The Big Switcheroo

Arrowverse 2021 Season: Week 8

For a little while here we get to settle into a groove with 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.. Yes, we'll have Supergirl starting up in a bit to take over from Superman & Lois, which will be going on a COVID-19 hiatus for an unspecified time, but for these couple of weeks we're going to have our four main shows and we can just focus on them. Relative stability.

We're going to look at the best and worst episodes of the week and, surprisingly, the worst wasn't from Black Lightning. Be still my heart.

The Flash, Season 7, Episode 2: The Speed of Thought

Last week we had Barry / The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes. and his team finally create the artificial speed force (with the sacrifice of the collective Harrison Wells to power it). This week, however, we start to see the consequences of that speed force. Designed without an emotional connection (as the Reverse Flash stated his artificial speed force was powered by his own rage), Barry's new speed force grants him incredible speed, and new "speed thinking", but it comes at the price of his heart. As the episode goes on. Barry becomes more and more robotic to the point that he essentially stops being Barry. Meanwhile he uses his powerful thinking machine to figure out how to get Iris out of the mirrorverse, not because he wants her back (he has no emotions now, remember) but because she'd been in the mirrorverse the longest so she has the most knowledge about how to stop Eva, the new Mirror Master.

So let's be clear: I don't actually think this was a bad episode of The Flash, at least not by that show's standards. The series has been on a serious downturn since The Thinker arc way back in the series' run, and although the two Cicadas were better villains the following season, the show has never found the momentum (pun intended) of the previous seasons. It's lost something, and each new season is starting to feel worse than the one before. Bloodwork was awful, and while the new Mirror Master is more interesting villain, the show around it has suck. The energy is off, the writing is off, and the show just feels hokey now.

This episode is certainly better than the previous few to come along, and that counts most of this arc from the previous season. I still think continuing the previous season across this season as if nothing happened, that there wasn't a nearly year-long hiatus in the middle, was a bad call. The pacing is off now as we get settled back into a show just as its wrapping up a major arc. That's weird. Still, as far as wrap-up episodes go, this wasn't bad.

Functionally the episode does a couple of things. One, it puts Barry to a choice between his heart and his speed (which he chooses the former that episode's end, breaking his speed force machine in the hopes of saving his own soul). It also gets us Iris back in the main universe, freed of the mirrorverse. Oh, and we also see robo-Barry take Eva down a few pegs, exposing her as a mirror duplicate which puts her back up against the wall. She'll be desperate next week, in the finale, and that could make for some interesting dynamics in the conclusion.

At the same time, all the issues I've had with the show through this last season is still here. The show is so mired in old continuity -- everyone has a super power, there are ways to give everyone speed even if temporarily -- that you basically have to have a text book to keep up with all of it, and this causes the show to constantly reference back upon itself with the goofiest tech, like it all makes sense somehow. The heart of the show, so to speak, is missing, where it was just Barry running around, fighting villains while the rest of the team helped him figure out what to do. Now everyone it throwing blasts left and right, and each new invention to aid Barry has to be bigger (and dumber) than the one before.

This was a decent episode of the show but that doesn't change the fact that I feel like this show still on the downturn. Next week is the finale for the previous season, essentially, and then we really bounce into season seven properly. Maybe we'll get a better story, and better writing, than before but at this point, this deep into the run, I think we should all temper our expectations for just what a "good" episode will look like.

Black Lightning, Season 4, Episode 5: The Book of Ruin: Chapter One: Picking Up the Pieces

And now on to a legitimately good episode. As I've noted in the past, Black Lightning is a wildly uneven show. The series never had a case-of-the-week structure to built itself around, instead favoring a long arc each season for all its characters. This has left the show feeling often like it can't find it's momentum, struggling to balance the arcs of each character as they slowly get dragged across an entire season. Things happen each episode, but it takes a long, long time for it to ever feel like it's building to something.

The episodes of the show I've liked have been the ones that sat down and focused on a single story, like the white town of North Freeland (or whatever it was called) controlled by a meta-human, or Jennifer off on her own adventure for a whole episode. Most episodes struggle to give us that kind of focused format, but this week's story is absolutely the best kind of episode for the show. It's tight, it's focused, and it's all about one character: Jennifer, who exploded in an array of particles last episode.

This week sees Jefferson fly up to the Ionosphere to collect the Jan-particles into his suit so they can feed them into a collider and, hopefully, recombine Jennifer back into a corporeal form. While Jennifer is the ghost in the machine, the heroes all sit around, share stories, connect as people, and find the heart that's usually missing from this show. Then the machine does it's magic and opens up to reveal Jennifer once more... except it's not the Jennifer we know, but some other girl that has all of Jennifer's memories.

The actual explanation for all this is that original actress China Anne McClain no longer wanted to do the show. She agreed to do a certain number of episodes this season, but she wanted to leave to pursue whatever other (apparently faith-based) projects she could instead of finishing out her run here. So the creators were forced to make a decision: either kill off the character or recast her and then try to explain it away. The show went with the latter option, bringing in actress Laura Kariuki to play Jennifer going forward. From all reports this is a permanent change (for the handful of episodes that are left) although it's still up in the air if, somehow, the original actress comes back for an episode or two near the end.

I don't actually hate this recasting, and it comes at a convenient time, narratively. Jennifer's alter ego, Lightning, had just been made Public Enemy Number One in Freeland (for a crime she didn't commit), but now with a new face Lightning is more or less off the hook. There will likely be repercussions on that arc still, but it lets the show tie up one loose end at least while making a whole host of new problems. That's not a bad way to evolve the situation, actually.

Additionally, this shakes up the cast of the show and forces all the characters to go through a reevaluation of their relationships to Jennifer. This can help to shake some of the stasis of the show and force the characters down new roads. I can appreciate that, and I appreciate the episode leading up to this big change as its both a celebration of Jennifer and a graceful way for the show to honor the actress that's leaving in the process. It's really nicely handled all around.

I'm sure next week Black Lightning will find a way to mess everything up but, for now, we got one good episode this season and I'm going to enjoy it whenever that happens. It's such a rare occurrence with this series.

Elsewhere in the 'Verse

  • Superman & Lois was actually a great episode this week that mostly just focused on the family. Jordan joins Johnathan on the football team (to get back at all the football bullies) and then realizes he actually likes playing sports. Clark frets but continues evolving into a great super-powered dad. Meanwhile, Lois keeps being Lois and digging into stories and causing all kinds of trouble (as she's being set as the actual superhero here, which I really like). Honestly, I could have written about how good this episode was this week, but we'd already talked about Supes two weeks in a row, so the big guy needed a break.
  • Meanwhile, Batwoman took the week off so we'll be checking back in with her next week.