Last Week In The Arrowverse: 04/21/2019 – 04/27/2019: “Jurmagic Park”

Supergirl 4×18: “Crime and Punishment”, Legends of Tomorrow 4×12: “The Eggplant, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, Arrow 7×19: “Spartan”, and The Flash 5×19: “Snow Pack” reviews

For the first time since 2018, all four Arrowverse shows are back with new episodes! And I wanna get right into it . . .

Lex Luthor - But First . . .

Last week, in my review of Legends of Tomorrow’s “Séance & Sensibility”, I complimented the audacity of including a “Bollywood musical number”, but I forgot to comment on the quality of the musical number itself. I’m correcting that oversight now, because “I Surrender” was, quite simply, beautiful.

An incredibly catchy tune, lyrics alternately poignant and humorous, terrific use of lighting, fantastic costuming, and (of course) Tala Ashe’s amazing singing: it was a true tour de force, and has been the subject of countless re-watches over the last two weeks. So much work was put into this number, and it delivered such wonderful results, I didn’t feel right letting it slip by unpraised.

 

Whew . . . okay, now that I’m done talking about an episode that aired two weeks ago, let’s get back to striking while the iron’s hot, and discuss some episodes that only aired one week ago!

 

Supergirl - Crime and Punishment - Prison Hallway

Supergirl 4×18: “Crime and Punishment” review

This Supergirl review is gonna be short. Really short.

When reviewing a TV show week-by-week, you find that not every episode merits the same amount of discussion. Some episodes provide almost endless potential for analysis; these can be a show’s very best episodes, it’s very worst episodes, it’s most unusual episodes, or just episodes that hit upon an intriguing idea, but you can write thousands of words on them and still not cover everything you want to say.

Then there are episodes like this one. Episodes that don’t give you much to talk about because, really, not much happens in them.

Oh, “Crime and Punishment” stays busy. There’s lots of characters running around, solving mysteries, fighting bad guys, coming up with plans and counter-plans, and making plenty of quips and pop-culture references. “Crime and Punishment” is never a dull episode. But by episode’s end, it feels like they’ve just been running in circles for an hour before deciding to stop.

What’s changed by the end of the episode? A few plot points have been introduced that will undoubtedly prove important, and some tertiary characters got some development, but that’s about it. Our main characters and their situation feel pretty much the same at the end of the hour as they did at the beginning, with no big insights into them, or even any particularly memorable events. Even Otis self-destructing is undone before the episode’s over.

“Crime and Punishment” just feels like a way to kill time. Last episode ended with Supergirl becoming Public Enemy #1, and I guess they wanted to let that change simmer for a bit before bringing in the next big change. But it leaves us with an episode that, while perfectly fun to watch, feels like something you could easily skip, and just doesn’t offer that much to analyze.

So . . . yeah, that’s about all I got to say here.

Stray Observations:

  • The Supergirl vs. Otis fight scene was pretty darn fun. Using workout equipment as weapons, breaking down walls like they’re graham crackers, getting into a boxing ring and sounding a bell, and Otis making constant, just absolutely constant, pop-culture references? It was a hoot.
  • Less thrilling were the prisoners attacking Supergirl. Like, what did these guys expect to happen? Even if she went limp and let them attack her, how do they expect punching a Kryptonian to result in anything but them breaking their own fists?
  • Supergirl changing back into Kara Danvers to fool Otis was neat, but where did she get her outfit from? Does she have her own version of the Flash ring, only instead of her costume, it’s got her civilian clothes inside?
  • Brainy continues to be the show’s comedic highlight, from his adoration of Ethan Hunt “master of the impossible mission”, to his loud declaration, “No one is more clandestine than I! No one!”
  • This is the second time (the other being last season’s “Shelter from the Storm”) that our heroes have needed to be explicitly told that, if they want to convince someone to change their behavior, they need to appeal to that person’s own values. And in both cases, it’s treated as a brilliant insight they never would have come to on their own. I suppose it does fit how black-and-white our heroes’ view of morality tends to be. Really, though, this scene only seemed to be here to provide a (kinda clunky) excuse for Jimmy’s sister and Alex to meet up again.

 

Legends of Tomorrow - The Eggplant, The Witch, And The Wardrobe - Store

Legends of Tomorrow 4×12: “The Eggplant, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” review

In reviewing the Arrowverse, I don’t often talk about the directing. I’ll spend thousands of words on the writing, and I’ll mention the acting if a performance was particularly good or particularly bad, but unless there’s an elaborate fight scene or some other big spectacle, I tend not to go into stuff like how scenes are lit, how shots are composed, what music is used, and so on.

Partly that’s due to my own background; I’m much more versed in the craft of story structure, dialogue, and character arcs than I am with the techniques of filmmaking. But it’s also because the directing in the Arrowverse tends not to draw attention to itself. There’ll be a few big set pieces where they do something unusual or ambitious, but most of the time the directing is strictly workmanlike: when everything’s done right, the audience scarcely notices the directing at all.

That doesn’t mean the directing’s not important. Even if you’re not consciously aware of it, an episode’s director is making thousands of decisions that shape the story, and a different director making different choices could deliver a radically different episode, even if every line of dialogue remained the same. That’s something I needed to remind myself of with this episode.

After watching “The Eggplant, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, my initial impression was that this was an unusually dark and melancholy episode of Legends, but looking back over what happened in the episode, I couldn’t put my finger on why. Sure, Ava’s in purgatory, Neron’s sowing anger among our heroes, and we end with Ray possessed and Nora in a coma, but that’s really not far from the norm for Legends. It’s not like the story doesn’t go down plenty of wacky paths, with purgatory taking the form of an IKEA-esque mega-store, or Nate catching a wrecking ball to save Hey World from demolition, or Zari spending the whole episode getting emoji-sexting advice. And all the while there are just as many quips, sight gags, shenanigans, and instances of Gary-being-Gary as in any episode.

What made this episode feel so dark and downbeat wasn’t what happened, but how what happened was presented to us.

Let’s take a look at the first scene, where Sara goes to Ava’s apartment and, after trying for a bit to get Ava to open the door, lets herself in and discovers the place wrecked and Ava missing. If this had been filmed outside the apartment with Sara, or inside the apartment but with the camera pressed tight to the door, only revealing the apartment’s interior when Sara discovers it, it could have been a fairly light scene, only taking a dramatic turn in the last few seconds. Instead, it’s filmed so that, as Sara stands at the door pleading for Ava to let her in, the camera pulls back, gradually revealing the apartment: unlit, filled with signs of a struggle, and with Ava nowhere to be seen. We’re left with no doubt that something terrible has happened to Ava, and that Sara is about to discover this fact. The choice to film the scene this way, coupled with some foreboding music, fills it with low-key dread and starts the story off on a heavy note.

This episode is full of directing choices like that, ones that make the dramatic scenes feel extra grim, and make scenes that, as written, could be light-hearted and comical feel tinged with melancholy.

Nate’s storyline this episode could easily have been made a wacky romp, with the tone only going dark during the Neron confrontation. That may very well be what the writers room intended for this storyline, as the dialogue is filled with references to how absurd the situation is. But while all the jokes are kept in, the presentation changes the mood to something bleaker.

Nick Zano plays Nate as absolutely exhausted this episode. Him seeing Hey World’s construction, or learning that “My dad made a deal with a demon to open a theme park?”, could have been played with higher energy, which would heighten the comedy of how flabbergasted he is. Instead, he gives a sense that each new detail Nate learns is wearing him down, lending a somber air to the proceedings.

This choice is reinforced by many different parts of the production. Nate spends the episode wearing his Time Bureau suit, but with his tie removed, his collar unbuttoned, and (except when heading outside) his jacket cast aside. This is a visual shorthand movies and TV have been using for ages to tell us that a character has been hard at work fora long time, and the strain is wearing on them, hence them taking any small bit of comfort they can get.

The lighting also sells this sense of weariness: Nate’s scenes are set either at the Time Bureau afterhours, where the lights have all been dimmed, or at the Hey World construction site, where the daylight is pale and washed out, and we get several shots of a gray, hazy sky. This helps sell the idea that Nate is working late into the night, even till the hours after dawn, and makes his story feel downbeat in a way that more vibrant lighting would have dispelled.

Then there’s the music. Legends has a stable of comedy music cues that it loves using whenever a scene is meant to be funny. This episode makes very little use of that music, confining it mainly to Zari’s texting storyline. Had a jaunty tune been on the soundtrack during Nate’s meeting with “Mikey T” and the reveal of Hey World, it would have played up the comedic absurdity of the situation. Instead, the comedy is downplayed by either not using music, or by making the music oddly wistful.

This choice in music also affects the Sara/Ava storyline. Given that they’re in a demonic IKEA, faced with surreal versions of domestic chores, playing it for high comedy seems the obvious route. Sure, you’d still get moments of real drama when Sara and Ava patch up their differences, but play a bubbly, high-energy soundtrack over the proceedings, and most of it would come off very lighthearted. But, outside of a wardrobe assembly montage, that’s not what the soundtrack does here.

There are a few scenes where ominous or teary-eyed music plays, but most of the time the only music to be heard is the quiet, unchanging drone of the store’s background muzak. This makes their scenes feel a bit rawer, a bit more like the camera just happens to be in the store, recording these two people. When Sara and Ava argue, a different soundtrack could have made it feel like heightened sitcom squabbling. Instead, presented this way, it feels a bit uglier, a bit more painful, a bit more real.

There are a dozen more decisions like this I could name, and probably hundreds more I haven’t consciously noticed yet, that lend this episode a bleaker vibe. When Ava’s discovered in Neron’s motel room, the choice to have her slumped and kneeling on the floor, wearing only her night clothes, with her face pale and worn, makes her look especially victimized. When Neron walks down the street, causing random outbreaks of violence, you can easily imagine a different Legends episode playing it for over-the-top comedy, instead of the more menacing portrayal it gets here. And there are a bunch of moments where a character says something pessimistic, and it’s lingered on a bit longer, or where they say something angry, and it’s played a bit harsher.

If you read the script for this episode, and the scripts for a bunch of other Legends episodes, I suspect they wouldn’t feel all that different. But it’s clear that, in the directing and editing of this episode, a choice was made to lean into the darker aspects of the story, to establish a tone that’s more bitter, more somber than what we normally get on Legends of Tomorrow.

Was this a good decision? Well, I do feel like I would have enjoyed this episode more if it had been played with the show’s usual light touch. Certainly, there are points where these directing choices feel at odds with the script, trying to wring quiet drama out of ridiculous situations and joke-filled dialogue. Still, I don’t want to come down too hard on a director for trying something different, for wanting this episode, which acts as a turning point in several dramatic storylines, to not feel as light and frothy as your typical Legends fare.

They had a vision for this episode. I may have preferred a different vision, but I can still appreciate the effort and artistry put into realizing it.

Stray Observations:

  • I don’t often talk about the directing of episodes, but I also don’t normally give the set design enough credit. The floor of the Megastör, the Ava warehouse, the giant frickin’ dragon gate for Hey World: they show a lot of creative design and ambition for a show that doesn’t exactly have the biggest budget in the world.
  • Sara and Ava’s odd couple dynamic is played up a lot here, but when you remember that Sara’s last two major relationships were with Nyssa al Ghul and Oliver Queen, Ava may actually be the most laid back person Sara has dated. Guess she’s got a type.
  • It’s looking like our main villain for the season might not be Neron, but this Tabitha he hinted at. That’d mean Legends, Arrow, and The Flash this season all started by promising a male Big Bad, before pivoting in their back half and delivering, for the first time, a woman in the lead villain role. Not sure if there’s any connection there, just an interesting pattern.
  • Was that it for Desmond? If so, kind of an underwhelming end for him, even if it does make sense he’d just want to get the hell out of there (no pun intended).
  • The Nate/Zari thing is finally starting to grow on me. I think treating it as a cute little crush is really the right approach, if for no other reason than Tala Ashe playing awkward is both hilarious and adorable.
  • So . . . Ray got possessed. I’m kinda excited to see that, because an evil Ray Palmer almost seems like a contradiction in terms.

 

Arrow - Spartan - Diggle & Ernie Hudson

Arrow 7×19: “Spartan” review

This is a very weird episode to have at this point in the series.

It’s not just that we’re seven seasons in and are only now learning that John has a stepfather, or that his dad died on a military mission that said stepfather commanded (though, yes, that is a little weird). It’s also because we only have three more episodes left in this season, and then only another ten until the series is over. You’d think the focus here would be on the pre-existing character relationships, since the time we have left with these people is limited, and on bringing various dangling plot threads to a close. This seems like a time when Arrow should be working with the pieces it already has on the board, not introducing new characters and new backstories.

It’s weird that this episode is happening now, but if you put the timing aside, it’s also an incredibly traditional Arrow episode. This show has always loved having members of a character’s family suddenly show up for an episode or a story arc and get embroiled in the drama. Heck, between his brother Andy and his ex-wife Lyla, this is the third time John Diggle has been through this sort of story. The plot mechanics are all quite familiar as well: magical hacking powers, a superweapon MacGuffin, heroes getting kidnapped and tortured, and a daring escape, all while two characters are forced to confront their differences and come to a reconciliation by the end.

Perhaps that’s why this episode is happening now. It’s one last chance to give John a classic Arrow-style adventure with a strong focus on his character. It’s not an ambitious outing, but it’s a solid and enjoyable example of a very typical Arrow episode.

Just a shame it kinda lets down the build up to the season’s climax. This is theoretically a very important episode for the arc story, with the Ninth Circle getting their hands on a superweapon, Emiko learning that Dante ordered her mother’s death, and her subsequently taking revenge on him. But that all feels a little beside the point this hour. The focus is heavily on John and his stepfather, and the Ninth Circle is merely there to create the perilous scenario necessary for them to reconcile.

Emiko and the Ninth Circle have already been pretty underdeveloped as antagonists. That Arrow took one of their last chances to build them up before the season finale, then largely sidelined them in favor of John reconnecting with a guy we’ve never seen before . . . it doesn’t build confidence that this story arc will end well. This episode may have been good in its own right, but I’m not sure it’s what Arrow Season 7, or Arrow as a whole, needed this deep into its endgame.

Stray Observations:

  • Alena holding a keyboard as a weapon was adorable. I was hoping we’d get to see her using it, ala the tablet shuriken from Season 3.
  • Warner Bros. won’t let Arrow use Deathstroke anymore because they have plans for him in the movies. But they’re apparently okay with a Deathstroke Gang that dresses like him and have tattoos of his mask. I can never figure out the reasoning behind stuff like this.
  • The existence of a Deathstroke Gang is kinda cool, though. Reminiscent of the Jokerz in Batman Beyond.
  • Felicity’s “Oh my God, I’m a mad scientist” realization was easily the laugh out loud moment of the episode.

 

The Flash - Snow Pack - Ice Slide

The Flash 5×19: “Snow Pack” review

“Snow Pack” peaks early. There’s good stuff throughout the episode, a lot of fun, a lot of drama. But the highlight, standing head and shoulders above everything else, is clearly that first scene.

Iris and Barry don’t fight much, and when they do fight, it’s usually a very civil affair. Even when they’ve expressed their frustration or disappointment with each other, it’s been done with a reluctance to hurt the other’s feelings; you get the sense it hurts them more to say those things than for their partner to hear it. The opening of “Snow Pack” is thus the first time The Flash’s power couple has had an out-and-out row: yelling at each other, refusing to yield an inch, and (at least in the moment) not giving a damn if what they’re saying is hurtful.

It’s not the best written scene The Flash has ever had. There are a couple lines (“making decisions based on your emotions”, “maybe if he’d killed your mother in front of you”) that feel far too let’s-state-this-as-clearly-as-possible. But the acting from Candice Patton and Grant Gustin? My God, do they hit this scene out of the park. They’ve been playing these very genial, very well-meaning characters for so long, I have to imagine they leapt at the opportunity to finally do something a bit harsher, a bit uglier with them.

Shouting matches can easily turn camp, the characters coming across as ridiculous for expressing themselves so flamboyantly. But Barry and Iris’s fight works the shouting in brilliantly, playing it as sudden peaks of emotion during the fight, moments where they briefly lose control, before reigning themselves back in. And it’s when they reign themselves in that the fight gets truly devastating. After an outburst, they’ll be quiet for a moment, and from the way they hold their bodies, from where they look with their eyes, you can tell the outrage they expressed a moment ago hasn’t passed. Now they’re working out how to channel that outrage into a comment that’s icier, more carefully worded to pierce through their lover’s defenses.

The fight starts off at full blast, and keeps up that intensity for three solid minutes. That may not sound like much, but for a 40 minute television episode, that’s a long time to have two characters just standing in a room talking. It may be the most brutal and emotionally powerful scene The Flash has done all season, so it’s not surprising the rest of the episode can’t quite live up to it.

Nora and Thawne in the future is intriguing, Iris’s determination to get her daughter back is kick-ass, and the Caitlin plot has some good action scenes and chemistry between her and her mom. But most of it feels like stuff that’s happening now simply because it needs to happen now. Nora and Thawne are setting up stuff that will pay off in the remaining episodes of the season, while the Snow family are wrapping up a plotline that was established as a big thing during the first half of the season, then was sort of forgotten about. It really does feel like, during the mid-season hiatus, the writers lost all interest in Icicle and his relationship with Caitlin (or maybe they could only get the actor back for one episode, who knows), and this episode only exists to tie it off with a neat bow so people won’t complain about it never being resolved.

Which is kind of a bummer for Caitlin. Barry is the star of the show, of course. I talked last week about how Nora has become like a co-lead. And Iris has finally gotten a meatier role this season, getting to take center stage in many plots and have character development that’s not about her half-hearted journalism career. But this has kinda left Caitlin out in the cold (no pun intended). After the beginning of the season spent all that time slowly building up the mystery behind her father and the origins of Killer Frost, she’s been left doing little besides support work the rest of the season, and when her story arc does finally come back to the fore, it’s rushed through as quickly as possible.

I don’t want to complain too much, though. What we have here is a fairly good episode of The Flash, bolstered by a truly standout scene at the beginning. Putting your best moment so early just makes the rest look a little worse, is all.

Stray Observations:

  • Joe’s work beanie makes its triumphant return!
  • Nora accessing the Negative Force, complete with Glowing Red Eyes of Evil, was very cool, though I hope this won’t be used to retcon why Eobard Thawne became such an evil douchebag.
  • The Icicle storyline may have gotten a rushed conclusion, but the ice slide battle was frickin’ awesome.
  • At this point, it feels like the Cicada storyline and the Nora/Thawne storyline are almost completely disconnected. I’m honestly not sure how these two will get tied together before the season’s over, though I’m guessing Cicada II’s stolen doomsday device has something to do with it.

 

MVP of the Week: Ernie Hudson

Arrow - Spartan - Ernie Hudson

His character had a name, but screw it, he’s Ernie Hudson! The man exudes charm out of every pore on his body.

Question of the Week: What, in your opinion, is the most ridiculous piece of technobabble or pseudoscience in the Arrowverse?