Batwoman 1×10: “How Queer Everything Is Today!”, Supergirl 5×10: “The Bottle Episode”, Arrow 8×09: “Green Arrow & the Canaries”, and Legends of Tomorrow 5×01: “Meet the Legends” reviews
Welcome, everyone, to This Week In The Arrowverse: Post-Crisis Edition!
The universe has been reborn, and each show this week reveals major fallout from the crossover, each in their own ways. From simple grief, to out-of-place doppelgangers, to It’s a Wonderful Life syndrome: nothing will ever be the same.
Batwoman 1×10: “How Queer Everything Is Today!” review
A mysterious figure, draped in shadow. It appears out of the night to strike terror into the hearts of criminals, then vanishes back into the dark from whence it came. It remains forever a mystery to the people it protects. Is it real or fanciful? Man or monster? Should it inspire fear or hope? Hatred or adoration? None can ever know the truth of their shadowy defender.
Yeah . . . that’s not Kate’s jam.
She may have inherited the cape and cowl of Batman, but she can’t be the same sort of dark-and-secretive vigilante that he was. Kate is not a recluse who only cares about the work, someone who only engages with society when it serves a practical function. She is a very upfront, informal, and outspoken person. It’s not in her nature to keep her true thoughts or feelings hidden from the world, and she cares about how the world responds to her in a way her cousin never would. The whole reason she added the red wig and lipstick to her costume was because people were confusing her for Batman, and however much she might benefit from appropriating his reputation, she felt that letting that misconception run wild ultimately did more harm than good.
Now she’s faced with a similar choice. In her personal life, Kate has always been very out-and-proud as a lesbian, so it understandably galls her when the public starts imagining a romance between her and hilariously-named police officer Slam Bradley, and she can’t do anything to set them straight (yes, pun intended). She sees Luke’s point about how identifying Batwoman’s sexuality could be dangerous: if someone has a compiled a list of likely Batwoman suspects, eliminating all non-lesbians from the list would narrow things down considerably. Still, this secrecy, this hiding of her true self, letting people get away with making assumptions about her: it goes against the core of who Kate is.
But while Kate’s first instinct is to be forthright and confront the public head on, this episode explores how not everyone can or should be expected to be so bold. Faced with constant vitriol due to the accusations against her parents, a sad and weary Mary retires from Instagram rather than put herself through the emotional strain of perpetually telling haters that they’re wrong. When a hacker threatens the privacy of everyone in Gotham City, masked vigilantes included, Luke shuts down all Internet connection at the Batcave, preferring to be cut off from the net to potentially having their secrets exposed. Parker had her sexuality outed to her parents by someone who thought they were doing her a favor, and this has only brought her misery. And when push-comes-to-shove, she’d rather risk death at the hands of Alice than reveal Batwoman’s secret to the world.
These decisions are, for the most part, treated with sympathy and respect. There’s no shame in hiding yourself from the world, not when the world can be so cruel. When Kate decides to publicly identify Batwoman as a lesbian, it’s not framed as, “See, she wasn’t afraid to do it, so you shouldn’t be either!” She accepts the risks it brings because she is a natural risk-taker, and so she can give comfort and solidarity to those not yet ready to take those risks themselves.
This would be a wonderful, nuanced, and much-needed message . . . if it weren’t for the Luke problem.
See, when it comes to Batwoman’s secret identity being exposed, Luke is in as much danger as Kate. If someone figures out Kate is Batwoman, it won’t take much follow-up investigation to peg Luke as her accomplice. Yet, twice during this episode, Kate makes decisions that put their collective secret at risk, despite Luke’s objections: first when she switches the Bat-computer back online in the middle of a cyber threat, and then again when she talks to the press about Batwoman’s sexuality.
This is a pattern in their relationship: Luke will urge caution, and Kate will ignore him and bulldoze ahead. That’s the foundation for much of their comedic banter, and not a dynamic I’d want the show to get rid of. But in the context of this episode, where Parker’s story shows how painful being outed against your will can be, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
By making these decisions unilaterally, Kate is showing disrespect for Luke’s clearly stated preference for secrecy. Yet the episode glosses over this by having Luke be supportive of Batwoman’s outing after the fact, and by playing the computer incident strictly for laughs. They had a good message going about respecting how much or how little someone wants to engage with the public eye; it’s just a shame that respect doesn’t extend to sidekicks.
- FINALLY! Someone finally gave Mary a hug! It was about damn time.
- Wonderful Alice Moments: tea party on Catherine’s grave; insisting “I fixed your life, Kate”; doing a Hannibal Lecter style biting-the-air-at-your-interrogator; “I didn’t know who to bring to the dance, so I brought C4”
- While I appreciate what they were going for, the use of Parker’s story was pretty clunky. She’s introduced so late into the episode that, in order to get her from villain to sympathetic kid to stalwart ally in the allotted time, her dialogue has to get really on-the-nose and exposition heavy.
- A plastic surgeon tells Mary that someone pulling off Mouse’s face masks “sounds like science-fiction”. Dude! You’re living in a world with multiple shapeshifting aliens, mass produced “image inducers”, and science that can turn a regular man into a giant shark man! Open your mind a little!
- I can’t help wondering if, at some point, Kate will decide to publicly identify Batwoman as Jewish. That’s also a minority group she’s part of that could use some good representation. On the other hand, “Jewish lesbians in Gotham City with extensive combat training and Batwoman’s approximate height and build” . . . that might narrow things down too much.
- Batwoman’s coming-out article was published by CatCo, and written by none other than Kara Danvers. That’s a nice use of the newly connected worlds setup.
- It was super-weird when Sofie started talking to Batwoman about her personal life. I can’t recall them having anything close to that kind of relationship before. Maybe we can chalk that up to things being different Post-Crisis?
- Speaking of the Crisis, I’m gonna guess that’s why Brunette Beth shows up at the end. Now that is a mother-effing twist!
Supergirl 5×10: “The Bottle Episode” review
Supergirl is a schmaltzy show.
Believe in yourself. Trust your feelings. Never give up hope. Empathy and compassion will win the day. Blah blah blahditty blah.
We’ve seen Supergirl trot out those old maxims a hundred times. And, hey, there’s nothing wrong with any of those messages, not in principle. What makes their use on Supergirl a source of annoyance is just how committed the show is to them. There are precious few episodes that don’t end with a platitude about trusting your friends, following your heart, or something similar.
For some episodes, this works, and the idealistic sentimentality makes for a satisfying conclusion to the story. But there are other episodes where such an ending feels forced, tacked on because that’s how episodes of Supergirl are supposed to end, not because it’s the most natural or most interesting path the story could take.
“The Bottle Episode”, sadly, is of the latter type.
Until we get to that schmaltzy ending, this is a darn good episode of Supergirl. A gaggle of doppelganger Brainys left over from the destroyed multiverse? Kryptonian witches offering to tell your fortune for a dollar? Planets in bottles? A bar brawl set to an NSYNC song? This is the sort of ridiculous and ridiculously fun stuff I live for in superhero shows! Add in Lex and Kara acting as the Devil and Angel on Lena’s shoulders (with Lillian stepping in as a True Neutral Spirit), and you’ve got all the ingredients for a fantastic good time. But as the Brainy plot nears its conclusion, Supergirl’s bad habits start rearing their heads.
First, there’s its desire to end plots by talking the villains down, reaching out to their common humanity and convincing them to do the right thing. That can make for a good ending, if the proper groundwork has been laid for it. Here, though, Alternate Brainy and the witches were gung-ho to release the planet from the bottle, knowing full well it would likely destroy both worlds. Yet a couple minutes of Kara and our Brainy empathizing with them, and they’re ready to give up that plan and go into stasis inside the bottle themselves, trusting our heroes to find a non-apocalyptic solution.
It’s an abrupt character turn that happens because it makes for a feel-good ending, not because it makes any damn sense. An ending where Alternate Brainy is locked up, and our heroes try to assure him they’ll work to release his Earth, while he rages at the unfairness of them getting to enjoy their world while his is locked away . . . it would have been a darker, somewhat bleaker ending, but it would have felt like a natural conclusion to the story we’d seen so far, rather than the pat resolution we got.
The episode also runs into the problem of predictability. When Brainy explains about the inhibitors he wears, to keep his potentially malevolent side from getting out, both Kara and Femme Brainy immediately insist that he doesn’t need them, that he’ll be way better off without them. They are one hundred percent confident in this, and by episode’s end, are proven one hundred percent right. Because how could it be otherwise? Believing the best in people may be the message Supergirl goes back to more than any other. If one of our heroes has doubts about their own goodness, every other character, and every trick in the writers’ arsenal, will be devoted to assuring them that they are Good with a capital-G, and that it would be stupid to ever think otherwise.
I’m not saying Brainy had to take a turn to the dark side. But if removing his inhibitors is going to be this big dramatic moment, then Brainy’s concerns about what it might do to him need to feel like real possibilities, not baseless worrying on his part. We did see Brainy take a turn for the cold and compassionless last season; him having a hidden potential for evil should be a legitimate concern.
Instead, Kara and Femme Brainy are insanely confident in Brainy’s inherent goodness. And if you’re at all familiar with Supergirl’s storytelling, you know this show isn’t brave enough to have their reckless optimism bite them in the ass. When Brainy takes his inhibitors off, it’s not a tense moment where you’re not sure what effects this will have. It’s simply him finally catching up to the lesson the episode had been sledgehammering home.
This predictability also rears its head with Brainy’s final character turn of the episode. Granted, having him break up with Nia and keep secrets from the rest of Team Supergirl . . . that was probably going to be an aggravating decision no matter what. It reeks of manufacturing drama for no good reason. But it might at least feel a little interesting if we believed, even for a second, that this secret keeping could potentially be the right decision; that would at least create moral quandary. But does anyone really believe that? Or, like me, do you know Supergirl too well to believe a secret keeping plot can end with any resolution except “of course you should trust your friends and not push them away”?
. . .
This turned into quite the negative review, didn’t it? I want to reiterate that most of this episode was a true joy to watch. I guess that makes it all the more frustrating when it whiffs the ending and reminds you that this is still Supergirl, and there are some bad habits it’s just not going to break.
- Brainy breaking up with Nia is infuriating for so many reasons (especially since they had a mini-breakup a few episodes back). But what makes it especially dumb? Brainy seems to have forgotten that Nia can see the future in her dreams. You start acting weird and secretive, you don’t think she’s going to use that power to find out what’s going on with you?
- Given how, in this new reality, Lex is a beloved public figure, I’m curious how much of Season 4 still happened. We see a clip of the Hellgramite attacking the fair, and a news headline about Agent Liberty, both of which were orchestrated by Otis and Mercy Graves on Lex’s orders. Was he still behind those events in this reality, or did they happen independently of him? And what about Red Daughter and the Kaznian invasion? Were those still a thing?
- I really love the dynamic being set up between Lex and Lena. A partnership where both sides need each other, but admit they’ll betray the other at the first opportunity? Those can make for some terrific back-and-forth; a real The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly I also love the irony that Lena enters this partnership for the coldest and most cynical of reasons (with Lex, there’s no risk of her ever liking or trusting him, so she’ll never let her guard down) while Lex Luthor, arch-villain and selfish asshat, admits he really just wants his sister back in his life.
Arrow 8×09: “Green Arrow & the Canaries” review
This is what, in TV jargon, is known as a “backdoor pilot”: an episode of a series designed to serve as a test case and springboard for a potential spinoff.
Arrow’s producers have made no secret of their plans to follow up the series with a spinoff called Green Arrow & the Canaries, featuring Mia, Dinah, and Laurel fighting crime in 2040. This episode is that show’s backdoor pilot, introducing the setting, character dynamics, and plot threads that will be continued if the spinoff is ordered to series. “Green Arrow & the Canaries” thus needs to be judged by a different standard than other episodes of Arrow. The key question isn’t so much “was this episode good?”, but “would I want to watch a whole series based on what this episode sets up?”
My answer to that would be . . . maybe.
There are aspects of this backdoor pilot that seem interesting and exciting, and others that seem like dull retreads. The conundrum is knowing which of these aspects would rise to prominence in the new series, and which would fall by the wayside.
Much of this episode feels like a very traditional, not-all-that-special episode of Arrow, just with a new paint job. The bad guy’s a generic douchebag answering to some secret but-they’re-really-super-dangerous-we-swear master villain, with vaguely defined “destroy the city” ambitions. He’s tracked down with the standard computer-hacking-is-magic techniques. The big brawl at the end, while shot and performed well, feels very much like a hundred other big brawls we’ve seen on Arrow. Even the money shot, with our heroes rappelling away from an exploding building, is only notable for how much pyrotechnic work is on display; it’s still fundamentally the same sort of stunt Arrow has done time and time again.
Compare this to the pilot episodes of previous Arrow spinoffs, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. While those pilots had their undeniable flaws, they were buoyed up by feeling like new and different experiences, like they were each very much their own thing.
After two seasons of grim-and-gritty Arrow, where battles were fought with guns, swords, arrows, and fists, and where sci-fi elements were kept to a minimum, the premiere of The Flash felt revelatory. Its sunny atmosphere, bright colors, far out superpowers, and all-around Silver Age aesthetic made it distinct from, almost the antithesis, of the show that spawned it.
And when Legends of Tomorrow debuted the following year, it went even further afield. It ditched the lead-hero-and-support-team dynamic, ditched the secret identities and civilian lives, and ditched the save-my-city mission statement of its parent series. Instead, it sent an oddball ensemble of heroes and villains traveling through time, trying to save the world, while getting in their own way more often than not.
If “Green Arrow & the Canaries” is to work as a series, it needs to find its own hook, its own way to set itself apart.
And there’s certainly potential for that here. While much of the plot plays out like what you might see on present day Arrow, this is still set in the near future of 2040, when Star City has supposedly become all-but crime free. And of our three leads, one is a time traveler from the present/a parallel universe, one is a time traveler, also from the present, who’s been erased from history, George Bailey style, and one is a native of 2040 who’s had memories from an alternate timeline uploaded into her head. And this whole plot is set into motion because they’ve seen a newspaper from slightly further in the future, telling of calamity that befalls Star City. And whoever our shadowy villain is? They’ve given Mia’s fiancé his own alternate timeline memories of being a bad guy.
If this is setting up a series about characters from different points in history, from different versions of history, fighting to steer the future of their world in different directions . . . that could be really cool. It could be like the Arrowverse version of Canadian sci-fi series Continuum. That would give Green Arrow & the Canaries something unique to offer us, give the show a distinct identity. If that’s how the proposed series would go, I’d definitely be intrigued.
But if, on the other hand, the intention is simply to have standard crime-fighting adventures, and all these timebending shenanigans are merely a contrivance to get these characters working together in the same time period . . . that’d be hella lame. It’s be an insanely convoluted setup for what should be a simple Next Generation spinoff, making it confusing for new viewers to jump into, and even leaving experienced Arrow fans pondering how much of what we know of these characters still applies in this new reality.
So, yeah, my feelings on the story set up by “Green Arrow & the Canaries” are very much on the fence. Still, I’d say I’m leaning towards being positive about this potential spinoff, for one key reason. While the plot could go one way or the other, the chemistry between our three leads is undeniably excellent. Mia and Laurel are both headstrong and confrontational, though in different ways (Laurel leans into sarcasm and ironic detachment, while Mia is more openly combative), and Dinah serves as the chill center amid the storm. Yet when they celebrate at the end, the friendship between the three feels genuine, like a bunch of misplaced Legos finding a way they fit together.
This trio creates a strong foundation you could absolutely build a series on. Whether they’ll get a series worthy of them, only time will tell.
- I was half expecting J.J. to die this episode. That’d be a cruel thing to do to John and Lyla, and a waste of the work done with him earlier this season, but he fits so perfectly into the bland-love-interest-killed-off-to-give-the-hero-a-tragic-origin archetype, I kept waiting for it to happen. Him getting his supervillain memories back is definitely a more interesting twist, though.
- With that clocktower headquarters, they’re not even trying to hide how much this wants to be a Birds of Prey Makes sense, as Arrow (especially in its early years) was trying very hard to be Batman.
- If this becomes a series, it’ll be interesting to see how much “it’s the future now!” stuff they incorporate. I liked how they made people’s clothes and makeup look slightly off, to show that a couple decades worth of fashion trends have gone by.
- Who do you suppose the mysterious “she” is that was behind the baddie of the week? Given the use of Deathstroke iconography, it might be neat if they introduced Rose Wilson (daughter of Slade Wilson, codename Ravager) into the Arrowverse.
- “In the meantime, why don’t we go back to talking about Mia’s love life?” Don’t you just hate when comments made in the writing room accidentally get copied into the script?
Legends of Tomorrow 5×01: “Meet the Legends” review
I’m just . . . I’m just so happy it’s back.
Sure, technically we got Legends of Tomorrow back last week, with its part of the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. But this week is the true season premiere, the return of all our wonderful, wacky Legends after a nearly eight-month hiatus. And damn do they come back swinging!
It is tempting (believe me, it is tempting) to make this review nothing but a list of all the most hilarious moments in the episode. There may be more jokes packed into this hour than in any Legends episode before. By adding a mockumentary format to the team’s usual antics, even the lesser moments get juiced up by amusing voiceovers and text inserts (“Gary Green: Former Villain”), quick cuts to other pieces of footage, and riffs on the documentary medium (like parts of the final battle being filmed with a cracked lens, because Mick used one of the cameras as a blunt instrument). Combine that with the Legends and Rasputin all hamming it up for the cameras, and the zaniness we’ve come to expect from this show gets multiplied and magnified a dozenfold.
But I’m going to try to make this an actual review, not just me going, “This part was funny, and this part was funny, and this part was really funny . . .”
So I’ll say that one of the most remarkable things about Legends of Tomorrow, and this episode in particular, is how it can lean so hard into wacky and irreverent humor, but still know the right moments to dial that back and let genuine emotion seep through.
Beneath the cavalcade of jokes, this is an episode about loss. Sara is still in grief over Oliver’s death, while Nate and Gideon are left with an aching sense of emptiness now that Zari’s vanished from their memories. And the contrast between this heavy subject matter and the glib attitude taken to it provides some of the biggest laughs.
Last week we had numerous scenes of people mourning Oliver Queen, eulogizing his valorous life, and paying solemn tribute to his sacrifice. This week? Nate quips that Oliver’s death proves he “shouldn’t have done the crossover”, and Ava creates the world’s most outrageously callous condolence card (“I’m sorry the vigilante you slept with while he was dating your sister died. Some say it’s better to have loved and lost, but I hope you never loved him at all.”)
And the void left by Zari’s disappearance? It mainly takes the form of Gideon wonking out and randomly making Zari-related callbacks. We also get a lot of leaning on the fourth wall jokes, like Ray mentioning that something’s off as he’s looking at Behrad, or Nate saying that something’s missing just as Tala Ashe’s name comes up in the credits.
Mining this loss for irreverent humor works, because it’s done using characters who, in that moment, have no reason to be reverent about it. None of them realize (except subconsciously) that Zari was ever on the ship, so her absence is touched on through ironic commentary, rather than any serious exploration of grief. And since Nate and Ava were never close to Oliver, and since they spend most of the episode unable or unwilling to talk to Sara about him, their responses can be delightfully free of pathos.
But when Nate sees a message left by Zari, or when Sara opens up about everything that happened during the crossover? The jokes stop. In those moments, we’re no longer looking at these events from a jaded, outside perspective. We’re seeing them from the perspective of characters who have been deeply wounded.
When Sara goes off on the Legends for ignoring her pain, for filling their home with cameras and obtrusive strangers when she needs time alone with her friends, it’s a heartbreaking moment, without a shred of ironic detachment. And when Nate finally gets a glimpse of the woman haunting his dreams, only to have all records of her stripped away, his emotional whiplash is treated with nothing but empathy.
Legends takes things that other shows would treat seriously and turns them into jokes, but it still takes its characters seriously. When something matters to them, it matters to the show. It will ask us to laugh at them being freaked out or frustrated or foolish, but not at them going through real pain.
It’s a delicate balancing act, taking these characters and their situations so far into the realm of the cartoonish, while keeping that core humanity intact. But it’s a balance that pays amazing dividends. This episode is able to be wilder, wackier, wall-to-wall jokier than any episode before, but because it still has that sincere empathy for its heroes, the climax becomes more than just a slapstick set piece. As outrageous and ridiculous as the way they win the day is, you still feel a genuine sense of triumph as they pull through and patch up their differences.
Without that heart at its core, Legends could pack twice as many jokes into an episode, and still only be half as joyful to watch.
- This episode seems like it may have been constructed as a potential jumping on point for new viewers. But imagine you’ve never watched Legends of Tomorrow before, and this is the first episode you see. Think about how much insane information you’d have to process in a short amount of time: Mick being romance novelist Rebecca Silver, Ray having a girlfriend who happens to be a fairy godmother, the documentary casually identifying Ava as a clone with no further context. “Y’know, sometimes what happens on this ship really would be hard for an audience to follow.”
- That bit where Sara sweeps Ava into a kiss, then Ava faints and Sara flashes a thumbs up at the camera? That wasn’t in the script; that was just Caity Lotz and Jes Macallan goofing around between takes.
- Rasputin was a great villain to start off the season. The actor plays him with such a wonderful mix of languid calm and theatrical camp. I love how he’s portrayed as a guy whose brush with death has made him reflect on his life and want to do something more meaningful; it’s just that, in his case, what gives his life meaning is being a supervillain.
- What other Encores (or “Villaigains”) are you hoping to see the Legends go up against? Me, I’d like to see Blackbeard make a comeback, with his cowardly personality now bolstered by nigh-unkillability.
- Behrad had a tough gig going into this episode. Lotta people were going to dislike him off the bat simply for being Not Zari. But this ep did a pretty good job getting him into our good graces. Being the only person to comfort Sara on her loss (and doing it by sharing his pot stash and some cute fan art with her) goes a long way.
- Any chance we’ll see director Kevin Harris come back as a revenge obsessed bad guy?
- Of lines that sum up what makes Legends of Tomorrow so great, “I’m going to deliver a love letter to Rasputin” is up there with “George Lucas has the Spear of Destiny”, “The unicorn bit my nipple off!”, and (my personal favorite) “That corpse you buried was a vampire from the future, you idiot!”
- “Why wouldn’t we just find baby Hitler and make him wrestle baby Stalin?” . . . God, I love this silly little show.
MVP of the Week: Ava Sharpe
It’s amazing to think that, when she first appeared, she was this stern, no-nonsense killjoy meant to reign the Legends in. Seeing her descend whole-hog into the Legends’ madness, while still trying to project the illusion of professionalism, is an absolute joy.
Question of the Week: Green Arrow & the Canaries spinoff: Yay or Nay?