Markovia Doesn't Stand a Chance
Arrowverse 2019/2020 Season: Week 3
It's an uneven week for 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. as some shows improve and others flounder. Most of them feel like they're just killing time until the Crisis coming shortly, and that's a bad place to be in for the show. Still, soon enough we'll have our mega crossover and we'll get to see if all the setup was worth it. Plus, afterwards, a number of these shows could look very different.
Honestly, they might some of the wheel-spinning, all things considered. The shows can't move too far ahead with major stories if there's going to be massive changes to the universe due to the Crisis. It almost makes you wish the CW would just move the crossover earlier in the season (instead of the traditional 8th episode of the runs) so we could get it out of the way to find out new status quo. Still, we have to watch what we get, so let's see how the shows did last week:
Black Lightning, Season 3, Episode 3: The Book of Occupation: Chapter Three: Agent Odell's Pipe-Dream
I've been hard on Black Lightning this season. Hell, I've been hard on the show practically since it started since, from almost day one, the show has struggled with pacing and plotting. There have been brief moments of brilliance here or there, times where it felt like the show was finally getting it together, giving us a full story worth paying attention to (as in something not directly involving Tobias Whale, who is so boring on this show) but then the show would backslide into irrelevance again and fail to give us a cohesive story once more. This is a patterns we've seen all too often from the show.
That's what makes "The Book of Occupation: Chapter Three: Agent Odell's Pipe-Dream" a hard nut to crack. The episode is very focused, pulling in tight on main cast -- Jefferson, Lynn, Anissa, and Jennifer -- to see how they all rotate in and out of Agent Odell's plans. The episode might focus on our heroes but it's really all about Odell. He's an interesting character, certainly far more so than Whale, simply because we have no clue what his end goal really is. He says he's trying to save the meta-humans from the evil Markovians but then he lies and cheats and has people killed that we've known since the beginning of the series and you have to question if he really cares about metas. It's just as likely (probably even more so) that he's planning to weaponize metas and use them for his own soldiers. Markovia is just a means to an end for him to achieve his real goal.
It's what makes him much more interesting than Tobias Whale: no matter how much Marvin "Krodon" Jones III worked his part as the albino gangster his character's motivations were obvious, plain, and simple. He wanted to control the city and be filthy rich. While that's a simple goal to understand, it's not an interesting one. Worse, we never really got a sense he was achieving any of his goals; he always felt like he was treading water. I loved Jones's performance but the writing on Whale betrayed him.
But Odell is so much more nuances, better able to play all the pieces on the chess board and think twenty steps ahead. We can't understand what Odell is doing now because, quite obviously, he's already fives steeps down the line working the next moves. He's able to be both a villain and a sidekick at the same time, and he's played by Bill Duke as if he were both. He gets most of the heroes to do what he wants and he makes them think its for their own good so they just go along with it. He's not trustworthy a yet he controls everything so the characters have to trust him. It's really well done.
Of course, we've been down this road before. Last season we had one really solid episode with the lady who could control all the people around her with her meta-blood, and then they killed her off immediately. Presumably Odell is the big bad this season so we'll likely see more of him after this one good episode, but there are still numerous ways Black Lightning can drop the ball. I don't think I'd even qualify myself as cautiously optimistic. What I will say is that, if somehow the show is able to pull it together and continue giving us episodes like this, it might just be able to turn it around. But probably not.
Batwoman, Season 1, Episode 3: Down Down Down
I won't lie: Batwoman is my favorite show on the Arrowverse right now. It's tightly plotted with a great heroine/villainess combo that drives so much of the story. The focus is entirely on Batwoman/Kate Kane and her (maybe?) sister, the evil Alice, and the two actresses are killing it. Ruby Rose is a fantastic heroine, the right level of detached cool but enough emotion to sell you on the fact that there's a person underneath the steely exterior (something Brie Larson never managed to do in Captain Marvel). Meanwhile, Rachel Skarsten chews the scenery as Alice, giving us a performance that's equal parts Mad Hatter and Joker. This is a duo that really feeds off each other, giving usu a compelling dynamic between the leads.
That's something a show needs (and our above series, Black Lightning, struggled with). if you don't have that strong dynamic the series never gels. You end up with a hero that's just spinning their wheels while the villain fucks off around town acting bad but doing little. So far Alice has killed a bunch of people, nearly destroyed whole sections of the city, and motivated Kate to become Batwoman (a fact Alice is clearly able to guess without even trying). It's a fabulous way to not only introduce the villain but also to give the hero real stakes. These two are stuck in a dance that's both personal and dangerous. It's really a lot like Batman and Joker, just with the added twist that the two characters are related (supposedly, at least).
The episode itself has a minor A-plot that isn't nearly as interesting as the dynamic between heroine and big bad. An old "friend" of Bruce Wayne's, Thomas Elliot, apparently figured out Bruce was Batman and puts a bunch of people in danger to lure the Bat out so he can kill him for some kind of friendship-based revenge. Elliot is never a compelling character, more a device to force Batwoman to become Batwoman (colorful outfit and all) and to force Kat Kane to commit to her vigilante lifestyle. He works in that regard, but as a character we actually care about he's pretty pathetic.
But we don't need him (or, really, any other one-offs that we deal with) to be interesting. So long as Alice keeps showing up, keeps making trouble for Kate, and keeps giving us fantastic interactions between the leads, this show will remain immensely watchable. It still needs to grow a bit to be a killer hit for everyone, has to shake off a little of that CW vibe and become an even more serious superhero show, but so far it's making all the right moves to remain the best series in the 'verse.
- I want to correct myself. In my review of the pilot I questioned why Kate Kane was cousins with Bruce Wayne and what motivated that change for the series since, I thought, they were unrelated. Apparently after "DC Rebirth" it was retconned that Kate and Bruce were actually cousins, so that's my fault there.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
- Over on Arrow, Oliver and Diggle searched Hong Kong for a scientist who can make a super-virus while Earth 2's Black Canary struggled with the fact that her whole world had been wiped away. I liked Canary's story as it had emotion and depth, but the A-plot of Oliver's quest was shallow and retread the same story beats we've seen a dozen times before. Just another episode of padding before we get to the Crisis.
- Flash, meanwhile, took a different tack, ignoring the Crisis almost entirely (except for the angst Barry felt over his eventual death) to setup the big bad for the back-half of the season. I'm still not certain where the show is going with Ramsey Rosso (Sendhil Ramamurthy) or what his supposed powers really are (he makes and controls black blobs so far), but the actor is chewing a ton of scenery automatically making him 2000 times more interesting than the Thinker of Cicada I.
- And finally, Supergirl was tedious. Kara struggles with the changes at the paper, Martian Manhunter fought his CGI brother, and nothing interesting happened at all. After the fantastic season we had last year I really expected better from the show this season.