This Week In The Arrowverse: 10/22/2018 – 10/28/2018: “What Would Green Arrow Do?”

Supergirl 4×02: “Fallout”, Arrow 7×02: “The Longbow Hunters”, Legends of Tomorrow 4×01: “The Virgin Gary”, and The Flash 5×03: “The Death of Vibe” reviews

It’s the week we’ve been waiting for! Legends of Tomorrow is back for another season of screwups and shenanigans, and all our other Arrowverse shows had new episodes out as well. It’s a full plate of superhero action, so let’s dive right into it, people!

 

Supergirl - Fallout

Supergirl 4×02: “Fallout” review

Supergirl does not do subtlety.

When there’s a message it wants to deliver, it will leave not a single shred of ambiguity about what that message is. Characters will openly state what values they represent, recite political memes and slogans from real life so we know which side they’re on, and will turn ordinary conversations into speeches about the issues they’re grappling with. And, this week, we open on racist protestors and anti-racist counter-protestors getting into a brawl in front of the White House, causing the American flag to go toppling to the ground, only for Supergirl to catch it at the last second and set it right again, declaring that we shouldn’t let ourselves become divided. Had the episode ended with Melissa Benoist turning to face the audience and delivering a PSA about bigotry, it wouldn’t even have been surprising.

Often, this complete aversion to subtlety can be eye-rolling. Unless you’re going for full ironic detachment (something even more foreign to Supergirl than subtlety is), enjoying a fictional story requires some suspension of disbelief, an ability to watch something that you know is fake, but, in the moment, react to it as though it were real. If you’re consciously aware that the story you’re watching is trying to teach you a lesson, then you’re consciously aware that what you’re watching is just a story, something made up by writers who wanted to deliver a message. You’re not going to be as engrossed in what’s going on, because the story’s drawn attention to its own artificiality, like a puppet show where the strings have been covered in tinsel so you can’t forget they’re there.

It’s hard not to wish “Fallout” had shown a little more restraint in its efforts to comment on current events, that conversations between characters felt more natural, like things real people would say, rather than obviously rehearsed speeches, turning them into mouthpieces in a Socratic dialogue. However, in other ways, this heavy-handed approach has served to crank up the tension in this season’s story.

Previous seasons of Supergirl were content to start off with a series of standalone episodes; by the time the end credits rolled, the bad guys would be defeated, the good guys would get their happy ending, and lessons about trust and tolerance would be learned by all. But this season, Supergirl is amping up the intensity right out of the gate. The bad guys are winning, the good guys are suffering, and some impassioned speeches by Supergirl or James Olsen can’t stop the rising tide of hate. The racism metaphor may be thunderingly obvious, but with that obviousness, the threat facing our heroes and the consequences if they fail are made brutally clear.

Undoubtedly, we’ll soon be getting a light at the end of the tunnel. Poisoning Earth’s atmosphere with Kryptonite so that Kara can no longer survive on the planet? That can’t last for much longer than an episode, two at the most. But that ending scene, where Supergirl, self-proclaimed symbol of hope, falls from the sky because the Earth itself has rejected her . . . it may not be subtle, but dang if it isn’t powerful.

Stray Observations:

  • The new President’s gonna be a bad guy, right? I don’t think they’d have that scene of Kara promising her loyalty to the institution he represents unless that loyalty is going to be tested later. Plus, given Supergirl’s politics, I can’t imagine replacing a female President with another old white guy is meant to be seen as a positive move.
  • So far, Nicole Maines is looking to be a great addition to the cast. That she can recite Supergirl’s heavy-handed dialogue and still make the character endearing and almost natural, that is a talent to cherish.
  • For all I talked about the lack of subtlety on display, there were moments where Brainy’s story did feel less like a topical commentary and more like a depiction of what this specific character would go through when faced with bigotry. The way it rattled and confused him was easily the emotional highlight of the episode. “I know that people fear what they do not know, but . . . Massimo knew me.”
  • That said, there are certain writing challenges to having a character whose superpower is “12th Level Intellect”. They wanted to have Alex show how smart she is by spotting the hologram in the holding cells, but it really doesn’t make sense that Brainy, watching the same footage, wouldn’t figure that out first.
  • For all the heavy subject matter this episode, the extended chase/fight scene at L Corp, where Kara has to protect Eve and Lena without revealing she’s Supergirl, is exactly the sort of hilarious, old-school superheroics we come to these shows for. Plus, Lena and Mercy going at it with power gauntlets was just plain badass.
  • I’ve never had apples and olives on pizza, but now I kinda want to try it.

 

Arrow - Longbow Hunters

Arrow 7×02: “The Longbow Hunters” review

Until this week, I’d honestly forgotten that Arrow could be fun.

Sure, there were fun moments in last week’s premiere. And even in the dreariest, most frustrating parts of Season 6, you could count on a few funny lines and some exciting action beats. But having an episode that, as a whole, is a breezy and exhilarating adventure? It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of those.

It’s not that “The Longbow Hunters” doesn’t spend a lot of time on developing characters or establishing plot points that will be needed later. And it does have Team Arrow fighting amongst itself, Laurel shifting her morality, and Ricardo Diaz getting away yet again, all hallmarks of last season’s more miserable stretches. What lets this episode do all that and still be a fun ride is that it doesn’t lose sight of telling its own, complete story.

Oliver needs to get info on Diaz from Brick; to do that, he must find a way to eliminate the resident asshole prison guard. Diaz and the Longbow Hunters have stolen some technology that could be used for evil, so John and Felicity work together to get it back. Laurel is on her own revenge mission against Diaz, while Dinah is obligated to keep her safe, and by the end Dinah has brought Laurel around to accepting her protection. And in flashforward land, while the story is still a drawn-out mystery, even William’s search for a specific grave gives us a conflict that can be introduced and resolved in a single episode.

Each of these plots advances a larger story arc, but by giving the characters immediate, clearly defined goals that they must succeed or fail at by episode’s end, this episode feels dynamic and energized in a way Arrow hasn’t for a good long while. It may not be a standalone episode in the traditional sense, but neither is it the kind of hyper-serialized, just-one-chapter-in-a-novel episode that’s become so prevalent on TV today. By the time the end credits role, you feel like you’ve watched a complete story, with its own beginning, middle, and end, and had lots of fun along the way.

Adding to this sense of fun are our new baddies, the Longbow Hunters, a group of stylishly dressed thieves/assassins, who use gimmicks and gadgets to pull off outlandish crimes. Even Diaz becomes a bit more larger-than-life now that he’s working with them, pulling out a flamethrower during a fight scene for no reason other than, hey, his nickname is “The Dragon”, so he might as well roll with it. Throw in a good ol’ fashioned train-heist-turned-massive-brawl, and you’ve got the sort of pulpy adventure story Arrow used to do all the time.

If Arrow is going to right itself after the mess it made of Season 6, more episodes like this one, which can be rollicking good times in their own right, are definitely what the doctor ordered.

Stray Observations:

  • I’m not sure whether Oliver framing that guard for stabbing him is meant to be a return of the old, morally ambiguous Oliver. He did ruin an innocent man’s career, and possibly brought legal charges down on his head, purely to advance his own agenda. On the other hand, he arguably saved that guard’s life, since Brick was going to have him “taken care of” regardless.
  • Oliver’s prison friend/fanboy is all too eager to jump to violent or blackmaily solutions to their latest problem. Kinda casts some doubt on his claim to have been wrongfully convicted.
  • Dinah and Laurel fighting crime together is the buddy cop movie I didn’t know I needed. Though, thinking on it, given what we saw Laurel’s Siren Scream do when she first appeared on The Flash, she could have just leveled Diaz’s hideout from the outside, ending that little adventure in about five seconds.
  • I’m not normally one to comment on fashion, but Laurel’s white suit? Damn that was nice.
  • One last thing about Laurel: her final conversation with Dinah did more to make her transition to good guy (or at least not-actively-evil guy) seem plausible than everything else they’ve done with her combined.

 

Legends - Virgin Gary (2)

Legends of Tomorrow 4×01: “The Virgin Gary” review

Season premieres often act as a template and thesis statement for the season to come. During the production break, the showrunners have time to give their show a little more thought, think through what they really want to do with it, and come back in the Fall with a tweaked idea of what the show will be going forward.

Not long before watching “The Virgin Gary”, I re-watched the Season 2 premiere, “Out of Time”, an episode that redefined Legends of Tomorrow for a new season. It promised a wilder and wackier version of the show, jumping through more distinct time periods in one episode than Legends managed in its entire first season, upping the preposterousness of the gags and action scenes, and ending with both a supervillain teamup as well as our introduction to the Justice Society of America. Few episodes since have been quite as jam-packed with new characters, wild plot points, and non-stop action as that premiere, but it did signal a change, showing the kind of series Legends would strive to be in the seasons ahead.

Now, watching the premiere of Season 4, I can’t help but wonder if Legends is retooling itself all over again. Oh, the irreverent comedy and wacky situations introduced in Season 2 are still present, but it does still feel like something has changed.

The most obvious change is the introduction of magical monsters that the Legends must hunt throughout history. This isn’t unprecedented for the show; we’ve already seen the Legends fight demons, zombies, and ancient Egyptian sorcerers. But bringing supernatural monsters-of-the-week so clearly to the forefront is a change to show’s focus, and there’s some not-too-subtle meta-commentary about how this change is needed to shake the series up (Mick complains about spending “four years doing the same old crap”, and Ray drops an oblique reference to popular CW series, Supernatural, saying following in their monster-hunting footsteps “would be good for our ratings”).

And the way the episode’s action plays out? It does feel a little more like Supernatural than Legends. This is the show’s first season premiere to not contain a huge battle scene where all our heroes get to kick some ass. Instead, they investigate reports of mayhem at Woodstock, have a brief run in with a unicorn, find the magical spell needed to get rid of it, gather the necessary ingredients, and manage to send it through a portal to hell with no more violence than a single thrown knife and the unicorn taking a couple bites out of Gary. Outside of last season’s Groundhog Day riff, this may be the least action-oriented episode in the show’s history.

Outside of the new supernatural element, though, there’s something else different about this episode of Legends. This series has rarely had much interest in the characters’ lives outside their timeship; they’ll have friendships and romances with each other, but their personal relationships beyond the team are all put on the backburner (and when they aren’t, as happened with Stein, it’s a prelude to the character leaving the show). But in “The Virgin Gary”, Legends has gone flat-out domestic.

Ray is pining for Nora Darhk, who’s taken her timestone and gone off who-knows-where. Zari takes the time to watch her mother and her younger self from afar. Nate and Mick have a midnight snack with Nate’s parents, and Nate tries having a beer with his dad at episode’s end. And Sara has progressed so far in her relationship with Ava, she’s thinking of moving in with her and becoming a “partially-kept woman”.

And these aren’t just isolated scenes; they’re the backbone of the episode. The unicorn at Woodstock? That’s a minor, low-stakes threat. Yes, people’s lives are on the line, but this isn’t a Nazis-get-the-A-bomb or Rome-conquers-the-world situation. The main source of conflict isn’t whether they’ll be able to stop the unicorn, but whether they’ll be able to stop it without Ava finding out. Not because the Time Bureau is threatening to shut the Legends down like they did last year, but because Sara doesn’t want her new girlfriend to think she’s a screwup. And it turns out that doesn’t matter, because Ava is totally chill when she gets the news and doesn’t love Sara any less.

On The Flash or Supergirl, this ratio of relationship drama to superhero hijinks would feel completely on-brand. But for Legends, it’s a marked change from their usual habit of barreling headlong into shenanigans, with character work happening along the way.

Add in Constantine joining the show (pulling a rare reverse-spinoff from his solo series) and an arcane symbol being added to the Legends title card, and it feels like Legends Season 4 is being set up as a different beast from previous seasons.

Maybe that’s an over-reaction. The amount of magic, action, and domestic drama in Legends has always varied from episode-to-episode; this premiere could just be an outlier. And it’s not like everything was changed. This episode still had all the wacky comedy, incompetent heroes, pop-culture homages, and unashamedly silly plot turns that have come to define this show. But given how, in its third season, Legends seemed to perfect the kind of show it wanted to be, becoming the most consistently great series in the Arrowverse, it’s hard not to worry that re-tooling once again might wreck the finely-tuned machine it had become.

Stray Observations:

  • Well, that was a rather gloomy way to end a review, so let me be clear: despite my fear of change, this was still a fantastic episode of Legends of Tomorrow. I mean, it has the line “The unicorn bit my nipple off!” How could I not love it?
  • When I heard that Arrow was moving to 8:00/7:00 Central, and Legends was getting the later timeslot, and the looser censorship rules that come with it, I thought that was a mistake. Arrow is the dark, brutal show where the hero once skinned a man alive; it seemed to need greater freedom to depict violence than the lighthearted romp that is Legends. But now, having seen that gloriously bloody unicorn rampage? I think they made the right call.
  • Constantine talks about how his friends always suffer and die because of him (and we see how that would have applied to Gary, too, if the Legends didn’t have his back), which perhaps explains where the supporting cast from his own show disappeared to. That ending has me curious whether we’re going to dive into that specifically, or if his recent funk is due to some other friends he got hurt (something carried over from the comics: Constantine has a near endless supply of “old friends”).
  • Despite Constantine almost sending him to hell, his friendship with Gary is still a delight. That the biggest asshole on the show (with the possible exception of Mick) is the only one who’s ever nice to Gary is great. As is the suggestion that they did something together that almost-but-not-quite counted as sex, and that Constantine’s looking to do it again, but without the “almost-but-not-quite” part.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Nate’s dad is played by Thomas F. Wilson, who’s most famous for playing Biff in the Back to the Future movies. What you wanna bet that his new Pentagon job is actually a front for joining the Time Bureau?
  • Sara has a line about not wallowing in grief. I’m going to guess that’s our explanation for why we’re not seeing too much of a reaction to her father’s death. Still seems weird she’s not offering her services up to the “let’s get Diaz!” brigade, though.
  • I’ve been told that the split screen shot of the Legends independently arriving at Woodstock, hearing each other on comms, then meeting up and high-fiving is a reference to a documentary on Woodstock. I can’t say how it works as an homage, but it is both hilarious and cinematically brilliant.
  • I love that, while other superheroes react to a new force of evil showing up with either dread or frustration, the Legends get excited for a bunch of new monsters to fight, because meeting the Beatles, punching out Paul Revere, and doing the Midnight Ride in his place? That stuff now qualifies as boring for them.
  • Zari talking about her family and her inability to help them wasn’t really built up to by anything else in the episode, but it was still a powerful, moving moment. But despite her claims, I figure there’s gotta be a loophole somewhere, because the future that she’s from, where metahumans are locked up and experimented on, doesn’t seem like the same future that XS and the Flash Museum are from.

 

The Flash - Death of Vibe

The Flash 5×03: “The Death of Vibe” review

Well, that’s a bold title, isn’t it?

You throw something like “The Death of Vibe” at us, what else are people going to expect? Sure, those who are savvy to television production will figure out that Cisco (a.k.a. Vibe) isn’t going to die, not in any permanent way. There’s been no buildup to his death, and if it’s supposed to be an out-of-nowhere surprise, the writers certainly aren’t going to spoil the twist in the episode’s title. Besides, there have been no rumors about Carlos Valdes leaving the show.

But even the savviest viewers are going to expect something major to go down, because The Flash isn’t in the habit of outright trolling its audience. Cisco letting his Vibe persona appear to die, retiring the costume and codename so Cicada won’t try to get at him through Joe again, is an interesting angle to take. It’s not like this will greatly change the show. Cisco has always been primarily a tech support guy; even after getting his powers, they were mostly just used for visions or quick transport to a different Earth. He rarely went out in full costume, and his absence from the field isn’t a deep loss.

Still, that such a step has to be taken does do a fine job setting up the threat our new villain poses. Cicada isn’t the sort of Big Bad whose master plan requires keeping the heroes alive, nor is he prone to lots of gloating once the battle begins, giving the good guys plenty of chances to escape. He’s portrayed as a relentless figure who simply wants to make our metahuman heroes dead, and as soon as he draws a connection between them and the civilians in their lives, the only way to stop him is with a sacrifice.

Obviously there will be more to Cicada. You don’t have your bad guy visit a comatose girl in a hospital if they’re not going to have layers. But this episode was about building Cicada up as a serious threat for our heroes, and at that it succeeded admirably.

Since everything involving Cicada is so dark and brutal, though, we get plenty of comedy elsewhere. Because it is time, once again, to meet a new Harrison Wells!

Sherloque Wells is an interesting hybrid. He’s got a lot of similarities to H.R., with their carefree and goofy attitudes, and the way they seem more interested in making a quick buck out of partnering with Team Flash than any serious commitment to a cause. However, he’s also got a lot of Harry in him, being an actual genius (if a different type of genius, and occasionally a rather lazy one), and bringing a lot of arrogance and a snippy attitude to his interactions with Team Flash. But the idea that he wants to go back to his Earth, but our heroes won’t let him till he works off the money they gave him? That is an interesting new wrinkle, and promises a more sitcom-like approach to their partnership.

I know some people think pulling out new versions of Wells has become old hat and wish The Flash would just retire the idea. But having such a broad piece of comic relief around . . . for me, it casts the more serious arc story into sharper relief, and lets the series balance its conflicting tones.

Stray Observations:

  • The Secret Origin of Killer Frost continues this week, with Caitlin finding a message for her hidden in her dad’s supposed suicide note. It seems all but a given that he’s responsible for Caitlin’s powers (whether he passed them on to her genetically, or did some sort of experiment on her that created Killer Frost). It would be interesting if he shows up later in the season with a perfected method for turning ordinary people into metahumans, making him a natural enemy of Cicada, and the season’s arc becomes a three-way battle between them and Team Flash.
  • I know it’s necessary to give Nora a lot of focus now, since she’s a new character, a big part of the arc story, and has such an important connection to Iris and Barry. Still, I’m worried that Barry’s becoming one of those parents who loses touch with their friends as soon as they have kids, because both Cisco and Caitlin have been going through a lot these last three episodes, and it feels like Barry’s hardly spent any time with them.
  • Normally, the Arrowverse shows try to take place in something approaching real time (even Legends, despite being a time travel show). However, this episode begins right where the second episode of the season ended, which began no more than a few days after the events of the season premiere, which picked up right where the season finale back in May left off. Meanwhile, the other shows all had five months go by between seasons, matching the length of time they were off the air. Do you think the next few episodes will have a time jump that gets The Flash back in sync, or, when the crossover comes around, will they just ignore how Arrow and Supergirl should be five months ahead of them?
  • Funniest line of the episode came from dear ol’ Ralph: “Where you see a brick wall, this detective sees a brick door with no handle.”

 

MVP of the Week: Ava Sharpe.

Legends - Ava

She was just freaking adorable this week.

Question of the Week: Of last season’s Big Bads (Diaz, The Thinker, Mallus, and Reign) which was your favorite or least favorite?