The Beam! The Light! The Flash... No, Wait, That's Taken...
Arrowverse 2018/2019 Season: Week 12
After a brief respite last week (to celebrate the holidays), we return with further coverage of the Arrowverse. Not that there's much to cover right now: all the CW shows are on their winter hiatus leaving us with little new material to look at.
Still, there is a little bit for us to go over before I really have to start digging to come up with new material. Titans had its season finale a little while back (with the holidays getting in the way of our coverage), and we do also have the full length Freedom Fighters: The Ray to look at. Let's begin:
Titans, Season 1, Episode 11: Dick Grayson
Last week Trigon crossed into our world, with his magic slowly spilling out of Raven's mother's house. Trigon healed Gar, Raven embraced Trigon as her father, and it seemed like everything was going to Hell right quick. The only heroes left to stop the evil demon lord with Kori / Starfire, Donna Troy / Wonder Girl, and Dick Grayson / No Codename Right Now. Unfortunately, only Dick could get past the magic wall protecting the house, leaving Donna and Kori out in the cold.
This week we pick up with Dick living in California, married to Dawn (of Hawk and Dove), with one little kid already out in the world and another on the way. He's settled down, become a family man, and given up the old life of capes and cowls. However, back in Gotham, Batman has apparently lost it and gone right off the deep end. Dick somehow gets pulled into the mess, to try and find a way to get through to Bruce and stop his new reign of terror. And every time Dick tried to give up and go back home, something always drags him back in. Almost as if none of what we were seeing was real and it was all a plan by Trigon to sway Dick and make him take the path of evil. Which it is. Nothing in the episode actually happens.
Look, the whole "it was all a dream" story has been done so many times in just about every genre that it's easy to see it coming from a mile away. Something seems off in the scene? It's probably a dream sequence. The show doesn't downplay this for too long, having things magically shift and alter around Dick as he navigates his journey. That said, the fact that we can easily tell it's all fake, all an illusion, means that nothing we're seeing has any impact. How can we care about family-man Dick Grayson and the life he's built when it's all obviously fake.
It also weirdly places all the focus on Dick at a time in the series where the heroes should be banding together to take on a new threat. the first season of Titans has been super-focused on Dick -- who his is, what he desires, where his journey is taking him -- to the detriment of everyone else. Making this episode all about Dick, again, is just another case of that happening in the series. Titans should be an ensemble, but at least in this first season it's really the Dick Grayson and Friends Show, Starring Dick Grayson.
The fact that all of this occurs in the final episode of the season just makes it extra weird. An episode like this can play as a late-in-the-season entry, but there's usually an episode or two after to show the effects. This is always the opening act to a larger story, a test of the hero that they then overcome before the story truly ends. But here, this is the end of a story, the last episode of a season before a long hiatus. It becomes an awkward cliffhanger, leaving us waiting for more when what we really needed was some kind of satisfying conclusion.
Of course, much of this is because this episode wasn't intended to be the season finale. The show was originally planned to have 13 episodes, and then that number was trimmed back to 11 with the follow-up episodes pushed to next season for the premiere (whenever that airs). Whatever the reasons were, an episode that shouldn't have been the season finale was made into one, and it hurts the overall arc of the season.
Titans is a solid show that I really enjoyed. It has its flaws, sure, but when its firing it one of the best DC shows airing right now. It's episodes like this, though, that make it hard to recommend the show. If you haven't already watched along with the episodes as we've been going through the Arrowverse week by week, give it a try. But, if you want to avoid the annoyance of this finale, maybe wait to binge the whole first season when the show picks back up down the road.
Freedom Fighters: The Ray
Around the time that the CW Seed was debuting Constantine: City of Demons they also had another series of mini-sodes to promote Freedom Fighters: The Ray. Originally intended to act as a prequel for last year's big crossover event, "Crisis on Earth X", The Ray was delayed until well past that crossover's premiere. The first six episodes came out a few months later, and now the whole movie (with those five episodes incorporated) is out on disc.
Sadly, it wasn't worth the wait. The Ray is, in short, a mess of a film, boring and preachy without nearly enough fun, superhero action to make the movie an enjoyable experience. It surprising, really, because I rather enjoyed the first effort from production company Blue Ribbon Content, seasons one and two of Vixen, but both The Ray and Constantine fell flat.
Starting off on Earth X, we find the Freedom Fighters -- Phantom Lady, Black Condor, Dollman, Red Tornado, and of course The Ray -- battling Nazi versions of Earth-1 superheroes -- Overgirl (Supergirl), Black Arrow (Green Arrow), and Blitzkrieg (The Flash). Most of the team is defeated, with both Red Tornado and The Ray being mortally wounded. Tornado gives up his central control cortex to The Ray, telling the hero that if the Nazis got a hold of that cortex they could end the Resistance once and for all. So The Ray takes the cortex and has Vibe (because there's a Vibe on every Earth) transport him to Earth-1. There The Ray meets his Earth-1 counterpart, Ray Terrill, and gives that man the cortex. He also dies at Earth-1 Ray's feet, transferring his super-powers to the previously un-powered Ray Terrill. Now the new The Ray has to figure out his powers, fined a way to destroy the cortex, and stop a bunch of Nazis from totally dominating Earth-X.
All of that sounds like a lot, so much action and adventure, and yet after the first episode is done, the movie slows right down. We get endless episodes about Ray Terrill struggling with his job, struggling with being gay, struggling with his personal life. Don't get me wrong, these are all worthwhile stories to hear about and it's good to get more LGBTQ representation in superhero productions. It would just be nice if it was handled better.
The problem is that The Ray is just a long, preachy slog. The movie never gets a chance to really get going because every episode feels the need to stop and have a long, "important" conversion about being gay, or helping minorities, or human rights (or all of those things at once). It's probably an exaggeration, but the film certainly feels like it's 75% preaching, 25% superheroics. It's a slog.
Not that the superheroics are any better. I'd call them, at best, workman-like. They aren't directed with any zest and there aren't really any cool sequences to carry the film. The first episode features a long battle between the Nazi villains and the Freedom Fighters, but once you've watched that episode and see what the heroes can do -- Overgirl punches hard, Blitzkrieg punches fast, and Dark Arrow occasionally shoots things -- you've seen everything the show has to offer. Two heroes come in, they punch, one of them falls, and then repeat, over and over. I honestly started to nod off during the climax because I'd see all of it before. It just wasn't interesting in the slightest.
But, then, the movie is hobbled by the fact that it can't really do anything drastic with the characters. This is a prequel movie so all the major characters in the big crossover, "Crisis on Earth-X", both heroes and villains, have to be alive by the time the film ends. Sure, some lesser characters can die, but they're lesser for a reason. We know that by the end of it Overgirl, Dark Arrow, and The Ray will all still be standing, so who cares what else happens in the film?
Overall, this film is a waste. It had potentially to give us a better look at Earth-X, but we spend so little time in that dimension (the first and last episodes and that's it) that there's no better understanding of that (cartoonishly underwritten) world. And since The Ray himself just isn't an interesting character in this movie, what do we really have to hold on to? Nothing. Skip this film -- all you need to know (and care) about Earth-X is in the crossover event. Nothing else matters.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
- With that we're done with the main Arrowverse until the shows come back at the end of January. Instead, next week we're going to look back on some of the big crossover events of the last few years as we kill time waiting for the shows to return.