Legends of Tomorrow 3×18: “The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly” (SEASON FINALE), The Flash 4×17: “Null and Annoyed”, Black Lightning 1×12: “The Resurrection and the Light: The Book of Pain”, and Arrow 6×18: “Fundamentals” reviews
This is another review coming up late. I am sorry about that. Normally I write these up on Saturday and post them Sunday morning, so when I suddenly have to work Saturday, everything gets pushed back a day.
Enough with my excuses, though, ’cause we’ve got a lot to talk about this week.
Arrow 6×18: “Fundamentals” review
Taken on its own merits, this was a simply a good episode of Arrow. Not fantastic, not anything the series hasn’t done before, but it had solid plotting, well done characterization, a surprise guest appearance, and some directorial flourishes that kept it visually engaging. As an hour of entertainment, my feelings on it are positive and uncomplicated.
Looked at in the broader context of Arrow Season 6, however, it’s interesting that this episode succeeded by discarding much of what has defined the season so far.
Each year, the Arrow title card does something different with the arrowhead it uses as a symbol. This season, the arrowhead has appeared after a train of symbols, each representing one member of Team Arrow. The message was clear: there was a focus now, not just on Oliver as the Green Arrow, but on the extended team of heroes. And friction among those heroes has been one of the core conflicts of the season.
But this episode, the title card is back to just a lone arrowhead. Dinah, Curtis, and Rene don’t appear outside of Oliver’s hallucinations. Even John Diggle only appears in a single, short scene. As the title suggests, this episode is about getting back to fundamentals, on Oliver as a lone vigilante, without the conflict and baggage that comes with managing a team of costumed crimefighters.
That this episode was good, while much of this season has not been, suggests this was a wise move. But I have to wonder how this fits into the writers’ plans for the season.
Was this always the planned trajectory for the season’s story arc? Were brewing tensions among Team Arrow always meant to strip away Oliver’s support structure so that he’d go into the final stretch of episodes working solo?
Or is this a course correction? Did the writers realize how unwieldy the large cast of characters had become this season, and how poorly the Team Arrow vs. Team Arrow conflict was being received, and so decided to pare everything back down to basics, to the fundamentals, that originally made the show work?
Or is this just a brief detour? An episode or two where Oliver works solo, as a novelty, before the show returns to what it was doing before?
I’d like to believe in the course correction. I’d like to believe the writers saw how poorly the Team Arrow feud had been handled, and how well Oliver’s relationships with Felicity and William were panning out, and decided to shift focus from the former to the latter.
There are even a couple moments this episode that seem like they’re gently poking fun at some of the season’s flaws. Felicity gets incredibly mad at Oliver for a relatively minor slipup and asks for a separation; this sort of overreaction has been played completely straight by the rest of Team Arrow this season, but here it’s a sign that the Felicity Oliver’s seeing is a hallucination, and the real Felicity insists that of course she wouldn’t react this way. We also got some of the city councilmen expressing disbelief that Ricardo Diaz could be such a threat to the city, given he’s a petty drug dealer no one’s ever heard of before, which is pretty much exactly my view on Diaz as a character.
But, if I’m being truthful, the brief detour seems the more likely scenario. It was about the same point in the season last year that Oliver decided to quit being the Green Arrow, and we remember how long that lasted. This “no partners” thing will probably be just as short lived, if only because all the other actors are still under contract, and TV superheroes need people to talk to.
Still, this episode was good, old school Arrow in a way this season has rarely managed. Is it too much to hope the remaining five episodes might retain some of the same spirit?
The Flash 4×17: “Null and Annoyed” review
Barry Allen is not a leader, and The Flash needs to stop trying to make him one.
Team Flash may have been built around Barry, but it was not built with the idea that he’d be the boss, giving everyone else direction. Just the opposite: Team Flash has always been there to guide Barry, to instruct him on the best course of action. Barry’s contribution to the team, aside from his speed, has always been his good heart and determination, not his leadership abilities.
You can understand why the writers would want to change that up. Barry has become a far more experienced hero since the first season, and with Dr. Wells no longer around to serve as team mentor, it makes sense that Barry would step into a role of greater authority, especially when dealing with less experienced heroes like Wally or Ralph. It makes sense, but that doesn’t make it good.
Leadership is just not a good fit for Barry. He’s always been obsessive, whether about searching for his mother’s killer or thwarting the Big Bad of the season, and he’s always been prone to acting emotionally and on impulse, without thinking things through. And when it’s just Barry, personally, being obsessive and emotional, those flaws can sometimes be charming. But when Barry tries taking charge of Team Flash, giving everyone else orders, he’s now forcing others to share in his obsessiveness and be subject to his emotional decision making. That is significantly less charming; in fact, it’s often downright irritating.
General consensus among Arrowverse fans is that The Flash has gone downhill since Season 1 (I largely concur, but think that Season 4, overall, has been a bit of a rebound), and there are a lot of theories about where the show went wrong. I won’t say this is the reason the show’s quality took a dip, but I do think that the absence of a leader or mentor figure, like Season 1’s Harrison Wells, for Barry to answer to, has resulted in Barry often taking up that mantle himself, and that is just not working. The character is just so much less fun when he’s giving orders or insisting the team do things his way then he is as the lovable dork who rushes headlong into danger while his friends guide him through it.
I’ve spent all this talking about The Flash’s long term problems, without a word for the episode “Null and Annoyed” itself. That’s because there’s really not much to say about the episode, except how it’s the latest example of this problem.
Barry is obsessively going “We’ve gotta stop DeVoe. We’ve gotta stop DeVoe.” He gets annoyed at Ralph for not doing all the DeVoe stopping Barry’s way. Iris gives Barry a pep talk, he and Ralph have a heart-to-heart, and they beat the bad guy of the week. Not much else to it.
The episode does have Barry acknowledge that the way he’s been trying to mentor Ralph isn’t working, but not in such a way that I believe there will be a systemic change in Barry’s leadership. It’s just a very standard friction-in-the-team-gets-smoothed-over plot, like we’ve seen from The Flash umpteen-jillion times before.
Something we’ve also seen umpteen-jillion times before: a metahuman villain who goes on a crime spree, has a few cool moments and a nicely hammy performance, but no real depth or distinctiveness, and powers which shouldn’t be nearly as much of a threat to Barry as the episode makes them out to be.
It was just a very, very samey episode of The Flash, so I hope you’ll forgive me going off on a digression, ‘cause I couldn’t find much else about this episode to say.
Black Lightning 1×12: “The Resurrection and the Light: The Book of Pain” review
This is a difficult episode to judge, because we’re clearly dealing with a Part 1 of 2. Lots of things were established this episode, many new dynamics set up, but we’re going to have to wait till the season finale to see how they all come to head.
However, while this episode was mostly setup, it was some high-quality, fast paced setup. I’m gonna have to eat crow with my earlier concerns that Black Lightning had too many plot threads in the air to bring to a satisfying conclusion. This episode did an amazing job bringing Tobias Whale back after an extended absence, immediately bringing him directly into the ASA plot, doing the same for Khalil, and in the closing minutes, even making the bizarre, ongoing Lala subplot relevant.
Aside from tying a bunch of largely disconnected plot threads together, these developments also serve to give the show’s villains some much needed menace. Tobias brings a villainous charisma and sense of physical competence to the bad guy side that the ASA’s easily defeated goons and their bureaucrat boss have lacked. That he’s not content merely to be muscle for the ASA, but is planning to take over their operations, adds an extra wrinkle of excitement to the events ahead.
Then there’s Khalil, the first bad guy with actual superpowers that our heroes have had to face. I’ll admit, when Khalil turned up this episode, he’d been gone for so long I had a hard time remembering how I felt about him. I had to read some of my old reviews to be sure that, yep, I was always pretty disinterested in him, and his characterization here, while theoretically solid, doesn’t do a whole lot to get me invested.
But I think Khalil is intended here less as a character than as a symbol. He represents everything Jefferson has devoted his life to stopping: a young black man, left without prospects or hope, recruited by a gang for a life of violence and crime, until you can hardly recognize the person he once was. Khalil is that all-too-common tragedy exaggerated to supervillain proportions, with superstrength and cyborg body parts. So while I may not care much for Khalil himself, his presence makes the upcoming conflict far more difficult for our heroes, not just physically but also emotionally.
Not that there isn’t some plenty intense conflict in this episode. Tobias, Khalil, and henchlady Syonide give us the finest action scenes Black Lightning has produced to date. The fights end inconclusively (because, again, Part 1 of 2), and the bad guys still seem a little underpowered (Khalil’s the only one with actual superpowers, and even he could be taken down easily if Jefferson were willing to go all out), but they’re still loads of fun. The episode makes the fights feel distinct from each other, which is very important in an ongoing action series like this. The fluid movements and contest of skill vs. raw power that characterize Thunder’s fight with Syonide are in sharp contrast to the inelegant, rage-filled brawl between Black Lightning and Tobias, each fight an expression of the combatants’ characters.
Not much else to say. There was some other stuff in this episode that got me excited (Jennifer using her powers on-purpose for the first time) and some stuff that made me groan (Lynn and Jefferson getting back together then immediately splitting up over a misunderstanding), but overall it did what it was designed to do: build up hype for the finale. Count me as thoroughly hyped.
Legends of Tomorrow 3×18: “The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly” review
Ahem . . .
Giant Beebo fighting Mallus.
Giant Beebo fighting Mallus.
Giant Beebo. Fighting Mallus.
Whew! Okay, had to get that out of my system. It’s tempting to spend the whole review just talking about that one scene. Believe me, it is tempting. And we’re definitely gonna cycle back around to it later. But for now, I just felt the need to acknowledge that, yes, that is actually something that appeared on our television sets, before moving on to discuss the rest of the episode, because there is a lot to talk about.
One of the most interesting things about this season finale is what it isn’t. Namely, that it isn’t an emotional climax for our characters. I know that’s a strange thing to say about an episode where the show’s most prominent couple breaks up and not one but two major characters die in heroic sacrifices. But while this episode is the climax to the season’s plot, it catches most of our characters at varying points in their emotional journeys.
For Nate and Amaya, this episode marks the denouement of their romance. Amaya’s decision to return to her village and her time, leaving Nate behind, had already been made. All the arguments and emotional turmoil, the emotional climax of their doomed love affair, were covered in episodes prior. All that’s left for them here is to say their goodbyes.
The same goes for Damien Darhk’s redemption. When he chooses to sacrifice himself to Mallus in order to save Nora, it’s not played for the same sort of emotional gut punch as when, say, Snart or Stein sacrificed themselves. That’s because Damien made his choice to give up his life for his daughter last episode; this week, he simply follows through on it.
Jax’s return goes beyond denouement to being a straight epilogue, catching up with the character five years after he left the Waverider. His story was concluded back in “Beebo the God of War”, and his appearance here is not meant to reopen that story, but merely to assure us that he got his happy ending.
As for the rest, they mostly end the season squarely in the middle of their character arcs. Ava and Sara start to rekindle their romance, but it’s not going to the next level just yet, and Ava’s clone issues remain unresolved. Nora’s fate, and whatever connection she might be developing with Ray, are still up in the air. Zari’s quest to avert her dystopian future is still unresolved, and rather than having any big, emotional revelation, she simply affirms that she’s begun to see the Legends as her home and family, and starts to develop a new potential character arc flirting with Jonah Hex.
The only character who gets a big, powerful, this-is-what-their-story-has-been-building-to-all-season moment is Rip, and even that moment happens very abruptly, with no buildup and surprisingly little impact on the rest of the episode.
As I was watching the episode, I began to feel a little disappointed that this season finale didn’t seem to be building to the culmination of our characters’ stories, the way I’ve come to expect from sister shows Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl. But one thing that’s always set Legends of Tomorrow apart from the rest of the Arrowverse is that, rather than being built around an individual hero, it’s a true ensemble piece, where the team is the star more than any one character. And as the episode went on, I began to appreciate that this finale marked a pivotal moment, not for any particular character, but for the Legends as a whole.
The season began with the Legends being stripped of their mission and their ship, judged to be a pack of irresponsible idiots, not fit to be trusted with the responsibilities of fixing time. But now, at the darkest hour, they are entrusted with the fate of the world, both by Rip, the man who relieved them of duty, and by the cosmic forces that guide the totems to the heroes needed to wield them. The Legends save the world from a primordial force of evil, proving that they are more than just a collection of idiots and rejects, that they can come together into something greater.
That something greater just happens to be a giant version of Beebo.
Okay, enough with “themes” and “character arcs” and all that malarky, let’s get down to what matters. The Legends merge together into a giant version of Furby/Tickle-Me-Elmo knockoff Beebo and kick the crap out of Mallus. And it was the most awesome moment of television I’ve seen in . . . I don’t even know how long.
What makes the scene so glorious is, I’m not sure any other TV show, outside of animation, could have done it. There are other live-action shows which might think giant cuddly toy vs. evil demon would be a fun way to end an episode. I could see The Flash or Supernatural using the concept, and it would be right up the alley of something like Xena: Warrior Princess. But for those shows, the concept itself would be about all they could do. The giant Beebo would appear, say something ridiculous and adorable, then simply step on Mallus, killing him instantly. There just wouldn’t be the budget to do anything else.
Because what Legends did with the battle between Beebo and Mallus had to be insanely expensive. Simply having two entirely different CGI characters on-screen at once, in broad daylight, is already going to be a strain on the effects budget. To then have them engage in a several minute long fight scene, with wrestling moves, kung-fu poses, varied facial expressions, and a plummet through the air ending a heart-shaped explosion of blue fur . . . I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything on TV like it.
Because the only way a TV show can do a scene like that, can justify the enormous amounts of money needed to make it happen, is if the scene is truly vital, if it’s worth cutting the budget from every other episode to make it happen. It has to be something the whole season has been building to. Xena or Supernatural might go to some wild and goofy places for their one-off episodes, but when it comes time to conclude their major story arcs, they want you to take what happens seriously. To make the climax of your season, the defeat of your Big Bad, such an absurdly silly spectacle: there, Legends stands alone.
This episode marks the end of Legends of Tomorrow Season 3, and while the series has been renewed for a fourth season, it will be many months before new episodes of the show are back on our screens. So until then, in thanks for giving us what nothing else on TV could, I’ll say what I’ve said before:
God, I love this silly little show.
- Giant Beebo fighting Mallus.
- Hallucination!Prometheus was fantastic; the character was pretty much designed to be a sadistic tormentor from inside Oliver’s own head. Though, just as you shouldn’t remind viewers of a better movie while they’re watching your crappy movie, don’t remind us how awesome last year’s villain was while this year’s villain is still just . . . there.
- Oliver got impeached this week. That’s theoretically a major development, if it lasts. I’m not sure that it will. But in the meantime, Quentin Lance has officially become Mayor Deputy Mayor Captain Officer Detective Lance.
- Felicity and William continue to be absolutely adorable together.
- I get that Oliver might keep his old Hood costume lying around. But does he really still have a can of green face paint leftover from Season 1?
- Giant Beebo fighting Mallus.
- The main plot of The Flash was weak this episode, but I continue to love The Sorrowful Saga of Marlize DeVoe. Her dawning horror as she realizes what her husband has done to her, and how long he’s been doing it, is disturbing and heartbreaking, and I can’t get enough of it.
- As for the subplot with Cisco and Danny Trejo . . . eh.
- I did like that they acknowledged that Gypsy hasn’t been around much lately. I assumed she’d teamed up with Lyra from Supergirl to do a trans-dimensional Thelma & Louise
- So, if Jay and Silent Bob exist in the Arrowverse, does that mean it and the View Askewniverse are one and the same?
- Giant. Beebo. Fighting. Mallus
- This week’s Black Lightning reiterates that the Pierces moved into a different house to hide from the ASA, but seems to realize how ineffective that is with them still going to school everyday, so now they relocate to a different safe house. Let’s hope they don’t screw it up by forwarding their mail there or something.
- If the ASA finds out Green Lighters can pass powers down to their children, their experiments are gonna get even ickier, aren’t they?
- Giant Beebo fighting Mallus? Giant Beebo fighting Mallus.
- Legends of Tomorrow often feels like the story a kid would make up by throwing all their action figures together. This week’s episode almost makes that literal. In the middle of doing Romans, pirates, and Vikings vs. superheroes, cowboys, and Amazons, the kid decides to throw in their Beebo toy, its size completely out of proportion to all the other toys, and just has it stomp everyone else.
- I talked so much about the Beebo scene, I didn’t even mention the Legends’ first attempt at creating the ultimate warrior. I don’t know what I love more: how thoroughly disgusting it is (sending up a spray of goo was a fantastic touch), that I’m almost certain it was a Fullmetal Alchemist reference, or that Mick’s immediate reaction was to literally kill-it-with-fire.
- One scene that didn’t sit right with me in this week’s Legends was Rip’s death. It was performed wonderfully, it does make sense as part of Rip’s efforts for atonement, and lines like “I should very much like to see my wife and son again” and “No more than I’ll miss you, Rip” really did hit me in the feels. But it was just so abrupt, and didn’t have nearly the impact on the rest of the episode that it should have.
- Now, I don’t have any inside information on the production of this episode, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Arthur Darville wasn’t available to film the finale, and his death scene was written in at the last minute to explain his absence from the rest of the episode. Note that that he never shares the screen with any other cast members, meaning his scenes could have been shot before filming for this episode officially began, or after it had officially wrapped. Again, no inside information on my part, but given how abrupt his departure was . . . well, you watch enough TV, you get a sense for when the story’s being written around an actor’s availability.
- It wasn’t until Mick referenced “those stupid hawk flying chicken people” that I realized Nate/Amaya is essentially just another version of Kendra/Ray’s in-love-but-doomed-to-be-apart-by-destiny thing from Season 1. Just, y’know, much better executed.
- Giant Beebo . . . fighting Mallus.
MVP of the Week: . . . C’mon. Y’know who this has gotta be.
Question of the Week: Who would you cast as each hero’s long lost sibling?