The End of the Arrowverse
Arrowverse 2021/2022 Season: July Finales
Well it took ten years but it looks like 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. as we know it is dead. The writing was on the wall for a while, probably before the WB/Discovery merge that has thrown so much of the CW's programming in the air. When the WB launched the DC Universe and started making CW-level shows that weren't on the CW (such as Titans and Stargirl) that was the first nail in the coffin. Even though that app failed, all its content moved to HBOThe oldest and longer-running cable subscription service, HBO provides entertainment in the force of licensed movies along with a huge slate of original programming, giving it the luster of the premiere cable service. where those shows could find a better audience and continue to grow.
Now, sure, the CW got some of those shows. Stargirl aired first on the CW for its second season before moving over to HBO, and Swamp Thing got a second run of its first season on the CW as well. But that only highlights the second issue: DCU/HBO shows could move between networks that the WB controlled and they could make their streaming money off them as they liked. Shows from earlier in the Arrowverse and its multiverse were tied to a deal with NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). and had to move over to Netflix for their streaming second life. It made sense for the CW to negotiate this deal when HBO Max didn't exist, but now that's streaming content lost to HBO for years to come.
That's why so many Arrowverse shows have ended, and the rest are likely to follow soon. The only straggler right now officially is The Flash because, as was revealed in the finale of Superman & Lois this past month: 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. is the only superhero on his world (a detail we're going to discuss below). We're not watching one unified world anymore (despite the intentions of "Crisis on Infinite Earths") but a multiverse of shows. Thus, in more ways than one, the Arrowverse is dead and, let's face it, it's never coming back.
This actually throws this whole column up in the air, which we'll address much further below, but before we get to that let's wrap up the current shows for this season:
I've been saying this all year (and for a long while before) but if there was any one show I was targeting to have die off from the 'verse it's The Flash. The shows we lost over the last year -- Supergirl, Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow -- had their flaws, to be sure, but they each at least had moments of brilliance that reminded you why you were still watching. Good characters, good moments, good ideas. None of that, absolutely none, is available in The Flash. This is a series that ran itself (pun intended) into the ground around the time of "Crisis" and has never, ever recovered.
The reasons are numerous. "Crisis" threw that season into a weird state, divided and segmented without a lot of momentum to any of its stories. The show had been struggling before that, unable to find good villains for the hero to battle -- Thinker and Cicada being too real stinkers -- which drained a lot of the joy out of the show. Turnover in cast didn't help matters, and at this point the show barely feels like the joyous show we had all the way back in is first season. It's a sad shadow of its former glory.
The show is coasting on its legacy, too tired to so anything new so it relies on the same old tropes over and over again: tired villains, over-powered heroes, and too much techno-babble to paste over half-baked ideas. This last volume of the season found The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes. dealing with two resurrected Eobard Thawns (played by Matt Letscher and Tom Cavanagh) as well as negative versions of the Forces that want to unbalance and remake the world. Why? Who the hell knows.
As I noted in previous discussions, the Forces are terrible characters. They were introduced last season to bring in the ideas of the Still Force, Strength Force, and Mind Force to balance the Speed Force. None of these Force characters were given any weight to their stories, though, with the powers bestowed upon random, new characters hastily introduced to fit roles. They they disappeared after their jobs were done. Now, somehow, Negative versions exist that look exactly like the positive ones, and somehow both sides are battling each other (so we're told) because of stupid actions that the Flash took.
This is something I think we really need to discuss: the Flash always does something stupid. He always ignores his team, acts recklessly, goes off on half-baked ideas, and then pays for it time and again. This is such a narrative trope that you could do a drinking game for it (and get right shitfaced). But, let's remember, every season Flash has to learn, "hey, wait, if I just listened to my team and we all worked together responsibly, we'd win the day!" And then, by next season, whenever it's narratively convenient, he forgets again. He doesn't grow, or change, and since about third season, once Barry and Iris got together, the show has left these two characters stuck, narratively, in time.
Meanwhile, the whole idea that we have two Eobards is barely explored or discussed. The show has the characters wave away concerns -- "the Legends said they found a version of Eobard acting as a guard for a time period and blah blah..." despite the fact that the Legends never came and talked to the Flash after all that happened -- so it just rings hollow. I like the idea of having Eobard return to cause havoc -- he's still the best villain the show has ever used -- but the way the show does it is rushed and ham-fisted, to be sure.
This then gets to what I think is the biggest issue the show is facing: it's long-form pacing (or lack there of). After "Crisis" the show moved to a "graphic novel" format for its storytelling. Instead of doing one long story per season we instead get smaller volumes, chapters to fit in between. This was meant to fix the villain issue, forcing one villain to carry a season, but all it's really done is give everything less time to develop. Now we have short four-episode arcs that arrive speed through the story, and then disappear, vapor on the wind without any weight. It's killing this show.
There are still sparks of life to be found in the series, primarily from the future-set characters of Nora and Bart (aka XS and Impulse). Honestly, if these two characters were given their own show I think that would actually be pretty interesting as they don't have all the dramatic luggage weighing them down that seems to hamstring the rest of this series. A few bright points, though, don't solve all the big issues this series is facing. Barely anything works anymore and the show is clearly just going through the motions. It should have ended this season, clearly, but it is getting (at least) one more season after this. It's gonna be a chore to get through it, I'm sure.
Superman & Lois
Of the two remaining shows from what once was the grand Arrowverse, Superman & Lois continues to be the bright spot. Hell, even if all the other shows hadn't been canceled I'd still consider this the best show in the 'verse, although Legends would give it a run for its money. The show does have some of the same flaws that plague all the other CW shows -- low budget, sometimes rushed story beats -- but the way the show manages to handle it all together allows it to rise above, just like Legends of Tomorrow could. The reason: great characters.
The show thrives because it treats its characters like real people (which then allows the actors to really dig in and give solid performances). Clark and Lois love each other and handle everything in their family as a team. When people make mistakes, they have good reasons. Sometimes they don't communicate well, it's true, but that's motivated by character as well. And then, when they need to, they talk things out and come together. No one is running off half-cocked, doing stupid things that go counter to their character (and the team). Everyone here is true to themselves and the show respects that. Whatever flaws the show may have otherwise, you never doubt its characters on a deep and personal level.
That goes a long way to sell the silliness of this season's finale, as the villain, cult lead Ally Allston (Rya Kihlstedt) -- who, remember, merged with her Bizarro persona a few episodes back and gained Parasite powers in the process -- has worked to mere the two worlds (our Earth and Bizarro Earth) together. Her character is developed well as a cult leader and villain, in fairness to the show (again, it's character work is great), but her reason for wanted to "merge" is never truly developed. It's like, "this is her motivation and nothing will stop her," despite people yelling at her its wrong. It's one of those times where communication should have worked and, for some reason, didn't.
Then we get to the great merging (which, for those with issues seeing flashing lights, maybe don't watch these scenes) which sees the Earth and Bizarro Earth sitting within each other. How do we solve this? A super-powered Superman that absorbed a ton of power from the sun punching the Earths to split them apart. When, a few scenes earlier, he punched apart Ally and Ally it made some sense. When he does it to the Earth, though, it just looks dumb. No way to sell that with CW budget, guys.
And yet, despite the dorkiness of it all, you still buy in because, afterwards, you get to spend time with the characters enjoying having saved the day. It feels earned (up to a point) and the solid acting helps to paper over the flaws. The finale isn't perfect by any stretch -- it does seem like the producers pushed to do a bigger threat than first season, and swung hard for it even if they really couldn't pull it off -- but you gotta respect the effort put in to try and make it all work.
Here's the thing: 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. isn't an easy character to write. He's so powerful that any threat can seem small in comparison to his awesomeness. Thus you have to have giant threats to throw against him, things that would straight up roll over any other hero in the 'verse. Season one gave ups a bunch of Kryptonians while season two has Supes going up against Bizarro and then Parasite. The fact that, despite the inherent weirdness of the concepts, it really didn't manage to give us Bizarro World and Parasite. You gotta respect that, just like you gotta respect the big swings the producers are taking here.
There are some things I didn't like. It doesn't entirely feel like John Henry Irons or his daughter, Natalie, have really been merged into the show that well. They add an odd dynamic to the larger Kent family and the show struggles to give them the same relevance. Meanwhile, Lana Lang makes the cardinal sin of not communicating, keeping the secret of the Kent family from her own family, a stupid decisions that seems born out of a desire to raise "drama" than be true to characters. This was the show failing its own characters and it sucked.
The biggest issue I have, though, is that the producers decided this show doesn't exist within the larger Arrowverse. It's weird since the show was pitched to fans as a spin-off of Supergirl and was sold as a franchise extensions for the whole 'verse. It has the same actors for Superman and Lois but now they're different versions? It's awkward, especially when the show only spells this own at the end of the second season... right before it brings in a version of John Diggle from the 'verse. Same actor, David Ramsey, filling the same duties, but not the version of the character we know. Uh... that's just weird. You get the feeling in this case that the WB told the producers, "we're killing the connected universe," and the writers had to just deal with it after the fact.
Now, this does help fix some issues. Any time I've thought, "hey, where is Kara during all of this?" now we have an answer. It's not a great answer but it is one that fits the world we now know and explains a lot of stuff away. I suppose it's a good thing that planned crossover between Superman & Lois and Batwoman never happened because this would have been far more awkward otherwise.
All things considered I struggle to say if this season was as successful as the previous. I really like this show, and it's a consistent performer. I think the producers have big ideas and they do what they can to sell the series. It's handsome and well-crafted show all things considered, but it is struggling. I think the show needs to be freed from the CW, sent to live on HBO Max where it can have a better budget and find it's own size and format to tell stories its own way. The worst thing about this show is that it's trapped on the CW with that network's budget and scheduling constraints. This show needs to be allowed to fly (pun intended) and find itself. Until then I think it's going to always have a little awkwardness to its presentation.
I'll still watch it, though. Even in a weaker second season the show is still very watchable.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With the Arrowverse effectively dead -- only one show still in the main continuity -- what do we do with this column? I move these articles to a once-a-month format both to save my own sanity but also so we could focus better on the shows without saying the same things week to week. I think the format change worked well but then we lost all the shows we were covering so, now, I feel like even going monthly feels like too much.
End of the day, even with three semi-connected shows (counting Stargirl) and one spin-off that might happen (the proposed Justice U) it just doesn't seem like doing these columns this way makes sense anymore. There aren't any connected stories anymore, no crossovers to wait for, no greater universe to explore. The universe is dead and gone now.
So, with that, I think we have to move on from this column. Instead of doing monthly (or even quarterly) check-ins with the 'verse I'm just going to review the seasons after they end. Standard reviews, long-form articles. It's sad to see this column go but it's time to move on. Thanks all, though, for reading these week to week and month to month. It's been a trip.