Send the Pain Below

Arrowverse 2021 Season: Week 13

This is an interesting week for 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., in large part because I could have picked any two episodes for the week and discussed them at length. We had three really great episodes alongside a (mediocre) back-door pilot, and I really struggled to figure out what was worth covering and what to send to the "additional notes" below.

I decided to go with Black Lightning, since that series essentially aired it's own continuation series (assuming it really does get picked up and isn't shunted off like Green Arrow and the Canaries), alongside Batwoman, since we haven't checked in on that show in a while:

Black Lightning, Season 4, Episode 7: Painkiller

It's been known for a little while that Black Lightning was going to end with this season and that, afterwards, the story of that section of the 'verse would pick up with a spin-off, Painkiller. Well, as with Green Arrow and the Canaries first debuting over in Arrow, Painkiller is getting its start right here in a back-door pilot from Black Lightning. Good thing it's a pilot, too, because this show needs a fair bit of work before it's ready for prime time.

In the episode, Anissa and her new bride, Grace, head off to Akashic Valley for their honeymoon. The place seems like a weird, neon-lit resort town, but the two are quite happy with the sights of the city. After settling in, they go bar hopping and end up at a bar that just so happens to be owned and run by Kahlil Payne (aka, Painkiller), although they don't realize that just yet. Both of the girls are photographed by a guy going around the club (and aren't happy about it), and then soon after Grace is kidnapped on her way back from the bathroom. Anissa tries to stop it but is attacked by Painkiller, and then everything goes black.

She wakes up a little while later in Kahlil's medical bay, being tended over by the people helping Kahlil. It seems that he's set himself up for a pretty good life, taking millions from the ASA to buy the bar, setup shop, and install tech to try and keep the Painkiller side of his brain at bay. Unfortunately the kill order on the Pierce family is still in there, which is why Painkiller came out and attacked Anissa. To make up for it, Kahlil goes out into the city to find the people that kidnapped Grace and get her back, all while laying waste to anyone that gets in his way.

So, by now we should all be used to the way the Arrowverse sets up its shows: we have a hero, in this case Kahlil, and his team working with him (a tech guy and a doctor, which is very like The Flash). After a requisite amount of time setting up the back-story, the hero is they given a mission to follow. They'll complete it, only to then realize their work isn't done and they have to continue to work to protect their city from the looming big bad. Nothing about "Painkiller" breaks away from the formula; it's predictable, which I hold against it, but it's possible others will like that it sticks to the basic script of the 'verse.

Worse for me, though, was that the show feels like it exists in another universe. Akashic Valley feels like Black Runner mashed up against a Blaxploitation flick. It's high-tech and futuristic, where the world is always night and everything it lit by a ludicrous amount of neon. When you compare this to any of the other shows in the 'verse, all of which supposedly take place in a version of our present (even with some of the weird tech that shows up) and this show feels like it's from another reality at least 30 years advanced from us. If this existed in the same timeline as Green Arrow and the Canaries it'd feel more natural, but it's set in the present, not the future, and it just doesn't work.

In fairness, the main character is compelling. We get a couple of scenes with Kahlil and Painkiller where the two halves are talking to each other inside their shared head (which is like a library/dojo in this mind palace) and these moments were compelling. I like the idea of the good and evil halves of this character working together, and against each other, and making that dynamic a main driver of the show. I could get behind a character at war with themself as that's a dynamic we haven't really seen anywhere in this 'verse.

I just wish the rest of the show worked better. I can chalk up a certain amount of weirdness as the show having to essentially create an entire new series on the budget of a single Black Lightning episode and maybe, just maybe, it would all work better once its given time to grow and expand. Right now, though, while I like the character, "Painkiller" is a pass (although I'll still end up watching it, if it actually becomes a series, because I'll never escape writing these articles).

Batwoman, Season 2, Episode 10: Time Off for Good Behavior

When last we checked in with Batwoman, Team Bat was going to help build up Gotham City buy funding, and restoring, a community center. Ryan wants to give back to the community, not just fight the criminals, because in the whole time that BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. was battling evil, it's hard to say he actually made anything better. This episode, thus, opens up with the community center's grand opening... which is immediately torched. Bad guys are circling and Ryan (along with Team Bat) has to figure out who's behind it and why. Plus, we get development on the Enigma plot line, and Alice continues to be crazy.

So let's tackle the stuff that worked this episode: Ryan and her quest to actually Make Gotham Great Again (although, thankfully, she never says it that way). I actually think this is a fantastic idea. It's an angle we haven't really seen from Batman, in any form, before. Yes, he's always called a "billionaire philanthropist", but most of the time when he does something, like build something for charity or fund some new project, it's because he has a suspicion there's a criminal behind it and he wants to take them down. Bruce was hyper-focused on getting rid of evil but it was rare to hear about him doing an good. Ryan is going to change that and that strikes a new era for the Bat. I dig it.

This also motivates other parts of Team Bat as Mary goes and reopens her clinic, despite her father now knowing about it, and not approving. It's something to help the city, not make money or stroke ego, and whatever his feels on the matter she doesn't really care. The clinic is the best part of Mary's character as it makes her more than a boring socialite, and I'm happy the show is forcing her to continue to grow. She's a different kind of character than we've gotten in the 'verse before, someone that is in the world of the superheros but never becomes one herself, and actually finds heroism outside the capes and cowls. I hope the series keeps her on this path because it's great for her and the show.

Unfortunately there is a part of the show that isn't working: the villains. Originally I thought Safyiah was going to be our big bad, but it seems like her storyline is over. Now we have Enigma (but not Edward Nigma, the Riddler), who hypnotizes people and makes them do what she wants. Except didn't we also have Black Mask, who may or may not be working with her, and there's still Alice who is a villain, but isn't a villain, and we're still not sure just where the hells she's headed. It's a muddled mess.

A superhero show lives and dies on its villains and right now, as great as the heroes are, there's no real villain to truly carry the show. We need a strong dynamic, a back-and-forth between good and bad and while the good is on point, the bad guys need to get their act together and come into a cohesive whole. It's not working and, as the show heads into its mid-season, we need the villains to come together so the show can gain momentum for its back-half. We're still waiting for that.

I like Batwoman, and I enjoyed this episode, but I'm ready for the show to pick up the pace and get a direction. We're just not there yet.

Elsewhere in the 'Verse

  • On The Flash Barry was annoyed as Nora followed him around, trying to help him solve a crime that seems like it was designed to frame Frost for murder and theft. The Nora aspect of the show is weird because she's not his mom but she looks like his mom and acts like his mom. This is a dynamic that isn't working for me yet but it does have potential to get interesting if the show nails it. Meanwhile, Frost gets some character growth and turns herself in for the crimes she actually did commit in the past, and I'm interested as to where she's going to go. Plus, now, Caitlin is just a human once more, and the show has so few of those. Interesting.
  • And over on Supergirl, our Girl of Steel is still stuck in the Phantom Zone, but she meets a 5th Dimensions sorceress who, eventually, joins up with our heroine to try and find a way out of this hell dimension. Meanwhile, in a really strong storyline, Lena goes to war with her brother and ends up winning the battle by not winning and giving up. Her refusal to fight him irritates him more than any win she could have gotten, and it shows real depth and growth for the character. Lena is becoming on of the strongest aspects of the show and I welcome it as it also brings more interesting character dynamics to Lex as well.