Arrowverse Review ~ “You Don’t Know the Kind of Man I Am”

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.┬áMick 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
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Arrow 5×17 Kapiushon ~ Review

Warning: spoilers for Arrow up through episode 5×17

Despite the myriad of cliche lines in the preview for Arrow’s “Kapiushon” (a symptom of CW shows as well as their marketing strategy), this episode delivered some of the best performances of any DCTV show to date. Practically the entire episode hinged on Stephen Amell, as flashback figured prominently and we didn’t even get a glimpse at the rest of Team Arrow until the last act of the episode. This is sometimes a risky move with superhero shows that have evolved to rely on team dynamics and running gags; we didn’t have any Felicity hacking moments, Mr. Terrific T-sphere jokes, Diggle witticisms, et al. Thankfully, the fearless writing, smart scene cuts and transitions, and stellar acting by Stephen Amell, Josh Segarra, and David Nykl cement this episode as arguably Arrow’s best of season 5.

The main premise of the present-day portion of the episode consists of Prometheus torturing Oliver by pushing him to reveal his greatest secret – something that Oliver hasn’t even admitted to himself yet. At the onset of the episode, I considered the possibility that his secret would be that he ruins everything he touches (cue the Charlie Brown scene) and that he never should have donned the hood, but he has already stated his regrets about his time as a vigilante and his effect on those around him, so this couldn’t be the thing that he lied to even himself about. No, that secret was much darker, if somewhat cliche; season 1 Oliver Queen killed because he liked it.

This reveal is the climax of an intense episode, mainly due to the flashbacks. Prometheus’ torture of Oliver is horrific, especially the emotional turmoil he puts him through via Evelyn Sharp’s reappearance. Oliver forgives Evelyn immediately and refuses to kill her, an action in line with his season 5 reformed version of Oliver Queen, the man who is Mayor of Star City because he cares about its people, the man who has lost so many people close to him and yet still has hope that there is good in everyone. The climax is made all the more potent by the tension between this present-day Oliver and the Kapiushon (i.e. “The Hood”) that Oliver is turning into in the flashbacks. We knew from season 1 that Oliver would need to continue to be desensitized to killing by the end of the season 5 flashbacks. What we didn’t know was the extent to which the writers and Stephen Amell would take this. While his threat of skinning the Russian alive was horrific in and of itself, even more terrifying was the scene after where Anatoli finds that not only has Oliver gone through with his threat, but also continued to skin the dead man – for “practice”.

I’m pretty sure the episode went directly to commercial after that, which is great because that’s when I started screeching and therefore would have missed the entire next scene. This is the monster who returned to Starling City five years ago. While we know this is not the case for present-day Ollie, this is still a harsh revelation, and a reminder that Oliver could have turned out much worse if he hadn’t made the oath he did to Tommy at the end of season 1 and tried to turn himself around. At the end of this episode, the two Olivers are in opposite states; Bratva Oliver has been forged into steel, while present-day Ollie has shattered like glass.

Arrow 4×18 Eleven-Fifty-Nine ~ Review

Warning: spoilers for Arrow up through episode 4×18 and The Flash through 1×23.

It’s amazing how obvious it’s been that Laurel would be the one to kick the bucket and yet somehow the writer’s managed to keep me second-guessing myself, even during the episode itself, and made her death more emotional than everything that’s happened on this show outside of Tommy’s death in season one.

This episode was introduced as the one that would finally reveal who was in the grave, so the entire viewing of the episode was colored by this expectation. Therefore, it was imperative that the writers keep the action engaging and the storyline moving to organically lead up to the inevitable death. They largely succeeded on this front, bringing the charismatic Damian Darkh back into the spotlight after the team’s brief encounter with Merlyn. Even the flashbacks were more interesting, as they showed fourth-year Oliver killing without a second thought, even burying three men alive. This entire episode was reminiscent of the golden age of this show, somewhere between seasons one and two, where stakes were high, villains were interesting, and the tone was much darker than that of shows like The Flash.

Season four was set up to be the lightest season yet, made evident by the stark contrast between the season three finale of Arrow (a lackluster episode that ended with Olicity driving off into the sunset) and the season one finale of The Flash (in which Eddie made the ultimate sacrifice, Barry went back in time and said goodbye to his dying mother, Jay Garrick’s flash helmet came flying through the wormhole, and a giant black hole threatening to destroy the city ended the episode on a cliffhanger). I understand why the Arrow writers wanted to lighten their show, as season three’s dark mediocrity (ironically) paled in comparison to The Flash’s light (er) and campy attitude. However, they made a mistake in assuming that it was this difference in tone that lead to Arrow suffering. What they seem not to have realized at the time is that The Flash in and of itself deserves to have its campy attitude, as it’s a show that deals with metahumans, time travel, giant man sharks, guns that shoot gold, and a multitude of other wacky stuff. Arrow needed to make room for some of this, but season two proved that the darker tone works for this show, and this season’s episodes with Constantine and Vixen proved they can integrate magic into the show without compromising the feel of the show itself.

This episode also proved that. Darkh uses magic, yet is interesting and menacing enough to raise the stakes and darken (heh, pun) the mood. With Andy’s betrayal, it wasn’t crystal clear that Laurel would die as John Diggle seemed a very logical candidate in the moment. Thea’s fight with Merlyn raised questions about how far Merlyn would go to support Darkh, and if he really had broken the ties with his daughter that would stop him from killing her. It turns out he still won’t kill her directly, but nonetheless the fight was intense.

There were a number of times during the episode where Laurel as the body in the grave crossed my mind. Most obvious to me was her line “one last time”, about being the Black Canary, though I figured the writers were trying to pull the wool over our eyes with that one. It seems unlikely and uncharacteristic that Sara would come back to Star City to replace her sister as the Black Canary, which made Laurel less obvious of a choice to kill off. Even after she was badly wounded by Darkh and taken to the hospital, the doctors claimed she was in stable condition and she told the rest of the team that she changed her mind about taking off the mask forever. At this point, I was ready for a fake-out, but the kind where the team were relieved to have Laurel safe and sound only to find out another member was killed, a la that one soap opera with the cancer patient and the bicycle guy (while they’re celebrating one character becoming cancer-free, they find out that another character was hit by a car and killed while riding his bicycle).

The final scene with Laurel was more emotional than I’d expected. I still figured the writers would do a fake-out (meaning Laurel was safe), but her quiet talk with Ollie (the only person in the main cast she’d been friends with since before the island) was well-written and brilliantly acted. I haven’t thought about them as a romantic couple since season two, but Laurel’s reserved confession that while she wasn’t the love of Oliver’s life, he was hers, really brought out the tears. That should have been a blatant tip-off that she would in fact be the one in the grave, but I still held on to whatever hope I had left that that wouldn’t be the case.

This episode in and of itself was great. The stakes were high, the plot moved forward, and the acting was superb. Everyone’s reaction to Laurel’s death, especially her father’s, was heartbreaking. However, I’m wary about what this means for the rest of this season and into the next.

As much as I hate to admit it, the Olicity drama during the second half of this season has really hurt the show. Emily Bett Rickards is a great actress, her character is interesting, and I even hold the unpopular opinion that Goth Felicity tormenting wheelchair-bound Felicity earlier this season was kinda great. However, it was refreshing this episode to see team Arrow not bogged down by the Olicity drama. It is because of this that I was hoping that, somehow, the person in the grave was Felicity and the “Felicity” we saw in the car was actually a hallucination caused by Oliver’s grief. Yes, a bit unrealistic, but at least that would have some interesting implications on the rest of the season and the next. Season two was arguably the best season so far, and that came straight after Tommy’s death. There will obviously be repercussions for Laurel’s passing, but losing the love of his life would have such an interesting impact on Oliver.

We’ll just have to wait to see the repercussions of this episode, if the Olicity drama will continue to be a problem, and what tone the writers will set for the upcoming fifth season of Arrow. Fingers crossed that we return to a darker version of the character and that we get to finally see how the fifth year on the island turned Oliver into the ruthless, murdering man we know from season one.

New Section: Superhero Musings

Back in the summer, I tried to make a superhero blog. I was going to dedicate it to reviews of superhero shows and movies. Unfortunately, I made all of two posts on that blog before abandoning it.
However, after last night’s Arrow episode, I have realized that I still have a lot to say about these shows, and since this blog is (relatively) active, I might as well add that content to this blog. I’m not sure what to call this section (everything clever I can think of is already taken), so for now I’ll label them as Superhero Musings.

The first entry in this new section will be posted later today.