DC on TV for the Week of February 20, 2017

Mxy, Grodd, Camelot: It’s fanservice week, and with almost no annoying objectification problems. Thank goodness!

“Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk.” Supergirl, Season 2, Episode 13. Directed by Stefan Pleszczynski. Written by Jessica Queller and Sterling Gates.

“Attack on Gorilla City.” The Flash, Season 3, Episode 13. Directed by Dermott Daniel Downs. Teleplay by Aaron Helbing and David Kob. Story by Andrew Kreisberg..

“Camelot/3000.” Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2, Episode 12. Directed by Antonio Negret. Written by Anderson Mackenzie.

Supergirl: Gaslighting

I’ve heard “gaslight” come around a lot in reviews of this episode, which coupled with Mxyzptlk’s (Peter Gadiot) last lines about Kara (Melissa Benoist) as a “nasty woman,” and in the context of very pro-Clinton language in the last two seasons of this show, it is obviously a giant middle finger to our current fascist-in-chief. Everyone in this episode is deceiving everyone: Mxy is the imp with powers over reality, but he can’t make people fall in love–so he’ll just manipulate reality to achieve those ends. So Kara responds with her own gaslighting, conning him to think she is actually interested in him, and all without Kara losing her agency. That is good writing, show: well done at making the protagonist, who happens to be a woman, not forced into some misogynistic plotline, while also being a coy response against the current misogyny we’re stuck with this sexual assaulter in the White House. Keep being a soapbox against this kind of bigotry, Supergirl: we’re going to need it until this buffoon is tossed out of office, preferably by impeachment and the rest of his life shunned.

Yet I did not feel like this was a Mxy episode, at least as I’ve appreciated the character in the comics, the old Superfriends cartoon, the Superman animated episodes, and in his many doppelgangers such as Bat-Mite and the Impossible Man. There is something uncomfortable that the first thought when introducing a reality-warping in a female-led show is to have him fall for Kara: it’s too easy, and it seems to treat Kara as just a female superhero rather than a superhero who happens to be female. And forcing Mxy into a Valentine’s episode seems like a waste of his potential.

While that choice indicates that uncomfortableness, the actual writing and path of the story thankfully does not just reduce her to a female superhero: she is shown throughout this episode as a superhero who is a woman, the focus is on her determining how best to play to Mxy’s desire and plans so that he does not use his powers to destroy this dimension, and she has no time for the nonsense of Mon-El (Chris Wood). Kara’s solution, to trick Mxy into typing a password to cancel the self-destruct code and which just happens to be his name backwards was genius. That the episode set up the idea with J’onn’s (David Harewood) letter to M’gann was clever.

The battle of wits against Mxy shows the writers can use the character effectively; now that the setup is out of the way, I hope his next appearance is not another abortive romance but something that can allow for more fourth-wall breaking. (You had an episode of Mxy in a CW show without him acknowledging how they can’t show Batman, that Mon-El is here to appeal to some expectation that you need a hunky white man on the show, or dragging Misha Collins from Supernatural off of his show into this one? Come on!)

What did not work for me, and still does not work, is Mon-El. I appreciate the arguments that acknowledge Kara can be more herself around him than James (Remember him? He’s been missing for two episodes this season), but I cannot stand this bland character who gets in the way of more interesting, largely female characters. Much as I note below about Courtney in Legends of Tomorrow, the motivation is so dull. With Kara, Alex (Chyler Leigh), J’onn, Winn (Jeremy Jordan), and other characters, they have multiple goals because they have multiple problems involving work, family, depression, trauma–and romance is just one more problem in their lives. If Mon-El’s goals of being a hero and protecting others are only to impress Kara, I cannot help but see him as a mirror of Mxy–and if the show had done more with that comparison, great, but they didn’t.

More effective was the writing for Alex and Maggie (Floriana Lima). I do feel disappointed at the revised origin story for Maggie, as she explains her parents were not accepting of her sexuality and that she was outed before she was ready. I was pleased when she had said, early in her appearances with Alex, that she had a pretty good experience coming out to her parents because I thought it was an indication of progress in their idealized fictional world that is not available in ours. That Maggie is from the Midwest, however, I guess I should have seen that she was lying. The writers and Lima did great work at drawing out Maggie’s trauma at being outed on Valentine’s Day. Rather than obsess over whether Valentine’s Day is a commercialized holiday (it is), the show acknowledged the other truth: the day is whatever the persons in a relationship make of it, and Kara advised Maggie to see how that day can and should be something for her and Alex.

The Flash: Gorillas!

The Flash was just pure fanservice–and after screaming my head off today about how bad other fanservice is, I’ll gladly take gorillas over unfunny, sexist objectification. So thanks, show!

Grodd’s (David Sobolov) plan remains confusing, however. His motivation for revenge, hinted to be something inherited from his adoptive parent Eobard Thawne, falls apart under Barry’s (Grant Gustin) explanation that he has no reason to want to attack the Earth. That Grodd bothers to pull out dead Barry from his cell for no reason except so the character can escape, this is writing to move the story along, rather than because of characters behaving logically. When this show is functioning on the rule of cool rather than logic, however, I’m okay with this if just for a battle of apes against humans. And it does show Grodd’s intelligence at convincing Barry that Solovar (Keith David) is the actual threat so he may ascend to power, a good nod to Grodd’s actions in most stories involving him and Gorilla City. But why did Grodd go to all this work if Cisco’s alternate dimension fellow viber played by Jessica Camacho (no, I am not calling her by that offensive name) is right there in Gorilla City? Why is she there? I know all of this will be answered next episode, but it is such an odd occurrence that does not help the plot.

The Julian (Tom Felton) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) romance persists and, while thankfully slow, does not have a spark to it. And I could talk about how finally Jesse (Violett Beane) decides to just stay on Earth-1, although that does leave her Earth without a superhero. But after my whining about Mon-El and Kara, I’m too exhausted to spend time on more relationships when I’d rather discuss a similar problem with relationships in Legends.

Legends of Tomorrow: Alternatives

The episode was a bit of substitutions. If you can’t have Stein (Victor Garber) mind-control knights, have Mick (Dominic Purcell) do it. If you can’t have Arthur (Nils HOgnestad) leading the battle, have Guinevere (Elyse Levesque) go all Queen Elizabeth. If you can’t have an interesting villain in Darhk (Neal McDonough), have mind-controlled evil Rip (Arthur Darvill), because he’s at least got personality and doesn’t spout out awful lines with a shit-eating grin. If you can’t afford Firestorm in this episode, randomly separate Stein from Jax (Franz Drameh) again by having him do sciency stuff. If you don’t like the history books, fiction lets you have alternative history–but not alternative facts, because screw that propagandist bullshit.

And if you can’t figure out where to take your plot, shove in a ton of storylines so that characters are left spinning their wheels until the climax: have Sara (Caity Lotz) and Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) confront Courtney (Sarah Grey) about her desire to stay in Camelot, and have Sara forced to stay and fight the mind-controlled knights rather than just leave with the Spear fragment. It’s great to have a discussion between three female characters about an important topic–if their points of view were clearer, if they were actually making an argument why to stay and fight or leave with the Spear, and if the big revelation was not that Courtney is in love with Arthur, who has as much personality pre-mind control as he does post-mind control.

By the half-hour mark, I was staring at the clock, not out of boredom but in surprise at how much had happened. Whereas The Flash extended the battle against Grodd to two episodes, Legends tries to condense multiple storylines into one episode so as to have multiple characters facing multiple problems.

In one storyline, Nate’s (Nick Zano) Arthurian legends storybook returns from the season premiere, showing Ray (Brandon Routh) knighted–and dying. Taking a cue from Back to the Future and Back to the Future III, before facing down Darhk’s gun, Ray makes sure to go into battle with a bulletproof vest (in this case, Atom armor) and play possum. With that plotline out of the way, that kind of robs the show from one more story idea they could use.

And in another storyline, we finally get backstory as to why the Justice Society split: they procured the Spear of Destiny with Rip, who sent them to different time periods so that they could guard the Spear. Why Obsidian didn’t get to go, who knows. And of course Mid-Nite (Kwesi Ameyaw) gets killed off after he gets race-bent–which just seems to be a needless removal of one of the few non-white characters on this show.

And Courtney just happens to live and become the Merlin of the dark ages, forming Camelot. But she does not feel like Star Girl in any form because her motivation–what she desires–is to stay in Camelot. That is very specific to this show and not to the character across representations of her. To then reduce her desire to stay in Camelot to her desire for Arthur does not help matters. I am not as familiar with her character from the comics, while her few appearances in Justice League Unlimited were more impactful if simplistic: there, she is a newbie headstrong superhero. Here, having her be older and wiser is helpful, but when she is defined by a desire for Camelot and Arthur, the character feels like a vessel rather than a motivating force on the story.  

Speaking of romantic desires that don’t help the character, I felt the same about what was being done with Sara and Guinevere. I had joked that, when Sara sat with Guinevere, she’d be the Lancelot–overlooking the “Sara Lance, Lance, Lancelot” gag the show was setting up. But I wasn’t joking out of a desire to see such a story unfold, not because it would not be a good story but because, as with previous cases, I knew the show would not commit. Sara’s bisexuality seems like a trait of hers that is present but a non-starter: no relationship she has lasts. It feels like the show is reminding viewers of her sexuality without letting a same sex relationship be represented.

It is not that Sara’s sexuality is the only detail that defines her character, just as the sexuality of her crewmembers are not the sole detail defining them. But whereas Ray, Kendra, Stein, and Rip have all pursued romantic or sexual relationships that are more long-lasting and all happen to be heteronormative, the representation of Sara has been that any romances she has are temporary to that episode, her kiss with Guinevere here being the briefest of those relationships. And while I do not think the show considers Sara’s sexuality a joke, some instances of this show had me rolling my eyes in fear this was turning into fanservice to reduce same sex female relationships as appealing to the male gaze, the Season 2 premiere giving us Sara in bed with the Queen of France and sentenced to death for sexual relationships with women in Puritan New England.

Perhaps the reason her relationships are short-lived is that the locations she visits all happen to be unaccepting of same sex relationships between women, at least in the popular imagination and ignoring numerous instances in which such relationships did occur, albeit mostly closeted. If that is the case, I do have solutions.

First, the show can have a relationship for Sara last beyond one episode. In Season 1, during a mission in the 1950s, Sara was intimate with another nurse, Lindsey, and by episode’s end was stuck in that time period with Ray and Kendra. Yet her relationship with Lindsey did not persist, in part so, Ray, and Kendra could escape detection by Savage. When Sara then left to re-join the League of Assassinations, an alternative story could have been a relationship with Lindsey; instead, the show opted to develop a romance and wedding proposal by Ray to Kendra, because somehow Season 1 really needed a dull love triangle involving them and Carter. Why not have that relationship be for Sara? I don’t want to just reduce a same sex relationship to angst, yet I think more can be pulled from a story where a character struggles whether to leave a committed relationship for a greater good. When the show cannot bother to make that emotional impact felt with its one married couple in the show, Stein and Clarissa, I should not have my hopes up it would have done so with Sara and Lindsey.

Second, the show can have a relationship for Sara–just not in the past. Let’s see the future. We saw Star City in shambles last season; we saw the totalitarian future of Ray’s future relative in Season 1; we saw Detroit 3000 here–so let’s see another time in the future. Let’s see a time where a same sex relationship for Sara would not be constrained by the realities of our time, at a time where still my nation’s government impedes on the rights of LGBT persons, and one that is idealized, that does let a relationship occur and make the conflict emerge not because of the bigotry of our time but for some other purpose that lends development for Sara.

Plus, a trip to the future would piss off the historian Nate, and anything to get him to shut his whiney mouth for two seconds is good by me.

Random Observations

  • Mxy’s Superman suit with the “M” on it may allude to the later costume Mon-El wore in the comics–except his comic book costume didn’t look like Supes’s but more like Troia’s from Teen Titans.
  • Will there ever be an episode where Barry does not screw up the multiverse? No.
  • Quite a chilling (no pun intended) moment of Cisco (Carlos Valdes) encouraging the team to kill him. I appreciate that darkness: it’s earned and leads to discussion of a moral quandary, unlike, say, Agents of SHIELD, where the darkness overwhelms and makes any interest in the show dissipate as quickly as their effects budget.
  • Look, if you’re going to have HR (Tom Cavanagh) with drumsticks all the time and not play them, he needs to on the Music Meister Flash/Supergirl upcoming crossover, or just cut that nonsense out.
  • HR was finally funny when he joyfully interferes with Harry’s (Cavanagh again) daughter and Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale), though.
  • I get it, Nate: Camelot isn’t real, nothing is historically accurate. You’re already a bland character who adds almost nothing to this show, whose hero quest to be like Grandpa has stalled into you having low-resolution Colossus powers, and your haircut is stupid. Shut up.
  • This week’s Legends referenced The Force Awakens, with a light saber battle in the forest, so I guess the George Lucas references keep coming since our last outing with George.
  • Ray’s sword also alludes to one he wielded in the comic book series The Sword of the Atom.
  • Plus, the episode starts in 3000 and ends in Camelot, which, along with the episode’s title, alludes to Camelot 3000, a DC miniseries from the 1980s that happened to feature a genderbent Tristan and more reincarnations than a post-Kirby Darkseid story.
  • Did no one on the WaveRider think to do something about GIDEON (Amy Pemberton) so that she did not follow Rip’s orders? This is how you screwed up putting Savage on your ship in Season 1, crew–stop repeating your mistakes!
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