Batwoman 1×18: “If You Believe in Me, I’ll Believe in You”, Supergirl 5×17: “Deus Lex Machina”, The Flash 6×18: “Pay the Piper”, and Legends of Tomorrow 5×10: “Ship Broken” reviews
This Week In The Arrowverse is back with a full roster! We’ve got Batwoman, we’ve got The Flash, we’ve got Legends of Tomorrow, and we’ve got Supergirl, making its big return!
Enjoy this lineup while you can, because this week is the penultimate episode of The Flash Season 6; next week, we’re gonna be discussing the season finale. The season wasn’t supposed to be ending this early, but from what I gather, a cruise ship gave away a bunch of Corona beer, and everyone got really sick, ‘cause Donald Trump told them to mix it with detergent. I think that’s the gist of it.
Batwoman 1×18: “If You Believe in Me, I’ll Believe in You” review
Damn, this was a fun little episode, wasn’t it? We haven’t had a Batwoman ep this purely fun since … gosh, I guess not since Episode 4 (perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, that was also the last time we saw Reagan and Magpie till now).
It’s not that there haven’t been fun moments on Batwoman between since then. We had Kate fighting a pseudo-vampire, Mary dropping 20 ton hints that she knows Kate’s secret, and, of course, Alice chewing up scenery like it’s made of gingerbread. But those have been small moments, little bits of fun scattered through episodes that were, primarily, about exploring a bunch of dark, twisted, and angsty psycho-drama. This is the first ep in a long while where that ratio is reversed, where sending us on a rollicking, light-hearted adventure with Team Batwoman is the main focus, with only a few scenes that address characters’ tortured psyches.
It’s hard not to have fun when you’re doing a heist episode. And it’s little surprise that Kate’s batventures have a lot more joy to them now that Mary, that irrepressible ball of can-do spirit, has dived headfirst onto Team Bat. But aside from all that, I think this episode felt the need to give us a more lighthearted adventure because, after last week redefined the status quo in many ways, we needed time to get attached to things as they are, before the inevitable drama bomb blows it all apart.
Both Mary and Julia are now regular allies of Batwoman, and while there’s some angst with Mary being excluded at first, and some setup for future angst with Julia’s big secret, overall the focus is showing us just how fun having these gals on the team can be. And what better way to show that then to have them rescue Kate from a crime boss auction, or use 2.5 million dollars as an explosive? Seeing Julia kick ass and Mary bluff her way through a mafia nightclub, it just makes me want more of this dynamic, pronto.
The Alice storyline also has a new status quo it’s settling into, with her running things inside Arkham, and that’s also given a hefty dose of fun this week. Sure, there’s a dramatic and tear-stained scene between her and Jacob (and very well done by both actors, I must add), but most of her scenes this week are with other maniacal supervillains, letting them all bounce off each other in increasingly over-the-top ways. Even when we get yet another face stealing scene, it’s used for gross-out comedy rather than an effort to disturb. And when Alice releases a fully costumed Magpie to steal the journal from Batwoman, it’s the first time it feels like we’ve got a genuine rogues gallery in play, and that is a delight.
Even that bit at the end where Reagan betrays Kate? They could have gone the high drama route with it, and maybe they will later when the two meet up again, but in the moment it functions more as a fun, unexpected twist and the introduction of a cool new femme fatale.
All told, this episode is just a grand old time, watching characters we like go on exciting, madcap adventures where nothing too terrible ever happens. I don’t expect that to last. With how Batwoman operates, I expect they’re only letting us enjoy the fun here for one episode, before next week sends things cascading back into ultra-dark-dramaville. And, hey, nothing wrong with that. This show can do the ultra-dark-drama shockingly well.
But, while it lasts, I’m going to enjoy this show exploring how a lady in a bat costume fighting criminals can just be an uncomplicated good time.
- So what do we all think Julia’s secret is? I’ve seen speculation ranging from her working for the ominously-hinted-at Safiyah to her being sent by Bruce to keep tabs on Kate.
- Wouldn’t it be simple to have Batwoman’s wig just peel off when somebody pulls on it? I mean, I kinda just assumed that’s how it worked till now; don’t know why you’d feel the need to stitch it into the cowl.
Supergirl 5×17: “Deus Lex Machina” review
It’s impossible not to compare this episode to “The House of L”. Both episodes are structured as a series of flashbacks covering the last several months, showing what Lex Luthor has been up to all this time, revealing how many seemingly isolated incidents throughout the season have actually been part of Lex’s master plan.
Now, for my money, “The House of L” is Supergirl’s very best episode, and Jon Cryer’s Lex Luthor is easily the highlight of any episode he appears in, so all of this was definitely to my liking. An hour of Lex treating the rest of the cast like chess pieces, moving them into position without their realizing it, creating a brilliant (if excessively intricate) plan to get everything he wants: that makes for some damn good television. Still, the comparison to that previous Lex-focused hour can’t help making this one fall short a little.
Part of it’s simply that the surprise is gone. When “The House of L” aired, Lex had only just been introduced to the series. Revealing that so much of the season’s plot had been orchestrated by him was an out-of-left-field surprise, wowing us with its sheer audaciousness. But you can only use that twist once. Lex is a known commodity now; he’s been appearing regularly ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths, and we’ve known the whole time that he’s working on an evil scheme, and have had a rough idea what his goals were. So rather than blowing us away with a radical paradigm shift, “Deus Lex Machina” merely fills in the details of exactly what Lex has been doing.
What also makes “Deus Lex Machina” a lesser episode is that Lex himself was only half of what made “The House of L” so great. The other half was Red Daughter, who had her own journey of self-discovery to go on, played with beautiful sweetness and sorrow by Melissa Benoist. This episode has Eve Tessmacher filling the Red Daughter role, being the good-hearted innocent manipulated into serving Lex’s ambitions. But while Eve is a sympathetic and pitiable character here … I’m sorry, she doesn’t come anywhere close to the pathos or complexity of Red Daughter.
Both of those factors make “Deus Lex Machina” a lesser outing compared to “The House of L”, but they’re not actual flaws. They’re just some strengths that this episode didn’t fully replicate. What is a flaw in this episode is one that’s been a flaw pretty much all season: Leviathan.
The concept behind Leviathan is decent enough. They’re a cabal of ancient, ultra-powerful beings who have appointed themselves custodians of the Earth, and will periodically kill off a large percentage of the human population, whenever they feel humanity is progressing too much for its own good. It’s a good concept, but seventeen episodes into the season, there’s still not much to Leviathan beyond that concept.
We’ve met precisely two of Leviathan’s leaders: Rama Khan, a generic blustering bad guy who was killed off early on (and may or may not still exist Post-Crisis), and Gamemnae, who has appeared in quite a few episodes, but who we know almost nothing about. Like, we know she’s used the alias Gemma Cooper to become Andrea’s friend and business partner, that she wants to use technology to perform Leviathan’s latest apocalypse, and in this episode we see that she has some sort of electrical powers. But what could you tell me about her personality? Her place within the Leviathan organization? Or why her and Leviathan in general are such a big threat, beyond having characters tell us that they’re a big threat?
This episode ends with Lex (seemingly) outmaneuvering Leviathan so that he’ll be able to destroy them and prevent their apocalyptic plans, while still hijacking said plans for his own benefit. Now, it’s likely that Leviathan will throw a curveball in Lex’s plans (or, at least, they were likely planned to; the episode where that happens might not have been filmed before coronavirus shut things down). But the only reason that seems likely is because the writers would hopefully not give their Big Bad such an anticlimactic finish. If you just go by what’s presented in the story, there’s not much reason to view Leviathan as capable of turning the tables on Lex Luthor. There’s not even much reason to view Lex outwitting them as being all that impressive.
Anyone remember the Quadrant from Arrow? The ultra-powerful crime organization introduced solely so that Diaz could pwn them all in a futile attempt to make his character seem intimidating? That’s kinda what Leviathan’s reminding me of now.
As much fun as it was watching Lex run circles around everyone this week, I don’t think we really needed another Lex spotlight episode; I think we’ve got a pretty good idea who he is and what he’s capable of at this point. What we needed was an episode focused on Leviathan, showing how their operation works, who else is in it, what they’re like, what they’re capable of. Something to make them villains worth centering a season around.
- So Lex had Eve kill Dean Cain. I like to imagine that, when Lex had the Book of Destiny, he saw that there was one Earth where Jeremiah’s doppelganger was Superman, and that immediately put him on Lex’s “Have Killed Once It Becomes Advantageous To Do So” list.
- Between having Alex’s dad killed, being named “Sexiest Man in the World! Again!”, and posing as a sympathetic bartender in a terrible wig, we had some great audacious Lex moments this episode. Nothing quite on par with “You’re right: I have to give myself cancer!”, but then, what is?
- It’s weird that Alex referred to her own father as Jeremiah, right?
- I am getting really frustrated with Lena. The problem with how they’re writing her and her conflict with Kara is it’s all personal. Lena’s upset that Kara wouldn’t trust her with Myriad, while ignoring what Lena was planning to use Myriad for. By making every conversation between Kara and Lena about their personal issues, they never get around to discussing the fact that Lena’s trying to alter the brain chemistry of everyone on Earth, which is a talk they desperately need to have.
- Hey, we got to see Lillian again! She’s great!
- Hey, we got to see M’gann again! She’s … unexpected.
- That “Escape the Event” sequence was insanely stupid. Like, yes, people will use escapist entertainment to avoid dealing with harsh realities, but they’ll usually make sure they’re not in immediate danger first. If they’d shown people huddled in shelters or their homes, and then putting on the Obsidian lenses, that’d make sense. But seeing a giant monster flying through the sky, and immediately escaping into VR, not bothering to find out what’s going or if they should try running for safety? C’mon.
- That said, the Sun Eater was an awfully cute eldritch abomination.
The Flash 6×18: “Pay the Piper” review
Oh, Flash. And you were doing so well.
Season 6 hasn’t been perfect. The ratio of good episodes to mediocre episodes is, honestly, about 50/50. But those good episodes have been able to reach such a high level (“Love Is a Battlefield” and “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen” being particular standouts), and those mediocre episodes have still had enough engaging content, that this is quite probably the best year the show has had since Season 1. Ever since the season premiere, when Barry emerged from a black hole to the triumphant tunes of the Flash Gordon theme, Season 6 has promised to be a return to the glory days of a fun, upbeat, and exciting version of The Flash.
Until this week. This week … it’s like the writers looked at all the complaints people had about previous seasons and went, “We can’t actually get rid of those problems, but we can condense them all into a single episode so they don’t infect the rest of the season.”
What we have in “Pay the Piper” is an anti-highlight reel, all the most frustrating and disliked elements of seasons past given an encore performance.
We’ve got an ongoing storyline about trying to save Iris, the same thing that dominated so much of Season 3 and pulled it down into the doldrums. We’ve got Cisco lashing out at Barry (hey, remember Flashpoint?) We’ve got a reminder of how stupid Cisco giving up his powers was. We’ve got Barry worrying that he’s not fast enough to beat the latest bad guy, something he spent the first three seasons obsessed with. We’ve got said latest bad guy being, essentially, a palette-swapped Zoom, a generically evil speedster obsessed with being the fastest, and threatening people’s lives unless Barry gives up his speed. We’ve got our heroes failing to capture said bad guy so he can continue to scheme another day.
And, of course, we have mopeyness. So, so, so much mopeyness.
Everyone spends this episode in a deep, deep funk. Even people who haven’t had their significant others replaced by evil mirror clones, they’ve still got the blues going on. They’re all just going “woe is me”, “I am garbage”, “all is hopeless”, “I’m gonna sit in a dark room listening to ‘Sounds of Silence’ on an endless loop”. Only time they stop castigating themselves is when they decide to take their frustration out on each other. It’s just … just an unpleasant and ugly vibe to the whole episode.
I’m not saying I don’t want any angst or unhappiness in the characters’ lives. I already mentioned “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen” as a highlight of the season, and that got hella angsty. But to have such unpleasant emotions across the entire cast, it does not play to The Flash’s strong suits. Especially since The Flash only knows one way to handle a character who’s in a deep funk: give ‘em a pep talk.
Seriously, frickin’ everyone both gives and receives a pep talk over the course of this episode. The sheer repetition of it is so staggering, by the end the pep talks don’t even sound like actual words anymore; they’re more like rote chant, recited to banish the demon of bad vibes.
This, this right here, is why people have bagged on The Flash so hard when it’s had characters get mopey: because it has little idea what to do with a mopey character. The Flash has never had much interest in using these unpleasant emotions to send characters down an exciting or unexpected path. Mostly, they just act miserable and beat themselves up for an episode, until someone comes by and harangues them into bucking the hell up in time for an optimistic closing scene.
It honestly baffles me how a season that’s been working this well so far, has been so clearly conscious of the flaws it needs to work on, could in a single episode fall into all of the show’s old bad habits so thoroughly. The only thing that could explain it, and the only thing that would have saved the episode for me, is if when Eva stepped out of her pod at the end, instead of delivering a generic ominous villain line, she had turned straight to the camera and said:
- What was up with Eva in that pod anyway? I thought she was just straight up out of the mirrors and perfectly fine now (psychosis aside)?
- Hartley Rathaway (alias Pied Piper) was kind of a wasted opportunity here. They brought him back after a four year absence, and used Crisis to make him a villain again and revamp his origins … only to have him do a good guy flip almost immediately, so we still get almost zero Pied Piper villainy.
- When Iris is trying to prove her identity to Kamilla, the only facts about Kamilla she can list off are about how she relates to Cisco. I gotta wonder if anyone in the writers room took a look at that and said, “Wow, we really haven’t fleshed Kamilla out at all, have we?”
- For all my griping, the Dib-ploma was a pretty great moment, as was Frost dealing with whether or not Caitlin’s mom is her mom, too.
- The episode opened on a row of houses in the evening, and all I could think was that we were about to see Nora Allen get murdered again. That’s just what The Flash has trained me to expect anytime we get that sort of establishing shot.
Legends of Tomorrow 5×10: “Ship Broken” review
We’ve got a mystery on our hands, gang!
Yes, it’s a good ol’ fashioned whodunnit aboard the Waverider. But when your story’s set in a superhero universe, the rules for crafting a mystery are a little different.
Normally, mystery stories are built around a process of elimination. There will be only so many people who could have murdered the elderly duchess, and only so many ways the emerald necklace could have been stolen from the museum case. The bulk of a mystery story will be spent exploring those possibilities, uncovering evidence that disproves each one, until it seems impossible that anyone could have poisoned the vicar’s sherry.
That’s when the detective swoops in and explains how there is one person, and only one person, who could possibly have forged the burgermeister’s will. And once they’ve laid out how this person could have done it, that’s enough to close the case, because all other explanations have been ruled out. As the Great Detective himself said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
However, in superhero stories, there’s no such thing as the impossible. They’ve got shapeshifters, doppelgangers, mind control, time travel, teleportation, invisibility, intangibility, rewriting reality, and an endless supply of magic spells and advanced technology that can do anything else you might think of. No possibility can ever be eliminated, because it’s in the nature of superhero universes that anything is possible. That’s what makes it such a fun setting for rollicking adventure tales, but it does leave the traditional mystery story in a bit of a lurch.
Given this, I think “Ship Broken” does a fantastic job adapting mystery conventions to a superhero tale. The key to making this work is that there is no detective piecing clues together and working out the solution. Everyone (for understandable reasons) goes “Astra did it” pretty much right away, and they don’t back down from that position till the truth smacks them in the face. There’s no scenes of them methodically checking and eliminating various possibilities, and we don’t need any such scenes; no matter how many they eliminate, there would always be a limitless number left to explore
Instead, the episode trusts that, presented with the evidence, we the viewers will think up plenty of different ways things could have gone down. Our main villains right now are shapeshifters, so obviously we’re going to suspect that someone on the Waverider isn’t who they appear to me. Mick’s daughter is on the ship, so maybe she’s following in daddy’s footsteps by stealing the rings and wrecking a bunch of stuff. Maybe Charlie’s attempt at Fate-weaving did more harm than she realized, and all these weird goings on are because she messed up reality. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that it really is Astra using some sort of Hell magic, and her being the Most Likely Suspect is meant to throw us off-guard.
Aside from that last one, none of these possible solutions are spelled out in the episode. I can’t even guarantee all of them were things the writers intended us to consider. But that’s the beauty of it. Left to our own devices, with some odd clues and the endless array of stuff that’s possible in the Arrowverse, we can come up with a host of far out solutions to this mystery, no detective needed.
And they don’t get more far out than “You adopted Son of Sam’s demon dog!”
For some viewers, that might be the sticking point. What, they might say, is the point of a mystery if the solution is that a random monster did it for no reason? By the rules of traditional mystery stories, that’s a complete cop out of an ending. But for the hybrid beast that is a superhero mystery story? I think it works dynamite.
A good mystery will have a solution that we don’t see coming. In a classic mystery, this will be because the writer succeeded in misdirecting us; they showed us all the clues, but in such a way that we didn’t connect them together properly, not until the detective laid it all out for us. If we failed to figure out the solution, it’s because our deductive reasoning wasn’t up to the challenge.
But in superhero stories, there are too many variables in play for deductive reasoning to lead to a single, definitive solution; Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot never had to deal with the possibility that the culprit might be Mr. Mxyzptlk pulling an interdimensional prank. So in a superhero mystery, the challenge becomes not one of logic, but of imagination. We’re encouraged to think up all sorts of weird and fantastical ways the mystery could be solved, and the writers must therefore think up an even weirder and more fantastical solution to surprise us.
As with most mysteries, some people guessed the solution before the end, while others didn’t. I did have an inkling that Gary Junior might be behind it all, but I was thinking it’d be Atropos or Lachesis shapeshifted into dog form. That it’s just a talking, mind-controlling hellhound Gary decided to “rescue” … it’s a hilariously absurd solution, but in this sort of superhero mystery, coming up with a solution more hilariously absurd than what the audience can come up with … I’d say that counts as a grand victory, wouldn’t you?
- “As far as this sorry lot are concerned, as soon as anyone stops trying to murder them on a weekly basis, they’re best friends.” It’s funny ‘cause it’s true!
- I love how the Legends have become looser and looser with their standards over time. Earlier this season, Ray noted that they’re “a little past the whole ‘should we change history?” debate”. It used to be that the power to rewrite reality (with the Spear of Destiny) was too great for anyone to be trusted with; now they’ve got the power to rewrite reality (with the Loom of Fate) and the only argument’s about who gets to use it first. And, of course, back in Season 3, Nate said that “we allow light to moderate theft on this ship”; they’ve now dropped the “light to moderate” part, and Nate proudly explains how Mick “funds this whole operation through the simple act of stealing.”
- Nate was on fire in general this ep. “Not bad, Mick. Not bad.” “All I hear is why I should murder you all. And he’s making some good points.”
MVP of the Week: Mary Hamilton
Get her a Robin costume, stat!
Question of the Week: What’s your favorite flashback heavy episode?