Supergirl 3×16: “Of Two Minds”, The Flash 4×20: “Therefore She Is”, and Arrow 6×21: “Docket No. 11-19-41-73” reviews
A solid week all around for our trio of remaining Arrowverse shows. Not best-of-the-season stuff from any of them, but all very competent, entertaining, and doing some stuff a little different from their usual. Call me a happy camper.
Supergirl 3×16: “Of Two Minds” review
Wow, we’ve gotten a lot of “to kill or not to kill?” episodes from our Arrowverse shows this season. The Flash, Arrow, Black Lightning, even Legends of Tomorrow (kinda) have all done it. But who would’ve thought Supergirl would be the one to handle it with the most nuance?
From its inception, Supergirl has been the most optimistic and least morally ambiguous of all the Arrowverse shows. If Kara decides something is the right thing to do, 99% of the time it is the right thing to do, and even if doing it should have some negative consequences, it won’t, because doing the right thing means things turn out right.
So when this episode began with Imra talking about killing Pestilence to stop the Blight in the future, and Kara put her foot down against the idea, I thought I knew how things were going to go. The “no killing” argument would be established (rather hamfistedly) as the correct one, partly because this show despises cynicism and pragmatism, and partly because it’s the side that Kara’s on.
But as the episode continued, it was with dawning amazement that I realized they weren’t going that route. Imra was allowed to make valid points for her position, Kara was given reasons to doubt her own, and the episode ends with neither of them being proven right, or proven wrong. That may be bare bones how-to-handle-a-moral-dilemma-in-fiction tactics, but compared to how Supergirl usually handles this sort of thing, and how the other Arrowverse shows have handled the issue of killing villains, it is refreshingly complex.
Part of what makes this plot work, where many other debates over killing bad guys have fallen flat, is how many complicating factors are at play. It’s not just that Pestilence is dangerous and has given Imra reason to want revenge on her (though those are definitely factors). There’s also the fact that the World Killers have a Jekyll/Hyde situation going on, so killing Pestilence also means killing a normal woman who didn’t necessarily want to be part of this. Then there’s the old kill-Hitler-as-a-baby concept: Imra is from the future, and knows for a fact that Supergirl fails to stop Pestilence, so defeating her requires doing something that Supergirl would never do. Those complications give us a lot more to chew on this episode than just the old “They need to die for what they’ve done!”/“No, you don’t want to be that sort of person!” spiels.
But what also makes this moral dilemma work so well is that the episode isn’t really about the dilemma itself. It’s about Kara and Imra, two very stubborn people, convinced they know what’s best, being put on opposite sides of an issue and having to learn to respect each other’s position. By Supergirl’s standards, the episode is really quite subtle about this point. No one comes out and says that’s what they both need to learn, but it becomes clear as both Kara and Imra say that the other one “won’t listen to reason” . . . by which they mean “won’t agree with me”. As far as they’re concerned, what they’ve decided is right is so obviously right, anyone without their head up their ass should be able to see the truth of it.
It’s a nice touch that, in the big showdown, Kara fails to redeem Pestilence, and Imra fails to kill her, and they’re both left questioning their own position. And when they talk about it afterwards, Kara gives Imra a pep talk telling her she’s not wrong for wanting to kill Pestilence, while Imra gives Kara a pep talk telling her she’s not wrong for refusing to kill Pestilence.
Again, this is hardly a masterclass on moral ambiguity, but it adds an extra layer of maturity to Supergirl the show and Supergirl the character, and lets this episode rise well above the pack.
The Flash 4×20: “Therefore She Is” review
We’ve gotten some great new characters this year on The Flash. Ralph was a lot of fun, and will hopefully get a resurrection before the season’s over. Amunet Black is an absolute delight. And while a lot of people don’t care for him, I actually quite like the Thinker as a villain.
But if anyone’s going to get the Best New Character of the Season award (assuming such an award exists) it’s gotta be my gal, Marlize DeVoe.
The villain’s paramour, who has a stronger conscience than he does, but is manipulated and abused into backing his evil plans, is hardly a new character type. Superhero fiction is practically overflowing with them, with the Joker’s girlfriend Harley Quinn being the poster girl for the trope.
What makes Marlize stand out is the amount of empathy she’s given. I’m not talking about sympathy; the villain’s paramour is often the subject of sympathy. But empathy is something slightly different: it’s not just feeling for someone, but sharing their feelings yourself, seeing their situation from their point of view.
When we first saw Clifford and Marlize take center stage back in “Therefore I Am”, it was easy to fall in love with them as a couple. Their affection for each other felt natural, and their belief that what they were doing served a greater good seemed genuine. Even though they were our bad guys, and had been, directly or indirectly, responsible for several deaths, you still wanted to root for them a little.
It’s only been gradually that Clifford DeVoe has revealed himself as the more monstrous of the pair. As the season has gone on, he’s performed increasing acts of cruelty and arrogance, and he’s ceased to treat Marlize as his partner and more as his tool, to be used and manipulated without pity. And the show has let us discover this side of Clifford with Marlize. We begin to see his true colors at the same time she does, and we’re asked to follow along with her as her attachment to her husband frays. In many ways, the Thinker story arc this season has been as much Marlize’s story as it’s been anyone else’s.
This week, we jump back in time to see how Marlize first met and came to love Clifford DeVoe. It’s easy for us to see in Clifford the arrogance, the need for control that will come to consume him. But you can also see how Marlize could look past those warning signs, to see a man who is sweet, funny, and above all passionate. Passionate about her, and passionate about his dream of a better world. If only she had realized which of those passions would come to dominate their lives.
Marlize DeVoe is no Harley Quinn. The Joker is such a complete and gleefully unrepentant monster, the only way Harley could believe his love for her or anyone else is genuine is because she’s just that crazy. We’re asked to feel sympathy for her, maybe even understand her in a broad sense, but you’re not expected to see yourself making the same decisions she would if put in her place.
Maybe most of us wouldn’t agree to lobotomize the world’s population if our lovers asked us to, granted. But put in Marlize’s position, we can perhaps see ourselves wanting to agree, wanting to believe that this man who seems to love us so is not so wrong as all that. Wanting to repay the devotion he’s shown us with devotion of our own.
I know many people don’t care for the DeVoe storyline, find it too repetitive, with a villain who’s always frustratingly ten moves ahead. While I can see those flaws, I still find it to be the best story arc The Flash has done since its first season, and Marlize is the number one reason why. Her story this year has been so rich and fleshed out and soaked in tragedy, the moment when she finally stands up to Clifford and escapes from him made me want to cheer. It’s her story I’m dying to see resolved in the episodes ahead more than anyone else’s.
I mean, she kicks ass with a katana while wearing a white lab coat? What’s not to love?
Arrow 6×21: “Docket No. 11-19-41-73” review
Well, that’s the “Oliver on trial” arc over and done with.
I’ve been saying for a while now that Arrow Season 6 just doesn’t seem to know how to make a story build from one episode to the next. Plot turns will happen without the necessary setup to make them plausible, and potential for interesting stories will be squandered, leaving the season to go down less interesting avenues.
This episode goes halfway towards rectifying that problem. Almost everything that happens here is built on a solid foundation in the show’s history. Every part of the prosecution’s case against Oliver, and every part of his defense, is built on bringing back characters and plot points (some quite obscure) from not just this season, but the entire breadth of the series. Oliver’s previous arrests for vigilantism, Susan Williams’s discovery of Oliver’s Bratva connections, the doctor who was present when Laurel died, Dinah’s revenge killings, the numerous injuries and other disasters Diggle in his guise as bodyguard . . .
By having both sides of the courtroom drama make use only of resources established in past episodes, “Docket No. 11-19-41-73” plays fair with the audience. Bringing back the Human Target to pose as the Green Arrow, or discrediting Dinah by implicating her in murder, feel like legitimately clever maneuvers because they’re something an attentive fan could have thought of if they were making these cases themselves. Had they pulled never-before-seen pieces of evidence out of their ass, there would have been little to make the back-and-forth here feel compelling.
So, building off of past storylines? Well done.
Building up new storylines for the future? There we still have a problem.
‘Cause, in the end, it looks like nothing much has come of Oliver’s trial. After spending most of a season dealing with his investigation and prosecution, ultimately what happens is Oliver puts the secret back in the bottle, like he has twice before, and can return to living his double life in peace. For all the shocking swerves within this episode, in terms of the overall season’s arc, what we get is an anti-climax.
I’m not sure what I would have wanted instead. Oliver being convicted and going on the lam? Being exposed as the Green Arrow but cleared of all charges? Faking his death to put an end to the trial and investigation?
Each of those possibilities has its own potential rewards, as well as potential pitfalls, but they’d at least promise a change, something different from the show going forward. And when you’re nearing the end of your sixth season, trying something different becomes increasingly important. Instead, we’re back to the status quo, and we’re left wondering how much would really be different if this investigation arc never happened.
So, going into the final two episodes of the season, I’m not exactly hyped. Still, taken on its own merits, this was an entertaining episode, trading the usual fisticuffs for legal sparring, with plenty of twists to keep things interesting.
- Winn got a really good “I think I’m gonna die” scene. Jeremy Jordan can really bring the waterworks when the script gives him a reason to.
- Also doing great work were Odette Annabelle as Sam and Katie McGrath as Lena. We’ve never been given much backstory on how these two became friends, but they sell the hell out of it here. Though I’m beginning to think that Supergirl’s directors don’t know how to shoot female friendship scenes without making them look lesbian-riffic.
- Now all three World Killers are together, and apparently they grow stronger when they’re together. Between that and the vision Kara got about their arrival, I’m a little unclear on if they’re supposed to be the result of Kryptonian super-science or actual magic.
- So, I kinda spent my entire Flash review talking about Marlize, and didn’t spare a single word for Gypsy or her breakup with Cisco. I am sorry about that, but . . . well, Gypsy hasn’t exactly been on the show a lot lately, and with this episode hinting at a breakup from the word “Go”, I was kinda prepared for her to be gone. I don’t know if they just couldn’t think of anything to do with her, or if there was trouble with the actor’s availability, but it’s kind of a bummer, since she’s always been a fun if not terribly fleshed out character.
- I don’t normally think of Carlos Valdes as doing great dramatic work (mainly because, when I think of Cisco being dramatic, I think of the dead-brother-angst plot from early Season 3). But when breaking up with and saying goodbye to Gypsy, he reminds you of how good he can be when the situation calls for it.
- Barry continues to suck at being a leader, but when he tries forcing Cisco and Gypsy to resolve their differences, he at least sucks in kind of a funny, sweet way. It’s less “(grrr) Barry, you dope!” and more “(chuckles) Barry, you dope.”
- Harry’s deteriorating mental state is being played more for laughs than for pathos, which makes me feel pretty confident they’re gonna find a way to fix it. Which I don’t mind: him and DA Cecile Horton are always a hoot together.
- Dumbing down everyone on Earth to get rid of technology is pretty bonkers, yeah. However, The Flash is set in a world where, nine times out of ten, advanced technology just creates supervillains. I mean, in the last few years, how many times has a bad guy used a doomsday machine to almost destroy the world?
- Wally gave Cecile a bassinet that used to belong to Moses. That is just awesome.
- And our mystery girl appears again. The big, obvious reveal about her is that she’s a speedster with yellow-and-purple lightning, but I’m more concerned by the fact that she urges Joe and Cecile to enjoy the happy moments while they last. Given she’s almost certainly from the future, that sounds way too much like horrible things being foreshadowed.
- This week’s Arrow, apparently nervous that people be bored by the idea of a courtroom drama episode, kicks things off with one of the show’s biggest and silliest action scenes to date. Like, how many guys did John Diggle just shoot and blow up?
- Let’s address the big scene: the return of “Tommy Merlyn”. I’d been spoiled for the Human Target twist going in, so the scene didn’t have the same impact for me it might have for others. But Colin O’Donnell was fantastic in the part, absolutely oozing charisma. I particularly loved the casual way he assures everyone he’ll be escaping from custody as soon as he’s done testifying.
- And it was a smart idea to have this wild gambit not be what sets Oliver free (especially since they already did the same thing with Roy Harper in Season 3, and The Flash did something similar to exonerate Barry earlier this season). That made the even wilder gambit of Christopher Chance replacing the judge a clever surprise.
- I know lots of people will complain about how this episode craps all over how the legal system works, but I think Arrow was smart in establishing that everyone in Star City’s legal system is corrupt, which lets pretty much anything be allowed.
- Ricardo Diaz has a device which nullifies Laurel’s sonic scream. Y’know, if the show had revealed that several episodes ago, her being so scared of him would’ve made a lot more sense.
- While Diaz is still mostly a washout as a villain, him showing up in court with Rene’s daughter was genuinely creepy.
- Speaking of Rene . . . was he replaced with a pod person this episode? Or was he replaced with a pod person at some point mid-season, and now the real him is back? ‘Cause he spent this whole episode being reasonable, having a sense of priorities, and an ability to admit when he’s wrong. Just . . . what happened?
MVP of the Week: Marlize DeVoe.
You go, girl!
Question of the Week: What’s the silliest thing any of these heroes has done to keep their secret identity?