Supergirl 4×14: “Stand and Deliver”, Arrow 7×15: “Training Day”, and The Flash 5×16: “Failure Is an Orphan” reviews
This Last week, we had confirmation that Kamandi the Last Boy exists in the Arrowverse!
A bunch of other stuff happened, but your main takeaway should be that.
Supergirl 4×14: “Stand and Deliver” review
Hope has always been a big theme of Supergirl’s. On multiple occasions, Kara has outright declared herself a symbol of hope, which is conceited as all hell, but accurate.
Frequently, the kind of hope Supergirl has peddled has been more like obnoxious naivete. An all too common occurrence on this show is Kara doing something stupid or reckless because her gut tells her it’s the right thing to do. Other characters tell her she shouldn’t do this, that she should be careful, take the more pragmatic course of action. But she ignores them, believing whole-heartedly in her own abilities and that doing what she thinks is right will always produce good results. And, inevitably, she’s proven correct and everything works out for her, even if logically it probably shouldn’t have.
That is a bad way to deliver a message of hope. It’s saying to believe in yourself, and believe that things will work out in the end . . . so long as you’re the lead character of a TV show where the writers always take your side.
That’s why it was so refreshing to see a Supergirl episode that’s all about the power of hope, about trusting in simple ideals like togetherness and basic human decency, and have it actually work.
In part, that’s due to the groundwork laid by previous episodes. In fighting the Children of Liberty, our heroes have won every battle, but have been losing the war. No matter how many masked thugs they beat up, or how many Ben Lockwoods they put in prison, hatred for aliens has continued to grow and spread like a cancer. It’s a despairing sight, to see such a toxic ideology run unimpeded. It makes viewers eager for a hopeful ending to balance it out.
Had Ben Lockwood and his anti-alien group only been introduced this episode, or if they’d only been presented as a small and insignificant fringe group before now, this episode’s ending could have felt a tad trite or obvious. But after seeing them have so many successes, to the point where public outcry got their leader pardoned for murder and rewarded with a cabinet post, it’s refreshing to see public opinion turn against them at least a little. To know that hatred and intolerance don’t always win the battle for hearts and minds.
Something else that makes this episode work is that the plan to counter Lockwood’s anti-alien rally with protest march? It doesn’t go off without a hitch. Manchester Black does arrive to turn it into a violent brouhaha. But some moments of togetherness and understanding manage to bloom despite that interruption. A message of hope goes down a lot smoother when it’s acknowledged that hope doesn’t always pan out, but we’re shown the value of it regardless.
Also making the message more palatable is that, for once, Kara is not the leading champion and proselytizer of hope. That role falls to Brainy (a.k.a. American Alien) who organizes the Pro-Alien March. And there are moments where he absolutely falls into obnoxious naivete, acting as though violence breaking out at the protest is simply not possible, and that any efforts to prepare for that possibility are no different from attempts to shut it down. But since he’s a supporting character, and a supporting character who’s meant to come off as quirky and arrogant and not always right, this isn’t such a big deal.
With the role of naive idealist taken away from Kara, she can now be the character who learns to embrace hope over the course of the episode. Being a superhero, she deals with most problems using violence, and with both the Elite and the Children of Liberty running wild, she can only see the upcoming pro-alien/anti-alien rallies as a potential battleground. It takes time, and some words from Brainy, for her to remember there are ways to help the world beyond beating people up. That as Supergirl, a hero and a symbol beloved by millions, she can quite possibly do more good marching with the protestors, lending her face and her credibility to their side, than by hovering above them looking for the next bad guy to punch.
It’s not wild character growth, more just Kara re-embracing what’s normally been her default state of believing the best in people, but it still allows her to go on an emotional journey this episode, and gives the climax some added weight.
You can easily imagine the climax of this episode not working. The shots of anti-alien protestors crossing lines to help aliens who have been hurt? Could have felt far too easy and saccharine. But the way Supergirl handled everything this episode, it feels earned. It’s not good triumphing because good always triumphs on this show. It’s just one part of a hard fought struggle, a struggle that’s far from over, but it shows that, if you have hope, if you trust in the goodness of people, if you believe that an earnest plea for peace can make the world a better place, then sometimes (not always, but sometimes) things will work out.
It’s a message Supergirl has done before, and rarely done well, but when it works, like it does here? That’s the kind of message we all need to hear now and then, don’t you think?
- While the overall message of hope worked, everyone praising James’s photograph for capturing it really, really didn’t. I realize that was an unfair burden placed on the production crew. It’s easy to write in a script “everyone’s awed by inspirational photograph”; it’s a whole ‘nother thing to create a photograph that lives up to that hype. Still, they could’ve done a little better than what they gave us.
- James’s photograph may not have been great, but it was nice to see him recognize that journalism can do just as much good as putting on a costume and beating people up. It’s almost as though his Guardian sub-plot has been entirely unnecessary, but surely that can’t be the case.
- Oh, yeah, speaking of James, he got shot, didn’t he? And the episode definitely wants to make it seem like Lena was behind it. Yeah . . . no way they’re doing that.
- Most of the Elite were captured this episode, but with Manchester still on the loose, hopefully a prison break is on the horizon.
- J’onn’s anger towards Manchester isn’t really working for me. It feels like the writers wanted to give J’onn an emotional arc for the season, they decided on growing anger clashing with his desire for pacifism, and now they’re trying to fit him into that box whether or not it works.
- Ben Lockwood says he wants to deport aliens back to their home planets, which just left me wondering whether they actually have the technology to do that. Does America have its own faster-than-light spaceships on Supergirl’s Earth? The show’s always been kinda vague on that point.
- When Alex objects to handling Ben Lockwood’s security detail, she should have brought up that, as the Director of the DEO, acting as someone’s personal security guard is below her paygrade. Isn’t her job supposed to be largely administrative now?
- Nia’s enthusiasm for her new superhero career was a hoot. Especially Kara needing to reign her in about how much forcefulness is too much: “More hands on hips, not screaming in face.”
- The big anti-alien rally at the end seemed kinda small, didn’t it? There were, what, a couple dozen people there? I know they can only afford so many extras, but for the pro-alien march, they at least used camera angles to make the crowd seem
Okay, so I felt like I had to address this, but it didn’t really fit into the review, and it’s a little too long for a Stray Observation, so I’m putting it here.
This episode had quite possibly the worst handling of secret identities ever seen on this show. The other heroes think Nia’s weird for wearing her Dreamer costume constantly, even when they’re in private. (Which, screw them, her costume is awesome.) Except, early on in the episode, they weren’t in private. They were holding Menagerie captive in J’onn’s office, and Nia was the only one bothering to hide her civilian identity from the supervillain.
Like, okay, just because Menagerie’s seen their faces doesn’t mean she knows who they are (insert Justice League Unlimited clip of Lex Luthor seeing the Flash’s face here). But, immediately after this scene, the heroes hand Menagerie over to the DEO and Colonel Haley. Y’know, the woman hellbent on learning Supergirl’s secret identity? Who’s such a threat to Kara’s secret that they had to wipe all knowledge of it from Alex’s mind just to be on the safe side?
Menagerie can now tell Haley that, when Supergirl’s out of costume, she wears glasses and keeps her hair in a ponytail. That she hangs out at that offices of J’onn J’onnz, PI. And that she’s secret superhero buddies with one of Haley’s own DEO agents, Agent Dox. If Haley can’t uncover everyone’s secret identities from that . . .
Only way this makes any sort of sense is if supervillains have a “no snitching” code.
Arrow 7×15: “Training Day” review
Some episodes of Arrow get your blood pumping with excitement. Some break your heart with the tragedies these characters suffer. Others make you irritated with all the stupid decisions those characters make. But this episode? It has its moments of excitement, of sadness, and of irritation, but more than any of those things, it’s comforting. This is an Arrow episode best watched late at night, while curled up on the couch with a warm blanket, and maybe with a gentle snow shower outside.
It might be I’m still affected by news of Arrow’s upcoming series finale. In fact, I’m pretty sure I am. But given that the makers of Arrow knew this cancellation was coming far ahead of it being announced, it seems quite likely this episode was designed with that knowledge in mind. That with the end of the series on the horizon, with Arrow’s 7+ year journey reaching its conclusion, they decided to give us an episode that’s just a chance to hang out with these characters as they go on a low-stakes adventure, one last time.
Well, I say low-stakes, but there’s still a criminal supplying gangs with a new superweapon, ‘cause this is still Arrow, after all. And a lot of to-do is made about Team Arrow finding a way to make their new arrangement with the SCPD work. But, really, that’s all minor stuff. We know our heroes can handle a perp of this caliber, and that after everything Team Arrow has been through, some arguments over proper procedure aren’t going to be what brings them down.
Adding to the low-stakes feel is that this episode’s plot is almost entirely self-contained. There’s a C-plot with Laurel investigating Diaz’s death, and a change of status quo for Dinah, but for the most part this episode isn’t trying to set up future conflicts or establish how much of a threat this season’s bad guy is. Even the flashforwards with William and Mia, while they do technically advance an ongoing storyline, are the sort of side-quest that could have easily been taken care of off-screen; it’s only being shown to us here so we can enjoy watching the two children of Oliver Queen work together. This episode is just it’s own fun little adventure, the kind we’ve gotten less and less of as the show’s gone on.
Heck, the wealthy scumbag villain, with the gruesome bullets-that-make-your-flesh-melt gimmick? It’s about as classic an Arrow bad guy as you can get. The Bunker is back, complete with everyone’s costumes on mannequins. We even get a “Suit up” and a “You have failed this city!” This is Arrow comfort food, simple as that.
If the show’s ending point hadn’t been announced, I might not have enjoyed this so much. I might have felt frustrated getting such a run-of-the-mill episode that, despite the promise of the SCPD partnership, doesn’t do much of anything new. But knowing we don’t have much of the show left, it’s nice to see the characters going on a simple, uncomplicated adventure that reminds us of old times. We can expect the remaining episodes of the season to be filled with dramatic upheavals and tense situations, and who knows what they’ll do to finish the show in Season 8. So why not just curl up with a decent, comforting episode of Arrow one last time?
- There’s a whole lot that could be said about how this episode treats the idea of police accountability and rules of conduct. That’s a great big minefield, so all I’ll say about it here: Felicity’s face as she’s told that all evidence must be gathered legally? It is a hilarious mixture of panicked and crestfallen.
- Okay, one other thing: how is the fact that a confession given under duress is inadmissible news to any of these people? When they were vigilantes, did they just never look up whether the criminals they dropped off at the police station actually got charged with anything?
- As good as it was to have the Bunker back, something just occurred to me: do you suppose they have changing rooms in there? Or does Team Arrow just have to strip down to their skivvies in front of each other before they can suit up?
- Bronze Tiger’s son is named Connor, and he calls him “my little hawk”. In the future, John Diggle’s adoptive son goes by the name Connor Hawke. Bronze Tiger’s survival rate ain’t looking good, folks.
- Mia and William’s hunt for a cassette player was fun, though you gotta wonder if they don’t have eBay in the 2040’s or something.
The Flash 5×16: “Failure Is an Orphan” review
“Today’s the day you stop Cicada.”
Where have we heard those words before? Heck, replace the name “Cicada” with “Zoom”, “Savitar”, or “DeVoe”, and it’d fit right in almost anywhere in the last four seasons.
While The Flash has several recurring problems, the most frustrating, the one that most consistently hinders enjoyment of the show, is the way it keeps teasing the ultimate defeat of its Big Bads. It’s one thing to have a single villain be an overarching threat throughout a season. Lots of shows have done that, and The Flash itself made it work in Season 1. The problem is that The Flash will, repeatedly, in many episodes throughout the season, have the heroes say that this time they’ve got a way to stop the bad guy once and for all . . . and, of course, none of these plans work, not until the season finale.
If the villains were kept off-screen more, not an active threat that Team Flash must constantly face, or if the team spent much of the season with no idea how to beat the bad guys, just trying to minimize the damage they cause, that would work so much better. To tease us with the possibility that this week’s episode will mark the final confrontation with the bad guy, when we know it can only end in failure, is simply trying on the audience’s patience.
This episode, perhaps, shows the writers have become a little self-aware about this. They put the word “failure” right there in the title, because we all know the heroes’ latest gambit to stop Cicada must, inevitably, fail. And then they put a twist on that failure in the third act. After some stumbling blocks, their plan to convince Cicada to take the metahuman cure, to give up the powers that let him kill metahumans, works. The cure doesn’t fail, Cicada doesn’t change his mind at the last minute and escape, there’s no second satellite shard to strike his chest and give him his powers back (at least not yet). This Cicada problem has been finally and conclusively dealt with.
Then a second Cicada shows up to crash the party.
It’s not quite what many fans have been asking for, for The Flash to wrap up its main story arc part way through the season and start a brand new one, rather than dragging a single conflict out for 23 episodes. Team Flash is still fighting a hooded serial killer with a breathing mask, dagger weapons, and a hodgepodge of powers. But to switch from Orlin Dwyer’s Cicada to Grace Gibbons’s time-traveling future Cicada? It should at least prove a radical enough shakeup to keep the plot feeling fresh, and to keep the heroes’ efforts this episode from feeling entirely pointless.
Hey, if nothing else, she doesn’t seem to have quite so ridiculous a bad guy rasp.
This is the difficult part of reviewing serialized TV shows as they air. Grace replacing Orlin could be the wild new direction this season needs (certainly, her being Cicada’s daughter from the future ties this story more closely to Nora’s arc). However, in a few episodes’ time, we might come to view this as a needless complication, a way to drag out a story that had already reached it’s natural endpoint (and it already feels dragged out; I kinda wish this twist had happened eight episodes ago).
It’s hard for me to think of anything to say beyond “we’ll have to wait and see”, so . . .
We’ll have to wait and see.
- When Nora becomes obsessive about stopping Cicada and starts ordering everyone else around, trying to get them to be just as obsessed as she is, Barry . . . is proud of her, because she’s doing exactly what he always does. That’s kinda sweet.
- The one thing Barry isn’t obsessive about, though? Getting his inspirational speeches right. Those he just sort of improvises. Seems a little irresponsible given that their plan hinges on one (and it’s actually hilarious how Nora tries combing through a bunch of his old speeches to create a scientifically perfect version), but on the other hand, it makes perfect sense: who has more experience with pep talks than Barry Allen?
- The episode’s trying to tell us that Joe was uncomfortable with Cecile during the questioning because he felt inferior next to her powers. But, really, Cecile was being so transparent in her tells to Joe, I know would’ve figured out something was up if I’d been Dr. Ambres.
- Thawne always seems to know a lot more about DC Universe lore than anyone else in the Arrowverse, but even so I was not expecting the line “from Anthro the First Boy to Kamandi the Last”.
- There’s now an XSpresso being served at Jitters. This is how Nora knows she’s finally made it as a superhero.
- Included on Iris and Barry’s list of things to do with their daughter is “Teach Nora to drive”. They do know she’s in her late 20’s/early 30’s, right? Or maybe public transportation in America has finally become decent by the 2040’s, so she never had to learn?
MVP of the Week: Nia Nal
Eager Young Superhero Cadet.
Question of the Week: Which character would you say is least likely to survive until the season finales?