This Week In The Arrowverse: 11/12/2018 – 11/18/2018: “Raw, Unrefined, Cage-Free, Non-GMO Badassery”

Supergirl 4×05: “Parasite Lost”, Arrow 7×05: “The Demon”, Legends of Tomorrow 4×04: “Wet Hot American Bummer”, and The Flash 5×05: “All Doll’d Up” reviews

This week in the Arrowverse, we’ve got vampires, mad scientists, alien parasites, and a guy who’s really very flexible. That last one is by far the most terrifying.

 

Supergirl - Parasite Lost

Supergirl 4×05: “Parasite Lost” review

Kara Danvers is finally back. Melissa Benoist has finished her obligations to the stage, and her character can now return to the show without hiding behind a face-obscuring suit. So it’s a little surprising that, for this mini-comeback, we get a story where you have to wonder: would it make any real difference if Kara wasn’t here?

She can’t get directly involved in fighting the bad guy this week, both because of in-story logistics (sending Supergirl to fight Parasite would just make Parasite stronger) and because of certain story beats that need to be hit (Alex has to be central to stopping Parasite, since this is when she needs to prove herself to Colonel Haley). So, since she can’t save the day as Supergirl, she’ll save it as Kara Danvers: Intrepid Reporter!

. . . ugh.

I’d forgotten how bad Kara’s journalism plots could be. They’re one element of Season 2 that maybe this season shouldn’t have returned to.

The trouble with them is always the same: they’re just too darn convenient. When Kara’s the reporter, it’s never just about getting the story. If she’s not exposing some horrible injustice and helping those no one else listens to, then she’s writing an inspiring piece that will better society. And when she decides early in her investigation that someone is definitely a good guy and is telling her the truth (which she always does), that intuition is invariably proven correct. And, of course, the stories she picks always tie into the sort of work she’d be doing as Supergirl, anyway, so it’s almost like you don’t even need the reporter angle to begin with.

Maybe that seems like complaining about nothing. If you devote a story in a superhero show to journalism, it shouldn’t be surprising that the journalism ends up turning into superheroics. But everything in Kara’s journalism career just seems too easy, like she’s been gift-wrapped exactly the sorts of stories she wants, without ever having to struggle or sacrifice as a reporter. That became especially glaring this week, as (in the mother of all coincidences) the man Kara interviews for her story gets tied directly to the Parasite plot, allowing Kara to be instrumental in stopping the villain even though she can’t take part in the final battle.

What makes this especially aggravating is that this shouldn’t even have been Kara’s story at all; it should have been J’onn’s. Amadei was J’onn’s old friend. J’onn discovered the biggest clues in solving what happened to Amadei. And judging by the end of the episode, this plot was built in service of setting up J’onn as a private investigator for aliens. Having Kara lead the investigation, with J’onn as her sidekick, takes the story’s attention away from where it needed to be.

And this story needed way more attention then it got, because the attempts at mystery and drama falls completely flat. We get precisely one scene with Amadei before he goes catatonic, and one scene after he wakes up, during which he says nothing but simple, non-threatening platitudes designed to make him seem saint-like. His daughter, who we’re supposed to root for him to reconnect with, similarly gets only two scenes, and is given only slightly more personality. And Amadei’s ex-girlfriend who attacked him? Also only two scenes, and while her prickly personality is slightly better developed, the fact that we don’t get any more details about their history together beyond her saying he broke her heart, thus she now hates aliens, means we really only have a sketchy outline of who she is, not a real understanding of what makes her tick. For a drama, these characters are too underdeveloped to care about. For a mystery? They’re just about the only characters we have, so it’s not like we were overflowing with suspects.

Look, this plot was only about one-third of the episode. The Alex vs. Parasite plot and the James vs. The Media plot? Those were fine. Not great; just fine. But when your lead character comes back after two weeks of barely being present, giving her such an inconsequential role in such a middling story, demonstrating that some bad habits are still very much with the series? Not a good way to go.

Stray Observations:

  • Imagine how carefully everyone had to guard what they said during that rooftop brunch. Okay, Nia knows Brainy’s an alien, so we can all talk about that. But she doesn’t know about the DEO, so no talking about that around her. Now, if Nia’s not around, but Lena is around, we can talk about the DEO, but we can’t talk about Kara being Supergirl. Everyone got that? Good, now let’s all drink lots of alcohol and hope nobody slips up.
  • Kara’s been a journalist for over two years now. Is this seriously the first time she’s checked out the comment section to an article? Nia’s supposed to be the rookie reporter that Kara’s mentoring, but she seems way more savvy here.
  • I laughed out loud when, during the climax, Ben Lockwood said Guardian will go to the rescue. They’re trying so hard to make Guardian seem important, and it’s just not working. Supergirl and a host of government agents, armed with energy weapons and a giant forcefield bubble, are fighting a nigh-unstoppable superhuman, and some guy with a motorcycle and a fancy shield is what you focus on? Yeah, he saves a couple people from rubble, but if he’d just been a regular firefighter or police officer who arrived on the scene, he could’ve done pretty much the same thing.
  • Is Alex’s cover still that she’s with the FBI? ‘Cause after a whole crowd of people saw her taking on Parasite in the middle of a forcefield dome, folks might start wondering when the FBI started doing stuff like that.
  • That scene where J’onn puts on his fedora, it almost feels like they’re trying to set up a Martian Manhunter spinoff. Him saying, “I didn’t so much solve the crime as solve the people behind it” . . . that kind of dialogue only exists because it sounds cool when put in a promo.

 

Arrow - The Demon

Arrow 7×05: “The Demon” review

This season of Arrow continues to be an amazing turnaround.

The content of these first five episodes hasn’t been anything to write home about, beyond the novelty of the flashforwards. The plots have been engaging, but largely predictable. The character work has been decent, but not groundbreaking. And while the fight scenes have been awesome, the show’s set a pretty high standard for itself in that regard.

This opening stretch of episodes has been good, but none of it has risen to being great. But considering how dull or frustrating most of Season 6 was, and given how this season is still busy resolving the plotlines that season left behind, seeing Arrow return to being consistently good, week-in and week-out? That’s a very heartening turn of events. And despite nothing mindblowing happening yet (again, beyond the flashforwards), this season has managed to feel fresh and energized in a way Arrow hasn’t for a good long while.

A lot of that can be chalked up to the series being in the middle of its biggest status-quo shakeup to date. With Oliver in prison, and the rest of Team Arrow forbidden from resuming their vigilante identities, the series can’t fall back on the familiar and worn-out rhythms of a superhero procedural. Many of the individual elements are familiar (Felicity hacking people, Oliver beating down nameless henchmen, a villain getting his comeuppance), but the way the characters pair off to tackle their problems, and the steps they take to do so, gives a somewhat fresher flavor to the whole enterprise.

Oliver’s prison plot has seen him cut off from the rest of the main cast since the season premiere. Previously, he’s spent a lot of time with his new prison pal Stanley, and with old enemies Brick and Bronze Tiger. Now he’s paired up with another foe from his past: Talia al Ghul. We’ve seen Oliver work with Talia before, of course, during Season 5’s flashbacks. But this is the first time the two have had any extended interaction since Talia joined Chase’s vendetta against Oliver, and the tension that adds to their dynamic, an old bond rekindling amid their mutual rage at each other, makes all their scenes together crackle with life.

Outside of prison, we continue the surprisingly delightful friendship developing between Felicity and Laurel. It’s a teamup you might never have expected or particularly craved, but the two bounce off each other with infectious energy. Add Dinah to the mix, with all her lingering Laurel issues, and you’ve got a team dynamic that’s consistently entertaining, even when all they do this episode is sort through old files.

And then you’ve got John and Curtis working together at Argus. Their plot is the most traditionally superheroic of the three we got this week, but placing all the action solely on Curtis is something we normally don’t get to see. And while we’ve had some buddy-buddy scenes between John and Curtis before, a sub-plot where it’s just the two of them, and we explore how their friendship works now that John is also Curtis’s boss, makes for another interesting twist.

None of these three plotlines break any new ground or do anything that memorable. There’s some good banter, a couple great action scenes, and a nicely creepy villain, but when people look back on their fondest memories of Arrow, it’s doubtful anything from this episode will make the cut. It’s simply a solid but largely predictable episode of Arrow. But if a show in its seventh season can inject enough new life into itself that such an episode can still feel fun and exciting, well, I’d say that’s a cause for celebration.

Stray Observations:

  • The fight Oliver and Talia get into with the prison guards was great. Ever since Daredevil came out, it seems like hallways are the go-to locations for superhero stunt coordinators to show off.
  • It’s really nice to have Talia back. She’s a cold-hearted character with a rather warped philosophy on life, but there’s always a playful edge to her. Plus, she mentioned “an old foe in Gotham”, which I’m sure got some folks very excited.
  • Dr. Parker was a nice two-episode villain. It’s hard to remember the last time Arrow bothered putting any personality or menace into a villain other than the Big Bad.
  • Laurel asking Felicity on a “friend date”, then immediately denying she had done so, was just plain adorable.

 

Legends - American Bummer (3)

Legends of Tomorrow 4×04: “Wet Hot American Bummer” review

“Wet Hot American Bummer” is the simplest and least ambitious story Legends of Tomorrow has told in quite a while. That it still involves two characters magically turning themselves into children in order to fight a vampire tells you just how high a standard Legends has set for itself.

The plot is one you might have seen in a hundred-something episodes of Supernatural, and a hundred-something episodes of The X-Files before that. A supernatural menace is killing or abducting people one by one at some distinctive locale; our heroes arrive to investigate; they ingratiate themselves with the locals; eventually they put together enough clues to figure out what folkloric creature they’re dealing with; they research the creature’s weaknesses, then dispatch it in short order.

The shrtiga doesn’t have the comedic value of the unicorn or the fairy godmother, nor does it create an ethical dilemma like Charlie did. And despite the creepy monster design, the Friday the 13th allusions, and the fact that the shrtiga’s preying on children, the story is more a wink-and-nod at horror movies than a genuine attempt at horror. Ultimately, the shrtiga is a generic monster-of-the-week who’s just there to give our heroes something to do.

So it’s lucky that what our heroes end up doing is a lot of fun. When you hear the premise “The Legends go to summer camp”, of course you figure Ray will be super-into it. But Sara really loving the camp experience was surprising, yet endearing, and her trying to share that passion with her girlfriend makes for a lot of funny and heartwarming scenes.

At first it seemed like they were going a bit too far with making Ava the strict counselor to contrast with Sara’s fun counselor, but bringing back her origins as a clone with implanted memories both explained her behavior and added an extra layer of depth to the proceedings. Ava’s whole life before the Bureau was a lie constructed by Rip, a false past designed to make her the ideal agent for his paramilitary police force, and so didn’t bother with trivial details like a fun childhood. Getting to see her literally live the childhood she never had is adorable and makes the episode more than just some summer camp hijinks.

Now, it’s no surprise that Sara and Ava are great together in their scenes; we’ve seen that pairing many times before. But Legends is always experimenting with which characters to partner together for storylines, so this week we get Mick bonding with Charlie while Ray and John investigate monsters together. Both pairings create some fine chemistry. Of course Mick would sympathize with someone looking to pull a prison break, and have some advice on building a new life with the Legends. And while Ray getting on John’s nerves is predictable, that John’s irritation is largely due to genuine concern for Ray, seeing the good little boy scout as in over his head, is an interesting twist. Though, John’s been hitting the everyone-who-knows-me-suffers-for-it note a lot so far this season; unless they start explaining what’s happened to him recently, all that angsting could get annoying.

Overall, it was a decently fun episode of Legends. A rather ho-hum plot, and no particularly impressive jokes or moments of spectacle, but lots of engaging camaraderie and some nice little moments showing how the Legends adapt to camp life. Hardly a standout episode, but a reliably pleasant diversion.

Stray Observations:

  • That opening scene is, like, a distillation of Legends of Tomorrow’s ethos. The clue that history has changed isn’t a different President on the five dollar bill, or zeppelins in the sky, or everyone speaking French. It’s that there’s a horror movie out there that Sara has never heard of, and she’s way too big a horror buff for that to have happened. So, naturally, our heroes must travel back in time and get involved in the plot of that horror movie, because all pop culture is real in this universe.
  • A frequent occurrence on Legends is a team member geeking out over getting to meet someone or get involved in events that they’re a huge fan of. Normally that’s Ray or Nate, but most of them have gotten that opportunity at some point. This week, it’s finally Sara’s turn. And the things she geeks out over being horror movies and summer camp? That feels right.
  • I don’t know what I love more: that we have confirmation Swamp Thing exists in the Arrowverse; that there’s a similar horror movie monster called Swamp Thang; that the fourth Swamp Thang movie is called Swamp Thaaaang (one “a” for every film in the franchise); or that Swamp Thaaaang’s D+ review on the A.V. Club uses text taken directly from Oliver Sava’s D+ review of the Legends episode “Last Refuge”.
  • This episode establishes Charlie’s place on the team going forward, using her personal experiences in the interdimensional prison to provide info on the other fugitives. Between that, establishing that John carries around a guidebook on supernatural monsters (which Ray looks eager to devour), and John being on death’s door at episode’s end, it’s looking like this is a way for the show not to rely on him to supply all the magical exposition going forward.
  • Mick references his time in a Russian gulag. We don’t get Season 1 references very often, do we?
  • We end the episode with the first non-hallucinated appearance of Nora Darhk this season. Working as a Renaissance Fair “lusty wench/witch” is not what I expected from her, but damn if I didn’t laugh.
  • For all I talked about the episode’s plot being ho-hum, throwing in a turn-adults-into-children potion was a suitably audacious move. Having Sara and Ava fight the monster while in child bodies made the fight scene feel different from the norm, and the child actors they got for Sara and Ava were absolutely on point.
  • Ray was eyeing Chad to be his rebound bro, wasn’t he? Shame about the monsterism.
  • Sadly, the shrtiga didn’t use any of Chad’s faux-martial arts poses while fighting Sara and Ava. Real missed opportunity, there.
  • Ava says she left Nate and Gary in charge of the Time Bureau. So . . . before Nate joined the Bureau, whenever Ava had to step out, Gary was left running the whole thing solo? . . . God help us all.

 

The Flash - Doll'd Up (2)

The Flash 5×05: “All Doll’d Up” review

This was a very mopey episode of The Flash.

That sounds like a complaint. “Mopey” is rarely used positively, and in The Flash fandom, constant moping is one of the most common criticisms of where the show has gone wrong over the years. But I’m using it here purely as a neutral statement: this is an episode where the characters moped a lot. And you know what? It was pretty darn good!

Was it downbeat a lot of the time, not quite as high energy as the other episodes we’ve had this season? Yes. But even a show about superspeed needs to slow down now and then and let the characters process what they’re going through.

After how last episode ended, we needed both Nora and Iris to rethink how they responded to the power-neutering reveal. Nora needed to realize that it’s not fair to blame the current version of Iris for something she might do in the future, and Iris needed to accept that future her may not have been a good mother, and that they both need to work on fixing their relationship. And they needed to come to those realizations gradually, after stewing in their feelings for a while and grappling with what they mean, if the story’s to have the weight it deserves.

And, after giving us an episode called “The Death of Vibe” a few weeks back, it would feel cheap if Cisco’s loss of his Vibe persona was blithely swept aside. Forcing him to not just abandon the costume, but abandon his powers as well, gives what happened greater significance, and with how those powers have been a key part of him since Season 2, maybe even Season 1, that change should weigh on him.

Of course, you could say much the same thing about the moping that’s occurred the last few seasons; Team Flash always has plenty of good reasons for getting their mope on. So what makes these current bouts of mopiness good TV, while the mopiness of seasons past was so frequently irritating?

I think a key problem The Flash has had in the past isn’t that the characters got too mopey, but that they were often stuck moping about the same things, over and over again. Season 3 in particular was terrible about that; for the first nine episodes, everyone was moping about the effects of Flashpoint, then for the rest of the season they all moped about Iris’s impending death. Episodes might end with characters learning some lesson to snap them out of their funk, but by next week they’d be back to moping about the same thing all over again. It was the repetition that was the real problem, the sense that the characters were just running in circles on a total bummer of a race track.

That’s not the case this week. The reason for Nora’s beef with Iris was only revealed last episode, and by the end of this one, they seem to have bridged at least some of the gap between them. And Cisco’s wounds making it impossible for him to vibe without intense pain and injury? That’s a problem introduced this episode, and by episode’s end it appears he’s made serious progress in coming to terms with it.

Future episodes could still ruin this, of course. We could have a dozen more episodes of Nora and Iris being estranged over something Iris hasn’t done yet, and Cisco could become obsessive about proving himself without his powers on a weekly basis. But as these stories stand now, they let the characters wallow in their pain just long enough to gain our sympathy, then let us cheer as they claw their way back towards happiness.

Sorrow, loss, and moping have always been a key part of The Flash, but just as key is seeing our heroes make it through their sorrow through kickass superheroics and the unflagging love and friendship they all have with each other. Start an episode with Iris estranged from her daughter and Cisco nursing a secret pain? End it with a daring mid-air rescue, photo album bonding, and one the show’s all-time best pep talks, courtesy of the good Dr. Snow. That’s the balance that made so many of us fall in love with The Flash, and this season seems to understand that better than any have since Season 1.

Stray Observations:

  • Seriously, Caitlin’s pep talk to Cisco about the loss of his powers? That was frickin’ amazing. Their friendship doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, but when it does it’s easily one of the most natural and heartwarming relationships on the show. The writing is earnest yet suitably peppered with humor, and the actors do a fantastic job riding the gestalt of emotions in a way that feels very human.
  • Also frickin’ amazing? Iris jumping off a roof to release Barry’s cuffs in mid-air. Iris can be surprisingly badass when the show allows her to be, and this season is doing a great job making her integral to the show in a way she’s rarely been before.
  • Also also frickin’ amazing? Ralph during the whole ending sequence. Imitating Spider-Man to get across the city was laugh-out-loud hilarious, but his method for capturing Ragdoll was somehow even more so.
  • Ragdoll was an interesting enough villain. His costume and body bending ability were suitably creepy, especially since most of it was performed by a real contortionist, visual effects only being used where absolutely necessary. Almost makes you not mind how contrived the plot had to be for this guy to pose any sort of threat to the Flash.
  • The memories-of-Iris-disguised-as-Barry ploy was very clever on Cecile’s part, though it would have made a lot more sense coming from Joe. Sadly, Jesse L. Martin’s back injury has caused a temporary leave of absence from the series.
  • At this point, it does kinda feel like Barry/Iris/Nora and Cisco/Caitlin/Ralph/Sherloque are in two different shows and only make cameo appearances in each other’s stories.

 

MVP of the Week: Talia al Ghul

Arrow - Talia

Even prison brutality and revenge killings seem fun when she does that half-smile thing.

Question of the Week: Is there any Arrowverse character you’d like to see get their own solo series?