Yes, folks, I am still alive. Between an insane work schedule and some computer problems, I had to skip a week of “This/Last Week In The Arrowverse”, and couldn’t get this one to you till Wednesday. There was no question of just not covering the episodes from that week, though, since that’s when we had The Flash‘s season finale.
So this week, we’ll be covering two episodes of Supergirl, the final episode of The Flash Season 4, and hopefully the last such major delay before the Arrowverse season wraps up in just a couple weeks.
Supergirl 3×19: “The Fanatical” review
If you listened closely while this episode of Supergirl played, you may have noticed a certain sound. A sound that, while difficult to convey in text, went at least a little something like this:
Hrm-hrm . . . ehya . . .
That sound, gentle readers, is Supergirl clearing its throat.
We are entering the closing stretch of Supergirl’s third season, and with the last couple episodes bringing many long-running plotlines to a head, it’s understandable that the focus now is on setting everything up for the inevitable climax. But rather than establishing a bunch of new plot points that will be important in the episodes ahead, “The Fanatical” mostly deals with plot points that have already been established, clarifying or reminding us of what’s going on in the characters’ lives, but not adding many developments of its own to the mix.
Lena now distrusts Supergirl, not realizing the Girl of Steel is her best friend, Kara. Reign is in confinement. Alex is looking after Ruby until Sam is cured. Mon-El is looking to re-explore his feelings for Kara with the blessing of his wife. Myrnn is suffering from Martian dementia. Covill, the Kryptonian-worshipping cult leader, is working on behalf of the World Killers. Kara is struggling with the duality of Supergirl and Kara Danvers. And James is still Guardian.
Some of these were established last episode, while others have been part of the season for a while, but none of them are new. And, for the most part, none of them are changed by episode’s end. We get some exploration of how Kara feels, knowing how Lena feels about Supergirl, and of how Ruby is dealing with her mom being a supervillain, but no actual changes to their situations. This is an episode that’s not interested in moving any of these plots forward, but simply in touching base with all of them, presumably so they’ll be fresh and clear in viewers’ minds when they come to a head in the following weeks.
It’s the narrative equivalent of someone clearing their throat, of getting ready to say something, but not really saying anything just yet. But a full hour of throat clearing (minus commercials)? That makes for some dull television.
There were a couple new developments here. We learn that the World Killers were created using a special space rock, and if Kara and Mon-El go into space to get some, they can use it to reverse the process on Reign. We also learn that Reign is becoming immune to kryptonite, so they’ve got a ticking clock until she breaks out of her cell. We also have James raise the idea of publically revealing himself as Guardian, though since he phrases that as something he might do someday, I’m not expecting any immediate payoff.
But overall, this is an episode that you can probably just leave playing in the background while you wash dishes or reorganize your closet. So long as you catch next episode’s “Previously on Supergirl”, you won’t be missing much of anything.
- When Kara says she can’t tell Lena the truth because it would destroy Lena’s trust in Kara? That I can buy as a motivation. When Kara and James say that keeping Lena in the dark somehow protects her? That’s total bullcrap. Lena is already fully involved in the world of superheroics, and literally everyone else Kara cares about knows her secret identity now, so why should Lena get special protection?
- It is good that Kara realizes how she’s been projecting her friendship with Lena onto Lena’s relationship with Supergirl. However, trying to connect it to what the villain-of-the-week was going through was a real
- James talking about how people would react differently to Guardian if they knew he was black is an interesting idea, but it’s hampered by the fact that his Guardian identity is so underdeveloped. I mean, I wasn’t even sure if he was still doing regular crimefighting; we’ve seen him suit up a few times this season, but always for reasons directly related to the episode’s plot, and usually when he needs to do something covert. We certainly don’t know anything about how Guardian is perceived by the public. Is he a beloved hero who gets the Key to the City and a jaunty salute from police officers? Or is he a feared vigilante who gets called a menace by the very people he’s protecting? Without that sort of background info, his conflict in this episode lacks the clearly defined stakes it needs to function.
- All of Alex’s efforts to bond with Ruby, and she never thinks to bring up that, when she wasn’t much older than Ruby, her father was kidnapped by an evil terrorist organization? I imagine that’d help with the whole “I know what you’re going through” shtick.
Supergirl 3×20: “Dark Side of the Moon” review
This episode is the worst mistake Supergirl has ever made.
It’s not the worst episode of Supergirl. It’s not even a bad episode of Supergirl. It’s mediocre, average at best, but it has one decent action scene, a nice character arc for Lena, and a couple shocking reveals, so it’s not an unpleasant way to spend an hour. It’s a serviceable but uninspired episode, not much different from a dozen other serviceable but uninspired episodes Supergirl has produced.
And that’s the problem. That Supergirl’s writers took an episode with this premise, and all they could deliver was a dose of same-old-same-old? That is a blunder almost too large to comprehend.
Because, in this week’s episode, Kara Zor-El finds her mom.
More than that. Years after Krypton’s destruction, Kara discovers her home city of Argo, preserved by a forcefield and floating in space, its people still alive, including her mother, Alura.
This is the most massive and incredible moment in Kara’s life since the day she landed on Earth. For years, she believed her mother was dead. For years, she believed her cousin Kal-El was her only surviving family. For years, she believed that, beyond her cousin and a handful of villains, she was all that remained of Krypton, of the world, of the culture, of the society she grew up in. Now she finds that her mother is still alive, is able to hold her in her arms, and stands in the city of her childhood, still alive and bustling with her own people.
And there’s no emotional weight to any of it.
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to break this episode down with simple math. If you subtract commercials, “Dark Side of the Moon” is 42 minutes long. 11 minutes in, Kara discovers that this city floating in space is Argo, and by the 12 minute mark she and her mother have spotted each other and rushed into a hug. That’s fine, as far as it goes. But from that hug forward (and I counted), Kara and Alura have only 14 minutes of total screentime, and that’s if you count the montage of events back on Earth that has Kara’s voiceover.
30 minutes are left in the episode after mother and daughter reunite, and over half of that time is spent on other characters and other storylines, storylines that can’t hope to have the dramatic potential of our lead hero reconnecting with the mother and the home she had thought dead for so long.
And those scant 14 minutes with Kara and Alura, are they tightly focused on the emotional impact this reunion must be having on each character? No, no, no, no, no. Nope.
See, Kara found Argo while looking for the space rock needed to stop Reign, so virtually all of her time on Argo must be spent on two things: delivering exposition about why she needs the space rock, and jumping through the hoops needed to make Argo’s city council give her the space rock. Seeing her mother and her civilization for the first time since she was a child? That’s just something in the background of advancing the episode’s plot. Even the one scene devoted solely to Kara and Alura reconnecting is mostly just Kara giving yet more exposition about her life on Earth, rather than delving deep into any sort of emotion.
And it’s not like the idea of the episode is that Kara makes this major, life-changing discovery, but is forced to leave before she can even process or appreciate it because the situation back on Earth is just that dire. The plot on Argo is allowed to move at a leisurely pace, with Kara there for what appears to be at least most of a day. It’s just that the writers don’t seem to see anything interesting to be mined from the situation other than the plot mechanics needed to advance the Reign storyline.
That is where this episode fails. It fails itself, it fails Supergirl, and it fails Kara. The most important and emotionally significant event to happen to Kara since the series began, possibly the most important and emotionally significant event that could happen to Kara, and all they built from it was an average episode of Supergirl. Kara spends most of her time trying to Get The Macguffin that will Stop The Bad Thing, with a few small emotional moments (nothing too big) along the way, and plenty of time devoted to B- and C-stories involving the extended cast. There’s no indication that anyone tried to make this episode something special, that they even realized it should be something special.
The story of Kara finding her mother and her home needed more time. It needed all of this episode’s time. Alex’s subplot tracking down an assassin? That should have been cut. Winn bonding with Ruby? That should have been cut. Lena trying to kill Reign with Kryptonite? That might be important later, but if so, shuffle it off to next week’s episode; this week, it should have been cut. Let most of the main cast appear in one short scene at the very beginning, and devote the rest to Kara on Argo.
Give Kara a chance to react to what’s happened. Give her a chance to do more on Argo besides deliver exposition and move the plot forward. Let her bond with her mother, really bond. Let them reminisce about their time together so long ago, the pain they’ve felt since losing each other, the different people they’ve grown into. Let them cry.
And let Kara explore more of Argo than just her mother’s rooms and the council chamber. This was where she grew up. This was the society that raised her. Have her discover a friend she hasn’t seen since childhood. Have her join a group of worshippers as they pray to Rao. Have her watch children playing a Kryptonian game she played when she was their age, and had almost forgotten during her time on Earth. Have her simply take in everything around her, and let us see what it means to her on her face.
Above all, have this episode be special. Have it mean something.
I’m aware of the logistical problems involved. More time spent on Argo means more sets need to be built, and more guest characters need to be given lines, which adds up to more money. Spending so much time on Kara could make the filming schedule difficult for Melissa Benoist. Conversely, the other cast members might not appreciate being so thoroughly sidelined for an episode. But if there’s any episode of Supergirl that deserved that extra effort, that extra sacrifice, it’s this one.
They had one chance to tell this story, one chance to show Kara and Alura finding each other again, possibly the most dramatic development Supergirl can ever hope to have. And they wasted it. They wasted it on dull routine. They wasted it on formulaic structure. They wasted it on a complete lack of ambition.
Alura and the city of Argo will undoubtedly return in the episodes ahead, but this moment, this moment of shining potential? That will never come again.
Y’know, I had some stray observations, but screw you, episode. You don’t deserve them.
The Flash 4×23: “We Are the Flash” (SEASON FINALE) review
So this is it, the season finale of The Flash, the final showdown between our heroes and their nemesis, the Thinker, with the fate of the world at stake. And it . . . was pretty fun.
That’s my main takeaway. This was a fun episode of The Flash. Sending Barry into the Thinker’s mind to fight him is a clever and creative way to handle the final battle. It brings several plot threads from throughout the season together in a satisfying way. The Thinker’s final defeat ties nicely into the season (and series) wide theme of love and friendship being the real superpowers. And as one of the few people who really liked The Matrix: Reloaded, the visual references to it here were a nice touch.
But it’s a little disappointing if the best thing you can say about a season finale is “it was pretty fun”, isn’t it?
Previous seasons have had finales that provided huge turning points in the lives of Barry Allen and his friends. Major characters died, epiphanies were reached, and the show tried its darndest to give us an emotional gut punch. Here, while there were some significant developments for Harry and Ralph, and Joe and Cecile finally had their baby, there’s not really much to the story beyond, “We beat the bad guy! Let’s celebrate!” (note: not an actual quote from the episode)
That can be at least partly chalked up to how rushed the episode feels. Had there been a little more time to dig in and develop certain aspects of the story, rather than sprinting from one plot point to the next, the episode might have felt weightier.
Instead, the Enlightenment begins, Iris brings Marlize in to help them stop it, she lays out her plan to pull an Inception on Clifford, and they send Barry into the villain’s mind, all in the first five minutes. The cure for Harry’s erased intellect is whipped up during a commercial break, and his return to (almost) normal intelligence and his bidding adieu to Team Flash all happens in a single scene. The other characters’ friendship with Ralph is stated to be the key reason they succeeded, but after Ralph re-emerges, he’s given no real moments of connection or even conversation with anyone else.
And despite all the character development given to Clifford DeVoe this season, and despite a plot that’s literally about looking deep inside Clifford to find the good in him, this episode nixes the idea of interesting character exploration by showing that there really is just no good left in him, letting our heroes focus on helping Ralph regain control of his body and erase the Thinker entirely. And because of how they’ve been rushing through plot, they achieve this with over a third of the episode still left to go.
Which brings us to the rather bizarre decision to have the Thinker reappear almost immediately after his defeat, be killed again almost as quickly, and with barely any effort, but lasting just long enough to send a killer satellite plummeting towards Central City, which our heroes have to stop. It’s an extra bit of over-the-top action that seems to serve no purpose beyond adding several minutes to the runtime, forcing the rest of the episode to be more condensed than it should have been.
But I think I can see the reasoning behind it. Since the Thinker’s initial defeat happened entirely inside his mindscape, there was no way for Mystery Speedster Woman to show up and lend a hand stopping him. So they had to have something else catastrophically important happen that she could get involved with, otherwise we don’t get the “I think I made a big, big mistake” cliffhanger.
The Flash has always ended its seasons on cliffhangers, but this is the first time it feels like a season finale is just as focused on setting up next season as it is with resolving the current one. Aside from the contortions they had to do to get their Nora From The Future ending, we also have Harry (at his moment of lowest intelligence) babbling the same words Barry did after coming out of the Speed Force, and a creepy hint at Caitlyn’s Killer Frost past involving someone named Thomas, neither of which is explored here, because those will undoubtedly be part of Season 5’s plot.
Maybe, once the fifth season rolls around, The Flash will blow our minds so thoroughly that all this setup will seem well worth it. Right now, though, I wish this finale had been designed to focus more on ending this season rather than starting the next one, and had achieved a little more than some fun, beat-the-bad-guy spectacle.
- Despite his dwindling intelligence mostly being played for laughs till now, Harry gets the episode’s best moment of pathos. Using his very last moment of intelligent thought to hug Cisco? That got my waterworks going.
- The Thinker’s defeat seemed a little too easy, and came a little too quickly, but Ralph’s voice and personality re-emerging was still a triumphant delight.
- Neil Sandilands can do a great “Run, Mr. Allen. Run.” Given the “technological reincarnation” thing he did, it would be fairly easy to have him make return appearances if they wanted to.
- Wally reappears, which is nice, but like Joe said last episode: he’s a time traveler; he has no excuse for being late.
- Jenna Marie West looks absolutely terrified to be at that party.
MVP of the Week: Harry Wells.
You were a dick, but we liked you anyway.
Question of the Week: What’s the coolest premise in the Arrowverse that you wish they’d done more with?