Batwoman 1×17: “A Narrow Escape”, The Flash 6×17: “Liberation”, and Legends of Tomorrow 5×09: “The Great British Fake Off” reviews
It’s an exciting This Week In The Arrowverse as Batwoman makes her return from coronavirus hiatus, joining The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow for a trio of episodes that give us the expected thrills and chills . . . and some potential love triangles.
Whether it’s Kate/Sophie/Julia, Constantine/Zari/Nate, or that creepy-as-hell setup with Iris/Barry/Mirror Iris, complicated romances are in the air. Yay?
Batwoman 1×17: “A Narrow Escape” review
When the end credits rolled on this episode, I wanted to applaud, even though I was the only one in the room. It’s not the best episode Batwoman’s done; many others have had cooler fight scenes, snappier banter, and more powerful drama. But what this episode does better than any of the rest is have a masterfully well-constructed plot. “A Narrow Escape” ties together all the disparate plot threads running through the show, creates a new status quo for the season going forward, and does it all so naturally, it’s not till the episode’s almost over that you realize just how much this episode has changed things up.
When “A Narrow Escape” begins, it doesn’t let on that it’s going to be a major turning point for the series. At first, it looks like we’re getting a bit of a breather episode. Kate’s still in her just-took-a-human-life funk and questioning her worth as a hero, so who should suddenly appear in Gotham? A new bad guy called the Detonator with a very specific gimmick, one designed to test so-called “heroes” by forcing them to either kill others or sacrifice themselves.
A seasoned superhero fan knows what to expect here: the Detonator will put Batwoman in one of his tests, she’ll rise to the challenge, proving to herself that she is a hero, and the Detonator, his purpose in the story fulfilled, will be defeated without fuss and have no further relevance. It’s a formula that works well for superhero series, and it’s one Batwoman itself has used, creating a one-shot villain and a standalone plot that are designed to make the hero face whatever issues they’re dealing with.
This episode could have gone that route, and that would have been fine. But as it goes along, it becomes clear this episode is setting its sights much higher, not only using the Detonator to advance Kate’s character arc, but to advance all the story arcs and set them on a collision course.
Batwoman, and the Arrowverse in general, rarely build episodes around a single plot. Usually you’ll have a “main” plot that gets more attention than the others, but with a large cast of characters pursuing B-, C-, and D-plots, no single story can claim the majority of the screentime. So when the Detonator plot is interrupted by scenes of Alice and Mouse in Arkham, or Sophie and Julia working a case, or Mary at her clinic, or Luke having some my-father’s-killer-is-still-out-there-and-my-co-worker’s-being-flaky blues? That’s just business as usual.
But then it turns out the Detonator’s bomb attacks are being used as a cover to destroy evidence of the Crows’ corruption and the real murderer of Lucius Fox, bringing both Luke’s story and Sophie/Julia’s story into the mix. And then the Detonator sets off a bomb next door to Mary’s clinic, wrecking the place, and creating a scene where Mary finally tells Kate she knows about her being Batwoman, paving the way for Mary to join Team Bat. And then, when the Detonator’s defeated, it creates two new, major plot points.
First, catching the Detonator gets Sophie reinstated to the Crows and creates an opening for Julia to join the organization, which promises oodles of complications for Kate in the future. Second, the Detonator reveals that the person who set Lucius’s murder in motion was Tommy Elliot. That may not seem like a big deal at first, since he’s already locked up for committing a different crime. Except he’s locked up at Arkham Asylum, which Alice has just taken over from the inside, with Tommy Elliot as a co-conspirator. So even the Mouse and Alice plot has become part of the mix.
All this, on top of letting Kate regain confidence in herself by defeating a gimmicky villain? This episode’s plot is a marvel of synergy and efficiency, bringing each character’s storyline into the same web and sending them off on a bold new direction. That it doesn’t try to present itself right away as a Big Must See Episode That Changes Everything, but lets the importance of the plot slowly dawn on you as it goes along, is all the more admirable in my opinion.
While I wouldn’t call it my favorite episode of Batwoman, I can’t help wanting to lift a glass to honor what it was able to pull off.
- It seems weird that the city was gripped by “Where’s Batwoman?” panic after Kate stopped crimefighting for just one week. A lot of what she does as Batwoman involves sneaking through empty warehouses or doing covert surveillance, stuff that’s not going to be in the public view. No one catching Batwoman on camera for a week really shouldn’t be cause for alarm.
- “Now the whole city’s on lockdown because of me.” Well, if it’s any consolation, Kate, that was gonna happen soon anyway.
- The Detonator’s gimmick was a cross between the Joker’s boat plan from The Dark Knight and something out of a Saw movie. I like it.
- According to Luke, five years ago Batman killed the Joker. For now, that works as a handy explanation for why we don’t see the Joker turn up. But you better believe, if the WB ever gives them permission to use the character, they’ll say he didn’t really die after all. They already pulled that trick with Alice and Dr. Cartwright, they’re not above using it again.
- It seems weird that Julia makes such a sudden transfer from the British government’s intelligence service to a private sector American security firm. It happens so suddenly, and so easily, I’ve gotta think she’s still with British intelligence and is spying on the Crows.
- That early battle between Kate and a random thief was one of the cooler fight scenes they’ve done, but really, is this the first time Kate’s worried that one of the people she’s knocked unconscious might die? Just because you don’t hear a wet-sounding thunk! doesn’t mean it’s not still severe head trauma.
The Flash 6×17: “Liberation” review
So ends the saga of Mirror Iris.
She’s turned out to be one of the most engaging new additions to the cast this season. Allegra has been all right, Nash has been a decent enough Wells (when he’s not stuck being Pariah, anyway), and Chester has been a very fun faux-Cisco. But Mirror Iris has added a dose of unpredictability to the show that no one else has matched.
That can be chalked up, partly, to her doing what The Flash does every season: try to duplicate what made Season 1 work. In this case, that’s have a member of Team Flash secretly be an evil imposter with a hidden agenda. I think people underestimate how crucial an ingredient that was to the show’s success.
So much of The Flash is made up of routine scenes, of pep talks, crime-scene analysis, nonsensical science, and characters describing each other’s emotional states. It can be difficult to keep such scenes interesting after a while, especially when the main characters all mostly get along well, there’s not a whole lot of interpersonal conflict to mine.
Enter: the mole. Because they have a secret agenda, and are manipulating the rest of Team Flash to achieve it, any scene with them is going to be enlivened by a dose of intrigue. Even if all they’re doing is making casual chit-chat, we’re going wonder if this casual chit-chat is being done to further some part of their plan, keeping our interest on the hook.
Dr. Wells, of course, played that role marvelously in Season 1. Nora reprised it to a lesser extent last season. And this year, Mirror Iris has done an admirable job of it, injecting ongoing tension even into lesser episodes. But there’s more to her than that.
Because another role Mirror Iris has played is as a testing board for Iris as a character. Outside of shooting Kamilla and making edible pancakes, there’s little Mirror Iris has done that couldn’t plausibly be done with Regular Ol’ Iris, provided the writers decided to take her in that direction. Allying with villains, hitting guys with whiskey bottles, going ballistic over Joe leaving town, telling Barry that maybe losing his speed isn’t such a bad thing. You can feel the writers playing around with stuff they might like to do with Iris, but with the out that this mirror double isn’t the real thing, so they don’t have to commit to any of this characterization once Old Iris returns, not unless it plays well.
That’s let Mirror Iris do a lot of fun stuff that they might have been hesitant to try with the real her, and has made some potentially frustrating behavior tolerable because we know it doesn’t really count. And hopefully, once flesh-and-blood Iris is out of the mirror, the makers of the show can look at what worked and didn’t work with Mirror Iris, and let that inform how she develops going forward.
That’s what Mirror Iris has been adding to the show. With this episode, she gains an exciting new role: being a compelling character in her own right.
Mirror Iris was created to be an extension of Eva’s will. Eva states that Mirror Iris is her, her own thoughts and wishes put into a second body, so it should be unthinkable that Mirror Iris would do anything other than what Eva desires. But it should be obvious that a great deal of the Real Iris had to go into Mirror Iris. She clearly possesses all of Iris’s memories, and can pass as her so convincingly, she must know how to think like Iris. And if she thinks like Iris, then in some way, she is Iris as well
A fusion of two minds, with such divergent desires, it’s little wonder she begins to stray from her intended purpose. She even begins to develop her own sense of self, a desire to live and be a real person, separate from the woman who created her and the other woman whose face she bears. It’s an incredibly bizarre but incredibly poignant character turn, with so much potential for interesting and nuanced development . . .
Then Eva shatters her into pieces.
I suppose, from a big picture perspective, that needed to happen. Even if coronavirus hadn’t shut down production early, this would still be the final stretch of the season. Spending time giving Mirror Iris her own character arc, when there are so many other characters to service and so many other plot threads to tie up, maybe there was never going to be any room for that.
Still, after Mirror Iris has been such a fun addition to this season, and after this episode does such a fantastic job making her a character in her own right, that abrupt ending can’t help but feel like wasted potential. But I suppose if an episode gives you a lot of something good, and still leaves you wanting more, it must be doing something right, yeah?
- ‘Nother reason I’m bummed Mirror Iris is gone? That fight scene was badass! Well, Mirror Singh’s still out there, so maybe we’ll get to see him break out those same powers.
- Say, how long do you suppose Singh’s been replaced with a mirror double? Like, when he had Joe replace him as captain and told Barry he knew about him being the Flash, was that Real Singh or Mirror Singh?
- Barry’s conspiracy theory board about Iris was hilarious! He sounds like a babbling madman as he lays it all out, even though we know he’s 100% right (and even if we didn’t, given the world he lives in, nothing he says should really be that farfetched).
- Also hilarious: Ralph getting electrocuted and going full Jim Carrey.
- I wonder if the writers regret giving Cecile her psychic powers. It’s really noticeable this episode how Cecile has, for weeks, apparently sensed nothing odd from Mirror Iris, but everyone is very careful never to bring that up.
- Wasn’t expecting to see Bloodwork again so soon. It’s kinda interesting that both he and Eva create minions who are extensions of themselves, though Ramsey does it by infecting other people, while Eva creates copies of them.
- I just realized something: Eva says Kamilla is alive somewhere in the Mirror Dimension. Does everything shot with the Mirror Gun end up there? If so, does that mean if Iris looks hard enough, she could find Cicada’s dagger?
Legends of Tomorrow 5×09: “The Great British Fake Off” review
This was a surprisingly lackluster episode of Legends.
There’s very little wrong with “The Great British Fake Off”. A John/Zari team up makes for a good combo, a treasure hunt with a bunch of backstabbing Encores is a fun premise, the Astra arc takes an interesting turn, and there’s the usual amount of wisecracking and sincere emotional beats. It’s a perfectly serviceable and enjoyable episode.
Which is a shame, because Legends is normally good about going a step or two beyond that.
Now, to be clear, Legends is hardly the most original show out there. The way it lays out its plots and character arcs is, most of the time, pretty conventional. But it usually livens up those conventional stories with one or two developments that are so unexpected and oddball, they elevate the whole enterprise. A monster will be defeated by an impromptu cover of “Sweet Baby James”. A Groundhog Day episode will reveal Mick as an aspiring romance author. A plan to impersonate one of the bad guys will involve recruiting actor John Noble to play the part.
I’ve said in the past that Legends has at least one moment each episode that makes me go I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this in the best way possible. Well, I guess “The Great British Fake Off” is the exception that proves the rule.
The gaggle of Encores is fun enough, but none of them do anything too memorable, and not much is done with the untrustworthy-villains-have-to-work-together angle.
It was nice to see someone besides John or Lachesis interact with Astra, but her scenes with the Legends are a predictable combination of threats, double-crosses, and heart-to-heart talks, without delving into any surprising aspects of her character or her setup in hell.
And while Zari and John play off each other well, the way they begin the episode bickering, then have to work together, then gain the other’s respect, then start to open up to each other? That is textbook How To Create Romantic Tension. They even do the about-to-kiss-but-are-interrupted thing from every romantic comedy ever!
To reiterate, this is, overall, a well-made episode. It’s fine, it’s solid. But there’s no headless Queen of France with a flamethrower. There’s no wandering onto a Supernatural shooting location. There’s no serial killer podcasts, no kidnapped documentary crews, no Genghis Khan on a scooter. None of the stuff that normally lets Legends of Tomorrow stand out from the pack.
Consider this: when John realizes that the only way to find the ring is to not think about finding the ring, and Zari asks, “So what do we do?”, he replies, “We drink.” In any other episode, that would literally be his plan for finding the ring: get so drunk he forgets about looking for the ring, thus turning the climax into drunken chaos. Instead: he’s just decided to drown his sorrows because the task seems impossible, and the climax proceeds along conventional lines.
That’s this episode in a nutshell. There’s not much I can point to and say, “That was done badly.” It’s just a very workmanlike episode, from a show that normally has enough lunatic inspiration to be more than that.
- There were some comedic highlights, though: Gary doing John’s portal-to-Hell chant, Nate and Charlie just chilling while everyone’s risking their lives, Vandal Savage being the decoy soul left behind after all the valuable souls have been taken.
- What is going on with Charlie’s hair? I mean, it looks cool, and in-universe, she’s a shapeshifter, so maybe it’s not too difficult to whip up. But in real life, I can’t imagine what Maisie Richardson Sellers has to go through to get that look.
- Not sure how I feel about the show hinting at a Zari/John romance, especially if they’re gonna use Nate to build a love triangle. If nothing else, it seems a little questionable that this is two seasons in a row where Zari’s begun a romance arc by needing to pretend to be a teammate’s girlfriend.
- I do like that, when Zari first activates her powers, her Cleopatra disguise means she’s wearing something pretty close to the costume worn by her counterpart in the comics/the Secrets of Isis TV show. Doubt we’re gonna get her using the codename “Isis”, though.
- Man, Ava is gonna be pissed that she missed out on meeting Jack the Ripper, huh?
MVP of the Week: Eva McCulloch
She may have killed the promising character of Mirror Iris, but she’s proving to be more than promising in her own right. Her mix of cunning, mental illness, moments of sympathy, and highly versatile powers make her one of the most interesting villains The Flash has done in a good long while.
Question of the Week: What characters would you like to see do a Freaky Friday style body swap?