The Flash 6×16: “So Long and Good Night” and Legends of Tomorrow 5×08: “Zari, Not Zari” reviews
This is an important week! Not only are the Arrowverse shows back on our screens after more than a month on hiatus, but This Week In The Arrowverse is coming out on schedule for the first time since January! Will miracles never cease?
We’ve just got The Flash and Legends for now, with Batwoman returning tonight, and Supergirl next week. But these two eps still give us plenty to discuss, especially since each of them has us saying goodbye to a beloved character (though, unlike our last big character goodbye, no one really expects either of these to be permanent).
Let’s get started!
The Flash 6×16: “So Long and Good Night” review
The Flash has its patterns, and it likes to stick to them.
There’s its stock villain-of-the-week pattern. Some new metahuman launches a series of attacks in Central City (sometimes attacking various people/locations, other times making multiple failed attacks on the same individual), with a simple motive of greed and/or revenge. Our heroes tangle inconclusively with them once or twice, until near the end when they figure out the weakness to the villain’s powers and/or receive a rousing pep talk to lift their spirits, and finally overcome the bad guy.
There’s also the new character pattern, where each season will introduce new characters to Team Flash, whose personalities clash with our established heroes and bring some interpersonal conflict to the series.
Then there’s the pattern of establishing an ominous, always-one-step-ahead Big Bad early in the season, who our heroes spend most of their time trying to bring down, only to fail over and over (and over and over and over) again, until it’s time for the season finale. This is one pattern, at least, that this season has broken from, with Bloodwork’s arc being wrapped up by after eight episodes, and with this back half of the season leaving it unclear whether Joseph Carver & Black Hole is our Big Bad, or if it’s Eva McCulloch & Her Mirror Minions. That break from the show’s worn-out formula has been deeply appreciated.
But there’s another pattern this show is fond of, one that can also become tiring, that this episode indulges in shamelessly. Let’s call it the Breaking Their Stubbornness plot.
The pattern is simple. Early in the episode, a character will perform a certain action or express a certain belief. Another character will warn them that this action or belief is wrong, or at least that they’re going too far with it, and should back down a little. They will ignore this warning, of course, and continue acting and believing just as they did before. These events will then repeat themselves many times over the course of the episode: practically every person this character talks to will urge them to stop doing what they’re doing, which they respond to by digging in their heels and, if anything, do what they were already doing even harder.
Until the climax, of course, when suddenly the message everyone has been repeating to them all episode finally breaks through, they do a complete 180, and give up the foolhardy belief/action that had been causing trouble for them all episode.
This is not a pattern I’m particularly fond of. Not only is it a plot The Flash has repeated many times before, but even within a single episode it can become repetitious, seeing someone receive the same warning over and over again, knowing they’ll eventually take it to heart, but still seeing them stubbornly ignore it until the appropriate point in the three-act structure. A story built around someone refusing to accept an obvious lesson can be dramatically satisfying, but it requires a deep examination of why this lesson is so hard for them to accept, to make their stubbornness an interesting reflection of their character rather than a narrative stalling technique.
Sadly, Joe doesn’t get that here. Oh, it makes sense he’d be committed to taking Black Hole down; they’ve targeted him and his family, after all. But in the past, Joe has been good about knowing when he needs to step aside and trust his superpowered and/or supergenius friends to handle matters. His determination here to remain personally involved in the Black Hole investigation, despite the immense danger to himself and the people he loves, doesn’t feel properly motivated.
It could have been. The story could have gone into Joe’s feelings as both a father and a police officer, how he feels the need to prove himself as a protector, how the thought of running away fills him with shame. You can certainly assume that’s what’s going on in his head, but the episode never delves into it enough to get much drama out of it. It feels more like Joe is just being stubborn because the idea of him going into witness protection was raised early in the episode, but he can’t actually go into it till the end of the episode, so something’s got to stretch out the time in between.
That said, the moment when Joe does have the expected change of heart? That moment was wonderfully well-done. The way it’s staged, no one needs to say a word; the actions we see on screen tell us everything. If Joe hadn’t disarmed the bomb himself, Barry would not have arrived in time to save him. And Joe disarming the bomb wasn’t a display of skill or cunning; it was blind luck, him pulling a wire at random because he had seconds to live and no other options. We see on Joe’s face that he realizes how improbably lucky his survival was, that he at last feels the full weight of the danger he’s put himself in, how in-over-his-head he’s let himself become.
‘Cause even if it’s a familiar Flash plot, and one I’m not all that fond of, it’s still Jesse L. Martin in the limelight. Once it’s time for Joe to stop being stubborn and to make his goodbyes, the guy brings the waterworks like no one else does.
I may not have liked the road taken to get there, but damn if this ep didn’t go out on a strong finish.
- There’s a sort of have-your-cake-and-it-eat-too thing going on with Mirror Iris. They get cheap, angsty relationship drama by having one character be unreasonable and blow things out of proportion, but avoid any complaints that they’re ruining the character by letting us know it’s just an evil double. Not sure how long they can keep milking that, though.
- Sue continues to be a lot of fun, and she and Ralph have great chemistry together. Her being “January Galore” the whole time adds an extra fun wrinkle to their history together: she was there at the superweapon auction, watching Ralph and Barry fight that discount Bond villain, and enjoying the hell out of the show.
- Also, Sue and Cisco: surprisingly great banter partners.
- Ragdoll is such a creepy villain, I kinda want him to appear on Batwoman, just to see them go all out with how disturbing he could be.
- Joseph Carver is an interesting villain for this show. He’s the sort of rich corporate bad guy with loads of hired goons we saw all the time on Arrow, but on The Flash he’s something of a novelty.
Legends of Tomorrow 5×08: “Zari, Not Zari” review
I was halfway through writing this review, having gone on for several paragraphs about how this episode’s three plotlines are so disconnected from each other . . . when I had to stop, go back to the beginning, and start over from scratch. Because in writing about these plotlines, I began to see how, while the events in each plot had little bearing on the others, they shared a common thematic concern that was either brilliantly subtle or a complete accident on the writers’ part, I’m not sure which.
The theme running all through this episode is how family can pressure you into being someone you’re not. This is pretty obvious in Charlie’s plot, with her long lost sister coming into the picture, urging Charlie to come back and join their family, with the understanding that a family reunion means reuniting the Loom and returning to their roles as destiny’s keepers. To Atropos, Charlie being her sister and Charlie being Clotho, one of the Three Fates, are inseparable. Every overture she makes to Charlie is part and parcel with her efforts to restore the Fates to power. If Charlie isn’t a Fate, she’s no sister of hers.
This is a toxic, domineering vision of family, one that demands obedience and conformity, and tries to cut out anyone in a person’s life that might take them away from the family’s interests. It’s quite telling that, faced with her sister’s wrath, Charlie instinctively shapeshifts into a frightened child, powerless before family authority, until the Legends, her surrogate family, come to back her up. And it’s not coincidence that Atropos begins the episode by slaughtering Charlie’s old band, then cuts a bloody swath through the Legends, trying to destroy the family and friends Charlie has made for herself so she’ll have no one outside her sisters to turn to.
Against that psychopathic standard, the sibling issues between Z and B are ridiculously mild, yet they touch on the same idea. Behrad isn’t going to say it to her face, but it’s clear that the more he learns about Original Recipe Zari, the more he wishes Zari 2.0 was like her. He encourages his sister to reinvent herself, all while pushing her towards the things that he likes: drugs, videogames, Nate. And Fashionista Zari picks up on this. She can’t help worrying that Flannel Zari is who she’s supposed to be, and that she’s somehow letting Behrad and the rest of the team down by being who she is.
Then, in Mick’s storyline, we get to see this issue from the other angle. When his first stab at being a father to Lita gets an angry teen response, he decides to just scrap this whole family thing and stop her from ever being born. Ava’s proposal, while less drastic, still doesn’t involve Mick bonding with Lita as she is, but turning her into someone else, someone more agreeable. She even compares it to her own experience having fake memories of a childhood programmed into her.
Traveling through time, Mick’s there when Lita loses her first tooth, and has “the Tooth Fairy” give her a huge stack of (presumably stolen) cash. He reads to her from his age-inappropriate novel. He lights a model volcano on fire for her science fair project. He dresses her up as his old crime partner when they go trick-or-treating. He’s not merely creating happy memories with Lita, but creating happy memories based around things that Mick loves. He’s trying to mold her into the daughter that he’d want to have.
Of course, in each case, trying to force someone to change who they are, family or no, does not work. All Mick’s efforts to manipulate Lita’s past can’t change her anger towards him; the only way forward is to build a relationship with her as she is, however rocky that might be. Juice Cleanse Zari might think her brother would be happier with Doughnut Zari, but that Zari was only who she was because of the unhappiness their family suffered, and she seems to think CatChat Zari is doing an all right job of things. And, of course, Atropos’s strongarm tactics don’t exactly endear Charlie to the whole Fate sisterhood thing, and in the end she literally cuts her sister out of her home. It’s not simply wrong to force family to be someone they’re not, but it’s a doomed proposition from the get-go.
As I said, this wasn’t a theme I was aware of at first. Before, I was pegging this as a middle-of-the-road Legends episode: one with some terrific stuff, but not reaching the show’s heights. But with this bit of added depth, with each storyline strengthening the others by providing another perspective on a common theme? I don’t give grades in these reviews, but if I did, this unexpected bit of thematic weight would take this outing from a B to a solid B+.
- I know some people are disappointed that the Legends blundering onto a Supernatural shooting location had so little bearing on the story. But I think it helps if you look at this as being, not a pseudo-crossover, but Legends tipping their hat to the piece of pop culture they’re homaging this week. ‘Cause Atropos is one-hundred percent a Supernatural style baddie. I’m not sure if that show’s ever had a monster who stabs people with bone spikes, but it would be completely on-brand for them. Also from the Supernatural villain brand: a contemptuous attitude towards humanity, a true form of glowing white light that kills whoever looks at it, a cosmic struggle of destiny that’s also a plain old family squabble. And, of course, killing off lots of minor characters to give the heroes some extra angst.
- On the same front, there’s something deliciously recursive about John Constantine borrowing stuff from Supernatural.
- I did enjoy John grabbing spell ingredients from the forest floor while Sara and Atropos fought right on top of him. That said, I gotta wonder if anyone at the CW’s legal department had concerns about that scene. It had John eating hemlock with no mention of how people should really, really not try this at home.
- Y’know, it’s amazing. Behrad wasn’t introduced until the closing minutes of Season 4, and New Zari (Now With Fewer Calories) wasn’t introduced until seven episodes ago. Yet they’ve both come to feel like such great and natural additions to the show, when Behrad dies it feels genuinely shocking and heartbreaking, and seeing Fashion Brand Zari get Dystopian Hacktivist Zari’s blessing? It feels earned.
- Of course, it helps knowing that Gamer Zari still exists in “Totem Town”, so we can keep Zari Tarazi™ without having to consign I-Was-A-Cat-Once Zari to non-existence.
- There are a lot of theories flying around about how Sara survived seeing Atropos’s true form. Most popular (and, I admit, most likely) is that it’s got something to do with her being the Paragon of Destiny. But it might be neat if Sara actually did die, but Astra sent her back as an Encore. As long as Sara and the Legends are helping John find the Loom, it’s in Astra’s interest to help them along. And if they try turning against her, being able to drag Sara back to Hell at any time is a nice bit of leverage.
MVP of the Week: TIE: Zari Tomaz & Zari Tarazi
Someone get these gals a Doublemint contract.
Question of the Week: Who would you say is the creepiest villain in the Arrowverse?