DC on TV for the Week of January 30, 2017

 

Villains get along better than heroes, Lucifer makes sacrifices (not to any deity, granted), and Cisco wants to get laid


 

“We Can Be Heroes,” Supergirl, Season 2, Episode 10. Directed by Rebecca Johnson. Written by Caitlin Parrish and Katie Rose Rogers.

“A Good Day to Die,” Lucifer, Season 2, Episode 13. Directed by Alrick Riley. Written by Joe Henderson and Chris Rafferty.

“Dead or Alive,” The Flash, Season 3, Episode 11. Directed by Harry Jierjian. Teleplay by Zack Stentz. Story by Benjamin Raab and Deric A. Hughes.

“The Legion of Doom,” Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2, Episode 10. Directed by Eric Laneuville. Written by Phil Klemmer and Marc Guggenheim.


 

I’ll try something that we’re doing in a class I’m working on: describing the theme to each episode in one word:

Supergirl: Trust

This week’s Supergirl was about the struggles for Kara (Melissa Benoist) to contend with Livewire’s (Brit Morgan) escape, her inability to get Mon-El (Chris Wood) to listen to her commands in battle rather than trying to save her, and her shattered faith in James (Mehcad Brooks) and Winn (Jeremy Jordan) for hiding their vigilantism.

Plus, J’onn (David Harewood) has to forgive M’gann (Sharon Leal) for her work with other White Martians and accept her attempts right now to be an ally against her people’s incoming invasion.

All of these plotlines contend with trust: Kara has to trust Livewire will be her ally as they fight a common enemy, before she lets her escape; Kara cannot trust Mon-El, James, or Winn right now to be her ally, for reasons of varying logic and believability; and J’onn has to see M’gann’s point of view from her own brain.

Kara’s reactions to James seem the most difficult for me to consider. Kara is upset that James puts himself at risk, James points out that he has been successful at his work–and Mon-El is a creeper trying to get into superheroics to impress his crush. I sympathize with James’s desire to participate, and I appreciate Kara’s point about James’s physical vulnerability–except it ignores how Kara has long accepted the involvement of Alex (Chyler Leigh) in combat and, before learning he was a Martian, “Hank Henshaw’s” (J’onn’s) involvement in the field (H/T Ellak Roach for those details). Kara’s complaints remind me of her cousin’s in the Justice League animated series, when he says every punch he takes to the Kryptonian chest is one his not “equal” colleagues don’t. Kara seems in the wrong here.

But what is more fascinating is the gender dynamic, when Livewire trolls James and Mon-El as wanting to play superhero because they see Kara as a woman first. I don’t think that’s the entire reason, and Livewire’s remark is brief and not touched upon for the rest of the episode–which makes its lingering quality that much more effectiveness than the circular arguments Kara is having with everyone else. Kara, James, and Mon-El are all saying aloud what they feel, without there being something deeper beyond their own emotions. Such communication in the open is good for real-life but more difficult to make entertaining without coming across as exposition. Having Livewire’s snark upset that argument is more effective.

This theme of trust permeates into at least two of the other series this week.

Teamwork depends on participants being open to each other, unlike the secret-keeping constantly going on The Flash, and which bites Iris (Candice Patton) and Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) when Joe (Jesse Martin) learns how they risked their safety and his investigation to stop arm dealers. Iris’s death drive in this episode seems like a one-episode detail to get out of the way, then move onto other ways she can cope with an anticipated non-journalistic deadline, namely Savitar killing her. While Iris is open to Barry (Grant Gustin) right now, the longer the secret is kept from Joe, the more cliche I fear this season’s arc will become, especially as we’ve played this game for two and a half seasons now, where the plot hinges on keeping secrets rather than something else. If speed-based villains annoy many people with The Flash, I think the re-tread on storytelling is far more annoying.

Surprisingly, the Legion of Doom ended their episode of Legends with more effective teamwork. Thawne (Matt Letscher) coming clean to Darhk (Neal McDonough) and Merlyn (John Barrowman) on Legends got their Legion of Doom to strengthen, even as that alliance likely will not last: Thawne may have earned and given trust to Darhk and Merlyn, but those two former League of Assassin members spent the entire episode snarking and battling each other.

Lucifer: Sacrifice

Watching Lucifer immediately after Supergirl put into relief some contrasts, notably how, even with a ragtag team, Lucifer (Tom Ellis) pulls off his mission with little conflict. Granted, most of that conflict was dealt with earlier this season, such as revealing he really is the Devil to Linda (Rachael Harris), contending with the fallout of losing Maze’s (Lesley-Ann Brandt) trust, and even at the beginning of this episode confronting Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside) about Chloe’s (Lauren German) impending death and whether he had a hand in it.

The episode also brings progress before the winter hiatus, as he finally tells of his mother, who has been so obviously evil all season as to make her characterization far less interesting, skipping the opportunity to have her be another morally gray character or someone whose villainy extended beyond revenge. If the Mother (Tricia Helfer) serves as an example of where Lucifer could have gone with his life, with his anger at God making him obsessive, then perhaps her character will make more sense when seen in the context of the entire season.

And I won’t ignore the excellent development given to her and Lucifer when, upon entering Hell, they receive their own punishments: to repeatedly kill Uriel (Michael Imperioli). Tom Ellis and Tricia Helfer demonstrated their talent. While I have complained repeatedly about the writing for the Mother, this episode demonstrated that, when the writing is really good, a good actor can make it work–and Helfer certainly did in what has been so far her character’s only scenes with Uriel. When Lucifer had told Carlisle (Tim DeKay) that his punishment ends when he is at peace with himself, I should have seen that setup–and not expecting it, or Uriel’s return, I was impressed.

Credit for just how surprising Uriel’s return is owed to the marketing of this episode: because of the advertising gimmick “Who will die tonight?” I was expecting additional deaths aside from Lucifer’s and Uriel’s.

There were some limitations to the episode, such as the flimsy excuse to have Linda be the one to revive and tend to Lucifer’s physical health, when her specialization is in mental health. Then again, I had already said Stein (Victor Garber) doing brain surgery on Mick (Dominic Purcell) in last week’s Legends of Tomorrow was humorous, so I appreciate that the writers worked within their limitations in casting and used the contrasts of Linda’s profession and her assigned task.What was more effective within the budgetary limitations was how this show represented Hell. I was less impressed with the previous season’s finale, as Hell just looked like a Minnesota cemetery in winter. While that setting remains, the adjustments to the camera speed, as well as departures into different tombs and different realities where punishments are enacted, kept the episode grounded in a bit of realism, and Lucifer offers excuses to explain why one punishment is just the same Los Angeles set, or another is back in Lux: these are the punishments sinners wish on themselves, and rather than have them imagine punishments beyond their understanding, their self-hatred is steeped in the past, in real-world regrets. To offer Lucifer and the Mother that regret, based in Uriel’s death, makes them more human to viewers. (And I had an easier time believing Lucifer’s excuse than why J’onn and M’gann were in their human forms in her mind in this week’s Supergirl.)

There will be more to say about this episode when Lucifer returns (in May?!). And the ending is about one more sacrifice: Lucifer either sacrificing happiness with Chloe to avoid whatever he now thinks was God intervening in his life through her, or sacrificing himself to finally contend with God’s interference.

The Flash: Desire

HR (Tom Cavanagh) wants his actions to mean something: to be the hero, to be the famous author, to do something that impresses Team Flash and earns him a spot in their clique. He goes for the grand gesture, which, after Jonathan in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the “grand gesture” usually leads to problems.

And as much as Cisco (Carlos Valdes) has been trying to get away from HR, he has the similar problem: he’s the romantic, he’s the overachiever, he’s the pop culture encyclopedia, he wants to use his powers to effect change. Maybe his brother’s death this season has led him to see opportunities to use his powers to help improve lives–which, in an episode where that death never comes up, is a pretty good accomplishment.

These desires, for fame for HR and to save a life for Cisco, are still steeped in another desire for Cisco: lust.

When Cisco declares he will duel the person from Earth-19 (Jessica Camacho) who intends to deliver HR for execution (no, I am not using that problematic name for her until something is done to offset the problems inherent to it–let’s go with Officer Earth-19 for now), the writing suffers. Cisco just wants to battle Officer Earth-19 because she’s attractive? The swiftness to do so makes him look foolish and demeans the approaching battle. While she herself is as capable a fighter as Cisco, even as he lowers her expectations in order to defeat her, and while she is as much a pop culture nerd as he, the reduction of the battle to just one of attraction seems limited. Both characters were teammates in the Justice League Detroit iteration, so having the two battle is an appreciated Easter egg. But to reduce the battle into one of lust seems to be a missed opportunity, at least until something greater is learned about her character aside from the roles she is being fitted into, as HR’s captor and Cisco’s girlfriend.

What was more effective than the Cisco romance was his final discussion with HR, in which the roles are reversed. It was Harrison Wells, actually Eobard Thawne, who cultivated Cisco and “gifted” him with the powers of Vibe. It is challenging for Cisco to take on that mentorship role to the older HR, the man who has the face of the person who killed him–and the scene is not about control but letting the actors play out with the small amount of writing given to them, that contains so much within it.

Legends of Tomorrow: Control

Eobard Thawne is a control freak. He wanted to discover the Flash’s secret of speed, so he obsesses until he learns it–along with his future role, to be a supervillain.

And like Barry Allen himself, he cannot stop messing with time. Now the ramifications catch up with him in the form of Hunter Zolomon, previously Zoom, now the Black Flash intent on removing time apparitions on behalf of the Time Wraiths. (Still with me so far?)

So, what does an addict like Thawne do? He seeks a stronger dose: why just control time, when he can control reality? As Nate explains to his teammates, the Spear of Destiny does not re-write time, which is mutable, but re-writes reality, which is stuck. (The Spear functions like the Cosmic Cube in Marvel Comics, so I’ll laugh if Mick uses it to bring back his Bucky–I mean, Snart.)

With Thawne raising the stakes, of course he still wishes to exact control over other people: he was already the chessmaster when impersonating Wells in the strongest season of The Flash, and he thinks those tricks can work on Merlyn and Darhk. The problem is that Merlyn and Darhk are far more petty than Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco, so they intend to expose his secret–that Thawne has to keep running every few minutes so the Black Flash cannot follow his use of speed. This setup clarifies differences between the ways heroes and villains are portrayed: heroes have limitations on what they are willing to do, villains don’t. (It’s one reason we get stuck with Republicans like this fascist in the White House, but that’s a tangent for another time.) Thawne learns some humility, albeit too neat and clean for my taste, as at some point Darhk or Merlyn has to stab Thawne in the back–unless he’s quick enough to stab them through their chest first.

Really, though, as Legends is spinning its wheels until Rip (Arthur Darvill) regains his memories and re-joins the team, the season is rather dull. Seeing how poorly Darhk and Merlyn handle using amnesiac Rip to break into the bank, I’m just waiting for Snart to return and show these fools how a real bank heist works.

Random Observations

  • This is a faster set of reviews for the week, with less analysis of certain details and even fewer bits of trivia.
  • I don’t include Gotham or Arrow in these reviews. The former is because of time limitations, as the show airs opposite Supergirl. The latter is because I want to write about something good.
  • Alex doesn’t want to try vegan ice cream? Sacrilege!
  • I was in a sour mood while watching The Flash, so my excitement at Cisco and Officer Earth-19 battling on Earth-2 and in CatCo was minimized by the lack of seeing even more settings than that.
  • Adding to the theme of control with this week’s Legends, Stein tries to control for variables in having his teammates not reveal to Lily (Christina Brucato) that she is a time aberration. Too bad Mick is one variable that can rarely be predicted.
  • Could we have a more interesting Legion of Doom? Two martial artists who just try to out-snark and out-mug the camera are dull, and Thawne has lacked some of the charm Cavanagh brought to the role. Darhk and Merlyn just strike me as bland villains with dull motivations: Darhk wants to live forever (Thawne already has that shtick), and Merlyn feels slighted and impotent (which can be entertaining for masculinity studies, if handled with a bit more focus on that character’s depth). Snart at least has style, humor, and pathos. I want more of those villains in these shows. Give me characters who have both flash and substance.
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