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CW/DC Weekly Roundup Week 01/30/2017

It’s mad scientists, showdowns, speedsters, and Pandora’s box in this week’s CW/DC TV roundup!

Supergirl: 2:10 “We Can Be Heroes”

Supergirl’s team of heroes is catching up to Team Flash in terms of likability. J’onn hasn’t had this strong a showing since episode four “Survivors”; so it’s good to see David Harewood bringing a bit more of the fire and brimstone than has become such a staple of his role. It not only fits his J’onn, but it puts the atrocities that are the cornerstone of his character in the spotlight of his motivation, making sure they aren’t so easily pushed aside or forgotten. Guardian has been a much more worthwhile arc for James than the romantic subplot from season one. In a short amount of time he’s already become quite the hero.  This this is owed to both his history which is well known in modern popular culture but also the Supergirl series itself, and Mehcad Brooks surprising acting chops.  His opinion of Mon-El’s values being ill suited to heroics complicates the relationship between Mon-El and Kara, but it also makes the path of the superhero a more complex and nuanced journey. A journey that also causes a rift between Kara and James. It’s easy to see both sides of the argument as Kara becomes a bit of an elitist because of her powers, and James must also accept the validity in her claim. This questioning of the definition of a hero parallels thematically with Livewire’s “escape” from prison, in that not everything is as it seems.  Steve Valentine guest stars as the scientist responsible for Liverwire’s escape, who plays the role with cartoonish glee, but is surprisingly adept enough to keep the whole part from going completely off the rails. Brit Morgan returns as Livewire and gives a commendable performance hinting at the complexities of the character’s psyche, which is given just enough time to be semi-believable without putting undue effort on making the character seem empathetic. In the end, the tear-jerking reconciliation between M’gann and J’onn is at the heart of what the episode excels at. The Martian backdrop really put both characters in the proper context, strengthening their empathetic bond. Layers are still being peeled back for Mon-El and Chris Wood remains just as charming as ever, if not overly complex. Meanwhile, Supergirl’s ultimate decision regarding James and Winn, even if it isn’t entirely conciliatory, does create a fascinating Superman/Batmanlike divergence within the paradigm of the show.  Despite being a small-scale episode, “We Can Be Heroes” explores big ideas within the show’s mythology that will most likely ripple in to the future…and not all of them are just setting up the next major threat.

The Flash: 3:11 “Dead or Alive”

Well look at that! A Cisco episode! The Flash put Cisco’s superheroics in the spotlight this week, making a heavily special effects laden episode that doesn’t disappoint in representing the powers of both Cisco and DC Comics’ Gypsy (guest star Jessica Camacho.)  H.R. Wells is targeted by a Collector (has that particular euphemism ever meant anything good?) from Earth Nineteen who specializes in tracking down and collecting (oh, I see what they did there) fugitives from the law.  Specifically a law put in place, after Earth Nineteen was attacked and nearly wiped out by another earth, that forbids inter-dimensional travel.  I don’t think that this episode was planned to hit when it did, but the timing just couldn’t have been better.  Gypsy makes for an interesting villain that really gets the most out of Carlos Valdes’ considerable charisma and dramatic proficiency.  The attraction between them acts as an unfortunate byproduct of their meeting in the face of the code that Gypsy lives by as a Collector.  It’s a fascinating way to present a complex relationship between a hero and a villian.  Valdes’ really steps it up in the action department, totally transforming in to the version of Vibe that DC Comics readers were already aware of.  Iris’ dramatic storyline also continues, with her impending death being used as an excuse to go rogue, in a manner of speaking.  The revelations of her likely fate acts as the catalyst for her recklessness in a way that is both characteristic and also understandable.  I’m also really impressed with the way Wally has been handled after the clunky way that his superpowers manifested and how dry the character was prior to that.  They’ve really taken control of the character’s origins to present Kid-Flash in his incubation period as well as showcasing the beginnings of the greatness he’s known for in the comics.  The use of Julian in the episode mostly acts as comic relief, which seems to be just an experiment in figuring out where he fits in to Team Flash.  His no nonsense approach and dependence on solid facts rings of Harrison Wells in the early days, which might be the niche that he’s meant to fill.  Tom Felton has proven himself as the Julian in terms of drama and complex, but it might be harder to find a place for a character who was purposely designed to be unlikable in a group like Team Flash.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: 2:10 “Legion of Doom”

I assumed the return of Rip Hunter would fix Legends of Tomorrow, but surprisingly enough an episode that doesn’t depend on Rip Hunter nor a history gimmick is definitely the most solid of the season thus far.  The episode lands on tails this time, making the antagonists’ story the primary plot and the heroes’ the secondary.  It also addresses the fix-all of Eobard Thawne.  As a good friend put it, “A speedster in Legends of Tomorrow is like a basketball surrounded by dominos.” Well, Thawne is certainly as humbled as he’ll ever be thanks to “Legion of Doom.” If you’ve ever seen a horror movie or Jurassic Park, you can appreciate the parallels for the scene in which the identity of Eobard’s terror is revealed.  If the impressive visuals for bringing Black Flash to life weren’t enough to sell you on the sheer threat he presents, you really only need to look at Matt Letscher’s face, who is absolutely killing it as he goes from a conscienceless sociopath to a frightened camp-goer in a slasher flick.  I’ve always appreciated his small contribution to the character of Thawne from the first season of The Flash, but Legends of Tomorrow has really given him the opportunity to let his character break out.  Speaking of breaking out, Lilly Stein returns in a episode that gives the character more to do than just spout exposition.  Now that we’re all caught up and know enough about her as a character to be impressed but not jaded by her considerable technical ability, she’s able to make her own personal contribution to the efforts of the Legends in the hunt for both Rip and the Spear.  However the episode also acts as backdoor penance for Martin creating an aberration, in the eyes of his fellow Legends.  It’s all sad and sweet and their are hugs and the context is very important. The Arrowverse has been surprisingly adept at making us empathetic to the reactions of the characters experiencing impossible or unrealistic situations.  This puts tremendous strain on the actors to make us care about what’s happening, and Victor Garber and Christina Brucato’s performances are just a couple more examples of the Arrowverse doing this successfully.  The other big highlight of the episode comes from the animosity between Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Darhk.  Using vetted supervillains as the primary antagonists for the season was the perfect idea to attract new attention to Legends of Tomorrow, and it’s a move that pays off when John Barrowman and Neal McDonough get to fire all their cylinders in the charm department while also projecting animosity in the face of their reluctant team-up.  It really highlights the difference between the Legends who bicker and the Legion who out and out try and kill each other.  It’s the difference between heroes who have differing doctrines yet still stand for others, and villains who have differing doctrines yet stand for themselves.  Out of everything the episode does right though, equalizing and unifying the Legion is the most impressive by far.  Evil having more manpower is one thing, but actual cooperation? That’s far worse.

Arrow: 5:11 “Second Chances”

Bashert is probably a really noble concept in the context of Judaism, but in a narrative where there’s a struggle to maintain grounding, a Canary sized coincidence does little more than upset the illusion of unpredictability that gives people a reason to tune in.  Having said that, the only thing seemingly wrong with Tina Boland is the astonishing parallels she has with the Canary staples.  Make no mistake, no matter what this episode was actually about, it’s mainly a first date with Juliana Harkavy as Tina, the proposed replacement for Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance.  This seems like a trial period, so whether she turns out to be Jason Todd or Tim Drake still remains to be seen.  As far as first dates go, I’d say Arrow has definitely had worse.  Tina Boland is a metahuman whos screams during the particle accelerator explosion mutated her voice in to a sonic…It’s a Canary Cry.  The episode ties her in to the Arrowverse well, linking her to Central City, the particle accelerator explosion, and Tobias Church; and giving her an independent storyline that while cliche fits in to the series’ tone.  Then there’s the part that really matters.  Juliana Harkavy kind of kicks ass.  Her fight scenes are really heavy handed, and street tough.  It’s different from how Laurel and Sara appear to have disciplined and calculated styles, in that Tina’s (I mean Dinah’s…) is sloppier, but it’s also more extreme.  This fits her personality and also gives a frame of reference for the increasingly contrary decisions she makes over the course of the episode.  Beyond Tina’s introduction, there’s an aside that explores the philosophy of the team as a whole, and what it means to the remaining members, which despite it’s short screentime inspires not only the title but also the theme for the episode.  A new Felicity storyline gets started, and while it acts as a bit of a deus ex machina for Diggle’s release, it does hint at some interesting new plot elements and a fresh arc for her that doesn’t involve romance so that’s kind of a step up for the character at this point in the season.  The biggest surprise of the episode comes from the flashback scene which act as the true beginning of Oliver’s career as the Arrow under the tutelage of Talia al Ghul.  There’s a very small but easy to follow plotline in the flashbacks and it’s all tied up with useful context driven exposition and some of the most impressive action I’ve ever seen in the series.  Seriously, John Wick level kind of fighting.  Stephen Amell is really on his A-game, and I’ve gotta give it up to the stunt team for putting together two really impressive multidimensional fight scenes.  “Second Chances” has a lot of different branches that make up its story but they all come together in a satisfying way, and a new character with intriguing potential is brought on to the scene, making this episode a beginning of something.  What exactly? Only time will tell.

Final Word:  It was a lot harder to pick out which episode stood above the rest, but I’d have to say that Legends of Tomorrow’s “Legion of Doom” really surpassed the previous entries in the season by a lot.  The episode didn’t attempt to make us empathetic to the villains by showing us their perspective, but it did serve to humanize the Legion in a way that made them more believable as not just villains but characters.  Supergirl tried to humanize Livewire in a similar fashion, but highlighted the differences of the heroes first and foremost.  This week’s Flash all ended up on Carlos Valdes’ shoulders, but it was a weight he was more than capable of sustaining.  Arrow on the other hand bet it all on black…Canary (ugh…that one was bad.) Fans got their first real look at Tina Boland in action, and while the episode itself is a success, it’s what it means for future episodes that makes it really exciting.  Consistently, this was a great week for all CW’s DC shows, and that is no small feat.

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