Legends of Tomorrow 3×14: “Amazing Grace”, The Flash 4×16: “Run, Iris, Run”, Black Lightning 1×08: “The Book of Revelations” review.
There was no Arrow episode this week; it won’t be coming back until March 29th. After this week, The Flash will also be going on hiatus, and will be joining Supergirl in not returning until the second week of April. Luckily, both Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning will still be with us, and they’re both on solid enough streaks right now, they might almost satisfy my insatiable thirst for superhero action on my TV.
Anyway, on with the review!
Legends of Tomorrow 3×14: “Amazing Grace”
I’ll be upfront: I know jack about Elvis Presley or the history of rock and roll.
I mean, I know the stuff everyone knows. I know that “Jailhouse Rock” is a song, and that Elvis thrusting his hips was supposed to drive women wild. But I am wholly unqualified to tell you whether this episode (magic guitars aside) is an authentic depiction of the early days of rock or the origin of Elvis Presley.
Now, normally something like that wouldn’t concern me with Legends. While the show is about traveling to different time periods, it’s rarely about the time periods themselves. History is the playground the Legends operate on: it provides them with ninjas and dinosaurs to fight, gives them a reason to wear period costumes, and lets them spice up their adventures with famous figures and settings. But the focus is almost always on the Legends and the supervillains they’re fighting; the time period of the week is just a backdrop. Even when a historical figure is given an important role, they’re important because of how they impact the Legends’ story, not because the audience is invested in them personally. So if the depiction of history is broad, cartoonish, and inaccurate as hell, it’s not really a big deal; it even adds to the show’s goofy charm.
But “Amazing Grace” is something a bit different. While Nate doesn’t get his wish to have Elvis join the team, the King does, for this one episode, become just as much the hero of the story as any of the Legends. We follow his emotional journey, as he struggles to get his music career off the ground, deals with the disapproval of his rock and roll hating uncle, makes peace with the spirit of his dead brother, and uses the power of music to bring people together and save his town. The Legends are there, supporting him and having some side adventures, but it’s Elvis who takes center stage.
For some shows, this approach wouldn’t be so unusual. If Legends of Tomorrow had been made in the 80’s or 90’s, you’d probably get guest star-centric stories like this every other episode. But Legends is normally so focused on serving its season long story arcs and giving everyone in its ensemble something to do, this is the first time they’ve devoted so much time to fleshing out a one episode guest star and the world he inhabits.
It makes for an unusually mellow and emotionally earnest episode of Legends. No villains turn up to cause trouble this week. Even when a horde of ghosts attacks Memphis, they’re only summoned by accident, and are defeated, not through violence, but by singing a hymn to put them at peace. This isn’t an episode about fighting evil and saving the day, but about people building and mending relationships, and making peace with the inevitability of change.
It makes for a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the actor portraying Elvis does some great work. Even when talking about something as out-there as the ghost of a brother he never knew influencing all his music, he sells the emotional honesty of the character, makes him both feel real and like someone you want to root for. On the other hand, you have Elvis’s uncle. While not poorly acted, he’s asked to make such sudden character transitions, the attempts to wring drama from his strained relationship with his nephew don’t feel genuine. It also leads to some scenes which feel a tad hokey, and not in the usual we-know-this-is-ridiculous-but-we’re-doing-it-anyway style this show does so well.
Still, I’d say overall this episode works very well because of one simple thing: enthusiasm.
I may not be well versed in rock history or the career of Elvis Presley, but you don’t have to be invested in a topic to be carried along by the enthusiasm of people who are. It’s clear the writers of this episode had a serious passion for the material, and through Nate they let you see it through the eyes of an avid fan. When he talks about how music can change lives and bring people together, it’s hard not to get swept up his sincerity, and when he and Amaya finally have their “music moment”, it’s one of the sweetest and most purely uplifting moments the show has ever done.
Is people spontaneously dancing in church as a man sings “Amazing Grace” to give peace to the spirits of the dead sappy as hell? Yes, and I wouldn’t want this level of sap from Legends every week. But as we draw close to the end of the season, where things are sure to go from bad to worse for our heroes, some finely executed sap sits just right.
But as I said, this is all the opinion of someone who’s largely ignorant of the historical celebrity and musical movement being discussed. For someone more knowledgeable and passionate about the subject matter, there could be inaccuracies or omissions that drive you bonkers, or references and bits of detail that make you heartily geek out. All I can tell you is that, from my ignoramus perspective, this episode was a swell bit of fun.
The Flash 4×16: “Run, Iris, Run”
This episode should be better.
I know I said that last week about “Enter Flashtime”, but it’s true here, too. With the premise it has, this episode should have been great, but ended up just decent.
It’s a little surprising they haven’t done a someone-else-gets-Barry’s-powers story before now. So much of the fun in The Flash’s first season was seeing Barry learn to use his powers. The shock his speed caused first in himself than in others, the giddy thrill he got from moving so deliriously fast, the learning curve as he discovered new and increasingly bizarre uses for his powers. You obviously can’t maintain that sort of novelty forever, but shifting Barry’s powers to another character should (there’s that “should” again) let you recapture that feeling by showing it all from a new perspective.
The problem is, this episode has a feeling of . . . obligation about it.
It’s an Iris episode, and in theory I’m all for her getting a chance to shine. But I get the sense that this episode only exists because the writers felt they had to give Iris her own episode. That they got two-thirds of the way through the season, realized how little one of the nominal stars of their show had been given to do, and threw together one episode centered on her so that their duty to Iris the character and Candice Patton the actor was satisfied.
They certainly didn’t make this episode to resolve or expand on Iris’s ongoing character arc, because outside of her romance with Barry, she hasn’t had one this season. I hadn’t quite realized that until I watched “Run, Iris, Run”. I kept thinking, “Why does setting up her emotional arc for the episode feel so forced?” Then it hit me: “Because they’ve got nothing to work with here.”
Don’t get me wrong. The idea that Iris would feel like a coward sitting at Star Labs while her friends are all out risking their lives? Or that she’d come to regret how leading Team Flash has come to dominate her life and want to get back into journalism? Those are solid character beats for her. They just feel a little sudden and awkward here because there’s been no prior work done to set them up.
Heck, until Iris has her epiphany about how she wants to do journalism again, we didn’t even know she’d quit doing journalism. Most of us suspected that she’d quit her job at the newspaper, but the show didn’t care enough about Iris’s private life till now to actually confirm it. For all we knew, she’d been researching stories and writing articles all season, just doing it off-screen.
The way the episode’s plot is handled also makes it feel like the writers weren’t really excited about focusing on Iris. Her getting Barry’s powers hits all the beats you’d expect: initial surprise, exhilaration running around in the “Speed Lab”, some day-saving that she bungles a bit, another bout of day-saving where she rises to the occasion, Barry coaching her from Star Labs like she always coaches him, and of course, “Run, Iris, run.”
Aside from switching clothes with Caitlyn, nothing Iris does with her powers is surprising or takes a direction unique to her character. Even the drama they try to build about whether to have Barry take his powers back is half-hearted, because everyone in audience, and in the show, and in the writer’s room knows that’s what has to happen. Iris never shows the kind of delight or passion for her powers that would make her wanting to keep them over Barry believable.
As I said, this episode feels like it was done out of obligation. They had Iris get speedster powers, because they felt obligated to give her a focus episode. And they did everything you’d feel obligated to do with such a premise, but nothing more. This episode could have been something very fun and even special, but it just feels like it’s going through the motions.
It was all mostly executed well. Candice Patton always turns in a good performance, and creating a tidal wave to defeat a fire-cyclone metahuman is classic bit of Flash mixing CGI spectacle with a creative application of superpowers. But if Legends succeeded this week because of the obvious enthusiasm behind it, “Run, Iris, Run” lags behind the standard set by this mostly excellent season of The Flash because that enthusiasm just isn’t there.
Black Lightning 1×08: “The Book of Revelations”
The title doesn’t lie: there be revelations aplenty here.
Last week’s Black Lightning took the show’s pace from zero to 60 in a heartbeat, and this episode keeps things rocketing forward, but does so in a different way. There are no shocking character deaths or resurrections here; instead, the show takes the various secrets and mysteries it’s built up over the last seven episodes, and answers almost all of them.
What’s this secret organization behind Tobias and the 100? Answered. What’s the deal with Gambi’s shady past and secretiveness? Answered. Why was Jefferson’s father killed? Answered. Alvin’s vaccine research, the source of Green Light, and the origin of Black Lightning’s powers? All answered.
Not only that, the answers all make sense and are connected to each other in such a logical way, it’s clear this must have been the plan for them all along. Granted, the series is only eight episodes old, so it’s hardly the most eticulous plotting a TV show’s ever done. But there have been so many shows out there that have dragged out mysteries long past the point where they held any interest, and long past the point where any resolution could both explain everything and be satisfying, it’s nice to see that Black Lightning has a good sense of when to pull the trigger on these things.
But it’s not just us, the audience, who are getting these revelations. By episode’s end, Jefferson himself gets the truth about all this dumped on him, and that changes everything. So far this season, we’ve mostly been watching our hero blunder about in the dark. He was trying to fight what he believed to be ordinary street crime in Freeland, but it quickly became clear there was a bigger plot going on here, one involving massive conspiracies and the origin of superpowers, with both his daughter and his closest friend wrapped up in it without his knowledge.
Now that Jefferson knows the truth, the whole nature of the story is different. He now knows the true name and the motive behind not just Freeland’s misfortune, but both the tragedy and the blessing that have shaped him, personally. Instead of seeing him fight low level pimps and drug dealers while the puppet masters work unseen, we now have a Black Lightning who knows to climb his way up those puppet strings and go after the villains pulling them.
It also marks a significant change in Jefferson’s relationship with Gambi, knowing that his supposedly kindly old mentor has not only been lying to him about everything important, but is complicit, if not directly responsible, for profound evils committed against Freeland in general and Jefferson personally. It’s a harsh moment, but I’m glad it’s come. There is definitely good drama that can be mined from characters keeping secrets from each other, but more often than not, I find that having characters be honest with each other (at least about most things) and letting the dynamic between them build from that, turns out oh so much more satisfying.
Case in point: Jefferson and Anissa. Now that they know each other’s secrets, and Jefferson has come to terms with bringing Anissa into the field with him, they are sparkling together. Even though their plot ends up being a shaggy dog story (they look for proof that Black Lightning was framed, that proof gets destroyed, the end), it’s hard to care about that when they make for such a fun duo.
There have been many, many superhero partnerships over the years, but a father/daughter superhero team is unique enough that even moments which would feel old hat between other duos (the experienced hero giving some tough-love coaching to their protégé, said protégé then proving themselves to the mentor hero) feel fresh and alive here. And after Anissa saves Jefferson’s life and he’s left giddy with pride over his daughter, it’s such an incredibly endearing moment, one you couldn’t get between any other pair of superheroes, and certainly a moment you couldn’t get if they were still hiding their secrets from each other.
Given that, I am immensely excited by how this episode ended. Jennifer developing powers was hardly unexpected. That she would go to Anissa and tell her about those powers almost immediately after discovering them? That I did not see coming. Bringing Jennifer (the last remaining Pierce still in the dark) into the superhero fold so quickly promises excellent things to come, both for Black Lightning’s pace and for the character development to come.
- I called “Amazing Grace” unusually mellow for Legends of Tomorrow, and it is, but it still had tons of hilarious gags. Nate’s hair and “Trombone Hero” are probably my favorites.
- It also had Elvis Presley banishing ghosts with his magic guitar. I know I said this a couple weeks ago, but God, I love this silly little show.
- I was kinda worried when I saw that Wally’s first official mission with the Legends was a trip back to the Jim Crow era South. But Legends did what it usually does: acknowledge the prejudices of the time period early on, but then have everyone get so swept up in the episode’s plot that there’s no time to talk about it. That worked just fine in “Curse of the Earth Totem”, when Amaya quickly brushed aside the pirates’ doubts about a female captain. But because this episode focuses a bit more on developing the characters and the setting of the time period, the relative lack of intolerance did feel awkward at points.
- I complained about Elvis’s uncle having a change of heart too quickly, but it does make sense that it was a speech from Wally that did it. He’s from Team Flash, after all: heart-to-heart pep talks are the one superpower everyone has on that show.
- It’s kind of amazing how, in just ten episodes, Zari has meshed so well into the Waverider team, she can now be the one giving the new guy tips on how to fit in here.
- Ralph was kind of a pill this week, wasn’t he? Last we saw him, a couple episodes back, he seemed like he was determined to help the remaining bus metas and take on DeVoe, but here, not only is he too scared to leave the lab, but I can’t think of a single bit of dialogue he had that wasn’t him whining, being cowardly, or lashing out at Iris. It was unpleasant.
- What was very pleasant, however, was the villain on this week’s Flash. The show clearly realized there was no time to flesh out why this guy who just got fire powers would suddenly start destroying everything; he just had to so that there’d be someone for Iris to fight. They could have made him a generic, motiveless villain, like they’ve churned out many times before, but instead they leaned into it and made him a parody of all their motiveless and needlessly destructive villains: a guy who gets superpowers and immediately starts destroying random stuff in the middle of a public street, demanding (from no one in particular) lots of money. I’m sorry, I mean “MUH MON-AY!!!”
- Kinda surprised no one brought up that, if Matthew can move metahuman powers from one person to another, he could put Ralph’s powers in someone else and DeVoe wouldn’t be after him anymore. Or that, if Matthew agreed to help DeVoe with whatever his plan is, then he wouldn’t need to kill the remaining bus meta in order to gain their powers.
- I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that, between Black Lightning and iZombie, the CW currently has two shows building a major plot off the idea that vaccinations are the tool of evil government/military conspiracies. I get that it makes for great paranoia fuel, but there’s enough anti-vax hysteria out there already without adding fuel to the fire.
- One mystery that didn’t get resolved on Black Lightning this week was Lala’s resurrection. But this is such a bizarre development, and Lala’s addled mental state and conversations with Ghost!Lawanda are so intriguing, and the actor’s doing such a great job, I really don’t mind a slow burn here.
- Seriously, that shower scene between Lala and Lawanda was creepy as hell. What would you even call their ship name? Lalawanda? LaLaLa?
MVP of the Week: Axl.
Some might say he was the best of us.
Question of the Week: Who’s your favorite minor villain (no Big Bads allowed)?