The Heroes Return

Arrowverse 2018/2019 Season: Week 19

We had a pretty slow week this week in the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming.. While most of our shows are back (we miss you, Legends of Tomorrow), they largely returned with lackluster episodes. Well, aside from Supergirl, which gave us a commendably strong turn this week. Otherwise, it wasn't great in the 'verse.

That left us trying to figure out what episode we'd cover this week (to pair up with Supergirl). Although we could have talked about Doom Patrol again (which was goofy as always), we've elected to take a week off from it (we did cover it two weeks in a row, after all). Instead, we'll take the lesser of three meh episodes and also look at Arrow:

Supergirl, Season 4, Episode 13: What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

Well, it looks like Supergirl's fight this year is going to be from multiple sides. At the start of the episode, Manchester Black escapes from prison, pairing up with his long-time buddy, Hat (a guy with a hat that's also a dimensional portal and, somehow, also allows him to teleport). Together they also collected Menagerie (from the episode two weeks ago) and one of the invisible aliens (last seen back in January). This group of supers now call themselves "the Elite" and they have one goal: to fight human-on-alien violence with even bigger violence. They want to make the costs of hurt aliens so high humans stop trying it.

And then, on the other side, we have the Sons of Liberty and their now-pardoned and free-to-walk-the-streets leader, Agent Liberty. This group is now endorsed by the U.S. Government (when Agent Liberty is made the new head of the Agency for Alien Affairs), and they stand diametrically opposed to the Elite: they want all aliens gone from the planet and they'll do whatever violent acts they have to in order to see that happen. This leaves Supergirl in a tricky spot since her actions against one group will seem like a tacit endorsement of the other. Heading into the last act of the season, Supergirl is going to have to find a way to deal with both groups effectively if she wants to save the country (and the planet).

This episode worked for me this week and I think a lot of that credit goes to the fact that this episode doesn't feel like yet another CW superhero drama. Sometimes the shows in the Arrowverse can feel pretty soap operatic -- bad dialogue, cheesy moments, terrible cinematography -- but "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" manages to avoid those pitfalls, turning in a tight, well plotted, well produced episode of Supergirl. This was easily one of the best episodes of the season so far (and far and away blows all the other 'verse episodes out of the water this week).

Part of this is because all of the elements the season has been building finally come to fruition in this episode. The Sons of Liberty are getting more fleshed out and we get to see more of the inner workings of the whole (hate filled) group. Having them align with the U.S. Government is an easy way to parallel the current presidential administration, but it doesn't feel cheap -- considering the build up to this moment (the time spent in the show on this president, his worries about polling numbers and appealing to the base), it feels like a development that's actually established and had to happen.

Similarly, Manchester Black has been lingering around the edges for most of the season. He's never seemed like a threat, but it was clear from the beginning that he was meant for something more. Now that we see him with many of the other villains from this season, we get a better sense of the danger he poses. His group is a real threat and it's clear the Elite are a match for Supergirl.

The episode even finds time to work in Dreamer and her training with Brainiac. Brainiac has been a favorite character for me this season, someone that has grown to be more than just the "substitute Winn" he was clearly designed to be (since Winn is gone for this season). Putting him with Dreamer allows the character to be fun and funny in a way only Brainiac is capable. He's a great character and he actually lifts up Dreamer who, before this episode, still hadn't really come into focus. She still has time to grow, but with Brainiac at her side, I think the character really could get interesting.

And it goes to show that there are really three teams at work here: the Sons of Liberty, the Elite, and Supergirl and her "Super Friends" (as she puts it in the episode). The episode has a pretty good fight sequence to cap these plot lines, but more importantly it promises some big moments to come, and it handles it all in a satisfying way. This is clearly just the first step for the plot lines in the rest of the season, and nothing really gets resolved, but I don't mind. The journey this episode, the development of the plot lines, shows the producers of Supergirl have a clear vision this season and know what they're doing.

Of all the shows to pick back up this week, Supergirl is the only one to hit the ground running (or flying, if you will).

Arrow, Season 7, Episode 14: Brothers & Sisters

Now, for an example of an episode simply spinning its wheels, we need look no further than Arrow. Because I stream all these episodes (since I cut-the-cord years ago), I literally just watched "Brothers and Sisters" last night and yet, despite the short time between watching and writing about it, I still struggle to think of anything important that actually happened in the episode. At the start of the hour ARGUS, the covert organization that John Diggle and his wife are a part of, was hot on the heels of Dante, a powerful super-criminal. They had a lead to follow and thought they could capture Dante and put him away. But he escapes all their plans and is still on the loose at the end of the episode. Meanwhile, Oliver and his estranged half-sister, Emiko, don't trust each other. By the end of the episode it seems like that relationship is thawing, except then its revealed that Emiko is in league with Dante, and we're back to square one there.

Really, the big issue with this season of Arrow is that the season really doesn't have an direction to it. Sure, the flash-forwards we're getting to Star City in the future are supposed to somehow illustrate the direction Arrow is headed and where all our heroes are going to end up long-term. And yet, none of it seems connected to what's going on in the present so it's hard to care about anything going on in the "future". And that doesn't even take into account that Arrow has show us possible futures before only to wipe them away, so it's not like this future we're seeing now is set in stone. Maybe the producer plan for it to be the "real" future for a while, but at some point someone on the staff could decide to wipe it all away and it wouldn't really matter. The flash-forwards seemed like an interesting idea when they began but they've failed to go anywhere all season.

That means we have to judge to season (and this episode) based on its present storyline, and it's just not working. Dante is, apparently, going to be our big bad this season but the show has done a terrible job of building him up. He's a villain discussed in passing, never seen before today, and given no real context for the actions he's committed. He's supposed to be so deep-cover you never know he's even in the room until he wants you to know. We're told he pulls all the strings in the criminal underworld, we're told but there's a different between showing and telling and right now Arrow is all talk. This is the kind of villain the show needs to develop, in person, from episode one of a season. He needs to be like Damien Dahrk, overtly pulling strings in plain sight. Dante doesn't work because we know nothing about him and just don't care.

And then the series decides to pair up the just-discovered half-sister with the big bad. This is a development that doesn't make any sense. Think about it: Emiko was introduced this season and, from her every action and word, has made it clear that she wants nothing to do with Oliver. Also remember that Oliver is not part of ARGUS and it's ARGUS, not Team Arrow, that's hot on the trail of Dante. While ARGUS is off chasing down Dante, Oliver is working on building a relationship with Emiko. And then, somehow, Emiko is working for Dante and her relationship with Oliver is all somehow part of the plan. How? In what universe does any of this make sense? It certainly didn't work in the context of the episode, or the season, and just makes everything attached to Dante seem that much dumber.

Plus we're already getting a "new family member works with the big bad" story this season over on The Flash. We didn't need a retread of that story on Arrow, especially not in the same season. When people bitch about how Arrow is a soap opera, an episode with secret half-sisters and double-crossing plans with the villains certainly doesn't help. This episode was just bad, through and through.

Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
  • Speaking of Arrow, the announcement was just made this week that the show will be ending next season with an abbreviated ten-episode order. Considering that the big crossover episodes always happen at the episode eight mark, I think we can all assume Oliver will likely die in or right after the big Crisis on Infinite Earths event (something we discussed a few weeks back). What this means for all the characters on this show is open for debate -- certainly the CW will keep most of those details under wraps at least until Crisis, but I'm sure this won't be the end for all the Arrow characters.
  • Over on Doom Patrol, we got a very goofy episode as the team travels (by bus) to Paraguay to confront the Nazi scientist that made Mr. Nobody. This is a delightfully strange episode although one could argue that no much actually happens. Still, if you want to see a creepy puppet show starring evil Nazis, Doom Patrol has you covered.
  • Sadly, Black Lightning turns in another ho-hum episode this week. This show just has way to many plot lines going at once and not enough time, week-to-week, to really address them all. It's hard to tell where the show is going and what the plan is, which is a real problem when we're only two episodes from the end of the season.
  • Finally, The Flash promised a big fight this week between Gorilla Grodd and King Shark, and technically that happens. It's one fight, at the end of the episode, and it's decent. Sadly, everything leading up to that was pretty boring and barely moved the needle for the season. This episode maybe wasn't as bad as Arrow this week, but it still sucked.