This Week In the Arrowverse: We Need to Talk About Barry

Previously, on The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow: the good guys beat the bad guys—but at a heavy price!

I joke, a little bit, but it’s also true: all three of the Arrowverse shows start out their respective third, fifth, and second seasons with a lot of baggage. Some carry it better than others, but overall, I’m cautiously optimistic. Blame that caution on Barry Allen: Flash, what madness have you wrought?

Spoilers for all current episodes!

 

The Flash 3×01, “Flashpoint,” and 3×02, “Paradox”

Draco Malfoy is here to save the day.

Draco Malfoy is here to save the day.

Last season on The Flash: Barry defeated the latest evil speedster, but lost his father. In a spasm of grief, he went back in time and saved his mother, regardless of the consequences.

Remember when Buffy died, the second time, at the end of season five? It was such a big thing—even though we all knew she was coming back; the show wasn’t called Willow the Vampire Hacker, and there were contracts and things. But we didn’t know how she was coming back, or when. And when the gang revived her at the end of the sixth season’s first episode, it seemed too fast. Already? You don’t have to live with this problem on screen for a while?

“Flashpoint” was kind of like that: a very big deal, wound up too quickly. Which is not to say we won’t be living with the consequences for the rest of the season, but that the show seemed in a rush to answer one question and get on to the next. Can Barry live happily ever after in a timeline with both parents? No: there are really problematic side effects. So on to a third timeline we go (after a Standard Iris Pep Talk to get Barry through).

And this is a whole new world. Felicity may tell Barry that everyone likes him, but it’s patently untrue. A depressed and hurting Cisco is furious with Barry, Iris isn’t talking to Joe, and Caitlin… well, until the episode’s end, Caitlin seems exactly the same, which is to say, underdeveloped.

Julian, on the other hand, is great. To continue a comparison, Julian is to The Flash what Spike was to Buffy: the sarcastic, dry British outsider who doesn’t care if anyone likes him, and doesn’t particularly like anyone else. He doesn’t trust Barry and he doesn’t like Barry, and thus he’s the audience insert character for all of us who would like The Flash to realize that Barry Allen is not really that great of a guy. Also, he’s played by Tom Felton, who will always be a little bit Malfoy, even grown up and tousled and bespectacled.

Julian is a much-needed kick in the pants for this show, and I really hope he’s not too-quickly revealed as some sort of villain, and summarily dispatched. Barry is turning into Oliver Queen without Oliver’s hard-earned awareness of his flaws: he makes choices that have massive consequences for others, and then wants his single, sensitive tear to be penance for all the damage done. He—and the show—have been coasting on charm, relying on banter and speed (bad semi-pun intended) to keep things rolling along unchallenged, but it’s getting old. The speedsters are getting old. The ridiculousness of all other metas being evil is getting old (just once I want to meet a meta who’s, I don’t know, making cool metal sculptures with her firepowers). The charm wears off. How will The Flash grow up?

 

Arrow 5×01, “Legacy,” and 5×02, “The Recruits”

Look! New kids!

Look! New kids!

Last season on Arrow: Damien Darhk killed Laurel Lance and tried to blow up the world. Felicity and Curtis stopped his nukes—all but one—and Oliver eventually killed Darhk. And Oliver became mayor of Star City, while his team fragmented around him.

Arrow can be a ridiculous show—those flashback wigs! the serious seriousness all the time!—but I like the way it tries, at least a little bit, to take on the balancing act of being a secret vigilante and a functional adult. Diggle has a wife and child; Felicity ran a company, for a while; Thea ran a club; Oliver, well, now Oliver is mayor, and he’s not doing a very good job of it. (Thank goodness for Thea, who can handle seemingly anything: Arrow doesn’t lack for wickedly competent female characters.) These first two episodes position Laurel’s death as one of the driving factors of this season: What Would Laurel Lance Do? is a frequent question on our heroes’ lips.

But Oliver is more concerned with what he could have done to save Laurel, which is par for the Oliver course. And despite promising Laurel that she wouldn’t be the last Canary, he really, really doesn’t want a new team, which pretty much guarantees that he’s going to wind up with one. (I am 100% here for superhero Curtis.)

Within two episodes, we’ve got two new villains (Tobias Church and a masked figure calling himself Prometheus); two characters stepping into new roles (Curtis and Evelyn Sharp, both among Ollie’s recruits); and two entirely new characters on the side of good, at least for now (the Ragman and Rene, aka Wild Dog). Quentin Lance returns, totally a mess. When Thea tosses him a lifeline, it’s a surprisingly effective and affecting moment, and a sign that Arrow isn’t taking trauma lightly. Quentin and Thea are the most willing to show their grief about Laurel, Quentin by falling back into a bottle, and Thea by putting her foot down: She’s not going to be Speedy anymore. No matter what Oliver wants.

If Laurel’s death is one driving factor, the other is simple: trust. Arrow is currently juggling a lot of characters and plot threads, but a common theme holds them together: you can’t do everything alone, but there are no guarantees when you’re working with other people. Teams gel, fall apart, reform, betray each other. Control, to borrow a line from another show, is an illusion. No one needs to learn and relearn that more than Oliver. I’m looking forward to watching him struggle.

 

Legends of Tomorrow 2×01, “Out of Time”

The name's Hunter. Rip Hunter.

The name’s Hunter. Rip Hunter.

Previously on Legends: At long last, the team freed themselves from tiresome plot constraints of Vandal Savage and his obsession with the Hawkpeople! And they took out the Time Masters in the process. Bonus!

With Savage out of the way, Legends kicks off … with a new guy? The framing of this episode was too much like the second episode of The Flash, with one character plotsplaining what’s happened since last season. (Who’s the better storyteller: hyperactive Barry, or begrudging Mick Rory?) Oliver tags along for the summary, both to catch himself up and to remind us that crossovers can happen at any time.

But let us move on to greater things, like Sara Lance seducing the queen of France. Or was it the other way around? Either way, the anachronistic swords-and-lasers fight went a long way toward setting a brighter tone for this season. (It also reminded me so much of Doctor Who that it took me 15 minutes to remember to think of Arthur Darvill as Rip, not Rory.) The brighter tone occasionally gives way to Sara’s need to take Darhk’s head off—a reminder that Laurel’s death has repercussions for this story as well. The reminder that grief doesn’t just go away has been one of the strong points across Greg Berlanti’s shows, even if it’s not always handled perfectly. I may groan at all of Barry’s bad choices, but I understand why he’s in a state to make them.

“Out of Time” worked hard to set up a framework for the Legends—now they’re the ones taking care of time—but I worry that the overstuffed, slightly zany feel might spin out of control with the introduction of both the Justice Society of America (hi, guys!) and that stupid stupidface Eobard Thawne, who shows up at the end. How do you wrangle both speed force time travel and regular time travel? Are we really going to just recycle villains from the last seasons of Arrow and The Flash to be Legends’ villains this season, or is this all setup for the four-way crossover (with Supergirl in the mix) that’s coming down the pike?

 

All that said: Just how much did Barry’s timeline-meddling affect the lives of the characters on the other shows? We know Diggle’s child is now a boy (who we’ve already seen all growns up on Legends), but it seems deeply, wildly unlikely that that’s all we got, especially with Thawne jumping shows. I’m not sure how I feel about having the possibility for major reveals so blatantly hanging over everyone’s heads—not least because it makes me skeptical about trusting just about any plot development. On the other hand, I’m just glad to have the gang back on screen. I hate to admit it, but I even kind of like Oliver’s flashback wig this year.

Molly Templeton is not embarrassed about how many CW shows she watches. Really.

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