Supergirl 4×19: “American Dreamer”, Legends of Tomorrow 4×13: “Egg MacGuffin”, Arrow 7×20: “Confessions”, and The Flash 5×20: “Gone Rogue” reviews
Last week, the Arrowverse saw the triumphant return of Roy Harper, Gary’s nipple, Bug-Eyed Bandit, and . . . interesting storylines for James? What the hell!?
Supergirl 4×19: “American Dreamer” review
How essential is the secret identity to Supergirl?
In conception, it’s an important part of both Supergirl the show and Supergirl the character, creating the dichotomy between Kara Danvers, ordinary woman trying to make her way at CatCo Worldwide Media, and Kara Zor-El, alien defender of Earth. But as the series has gone on, that dichotomy has felt less and less like something the show is interested in.
A big part of that is the transition from Kara as an office assistant for Cat Grant, someone who didn’t know her secret and would place copious demands upon her, to Kara as an investigative reporter answering directly to James Olsen, someone who does know her secret and will give her all the support and leeway she could ask for. Under these new circumstances, “ordinary woman” Kara Danvers is able to spend her days investigating criminal conspiracies and working to inspire hope and social change in the public . . . which is pretty much what she’d be doing as Supergirl, anyway. She may be doing it with a ponytail and a reporter’s notepad instead of a cape and a good right hook, but it feels less like she’s leading two separate lives, and more like she’s just changing her work clothes as the situation requires.
Then there’s the fact that pretty much everyone Kara knows is in on her secret. 90% of the time, she doesn’t need to lie about where she’s running off to or how she survived a building falling on her. She talks so freely about both sides of her life with almost the entire main cast, there are many episodes you could watch and have no idea she even has a secret identity.
Now, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. For many superhero stories, the secret identity is simply a tool of convenience, a way to let the hero go out in public without being mobbed by the press, and to explain why villains and/or the law don’t come for them in their homes. Supergirl’s problem is that, occasionally, it will remember that the secret identity is supposed to be this whole big thing, and will create an episode like “American Dreamer” that puts focus on it. But because the show has drifted away from the double life conceit, the sudden return of secret identity drama can feel awkward or unnecessary.
Yes, it’s the question Supergirl fans have been asking for years now: why doesn’t Kara just tell Lena the truth already?
Supergirl has never given a completely satisfying answer to that question, but here the continued insistence on keeping Lena in the dark feels especially at odds with what the characters would and should do.
Since Lex escaped, Kara has been by Lena’s side, helping her track down her brother and put this dark chapter in her life to bed. But because Kara has been doing all this as Supergirl, from Lena’s perspective it looks like her best friend Kara has been avoiding her, making Lena justifiably pissed. Kara bemoans how switching between her Supergirl and Kara Danvers roles has hurt her friendship with Lena, but she never takes a moment to question the wisdom of keeping her dual life a secret from her best friend.
As I mentioned, almost everyone in Kara’s life already knows her secret. Heck, she told Nia her secret after they’d only known each other a few months. If she’s willing to trust so many people with the truth, excluding Lena from that group feels conspicuous and poorly justified. Lena and Supergirl have patched up their differences, so Kara no longer has to worry that Lena will hate her if she learns the truth. And since Lena and Kara are about to go to Kaznia together to chase down a superpowered Lex Luthor, the idea that keeping Lena in the dark keeps her safe is more laughable than ever.
And at the end of the episode, Lena comes to Kara and apologizes for keeping secrets from her, for not letting her in. If ever there was a moment to tell Lena the truth, this is it. Lena is never going to be more primed to forgive Kara for keeping a secret from her than she is right now. But Kara doesn’t take the opportunity. She doesn’t give any indication that telling Lena the truth even occurred to her. Every obstacle preventing her from doing so appears to be gone, so the fact that this secret still exists between them, and is still being used to generate drama, feels awfully contrived.
But there’s another way that secret identities continue to fit awkwardly into Supergirl’s current storylines. More than ever, this season has been making heavy use of Supergirl and other heroes as public figures, people who help shape the political debate, rally people to causes, and inspire hope in the masses. The big climax of this episode is Nia going on television, speaking about her experiences as a half-human/half-alien, telling the world about herself so that humans can better understand the alien experience, and so that aliens can take courage from her example.
Except she wears a disguise through the whole thing. She makes her television appearance as Dreamer, wearing her mask, and not revealing her real name or identity.
Given some of the personal information she shares, anyone from her hometown should be able to figure out who Dreamer is pretty easily, but no one mentions this.
Anyone the least bit inclined to discredit her big speech could point out that there’s no way to confirm anything she said was the truth, but no one mentions this.
And it feels more than a bit hypocritical, making a big point about sharing “our authentic selves” with the world when she’s hiding behind a mask, but again, no one mentions this.
It really feels like this TV appearance was supposed to be made by Nia Nal as Nia Nal, not as Dreamer. But as that would have drawn way too much scrutiny down on her secret identity, we instead got this weird scenario where she’s speaking as Nia but disguising herself as Dreamer, and the episode wants to quietly pretend the problems this raises don’t exist.
I’m not saying Supergirl needs to abandon secret identities altogether. But the way episodes like this one are written, the secret identities feel like an awkward intrusion, something inserted because it’s supposed to be there, rather than informing the writing from the ground up. If Supergirl’s going to continue having secret identities figure into its stories, it needs to put a little more thought into how they’re used.
- James’s PTSD flashback raises a few questions: why did he make up a lie to protect his bullies? who let him out of that coffin? However, it successfully made a James-centric storyline that was engaging and had me caring about his character. That is an achievement worthy of great acclaim.
- When James relived his past trauma and decided to “fight back”, I was a little disappointed we didn’t get to see adult James beating up his still-child-aged bullies. Sure, it would’ve spoiled the drama of the scene a bit, but it would’ve been hilarious.
- Nia’s use of “raw dream energy” has gotten to the point where she’s basically a Blue Lantern . . . one with a fondness for constructs shaped like old-timey phone cords.
- The use of “American Woman” was super-cheesy, and the lyrics really didn’t have anything to do with the situation, but damn if I didn’t love it anyway. I’m not sure I’ve ever not loved scoring a fight scene to a piece of licensed music.
- Ben Lockwood is supposed to be part of the President’s Cabinet now, right? Heading up the Bureau of Alien Affairs? You’d think that would be a largely administrative job, so why’s he going to people’s houses and arresting aliens himself? That’s like the Surgeon General personally giving people flu shots.
- Kara and Lena go onto the balcony for their reconciliation, and thank God. If Kara had to go much longer without a heart-to-heart conversation on a balcony, I think she might go into withdrawals.
- Alex tells James’s sister that she knows “how hard it is to see a sibling in pain”, but – does she? Alex doesn’t remember anything about Kara being Kryptonian now; how many memories of Kara in pain does that leave intact?
- The heart-in-a-jar blowing up was unusually gory for Supergirl. Not a complaint, just an observation.
- James throws Lockwood and his goons out of CatCo, defending Kara and Nia’s broadcast as freedom of the press. Except they’d apparently hacked people’s television sets so the broadcast couldn’t be turned off, which is very much illegal, First Amendment or no.
Legends of Tomorrow 4×13: “Egg MacGuffin” review
What do superheroes do when the world doesn’t need saving?
That’s the situation the Legends think they have going on. Neron is seemingly destroyed, and the latest magical fugitive is taken down before the episode even begins (in a typically Legends bit of meta-commentary, Sara is surprised at how quickly they took care of that mummy, saying, “I though it would take all week”). There’s still a magical blip in 1933 to take care of, but it’s so minor, almost the whole team blows it off.
Normally Legends builds episodes around a mission. There will be sub-plots, of course, but they’ll generally be tied into whatever villain or time period is taking center stage that week. Without a unifying mission, we quickly see the Legends going off to take care of their own personal life stuff.
Mick and Charlie go to a romance novel convention to try and collect an appearance fee for “Rebecca Silver”. Nate and Zari go on their first date after being tricked into Indiana Jones cosplay. Sara cram-reads a trashy mystery novel for Ava’s book club. Meanwhile, Ray’s got an actual serious problem going on, what with Neron possessing his hand, but since people possessed by demons can’t tell anyone they’re possessed, he’s gotta handle that without any help (Gary doesn’t count).
All these plots intersect at various points, but they’re still their own separate things. It makes for quite a varied episode, going from high adventure and romance in the 1930’s, to dramatic revelations at RomantiCon, to dark slapstick aboard the Waverider, to quite possibly the most normal and domestic plot Legends has ever done, as Sara trudges through “The Girl Who Got Murdered Too Much”. But this variety makes it hard to find a central point to highlight in this review.
There’s no main plot this week; some storylines may get a little more screen time than others, but not to a significant extent. And there’s no central theme or premise connecting all these stories. It’s just a bunch of stuff the Legends get up to during their downtime.
Best I can do for a thesis statement here is that, by focusing on a bunch of low-stakes, lighthearted stories, the episode is able to make the dark conclusion blindside you. You’ve watched the Legends deal with their petty, personal crap, but now Ray’s possessed, Gary’s his evil lackey, and they’ve kidnapped Constantine. A nice way to sucker punch the audience and up the tension for the season’s endgame.
Yeah . . . not really much more to say beyond that.
- “Egg MacGuffin”: best title, or bestest title?
- I’m officially onboard with Nate/Zari now. The transition from platonic friends to ridiculously into each other was a little too quick, a little too forced, but now that we’re past the transition phase, you gotta admit, they’re pretty darn cute.
- I normally hate cringe comedy, so when Nate and Zari were doing their awkward trying-to-be-funny-for-each-other thing, I had to look away a few times. But it was all worth it to hear Ava go: “I mean, what the hell was that?”
- They did the Indiana Jones travel-by-map thing, but added a dissolve into black-and-white film stock to signify traveling through time, too. That is legitimately brilliant.
- Mick’s still wanted by the police on a whole bunch of theft, murder, and arson charges, right? Really makes you wonder what the aftermath to him revealing himself as Rebecca Silver is gonna be.
- Gary being seduced by Neron is, in hindsight, not that surprising (as Sara said, it’s always the doormat). However, the capper to his Dark Side conversion being the return of his lost nipple, now full of hell magic and crawling across the floor on its own volition? Don’t think anyone saw that comin’.
- For yet another Odd But Terrific Caity Lotz Line Reading: “The book from book club!”
Arrow 7×20: “Confessions” review
This could have been a rather dull episode of Arrow.
Roy’s return was always going to be something of an event, of course, and the episode ending cliffhanger would still have done a good job raising the stakes. But if “Confessions” had been presented like a typical Arrow episode, told in chronological order (aside from an entirely separate flashback/flashforward storyline), much of it would have felt mind-numbingly routine.
- The bad guys have a superweapon! They’re gonna use it to destroy the city! For vaguely defined reasons!
- But wait! First they need this other MacGuffin from this one tech company! We need to break in and get it first!
- Curses! The bad guys beat us that time and got away with the MacGuffin!
- But wait! Computers are magic! Just say “algorithm” a few times, and we’ll know exactly where they’re planning to use the weapon!
- (Hint: it’s a mostly deserted factory/warehouse/laboratory/utility complex)
- Hooray! We stopped the superweapon with seconds to spare!
- Curses! The bad guys got away again!
That is the most generic, cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers, been-there-done-that, seen-it-all-before Arrow plot you could imagine. Having Roy back, and him giving in to bloodlust near the end, are the only things giving it any sense of identity, a sense that we’re not watching the exact same story we’ve seen a dozen times before.
Yet “Confessions” is one of the more exciting and novel episodes Arrow has done this season, and it’s all down to the presentation.
The episode begins after the superweapon threat has been neutralized. We’re no longer asked to worry about whether our heroes will save the day, because of course they’re going to save the day. It’s been ages since Arrow was gutsy enough to let an atomic bomb or an earthquake machine go off in the middle of a city, and nothing about this new threat made it seem like it would buck that trend (heck, I’m not even 100% clear on what it was supposed to do).
The focus of the episode thus shifts away from “how will they stop the bad guys?” and onto a new mystery: “what went wrong while they were stopping the bad guys?”
Because, at the site of Team Arrow’s battle with the Ninth Circle, two security guards were found savagely beaten to death. The police are detaining our heroes under suspicion of committing those murders, or at least withholding evidence concerning them. And given that Dinah, of all people, is spearheading the probe into them, angrily demanding they answer her questions, we’re given reason to think there’s something to these accusations.
As our heroes give their testimony, one by one, we begin to get an idea of how their fight with the Ninth Circle went down, complete with flashbacks to the events being described. But then, near the tail end of Felicity’s testimony, we’re shown her noticing the presence of the two security guards at the facility, even as she tells Dinah and the SCPD that they had no idea the guards were there. Whatever happened that night, whoever killed those two guards, we now know that Team Arrow is covering it up.
So even as we go through the standard plot beats, presented in flashback form, a new layer of suspense is added to the proceedings. We’re waiting, not to see how the super bacteria is stopped, but how those guards died, who killed them, and why our heroes are lying about it to the police. The stakes go from being large but predictable, to something personal and far more intriguing. We might not believe the Ninth Circle will really destroy Star City, but Team Arrow being arrested for murder or for obstructing justice is a very real threat. And whether or not our heroes get away with their coverup, we’ll still be desperate to know how they could become so compromised that they’re covering up a double homicide.
Aside from creating a new source of tension, this anachronic presentation also enhances the story’s conclusion. Had we been following the plot chronologically, and Roy had attacked those guards about 3/4th of the way through, there wouldn’t have been much time left to show the ensuing coverup. We would have gone from Team Arrow making the decision to protect Roy and, after maybe one scene where they lie their asses off to the police, it’s done. Passing over the coverup so quickly would have left it feeling not that significant, just another of the many, many* illegal and dubiously ethical things Team Arrow has done.
But by building the entire episode around the coverup, we’re able to understand just how big of a risk and a sacrifice the others have made to protect Roy. And when Emiko upends their plans at the end, revealing the truth to the SCPD, it doesn’t feel like an out-of-nowhere swerve to destroy Team Arrow’s legitimacy. Instead, it comes across as a masterful twist, a reveal that the whole episode we’ve been watching our heroes dig their own graves, destroying what they’ve worked for with each lie they told.
I’m not going to tell you “Confessions” is an all-time great episode. It’s not even the best of the season (in the Top 5 of the season is possible, but not guaranteed). But with its unique presentation, used masterfully to turn a hum-drum plot into a dynamic and suspenseful hour of television, it’s definitely a triumph, worthy of being remembered.
*many, many, many, many, many
- This episode was sort of a reverse-Rashomon. Instead of a bunch of people giving different accounts of what happened, with the flashbacks changing to reflect each version of the story, we have a bunch of people all giving a single, consistent account of what happened, while the flashbacks show us what actually happened (albeit with edits to hide certain information from us).
- Felicity’s gonna need to head to her cabin in the woods soon, ‘cause she’s getting hilariously bad at hiding her pregnancy.
- “No on the evil sister redeeming herself.” Glad someone finally said it.
- It’s been a while since we got much Roy and Oliver bonding, and they’ve never been as close in the show as their comics counterparts, but Oliver’s unwavering “you never have to ask me” was genuinely moving.
- From now on, whenever any of the Arrowverse shows use computers to solve a problem, I want them to simply call what they’re doing “typeity-type”. It’d be a lot more honest.
- Oliver’s pain and rage when Emiko tells how she let the Queen’s Gambit sink has me finally feeling this rivalry between them. You can tell Oliver was thinking, “I had to kill a cute little bird on an island because of you!”
The Flash 5×20: “Gone Rogue” review
I want to be clear: I’m all for having good, character-driven drama on these shows. Two characters talking through their differences can be just as engaging, just as breathtaking, as any fight scene or wild display of superpowers (especially on a CW effects budget). With nearly two seasons of Arrowverse reviews to my credit, I hope I’ve shown that I’m invested in these shows, not just for the whizz!-pow! superhero action, but for the characters. I love seeing them grow, work through their problems, and learn to come together.
That said: damn was there way too much talking about feelings this episode! Just give us Evil Nora and the Young Rogues pulling a heist already!
I mean, yeah, a certain amount of feelings talk was necessary. Last episode had a big dustup over Barry’s decision to strand Nora in the future, Nora being overwhelmed by anger over this, Caitlin losing her father, and everyone being mad at Sherloque (even though he didn’t do anything wrong). And the season’s only got two more episodes after this one. A lot of the emotional issues the characters are going through had to be resolved.
But c’mon. I counted no less than five separate conversations hashing out Barry and Nora’s current problems. Then there’s a couple conversations where Sherloque gets to act contrite, a couple more about Cisco’s relationship woes and heroic identity crisis, and a couple more about Caitlin’s grief, with a bit about Ralph feeling he’s “not made for love” tacked on. By the time all that’s been crammed in there, the villain teamup that acts as the main hook for the episode feels woefully underserved.
We’ve got the return of Weather Witch, Ragdoll, and Bug-Eyed Bandit (back for the first time since Season 1), working with Dark Side Nora to pull off a major high-tech heist, and it feels like an afterthought. No interesting chemistry or dynamics get developed between our Young Rogues. No plans for their heist more elaborate than 1) fake IDs, 2) knock out guards, and 3) have fits-through-small-places-guy fit through small places. Heck, until the last minute double cross, Weather Witch never even uses her powers (come to think of it, both her and Bug-Eyed Bandit are kinda superfluous for this plan; seems like Ragdolls the only one Nora really needed).
The Rogues are a huge part of the Flash mythos, and a concept brimming with fun possibilities, but this series keeps whiffing the ball when it tries to use them. They’d barely gotten a Rogue team together in Season 1 before it had to be dissolved (the actors all heading to different shows). They made a fainthearted attempt at some New Rogues in Season 3, but Mirror Master and the Top got such an unimpressive treatment, nothing really came of it. Now, they’re trying their hand at the Rogues concept yet again, but can’t bring themselves to really develop the team, instead spending endless scenes on our heroes talking, talking, talking about what they feel.
I can see why the pen-penultimate episode of the season might need to be laser focused on our main cast’s character arcs, but it’s an utter waste of this episode’s premise. If any episode this season needed to focus less on somber character drama and more on delivering quips, thrills, and fun . . . well, okay, it’d be “King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd”, which did exactly that. But “Gone Rogue” needed a similar commitment to delivering the wild fun its setup promises, not getting mired in the same old relationship drama.
Here’s hoping the Rogues can finally get their due in Season 6.
- As much as I ragged on this episode, Grant Gustin playing Sherloque Wells playing the Flash was comedy gold!
- Also gold: the Ralph/Caitlin fakeout.
- From what Nora said, it seems like the Negative Speed Force doesn’t cause negative emotions, but that you have to continually keep yourself in a negative headspace to use it. I like that this means they’re not brushing away Thawne’s actions as “the Negative Speed Force made me do it!”
- Bug-Eyed Bandit says “Bee-utiful”. That is the sort of campy villainy I need about 1200% more of.
MVP of the Week: Roy Harper
He’s incredible at parkour.
Question of the Week: Who is the most hilariously bad liar in the Arrowverse?
***NOTICE*** – While my work schedule is always changing (often at the drop of a hat), what I’m hearing now is that I’ll likely be working all next weekend. As such, you should probably expect the next This Week/Last Week In The Arrowverse column to come out late. I may even need to bite the bullet and just do a Last TWO Weeks In The Arrowverse the following week. I apologize for the inconvenience.