It’s Mon-El, thinking caps, pecan pies, and prototypes in this week’s CW/DC TV Roundup!
Supergirl: Season 3: Episode 7 “Wake Up”
This week’s Supergirl has three concurrent storylines running; two major and one minor. One: Mon-El has returned and has been found on a ship that has supposedly been buried under the earth for twelve-thousand years. Though there seems to be something going on with him and he might not even be the same Mon-El that Kara lost so many months ago. Second: Sam, after being shot and nonetheless completely unharmed during the events of “Damages,” decides to visit her foster mother and try to get some answers to her suddenly manifesting abilities. Finally, J’onn is being encouraged by his team to take his father out of the DEO to introduce him to Earth’s culture, but J’onn might be too much of a company man to give his father a proper introduction to Earth.
The marquee feature here, of course, is the return of Chris Wood to the series as Mon-El. The interactions between Mon-El and Kara were always going to be rough from an emotional standpoint to maintain the proper gravitas of Mon-El’s dramatic exit at the end of season two and to also validate all of Kara’s trauma since the beginning of season three. I expected the episode to avoid making things business as usual by devising some way for Kara and Mon-El to maintain emotional distance, but what I didn’t count on boils down to three elements. One is Melissa Benoist and another is Chris Wood. This reunion was always going to be bittersweet, but it feels real because both actors just sell the hell out of it. Wood’s Mon-El is subdued but still emotionally turbulent and Benoist’s Kara is desperate and torrential but their chemistry, that made them so compatible last season, hasn’t gone anywhere; which adds an extra sting when Kara pleads to Mon-El for answers. Third though, is the surprising answer to where Mon-El has been all this time. It honestly should be cheap, but it actually makes it easy to understand Mon-El’s position, once the truth finally comes out, without undermining the pain of Kara’s realization that she has lost Mon-El forever. Sam continues to explore her alien heritage by finding her own Fortress of Solitude equivalent. My only problem (I literally mean my only problem!) with this storyline was how optimistic she was about what she would find when she was talking to her daughter Ruby. “I’m going away for a while, but when I get back I’ll tell you all about it and it’s all gonna be super great!” She might as well have painted the bullseye on Ruby in real-time with how much that scene was telegraphing an unfortunate outcome. However, the way Sam’s realization to her destiny turns on a dime, from wonder and purpose to confusion, and terror, is invaluable at conveying the sheer magnitude of her foreordination. The storyline between J’onn and M’yrnn is wrapped up in only three on-camera appearances, but I wanted to make a note of how stirring it was thanks to David Harewood and Carl Lumbly’s emotionally affecting interactions. I really hope J’onn and his father get another episode of their own soon because these two actors and their characters’ arc are far too good to be pushed to the background like this.
The Flash: Season 4: Episode 7 “Therefore I Am”
Who is Clifford Devoe is the question at the center of “Therefore I Am,” the title of Flash’s seventh episode of the fourth season, named for the famous quote from French philosopher René Descartes, “je pense, donc je suis,” translated in English to “I think, therefore I am.” But this is more than just a clever nod to the alter ego of Devoe’s villain, The Thinker; this episode also explores the motivations that drove Devoe to his fate, the application of the classic definition of knowledge and intellect in the modern world, and the ideas of self-awareness and existence in the face of The Flash’s complex universe of branching Earths and dichotomous futures. This is the first time in the season thus far that Team Flash has been made aware of the abilities of their adversary which is, interestingly enough, a challenge based on intelligence, a major aspect of the previous successes of Team Flash.
The way the episode ties the origin of the Thinker into the night of the particle accelerator explosion is far more thorough than it has been for any villain before. I was especially impressed by Harrison Wells’ sly and knowing attitude at meeting Clifford Devoe. The fact that the episode reveals what happened after Barry left the press conference also gives us an expanded picture of that night and how it could possibly have affected even more people as stories continue to diverge from the original form of the story, which was from Barry’s perspective. As for the Thinker’s actual origin, or rather how the episode handles it, there’s so much depth to it. The identity of the Thinker’s cohort, The Mechanic, is revealed and directly ties into his multilayered backstory to help construct, not just a timeline, but also a motivation for his ambitions.
Of course, it’s the Flash, so we should probably touch on Barry’s part in all this. We see Barry’s instincts from years of being a hero kicked into overdrive, which causes him to feel Devoe’s threat even without any actual proof which complicates his situation as both The Flash and an employee of the Central City Police Department. With no one to believe his claims against Devoe, Barry becomes more and more desperate and reckless as his attempts to gather evidence are craftily rebuked. It puts him at odds with everyone on his team, at his job, and most of all Iris. It’s crushing to see this isolation plague the titular hero as he unravels, but it does two things which affect the narrative in positive ways. One: It reveals flaws in team Flash’s arsenal of information gathering which creates effective limits that we as an audience can believe the Thinker is able to exploit, and it highlights The Thinker’s thoroughness in controlling the stream of information about him. The episode’s writing and direction also do a masterful job of controlling the information to the audience about the Thinker. Clifford Devoe doesn’t do anything overt to give away his identity. There are no knowing smiles or specific hints, so the audience is also taken into the illusion built around Devoe, despite having firsthand evidence of his identity. All the audience can do is wait for the origin to build to the substantial physical proof of the transformation of Clifford Devoe into the Thinker, and that (Arrow) is how origin story flashbacks should be done. First, have information that’s worth breaking up the narrative to reveal, then build up to a substantial conclusion that gives insight into the actions and motivations of the character in the present. The Flash has been in control all this time, so there’s no wasted space in unveiling the Thinker’s past. It’s not until the complete desolation of Barry Allen is complete that we really meet the man called Clifford Devoe, and that moment is what makes the entire episode worth it. The Thinker is a dangerous foe, and “Therefore I Am” doesn’t tell the audience that, it shows them. For that reason, it’s one of the most potent origin episodes for any character either in the Flash or any of the other series in the Arrowverse. Fantastically effective.
Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3: Episode 7 “Welcome to the Jungle”
Alright! The Legends are headed to Vietnam in the 1960’s! Know what that means!? Hopefully at least one CCR song! I’ll also take Buffalo Springfield as an alternative…
With Sara still out of commission, the remaining Legends search for a way to stay busy and pass the time, without her direction. After picking an anachronism at random, they end up in Vietnam in nineteen-sixty-seven at the absolute height of the Vietnam war to find that Gorilla Grodd has taken up residence and built a utopia for himself. Meanwhile, on an investigative mission into the jungle, Mick and Nate end up running into Mick’s dad, long before he became an abusive husband and father and ended up being killed by a young Mick.
There’s a lot going on in this episode but the main storyline, which involves Grodd attempting to use the turmoil of the Vietnam war to influence his own ambition of world domination, is pretty much comic-book 101. The story briefly glides over some interesting themes like Grodd using the Vietnam war as evidence to why mankind needs to be saved from itself and Amaya trying to establish an empathetic bond with Grodd due to their shared connection to the wild. Neither of these elements is fleshed out, so their impact on the story is minimal. The biggest impact is, no surprise, Mick interacting with his father before the fact, and discovering the multitudes that they have in common despite his best efforts to distance himself from his father’s memory. Randomly generated tough-guy, Evan Jones, pitches in as Dick Rory and even manages to inject the necessary humanity into the character, it’s still Dominic Purcell’s reactions that legitimize the plot as a profound arc for Mick’s character.
Everything else about “Welcome to the Jungle” is serviceable. I really don’t have any complaints beyond the goofier than necessary portrayal of Lyndon B Johnson being somewhat distracting and that Legends still doesn’t seem to have any real interest in actual history, only briefly touching on the moral complexity of the Vietnam War. Although it was unique to get a perspective of a character, Amaya, that hadn’t been exposed to it in any form. A decent and inoffensive Legends of Tomorrow rounds out Tuesday night. Oh, and for the record, they used Tombstone Shadow.
Arrow: Season 6: Episode 7 “Thanksgiving”
Alright…I’ve been teeing off on Arrow for a while, but part of criticism is transparency, and I’ll be the first to say that I’m surprised that I started “Thanksgiving” with curious intrigue. At a charity food drive/unveiling of the new Star City Police Station (I guess?) Oliver is arrested by Samanda Watson and the FBI for a plethora of charges that tie to him being the Green Arrow. Then, in some strangely satisfying poetic justice, Oliver is taken into the police station that he helped get built and is booked by one of his proteges. I’m impressed by how awful things seem to go at the beginning of Thanksgiving. It’s not just told through the dialogue how disastrous the whole situation is, it’s also conveyed through the direction and acting; so the stakes are more effectively presented than they have been so far, and the scene serves to retro-actively necessitate some of the pointless conflict and drama from the earlier episodes of this season. Well…maybe just the incredibly pedestrian “investigation” against Oliver. Though despite any claims to the contrary, Watson’s push only seems entirely personal. Meanwhile, with the Green Arrow on trial the real Team Arrow braces for scumbag recess. During that time, Laurel is directed by Cayden James to steal an unstable thermite thingy, and due to Cayden James being the best h@Xor, he’s able to block the distress signal getting to team Arrow until the next day. So two plans are in play for the episode. The arrest of Oliver Queen and tracking down Laurel and Cayden James and stopping them from using their thermite thingy. Pretty basic, but it could go in some interesting directions.
The action is improved. There’s less telegraphing, more deliberate direction, and appropriate stakes. The same goes for the relationships. After the effects of the drug Diggle has been taking to achieve his normal function as the Green Arrow start to create withdrawal symptoms, the team has to address how well they can function without Green Arrow leading the charge. It leads to some practical problems, as well as some emotional ones that all tie into communication, but this time (unlike before) the reason that the people aren’t talking to each other is both relatable and emotional. Why Diggle has been hiding his problem from his team has made no sense and has only created artificial conflict, however him holding off on telling Oliver what he’s had to do to get his tremors under control is a little bit more natural, and now, when Oliver is having the worst week ever, when Diggle explains why he’s not going to tell Oliver about his struggles, it makes a lot of sense. This isn’t magic. It’s cause and effect. These stories resonate because they’re relatable. Not making things more difficult for a friend who’s having a difficult time makes sense to us as an audience because it’s a situation we deal with every day. However, not informing a group whose lives depend on you on a severe shortcoming or disability doesn’t. This may not be something that the regular audience deals with every day, but it can be said that it’s not the decision that the majority of them would make in Diggle’s situation Sometimes Arrow gets this right, so I don’t want to say they can’t, but for some reason this is something that season six has struggled with. “Thanksgiving” is a departure from this downward trend though. Everything that happens between the characters feels more like a fallout than anything else in this season so far. Oliver and Diggle have always had an interesting relationship, but this is probably the most significant interaction they’ve had since season three, and I really came away from it with a renewed perspective of both characters. However, they still continue to underutilize Dinah. When she started talking about Vigilante, I just completely shut down. It’s a combination of dry delivery and a lack of context. I have not idea how I’m supposed to feel about Dinah because it’s been something like a full season and she hasn’t had a better showing since her first episode. She’s just been this vaguely early Diggle-like character, but without the moral compass or idealism.
The episode has an end goal to build everything up to the moment Oliver has to put the hood on again, and the impact of that moment is surprisingly effective. It has seemed like a long time since Oliver was the Green Arrow proper, but events transpire in the episode that leads to his donning the outfit to seem like the most natural conclusion for the story. Where everything goes from there is predictable once it reaches a certain point in the conclusion, but it’s still well done and uses all of the different pieces of the episode to create a satisfying end. It seems that this whole time the season has been building to this dynamic, and I really hope that Arrow has it’s shit together at this point because if it does it’s going to get back to where it should have been all along. Though I really wish William didn’t suck so much…
Final Word: There was some really stiff competition between the Arrowverse shows this week. Wake Up finished the Mon-El chapter in a really satisfying way and set the stage for Supergirl’s possible season villain, Reign. The Flash zeroed in on the origin of the Thinker in “Therefore I Am,” and explored the methodology of his sinister machinations against Barry and his team. This is the first time that Team Flash has had to contend with a villain that was superior from an intellectual standpoint instead of a power and powers standpoint, so it makes for a fascinating coming conflict. Legends of Tomorrow was pretty by the numbers, leaning on some time-honored traditions when it comes to portraying Vietnam in the sixties. However, it also provided a small yet effective episode arc for Mick, that Dominic Purcell excelled at going along with. Arrow brought it back from the brink with “Thanksgiving” cashing in on the season’s promises by utilizing established relationships between the characters to a tell a story that was both emotionally affecting and practically solid. Any other week, Arrow would have taken it for getting back to form so completely, but “Therefore I Am” was brilliantly executed and provided more than enough credible evidence through the narrative to sell the Thinker as a formidable enemy. “Therefore I Am” was an absolute masterpiece of an origin and for that reason, along with the strategic dissolution of Barry’s mental stability, it wins the week with a bullet.