Legends of Tomorrow 3×12: “The Curse of the Earth Totem”, The Flash 4×14: “Subject 9”, Black Lightning 1×06: “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder”, and Arrow 6×14: “Collision Course” review.
This week Arrow, Black Lightning, and The Flash made their return from hiatus. But it ain’t a glorious return.
Arrow 6×14: “Collision Course”
Let’s start with Arrow. Poor, sweet, misguided Arrow.
“Collision Course” should have been a great episode. On paper, everything is in place to create a morally grey conflict where New Team Arrow and Original Team Arrow (hereafter NTA and OTA) come to blows, and neither side is wholly in the right or in the wrong.
NTA is absolutely correct that OTA is letting their feelings for the old Laurel cloud their judgement with the new one. OTA’s plan to recover the $70 million dollars Star City needs is to help Laurel flee the country and trust she’ll honor their deal to tell them where the money is once she’s safely away. Laurel has given them little reason to think she won’t double cross them at the first opportunity, and even if she doesn’t, helping a mass murderer escape justice doesn’t exactly sit right with this crew.
But OTA is also correct that NTA is letting Dinah’s desire for vengeance affect their decision making. Torturing Laurel for information won’t necessarily yield the money, either, and as if torture weren’t dicey enough, Dinah has made it very clear she intends to murder Laurel. Whether she does so before they get the info they need or after, that’s still a big superhero no-no.
With the clock ticking until the city goes bankrupt, and with there already being bad blood between the two teams, it makes sense this would lead to a Team Arrow civil war. And when this fight leaves people on both teams badly hurt, it also makes sense the rift between them would be worse than ever.
This sort of conflict, where everyone does questionable things, but has good reason to believe they must do these things, and we’re asked to sympathize with everyone involved even as they’re fighting each other: I frickin’ love that stuff. What lets “Collision Course” down isn’t its plotting, but the dialogue given to the characters, which almost seems like it was designed to torpedo any sympathy viewers might have for NTA.
Both teams hurt and betray each other over the course of the episode, and they both make some morally dubious choices, but it seems like only OTA is aware that’s what they’re doing. Oliver, John, and Felicity all take time to wonder whether they’re really doing the right thing, are willing to see things from the NTA’s perspective, and show regret and concern when their actions hurt their old teammates.
Meanwhile, Dinah and Rene express nothing but anger and bitterness towards OTA; Rene seems downright giddy at the prospect of fighting his old team with guns blazing. They treat the OTA like monsters for every misstep they’ve made, while never acknowledging how their own actions must seem from the other side’s perspective. Curtis seems to be the only NTA member who’s aware that their actions aren’t so different from what OTA is doing, and even he stifles those concerns and echoes his teammates’ harsh, self-righteous sentiments as the episode goes on.
At the end of the episode, John is back to recovering from his nerve damage because Curtis hacked his implant, and Rene is in the hospital with a collapsed lung after getting a beat down from Oliver. Despite everything that’s happened, John and Felicity both show up at the hospital to make sure Rene is all right, and both Curtis and Dinah, seemingly unconcerned if John is all right, are offended at the mere idea that these two would show up at Rene’s hospital room, and announce that they don’t want to hear, speak to, or have anything to do with them or Oliver ever again.
I just . . . I have a hard time wrapping my head around how someone could script that scene unless they’re trying to make Curtis and Dinah seem like complete and utter jerkwads.
It’s not like Oliver wanted to put Rene in the hospital. Rene was the one who picked the fight, not Oliver. On the way to the fight, Rene specifically told Curtis and Dinah that he was not going to hold back. During the fight, after Rene had already taken several blows, Oliver warned him to stand down, but Rene went back for more anyway. He attacked Oliver with a frickin’ axe, going for straight up killing blows. And when Oliver finally puts him down, Rene only ends up so badly hurt because of an old wound that reopened, not because Oliver purposefully dealt him a crippling blow. Everything we see tells us that Oliver only did what he had to to stop Rene’s assault, but the rest of NTA act like it’s an unforgivable crime.
You know what it reminds me of? Oliver and Felicity’s breakup from Season 4, a.k.a. the single most hated storyline in Arrow fandom. In both cases, we have supporting characters who are furious at Oliver (and Company, in this case), and while they do have a good reason for being upset, their anger is so strident and unforgiving, and so completely ignores Oliver’s reasons for doing what he did, that it becomes incredibly difficult to sympathize with them.
I’m wondering if, in both these cases, the intent was actually that we side with the supporting characters who are pissed at Oliver, but the writers got worried about making their lead character too unlikable, so they hedged their bets by making Oliver’s actions not really his fault. He wanted to tell Felicity about William, but William’s mom threatened to never let him see his son again if he did, so what could he do? And Oliver didn’t want to hospitalize Rene, but the guy just would not stop, so again, what could he do?
I’d prefer a story where no one’s right or wrong, where we can understand and root for everyone equally. But if you’re going to have some of your characters treat another character like a complete monster, then have them to do something worthy of that ire. Lord knows the first few seasons of Arrow weren’t shy about having Oliver do horrible things; that they were willing to let their lead superhero be so frequently unheroic is a big part of what drew me to the series. If Arrow is still trying to do “Oliver is a monster” storylines, but has become too timid to let him actually behave like a monster . . . then oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Black Lightning 1×06: “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder”
Black Lightning this week suffered many of the same problems I’ve complained about the last couple episodes.
Let’s start with the smallest problem first: Jennifer. I’ve called her last couple C-plots boring, and seemingly just there to justify her position in the main cast. Her story this week had a little more potential. When she talks with her sister about Khalil, how she wishes she could leave him for a boyfriend who wasn’t paralyzed, but feels terrible for wanting something so selfish: it’s a very real, very human moment. And the idea that Khalil would turn bitter after his paralysis, and take his anger out on the girl who’s stood by his side so far, is solid drama, in theory.
But it honestly feels like a couple of key scenes were cut from the middle of this story; the transition from what we’ve seen of Jennifer/Khalil up till now and him suddenly cyberbullying her here . . . well, there is no transition. We don’t even get a scene with Khalil this week until over halfway through the episode, and when we do he’s acting completely different from everything we’ve seen from him before. Said scene also involves him breaking up with Jennifer, conveniently freeing her from a relationship with him without her having to feel any guilt about it.
I can’t really call the Jennifer plot boring this week, if only because the sheer sloppiness of its execution is kinda fascinating.
Jefferson’s story this week is much more solidly put together, but it runs into the second problem running through these last few episodes: it feels pretty generic. The “to kill or not to kill” question is a well-worn trope in superhero fiction, and when you’re dealing with a gritty superhero whose origin story involves avenging a loved one’s death, it’s all but obligatory. Still, there are ways to do it that have a unique perspective or play with expectations, but Black Lightning doesn’t do any of that here.
Jefferson wants to track down and kill Tobias Whale for murdering his father (complete with a flashback to Jefferson witnessing said event). His confidante, Gambi, tries to talk him out of it, telling him that killing in cold blood will tarnish both him and his work as Black Lightning. Jefferson doesn’t listen, and is about to ambush Tobias, when a stirring speech from his love interest convinces him not to go through with it. It’s all very, very by-the-numbers. The only twist it puts on this old plot is that Gambi has secret, ulterior motives for wanting Jefferson not to target Tobias, but until the end of the episode that’s more of a peripheral thing.
Still, this story being a little rote wouldn’t be such a problem if there was more going on in the episode, but that brings us to the biggest problem I’ve been having with Black Lightning as of late: it is just moving so slowly. Like, even a Netflix series would be telling it to pick up the pace. Most of this episode just feels like a waiting game, having the characters run in place without making any real progress . . . until that ending.
‘Cause, despite all my complaining, that ending was awesome, and addresses a whole lot of my concerns. It’s not just that we get the first superpower vs. superpower fight of the series, though that is definitely a highlight. Jefferson and Lynn now know that Anissa has superpowers, and that she’s already begun putting on a costume and beating up criminals. That completely changes the dynamic of the series and opens up whole new avenues for drama going forward. I doubt I’ll be complaining about a slow pace next week; even if that episode does nothing else, just seeing Anissa and her parents coming to terms with each other’s respective secret identities should be enough to carry it. And a father and daughter who are both superheroes and must now find a way to work together? That is far from generic.
So, while I was mostly down on this episode, I’m definitely excited to see what comes next.
The Flash 4×14: “Subject 9”
The Flash this week didn’t suffer from the same sort of ongoing problems as Arrow or Black Lightning. It gave us an episode with a couple decent action scenes, a lot of funny moments, and a solid enough story. The drama just didn’t hit as hard as it should have, because it was built around a character we barely got to know.
This episode is, theoretically, all about Izzy Bowen, the latest bus meta that DeVoe has set his sights on, and who Team Flash is determined to protect. In the course of a single episode, we need to be introduced to this character, see how she deals with all this weird crap coming into her life, see her start to develop a romance with Ralph, then feel sad when DeVoe kills her.
It’s entirely possible for a character to do all that in just one episode and still form a strong emotional bond with the audience, but it requires the show to really commit to focusing the story on the guest character. And at this point in the season, The Flash has so many characters it needs to service and so many ongoing plot threads to advance, it just doesn’t afford itself the time to give Izzy and her story more than the broadest of sketching in.
She’s not badly written, but we’re seven minutes into the episode before Izzy gets any non-singing dialogue, and there’s still eight minutes left in the episode after her death. Subtracting commercials, that means Izzy isn’t even around for over a third of the episode, and for the time she is around, a lot of screentime still goes to Iris giving Barry a pep talk (yes, another one) and a B-plot with Harry and Cecile. We can only get so attached to a character we barely have a chance to get to know, but the emotional climax of the episode depends on us doing just that.
Still, like I said, the action, humor, and overall story beats are good, and that B-plot where Harry tries to help Cecile because he’s a little desperate for friends his own age? That was both funny and adorable. Not a bad episode of The Flash, overall, just a very average one.
But “average” can mean different things for different series, which brings me to . . .
Legends of Tomorrow 3×12: “The Curse of the Earth Totem”
Back in Season 1, if you’d asked me to describe Legends of Tomorrow in one word, it would have been “inconsistent”. There was some awesome stuff in that first season (a giant robot fight, the supervillain nuclear bomb auction, most anything involving Snart), but there was also a ton of stuff that was stupid, annoying, or sloppily put together (the love triangle, the mostly dull guest characters, the complete failure at making Savage a credible threat). I still liked the show, but it was a case of slogging through the rubbish to get to the good bits.
Yet, over the last two seasons, Legends has gradually reworked itself into the most consistently solid show in the Arrowverse, and I hadn’t quite realized that until this week.
After I finished “The Curse of the Earth Totem”, I initially felt a little disappointed. Legends has been on such a roll the last few episodes that this one didn’t quite measure up: it wasn’t epic and heartbreaking like “Crisis on Earth-X: Part 4”, wasn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as “Beebo the God of War”, wasn’t a fun crossover that fleshed out the villains like “Daddy Darhkest”, and wasn’t a format breaking episode that doubled down on character growth like “Here I Go Again”.
“The Curse of the Earth Totem” was what I’ve come to think of as an average episode of Legends of Tomorrow . . . and then I realized just how much Legends has raised the bar for itself that an “average” episode can still be this dang good! Put an episode like this in Season 1 or even Season 2, and I’d have probably called it one of the best of the season; “Careless Whisper” alone would have gotten it that honor. Yet now I’ve come to take this mix of swashbuckling adventure, solid character beats, and hilarious moments for granted.
This episode even wove a unifying theme through all three of its plotlines, each of them dealing with a character trying to be something they’re not. Artsy!
Sara and Ava go out on their first date together this week, and with all of history open to them as a playground, they choose simply to go to a nice restaurant in modern day Star City. When Ava shows up, having traded her pantsuit for a very nice dress, she says, “I look weird, right?” But really, it’s the whole situation that’s weird. Weird, because of how utterly normal it is. Seeing Legends devote so much time to two people having a completely ordinary date, with no disguises, superpowers, or exotic time periods, it almost feels like we’ve slipped into a different show.
Sara and Ava try to lean into that normality, deciding not to talk about anything work related, meaning time travel and supervillains are off-limits for conversation. And they do seem to have a good time just making normal person chit-chat, trading embarrassing stories from their youth. But when they separately become aware of some time emergencies going down, neither hesitates to abandon date night to fix it.
Superheroes trying to have a normal life but being interrupted by their duties is an old, old storyline. But Legends does something a little different with it. Normally, being unable to lead a normal life is a serious source of angst for the superhero, but here both Sara and Ava come to the realization that they don’t really want to be normal, and had more fun fighting pirates together than sitting in some restaurant.
Did I mention there were pirates in this episode? Seems hard to believe Legends made it three seasons before taking a trip back to pirate times.
The pirate plot is centered around Amaya, who goes with the other Legends to recover the Earth Totem, last seen in the possession of Blackbeard the Pirate back in 1717. She’s initially in the dumps because of all of her time displaced granddaughter woes, but Mick decides to give her a night off from having to be herself, and starts spreading stories that she’s “the Dread Pirate Jiwe”. By the time they meet Blackbeard, her legend has spread enough that she’s forced to live up to the title, and despite claiming to know nothing about being a pirate, does so with gusto.
Normally it’s Nate or Ray who throw themselves into the roleplaying aspect of their time missions, so seeing the normally serious and straightlaced Amaya really get into playing a pirate, shouting “Hoist the Jolly Roger high!” as she captains a ship, is a delight. Unlike for Sara, being someone else, even if it’s just for a night, really agrees with her.
Lastly, we come to Wally West, still chilling at a Chinese monastery as Rip Hunter tries to recruit him for some derring-do. Wally’s been trying to be something he’s not for a while now, getting over his breakup with Jesse and sense of not belonging on Team Flash by meditating a lot and not using his speedster powers. Rip, however, comes armed with alcohol, and seeing these two get sloshed together makes for a hilarious C-plot.
This is easily the most fun Rip has ever been, and I have trouble remembering an episode of The Flash that gave Wally more endearing moments than he has here. Whether it’s singing karaoke, pantsing Gary, or talking about his three minute hangover, stepping out of Barry’s shadow has really done wonders for the character. We haven’t even seen him interact with any of the core Legends yet (other than a brief cameo with Nate in the season premiere), but I’m already feeling like he’ll be a great member of the team, now that he’s finally embracing his place as a misfit superhero.
The only real complaint I have with this episode is the action scenes. This is a bit of a recurring problem for Legends. The series does have some great action moments, though even then it never quite reaches the same highs as the CGI spectacle on The Flash or the highly choreographed brawls on Arrow. But you also get episodes like this one, where the fights are just people swinging weapons around, with the camera to their backs almost the entire time, individual shots never last much more than a second, and it’s all very . . . perfunctory. I’m guessing some of the money that the other shows spend on fight scenes, Legends has to spend on wigs. So, so many wigs.
I know that seems like a pretty serious problem for an action/adventure show, but I think it’s quite clear I still heartily enjoyed the episode, even if its –buckle could use a little more swash-.
- I ragged on Arrow a lot, but there were some scenes that, taken on their own, worked quite well. The two teams confronting each other in the woods was suitably intense and dramatic, and the little scene where Curtis and Dinah talk at the hospital was actually quite sweet. There are just a lot of other character moments that make me want to scream at them to stop being such self-righteous pricks.
- Laurel having the $70 million dollars doesn’t really make sense. It seems like she could only have gotten it after the events of “The Devil’s Greatest Trick”, but we know Laurel’s been recovering from a gunshot wound in Quentin’s cabin since then; she certainly wasn’t flying off to Corto Maltese and collecting bearer bonds. My guess would be the video footage of her doing so is Ricardo Diaz once again doctoring a video in order to sow chaos and discord, but the fact that no one in the episode notices how the timing doesn’t line up is worrying.
- Speaking of Laurel, Katie Cassidy once again turns in a fantastic, lively performance as the Earth 2 version of the character. And the ending of the episode, where it looks like she’s going to be assuming her Earth 1 doppelganger’s identity, definitely has me intrigued about where her story is heading.
- Felicity and William continue to be adorable together, though I hope Felicity’s cookies turn out better than her omelets.
- I’m a little confused about how Anissa’s powers work. She’s superstrong, so stomping her foot on the ground creates powerful shockwaves. I get that. But how does she direct the shockwave so that it destroys a statue or knocks Black Lightning off his feet without wrecking everything else around her?
- Barry and Ralph being private detectives together is a premise rich with potential. I’m not sure how long it will last for, but I wonder if it will make them change the “to the outside world, I’m an ordinary forensic scientist” from Barry’s intro.
- I love that Harry never refers to Cecile as anything other than “DA Cecile Horton”.
- It’s a little weird that The Flash would make classic villain the Fiddler a non-villain who gets killed off in one episode. But we’ve already seen Barry fight several villains who use superpowerful soundwaves, so fighting another would probably feel a bit tired. Still wish we could have gotten her driving a fiddle-shaped car, though.
- We get some more jokes about how Team Flash always gives pep talks in the Star Labs hallways, with Ralph wondering if they draw straws to decide whose turn it is. Love it.
- Given both Arrow and Black Lightning did stories about heroes wanting to kill a villain but being warned against it by their teammates, I find it hilarious that on Legends, Ray goes rogue from the team by trying to save a villain’s life. None of the Legends seem to have any qualms about killing their opponents, and even purer-than-pure-driven-snow Ray Palmer is only bothered by it because he got to know Nora Darhk pre-evil.
- Blackbeard the Pirate is one of the best historical celebrities Legends has ever done. Playing against expectations by making him an utter coward was hilarious, and I liked how they didn’t shy away from him being a disreputable villain, while still having him show genuine respect for Amaya.
- I was really expecting a reveal that the Darhks were somehow behind the Waverider malfunctioning, but nope, the curse of the Bermuda Triangle just happens to be a real thing in the Arrowverse. God, I love this silly little show.
MVP of the Week: Wally West.
“Careless Whisper”, man. “Careless Whisper”. How did Wally not have a bigger role in the Flash/Supergirl musical episode?
Question of the Week: Who’s the sexiest person in the Arrowverse?