You Have Failed Earth-2
Arrowverse 2019/2020 Season: Week 2
This week marks the return of 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. going full steam ahead with all five main shows running at the same time (sorry, Legends of Tomorrow). Arrow returns this week for it's final engagement, a shortened, ten-episode run that will cap the series, end with Crisis on Infinite Earths, and then lead to whatever Darkstar spin-off we get with future Green Arrow, Mia Smoak.
That puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of the founding series of this universe, Arrow. It had a lot it has to do -- get deep into the crossover to come, tie a bow on its own eight-season run, and launch a spin-off -- and it has to do it in a short amount of time. So, with the premiere, we get to see how well the show sets itself up to do all that:
Arrow, Season 8, Episode 1: Starling City
When last we checked in with Team Arrow, Oliver and his gang had just defeated the next big evil organization to try the same old plan -- namely ruin Oliver's good name and burn Star City to the ground -- before being smartly defeated. This group was the Nine Rings or Ten Dragons and the Three (or whatever stupid name they used), led by Oliver's half sister Emiko. They failed just as hard. But it did lead Oliver to realize that someone is always going to come after his family. As such, he went into hiding with his wife, Felicity Smoak (which also conveniently removes her from the series since actress Emily Brett Rickards was also bailing on the show), and their soon-to-be-born daughter. But, after a few months of bliss, alone and under assumed names, the Monitor came a-callin' to drag Oliver out for his one last mission, one that would lead to his death but would save the universe from complete annihilation.
The episode starts with Oliver back on the island, Lian Yu, where he spent five years in hell, except now it's twelve years and we have voice over from the Monitor as Oliver finds a way to get rescued and taken back to Starling City. Back home he's greeted by his mother, Moira, and her new husband Malcolm Merlyn. Also still alive is Tommy Merlyn, Oliver's best friend, but Oliver's sister, Thea, is dead (of a drug overdose years before). As we learn, this Oliver is out Oliver from Earth-1, but he's come to Earth-2, assumed the role of the dead Oliver Queen on this world (lost to the seas when the Queen's Gambit went down years before), and is here to run a specific mission for the Monitor: get black star alloy for some reason that isn't clear yet.
Unfortunately for Oliver, a Dark Archer is on the scene and has already stolen the needed material. This forces Oliver to work with the heroes of Earth-2, Black Canary and her version of the Green Arrow, to track down the Dark Archer and get back the materials Oliver needs. But, surprise, the Dark Archer wasn't Malcolm Merlyn like he was on Earth-1. Instead that role has been filled by Tommy Merlyn, all so he can get revenge on Starling City for the death of his half-sister, Thea. And so he's launching his version of "The Undertaking" (the big plot line of season one of Arrow), and it's up to our heroes to stop him before he blows up the city. Oh, and there's a boring plot line with the heroes in Star City 2040, but like this plot line in all of last season, this barely amounts to anything.
Considering that a ten episode season was always going to feel like a victory lap of sorts for the series, there's no denying that Arrow leans hard into that motif with this episode. That's why we get a revisit to the first season's setting, all of its setup, its cast of characters, and its major plot line The producers clearly want us to feel wistful about the times gone by and to enjoy one more visit to all the Arrow stomping grounds before the series moves on for good. And it is fun to see all the old familiar faces and worn out places. There's a thrill to trying to figure out what's going on and why Oliver is back to the beginning of his journey once more. That aspect of the episode really works.
What doesn't work so much, though, is just about everything else going on in this episode. Tommy, nice as it is to see him again, is basically just a villain-of-the-week. His motivation for being evil, something the Tommy wee knew would never have become, is hand-waved at Thea dying but it still doesn't really get us invested in his story. He's an empty shirt covered up with a character we know but that doesn't make him any more interesting. And shoving the whole of the Undertaking into a single episode, and then having Oliver take it out in one fell swoop, makes you wonder why it was so hard for him to do this the first time around (back in season one). Was he really that bad at his job then or is this just a barely-held-together story without any meat on it. I vote for the latter.
The most intriguing part comes at the end as the wall of white, the anti-matter that's destroying each and every Earth it touches, moves across Earth 2 and start gobbling up everything in its path. This sets very clear stakes for the season to come, what Oliver and his crew (Diggle and Earth-2 Canary) will have to fight if they want to save the world. This works, I just wish the episode didn't spend so much time spinning its wheels on a villain-of-the-week when it clearly has more important things to do. When it started Arrow moved at a brisk clip and burned through story to get to its goals as quick as it come. Late-era Arrow, though, spun its wheels so it could get to specific beats in the season -- the crossover in episode 8, the comeuppance that drives the team apart around episode 18, and then the big villain battle at the finale. This episode just feels like that kind of fluff, one more thing to draw out the season until we get to the crossover. With only ten episodes, this show needs to do better.
Speaking of padding: Star City 2040. I know this is supposed to set up the spin-off to come, but the longer we hang out with Mia Smoak and Team Arrow 2.0, the less I care. Not only is this team vastly less interesting than the original characters, Oliver and Diggle and Felicity, but they also deflate the whole arc of the main series. Namely, if Star City 2040 still exists then clearly Oliver saves the day. Where's the stress? Where's the thrill? By continuing to show us this storyline, which the show has to so as to keep the cast under contract, it betrays the thrust of the coming Crisis. We already know everything works out, so why are we spending time watching Oliver go through the motions in the main plot. And then, at the same time, I keep wondering why we're hanging out the JV Squad at all. This series would be better if it wasn't obsessed with setting up its future spin-off.
The Flash, Season 5, Episode 2: A Flash of Lightning
I struggled this week to figure out an episode to cover from anything outside of Arrow because, honestly, none of them were real standouts. In the end I went with The Flash simply because I was so hard on the show last week and I felt like this episode was at least better, week-to-week. Good to reward the show for improvements, minor as they may be. And this episode, like Arrow above, is very concerned with the upcoming Crisis.
As per the message the Monitor gave Barry last week, we know that Barry will die in the upcoming crossover event. The only question is if Barry accepts his fate or not. Barry, of course, does not and tries to find a way to get around it by traveling to the future to see what happens and if his death was necessary. Unfortunately, when he tries to get to the future he hits a wall of anti-matter at a specific point in the timeline and gets bounced back. That's when he decides to talk to the Flash of Earth-3, Jay Garrick, to find out if there's a way to get around it. And there is: projecting Barry's mind into the future.
There's just one catch: sending his mind forward like that causes Barry to experience billions of different timelines all at once, all because the fate of the Multiverse is in flux and it's hard to pin down exactly what will happen in the coming crisis. What is for sure, as Barry learns, is that there's only one way to save the world: Barry has to give his own life; the only version of the future that survives is the one where Barry willingly dies. This, of course, causes much consternation and hang-wringing among the crew, but in the end Barry realizes that he has to accept his fate and work towards the one future with bright possibilities.
After the last episode with its throw-away villain-of-the-week and barely any mention of the greater struggle to come, it was good to see this week focus on the Crisis, to make it the focal point as it deserves to be. This is going to be the biggest event in Arrowverse history and it deserves all the focus it can get. That said, this episode wasn't without its padding, not only in a boring case of the week -- a meta that can control radio waves and is framed for two murders -- but also setup for a villain for the back-half of the season, Rosso, who seems to be creating metas based on his own failed experiments. Neither of these are anywhere near as interesting as the Crisis and really just detracted from the main story.
But this main story is great. As long as The Flash can keep building to the Crisis properly, this first half of the season is going to be awesome. I just worry about what happens to the series after the crossover is over because, seriously, the rest of the storytelling here isn't that great.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
- Over on Batwoman, Kate tries to track down Alice (who she thinks might be her long lost sister) while also coming to terms with what it means to be "The Bat" and what she'll have to do if she's going to continue down this path. The storytelling on this series is still great, and I actually really enjoyed this episode. I almost covered it instead this week but I want to see where the Alice story goes next week before I pass judgment on this episode. Still, this show is two-for-two in its opening episodes.
- Following that, Kara has to deal with two rogue Martians, one Green (and also Jon's brother) and the White he's helping, while also contending with an ace reporter on her tail that might just be putting together who Kara really is. Meanwhile, Lena kidnaps old foe (and one-time Lex secretary), Eve, and then mind-wipes her, giving her body over to the A.I. Lena created, Hope, and a particularly evil move that could have real consequences for her character. Lena is, more than ever, being setup as one of the big bads this season, and moves like this show she's clearly going off the deep end.
- Finally, over on Black Lightning... well, really, I struggle to think if anything was accomplished. Sure, Anissa got the people out of Freeland and is working (with an iron fist that seems vastly out of character for her) to get the Purdi (from last season) to help transport the people out of the area. Meanwhile, Jefferson and his ex-wife Lynn stand around and bicker a lot and prove why they should probably never be together as a couple. But, beyond that, barely anything really registers, and this is a problem this series has always had as it's constantly going in multiple directions at once and padding itself out for no reason. This show needs to settle down and tell its story, especially if this really is the last season for this show.