Last Week In The Arrowverse: 04/14/2019 – 04/20/2019: “So Not Passing The Bechdel Test”

Legends of Tomorrow 4×11: “Séance & Sensibility”, Arrow 7×18: “Lost Canary”, and The Flash 5×18: “Godspeed” reviews

Last week in the Arrowverse, Arrow and The Flash returned from their mini-hiatus, and together with Legends, they gave us a double dose of Caity Lotz, as well as a double dose of horrible old age wigs. Good times all around!

 

Legends - Seance & Sensibility - Bollywood Zari

Legends of Tomorrow 4×11: “Séance & Sensibility” review

Legends of Tomorrow is usually good about having one moment in each episode that makes me simultaneously laugh and drop my jaw, a moment that makes me go, “I can’t believe I’m actually seeing this!” in the best way possible.

This week, we got two such moments.

First, obviously, is the “Bollywood musical number”. Legends has dabbled in with musical numbers before, whether it’s the Puppets of Tomorrow singing their own theme song, or an alien forcing secret agents to reenact Singing in the Rain, or Martin Stein breaking out “The Banana Boat Song” in the middle of NASA mission control (God, I love this silly little show).

This, however, is their first stab at a full-fledged, original, and elaborate song and dance number, like something straight out of a movie musical. If it were just the characters being magically compelled to sing, that wouldn’t be so outrageous, by the standards of a sci-fi/fantasy show. But when the spell starts generating genre-appropriate sets and costumes for the big showstopper, it manages to go next level.

This bit of high insanity is followed almost immediately by the second: Hank’s “Hey World” promotional video.

We’ve known for a while now that Hank was up to something shady with the captured magical creatures: cutting deals with Neron, talking about how they could be trained, insisting that “there’s a purpose” to what he’s doing. We all kinda assumed he was working to weaponize magical creatures, turn them into slave soldiers for the U.S. government. I don’t think any of us predicted his real plans for a magical theme park based off his son’s childhood drawings. It’s an utterly absurd reveal for such a major story arc, and damn if the audacity of it didn’t make me crack up.

These scenes are hilarious and stunning, but there’s more to them than being out-there for its own sake. They also serve as expressions of the episode’s core theme: how passions kept bottled up can explode into uncontrolled frenzy.

Zari is one of the more reserved characters on the show, and feels like showing her attraction to someone would be a sign of weakness. When she finally takes the plunge into exploring her passionate side (with a magical assist), that could have been shown simply by having her act more wild and exuberant. But it makes her change feel all the more pronounced if she’s suddenly expressing herself through song and dance, conveying emotions in a more intense and direct way than normal dialogue ever could.

As for Hank, the reveal of his theme park aspirations is frickin’ ridiculous. It feels completely out of place with what we know of Hank and his secret machinations. But that’s the point. Hank was never a very affectionate father to Nate, never let too many of his emotions show, or let his son get to know the real him. Both Nate and the audience were left with this cold and cynical view of who Hank was because of the walls he kept around himself. It’s only after Hank’s death that we discover there was this whole other side to him. A side of him that, while definitely insane, is the kind of man Nate could have grown close to, a man “as wacky and well-intentioned as any Legend”. Hank died with his son thinking he was a monster, and that video, as ludicrous as it is, exists to make us mourn for the relationship they could have had.

These moments are Legends at its best. Moments that shock and delight you with how unashamedly silly they are, yet remain rooted in character, and tell you something about these people you didn’t know before. These moments are so good, they make the other climactic set-piece look even worse.

I’m talking about Mona (or “Wolfy”, I suppose) attacking Jane Austen. For the second episode in a row, Legends is using Mona’s transformed state to have her vent her emotional turmoil in the bluntest and most obvious manner possible. Which is fine in theory, but unlike “I Surrender” or “Hey World”, these scenes are done with absolute seriousness, featuring none of the self-aware comedy those other scenes offer.

That is poor, poor choice. Mona/Wolfy’s voice, appearance, and behavior are far too silly to for such an approach to work. If only a few scenes in your episode are going to be played completely straight, a Lou Ferrigno-ish wolfwoman getting revenge on Jane Austen for making her believe in romance? That should not be one of them.

It’s the one sour note in an otherwise ball’s-out blast of an episode. I don’t do letter grading in these reviews, but if I did, that’d be the scene that would bring this one down from an A- to a B+.

Stray Observations:

  • I’ve never read any Jane Austen, so I can’t comment on how this episode reflects her life or her work. I’m not that familiar with Bollywood, either, but the appeal of a good musical number is universal!
  • I get nervous whenever a TV show brings some sort of love spell into the story, as it can easily turn unintentionally rapey. But Legends managed to thread that needle, I think, since we never see anyone actually have sex under the magic dust’s influence (though jury’s still out on Ray and Nora), and the guy spraying everyone with the stuff is clearly high on his own supply.
  • When the bride and the scullery maid declare their love, someone at the wedding literally cries out, “Scandal!” It’d only be more perfect if they had shouted, “Most unorthodox!”
  • John Constantine’s funeral attire is just his regular attire, except instead of an aggressively loosened auburn tie, it’s an aggressively loosened black tie.
  • The Nate/Zari romance still feels pretty forced, but this episode’s focus on physical attraction kinda makes it work. In addition to being good friends, Nate and Zari are also very, very beautiful people. Once their ruse for Nate’s parents puts the idea of getting together in their heads, it makes sense they might start looking at each other and go, “Whoa, that’d be pretty sweet.” The real question is why there’s not more hooking up on the Waverider.
  • I love that the drama we all expected to come from Nora being blamed for Hank’s murder is completely side-stepped. Instead, it’s an excuse for her and Ray to hide out on the Waverider together and be absolutely adorable. Through the whole episode, she’s giving him this look like, “Is this guy for real?”, and I can’t get enough of it.
  • Well, there is a little drama wrung from Nora being falsely accused, but since it gives us an overdue bit of Nate/Ray bromance, I’m gonna allow it.
  • Mona decides “I’m just gonna roll with the whole singing thing” with remarkable speed. She may be Legend material after all.
  • The final scene between John and Neron is incredibly Hellblazer-y, and it’s amazing that this bleak supernatural drama can be put in the same episode as a Bollywood musical number and a magical creature theme park, and none of it feels out of place.

 

Arrow - Lost Canary - Black Siren

Arrow 7×18: “Lost Canary” review

Laurel’s redemption has never really worked as good drama. She was fun as a villain, and has been great this season as a quasi-ally to Team Arrow and a gal pal to Felicity, but her transition from one to the other has never been written well.

The outline of her story arc isn’t bad. On Earth-2, her father died when she was 13, and later her version of Oliver really did die on the Queen’s Gambit. These tragedies sent her to a dark place, where she made some bad decisions and fell in with a dangerous crowd, to the point where, when she acquired her powers, she became a full-fledged supervillain. But on Earth-1, she’s in a reality where people remember her as a kind and courageous hero, and their persistence in showing her that she doesn’t have to be this horrible person gradually makes her reconsider what she’s done with her life.

The trouble is, there’s not much to her story beyond that outline.

We’ve never been given a good sense of Laurel’s inner life, what she wants and why she does the things she does. Saying she had some crappy experiences in her life and so became a murderous supervillain isn’t enough. What is it about the life of a criminal that appealed to her? Why was she so reluctant to give it up even when repeatedly given opportunities to do so? Does she see herself as a bad person? Does she miss anything from her life before villainy?

Arrow never bothered answering those questions. It likes using Laurel’s shifting moral status as a tool of suspense (will she help our heroes this week, or betray them?), but has little interest in what motivates her. We’re left with a sketch of a redemption story: first Laurel was evil, then she got pestered a lot to become good, and eventually she gave in. But the meat of a good redemption story, the inner turmoil of someone torn between two paths in life? That’s nowhere to be found.

A lot of that’s the product of Season 6, when the writing for everyone was pretty awful. But even in Season 7, which has improved on Season 6 in so many ways, the lack of solid motivation for Laurel remains. “Lost Canary” is redemption arc redux, with Laurel going back to her bad old ways, and our heroes trying to convince her not to, and it suffers from all the same problems.

When Laurel is accused of murder, wrecking the life she’s built on Earth-1, why is her response to put on her Black Siren costume, team up with an old accomplice, and pull a bunch of heists? I get that she thinks being good hasn’t worked out, so she’s going back to her old ways. But why this specific response?

Is she just trying to rack up a lot of cash now that her DA salary is gone? Or are these thrill heists, giving her the adrenaline fix she denied herself while acting as DA? Or is this an act of spite, trying to show Team Arrow they were wrong for trying to change her? Or is she just a very lonely person, and now that she’s on the outs with the good guys, she’s looking for a bad guy to be besties with?

Any of these motivations (or any of a dozen others you might think of) would be a solid foundation for Laurel’s story this episode. But once again, Arrow isn’t interested in that. Laurel’s motives are left frustratingly ill-defined, so whenever Felicity or Sara or Dinah appeals to her potential for goodness, we have no real idea what her inner conflict looks like. That leaves the core drama of the episode feeling rather hollow, with the characters going through the motions of a redemption story, but without any substance behind it. It’s basically:

Laurel: I’m evil again.
Everyone Else: Don’t be evil!
Laurel: Screw you, I’m gonna be evil.
Everyone Else: Don’t be evil!
Laurel: I said-
Everyone Else: Don’t be evil!
Laurel: Are you even listen-
Everyone Else: Don’t be evil!
Laurel: Ugh, fine, I won’t be evil, geez.

This is a pretty damning (and long-winded) criticism to level at an episode. So why is “Lost Canary” still so good?

Well, the central conflict of the episode may be hollow, but everything surrounding it works gangbusters. As I said, Laurel is loads of fun whenever she’s being either a badass supervillain or Felicity’s wine chugging friend, and we get both of those this episode. The acting is top notch all around, with lots of great interactions between our characters. Plus, there are cool fight scenes, a villain with a wicked costume, the return of Sara Lance and the original Canary Cry, and #GirlPower.

“Lost Canary” doesn’t have the emotional depth or dramatic power it should have, especially if this is the end of Laurel as a series regular. But as a fun outing of Arrow, there’s more than enough here to make it worth the watch.

Stray Observations:

  • When Felicity tells Dinah that Laurel “hasn’t killed anyone since she’s been the DA”, they’re standing right in front of a random cop. He had to have heard every word of that sentence, a sentence which implies Laurel did kill people prior to becoming DA. Does he not have any questions about that?
  • One of the Longbow Hunters makes an appearance. I’d kinda forgotten they were a thing.
  • Dinah’s talk about becoming Black Canary to protect women didn’t really make sense coming from her. That’s how Sara started her vigilante career, but Dinah’s began purely to get revenge on a guy who’d killed her boyfriend; helping other women didn’t enter into it.
  • Speaking of Sara, it was so good to see her back on Arrow. I love her over on Legends, too, but you always get to see different sides of a character depending on who they interact with. Sara as captain of a gang of screwballs is different from Sara as Felicity’s old friend swinging by to do a favor.
  • I hope that flashforward Laurel is doing the blonde-wig-on-top-of-blonde-hair thing, ‘cause I can’t believe her hair went that white in just twenty years.

 

The Flash - Godspeed - Nora & Thawne

The Flash 5×18: “Godspeed” review

Nora should not work as well as she does.

If you discount her cameo appearances in Season 4 (which add up to maybe five minutes of total screen time), Nora was introduced to The Flash in its Season 5 premiere, an episode entitled “Nora”, and from that moment on has come to dominate the show.

While not every episode this season has focused on Nora, the vast majority have built their main stories around her, and many other members of the cast have gotten less to do, often disappearing for entire episodes. We’re now on our third episode this season that has sidelined Barry so that Nora can take over the leading role. At this point, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to classify Barry and Nora as the co-leads of The Flash.

This should make us hate her. She should feel like an annoying upstart, someone who’s shoved down our throats and given undue importance, at the expense of the characters we know and love. And I’m sure there are people who do feel that way about Nora. But, for me, Nora has proven to be an incredible and unexpected delight.

I know I’ve said this before, but she really does embody the traits that made people fall in love with The Flash in Season 1. She’s not without tragedy in her past, or issues she still has to work through; those give her story direction and add weight to her character. But those things do not define her. As important as they are, her most defining characteristic is a dauntless optimism and exuberance, a giddy and wide-eyed appreciation for all the wonders she gets to be a part of. This is a very precise alchemy of ideas, one The Flash has often struggled to replicate, but with Nora they seem to have gotten that lightning back in the bottle.

Nothing makes the success of Nora’s character clearer than this week’s episode. “Godspeed” is constructed like a pilot episode for a hypothetical Flash: The Next Generation spinoff, showing how Barry’s now adult daughter discovers her own speed powers and learns to use them to protect her city. And it works so well, I kinda want that spinoff to happen!

A lot of it is an homage to the first season of The Flash, of course. Many specific scenes are recreated (showing up late to a crime scene, waking up from a coma, getting phasing advice from Thawne), but there’s also a general Season 1 vibe that’s going on, with the sense of wonder and discovery and new possibilities.

However, there’s also plenty here to keep Nora from just being Barry redux. Unlike Barry, who was traumatized by his mother’s death but has always had a great relationship with both his dads, Nora has only ever seen pictures of her father, and her relationship with her mother starts out strained and progresses to rage-filled. We see Nora doesn’t quite have her father’s self-confidence, as she’s pretty devastated by her first superhero screwup, and chickens out on her first attempt at phasing. Where Barry was driven by his obsession with a villain (the “Man in the Yellow Suit”), Nora is driven more by hero worship for the speedsters of yesteryear. And while both were trained by Eobard Thawne, the circumstances behind that training are very different.

Her world also has its own appealing quirks. Sure, 2049 looks a lot like the present day, but the fact that it’s a world where superheroes and villains have been around for decades adds an interesting wrinkle, gives it a sense of history.

Lia serves a Cisco-like role, the funny best friend who likes giving out codenames, but she still feels very much like her own character. She had such great chemistry with Nora, it was a damn shame to see her offed.

Then there’s the mystery surrounding Eobard Thawne. How was he imprisoned? Why are the records on him sealed? What are his true intentions?

Put all that together, and this episode simultaneously feels like a breath of fresh air, and like The Flash finally getting its old groove back.

I’m not going to tell you Nora is a perfect character; she can be annoying at times, and her drama can get overwrought. And I’m not saying I want to see The Flash cancelled and replaced by The Nora Show. But this episode asks us, just for a moment, to consider a world where that happened. And you know what? It doesn’t seem like a bad world to live in.

Stray Observations:

  • I was going to complain about the episode forgetting that Savitar had white lightning, too (and also called himself “the God of Speed”). But then I remembered: “The Flash Museum just straight up got a lot of stuff wrong.”
  • Thawne’s last meal is from Big Belly Burger. Nice to know 2049 isn’t out of cows yet.
  • I was expecting some joke about Nora’s parents reading her diary. It just feels too obvious not to do.
  • Iris’s old age hair is rough. Her scene with Nora was intense and dramatic, but I just kept staring at the hair. It doesn’t even look like she’s going grey; more like she decided to get platinum highlights, but didn’t do a very good job of it.
  • Godspeed’s costume was super-cool, though.
  • Seriously, can we bring Lia back to life, and then also to the present? I just want more of her.

 

MVP of the Week: The Salmon Ladder

Arrow - Lost Canary - Salmon Ladder (1)

IT LIVES!!!

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite musical moment in the Arrowverse?