This week, The Flash gets another good metahuman (or two?); Arrow accepts responsibility (for now); and the Legends get into a tussle with the Justice Society of America. C’mon, kids: Why can’t we all just get along?
Spoilers for all three shows below!
The Flash 3×03, “Magenta”
Oh, Harrison Wells, we’ve missed you. Well, I’ve missed you—even the version of you that says “Not!” and tries to keep your daughter from using her powers.
Among other things, Wells’ perfectly timed arrival means that Barry isn’t the only person who remembers the previous timeline. Wells may not be Barry’s closest pal, but having someone else around who knows how things used to be has got to be a relief for Barry. The way Tom Cavanagh plays the various slightly different, growing, changing, evil/good, Wells/not-Wells versions of his role has been one of the show’s strengths since the first season. He just can’t stay away for long.
But enough about him; let’s talk about the daughters. “Magenta” was full of parallels: Jessie getting powers, Wally not having them; Jesse using her powers out of love, Magenta using hers from a place of pain. Importantly, the show didn’t oversimplify Magenta/Frankie’s dark side. For a minute, it looked like we were going down a very black and white bad-things-happened-now-I’m-evil road, and I started to brace for cringing impact. The show pulled out of that potential tailspin on two fronts: One, it let Frankie be hurt yet functional, a concept that’s so important and yet so underplayed. You can be a person who’s hurting and lashing out and a person who wants to be good and grow and love.
And two, it smartly demonstrated the effects of parents trying to avoid engaging with their children’s emotions. Joe tried to breeze through the talk with Wally, not understanding just how much his son needs to feel powerful—and Wally nearly got himself killed. Wells, on the other hand, tried to control his daughter and tried to pawn their much-needed heart-to-heart off on Caitlin, who rightly told him she was not the person for the job.
Caitlin tried talking to Jesse anyway, but it wasn’t Jesse who needed the talking-to. It was Wells—and Caitlin let him have it. (But can she have more to do than mediate people’s feels?) Nothing, though, matched Wells’ honest, emotional moment with Jesse. I freely confess that I teared up when he gave her that suit. Women are loved, on this show, but they’re rarely given equal freedom or power. Wells letting go, and letting Jesse shine, was a long time coming.
And what about Barry, our hero? He’s still on an Oliver track, trying to tell everyone what’s best for them—which worked out ok where Frankie’s concerned. On the surface this was a standalone meta-villain episode with a side serving of Barry-has-to-trust-other-people (including Julian, maybe just a little?). His short-lived dates with Iris were awkward, and not just when the show meant them to be: all I could think in that last scene was, But how’s she getting home?
Arrow 5×03, “A Matter of Trust”
Meanwhile, in Star City, Arrow had a monster-of-the-week episode that was probably more fun if you were invested in Stephen Amell’s 2015 offscreen “feud” with the wrestler Cody Rhodes. Rhodes was known as Stardust; this week he played a drug-dealing villain… with a product called stardust. Clever enough, but the story around it did little but repeat established themes.
Rhodes’ villain did provide Oliver with an excellent slow-motion walking-away-from-explosions scene, but kind of like on Flash, the real story was often with the other characters. Felicity telling Rory (who I barely recognized out of his rags) that she was responsible for the destruction of Havenrock was appropriately heavy—and not immediately resolved. We don’t need a despondently guilty Felicity, but it would be absurd for the show to quickly forget that detonated nuke.
Curtis, secret wrestling fan, got a new mask and a slightly awkwardly shoehorned-in backstory for why he’ll eventually be called Mr. Fantastic. I love superhero Curtis, but am concerned that his endless references to being happily married are foreshadowing a future where that is no longer the case. Just let one couple be happy, ok? And I don’t mean Felicity and her vaguely suspicious cop boyfriend. (Speaking of couples, who is it Evelyn wants to date?)
If last week we got Thea explaining that she doesn’t want to kill anymore, this week Rene embodies the flip side of that argument, shooting baddies indiscriminately. Is Rene going to stick around, given his penchant for shooting everyone and leaping into things blind? It’s too familiar for Oliver, too like he used to be—and Ollie’s already waffling about killing or not killing.
And then there’s Diggle, seeing the ghost of Floyd Lawton in his prison cell. The Lawton twist was a clever use of the possibilities of Flashpoint—why couldn’t Deadshot be alive in this timeline? Revealing Lawton as a figment of Digg’s agonized mind went a long way to illustrate how destroyed he feels. As with Felicity’s guilt, Arrow isn’t letting this thread go. I don’t want to see Diggle get truly lost, but his spiral might serve to bring Lyla further into Team Arrow’s orbit—a side effect I’m definitely in favor of.
For all that the baddie was boring and the flashbacks too talky, “A Matter of Trust” managed to tuck humor into the corners of the episode, from hockey fan Amell cracking that he likes Rene’s mask to Rory, as Ragman, trying to be friendly while speaking in Ragman’s creepy whispers. And when it inevitably came time for Oliver to accept all the responsibility he’s been dodging, Amell sold it. “I trust my team” is a big thing for Oliver to say, both as mayor and as Arrow. “When you are in charge, everything that your team does is on you” is even bigger. Oliver always wants to be in charge, but when he makes the wrong decisions, he shuts down and locks everyone out. Between having to trust Thea to help him in the mayor’s office and having to trust the new kids in the field, he’s going to have to get over it. Finally.
Legends of Tomorrow 2×02, “The Justice Society of America”
Speaking of leadership, Legends spent way too much of this episode re-establishing an already established fact: With Rip out of the picture, Sara is the natural leader. Rip said as much, at the end of season one, and we’ve seen Sara make smart, quick decisions—so why create an episode largely based around how dumb it is to assume that Martin Stein is the leader just because he’s an older white man?
The forced narrative did provide a couple of great moments, like Jax opining that it’d be a little bit worth it to punch a Nazi, even if it screwed up the plan. But for the most part, this week was a rough backslide for Legends, from the tired Nazi story to the sub-par effects to characters making stupid choices in service to the plot.
On the plus side, “The Justice Society of America” was so full of stodgy posturing that it made both Arrow and Flash look like comedies. The JSA are good at things because they all agree with their leader; the Legends are a mess because they have personalities and disagreements about the best course of action—but maybe, just maybe, that’ll work out for everyone in the end! Just not until after a hollow heart-to-heart with Haywood and Captain Steel, who just happens to be his grandfather.
Wedging a couple of Back to the Future references in did nothing to brighten the situation, though Victor Garber was clearly enjoying his musical number. (He may not be leadership material, but he sure can make Nazis cry.) In the end, Eobard Thawne reappeared to tangle things further. Aside from the giant amulet he lifted from the JSA, did he kill Rex before Rex goes to the future to tell the Legends not to go to 1942? Is anyone keeping track of all the events and decisions messing with the timeline? Is all this super-serum stuff connected to the mirakuru from the early seasons of Arrow? Should I stop trying to make it make sense?
Somewhere in the tangle of flat jokes and underused characters was a gentle theme about the dangers of hero worship, but it was hard to appreciate that thought between the overwritten moments of subservient Vixen and overwhelmed Martin. Legends really, really wants us to care about Nate Heywood, who was revealed not only as the grandson of Commander Steel, but as a hemophiliac whose overprotective parents limited his childhood experiences. But the last thing this team needs is another earnest, bland do-gooder—and one who’s not even smart enough to drive away from a bombing run. Though given the powers he manifests in the trailer for next week, he should be pretty safe from any future explosions.