It’s climate change, destinies, vigilante justice, and bounty hunting in this week’s CW/DC TV roundup.
Hey. Who replaced this weeks super girl episode with a made for TV adaptation of John Carpenters’ “The Thing?” Oh wait… No, I’m pretty sure this is still Supergirl, though probably less so than I should be. Still, bombardment of references aside (they even did the stomach opening scene!), the truly weird and horrifying intro does set off the appropriate fanfare for the character of Parasite, who ranks pretty high on the superbaddie weirdness scale. “Changing” highlights this weirdness by bringing in William Mapother (who previously played a freakishly strong scientist/doctor on Lost) to creep along the fringes and shadows throughout the episode as Dr. Rudy Jones. This episode is about climate change, and if you’ve been playing the home game you’ll know that with an episode addressing immigration, an episode addressing gun control, and an episode addressing climate change we’ve hit the democratic hat trick. It’s this final turn that sends Supergirl overboard off the port-side. But the series’ clear political allegiance isn’t the problem. In fact in some cases Supergirl’s opinions might even be considered justified; and while I praised “Welcome to Earth” for using intelligent and established three dimensional characters to present both sides of the argument and make it relevant to the narrative, condemned “Crossfire” for presenting only one side of the argument and using the villain to reinforce that side, and I have to further condemn “Changing” for ignoring it’s own argument and instead reinforcing negative feelings about the other side. Sure, the climate change scientist villain may be a radical, but he’s still a force of action and influence, his target however projects only three major traits. Disrespect, greed, and cowardice. This is not an argument, it’s a burning in effigy. Supergirl can get as political as it wants, but when the characters (even the bit ones) are one dimensional in an effort to bolster the political message, the illusion of the narrative begins to crack and the whole thing just turns in to propaganda. All this self-righteous sabotage is unfortunate, because “Changing” is a really good episode. All the weirdness is visually interesting, Parasite as a big scary CGI monster dials up the terror, James does the action thing really well. And Alex…oh dear god. Flawless. It’s so hard to watch, and it should be because it’s scary, personal, and vulnerable. Then when something goes wrong in that situation, it’s not just embarrassing, it’s devastating. It’s also very relatable and modern, and Chyler Leigh goes full tilt to make it emotionally affecting. Best of all though, Kara is far from unconditionally supportive. In fact, she’s pretty insensitive, which breaks the altruistic imperative of her stereotypical progressive superhero; and instead makes her a more human character with this much more realistic reaction. Supergirl is a modern superhero marvel, but this episode resorts to mudslinging instead of empathy, and it tends to cheapen the whole thing.
There’s a metahuman that is a shadow and he’s going around killing people. We don’t really know why, and we don’t care and neither does Team Flash. There are more important things to do, so “Shade” (the episode not the character) does those instead. Thank you very much Flash. This is a perfect example of reading the room and acting accordingly. The episode starts with the introduction from Wally, and it ties in naturally to the episode’s storyline already in progress and Alchemy appears to have chosen his next target in Wally West. The Wally West that was known as Kid Flash in the Flashpoint timeline. This is probably just an excuse to make Wally Kid Flash in the current continuity, but it refuses to come easily which makes the incubation much more intriguing and tumultuous as far as character introductions are concerned. As much as I enjoyed Wally’s journey in “Shade” and even how incredibly cool that ending ended up being, (Savitar! Holy crap!) Caitlin’s story actually wins in my eyes this time, but most of it is contextual, and based around my own perceptions of her relationships with the rest of the team. It’s pretty clear that she blames Barry for her current predicament with her powers after he lets it slip that she didn’t have powers in the previous timeline. It further twists her perception when Cisco attempts to hide her future from her, when she asks him about her fate. Caitlin’s relationships with the rest of the team have always been incredibly wholesome and positive, but the episode flips that with each individual character showing that the line between hero in villain is just a coin toss away. There are a lot of changes in how the characters interact after this, and this is most evident by the scenes between Cisco and Caitlin, where the distance between them is even greater, but Cisco even steps back as Caitlin gets closer. Events like this are small, but they’re telling; and they set the groundwork for shakeups like Caitlin’s transformation. “Shade” is very clearly about metamorphosis, but Caitlin and Wally both have experienced enough in past episodes to set the precedence for their changes, making them more gradual than just a switch. I’m warning up the HR as well… But with Tom Cavanagh I was pretty sure that was just a matter of time.
After the Prometheus heavy last episode, and not a lot of anything else, Arrow gets back to anything else with a vengeance by introducing the character of Vigilante…also with a vengeance. What’s so impressive about “Vigilante” is the Vigilante himself. He’s visually interesting and highly capable, but he’s less theatrical and philosophical than Arrow’s usual rogues gallery. While the character has been referenced in a previous episode however, he’s instead treated like he’s brand new (a sketch of him can be clearly seen on Felicity’s computer in the episode “Legacy.”) “Vigilante” makes it more fresh though by questioning (justifiably) the incidence of murder in the pursuit of justice. You’d think this is a question that has been beaten to death by this very series, but the introduction of a capable and effective foil to Oliver (with a similar agenda) makes the motivation behind “Vigilante” surprisingly more substantial. The events of the episode make Oliver’s second guessing convincing, but as the tactics and ideology of Vigilante evolves so too does Oliver’s resolve. The problem is that Oliver’s moral ideology is never settled. It wasn’t so long ago that Oliver was killing people, and we never really had a suitable rebound from that mindset, so the episode’s ending is a bit hollow. Besides that there’s more Dolph Lundgren (I swear, I could watch the guy monologue for the entire episode, he’s such a good heavy,) John’s own frustrations with being locked up, and finally Lance’s problems (both drinking and possibly murdering). I get tired of the abundance of characters experiencing substance abuse in this series, but Paul Blackthorne really projects it. The character of Lance has been a welcome addition to the series, even if they still haven’t really found a perfect fit for him (detective, beat cop, ally, captain, drunk, deputy mayor; seriously this guy has had more career changes than Barbie.) Regardless of character though, if you give a good actor a chance to shine you can bet they’ll rise to the occasion, and Blackthorne takes the penitent drunk to a whole new level, with the help of Willa Holland of course. “Vigilante” works well in multiple areas, but most of them are physical (action, costume design, effects, etc) luckily Blackthorne and Holland are able to take the emotional heavy lifting to make the episode effective on two levels.
Finally, an episode of Legends of Tomorrow that I don’t have to rail against. It would however also be accurate to say I’m setting the bar lower than I would like, as “Outlaw Country” does not *wow* nor does it *amaze* but it is, at the very least, balanced. The Legends are called back in time by an aberration that starts in Liberty Colorado in 1874, luckily this particular disruption to the timestream isn’t caused by our Cabal of Arrowverse baddies. In fact, it’s a fairly innocuous event that leads to bigger problems, kind of like they tried to do with “Abominations” before it couldn’t figure out if it was about civil rights or zombies. A “time pirate” tracks down a large supply of something…but we’re not sure exactly what. Unfortunately the supply is already owned by DC Comics’ Quentin Turnbull (played by the awesomely over the top Jeff Fahey.) The character was originally played by John Malkovich in the better off forgotten Jonah Hex movie that came out in two-thousand-and-ten; and like that interpretation of the character, Legends kind of nixes the comics and just goes with a standard black hat Calvera type. It works for the story though, which sees the return of Johnathon Schaech as Jonah Hex. “Outlaw Country” divides its conflict up evenly; the team enacts a plan and executes it, so we know the whole time what is going on and why it’s bad and or good. This means that the episode itself is pretty simple, so there isn’t a lot of room for surprise or suspense, but Legends finally acknowledges its best asset by letting characters group up and develop alongside each other. Of course the stupid mad-lib game is still going on between Stein and Jax, but besides that the episode essentially goes off without a hitch. All the best things about Legends are on display, especially the characters’ personalities and the conflict is just simple enough to allow all those personalities to flourish. I’d say Legends got its groove back, but unfortunately I think it might still be too early to make that call.
Final Word: Supergirl this week was a real creature feature, and it was definitely worth the price of admission (aka it essentially being propaganda.) The episode is weird in all the right places, plus seeing Kara laid up next to J’onn with all the life drained out of her was a shocking image that serves the remind us of just how far removed from human she is. Alex on the other hand, is quite human, and her incredibly personal storyline is painfully realistic in its portrayal. This week Flash laid out a gut punch of destiny by highlighting both Caitlin and Wally’s turns. These are two characters that have been ignored for far too long, and “Shade” acts as both a correction and an apology. Arrow introduced the character of “Vigilante” along with all of the baggage that introduction comes with. Oliver contended with his decisions to take life (again…) And Lance gets help he desperately needs. Vigilante’s aesthetic is nailed in the episode, and Prometheus’ ally is revealed. Legends continues to dangle Barry’s message, but the episode puts forth and honest effort that ends up paying off in the long run. It’s simple to be sure, but it’s easy to follow and as a result the Legends are able to put their best foot forward with fun and funny scenes like Mick and Turnbull getting along, Nate designing his own superhero suit, Jonah trying to wrap his head around Sarah’s sexuality, and Ray, Jax, and Nate pretending to be tax collectors. All of the CW offerings this week were either good or great, so anticipation for the crossover is high, but I think I’d like to know what’s going to happpen with Wally and Caitlin first.