It’s the 90’s sci-fi, futurology, George Lucas, and Canary Cries in this week’s CW/DC TV roundup!
At this moment in time, I’m certain that Supergirl is the hero America needs; especially since Melissa Benoist herself is a real life Supergirl who’s not afraid to make her opinion known. “Supergirl Lives” isn’t about any of that of course, but it’s kind of cool to see that Melissa Benoist actually cares about the same things her character is a champion of. Well, back to fantasy I suppose, since things still seem to make some semblance of sense there. “Supergirl Lives” is the triumphant return of Supergirl after a substantial holiday break, and the directorial debut of Kevin Smith on the program. The episode is a geek smorgasbord. The beginning rings of film noire and the conclusion is unashamedly pulled directly out of the 90’s golden age of science fiction TV as influences like Star Trek TNG, Stargate SG-1, Andromeda, and Farscape are evident. The episode opens in typical noire fashion though as a distraught mother comes to CatCo, specifically Kara and Snapper, to enlist help in finding her missing daughter, Izzy Williams (guest star Harley Quinn Smith,) I was even more sure of the noire influence as the next locale ended up being a bar to keep the trope moving (though admittedly it could have been just my imagination, after all the bar has become a central location.) I was of course pulled out of this little fantasy once the episode goes full Saturday morning cartoon by showing the evil guys just being evil in the most generic way possible. I don’t want to harp on this perspective shift because it does give us a reason to be invested in the hero’s journey to undermine the villains but this is something that Supergirl struggles with constantly. The amount of information we get about the the motivations of the antagonists directly affects the intrigue going forward. Another related problem is Supergirl’s message of positivity and empowerment sabotages the fact that a fair amount of cynicism is required to develop villains who have drives and motivations that make a lick of sense internally. Without that it’s all wringing their hands and mwa-ha-ha and evil for its own sake and unfortunately even with Dichan Lachman back as Roulette and James Urbaniak going meta as a clueless scientist we’re still left with Power Rangers monsters as the primary antagonists which significantly diminishes the work the heroes put in; and that’s a damn shame because for the most part everyone is on their A-game. Ian Gomez has a small role this time but hits all the right notes as Snapper Carr acting as more than just a Cat Grant stand-in, Chris Wood as Mon-El is not only charming but genuinely funny and his playing off of Melissa Benoist makes their interactions the poster-child of what the episode does right, and Jeremy Jordan plays up yet another thankless dramatic portrayal as Winn Schott going neck deep in a world he has to admit he might not be equipped to handle. On the downside though, Maggie and Alex’ relationship drama is hollow and nonsensical which makes their reconciliation essentially worthless, and an easily explained absence of Martian Manhunter feels like a bit of a cop-out. These are hardly deal breakers though. “Supergirl Lives” is at it’s heart a fun and cool science fiction story, even if the villains don’t break the mold.
While Supergirl Lives suffers from excessive realization, “Borrowing Problems from the Future” pulls back just enough to create tension and let the drama follow organically. The episode’s story has multiple paths branching out and it’s surprising how easy to follow they each are as they connect. Barry continues to be paralyzed by knowledge of Iris’ impending death, but it’s only when he meets DC Comics’ Plunder (guest star Stephen Huszar,) a name he recognized from the future, that it starts to affect his superheroeing. It’s easy to acknowledge his conflict between changing the future at the expense of letting a criminal go and doing what he knows is the right thing in the here and now. His conflict ties directly to Wally trying to train under him as Kid-Flash, and being eager to prove himself. With Wally so enthusiastic about the good they do, Barry’s example and position as a role-model and teacher is threatened in the face of this clearly complex decision. Meanwhile, the Killer Frost time bomb continues to tick mercilessly with flimsy preventatives adding to the tension. The fear and guilt Caitlin projects as a result ties in to Julian’s own guilt and desire for penance, creating a natural segue in to initiating Julian in the STAR Labs team. Cisco’s meltdown regarding H.R. however doesn’t have that same connectivity. From a story stand-point the friction makes sense considering the opening of the STAR Labs museum, and it’s even a little funny at times, but the sudden distrust/hostility is never really explained and resolves with no fuss so there’s not impact there (though it does lead to a satisfying ending.) Finally though, and this is important, Candice Patton is the soul of the episode! Her reaction to learning of her death is at once understandable and also heartbreaking and I challenge anyone else in that situation to react differently. I usually condemn drama and over-reaction in shows like this but hers is just pitch perfect. Once the episode starts to get everything out in the open for everyone to deliberate about, Flash shows where it really shines. It’s tense to be sure, but there is also a sense of hope that isn’t glossed over and that is crucial to what makes “Borrowing Problems from the Future” such a success. With everyone’s mind focused on one task, the forward momentum becomes staggering, because ahead of being superheroes the characters are brilliant, dedicated, and motivated and their reaction to learning about the problems ahead is exactly what you would expect from a braintrust of their caliber. Idealism, intellect, and hope with just a pinch of naivete; “Borrowing Problems from the Future” doesn’t ignore the tragedy to come, but it doesn’t let it drive the episode.
Look, I like Broadchurch and I was glad that they announced a third season, so I was ready for Arthur Darvill’s hiatus from the role of Captain Rip Hunter; but by “Raider’s of the Lost Art’s” (Hilarious name by the way) opening scene it was fairly obvious that something had been taken out of the show that couldn’t easily be replaced. Rip Hunter while many argue is just a CW version of Doctor Who, is also a laser focused and aware character. While watching the rest of the Legends stumbling through time has been entertaining in it’s own right, Rip Hunter is the true leader not because he’s a better captain, but because he has contained within his character all the information that makes the show tick. Without him, it’s just guesswork. Plus Arthur Darvill is an incredible actor…Regardless, looks like we’ll be waiting a bit even still since Rip has rewritten reality and is hiding in Hollywood California in the 1967 as an aspiring director under the name Phil Gasmer. He’s hidden so well in fact, that he doesn’t even know who he is. The twist of course is that he is trying to produce a script based off of his and the Legends’ incredible adventures. While hunting for the artifact that Sara gave to the Legion of Doom (Yes, they’re just going to call them that), they all come upon Rip’s new identity and in an attempt to rescue/kidnap him they scare his propmaster George Lucas, (guest star Matt Angel) altering his place in history and having an adverse effect on Ray and Nate’s careers. This episode really is all over the place. On the one hand the George Lucas references that abound are charming, but they eventually take it in to territory that’s both over the top and even a little bit saccharine. It’s all just a sidebar. What’s actually going on with Rip’s true identity, the team, the spear, it all comes together in a fascinating way. In the end, “Raiders of the Lost Art” is the first step to bringing Rip Hunter back, and while it plays a little too meta for my taste, the story itself adds an interesting conflict as the Legion’s true motives take shape.
When we last left Team Arrow they were scattered as they experienced their own personal tragedies. Felicity lost her boyfriend, Curtis his husband, and the team Evelyn so there’s bittersweet atmosphere amidst the celebration of Laurel’s resurrection. The audience is fully aware of how the Arrowverse really works though, and even knows about Earth 2’s Laurel Lance, so thankfully the episode doesn’t waste a lot of time building suspense for the reveal of Laurel’s true identity. Instead, the key to the episode is friction; friction between Oliver and Adrian, Felicity and Laurel, Curtis and Rene, and even Oliver and Felicity as a mini power shake-up emerges. These characters live in a world of constant tension, and eventually it leads to friction between them that isn’t easily resolved. Each episode of Arrow thus far has built in to the next episode creating vital context that reveals the hows and whys of every character’s motivation. Adrian’s crusade for justice has naturally led to the complete injustice of Diggle’s imprisonment, Felicity being forced to watch people being resurrected left and right and know that it can never happen to Billy leads to an inherent distrust and even hatred of Laurel, Curtis just lost his husband and is constantly getting beat up so he’s starting to doubt what he’s chosen and Rene represents someone who has a natural gift for everything that Curtis wants to be able to do, and Oliver’s newfound optimism is playing at odds with Felicity’s inherent problems with Laurel’s supposed resurrection and is even putting himself and the team in danger. We see a lot of darkness in Felicity in “Who Are You” and since Emily Bett Rickards has been on this ride the whole time she projects all the years Felicity has spent as Team Arrow’s tech girl in both the best and worst light. The flashbacks begin to take a turn for the League of Assassin’s and fill in the final gaps as Oliver’s five years abroad draws to a close. It doesn’t connect to current events either thematically or contextually in any significant way, but it does introduce yet another DC Comics supervillain, as well as revealing how Oliver’s capture at the hands of Gregor drew to a close. In the end, “Who Are You” acts as a state of the union troubleshoot that puts everything on the right path. The Canary slot hints at being filled, Curtis begins to embrace his technical prowess as his path to justice, and Oliver renews his vow to hope. Everything is settled, and Arrow is ready to move forward with the second half of season five, and things still seem entirely more promising than before.
Final Word: CW’s DC shows came back strong this week, with Legends at it’s new time right after The Flash on Tuesday nights. None of the shows dipped too severely on the quality line, but The Flash is the obvious winner of the week. The revelation of Iris’ death in the future is a sturdy obstacle for the team to get over to be sure, but it’s how they react with intelligence and hope that reminds us why the Flash has been so successful. Arrow’s team had a similar reaction, but it was a little drawn out in the drama department. Supergirl Lives bounces around a few interesting ideas without landing on a solid one, but ultimately wraps up quite nicely, and Legends of Tomorrow welcomed back Arthur Darvill and paid such tribute to George Lucas you might even wonder if he wrote it himself. Still the tentpoles for CW’s DC invasion hold steady, and with all the early renewals that were announced, it’s clear I’m not the only one who thinks so.