A Super Return

Arrowverse 2021 Season: Week 18

This week our supers swap out as Superman & Lois returns from its COVID-forced hiatus while Supergirl returns to the "Phantom Zone" of mid-season replacement status. I am a little sad about this as I like Supergirl in general (although this season has certainly been its weakest yet), but at the same time Superman & Lois has been a consistently great show for its first few episodes and I'm excited to have it back (spoiler: this new episode rocks, too).

Superman & Lois: Season 1

We're going to cover the return of SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. along with the penultimate episode of Black Lightning in this weeks 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. report.

Superman & Lois, Season 1, Episode 6: Broken Trust

Having watched all of the Arrowverse shows for the last few weeks with Superman & Lois off the air and then seeing this week with the show's return, I have a working idea of what's plaguing most of the 'verse at this point: most of the shows have lost sight of their characters, instead largely focusing on "what we have to do about the villain" week after week. That's not to say there aren't some character beats sprinkled in, just that it all feels very mercenary. On most of the shows the characters don't really change or grow or evolve, we're just going through the motions to get everyone to the next set-piece, the next plot point, the next, the next, the next.

By contrast, Superman & Lois is all about its characters. Yes, we have a couple of villains on the show -- General Lane, alternate-Lex Luthor, Morgan Edge -- but none of them has, as of yet, come to dominate the show the way the villains (or, at least, the story about the villains) has come to dominate the other shows. Batwoman is focused on Black Mask, The Flash is focused on the Forces, Legends of Tomorrow is focused on aliens, but Superman & Lois is primarily concerned with Superman and Lois (and their kids).

I found myself so much more engaged this week with the stories about Clark, Lois, Johnathan, and Jordan than I was with any of the other shows and that's because of the level of investment we're getting on these characters. Barry on The Flash has someone he's trying to train but there's no connection between them, no earned moment that provides the need for the training storyline; Clark trains Jordan here and there's a father-son connection that's palpable, followed by a sequence that illustrates why Jordan needs the training and why he has a long way to go. The show is putting in the leg-work.

Having Johnathan and and Jordan also allows the show to recast it's gaze back at Superman and illustrate so many new facets of the hero through a new lens. Jordan has problems controlling his anger and almost unleashes it (and a killer punch) on a bully. This is cut with a sequence of Superman protecting a meta-teen from the Dept. of Defense, and we can see that anger but we also see him keep it in check. He's a boyscout (as Supes is so often accused) not because he's just naturally that way because he works at it, every day; once he acts rashly and loses the public's trust it'll be harder (or impossible) to regain it. He knows what it takes to be a hero and the show lets us into that. It's solid writing.

Naturally, and I feel the need to point this out again, this is powered by Tyler Hoechlin and his naturally charismatic, fatherly, friendly performance. He perfectly embodies Superman -- the power, the control, that genuine niceness, and the hope -- that makes the character such a powerful beacon. The kids do well too, with Alex Garlan doing good work as the rage-filled Jordan, trying to come to grips with his powers and all the emotions running through him. We can see Clark through Jordan's evolution and realize just how much it takes to be Superman every day.

That's not to downplay Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois, mind you. Where Clark gets to play the day, Lois is the one actually the one getting into the superheroic troubles. She keeps digging into Morgan Edge, furthering the main story along the B-plot, this time aided by someone that she thinks is a fellow reporter (but, as we well know, is the alternate-Earth Lex). The way this show is setting up it's larger confrontation, and the various players in it, is interesting because, right now, we don't really know where it's going. That's not such an issue here because it's not confounding. Progress is made this episode, as it is each episode so far, and we can sense that there's a solid plan in place for the future of this season.

That's actually the other issue I'm having with the other shows in the 'verse right now: they don't seem to know where their going or, at the very least, how to get them on an episode-by-episode plan. Those shows are floundering while Superman & Lois is soaring. If I didn't have to watch all these shows for this weekly round-up, I'd seriously consider just sticking with Big Blue and ditching the rest. Superman is where it's at.

Black Lightning: Season 4

Black Lightning, Season 4, Episode 12: The Book of Resurrection: Chapter One: Crossroads

As for Black Lightning, well, anything be a disappoint after the Man of Steel's adventures. Thing is I didn't think this was really the worst episode of this show -- it certainly has all the hallmarks of lazy writing and bad plotting that have plagued the show since, well, the beginning of the show, but this particular episode at least have decent pacing and moved some pieces forward for the actual final episode next week. I'm still happy this show is ending -- it's been a flawed mess for far too long -- but at least this episode sets a bar that we can only hope the final episode manages to exceed.

So there are a few things that happened this episode, not all of them great but some that finally get the characters moving. Tobias Whale has wanted to take everything from Jefferson and that includes, for some reason, Jeff's father's old home. So, supposedly stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jeff calls Tobias (I laughed when it was revealed he had Tobias on speed dial but, okay) so he can sign the deed to the house over and get some cash to, allegedly, pay for all the legal fees he's accrued this season. Of course, that was actually just a plan so Jeff could deliver a device that would shock Tobias's brain and remove all memory of who Jeff was: the superhero Black Lightning. It doesn't go well, though, and Tobias supposedly kills Jeff by episode's end.

Meanwhile, Jennifer has gone on the offense, tracking down Tobias's magnetic meta-goon and taken him off the table. Honestly, this part happens way too easily, but I kind of liked that the second the goon was in actual danger (Jennifer shocks his meta-protecting cuff rendering him powerless) he immediately gives up. Tobias only hires the best goons, you know. It's a bit laughable but, at the same time, it sort of works and sort of working is better than most things on the show, so I'll give it credit this time.

And then there's Kahlil, still kicking ass and taking names. He has the meta Looker, brings her into Freeland, and then has to confront Ishmael as that assassin was sent by Tobias to kill not only Kahlil but also Looker. This is an assassin that has been setup as a big, tough mother, taking on each of the metas in the show and nearly killing them every time. And then Kahlil handily bests him. Like, again, I think it's a tad silly how quickly the guy dies but it does illustrate Kahlil's bona fides which will be important when his own show, Painkiller starts up at some point. That said, that show will have to watch its "power creep" because Kahlil is already too good of a hero.

Oh, and Anissa blew up a building and Lynn made an ally and was super boring, as she always is. I didn't really care about either of these plot lines as they've horribly tacked on. It's all about babies having their meta-genes removed at birth, which sounds awful but considering that the whole plot line is entirely told to us by the characters, that we never actually see any consequences of these actions, it's all just a lot of talk. It never actually has any impact on the viewers at all.

So it's a mixed bag of an episode. It was bearable, for sure, and that makes it better than a lot of the episodes of this series. But bearable isn't good, and this episode also exemplifies all the issues with the show: telling instead of showing, taking easy outs every time, and then making giant leaps of logic just to get the characters where they need to be next. This series is flawed, directed by a group of creatives that just don't know how to make this series good. I want to like this show, I certainly like a lot of the actors on it (even if I've steadily lost all interest in the characters), but I'm really glad this show is ending. It's never really found its groove and at this point it's just too late for it to do anything more than go out with the least pathetic whimper it can.

Elsewhere in the 'Verse

  • Batwoman goes after a bad batch of Snake Bite which turns its users into brain-eating zombies. Meanwhile there's a lot of talk of social justice, that actually goes pretty well (it's one of the better discussions the 'verse has managed which, admittedly, isn't saying that much), and it prompts Sophie to leave the Crows as she's finally realized the organization is too screwed up to save. You're late to the party, Soph, but we're glad you got there eventually.
  • Legends of Tomorrow deals with a song contest in the future for the fate of humanity. The episode itself was pretty amusing, and it does push some characters forward on their personal plot lines Sadly the music actually wasn't that great which flattens an otherwise great episode, making it only decent.
  • The Flash continues to make bad decisions and prove that he's the worst person to lead Team Flash. This time around Barry pushes Alexa to get in touch with the monster living inside her: the Avatar of the Strength Force, Fuerza. He, of course, pushes her way too far (as he does every time when he's confronted with someone that refuses to do something his way), then has to apologize. And then, of course, she suddenly is able to control Fuerza with almost no development at all, and then things happen and people fight and it's all so much power-slop. God this show is awful now.
  • Supergirl Is off until Mid-August when, presumably, some other show in the 'verse takes a bow for the season and our Girl of Steel can make her return to finish up her run. Just a few more episodes and then Kara will exit the Arrowverse, from all reports permanently.
  • And it's actually next week that Black Lightning wraps up its run. Must have been wishful thinking on my part that it would be over just a little sooner.