We Return You to Central City with Crime Already In Progress
Arrowverse 2018/2019 Season: Week 1
When I restarted this website back in May, we were already nearing the end of most of the shows 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.. We did cover the end of the season (once Supergirl finished her run) for all the shows, doing a look back over the previous year, but I would have much preferred to give the shows better coverage, more focus as they had each progressed. Thankfully, this year we get to cover these shows properly.
The Arrowverse is an interesting project: a set of shows that all exist within a shared continuity. It is, essentially, about as complex a project as the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., except on a smaller budget and updating (just about) every week. It's hard to think of another set of shows that have managed to create a shared continuity like this, on purpose, and consistently week to week (especially outside of other DC projects, such as the animated series all spinning off Batman: The Animated Series). Maybe Marvel and their Netflix shows, but even then they don't update as often, and haven't been running for nearly as long.
Now entering its seventh year of existence (with two years where Arrow was the only show airing in the universe), the collection of shows keeps growing. Black Lightning was added last year to much fanfare and critical acclaim, and though that series doesn't explicitly crossover with any of the other Arrowverse shows, everyone agrees it's only a matter of time. Batwoman will be launching next year (after the big Arrowverse crossover event this year), and Titans is launching on DC Universe, too (by the same production team). It's a great time to be a DC fan, and a better time to get your superhero fix on the small screen.
With all these shows going, we're going to cover the 'verse weekly, highlighting keep episodes and discussing the highs and lows of the shows. With this first week, we're going to focus on the two shows coming back first, The Flash and Black Lightning, going into detail about their premieres.
The Flash, Season 5, Episode 1: Nora
When last we saw Team Flash, they had just defeated The Thinker. That was the "Big Bad" for Season Four, and he was an utter and complete bore. Honestly, so little happened in Season Four that actually matters that I can't even remember much about it. I remember Flash and Iris getting married, and then Flash was immediately accused of killing a guy (the public identity of The Thinker, and he sucked, so I'm not looking up his name). Flash was framed for the crime, spent some time in prison (but not long enough to make it interesting), got out, lost his job at the CCPD, did a bunch of stuff that didn't matter, and then defeated the Think in a weak and unsatisfactory way.
Really, the only ting that truly mattered was that this random girl kept showing up at important events around Team Flash. Eventually, at the "We Just Beat the Thinker" party, she revealed herself to be Nora Allen, Flash and Iris's daughter from the future. And that's where the season ended.
The episode, appropriately named "Nora" after the newly revealed girl, follows two plot lines. The A-plot is all about Nora -- who she is, why she's in the past (to see Team Flash in their prime), and why she hasn't gone back to the future (she can't because anti-tachyons or anti-chronitons or something). So Nora (aka XS) and Flash circle each other with Flash telling her she can't involve herself in events because it could damage the timestream... and then she does anyway. Flashes, am I right? Meanwhile, the B-plot is about the villain, Gridlock, and pretty basic guy who absorbs kinetic energy to make him stronger. He's not much of a villain (no back-story, no reason for existing except for the Flash to fight him). The episode even acknowledges Gridlock is a nothing with Nora saying Flash beat him on his first attempt (or would have, if XS hadn't gotten in the way). He's there to give the heroes someone to fight and that's it.
This episode didn't suck, which for a Flash episode is pretty good. I really hated Season Four (as you can tell), and if I'd had to rate ever episode of that season, none of them would have gotten about a "C" at best. While this episode doesn't get the series back to the heights of Season One or Season Two (two great seasons of television where the series was light, fun, and a pretty good, superheroic time), it's at least not entirely mired in depressing melodrama and pointless angst. The Flash is a fun, bright character, a quippy dude who, in my head, I equate as "DC's version of Spider-man". He should be running around, bantering ad having a grand time, but for two seasons The Flash was a depressing slog and Barry Allen and his team always bickering, always finding the darkest, most depressing way to do everything. We already have a show for that and it's called "Arrow". We don't need two series doing the same angsty shtick.
That's not to say the show doesn't have a few depressing moments. We learn that in the future, where the Flash disappears during a crisis (as per the newspaper from the future we've seen repeatedly in every season since the beginning of the series) he stays gone for over 25 years, presumed dead, never to be seen again. Nora essentially grows up without her father and this weight heavily on current-Barry. So there's some angst and forbidding drama there. I hope the series doesn't wallow in it, but The Flash has gotten pretty good at wallowing, so I'm not holding my breath.
The other part I had an issue with was how the episode deals with Wally West (aka Kid Flash). As other critics Online have noted, the series really doesn't know what to do with Wally. When he was created, it seemed like the show would be able to tell stories about two Flashes running around, but pretty soon every story started to revolve around Barry and the only times Wally got to do something was if, somehow, Barry was incapacitated. Even then, it only lasted a little while before Barry was back up and taking care of the villain by the end of the episode. Cut to Season Four and the series introduced Ralph Dibny (aka, the Elongated Man, one of two DC heroes that can stretch and stuff). Barry takes Ralph under his wing, training him on how to be a hero. Ralph actually gets more training, and more moments to be a hero, than Wally ever did.
That trend continued in "Nora", except instead of Flash training the Elongated Man, now he's training XS. He literally is doing the same things for Nora that he should have been doing for Wally, which is only made even more obvious by having Wally pop up throughout the episode and he's still not given anything to do. If anything, Wally is not third-banana on Team Flash after Flash and XS. Wally needs to be treated better.
In comparison to last season, "Nora" is a step in the right direction. It's not a great hour a television, though, and the series has a long way to go if it wants to claw its way back to even being "good".
Black Lightning, Season 2, Episode 1: The Book of Consequences: Chapter One: Rise of the Green Light Babies
If you haven't watched Black Lightning at all, there's almost too much to cover on this story-dense series. For starters, Jefferson Pierce is the principal of Garfield High, a predominantly black high school set in the middle of Freeland, a town with a high concentration of black people. Pierce is also Black Lightning, a superhero (or vigilante, depending on who you talk to) with electricity-based powers. He's estranged from his wife, Lynn Stewart (who never liked his superheroics), and has two daughters: Anissa, the older sister (who also develops her own superpowers and becomes Thunder), and Jennifer (who eventually develops electricity-based powers but doesn't seem to want to be a hero).
Events in Freeland come to a head when a new drug, Greenlight, starts moving around the streets. Kids that take Greenlight start developing uncontrollable rage along with unpredictable superpowers. Oh, and Black Lightning's arch-nemesis, Tobias Whale, who our hero thought was dead, is apparently still alive, is a major player in the Freeland criminal underworld, and he might just be the one pushing Greenlight across the city. Plus, there's also a super-secret government agency, the ASA, after Black Lightning and they may also have something to do with Greenlight. Well, okay, they are explicitly behind Greenlight (as we learn late in the season), and they're using it to try and create new super-soldiers (which they currently have stashed in cryo-pods while they study the kids). It's... a lot to take in.
Okay, so at the end of last season, Black Lightning and his family had fought off the ASA and taken control of the pod-children. No, Lynn wants to study the kids, see if she can find a way to unfreeze them and help them safely control their powers. These are the only kids she's worried about, though, as Jennifer is also finding it difficult to control her own powers. Jennifer is freaked out because when she sleeps she now floats on a cloud of electric energy and when her emotions are heightened, she uncontrollably surges with electrical energy (she then accidentally shocks her mother, scaring both of them). Helping Jennifer, and then the other kids, leave Lynn with a lot on her plate.
Jefferson is dealing with his own blow-back from events last season. He wasn't there, as him self, when his school was attacked, and then had to go in hiding for a time to avoid the ASA which meant he wasn't at the school to aid in the aftermath of the attack. This hasn't gone unnoticed by the school board, and his actions (or his perceived lack thereof), have put not only his job, but also his entire school, in jeopardy. He's also getting pressure from Anissa as she thinks Black Lightning and Thunder should be doing more to help the families of the pod-children while Jefferson thinks their job is done and they should be focused on stopping Whale and his spread of Greenlight. This leads Anissa to split off and do her own vigilante thing, robbing drug houses of their money so that the families will have the funds they need to sue the government over their children.
As I noted, a lot can happen in a single episode of Black Lightning and this episode was no exception. What I really like about the show is that it doesn't sit still for too long, doesn't wallow in it's own darkness. Make no mistake, this isn't a bright and happy show, so it certainly stands apart from The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow (and not just because it takes place in a different universe from the main Arrowverse continuity). This is a darker show, one looking to explore cultural and racial themes (as it should since it has a predominantly African American cast), and it doesn't shy away from getting political I tend to think of the show like a political Arrow, kind of like if Arrow decided to do plot lines from the 1970s run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, just, you know, with a black cast.
This episode is no exception, touching upon police brutality, government cover-ups, and school violence. The big issue I had was that just about everything we saw -- from Jefferson dealing with the school board, to Jennifer's power surges, to Lynn fighting the government for control of the pod-children -- was all table-setting. Sure, they're all great plot points moving forward, but none of it really built to anything within the episode. Very little on these fronts happened, leaving Anissa and a bunch of side characters (like a random kid getting shot at by police, or an ex-ASA agent now in the wind) to actually give us the action of the episode. The action we got (both in the plot lines moving forward as well as the actual butt-kicking) was good, but it wasn't enough to carry the episode on its own.
My concern is that the show tries to take on so much, have so many pieces moving as it follows a plot line for every major character in the show, that it could easily lose its way. A show can get mired trying to do so much at once than it feels like a lot was seen but very little happened. (Just look at later seasons of Game of Thrones for a good example of that -- what really happens in any single episode, and once you're done, can you remember any of it that mattered?) The more that Black Lightning tries to do, the more it could give us one table-setting episode after another where only one plot line really moves forward and the rest just kind of spin in place for a few scenes. With the show bumping up to full season this year (from the shorter 13 episode first season), the producers may try to draw things out, which isn't going to help the energy of the show.
Maybe my fears are unfounded and the show is going to start pushing forward fast as, well, lightning from this point forward. This first episode of the new season didn't illustrate that, so we'll just have to see if this is just a blip or if future episodes follow this same path.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
- Meanwhile, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl were all off this week. Arrow and Supergirl come back next week (and will get full coverage then) while Legends returns in two weeks.
- Additionally, Titans starts up over on the DC Universe streaming service. Since it's also a Greg Berlanti-produced series, and looks to have a similar style to the rest of the Arrowverse, we're going to give it coverage in this column as well. More than likely, at some point, it'll crossover with the rest of these shows, as all of these series eventually do.