Batwoman 1×12: “Take Your Choice”, Supergirl 5×12 “Back From the Future – Part Two”, The Flash 6×12: “A Girl Named Sue”, and Legends of Tomorrow 5×04: “A Head of Her Time” reviews
Wow, it’s a suuuuuuuuuper late This Last Week In The Arrowverse this go around. By now, new episodes of all these shows have already aired, and I’m almost a full week behind. I was considering holding off and just doing a Last Two Weeks In The Arrowverse post this Sunday, but with four different shows to cover, that’d get insanely long.
So, in the meantime, enjoy some reviews of episodes no one is talking about anymore, because I am nothing if not behind on the zeitgeist! Next thing you know, I’ll be creating a Myspace page.
Batwoman 1×12: “Take Your Choice” review
The choices you make always matter.
It may not always seem like it. It may seem like, no matter what choices you make, the world will steamroll over them and carry on like you never made a choice at all.
It’s true, we can’t always control the world around us. But that’s what makes our choices so important: they are the one thing we can control. Even if you can’t control what happens, you can control how you react to what happens, and what sort of person you let it make you.
People make choices this episode, monumental choices, that nevertheless don’t actually produce results. Sofie chooses not to kill Alice in cold blood, but then, seconds later, someone else kills the woman she just spared. Mr. Cartwright chooses to kill Alice, but the woman he kills ends up not being Alice after all. And Kate chooses to let Alice die, so that Beth can live, but because Cartwright kills Beth, thus saving Alice, that becomes moot.
They made their choices, and then their choices were undone. We’re back where we were before this Beth crisis began . . . except now they all have to live with the choices they made.
August Cartwright was living well, seemingly free of Alice and Mouse and whatever retribution they might want to rain down on him. He could have continued to live that way, if only he let his obsession go. But he didn’t, and even though he failed to kill Alice, in the act of trying, he brought himself back into their world, and the comfortable life he built for himself cannot long survive that transition.
Kate, for all her repeated faceoffs with Alice, for all they’ve attacked each other, threatened each other, imprisoned each other, has never been able to fully sever the bond between them. But in choosing to let Alice die, she chooses to abandon whatever is left between them, to at last move on. And Alice, knowing Kate made that choice, has her delusions of living a happy life with Kate now shattered more thoroughly than any Batwoman delivered beatdown could ever manage. That Alice ended up living anyway is irrelevant. Kate still made her choice, both she and Alice know she made that choice, and things between them can never be the same.
Then there’s Sofie. She could have killed who she thought to be Alice. No one will ever know that she had Beth in her scope, that she could have taken the shot, but chose to show mercy instead. Her choice will not affect how people see her, her relationships with others, or (as far as we can foresee) have any ramifications . . . except for Sofie herself. In that moment, she chose what sort of person she wanted to be: the ruthless commander of an authoritarian police force, or someone who still respects life, even that of an enemy. She chose the latter, and set a course for herself to follow.
That’s the thing about choices: no matter what, if any, effect they have on the outside world, they will always weigh on you, informing you what sort of person you truly are. That’s a truth Alice discovers the painful way.
She lies on the floor dying, as Catherine did not long ago. And just as with Catherine, there’s only one cure that can save her, and both are denied the cure, their lives sacrificed to save another’s. The difference is, Catherine chose to renounce the cure, to accept her death so that her daughter could live. But Alice chooses herself, tries to kill her Beth to preserve her own life.
Because of that, while the fate that awaits them is the same, Catherine can go to her end with some measure of peace, with the knowledge that, when it truly mattered, she tried to do the right thing. Alice’s choices deny her any such comfort; she goes to her death pleading, raging, sobbing, without solace to be had. All she has is her own hallucination of Catherine, confronting her with the truth she knows deep down, that all her choices have been wrong, that what’s happening to her now is no less than what she deserves. That she ends up surviving doesn’t make the pain of that realization any less.
Our choices always matter, whether they matter or not.
- While this episode was overall terrific, I was seriously annoyed when Alice ran off, and Kate was about to go after her, but Luke said, “Hey, Beth needs you.” And I’m like, NO! Kate’s not a doctor, and even if she was, there was nothing she could do in that moment about Beth’s condition except maybe offer some comforting words. Which, yeah, I’m sure Beth would appreciate, but catching Alice, the only possible solution to Beth’s condition, is so, so, so much more important. It’s a moment that was clearly only there because the writers needed Alice to make an escape, and couldn’t think of a plausible way for it to happen.
- I realize that “why don’t they ask the heroes from other shows to help them?” is just one of those questions you have to ignore. Still, it felt odd that, when Team Batwoman was trying to fix Beth’s deteriorating-health-due-to-coexisting-with-her-doppelganger, they didn’t call up STAR Labs; that’s really their It’s like if Barry ever had a problem that could only be solved by archery, and instead of calling up his friend in the green hood, he just relies on whatever he can remember from an archery lesson he took back at summer camp.
- Bringing Mouse’s dad back into the mix was shocking, unexpected, and oh-so creepy. The man makes Mouse and Alice look sane by comparison.
- Alice’s outfits have always had the whole something-whimsical-and-innocent-made-frightening thing going on. But when she’s lying on the floor dying, suddenly all the lace and frills on her clothing make her look achingly and sincerely childlike, making her death throes heartwrenching to watch.
Supergirl 5×12: “Back From the Future – Part Two” review
Some episodes . . . they just don’t have much worth talking about.
That’s not to say this wasn’t a good episode. In truth, it was an exciting little romp. Nothing amazing, but a good exercise in putting our heroes in a tense situation for 40 minutes and getting some fun scenes out of it. It’s just, that’s about all I have to say.
Normally I try to find some theme in the episode to explore, or analyze its key strengths or weaknesses, or talk about how it fits into the overall trends of the show. But here . . . its Team Supergirl doing a base-under-siege-story. If you’ve watched enough sci-fi/fantasy adventure shows, you’ve seen this basic plot done many times before, and Supergirl turns in a fun and well-crafted but hardly mold-breaking example. There are twists and turns, and a few nice character beats, but nothing that seems to warrant much dissection.
So instead of talking about what Supergirl did this week, I’d like to use this space to speculate about where it’s going in the weeks ahead.
Speculation #1: Ditching the DEO
We may be seeing the end of the DEO. A lot of folks started predicting that when J’onn introduced the Tower and gave our heroes a different secret lair to hang out in and conduct their missions from. And now that Alex has quit the DEO? Since the show began, “DEO agent” has been second only to “Kara’s sister” as her defining character trait. If she’s out, I can’t help but feel that this Lex Luthor takeover is going to be Supergirl’s excuse to burn the DEO to the ground, letting them move on without it.
And there’s a good reason the show’s creators might want to do that. It’s often the case that, the longer a TV show is on the air, the less money it has to throw around. Like in many other professions, show business folks expect periodic raises. So when a show’s been running for five seasons, with a lot of cast and crew staying with it that whole time? Those pay increases start to add up, and something else in the budget needs to be slashed. And you know what’s likely been a not-inconsiderable strain on Supergirl’s budget? Having to pretend that anyone besides our main characters actually works at the DEO.
The DEO is supposed to be a large, well-staffed government agency, so you can’t just have the heroes hanging out there by themselves; you’ve always gotta have a bunch of folks in DEO uniforms milling about, looking busy. And those people cost money. You may have noticed that, as the series has gone on, it’s become increasingly rare for any of those random DEO agents to be given dialogue, allowing them to be played by lower-paid extras. But even extras cost something, and setting up shots takes longer (and thus costs more money) if you’ve got more people in the shot to keep track of.
If the makers of Supergirl see an opportunity to ditch the DEO in favor of a private superhero headquarters, where they don’t have to employ a bunch of people standing in the background, not doing anything because they can’t afford actual actors to play them? I say go for it . . . so long as we get a big final battle between Team Supergirl and a Lex-run DEO, where they just demolish the set.
Speculation #2: Luthors vs. Leviathan
Obviously, Lex is trying to manipulate Leviathan to serve his own ends. And based on that last scene, Leviathan is planning to manipulate Lex to serve their own ends, like they did in the last universe. But who will triumph over who?
Lex would seem to have a decided advantage, given he now has knowledge, both from another timeline and from the future, that Leviathan couldn’t possibly know he has, letting him be one step ahead. However, from a narrative perspective, I’m expecting Leviathan to come out on top.
Partly that’s because we already had Lex supplanting the supposed Big Bad to be the real mastermind behind everything last season, and I doubt the writers would repeat that so soon. Partly it’s because we’re being given a lot of insight into what Lex is doing, what his resources are, and what he’s capable of, while Leviathan is still mostly a blank slate. Keeping a villainous organization in such secrecy is usually a sign that the writers are planning to have the reveal of their true nature be big, shocking, and awe-inspiring, and that’d be hard to do if they’re playing second fiddle to Lex Luthor.
But perhaps the biggest reason has to do with a different Luthor. Assuming Leviathan’s goals and motives remain the same Post-Crisis, then both they and Lena believe in making the world a better place, just through very questionable methods. Given how this season has been going, an alliance between Lena and Leviathan seems inevitable. If this season is truly “the battle for Lena’s soul”, then she needs to be confronted with where her desire for control over people (ostensibly for their own good) can lead.
Lena knows that Lex is an amoral backstabber only out for himself, but she still thinks she can use him for her own ends. If their alliance has awful results, that’s merely a failure of ability on Lena’s part, that she wasn’t able to control him properly, not a failure of her base ideology. But if she partners with Leviathan, and then becomes horrified at how far they take their quest to control humanity in the name of protecting the world? That could be used as a mirror for Lena’s own actions, and force her take a good hard look at herself.
At least, that’s what I’d like to see.
Speculation #3: Mxyzptlk Returns!
Y’know, I had some speculations about what would happen with Mxyzptlk in the 100th episode, but by the time anyone reads this, that episode will have already aired. So let’s just say . . . I was about 50% right.
- I know Supergirl has had some wonky science over the years, but “eating virtually still provides the body with nutrients”? Unless they’ve perfected Wonkavision . . .
- Something that’s also wonky in the Supergirl universe? Destroying the DEO’s servers causes their power core to melt down and release an atomic level explosion. And they put that in the middle of a major city!
- Then again, maybe you can chalk that gross disregard for human life up to this being a Lex-run DEO. Like how of course a Lex-run DEO has tons of Kryptonite-based security measures, and has never come up with any sort of anti-Kryptonite equipment.
- There were some cool action scenes this episode. I particularly liked the flying monkeys making a return, a Lexosuit disassembling itself to dodge a bullet, and the climax just straight ripping off The Matrix.
- Also liked the return of the original Toyman (or, technically, this new Post-Crisis universe’s version of the original Toyman). When told the only reason he wants to be freed is to wreak havoc, he protests, “That’s not true! . . . I mean, it was my original plan . . .”
- Kara & William’s budding flirtation still feels like something happening by decree, rather than arising organically. Still, them having fun doing karaoke together goes a long way towards selling it.
The Flash 6×12: “A Girl Named Sue” review
I don’t know who the main villain of The Flash is right now, and that is a wonderful thing.
Sure, this show has played coy with its villains before. For the first three seasons, our main bad guys spent the early episodes hidden behind masks and vocal distortion effects, with us only learning who they really were halfway through the season (or near the end of the season, in Savitar’s case). But while we may not have known their true identities, we did still have an identity for each villain, a clear picture in our minds of the figure menacing Team Flash this time around.
Last season they tried shaking it up in a different way, having Cicada be the obvious villain throughout the season, but with Thawne lurking in the background, ready to supplant the main villain role when the time was right. Still, we had a clear picture of our two main bad guys, what they wanted, and what they could do; it was just a question of which of them would prove to be the main bad guy.
But this season? This season is different.
Obviously, a big difference is that they decided to split the season into two distinct story arcs, with Bloodwork being the main villain of the first eight episodes, and with a new bad guy rising to prominence Post-Crisis. Thus, “A Girl Named Sue” is only the third episode of the current storyline.
But consider where we were by the third episode of previous season’s story arcs. By Episode Three of Season One, the “Man in the Yellow Suit” may not have been given a proper name, but it was clear that finding and capturing this person would be Barry’s main goal. By Episode Three of Season Two, we’d gotten ominous hints and warnings of Zoom, and knew he was responsible for sending villains to Earth-1 to attack the Flash. By Episode Three of Season Three, we may not have gotten a good look at Savitar, only at his “Dr. Alchemy” persona, but through that guise he had already fought with Barry and created a bunch of new supervillains. By Episode Three of Season Four, we’d seen enough of the Thinker to know he was orchestrating pretty much everything that season. And by Episode Three of Season Five, Team Flash had already battled Cicada twice, with obvious markers that he was taking over the mantle of main bad guy.
In each case, we were presented with a specific individual and told, in no uncertain terms, “This is the bad guy for the season. This is who Team Flash is gonna spend most of their time fighting.” Who’s in that role now, though?
You could say that Black Hole is our new main villain. But, at present, Black Hole is a rather nebulously defined organization. Our heroes have tangled with Ultraviolet and Doctor Light a few times, but those were clearly just henchwomen. Joseph Carver is indicated to be high up in the organization, but they stop short of identifying him as the leader of Black Hole. Then there’s Eva McCulloch and Mirror Iris, who almost certainly have some connection to our villains (given the mirror that trapped/created them is in Carver’s office), but the scope or form of that connection is unclear.
The story arc is gearing up, a new threat is rising to prominence, but there’s yet to be a singular, master villain you can point to and say, “That’s who our heroes need to beat!” And that may be the smartest move The Flash has made in a long, long time.
In the past, the most frustrating aspect of The Flash’s storytelling has been how played out the main villains became. We spent so many episodes on their schemes, with Team Flash trying again and again (and again and again and again) to come up with some new way to defeat them, that it got frightfully old frightfully fast. But by keeping the nature and identity of the main villain so murky, there’s room for the main plot of the season to deal with a lot of different characters and ideas, without having to come back to the same individual over and over.
Almost every plot beat in this episode is connected to the Black Hole story arc, but they come at it from different angles. We have Barry and Joe, digging into old casefiles, discovering evidence of people murdered by Black Hole. We have Mirror Iris, being mysterious and trying to get her hands on a mirror gun. We have Iris and Eva McCulloch, trapped inside the mirror world and trying to get out. And we have newcomer Sue Dearbon, staging an elaborate con/heist and doing battle with Ultraviolet, all to get her hands on a jewel with some connection to Black Hole, for as yet unexplained reasons.
These divergent plot points will eventually need to come together into something cohesive, but for the moment, the sheer breadth of distinct characters and scenarios involved in this storyline . . . it makes the story feel large, expansive, and unpredictable in a way few Flash storylines have before. If the show had already identified a singular criminal mastermind, and told us everything happening this episode was caused by them in some way? It wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, having everything constrained to the machinations of a single bad guy. The more freewheeling sort of story arc we’ve got now, it lets us have a bunch of different plot threads in one episode, each part of the larger story being told this season, but each also wildly distinct from the others, and a lot of fun in its own way.
How long will this last, and will this fun endure once (inevitably) a central villain emerges? For that, we’ll have to wait and see.
- So the Arrowverse contains alternate Earths, pocket universes, the Phantom Zone, the Temporal Zone, the Vanishing Point, the Ancestral Plane, the Speed Force, the Negative Speed Force, the Anti-Matter Universe, Hell, Purgatory, the Dark Valley, the Fifth Dimension, Mallus’s prison dimension, and now a Mirror Dimension. Holy Orrery of Worlds, Batman!
- We see a return of The Flash’s favorite butchery of science: using “absolute zero” whenever they want to say something’s really cold. According to this ep, you can create absolute zero temperatures with liquid nitrogen, which . . . no.
- Sue Dearbon and Eva McCulloch are some fun new characters, and both clearly have a lot more going on than is revealed here.
- Ralph and Sue met when Sue leaped out of an exploding apartment and into his arms. Has that twist on the meet-cute been done before?
Legends of Tomorrow 5×04: “A Head of Her Time” review
It’s an old staple of action/adventure series: have the heroes face a challenge that, conveniently, happens to mirror whatever personal problems they’re going through at the moment, so that they can only beat the bad guy and save the day by working through their own issues first.
I’m not knocking it; that may be my favorite recipe for great television. You get the fun and excitement of an adventure story and the subtler pleasures of a character study, blended together in such a way that, rather than taking time away from each other, they enhance each other, make each other better than they could ever have been on their own. It’s a formula all the Arrowverse shows have used time and time again; I just felt like delving into it here, ‘cause “A Head of Her Time” is especially blatant about what it’s doing.
This is most obvious in the Constantine subplot. It’s not merely that going back to his old home and facing the ghost of an old friend makes him confront his past. It’s that said ghost is deliberately making him confront his past, for the express purpose of making him grow as a character. It’s like Natalie is one of the writers stepping into the episode and using their authorial powers to set John on the path they want for him.
And in the main plot, it’s only slightly less obvious. Ava’s struggling with her ability to make the other Legends like her, while Zari’s spent her whole life devoted to making people like her, at the expense of forming any real connections. So, naturally, they go to stop an Encore with magical make-everyone-like-you perfume, literalizing what Zari and Ava have been going through.
Thing is, this latest stop-the-Encore mission makes up a rather small chunk of the episode. The first act of the episode is mostly just character interaction onboard the Waverider, and by the time they get back to the Waverider with Marie Antoinette in tow, they’ve still got over a third of the episode left. The remainder of the hour is focused, not on the Encore threat, but on Zari’s quest for popularity causing problems, and her and Ava experiencing the growth needed to resolve that. Going back in time and fighting a bad guy ends up being a brief diversion, useful in facilitating this plot (since it provides Zari with the magic perfume) but not the main attraction.
Once again, I’m not knocking it. All the character work done this episode is great, and with creepy ghost effects and headless-Marie-Antoinette-with-a-flamethrower spicing things up, the whole episode is a terrifically exciting, heartfelt, and hilarious ride. It just felt noticeable that, this week, fighting supernatural baddies was clearly just a spice on the character development main course, rather than being a bountiful side dish in its own right.
- So people in Hell still use the expressions “like hell” and “what the hell?” Doesn’t that ever get confusing?
- They’re doing such great work with New Zari, but keep giving us such wonderful hints of Old Zari (like her “Here I Go Again” flannel, or her donut-induced flashback montage), I don’t know which of ‘em I want to root for!
- I am a little disappointed that Zari and her 2044 scene are mainly just copying current celebrity influencer trends, rather than going into how those trends might change in the next quarter century.
- That said, I wouldn’t put it past this show to reveal that DJ S’more Money is not a guy in a costume; he’s just what genetic engineering has wrought by the 2040’s.
- Jes Macallan did some amazing acting with her hands this episode. Snapping the A.L.O.H.A. folder shut when she got to “Attack!” might be my favorite.
- So there’s a Loom of Fate, which was broken up into pieces, which were then scattered. Is this going to be the Spear of Destiny all over again?
- I love that Marie Antoinette is randomly played by Courtney Ford, and not only is no explanation given for why she looks like Nora, no one but Ray even notices the resemblance. And she’s still on the ship, in non-jar form, so we can see more of her in the weeks ahead!
- “I once played capture the flag to raise awareness about feline OCD.” Line of the week, right there.
MVP of the Week: Alice
“Take Your Choice” may be the greatest showcase yet for a character who has been killing it every time she appears. Rachel Skarsten’s performance as Alice sees her own death coming, tries to deny that this is happening, that this can’t be what she deserves, breaking down as she collapses in Kate’s arms . . . I know no one on a CW show is going to win an Emmy, but can we at least get her nominated?
Question of the Week: What’s your favorite replacement role (where a character is written off the show, but their actor sticks around playing a different part)?