DC on TV for the Week of February 6, 2017

“The Martian Chronicles.” Supergirl. Season 2, Episode 11. Directed by David McWhirter. Written by Gabriel Llanas and Anna Musky-Goldwyn.

“Untouchable.” The Flash. Season 3, Episode 12. Directed by Rob Hardy. Written by Brooke Roberts and Judalina Neira.

“Turncoat.” Legends of Tomorrow. Season 2, Episode 11. Directed by Alice Troughton. Written by Grainne Godfree and Matthew Maala.

It’s been a week since these episodes aired: let’s talk about them before Supergirl comes on.

Supergirl: Acceptance

This episode of Supergirl wraps up M’gann’s (Sharon Leal) story for now, moves Kara (Melissa Benoist) a bit past her frustration with James playing vigilante (without actually having James here–which is weird) and towards a relationship with Mon-El (Chris Wood) (and I could not care less about that).

It’s a suspension of three narratives until there is need to return to them.

First, Kara and Winn (Jeremy Jordan) have reached acceptance: she does not like him helping James’s vigilantism, yet he will continue to do so. James is absent from this episode, so any closure for him and Kara is tabled.

Second, M’gann is returning to Mars to prevent more White Martians invading the Earth–and to save the show’s budget from animating this season’s second alien invasion, following the Dominators over on Earth-1. M’gann’s story therefore has reached a resolution, where J’onn (David Harewood) learns he is not alone, even if he is the last Green Martian, that he has a new way to see his history and White Martians, has come to accept M’gann as part of his family, and can adjust his mourning to this new information.

Third, Kara and Alex (Chyler Leigh) accept that their sibling relationship has changed because Alex has a committed relationship with Maggie (Floriana Lima), yet change does not mean the cessation. I am surprised the show did not emphasize more the point from Season 1, in which Alex felt like she was in the shadow of her Kryptonian cousin, and now Kara feels like she is being left behind, much as she already lost one family before. The writing between Kara and Alex as they discuss their feelings aloud is, as typical for this show, direct and disarming.

That’s not to say the dialogue between Kara and Alex is unrealistic. Nor do I ignore how refreshing it is to have characters actually talking to each other directly rather than engage in the cliches of passive aggressiveness that substitutes a complicated plot with such a simplistic problem as not talking it out.

Yet not only is such dialogue an instance of telling more than showing, but the reveal that Alex is actually the White Martian initially reverses how direct and honest were the words Kara was hearing from this imposter.

And then it’s reversed again, when Kara rationalizes that the White Martian, to mimic Alex’s behavior so well, had to forge a psychic link with her sister to speak as such, means that some of what Kara heard was indeed coming from Alex. It’s a stretch, but at least it’s such a surprising explanation and depends on such a science fiction explanation that the rationalization enriches that initial discussion and deserves a re-watch.

Finally, Mon-El has accepted Kara is not interested in him romantically, so he is trying again a relationship with Eve (Andrea Brooks), with whom he was already intimate. Only the twist is that, whereas Kara initially refused Mon-El’s advances, now she is interested in him romantically.

And I am not feeling this relationship at all. But more on that when I start whining about Nate and Amaya.

The Flash: Honesty

Someone please tell the STAR Labs people to stop keeping secrets? The Flash isn’t Agents of SHIELD–this show is actually good and doesn’t need people whining at each other about lying. Season 1 was already predicated on the men in Iris’s (Candice Patton) life determining when and how she could learn the secrets of Barry’s (Grant Gustin) life, out of fear that those secrets would make her a target.

And even though we’re kind of seeing that fear realized, what with Savitar in the future killing Iris, the men around her keeping her in the dark, thinking they knew better than her, is part of a larger problem the show has had in writing some female character. Couple all of that with how frustrating it still is that the other main female character, Caitlin, being the only one on the team to have her superpowers corrupt her mind, and the track record has not been good enough. The show even had the chance to keep Jesse Quick (Violett Beane) on Earth-1 as another speedster, and while there is a story-based reason–her Flash-less world now needs her to be its speedster–it is frustrating that the representation of women on the show is reduced in number. Jesse pops back in at the end of this episode to tease next week’s–but that’s not enough right now.

Much as I want the show to be honest with itself about how it is writing some female characters, I wanted the characters to be honest with Joe (Jesse Martin)–and thankfully they were. It is some karma justice, I guess: Joe thought Iris knowing Barry is the Flash could get her killed, and now it will, and everyone was keeping that secret from Joe. The gallows humor is not mined here, so I’ll leave that to fans to do in their own writing.

Too much honesty also can be a bad thing. Julian’s (Tom Felton) abrasiveness to say whatever he feels about his colleagues has strained their professional relationships, to the point that Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) may have been giving into a “true nature” when Killer Frost’s hold on her almost killed Iris. Again, I don’t like the idea of Caitlin’s powers vaguely affecting her mind: after how the show wrote Magenta, I’m not optimistic how villains are written in many comic book stories except as inaccurate, exaggerated portrayals of how people think schizophrenia and multiple personalities work.

Even as all of that frustrates me, there can still be a seed of an interesting idea: that Julian gives into his true nature of being a dick, so Caitlin thinks she’s giving into her own true nature of being the villain. The show develops it into a maudlin scene of Julian talking Caitlin down, and whether he believes his own words is up for debate, especially as he himself has to say them to cope with his own trauma of being a supervillain, Alchemy, who has ruined people’s lives. And the scene ends with him and Caitlin getting a drink–because after Season 2, this show is going to keep pairing Caitlin with every kinda-sorta male villain they could find.

Legends of Tomorrow: Re-Write

When Rip (Arthur Darvill) was revealed to have self-lobotomized himself, I had two realizations. First, he was being made into a MacGuffin, the very object the team is trying to recover to move the plot along. The episode itself seemed to be making a wry observation about such a limited writing technique, although I don’t know whether that was intentional. Second, I complained how, before scrambling his brain, Rip said nothing about the deaths of his wife and son, and how he was now going to lose the last possessions of them, his very memories.

This episode fixes both of these details–and gives Rip some substance.

I am usually annoyed by writers having heroic or neutral characters become antagonists or straight-up villains. In many cases, the writers do so with a goal in mind: they need a new plot, which means they need a new problem, which means they need a new antagonist. As a series continues, usually a writer has more supporting cast members than they have time, and rather than give those characters larger roles as heroes to their own story, writers will increase their presence without limiting that of their current hero–by just making the supporting cast villains.

Sometimes such a plan seems to be intentional, allowing the plot to guide the writer to make the ascension to villany organic, such as Eddie Brock becoming Venom in the animated Spectacular Spider-Man. Most times, though, I find myself annoyed at how arbitrary and coincidental are the details, or how incongruous are the ret-cons, that lead a character to serve as not just an antagonist but a comic book villain: Hunter Zolomon in The Flash comics may be an example.

I don’t know how organic Rip’s role as a villain is: it needs some vague future tech, which the Arrowverse loves, for Thawne (Matt Letscher) to return Rip his memories while changing his motivation: it’s a re-write of the character. It is a change to his role that give Arthur Darvill something other to do than just whine at his crewmembers, the ones he picked, for behaving exactly as he already knew they would behave. Darvill brings an actual menace to Rip, and the character has actual motivation, albeit manipulated and hence all the more tragic, when he blames the crew in part for his inability to save his wife and son–which means we have the show finally, this late in the season, acknowledge he lost his wife and son.

There are a few other re-writes that were appreciated. Jax’s (Franz Drameh) role continues to expand. When introduced as a car mechanic and football player, the show’s choice to have him be an adept engineer is appreciated. Having him replace Sara (Caity Lotz) as captain while she is near death could lead to him taking a bigger role on the WaveRider. And after he has repeatedly put Stein in his place, especially after the series’ introduction of Stein as roofie-ing Jax (NEVER FORGETTING THAT, SHOW!), if this show has Jax become Sara’s second-in-command, I’ll take it.  

And the last re-write that I appreciated wa the opening narration. When Mick (Dominic Purcell) concluded, “Who writes this crap?” I knew the episode would not top that moment.

Dwelling on Romance

Season 2 of the newest DC on CW shows–Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow–have been plagued with dull white men serving as romantic partners for more interesting female characters, this week having Kara now desiring Mon-El, and out of almost nowhere Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) and Nate (Nick Zano) being paired up for some romance or just a friends-with-benefits arrangement. Now, these idea can be clever. A few years ago, some famous actresses had done a genderbent re-staging of a famous comedic film–I’m blanking on which one. The lone male actor, who was acting as the lone female character, complained how few funny lines he was getting–which prompted his female counterparts to say that is the struggle they go through in a Hollywood system that continues to give fewer meaty roles to women.

If Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow were merely using these male characters as empty suits whose only role is to serve as protagonist’s love interest, I’d be annoyed given how sexist and poorly written that is. But I also would think I’m in on the joke, that these roles for women have been so awful and how men like me would not like it.

Yet I don’t think that is actually the purpose, as Mon-El and the equally boring Nate have roles other than as love interests. The problem is that those other roles are boring. Mon-El is the last survivor of his planet: we already have three of those, named Kara, J’onn, and Clark, and each of them has more personality than Mon-El. We have the vaguely evil people with some vaguely evil plan involving Mon-El: it’s taken so long to set up whatever they want with Mon-El that I don’t care. 

And Nate, in writing, has the details he needs: he feels his hemophilia put him at a weakness, and he wants to make up for lost time. However, Nate is so confident to the point of boorishness that he is really missing a state of humility for this character to feel less like a smart but obnoxious frat boy and more like the Steve Rogers figure I thought the show would try with this Captain America expy. I don’t want Nate taken to the other extreme of some “nice guy” doormat who gets some sense of entitlement–although such an account of toxic masculinity could be interested, like how Spider-Gwen has approached its universe’s version of Peter Parker. But Nate needs some flaw here aside from arrogance to ground him.

And having Amaya serve as a character who finds herself attracted to him does little to develop her or him. It does not show me more about her past or goals aside from avenging Rex’s death, and we already had an “avenge my lover from the past” storyline with the Hawkpeople last season, so I don’t need it again here. And all it shows me about Nate is that somehow, almost out of nowhere, he and Amaya strike up a relationship. Sure, spontaneous romance or a friends with benefit arrangement does not need some plotted narrative, but the relationship still felt out of nowhere.

Random Thoughts

  • On Arrow, Ollie went to Russia. I don’t care.
  • Powerless, looking at insurance adjusters working in the DC universe, premiered. And it’s on NBC–so I don’t care.
  • And next time on Supergirl and Lege
  • Oh, who cares about that when Grodd is coming back to The Flash! Yay!
  • The effects to the Green and White Martian fights were appreciated, especially after my own foreboding that Supergirl would avoid having J’onn, M’gann, and the Whites take on those appearances for the sake of the special effects budget.
  • And thank goodness the show largely avoiding making J’onn and M’gann, in the comics an adoptive uncle-niece relationship, into a romantic relationship here.
  • Winn as a White Martian may be the one time we get to see him as villainous, which is a shame as Jeremy Jordan’s acting is really good. For all my complaints above about using arbitrary excuses to make a character into a villain, I do want Winn as Toyman. How about this: have Winn be the Toyman of Flash’s earth? And he can have a team-up episode with Mark Hamill’s Trickster? That’s a Winn-Winn situation!
  • …That last pun hurt, didn’t it?
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