Apart from a few references to what happened last week, the Dominators are well and gone from the Arrowverse, their influence only really apparent in a sweet moment Arrow (where Thea Queen continues to be the linchpin holding Oliver’s dual lives together). We’ve got other villains to attend to, and a Legion to assemble! But not without a couple of very special holiday moments. Unless you’re a time traveler, in which case no presents for you.
The Flash 3×09, “The Present”
Let me just take a moment to appreciate the fact that The Flash had Draco Malfoy, dressed as a wee Indiana Jones, on a quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. Kudos to everyone who called that Julian was Alchemy but didn’t really know it—which is really the best way his story could’ve gone. Being both prickly, defensive Julian and scared, uncertain Julian gave Tom Felton a chance to play both the arrogant, Draco-esque character we expect from him and to play totally against type as a lonely young man who needs to break down the walls he built for himself.
Once it gets past its plot-summary intro, “The Present” is full of moments that have been a long time coming, from Barry revealing his secret to Julian to Barry finally getting a dang apartment to the scene in which Caitlin has to convince Cisco to say goodbye to his brother all over again. Something about that moment felt massive for their friendship: Cisco choosing his living friend over his dead brother, despite his still-fresh grief. It’s an interesting parallel to Barry talking Killer Frost down, and to Barry convincing Julian to trust him. In each case, one character is reaching out past another’s fear and uncertainty and loss.
These things—fear, loss—drive so many superhero plots, including Flashpoint. But at its best, The Flash remembers that loss and loneliness drive regular human lives as well. Sure, Julian doesn’t know he’s the high priest of some sort of speed god—but he also doesn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas. Cisco’s mad at his superpowered best friend, but behind that, he’s still grieving his ordinary brother. And Barry may have another speedster to defeat, but he also has a girlfriend he’s afraid of losing—which happens in a future he literally runs into.
This plot is the mirror image of last week’s Arrow: Oliver, Thea and company saw the lives they could’ve had; Barry sees the future he doesn’t want. As Jay Garrick says, there’s no guarantee that’s the real future. Everything changes. But there’s so much dang time travel and world-changing in the Arrowverse this season that the wires feel crossed. What’s set in stone? What’s not set? Would Barry not immediately want to contact the Legends and find out what their version of the future holds?
Why does Savitar know everything about the Flash’s team? When they’re questioning Savitar-via-Julian, he spells out that cheery prophecy—and gives one very interesting answer: “I am the future Flash.” Is there a comma in that sentence? It doesn’t sound like it. It sounds like he’s saying he’s the future Flash—which is to say, the future Barry (or Wally). But he also comes out of a seemingly ancient box—except that the box is nothing, according to Cisco. And time travel is a thing.
There’s so much going on in “The Present” that I haven’t even talked about Mark Hamill’s throwaway but amusing appearance, or HR’s heavy hand with the Christmas decorations, or Celeste and Joe’s chipper eggnog battle—or the ease with which Caitlyn uses her powers for a spot of seasonal good. That was finesse. That was control. That was a woman who needs to stop fearing her own strength and embrace what she can do.
The Flash—and probably Savitar—returns Tuesday, January 24th.
Arrow 5×09, “What We Leave Behind”
If The Flash got a moment of happiness, Arrow went in the opposite direction: heartbreak, trauma, betrayal. We knew the betrayal was coming—or had already begun—but the other pieces were somewhat less expected.
Still, heartbreak, trauma, and betrayal are par for the Arrow course. What makes “What We Leave Behind” such an affecting episode is that all of those things are horribly, painfully believable, and have been building for a long time. I hate that Curtis’s relationship is falling apart, but almost no one in this world gets a happy ending. The stress Curtis’s nighttime activities put on his marriage is right there on Paul’s face, and his mix of hurt and frustration and anger is palpable (for someone who rarely appears on the show, Chenier Hundal sure gives it his all). Curtis is learning more about himself, and what matters to him, by taking part in Oliver’s vigilante mission. Paul’s life is continuing as normal, so how could he be expected to change at the same rate?
Billy Malone was doomed from his first scene: An SCPD officer dating the Green Arrow’s tech master? Not a chance. But it wasn’t until Oliver fired those arrows that I saw his end coming. This week’s episodes were full of unmaskings—Julian, the false Prometheus, Amaya seeing Eobard Thawne—but this was the hardest. Not because anyone was attached to poor doomed Billy, but because of the effect on Felicity.
But here’s where Arrow shows how much its grown. In an episode full of flashbacks to Oliver’s misguided past, the moment when he tells Felicity the truth is a tragic, perfect indication of how much he’s changed—how much they’ve all changed. “Why don’t these men listen?” is an ongoing question throughout the episode, but here’s an Oliver who has listened, who heard his friends when they suggested he stop hiding things from people. Amell, motionless, breaking, absolutely sells that moment, but he’s got nothing on Emily Bett Rickards, who’s the star of this show as much as any archer. You can see Felicity take this news and be crushed by it—and you can see her swallow that pain and make a choice about what to do with her anger. What this means for her working relationship with Oliver remains to be seen, but watching her choose to blame Prometheus for putting Billy in that suit is watching this show grow up even more.
It would’ve been so easy for Arrow to play this another way—for Oliver to lie, only to inevitably be found out; for Felicity to blame Oliver, who did, technically, just kill her boyfriend. But each of them gets out of the way of the truth and the mission, even though in the end this whole story—the whole season—is about what comes of Oliver’s choices. He’s moved on from being the Hood, but it would be absurd to expect the same from those whose families he killed. Or to expect that it doesn’t affect who Oliver is now, as the sequence in which Prometheus recreates one of Oliver’s crime scenes illustrates. Oliver is a murderer, but how and why he (and we, and his friends and family and team) justify or explain or understand that? That’s the crux of this season.
So often, this story—the one where your main character has made truly ugly choices and has to face up—follows a similar path: everyone turns against the person who made mistakes, who must then atone until they win the team back. But Arrow’s team has already been through this. They’ve grown up and around Oliver’s past, which means the writers are finding a new way to explore the consequences of his actions. So far, so good.
Just don’t kill Curtis.
The last-scene appearance of Laurel wasn’t a huge shock, given the news about Katie Cassidy’s contract, but I am curious about the hows and whys of her return. What do we think? Another effect of Flashpoint? An alternate-Earth Laurel? The result of something we haven’t seen happen on Legends yet? And what are the odds of Susan being Prometheus? That bottle of vodka sure means something.
Place your bets now: Arrow returns either January 25th or February 1st, depending what you read, with an episode called “Who Are You?”
Legends of Tomorrow 2×08, “The Chicago Way”
So, are we worried about maintaining history and the timeline, or are we not? Sara’s shift from being angry at Martin to accepting that he—and his daughter—are part of her chosen family was definitely in character, and in keeping with the episode’s theme, but it does raise a lot of questions. Will Lily’s existence have consequences? Does it depend on her relationship with the Legends? Where will they draw the line?
Sara’s eventual decision to accept Lily and pass up Merlyn’s offer is a nice parallel to the situation with Felicity and Oliver on Arrow: Felicity chose not to blame Oliver, to maintain their team and focus on the real villain. Sara makes the choice that’s best for the world, and for her team, if not best for herself. Anger, blame, vindictiveness, selfishness: There’s not room or space or even time for any of these things. Not when the Legion of Doom is juuuuuuuust about all teamed up and quite busy setting traps for the Legends.
Malcolm Merlyn’s allegiances don’t always make a ton of sense, but I’m always happy to see John Barrowman, especially in stylish Prohibition-gangster duds. Why would he offer Sara her life back? What would such a thing do to the world? Is this Merlyn’s way of saying that he wants a reset button too? Or was is all a scam, and Merlyn never had even the slightest intention of following through? It’s curious that the baddies are after an item that can alter reality given that Thawne can already alter the world—though presumably the Spear of Destiny would offer a little more control than the alternate timelines created by speedster time travel.
I think I just made myself dizzy with that sentence.
Though the Al Capone framework is underused, “The Chicago Way” is full of small delights: the further establishment of the Legends as a family (bless Jax, representing for only children everywhere); Sara’s stellar fight with Merlyn; Martin’s deep anxiety and growing emotions about Lily’s existence. Nate and Ray’s partnership devolving, briefly, into sibling rivalry is totally believable, if also moderately annoying. Amaya and Mick continue to be the best odd pair—and all the more so as the show doesn’t seem to be nudging them into an unnecessary relationship, just an unexpected understanding. She refuses to believe he’s a bad guy; he shows her how to be a little less upright. It looks good on both of them.
But nothing (apart from maybe Sara in period dress) looks as good as the reappearance of Leonard Snart. Wentworth Miller doesn’t miss a beat: the near-camp delivery, the scowl, the wryness. How is he appearing to Mick? I don’t think it has anything to do with the peculiar box from Flash, but that would be interesting. Is he just Mick’s darker side, the devil on his shoulder manifesting to disagree with Amaya’s positive influence?
But these are minor questions next to the two big ones: Why would you make a speedster gun that only works for about 10 seconds? And why is Rip Hunter making bad action movies (about himself!) in the 1960s? I’ve been wondering how the Legends intend to fight slippery Thawne, and I can only assume Jax or Cisco or Curtis or someone is going to figure out how to improve that intriguing weapon. As for Rip, what happens when the team finds him, and he finds out Sara’s a better leader, and Nate knows more about history? What will his role be?
Legends of Tomorrow moves to Tuesdays when it returns January 24th.
Molly Templeton is still not sold on the concept of the midseason finale, but these were pretty solid episodes.