The Ladies Are Leading the Way
Arrowverse 2021/2022 Season: November Check-in
It's honestly a little weird to no longer have to write about 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. every week. This monthly check in setup has actually made it so, for the first time I can remember, I had a legit backlog of episodes that I had to work through. It does allow for a different perspective on the material than I had before since now I end up binging a couple of three episodes at a time, seeing how the stories evolve and change in chunks instead of on a week to week basis. Whether I like that better, or not, remains to be seen.
Still, it does mean that some shows fare better than others when viewed as a mini-binge, and we'll just have to look at which one did the worst in the back-half of October:
When it comes to the three shows currently airing in the main Arrowverse -- Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl -- I'd say that the Bat probably sits right in the middle between good and bad. On the one hand the show's actors and writers have gotten a good handle on all the characters involved, especially after the unexpected shakeup of lead actresses last season, and they're really starting to find ways to deepen the inter-character dynamics. When it comes to these people acting as people, having lives and expanding their horizons, Batwoman is firing on all cylinders.
That said, not unlike with Supergirl, when these characters on Batwoman have to actually do any super-heroics that's when the show starts to falter. It's not as bad as on the Girl of Steel's show because this series involves humans with minimal superpowers so there's not much room to use (and over use) CGI like on the Kryptonian's show. There is, however, a distinct formula arising this season, even just three episodes in, and it's really starting to get creaky even now.
Last season all of Batman's super-villain trophies were lost in the Gotham River, and now, one per episode, Batwoman and her team have to deal with some new version of a classic Batman villain stepping up to, somehow, fill the shoes of their predecessor. We already covered the second Mad Hatter, and now we can add a Killer Crock II and a team of agents working to steal Mr. Freeze's tech to that list.
It's all a bit silly, really, especially when you sit and think about the setup of it all. I get that Batman had all these evil delights locked away but you're really going to tell us that he didn't have them tagged in any way so that, if they were to fall into the wrong hands, he couldn't easily track them down and get them back? Even just some Airtags could have solved ninety percent of the problems Team Bats are having now. Beyond which, all these evil devices were scattered along one river, and even time they're introduced a character says, "I found it along the river." Seriously, did the Bat Team not think to go do a quick bit of river cleanup? Go take a Bat-boat and trawl the coastline once. It's not that hard.
Worse is how the show keeps trying to cram Alice in. This is a character who's plot ran out the second her sister, Kate, was written out of the show. She clung on through season two, having less and less to do as each episode ticked past. Now, though, she's completely useless in the day-to-day of the show and you have to wonder why she's still included. Her father, Jacob, was written off despite being a series main character, so why keep Alice around? She adds almost nothing at this point and her character is of no consequence to anything going on in the show.
The new characters that are having some impact, though, are Ryan's mother and brother who she just found out about. Her mother, apparently, put her up for adoption when Ryan was born, keeping the whole thing a secret and then faking her own death so as to not have to claim the kid. Now, years later, Ryan knows who they are, that's they're another "Bruce Wayne" style rich industrialist, and, yes, her new half-brother wants to know all about Ryan. This at least adds in new character dynamics and helps to keep the show somewhat fresh.
However, it's pretty obvious that the mother is evil, or at least hiding something. My bet would be that she's the mysterious benefactor that was pulling the strings of the gang looking to steal Mr. Freeze's tech and, over the next few weeks we'll probably see that gang again, stealing other tech and clashing with Batwoman, only for it to be revealed that the mother is the mastermind behind it all. There are only so many characters on this show so someone has to be the evil villain.
Right now the show is in a weird place. It needs to grow the new character dynamics it has but it also would be great if the show could shake off its formula. It's feeling staid and complacent in these first three episodes and while it could easily shake that off the writers have to put in the work. We'll see over the next month whether the show is able to get better or if its stuck in a slump.
Legends of Tomorrow
Meanwhile, Legends of Tomorrow is a show that is constantly reinventing itself, never getting caught up too deep in its own formula. Although each season has had some threat that the Legends had to travel through time to correct -- time distortions, magical issues, aliens -- the show still finds a way to bend itself around its formula and constantly do off-the-wall stories that never feel tired of staid. The team behind this show is brilliant and this series is quite often the best thing the CW has going for itself week to week.
This season has seen the team get thrown way off their game after their ship, the Waverider, was seemingly blown up by another Waverider. This sent the team traveling across the countryside to find a professor who will invent time travel in 1925 New York so they can talk to him, invent said time travel, and then use that to somehow get back in gear for their own time traveling adventures. While the main team did this, though, Astra and Spooner had their own craziness to deal with: Astra tried to rebuild the ship with magic but, instead only manages to take the ship's A.I., Gideon, and turn her into a real person. This forced them to teach Gideon what it meant to be human (and even go inside her mind for an adventure through her own memories). None of that is the "usual" Legends adventure.
So far this season has managed to defy conventions multiple times. The road trip across the country has had unexpected setbacks -- the death of J. Edgar Hoover for one, and then the team having to use Steel (with a bit of magic) as a stand in for the head of the FBI. But there has also been robots, along with the return of last season's villain, Bishop, who now is dedicating himself to tracking down the Legends and destroying them. It's an interesting time-loop, timeline spinning over itself logic that keeps everything together. It also redeems one thing I really didn't like about last season: namely that Bishop was never used as well as he could have been.
Really, the highlight so far, though, has been the adventure inside Gideon's mind for the 100th episode. This saw a lot of stars from seasons past -- Wentworth Miller's Captain Cold, Brandon Routh's Ray Palmer, Arthur Darvill's Rip Hunter, and even Falk Hentschel's Hawkman with a few surprising omissions (no Hawkgirl, no Charlie or Vixen, and no Mick Rory) -- come together for Gideon's "memories". It was a great way to look back at past seasons of the show (including all its old logos) that still managed to be fun and insightful. This is Legends at its best.
As the one superhero "hang out" show of the set it's hard to gauge just where the show is going just yet, even with the reveal of Bishop and his copy of Gideon that he apparently stole from the ship (my bet is that the "other" Waverider was Bishop's ship) but the best thing about this show is that the journey is as enjoyable as the destination. Where I have complaints about the other shows airing right now Legends never fails to disappoint. Here's to hoping this season continues its fine tradition. We'll see how that goes over the next month, for sure.
And finally... sigh... there's Supergirl. Where binging the various shows did Batwoman no favors, it's absolutely detrimental to Supergirl. All the flaws of the show are thrown into relief when you have to watch episodes back-to-back.
The show, for starters, it deep into its formulaic rut. Like I expected back when the magical totems where introduced this season, each episode of this show has become, "here's a totem, let's go track it down". One totem per episode, and each more or less follows the same structure. The team behind Supergirl apparently felt that a seven item, seven episode fetch quest was the best way to spend their remaining episodes before the series heads into its finale and they are absolutely sticking to it. Man, though, does it drag down the show.
It would be one thing if the totems actually revealed anything about the characters or forced them to progress in any meaningful way. When Nyxlie got the Courage totem she had to face a moment from her past and it pushed her towards personal growth. I actually liked that... right up until the show then decided to revert that growth, having the evil imp throw off her growth and purposefully go back to her old ways. Since then the other totems -- Humanity, Hope, Dreams, and Love -- have all just be McGuffins to collect with none of the personal connection, or forced character realizations, that would have let this show actually do something interesting.
On top of that I'm just absolutely tired of these characters. They no longer act like real people, instead always talking in elaborate speeches, declaring their heroic "moments" with one hand on their hip. The show is high on its own self-importance at this point, lost in the messages its trying to send, "be accepting of LGBTQ+ people", "fight against oppression", "help the inner cities," -- each of which is important, don't get me wrong -- that its lost sight of the forest for the trees. This show used to handle working its politics so well, doing a wonderful blend of story and content, but all the story has sloughed away at this point and we're just left with a lot of speechifying and bad super-heroics
My god the super-heroic moments on this show are absolutely terrible. Every fight at this point boils down to Nyxlie blasting away at the heroes with her wrist gauntlets while the heroes blast back with whatever beam powers they have. There's no thrilling action, no dynamic set-pieces, just a lot of standing around while CGI is layered on screen. Most of it looks bad, too, because this show can't afford good CGI. It's a struggle to watch these moments, it's just hard to care.
The few times the show is bearable, in its smaller moments where the characters just act like people, are so infrequent now. Kara very rarely gets to just be Kara anymore, she's Supergirl all the time, and the balance of great character moments alongside the superhero action has been lost. This show is clearly trying to head to its endgame, rushing through its poorly devised fetch quest plot so it can bring the whole series to a close. I have to admit, though, that the series has gotten so bad that, were it not the last season, I would have turned it off already.
I can understand why audiences have been turning off, why the show has been set to end this season. What made Supergirl so good died a long time ago.
- In two weeks we'll get the return of The Flash as it heads into its five-episode crossover arc, "Armageddon", and we'll check in with that show when it debuts for a special article mid-month.
- Stargirl, of course, continues onward but as her show isn't in the main continuity of the Arrowverse we're going to let her wrap up her season in her own review later this year.
- And, yes, next year Superman & Lois will return, followed by new series Naomi. Until then, though, we'll cover the three to four shows running in the 'verse, month to month.