This Week in the Arrowverse: New Faces, Old Problems

Team dynamics are so complicated. And so much fun, at least where the bad guys are concerned. Team Flash bickered amongst themselves (welcome, Julian; aren’t you glad you joined?), Team Arrow gained another player, and Team Legends figured a few things out—but Team Evil, camped out in their Evil Lair (you know it’s evil because the light is all that gloomy blue-gray), fought their way through a truly delightful power struggle that’s probably not really over yet.

All that, and Arrow was still the best of the three shows this week. The flashbacks are just about caught up to Oliver Queen’s present-day life, and I just have this feeling there might be … repercussions.

Spoilers for all three shows below!

 

The Flash 3×11, “Dead or Alive”

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

In the span of less than half a season, The Flash has done enough character work with HR Wells that his narrative in this episode isn’t just believable. It’s almost … touching. He’s been beaming chapters of his pulpy novels back home the entire time. It’s why he had that pen thing hidden in his stuff. It’s why he throws out so many ideas—to see if they stick, if they’ll work in his narrative. And it’s why he wants to be involved; it’s easier to see himself as the hero that way.

Contrast this with the show’s failure with Iris’s story. “Dead or Alive” gives us an Iris who’s reacting to the news of her impending possible death by deciding she needs to make her own mark on the world. That’s understandable, but what rings much less true is that she is suddenly so passionate about doing this through her under-developed journalism career.

Iris is a journalist because she wrote a blog about the Flash, and because the show needed something for her to do. But the narrative has never taken this seriously, even when it had a the occasional newsroom scene. She’s hardly ever shown doing the work that she now says is so important to her. This dismissal of her story is insulting to journalists, and it’s insulting to Iris, who continues to be a puzzle piece without a place to fit. She’s bounced between her overprotective dad and her overprotective boyfriend, both of whom think they know better about how she should spend her time.

This could, if you were feeling very generous, be a vague commentary about how even the best-intentioned guys sometimes have dumb ideas about women’s autonomy, but given the half-baked way The Flash writes all its female characters, that seems a bit optimistic. Even fierce, independent Gypsy seems brought in primarily to give Cisco a love interest—which is great for Cisco, sure. But we’re meant to believe that this previously undefeated “collector” of rogue dimensional travelers can be defeated that easily?

There are some great small moments in “Dead or Alive,” including every scene in which Julian tries to practice better people skills and fails. The Lego re-creation of the future Savitar incident—and the brief moment in National City—brought some much-needed levity. And HR’s confession about why he left Earth-19 means more than it first appears. HR’s a grown-up, and he’s still reinventing itself. It’s a reminder that people keep changing, and keep growing—or at least, that they can. For long stretches, “Dead or Alive” is about everyone but Barry: it’s about Wally growing into Kid Flash; Cisco learning to do more with his powers; Iris, well, we already talked about that. At its best, this episode is about how superhero problems are the normal people problems these characters wish they had. How do we ever know if our actions now impact the future? Well, we don’t. Not until the future arrives and shows us.

 

Legends of Tomorrow 2×10, “The Legion of Doom”

Photo: Dean Buscher /The CW

Photo: Dean Buscher /The CW

Legion of Doom? More like Legion of Dysfunction. This show could spend a few episodes just being about everybody’s favorite bickering evil uncles and I’d be fine with that. But the complaints and eye-rolls and squabbling and incompatibility and occasional moment of sexual tension and arguments about archaic weapons all turn out to have a point: Thawne is hiding something, and he’s treating Darhk and Merlyn like his lackeys. I guess when you try to build a team out of evil masterminds, you’re bound to have some jockeying for power. I just hadn’t expected it to be so much fun.

While the Legion of Glorious Incompatibility continues to torture Rip/Phil (Arthur Darvill continues to do excellent work as a wimpy normal dude), the good guys have a squishy feel-good moment with Martin and Lily. It’s good that the whole time aberration secret came out sooner rather than later, though I’d have loved it if Lily just shrugged and said, “Well, I’m here now, so cool, let’s do some science.” The emotions packed into the Steins’ story feel oddly manufactured, though if anyone can carry them, it’s Victor Garber. To be fair, nothing this hour was going to top Darhk and Merlyn’s surly sparring. Still, Lily’s a great presence on the ship, and a great science buddy (or maybe more?) for Ray.

And Phil’s got more spine than it seems, as he does his best to encourage infighting between Mom and Dad Evil. The poor guy loses a tooth to Darhk’s plans—a tooth that leads everyone to a bank vault in Switzerland that contains an archive of Rip’s memories. But his memories from when? Did he do a daily backup from the Waverider, or is this version of Rip not going to know what happened last season?

“The Legion of Doom” does a neat little trick with the information our characters uncover: As Phil nudges Merlyn and Darhk to figure out what Thawne’s deal is, pitting the trio against itself, the Legends are working out the same thing. This, then, is why all the fuss about Lily being a time aberration: Eobard Thawne is one, too. And forget time wraiths, which tend to only show up when it suits the narrative: he’s got something much nastier chasing him through time. It’s a speed zombie! Or Black Flash, if you prefer. (I kind of prefer speed zombie.) Presumably Thawne wants the Spear of Destiny in order to do something permanent about the nasty creature on his tail, but I assume he’s got more in mind than just that single fix.

First, though, the Legion apparently get busy turning Rip evil and sending him off to kill George Washington. I’ve no idea where that’s going, but if the show can maintain the momentum/goofiness balance it’s shown in the last two episodes, it’ll be somewhere good.

 

Arrow 5×11, “Second Chances”

Photo: Katie Yu/The CW

Photo: Katie Yu/The CW

Oliver Queen is well beyond second chances—he’s onto third, fourth, seventeenth maybe. But this episode’s title isn’t about him. Nor is it just about our new Black Canary, Tina Boland aka Dinah Drake, whose tragic backstory and metahuman powers make her a promising addition to Oliver’s crowded team. It’s about the entire team—the existence of the team. Every one of them has needed a second chance in one way or another. If they’ve learned nothing else, these bruised and battered heroes, they’ve learned forgiveness—for others, and for themselves.

While Oliver and the boys (except Rory, who too rarely has anything to do but stand around making one or two stray observations) are off recruiting Dinah, Felicity is in her element. Her old element, that is: hacking. Her attempt to dig up some dirt that will help Diggle does two things: It reminds us of what joy Felicity takes in this kind of work. It scratches some part of her brain that’s been underused as Overwatch; it lets her fly.

And it puts her in contact with another hacker, someone who admired the baby goth hacktivist Felicity used to be. Everything about this situation screams trouble, which Felicity knows (that’s why she brings backup). But the trouble might not be the usual kind. “Kojo Sledgehammer” (Kacey Rohl) needles Felicity even as she helps, poking at our girl’s weak spots, questioning why she stopped her hacktivist work. She slips Felicity a drive full of data that had me screaming don’t plug it in! at the screen: odds are good this drive is a double-edged sword. It gets Diggle out, but what gets in to the Arrow-cave computer system?

My skepticism might be partly just due to Rohl, whose slippery Marina on The Magicians can never be trusted. I’d love to see her join Arrow as a regular, but the way she played Felicity—all disarming chatter and underhanded criticism—was too slick to be simply what it seemed. Will Felicity want to give her hacker self another chance? Could that be a good thing?

While I’m asking questions: Where’s Thea? How does Oliver’s mayoral office function without her? Arrow’s central cast just grew by one with the new Canary on board. Adrian Chase seems like he’s edging a few steps closer to becoming one of Oliver’s confidants as well—which will get complicated if he actually is Vigilante (who we haven’t seen for a bit). I’m starting to suspect one of the new kids isn’t long for this show, and my money’s on either underused Rory or coming-into-his-own Rene. Either dying would be terrible, and might send Oliver into a leadership tailspin, which is exactly what we don’t need.

What we do need is Talia, who’s apparently here to save us from any more nonsensical Oliver flashbacks. She speaks for us all when she lays out Oliver’s flashback past and asks, essentially, what’s the deal? Why did we all have to go through that tiresome magic idol story last season? Why are you doing all of this and not going home? He has the list. He has a lot of skills. What’s stopping him? She’s the thing that brings everything full circle, the catalyst that sparks flashback-Oliver’s transformation into the Hood.

And is she also Prometheus? There’s going to be some sort of explanation for why we’ve never met the elder al Ghul daughter before, and unless she dies (here’s hoping not), she’s probably not going to be happy with her father’s fate. Will she teach Oliver the skills he needs to fight Ra’s? The skills very much on display in this week’s present-day showdown, during which Ollie swings from a helicopter while knocking down bad guys? If that’s what the new Canary inspires him to do, I am all the more in favor (and not just because I like her style). Just please no romantic subplot with her. Please, show. I’m almost begging.

Molly Templeton is in favor of Darhk and Merlyn offing Thawne and become the dynamic duo they were clearly meant to be.

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