Batwoman 1×02: “The Rabbit Hole”, Supergirl 5×02: “Stranger Beside Me”, The Flash 6×02: “A Flash of the Lightning”, and Arrow 8×01: “Starling City” reviews
This week in the Arrowverse, long-lost evil siblings abound on the Batwoman/Supergirl Action Pack. Meanwhile, on The Flash & Arrow Smile Time Double Hour . . . have you heard a Crisis is coming?
Batwoman 1×02: “The Rabbit Hole” review
So . . . last week I praised Batwoman’s pilot episode for its relentless pace, and now I have to ding its second episode a little . . . for also moving at a relentless place.
It feels unfair, since this episode doesn’t move any faster or with any less craft than the pilot did. In many ways, “The Rabbit Hole” is essentially “The Pilot, Part 2”, with Kate still in woman-on-a-mission mode, just with her goal changed from “find Sophie” to “find Beth”.
But that change in goals makes a big difference. Finding Sophie was an uncomplicated objective: she was a good person who most everyone seemed to like, and who clearly needed rescuing from her villainous captors. This allowed us to jump headfirst into the plot; we could watch the characters go on this straightforward mission, and learn what we needed to about them along the way.
But the mission to find Beth? That is oodles more complicated. Kate and her family have to confront the fact that Kate’s sister, the one believed dead for the last fifteen years, is both alive and the murderous supervillain Alice. This is something that shakes our heroes to their cores and fundamentally changes the dynamic of their family. Problem is, we don’t know these characters or their family dynamics that well yet.
For example: where does Kate live? We saw her eating breakfast with her family this episode, so is she staying with them now that she’s back in town? Or does she have an apartment or a hotel room somewhere? Or is she crashing at the Wayne Industries building? At this point, I could honestly not tell you.
That may seem like a minor detail, but it’s illustrative of how we’ve had little to no downtime with these characters so far, that even such a basic fact about their living situation is unclear. We haven’t been given the chance to see what these people are like, or how they interact with each other, when there’s not an urgent mission to take care of. So when the episode wants to show us how the revelations about Beth have pushed them to extremes and altered their relationships, it doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it should, since we never had a clear idea where they were starting off from.
Near the end of the episode, Alice sends her boyfriend to kill Mary because she doesn’t want to share Kate with another sister. Kate is horrified that finding her sister after has put her stepsister in danger, while Mary is pissed off that she’s been drawn into the Kane sisters’ messed up conflict when, according to her, Kate’s never treated Mary like much of a sister. But given how little time we’ve spent with these two so far, and how so many of their scenes together have been based around delivering plot exposition, we can’t tell how much this really means.
How close were Kate and Mary? Are we meant to see Mary’s comments at the end as an accurate description of their relationship, or an overreaction brought on by trauma? How much is Kate bothered by the idea of putting Mary in danger when she saves Alice’s life? Without this sort of understanding of the characters, their dramatic moments can’t have all the power that they’re meant to.
Same goes for the big scene where Kate’s father is ready to shoot Alice (who he refuses to acknowledge is his daughter Beth), but Kate stands between them. While the episode does its darndest to flesh out Kate’s relationship with her dad via flashback, the fact remains that, in the present day, we’ve had very few scenes establishing a bond between these two. So when they’re put in such a fraught situation, it doesn’t carry the appropriate sense of a relationship being tested.
All that said, I don’t want to leave you with the idea that this was a bad episode. Far from it. It was a tense, exciting, and energetic affair, and any time Rachel Skarsten’s Alice was onscreen was pure joy to behold. But I can’t help thinking how much more impactful this story would be if it had been saved until episode five or six. Sure, that’d mean several episodes of waiting for the confrontations and reveals we all knew were coming, but if those intervening episodes had been used to explore the characters, give us a clearer picture of how they relate to each other, before these Alice revelations come smashing things apart,=? It would have absolutely been worth it.
Knocking down a house of cards isn’t as much fun if you don’t build it a few stories high, first.
- I know I already gave it a quick mention, but it merits mentioning again: Rachel Skarsten is doing something amazing as Alice. The character needs to be a wounded girl desperate for her sister’s love and her father’s punishment, and a quippy, theatrical supervillain, and a genuinely menacing foe. That’s one hell of a balancing act, but damned if she doesn’t pull it off.
- Seriously, I would pay all the money for a scene where Skarsten’s Alice, Cryer’s Lex Luthor, and McDonough’s Damien Darhk are all in a room together.
- On a less positive note, while Ruby Rose does good work whenever she’s talking in a normal tone of voice, whenever she has to shout . . . it gets a bit shoddy.
- This episode contains references to both Robin and Wonder Woman, implying that they already exist within the Arrowverse. While the former is to be expected in a setting where Batman was operating for over a decade, the latter . . . I know Legends of Tomorrow confirmed that Themiscyra exists, but having Wonder Woman active and known to the public is a whole ‘nother thing.
- So, in addition to being bulletproof, and having a bunch of other built in gadgets, the batsuit can also be worn while swimming? Even with that big, heavy cape? Wow, “where does (s)he get those wonderful toys?” indeed.
- That underwater scene was rather beautifully shot, though. Gotta give ‘em that.
- The Crows and the Gotham Police are really a “shoot first, ask questions later” bunch, aren’t they?
- I like that Luke is having some growing pains in his “Guy In The Chair” role. He was hired to keep Bruce’s gadgets locked up and free of dust, not to actually use any of them, so it makes sense, and is quite funny, to see him struggle to figure out how any of this stuff works.
- So, Kate’s gonna be torturing that guy for info, isn’t she? I know it’s a Bat-franchise staple, but I thought media had finally started to get the message that torture is not an effective interrogation tool.
- Kate’s stepmother is part of some plot to keep Alice’s true identity a secret. Hello, New Moira.
Supergirl 5×02: “Stranger Beside Me” review
Supergirl had a few too many pots on the fire this week.
While almost every episode has a B-plot to go along with the A-plot, and C-plots are quite common as well, this episode also throws a D-plot, an E-plot, and what could even be considered an F-plot at us. None of these plots are truly bad, but with them all competing for screentime, a lot of them feel underdeveloped.
J’onn is only just now learning that he has a brother, that said brother betrayed his people to the White Martians, and that all memories of his brother were erased from his mind by persons still unknown. And while J’onn is learning all that, we the audience also have to learn a bunch of new Martian lore, involving psychic infections and a literal curse on brother fighting brother. It leads to multiple fight scenes, a journey into J’onn’s mindscape, and some spot-the-shapeshifter suspense work. You could focus an entire episode on just this one plot, and never run short of interesting stuff to explore.
But because we’ve got those B- C- D- Etc.- plots crammed in there, this episode only has time to introduce these concepts, rather than do much of anything with them. J’onn and his brother don’t even interact for the duration of the episode, not counting a brief sentence exchanged during J’onn’s Journey To The Center Of The Mind. And speaking of said mental journey, the episode only just barely touches on the psychedelic potential of this idea before it has to finish curing J’onn and bring him out of it.
Obviously, J’onn’s brother is being set up as a recurring antagonist, so a little wait to get to the payoff isn’t too bad. The plot that gets this problem worse is Lena’s.
Don’t get me wrong: every scene between her and Eve was golden. However, to get to that ending, where Lena infects Eve with the A.I. Hope, either suppressing or erasing Eve’s personality in the process . . . it’s such dark move from Lena, more extreme than anything we’ve seen from her before, it feels like we needed more time with her this episode to justify it. More interactions between her and Eve, scenes that would allow Lena to rationalize her actions, show us where she’s coming from, and build up Eve as the sort of person Lena would be tempted to do something like this to. While Eve and Lena probably couldn’t have carried the episode on their own (at least, not in a typical Supergirl script) they could easily have been given double the amount of screentime they got, and it would be all to the good.
On the flipside of all that, we’ve got Alex and Kelly’s plot, which . . . well, it’s hard to even call it a plot. Alex didn’t know one of Kelly’s allergies, she feels super-bad about not knowing Kelly as well as she thinks she should, but by the end has confirmation that she does know Kelly pretty well, despite them not having been together that long. It plays like a story about relationship problems, except it’s built around the most non-problematic problem ever. It exists seemingly for no reason except to say, “Yeah, we know we haven’t built up this Kelly/Alex relationship much, but they’ve still got a really deep connection going on; trust us.” And that might not be so bad, if this plot weren’t given about as much screentime as any of the other myriad plots in this episode, and comes off feeling mighty superfluous in comparison.
The only plots that get just the right amount of screentime are Kara dealing with her new boss/co-workers, and Nia dealing with Brainy trying to win her love through food. They’re slight plots; they hit the points they need to hit, have a few good moments, then wrap up. On their own they work just fine, but if losing them would have given more time to develop J’onn’s or Lena’s stories this week, I’d have been all for cutting them.
It feels like the writers were trying to make all these disparate plots feel cohesive by weaving them around a central theme: the idea that you might not know the people close to you as well as you think (hence “Stranger Beside Me”). That’s a tactic that a lot of TV shows have used to turn a multitude of plots and vignettes into something deeper and more unified, and I applaud the ambition here. However, it doesn’t work for this episode, because while the plots all deal with a theoretically similar concept, their takes on the concept are all so different, they don’t serve to comment on each other.
J’onn doesn’t know his brother because those memories were literally erased from his head. Alex doesn’t know Kelly because they’ve only been dating a short time. Brainy doesn’t know Nia because he’s bad at reading people. Kara doesn’t know William because they’ve barely interacted, and never outside of work. And Lena doesn’t know Eve because Eve is a big ol’ liar.
Despite their shared theme, whatever lessons or insights you might gain from one story, they can’t be applied to any of the others. So rather than a series of vignettes creating a mosaic narrative, it feels more like a chop suey of unrelated stories all competing for screentime, with only a couple coming out winners in that contest.
- The aforementioned F-plot of the episode? James revealing that he might be running for Senator. I was going to write how I felt about that, but then in the Batwoman/Supergirl live chat, Grampton St. Rumpterfrabble put it better than I ever could: “James keeps… not even failing up, but just getting boosted up in the hopes that he’ll finally get a job that’s interesting enough to rub off on him.” He’s like the good guy version of Ricardo Diaz.
- So, remember last season how Eve was given the ability to create copies of herself, but with the catch that the more she made, the dumber each one would get? How’s that going to work now that she’s got an artificial intelligence in the driver’s seat?
- Apparently, during the sewer fight, Alex shot and killed Malefic’s White Martian friend, but the editing was so bad, it was impossible to realize this happened until Malefic referenced it later.
- It’s a shame Brainy’s not dating Kara, because trying to earn her affection through endless waves of food? That’d totally work.
- That song at the end . . . was that really a moody, low tempo version of “Girl’s Just Want to Have Fun”? ‘Cause . . . why?
The Flash 6×02: “A Flash of the Lightning” review
We should all be tired of mopey Barry Allen.
That’s the conventional wisdom among Flash fans: that the show went downhill when it had Barry start moping all the time, sacrificing the fun and optimism that drew people to the series.
And boy, did this episode have a mopey Barry Allen. He spent almost a third of it literally bedridden with mental trauma (well, okay, couchridden, but the point still stands). And this latest plot turn, where Barry’s been told he’s doomed to die on a certain date? It’s shockingly similar to the “Iris Must Die” storyline from Season 3, one of the more miserable slogs the show has gone through.
So why is “A Flash of the Lightning” still so good?
You can chalk some of that up to the mopey Barry storyline not dominating the episode. Barry and Iris may be going through some dark stuff this week, but the rest of Team Flash is blissfully unaware of this, so we can still have them solving a fun, self-contained mystery, and have Killer Frost go on a Pinocchio-esque journey.
You can also chalk some of it up to the end date for this mopey storyline being close at hand. Barry is supposed to die on December 10th, so we’ve got at most another seven episodes of The Flash before this story is resolved, one way or another. A lot of the The Flash’s mopier storylines would have been better received had they kept themselves concise like this.
But, really, I don’t think this episode succeeds despite being mopey. Because being mopey, in and of itself, was never the problem on The Flash. The problem was always that this cast of characters, and especially lead hero Barry Allen, were not well-suited to long term moping.
As the Monitor said last week, Barry’s endless capacity for hope is one of his strongest qualities. When something terrible happens, he’ll be bummed out for a little while, but then he’ll pick himself up and resolve to fix whatever went wrong. This is a guy who spent half his life trying to prove “The Man in the Yellow Suit” was real so he could get his father out of prison, and never gave up once.
But when the writers have come up with an impossible, despair-inducing situation, they want to milk that sucker for all its worth, get at least ten or twelve episodes worth of moping out of it. So whenever Barry climbs out of his funk and comes up with a plan to fix everything? That plan has to fail, so we can see Barry fall into mopey despair yet again.
And when he claws himself out of that despair, yet again, he needs to fail, yet again, and fall into despair, yet again. And again, and again, and again, until it’s time for the season finale, when the writers finally go, “All right, we’ll let you have a win now.”
It’s this repetition, of Barry first moping, then coming back with renewed determination, then failing and moping some more, that’s so often turned The Flash into a Sisyphean ordeal. And it’s by breaking this cycle of misery that “A Flash of the Lightning” fills me with so much hope for the show’s future.
Barry’s been told that, on December 10th, 2019, he’s going to die. That he has to die, or else all of the multiverse is doomed. Naturally, this makes Barry mope for a bit. And, also naturally for him, he’s gotten out of that funk by the end of the episode. But, for once, Barry’s reclaimed positivity is not rooted in determination to stop the bad thing he was moping about.
When Barry saw Savitar kill Iris in the future, he spent the rest of Season 3 desperately trying to change her fate. Everything he did, every thought going through his head, was focused on the question, “How do we stop Savitar and save Iris?” If he was ever hopeful or cheerful, it’s because he thought they were making progress towards that goal. And whenever that goal hit a setback, he went right back to moping again.
That’s not what happens this time. When Barry gets his mojo back this episode, it’s not because he’s resolved to keep himself from dying and damn what destiny and the Monitor have to say. He accepts that his death, while maybe not a hundred percent certain, is likely something he can’t prevent, and that with so many lives depending on his sacrifice, he doesn’t dare run from it. His goal now is not to prevent something horrible from happening, but to prepare for it as best he can, to prepare the people he loves for “a world without the Flash”.
All the moping it took for Barry to get there? It feels justified, it feels satisfying, because it’s produced an actual change in our hero. Instead of rejecting the cause of his moping, he’s learning to accept it, to make his peace with it. This is legitimate growth. After five seasons where almost all of Barry’s angst and drama was rooted in a concrete goal, a villain he needed to stop, having him now face a future he can’t fight, that he can only come to terms with?
I know I’ve said this before, and been wrong before, but if feels like The Flash is finally learning how to break out of its rut.
- Continuing what I talked about last week, having our latest villain be, not just some random meta criminal, but a trained assassin for an as yet unrevealed evil conspiracy? It makes the world of The Flash feel bigger, more full of weird stuff going on, and I’m all for it.
- We also got another great use of incorporating music into an action scene when Ultraviolet beat up the CCPD. Though, I was a little unclear if that song was just part of the soundtrack, or if it was diegetic, with Ultraviolet using her radiowave powers to broadcast that song inside the police station.
- Something I wasn’t too keen on is how the big fight between Barry and Ultraviolet played out. Like, I get what they were going for symbolically, but the way it was staged, it seemed like Barry could have just dodged to the side and he would’ve been fine.
- Cecile becoming a defense attorney for metahumans is an interesting turn, and can hopefully open up a different variety of stories for The Flash.
- Also potentially interesting, Barry now has a mobile version of Gideon. This way, even if no one’s at Star Labs, Barry can always have someone talking to him through an earpiece. He’s powerless without it.
- I love, love, looove the low-tech/high-tech aesthetic of Earth-3. Jay’s machine for sending a speedster’s mind into the future is just his helmet with some jumper cables clamped on. When he draws a map of the multiverse, he doesn’t use the transparent dry erase boards that Star Labs favors, but what looks like a plain old sheet of cardboard. And, of course: Zeppelins.
Arrow 8×01: “Starling City” review
It’s never easy, saying goodbye to something you love. But what can prove a stranger experience, is knowing you will have to say goodbye to something you love, but not for a little while yet.
It could be a school you’re due to graduate from. It could be a home you’re moving out of. It could be a friend who got a job far away, or a parent who’s passing away from a disease. They’re not gone just yet; you still see them as often as you always have. But now, hanging over your head, is the knowledge that they soon will be gone, that these are some of the last moments you’ll have with them. There’s a pressure now to make these final moments something special, the greatest ever, a perfect finish to your time together, something that will leave you with amazing memories for years to come.
How can anything live up to those expectations? Especially since, no matter how amazing those final moments might be, knowing they are your final moments will taint them with an air of sadness.
Yet, conversely, this awareness of the impending end can fill even mundane moments with the glow of nostalgia. Things that might ordinarily have bored you, or irritated you, now charm you with their familiarity. The knowledge that they’ll soon be gone lets you appreciate them in ways you never could before.
All these mixed, confusing feelings inevitably fill the head of any fan, watching what they know to be the final season of a TV show they love. And it seems clear the makers of Arrow are aware of this, because they kick off their final season with Oliver Queen experiencing those same emotions.
When Arrow began, Oliver claimed he had “only one thought, one goal: survive. Survive, and one day return home.” In “Starling City”, we open with Oliver on the same beach where he uttered those words, but he’s not the same person he was then. He’s no longer fighting and struggling to survive; he has accepted the Monitor’s prophecy, that he is destined to die in the coming Crisis. That he will never return to his wife, to his children; that he will never return home.
One could never say Oliver was happy about this. He would never want to give up his life and leave the people he loves behind. But the Oliver here is one who’s made his peace with the fact that this must happen, and all that’s left to him is one last mission to save the world.
So when Oliver arrives in Starling City, it’s with an unexpected tranquility. Knowing his fate, knowing that he will die during the Crisis (not after, and not before), has allowed him to drop the intensity, the harsh vigilance, that has so long defined him. While he never loses sight of the mission the Monitor has set him, Oliver is not consumed by the mission as he’s so often been. With only a short time left to him, Oliver’s mind is on appreciating everything he’s leaving behind.
Even if they’re doppelgangers from a parallel Earth, Oliver still savors being able to hug his mother once again, to once more step inside his childhood. He waxes nostalgic over the Salmon Ladder. When John Diggle shows up to be his bodyguard/chaperone, Oliver stands there smiling for several seconds before remembering he needs to object to this. Even meeting old foes Adrian Chase and Malcolm Merlyn provokes, not the old hostility, but something between annoyance and bemusement.
It’s not that the stakes don’t get high, or that Oliver doesn’t take what happens seriously. But there’s a calmness to Oliver, a willingness to embrace the pleasures of the here-and-now while they last, that he’s rarely had before. The problems ahead of him he will solve, as he always has, and as the Monitor tells him he will again. It may sound bizarre, but it took having the multiverse depend on him for Oliver to stop bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now all he bears is a wistful resignation, and a knowledge of what’s to come. Where once he struggled only to survive, now he can at last slow down, and appreciate the life he’s had.
As we prepare ourselves for the end of Arrow, for the end of Oliver Queen’s adventures, so does Oliver prepare himself for his own end. As we remember all the good times and the bad times we’ve had with Arrow, so does Oliver look back on his own life, with a mix of fondness and sorrow. And just as we hope these final episodes will be a fitting end to the story of Arrow, something that embodies everything we loved about the series, so does Oliver hope that this, his final mission, will let him embrace all the things he’s been fighting for, one last time.
It’s been a hell of a ride. Let’s enjoy the final stretch together.
- I’m glad our John Diggle, the real John Diggle, is going to remain Oliver’s partner on this last leg of his journey. It’s been the two of them since the show began, and this episode reminded us of how far they’ve come together. Now, if they can just give John a Green Lantern ring and send him and Oliver on a car ride across America . . .
- Lots of callbacks all around this ep, mostly to either the pilot or the last couple episodes of Season 1. I adore the implication that John found Oliver, not through a tracking device or any sort of detective work, but simply by remembering where he was taken the last time all this stuff happened.
- How good was it to see Moira and Tommy (not a hallucination or face changer this time) and the Queen Mansion again? Even Walter Steele got a shout out. How long’s it been since that happened?
- Damn, does Colin Donnell play a great bad guy or what?
- Of course Moira’s first thought on hearing her stepson tried to blow up the city is to work on getting him out of jail. “Don’t worry, dear. In a few months, we can use this to launch your mayoral campaign.”
- Loving Laurel’s new look, and hoping her costume didn’t get destroyed along with the rest of Earth-2.
- Speaking of Earth-2 being destroyed, that felt a mite rushed. In the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book, the first time we see a world destroyed by the antimatter wave, it’s spread out over two whole pages. That may not sound like a lot, but this was back when your average comics page had eight or nine panels, and a couple dozen text boxes or word balloons, all filled to the brim with exposition. That made it feel like a big event. This version, which lasts less than a minute, doesn’t feel like it has the room to convey what a cataclysmic event this is.
- When Oliver told Adrian, “Maybe I’m just ten steps ahead of you”, you can tell he was thinking, “Oh, that felt gooooood!”
- Fight scenes in this episode were all around excellent. Lots of using people’s bodies to break apart the scenery, which is always cool.
- Given how bizarre, high concept, and devoted to setting up Arrow’s end times this episode was, the flashforward storyline felt out of place, a little too garden-variety.
General Crisis on Infinite Earths Talk
Wow, they’re really going all out setting up this crossover, huh?
Some of the previous crossovers had a little prep work done for them, with Cisco dating Kendra, or Barry and Iris preparing for the wedding, but they’ve mostly been self-contained affairs. But here, both Arrow and The Flash are devoting large chunks of their seasons to setting up what will happen in Crisis. And with the two shows now airing on the same night, back-to-back, it’s almost like a Countdown to Crisis on Infinite Earths double feature.
I wonder how much coordination is going on between the Arrow and Flash writers’ rooms? With each of their heroes being told they’ll die in the coming Crisis, obviously there will be some similarities in the stories they tell. Still, the fact that their episodes this week both had our first looks at the anti-matter waves, and had our heroes meeting doppelgangers of their dead moms . . . feels like more than a coincidence.
I hope there was good communication between the two, ’cause with Arrow destroying Earth-2, The Flash really needs to answer what happened to Harry and Jesse.
With how heavily those two shows are leaning into Crisis, and tying their heroes fates so inextricably to what happens there, it leaves the Batwoman/Supergirl double feature feeling a little odd for not mentioning it at all. I get that Batwoman’s got enough on its plate right now, establishing a new series, without having to worry about Crisis foreshadowing. Still, since Psycho Pirate is locked up in Arkham, we can hopefully get at least a little tease at some point. And since we can assume there’s a reason the Monitor released Malefic and sicced him on Team Supergirl, it’s likely that plot will eventually tie in somehow, too.
However it plays out, I for one am seriously, momentously hyped! Television shows have been crossing over with each other for generations, but the effort and planning being put into this one, to make it the biggest and most epic TV crossover ever done, it just blows my mind. But if there’s any story you’re going to do that for, Crisis on Infinite Earths had damn well better be it.
MVP of the Week: TIE! Killer Frost and Alice
I’m not sure which made me laugh more: Alice bemoaning the loss of her favorite knife (“It is so much more fun unveiling my evil plan when I can flip it about for cadence”) or Killer Frost experiencing guilt for the first time (“I feel like a Yakuza baddie is stabbing me in the stomach. Repeatedly.”)
Question of the Week: Who do you think will live, and who do you think will die, in Crisis on Infinite Earths?