Thursday, March 23, 2017

This Week In The DC-CWverse - Week 9 -- Supergirl meets the parents; The Flash and Supergirl put on a show; Legends of Tomorrow meet the Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien; and Arrow calls it quits.

Supergirl“Star-Crossed”
So the twist we all saw coming with Mon El came to pass this week. The Daxamite King and Queen (played by one-time Hercules, Kevin Sorbo and opposite Dean Cain’s Clark Kent the intrepid Lois Lane, Teri Hatcher) arrive to retrieve their son, the Prince of Daxam. It’s a bit difficult at this point to sympathize for the central couple, as this is now a recurring theme for them, breaking up once more. However, this does add a ton of character development for Mon El, who defies his parents, refusing to return home, and choosing instead to remain on Earth. Kara, he says, makes him a better person, even if they do not remain together.

I can’t shake the feeling that there’s villainy afoot for our King and Queen of Daxam. If everything we’ve heard is true about the oppressive rule of the royal family on their home planet, they appear to be too forward-thinking and calm in their demeanor. They also let Mon El go incredibly easily, despite spreading a search across the cosmos to find him again. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of them, and something tells me we’re going to see a tragic blood feud where Mon El finally gains his hero wings.

 In the week’s B-Plot (which frankly felt more like the A-Plot), we at first learn that Lyra is not everything she says she is. She has Winn break them into a museum under pretenses of a tryst, but he gets arrested for stealing priceless artwork when surveillance footage shows Winn at the museum but not Lyra. Lyra’s people it turns out can’t be captured on film. When they track her down, Winn is willing to believe that Lyra really is stealing the art to pay off a debt owed by her brother Bastian to a smuggler named Mandrax. Once again, while the main couple struggles through their growing pains, the side characters prove to have a much stronger bond. Lyra’s actor was much more believable in this episode than previous ones. I don’t know if it was the prosthetics, the choices, or the lines, but I had a real hard time getting behind Lyra in previous installments. Here, her and Winn showed a good chemistry and a level of maturity for giving each other the benefit of the doubt: Winn trusting that Lyra is telling the truth, Lyra seeing Winn for a man who truly cares. It makes Mon El and Kara’s fight seem petty, and Winn even highlights this when he and Kara share a scene and he tells her that people can still have good reasons for doing bad things.

And to be fair to Mon El, I am willing to believe that he did want an opportunity to start anew. Why would he lie otherwise? His royalty could have been leveraged, but he chose instead to carve a new beginning for himself on Earth. He met Kara too, and his life changed for the better. I can see how in wanting to start fresh but basing it on covering up the past, he was conflicted about whether or not he should be honest with Kara. After all, we can’t help whom we fall in love with. I can understand Kara’s frustration as well though. I think the balance of the fight though is thrown off by the mere exhaustion of seeing them break up once again. I believe in their chemistry, and I want them to be together. But for a normal relationship, if a couple were breaking up this often, it doesn’t bode well.
The action picked up a lot on Supergirl this week, and I was glad to see it. I wish the CW shows could consider doing shorter seasons. I think this second season for Supergirl (and similarly with The Flash) the good episodes have been superior to the first season’s. But the filler’s been killer. Kara and Mon El’s rocky relationship is one such victim of the filler, as has Guardian, who has been pretty rudderless since he debuted. Like I said though, I enjoyed the fight sequences this week, especially with Mandrax at the finale.

In the tag, we get Darren Criss’ Music Meister who puts Supergirl in a coma and hops off to see Barry Allen as we crossover into…

The Flash“Duet”
I had very high hopes going into the long-awaited musical episode of The Flash. For the most part, I am happy to say it did not disappoint. Criss is charismatic as all get out for his role, and it’s a charming oddball in a universe suddenly filled with charming oddballs (Kara even mentions Mxy in passing, saying she’s tired of inter-dimensional beings visiting). You have such a vast amount of musical talent spanning all four shows that this was highly anticipated for all the fans. And we definitely got some good out of it.

Kara opens the episode proper with her rendition of “Moon River.” It’s straightforward and sweet. Melissa sounds great. I’m sad we didn’t get at least one more solo from her, but it is a Flash episode after all, so I’ll give it a pass.

Then it’s the proper opening number, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart.” I’m glad they used covers. With Glee and Smash, it’s been awesome to have good renditions of classic songs put out into the world for new generations to hear and connect to. I also enjoy when people think of songs a bit off the beaten track. I wouldn’t have thought to make “Love” the opening number but it works thematically, and the arrangement makes it incredibly stirring. Carlos Valdez, Jeremy Jordan, and John Barrowman provide the main vocals (in the mutual alternate reality of the musical world created by the movie musical-obsessed Kara and Barry, Cisco is a waiter and Winn is the pianist at a bar owned by Malcolm Merlyn who in this universe goes by Cutter Moran) and while they all sound awesome, I gotta give props to Jordan who kills it on his vocals.

As I was watching the episode, I kept thinking, gosh, why does this sound so weird? And I realized, it’s because this cast can actually sing. And production is allowing them to sing as if this were a musical. Nothing sounds over-produced. They sounded like a Broadway cast recording. They weren’t auto-tuned, they were properly sound mixed, and they allowed these voices to shine. It’s really a treat.

Flash and Supergirl are charged with following the script of the musical to get out of it. They find out two gangsters’ daughter Millie has gone missing and was last seen at Cutter’s club. They agree to help recover her safely. They find her instead in the arms of Tommy, Cutter’s son, and they are madly in love. It’s the age-old star-crossed lovers tale, set in gangster Central City. We know it well, and I love the uncomfortable irony for Kara and Barry when Tommy and Millie are being “played by” Mon El and Iris.

Everything is easier in musicals, so the pair tell their parents about their love and their parents are more than accepting. It’s then that we get pretty much the best treat of the musical episode, the best pay-off: “More I Cannot Wish You”, from Guys And Dolls, sung as a trio by Victor Garber, Jesse L. Martin, and John Barrowman. It is everything I want and need it to be, they all sound wonderful, and I watched the segment like Barry was watching it in the show: a dopey grin, and clapping like a hysteric fan as each new part happened.

The song also helps our two heroes understand their situations. Barry realizes he can’t make his decisions out of fear, he has to make them out of love. Fear is only holding him back, keeping him from making the best decisions. Kara realizes that people do things out of love that seem hurtful or selfish, but are well-intentioned.

Rachel Bloom, who is phenomenal on My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, penned the next number, “Super Friend,” a fun throwback duet for Barry and Kara. It’s a fun number, made charming by the two leads who dance and sing high with a lot of pep, but I think there could have been more to the number. I hope they do another musical next season, because this isn’t anywhere near some of the best numbers from Crazy Ex- and I think Rachel can do even more given more opportunity.
Interspersed with the musical segments, we keep returning to the real world of Earth 1, where J’onn and Mon El took Kara, following the Music Meister. Barry is also comatose, so when the Music Meister goes and runs amuk, it’s up to Cisco, Wally, and J’onn to save the day. The team-up is very cool, and worth it. It manages to provide a more than sufficient action sequence in an episode we all expected probably wasn’t going to have one. Vibe makes portals while J’onn and Cisco lay the beatdown in a very cool team-up.

Back in the musical world, the real Iris and Mon El make it into the alternate reality to save a dying Kara and Barry just in the knick of time. It’s a kind of goofy, clumsy resolution that only a musical has the charm to pull off: with the power of love. By the end, the couples are fixed and we get one last number from Barry, written by the songwriting music duo Pasek & Paul (who just won Best Original Song for La La Land, and whom I know, because I used to sing their song “Monticello” for cabarets). It’s a very sweet number, but again one that I don’t think shows off the ability of Pasek & Paul. (To be fair, I’m not all that blown away by City of Stars or any of La La Land for that matter anyway.) But I do love the songwriting team, like I love Rachel Bloom. These are good songs, but they have definitely written better.

So overall, it’s a solid entry into musical TV episode canon. The original numbers are sweet, but not stellar, but the opening number and the Guys and Dolls cover nail it. (Going off my earlier point about off-beat numbers chosen well, the Guys And Dolls song is so unexpected too, but what a perfect song choice.) It’s a fluffy ending, but it resolves some plots for the main characters. Everyone in the episode performs top-notch. My small complaints are why did Music Meister say he was doing it just to teach them a lesson when we saw him attempt to rob a bank? How was that part of the lesson? And also, Barry mentions Superman in his and Kara’s duet, and I don’t recall the two meeting. Oh well. Musicals!

Legends Of Tomorrow“Fellowship Of The Spear”
It’s too bad that Legends is a bit lost in the shuffle, with Supergirl and Flash kicking it into high gear, and Arrow really going balls to the wall to make up for two seasons in agony. Because Legends is really turning in some quality time travel fun. They are at their best when they are slightly irreverent history meddlers with historic figures that are fun. This week, it’s Tolkien. Back when he was a soldier during the Great War. The Legends are after the Blood of Christ to activate the Spear of Destiny and it seems a vile is buried on a French battlefield that Tolkien studied in his college days before joining the war effort.

It’s just absurd enough to get all our characters together. For the most part, it’s a pretty straightforward formula for the Legends. They arrive, assist in the war effort, arrange a momentary cease-fire (Rip doing so by quoting the Black Gate speech from Return Of The King, with Tolkien sitting beside him, therefore eventually inspiring the speech he pens), find the artifact, and lead the Legion right to it. The Blood gets destroyed, but that’s okay: Malcolm’s been away (hear he moonlights owning a night club in gangster country) recovering what is basically the instruction manual of the Spear.

The main conflict of the episode and the last couple has been Mick’s growing mistrust of his place on the team. The others seemingly do not trust him, and he’s always relegated to the role of tough guy, but he’ll never feel fully accepted. A part of him I’m sure wants that, as that’s what we all want, acceptance. But a part of him is remining him that he is a criminal. And he always has been. And he’s gone soft siding with the good guys for this long. This doubt has manifested itself in the form of his friend Leonard Snart, Captain Cold. Cold derides him for all is goody two-shoeing. It’s been happening for a while now, but this episode delivers something truly unexpected, when the hallucination of Snart delivers a very real punch to the face of Mick during their exchange on the battlefield.

It’s the real Snart, pulled from earlier in the timeline by Eobard to assist them. The con all along was to get Snart to convince Mick to take the Spear for themselves. By the episode’s end, it happens.
We sacrifice some character development and some interaction this week for some bigger action sequences and set pieces. It’s a lot of moving parts, bringing everyone together on a battlefield in France, and the main arc is all Mick’s, so a lot of the other characters get lost in the shuffle. Outside of Rip’s rendition of the Black Gate Speech, there isn’t too much else. A possible good divide was hinted at when Amaya gained the Spear and planned to use it, only to be shot down by the rest of the Legends. It was also an interesting wrinkle to me when Mick asked her to come along when he and Snart left at the end. We knew she’d say no, but I was intrigued at the possibility of her at least following them under false pretenses.

The episode ends on a huge cliffhanger, with the Legion chanting from the Manuscript and the Spear illuminating. I have a feeling the next episode’s gonna be crazy.

Arrow“Kapiushon”
I’m also glad I saved Legends for last this week because boy was Arrow HEAVY.
Adrian finally has Ollie where he wants him: locked up. He’s trying to get him to confess to something but Ollie has no idea what. He tortures him, he nearly kills him, he brings out a destroyed Evelyn who also nearly kills him.

The flashbacks finally arrive at a meaningful story, as we see the sordid tale of Anatoli, Kovar, Ollie, and the Bratva. Anatoli warns Ollie repeatedly that he cannot simply hide his monster, pretend it is something else. He says it will only bring him ruin.

So finally, the flashbacks are more appropriately lining up with current events. Of course, that’s what they’ve always been designed to do, but it’s taken them a while to get the balance right: you don’t want the past storytelling to be so on the nose that it looks like the protagonist is simply repeating a pattern in his life over and over again, but you also don’t want the story to be so broad that we as the audience fail to see the connection to the present conflict. Previous seasons have been mostly miss with this, and this season got much more back on track, especially with flashbacks to the first season. The Bratva storyline has been a challenging one to follow though, and this episode fortunately gave us the payoff it needed.

We learn Ollie’s lesson at the same time he does. We learn that he’s lied to himself for so long. He kills because he likes it. He’s a killer in the truest sense of the word. And how this undoes him is that he cannot demand others be better when he himself fails to, and he established an entire movement not because he wanted to do better, but because he wanted to kill. He believed killing was right, while touting that this other way would be the better way forward. He is a hypocrite.

The episode is intense and dramatic. Adrian Chase really kicks it into a new gear with his intensity and madness. Evelyn plays up the deceit beautifully. Most upsetting is when Ollie comes to at the end of the episode and sees he’s been let go. He’s free, because his true self is free. And the freedom of that, is the doom of the rest of his life that he’s built. The episode ends with him telling his team that he’s shutting it all down. We believe it too. We see it in the eyes of a broken, disturbed, and haunted man who no longer believes in himself.