Supergirl 4×21: “Red Dawn” and Legends of Tomorrow 4×15: “Terms of Service” reviews
This week in This Week In The Arrowverse, I won’t be covering the whole week in the Arrowverse.
I’ve decided to delay my reviews of Arrow and The Flash’s season finales until next week, when I’ll be able to review the season finales of all four Arrowverse shows in one big extravaganza! Until then, though, that leaves us only two episodes for this week, as both Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow aired the penultimate episodes of their fourth seasons.
Which, hey, is still plenty! The big finale may be next week, but there’s still loads to talk about right here. Let’s get to it!
Supergirl 4×21: “Red Dawn” review
Well, that was an exhilarating episode.
After last week’s outing mostly went in circles for an hour, Supergirl makes up for it with an episode jam-packed with incident. It’s not just that we finally have the return of Red Daughter and a showdown between her and Kara; every plotline is racing forward with exciting new developments. Alex recovers her lost memories! Jimmy’s health starts to fail! Ben Lockwood discovers he’s working for Lex Luthor! Brainy goes evil! J’onn and Nia are captured! Otis dies (again)!
Oh, and somewhere in there, Kaznia invades America, Lex Luthor stops it, seemingly kills Red Daughter, and becomes a national hero. No biggie.
All this has me worried. Watching this episode was an absolute blast, going from one major plot turn or epic character beat to the next. But with so many storylines still ongoing, and only one more episode left in the season, “Red Dawn” seems to indicate that there’s no longer enough time left to give them all satisfying resolutions.
Take Alex’s recovered memories. The moments where she starts remembering Kara’s superness are all expertly crafted, with a great performance by Chyler Leigh and some very effective flashbacks to their childhood together (portrayed by the same Young Kara and Young Alex from last season’s “Midvale”). But now that her lost memories are restored, what was the point of it all? It doesn’t feel like Alex losing her memories of Kara’s identity has actually changed her as a person, or her relationship with her sister, or her relationship with Supergirl aside from a few growing pains. So when she gets those memories back, it’s not the satisfying conclusion to a carefully crafted story arc, but simply something rushed through because the season’s almost over and dangling plot threads need to be cleaned up.
Or how about the Kaznian invasion, and Lex’s plans to betray both them and Red Daughter? That is a huge event, the big threat that’s been built up to for quite a while now. And it happens off-screen. The first we hear about it happening, it’s already over. Even the makers of the 2014 Godzilla movie would call bull on that one. The show teased us with the idea of a brewing Kaznia/U.S. war, but then decided that it didn’t have the time, or didn’t have the budget, to deliver on it, and so skips over it entirely.
Then there’s Red Daughter herself. This episode reveals that she’s been living in National City for a while now, right across the street from Kara, stalking her, learning everything she can about her doppelganger’s life. And we never get to see any of that! Think of all the suspense that could have been generated, knowing there’s a Kara imposter in the city, infiltrating her life, talking to her friends and family, so you’re never sure if the person you’re seeing on screen is the real Kara. But that setup is only revealed just as our heroes blow the secret open, destroying it as soon as it begins.
And then there’s the confrontation between Red Daughter and Supergirl. Their scenes together are fantastic, certainly, with each convinced of their own righteousness. Kara trying to persuade Red Daughter to her side, and RD seeing it as a cliché villain “we’re not so different, you and I” speech, was perfection. I couldn’t ask for a better beginning to their rivalry. But that’s all it is: a beginning. We only see them face-to-face twice: once at the start of the episode, where they lay out their differing ideologies, and once at the end, where they have their big slugfest. Then Red Daughter’s dead.
Okay, she’s not 100% confirmed dead. But even if she’s still alive, having Lex betray her and crush Kaznia effectively destroys her reason for fighting Supergirl. Both this episode and the last have suggested that the Red Daughter arc will be resolved by Kara appealing to her good nature, and if that’s what happens next week, then this end-of-episode twist is a cheap way to fast track it, to end the Supergirl/Red Daughter rivalry as soon as it begins.
And there’s still so much else that has to be dealt with next week! Lex, Eve, President Baker, and Ben Lockwood all still need to be confronted. Supergirl needs to clear her name. The side-effects of Harun-El need to be resolved, one way or another. J’onn and Nia need to be rescued. Something should really be done about human/alien relations, since it’s been such a major throughline for the season. And this episode opens up a whole new plot thread, with Brainy being “rebooted” and getting in touch with his colder, less empathic roots.
That is a lot, and given how this episode dealt with some long-running storylines, I don’t have high hopes that Supergirl will be able to resolve them in a satisfying why, not when it’s cramming them all into the end of the season like this. Unless this season ends with some major cliffhangers, leaving some of these storylines open for next season to deal with, it feels like we’re in store for a disappointing resolution.
To be clear, I still thought this episode was an exciting ride, taken on its own. But in the broader picture of Season 4, it points to a show that spent so long faffing about with stuff like Kara & Lena looking through files, it left itself no time to give its storylines the conclusion they deserve.
- I don’t mind Kara drawing sunlight from the grass to heal herself. It’s ridiculous, but it’s the right kind of ridiculous for this show, and produces a rather beautiful image. However, they should have waited until after the light show began for Alex to realize that’s what was happening. Having her suggest such an outrageous solution, then for it to unfold exactly as she expected, is what pushes it over into too-silly territory.
- I mean, Chyler Leigh does her best, but how can you not laugh at her going “Take the grass!” like the villain from a really bad 90’s anti-drug special?
- A lot of stuff about that final battle doesn’t make sense. How did Red Daughter’s energy attack blot out the sun? And why was she wearing a helmet that would block her own heat vision?
- Was hoping for some reference to the fact that this is the third time Kara has fought an evil double of herself.
- I love how annoyed Lockwood gets whenever the subject of Lex Luthor comes up. He hates that his cause has been co-opted by a self-serving criminal, sure, but you also get the sense that he’s thinking, “Dude, I’m trying to do a serious story, full of hard-hitting political allegory, but then you come along, using the words “world domination” unironically, and the whole thing falls apart.”
- When Kara goes to J’onn with a bullet in her arm, Melissa Benoist is doing some impressive, A-game crying. Like, damn.
Legends of Tomorrow 4×15: “Terms of Service” review
There’s an old saying: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
There’s another saying, less old, but immortalized by the movie Spaceballs: “Evil will always triumph, because Good is dumb.”
There’s some truth to both those sayings. It’s easy, when you believe you’re doing the right thing, to not bother asking whether you’re doing the smart thing. Doing what’s right comes first, doesn’t it? But that righteous conviction can blind you to the true consequences of your actions, to the ways doing what’s “right” doesn’t always lead you down the right path.
We see that playing out all over this week’s episode. Throughout “Terms of Service”, people make deals with demons and fairies, deals that inevitably have hidden catches which make things turn out very, very badly for them. Which, duh. But what’s interesting is that people make these colossally stupid deals, not of shortsighted greed or ambition, but because they’re earnestly trying to do good.
John wants to atone for his past sins and save Ray and Astra (but mostly Astra) from the torments of Hell. Nora just wants to save her friend Mona’s life. And even the people downloading the Eyes app aren’t doing so because the app promises to protect them, personally. Rather, it promises they can use the app in a group effort to hunt down and destroy magical creatures, protecting all of humanity.
They all have good intentions, and our villains see that as the perfect leverage to make them trade their souls away. Because good intentions can only take you so far if you’re blind to your own shortcomings.
Neron’s app depends on the fact that most people will want to do good, will want to help root out dangers to the public. But it also depends on most people being too lazy to question what the real danger is. A smart, handsome guy with a good suit and a slick presentation tells them that magical creatures are a threat that needs to be destroyed, and they accept it. He tells them that if they download his product, they can eliminate that threat, and they accept that, too. And, of course, none of them read the terms of service to find out what they’re actually agreeing to, because who can be bothered?
They want to do the right thing, but they also want someone else to tell them what the right thing is, and for the right thing to be as simple as clicking a download icon. So thousands of people, willingly and with all the facts presented to them, sign a contract that condemns their souls to Hell.
Nora also trusts someone she shouldn’t, though her blind spot is not laziness, but impatience, and a desire not to depend on others. We see at the start of the episode that, though she’s been told to lay low at the Bureau and keep on eye on Neron, she quickly blows that assignment off because she’s tired of waiting and wants to save Mona now. If the Legends arrive to back her up, fine, but even without them, she’s gonna bulldoze her way through.
It’s that same rash determination that drives her to take Tabitha’s deal. Had she waited, and had faith in the Legends, she would have been rescued along with Mona. But she can’t bear to wait while her friend is in pain; she wants to solve the problem herself. So despite the obvious warning flags Tabitha is sending up, Nora agrees to her deal, becoming the new Fairy Godmother, and damning herself, both figuratively, and (thanks to an ill-thought out wish from Gary) quite literally.
Even John Constantine, self-professed rotten bastard and expert on demonic bargains, isn’t immune to his own impulse for good leading him astray.
John chooses to save Astra over saving Ray, because he’s always viewed her damnation as his greatest failure. In his mind, losing her to Hell is the genesis of every terrible thing in his life, and if he can just save her, undo that mistake, then all his sins will be washed away. He told Sara back in Season 3 that, if he really thought he could save Astra, he would sell out the Legends in a heartbeat, and here at last he follows through.
What John doesn’t see is how much his desire to save Astra is about him, about redeeming himself in his own eyes, and not about Astra herself. He chooses Astra because of what she represents to him, not because she’s more deserving of salvation than Ray or anyone else. In John’s mind, Astra has forever remained that scared girl he once held in his arms, begging him to save her. For John, Astra was more of a symbol than a person.
He never considered that Astra may have grown up while in Hell. That, trapped in a world of demons, she may have gone native. That she might not want to be saved. That she might not be worth saving. And because of this blind spot, because John doesn’t see how his good intentions are being led astray by his own obsession and self-loathing, he dooms himself and Ray to Hell.
It’s a depressing notion, that our desire to do good will inevitably be our undoing. That it creates a weakness that the wicked can exploit. That, in our conviction that what we’re doing is right, we lose sight of our own failings, and make stupid mistakes that can mean our doom.
This is the penultimate episode, after all. It’s the time for our heroes to be at their point of greatest despair, before heading into the final battle. This despairing view of goodness and damnation is thus quite appropriate, but we can have every confidence that it’s not how the season will end. “Good is dumb”, this show agrees, but if there’s any show where Good can triumph despite being led by a bunch of idiots, it’s Legends of Tomorrow.
- Some people won’t like how quickly Gary was forgiven at the end, but I think it works. Considering that Mick Rory and Nora Darhk are on the team, Gary’s sins seem pretty minor.
- Legends is having a lot of fun with the Fairy Godmother’s magic. Makes you wonder what they’d do with Mr. Mxyzptlk.
- Speaking of the Fairy Godmother, I love that, once her curse is lifted, she goes from being based on one Disney fairy to another, as that is clearly Maleficent’s staff she’s holding.
- The depiction of Hell was rather uninspired. On Earth, demons appear as giant horned creatures or freaky black smoke monsters, and they have all sorts of arcane powers. But in Hell, they’re just a bunch of regular dudes getting into bar fights. It’s only when John meets with the Triumvirate that things start getting appropriately freaky-deaky.
- That discussion about “bridge scenes”, where the actors get to voice their displeasure with “standing around all day”, is one of the most meta things this show has done. I mean, it’s not using John Noble to impersonate a character played by John Noble, but it’s up there.
- Child Zari’s appearance was an unexpected delight, and throws an interesting wrinkle into these final two episodes. It also has me thinking that, despite what Zari said in the season premiere, we are going to see her bleak-ass past changed somehow. Argus is due to start its dystopian regime by 2021 at the latest, so unless Legends is cancelled after Season 5, it’s gonna have to deal with the present day catching up to that.
MVP of the Week: Sam Witwer
Normally I do these MVP awards for the characters, rather than the actors who play them, but I had to salute Witwer this week, both for his nuanced portrayal of Ben Lockwood’s slow motion meltdown, and his spot-on and hilarious portrayal of Brainiac-5. I’m hoping they can maybe keep this guy around for Season 5.
Question of the Week: What’s your favorite use of flashbacks in the Arrowverse?