good scenes here. Marlize Devoe giving her impassioned testimony was hilarious in how sincere it was; I don’t know how I feel about the new actor playing the Thinker yet, but I think she can carry the acting load for the both of them if need be. Joe wanting to plant evidence at the Devoes’ house, but being talked out of it by Ralph, was a great little scene that really didn’t need to exist for the plot but did great things for both of their characters. And, while the metahuman of the week was a tad perfunctory, him being oblivious to and unable to control his powers was a nice new wrinkle, and the fight against him had some nice superpower combinations.
Mostly, though, this was an episode designed to get us from “Barry Allen arrested for murder” to “Barry Allen convicted of murder”. I’m eager to see will happen now that Barry’s behind bars, just the actual process of putting him there didn’t catch my interest.
Arrow’s episode this week was also a bit of a table-setter, but I’ll give them this, they set that table fast. Their mid-season finale ended with the revelation that Cayden James has been watching Team Arrow on hidden cameras for quite a while, and he’s recruited not just Black Siren to his team but also Anatoly, Ricardo Diaz, and (inexplicably) Vigilante. This episode gets our heroes up to speed on all that before it’s even halfway over, which I am profoundly grateful for; while it can be done well, often I just get very annoyed when too much time is spent on the heroes walking obliviously into danger the audience knows is waiting for them. Now that Team Arrow knows how the odds are stacked against them, we can see how they try to deal with this new challenge.
Or, I should say, how Team Arrow and Team Not Arrow deal with it, as the episode also takes the rift between the new recruits and the original Team Arrow members and solidifies it, having Curtis, Renee, and Dinah start their own team with their own secret hideout (“and blackjack and hookers!”)
Keeping the routine crime fighting on a show like this fresh is an ongoing challenge, especially when it’s on its sixth season, and there have been several times this year where seeing Team Arrow out in the field has gotten boring, as we’re not seeing them do anything we haven’t seen from them before. Splitting the team in two, and having two independent not-quite-adversarial but also not-quite-friendly superhero teams protecting the city promises something new and exciting. The show still has to live up to that promise (like I said, table setting episode), but it has me intrigued.
The fight scenes in this episode had a lot of good moments, though five years into this show I’m getting kinda sick of warehouse fights. There was a neat tracking shot in the climax, John electrocuting guys with T-Spheres and comparing it to Halo was golden, and Black Siren blowing a sonic scream kiss was just very fun and comic-booky.
The villains are still mostly an enigma at this point. It’s obvious Cayden James has something he wants from Oliver and company and this “destroy the city” stuff is, if not an outright ruse, far from the all of it. We also don’t know what he’s offered to get these other villains to join up (except for Black Siren, who just seems to like being the Number Two to whoever the latest Big Bad is). This is especially puzzling for Vigilante, and given both that and his connection to Dinah, I hope we get something more concrete about our villains’ motivations fairly soon.
So all told, this week we had a very good series premiere and series return, a couple series returns that were all right but suggest good things ahead, and a giant, empty hole in my heart where new episodes of Legends of Tomorrow are supposed to go. *sniff* Until next week, everyone.
- It’s both brilliant and kind of hilarious that Black Lightning’s chief confidante is a tailor. After Cisco and Winn both turned out to be experts at making costumes for their resident superheroes, on top of all their tech skills, it seems like Black Lightning just went, “Screw it, let’s make creating outfits his full-time job.”
- It was unclear whether or not Black Lightning killed that criminal he slammed into a car. Given that he used another criminal as a human shield, and he states he began his crime fighting career in order to kill one specific criminal, I doubt he has a no-killing code, but they should really establish if he’s the type to execute criminals he’s already subdued or not.
- The flashback to Jefferson bleeding in the tub, where everything’s in black-and-white except the red of his blood, was very beautiful and I hope we see more creative style choices like that from the show going forward.
- Streaky the Super-Cat appears! Except it’s just a regular cat, nothing super about it. If they ever introduce Comet the Super-Horse, I don’t want any of that regular animal crap. He has to be a centuries old centaur who was changed into a horse by an evil witch and is secretly in love with Supergirl, who he tries to seduce when he periodically turns into a human alter-ego she doesn’t know about. Make it happen!
- Given that Barry’s in regular prison, not the metahuman wing, theoretically he can just phase through the walls, beat up the bad guy of the week, and run back to prison before anyone notices he’s gone. Or, even if there’s not a bad guy, just go and get a Slurpee or something.
- Black Siren’s “I’m so sick of everyone not killing him when they have the chance!” After three seasons of working for bad guys who have “keep the hero alive but make them suffer” as a major part of their plan, it may be time for Black Siren to go solo and just get things done.
- I didn’t mention Thea and Quentin’s scenes above, since those two have a tendency to fall into C-plots that don’t affect anything else, but they’ve both got such good actors that they were some of my favorite parts of the episode.
MVP of the Week: Brainiac-5. Half-man, half-machine, all-Coluan, and the Legion’s wacky sitcom best friend.