The Flash 6×10: “Marathon” and Legends of Tomorrow 5×02: “Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me” reviews
Welcome, all, to This Last Week In The Arrowverse. A busy spell at work means I’m getting this to you a couple days late, but hopefully you’re able to read these reviews of last week’s Flash and Legends before watching the new episodes that air tonight.
I’ve kept you all waiting long enough; let’s get to this!
The Flash 6×10: “Marathon” review
Crisis on Infinite Earths left The Flash in a weird place.
For Arrow, Crisis was the climax of the season, and all they had to do afterwards was a backdoor pilot and a final epilogue. For Legends, Crisis came before their season officially started, and so far has had minimal effect on them (likely because they already rewrote their timeline at the end of last season, so no need to go piling a second one on top of it). For Supergirl and Batwoman, Crisis came as a blip in the middle of their seasons; once Crisis was finished, they went back to the same storylines they’d been pursuing before, just with some Crisis aftereffects complicating things.
For The Flash, it’s different. The first eight episodes of this season were structured as a leadup to Crisis. The sense of impending doom it cast, given Barry’s supposedly unavoidable death, dominated the storyline. The main villain of those eight episodes, Bloodwork, was created specifically to facilitate the grappling-with-mortality character drama. But now Crisis has come and gone, and all that’s changed.
Barry’s unavoidable death . . . it was avoided. The impending doom . . . didn’t impend. The character arcs and narrative thrust of those first eight episodes were resolved. And with that arc concluded, there’s no reason to break out Bloodwork and have him menace our heroes again; he can remain safely contained until they want to do a villain teamup or something.
That leaves this, the first Post-Crisis episode of The Flash, to function like a new season premiere. It’s not starting completely from scratch, since there are still a few characters and unresolved plot threads left over from the first stretch of the season. But in terms of Three Act Structure, we’re now back at Act One (the setup and “inciting incident” of the story), rather than Act Two (the “rising action” of the story), where we’d normally be at this point in the season.
This is hardly a new structure for serialized television, breaking the season down into chunks, each with its own story to tell. But it’s definitely a break from how The Flash has normally structured its seasons, and from what viewers have come to expect. So, in a way, it’s kind of brilliant to make adjusting to that narrative change part of the characters’ stories this week.
Both Barry and Iris spend this episode in “Crisis mode”. They’re constantly on the lookout for threats, and are trying to do as much good as they can, as quickly as they can, because they’re still in a the-end-is-nigh headspace. It’s almost like, on a subconscious level, they know this is the part of the season where the stakes should be getting high and the heroes should be getting desperate. Normally, by Episode 10, they’ve tussled with the season’s Big Bad one or two times, and Barry’s gotten his ass handed to him, or been sent to prison, or something equally dire, with no clue how they’re going to defeat this latest foe. Going back to low-key, start-of-season energy, where they’re all still having fun, and maybe there are a few hints of some dangerous villain out there, but it’s not too serious yet? It’s not an easy adjustment for them.
Barry and Iris may have trouble adjusting to this new structure, but as a long-time Flash viewer, I frickin’ love it. One of my biggest and most chronic complaints with this series is how, for most of each season, Barry and the rest of Team Flash will be obsessed with finding a way to defeat the latest Big Bad. Once the new villain has been firmly established and made known to the heroes, they’ll spend almost every episode talking about how they can stop this latest threat, coming up with idea after idea after idea for how they could be taken down . . . none of which will work, because it’s not the season finale yet. This pattern has resulted in long stretches of The Flash which have not only been achingly repetitive, but downright depressing in how they dash the heroes’ hopes for victory over and over again.
While I’m certain McCulloch Technologies will become a major focus soon enough (maybe very soon, depending on how that mirror cliffhanger works out), the fact that the show has de-escalated the tension for the time being is a major relief. If we can have just a few more episodes where Team Flash isn’t desperately trying to beat the season long bad guy “before it’s too late”, leaving room for smaller, episodic stories to grow? It will create enough of a distinction in tone and focus that, when things do become centered around the Big Bad as we approach the season’s climax, it will still feel fresh and interesting, rather than played out.
One can hope, at least.
- Having the map and timeline for Earth Prime on the whiteboards (clearboards?) in the background was a brilliant idea. It doesn’t slow the episode down with too much pedantic exposition, but any fans devoted enough to want that pedantic exposition can just freeze frame to get details on how this merged Earth works.
- My favorite new factoid about this new reality? That there’s a place called “Dinosaur Island”.
- Most surprising factoid about this new reality? Apparently, Gotham City is in Wisconsin, and borders Lake Michigan.
- This was a rare Iris-centric episode with very little Barry, and I gotta say, intrepid reporter is a good look on Iris. Yeah, the Arrowverse’s depiction of journalism is about as far from accurate as you can get; I have no idea how the Central City Citizen can even function as a business. But if you can buy into it, it lets Iris get into some fun adventures, different from The Flash’s usual find-the-supervillain’s-weakness/run-really-fast problem solving.
- It’s great that we got at least one more appearance by John Diggle and his speedster induced nausea.
- Love that The Flash is using Crisis to take a second try at villains it mishandled the first go around. Though the new Dr. Light isn’t really an improvement; in a world where even incompetent coffee shop robbers can get ahold of ray guns, being able to fire that light gun isn’t much of a superpower.
Legends of Tomorrow 5×02: “Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me” review
“That girl is poisonnnnnnn . . .”
This is an episode steeped in the tropes of film noir and classic crime movies. Most of these are just gags and references, meant to give the audience a jolt of humorous recognition. But there’s one noir trope this ep takes a serious look at, examining how it works and what it has to say. I’m speaking, of course, of that noir icon, the femme fatale.
She will usually present herself as a helpless innocent, caught in a desperate situation, ready to bestow love and/or sex on the strapping man who comes to her rescue. That’s a ruse, of course. She’s out to line her pockets and move up in the world, and will use seduction, deception, and manipulation to get what she wants, maneuvering gullible menfolk into doing her dirty work. Yet, despite her callous betrayal, there is often something inherently sympathetic in the femme fatale, absent in the other rogues who populate film noir.
The world of film noir reflects the most cruel and heartless aspects of our own world, and, while rarely said in so many words, it acknowledges that it’s an especially cruel world for women. The crooked cops, thuggish gangsters, conniving attorneys, and other masculine roles in film noir: they may not get an easy life; often they wind up with a bullet in the back or a ticket to the gas chamber; but for a while, at least, they can throw their weight around, be brash and bold, and make an open play for the grand prize. A woman who attempted the same would find all hands turned against her. In the world of noir, women live at the mercy of men.
What options are there for a woman in such a world? She can wait, likely in vain, for a good man to come along and “take her away from all this”. She can endure the cruelties of bad men and be thankful for what crumbs they throw her way. Or . . . she can take matters into her own hands. She can use the tools allowed to her, her “feminine wiles”, to gain some measure of control over the men around her, and through them gain power and security. Her goals may be selfish, her methods ruthless, but she’s living in a selfish and ruthless world; it’s hard to begrudge her for doing what she can to come out ahead.
Throughout “Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me”, we get many different looks at what it means to be a femme fatale. Most obvious is Jeanie Hill. For many in LA, she played the seductress. For Bugsy Siegel, she played the doting girlfriend. For John Constantine, she played the damsel in distress. And every one of them, she betrayed. Yet it’s clear that this life, of using her charm and her body to get ahead, of needing to be whatever people want from her, is not the life she would have chosen. It’s a strategy of survival. She wants to get ahold of Bugsy’s blackmail stash because it will let her leave that life behind, to be openly powerful and in control, the way she never could be before.
Clear parallels are drawn between Jeanie up on Earth and Astra down in Hell. Whatever hard-knock life Jeanie has had, Astra has undoubtedly had a hundred times worse, growing up in the pits of the demon world, doing whatever she could to survive. When she saw a chance to play on John’s lingering guilt and compassion for her, she took it, maneuvered him into toppling the old order in Hell while giving her the tools to take the throne for herself. Like Jeanie, all she wants is to have power in her own right, to no longer depend on pleasing others, playing the roles they want from her.
A different take on this idea is seen with Zari. She has taken the traditional tools of the femme fatale, doing whatever and being whatever makes people love you and trust you, and applied it on a grand scale. She carefully constructs an online persona designed to charm millions of followers, to make them feel as if they know her, and from them build her fortune. It’s little surprise that she’s able to turn that same charm against Nate and pry knowledge of the Air Totem from him. And like Jeanie and Astra, Zari learned these skills as an act of survival.
We’re given little details of what happened after her sudden rise to fame, but to anyone familiar with the lives of child stars, the words “First agent when I was 11; real piece of work” tell you about all you need. But unlike Jeanie and Astra, Zari is not eager to leave the tools of seduction and manipulation behind; while she eventually took control away from the agents and others who would have exploited her, she considers her business empire, built on playing a role for others, to be living her best life.
Through these three women, the episode explores how the seductive deception of the femme fatale can be the path to freedom in a world that’s been stacked against you. But it’s not so limited as to suggest that’s the only path a woman can take.
An obvious counterpoint to them is Sara Lance. She doesn’t disdain the tricks of the femme fatale; she’s perfectly willing to play the seductive moll to lure Bugsy into a trap. But for her, such a move is not one of desperation, but of convenience. If “feminine wiles” don’t get the job done, she can always attack head on, or command her team do the same. The world hasn’t been any kinder to Sara Lance than it has to all the femme fatales out there, but she shows that building real power for oneself need not always depend on playing their game.
But another interesting counterpoint is Ava. Where our femme fatales began from a position of weakness, and have done everything they could to rise to power, Ava’s trajectory has been the reverse. She was once the head of a massive government agency. Now she’s unemployed, homeless, crashing at her girlfriend’s place, with all her worldly belongings stuffed in a duffle bag. She spends much of the episode in denial or despair over how her fortunes have fallen. Yet, with some advice from Mick, she begins to look at things in a different light.
Ava is fortunate enough to be in a situation where she doesn’t need to gain power and authority to be secure. She may be Sara’s “kept woman” now, but Sara Lance is a far cry from Bugsy Siegel or the Triumvirate of Hell; she’s not an abuser or adversary that Ava needs to overthrow, but someone Ava can count on to look out for her. So why struggle and suffer to regain power, when (to paraphrase a certain other superhero) with no power, comes no responsibility?
When Ava grabs the mike at the Blue Iguana, she does the opposite of what a femme fatale would do. She doesn’t carry herself with poise and grace, adopting a persona carefully designed to charm the people around her and make them do what she wants. She throws herself into the song with drunken abandon, utterly oblivious to how she’s turning off the crowd, singing for herself and no one else, and has the time of her life in the process. She may not gain the same sort of power as the femme fatales, but none of them look like they’re having this much fun.
In exploring how these different women engage with the role of the femme fatale, embracing it, rejecting it, modernizing it, or dipping in and out of it as the situation calls for, Legends of Tomorrow has created a surprisingly nuanced look at the archetype, and at the society that birthed it. In what could have simply been a light and frothy genre pastiche, like so many Legends has done before, “Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me” digs deep to deliver something complex and shockingly poignant. And for that, Legends, I tip my fedora to you.
- Despite all my serious analysis talk, this was still an incredibly fun episode. Even mundane exposition scenes become hilarious when delivered in those exaggerated Old Hollywood accents and hardboiled patter. (“That’s just the biscuit, here comes the gravy.” “What’s the rumpus? Must be pretty heavy if you’re calling me on the blower?”)
- Last season, I complained about how unimaginative the depiction of Hell was: just an ultra-rundown urban landscape with a bunch of demon night clubs. But in a noir pastiche like this, that look actually kinda works.
- While it’s never done a full-fledged musical episode like The Flash and Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow has had a lot of great musical numbers over the years, and Ava’s performance of “Poison” (both her fantasy version and the drunken reality) belong in the pantheon of greats.
- So this is our first look at the new Zari, and I’m liking it. At first blush, she’s dramatically different from the Zari we know. But as we get to see beyond the influencer persona, it seems clear that there’s still a core of Zari down in there. When she confronts Nate and Behrad, it very much reminded me of how, her first week on the Waverider, she immediately pegged what everyone’s deal was.
- I hope one of the ways Zari’s capitalized on her fame is being the spokesperson for “Girl With The Dragon” Shampoo.
- Last week, I mentioned in the comments that I wanted a scene where the heads of all the Arrowverse’s security agencies met up. Upon hearing that there was a Time Bureau softball league, I now want that scene so much harder!
Lyla: Supergirl cannot play for the DEO’s team. We agreed no superpowers.
Alex: Hey, it’s not like we’re the only ones who brought in a ringer. The Time Bureau’s got Babe Ruth playing centerfield!
Ava: We grabbed him from his minor league days, it barely even counts.
MVP of the Week: Natalie of CC Jitters
I love that we’re at the point where random civilians in the Arrowverse have just come to accept they’re living in a superhero universe now. When some crooks barge in with ray guns, she’s not frightened, just irritated, because this sort of thing happens way too often. Add in her pointing out how stupid the criminals’ plan is, and leading the chant of “Flash! Flash! Flash!” when Barry saves the day . . . well, she’s so darn likeable, I hope we see her life in peril more often!
Question of the Week: What bad guys do you want to see get a Post-Crisis do-over?