Last Week In The Arrowverse: 01/21/2019 – 01/27/2019: “Many Crime Fighting And/Or Planet Saving Adventures”

Supergirl 4×10: “Suspicious Minds”, Arrow 7×10: “My Name Is Emiko Queen”, and The Flash 5×11: “Seeing Red” reviews

Sorry for the delay, folks! Normally I write these reviews up on Saturday so I can post them Sunday. But since I worked this Saturday, I couldn’t write ‘em up till Sunday, and now you’re getting ‘em Monday. Again, sorry ‘bout that.

Hope it’s worth the wait, though, because this week we’ve got invisible monsters, metahuman roundups, long lost siblings, and Bork! Can’t hurt Bork, but Bork can hurt you.

 

Supergirl - Suspicious Minds

Supergirl 4×10: “Suspicious Minds” review

I’ve given Supergirl a lot of crap about its lack of subtlety, so let me now give credit where it’s due: this episode has a central theme running through all its storylines, a theme that strengthens each story by letting them contrast with each other, and it never feels the need to have characters explicitly point this out. That may not sound like much, but for Supergirl, this is bold new territory.

We begin in Kaznia, with Supergirl’s doppelganger training for war by fighting tanks and missiles, while military men look on, wondering about their ability to control her. This scene has no bearing on the plot, other than to remind us that Supergirl’s doppelganger still exists. But thematically, it perfectly sets up what this episode is about: how those with special abilities can be used, exploited, and controlled by those in power.

We see this dynamic unfold across all four of this week’s storylines.

The Morae, our monsters of the week, are revealed to be aliens who were found by the U.S. government when they were just children. Through what Colonel Haley chillingly describes as standard procedure for young aliens, they were tortured to make them compliant to the government. With their powers of strength and invisibility, they were forced to become covert assassins. And when the President declared a new policy of not working with aliens, they were to be executed without a second thought.

Anti-alien prejudice has, of course, been a constant theme this season, and we got to see plenty of it in Season 2 as well, but until now that’s been confined civilian criminals lashing out at aliens in fear and anger. This episode, for the first time, we’re shown the mistreatment of aliens as a systemic problem, perpetrated by the government and going back decades. Not motivated by fear or resentment, but by a cold-hearted belief that aliens deserve no human rights, and their extraordinary powers are too useful for them to be allowed freedom. It’s a more dangerous and more deeply entrenched take on the issue than the show has ever delved into before.

And through the plight of the Morae, we understand what’s at stake as Supergirl struggles to maintain her secret identity. Kara is also a powerful alien who came to Earth as a child. She could have easily become like the Morae, an abused prisoner turned into a weapon. That she escaped that fate is because she was found, not by the government, but by the Danvers family, who took her in, protected her, and kept her secret safe. Because of them, Kara has been able to grow up leading a normal life, a happy life, the life every alien who comes to Earth should be able to have.

But if Haley discovers her secret, that could all be taken away. With that leverage, Haley could force Supergirl to work for the government as their enforcer, a slave soldier for their corrupt policies. So Alex does what the Danvers have always done, what you’d hope a big sister would do, and sacrifices part of herself to protect Kara.

How long will her memories of Supergirl remain erased? Unclear. But in the moment, it serves as one of the most touching scenes the series has done in a great long while. The sibling bond between Alex and Kara has always been the show’s strongest relationship, and seeing such a large facet of that relationship destroyed is heartbreaking. But through the example of the Morae, we understand why this situation is desperate enough to require such a sacrifice, and we have new appreciation for just how precarious Kara’s status is as an alien on Earth.

This is heavy stuff, and unusually cynical in tone for Supergirl, but in the C-plots we are given a different perspective, shown how people with special abilities need not always hide from those seeking to exploit them. Where Haley treats Supergirl and the Morae as simple tools, to be coerced into service through any means, Brainy approaches Nia about putting her powers to use with an honest, upfront, and low-pressure offer. He doesn’t try to force her into becoming a superhero, doesn’t even try laying a guilt trip on her about being needed. He simply floats the idea that becoming a hero and helping people might be something she’d like to do, and offers all the help he can if that’s her choice.

And while Lena has yet to produce a successful superpowered person, she’s clearly worried about the ethical ramifications once she does. She enlists James to be her sounding board and angel on her shoulder, because she doesn’t want to become like Haley, someone who only cares about the powers someone has, and nothing for them as people. If her experiments succeed, she gives hope that those she endows with powers will be treated far better than those under the government’s care.

Again, none of these connections between storylines are made explicit. No characters ever address how what’s happening in one storyline relates to another. The writing simply trusts that we can recognize a common theme, and that with this recognition, these four disparate plots come together into a tapestry deeper and more complex than the sum of its parts.

This is hardly a groundbreaking episode of television, or even one of Supergirl’s own Top 10 episodes. But this added bit of sophistication makes it stand out from most other Supergirl eps, and gives what could have been a routine monster of the week episode that little something extra.

Stray Observations:

  • Invisible monsters are the go-to baddies for sci-fi/fantasy TV shows when they want to have a lot of action scenes but keep the effects budget low. Still, mighty good use of them here.
  • It seems absolutely insane that only five DEO agents know Supergirl’s identity. Like, I’d have to do a binge rewatch to be sure, but I’m almost positive Alex and Supergirl have talked about being sisters while in that big open area at DEO headquarters where anyone could hear them. Only thing I can figure is that the mortality rate for DEO agents is just that bad, and these are the only agents from earlier seasons still alive.
  • Nice touch that that general refers to J’onn as “Henshaw”. Both because that’s what people who worked with the DEO a while back should know him as, and because it’s a reminder of Hank Henshaw and how he almost turned the DEO into what Haley is turning it into now.
  • Seeing that swanky office with the kick-ass nameplate, I’m beginning to be sold on the idea of a John Jones, P.I. spinoff.

 

Arrow - Emiko

Arrow 7×10: “My Name Is Emiko Queen” review

It’s interesting to look at the different Arrowverse series and the relationships they have with their own pasts.

Supergirl clearly misses having Cat Grant around, and will occasionally bring back useful plot devices from previous seasons. However, for the most part, each season of Supergirl acts as a mini-reboot of the show, shifting its focus in new directions, and discarding old characters and storylines, rarely so much as mentioning them again.

Legends of Tomorrow only seemed to settle on the kind of show it wanted to be after a very rocky and experimental first season. Since then, each season seems intent on topping the madcap antics and irreverent tone of the seasons before it, which leaves little room for paying homage to the past (closest they’ve come is having Rip make a movie based on the events of the first season, only to trash talk the actor who played Vandal Savage).

For The Flash and Arrow, however, the situation’s quite a bit different. Those series don’t just reference events from their earlier seasons; they treat those events with outright reverence. There’s an acknowledgement by both series that their first season or two represent their glory days, the era that defined what their show is, and set the standard that all future seasons aspire to.

The events of those early seasons are not merely beloved; they’ve become iconic. Just as Sherlock Holmes writers, more than a century later, will return to Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and Reichenbach Falls, the Flash and Arrow writers always return to the image of Thawne phasing his hand through Cisco’s chest, or Oliver crossing names off the List. Even now, years since those events happened, seeing an homage to them sends a giddy thrill through the hearts of longtime fans, makes them go, “Yes! This is the show!”, and (the writers hope) assures them that the show remembers what once made it great.

How well those references to past glories works for you is going to heavily influence how much you enjoy this week’s Arrow.

“My Name Is Emiko Queen”, our first proper introduction to the titular character, draws immensely upon imagery and story beats from the first two seasons of Arrow. Emiko may not have a salmon ladder, and she may not go completely shirtless, but her multiple, sweaty training sessions are clearly modeled after the ones Oliver did so frequently in the show’s early years. She crosses names of her victims out of a little brown book, just like Oliver did in the first season. She visits Robert Queen’s grave, just like Oliver often did in the early episodes. She even provides statement-of-purpose voiceover narration, like Oliver did for the first three episodes, before he got Diggle to talk to.

There are some key differences: Emiko is without family and living in the bad part of town, rather than living on a lavish familial estate. And while Oliver had to badger and manipulate a reluctant Diggle to be his partner, here Rene is all too eager to partner up with Emiko, despite her reluctance. Still, with its barebones revenge narrative and familiar action beats, this story is banking heavily on nostalgia for the first season to draw people in.

Same goes for the flashforward storyline, ironically enough. A conspiracy of wealthy businessmen and politicians, plotting to destroy the rest of Star City to protect the Glades? It’s basically the Undertaking plot from the first season, only inverted.

Meanwhile, the Diaz storyline (which is somehow still a thing) offers little this episode except the promise that the Suicide Squad storyline, begun in Season 2 and cut off abruptly in Season 3, is getting a do-over. Which honestly just has me wondering if, had the writers thought to change the group’s name to “the Ghost Initiative” back in Season 3, that whole mess could have been avoided.

And then we have Oliver, discovering more Queen family secrets, sordid indiscretions by his father, and shady-as-hell coverups by his mother. It’s a clear throwback to the more soap operatic elements of the first two seasons, which the show sadly dropped once Moira was no longer around to connive and manipulate. We even got a Walter Steele reference, and, wow! How long has it been since that name’s been dropped?

Almost everything this episode is specifically designed to call earlier episodes to mind. It’s using these references to the first two seasons as shorthand, to sell us on the current storylines as being continuations of what made those earlier seasons so great.

I’ll admit, there are places where that worked on me. However, outside of those homages to the past, there’s not really that much to this episode. By Arrow standards, the action’s pretty par-for-the-course. Emiko’s revenge motivation is something we’ve seen a million times before. And Rene and Emiko don’t have nearly enough chemistry at this point to get me stoked for their teamup. Take away the nostalgia, and you’d be left with a fairly ho-hum hour of television.

Stray Observations:

  • Okay, one part of the episode that did work gangbusters? All of Oliver and Felicity’s scenes together. Their chemistry is great, Emily Bett Rickards is delightful as funny, motor-mouthed Felicity, and Stephen Amell . . . whenever he has to play Oliver as just exhausted from all the crap he has to deal with, he knocks it straight out of the park.
  • Their scenes also reminded me of how much I miss Moira Queen. Finding out about yet another Queen bastard child she kept secret brought it all back. During her time on the show, she added an extra dose of unpredictability and heightened drama, because she always had her own secrets and her own agenda, and was just as likely to screw over the other characters as she was to help them out. In many ways, Arrow served as the CW’s successor to Smallville, and Moira was very much this show’s Lionel Luthor.
  • A lot of people have made fun of flashforward Rene’s hair. And, I agree, it looks ridiculous. But it kinda works for me as what Rene imagines a charismatic politician should look like. That said, there should be a limit on how many wigged characters you have in a scene, ‘cause when Rene and Dinah were talking, it did get distracting.
  • Liked that they went from revealing Emiko’s identity to the audience to revealing it to the characters so quickly. That’s the sort of thing that could have gotten pretty tiresome if drawn out.
  • What’s your theory on why it’s now called “the Ghost Initiative” instead of “Task Force X” or “the Suicide Squad”? Can we still blame stuff like that on Flashpoint?
  • Over on the A.V. Club, Allison Shoemaker is back to doing episodic Arrow reviews! She’s no Alasdair Wilkins, but it’s still nice to have those reviews back.

 

The Flash - Seeing Red

The Flash 5×11: “Seeing Red” review

Well, we’re in that stretch of the season now. The stretch where the heroes and the Big Bad repeatedly square off with each other, practically every week, and always inconclusively, with Barry shaking his fist in the air, shouting, “Next time, Cicada! Next time!

You’d kinda hope that, five seasons in, the Flash writers would realize how this can turn long stretches of the season into a slog. But this seems to be a problem they either can’t or just don’t want to fix, ‘cause it’s happening all over again.

Nothing in this episode, on its own, is bad. Well, okay, Chris Klein’s acting whenever he’s out of the Cicada costume is pretty bad. But other than that, it’s a solid outing. High stakes, race against time, personal trauma, lots of stuff for everyone to do: makes for a decent episode.

But this is the fourth episode so far that’s ended with Team Flash fighting Cicada, both sides getting some shots in, but everyone ultimately getting away, with nothing changed or resolved. That’s over a third of the season to date, which is enough, I’d say, to officially classify it as getting old. That we’ve seen this same pattern play out with Zoom, Savitar, and DeVoe makes it feel even more dispiriting.

It might be different if Cicada was more interesting in his own right. If he had a fun personality, some dynamic character growth, or an interesting relationship with some of the other characters, it wouldn’t matter so much that his plot isn’t progressing, because it’d just be such a joy to have him around. But while he’s got more going for him than (pre-unmasking) Zoom or Savitar, he’s got a long ways to go before he’s anywhere close to Thawne or DeVoe. Right now, he’s of interest as little more than an implacable killing machine, and there’s only so many times that an implacable killing machine can have inconclusive tussles with the heroes before that wears thin.

There is a slight promise of a new direction at the end, with the idea that, rather than physically beating Cicada, Team Flash can heal Dwyer’s niece from her coma, removing his motivation for being Cicada. It’s an interesting approach, but given how this show has handled it’s previous Big Bads, it seems a bit naive to believe anything will permanently stop or alter Cicada’s rampage until it’s season finale time.

I’m sorry to be such a downer here, because as I said, this was otherwise a very solid episode. Not amazing, but solid. Just not much else to say about it.

Stray Observations:

  • While convenient for the heroes, it is a nice touch that Cicada only damages the helicopter’s ability to land, rather than just crashing it. The pilot was presumably not a metahuman, after all, and Cicada isn’t going to want to kill them.
  • I continue to enjoy the Sherloque-investigating-Nora story. It hits a lot of the same beats as the Who Is Harrison Wells? mystery from Season 1, without feeling like a complete retread.
  • This episode sees the return of rage-filled, take-no-prisoners Barry, and it’s just . . . not a good look for him. They keep trying to take him down that route, but it never feels quite natural, no matter how many very understandable reasons he’s given for being angry.

 

MVP of the Week: Killer Frost

The Flash - Killer Frost

Her being an “evil” split personality who just wants to keep Caitlin safe is such a weird dynamic, but also kinda sweet. And she always seems to be having more fun than everyone else put together.

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite example of these show’s referencing a much earlier episode?