Legends of Tomorrow 3×16: “I, Ava”, Black Lightning 1×10: “Sins of the Father: The Book of Redemption”, and Arrow 6×16: “The Thanatos Guild” reviews
I’m posting this a day late again. This time, I did have the review written and ready by Sunday morning, but when I saw how the site was all forked up for April Fool’s Day, I wasn’t sure whether posting an article normally would work, so I decided to wait an extra day.
I promise, I’m not trying to make a regular thing of this. Anyway, on to the reviews!
Arrow 6×16: “The Thanatos Guild” review
Thea Queen has had a difficult life
None of Arrow’s main characters have had an easy time over the last six years, but most have at least enjoyed a certain degree of stability. Whatever else they may go through, the main trio of Oliver, John, and Felicity have always had Team Arrow to give them a sense of identity and purpose, their occasional efforts to quit the team never lasting for long. Laurel Lance, while she lived, had her ups and downs, but her legal career and drive to get justice in Star City seldom wavered. And Quentin Lance, despite all the hell he’s been put through, has always been defined by his roles as a police man and as a father.
But Thea? In her time on the series, she’s been a mayor’s aide, a juvenile delinquent, a successful club owner, a costumed vigilante, a supervillain’s protege. She’s gone from one role to the next, never staying in one for long, and seldom returning to a role once it’s been cast aside. It’s a testament to Willa Holland’s performance that the character has always remained recognizably Thea, even as everything you might use to define her has repeatedly been stripped away.
The truth is, it’s in Thea’s nature to run away from who she is. When problems in her life become too difficult to handle, she’ll abandon her old identity and all its baggage so she can try again with something new. “The Thanatos Guild” opens with a reminder of this truth, showing us the time she stepped into Malcolm Merlyn’s car, agreeing to go with him wherever he decided to take her, with the promise that he’d show her how to never be hurt again. That promise was a lie, but it’s a lie Thea has fallen for many times in her life.
She dealt with the apparent deaths of her father and brother by losing herself in drugs and petty larceny. When her strained relationship with her mother reached a breaking point, she was willing to let herself go to prison to permanently destroy that relationship. She coped with Malcolm grooming her into a weapon by becoming the hero Speedy. When, as Speedy, she crossed a moral line, she abandoned her heroic persona and dedicated herself to a civilian life and a job a city hall. And when, last year, she crossed a moral line again, she abandoned that career as well.
Thea’s life, as charted on Arrow, has been a constant struggle to escape pain, to find a new path that will let her leave behind all the tragedies she’s suffered. It’s fitting, then, that her departure from Arrow takes the form of leaving to fulfill another new purpose, create another new life for herself, but one built on the foundation of the old lives she’s left behind.
The Thanatos Guild, the new Lazarus Pits, and the quest to destroy them are all new developments. In joining Nyssa on her search for the Lazarus Pits, Thea is once again abandoning her old life in Star City to embark on a new path. But as she and Roy discuss, there’s a difference between running away from something and running towards something. Though Thea is leaving her home behind, she’s no longer trying to leave the person she once was behind as well.
For the first time in years, she accepts her connection to Malcolm as something other than a curse she needs to distance herself from, taking the opportunity to right her father’s wrongs as Oliver once did for their father. She once again takes up the mantle of Speedy, no longer fearing the violence she’s capable of in that identity. And, of course, when she leaves, she leaves with Roy, the two finally resuming the romance they’d once allowed circumstances to keep them from.
Wedding together these disparate parts of her life, while still embarking on a new path forward, is perhaps as close as Thea can come to making peace with her turbulent existence. She tells Oliver that he can’t bring himself to give up being the Green Arrow because it gives his life purpose, and while much about the road ahead of Thea now is unclear, one can hope she’s at last found a purpose for herself as well.
Unless Willa Holland agrees to come back for guest appearances, this may be the last we see of Thea Queen. I won’t deny, one could ask for a lot more from such an important character’s swan song. While “The Thanatos Guild” was a solid adventure romp, it never hits the dramatic high points we know Arrow is capable of, and given Willa Holland’s decreased presence on the show these last two seasons, her departure is definitely closer to being a whimper than a bang.
But it still remains a respectful look at who Thea is, at the journey she’s been on, and gives a resolution to her character arc that still leaves room for her to live and grow even after she’s left our screens. We may never get to see what becomes of Thea, Roy, and Nyssa on their journey to find the Lazarus Pits and defeat the Thanatos Guild, but knowing they’re still out there, with a future that, if not bright, is at least filled with promise . . . in my book, there are few better notes to send a hero off on.
Legends of Tomorrow 3×16: “I, Ava” review
It’s strange. One of the things I love about Legends of Tomorrow is how many insane plot developments it can fit into an episode. Yet, looking back at the episodes I’ve felt the most let down by, they’re often the ones that have tried to do too much, and so not had time to do much of anything.
That, sadly, is the case with “I, Ava”.
It’s hardly a series low point or anything. While one of the weaker episodes of Season 3, that still leaves it about average by the standards of Season 2, and better than most of Season 1. But it’s disappointing that this episode told two stories that had so much promise, featuring major shakeups to the plot and dramatic character revelations, but couldn’t develop either as much as it needed to, because they had to compete for time with each other.
The Ava storyline has her and the Legends discovering the shocking truth behind her origins, shaking her very sense of identity, and revealing a bizarre new future. And the Kuasa storyline has her changing allegiances multiple times, balancing selfishness and familial affection before finally making a stab at genuine heroism, only to die in the process, and in doing so motivating Amaya to alter history and save their home from destruction.
There’s so much going on in each of these stories, and so much of it involving major changes to established characters, that each really should have gotten its own episode. As is, we barely get a chance to explore the Ava clone future, and Ava herself has to go from discovering her entire past and identity is a lie to making her peace with it so quickly, there’s no time to dig into how this is making her feel.
And while some groundwork was laid in previous episodes to set up Kuasa’s turn to the side of good, there’s still not enough here to make her self-sacrifice feel entirely earned. Her and Amaya only get one scene together this episode prior to Kuasa’s death, so the depth of emotion from each of them can’t feel as rich as it needs to.
The Ava storyline also suffers because much of it is spent on investigating a mystery that we, the audience, already know the answer to. I can’t fault the writers entirely for that. They don’t control the “next week” teasers the CW puts out, which told us in advance this episode would involve a future full of multiple Avas. But I can blame them for having Sara and company spend so long thinking Ava was trying to cover up her past, when we know that Rip is the one doing the covering up; the “previously on” even reminds us of that fact. The suspicion towards Ava doesn’t really add anything to the episode, slows it down in places, and makes it frustrating at points as we watch characters struggle to reach the obvious conclusion.
The Mick & Zari storyline is the only one that’s paced just right. The two of them butting heads, Mick’s gluttony irritating Zari as she fasts for Ramadan, is funny. And Mick learning that the Fire Totem isn’t just a neat tool for burning stuff and cooking food, but something that connects him to a tradition much bigger than him, is a nice little character moment. And because it’s just a little character moment, it can fit into this overstuffed episode without being underserved.
This wasn’t a bad episode, I must reiterate, but you can tell that, as we near the end of the season, the writers are rushing to fit certain major plot developments in. As much as I liked the Groundhog Day and Elvis-is-magic episodes, it might have been worth losing one of those less plot essential episodes so that the stories here had more room to breathe.
Black Lightning 1×10: “Sins of the Father: The Book of Redemption” review
I’m kind of holding my breath on Black Lightning right now. The last several episodes have all been quite good, completely undoing the slow pace I complained about in the first half of the season. But as we approach the season’s end, with just three episodes left to go, I’m worried about its ability to stick the landing.
As an individual episode, “Sins of the Father: The Book of Redemption” is a solid and very enjoyable hour of television. Lots of good character moments, the best action scene the show’s done to date, and an ending that puts our heroes in a more perilous position than ever before. I especially enjoyed the scenes with Lala, both the actor’s performance and the bizarre, ongoing mystery surrounding his resurrection and the specters he keeps seeing. But it’s while I was watching those scenes that I had to wonder: is the drug dealing street gang still a thing on this show?
I mean, I realized the 100 hadn’t just gone away, but it kind of feels like the show has moved past them. This is the third episode since Lady Eve was killed and Tobias went MIA, nearly a quarter of the season, and during that time the focus has mostly been on the government conspiracy that was behind those two. I can’t remember the last time Jefferson or Anissa talked about fighting street crime, because a drug giving kids superpowers and government agents abducting people off the streets is obviously the bigger concern. Given that, it feels strange to randomly cut to Lala making deals to sell cocaine and heroin; it’s just so disconnected from everything else going on.
And that got me to thinking about how many plot threads are still dangling. The fight with the ASA is ongoing. Black Lightning is still framed for murder and has a bounty on his head. Tobias and Lala are both still out there with their respective agendas, and the mystery behind the former’s youth and the latter’s resurrection have yet to be answered. And there’s Khalil, who last we saw was being taken by Tobias to get his paralysis fixed and be turned into a tool to bring down Black Lightning, but until Anissa mentioned him this episode, I’d forgotten he existed.
That is a lot of stuff to resolve in the next three episodes. Now, a TV show doesn’t have to conclude every major storyline in the course of one season, and the writers could still have a plan that makes all these plot threads flow together into a satisfying climax. But as I mentioned in a previous This Week In The Arrowverse, part of reviewing TV shows as they air involves prognostication, trying to predict whether the stories being built up now will lead someplace good. And as much as I’ve been enjoying Black Lightning as of late, my confidence in its endgame abilities is wavering.
It really does feel like, halfway through the season, the show decided to retool itself. The first six episodes were very leisurely paced and kept their focus mostly on small scale, down-to-earth issues. Then Episode 7 came around, and suddenly the show’s pace was kicked into overdrive, characters previously built up as important were killed off, and atomic-powered electro-guns and magical resurrections suddenly appeared. After that, the show’s apparent arch-villain vanished with no word on when he’d be back, and the focus shifted from realistic street gangs to the shadowy conspiracy that had only been hinted at before.
I’m certain that the ASA story we’re getting now was always part of the show’s plan, but I do have to wonder if the showrunners’ always meant to pull the trigger on them so soon, or if taking down Tobias and the 100 was supposed to be the main plot of Season 1, and they’d only move on to bigger fish when/if Season 2 came around. Maybe the writers were also getting bored with the slow paced early episodes, and decided to crank things up by abandoning most of their gang-centric storylines for something bigger and flashier.
Or maybe the Black Lightning crew has a master plan for the season that will only become clear in the next three weeks.
The show is still quite good on a week to week basis, and if they nail the end of the season, this could prove to be very good season of television. But turning all these unresolved plot threads into a satisfying whole is beginning to seem like quite a Herculean task.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
- The fight scenes in “The Thanatos Guild” were pretty ho-hum for Arrow, but the Raiders of the Lost Ark-style treasure hunt was a fun change of pace for them, and Thea using booby traps and some dirty tricks to even the playing field with Athena was awesome.
- Nyssa trolling Felicity is the most hilarious thing done with the character since we saw her discover french fry milkshakes. It’s a shame we won’t get to hear her call Felicity “sister wife” again.
- With Rene still recovering from his injuries, and some new Lazarus Pits being discovered, I wonder if anyone will suggest giving him a dip in them. Sure, it’ll bring him back with an irrational and insatiable bloodlust towards the person who injured him, but since that person was Oliver, the change would be negligible.
- I’m glad that Legends addressed the implications behind the Ava Corporation’s “perfect woman” being a blue eyed, blonde haired white lady, with Ray remarking that she seemed a bit too pale.
- Neat that we finally get an Arrowverse episode actually set in Vancouver.
- Last week, Mick was compared to a “half-orc rogue”. Given that he eats “fourth lunch”, I’d say the other half must be hobbit.
- Gary was occasionally a little too much this week, but I did like how, when Ava was freaking out from the clone reveal, he immediately pulled out a memory eraser and said, “Gary will take care of everything.” If he weren’t such a hapless dweeb, that’d actually be super creepy.
- I complained last week how everyone acted like Jennifer getting powers meant she had to become a superhero, so I loved that Jefferson told her, no, she can still lead whatever sort of life she chooses. Anissa just acts like powers = duty because . . . she’s Anissa.
- Gambi redeeming himself in Jefferson’s eyes by taking a (mostly) metaphorical bullet to protect him is a very well-worn trope, but still damn effective.
- I think the Vice Principal being revealed as the ASA’s scout was supposed to be a shocking twist, but if they hadn’t shown her in the “previously on” segment, I wouldn’t even have remembered who she was.
MVP of the Week: Nyssa al Ghul, epic troll.
Though the woman who tried to kill Black Lightning with appliances was a close runner up.
Question of the Week: Who’s your favorite sidekick/supporting superhero?