This Week in the Arrowverse: Monsters of All Kinds

Who becomes a villain, and why? What makes a monster monstrous? The Flash meets another monster that isn’t what it seems; Arrow introduces another DC character; and Legends goes to a tricky part of the past (with zombies!).  With just under a month to go until “Invasion,” the massive crossover week, it’s a little surprising how few hints have been dropped—other than that message from the future, which plays again this week…

Spoilers for all three shows!

 

The Flash 3×05, “Monster”

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“Sumptuous morning!” Listen, I’m starting to get as annoyed by H.R. Wells as the next person, but his morning greeting is a lot more fun than the ones I’m used to on our Earth. When do we start calling him H.G. Wells? His big reveal this episode is that he’s a novelist and the idea guy, the would-be muse, not a scientist at all. So who solved the puzzle Earth-2 Wells sent out into the multiverse? This Wells says it was his partner, but doesn’t name said partner. What a tease.

Meanwhile, Caitlin, still afraid of her powers, goes to her mother for help. Mom is brilliant, busy, super-high-powered Dr. Tannhauser, and while I’m entirely delighted that there’s a mom on this show who has her own life and, well, is alive, Caitlin’s family-tension backstory felt half-baked and weirdly timed. If her mom also suffered the loss of her husband, wouldn’t it have made more sense this have come up when Ronnie died? To give Caitlin an emotional in to understanding her mother, and the two of them reconnecting?

Instead, we get tension and a subplot involving an aide who’s tired of Tannhauser taking credit for his work—which does succeed in showing us that it’s not just Caitlin who’s smothered by mommy dearest. I hope we see more of Tannhauser, and not just in voiceover, intoning doom-filled messages about Caitlin not using her powers.

She’s going to keep using them, and—I hope—eventually choose to accept that side of herself, which would be entirely keeping with some of this season’s themes. There’s a lot of timely rage floating around Central City: angry children use computers to scare people; angry Julian tries to rat out Barry because his rule-evading isn’t fair; angry Cisco gets frustrated with H.R., though he can’t put his finger on why.

All of this anger underlines a theme I really hope Flash runs with for the whole season: the idea that anyone has the potential to become a monster. Doing so—or not doing so—is in the choices each person makes. Caitlin’s frustration is one example of this, and so is Julian’s entire backstory, from choosing to walk away from his wealthy family (thus confirming my feelings than Julian is an alternate world Draco Malfoy) to his anger at metahumans who abuse their powers. This isn’t just about Julian’s envy, his wish that he had more power to do good; it’s about a thoroughly understandable anger that those who have power so often choose to use it self-servingly.

This cements my feeling that The Flash needs more good metas, but more importantly, it underlines something Thawne yelled at Barry in the first episode: Who’s the villain now? Those close to Barry will cut him some slack for poor choices he made out of grief, but those were the choices of a villain: to remake the world as one he prefers.

I like this. I like this as much as I like the idea that Gladiator is called Sweaty Men on Earth-19, and as much as I like Iris on the ground during a monster attack, trying to help in a very practical way. Earlier this season Barry cracked that he was becoming Oliver, which’ll never happen—but if The Flash can take on some of Arrow’s moral ambiguity while still remembering to have fun, this’ll be a good season indeed. (Even if the literal monster-of-the-week sometimes doesn’t make sense. So why were the transformers exploding, exactly?)

 

Arrow 5×05, “Human Target”

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Is anybody a huge Human Target fan? I’m genuinely curious—and curious what his introduction means for the Arrowverse. His abilities, as seen in this episode, seem awfully convenient, and like they could very quickly get overused.

(I also cop to a certain squick factor just on account of the actor, Wil Traval, last seen as creepy pill-popping Will Simpson on Jessica Jones. His face makes me nervous. I’ll get over it.)

Using the Target, aka Christopher Chance, as a connecting thread between the Bratva flashbacks and the present day does make thematic sense, though: In the Bratva, Oliver is working hard to be someone he’s not, to be a different Oliver, one who rejects all family but the Bratva. We know that doesn’t stick; we know he comes back to Star(ling) City with his father’s notebook. But here’s another man, one who becomes other people professionally—and is way better at it than Oliver Queen. Not only that, but “becoming” Oliver makes Oliver transparent to Chance in an unprecedented way. I don’t want Human Target: Vigilante Therapist in every episode, but his insights have a lot of potential to shake up Oliver.

And his presence gives us that playful moment of Felicity putting on the mask. She can’t help but have fun, which is a clear sign of her happiness that the team is coming together. With Diggle back in the lair, everything seems more solid in a way that’s hard to put a finger on. It’s not just David Ramsey’s presence, which has a groundedness that the show was missing for the first few episodes. With him around, Felicity feels like there’s someone on her team—someone who can challenge Oliver when needed, and who knows all the history. As for Diggle, working with the traumatized Rene reminds him that being brutally hard on yourself is never helpful. That behavior, and that guilt, just get in the way.

Plotwise, “Human Target” is all over the place. Bye, Tobias Church; bye, “The Trust,” which seems to have just been … a collective of drug lords? Will someone else take over that professional opening? What will Star City do without its drugs? And who was the masked assassin Church hired to kill Oliver? Are body-armored masked thugs a dime a dozen in these parts? (I suppose it’s possible.)

Arrow really wants us to wonder about Prometheus, and why he’s so obsessed with Oliver that he’d take out not just Tobias Church, but the entire motorcade escorting Church to Iron Heights. (I say “he,” but I’d be delighted with a female Prometheus.) The problem with this is twofold: One, we already had a mysterious evil archer with Malcolm Merlyn, and so far, Prometheus hasn’t done enough to differentiate from that character. And two, c’mon, buddy, you’re hardly the first bad guy to be obsessed with defeating the Green Arrow. Everybody wants to take him down, and everybody finds reasons to put off doing so for the duration of a season. We need a reason to believe, or at least suspect, that this story is different.

And it could be! Maybe it’s Talia al Ghul under the mask. Maybe Susan Williams goes out at night and further stalks Oliver for her news reports. I hope she’s not Oliver’s rebound relationship, given her penchant for digging into his past, but her character makes perfect sense: Of course the press would want to find everything they could about the playboy turned CEO turned whatever he did for a while there turned mayor. Susan’s digging will bring the Bratva plot even closer to the present day story: Is Anatoli going to show up in the present? Is Prometheus related to the Bratva? What does all this talk of brotherhood really mean when you’re trying to be the leader, not just for your team, but for everyone?

And when does Evelyn get some character development?

 

Legends of Tomorrow 2×04, “Abominations”

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For the last few weeks, Legends seemed to be establishing a solidly playful, irreverent-but-heartfelt tone for its second season. And it was working—until this week’s episode took a tonal 180 and went back into serious business mode, with mixed results.

First, the good bits: Martin Stein being so afraid of zombies that he can barely stand to hear the word? Delightful—and all the more so when Martin becomes caught in his own personal horror movie above the Waverider, trying to stalk and cure a zombie-fied Mick Rory. (Let us take a moment to observe that the zombie plot makes no sense: If the zombies don’t die when beheaded, what’s the point of wasting ammo shooting at them?)

Ray’s narrative was an interesting misdirect, playing up his brilliant-scientist side as if that would be what he now brings to the team—only to have Mick, in a surprisingly emotional moment, give him Leonard Snart’s cold gun. It’s a token of Mick’s respect, his gratitude, and his deeply buried empathy. Mick says it’s because he knows what it’s like to be an outsider, but it’s more than that: Mick knows what it’s like to feel worthless. These two will make an interesting team.

I liked Sara getting a leadership pep talk from Ulysses S. Grant, and Nate figuring out how to access his powers when he really needed to. I loved Jax explaining to Martin that he wasn’t staying in the ship just because they were in the Civil War, that he couldn’t think of a time period where he wouldn’t encounter racism. I appreciate that the show regularly addresses race and gender issues head on. I just wish they could’ve found a way to center their two main characters of color without shoving them into a story about slavery.

Legends was fairly sensitive about the subject—Jax observes that this is the part of history that’s really broken. But I kept thinking of Roxane Gay’s piece about 12 Years a Slave:

“I am worn out by slavery and struggle narratives. I am worn out by broken black bodies and the broken black spirit somehow persevering in the face of overwhelming and impossible circumstance. There seems to be so little room at the Hollywood table for black movies that to earn a seat, black movies have to fit a very specific narrative.”

Could Legends not come up with a narrative that centered on Jax and Amaya without revisiting such worn turf? Without making Jax and Amaya watch a woman being beaten, choosing not to interfere because Jax is all too familiar with seemingly small actions changing the shape of history? One might argue that this is accurate, which is fair, but I’m just not certain it was necessary. (And on a nitpicky time-travel level, why couldn’t they have landed at the same time as the infected time pirate, thus avoiding the Confederate zombification altogether?) In other trips to the past, Jax has been turned into a monster and arrested, so this is a step up: He makes his own decisions, and changes his mind about interfering. This aspect of the story belongs to Jax and Amaya alone.

There are satisfying moments in “Abominations,” and Franz Drahmeh does truly excellent work here. When Jax stops to savor the image of the burning plantation, Drahmeh stands firmly, a complicated mix of pride and anger and hope playing across his face. He’s much more than Martin’s sidekick, and I hope this episode leads to greater development of his character. What will he and Martin do with Barry Allen’s secret message? Can the show find a solid middle ground between its goofier side and its desire to take on serious topics? And am I seriously starting to almost like Nate Heywood?

Molly Templeton hopes that Arrow episode wasn’t a back-door pilot for another Human Target show, but accepts that The CW does still have one un-superheroed weeknight on the schedule.

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