Thursday, March 16, 2017

This Week In The DC-CWverse - Week 8 -- The Flash returns to the Speed Force; The Legends go to the Moon; Arrow has run out of moves in their Chess game

The Flash
“Into The Speed Force”
When Flash can balance its soap opera elements with meaningful action or meaningful scenes where the characters actually take the time to learn something and progress, that’s when it’s at its best. What was frustrating last week was Wally being taught a lesson and then failing to learn from it immediately after. It’s something we see with Barry often too. Flashpoint is now the most significant of these failings. But “Into The Speed Force” challenges Barry to face the consequences of those failings. The Speed Force, using fallen characters who died in place of The Flash, even calls him out for this: Barry promises one thing and does another, such as using his powers as Flash to move on, instead going back into the past to save his mother again.

Barry recognizes that his fear is what has gotten him here, and at the top of the episode he seems prepared to accept his comeuppance, to right all his past wrongs, and finally move on. The episode opens in voiceover, and the cast doing their Mannequin Challenge a few months too late. Everyone is focused on how to keep track of Barry while he travels within the Speed Force to retrieve Wally. There’s a ton of great little moments in this episode that are worthwhile, even if the sum doesn’t quite equal the same value for the episode. One in particular is when Barry pulls Iris aside to talk to her and after looking down at her finger, he notices the lack of ring, asks simply, “Iris, did I lose you?” The actors are able to pull a lot of heartbreak from such a simple line, and I did enjoy the line’s structure. A nuanced line with a lot of meaning. It shouldn’t work, but they bring so much humanity to the roles.

The way Barry’s arrival into the Speed Force, set in the CCPD, with the shots, accompaniment, and silence, garnered some genuine tension from me. I wasn’t quite sure what Barry was going to encounter in his second visit to the Speed Force. What was going to be the significance of arriving it what looked like the CCPD, or how was he going to find Wally? His discussion with Speed Force Eddie starts to lead us toward their main point. A lot of people have sacrificed for Barry to be standing here as The Flash, for the opportunity to be a hero, a hero that could stand for something and be inspiring (not to mention the hero Iris seems to think he is) yet he has instead insisted on being fearful, on holding back, and allowing so many others to take responsibility for his screw-ups.

Are we really supposed to believe that those elevator doors closing really stopped that Time Wraith?

Back in Central City, everyone’s a bit at a loss as to their next step with Barry retrieving Wally. Jesse is insistent on figuring out how to track Savitar now that he is loose on Earth. Everyone else thinks it’s too dangerous to tackle Savitar with only one speedster present, and HR puts his foot in his mouth when he says that we should wait for the “real Flash” to get back. Again, it’s intriguing to see two actors play a completely new dynamic in the same show. Just like last week when I said the show does not deserve Jesse L. Martin, similarly it likewise does not deserve Tom Cavanaugh. HR was rather grating in this episode, and so I felt the same satisfaction Jesse did when she finally punched him out. I understand the resistance of Jesse to listen to HR because she believe it’s him attempting to replace her father. Even though I really don’t think that’s what he’s trying to do (he really does see all of them as his big gang of friends) but nevertheless, I appreciated him changing up his tactics, and appealing to her sensible side. He’s also right there to help her out when she still decides to go after Savitar alone.

Back in the Speed Force, Barry is confronted by Speed Force Leonard Snart and boy, have we missed Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold. It’s deliciously insightful, and also finally gets to the heart of Barry’s problems. Despite his promise to move forward, he has continued to harbor on the past, while also inadvertently allowing others to make sacrifices for him. In Snart’s case, in his honor. Eddie and Ronnie were the same. And think of everything others have lost: Joe, Iris, Cisco, Caitlin, and others. Only Snart’s slimy smooth delivery could convey to him that he’s being a coward. Even now, Wally is here because Barry failed to do what he was supposed to do. It’s interesting to think at this moment is when Jay Garrick arrives from Earth 3 to save Barry from Speed Force Snart, a character as selfless as The Flash should be, a trait made even more clear by his sacrifice at the end of the episode.

Barry and Jay find Wally reliving his worst moment in a quantum lock: seeing his mother die in the hospital. They remove him, realizing how if Savitar was forced to experience his worst moment for an extended period of time, and Barry’s the one who put him there, it’s no wonder he hates Barry. Of course, the Speed Force is more or less an eye for an eye, so a speedster has to remain to replace Wally. That’s why Jay is here. Yet again, it’s someone taking a bullet for Barry when he’s the one who should be taking Wally’s place. That’s what he said he was going to do all along too. But, it’s also true that the bigger problem at play here is Savitar, and Barry is the only one fast enough to stop him. The Speed Force, with Jay’s sacrifice, allow for their safe return to Earth to deal with Savitar.

Two stray moments I loved in this sequence were Snart referencing Jay’s “Golden Age” heroism. It’s true. The heroes were just taller, prouder, more pure, more idealistic. It was a different time when they were created. It’s almost like a different Earth. To that, I loved Jay’s line, “I’ve run a hell of a race.” You sure have, John Wesley Shipp. And we thank you for it. (I hope this isn’t the end of it, though.)

Here’s a problem I have with a lot of TV shows and stories: there’s a secondary couple that I end up being way more invested in. I don’t know why, but Wally and Jesse just clicks for me in a way that Barry and Iris just doesn’t. Maybe it’s that their love story is so overwrought with twists and turns at this point, maybe it’s the fact that in this Savitar plot Iris is battling constantly for agency in the proceedings, but I think it’s most likely just a problem of structure: I’m not invested in a love that is “destined.” Again, that’s for any story. If the main romance is about destiny and fate, while it all sounds flowery and beautiful, doesn’t give the relationship any dramatic stakes. They will always find their way to each other again, which I agree is something Barry requires in his line of work, but it doesn’t do much to add dramatic tension to a situation. When the shellshocked Wally returns home, and he and Jesse share a private moment, they meet as equals, both speedsters, both worried about each other, and both experiencing trauma. Jesse’s decision to take Jay’s place on Earth 3 mirrors the final scene with Iris and Barry, but there’s a genuine investment from me and sadness in seeing them part ways for now. Wally could use someone like Jesse more than ever in this moment while he recovers. And despite how the past couple episodes went, the show is better off with Jesse on Earth 1.

It also begs the question of what Earth 2 is doing without their speedster.

And speaking of Barry and Iris… It does seem like Barry’s learned his lesson. And it’s one that Iris also has been teaching him, though I’m sure this isn’t how she expected it would turn out. Barry comes home to tell Iris that part of his problem has been holding back, working to prevent the future, basically everything has been done out of fear and that has been what is causing their missteps: Wally’s Speed Force foray, Caitlin stealing the Stone, all of Barry’s decisions. He needs space to focus and motivate. And that means space from Iris. It’s a big, unexpected blow to Iris. But I think is necessary. Like I said, it’s been an overwrought relationship since they showed her death in the future. The drama hasn’t quite unfolded in the way that I’d hoped. I’d hoped Iris would have more utility in it all, that Barry would be more proactive and willing to work together, and that the team would be invested in keeping themselves together. So I think this re-focus is important. Barry has yet another life he’s put in jeopardy: and Jay doesn’t deserve the hell he’s in thanks to all this.

Legends Of Tomorrow
When Legends can be delightfully light with its science side of sci-fi, and can make me believe in both its comedy and drama, it’s a masterpiece of a show for what it is. This is another episode featuring yet another good period setting. The team meets up with Henry Heywood, the JSA’s Commander Steel who was dropped in the 60s to hide his piece of the Spear of Destiny. Turns out he joined the burgeoning space program and his spear is hidden on the moon, in the Apollo 11’s flag. Too bad Eobard has figured this out and took the place of one of the astronauts on Apollo 13, headed for the moon as well.

Martin, Mick, and Jax infiltrate ground control to run interference. Sara takes the rest of the crew into space to follow the Apollo module. Ray takes his suit to the landing module to confront Eobard. Everything goes awry in their ensuing fistfight, mostly because we haven’t seen a good Ray Palmer screw-up in a while! (Sara tells him not to be spotted in his miniature size, we cut to Ray staring eye-to-eye with Eobard, who’s already seen him.) The module crash lands on the Moon, unable to return. The Waverider has to protect the command module of the Apollo from an asteroid shower, disabling much of its capability. Thankfully, the ground control team keeps everyone distracted long enough for them to figure out a plan, in one of the best scenes in the show’s history possibly ever. The show does not deserve the marvelous acting chops of Victor Garber, nor does it deserve his amazing voice, which he gets to showcase here on Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song. They need a distraction and in the panic, this is what Martin Stein decides to pull out. It’s so out of nowhere and so perfect. Equally good is Mick attempting to harmonize with him.

On the Moon, Ray is geeking out over getting to step on lunar dust. In order to rendezvous with the Waverider, he requires the second set of hands of the depowered Eobard Thawne. They have a very good heart-to-heart that I don’t readily expect from Legends. It’s much more fare for Flash, but we haven’t really had one on Legends since possibly Mick and Leonard when Snart stayed behind to sacrifice himself. I love that this episode manages to mix the epic of landing on the moon with the comedy of Stein’s Belafonte, and the earnest conversation of Ray and Eobard. It’s the most characterization we’ve gotten for Eobard in a long time. He derides Ray for wanting to be better. He could have taken that dwarf star and powered entire cities, developed the technology to help so many people all over the world. Instead, he took it and became a hero in a supersuit. There is a valid viewpoint that that is inherently selfish. Eobard tells him to own it, to not be hypocritical. Ray didn’t do this to be helpful. He did it to be better. It’s what many heroes do it for. Eobard wants something even more simple than that: he wants to live.

Rip has his own mini-arc in the proceedings of the episode. We see him attempting to lead, but Sara has that under control. We see him offering to help, but everyone has a purpose and a job on the ship. We see him give his opinion, but he’s outmatched in the dynamic. He’s come to questioning his place on the team, but thankfully the way he phrases it means he’s staying on as a second. Another good heart-to-heart was Henry telling Rip he was proud of the Legends, because when they met back in the 40s the team could not stop bickering. Now they act like a team. Rip bemoans the fact that he really had nothing to do with that. The credit does not solely lie with Sara’s superior leadership either. The team has settled in to their dynamic. They’re smart and have gotten better at their jobs. They understand their place in the universe now, and they have put their differences aside to embrace each other as family. And like any good sci-fi misfit crew aboard a rogue spaceship helping where they can, this is the camaraderie we want from them. The moment Rip defers to Sara is a defining moment for this dynamic: it’s the true moment Rip hands the captain’s chair to Sara.

One interesting scene to me was Nate confronting Amaya. He asks her if you could choose history over your own family, before revealing what happens to hers when she gets returned to her native time stream. I wanted to believe that Amaya would choose history over family, because she’s better than Nate, she’s better than even Rip, who in the first season chose constantly family over history. She’s more pragmatic and realistic. She does end up telling Henry the dangers of returning to where he left his time stream, how he could change everything that’s happened to this day. But at the end of the episode, she asks Gideon to view her future. Now I’m not so sure if she’s as strong-willed as I’d hoped she’d be.

I end with one stray praise. I love Nate meeting his father as a kid at the end. Nate giving advice to his own father that will mean a lot to him and his own son is an incredibly moving and crazy moment, giving comfort to a boy when that boy turns into a father who could not give Nate that same comfort, that is a paradox of a moment that only a time travel story could hope to accomplish.

When Arrow properly tempers its darkness with light, it finds the humanity of its characters. It continues to fascinate me how closely Barry and Ollie’s mutual journeys parallel each other. While Barry is slowly learning from loss how his own fear is getting in the way, Ollie becomes increasingly frustrated (complete with trashing the Overwatch) with a villain who remains very much in his face, anticipating his every move. I love the fact that after so much frustration and a lot of supernatural villainy, we finally have a violent and effective antagonist who has no powers. It started with a twist that I absolutely did not see coming, and has continued to showcase an increasingly unhinged psychopath put together a tour de force performance. This guy playing Adrian Chase is amazing. All of his scenes are disturbing and upsetting. His confrontation with Ollie in the hospital room of the comatose police chief being my favorite. His characterization is suddenly so unsettling. When it started, and we all thought Chase was Vigilante, he was great as the DA, very smart and aware, with flashes of uncontrolled rage towards wrongdoing. As soon as it was revealed that he was Prometheus, it became completely nuts.

        Chase continuing to show up to work must be incredibly upsetting for the likes of Quentin and Rene, and also Susan when he shows up at the PD. It’s a such a beautiful stalemate. There’s nothing they can do to bring Chase in while at work, he’s still the upstanding DA. Speaking of the Police Department by the way, that back alley entrance is incredibly unsafe, if we’ve learned nothing else. People need to stop using it.

I love that it always comes back to Diggle & Ollie. Ollie trashes the Overwatch in his frustration. He can’t believe Chase has outplayed him every step of the way. Diggle reminds him and reassures him that his friends, family, and team are not weaknesses, they are strengths. Diggle is the humanity, both the team’s and Ollie’s. They are the heart of the show. It has to come back to them because if they do not grow and learn from their mistakes, the rest of the team frays. It’s a point likewise illustrated in The Flash. If Barry cannot learn from his mistakes and move forward, the rest of the team frays.

One stray bit of praise and one bit of criticism to end. I like that Arrow says Ra’s al Ghul’s name what I consider properly (‘Rahhz’). We all knew the twist before it was revealed to Ollie of course, Talia is an al Ghul. And she’s pissed. And that leads me to my criticism: I’m always a little bummed when a big reveal is the villain is actually a two-villain team. Instead of Chase being this masterful manipulator, it cheapens it ever so slightly that he’s teamed with Talia al Ghul. I feel the same when it’s used elsewhere. Like Scream, when the killer is two people? It’s a genius twist in the moment, it doesn’t stand on rewatch. Regardless, it gets us to the episode title: Checkmate, with Ollie captured by Chase and imprisoned. And we’re not sure what the endgame is now.