Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This Week In The DC-CWverse - Week 4 -- Supergirl VS. The Luthors, and Arrow Takes On Guns

A lighter fourth week as two of the shows (your friend and mine, Flash; and the Legends) are on hiatus for Valentine’s, but the remaining two shows decide to double down on their increased prominence this week, and it’s a good thing too.

Arrow I think is still suffering ill will from its previous two seasons lost in a kind of plot hell. This season has done wonders to course-correct that: ending the Felicity/Ollie love story chief among them, but adding the new recruits and giving them a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, de-powering the main villain and linking them to Ollie’s past, placing Diggle and Thea in key places to move their respective stories forward, and Ollie also being mayor are huge helps as well. The characters Adrian Chase, Susan Williams, and now Tina/Dinah are solid character additions as well. The flashbacks have also been better utilized this season, better narrating relevant storylines and even occasionally flashing back to the first season, linking it to one of Arrow’s better years.

All this to say though, for everything that Arrow has been doing right as of late, it needed “Spectre of the Gun” to prove that all this wasn’t just retcon, but building a more solid foundation. We’ve now seen that Susan is not someone to trust (and how sad are we that Ollie as of right now doesn’t know but we as the audience do? Oh, dramatic irony, thou art cruel) and with the return of Thea this week (I cheered when the elevator doors opened to reveal her standing with Ollie) who still doesn’t like her, we understand how founded her feelings are. It’s also given us more development for Quentin other than being a drunken mourning father. He is now taking his deputy mayor duties seriously, and has taken Rene on as an assistant. It’s logical, strong development.

The episode manages to accomplish two things that I think Arrow needed: it gave us Ollie as an effective mayor, not just as Green Arrow. One emphasis in particular of Arrow this season is the double lives of the characters. Flash doesn’t have this emphasis, Barry and The Flash are one contiguous character. The Legends need no such differentiation outside of space and time. Of course, Kara and Supergirl deal with the duality a lot, and we’ve been seeing that come to the forefront with Mon-El as of late. But Ollie is unique, in that his alter ego is as influential as the “other guy.” Imagine the immense consequences of Green Arrow being revealed to be the mayor. Kara is at the end of the day, just a reporter. Ollie however is the highest-profile figure in Star City, so the duality is more interesting to me. What I liked about this episode that was pulled off better than other episodes with a similar premise is that it needed to be Ollie that solved the problem of the week, not Green Arrow.

And the problem of the week is an immense one, an ambitious one, almost out of place in this very alternate DC-CWverse. Gun control, gun violence, the second amendment, and the politics of the rights and wrongs of owning, selling, buying, registering, and carrying guns is a huge, messy, ugly topic of conversation. It is not one that can be solved in an hour-long comic book TV adaptation. Although they don’t try to, and Arrow takes great pains in containing the tragedy and the ensuing political action to the city in which it is, and in making this a very specific branch of a farther-reaching conversation, it is initially a cringe-worthy feeling episode. Rene advocates owning guns and we see why in his flashbacks, to a drug-addled wife murdered by her dealer, and the daughter who was taken from them. Curtis does not, and he voices the side of black citizens who feel specifically targeted by recent gun violence. Felicity is everyone’s party-planning aunt, who insists that politics be left out of social interaction. Quentin’s a cop who sees the necessity for registration, Diggle’s a military man who sees similarly. Dinah’s a former cop who doesn’t. Ollie’s caught in the middle, believing he owes the victims of the shooting spree in City Hall some form of justice.

What makes it cringe-worthy is that the gun debate comes strong out of the gate, with Rene and Curtis immediately politicizing the City Hall shooting spree. (Exacerbating everyone’s point of views is Rene’s use of a firearm that considering his record should not be allowed to own one. Considering he stopped the shooter though, at least temporarily, he remains steadfast.) We already know the limitations and constraints of the show, and we know they’re not going to magically solve this debate because we know all too well in the real world that it is as of yet unsolved, with many choosing to believe that “this is simply what it is.” But the discomfort doesn’t last too long. Because the emphasis remains on Ollie and how he is going to close up this issue. Guided by Quentin and Thea (who I’m glad are both taking more active roles this season) Ollie forgoes the Arrow (although Arrow does hunt down the name of the shooter for a segment) to guide legislation as the Mayor. He bunkers down with one of the city counselors who shot down the Registration ordinance in the previous administration. As he says, there must be something they can agree on.

It’s what the rest of the cast slowly learns too. Rene and Curtis being the main mouth pieces for the opposing sides, come to an understanding. Curtis breaks it down with Felicity, getting at the true heart of the matter: why don’t people talk about things anymore? Everyone shut down and anything we could disagree about was seen as rude if we brought it up in public. It’s a sentiment that rings true in the current political climate, and is one of the truer moments of the episode.

Ollie’s confrontation of the shooter makes this a personal moment, and gives the Green Arrow alter ego a real purpose. We get to see the power and influence and trust of the mayor. The other thing that I think Arrow has needed has been a good, unclear villain devoid of powers. Ultimately, the man responsible for the shooting is no one connected to Prometheus or Darhk, or Tobias Church or some darker conspiracy of coordinated shootings. It’s just a man who lost a wife and kids to another random act of violence. Everyone is mad, he says. Everyone feels powerless. Again, it’s prevalent commentary on the state of things these days, and we never feel he is a true villain. But he does embody true frustrations, and true fantasizations of how we would maybe like to deal with those problems, even though we know better and know it solves nothing, only causes more pain and loss.
There’s a lot that the Arrow episode manages to get right. Like I said, the treatment of its villain is sympathetic, but he still faces justice for the people he killed. Ollie makes a decision, he weighs the sides but understands what side he has to come down on. He passes Gun Registration laws that satisfying the opposing councilwoman, as they are drafted by Rene, a responsible gun owner who also acknowledges the other side. (Tellingly of course, we never see what the order actually entails. Like I said, it’s too big of a conversation for them to have an easy solution by episode’s end.) The conversation between Felicity and Curtis is an unexpected gem of a scene and one of my favorite scenes in a strong line of them from Arrow’s last couple of episodes.

Two stray thoughts before we cross over to Earth 38:
I like Dinah and Diggle as a pair. Diggle really making sure Dinah feels safe and feels like she belongs is a great character development opportunity for both of them. My fear? I’m just trained to recognize certain beats after years of TV drama. I’m worried that this leads to romantic interest. Best case, Dinah admits she likes Diggle. Worst case, it’s an affair. I’m hoping I’m wrong, and it’s just a case of the actors giving takes that were way more comfortable than they really should have been.

Chase is shot during the City Hall massacre so he remains in the hospital at his wife’s request. Later, when Arrow is interrogating a gangleader on the street, Vigilante shows up and kills the gangleader. Now, we all know at this point Vigilante is Chase. They’ve been dropping hints about it all along, and if you actually go to the IMDB page, Chase’s actor is actually listed as the actor for both Chase and Vigilante. (This is what spoiled it for me, although I already had this thought long before.) So was this a red herring to all of us? Chase looks barely able to move and Vigilante seemed pretty mobile, jumping off that scaffold at the end of the scene. Or are we really supposed to believe that there is yet another masked hero whose identity is yet to be revealed? Either way, it’s interesting.

Supergirl also needed an episode like this. So far, I’ve been enjoying the sophomore season of Kara and friends, with two major minuses: the loss of Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant is a much more glaring blow than even I realized at the time she left; and the Jimmy Olsen/Guardian storyline is just not as interesting to me as the screentime it’s getting. I also think of the four shows, it’s struggling the most to keep up. While Arrow is giving us a strong course correction that’s paying off, Legends has trimmed the fat and given us a better focus, and The Flash remains as strong as its first season, the episodes of Supergirl have been good, not great. They’ve had moments, but not quite as much to bring you back week to week as would be required of an average viewer.

So something like “Luthors” comes along and manages to give us some good development for the main characters, as well as a compelling villain and hero dynamic amongst the eponymous Luthor family. Lillian, who heads CADMUS, and is still causing problems for all the alien friends of Earth, is back and is appealing to Lena’s sympathetic side, her need to feel like she belongs. Lillian’s pure evil done right. While various portrayals of her son Lex may come off as misguided but well-meaning, there is no sugar-coating Lillian. She hates aliens. She knows that destroying them is what’s best for Earth. And she alone has the solution to make it happen. Huh, a narcissistic xenophobe who blames aliens for all our problems. I wonder where they got that idea?

What makes the episode truly inspiring though, is Kara’s insistence that Lena is innocent in the proceedings. It’s taking the boy scout benefit of the doubt and revving it to its fullest. After all, when would an El ever trust a Luthor? Everyone is trying to talk her out of it, but Kara sticks to her guns. What I enjoy about it is something that feeds into a larger argument about Superman and his superfamily in general. People believe it’s naïveté, but Kara is not naïve. Based on what she knows, she is forming her opinion. The fact that it clashes with everyone else’s, from Alex and J’onn to Jimmy and Snapper, does not somehow make her naïve. But it’s something we do throw out when a minority opinion is expressed. Feeding back into what we were discussing about Arrow, it’s indicative of us never talking anymore. We prefer to be validated by someone who shares our opinion, rather than challenged by someone who opposes that opinion with one of their own. When and why did we stop listening to each other? Taking each other’s ideas and opinions into consideration? I don’t know, but it leads to situations like this. These are fictional characters, but how much does the situation ring true? A person who simply association is seen as guilty of crimes they did not commit. One person alone believes they are telling the truth, but the world dismisses it, because it doesn’t jibe with what they already know. In this case: the Luthors are bad, therefore Lena is also bad. Nothing Kara says is all that convincing, but it’s still not taken into consideration not because she lacks compelling evidence, but simply because it makes more sense to them: Lex was bad, Lillian is bad, Lena must be bad also.

I also love that Lena is innocent, and that Kara was right. There’s a possible tease in the tag that Lena may turn at some point, but for now, everything was done right. Everyone’s very much in pure support role to Kara this week, but it does need to be all about her, for an episode as important as this. Supergirl is still the reason to watch the show, and this episode showed that. A protagonist who is willing to fight for what’s right despite the odds, that sounds like the House of El to me.

My two closing thoughts are my least favorite and most favorite relationship moments:
Kara and Mon-El have a chance at episode’s end to talk, and Kara is ready to admit her feelings for him. There’s a kiss coming, before Mr. Mxyzptlk interrupts to tease next week’s episode. I think Kara and Mon-El are adorable and it’s been going right. The moment I hate is as Kara closes in for the kiss, she takes off her glasses. It’s so stupid. Do people just not kiss with glasses on? I wear glasses, I’ve kissed girls with glasses on. Hell, I’ve kissed girls who also have glasses on, we don’t just remove our glasses to kiss, we know how to do it with glasses on! It happens only in TV and movies! People remove their glasses, and most blatantly, they do it JUST BEFORE THE KISS. It’s so obvious and so telling. It’s purely for the audience to know a kiss is happening. It’s a character who literally never takes off their glasses suddenly taking off their glasses because reasons!? Ugh, it’s so trite. They’re lucky they’re so charming.

On the other hand, the top of the episode sees the whole gang waiting in the space bar for Alex to finally bring in this person she’s been dating to meet everyone. Of course, everyone’s ironically saying ‘he’, Kara is nervous. Alex arrives with Maggie, and introduces her, though initially not as “my girlfriend.” But everyone is quick to catch on, and quick to embrace it. Winn and her play pool. Jimmy hugs Alex, asking why didn’t you say already. J’onn only smiles knowingly. Alex: “You knew!?” J’onn: “It wasn’t my secret to reveal.” Perfect. They continue to do right by this whole relationship.