Supergirl 3×11: “Fort Rozz”, The Flash 4×11: “The Elongated Knight Rises”, Black Lightning 1×02: “Lawanda: The Book of Hope”, and Arrow 6×11: “We Fall”
Let’s talk about episode titles for a moment. They’re often not something TV writers put much thought into; according to respected TV critic Alan Sepinwall, they’re usually the very last thing added to a finished script, and with deadlines always looming, the writers don’t generally have much time to put into thinking up a good one. Still, some of the episode titles this week show some nice creativity.
Supergirl’s is pretty straightforward: she returns to Fort Rozz this episode, so it’s called “Fort Rozz”. The Flash uses the old episode-title-as-pop-culture-reference that The Simpsons has run into the ground, with “The Elongated Knight Rises” obviously being a play on the last Batman solo film The Dark Knight Rises. However, it also works as a callback to Ralph’s debut episode, “Elongated Journey into Night”, itself a reference to the play Long Day’s Journey into Night.
Black Lightning, meanwhile, seems to be setting up a motif in its episode titles having religious references. Its series premiere was “The Resurrection”, this week’s was “Lawanda: The Book of Hope”, and next week’s will be following up on that with “Lawanda: The Book of Burial”, and the week after that “Black Jesus”. As for Arrow, it did something you don’t see too often, having this episode’s title combine with last episode’s title to form a sentence. Last week’s Arrow was called “Divided”, and this week that thought is concluded with “We Fall”.
That’s an interesting choice for Arrow to make, as it immediately sets a pessimistic tone for this episode, suggesting the fracturing of the team that occurred over the last two episodes will have dire consequences. Certainly the episode starts off in dire territory, with Cayden James and his cronies stepping up their supervillainy.
So far this season they’ve attacked some buildings, killed a few people, and did things that had the potential for grave consequences down the road, but nothing we’re not used to seeing every week on Arrow. Here, though, right from the first few minutes, they’ve put Star City under siege, taking control of basically everything electronic in order to kill people in outlandish “hackcidents”. They even have recurring bit character Captain Pike bite it in the opening, so that a face we recognize is added to the carnage.
This puts the characters in a pressure cooker that never lets up, as every minute that goes by, more people are being killed all across the city. It makes for a wonderfully intense episode, but despite this, and despite the title, it’s also a strongly optimistic episode (especially by Arrow standards).
The team may be split in two, but both Old Team Arrow and New Team Arrow (which will possibly be called The Outsiders if Curtis gets his way) remain civil with each other, share information, and can even fight alongside each other in the climax without any friction. On their own, New Team Arrow also seems to be gelling well, building their own rhythm based on consensus decision making rather than Oliver’s method of leadership. They have some friction at one point about not being prompt with sharing information and whether to trust Vincent a.k.a. Vigilante, but they resolve it by talking it through and trusting each other.
That also brings us to the revelation that Vincent is (supposedly) actually a mole in Cayden James’s organization, working to bring it down from the inside, a bright spot both because it exposes a chink in Cayden’s perfectly calculated plans, and because of what it means for Dinah and her feelings for him. We also have William getting the revelation that Oliver is back to being the Green Arrow, and while there’s some angst about it for a little while, he eventually tells Oliver he understands and gives his blessing for him to continue doing his superhero thing.
Despite what the title implies, this episode has all the characters being mature, understanding, and coming together when they need to. That optimistic spirit is best conveyed in the big battle at the climax. I mentioned last week how keeping the action scenes fresh is an ongoing challenge for a show like this, and this week finds an inventive way to do just that. They know we’ve seen these heroes fighting a bunch of gun toting bad guys roughly one jillion times before, so instead of focusing on the fight itself and trying to build up tension, we spend much of the climax with Felicity and William back in the bunker, seeing only snippets of the battle, used as punctuation as she tells him how she came to peace with loving someone as difficult to love as Oliver Queen. It’s an unusually artistic bit of editing for this show, and it’s a wonderful way of using the action beats in service of character work (and as a source of comedy, as Felicity can by now predict every move Oliver makes in battle, but forgets to cover William’s eyes when a particularly gory bit shows up on the monitors).
Still, the episode does end on a bit of a down note. The heroes may have thwarted one particular massacre the Cayden Crew tried to commit, but are no closer to stopping him from turning everything digital in Star City into a weapon, and Oliver ultimately caves to his demands, extorting millions from the city’s treasury. Plus, any savvy TV viewer is probably guessing that Vincent being a double agent is actually him being a triple agent, hoodwinking Dinah yet again. So while in the short term the episode defies the gloom foretold by the episode title, there are clearly still some very bad things to come.
Which I am all for. So far I’ve been pretty down on this season of Arrow, but this episode was a real return to form, and hopefully now that the leg work is done splitting the team up, and Cayden James has moved from nebulous threat to something more immediate and devastating, we can get a lot more episodes that match this one’s quality.
While Arrow has finally started living up to its potential again, this week’s Supergirl, sadly, takes a premise full of potential and mostly wastes it.
To find more information on Reign, Kara needs to contact the Kryptonian equivalent of a Satanic priestess who’s imprisoned in Fort Rozz, which, after being hurled into space, is now orbiting a blue sun. This not only means Kara won’t have any powers when she goes there, but that any male who comes within the sun’s orbit will be killed by its funky, Y-chromosome targeting radiation. And with Alex still recovering from a broken leg, Kara has to bring along some badass female types she’d probably rather not: Imra (her ex-boyfriend’s wife) and her past adversaries Psi and Livewire, cajoled into joining this mission by the threat of Reign coming after them.
This is an amazing setup for an episode. You could have intense character drama between these reluctant allies who have to depend on each other in this hostile environment. You could have danger and action coming from every angle as they explore an alien prison where the inmates have all been loosed. You could even explore what sort of society the prisoners have built for themselves in this abandoned prison. And Supergirl does almost none of that.
Kara says working with Imra is difficult given the Mon-El situation, but we never see any tension between them. Psi makes a lot of snarky comments and briefly hits Imra with a psychic attack, but the latter is implied to be an accident, and nothing serious comes of it. The only real drama in the prison plot is between Kara and Livewire, but even then the show is so eager to give Livewire redemption via a heroic sacrifice that it never really feels in danger of escalating.
Fort Rozz itself also goes woefully unexplored. We’re told there are many inmates roaming the halls, and the lighting and set design have a horror-movie-in-space vibe reminiscent of Alien, but the only prisoners we get to see are the Kryptonian priestess they came looking for, some random woman who attacks our heroes with a staff, and a couple of weird beings inside a dark fog, who are kinda creepy and are dispatched in a cool (if poorly edited) sequence. It never feels like there’s all that much danger lurking about; even the bit where the prison might fall into the sun is clearly just there to give the male characters back on Earth something to troubleshoot. And getting any worldbuilding for Fort Rozz as a society? Pssht, forget about it.
I won’t say there was nothing to enjoy here. Seeing Psi and Livewire snark at each other and fight against Reign was fun. I like Brainy’s comical frustration with 21st Century technology. The subplot where Alex babysits Ruby, who helps Alex deal with her lingering breakup angst, and who Alex helps thwart a bully from her school, is suitably charming. And the bit at the end where Sam realizes she’s missing huge chunks of her memory, and confides as much to Alex, suggests her Reign identity might not stay secret for much longer, which is intriguing.
But this episode had the potential to be so, so good, that it’s disheartening to see it settle for “eh, it was all right”.
Black Lightning was also a little disappointing this week. It was still quite good, don’t get me wrong, but it suffered a bit from Second Episode Syndrome, where a show’s second episode will rehash most of the plot points of the first episode, in case anyone missed it.
We’ve still got Jefferson being reluctant to suit up again. We’ve still got Gamby trying to talk him back into it. We’ve still got Lala and his sex slave ring at the local motel as adversaries. We’ve still got Anissa and Jennifer being threatened to motivate Jefferson. We’ve still got Jefferson talking to Lala in civilian clothes to try to de-escalate things. We’ve still got that conversation going badly. We’ve still got a climax where Jefferson finally suits up, marches into a building, and kicks some ass. And we’ve even still got a stinger where Anissa suddenly (re)discovers her powers.
It’s all still executed well, with some nice dialogue and directorial flourishes, but the repetition does hurt it a bit.
We do get some new stuff in this episode. Most notably, every single member of the Pierce family gets a love interest. Jefferson starts to rekindle things with his ex-wife Lynn, and it is by far the best of these romance plotlines. Their chemistry together is undeniable, the trepidation they feel as they get amorous again is compelling, and both actors give fantastic performances. Cress Williams in particular is simply enthralling as he tries explaining to Lynn why he feels he needs to be Black Lightning again. Getting an actor this good who also has an enormous frame befitting a superhero? That is a casting miracle.
The Pierce daughters don’t fare so well with their romance plotlines. In Anissa’s case, that’s probably intentional, since it seems she and her girlfriend rarely see each other except to have sex, and that’s exactly how Anissa likes it, so there’s just not much to talk about. As for Jennifer’s new boyfriend . . . it’s mixed. The scene where he asks Jennifer if he can be her boyfriend is sweet and just the right amount of awkward. But the scene where he catches her drinking at school and gives this big speech . . . all of a sudden, both the acting and the writing take a sudden nosedive. It honestly sounds like something you’d hear in a Very Special Episode of a late 80’s/early 90’s sitcom.
I don’t want to sound too negative. I still think this show is doing great so far, but it will be how it moves forward from here, with Jefferson now committed to being Black Lightning and the Lala plot resolved, that will really determine the direction of the series.
After all that, it feels a little anticlimactic to say that The Flash . . . was super-fun this week. But it was. It really, really was.
This season has put renewed emphasis on comedy and just having fun, and after a couple of more serious episodes setting up Barry’s incarceration, “The Elongated Knight Rises” gets us back in the groove. As the title suggests, this episode focuses on Ralph, whose powers naturally lend themselves to comedy (if you don’t play stretching powers for comedy, they become real disturbing real fast), his kinda scummy and very self-aggrandizing personality adds to that, and the villains he fights this episode are the cherry on top of the icing on top of the comedy cake.
I’ve talked before about how The Flash this season is giving its villains a lot more personality than past seasons normally have, and that’s true across the board here. Even the random hostage taker Ralph thwarts in the beginning is hilariously specific in his demands, insisting on an eco-friendly car for his getaway vehicle. And on center stage we have the return of Axel Walker (a.k.a. Trickster, Jr.), breaking out of prison and going on a rampage with the help of his mother, the supervillainess Prank (Corinne Bohrer reprising her role from the 1990 The Flash series), who was basically the Harley Quinn to the original Trickster’s Joker.
It’s a shame they couldn’t get Mark Hamill back to play the James Jesse Trickster, but these two do an admirable job filling his shoes. I love that, while the Arrowverse often embraces some of the goofier aspects of the comics, the Trickster family goes the extra mile with it, to the point where they wouldn’t be out of place on the 1960’s Batman show. Hijacking the airwaves to broadcast a deadly game show from their abandoned toy factory hideout, where our heroes are attacked by bomb-wielding teddy bears and put in a death trap that slooooooowly threatens them with bright pink acid, which Axel dubs “Axcid” . . . it’s campy and ridiculous and I loved every minute of it.
We did get some nice character growth from Ralph this episode. At first he’s quite cocky taking over Barry’s job protecting the city, constantly joking with the baddies, confident that his elastic body makes him indestructible. When suddenly faced with something that can hurt him, the way he bows out of the confrontation is perfect. He’s not panicking or wracked by uncertainty; to him, quitting the moment actual danger rears its head is just the only sensible thing to do. This is The Flash, of course, so that’s nothing that can’t be solved with a pep talk, and Barry gives Ralph quite a nice one, enough to get him to face the Trickster clan again and even use his own body to shield his friends from a deadly acid bath.
Still a comedy episode, though, so Ralph’s heroic sacrifice involves him shrieking like the Wicked Witch being doused with water, then being surprised when he somehow isn’t dead.
I’ve barely touched on Barry so far, and I like that his prison stint means other characters can get some limelight. His prison-based subplot was still quite good, though. We knew none of the regular inmates at Iron Heights could pose any threat to him, so the episode wisely makes Barry’s story not about how he’ll survive in prison, but how he’ll cope with no longer being able to help people like he once did, and finding a way to continue doing good work even inside prison walls. And that bit at the end where he phases his hand through the glass barrier so he and Iris can touch? Misty eyed moment right there.
All told, this was yet another episode of great fun from a season of The Flash that’s been hitting that mark pretty consistently, an amazing turnaround from the last couple of seasons.
- The opening scene of Black Lightning confused me a bit. I wasn’t sure if the lightning coursing through Jefferson’s body was causing him pain, or if the pain was from exerting himself so hard the night before, and the lightning was somehow helping him deal with it.
- The ending scene also confused me. Tobias Whale throttles Lala with one hand, and in seconds Lala is dead. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to indicate superstrength on Tobias’s part, or if that’s just artistic license concerning how long it takes to strangle someone to death.
- At this point, I’m guessing the Supergirl writers have either forgotten that Lyra exists, or they want us to forget. While she doesn’t have Kryptonian level strength, we’ve seen that she’s strong enough to break padlocks with her bare hands. If you’re looking for women to back you up on a space mission, wouldn’t you go to her before Livewire or Psi?
- On a similar note, I’m certain we’ve seen female DEO agents besides Alex before. Did they all have broken legs, too?
- I already mentioned how well Arrow handled its big climax fight, but there were other great action moments in the episode, too. The tunnel scene was tense and very well shot, and Dinah stopping a train with her Canary Cry was bad-frickin’-ass.
- At the start of Arrow, as we see several people killed by “hackcidents”, I’m pretty sure the doctor in the hospital scene is the same doctor who was on duty when Laurel was brought in and has been seen a couple times since. She doesn’t die, since someone else touches the electrocuting equipment first, but it would be pretty neat (and by that I mean horrifying) if Cayden James looked into everyone with even a tangential connection to Team Arrow, and specifically targeted both her and Captain Pike in the first wave of attacks.
- Michael Emerson really is a treasure. His scene in Oliver’s office, where he boasts about how everything in the city is now “under my dominion” could have turned obnoxious or ludicrous in a lesser actor’s hands, but he sells every ounce of the villain’s cold-hearted confidence.
- And, as a Lost fan, I loved that he used the alias Ben Gale, a reference to his role as Ben Linus, who was originally known as Henry Gale.
- There were so many funny moments in The Flash this week, but they’re all overwhelmed by one glorious fact: Beebo lives! Until he gets dissolved in acid. At which point: “Beebo has an owie!”
- Also, while I’m sure an acid burn must hurt like all hell, the way Ralph was holding his leg afterwards made him look a lot like a kid whining over a scraped knee, which is just perfect.
MVP of the Week: It’s tie this week, with the award going to both the doorman and the elevator operator at Lala’s building. They’re just so chill, even eager, to help Black Lightning go upstairs and kick some ass.