Batwoman 1×11: “An Un-Birthday Present”, Supergirl 5×11: “Back from the Future – Part One”, and Arrow 8×10: “Fadeout” (SERIES FINALE) reviews
Greetings, all. This Week In The Arrowverse is coming to you one day late. Partly that’s because I didn’t want to compete with the Superbowl for people’s attention. Partly it’s because I needed that extra time to get my thoughts together. Because this was no ordinary week in the Arrowverse. This week, we witnessed the final episode of Arrow, of the show that started it all.
I don’t know if I can do justice to such a huge event in my short little reviews here, but I’m going to give it my darndest. It’s been a hell of a ride, folks. Let’s dive in.
Batwoman 1×11: “An Un-Birthday Present” review
For fifteen years, Kate refused to accept that her sister was gone. No matter how the evidence stacked up against her, Kate continued to believe that Beth was still out there, alive, waiting for Kate to find her. And when she discovered Alice’s true identity, it seemed to vindicate all of her relentless hoping. Yet as Alice has, again and again, rejected all efforts to find humanity in her, Kate has finally come to see that she was wrong all these years: Beth is gone, and all that’s left is a monster called Alice who wears her face.
Until Beth shows up at Kate’s office, healthy and happy and not a murderous lunatic, fresh from a now extinct parallel universe.
That’s one hell of a bombshell. The dynamic between Kate and Alice, their sisterly bond twisted by Kate’s sense of guilt and Alice’s crazed version of affection, has been the driving force of the series to date. To introduce an alternative to Alice, a version of Beth who never went over the bridge, who never suffered in the Carpenter household, who never became a monster: it changes everything. It shows a way Kate and Beth could get a happy ending that seemed impossible before, and it makes the coming danger all the more fraught, as Kate once again has a Beth to lose.
It’s such a major change to the show’s paradigm, and comes so completely out of left field, most of this episode has to be spent establishing, “yeah, this is really happening.”
Prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, the most sci-fi aspects of Batwoman were handheld railguns and Mouse’s skin masks; throwing parallel universe doppelgangers into the mix is a something else altogether. The characters need time to wrap their heads around the fact that this is a thing now.
And once they’ve accepted this new reality, time also needs to be spent building a connection between Beth and Kate. Technically, they’ve never met before. At first, they don’t know how much may be different between their realities, whether there’s anything beyond physical appearance connecting this Kate and this Beth to the versions the other knows. For the drama that’s to come to have meaning, a connection between these two must be developed.
That’s what this plot is designed to do: create a scenario where Beth risks her life to save Kate, and Kate risks her life to save Beth. Once that’s happened, once Kate has gotten to save this Beth the way she couldn’t fifteen years ago, we can believe that these two are sisters.
The other thing this plot is designed to do is get the info about this new Beth to the appropriate characters. By episode’s end, not just Kate, but also Luke and Mary know about and accept Beth, and Beth has made her own peace (oddly quickly) with her home universe being gone and the fact that she’s stuck here now. Oh, and Mouse now knows Team Batwoman has an Alice lookalike, which he will undoubtedly pass along to Alice (whose freedom is the third goal this episode set for itself). And you better believe Alice will have strong opinions about that.
But that’s all to come next episode.
This was a decent, well-constructed story with some good camaraderie between our main cast, and some chilling flashbacks to Alice’s captivity, but I see it mostly as a transitional episode. It’s there to take last episode’s big twist and solidify it as part of the story now, lay all the necessary groundwork, so that coming episodes can deliver the real emotional payoff. Still a fun ep, but the real fireworks are yet to come.
- Wonderful Alice Moments: The discordant music as Child Beth closes her eyes and becomes Alice.
- As soon as that kitten was introduced, we all knew what was going to happen, didn’t we?
- It was so much fun having Mary help investigate this new Beth, then help Beth impersonate Alice. Can we make Mary a full-fledged member of the Bat team already?
- Between not realizing that the very unusual binding on a prisoner’s book might be a weapon, and assigning only two agents to guard Alice during prisoner transport . . . the Crows really suck, don’t they?
- Not like there are many alternatives, though. I loved Beth’s line, “Okay, dumb question, do police exist on this Earth?”
- Beth was overall a lot of fun, and I’m hoping she won’t just be killed off next episode.
- A big deal was made about the police refusing to turn on the Bat-signal, but . . . what purpose does the Bat-signal even serve here? Traditionally, it’s how the cops alerted Batman that something needed his attention, so he could come to them and find out what’s up. But even in past episodes, when the Bat-signal was being lit, we never saw Kate make contact with the police or find out about a crime because she saw the signal in the sky. The only time she’s responded to it was when Alice hijacked it to get her attention. So . . . is it purely a symbolic thing here?
Supergirl 5×11: “Back from the Future – Part One” review
Toyman has had a weird run on Supergirl.
When the show debuted with a guy named Winslow Schott in the cast of characters, they were promising comic book fans that longtime Superman foe Toyman would appear. And they fulfilled that promise early, making him the main villain of “Childish Things”, the tenth episode of the series.
After that episode, however, it took two years before Toyman made another appearance, in Season 3’s “Schott Through the Heart”. And it’s only now, two years since that episode, that we’ve gotten a third tussle between Toyman and the Girl of Steel. And, of course, we’ve never seen the same Toyman twice; it’s always a different character adopting the codename and gimmicks, letting the writers tweak the concept from what they did last time.
Fact is, Toyman’s a tough character to adapt. While other mad scientists can make the transition from “adventure stories for children” to “quasi-police procedurals for adults” without any seams showing, Toyman was always destined to come off as ridiculous. Someone who turns toys into deadly weapons? That could be done with no more than whiff of silliness to it. But when those toy weapons are powerful enough to challenge Supergirl? You have to expect the audience will laugh.
And, hey, that’s no problem! Supergirl is no stranger to silly, comedy-infused stories; they gave Mr. Mxyzptlk his own episode, after all. The problem comes from what was established in the pilot, that there’s a connection between Toyman and Kara’s sweet-but-dorky friend Winn. It’s one thing to have some random bad guy be a murderous, toy-obsessed lunatic; it’s something very different to have Winn’s father be a murderous, toy-obsessed lunatic.
Supergirl has far too big a heart to brush aside “oh, yeah, my dad’s a supervillain” as a joke. It explores how his father’s obsession and subsequent arrest have hurt Winn, how it tore apart the Schott family, and how it still hangs heavy on his heart. Even when his dad died off-screen, and some random apprentice took over the Toyman role, the focus still remained on the trauma Winn and his mother endured because of him. Toyman ended up being one of the darker villains on Supergirl, his crimes and the harm they caused treated with solemnity.
That created a weird dichotomy in the previous Toyman outings. The story they were telling was one of dark, painful, and very grounded family drama . . . except, occasionally, someone would bust out a killer yo-yo or a giant claw machine, and we’d get some of the silliest set-pieces in the series.
I should clarify, these were not bad episodes. I’m on record as giving “Schott Through the Heart” a very positive review, and I thought “Childish Things” was one of the better Season One episodes. They each did the Schott Family Drama and Outlandish Killer Toys aspects well; it just felt strange to have both in the same story, as Supergirl normally aims for a more consistent tone.
It’s only in this, our third Toyman outing, that we see a shift in how the show approaches the character. In “Back from the Future – Part 1”, the focus is squarely on how he can be the impetus for colorful superhero adventures and create fight scenes that are both inventive and ludicrous. The grim, psychological drama surrounding previous Toyman appearances is absent. There’s a moment where Winn tries reaching out to his Toyman doppelganger, but it’s quick and doesn’t amount to much. This Toyman is simply a goofy and uncomplicated lunatic, with no personal connection to our main characters except for the fact that he has Winn’s face. The battle against him thus doesn’t carry such heavy emotional stakes, and settles into being a simple romp.
I think that was undoubtedly the right call. The one constant across all of Toyman’s appearances (beyond the killer toys) is that they’re an excuse to give Winn some time in the spotlight. Previous Toyman episodes occurred back when Winn was a main character, but a main character who rarely got much focus. In most episodes, he was simply the stock Funny Tech Genius Sidekick, there to provide exposition, whip up some technobabble solutions, and give us a few laughs. So when Toyman brought Winn onto center stage, it’s natural the show would use that opportunity to explore the deeper and more dramatic aspects of Winn’s character, rather than the fun loving dork role he was normally limited to.
But that’s not the case here. This is our first time seeing Winn since he left the show at the end of Season 3. In bringing him back onto our screens, the episode understandably wants to remind us of everything people liked most about Winn, about all the good times we had with him. And as good as “Childish Things” and “Schott Through the Heart” were, their intense drama is not what people remember or love best about Winslow Schott. They remember him as the Funny Tech Genius Sidekick, who brought a dorky enthusiasm to the insane situations he had to deal with. That’s the Winn we want to make his return; maybe a little wiser, a little more self-assured, but still the same upbeat everyman he was before.
If this latest Toyman had been another means of exploring Winn’s traumatic backstory and emotional baggage, it would have felt like a disservice to the character. A dramatic turn like that might feel refreshing when you’re getting funny sidekick Winn every week and want to see something different from him. But after going so long without Winn on our screens? All most of us really wanted was to see him pal around with his superfriends again, geek out over their new secret headquarters, and join in as they fight robot tigers to a hilariously apropos soundtrack. What more could you ask for?
Well, okay, I wish we could have had the rest of the Legion of Superheroes show up. But, hey, there’s still Part Two.
- I was never a huge fan of Winn (though I did like him and Lyra together in Season 2), but his return here was pretty darn good. His reaction to getting another reality’s worth of memories dumped in his head was the highlight of the episode. Also awesome: him reminding Kara that “you put me in danger, like, every day.”
- According to Winn, the 31st Century has “time cops”. Since they share a universe now, I’ve gotta wonder how the Legends haven’t been arrested by them yet.
- J’onn was so proud and excited showing off the Tower to his friends. And of course it has a balcony where people can talk through their feelings. National City’s building codes won’t allow a two-story workplace to be built without one.
- I didn’t care for the Toyman-collecting-Internet-followers thing. It doesn’t connect to the rest of the story in any meaningful way; it seemed to be there only because the theme of this season is meant to be the perils of technology, so they’ve gotta work it in somehow. Also, while I can believe that people would choose to follow a guy who’s promising to assassinate people, I cannot believe that anyone (supervillain or otherwise) could get one million followers so quickly based on such a crummy video.
- Winn tells Nia, “Never let anyone make you question your own worth.” Good advice, but kind of undercut by him also going, “Hey, you know that ancient mystical power passed down through your family, borne by only one person in each generation? The power you inherited and have used to become a hero? Yeah . . . I can build a handheld trinket that does the same thing.”
- I’m still not a fan of Brainy cutting off his relationship with Nia and lying to his friends simply because a doppelganger of his said he had to. It reeks of pointless drama. Despite that, Jesse Rath is turning in an amazing performance, and I couldn’t help being engrossed during his big confession to Winn.
- What kind of game night is Team Supergirl running where people drum their hands on the table during Jenga? Knife fights have started over less.
Arrow 8×10: “Fadeout” (SERIES FINALE) review
“Fadeout” is not the series finale of Arrow.
I’m not saying that from a place of denial. I’m not the sort of fan who can’t accept that a show they love is going off the air. I’m saying that “Fadeout” is not the series finale of Arrow, because this whole season has been the series finale of Arrow. These ten episodes (fourteen, if you count the rest of Crisis on Infinite Earths) have done the work that, in most series, would be reserved for the final episode.
Reflection on the show’s history. Return appearances by characters not seen in years. A threat bigger than any faced before. A final resolution of the show’s central conflict. Familiar routines and running gags trotted out one last time. Character arcs given a satisfying conclusion. The death of the main character. Mourning for the end of an era. The themes of the show put clearly into words. A look into the future, to see where everyone goes from here.
Everything you might expect or hope for out of a series finale, Arrow has devoted this final season to doing. “Fadeout”, then, is merely the last part of the series finale. It does, over the course of an hour, what another show might fit into the last few minutes of the last episode.
“Fadeout” is . . . It’s the passengers of Oceanic 815, walking through the door of that church. It’s Buffy Summers, looking back at Sunnydale and smiling. It’s Sam Malone, closing down Cheers for the night, saying, “I tell ya, I’m the luckiest son of a bitch on Earth.” It’s a moment of quiet contemplation, letting the events of the finale, of the entire series, sink in, as the characters consider where they go from here.
We’ve been saying goodbye to Arrow, and to Oliver Queen, for a long time now. Ever since he left the cabin with the Monitor, we’ve known this end was coming. We’ve explored what this end means for everyone concerned. We’ve looked back on everything that’s led us to this point. We’ve seen the heroic bombast of Oliver’s ultimate sacrifice (twice). We’ve seen his death mourned by those closest to him, and seen him honored as a hero by all the people of the world. All that’s left, then, is to give us one final coda.
A coda . . . and a prelude to something more.
Oliver has gone to his final reward, and in the closing minutes, Felicity joins him. But many others appear this episode, to pay their respects to Oliver Queen, to give thanks for all that he’s given them . . . and to carry those gifts on into the future. For just as Oliver gave his life to bring a new universe into being, so Arrow passes from our screens, but leaves behind the universe it created.
Of more than twenty people present at Oliver’s funeral, three already feature in TV series of their own. More might still, if Green Arrow & the Canaries comes to fruition. And all will continue to exist in what we call (now with added meaning) the Arrowverse. Even characters long dead have been returned to life, so that their stories need not end though Oliver’s has.
Not all gathered here will be seen again. While some may continue to appear throughout the Arrowverse, others may not return now that Arrow itself is no more. We may never see John put on the Green Lantern ring, or Roy and Thea have their wedding, or Curtis . . . do anything. Their stories from here may only exist in the minds of fans. But in giving them life, in creating a universe where all of them can live, Arrow and Oliver Queen have built something greater than themselves.
As Moira said, “The world we’re living in right now is a kind of gift from him.”
A simple coda to Arrow, a short coda to Arrow, could not have done justice to all that this show has birthed. In more than a dozen places, this episode could have said, “. . . and they lived happily ever after”, or “. . . and the adventure continues”. But always there was another character to touch on, to show how this story has changed their lives and set the course for their own stories to come. Even now, there are many that we did not spend nearly as much time with as we wish we could.
That’s the way it is with goodbyes, when they’re said to something you love. No matter how long the goodbye lasts, no matter how much passion you pour into it, there’s always something more you wish you could say. No moment ever feels right, if it has to be the final moment. When they come from the heart, goodbyes never truly stop, they simply . . . fade out.
- Series finales rarely mark a show’s highest point. The best jokes in a comedy, the most powerful moments in a drama, the most clever puzzles in a mystery: it’s rare to find those in the final episode. So it’s both a surprise and a delight that, while “Fadeout” may not be the best episode of Arrow, it contains what may be the greatest fight scene the show has ever done. We’ve seen Oliver mow his way through hordes of goons countless times before, but I’m not sure if it’s ever been executed so well, or with everything we love about those scenes heightened so much, as in Oliver’s three-minute long flashback brawl.
- Katherine McNamara did amazing work this episode. Obviously, her talk with Felicity was a tearjerker, but there were a couple moments prior to that where she did some stunning acting without words. First when Felicity enters the bunker, and the expression on Mia’s face tells you everything about the storm of emotions going through her. And later, when Quentin says how he blamed Oliver “for the death of my youngest daughter”, Mia shoots Sara this hilarious “Wait, wha-?” look.
- Speaking of Felicity, I am so delighted that Emily Bett Rickards came back for the finale. While the end of Season 7 made a beautiful conclusion to her and Oliver’s story, in this episode’s deluge of happy endings, it would have been devastating to not see them reunited at the end.
- All the people who came back for this finale were so amazing, it feels hard to single any out as the best. I never thought we’d get to see Moira and Tommy and Quentin all alive again. I’d given up hoping for an al Ghul sisters reunion. And Emiko returning, now accepted by the Queen family? I don’t think anyone saw that coming, but now it seems obvious; how could it be otherwise in a world of Oliver’s creation?
- But, of course, John Diggle was the beating heart of this episode. The flashbacks show us the first moment where a bond grew between him and Oliver. It’s a bond that grew from their shared mission to save this city. Now, in the present, we see John struggle to accept that the mission is over, because without it, the last thing connecting him to Oliver, to his brother, is gone. What is there for John Diggle, without Oliver in his life? We can only hope we get to see . . . and that it will involve a brand new ring on his finger.
MVP of the Week: Oliver Queen
Arrow has had its many ups and its many downs, but even in the roughest patches, the character of Oliver Queen has always worked. He was someone who could be a hero or a monster, could be quick-witted or short-sighted, could be larger than life or achingly human, yet it all came from a richly realized core of who he was.
I want to give my profoundest thanks to Stephen Amell for bringing this character to life. Arrow, and the Arrowverse, would not exist without his skill, his hard work, and his exuberant passion.
And I want to thank the writers, for not allowing Oliver to become stagnant. As John Diggle said, the Oliver Queen we say goodbye to now is not the same man we first met eight years ago. One of the greatest joys of Arrow has been how Oliver has continually had to confront his own failings, and his own need for change. Even when I complained about the series, there was always joy in watching Oliver slowly but surely become someone else. Become something else.
Question of the Week: How did you first come to watch the Arrowverse?