Friday, February 3, 2017

This Week In The DC-CWverse - Week 2 - Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends Of Tomorrow Define What It Means To Be A Hero

A strong second week as 2017 settles in (and we all settle in for the long road ahead, but I won’t get political at this juncture). There’s always been some subtle cohesion amongst the four shows since they’re all made in such a similar style. Their casting, acting, and writing all skew in a similar direction. As I said last week, Flash can verge a little more melodramatic, Arrow is a bit darker, Legends has to incorporate sci-fi both hard- and soft-boiled (though much more of the latter, its own challenge to make it interesting and believable), and Supergirl can become philosophical and political. But they all feel very similar. As the universe has expanded and Team Arrow has had to accept more and more about reality, they’ve gone off the rails the past couple seasons, but are returning to form. Legends and Supergirl are stronger and much cleaner in their sophomore seasons than their first. But Flash wins the week with a solid episode that sees some excellent growth of key characters while involving almost all of Team Flash.

All four shows were about defining what it means to be a hero, (Supergirl’s episode of course was named “We Can Be Heroes”) and who gets to be one in this world. Jimmy’s Guardian, who is aided by stretched-thin Winn, is at last revealed to Supergirl, who couldn’t be angrier. But she is distracted, also training Mon-El to be her partner in the field. In one of my favorite scenes of the week, Jimmy and Kara fight over why she gets to determine who is and who isn’t a hero. I enjoyed the disagreement a lot because of its unresolved nature. Supergirl overall felt unresolved in a good way, considering how often it has such a soft ending with everyone together, toasting and celebrating their accomplishments. Jimmy feels like she is underestimating him and he has grown tired of being the “sidekick.” The real problem that Kara has is that Guardian is ultimately human. Supergirl and Mon-El can take hits, make mistakes, be in jeopardy. Guardian can’t. Supergirl worries that he’s going to end up killed in the field. Like I said, I enjoy the stalemate they reach by the end of the episode, where Jimmy and Winn go off to continue their work despite the lack of Kara’s blessing, while Kara allows to continue grudgingly, as she doesn’t approve of the recklessness.

Speaking of recklessness, Supergirl also has to confront Mon-El about his mistakes on his first active day. Mon-El leaves innocents vulnerable in order to save Supergirl who reminds him she does not need saving, which leaves Kara to question Mon-El’s motivations for wanting to be a hero.

Though initially reckless as he learned of his powers, Wally is proving a much more capable lancer in the field to Barry, and I’m heartened to see Barry letting him take in the spotlight.

Ollie believes Tina’s revenge plot is equally reckless, and could end with her own death. Tina, who shares meta powers with Earth 2 Laurel/Siren, is adamantly against joining Team Arrow or even get their help. In the meantime, the arc allows time for Felicity to find her own heroism, from her days as a hacktivist. The interaction with fellow hacker Kujo Sledgehammer is a fairly obvious deus ex machina but I think it’s well-disguised, and she proves to be the savior needed to finally free Diggle.

Chase’s attempts to obstruct Diggle being handed over to corrupt General Walker gets short shrift in this episode, and most of the threat and stakes are off-screen. Diggle’s a strong character, so we’re obviously rooting for him, but I found myself forgetting about everything that was truly in their way, since we heard news of the situation developing as Diggle was hearing about it: through Chase and Ollie. So with that, the fact that the deus ex machina to resolve the arc comes in the form of Kujo Sledgehammer and it gets us needed and wanted character development for Felicity, I’m fine with it.
Meanwhile, a former Legend and the daughter of a Legend are two major contributors to the proceedings this week. Phil manages to find his inner Rip Hunter and uses some of his movie knowledge to drive a wedge between Damien Darhk/Malcolm Merlyn and Eobard Thawne, sowing seeds of doubt about Eobard’s motivations to find the Spear of Destiny. Lily Stein is a huge help in the episode to unlocking the secrets of the retrieved medallion. Darhk and Merlyn do some decided heroic deeds to save Eobard, when they put their brainpower and expertise together to save him from the avatar of death in the Speed Force, Black Flash. I enjoyed the focus on the villains. Darhk, Merlyn, and Eobard, despite their quibbling and campiness, are far more threatening villains than Vandal Savage ever was on the show last season (Ugh… It still pains me. Savage is one of my favorite villains in the comics and they wasted him). Their plot and motivations were brought to the fore for this episode, which has really helped ground Legends much better than their first season.

The Spear of Destiny, already cited as the MacGuffin of this story, (as it rather always has been in pop culture) is bringing the Legion and the Legends in conflict, but at the center of it all is the speedster Eobard Thawne. Darhk and Merlyn are frustrated that Thawne treats them like grunts and want to know why. The Legends are still unclear of the identity of the mystery speedster. What I love about the episode is the switching back and forth as the two groups arrive at the answers in their own ways. Darhk and Merlyn, with the help of Phil/Rip Hunter, piece together that the pieces don’t add up: why would a speedster who can traverse time freely want something that rewrites reality? They realize he’s moving from something, not toward it. From there they deduce his motivations. The Legends, bickering group of misfits that they are, have very smart people in their ranks. Sarah, Martin, Amaya, Nate, and Ray put their heads together to understand the same. Nate eventually realizes that the speedster is trying to undo something, not do something with the Spear. They realize it’s his own non-existence, and Martin realizes it’s Eobard after which he attempts to explain the complex rabbit hole of Eobard Thawne, the speedster who is outside of time because he was taken out of existence, and is now trying to outrun his own non-existence. Confused? Honestly, Darhk and Merlyn get a much more articulate confession from Eobard in the vault of Rip Hunter.

From the tag at the end of Legends, we see Rip may be coming back slightly brainwashed. This will lead to him finding himself and his heroism again. On Arrow, the main focus is Tina Boland, an undercover cop who watched her boyfriend get killed by Sonos, the night of the particle accelerator explosion. Tina’s not interested in being a hero, but that’s what Ollie is trying to drive her toward. Revenge, vengeance, hate, he knows doesn’t bring closure. It won’t bring her the satisfaction she seeks. Even if she does get to kill Sonos, it won’t be the end. She will not move on from it, have a new and better life in a new chapter. Deep down, she seems to know he’s right, but she doesn’t waver. To be fair, for the most part, Ollie doesn’t try and stop her. In the end, she does kill Sonos, despite Ollie attempting to convince her one last time that she can be better. It’s an interesting moment, because I’m interested and frustrated by this dynamic of Ollie demanding that people around him be better than he is, when he is so willing to kill, to do what is necessary. Tina, who comes to Ollie after all is said and done to confess he was right, wants to join the team, because she acknowledges that emptiness that vengeance did not fill. I am happy that she arrives at this conclusion on her own, that she still killed her target, instead of her conceding to Ollie at any point before it was over. Ollie’s main point is that there’s always second chance, and that one thing that helps fill that emptiness is friends.

One person who knows the isolation of despair and the kinship of shared experience exceptionally well is J’onn J’onzz. I’m enjoying the Martian Manhunter much more in Supergirl. I liked him just fine on the Justice League animated but he was often too sad. I prefer the angry, war-torn Manhunter. He’s immediately more interesting to me. This is the J’onn J’onzz who has locked up M’gann for the rest of her life for being a White Martian. While M’gann’s character doesn’t take any new twists, J’onn’s does. And it does enhance their overall relationship. M’gann showed mercy to the Greens, she helped J’onn when he was dying, and accepts J’onn’s psychic connection. Her arc is pretty static, but he returns the gesture, finally. He asks Kara and Alex to be present for the psychic link (because Supergirl again is always about family). J’onn accepts that his anger and vengeance have led to a void, or as he says: “Hates becomes the reason you live when you’ve lost everything.” He and M’gann turn to each other now to be there for each other like no one else can. They saw the same war. And they are now both survivors of the same war.

The big hero proving ground is on The Flash, and surprisingly it’s not Wally. It’s Cisco. Thus far, Cisco’s fears and insecurities have kept him from realizing and utilizing his powers to their fullest potential. Luckily, Gypsy has arrived to collect HR who violated Earth 19’s rules jumping to a parallel Earth, and she shares his powers. Maybe it’s that Cisco suddenly feels less alone in his powers, maybe it’s that he finds himself absolutely enamored by Gypsy, maybe it’s that he now hears that people believe in him because it took someone with HR’s face to convince him, but whatever it might be, Vibe bests Gypsy in their battle to the “death”, and he shows her mercy. HR gets to stay on Earth Prime but can never go back, and Gypsy has to go back empty-handed (but not without two huge bags of coffee, which she loves on Prime Earth. It’s not good on 19). It’s interesting that a lot of what defines being a hero this week is mercy: Cisco spares Gypsy, Kara spares LiveWire, Ollie still gives Tina a second chance, J’onn offers forgiveness to M’gann, even Darhk and Merlyn save Eobard.

While the men are doing a lot of good, it’s the women who take a lot of steps towards solid character development and are the stand-out stars this week.
Merlyn and Darhk dominate the proceedings on Legends (and Darhk even provides the opening narration, a great subversion that only works if you sit through those DC-CW voice-over prologues) and are a perfect mix of menacing and campy.
Mon-El also confesses his true feelings to Kara, his real motivations for wanting to work as a hero alongside her. When Kara doesn’t have anything totally concrete to say, he now has the awkward task of asking them to remain friends, and being co-workers. Kara may reciprocate the feelings, but for now, I like this development that she is unsure. It’s a quite different Kara from the first season.
Martin has to own up to Lily essentially being an aberration. It’s a unique and difficult situation, Martin admits that he never wanted children, but that now that he has one, he realizes he couldn’t believe that.
Curtis hasn’t quite adjusted to his altered role out of the field once more, but his sonic dampener proves vital to the proceedings of the episode. I am definitely loving the development of Rene and Curtis’ bromance. They couldn’t be more different, but are bonded together over what must feel like a major betrayal by Evelyn. They’re in the same “class” after all. And now they feel like they’re a bit on their own with the more senior members of Team Arrow. I like that they can be honest with each other, Curtis calls Rene a bit crazy, Rene tells Curtis to focus on his strengths.
The other great bromance this week: Cisco and HR finally have a heart-to-heart, which actually contrasts beautifully to what happened with the Supergirl team. Supergirl, Jimmy, Winn, and Mon-El leave on an unsure note. But Cisco, who steps up to fight for HR, tells him, “I made an investment in you.” Team Flash invests in each other.

But it’s the women who step up, who pull the strings, who inspire, and who take agency.
M’gann doesn’t give up. She accepts responsibility, and she accepts forgiveness.
Lily for her part comes to terms with her unique existence. She’s a huge help with unlocking the secrets of the medallion. In the end, their heart-to-heart is my favorite scene of the week.
Talia Al Ghul is shown to be a huge asset and inspiration for Ollie in becoming the Arrow. She practically originates the use of a bow and arrow, which in the flashback Ollie is adamantly against.
LiveWire is also responsible for deepening the complexity of her and Supergirl’s arch-rivalry. I was initially hesitant with all the talk of LiveWire becoming Supergirls rival. I thought they were fast-tracking something to have a Lex/Superman dynamic in place. But Leslie/LiveWire is really good. This episode, she’s a bit more of a victim, (which also leads to the evil scientist that kidnaps her to appropriately call her ‘a nasty woman’) but she still keeps her ability, both meta and psychological. She’s in Supergirl’s head. At the end, they agree not to kill each other and an understanding passes between them. LiveWire is a victim, yes. But this is who she is now, and she can own it and become her own person again. Supergirl is bound to bring her to justice, but also feels some responsibility outside of her own belief in the good of people to give her a chance at redemption.
Alex and Maggie don’t have too much to do, but they provide some comic relief to Supergirl, making bets with each other over Kara’s behavior.
And of course, Iris, who has been simply the victim of the impending Savitar thus far, steps up and takes control of the narrative. I like when she drops knowledge about goings-on in the city because she’s the journalist. It’s an easy way for them to have her contribute and they often forget this. But in this episode, Iris wants to bring in an arms dealer and her subsequent article to leave a legacy as a writer. She gets Wally to team up with her, appealing to his desire for them to be like their Flashpoint counterparts where they are a brother/sister crimefighting team. I’m a little sad that it’s revealed she’s doing it to further her own agenda, because I’d be legitimately interested in them working together more often. I also get bothered sometimes by “death wish” character developments, but Candice Patton keeps Iris grounded. She refuses to be the victim.

My only complaint about the storyline is Iris confesses that she doesn’t want to be like her mom, dying without having left anything of substance in the world. Barry responds with, “She left a son who is a hero. And a daughter who is the love of my life.” Ugh. She couldn’t be a daughter who is a brilliant writer? Or an intelligent and curious person who inspires?
It’s a small complaint though, in what is overall a charming, funny, dramatic, and action-packed Flash episode, that could be the strongest of this season so far.
Vibe VS. Gypsy features a brief cameo. Since the portal powers allow them to travel anywhere in the multiverse, they end up on Earth-38 right in Cat Grant’s old office, and Miss Tessmacher runs and hides from the brawl.

Flash himself cameos briefly in Arrow as well. Since Tina was a police officer in CCPD, Ollie calls Captain Singh for information. Singh refuses to believe he’s talking to the real Green Arrow, until Ollie still on the phone, quickly sends off a text, and a moment later we see Flash flash in and out of Singh’s office to leave a Post-It Note vouching for Ollie. It’s a brilliant moment, and a good moment of levity for the heavy Arrow show.

As heavy as it is though, after Felicity surfs the deep web to find some missing files that would exonerate him, Diggle’s going home. In the final scene, Tina reveals to Ollie that Tina was her undercover name and that her real name is… Dinah. Finally, some good news on Arrow.

Extra Notes
-  Jimmy takes a shot at Mon-El that feels like a subversion of how women fighting for the same man’s affections are often written. If this is purposeful, I like it a lot.
-  Being a fan of Kara as a Red Lantern in the comics, I enjoy seeing her anger manifest on the show as well.
-  Are Mon-El’s sunglasses while he’s crimefighting supposed to be a double inversion of Superman wearing regular glasses when he’s disguised as Clark Kent?
-  Speaking of Mon-El, two great line-readings from him: “I thought you were just a professionally handsome desk person.” And, when LiveWire tells him his Superman cosplay sucks, “That’s…not nice.”
-  I like the idea that Tom Cavanaugh is now playing the 3rd or 4th version of the same character, but that Wells is always bound to Cisco. Their relationship grows and deepens despite it being a completely different Wells from the one we started with.
-  That Rip Hunter cliffhanger at the end of Legends, though.
-  Two things I hate were both done on Arrow: I hate the scene of a computer geek having to explain internet slang to someone else. In this case, Felicity takes a moment to explain to Rory what ‘IRL’ means. I also hate when someone describes their relationship as, “Lovers.” Tina reveals to Ollie that her and her police partner were also sleeping together. But to call them ‘lovers’ in a serious scene seriously takes me out of it.

(Individual) Grades and (My) Power Ranking:
1.) The Flash – A
2.) Arrow – B+
3.) Supergirl – A-
4.) Legends Of Tomorrow – B

Best Scene: 
I was a big fan of Damien and Malcolm outwitting the Black Flash.

Best Cut-To:
Eobard: "Because they’re idiots."
Cut-to: The Legends bickering amongst themselves again.

Favorite Fight Scene:
In the flashback, Ollie fighting off a group of guards with a pistol is brutal.

Most Forgotten Character:
I would like Thea back now, please.

Favorite Tech Geek One-Liner (AKA, The Felicity/Cisco/Curtis/Ray/Nate Comic Relief Memorial One-Liner: 
Actually goes to Dr. Martin Stein this week. To Jefferson, when asked if he’s drinking gin. “Don’t be ridiculous! It’s brandy. What do you take me for, a sailor?”

Best Dramatic Moment:
Lily and Martin win for their scene. It’s the most comic book of circumstances, and they manage to ground it in believability.