Look! Up In the Sky! It's Politics!
Arrowverse 2018/2019 Season: Week 2
It's week two of the new Arrowverse season, but we have yet to truly settle into a groove. Of course, that's because the shows are still debuting their premieres so we don't have the whole 'verse up and running just yet. This week saw the debuts of Supergirl on Sunday and Arrow on Monday, plus the tangentially-related show, Titans, debuted over on DC's new streaming service, DC Universe, this past Thursday, and we're still waiting on one more before the Arrowverse will really be going this year.
We'll be focusing on the three premieres this week, but after this week I hope we can actually focus more on big and important episodes, getting a nice, diverse look at the 'verse as the weeks progress.
Supergirl, Season 4, Episode 1: American Alien
When last we had seen Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and the Agents of the DEO they had just defeated the evil Kryptonian, Reign (Odette Annable), a world-killer who shared her body with an otherwise seemingly normal human woman. In the end, the day was saved with love (since the real struggle was inside Reign all along). Supergirl's love interest, Mon El, went back to the future (as he was part of the Legion of Superheroes from the year 3000 AD), taking DEO tech-wizard Winn with him. In Winn's stead a Legionnaire stayed behind: Braniac 5 (Jesse Rath). Supergirl's adopted human sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), had been made head of the DEO after Martian Manhunter (David Harewood) had stepped down to pursue a live of peace, the Green Martian way.
Oh, and Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath),sister of Supeprman villain Lex Luthor as well as best friend of Supergirl's human alter-ego Kara Danvers, had grown to hate Supergirl for some lies and subterfuge. There's no possible way she could become a villain whenever she finally figures out who Kara really is. Lena, by the by, is also dating Jimmy Olson (Mehcad Brooks), and Jimmy has been going around as the superhero Guardian, a secret identity he had to reveal at the end of the last season.
Five months have passed since the defeat of Reign and, for many, it seemed like a time of piece between aliens (as in extra terrestrials) and humans. The President of the United States, Olivia Marsdin (Lynda Carter) -- herself secretly an alien -- had pushed through alien amnesty legislation, which seemed to be embraced by the citizens of the U.S. Unfortunately, a wave of anti-alien sentiment has only been growing, out of sight on the dark web. Soon, hate attacks are launched against aliens, and it seems like there might be a couple of agents working behind the scenes to raise trouble for aliens. Supergirl has to deal with the threat of these new anti-alien agents along with the existential threat of people she thought were good (humans) suddenly being evil, hate-filled jerks (you know, in a parallel to our current world and the anti-immigration rhetoric thrown around).
Meanwhile, Alex and Brainiac are struggling to see eye-to-eye at the DEO. Oh, and Jimmy Olson is dealing with blow-back from his nightly activities as Guardian with the local DA wanting to press charges against him for acting as a vigilante. Plus, Kara, reporter at the CatCo Media, has been assigned a new reporter to shepherd and mentor. Needless to say, some of these plot lines feel more important than others.
Let's get the side-plots out of the way before tackling the main meat of the episode. Of all the stories getting told this week, the Alex/Brainiac plot line is the worst. It's essentially an office comedy without any comedy, a slight trifle that never lands. Essentially their whole story amounts to Alex not trusting Brainiac because the Legionnaire replaced Winn (who willingly left for the future, mind you, to help save 3000 AD's human race for). Brainiac may be filling Winn's shoes, but it's not as if he slid into a role that had been vacated by a death. Winn will, presumably, be back at some point, so this whole plot line amounts to much-ado about nothing, made only worse by the weightiness of some of the other stories going on. Even Kara's dealings with her new trainee-reporter, Nia Nal (Nicole Maines), feels more substantial, this despite them being all of three scenes, simply because it neatly parallels Kara's original dynamic with Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) back when Kara first started at CatCo.
Jimmy's plot line fares better simply because there's real consequence for the guy. With a DA breathing down his neck, he has to play on the straight-and-narrow, not going out as Guardian until everything blows over. Despite his request and behind his back, Lena finds a case the DA would want to prosecute more and, by handing it along, gets the case against Guardian dropped. However, the DA then says that if Jimmy ever goes out as Guardian again, he'll be arrested and tried. It was a plot line that seemed to be wrapping up immediately, "hey, look, Lena made it all go away," only to then have a twist that actually could impact the character down the road. While Jimmy didn't get a lot of time this episode, the non-resolution of his plot line felt like the right call for his character moving forward. Certainly it'll lead to good, dramatic conflict for him as the season progresses.
The big story, though, is about those anti-alien terrorists. The existential evil is given a face in two specific players, Mercy Graves (Rhona Mitra) and her brother Otis (Robert Baker). These two are working to cause as much trouble for aliens (Supergirl included) to rid the Earth of their so-called "threat". This is another one of those plot lines that seemingly could have wrapped up quick as, let's be honest, two humans aren't much of a challenge for Supergirl to deal with. However, their plan isn't about killing so much as causing trouble, a fact made clear when video leaks of their attack on the President (in the climactic action sequence capping the episode), revealing the President taking a bullet and shifting, for a brief second, into her alien form. With the President outed, who knows where alien-human relations will go.
Whether Supergirl can pull off this plot line is a question for the season, but I do like where it's headed. We've essentially had three seasons of Kara fighting Kryptonians (or the like), so to give her not only an Earth-based threat, but one that she can't simply punch, is a solid twist, a new way for the series to flow. Of course, we still get a tag ending showing the weird Supergirl clone who appeared in Russia at the end of last season, and I'm sure Supergirl will have to fight her, a lot, throughout the season, but hopefully we can explore more of the political and existential dynamics of the story. I like this better than having the hero always solve her problems with her fists, especially since we've done that for three years now.
Arrow, Season 7, Episode 1: Inmate 4587
Team Arrow was driven to the brink last season, breaking up over doubts sowed among the various members. The three newer members -- Dinah Drake/Black Canary III (Juliana Harkavy), Curtis Holt/Mister Terrific (Echo Kellum), and Rene Ramirez/Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez) -- split off to form their own team while original member John Diggle/Spartan (David Ramsey) went to work for the secret government organization ARGUS. This was followed by Oliver Queen/Arrow (Stephen Amell) deciding that his path had strayed and he needed to do this alone, so he fired his long-time partner/tech sorceress Felicity Smoak/Overwatch (Emily Brett Rickards) from "Team Arrow", although the two remained married (which happened earlier in the season during the crossover "Crisis on Earth X").
By the mid-point the various factions of Team Arrow were dealing with a rising villain, Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo), a seemingly small-time thug with huge plans for Star City, plans that included the complete downfall of the Green Arrow. Events came to a head when Oliver, realizing he didn't have the manpower to take out Diaz (with or without the help of his former team), went to the FBI for assistance. The FBI had been on his tail for months in an attempt to convict him (with little success) of being a murdering vigilante. As part of his deal, he copped to all his crimes and agreed to go to prison if the FBI helped him take out Diaz. Immunity from prosecution for all his team members was also part of the deal. By the end of the season Diaz had escaped, but the FBI was still working the case. Team Arrow was gone, vigilantes were illegal in Star City, and the Green Arrow was in prison, maybe for life.
We pick up a few months later with Star City in disarray. Without vigilantes around the crime rate in the city has steadily been rising. Although the police force, lead by Captain Dinah Drake, has been working to keep the peace, criminals view the city as open territory prime for the taking. Things look to be changing on that front, though, as a new masked vigilante is stealthy moving through the streets taking out criminals (and working on his own list). He dresses as the Green Arrow, but as Oliver is in prison, clearly he's a copycat of some kind. This puts additional stress on the remnants of Team Arrow as they can't have anyone seemingly violating their deal with the FBI whether it's the fault of Team Arrow or not.
Meanwhile, Oliver is dealing with the stress of being in prison, forced to keep his head down and act as a model prisoner (in hopes of one day earning his release). Criminals inside the prison, though, keep pushing him, forcing him to act out and defend himself (and others). This, of course, garners him the ire of the guards when all Oliver wants is to get out and be with his family. A family, it should be noted, that is in Witness Protection since they're prime targets for Diaz. The protection seems to suck, though, as Diaz comes calling and Felicity has to fight off the gangster until ARGUS is able to show up and chase him off. This leads Felicity to comes back to Star City to fight the fight her way, despite Oliver's misgivings on the matter.
There's a lot of setup that has to be done in this episode mostly due to a new status quo for the show. This is a series all about masked vigilantes but, this time around, the vigilantes are the bad guys and our heroes have to keep their head down and toe the line. Although the episode is named for Oliver and his prison designation, Inmate 4587, the real meat of the episode is the focus on the new Green Arrow and the struggles of Star City. Although Oliver is still part of the show, he's about as removed from the action as he can be which gives the rest of the series an "Arrow without Arrow" vibe. I like the twist on the formula and found the concept, on the whole, intriguing.
That said, Arrow has had plenty of good plot lines that have petered out before -- Season 6, for example, was more interesting when it focused on Cayden James (Michael Emerson) in the front half before the focus switched to Ricardo Diaz for the rest of the season. It remains to be seen if the new dynamic established in this first episode continues to pay off as the season progresses.
I do have to give credit to the writers for not immediately finding a way to get Oliver out of prison. Normally, on a show like this, a cliffhanger would be introduced and then, in an episode or two, everything reverts back to normal. Just look at The Flash which locked Barry in prison for all of two episodes last season before the series moved on from that development. Hell, look at Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which put its heroine in prison for all of a single episode before deciding that wasn't going to be the true focus of the final season. If the series commits to keep Oliver in prison, as right now it seems like it will for a while, then that's a bold choice I can respect.
I am also glad they're giving Felicity her own plot line, having her go against Oliver and do her own work. It's easy for the show to make her a damsel, or a prize, something for Oliver to fight for. But by forcing him to keep his head down while Felicity flies off half-cocked, on the offensive, it neatly reverses the normal dynamic between the two. Again, with just a single episode is too early to see where this is all going, but it's an intriguing start for their plot line that could neatly pay off.
The only issue I had with the show was, seemingly, the "flashbacks". As anyone that has seen Arrow knows, flashbacks have been baked right into the formula of the show since day one, originally giving us a year-by-year account of Oliver's adventures in the past as he slowly became the Green Arrow. The flashbacks were largely removed from Season 6, only showing up once in a while to punctuate certain characters and plot lines Here, though, they're seemingly back except, as the episode shows us in the end, they're actually "flash forwards" to some later time. It's hard to say what their point is yet beyond some foreshadowing for the series, but if we have to continue having this gimmick in the show, as least this is a new twist. It's still annoying, but I'm willing to see how it plays out for now.
Titans, Season 1, Episode 1: Titans
And now we get to the new series on our list, the DC Universe-exclusive Titans. I know some of you are going to complain that I shouldn't cover this show here, that it's not connected to the Arrowverse officially and maybe never will be. I get that. It is, however, created by the same production team behind all these shows, and just because they're saying right now that the show won't cross over doesn't mean that's really the case. Just look at Supergirl which CBS swore would never crossover with the rest of the CW-run Arrowverse shows right up to the point where her ratings tanked and she needed a good shot in the arm. Then, suddenly, The Flash is showing up on the series, and eventually the show moved to the CW before becoming a deeply entrenched member of the 'verse. So who knows.
Regardless, this first episode is very much a pilot. Mostly we focus on two characters, Dick Grayson/Robin (Brenton Thwaites) and Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft). Dick has recently moved to Detroit (from Gotham, of course) to start a new life for himself away from the heavy influence of his mentor (a one Mr. Batman). Working as a detective with the Detroit P.D. (a nice career choice for the character considering his training), Dick also spends his nights patrolling the city, beating the crap out of child molesters and other awful scum. His penchant for helping lost kids (again, a detail that makes sense since he was, himself, once a lost kid after the death of his parents) puts him in contact with Rachel, a girl with dark powers she can't control.
It seems some kind of evil group is after Rachel because of the darkness inside her -- they fear that she might, somehow, bring about the end of the world or something (the details are vague so far in the series, but considering what comic fans know about her character, this is a safe bet). Dick takes her under his wing (so to speak) by episode's end, with the series promising a team-up between the two, with maybe a mentor relationship as well, as they try to figure out what's going on. Also attempting top figure out what's going on is Kory Anders (Anna Diop), a lost woman with superpowers and no memory who, for some reason, is also tracking down Rachel (fans of the Teen Titans will know Kory as Starfire, an alien princess and member of the team, but we haven't gotten there just yet on the show).
The show wisely keep the plots focused for now, bouncing between Robin/Raven and Starfire. Although we see, by episode's end, Gar Logan / Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), his inclusion was an a tag ending to the episode. That works in the show's favor, really, as trying to balance a third character, with their own plot line, across the pilot would have made everything feel overstuffed. Instead, the show is able to really give us a feel for each of the leads so far, developing their stories slowly but showing us enough detail that it doesn't just feel like table-setting.
Kory is saddled with the weakest story, not because it isn't interesting but simply because we've seen it before. Dumped into a generic European setting without her memories but with a number of useful skills, Kory is essential "Jason Bourne with Superpowers," and while Diop does good work in her storyline, making Kory into a charismatic, interesting force, the storyline never rises above it's same-y plotting ripped from a Matt Damon actioner.
Much better is the storyline for Robin and Raven. Each are darker characters with tragic pasts, but by teaming the two up by episode's end, the series actually injects a bit of hope into their story. That said, not everything works just yet. Despite some hand-waved storytelling, it's still not entirely clear why Robin would ditch Batman like this (to the point of saying "fuck Batman", a moment featured in the trailer that still feels off-putting given context of the episode). Thwaites plays Robin with a darkness but just enough soul to make the performance interesting but the character will need time to grow, to become more than just a guy with an R on his chest (or a badge at his day job).
Raven meanwhile has a lot going on around her, but we don't yet really know too much about her. She has dark powers she can't control, but that's really the only thing we know about her. We need to get to know her as a person, to bond with her. I want to like here here, but it's hard when we don't really know her yet.
For a pilot, "Titans" starts strong enough, but there's a lot of leg work the show has to do before it'll really be in a good groove. Honestly, I think the thing that hobbles the show the most is that only a single episode is out so far. It's a show on a streaming service where the only demands are bringing in subscription dollars. DC should probably have given us two or three episodes to start at launch so we could see where the series was really going. It seems like it could get good, but I just don't know quite yet.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
- CW just re-issued the first half of Constantine: City of Demons, although now they're calling it "The Legend Continues" as if it were a Hercules spin-off. Anyone remember that show? Man, that was some sub-CW level crap. Anyway, this is the same section of the Constantine animated movie they put out before, now just with a bunch of Legends of Tomorrow crap thrown in sine ol' John Constantine is on that show. If you've already watched the first half of the season/movie, skip it and wait for the second half (or go buy the complete movie on DVD, which came out over a week ago, and skip the wait).
- The Flash returned with an episode focused on Flash training his daughter-from-the-future, XS, in the ways of being "The Flash". It was a solid plot line, with the writers showing care for the two characters and how they relate to each other. It just would have been nice, once again, if they could have given this level of care to the Flash/Kid Flash dynamic.
- In other Flash news, new villain Cicada was revealed. I don't know anything about him from the comics as I never really read The Flash. That said, the show has never been too concerned with staying "comics accurate" with any of their characters, so I doubt any knowledge of Cicada would help moving forward in this plot lines
- Also, how about that "Elseworlds" crossover poster? I dig the look of Barry Allen as Green Arrow, but Oliver Queen as Flash just looks doofy. Still, it looks like this crossover event is going to go to some interesting places.
- Meanwhile, in the land of Black Lightning, the second episode of the season was a pretty muddled affair. Each of the characters had good moments, from younger daughter Jen coming to terms with her abilities (ever so slowly) to patriarch Jefferson having his own rousing moment at the end of the episode with his students. However, the episode didn't really gel together for me as there were still too many moving pieces without anything really moving forward just yet. This season, it seems, is going to be quite the slow burn.
- And finally, with all our other shows now up and running, we're just waiting on Legend of Tomorrow to start back up. We'll be looking at that show's premiere next week...