It’s dads of Mars, luck bubbles, time-travel chicken, and green monsters in this week’s CW/DC TV Roundup!
Supergirl: Season 3: Episode 3 “Far from the Tree”
I knew Supergirl was eventually going to go there… I mean gay panic, not Mars. I didn’t see the Mars thing coming at all, but it is nice to see that Supergirl’s stories aren’t limited solely to National City and Earth (although there was “Supergirl Lives.”) We’ll get to that later though. Let’s talk about Maggie’s troubles. Way back when in Season two, Maggie hinted at a tough relationship with her family (her father in particular) relating to her sexual orientation; but now we have a clear history of it. Supergirl is probably the most liberal show on television, but like actually liberalism it’s more effective at revealing its own perspective without excessive mudslinging. Maggie describing the actual process of her parents finding out she was gay was heartbreaking because it paints a very true-to-life picture. Doubly so because now she’s forced to reopen old wounds just when she’s beginning to have a family of her own. I was really impressed at how this episode avoided outright blame. Maggie and her father’s relationship is difficult, but at no point did I think that Maggie’s father was a bad guy because the story takes great pains to show that he actually isn’t. Maggie even praises the father he was before her sexual awakening and even their conversations (while awkward) are appropriately civil. It’s just this one thing that makes their relationship difficult, and that’s usually how it works The fact is that there are people who can’t empathize with what LGBTQ people go through, and that doesn’t make them bad or evil. It just means that there’s a prejudice built into their beliefs from years of conditioning that’s hard to change. “Far from the Tree” is hard to watch because there are times when it gets very real. As dramatic and terrible as Maggie’s father’s speech is, it’s not inaccurate, which makes it sting all the more. The bittersweet ending is easy to predict, but one that leaves a powerful impression, and expands significantly on Maggie’s character.
Alright, now we can talk about Mars. Supergirl and J’onn leave for Mars in order to assist the White Martian uprising being led by M’gann. There, it’s revealed that their assistance didn’t even involve fighting, but talking with one of the survivors of the Green Martian genocide, M’yrnn (Carl Lumbly) who just happens to be J’onn’s father. All the time J’onn’s been on Earth, the White Martians have been torturing M’yrnn in order to locate an artifact from Martian legend called the Staff of H’ronmeer. The struggle here comes from J’onn being unable to prove to M’yrnn that he isn’t just another White Martian, all the while being pressured by a particularly overzealous member of the uprising who’s ready to take drastic measures to extract the location of the Staff before the White Martian army can use it to kill everyone in the uprising. For a Supergirl episode, this has remarkably little to do with Supergirl. Carl Lumbly is a legend among fans as the original voice of the Martian Manhunter in the much acclaimed Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited animated series. Having him play opposite David Harewood’s J’onn, as his father, is a stroke of genius. But it’s more than just a legacy play. David Harewood and Carl Lumbly have great chemistry together, and there’s a clear friction between them as M’yrnn is a preacher type figure with a strong connection to divine word and legends and J’onn, who abandoned Mars and everything about it in order to escape to Earth, became a much more pragmatic type. It’s interesting to see this side of J’onn in M’yrnn who has a distinct intensity and conviction relating to the Martian religion compared to J’onn who recites the stories with far less ferocity showing a lot less adherence to faith. It’s a little detail, but it serves as a way to give M’yrnn a distinct personality and draws an interesting parallel between real-life parents who raise their children with religious belief as a focus. Carl Lumbly adds an additional dimension to David Harewood’s character, and I look forward to seeing how much more he adds in the coming episodes.
The Flash: Season 4: Episode 3 “Luck Be a Lady”
The Flash is very funny once again, which is a good way to follow Supergirl’s heavy themes this week. The villain this time is bad luck, or rather a meta-human that spreads bad luck by having excessive good luck. Team Flash even gives this phenomenon a semi-scientific explanation to keep with the series’ usual beats. “Becky” is a unique villain. In fact, she’s actually easy to empathize with considering her history and current good fortune. She’s an odd villain for the Flash though, which makes her all the more intriguing as she’s not the usual malicious megalomaniac or lawless for its own sake type. Her powers are also surprisingly effective as a conflict too, even referred to by Cailin as “low probability fields,” putting the misfortune that can happen in day to day life in the proper context (like Final Destination.) Besides the terror that is “Becky,” the episode also breaks up into three other storylines that all keep time with the main one, adding their own funny and emotional ideas to the overall episode. Joe and Cecile discuss possibly moving out of the home where Barry and Iris grew up, which fills Joe with quite a bit of trepidation as it’s a sure sign that those days are gone. Harry comes back from Earth-2, still struggling to find a place to fit in, while bringing a message to Wally from Jesse. And finally, Barry and Iris have the typical wedding day “finding a venue” shenanigans to deal with, even going so far as to almost crash a funeral (“I love that coffin! Is that cedar?”) What’s impressive about this episode is how it pulls all the storylines under the same theme of whether or not a person can actually be jinxed and how bad luck can occur. There are some conversations here and there about the nature of the thing, but for the most part, the episode is centrally focused with very little subtext. That being said, there are still four storylines going all at once and the Flash manages to balance all of them with plenty of laughs and some sweet moments. Wally gets delegated again to a background character, despite being clearly involved, but what is there is very entertaining. Candice Patton is actually surprisingly funny in this episode too, with the church scene being one of my favorites in recent memory.
Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3: Episode 3 “Zari”
There’s nothing wrong with “Zari” as an episode, but compared to “Freakshow” and “Aruba-con” it’s square. Zari is sort of flat as a character. We can see she’s affected by her environment, but she doesn’t exude personality like the rest of the Legends, which is a bit of a downer. Tale Ashe seems committed to her role so they’ll most likely expand on Zari’s personality and viewpoint later on. Her backstory is, at the very least, rich with potential. She’s a Muslim hacker, and her brother was a meta-human, at a time when both being a meta-human and being Muslim is illegal. The episode doesn’t get deep into the ramifications of being religious in a secular police-state or being a metahuman in an anti meta-human police state so instead it’s all very cliché heavy (They’re experimenting on us! Impenetrable fortress-like prison! Yada yada…) Zari’s being a Muslim though is possibly an enlightening direction, and I hope that the show does that particular aspect of her character justice in light of the current social climate.
The majority of the episode’s humor comes from Nate and Amaya’s storyline, which sees Amaya attempting to figure out how to regain complete control over the Anansi totem. Meanwhile, Nate who doesn’t have mystical affinity like Amaya, and yet still took the highly potent hallucinogen that Amaya needed to go on her vision quest, experiences an intense reaction which finds him stumbling about the ship in a drug-induced haze right when he’s being called on for assistance. Nick Zano is pretty good at being goofy, so this is right in line with his character and is admittedly pretty funny with a few effective comedic beats. Amaya’s totem journey (while not actually funny) reveals a lot more about her character than what was revealed in the last season, in particular relating to her abilities and legacy. The whole thing meets right in the middle of the episode too, connecting all the loose ends and ultimately ending the story in a satisfying way.
Arrow: Season 6: Episode 3 “Next of Kin”
We’re doing this again. Arrow has been nothing but disappointing so far this season, but let’s have an open mind and really absorb this episode in an objective way. Alright, I’ll immediately admit that this episode is a marked improvement. The fight between the new Team Arrow and Faust and his men is brutal and unique. John’s fighting style as the Green Arrow is much heavier and involves more blunt force than Oliver’s. Presenting personalities by differing fighting styles is something the series does well, so I’m glad to see it’s still going on. The energy of the show (surprisingly) is also much improved by taking Oliver out of the titular role as the Green Arrow. It creates a noticeable relief in the character and also removes something from his plate so the events of the episode don’t seem so strained when it comes to his storyline. Now there’s just Oliver’s work as mayor and his role as a father that he has to contend with. While not the most exciting thing for a character like Oliver to be doing, it’s a nice and consistent change of pace. In the context of the episode, this theme works, but it still leaves Oliver in an odd place as a character. He’s less melodramatic, without being the Green Arrow, and Stephen Amell’s acting follows suit. Oliver’s a much more natural and lightened personality without the hood, so if he does end up taking up the hood again at some point, it’d be better if he could maintain this personality over the faux-Batman, dark-soul, anti-hero motif of the past.
Even the drama in this episode makes sense because it can be tracked. John choking on a mission as the Green Arrow creates noticeable unrest in the team, and he has to contend with the possibility that he can’t cut it as Green Arrow. His team is put in the position of deciding whether or not they should risk following him into battle in light of reticence, and becoming increasingly aware of his inability to make the hard-calls quickly. The fact that Dinah is so directly influenced by John’s hesitance makes a lot more sense now that he’s in a leadership role so even this concept ends up working out better than it has in the last couple of episodes. “Next of Kin” puts the pure concept of the Green Arrow back on top by going so far as to remember just how instrumental to the creation of the team John Diggle was, and what the ideal of the heroic Green Arrow was supposed to originally be about. Most importantly though this episode is about leadership, and there’s a unacknowledged rivalry between the leadership of Diggle’s team Arrow and the leadership of Onyx (the villain of the week) and her team. It’s all about Diggle trying to discover what kind of Green Arrow he is, and whether or not he can consistently live up to that ideal that he helped create. In the end, the final operation is also (I can’t believe I’m saying this) incredibly cool. All the moving pieces are strategically placed and make a lot of sense. There’s a clear line of events that are easy to follow and so by the end when it’s all said and done, all of it was understood and clear and Arrow used their usual impressive choreography and camera-work to make it all appropriately harrowing. “Next of Kin” is Arrow doing it right, like it always could. Even if that ending is frustrating in all the wrong ways.
Final Word: Supergirl had two stories this week and each was impressive in its own right. One had action, and it was definitely effective, but both had strong emotional pull and relayed two very unique stories relating to fathers. Carl Lumbly stepped in to add some old-school style as the father of J’onn J’onzz, but rather than being just a gimmick, he revealed a different side to J’onn’s character and history and unique arc for his own character. The story involving Maggie’s father, on the other hand, touches on some old and some new (or rather newly dug up) prejudices in America; and despite ending on a down note, speaks nothing but the hard truth. The Flash kept four stories going this week, without missing a beat; and introduces a unique and totally bizarre type of villain that also helped keep things mostly light and airy. We also saw the return of Tom Cavenagh’s Harry, and I’ve gotta admit, the Flash needs a Tom Cavenagh to function properly. If “Zari” does nothing else, it proves that Legends of Tomorrow is improving upon the problems from last season. The story itself, impressively, draws everything back to the center, bringing all the disparaging storylines together and aligning characters, elements, and themes. Not exactly the fun and nothing but the fun attitude of the last two episodes, “Zari” is still interesting and effective; even if some of it’s best ideas are still pushed into the back row. Finally, we get to Arrow, which despite having not one but two major missteps in a three-episode season thus far finally gets its third right. Everything from the way Team Arrow operates, to how Star City feels about vigilantism, and what the Green Arrow actually means is explored. On the surface, though it’s also a solid Arrow episode, with a surprisingly effective yet downplayed villain to test Diggle’s new position. Even Oliver and Felicity’s relationship is much more mature and well presented. So despite having significant doubts about Arrow this season, “Next of Kin” has significantly assuaged those doubts. With all of the episodes being great this week, it’s still Supergirl that stands a head above the rest. Two strong storylines with impactful social commentary, a living legend, and more insight into a much-beloved character clearly make it one to remember. “Far from the Tree” was hard to watch but equally hard to look away from, and that’s why even in a strong week like this one, it still runs away with the prize.