While Arrow and The Flash returned from the winter break with perfectly serviceable episodes (with bonus super-fierce Felicity), Legends of Tomorrow came back with laser pistols blazing. This week’s meta-commentary about art, inspiration, and the power of stories to change lives—oh, and the Spear of Destiny, and what a poor villain Vandal Savage was—wasn’t just the show at its best. It was the show at better-than-we-ever-expected.
Spoilers for all three Arrowverse shows follow!
The Flash 3×10, “Borrowing Problems From the Future”
Am I going to spend the entire rest of this season a little distracted by how envious I am of Barry and Iris’s apartment? It’s entirely possible. And it seems like everyone involved in The Flash is really excited to have a home-base set that’s not Joe’s house, given how much time we spend in the loft this hour.
“Borrowing Problems” is a very Flash episode, the kind where they take two steps forward and, inevitably, one step back. There’s a certain Anakin Skywalker-ness to Barry’s “I’m afraid of this thing happening so I have to make sure it doesn’t come to pass; surely that will work out fine!” plot, but at least Barry is smart enough to tell Iris what happens in one possible future. Iris, in turn, understands that the two of them really shouldn’t try to change the future on their own. So everyone’s in on the story—except Joe.
That’ll work out well.
What a future it is, though—one that sets both Iris and Caitlin into damsel roles, where they need to be rescued from their fates. Sure, they’re on the team doing the rescuing, but it still feels a little retrograde, especially with the way the show’s been using Caitlin as its emotional barometer. (Which she’s good at, but let us not forget she also knows SCIENCE!) She tries to get Julian to open up about things; she reaches out because she understands feeling used by power; she maybe oversteps when she offers him a place on the team, but good for her! A little initiative never hurt anybody, as HR would probably claim.
HR’s museum plotline still doesn’t entirely gel, but it does give us a few comedic moments and a shift in his relationship with Cisco. Cisco’s impatience with his not-mentor runs in nice counterpoint to HR’s role as the disruptor, the goof, the guy whose ideas are mostly ridiculous, except when they aren’t. Cisco balances his frustration and occasional bouts of meanness with moments of doing the things that matter to HR, making him an interesting case of actions truly speaking louder than words.
I’ma bit wary that the emphasis on changing the headlines from the future is going to make the rest of this season feel like a video game, each headline a minor dungeon on the way to the big boss. Darren Criss’s eventual appearance as the Music Meister will at least make that fun, but first: Gypsy. I’m thrilled to have another powerful woman joining the show, and I’m perfectly aware that Gypsy is her name in the comics, but it sure would’ve been nice for them to reconsider that name.
I spent the entire housewarming-party end of this episode utterly convinced everything was going to end in unexpected trauma, but it didn’t: Julian’s with the gang, smiling; Barry and Iris are clearly enjoying not living in her dad’s house; Caitlin has a new piece of power-dampening jewelry, though I really, really hope her story eventually becomes about her accepting and owning the thing that makes her different. Maybe Supergirl can come over for a pep talk?
Legends of Tomorrow 2×09, “Raiders of the Lost Art”
The appearance of George Lucas (Matt Angel, in a hilariously fake beard) as a student-film propmaster looks at first just like a fun nod, a suggestion that Lucas would eventually go on to make Star Wars after being inspired by his former director’s wacky superhero piece. And that would’ve been a fun wink-nudge in a lesser episode. But “Raiders” has heavier things on its mind.
The secondary narrative stays with Mick and Martin, as our not-a-medical-doctor tries to help Mick get rid of his visions of Snart. For a minute, it seems like it might be something easy, something with a technical fix. Grief, however, isn’t that simple. Mick needs time and space to accept that he’s got actual feelings to deal with, and Martin, with his professorial demeanor, is probably just the right person to walk him through that.
So while our tough-guy Legend battles his own feelings, the majority of the team deals with the whereabouts of the Spear of Destiny, which Rip Hunter apparently had all along. What happened to Rip at the season’s start is sort of explained, but also sort of irrelevant: the important part is that the Rip making films in 1967 is not the Rip we know.
Or at least, he’s not the Rip he knows. Or should know. Or has ever heard of. So when the Legends and the Legion of Doom show up, all in search of that dang spear, “Phil Gasmer” does what any aspiring filmmaker-slash-recreational drug user would do: He screams his damn fool head off. Arthur Darvill is obviously enjoying himself, and if his “Phil” is notably reminiscent of Fran Kranz’s Topher in Dollhouse, all shaggy hair and stammers, well, I for one am pretty much fine with that.
Rip is the team’s goal—get him out, get him to remember who he is—but everything changes after George, traumatized by the appearance of all these superpowered weirdos, decides to quit film for good. Suddenly, Ray can’t remember science words, and Nate can’t register anything in the historical tome he’s reading. All their playful banter about Han Solo and Indiana Jones becomes horribly relevant: without Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, neither of them (and who knows how many others) live the lives that brought them to this point. Ray isn’t a scientist. Nate isn’t a historian. (Of course Nate’s a yoga instructor.) No ATOM suit, no steel powers. Just two guys.
In the midst of keeping the Legion from getting the Spear and dealing with a former captain who insists he’s nothing of the sort, the Legends have to save science fiction history. There’s fun to be had with this (a trash compactor! Amaya saying George is their only hope!), and a good line about female heroes that does a lot to balance out the fact that only dudes on the team were inspired by Lucas’s films. But amid all the playfulness is a serious notion about the power of art—and not just high art. If Lucas’s stories led two of our heroes to become what they are, who knows what kid might be inspired by Ray Palmer to become a do-gooder inventor? Or to find meaning in history?
Beyond that, Legends‘ writers knew that they were doing when they made this episode not just about the need for Lucas’s stories, but about him telling those stories despite being afraid. Even terrified Phil gets it together, by the end, playing the role the Legends need him to play (if not entirely successfully). No one knows how their art may or may not change the world. Maybe it’ll save reality, or keep the timeline straight. Maybe it’ll inspire women to lead the resistance. Maybe it’ll just tell one kid that she’s ok after all. And maybe, in a playful, meta story about the heroes who work behind the scenes of history, it’ll remind us that even seemingly fluffy art can make a huge difference. Who knows what Amaya will take away from Lucas’s oeuvre?
And Sara’s right, by the way. The Legion of Doom is a silly name.
Arrow 5×10, “Who Are You?”
The question in this week’s Arrow title looks like it’s about Katie Cassidy’s character, but thankfully it’s not long before she’s revealed to be that other Laurel Lance, the one from Earth-2 with the super-scream-power. Cassidy pretending to be Ollie’s Laurel is unexpectedly eerie; it’s a cruel, cruel game, and there’s a sharp insincerity to her performance that I can’t quite put my finger on. She never goes wide-eyed; she seems to be aware of other people’s physical selves, where they are in relation to her, in a way Earth-1 Laurel never was.
She’s also kind of a boring villain, not matter how much Oliver wants to believe she can be something else. He wants her to be better—to be his Laurel, basically, though her Oliver died years ago on Earth-2, making this whole ploy horrible in every direction. (Which isn’t surprising, since Prometheus set it up.) Oliver’s optimism about the person alt-Laurel could be ties vaguely into this week’s Bratva flashbacks, which are about the importance of the reasons one has for killing, about loyalty and power and whether Oliver was doing everything on Lian Yu for Laurel. (That’d be a serious bit of retconning, though, so I don’t buy it.)
Redemption-obsessed Ollie is notably less interesting than all of the things going on around him, which makes sense; this show lives or dies in its ensemble. Thea’s elsewhere, for some reason that, practically speaking, probably has to do with how suspicious she would be of another person coming back from the dead. But Felicity can carry plenty of suspicion on her own.
That’s not all she’s carrying, though. When Oliver and Felicity argue about Laurel, Rene makes a seemingly throwaway joke about mom and dad going twelve rounds—but that crack says so much. When the gang meets up with alt-Laurel again, Felicity resists Oliver’s urge to trust her, and when she sees something fishy, Felicity tells the rest of the gang to attack. Which they do. They listen to her; she’s Oliver’s equal, not one of his underlings. She hasn’t been an underling for a long time, but this is a major assertion of her power. She rejects his orders; she takes the initiative to dose alt-Laurel with nano-trackers; and she gets that memorable, delightful punch.
I’m not saying I want Felicity to stop being a tech goddess, but I fully support her taking up some physical training. This is where her grief about Billy has gone: into resoluteness, boxing practice, and a willingness to take more smart risks.
Meanwhile, Curtis’s self-doubt shapes itself into a full-on crisis. The question of whether it’s worth it to try to be a fighter when he keeps losing—when he lost Paul—has been looming for a long time, but I wouldn’t have called Rene as the person to tough-talk Curtis into playing to his own strengths. Nor did I foresee Adrian Chase and John Diggle as the bros they seem poised to become. Watching Oliver put Chase in the path of the military was interesting; watching Digg come to trust Chase so quickly that he’d punch him on request, under those circumstances, was something else. That little smirk Chase has? He can’t wait to mess with those puffed-chest authority figures. (And get the autograph of the Arrowverse’s female president.)
“Who Are You?” has a sloppy, nonsensical climax: Was that setup really about Felicity? How many times has someone given Oliver a “you can save only one” ultimatum? Why did Prometheus split after Oliver rolled into the room with alt-Laurel and Felicity? What was any of that about, other than showing that Prometheus has a few more tricks up his/her own sleeve?
But the last few minutes turned everything around. Hullo, Talia! Nice to see you, even if Oliver thought you were Laurel for a second. Why is she looking for Oliver? Is it something to do with Sara or Nyssa, since we know that past-Sara told Ra’s to send Nyssa to save her? (Are you dizzy yet?) And who’s our new Canary candidate, other than a badass with a quirky little smile like Chase’s?