It’s saviors, blackmail, extra-terrestrials, and Ben in this week’s CW/DC TV Roundup!
Supergirl: Season 3: Episode 4: “The Faithful”
The cool thing about sci-fi stories is that they have the power to talk about social issues using proxies to keep from stepping on people’s tripwires. So, it looks like Supergirl is using this age-old rule to talk about religion using the context of the show as a blanket to keep people from getting offended. Basically, a man is rescued by Supergirl on her very first outing (preventing the plane crash,) and also happens to be at a point in his life when he’s searching for meaning. As a result, he sets up a church/cult of worshipers of the Krypton god, Rao; and the servant that he works through, Supergirl. If you can’t see where this is going, you should read more comics. Followers of the church start purposely putting themselves in danger in order to get Supergirl to save them, and thereby become anointed in the church of Rao. What follows is a maddeningly accurate portrayal of dealing with the effect that religion has on individuals, both legally and logically. The series’ position on this subject is one of practicality. If people are becoming a danger to themselves or others than religious beliefs can be poisonous, but the episode doesn’t dwell on the negative stigma around religious beliefs. There’s also discussion about the positive aspects of religion including meaning, fellowship, and family. The parallels that are drawn between Kara’s religious history on Krypton and the religious histories of other characters like James draws on very positive relationships with religion during formative years, and so the conversation isn’t as one-sided as Supergirl has a tendency to sometimes do. There’s even conversation about how Supergirl’s very existence has acted as proof-enough of a heavenly presence. Of course these just act as a pretense to the inevitable external conflict which has the leader of the cult going all Heaven’s Gate and attempting to “convert” a large percentage of the population. At this point, it would have been all to easy for Supergirl to phone it in and wrap things up, but surprisingly the conclusion is quite profound within the context of the show. Nothing is wrapped up too neatly to be real, and the show grants all the subjects and themes the proper sense of gravity. Just incredible all around.
The Flash: Season 4: Episode 4 “Elongated Journey into the Night”
Well, looks like the Mr. Fantastic powerset still hasn’t been figured out in live-action. The good news is that pretty much the only thing that doesn’t work with the introduction of The Elongated Man in this episode is his powers. Hunter Sawyer immediately draws the eye as Ralph Dibney the scoundrel and wannabe PI ladies man. His chemistry/friction with Barry is one of the high points of the episode, as we get to see a side of Barry that we haven’t really seen before; and that’s pure annoyance and disgust. Grant Gustin taps into this unique emotion to interact with Dibney which creates a sense of rivalry that mirrors the two characters’ friendship from the comics. Meanwhile, Danny Trejo guest stars as Breacher, the disapproving father of Gypsy. Cisco is distracted for most of the episode by a deadly contest against Breacher to dodge him for twenty-four hours in order to stay with Gypsy. Danny Trejo basically just shows up for this episode which is enough, but since his role is semi-comedic, he doesn’t come on too heavy or bring down the lighthearted tone. There are a couple of points in the episode where the drama gets into some deeper contextual territory for the Flash than the last few episodes; namely, Caitlin having sympathy for Dibney’s situation despite Barry’s attitude and Barry contending with a predisposed prejudice against Dibney even in light of his duty as the Flash. Sawyer doesn’t just figure out how to handle Dibney’s charm in this episode, in fact, his entire arc is worth mentioning. There’s some complicated lore here between Barry and Ralph that’s worth looking at from both of their perspectives because each has something worthwhile to say about justice and morality. What’s most surprising is the effect it has on Barry’s character, because it’s a question in a particular bubble that he’s never come across about how the law and justice can sometimes be two different things. It’s especially significant considering his actions outside the law as the Flash since the beginning of the series. Though that ending is super campy in the best way possible. Another fun and different Flash episode.
Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3 Episode 4 “Phone Home”
With It being a surprise success at the box office and the debut of the second season of the hit series Stranger Things, I guess now Legends of Tomorrow is going to take a crack at eighties nostalgia with the subtly named “Phone Home.” This episode opens with a young Ray Palmer running roughshod through a mysterious and shady government facility, meant to mimic the one featured at the end of E.T. before he’s ultimately gunned down by a nameless G-Man. Yes, you read that right. Gunned down. Sadly, this beginning is poorly developed and fails to create the proper tone for what happens later on. I really wish there was a better way to say it, but the scenes leading up the Ray’s “death” don’t make for an entertaining start to what ends up being a pretty good story. A grown-up Ray, trying to convince Mick to perform a trust fall, twenty-nine years later; yeah, that’s more like it. The team goes back in time to determine the exact cause of Ray’s untimely death as a child, and ultimately prevent it. While the episode starts as a pretty basic stroll down memory lane, eventually it’s revealed that Ray’s childhood was not as innocuous as he himself believed. Ray deals with multiple moments from his past and is forced to look at them through the lens of experience, changing the meaning of different traumas and other scenarios after the fact. The episode only touches on this character study, which is a bit of a letdown when you consider just how much more could have been said about how misunderstood events in Ray’s history have contributed to his present attitude. Regardless, Brandon Routh plays along with the arc and has milestones and reactions that act sufficiently as a sort of slap-dash development. Zari, despite still being a bit of an unknown factor, takes a prominent role in this episode. Her interactions with young Ray are revealing for her character, showing not only her kindness but also her adaptability. These moments act as effective ways to make her easier to empathize with despite the cold introduction in her titular episode. It also reveals how her backstory makes it more difficult for her to approach the level of positivity and whimsy, or even patience, she needs to reach in order to get through to young Ray. It’s too early to say for sure if her character will have staying power, but “Phone Home” does act as a positive example for what she can bring to the show. By the end, I was convinced that Ray’s experience was profound, so the episode succeeded in its primary goal of telling a fun-size E.T. story, with a sampling of the same emotional beats. It does all this while still maintaining irreverence and humor throughout its entirety, so once again Legends of Tomorrow churns out yet another fun, funny, and campy adventure while giving us our first real insight into Zari’s merits and faults. With Victor Garber on his way out, I’m glad to see that the series feels like getting Tala Ashe’s Zari to a comfortable position in the dynamic is a priority.
Arrow: Season 6: Episode 4 “Reversal”
I was having trouble getting pulled in to this one with two separate storylines going, but when things start to connect the episode does actually get interesting (well…they also drop Michael Emerson in, which doesn’t hurt either.) Not-Laurel is going around killing seemingly ordinary people indiscriminately, and Helix (or Alena rather) shows up one Felicity’s doorstep looking for assistance in stopping the dastardly plot of Cayden James (the hacker Felicity helped Helix free last season.) Michael Emerson makes his debut as Cayden James and brings some much-needed malevolence to the sixth season. By the halfway point, I was invested, but by then it was too little too late. Cayden James plan is insane, and in all honesty, makes very little sense. I was reminded by an old Penny-Arcade comic mocking the plot of Live Free or Die Hard. Here’s a pleasant surprise though. The action setpieces are well constructed and intense. This may not be one of Arrow’s best episodes, but the action is thoroughly effective. Oliver plays a different kind of role for this mission, but it’s one that’s surprisingly intriguing. This is yet another Operation: Felicity episode and Emily Bett Rickards seems to get better at these action heavy storylines the more she does them. By the end this one seemed to have all the beats of a good episode, almost erasing the first half of “Reversal.” Almost. Still half of a good episode is better than a whole bad one, so despite this episode having frequent ups and downs, I’ll still call this one a win for Arrow.
Final Word: Though there were some positive additions to the Arrowverse all around this week with Ralph Dibney making a complex and thought-provoking appearance in Flash and Zari gets her first real mission with the Legends to show exactly what she’s made of. Arrow also brought Michael Emerson into the fold as a major villain so despite some odd choices, that alone made “Reversal” a success. Despite all that though, once again Supergirl wins the week. It’s always weird to talk about religion, but Supergirl did it because it had a story it wanted to tell and that perspective was necessary to make the story matter. Plus there’s plenty of elbow room in “The Faithful” and it keeps its argument contained within the context without insulting one or the other side of the debate; an especially impressive feat considering Supergirl’s liberal views being woven into the show’s DNA.