Batwoman 1×13: “Drink Me”, Supergirl 5×13: “It’s a Super Life”, The Flash 6×13: “Grodd Friended Me”, and Legends of Tomorrow 5×05: “Mortal Khanbat” reviews
Howdy, all! This column’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it?
You may have noticed that, lately, my This Week In The Arrowverse posts have been becoming Last Week In The Arrowverse posts, coming out later and later each week. And now we’re taking it to the extreme, coming to you a full week late. Fortunately, as the Arrowverse shows had a mini-hiatus last week, I’m hoping this will let me finally get ahead of things, and reviews of the coming week’s episodes will be posted next Sunday, as per usual.
Batwoman 1×13: “Drink Me” review
Why doesn’t Kate just capture Alice?
That’s the question Batwoman really needs you to avoid asking. ‘Cause if you can ignore that nagging little query, this episode establishes a very promising setup for the next stretch of the season.
Everyone outside of Kate, Luke, Mary, and a handful of Wonderland Gangsters believes Alice is dead, and for the moment, she seems content to let that misconception continue. She’s even willing to put her obsession with the Kane family on hold, since she’s figured out that August Cartwright is alive and has kidnapped Mouse, and that’s now her bigger fish to fry.
So with the Crows and the cops no longer looking for her, and with her not currently planning any big attacks against our heroes or Gotham in general, the central focus of the show can shift away from Alice, at least for a while. Each episode can still provide our required dose of Rachel-Skarsten-being-awesome, but with Alice now pursuing her own B-plot, the A-plot can focus on developing other characters and plot ideas. Like conflict growing between Batwoman and the Crows, and Sofie’s complicated feelings on the matter. Like Mary finally growing wise to her step-sister’s nocturnal activities. Like developing some more fun, minor villains for our heroes to tussle with. Like, say, Nocturna.
While the Alice storyline has been by far the most gripping part of Batwoman to date, it has at times threatened to overwhelm or render redundant everything else in the series. I wouldn’t want them to end the Alice story just yet, not by any means. But it is both refreshing and exciting that they’ve found a way to keep Alice an ongoing concern, while still finding time to delve into other aspects of the show, whether that’s debates on Authoritarianism vs. Vigilantism, or just a woman in a bat costume fighting a wannabe vampire. It’s a wonderful setup, except . . .
Why doesn’t Kate just capture Alice?
We know that she can. She tracked down Alice to her latest hideout darn easily at the end of this episode, and we’ve seen before that, if she’s prepared, she has little trouble mopping the floor with both Alice and whatever henchmen she has around.
And we’ve seen that Kate is willing to capture Alice. She did exactly that only three episodes ago. Whatever arguments for not turning Alice over to the cops you might make (concern for her safety, wanting to redeem her, her knowing Batwoman’s identity): those didn’t matter to Kate then, and we’re given little reason to think they’d start mattering now.
Just the opposite. Kate confronts Alice in her lair specifically to tell her that whatever sisterly bond they once had, whatever sense of guilt or desire for reconnection may have kept them from being full-on enemies, that is done. Kate vows that Alice means nothing to her now and will be receiving no more mercy from her . . . and then she leaves, doing nothing else to hurt or deter Alice as she continues her murderous plans.
‘Cause Alice is gonna hatch some more murderous plans. Everything we’ve seen from her indicates it’s a question of when not if she kills again. Kate must know this, but she does nothing.
Kate should be trying to bring Alice to justice, both from a moral perspective and from a character consistency perspective. That Kate tracks down and confronts Alice, but makes no effort to stop her . . . it really is something you just have to not think about.
I get why the episode played out that way. They wanted to close the episode with a Kate/Alice confrontation, where Kate can make clear just how she feels about Alice now. But they still want Alice to remain on the loose and believed dead by most people, so their confrontation can’t be anything that would imprison Alice or bring her survival to the public’s attention.
There were probably ways to achieve those goals that made a little more sense, but I get it: deadlines on television production are tight. I did enjoy the episode, and what it promises for the episodes to come. It just requires you to put some frickin’ huge Willful Blinders on when you get to the ending.
- Mary knows! And it is about goddang mothereffin’ time.
- It’s kinda weird that Kate and Luke were so dismissive of the idea that Nocturna might be a real vampire. While they ended up being right, they do live in a reality where Hey World went public last year, and where Kate herself fought a giant magical Beebo just a couple months ago. Vampires really wouldn’t be out of place in the setting.
- So Sofie kissed Batwoman, who has not yet revealed that she’s Sofie’s ex-girlfriend Kate. That is gonna cause some draaaaaama!
Supergirl 5×13: “It’s a Super Life” review
It’s hard not to compare “It’s a Super Life” to the previous 100th Episode Specials we’ve gotten in the Arrowverse, because it draws on so many of the same ideas.
Like The Flash’s 100th Episode (“What’s Past Is Prologue”), it has our hero traveling back in time to key moments in the show’s history, mixing together clips from past episodes and reenactments of those scenes. And like Arrow’s 100th Episode (part of the Invasion! crossover), it presents us with a what-might-have-been reality, showing how the characters’ world might be today if pivotal moments in their past were changed.
What sets Supergirl’s 100th Episode apart (aside from some hilarious meta-commentary, courtesy of one Mr. Mxyzptlk), is how focused it is upon a single relationship. Arrow’s 100th Episode touched on Oliver’s relationships with Laurel, with John, with Felicity, with his mother, with his father, with his sister, and it explored many of those characters own relationships outside of Oliver. The Flash’s 100th Episode did foreground Barry and Nora’s relationship, but through the time periods they visited, they explored many moments that mattered to Barry that had nothing to do with Nora.
“It’s a Super Life”, on the other hand, very much revolves around the relationship between Kara and Lena. It touches briefly on Kara’s relationships with others, and brings back old characters like Winn, Mon-El, Sam, and Ben Lockwood for a fun nostalgia trip. But the thing driving everything, always foremost in Kara’s mind, is how to repair her friendship with Lena.
A 100th Episode is usually designed to celebrate the show’s history, everything that’s made the show what it was. That’s what the other 100th Episodes in the Arrowverse have done. So the fact that Supergirl’s 100th Episode is devoted almost exclusively to the bond between Kara and Lena, that seems to be saying their relationship is the heart of the show, the most important part of Supergirl to focus on. Certainly, there are many SuperCorp fans would respond to that with, “Of course! Absolutely!”
But as the episode ended, it became clear that’s not why this milestone ep was so Lena-centric. This episode was a celebration of Kara and Lena’s friendship . . . because it’s the episode where we say goodbye to that friendship.
Maybe not forever. Odds are still good on those two having a tearful reconciliation before the season’s over. But Kara comes out of this episode with a newfound realization that Lena cannot be her priority. By going back over their history together, exploring alternate realities where they were closer than ever before, and others where they never met, Kara sees that, in focusing so much on her relationship with Lena, on doing what’s best for her, the other people in her life suffer.
It’s perhaps a tad contrived that every change Kara makes to her history with Lena causes someone else close to her to die. But the basic principle is solid: by focusing so much on where she’s gone wrong with Lena, Kara risks losing sight of all the other people in her life she’s worked so hard to protect. Right now, Lena is conspiring with her supervillain brother, and working on a project to mind control all of Earth. If Kara goes into the battles ahead with reaching out to Lena as her first priority, many other people, people that she cares about just as deeply as Lena, could suffer because of it. For their sake, Kara has to let Lena go.
It’s a friendship many viewers aren’t ready to see end. Even if you put all the SuperCorp shipping aside, Kara and Lena’s relationship has become one of the most pivotal aspects of the series, has at times even overshadowed Kara and Alex’s relationship for heart-of-the-show status. To lose that relationship, it’s almost as hard as losing a beloved character. Thus we have this episode, a journey through the history of Kara and Lena’s history together, their best moments and their worst moments, exploring everything they could have been together . . . this is Kara and Lena’s “In Memoriam” video.
- Though, like I said, I don’t expect this friendship dissolution to be permanent. When has anything, let alone a friendship, ever stayed dead permanently on this show?
- Another probably reason behind focusing this exploration of the show’s history on Lena: since she didn’t show up till Season 2, they’ve got an excuse not to delve into Season 1 at all, which would likely require using sets or actors they don’t have access to anymore.
- During the alternate reality where people want to know Supergirl’s real identity . . . why doesn’t she just say, “My real identity is Kara Zor-El, of Krypton”? Why does everyone seem to know that Supergirl masquerades as an ordinary human?
- Obviously, the new-and-improved Mr. Mxyzptlk was a highlight of this episode. I could fill a whole Stray Observations section just mentioning all the hilarious stuff he did this ep. To keep things concise, I’ll only mention my favorite: fast forwarding through all the exposition scenes, despite Kara insisting they’re important.
The Flash 6×13: “Grodd Friended Me” review
Grodd is one of the more deceptively important characters on The Flash.
He doesn’t appear that often. What appearances he does make rarely matter much to the larger story. He has no significant connections to the other characters, and his own characterization, while not one-dimensional, is hardly noteworthy. But Grodd is important, not so much for anything he is or anything he’s done, but for what he represents.
When I reviewed the pilot episode of Arrow, I mentioned how, for all its grittiness and efforts at realism, it was unique in the television landscape of the time for its unabashed approach to being a superhero show. While Oliver Queen may not have had a mask at that point, or adopted the name “Green Arrow”, he was still a guy who routinely put on a costume and an arsenal of fancy gadgets, and went out looking for bad guys. That was a rare thing at the time, a live action TV series being a straightforward superhero adventure, not all that dissimilar from what you might see in the comics.
But however groundbreaking that may have been, when The Flash debuted two years later, it took things to a whole ‘nother level.
Now, I want to be clear, comic books as a medium contain a wide variety of genres and styles. A comic book can be almost any kind of story you can imagine, and can be told in any of a thousand different ways. However, there are certain kinds of stories, and certain ways of telling those stories, that, if they didn’t originate in comic books, were certainly codified by them. And, for better or worse, those story elements will always be thought of as “comic booky”. These are the story elements that many modern comics have tried to downplay, and which most film or TV adaptations leave out as much as possible (cartoons and parodies excluded), because they’re seen as too ridiculous for non-juvenile audiences to buy into.
The Flash was created to prove that attitude wrong. From its inception, it showed a whole-hearted and unironic love for all things silly and comic-booky. Oh, it still put a veneer of realism over things, tried to make it all a little more believable than a direct adaptation of a Silver Age comic book would be. Still, we had our heroes calling the bad guys by codenames like Weather Wizard and Rainbow Raider. We had absurd science and super-advanced gadgets being whipped up out of nowhere. We had a version of the Trickster who wouldn’t have been out of place on the Adam West Batman show. We had a guy who called himself “Captain Cold”, wore a parka, carried a freeze gun, and challenged the Flash to a duel in the streets of Central City.
And we had some outrageous superhero spectacle. A guy with superspeed vs. a human tornado. A guy in a high-tech supersuit vs. a swarm of mechanical bees. Two guys merging into one guy who flies, shoots fire, and turns into an atomic explosion. Supersonic punches, city-destroying black holes, so many bullet-time scenes . . .
It’s not that The Flash had the best visual effects around. It’s a CW show; its budget could never compare to what the Big Four broadcast networks or the higher-end cable channels could provide. But with the budget it had to work with, it was fearless. Where other shows might back off from more outlandish effects shots, knowing they couldn’t afford to make them look realistic, The Flash went ahead and did them anyway.
Often, yes, that meant effects that looked fake or silly, but no more fake or silly than the series wants to be. If you can buy into bank robbers with ray guns, or a guy running so fast he goes back in time, then you can buy into the effects The Flash has to offer. And because it doesn’t let fear of looking silly hold it back, The Flash was able to give us spectacle that, if not as polished as what other shows might offer, outstripped them in over-the-top ambition.
And nothing has symbolized that more than Grodd.
When the pilot episode had a quick shot of a wrecked, empty cage at Star Labs, with a nameplate reading “Grodd” attached to it? A lot of people assumed all it would be was a small in-joke for people familiar with Gorilla Grodd from the comics. There’s no way the show could actually have the Flash fight a talking, psychic gorilla, right?
Well, that’s exactly what it did. Before long, we got our first actual look at Grodd, and before the season was over, we got our big showdown between the Scarlet Speedster and his simian nemesis. If the battle was maybe shorter than some would like, and was confined to shadowy sewer tunnels to hide flaws in the effects work, the mere fact that it was happening, that we were seeing a giant gorilla catching a supersonic punch, blew all those nitpicks aside.
Since then, each Grodd appearance has served as a challenge for the makers of The Flash, to top what was done before and deliver a spectacle even bigger and less afraid of looking silly then what came before (helped along by visual effects technology improving with each passing year). When Grodd returned in Season 2, it was mainly to give us a more extended version of what we had with Grodd before: more scenes of him interacting with other characters, and some of them in better lighting. But the end of that episode teased the promise of going even further, into something sillier and more out-there than anything The Flash had tried before: Gorilla Frickin’ City.
Now, there are certainly flaws in Season 3’s Gorilla Invasion two-parter. Like much of Season 3, it’s got some good ideas buried under some clunky and misfocused execution. Still, it gave us a glimpse (however brief) of a full-fledged gorilla army. It gave us Barry fighting an albino gorilla in a gladiatoral arena. It gave us two super-huge gorillas fighting each other for control of Gorilla City. Whatever shortcomings it had, ambition was not one of them.
And, while smaller in scale, Grodd’s next Flash appearance was no less ambitious, doing a monster mash of Grodd with the show’s other big CGI/animal/monster character, King Shark. I made my appreciation for that pretty clear in my review of that last year.
So when Grodd returns now, in Season 6, the stakes have been raised. How much bigger, and how much sillier, can they take this character before either the budget or fans’ suspension of disbelief break completely?
This are opinionated reviews. I can only speak for myself, for my own feelings. But Barry and Grodd merging into one being, creating a speedster gorilla with a red lighting bolt on his chest, fighting Solovar amid a collapsing mindscape? I have a hard time comprehending the human mind that does not, at least a little, laugh and cheer when that happens.
It’s one of the most outlandish and audacious action scenes this show has ever done, which means it’s one of the most outlandish and audacious action scenes any show has ever done. I’m not saying “Grodd Friended Me” will go down as a series-best or even season-best episode, but the fact that, six seasons in, this show can still deliver something that shocks and delights you with its sheer comic-bookiness . . . it’s just good to know that spirit is still alive.
- Given the big speedster-gorilla fight only made up a few minutes of the episode, I kinda let it take over my review, huh? I will say, the rest of this episode was also fairly good. Most of it was just gradually advancing some ongoing plot threads, but most of it was solidly written, and the idea of a penitent Grodd, and Barry needing to decide whether to trust him, was a nice shakeup of things. The scenes with Barry in the cage, before he realizes what’s going on, were very nicely creepy, and him looking for his parents’ graves, not knowing where they were Post-Crisis, was a beautifully mournful note to open the episode on.
- On the downside: most of Frost’s dialogue seems like it was written by people who forgot they weren’t still writing for Caitlin. Like, her big pep talk to Chester sounds very much like the pep talk you’d expect Caitlin to give. Frost, though? I expect she’d be more like, “Dude, I used to be a supervillain. I stabbed Barry with an icicle and teamed up with an evil speedster who was trying to kill his girlfriend. And now he’s throwing me birthday parties. Get over yourself.”
- I liked seeing Sherloque pop into Nash’s head as well as Harry. Though I’m curious how Star Labs still had Sherloque’s mind journeying machine since, while their memories of Sherloque were restored by J’onn, there still shouldn’t be any physical evidence of his existence on Earth-Prime.
Legends of Tomorrow 5×05: “Mortal Khanbat” review
So far this season, we’ve had two main storylines going on, largely separate from each other. There’s the Legends storyline, with them traveling through time, fighting Encores, and getting up to their usual wacky shenanigans. Then there’s the Constantine storyline, where he’s dealing with the mess of things he made with Astra, and is (with much grousing and feet dragging) being pulled along into fixing it.
The two storylines aren’t entirely disconnected; Astra is behind all the Encores, after all. But that connection doesn’t play into things much. So far, the Legends have been content to go after the Encores one by one, without really worrying about Astra herself, since they figure that’s John’s problem. And Astra seems to be either unaware of or indifferent to the Legends, since, while she’s upset at her Encores being disposed of, her response is to get rid of John Constantine to stop his interference, even though most of the Encores who’ve been foiled, he had nothing to do with.
“Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me” is the only episode to date where the two storylines have more-or-less merged, with a single plot advancing both of them. The rest of the time, it’s been the Legends doing their thing, and John doing his own thing, with Gary and maybe one tagalong Legend helping him out. And in “Mortal Khanbat”, that divide is especially apparent.
The Legends storyline here is almost pure romp. There’s a little bit of drama, with Charlie needing to own up to her past, and Behrad being hurt by her ghosting him, but that’s mainly background stuff. This story is largely focused on homaging Hong Kong shoot-‘em-up action movies, giving us Genghis Khan riding a scooter with mounted machine guns, and finding excuse for someone to overdramatically shout, “KHAAAAAAAN!!!” It’s not striving to be much more than a fun time, and delivers plenty in that department.
The Constantine story, by contrast, is one of the grimmest and most character-focused stories Legends has done in a long while. In the past, we’ve seen that John, for all his dark loner posturing, can fit in pretty well as part of Team Legends; his story this episode serves to remind us that he’s still far from being a domesticated warlock. When faced with the prospect of his own death (to be followed by whatever torments Astra has cooked up for him in Hell), John’s instincts are not to lean on his friends, but to worm his way out of this by any means necessary. Everyone becomes either a tool he can use to get what he wants and damn the cost, or a useless annoyance he’ll tell to piss off. It’s a harrowing trip into John’s darkest hour, but with him finding a bit of light at the end, coming to appreciate the joy of good friends while he has them.
It’s a wonderfully done piece of drama . . . that’s completely at odds with the fun, Legendsy hijinks going on in the other plot.
And you know what? That’s not so bad.
I’ll admit, it does feel like each half of this episode could have easily been expanded into a full hour by itself. Wouldn’t it be neat if we got one episode that was all about fun and danger in Hong Kong, where they could all out with the film homages, delve into the supporting characters more, and make the whole thing bigger and wilder? Then, the next week, we got an episode that was all about John coping with his mortality, delving into his character far more deeply than could be managed with the half-an-episode we got here? That sounds pretty darn awesome!
However, if you accept that they don’t have time to give each of these stories a full episode to play with (we are already over a third of the way through the season), then pairing them together makes a lot of sense. They’re wildly disparate in tone and purpose, but that works to their advantage. I have seen many television episodes were there will be multiple plots going on at once, but all hitting such similar notes, it begins to feel stifling and contrived. If all the plots are wacky, care-free romps, then it feels like there’s nothing in this show’s world worth taking seriously. And if all the plots are heavy pieces of dark character exploration, it feels like everyone in the show is too damn serious. But when you mix two very different storylines together, the result is that the world of the show feels more natural, more alive with possibilities, then if everything had to fit into the same box.
- I called the Constantine storyline very dark and serious, but that’s by Legends standards. It did still have a grouchy talking bulldog cane, fairy godmother magic, and Gary-being-Gary.
- At the end, as John’s practically skipping around the kitchen, shouting “She bloody reconsidered!” . . . it felt almost like seeing Scrooge wake up Christmas morning and seeing the Spirits have given him time to set things aright.
- The Legends now have a sword capable of killing Encores, which should come in handy. Hope they don’t use it on Marie Antoinette, though; her reaction faces make any scene 500% better.
- Every dying person should have as kindly and stalwart a friend as Raymond Palmer.
- And he was the only person to clap at Ava’s “Prognosticator” display. He’s just . . . just the sweetest guy.
- Loved how upfront and not-at-all ashamed Nate is with Behrad about wanting to bone his sister.
- The “Charlie is Clotho” twist has got me excited, but I do have to wonder how much sense this plot turn makes for anyone without a working knowledge of Greek Mythology.
- What you wanna bet that lady Astra got to speed up John’s death is one of the other Fates?
MVP of the Week: John Constantine
So many people before me have said what a fantastic fit Matt Ryan is for the role, but I really have to salute his performance here. We see John at his nastiest, at his most defeated, at his most peaceful, and, in the final moments, and at his most rapturously joyous, and it all feels of a piece with the character we’ve come to know. It’s such an amazing performance, I’m giving him MVP honors in a week that also had the awesomeness of Mr. Mxyzptlk; that’s how good it is.
Question of the Week: Rank the 100th Episodes: Arrow’s “Invasion!” vs. The Flash’s “What’s Past Is Prologue” vs. Supergirl’s “It’s a Super Life”