Oliver Queen is always going back to Russia, it feels like—but this time he takes his whole team, with mixed results. On The Flash, Barry and Wally can’t stop arguing about who’s the fastest and the bestest, while the Legends are pretty busy trying to save America. Yep, the whole country. What would Washington do?
The answer is clearly “get a pep talk from Mick Rory.”
Spoilers for all three shows follow!
The Flash 3×12, “Untouchable”
Every time Barry says, in the voiceover intro, “I’m the only man fast enough to keep her alive,” I find myself unintentionally making a most skeptical face. Are you, Barry? Are you sure about that?
To underline how not sure about that anyone is, “Untouchable” begins with a race, because Barry and Wally are apparently incapable of having the same powers without a lot of jockeying about who uses them better. The betting back at the lab is much more fun: Caitlin wants a microscope, and HR wants shoes. (Personally, I wanted Cisco to say “and may the best speedster… win!” after “Gentlemen, start your engines,” but it’s possible I’ve been watching too much RuPaul’s Drag Race.)
In the end, this race—and this entire episode—is really about how Wally needs to learn to phase. To get to that point, we have a villain whose touch decomposes people at an alarming rate. This villain got his powers from Alchemy, and now that Julian is on Team Flash, that means something else. What it means is not entirely clear, except that Julian is a hard-ass about taking responsibility for things and has a lot of guilt.
Julian and Caitlin are really quite the pair in this episode, from bickering over a wacky autopsy to having a moment about powers that use you more than use them. Are you still responsible for your actions, then? When the plot maneuvers Iris into a life-threatening situation, Caitlin has to use her powers, and when she starts to go Frosty, Julian has some choice words for her. These two are excellent Science Buddies, but … maybe I’d be okay with them starting to make out.
A lot of little things fly by in this oddly paced episode: The evil meta’s victims were all cops in Flashpoint, which is a cue that Flashpoint is still relevant. Iris tells Joe about the future Barry saw, and naturally Joe freaks the hell out. Cecile’s daughter comes to town and is a total Kid Flash fangirl, which I think serves to encourage Wally to believe in himself? Iris does some journalism on her laptop while drinking a glass of wine, which might be this show’s most realistic journalism moment yet.
But for the most part, Iris is a plot device, used to push Wally into mastering more of his powers—and to nudge Barry to realize that he’s not properly empowering Wally. The Flash often struggles with giving its narratives meaning that isn’t cornily spelled out in the dialogue, and this episode is particularly middling on that front. Characters are misused, the themes are well-worn, and mostly, it feels like treading water.
Which, to be fair, maybe it was. Maybe this was just a spinning-wheels week en route to Gorilla City, where we’re going next episode. Julian’s face in the preview when he hears they’re going to another world? Priceless.
Legends of Tomorrow 2×11, “Turncoat”
Mick Rory should do the voiceover every week. “Who writes this crap, anyway?” Did we just get a very meta (and not in a Flash sense) voiceover? Sure seems like we did.
I have a few nits to pick with some of the details this week (an EMP works on Firestorm?), but for the most part, Legends is staying put in the front of the Arrowverse pack. Self-awareness looks good on this show, which has started to master playing to its strengths. One of those strengths is Arthur Darvill, who chews scenery with gusto as yet another version of himself—this one a Rip Hunter with whom the Legion of Doom has taken some … “liberties.” (Get it, see, this one’s about America? Liberties? I’ll show myself out.) He and his excellent haircut set a big ol’ trap for the Legends, who know it’s a trap but go anyway, because that’s what they do.
Because that’s what they do, it’s never really in doubt that America will be set to rights by our scrappy, pep-talking heroes. What makes this episode so good is the unexpected paths it takes en route to history being sorted. From Ray stuck in miniature (and being chased by Chekhov’s rat) to that horrible moment when it really seems like Rip has killed Sara, “Turncoat” is wacky hijinks, relevant speechifying, and affecting emotion in perfect balance. Things pay off, from Nate and Amaya’s flirting over pancakes to Rory’s path of trash to Sara’s belief in Jax.
And so many things could’ve gone easily wrong. Nate and Amaya’s ramped-up flirting works because their conversation isn’t just about the wacky world of modern dating, but about the different eras they’re from, and the different experiences they’ve had. I’d watch an entire episode of Nate explaining the modern world, and that’s saying something: The writing is a far cry from the clunky feels poor Hawkgirl was stuck with last season, even allowing for that super-cliched (yet delightful) “I must warm you with my body!” sequence.
Meanwhile, Mick Rory has a few choice words for one George Washington, who obviously means well, but is going to get everyone killed and history ruined if he insists on living in an “honorable” fantasy version of what he thinks America should be.
George Washington: “Our cause is the cause of all men, to be treated equally regardless of hereditary privilege. We must prove to the world you don’t need a title to be a gentleman. The British may be dishonorable, but I am not. By my death I will prove to the crown what it means to be an American.”
Mick Rory: “You don’t know the first thing about being an American. We’re misfits. Outcasts. And we’re proud of it. If they attack in formation, we pop ’em off from the trees. If they challenge you to a duel, you raid their camp at night. And if they’re gonna hang you, you fight dirty, and you never ever give up. That’s the American way. What’s it gonna be, George?”
Washington is a product of his time and his world, but he can’t see past his own experience, even when the fight has clearly changed. (The Brits have space guns. Thanks, Rip.) There are much bigger problems than whether or not someone’s a gentleman. America is bigger than what Washington understands, and Mick knows that. And his little speech isn’t just talk—he walks the walk when that willingness to fight dirty comes in awful handy.
I changed my mind about my favorite moment from this episode about a dozen times. (Ray and the rat! Amaya’s present! “Dammit, Jefferson, I’m a physicist, not a doctor!” Washington praising Mick’s rebel spirit, steadfastness, and “crass but effective use of language”!) But I’m settling on the ending. Rip’s explanation for his actions is chilling, and eerily familiar (“we might as well just burn it all down,” he says, bitter about his lack of control over history). Sara won’t give up on him, because it’s (literally, in his case) not his fault he feels that way: A trio of men who want to rewrite history in their favor have changed the way he thinks. Her advice about how to keep fighting is her advice to everyone, even Rip:
“You remember the mission. And what you’re fighting for. And you try to hold onto your humanity. … And you surround yourself with people who remind you of that, even in your darkest hour.”
Nobody fights like family. Ride or die, Legends.
Arrow 5×12, “Bratva”
I can’t be the only person who all but forgot that Oliver and Susan were dating, right? What an odd moment it is when she establishes, very clearly, that they haven’t slept together. Though not as odd as the fact that she’s still investigating her boyfriend—and putting the pieces together. It feels like we’re just waiting for Anatoly to show up on Susan’s doorstep with another bottle of vodka.
While I’m glad to see Quentin—and surprisingly into the tough-love he gets from Rene—Arrow is really missing Thea right now. (Susan may have a certain sort of efficiency, but she’s no Thea substitute.) I don’t know where it would fit her in, though, with the episode so packed. Digg’s free, and the subject of a press conference about how Star City takes care of its own; Adrian Chase is avoiding Susan’s questions about what happened to Billy Malone; Quentin’s back; and almost all of Team Arrow are headed to Russia, which brings Anatoly back into the picture.
“Bratva” feels overstuffed as a result—and that’s not yet accounting for General Walker and his nuke, or the new issue of Felicity and her own personal Wikileaks situation. (Bring back Kacey Rohl, show!) As with this week’s Flash, a few hints that feel like they might be major are dropped in passing: There’s a flashback to Thea’s drug-using days, and a reference to a man Slade Wilson killed three years ago. This year’s theme is clearly about bringing everything full circle, and with Susan figuring out Oliver’s secret and the past coming back to haunt him in the form of Prometheus, it seems like a reckoning is coming.
First, though, a trip to Russia, where our new Canary shows that she’s not just that annoying cry; she’s also skilled at hunting people down. Rory gets the most screen time in ages, serving as Felicity’s conscience and as the episode’s greatest hero when he uses his magical rags to dampen the nuke’s blast. Rory is a straight up good guy, so it’s not surprising when he packs up his worn-out rags at the end of the episode: just about everyone else is hovering in shades of gray, and of course Oliver tries to take responsibility for that.
It’s such an Oliver moment. He forgets that Digg and Felicity have wrestled with their own demons before, between John killing his brother and Felicity’s hacker past. Prometheus’s taunt, that Oliver destroys everyone close to him, has clearly gotten under his skin—but he still has to let his team be their own people, even when they make terrible choices. He wants them to be better than him, not just because then they’re making better choices, but because it makes him feel less responsible (and less like Prometheus is right).
Thankfully, he’s got Dinah to tell him he’s full of it. “To be honest, brooding? Really kind of gets on my nerves,” she says, which tells us how little of Oliver’s shit she’s going to put up with. He takes her along on his Bratva-thug mission because she doesn’t have team loyalty yet; if he says Don’t tell anyone else, she’s got no reason to tattle. But she’s also got no reason to hold back when Oliver veers into It’s All My Fault land.
Arrow is pretty ambitious right now—did I mention there’s a lot happening in this episode?—but the purpose “Brava” serves is moderately subtle, for this show. It establishes a new baseline for the main relationships between Ollie, John, and Felicity: they make each other better, as John says, and we’re reminded that they sometimes make questionable judgment calls when they’re on their own. “Bratva” also makes a point about oaths, and how bad Oliver is at keeping them. Talia brings up Oliver’s oath to his father, using it as a lever to get him to leave the Bratva, but Anatoly has other ideas: “That is the thing about oaths, Oliver. They are never temporary. They are for life.”
Are they? Can that change? Is that just Bratva bullying or something that’s going to drive the latter half of this season? Didn’t Felicity swear she’d never let another Havenrock happen? Has John sworn oaths to the military? What is someone’s word actually good for?
Maybe that’s not the point. Maybe it’s all just about Susan’s vodka. One way or another, this season’s threads are starting to converge.
Molly Templeton is Tor.com’s publicity coordinator and a movie critic for Eugene Weekly. She watches more CW shows than she should probably admit, but isn’t ashamed.