This Week in the Arrowverse: Ninjas Are Real

What’s this? A Flash that’s having more fun than not? An Arrow who’s maybe accepting some of his mistakes? And a team of Legends who’ve all got something useful to do? This week’s Arrowverse shows were solid across the board, with a lot of plot movement and a lot of character development. And some ninjas, for good measure. It seems we’ve left all that season-opener baggage behind and are moving into new territory—with new teammates, new metahumans, and new perspectives on established relationships.

Spoilers for all three shows below!

 

The Flash 3×04, “The New Rogues”

The New Rogues

Sure, the season is still young, but I’m willing to bet “The New Rogues” stays a highlight for this year. Apart from one distractingly out of place moment (I just refuse to believe that Iris is worried about her butt), this episode shows a Flash that’s back in balance. Barry beats a classic villain with cleverness, not just speed. Cisco and Wells make a pretty great team. Even Jesse and Wally get a few good scenes! And if our villains—apart from the brief return of Snart—were fairly forgettable, at least they provided Jesse Quick with her first win (though I’m unclear about how she shook off the effects of Top’s powers. Can you run fast enough to get over vertigo?).

Oh, Barry Allen, thwarted romantic. How long can the struggle for Barry and Iris to get a decent date go on? Long enough to get Barry out of Joe’s house, I guess. Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin are frightfully good at playing the relationship-related awkwardness between Barry and Joe—to the point where it’s uncomfortable to watch them. Joe’s so upright about this, he’s probably spending his nights off posting Facebook memes about how no one’s ever going to date his daughter.

As awkward as it is, I’d rather the show play up the potential conflicts around Barry and Iris’s relationship than just have them being all schmoopy all the time—not least because there’s a peculiar lack of chemistry between them. If this is fated, meant-to-be love between people who’ve been waiting to be together, shouldn’t there be some sense of passion? Are they still destined to get married in this timeline? Can the show figure out how to make them both functional and interesting as a couple?

At least there’s one great display of chemistry this week: between Harry Wells and himself. Leave it to Wells to think that finding a replacement-Wells (Spare-ison Wells?) from another universe is a good idea. This is about as smart as Barry going back in time to change things—but it’s also perfectly in keeping with Wells’ personality. He’s a genius, he had an idea, and therefore it’s a genius idea, right? It’s at the least a very excellent bit of fun, with Tom Cavanagh acting opposite himself in Western and steampunk variants. Earth-2 Wells’s face, as he sees all these other selves, is wonderfully uncomfortable: what a weird existential experience, to see all those yous that are not you. No wonder he starts to get cold feet.

I hope the show realizes that this will be weird for Cisco and Caitlyn, who have already had their science mentor revealed to be someone else, then replaced, then gone, and now replaced again. And Caitlyn’s got her own troubles to worry about. Her choice to secretly use her powers to free Barry from the Mirror Master’s imprisonment is no choice at all—of course Caitlyn would do that—but it does raise an obvious question: Why won’t Caitlyn tell her teammates about her powers? (Not that she’s going to have a choice in the matter for much longer, it seems.)

 

Arrow 5×04, “Penance”

arrow-penance-newkids

Oliver Queen: worst mentor ever. Which, to be honest, is kind of the point. He doesn’t want to mentor new kids. He wants his friends back. “Penance” has a lot of story to juggle: Oliver and Lyla breaking Digg out of prison; Felicity and Rory coming to terms with each other’s presence; the latest Tobias Church shenanigans; Bratva flashbacks; and the continuing question of whether Oliver can a) train and b) trust his new team.

Amid all of this, Arrow is gradually building a case for another ongoing season-five subject: How Oliver and Felicity continue to work together after the demise of their relationship. The show isn’t addressing this head-on, which is smart; instead, the conflict between them plays out in the different ways they handle the new kids, and their disagreement about letting people make their own choices. The complexity of their working relationship is all over every choice this week, from Oliver carrying out the Diggle rescue without Felicity to Felicity taking on mentorship of the new kids in his absence. They’re passing a ball back and forth without even looking at each other—and without noticing how strong their teamwork is.

“Penance” is a set-up episode, an hour of moving pieces into place: Digg out of prison; Lance into his position as deputy mayor; Adrian Chase into the foreground a little more. Rory tries to quit, but it’s obvious from the start that he’s coming back (and not just because he knows Oliver’s secret). Felicity’s attempt to avoid facing that situation should give her a little understanding of Oliver’s avoidant tendencies—but I think the real lesson for her is that there are things she can’t fix. One of those, maybe, is Oliver, who is going to keep being hard on his team and keep making decisions for other people.

But sometimes, those decisions are smart. As goofy and ridiculous as it can be, Arrow has always struck me as a relatively adult superhero show: People are full of contradictions, and apart from the occasional over-the-top villain, few situations are truly black-and-white. Every one of the main characters can be a screw-up and a hero; everyone’s mistakes stay with them, for good or bad. And the relationships between the characters change, believably, as a result of those mistakes. Lance is lonely and hurting, but he and Thea are forming a bond that’ll help both of them deal with their grief. Diggle’s on his way back to the team, but his guilt isn’t going away. And Oliver has his own penance to do.

This theme—the way mistakes shape you; the earning and losing of trust—makes me think that this season’s Bratva flashbacks may wind up working much better than last year’s confusing island-idol story. How can Oliver lead a team when his education in brotherhood was so warped and controlling? Can he overcome that kind of indoctrination before he damages the people he’s trying to train?

And can he get Wild Dog back from Tobias Church? I’m worried about that guy.

 

Legends of Tomorrow 2×03, “Shogun”

Shogun

Almost all of my skepticism about Nate Haywood went out the window—or the side of the ship—when our great golden retriever of a character discovered his powers. Rarely do we get to see someone just so psyched to have powers, let alone in a way that makes perfect, graceful sense with their character as developed so far. Of course Nate would be thrilled: The little boy who couldn’t go outside is now virtually indestructible. His abilities are an open door to the world.

If he can figure out how to use them. “Shogun” turned out to be exactly what I want from Legends: A fun, clever episode that plays in its chosen historical period while neatly balancing screen-time and narrative movement for all the show’s many characters. Even Jax and Martin, burdened with the heavy-handed crossover-foreshadowing plot, didn’t seem forgotten as they discovered Rip’s secret compartment on the ship. The two of them are a perpetual odd couple—but the team breaks up into a string of odd couples this week, to excellent effect. On the one side, Nate and Ray trade performance anxieties and wrestle with the nature of heroism. On the other, Sara and Amaya are a perfect pair of skilled fighters, but they’ve got Mick Rory tagging along… which turns out to be way more fun than it should be. (“I’m going to maroon you in the time period of my choosing. Together,” is totally the don’t-make-me-turn-this-car-around of time travel.)

This week’s action sequences were all strong, but nothing beat that shot of Sara and Amaya, back to back, taking on a whole gaggle of soldiers. They’re easily the most competent fighters, their styles are a study in contrast, and director Kevin Tancharoen sure knows how to present a good fight. Even the eventual clash between the Atom-suited warlord and Nate is more complicated than expected—both physically and emotionally. Ray’s borrowed armor serves as a reminder that most of these heroes didn’t ask for their powers—they work with what they have, and what they’re given. Ray built himself into a hero, and eventually he’ll understand that that’s about him, and not about his suit.

I hope Legends doesn’t grow too formulaic, but this is their formula in a shiny, polished nutshell: A new time period and associated details; playful dialogue that isn’t afraid to be both goofy and clever; and character development that goes hand in hand with the plot. Ray and Nick have to keep pulling each other along; Mick, ever the outsider, plays both comic relief and muscle, while picking at everyone else because he misses Snart; Jax and Martin discover secrets, whether about the ship or the future; and Sara slips comfortably into her leadership role. Vixen gives the team their purpose for the season—finding the time traveler who killed Rex Tyler—and serves as the new kid on the block, with a new perspective. She’s smart and experienced and a great addition—even if she doesn’t believe in ninjas.

Molly Templeton would watch a buddy show just about Sara and Amaya and Mick, probably.

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