It’s Blackbeard’s cowardice, country music, dancing like a white girl, and a little hacking in this week’s CW/DC TV Roundup!
Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3: Episode 12: “The Curse of the Earth Totem”
Every so often I’m forced to resign myself to saying that this was the blank episode of Legends of Tomorrow instead of being able to applaud the weirdness of the show as a whole and this is one of those times because this is the pirate episode of Legends of Tomorrow. Sara and Ava decide to have their first date, and the Legends decide that their alleged downtime should instead be used to track down the other totems of the Zambesi. At first, they head to Detroit in order to get their hands on the fire totem, but due to the events of Vixen Season 2, they’re unable to retrieve it. Instead, they track a rumor that leads them to the Earth totem that just happens to coincide with the time of Pirates, specifically Blackbeard who is presented as being more bluster than anything. Blackbeard is a goofy sort of character that quickly and easily bows before any hint of authority which is a fun idea but doesn’t have a lot of utility in this narrative other than to keep him out of the way. The rest of the Legends sit back and enjoy playing pirate and even convince Amaya to really dig into her role as the self-professed and much celebrated “Pirate-Queen” in the same way a character from Westworld would take advantage of the local fare (maybe not that much…). Meanwhile, Sara and Ava can’t help but have their first date, with predictably awkward results, because first dates are supposed to be awkward. It’s the kind of thing that just slowly degrades and even the genuine chemistry of the two actresses felt like it was under tremendous strain, making every bit of the terrible dinner date as cringe-worthy to watch as I’m sure it would be to experience.
Everything about the Pirate episode is painted by numbers, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t resemble a gallery piece. Predictable references that still have heart, dumb jokes well placed, and tired arcs that don’t match the characters but are played perfectly tongue-in-cheek. A lot of this is junk-food, but it’s got enough substance to forward the characters’ stories. There’s an excellent struggle for Ray about his ability to take ANY life even for the greater good, a humorous and relationship-affirming ending for both Amaya and Nate and Sara and Ava, and of course a particularly outstanding bar crawl across the world that made a drink with Wally West and Rip Hunter a dream I never knew I had. Even at its most basic, Legends of Tomorrow is an absolute blast and “The Curse of the Earth Totem” is no exception. Not nearly as thought-provoking or character-defining as “Here I Go Again,” but that’s the sign of a great show. Even when the waters are a bit shallow, the audience is still on board.
The Flash: Season 4: Episode 14: “Subject 9”
Looks like it’s not going to be so easy for Barry to reintegrate into his old life. This episode of Flash finally touches on something I’ve been wondering since Metahumans started to get introduced into the Arrowverse, and that’s how is anyone going to believe that anything in the world is impossible? It’s not so easy for people to trust Devoe’s miraculous return, and so Barry has been barred from his old job at CCPD at the behest of the new mayor. Meanwhile, the Thinker-Becky has his/her sights set on a different bus meta; specifically the amateur country-musician Izzy Bowin. Having seen firsthand what The Thinker plans to do with the bus-metas,
Barry is eager to find Izzy and save her, but when he finds out that her unique powers actually have the potential to hurt Devoe, he can’t help but try to turn her into a weapon to take The Thinker down. It’s a great concept for an episode, but in execution, it cracks a few times.
Izzy is a character that’s difficult to like, and it’s not even her awful accent. At first, I thought it was because she was cocky and stubborn, but she’s simply written badly. She consistently makes terrible decisions that put her in unnecessary danger, and so when the time comes for her to face her big and terrible fate I was less affected than I really should have been. Only the brutal nature of her destruction seemed to catch me in any significant way. The worst part of this failing is that as far as tragic stories, this one is really good! Usually, I’d want to avoid spoilers, but the character of Izzy ruins the tragedy of Izzy. By being totally responsible for her own fate and being the victim of her own very bad decisions she gets what was always coming, and yet the episode features a great performance by Hartley Sawyer as Ralph really owning his part in her death (Yes, she dies. sorry.)
Everyone is playing this like they are REALLY torn up by it and they’re really only like twenty-percent responsible for her death. It’s a hard death though, that is designed to be painful, psychologically-violent, and sadistic but the real icing on the cake comes from a chilling scene where Devoe using Izzy’s incredible talent to play a classical piece on her fiddle completely devoid of personality even going so far as to mock and dimish Izzy’s passion in life. It slams the nail in the coffin of not just Izzy’s body but basically everything she was. It’s a devastating end to the character, as the episode sees team Flash get taken to the mat probably harder than they ever have before. One subplot is entertaining, though a bit odd coupled with the tragic events of the episode. Cecile and Harry attempt to bond as he tries to help her with her mind-reading problem. Another subplot is an old Flash hallmark as Barry becomes increasingly desperate to stop the big bad and rushing things thus putting others in danger (Oh! I guess we’re at this part of the season already!)
The crux of the episode is supposed to come from Ralph bonding with Izzy and being affected by her death, and while Sawyer does an admirable job of displaying the different emotions from Ralph, both before and after Izzy’s death, the character’s connection to her, while implied several times, just isn’t there. There’s not enough time for anything to blossom, the interactions aren’t all that meaningful, and the character herself is too much of a mess for the other characters to communicate with. Beyond being shocking in it’s demolition of a totally random character, “Subject 9” is unable to meet it’s staggering potential, which while being a letdown, isn’t enough to drag a decent Flash episode completely down. The fallout of “Subject 9” is going to be far greater than the actual episode though. With Team Flash taking it on the chin this hard, I’m sure they’re gonna be feeling it for a while now.
Black Lightning: Season 1: Episode 6: “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder”
I’m so lost on this one. There’re a lot of confusing directional choices here that made plot points easier to misunderstand, but the primary problem of [Episode Title] is that it suffers from the Supergirl issue of overusing metanarrative. Themes make for compelling metamaterial because they put a common idea into a different situation to change the context so people can see it from a fresh perspective. In the first episode, Jefferson screams at his daughters to not provoke the police officers who are detaining him, despite the girls not doing anything wrong, out of fear for their lives. In a later episode, Black Lightning protects a person strung out on drugs from getting gunned down by a scared police officer, despite the assailant clearly not thinking clearly. These are two events that are great instances of Black Lightning using metanarrative because the situations are human and relatable all around. Only the context is fictional. It educates the audience by showing them a common situation through a different lens. This episode, however, includes an event that is fundamentally the exact same as the Charlottesville Tragedy in order to highlight a plot point involving protesting a statue of a Confederate soldier. There’s a pushback from white nationalists and the whole thing plays out with the exact same series of events as the real tragedy. I see the point because it shows a kind of wish-fulfillment, involving a protester suddenly gaining the power to force change rather than just demand it. Unfortunately, the entire sequence just kind of beats you over the head. One character actually comes up to Anissa and says “Kind of makes you wish you could do something, huh?” The audience can handle subtext Black Lightning! This isn’t even meta, it’s parody; a shallow facsimile of a recent real tragedy that’s being used for a generic plot device. It’s kind of offensive, honestly. So, since Jefferson is a superhero and every superhero is Batman, he has to deliberate about becoming a murderer or not which is just what it sounds like/always is and maybe this has just been ruined for me because of Arrow, but I can’t care about this plot point. Black Lightning isn’t going to murder anyone on purpose, so we can really just move on now to what wasn’t dull or a mess.
As I said before, the secret superhero family dynamic is probably my favorite part of Black Lightning as a show. Anissa and Black Lightning square-off against each other and while the reasons they’re fighting aren’t totally clear (like a lot of this episode) it’s still a showdown I’ve been looking forward to that didn’t disappoint. Jefferson basically beating his daughter like she was a villain puts the brutality of his superhero persona into perspective. One thing that Black Lightning has been totally faithful to is the price of both using superpowers on a person and the impact on the world and people around them. Anissa has had a lot of collateral damage in the short time she’s been using her powers and it’s made her superhero excursions more impactful now that the consequences of her actions are instantaneous. It’s fascinating to me to see a person who’s complained about the slowness of change getting instant gratification and all of the baggage that comes with it.
So far, Anissa’s character arc has been the best part of Black Lightning and this episode is no different. She’s gained the means to be the change she always wanted to be, but she’s having to temper herself in order to become a paragon. She’s doing it by investigating both her past and her present. Every time Anissa is on screen, the gears are turning. There’s forward momentum in everything she does, and we can easily trace her journey. It’s a clear and simple origin story, but one that’s entirely available from an empathetic perspective. While this episode was a struggle to get through because of confusing conversations (like Khalil apparently posting mean things about Jennifer and his entire character basically changing at some point off-screen,) stupid conversations (like Gambi and Eve’s annoyingly vague conversation choking on exposition,) or tired cliches (Black Lightning won’t take a life…EXCEPT the man who killed his father! Ugh,) I was constantly engaged by Anissa’s forward-moving arc with no wasted moments. Everything has a purpose or is a lesson, so there’s a steady stream of character development. I can’t even say that about the titular hero, so I’m glad to know at least someone on this show is looking to the future. Maybe by bringing Jefferson and Anissa’s superhero personas in the same room, he’ll be caught up in her momentum and a meaningful arc will rub off on the actual frickin’ subject of the show.
Arrow: Season 6: Episode 14: “Collision Course”
I can’t hate Arrow. Try as I might to do so, the truth is that I just want it to be good and make sense and be cohesive and entertaining. More than anything, I actually really want to like Arrow because I HAVE liked Arrow in the past and feel like there’s no reason I wouldn’t presently. Things haven’t changed all that much, and the mistakes Arrow makes are so avoidable that I feel like it’s easier to just point at them and hope they do better next time than to out and out give up. Alright, so what did Arrow do wrong now? Well, this was a complicated episode, but here’s a short rundown of the plots and subplots involved. Dinah wants revenge for Vince, so she vows to kill Laurel. Laurel is recovering and being cared for by Lance after being shot, but she has apparently spirited away the seventy-million-dollars that Cayden James extorted from the city, and the city desperately needs that money to maintain services and local government. Team Arrow A wants to find Laurel so they can negotiate with her to get the money back, and Team Arrow B wants to find her to make her give the money back and to pay for Vince’s murder. As such, it’s team against team and friend against friend so everything’s supposed to play out as being really tense and awkward as the teams keep one-upping one another in what dirty tricks they’re willing to pull to get to Laurel first.
Look, the emotion is real, the situations are real, the characters are all into it and passionate and the only reason, literally ONLY reason, it sucks is because it’s based on nothing. These aren’t human misunderstandings and they aren’t poorly-timed or inconvenient for the sake of tragedy. These misunderstandings cause normally intelligent and competent characters to ignore the most basic cues and overreact in ridiculous ways and it just becomes a bit of an arms race on who can be more thoughtless, aggressive, and mean-spirited for no reason. Now, Dinah’s motivation for it is “justice for Vince,” and so we can kind of see what Collision Course is going for because it’s attempting an “It’s not worth it to kill someone” arc for Dinah, but Jesus they make it seem like she’s really into it. She’s not even a little bit reluctant the entire episode. She pushes her teammates to put themselves in unnecessary danger, lies to herself about her motivations, and then when the time comes and she’s standing over her prey and ready to do it and she’s abandoned all her principles, burned all the bridges, and even left her teammates behind to fight in a hard battle on their own…SHE DOESN’T DO IT! And it’s played off like “You’re not worth it!” YOU LITERALLY JUST DESTROYED EVERYTHING TO GET HERE AND THEN YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE THE CONVICTION TO SEE IT THROUGH!? Self-realization is a great character aspect, but there has to be a HINT of it there to start or else it just seems to come out of nowhere and the audience isn’t encouraged to believe it. This is so much worse. This is a lack of self-awareness. It isn’t willful ignorance, it’s just pure destruction. She doesn’t even try to justify any of her actions to this point! The point of revenge gone bad is it leads to REDEMPTION! Nothing is gained, everything is lost, and the fact that it’s played completely straight-faced and even surprisingly believable makes the whole thing a joke! Other stuff happens in the episode, but really this stupid crap swallowed it up for me.
The Vince and Dinah storyline has been poison from start to finish and now it’s taken up the majority of the show and rather than having even a hint of humility after the whole thing it’s all just more stupid and ignorant self-righteous rage. A character can be annoying, a character can be stupid, hell a character can even be dim, but when a character, no a hero, doesn’t accept responsibility for a fustercluck that they CLEARLY instigated that makes the character a narrative anomaly. Dinah doesn’t have a perspective that the audience can get behind because her actions and motivations make absolutely no sense and rather than doing the decent thing and self-destructing gloriously, she wimps out and decides to instead lash out and blame everyone around her. I didn’t like Laurel when Arrow first started because she didn’t contribute anything meaningful, but at least she didn’t affect change. Dinah burns your house down and sits at the end of your driveway. Then, when you pull up, she snidely remarks that you really should answer your phone.
Final Word: Legends of Tomorrow is the best of the week, and it’s surprisingly just adequate. The Flash had a good episode hiding under it but like Arrow it didn’t really have a human component to it beyond the crippling fear of painful death happening to mere mortals. Flash was about a born-victim with a can-do attitude being decimated body and soul (like Tweety Bird being given the KFC treatment) and Arrow was about an unrepentant sociopath with a tsundere relationship with murder. Since neither of those things is what I would strictly consider human or natural or even healthy, since they’re both products of overshooting an attempt at a shocking emotional story, the only two options I have for this one are Black Lightning and Legends of Tomorrow. Legends of Tomorrow was entertaining in very basic and inimitable way, and therefore not quite best episode material, Black Lightning’s attempts to be positive breaks the natural narrative and we can see the vein popping out of its forehead as it falls into the after-school-special territory. This week the Arrowverse tried to speak to me, scare me, shock me, and make me feel something but by the end of the week you know what I really enjoyed more than anything? Seeing grown ass adults pretending to be pirates.