Thursday, March 9, 2017

This Week In The DC-CWverse - Week 7 -- An Epic Encounter with Cadmus on Supergirl; Savitar is freed on The Flash; The Legends are in the head of Rip Hunter!

It’s felt like a lot of Supergirl towards the end of the fall and some of the spring so far has been a bit of a holding pattern. That changed a couple weeks ago with Mr. Mxy coming to visit and trying to marry Kara. The rest of the cast is also finally settling in to effective roles. We’ve gotten to see J’onn be a good authority figure, Alex has a more defined identity than simply Kara’s sister (although that is still their main theme, and we’ll get to that), Winn is doing more than being a sidekick, Jimmy has a plot though I’m still not sold on Guardian. Mon-El has been a great addition, rising above being a bland, white protagonist (although I do like the term Mxy coined for him: “blandsome.”) and I’m bummed that M’gann is gone so I hope she comes back at some point. I’m also still warming up to Lyra, but Maggie Sawyer is a definite winner.

I’m always for a TV show having less episodes than it does. I think it allows for tighter storytelling, and more efficient development. Both Supergirl and The Flash had holding pattern stretches this season. I think Flash can handle it, since so much happens during their big episodes. Supergirl’s got it a bit rougher, because besides the fact that Flash is generally already better, Supergirl’s in its second season and should be making a lot of effort to avoid the slump (which it does for the most part, though just barely more often than I’d like it) and it’s also jumped networks meaning it’s had to reestablish a viewing base after it had just barely established its first.

Supergirl needs more arcs like this, and needs a grander feel like this. If more episodes were two-parters with this kind of build, Supergirl’s holdover episodes for would quickly be a thing of the past. This second part addressing the supposed betrayal of Jeremiah Danvers, Alex’s father and Kara’s adopted dad, is the pacing and character development the show needs to be running constantly. It was a huge episode for Alex. We got to see this fully realized character: a woman, an agent, a person in a relationship, a sister, a daughter, a moralist, an idealist, and a monster. Her “interrogation” scene as the bad cop was perfect. I put interrogation in quotations because that’s a pretty liberal interpretation of a questioning. She beat that guy into a bloody pulp, and I loved every moment of it. She knew it was against procedure, but I loved her reply to J’onn who said he’s no good to us dead: “I would’ve stopped before then!” Alex and Maggie is already my favorite relationship on the show because it’s so beautifully portrayed. There was something really nice about the way Maggie supported Alex. Again, there was an expectation of something cringey, but the actors bring such earnestness to the relationship that it works. It was also not, “I believe you, you have to fight for what is right!” it was, “Let’s make a plan.” I’m just used to certain conventions, two of them being subverted here: the level-headed partner is not usually presented as an equal. They’re given occasional moments of brilliance, even though they’re older or smarter. The other is that significant others working together usually has them be heart-led. Alex is definitely heart-led, but Maggie balances her out instead of enabling her.

In the first part, we finally got to see J’onn as a capable fighter. I found it incredibly weird that he kept getting his ass kicked when he was partnering with Superman. Or that he was constantly handicapped against White Martians or Cyborg Superman. He’s finally started phasing and I’m very happy to see it. In this second part, the writers finally gave us an incredibly Martian Manhunter moment, where he shapeshifts into Jeremiah to test where Alex’s head is in all of the turmoil. When she’s poised to betray the DEO for her father, J’onn reveals himself and suspends her. I love the peacekeeper J’onn J’onzz, but the endlessly pragmatic Martian Manhunter is the character I fell in love with. Alex definitely feels betrayed and rightly so, but J’onn is not completely in the wrong either. Alex is emotionally compromised and at that point, we didn’t know what Jeremiah’s loyalties were.

We do get a better sense of it during this episode, and see that Jeremiah’s influence is significant: Lillian’s plan was to exterminate the alien population hiding on Earth. Jeremiah has managed to move them to having them all deported on a captured alien frigate. In a wonderful nod to the Lois & Clark show, Lillian references Nietzche’s Superman (ubermensch) and tells Jeremiah, “You’re the only Superman we need.” Oh, Dean.

Kara is facing a big dilemma this episode as well, and similar to how I think there needs to be a good Ollie conflict once in a while, there needs to be a Kara conflict that doesn’t involve her being Supergirl. Of course, she’s at odds with Snapper, her boss. The article she wants to publish would warn earth-based aliens that Cadmus has their identities and to be careful. Snapper doesn’t want it published without sources and can’t even verify that such a list even exists. Kara can’t confirm it without exposing the entire DEO. Even a face-to-face interview with Supergirl isn’t enough to convince Snapper, who tells her that her word alone is not gospel. What I like about this arc is that Kara has learned to politic a bit, and knows how to play Snapper. When she offers up Supergirl as an interview, you see the most animation in his face he’s ever likely to muster. Snapper himself providing an unwavering philosophy on journalism’s job to present neutral facts and the truth (properly sourced) is a not-so-subtle commentary on today’s endless barrage of not only fake news but speculative 24-hour news cycles. If Supergirl continues oblique references like this to real world culture, I welcome it. They’re already doing wonders with feminism.

        In order to figure out Cadmus’ plan, Kara turns to Lena once more. Despite an interstitial scene where we see that Lena’s assistant is in cahoots with Lillian and tracking Lena’s moves (going so far as to try and have her killed) I can’t shake this worrisome feeling that Lena is in her own way a traitor. She’s a Luthor, after all. So it’s hard to shake that feeling. If that’s what this is all eventually leading to, I’m gonna be pissed. Kara and Lena is a great dynamic, a wonderful subversion of Superman/Lex, and an equally great subversion of two powerful women competing. They are friends who support each other, and help each other. Outside of Alex/Maggie and now Kara/Mon-El, Lena/Kara is my favorite.

        Alex has a good comic moment in the episode, once she and Maggie enact their plan to get into Cadmus’ hideout, they down two agents who are attempting to bring in an alien. Alex and Maggie split off and kiss. The alien smiles creepily and says, “I wish I had what you two had.” Maggie tells him to get lost. Alex says the same, but calls him ‘Bill.’ I just love the fact that Alex knows the creepy-ass alien.

       Kara’s also got a good comic moment, when her arc resolves. She is debating whether to independently post her article on a blog, because she’s concerned about the safety of aliens. Mon-El tells her she should, but he calls it “Blobbing.” Even after she corrects him, when she finally does post it, she says, “It’s blobbed!” and it was frikkin’ adorable. Mon-El was reduced to comic relief in this episode, but that scene was important for him. He told her it was her decision and that she always knows what’s right. For all the rough spots over the past couple weeks, I do love this relationship and Mon-El learning to treat Kara with the respect she deserves.

       The central theme of the whole story rests with Jeremiah and the driving force behind his decisions is fear. He knew Cadmus would kill his daughters and he would do everything to protect them. The emotional climax of the episode was Alex telling Jeremiah that being his daughters, he should’ve known they’d never want others to suffer for their well-being. But Jeremiah stands justified, because he’s a father. It’s a beautiful argument, with no right and wrong. Ultimately, the greater good is served, because Jeremiah chooses to help Alex. Alex, without hesitation, jumps on the launching frigate to attempt to keep it from jumping to lightspeed across the universe. All of Alex’s decision were done out of fear as well: she was afraid for her father’s life, then for what the DEO would do if they got to him before she did. Kara also allowed fear to lead her, even though she also had a rationale behind her decisions.

       All of it culminates in the frigate preparing to leave Earth, with no way to override the controls. Alex is on the ship trying to hack it but unable to. Winn and the DEO aren’t able to help her. Only Supergirl can help her. This is probably my favorite manifestation of the central theme of this show. Supergirl, outside the ship, is going to push the ship back from launch. The show has always been about sisters. It’s about family. How Alex and Kara are always there for each other. How they can only do what they do because of each other. Alex jumps on that ship to save aliens because of who Kara is and what she means to her. Kara pushes with everything she has to save the one person who loves her as an equal and family. When she feels like she has nothing more to give, it’s Alex who tells her, through the cockpit window, you can do more. And it works. I love this moment. Like I said, when they manage to bring that central theme home, it makes for great television. There’s almost no dialogue between the two sisters, but their looks convey volumes.

       One stray moment I loved, after Kara sadly gets fired from her job for posting the article independently, Mon-El comforts her and tells her she’ll get another job. Kara argues that she’d found what was important to her. It made her who she was. Mon-El tells her Kara is Supergirl. That’s who she is. She says back, “Supergirl is what I can do. Kara is who I am.” I like the line. I don’t totally agree with the sentiment, because I think the superhero/alter ego dynamic is much more complex than “one that I do, and one that I am” but it adds to Kara’s character that this is how she views it at least right now.

       I try not to read spoilers beforehand, but once in a while I see a couple. So I knew about Teri Hatcher being set to appear on the show soon. So her as a wandering Daxamite was not a surprise for me. Still, it’s a treat to see her, and I’m excited for a Lois & Clark reunion! BUT. The one that DID take me by surprise… was HERCULES!? Guy takes off his hood and I go, “What’s KEVIN SORBO doing here!?” Awesome. I’m very excited, but of course I’m nervous for what this all means for Mon-El and Kara.

The Flash
“The Wrath of Savitar”
       Whenever a show doesn’t immediately resolve a cliffhanger, I’m always slightly miffed. We’re unsure what happened with Barry’s proposal in the cold open, but they make a big announcement to the family soon enough. In the cold open, Barry is training Wally to get fast enough to save Iris in the future. He clears the time and it’s a feel-good moment, except that Wally is seeing visions of Savitar, like he did in the tag last week.

        Yo, Wally? You need to tell people when you’re seeing visions of the big bad for the season. It’s an ongoing problem in this episode especially, but Wally’s incredibly reckless sometimes. When Savitar takes the form of Wally’s mom later to get him to stop running, only Jesse manages to snap him out of it. Even after that, after seeing how much influence he has over Wally, he insists to Jesse that he needs to handle it on his own. Yo, Wally? This is a problem.

        That being said, I do like Wally on the team. I enjoy his dynamic with HR, who has proven a worthy mentor. And I love him and Jesse. I’m glad Jesse has stayed, and I’m glad they made that decision together. It plays into a reveal with Barry that I’ll talk about later.

         I must take this moment once again to say that this show does not deserve the treasure that is Jesse L. Martin. When Iris and Barry announce their engagement, everyone is overjoyed, but Joe is restrained initially. When he cries a little and congratulates them both, it’s pretty moving. Everyone constantly reminds me that this show has no business being as good as it is, but a big reason it is, is this man.
         When the team realizes that the disposal of the Philosopher’s Stone may not have been as foolproof as once thought, Wally finally reveals he’s seeing Savitar and the tension and apprehension causes them to put Julian under once again to mind-link with Savitar, who is lost in the Speed Force. I found myself legitimately chilled by the first possession scene. Tom Felton’s a great actor, Savitar’s voice modification is my favorite in the shows because it’s powerful and scary (not as gritty as Zoom’s which I appreciate), and everyone totally nailing being on edge for the scene made it for me. Savitar reveals that he’s confidently set on returning at any time now to exact his revenge. It’s one of the more effective scenes that they’ve done as an ensemble.

          Barry confronts some of the acolytes, maybe they have a piece of the stone, which is what Savitar means when he says he’s returning. I liked the touch that this rando acolyte knew about Barry and Iris’ wedding, when he said, “Better move the wedding date up,” before getting knocked the fuck out. I didn’t like that he knew about it. Creepy.

          But speaking of the wedding, Cisco vibes Wally into the future scene to see what he can glean and one important detail is that he notices Iris doesn’t have a wedding ring on. He puts 2 and 2 together and confronts Barry in front of everyone to confess why he really proposed to Iris. It’s another beautifully acted scene, with some complexity from Barry and Wally and some trepidation from Iris. It offered some good development for Wally and Iris. Wally in the immediate, because he finally got to stand up to Barry (who has been, while training him, kinda hard on him) and Iris later on, when she sits Barry down at the dinner table to tell him how fucked up it was that he did this. Flash has a tendency to oversimplify relationships sometimes, so I’m happy to see this wrinkle be introduced. Even though we all know Barry loves Iris, and we know how Iris feels about Barry, this takes away from the beauty of the proposal somewhat. Iris is absolutely right.

         A second twist further frays the group, and it minorly excuses a lack of direction for Caitlin over the past few episodes. Turns out she was the one to betray the team, but not in the way everyone expected in Killer Frost. She was the one holding a piece of the Philosopher’s Stone. She’d hoped to utilize it to permanently suppress her powers but had been thus far unsuccessful. Julian is shaken, as are the rest of the team. It’s especially painful to watch Julian and Caitlin fall apart though, because I was really liking them. And it’s true what Caitlin says, I would think they can understand each other the most. That being said, Caitlin’s decision was dangerous. And sure enough, it brings Savitar back.
Wally, like I said, goes by himself to confront Savitar. Savitar uses him to replace him in the Speed Force. What that means, we don’t know for sure, but it rings very Rebirth comics right now (Pre-New 52 Wally West is lost for ten years in the Speed Force after Flashpoint. I was curious if this was going to be a plot element after the show actually did Flashpoint). But it turns out I was right: Wally suffers a fate worse than death. If Savitar is to be believed, wherever he was sent he is in some way suffering. Barry feels bad and is stabbed for his troubles. Caitlin apologizes to him and he accepts, because he knows all too well that fear makes people do terrible things.

       We saw on Supergirl fear drive a whole family into a series of rash decisions. And Barry like I said knows what fear can make him do. It led to the proposal, hell it led to Flashpoint. Unfortunately, where the Supergirl team is better for it, it looks like the fear has frayed Family Flash in several places.

        Overall, the acting in this episode was stellar. There was a lot of emotion to be had. Caitlin and Julian finally kicked it into another gear, Wally and Jesse I think have a really natural chemistry, Joe was excellent (his heartbreaking plea to Barry at the end was tearjerking. “I will not lose Wally.) Iris turned in a strong scene as well. Like Supergirl, Flash has been spinning its wheels a bit, so I’m glad to see Savitar re-introduced in a big way (he’s a great speedster foe) and I’m glad to see some of the arcs progress. Supergirl affected me much more emotionally, but Barry and Co. put together a more cohesive episode.

        It’s heartbreaking to see fear be so controlling of Barry. If only a certain other green-clad friend of his who wears a cool ring powered by will existed in this universe to help him overcome that yellow shade of fear…

“Land of the Lost” 

         With Arrow taking a much-needed break this week (and doing a good simmer on the last episode’s cliffhanger) it was up to Legends to bring us home. And I kinda think they kicked a lot of ass.

          The episode was so deliciously sci-fi fantasy plus ridiculous camp and I love that blend. It all starts with a huge crash into the past. I feel like the Waverider crashing sequence is the most expensive CGI sequence of the week. I mean, taking a brainwashed Rip Hunter on board the Waverider as a prisoner is literally the worst idea. But there he is. No one the wiser, and soon enough he causes the crash.

          They’ve landed in Ray’s old neighborhood from when the Legends got scattered through time. He, Nate, and Amaya have to recover a vital piece of the Legends from T-Rex infested ground. It’s up to Sara and Jax to try and recover Rip Hunter from within his own mind.

        I honestly stopped taking notes because I was so invested in what was happening next in this. I thought, what batshit thing is going to happen next. It’s kind of fun that Rip, played by Arthur Darvill, gets to be his own sort of Doctor from Doctor Who. Once Sara and Jax are jacked into Rip’s mind, it stops being Inception, and gets a bit “Wife of the Doctor” episode from Doctor Who. In that episode, the TARDIS comes to be embodied in a woman who is very fond of the Doctor, as his one constant companion. In Rip’s mind, Jax eventually finds the physical manifestation of Gideon, the Waverider’s super-intelligent, on-board AI. Gideon’s been trying keep the “real” Rip safe inside his mind.

        One thing that I had forgotten until Rip mentions it when he’s returned to normal, is that Rip hasn’t been Rip far longer than Eobard’s brainwash a couple episodes ago. He wiped his mind and hid in the 70s at the end of Season 1. This has been a long time coming. I didn’t understand at first why Rip would kiss Gideon at the end, but after putting that back together, it made more sense.
The wiring setup to hook Sara, Jax, and Rip together is very Matrix, but the adventure inside is much more Inception. Sara and Jax meet mind versions of themselves and the other Legends (and they are jerks) who are designed to keep Rip’s mind blocked. Their goal is to make Rip understand that he’s dreaming, which is very much like planting the idea. Similarly to our other two shows, Rip made the initial decision out of fear and having no choice, and it is currently fear that holds him back. As soon as he accepts who he is and what he is, he can return to normal.

        The reunion is subdued. Everyone is pretty trauma-struck, considering what Rip had just put them through over the last few episodes, not to mention leaving behind no means of finding him when the original team was split. I enjoyed the scene of him greeting everyone again and trying to make amends.

       This episode is rather unique in the Legends canon so far, because we’re completely devoid of villains. In Rip’s mind, the Legends battle themselves. In the pre-historic wild, we get little intervention from Gertrude the T-Rex until the end, where Amaya’s touch pacifies her. As Amaya says, “We talked woman-to-woman.” So no Legion, and no other historic villains. We get much more character development from the team as they battle within themselves. It’s a testament to the strength of the ensemble that something like this works. They basically have a MacGuffin plot coupled with a journey to the center of the maze plot and it’s capped with a dream kiss between a pilot and his AI co-pilot. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

        My only complaint, and it’s minor, is that Mick reveals the idea of breaking into Rip’s subconscious. He says the Time Masters did it to him as Chronos all the time and he saw it done to others. Gideon reveals that she’s aware of the operation, but that it is incredibly dangerous, and even cites that Rip forbade its use as barbaric. The problem is, when they first brought Rip onto the Waverider, Gideon diagnosed that she was unable to re-wire Rip’s brain through their magical medical chair because he simply wasn’t there anymore. Why didn’t Gideon reveal her knowledge of the procedure before? Even deeper, why doesn’t Gideon seem to know Rip actually IS still in there mentally, because they seemingly formulated this plan together. It makes it even more muddy when real world Gideon acknowledges their kiss supposedly inside Rip’s mind. If all that’s true, it makes the delay in attempting this procedure seem odd.

        But overall, it’s still a solid entry from Legends. They’re in third this week, but it’s beautiful to have Rip back and in better form than before. Like I said, Supergirl and Flash mark higher for pulling out of a hold. Supergirl was more emotionally resonant. The Flash put together a solid story to bring back a great villain. Legends has been chugging toward bringing back this great hero. Legends delivered as expected, the other two delivered a lot. I also think what pushes Supergirl over Flash is a fitting conclusion to a two-part arc.