Warning: spoilers for Supergirl episode 2×17, The Flash episode 3×18, Legends of Tomorrow episodes 2×16 and 2×17, and Arrow episode 5×18.
With the seasons of all four Arrowverse shows coming to a close (with Legends‘ finale a couple of weeks ago), the tension between characters is high and the stakes for our heroes even higher. And each show is knee deep in my favorite kind of conflict: internal struggle, the “man versus self” battle that can sometimes be the best catalyst for character development. This last batch of episodes from the CW DCTV provided so many examples of personal struggles and identity crises that it’s crazy simple to draw parallels between them.
Descent into Darkness
By far my favorite superhero trope (even more than unmasking scenes, which I adore) is the exploration of that fine line between being a superhero and being a vigilante or, worse, a dangerous criminal. Netflix’s Daredevil explored this with Punisher’s highly quotable “you’re one bad day away from being me” scene, and I think Batman v. Superman was attempting to address the problems that arise when a God-like being takes justice into his own hands. How they thought that making Batman a reckless killer would underscore his moral beef with Superman’s apparent God complex is beyond me. But that is not the point. The point is that this good-guy-gone-bad/hero-fights-hero story is intriguing to audiences and can be done very successfully, as seen in the Injustice video game (or in any alternate reality in which Superman becomes a tyrant) and in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (in which Superman somewhat reluctantly fights Batman at the orders of the government).
Our DCTV heroes currently having crises of their own include Oliver Queen, Felicity Smoak, and Mick Rory (yes, I know that the Legends don’t consider themselves heroes, but they are all heroes in my heart and nothing they say will make me change my mind gosh dang it). Though Mick started out as a villain on The Flash and seemed to cling to his pillaging roots even when Leonard Snart began to grow “soft”, the untimely death of his best friend and the growing support of his shipmates (at least for the first part of season 2) pushes him towards a more mindful way of participating on the team and fixing time aberrations. Unfortunately, the camaraderie that we saw between Mick and Ray in previous episodes and the respect that Sara granted Mick was either forgotten by the writers or purposefully dropped in the latter half of this season, with jokes at Mick’s expense in their place. Their disrespect of a fellow Legend grew so obnoxious that when the team assembled the Spear of Destiny, I practically screamed at my television for Mick to grab it, yell “peace out!” and hop off of the Waverider and back to a life with his best bud Snart. At least Snart appreciated him as an equal and as a friend, right? Right?
Meanwhile, Felicity Smoak is returning to her own less-than-heroic roots. Unlike Mick, she got into illegal activities in an attempt to change the world as a “hacktivist”. The difference between then and now is that Felicity realizes the shadiness of Helix and the consequences of the jobs they’ve given her and yet still decides to work for them quid pro quo. It’s that exchange of services that makes Felicity believe that what she is doing is justified; it’s what Oliver did with the Bratva, after all. Unfortunately, while Oliver was lectured at by Diggle and never felt comfortable working with the Bratva in Star City in the first place, Felicity feels at home at Helix, even moreso than in the “Arrow Cave”. She’s ceased to see Helix as a necessary evil and started seeing it as the one place where she truly belongs. From the preview for next episode, it seems this clash of morals is going to be addressed head on, with Felicity defending her choices to Oliver. With Curtis (and occasionally Wild Dog and others) as comedic relief in the show, Felicity’s turn to the dark side is a welcome character development. It gives her character something to do other than making quips or gazing longingly at Oliver on the salmon ladder. Plus, I was a huge fan of emo Felicity (that black hair and eyeliner though!) so I’m just patiently waiting for her to get the hair dye out. Probably won’t happen, though. What will definitely happen is yet another change in Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. I’ve always believed that the show runs the most smoothly when Felicity and Oliver aren’t arguing, but since this is about Felicity’s hacking and not the on-again-off-again romantic relationship that has been Olicity these past few seasons, I’m excited to see where the writers take this.
The other half of that relationship has had perhaps the most screen time devoted to his own dealings with darkness. Oliver has always struggled with the monster that he “controls” via the hood (there are multiple YouTube videos chronicling every time Oliver says something like “this is all my fault” or “everyone around me gets hurt”), but this was the sole message of the Arrow episode “Kapiushon”. I loved the internal turmoil experienced by Ollie in this episode so much that I wrote a separate review on that episode. His broken spirit was somewhat mended in the following episode, but we’re still going to be seeing the fallout of his revelation — that he killed in season 1 because he enjoyed it, not simply to honor his father’s wishes — for the rest of the season, if not into season 6.
At this moment in each show, Mick Rory is back on the Waverider as a Legend, Felicity Smoak hasn’t yet gone past the point of no return in Helix, and Oliver Queen will always be the Green Arrow, no matter what he tells anyone. Caitlin Snow is probably not going to be so lucky, having gone full-on Killer Frost after dying at the very end of the last Flash episode. Honestly, I almost forgot about the post-credit scene (or whatever you call that thing) and was about to shut off my television. But no, we get one more scene with Caitlin and Cisco being all buddy-buddy like old times! I was almost disappointed that we weren’t getting a small glimpse into next episode (maybe a short scene with future Barry or something), but I was content to enjoy the two nerds enjoying some jello together, even if Cisco did eat the last of the good stuff. And then Caitlin went into shock (blood clot, probably?) and died almost immediately. I screamed at Cisco to take off the necklace, though he was respectful enough of Caitlin to refuse to let her turn into something worse than death (at this point, Caitlin fulfills all of Savitar’s prophecy by herself: betrayal, death, and a fate worse than death). So, of course, it’s up to Julian to save her life and turn her into Killer Frost in the process. Does this mean that Caitlin Snow is dead? Did any part of her besides Killer Frost come back to life when her powers healed her body? We probably won’t find out for sure until next season, where she’s sure to be a major villain for at least the first half of the season.
Ascent into Goodness
There’s probably something to be said about how I have chosen “goodness” as the antithesis to “darkness”, rather than “light”. I suppose “Ascent into Light” sounds like the following characters have died and are going to Heaven, or maybe they’re in The Poltergeist and they’re not listening to their mother screaming “DON’T GO INTO THE LIGHT”.
I don’t find these kind of character arcs as interesting, mostly because I am a glutton for emotional punishment. Still, they are the natural succession to a “descent into darkness” arc for a character meant to be the hero or protagonist, and can be satisfying to watch when it isn’t rushed.
Despite his relationship with Kara (a gripe for another post, perhaps), Mon-El‘s gradual change over the season from stuck-up slave-owning arrogant brat to free-thinking sincerely apologetic man has been fairly well-written by the Supergirl staff. This was most exemplified by “Star-Crossed” and the following “Distant Sun”, in which Mon-El confronts his parents and firmly aligns himself with Kara and her ideals. It’s obviously painful for Mon-El to defy the family that he loves and to recognize their deep flaws, but he’s able to do it and even begins to win over his father to his side. Unfortunately, we don’t get a happy resolution to that arc, as Mon-El’s mother straight-up murders his father because he’s gone soft. Yikes.
Two of our heroes from the previous list, Mick and Oliver, have an upturn in their character arcs in the most recent episode of their respective shows. Oliver is forcibly shaken out of his toxic, negative path of thinking by Diggle knocking some sense into him (though it is Oliver who actually punches Diggle in the episode). Luckily for the Green Arrow, his teammates and friends never really lost faith in him (though they were a bit shaken), so he has them as support for however many episodes it takes him to get back to the mindset he needs to be in to don the hood again. It’s this kind support that Mick Rory secretly craves, and that he doesn’t get when he reunites with his previously dead partner. Mick realizes pretty quickly that the version of Leonard Snart that he’s running around robbing banks with is not the one who saw Mick as an equal and cared for his crew mates but rather the cold-hearted (pun intended) man who had to spend years as a villain before realizing his potential as a hero. At the end of the season, Mick drops Snart off right where he was picked up by the Legion and reveals to Snart, and to the audience, that he prefers the “soft” version of himself, contrary to what his fellow Legends believe(d) of him. Despite his “friends” joking about and underestimating Mick’s skills and intelligence, Mick is able to avoid returning to the “mindless” destructive villain he was in The Flash. And, of course, we get the start of Snart‘s path to heroism in this episode as well, even if he doesn’t realize it yet.
. . . . .
Supergirl, The Flash, and Arrow all return next week, starting on April 24th. In the meantime, I’ve been satiating my need for identity-driven stories through the return of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.
Things I’m looking forward to in the DCTV shows next week:
- Lena Luthor backstory (every scene with her is amazing let’s be honest)
- Supergirl “secret” identity revealed to Lena? Or someone else?
- Rahul Kohli playing a villain on Supergirl (he’s amazing in iZombie)
- Basically the entirety of the Flash episode, especially FINDING OUT WHO SAVITAR IS (maybe). Hoping it’s Barry (told ya I’m a sucker for self-versus-self conflict), but it’s most likely someone else.
- Felicity finally seeing the consequences of her most recent illegal endeavors
- Having these three shows airing the same week as Agents of SHIELD so I can do a proper post comparing and contrasting the DC and Marvel shows