I Hear a Crisis is a-Coming
Arrowverse 2019/2020 Season: Week 1
So here we are with another year 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.. When last we saw most of our shows they were all building up to a Multiverse-spanning event, Crisis on Infinite Earths and, for the most part, we're still seeing the signs of that oncoming storm. The Crisis is coming and the CW is pulling out all the stops to make sure this year's event is the biggest yet, with drips and drabs of information about all the characters that will be appearing in the show, all the various other shows and movies (like Smallville and Superman Returns that get to appear). When it airs, across five episodes on three nights, with a long break in the middle (the jerks!), so be prepared for a huge television experience that hasn't really been done before on any broadcast network.
But we're not here for the Crisis just yet. Three of our shows have started back up -- Supergirl, Black Lightning, and The Flash -- joined by newcomer Batwoman, so we need to get into the meat of the Arrowverse right now and see where our week-to-week stories take us first:
Batwoman, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot
For this new series we're introduced to Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), cousin to Bruce Wayne. Years before (as we learned in last year's Elseworlds crossover which, weirdly, takes place later in the timeline for this premiere season), Batman and Bruce Wayne both disappeared from Gotham City (although I'm sure it's not related), leaving a big hole to be filled. And it was filled, by the worst dregs of criminality. Luckily for Gotham, a new group of protectors stepped up: the Crows, lead by Kate's father Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott), a private police force that has become the de facto defenders of the city (although mostly just the rich members of it). When Kate, an out-and-proud lesbian, finds out that her one-time love, Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy), has been kidnapped by a new villain, Alice (Rachel Skarsten), Kate returns to Gotham to aid in the effort to find Sophie.
Where was Kate all this time? Well, after she washed out of military academy (for being and out-and-proud lesbian), her father set her north to train. All Kate wanted was to be one of the Crows, to serve the city, so her father sent her to a private tutor way out in the middle of nowhere to gain the skills she needed. Back in Gotham, though, Jacob continues to shut his daughter out, to keep her away from the Crows, so Kate finds her own way to be involved, mostly by breaking into the boarded up Wayne Corp. building and stealing it's resources to launch her own search. And that's how she discovers a hidden entrance into a Batcave where Kate finally figures out something that really should have been obvious, all things considered: Bruce Wayne is Batman. Kate then takes what she needs to become her own version of The Bat so she can take on Alice and save Sophie.
This first episode of Batwoman has a fair bit of heavy lifting to do. Although we were already introduced to Batwoman back in Elseworlds (which does take some of the surprise out of this episode, making it feel much more inevitable), this series starts us off months before that crossover, with Kate not even working on a superhero yet. The show has to introduce us to its characters, develop its setting, and give us the stakes for the series moving forward. And all that with a greater mystery hanging over our heads: why did Bruce Wayne leave Gotham. Obviously the real reason is because DC didn't want the Batman to show up on a silly little CW show (at least not yet), but it does mean the series has to find a reason for his disappearance. That's an arc that will presumably play out over the course of the series and, if it ends up never getting resolved, or being poorly finished ("I was just on a really long yacht trip") it's gonna ding the episode.
Batman hangs over every moment of this show. Batwoman wasn't original created to be Bruce's cousin, wasn't meant to be someone that filled into his shadow when he left, but that's what the series sets up. Because the series makes Kate Bruce's cousin, something that isn't in the comics, it means that everything she does is set in his lineage. She's not her own independent character but an extension of his brand. Sure, in the comics she was "Batwoman", but she had no relation to the Bat, didn't get her training or gear from him, just used his iconography because it was convenient. This change makes the character easier to understand for viewers, I guess, but at the same time it feels weird to completely rewrite a large part of a character's back-story for convenience. I almost would have preferred it if the show could have crept out of Batman's shadow isn't of making Kate into a version of him that was convenient for licensing.
Kate on her own is a great character. Played well by Ruby Rose, without the campiness of many of the other performances in the Arrowverse, Kate is a strong, interesting character who is well suited to leading her own show. A least in the pilot so far, Batwoman eschews they over-the-top storytelling of Gotham, the other Bat show of recent memory, and does a better job of setting up a grounded version of the world for its characters than anything we see in the other CW superhero shows. This late entry into the canon feels like it could be a breath of fresh air for the whole universe, a way to refocus and recenter all the shows once Arrow goes off the air, leaving this as the dark, gritty soul of the 'verse.
Time will tell how this plays out. I like where the series is starting from and am interested is seeing how it grows. It's rating weren't great for its pilot (worse than any other series premiere in the Arrowverse so far) so hopefully the CW gives it time to grow and evolve and doesn't just axe it after a single season. So far this is the show to watch in the 'verse.
Supergirl, Season 5, Episode 1: Event Horizon
Last season of Supergirl ended with Lex dead (at his sister's hands), but not before he reveals the truth to Lena Luthor: the Supergirl is her best friend, Kara Danvers. Lena suddenly realized that her friend had been lying to her for years and this, for some reason, was a crime Lena simply could forgive, so she promised to somehow make Supergirl pay, no matter what.
Thus, coming in to this episode, we find Lena planning her revenge on Kara. It starts with selling CatCo Media, where Kara works as a reporter, to rival Andrea Rojas (Julie Gonzalo). Rojas immediately goes about changing everything, making CatCo, a supposedly serious media empire, into a click-bait Online rag. Kara, having also won a Pulitzer (somehow), has a ceremony in her honor coming up and Lena is supposed to be the presenter of the award. Her plan, though, is to reveal Kara's identity to the world at the ceremony, thus ruining the Girl of Steel there as well. With one day her plan is to rip everything from Supergirl for revenge!
Except it doesn't actually play out like that. Kara, feeling guilty after all the lies, all the attempts to tell Lena the truth and always backing out, finally blurts out the truth to Lena. This changes Lena's plan and, instead of revealing Kara's true identity, she keeps it to herself... for now. Revenge is still on the table, it just will take even longer. Oh, and there's a subplot about an alien shape shifter using Kryptonian tech to harass the heroes, but, honestly, this section is half-baked and, so far, doesn't lead to anything. The big story is Kara and Lena as Lena is going to be our big bad for the season.
After last season's big emphasis on politics, it seems like this season is going to focus on the media. News, fake news, and click bait are the orders of the day, topics that are relevant now in the real world. Presumably Supergirl will find someway to work these charged themes into the story of the season, shining a light on it in the same way the series tackled the alt-right and Trump last year. It's arguable how successful that season's story really was as, having Lex Luthor be behind everything, from Agent Liberty to the evils of the Presidency, was either a masterstroke of plotting saying, "Trump is pulling everyone's strings," or a cop out saying, "it's only because we put a supervillain in here that things are this bad. The real world isn't like this." Either side could see their own story in it, undercutting the themes that were really important. I do hope that if Supergirl goes after the media, especially far-right, conspiracy peddling it does so without having a slight cop-out at the end.
At the same time, I have to question the storyline of Lena and Kara. I get Lena being upset over Kara lying to her all this time, and Lena has had a grudge against Supergirl for a while now. The Luthors have never gotten along with the Kryptonians, and there's always been bad blood and mistrust there. But Kara gives such a heartfelt confession, one that clearly explains why she did what she did, how much it hurt her to do it, and that she knew in the process how much the truth would hurt Lena, but she confesses anyway. If Lena really was hurt simply because Kara lied to her, which seems to be the motivation of this whole storyline, then one would think this confession would immediately blow up that plan. But no, Lena still wants her revenge, cold and evil, and will get it to matter what.
The series is going to have to work to convince me of this. The friendship between these two characters has been one of the high points of the run. These two have been through a lot and it seems like their friendship should be stronger than this. if it isn't, the series is really going to have to sell it going forward. So far, though, I'm not convinced. Lena as the big bad is an interesting idea, so now they have to make it work for this season to really come together.
Black Lightning, Season 3, Episode 1: The Book of Occupation: Chapter One: Birth of the Blackbird
When last we saw the Pierce clan -- father Jefferson (aka Black Lightning), daughters Anissa (Thunder) and Jennifer (Lightning), and mother Lynn (a neuroscientist) -- they had just put away Tobias Whale, kingpin of the city and arch-nemesis to Black Lightning, and were celebrating at home. Agent Odell, head of the A.S.A. force in Freeland, came into their home to confront them. He already knew who they were but instead of taking them all in (since the A.S.A. like to imprison meta-humans to use in their army) he wanted to strike a deal to work with them.
We then pick up a few months later and Freeland is a very different place. All the meta-human kids caused by Green Light, the illegal drug that, for some reason, activated the meta gene in humans, had be rounded up for testing at an A.S.A. facility. This facility essentially was a holding camp (not unlike the illegal migrant holding camps we have in the real world), and the residents of Freeland were none too happy. They blame, in part, Black Lightning, who has been a no show this whole time, but then B.L. hasn't been around because Jefferson has actually be in the holding facility as well, going through a 30 day testing period. This whole program was overseen by Odell and Lynn, and B.L. agreed to it, but that certainly didn't make the situation any better.
Meanwhile Anissa, under the guise of new hero Blackbird (since Thunder is a known by the A.S.A. and working publicly as Thunder would violate the agreement between the government agency and the Pierce family), has been working to liberate Green Light kids and get them out of Freeland any way she can. Jennifer, meanwhile, has been working to gain control of her powers all. And Tobias, stuck in the holding facility, is slowly dying without his regular injection of drugs that kept him youthful and powerful. And behind the scene, Odell is preparing for something, but whether it's the threat from rogue nation Markovia, or if that's just an excuse, remains to be seen.
I was very critical of Black Lightning as it felt like that show, which had an uneven but enjoyable first season, had gotten stuck in the mud, unable to propel its storytelling forward. its hard to say, from this third season premiere, if the show has gotten any better. It's still trying to tackle a lot of storylines all at once, still barely moving any of them forward. That said, Odell, shrouded in secrecy as he is, makes for a more compelling and more interesting villain that Tobias Whale ever could. There's the potential for fireworks and real momentum if the series can commit to having the Pierce family truly go up against the A.S.A., something it's been hinting at doing for two seasons so far without much resolution.
Fact is that taking Whale off the table, getting him and his terrible storylines that went absolutely nowhere, is the right move for the series going forward. I just hope Black Lightning can actually commit to it, and the fact that it's already teasing Tobias again in this episode gives me doubts. The A.S.A. is clearly evil, even if B.L. and his family haven't figured that out yet, and they're much better at it than Tobias ever was. If we can just focus on the A.S.A., with or without overt political themes that tie into the real world, I think the show will be better for it. That said, I don't exactly have faith as every time it felt like the show was finally getting its footing it managed to waste whatever potential it had found. I'm hopeful, but cautiously so, after this season opener.
The Flash, Season 6, Episode 1: Into the Void
Due to time travel shenanigans, a version of the Reverse Flash (how he still existed was never explained although I have my hopes it will be in Crisis) was released from prison and allowed to roam freely in the timeline once more. In the process, Nora, the daughter of Barry (aka the Flash) and Iris, who worked as Reverse Flash's unwitting agent, was wiped from the timeline as future events were changed. That left a villain out on the loose and a team in mourning at the end of last season.
Months later, both Barry and Iris are still grieving for the daughter they lost, although they aren't really talking about it and have trouble showing it. The changes to the timeline caused by Nora, though, have serious consequences for the days to come as it's also pushed up the "Crisis" -- the event where Barry disappears, never to be seen again -- from 2024 to 2019. Instead of having time to plan and live and love, maybe start a family with a different version of Nora, the hero only has weeks left before his apparent death. What are the two of them to do?
Meanwhile as this revelation slowly comes out, the team also has to deal with a different threat: a series of miniature black holes start popping up all over the city, getting larger and larger as they appear. The team traces it all back to a single guy, an inventor who accidentally created a black hole machine that went haywire. Touching his device caused him to connect to the black holes, linking them as if they were a single entity. The team has to find a way to save the inventor and free his consciousness from the black holes without killing both in the process. This is the only way to save the man while also saving Central City, or else everything could be wiped away and an innocent man could die.
The Flash hasn't been my favorite series in the 'verse for some time. Although it started strong, the series lost its zest somewhere around season three and has struggled, ever since, with trying to recapture what made it great. In place of a light and happy show, as befits Barry Allen (often called the Heart of the Justice League), the show veered towards drama and darkness for a spell, and then tried to course correct with broader, more goofy storytelling. Last season was better than some that came before (I still dread any mention of a return of the Thinker, for example), but some of the storylines -- Ralph's goofy book of love, Caitlin and Killer Frost and their extended family of snow-based villains -- went to far off into left field. Plus, the acting has taken a hit over the years, with some actors, like Danielle Panabaker (Caitlin Snow / Killer Frost) and Tom Cavanagh (Harrison Wells) going broad when scenes called for subdued emotion.
I mention all this because, honestly, the premiere of the season had all the same issues. That same creeping drama was back, with Iris and Barry sucked into mourning for their lost daughter, ruining all the fun and brightness these characters need. I get that they just lost a future version of their kid, but instead of saying, "hey, let's find a way to bring her back," just just wallow in misery and that's not fun to watch on a bright and shiny superhero show. Meanwhile we get a stupid storyline about Caitlin trying to work out a life for the other half of her personality, Killer Frost, and, seriously, the acting on display here was wretched. I hated so much of this episode, from its disposable "villain of the week" who had no real bearing on what the characters were doing in their lives, to the broad moments of humor that failed to mesh with the emo moments of darkness. This episode is all over the place and never settles down, never gives us real characters acting realistically.
Seriously, I'm starting to wonder if maybe The Flash should follow in the footsteps of Arrow and maybe think about retiring... or, at least, reinventing and letting Wally West take over as The Flash on his own series for a while. Gives us something new, something that shakes this show out of the tired rut its in. As it is, the show we're getting is barely watchable at this point.
- In the big battle between Supergirl and the evil alien in "Event Horizon", Supergirl ended up going into a black hole, of sorts, to save Martian Manhunter. In this episode of the Flash, Barry runs into a Black Hole to save the soul of the inventor. It's an odd parallel, but I'm wondering if it was intentional. I mean, Barry and Kara both die in the comic book version of Crisis, so maybe they're showing parallels here to say, "hey, these two are linked and both could die in the big crossover." That or it was lazy plotting on two separate shows.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
- Next week Arrow returns for its final, shortened season. And then, in late January, Legends of Tomorrow rejoins the fold. We'll cover Arrow's premiere, as well as one other great episode from the week, as regular coverage of the Arrowverse resumes.