Batwoman 1×14: “Grinning From Ear to Ear”, Supergirl 5×14: “The Bodyguard”, The Flash 6×14: “Death of the Speed Force”, and Legends of Tomorrow 5×06: “Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac” reviews
So it’s another late edition of
This Last Week In The Arrowverse, but this isn’t the only delay on the horizon. Like most other film and TV projects, Batwoman, Supergirl, and The Flash have all halted production to help contain the coronavirus. As far as I’m aware, each show still has two or three episodes of its planned season order left to film (though Legends of Tomorrow has already wrapped).
What this will mean for the end of the season, only time will tell. I’m particularly concerned about Supergirl, given Melissa Benoist’s pregnancy. Even if production of these seasons is able to resume, she may be too engorged by that point to participate.
All that lies in the future though. Let’s instead focus on the present (well, technically, the recent past) and dive into last week’s offerings of Arrowverse goodness!
Batwoman 1×14: “Grinning From Ear to Ear” review
I’m left with an odd feeling about this week’s Batwoman. While watching it, I enjoyed everything that was happening. I was excited when it wanted me to be excited, amused when it wanted me to be amused, charmed when it wanted me to be charmed, etc. Yet, when the episode was over, I was left oddly dissatisfied. I’d had a good time watching it; why wasn’t that enough?
I think what it comes down is that, by the end of the episode, it doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten much of anywhere. There are a lot of different storylines going on this ep, and to its credit, all those storylines do move forward. The problem is, they all move forward by exactly one step.
Kate starts the episode intending to tell Sophie this dating Batwoman thing can’t happen, and by the end of the episode, she does. Alice starts the episode intending to confront August Cartwright, and by the end of the episode, she does. Jacob Kane starts the episode being warned about suspicious activity in the Crows, and by the end of the episode, he’s convinced that there is. Sophie starts the episode trying to keep her sexuality secret from her mother, and by the end of the episode, she drops the pretense. Mary starts the episode hinting to Kate that she’d make a good Batwoman sidekick, and by the end of the episode . . . well, she’s still just hinting, but they’re super-obvious hints now.
All these developments are great to see, but they’re such incremental developments. We see characters take the next step in their personal journeys, but not where those steps will take them. Will Sophie and Batwoman continue working together now that romance is off the table? How will the corrupt Crows respond to Jacob’s inquiries? Will Sophie’s mom stick around after her daughter’s coming out? Will Kate finally pick up on the fact that Mary knows her secret identity?
This feels very much like an episode designed for binge-watching. It touches on almost all our major characters and storylines, and raises new questions about where they’ll be going next, encouraging you to cue up the next episode right away and find out. But when watched as a weekly installment, how little everything advances becomes frustrating. In the era of serialized TV, I don’t expect each episode to provide a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end. But here it doesn’t feel like we even got a whole portion of a story, just tiny spoonfuls from a bunch of different stories.
Except for our villain-of-the-week plot. That is the role these one-shot villains usually serve on Arrowverse shows: they balance out the slow-burn, ongoing storylines by providing us with a flashy, kinetic story that’s resolved by the end of the episode. And had Duella Dent been a little more prominent in the episode, her plot been a little more developed, that probably would have negated most of my complaining. If she’d provided a compelling enough narrative on her own, then I’d have walked away from this ep with the satisfaction of seeing a story progress rapidly and come to a definite conclusion, and it wouldn’t matter so much that the other storylines had less foreword movement.
Sadly, the Duella storyline feels undercooked. They got a good actor for the part, there’s some cool, gory imagery, and the climax involves an acid vat death trap, which is just *chef’s kiss*. But it seems clear that this story was not anyone’s top priority. They delve a little into Duella’s psychology, but not enough to make her that interesting or sympathetic. We only get to see her in action a couple times. The detective work used to find her is pretty routine. And when Batwoman and Sophie track her down, she’s defeated with almost insulting ease. If it weren’t for the facial mutilation stuff, this would be an entirely forgettable plot.
Fact is, this is simply not an episode designed to be well-remembered and looked back on fondly. It’s designed to be a stepping stone between the episodes we’ve had so far and the episodes yet to come. It’s an enjoyable enough stepping stone, and when consumed as part of a binge watch of Season 1, will likely serve its purpose well. But taken on its own, it doesn’t have enough of any one thing to be a fully satisfying experience.
- Duella Dent is from the comics, where she’s most well known under the alias “Joker’s Daughter”, but she’s had a whole bunch of other aliases, all based around her claiming to be the daughter of various supervillains. Eventually, DC decided to officially make her the daughter of Two-Face (a.k.a. Harvey Dent). Here, Harvey Dent is apparently her uncle, not her father, and is still a respected Assistant District Attorney, indicating his transformation into a supervillain hasn’t happened (yet).
- Mary trying to position herself as an Eager Young Sidekick for Batwoman, hoping Kate will take the hint let her in, is both hilarious and adorable.
- Kate and Sofie’s relationship drama has been far from the highlight of the series so far, but the way they both handled the Batwoman breakup so maturely was rather nice to see.
- August Cartwright, having kidnapped Mouse, went out of the way to dress his adult son in what looks like a little boy’s shirt. Because the Cartwright Clan always needs to exercise maximum creepiness in everything they do.
- I considered having Duella-sans-face be the header image for this post, but for the sake of people’s stomachs, I relented.
Supergirl 5×14: “The Bodyguard” review
Before this season began, the makers of Supergirl said the theme of the season would be the perils of technology, going so far as to compare it to techno-paranoia anthology series Black Mirror. To establish this theme, they even redid the title card so we can see Supergirl’s logo being constructed out of digital pixels. However, while there have been a few remarks about technology throughout the season, this is the first episode where it rises to the level of central theme.
Throughout the hour, we see characters turning to technology to solve their problems. They don’t use it as an aid while they work to solve their problems, no no no. They see the latest technological advancements as a quick fix, a way to ignore the problems facing them by just letting a machine handle it.
This is most prominently displayed in the Obsidian lenses, which let people escape the problems of reality by creating a whole new, virtual reality for them to inhabit. This is also clearly where Lena is going wrong with Non Nocere, trying to resolve humanity’s propensity for violence by technologically blocking it from our brains, ignoring the obvious red flags this raises because the promise of a quick, simple solution to this problem is too tempting to ignore.
But this theme also reveals itself in other ways. Notably, while Supergirl is normally content to go with “they’re an alien” to explain how someone has superpowers, for this episode’s villain of the week, they’re an alien using technology to enhance their powers. Enhance them in such a way that they can take control of other pieces of technology. Despite her anti-tech manifesto, Ms. Sapphire is just as guilty of seeing a piece of technology as a quick solution to her problems, using it to enable a revenge spree that she vainly hopes will ease the pain in her part.
The technology theme also arises in Brainy’s ongoing storyline. He is a being containing both organic life and technological implants. As a living being with a heart and emotions, his instincts are to despise the odious Lex Luthor and to stand fast by the friends who have stood by him so many times. But the computerized parts of his brain have done the calculations, and concluded that the best outcome for him, his friends, and the world at large is to put aside what’s in his heart, to “trust the math”, and serve as Lex’s patsy. Given how this is panning out for characters in the other storylines, and given how not following your heart almost always pans out on Supergirl, trusting in this cold, calculating part of his machine brain is likely setting him up for a downfall.
The one counterpoint to this view of technology as a faulty crutch? Alex and her fancy new shapeshifting gun. Her receiving it at the end, the way it helps her be an effective partner to her superfriends now that she no longer has DEO resources at her disposal, is treated as 100% positive, even by Kara, who was decrying Andrea’s tech obsession earlier in the episode. Thing is, I can’t tell if this was intended to contrast with the prevailing message of the episode.
One way to look at Alex’s new toy is that it’s adding some nuance to the story. Not all technology is bad, after all. Alex may be using this weapon to help her, but she’s not counting on it to solve all her superheroing needs. She talks about needing to work hard in order to control it properly, and she’ll still need to use it in conjunction with her carefully honed combat training to be effective. The episode could be saying that, when used this way, as merely a tool that aids your progress, rather than a way to avoid truly dealing with your problems, technology can be a wonderful thing.
However, given that no one makes any comments along these lines, and given that this particular gizmo is a Martian relic that functions more like magic than anything we’d recognize as technology? It’s possible the writers just wanted to give Alex a cool new weapon to use in future fight scenes, and didn’t really think about what it meant in the larger context of this episode.
Still, whether intentional or not, I’m going to go with the former interpretation, because with that counterpoint to the episode’s “pitfalls of technology” message, this is an unusually nuanced, subtle, and thematically rich outing for Supergirl. Well done.
- Lena is offended that Kara and Co. thought she was trying to mind control the world. I’m curious what definition of mind control she’s using where Non Nocere doesn’t qualify.
- I’m also curious how she can modify Non Nocere to remove people’s desire for justice and not foresee ways that could go cataclysmically wrong.
- The villain of the week used pink/purple energy as a weapon, and had the last name “Sapphire”. Was this supposed to be a version of Star Sapphire?
- Apparently, Lex wanted Toyman’s “immortality code” so he could create an “anti-immortality code” to use against Leviathan. But the immortality code worked by uploading a person’s mind onto a computer, letting them live forever as a machine. How is something derived from that supposed to do anything to negate biological immortality?
- Lex tells Lena he’s grown past his obsession with killing Superman. Someone should really tell her about what he got up to during Crisis.
The Flash 6×14: “Death of the Speed Force” review
If Charlie Brown were a superhero, he’d be Barry Allen.
The universe just loves making this guy feel awful about himself. And when I say the universe, I mean the writers of The Flash. It’s their go-to move for getting pathos out of the character: have him try his best, screw up royally, spend a while doing emotional self-flagellation, so he can then heroically pick himself up and try again . . . and then repeat the process, like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football.
There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s maybe been a bit overdone on The Flash over the years, but it’s fundamentally a solid tool for drama. Where it sometimes runs into trouble is having the level of castigation Barry receives seem out of proportion to any failure on his part.
Because, fact is, Barry’s a pretty great guy. He’s always trying to do what’s best for everyone, is always giving his all to being the best hero he can be. So when the worst thing he does is make a small error in judgement, or simply fail to overcome impossible odds, and he’s made to feel like a miserable piece of garbage over it? That should be the writers’ clue that they’re laying it on too thick, that they’re working too hard to garner sympathy for poor ol’ Barry Allen.
Usually, Barry is his own harshest critic, so when the grief he goes through over his latest failure is too extreme, it feels like he’s needlessly wallowing in self-pity, which can get annoying fast. That’s not what happens this time, though. No, this time they bring Wally back after a year’s absence just so he can be the one to berate Barry.
This is unnecessary, and to its credit, the episode acknowledges this is unnecessary. Joe straight up tells Wally that, “We both know Barry will beat himself up all by himself,” and by episode’s end Wally acknowledges that Barry only did what he had to do under desperate circumstances. They admit that all the blame and guilt being laid on Barry throughout the episode was pointless . . . so why did we still have to go through it?
You might say that, this time around, the guilt trip wasn’t about Barry, but about Wally, about him needing to learn that, just because he’s been hanging out with some Zen masters lately and picking up some proverbs, that doesn’t mean he’s overcome his problems with acting entitled and blaming others for his problems. Joe points out (he does a lot of that, ol’ font-of-wisdom Joe) that this is not dissimilar from how Wally behaved when we were first introduced to him back in Season 2. And he’s right, and this is an acknowledgement of the character’s roots, but . . .
Did anyone actually like that version of Wally? I mean, I’m sure some people did; every character has their fans. But if they’re only getting Wally West back for one episode this season (and that seems to be the case, given his Act 4 exit), this doesn’t seem like the Wally most people were hoping for.
This episode already had the death of the Speed Force, Nash being possessed by Eobard Thawne, Turtle II going on a revenge spree, and Mirror Iris amping up her shady goings-on. With so many juicy, dramatic events in play, adding this bit of overwrought, undeserved guilt-tripping to the mix was just unnecessary. Making Barry feel like crap over his shortcomings is a good dramatic tool some of the time, but we don’t want to see it trotted out when he hasn’t done anything to merit it.
‘Cause, whatever Wally may say: You’re a good man, Barry Allen.
- Wally’s mid-air helicopter rescue was pretty dope, I’ll give ‘em that.
- Cisco mentions “Atlantean fish smell”, indicating Earth-Prime has an Atlantis now, too. That’s awesome.
- I liked the scene where Wally takes Barry into the Speed Force. We don’t see the transition happen, but you can tell something’s going on, ‘cause they start using the same camera angles they used for the Speed Force scenes in Crisis.
- The Speed Force was being kind of a dick, though, wasn’t it? It’s appeared to Barry as a lot of different people before; it doesn’t have to make itself look like his mom. So why, when it’s dying, would it still choose that form, and make Barry watch his mom die all over again. No one should have to go through that more than once!
- Not sure what’s going on with Nash being possessed by Thawne, but his speedless fight with Cisco, where they’re both just bumbling through it, was great. And he has a fantastic just-got-tasered scream.
Legends of Tomorrow 5×06: “Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac” review
Travel back in time with me, friends. Grab your time courier and open a portal, but be wary. For we are going back to a dark time. A time of great turmoil, when wild hopes and dizzying despair clashed with ferocity, and people could scarcely imagine what the future would hold. We are going back, dear readers, to Legends of Tomorrow Season 1.
Those were dark days indeed. Sara wasn’t captain yet. Mick was still missing the “lovable” part of “lovable rogue”. Angsty love triangles dominated much of the plot. And our Legends were constantly failing and making their situation worse . . . but in a depressing way, not a fun “oh, those scamps” sort of way.
Do you perhaps remember the episode “Star City 2046”? It’s the one that gave us Old Man Oliver with a robot arm and a ridiculously fake beard, and was our first introduction to Connor Hawke, who would surprise everyone by appearing on Arrow a few seasons later in a major role.
“Star City 2046” was like much of Legends Season 1: a rather bleak tone, people anguishing over whether they can or should change the timeline, and Rip telling the Legends, in very strong terms, not to do something, only for them to do it anyway, and for him to come and back them up, because, hey, he’s not such a bad guy after all.
But within that episode, there was a little C-plot, wildly different in content and tone from the rest of the goings-on. In this C-plot, Jax wanted to hit on Kendra, but was worried that Ray was going to win her over first. Stein, wanting to help Jax, tried to subtly discourage Ray from pursuing Kendra. But, uh oh! In doing so, Stein actually planted the idea of pursuing Kendra in Ray’s head, so he’s made things even worse for Jax!
It wasn’t a great plot. It tried to be humorous, but had little in the way of actual jokes. It felt very strange to have such a light little story going on, when the stakes in the rest of the episode were so heavy and fraught with emotion. Plus, it was another example of the writers having no idea what to do with Kendra other than have male characters pine after her.
Yet, when that episode came out, I remember wishing that Legends would do more plots like this. The other plotlines that episode (a dystopian Star City, Mick and Snart coming to blows, Sara grappling with whether to put their world-saving mission ahead of her loved ones) were far more compelling, but there was something about this fluffy little C-plot that spoke to me. I think it’s that, given the setup of Legends, with all these wildly different characters crammed together on a timeship, it felt right to have them get into sitcom-style antics, full of ruses and misunderstandings. It felt like what I wanted out of this motley ensemble of don’t-call-them-heroes.
At that time, I could scarcely have imagined how much the crew behind Legends of Tomorrow shared that sentiment, and would steer the show hard in that direction with each passing season. Until now, in Season 5, we have an episode of Legends so classically sitcommy, hearing a laugh track cue up would not feel out of place.
Ray and Nora are having a romantic dinner, but oh no! Nora’s dad shows up! They can’t let him find out they’re together! Thus starts an escalating series of lies, roping in more and more characters, that wouldn’t be out of place on Three’s Company. Y’know, if you had to worry about Mr. Roper killing everyone with his magical powers.
If we were still in Season 1 or 2, maybe even Season 3, I doubt we would have gotten this plot played this way. Damien Darhk’s return would have been used to milk high stakes drama out of the Legends’ need to stop this villain, Sara’s desire for vengeance, and Nora’s desire to save her dad, and Ray torn between them.
But now? Legends has reached a point where it can have Sara serve her arch-enemy dinner, because his daughter happens to be in a book club with Sara’s girlfriend and called in a favor. Where it can have Ray get upset, not because he’s torn between his mission and the woman he loves, but because he doesn’t want Nora to be ashamed of introducing him to her murderous, megalomaniacal father. And, of course, where it can resolve a conflict by magically transporting everyone into a knockoff Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to talk about their feelings. This is Legends embracing its comedic nature to the fullest.
Yet, despite that, when the end of the episode comes, and it decides to wring genuine emotion out of the story, it works. Ray and Nora getting married is every bit as sweet as you could wish for, and Damien’s final sacrifice comes as a sudden, sorrowful gutpunch. How is that possible?
Well, we may have spent the episode watching our cast get up to wacky shenanigans, but Legends always endeavors to root its shenanigans in well-developed characters. Damien may be acting like an interloping sitcom parent, but it all fits with his love and protectiveness for Nora. Everyone may get roped into maintaining Nora’s expanding web of lies, but that’s rooted in the friendships she’s developed with them, in their desire to stick up for one of their own. Even the kid wishing everyone to Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac is not a random goof, but an outgrowth of how Ray used the program to teach her how to handle her emotions maturely, and her wish allowing everyone else to do the same.
For all the wacky, fun, sitcommy hijinks, these remain characters we can know and care about. So when Legends takes a moment to stop being wacky and delve into real emotion, it can make the switch with astonishing grace.
This show has come a long, long way, and I hope that it has long yet to go.
- Mick’s kid is an interesting development (that a lot of people were predicting as soon as “Slay Anything” aired). I liked that she destroyed a Rebecca Silver novel by setting it on fire: using something Mick loves to destroy something Mick loves.
- Nate and Behrad are mostly on the sidelines this ep, but Nate got a great moment when Ray asks if he’s rushing things with Nora: “YES!” And Nate would know about rushed romance plots, after all . . .
- I was initially kind of annoyed by how the episode opened with text reading “Two Years Ago”. Like, what does that even mean in terms of a time travel story? So I was glad we later got the “A.K.A. Two Years Ago, Legends Time” text.
- There were so many small, hilarious moments this episode, I doubt I could list them all. Here are a few highlights: “Did I just fritz out of existence?” “Johnny C.” “Brexit!” “I am invoking book club.”/“You get one of those. You get one.” “This is extremely pornographic.”/“Thank you.”/“You’re welcome.” “Dad, I am not a child. You can’t just kill my friends anymore!”
- But the best, of course, has to be: Gary the Unspeakable Train Abomination
MVP of the Week: Uncle Damien
Damien Darhk may well be the best villain the Arrowverse has ever done. Some have said he only became good once he moved over to Legends, but I think that’s misguided. The plot built around him in Arrow Season 4 may have been crap, and he may have been overused, but from the moment he was introduced, Damien was an absolute joy of a villain. A lot of credit for that goes to Neal McDonough’s wonderful performance, portraying the character as a guy who flat-out loves being a supervillain, with almost childlike glee in his own dastardliness. The kind of guy who will never simply kill the heroes, not when he’s got a more over-the-top way to dispatch (this week, practically the first thing he does is tie Gary to the train tracks!)
Yet, for all his camp evil, his love for his family has always been shown as one hundred percent genuine. At times that’s been played for laughs, his loving father role hilariously incongruous with his maniacal villain role. But other times, it’s been used to provide real depth to the character, to let us come to feel for, even relate to this ridiculously wicked man. So seeing him kill himself at the end of this episode, choosing oblivion over Hell, and choosing either of those over disappointing his little girl . . . it would be a tearjerker, even without the added knowledge that this will likely be the last we’ll see of Damien Darhk on our television screens.
R.I.P. Damien. You were the best of the worst.
Question of the Week: What are your favorite villain death scenes?