It’s lead-poisoning, #feminism, 90’s R&B, and Jackals in this week’s CW/DC TV Roundup!
Supergirl: Season 3: Episode: 6 “Damage”
From the previews, I was led to believe that this one was set to be pretty damn dramatic. Well, those previews undersold Damage. Two big events happen in this episode that immediately show a major shift in Supergirl. Morgan Edge is revealed as a far more dangerous foe than previously noted, as he uses an outbreak of lead poisoning among the children of National City, to slander Lena, and Maggie and Alex (one of the major drawing points of the show) break up over their disagreement on whether or not to have kids. Kids is actually a pretty important theme of Damage because in both cases they are very effective weapons. Edge says some things that sow substantial doubt in Lena, and the fact that the whole situation rings so true to the real-life instances of this kind of thing occurring (Flint, Michigan in particular,) it’s easy to see why the comments are so biting. This is an important arc for Lena because it forces her to make a concentrated effort in order to save herself against Edge’s accusations and total and social destruction. Lena constantly struggles with her own self-worth due to her past as both a Luthor and an outsider in her own family, so seeing her take her fate into her own hands makes for an important character moment that goes beyond just self-preservation. The other thing that happens in this episode involves Maggie and Alex’s breakup which is, for lack of a better term, difficult to watch. It was easy to be invested in this storyline since Maggie and Alex’s relationship was such a positive aspect of the show and a lot of effort has been put into cultivating it, but the fate of the storyline also makes sense within the context. So though this is a rational decision, it’s still one that’s approached with emotional gravity, taking the entire B-side of the episode to explore both the practical and poignant aspects of the end of Maggie and Alex’s romantic relationship.
Damage is great, but sometimes it goes too far. Protestors chanting “Lock her up!” isn’t just on the nose, it’s up it, and the emotional barrage using the “THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN!” cliché is just too ardent to function as an affecting narrative. The truth behind the conflict does put Morgan Edge’s character into a whole new level of villain, but it also simplifies things in the second half which works directly against the moral complexity of the active themes in the first half (kids, necessity, heroic hubris, and self-doubt.)
The Flash: Season 4: Episode 5 “Girls Night Out”
“Girls Night Out” centers around Barry’s bachelor party and Iris’ bachelorette party (and how both go horribly wrong,) but it’s really about Caitlin’s attempts to escape from the hard life she had in between season three and four. If you’re thinking that this one is a hard sell because it lacks a sufficient frame of reference, you get a gold star. We know Caitlin had a hard time after she and Killer Frost supposedly merged at the end of season three, but we didn’t know exactly what that meant and we continued to be in the dark until this episode. That failure to provide a background for that storyline until now is the sin that causes the many information dumps as “Girls Night Out” attempts to bring us up to speed with a Caitlin storyline we’ve had no time to become familiar with. In fact, that’s “Girl’s Night Out’s” main problem, but far from its only one. Katee Sackhoff as Blacksmith just never works. I like Katee Sackhoff as an actress (what sci-fi fan doesn’t?) but Blacksmith as a character is cartoony, charmless, and flat. Everything from her ridiculous bad guy outfit to her terrible accent fails to inspire any genuine feeling of threat, despite Katee Sackhoff trying her damnedest to project some presence in a relatively dull character. Both hers and Caitlin’s powers also fail to add legitimacy to the story as there’s no consistency to them. Sometimes Blacksmith’s daggers stab, and sometimes they just knockback. Sometimes Caitlin’s cold blasts freeze and sometimes they just blow the doors off. This kind of practice is lazy, and it immediately derails any tension. Flash (and other shows like it) have always been guilty of this but I’m coming down hard on Flash because it’s the damn science show, and yet there’s no loyalty to physics or logic when the plot demands someone survive something that should be meant to kill them. About the only positive thing to come from this storyline is that it brings Caitlin and Iris into the same bubble. These two characters have shared screentime for three seasons already, and yet they’ve never had extended joint development. The show acknowledges that consistent failure though, which is something at least…
Barry’s part of the story has similar problems. It’s hard to figure out which angle Barry’s bachelor party is supposed to go in because there are a lot of different perspectives yet none of them seem to be the focus. You get the impression that Cisco is supposed to be more sympathetic, as his idea of the bachelor party is hijacked by Dibney, despite Cisco being Barry’s best friend. The much more effective emotional angle though is Joe contending with being a father, to a baby, at his age and how his talk with Cecile’s daughter affects that mindset. Joe’s such a great character, and this part of his storyline is rich with potential, but it doesn’t take up a lot of time before it’s pretty sufficiently resolved. However, it remains effectively stirring because of Jesse Martin’s always sympathetic performance. This part of the plot also sees Barry finally being able to get drunk and that’s funny for about five minutes before it gets kind of dull because taking Barry out of commission doesn’t really help us empathize with him, especially considering that this is a major change in his life and it feels like he would be a necessary voice to have to explore it. Even by the end, the episode is still making stupid mistakes that make no sense. Like just letting Blacksmith get away, despite her being vulnerable, allowing a MAN WHO PRODUCES DRUGS WITH HIS TEARS to just kind of run off into the night, going after a dangerous and experienced metahuman, with no plan, and the list just goes on and on. This may be the funny season, but not even a smattering of Flash-brand humor and Barry Allen charm can save this disaster from being the Flash’s first significant stumble in an otherwise great season. One thing about “Girls Night Out” works thanks to Jesse Martin, and everything else falls apart from stupid/lazy story choices, an ineffectual villain, and a complete lack of a cohesive focus in either of its stories.
Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3: Episode 5 “Return of the Mack”
The Legends make their way to 1895 London after a series of vampire attacks cause an anachronism. While there, they encounter Rip on an independent mission to track down a mystical boogeyman and the threat of the season finally begins to take shape in the form of a name. Mallus (voiced here by the earth-shaking vocals of John Noble.) “Return of the Mack” is also the return of Arthur Darville to the Legends proper, (well for now anyway…) so I was automatically inclined to enjoy it.
I’m usually down on Legends of Tomorrow for their settings being low-budget facsimiles of their real-life counterparts, but Legends’ 1895 London is surprisingly replete with details that make it seem genuine. The setting is lively and compelling; from the crowded streets that Jack the Ripper stalked, to a graveyard with a rusty creaking gate, and a creepy old English manor reached by a horse-drawn Clarence. All these hallmarks set the necessary tone and recognizing their value as both scenery and practical assets is what makes Legends’ sci-fi aspects blend into the background with their vampire hunt.
The episode also successfully integrates three other arcs, each between two major characters. Amaya tries to convince Zari that the totem isn’t a curse or a burden but a gift, all the while attempting to close an emotional distance with the reluctant air-totem bearer, Jax and Ray attempt to find a way to stabilize Firestorm and free Dr. Stein so he can go back to his family, and Rip attempts to repair the damage he did to his relationship with Sara and the rest of the Legends when he betrayed them in order to form the Time Bureau and relieve the Legends of duty. All of these things tie together with the storyline, which isn’t just “the vampire episode” but an insightful look at characters’ relationships and a revelation of the sheer power this season’s big bad really wields. That ending is what absolutely clinches it. “Return of the Mack” is the best Legends of Tomorrow episode so far. There’s so much waiting on the horizon and Legends of Tomorrow is finally shaping up to be the wonderful and weird show it’s been struggling to be all this time.
Arrow: Season 6: Episode 5 “Deathstroke Returns”
Slade needs Oliver’s help to rescue his son Joe from a prison in Kasnia, but he wants the mission to be peaceful with Oliver channeling Oliver Queen instead of Green Arrow. Meanwhile is Star City, Councilwoman Pollard is attacked by an unknown sniper due to her backing of the anti-vigilante law. As a result, Team Arrow is out to find and neutralize the sniper before any more damage can be done to the reputation of vigilantes in Star City. Slade and Oliver together again is an exciting prospect for this episode and a possibly entertaining adventure, but the best aspects of this team up is ignored in favor of pure Arrow-flavored charisma-killing melodrama. Slade’s history along with that of the relationship between him and his son is an insightful story for the character makes his current situation seem like a natural extension of that history. There are also some fascinating parallels with the comic-book counterpart of the story, in particular, the introduction of Joseph Wilson (DC Comics’ Jericho.) Most of them are just namedrops though instead of actual plot-points, so it’s a little disappointing. It does culminate in a really cool fight scene involving Deathstroke, making his way through hordes of enemies with just a gun and sword, so points for that. Then the identity of the leader of the Jackals is revealed and I honestly don’t know why Arrow is trying to act like these revelations are surprising.
Case in point, Vigilante’s identity is finally revealed, and the scene telegraphs it so obviously that it’s nothing but eye-rolling. This is supposed to be a revealing look at Dinah’s past, but it never connects emotionally. Once Dinah and Vigilante get a face to face things are put into perspective and it becomes easier to empathize with both of their positions. Sadly, it doesn’t lead to anywhere meaningful, even though Vigilante drops some interesting hints about Councilwoman Pollard not being on the up and up, and Dinah just ends up letting him go despite the fact that the only thing they know about his motivations is that he wants to kill Pollard. It’s that “the episode is almost over” revelation that says that the bad guy’s motivations die down after the story ends. It only makes sense when you consider it’s a tv show so it falls directly into the uncanny valley that separates what’s considered real and what’s manufactured for the purpose of the story.
Then there’s FBI agent Samanda Watson. I feel like at this point we’d have some background on this character, but without it, she just seems like kind of an obnoxious addition. We don’t know her process, her resources, or her motivations. She just represents the idea that the secret identity thing is easy to figure out if you’re paying attention to the facts. I don’t know if her character is supposed to be incredibly smart or good at figuring out puzzles or whatever but all the information that she’s projected thus far has been obvious which makes it all the more strange that no one has put it together until now. As it stands, all Samanda Watson’s character is doing is revealing that someone should have figured out the identity of team Arrow a long time ago because it is not well hidden. She came along and broke the suspension of disbelief and each episode she smugly reminds us that there’s no reason they should have been this successful at hiding their identities this long.
Final Word: “Damage” starts out as a great Supergirl episode, but eventually just becomes good. It’s still an overwhelmingly positive experience, acting as both a compelling development for one of Supergirl’s staples and a heartbreaking goodbye to another. “Girls Night Out” lacks any context for an emotional connection beyond Jesse Martin’s Joe having incredibly complicated feelings about becoming a father at his age. Everything else is woefully weak and oftentimes just plain broken or scattershot. Blacksmith is an awful villain in basically every way and I honestly feel bad for Katee Sackhoff having to portray such an embarrassingly bad role. And then there’s Arrow which once again doesn’t do anything new or interesting and continues to break its mythos with a character that only exists to point out how unfeasible it is that none of them have been arrested thus far. Not even Manu Bennett getting a starring role and revealing the history of Deathstroke the Terminator can save this one from eventually just foundering into anticlimax. However, only one of these episodes has Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk murdering people with magical powers to Mark Morrison’s nineteen-ninety-six hit song Return of the Mack and that is unsurprisingly Legends of Tomorrow’s. This week, I’m giving the prize to “Return of the Mack” for integrating all of its disparate elements into a colorful, tone-appropriate, entertaining, and emotionally-complex harmony. Legends is really working to erase its awful second season and we’re about five episodes in and I’ve already almost forgotten that the climax of that season involved them trying to dig up a vial of Jesus’ blood in the middle of a battlefield during WW1. Almost…