This Week In The Arrowverse: 11/19/2018 – 11/25/2018: “There’s A Dragon On Main Street”

Supergirl 4×06: “Call to Action”, Arrow 7×06: “Due Process”, Legends of Tomorrow 4×05: “Tagumo Attacks!!!”, and The Flash 5×06: “The Icicle Cometh” reviews

It’s another wonderful week in the Arrowverse!

We’ve got dragons! We’ve got kaiju! We’ve got cold puns!

Oh, how I have missed cold puns.

Let’s get to it!

 

Supergirl - Call to Action (3)

Supergirl 4×06: “Call to Action” review

“Call to Action” has everything you might want from a Supergirl episode. It has romance. It has family gatherings. It has our heroes standing up to authority. It has intriguing new characters and mysteries. It has villains who are not merely intimidating in their own right, but are a frightening reflection of the real life evils plaguing America. It has the heroes triumphing over those villains, striking a blow for justice and equality, and giving us at home some much needed catharsis. And it has Supergirl fighting a frickin’ dragon in the sky!

It has it all, the complete package of action, comedy, and drama. In some ways, it’s perhaps the ideal episode of Supergirl . . .  so long as you don’t think about it very hard.

Now, the superhero genre generally requires turning off your brain a little bit. Analyze what’s going on too hard, and the whole setting collapses into illogic. You don’t want to be that guy nitpicking how no one notices Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. But this week in Supergirl, accepting what the story is telling us requires a little more willful ignorance than usual, and if you can’t silence the part of your brain that’s picking holes in the story, then the episode ends up undermining most of what it’s trying to achieve.

For this episode to work, you need to accept its iconography at face value. When Colonel Haley dresses down Kara and Alex, she is every stern and unreasonable authority figure you’ve seen in a thousand stories; Alex herself compares Haley to Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter novels. When Lena and James have their confrontation in the hallway, everything from the actors’ performances to the staging of the scene evokes the classic betrayed-her-lover-to-protect-him narrative. And when the Children of Liberty go on the attack, they draw on a host of images that audiences have learned to fear: they wear the blank-eyed, expressionless masks of horror movie villains; they use vicious-looking attack dogs to smell out their victims; they carry tiki torches that call to mind the white nationalist march on Charlottesville; they use tactics that call to mind the Nazis’ Kristallnact; they wield baseball bats that call to mind untold numbers of angry mobs from an untold number of stories, both real and fictional.

But analyze each of these events a little closer, and what you get is a lot different from what the imagery is trying to tell you.

Colonel Haley may be curt, and she may be obstructing our heroes’ efforts to help people, but very little of what she says is wrong. Fighting domestic terrorism is the province of the FBI; if the DEO is a military organization (as implied by Colonel Haley’s presence), then going beyond its remit and engaging in domestic law enforcement is very problematic. And if Kara is part of the DEO, then acting as an independent vigilante is the sort of thing a commanding officer should crack down on. And if you go back to last week’s episode, which set the tone for this one, while Haley couched her criticism of J’onn’s DEO tenure with anti-alien sentiment, she was also not wrong that what J’onn did, stealing Hank Henshaw’s identity and his position at the DEO, was a horrible breach of the organization’s security. While Haley’s not meant to be entirely unreasonable, her actions are far more sensible than the show seems willing to acknowledge.

As for James and Lena, while they have some issues regarding trust and Lena’s need for control that do work well, the big crux of their fight is that Lena traded information to the DA to keep James from being prosecuted. James is not merely upset that Lena kept this a secret, but that she did it at all, acting like this is some moral line she crossed. But it’s never made clear why this is so bad, or why it was even a secret in the first place. Keeping James out of prison, and making sure a big-time mob boss does go to prison, that seems like a win-win. The only victim here appears to be James’s ego, but if this fight is all about his feelings being hurt because he needed his girlfriend to protect him, then he comes off a lot worse than the episode seems to intend.

And, finally, we come to the big one: the Children of Liberty. The show is not shy about making them a stand-in for modern white nationalism in America. This episode wants to convey about that they are a serious threat, attacking the weak and the helpless, and those in power must act in order to stop them. But for all the imagery used to make the Children of Liberty as frightening as possible, when looked at with even a little logic, they come across as anything but a serious threat.

It’s not just that they get their asses kicked in every single confrontation; it’s that you’re left to wonder how they could ever not get their asses kicked. It’s emphasized this episode that a big part of why so many humans hate and fear aliens is because aliens have superpowers, often very dangerous superpowers. Yet the Children of Liberty’s plan is to attack a bunch of buildings where they know aliens live, but without any idea what types of aliens might live there or what awesome powers they might have.

And it’s not like the Children of Liberty have power armor or high-tech energy weapons; they don’t even seem to have guns. They were given baseball bats and tiki torches to make for a more frightening visual, but when facing aliens with superpowers, or even just a regular guy with a handgun, they can do nothing but get beaten senseless or run for their lives.

Consider this: the only time we see the Children of Liberty successfully break into someone’s home, the only one they end up hurting is another human, and when that human’s alien pet turns into a giant dragon to defend its owner, Supergirl has to save them from the dangerous creature they provoked. That’s the climax, our hero protecting the show’s white nationalist stand-ins, because the show’s minority stand-ins are the ones with the power here.

With its tone and imagery, “Call to Action” wants to deliver a message about how bigotry must be stopped before the innocent are hurt. Yet with the story it constructs, the message instead becomes that bigotry must be stopped before bigots pick on the wrong people and get themselves hurt. That’s not a bad message, per se, but it runs at cross purposes to the apocalyptic imagery lacing the episode.

I’d never call Supergirl a smart show, and Lord knows it’s had trouble in the past with undermining its own message. But this is the first time where an episode has been so powerful on a turn-off-your-brain, don’t-think-about-how-one-scene-relates-to-another level, but falls apart so completely once the plot’s given even a little bit of scrutiny. I can’t honestly call this a good episode or a bad episode; it all depends on how you watch it.

Stray Observations:

  • Its inclusion may have helped undermine the episode’s intended message, but screw it: Supergirl having a mid-air battle with a fire-breathing dragon may be the best thing this show has ever done.
  • Though the dragon fight makes me feel a little bad for Brainy, since without it, him beating up a bunch of guys “with physics” would have been the fight scene everyone was talking about.
  • James and Kara are professional investigative reporters, but neither seems the least bit suspicious that Nia can’t remember the name of the chronic medical condition she claims to have. CatCo is in good hands.
  • I’m curious where they’re going with Manchester Black. Him torturing people, killing others while they’re trying to run away, but all for a good cause . . . it’s anti-hero behavior, but Supergirl’s morality is normally a bit too squeaky clean to allow for that level of anti-heroism.
  • Is this episode trying to retcon away the fact that superpowered humans do exist on Supergirl’s Earth? They may not be as numerous as on Earth-1, but you’ve still got Psi, Livewire, Silver Banshee, and Bizarro Supergirl.
  • Lena had better be careful with her experiments. Sure, she made that heart indestructible, but she also caused its cancer to get worse. Do that and you wind up with Deadpool. No one wants an FCC friendly version Deadpool.

 

Arrow - Due Process

Arrow 7×06: “Due Process” review

Diaz has been captured! He didn’t get away this time!

Huzzah! Sound the trumpets from the walls! Organize a parade! Get me some champagne to pop!

. . .

Okay, okay, this probably won’t be permanent. Kirk Acevedo is listed in the main cast this season, so they aren’t likely to remove his character from the board before even the mid-season finale is here. But there is something to be said for a story having movement, forward momentum, for the characters to actually accomplish a goal and move on to the next phase.

Taking down Ricardo Diaz has been the driving focus on Arrow for most of Season 6 and all of Season 7 to date. And despite being a largely ordinary crime boss, with no special powers or skills to make him more formidable than a hundred other crime bosses we’ve seen on this show, he always keeps slipping away, leaving our heroes frustrated that they failed to get him yet again. It was long past time for that to change, especially with Felicity this season being so hyper-focused on bringing Diaz down. And using Diaz’s capture as a way to advance the get-Oliver-released-from-prison plot is a good way to make closing one story thread open up another.

We also got to see something else closed up this week: some of the division among our main cast. The funniest scene in the episode (the funniest scene Arrow’s had in a long while, come to think of it) is built around putting almost all the main cast in one room, and seeing them try to catch up on what each of them has missed while they’ve all been running their own separate storylines. Breaking up Team Arrow for a while was probably a good move to keep the show from getting stale, but bringing them all back together is also a good move to keep that dynamic from getting stale. Oliver’s still isolated from them in prison, but he does get his first contact with someone on the outside since the pilot. That this person is Laurel, and it’s the first interaction Oliver’s had with the new, I’m-reformed-for-real-this-time-pinky-swear Laurel, adds another new dynamic to keep things interesting.

And speaking of Laurel, we also get some interesting new insights into her this week. So much of her redemption story has come with a taint, a suspicion that her good behavior is part of yet another act to fool the heroes. But the scene where she goes after the judge who denied Oliver’s appeal reveals many things. First, the fact that Laurel is upset enough about not being able to help Oliver that she’d seek revenge over it means her desire to help is, at least a little bit, genuine. Second, that she so easily goes back to murder as a way to vent her feelings means, despite her current redemption arc, the writers’ aren’t losing sight of just how vicious Black Siren could be. Third, Dinah’s interference, talking Laurel down from her assault, not with a stern reprimand but with honest sympathy, helps establish how there could be a place for her on this team going forward.

All in all, it was a good episode for Arrow moving its story forward. As an episode on its own  . . . eh, it was all right. It’s still a Diaz centric story, and the Longbow Hunters mostly just stand around, but there were a few good fight scenes, some very funny moments, and we got Anatoly back for an episode! That’s always worth a few extra points.

Stray Observations:

  • I continue to love Felicity and Laurel being friends, and everyone else being weirded out that they’re friends.
  • Future!Felicity built a security system where the only way to bypass it is to have Oliver’s skill and penchant for shooting tennis balls with arrows. That is so frickin’ comic-booky, I just adore it.
  • I crap on Diaz a lot (with good reason), but Kirk Acevedo can turn in a good performance. His body language during his closing scene with Felicity does such a good job selling him as a cool and intimidating customer, it almost makes up for all the more ridiculous angry/shouty moments he’s had up till now. Almost.
  • Oliver’s prison pal is maybe not the best person in the world. Shocker.
  • If this is the last we see of Anatoly, that’ll be sad, but at least he got a good ending. He always brought something unique to Arrow, this sense that he’s a very wise man who wants to see others overcome their demons, while still being an unscrupulous gangster and a big source of comic relief.

 

Legends - Tagumo (3)

Legends of Tomorrow 4×05: “Tagumo Attacks!!!” review

Legends of Tomorrow is one long love-letter to pop culture. It’s not just that the show lets the creators reference all the movies, music, and TV shows that they’re fans of (though obviously they do a lot of that, too). Again and again, the show has emphasized the power of pop culture, how even the crudest or silliest pieces of entertainment have the power to reshape the world. The films of George Lucas can inspire boys to grow up to be heroes. A speech cribbed from The Lord of the Rings can bring a ceasefire to the Battle of the Somme. Singing in the Rain can help an alien, born for domination, befriend the people of Earth. And the music of Elvis Presley can literally bring peace to restless souls.

In “Tagumo Attacks!!!”, Legends makes its strongest statement of this theme yet. Though the references to Godzilla and the kaiju genre are obvious, the message here is not about one particular piece of pop culture, but about the act of artistic creation itself. The Journal of Brigid isn’t simply a tool that brings what’s drawn or written in it to life, but a channel for artistic expression in its purest form, a way for someone to take what’s in their head and literally bring it to life, to take the intangible and give it form.

Honda created Tagumo because at Hiroshima he’d experienced a horror without form: a blaze of heat and light, a city changed in an instant, air thick with the ashes of the dead. In imagining his monster, he took the horrors of that day and found a way to make them concrete, took the memories and nightmares within his head and made them something that could be seen and heard and felt.

But not yet something that could be fought.

He could find satisfaction in making his monster manifest, but not the release of imagining it vanquished. His artistic vision was a nihilist one, and while a filmmaker might make compromises with their projects, the pure artistic expression of Brigid’ Journal will not let him tell a story he does not believe. It takes Mick, a man who has also been through terrible trauma, has seen many people burned into ash, but has begun to come through it and become a better person, a happier person, to make a new ending for Honda’s story. He can imagine Tagumo defeated, and when he brings that vision to life, takes the symbol of Honda’s horror and shows him its destruction, it is a revelation for the director. As the monster dies, Honda’s face beams with elation, and we see he has become the kind of man who will, in a few years time, be able to imagine the King of the Monsters defeated by human hands.

And all of this, all this horror and catharsis, comes in the form of a giant land-octopus fighting a triple-breasted alien warrior queen on a model city set.

Legends of Tomorrow is a silly little show; I’ve said so many times. But this episode shows that, while a story may be silly (and there is little sillier than Garima vs. Tagumo), that doesn’t make the emotions it evokes, in artist and in audience, any less important. Legends turns history into a smorgasbord of pop culture references, because pop culture has shaped how its creators see the world, and through the pop culture that is Legends, they pass that experience on to a new audience.

So take a bow, “Tagumo Attacks!!!”. You’ve earned that triple exclamation point.

Stray Observations:

  • Continuing the theme of pop culture’s importance, Mona is able to pacify the monsters rampaging in the Time Bureau because she reads a lot and so knows what all sorts of mythical creatures eat (including that Baba Yaga eats “babies, more precisely, but veal will do in a pinch”).
  • The monster effects this episode were fantastic, and the epic Garima vs. Tagumo battle assuages any concerns I had about the show not having enough action this season. There’s always one moment in a Legends episode that makes me go, “Are they actually doing this?”, in the absolute best way.
  • Ishiro Honda is, of course, the man who would direct the original Godzilla (or Gojira) in 1954. His depiction here is far from historically accurate (he wasn’t a Hiroshima survivor, and the inspiration for Godzilla came chiefly from collaborators and the movie The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) but when is that ever surprising with Legends?
  • I was surprised that, despite meeting Ishiro Honda and stopping a giant monster from destroying Tokyo, none of the characters referenced Godzilla. Then I realized that, until Mick gave Honda the idea to switch from octopuses to lizards, there was no Godzilla in their timeline!
  • Between inspiring Godzilla and creating a sexy warrior babe fighting a tentacle monster, Mick set Japanese pop culture down a very strange path.
  • Gotta give special props to Tala Ashe this week. When Zari’s posing as a 1950’s Hollywood type, she slips a bit of Old Hollywood “Mid-Atlantic” accent into her speech, which is such a great touch.
  • Was not digging Charlie’s humans-suck/I’m-better-than-y’all attitude, but since she’s warmed up to the crew a bit by the end, that’ll hopefully be short-lived.
  • Ava being awkward and flustered is hilarious, and a fantastic use for her when she’s not part of the main plot.

 

The Flash - Icicle Cometh

The Flash 5×06: “The Icicle Cometh” review

A lot had to happen in this episode, didn’t it?

Caitlin, Cisco, and Barry had to take the final step in finding Caitlin’s father. They had to travel to a secret North Pole research station. They had to meet Caitlin’s dad and get a very convoluted explanation for how and why he was stuck there. They had to bring him back to Central City, and Caitlin had to start bonding with him, before getting another convoluted explanation for how he gave both Caitlin and himself superpowers. Then Caitlin had to come up with a serum to save her dad’s life, while Cisco questioned his motives. Then Caitlin’s dad had to reveal himself as evil, steal the serum, and break into a high-tech government lab. Then Team Flash had to go there to stop him, Caitlin had to reawaken Killer Frost, save the day, proclaim Team Flash her real family, and wrap up the story with another convoluted explanation for how Killer Frost can be brought back regularly.

They did all that, while still advancing three separate sub-plots.

If this seems like too much for one episode to do, that’s ‘cause it kinda is. In many ways, this story is reminiscent of the Firestorm two-parter from Season 1: secret government labs, superpower experiments gone wrong, Caitlin reuniting with a believed-dead loved one, a struggle to find a cure, and an ending where Caitlin’s superpowered loved one takes off into the sky, but with the promise we’ll see them again. But where that story had two episodes to cover the character beats, superheroic action, and technobabble explanations, “The Icicle Cometh” tries to cram it all into 42 minutes, and it just doesn’t work as well as it should.

Oh, it’s a fun enough episode. The mad scientist lab in the Arctic, the inherently evil split personalities, the complete mangling of what “absolute zero” means? It’s one of those Flash episodes that would feel right at home in the Silver Age of Comics. And, hey, those subplots with the unlikely detective teams of Ralph & Cecile and Iris & Nora? Those were hilarious.

But “The Icicle Cometh” promised to be more than just a fun romp. It’s the conclusion to Caitlin’s search for her father, a deeply personal experience for her, one loaded with dramatic weight. But compared to action and comedy, drama needs time to build itself up. We needed to spend time showing what finding her father means to Caitlin. We needed to spend time on them reconnecting, so we can see how important this relationship is to her. We needed to spend time getting to know Thomas Snow, so the reveal of the Icicle would pack the appropriate gut punch. But this episode doesn’t have time for any of that.

When Caitlin and her dad are reunited, they’re barely given a chance to process what’s happening before they have to answer the why-is-he-locked-up-here?/how-did-he-survive? questions. And once back in Central City, their brief bonding scene is cut short so they can leap right into using super science to solve a problem. And Thomas gets to do so little besides give exposition and be vaguely suspicious before revealing himself as Icicle, the audience can’t feel the appropriate sense of loss or betrayal.

Even Caitlin/Killer Frost choosing Team Flash as her family over her dad, which had the benefit of four seasons of character development behind it, can’t hit quite as hard as it should without building up her bond with her father as a viable alternative.

None of the plot developments in this episode are bad, but trying to cover them all in such a short run time does them a disservice. The complicated explanations for why everything’s happening have to come in huge, hard to digest bursts, while the dramatic core of the story is left to scrape together the few precious minutes of screentime left behind.

It’s still a very fun and enjoyable story, but it’s so easy to see how, if given a little more time, it could have been so much more.

Stray Observations:

  • There were so many unnecessary ice/cold/snow references in this episode, you’d almost think Captain Cold was back.
  • Cisco refers to Caitlin and her father, respectively, as “Snow Patrol” and “Snow Country for Old Men”. Love it.
  • I’m very sorry that Jesse L. Martin hurt his back, and that Joe has to be awkwardly written out of the show for a while. But if it means Cecile Your Fate Horton gets more chances to shine like this one? Maybe it’s for the best.
  • I love that Sherloque helped Iris and Nora bond by figuring out where the satellite core was, but tricking them into finding it themselves, while giving them a common enemy via his obnoxious behavior.
  • Last season, the Thinker transferred his consciousness into his super chair, which was connected to the Star Labs satellite and caused it to fall to Earth. Now that the satellite’s just sitting inside Star Labs, anyone think his mind might still be alive inside it and pop up for a return appearance this season?
  • We are finally switching up the character pairings a little, with Iris and Nora teaming up with Sherloque, while Barry joins Cisco and Caitlin on Operation When You Comin’ Home Dad. The transition was a bit awkward, though, since until this episode I wasn’t sure if Barry even knew about everything going on with Caitlin’s search for her father, and now suddenly he’s right in the middle of it.

 

MVP of the Week: Garima, Queen of Thanzanon

Legends - Tagumo (2)

Could it be anyone else?

Question of the Week: Tagumo vs. Garima, or Supergirl vs. Spike the Dragon: which was more awesome?