(Sorry for the late posting everyone. Work was crazy this last week. I’ll try not to make delays like this a regular thing.)
Legends of Tomorrow 3×15: “Necromancing the Stone” and Black Lightning 1×09: “The Book of Little Black Lies” review
I’m not normally a nitpicker. When I watch a movie or TV show, I may notice things that don’t make sense or that weren’t thought through very well, but I’m usually pretty good about just rolling with it and enjoying the program anyway. Being a superhero fan, learning to ignore stuff that doesn’t hold up to logical scrutiny is a necessary skill.
But this past week, both of our CW superhero shows had a couple of nitpicky little problems that were just prominent enough, and were tied so closely to the episodes’ efforts at drama, that I had a hard time enjoying them as much as I would have liked to. I came away from both episodes thinking “that was good”, but not “that was awesome!”. My response was just a lot more muted than it would have been if they had only tweaked a couple of tiny things.
Black Lightning 1×09: “The Book of Little Black Lies” review
Let’s start with Black Lightning.
I don’t have any gripes about the half of this episode that deals with Jefferson and Anissa hunting down the source of Green Light. It wasn’t anything amazing, but it was solid, meat-and-potatoes superhero adventure, and it led to the biggest action scene we’ve had in the series so far, Black Lightning and Thunder fighting bad guys together for the first time, and our heroes finally making a major step in thwarting the villains’ master plan. It did seem like beating this bad guy and taking down his operation was a little too easy, given all the build up behind them, but I assume they’ll be back with a vengeance before the season is over.
But while that plot is where the episode got its action beats, the emotional core of the episode was the Pierce family drama, with Jennifer not only getting confirmation that her powers are real, but being told her father and sister are both superheroes, and her family has been lying to her about that for years.
This is where I have some issues, and I know I’ve complained about Jennifer’s storylines in the past, but I want to be clear: Jennifer is not the problem here. Her struggle to come to terms with these revelations is understandable and is very well written, and China Anne McClain does some amazing acting this episode, real top-notch stuff.
And in her interactions with Lynn and Anissa, there’s also a ton of great moments. I can see how, if these scenes were just slightly different, they might hit me in the feels so hard I’d be calling this the best Black Lightning yet. But just as I’m getting really invested in the family drama, a couple things are pulling me out.
The first is how the episode treats Anissa’s superhero persona of Thunder. Specifically, how it acts like Anissa has a superhero persona called Thunder. We’ve seen her gradually make strides to become a superhero all season, but for anyone without an audience’s eye view, Anissa has only made one appearance in her superhero duds: when she destroyed that Confederate statue.
Now, that’s something that’s going to make the news and get a lot of attention, but one act of vandalism-for-the-greater-good does not a superhero make. The public doesn’t know about her knocking down those drug dealers, defending Grace from attackers, or rescuing Lynn at her lab. Far as Average Joe Freeland knows, destroying that statue could have been a one-off piece of activism, not the start of a crimefighting career. They can’t even know she has any interest in actual crimefighting.
Yet we’re told that Anissa now has more fans online than Black Lightning, and that the moniker “Thunder” has become so widely known, Anissa can tell Jennifer “I’m Thunder” and not be greeted with a “Who?”
Yeah, I know, like I said, this is a nitpick, the kind of thing I’d normally be a little irritated by, but brush aside because it’s not that important. Problem is, it just keeps coming up, in every scene Anissa and Jennifer have together this week. Their relationship has always been one of this show’s strongest, and when they sit down on the couch together and talk about online reactions to Anissa’s superheroing, it’s such a sweet moment between them, I could easily see myself loving it. But with that little, tiny, nitpicky concern, I couldn’t do much more than merely liking it. It’s like going to an awesome fireworks show, but having to look down at your phone every few seconds to read a new text message. Everything’s there to create an amazing experience, but you’re too distracted to enjoy it as much as you should.
My other problem is how all the characters act like Jennifer having superpowers means she now has to devote her life to fighting crime like Jefferson and Anissa have. The girl is freaking out that getting these powers means her life as she knows it is over. She desperately needs someone to tell her that, no, this doesn’t have to change anything, she can still lead the same life she was always going to lead, only difference is if she ever needs to jumpstart her car, she won’t need jumper cables. But no one says that to her! She’s worried her life is going to hell, and Lynn and Anissa try to comfort her, but neither of them bothers to contradict her core premise.
Jennifer straight up asks Lynn if he broke up with Jefferson because he has powers, and she tacitly agrees. That’s not what happened! Lynn broke up with Jefferson because he was risking his life every night and coming home bruised and bleeding. Having superpowers doesn’t mean you have to lead that sort of life, but Jennifer’s family never tries to tell her that. I felt so bad for her this episode, that seeing her family ignore the most obvious way to address her concerns adds a big layer of frustration to what should be some excellent family drama.
I will say, though, that the final scene between just Jefferson and Jennifer had neither of those problems. When Jennifer says she knows how much her family cares about her, but “Sometimes I forget to know”, that moment is written and acted so beautifully, it ended the episode on a real high note, and let me walk away from it feeling very positive, despite all my griping.
Legends of Tomorrow 3×15: “Necromancing the Stone” review
Moving on to Legends, once again the ingredients are all in place to make a dynamite episode of television, but two little problems keep holding it back. Because, while the problems may seem little, they work to undermine any sense of stakes the episode tries to build.
Sara, possessed by Mallus/the Death Totem, hunting down her teammates one by one? Should be a terrific, suspenseful episode. But that suspense is hurt by the fact that Mallus keeps beating down the Legends, but never actually goes for a killing blow when he has the chance. A couple times that’s because he got distracted or the Legends got rescued before he could do it, but when he took down Ray, Wally, or Zari, he had them unconscious and completely at his mercy, but chose to leave them there, still alive, rather than finishing the job.
I mean, I know that a show like this isn’t going to suddenly kill off several of its main characters just to show the bad guy isn’t messing around. But it’s the show’s job to get you so wrapped up in the story that you forget that fact and the danger seems real. Mallus repeatedly passing up the opportunity to kill the heroes, like he’s supposedly trying to do, took me out of the story and really hurt the suspense.
The other danger the episode wants us to believe is that Sara might succumb to the temptations offered by Mallus and Nora Darhk, choose to join Team Evil in exchange for a life free of guilt where she can indulge her darker impulses. But I never for a second bought that was a real risk.
We’ve seen Sara face this temptation before. Last season, Sara had the Spear of Destiny in her hands, and with it the power to rewrite reality itself. Anything Mallus could offer her, the Spear could have given her, too. Her sister back from the dead? Done. Her guilt erased? Done. Anything and everything she might want to change about her past or anyone else’s? Done.
But she chose to give up that power rather than give in to the Spear’s temptation. And the Spear wasn’t even inherently good or evil, just too much power to trust in anyone’s hands. If Sara wouldn’t use the Spear, no way is she going to join up with a literal demon to get the same thing.
And the funny thing is, both of these complaints could have been rectified with one simple change. Just have Mallus promise Sara that, if she serves him willingly, he’ll allow her team to live. That would explain why Mallus isn’t killing anyone: he needs them alive as bargaining chips. And putting her friends’ lives on the line adds an extra wrinkle to Sara’s choice, her duty to them, her love for them, making her decision not so obvious. A couple lines of dialogue is all it would take, and all my problems with the episode’s poor suspense would be gone.
And I really wish they’d done that, because if you overlook those problems, this episode was packed with amazing scenes.
I may not have believed Sara would knowingly side with Mallus, but her initial temptation to put on the Death Totem was very well handled. It made perfect sense as a decision she’d make, and having the voice of temptation be her own past self, still in the original Canary costume, was a masterful touch. The other Legends being confronted with apparitions was great as well, creating a creepy atmosphere and giving us some punches to the emotional gut. Tala Ashe’s performance as Zari faced her kid brother was particularly well done. Amaya trusting Mick with the Fire Totem, believing he can be a hero and not be corrupted by it, was a touching example of those two’s very odd but very wonderful friendship. And while Mallus never felt like a genuine threat, he was still possessing the body of Caity Lotz, so we got some kickass fight scenes.
And, of course, there’s the delightful trio of Ava, Gary, and Constantine. These three bounce off each other beautifully, and provide the bulk of the episode’s comedy. Ava’s jealousy of and irritation towards Constantine is a delight, especially as he deliberately goads her over it. And I never would have thought Constantine and Gary would be a pairing I’d need in my life, but it has to happen. You can see the joy lighting up Gary’s face as he thinks, “This is literally the first time anyone has ever been nice to me!”
Loads of great stuff this episode, and if it weren’t for those two nitpicks I mentioned, I could see this review being a rave. As is . . . I don’t normally do grades here, but for this one I’d say . . . B minus?
- Black Lightning continues to be vague about whether other DC Comics heroes exist as actual people in their universe or as fictional characters. Those references to Vixen and Supergirl could go either way.
- Anissa’s new costume is really cool and looks great on her, but I will miss the kitsch value of her original, do-it-yourself outfit.
- Those were some horrible President masks. If Jefferson’s hadn’t been identified as Barack Obama, I wouldn’t even know that’s what they were supposed to be. Still have no clue which President Annisa was.
- Even if Freeland PD wasn’t corrupt as hell, and even if the villain wasn’t a government official, Henderson would still have a lot of questions to answer about what he was doing at that Green Light lab, off-duty, with no warrant or backup, cooperating with a pair of vigilantes, one of whom is currently wanted for murder. I don’t anticipate this going well for him.
- Legends of Tommorow did have one other thing that irritated me this week: Sara breaking up with Ava, using the old I’m-too-damaged-I-can’t-inflict-myself-on-someone-as-good-as-you excuse. This is the sort of overused melodrama that Legends is normally good at either avoiding or having some self-aware commentary on, but here they play it utterly straight. I have a feeling, though, that this breakup will be very much temporary. I’m remembering when Barry/Iris and Kara/Mon-El broke up last year, just so the musical episode the very next week could be about them getting back together.
- It was nice getting to see Sara actually assassinate someone. Ever since Arrow Season 2, her time as an assassin is something we’ve been told about but never actually seen. If they want us to believe that Sara is tormented by guilt over what she’s done, letting us see it with our own eyes is vital.
- I’m a little confused about the age of Zari’s brother. Was he a young boy when he died, or did Mallus just take that form to really drive the knife in deep?
- I love that the cold fusion reactor Ray used to repair a mystical totem looks exactly like a microwave oven, and Ray stares into it with the same glee as an eight-year-old microwaving an action figure.
- At some point, Wally going “Super speed can solve this problem!” and reality going “Nope!” could get tiring. But so far, it’s gold.
- Let’s address the elephant in the room: it’s been announced that, assuming Legends of Tomorrow is renewed for a fourth season, Matt Ryan’s Constantine will be joining the cast as a regular character. His appearance this week really seems to have been built around showing what Constantine as a regular Legend would be like. Last time he showed up, he was able to take charge of the situation and show how cool and badass he was. This time, we get to see more of Constantine as the wacky sitcom neighbor. In fact, his opening scene reminds me of a description of Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld: “Far as I can tell, your entire enterprise is little more than a solitary man with a messy apartment which may or may not contain a chicken.” I’m all for it.
MVP of the Week: Ava Sharpe.
Her using only a finger when Constantine says “take my hand” was a laugh-out-loud moment.
Question of the Week: What hero of a canceled superhero show would you like to see turn up in the Arrowverse?