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All posts for the month June, 2016

And we come to the end. What are, in my estimation, the top five comic book shows on TV last season, and why. You know the drill, let’s get into it.

5. Daredevil

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Premise: Matt Murdock’s war to protect the people of Hell’s Kitchen is complicated not only by a DA out to round up New York’s vigilantes (at least the ones who don’t appear in movies), but by the arrival to the Kitchen of lethal vigilante Frank Castle, and Matt’s dangerous ex, Elektra Natchios.

So we’ve talked about the Punisher. Repeatedly. And for a reason. As long as the Punisher was happening, Daredevil was every bit as good, if not better, than its freshman outing. So why, you might ask, has it slipped from first place to fifth since last year? Because the parts not dealing with the Punisher ended up more lacklustre. We’ll cover that down below. But despite all of the flaws I’m about to list, there’s still enough of the first season in there to make it above average. And what they did well, they did well enough to push Daredevil above Arrow for a second year. Although it was close.

Strengths: All things Punisher. The fight scenes, when you can see them. Deborah Ann Woll is doing amazing work, even if Karen Page’s story gets weird towards the back half. Breaking the season into mini-arcs.

Weaknesses: Okay, we’re gonna need a speed round for all of these plot holes and problems…

  • Elektra’s one of Daredevil’s strongest female characters in the comics. Here she has to decide which male figure is going to determine how she lives her life. That’s… weak.
  • Why did the Hand dig a giant hole? What was that accomplishing?
  • No, wait, the Hand’s big goal, this Black Sky they’ve been hinting at since last year, is just a person who’s good at killing? That’s it? How does that help them rule the world? How does that even help them rule New York, let alone a world filled with Avengers and Inhumans and magic space rocks?
  • The producers are so committed to Matt’s martyrdom that there’s never a fight he wins easily. He has to struggle each time. So the army of ninjas loses some bite when they give Matt exactly as much trouble as the biker gang from episode three.
  • They put a lot of effort into their fight scenes. Maybe if they’d lit a few more of them…
  • Elden Henson seriously whiffs a few of Foggy Nelson’s big emotional moments. He was a better actor last year.
  • How does a legal assistant get a job as an investigative reporter? There have to be dozens of journalism majors for every open newspaper job.
  • How does someone not get fired for spending weeks, maybe longer on a story only to write a junior high essay about heroes?
  • How is the DA targeting New York vigilantes and her number two target (after the Punisher) is licensed private detective and only part-time-at-best vigilante Jessica Jones? Not Spider-man? No Inhumans? No mention of Sokovia, even? I mean, Jesus Christ, Marvel, be a unified universe or don’t.
  • Daredevil sure gets blasé about fighting next to people who are killing people by the end.
  • Every Asian on this show is in a sinister ninja cult. That’s… not great.
  • And how does the season start in a summer heat wave and end at Christmas? Everything seems to happen in a matter of weeks at most, not months.

Feels like a lot, doesn’t it. See, Arrow, if you’d dial back the Felicity drama even a little you’d make the top five easily.

High point: New York’s Finest/Penny and Dime. The best fight, the best Punisher/Daredevil confrontations, Daredevil at its best.

Low point: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel. Poorly lit fights and the Elektra/Hand plot takes a turn for the stupid. Seriously, that’s your endgame? Your Black Sky would have their hands full against freaking Ant-Man, let alone the Vision.

Tips for next season: Turn on some damned lights. Have a better Big Bad, ’cause the Hand flopped hard. Focus on New York if you want but either try to remember that the larger MCU exists, or officially secede. I mean, we’ve seen how multiverses can work…

4. The Flash

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Premise: After the events of last year’s finale, Flash learns that he has opened breaches to an alternate Earth, and drawn the attention of evil speedster Zoom.

Few shows on this list embrace the wacky and weird world of comic books like The Flash. After introducing super powers, time travel, and giant telepathic gorillas in season one, in season two they plunged right into one of DC’s on-again off-again favourite devices since the seminal The Flash of Two Worlds, the multiverse. This helped to propel their early episodes to fun heights. They still manage the best blend of action, humour, and heart. Even if they didn’t quite stick the landing.

Strengths: I haven’t really found a place in these blogs to talk about what an asset to the show Tom Cavanaugh is, but he’s great. Even when the finale handed him one of the most ridiculous comic book nonsense lines of any show this year. Also, new characters Wally West, Jesse Wells, and in particular Patty Spivot ranged from good to delightful. Grant Gustin remains delightful even when Barry is pissing me off. Cisco and Caitlin might not make the supporting character podium, but they did some good work this year. Not only did they bring back the telepathic gorilla, they upped themselves with a giant man-shark.

Weaknesses: First off, Earth Two has the Justice Society, Earth Three has all the evil doppelgangers, come on guys, you know this. That said. The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Barry Allen really did wear thin over the back third. More problematic, when we hit peak Bad Barry Choices, we also ran out of plotline for Zoom. For the last five episodes, there was no nuance, no subtlety, no real surprises. One of the best aspects of Reverse Flash’s plot in season one was that his motivation turned out to be incredibly simple. Zoom’s motivation was also simple, but worse: it boiled down to “Zoom just likes killing.” That’s fine for a one-off villain or Krombopulos Michael, but a season-long villain needs more than that. Ultimately Zoom was a horrible waste of a far better comic villain. A weak ending was enough to knock Flash all the way down to number four. Also, like Arrow, they had to spend some time setting up Legends of Tomorrow, but other than the “Well, need a new Firestorm, I guess” episode, it was low impact.

And man… why’d they have to write Patty out… she was great…

High point: Welcome to/Escape From Earth 2. A high-paced trek through the much-mentioned, until-then-little-seen Earth-2 filled with Easter Eggs (including our first glimpses of Jonah Hex and Connor Hawke, who would later pop up on Legends), fun evil versions of multiple characters, and a big hint towards a coming twist. Not even the first Poor Decision of Barry Allen could sink this two-parter.

Low point: Back to Normal. After a disastrous decision on Barry’s end, Barry learns to adjust to life without powers. Again. Second time in as many seasons. Waiting for Barry to get his speed back slowed the season to a crawl right when it should have been accelerating–that was a lot of speed references in a thing about The Flash, it just happens.

Tips for next season: Okay. I saw what you did at the end of the finale. So let me say this… if you’re doing what we all think you’re doing… don’t drag it out. I’ve been promised a four-show crossover for episode eight, and I do not want it to be a week-long wrap up to TV Flashpoint.

…Actually I want a Flashpoint story featuring characters from all four shows incredibly bad, but I’d rather the other three not to have to put their own stories on pause to make it happen. So maybe try to keep it to four episodes, tops? And then once you’re done, write a better villain. I know you know how.

3. Supergirl

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Premise: Kara Zor-El, strange visitor from another planet, decides she’s tired of living in secret as Kara Danvers, and sets out to protect the world as Supergirl. Just like her more famous cousin.

Remember what I said about embracing comic booky-ness? About 630 words ago? Well, there’s one other show doing it as well as the Flash. And it’s also surpassed its brother show in terms of cheer and hopefulness. Supergirl’s first season delivers all the geeky fun of the Flash’s, plus better blends of combat and special effects, and some delightful surprises for long-term fans and newbies alike. It can be a little cheesy at times, but if you can get past that, there’s a lot to love.

Strengths: Melissa Benoist. Chyler Leigh. The evolution of Hank Henshaw’s relationship to Supergirl. Calista Flockhart takes Cat Grant from stereotypical “mean boss” to a surprisingly effective mentor for Kara’s civilian and super identities. Jeremy Jordan as Winn. Top notch special effects for TV. Max Lord worked well as a recurring antagonist.

Weaknesses: Sometimes the feminism can be a little on-the-nose. And sometimes the dialogue can be a little cheesy or clunky. And Kara and James Olsen could have better chemistry if we’re supposed to be invested in them as a thing.

High point: Worlds Finest. The Flash comes to National City, and it is Ah. Maze. Zing.

Low point: Red Faced. Where to start. The episode has four villain characters, meaning it doesn’t have time to do any of them well; the “women can’t be mad in public” issue is a little ham-fisted (and they mentioned but kind of skimmed past “neither can black men”); what did they spend on that Red Tornado costume, fifteen dollars, maybe sixteen; why is Justice League stalwart Red Tornado a villain at all, shouldn’t he have become good after becoming self-aware; killing Red Tornado and his creator was a waste not only of Red Tornado but of T.O. Morrow, one of DC’s bigger and better mad scientists, and that’s saying something since DC has enough mad scientists that they once formed their own sovereign country

Tips for next season: Well, this one’s hard. Their budget’s getting slashed, so it may be enough of a challenge to keep up what they’ve been doing thus far. We’ll probably get less CG, maybe less Cat, and it may be a challenge finding external locations that look like the California desert hillsides that define the outskirts of National City. Kelowna, maybe. The important thing is to maintain and build on the things you’ve done well that don’t cost megabucks to pull off. Flash and Legends of Tomorrow do okay effects-wise on a CW budget, so can Supergirl. And how excited am I at the possibility of Winn meeting Cisco and Felicity? And Superman’s making a proper appearance? Interesting.

2. iZombie

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Premise: Promising doctor-turned-zombie Liv Moore works with Seattle PD detective Clive Babineaux to solve murders, by using the visions she gains eating the victims’ brains to feign psychic abilities. Meanwhile, her boss/friend Ravi Chakrabarti finds that even if he can recreate his cure for zombiism, it has unfortunate side effects.

iZombie came back for second season firing on all cylinders. They cut some plotlines that weren’t working (Liv’s family), gave Major a much better story now that’s he’s learned the truth about Liv, Blaine’s way more fun this year now that he’s not the big villain, the big villains they do have are great… sure it’s still a crime procedural based around psychic visions caused through zombie brain consumption, but all in all, iZombie remains thoroughly delightful.

Strengths: With improved stories for Major, the cast doesn’t really have a weak link. We dive deeper into the Seattle zombie population that Blaine created in season one, and the issues Blaine’s having keeping them happy, and how that’s complicated by Vaughn du Clark trying to wipe them out. Personal relationships are allowed to grow and evolve. Really, just about everything works.

Weaknesses: If murder-of-the-week crime procedurals aren’t your thing you might struggle a little with this one.

High point: Max Wager, in which Mr. Boss makes his debut, or Abra Cadaver, in which Liv eats magician brains and it’s the best day for Ravi, but it’s probably Dead Beat/Salvation Army, the two-part finale in which the launch of Max Rager’s newest drink threatens to become a full-blown zombie apocalypse, while Ravi and Blaine must join forces against Boss’ men. And Liv discovers a new player that promises to make season three a whole new thing.

Low point: The Hurt Stalker. Liv eats Stalker brains, and subsequently destroys her life. By the next episode, even Ravi’s desperate to move on from that brain.

Tips for next season: So… that thing that happened in the last few minutes? Let’s just see how that goes.

1. Jessica Jones

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Premise: Super-powered private detective Jessica Jones fights to expose and defeat Kilgrave, the mind-controlling psychopath who once kept her prisoner for weeks on end, out of a twisted sense of love.

Sometimes “bright,” “hopeful,” and “comic-booky” aren’t what you need. Sometimes you want to go the other direction. And if that’s the case, Jessica Jones has you covered. It’s dark, it presents an unlikeable heroine facing a villain that makes your skin crawl, it has streaks of nihilism… it’s also pretty brilliant.

Strengths: The whole cast is top-notch. The series is incredibly bingeable. They never pretend that all of Jessica’s problems have one source or an easy solution. Kilgrave has more depth than most Marvel villains put together. A great introduction to Luke Cage. Best exchange of origin stories ever: “Accident. You?” “Experiment.”

Weaknesses: Agents of SHIELD struggles to be connected to the MCU. Daredevil doesn’t bother much. Jessica Jones seems actively embarrassed to be part of it. When the Avengers are mentioned it’s never by name, merely as “the green guy” and “the flag-waver.” That’s worse than the Supergirl pilot, which seemed full-on allergic to saying “Superman” out loud. Plus I still don’t see Stark/Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, and the whole plot hinges on needing to prove that mind control isn’t impossible in a city where an actual alien invasion was fought off in part by the literal Norse god of thunder. That’s a lot of time I just spent explaining what is, I admit, a minor quibble re: larger franchise continuity. If you don’t care about that, then I’ve got nothing.

High point: AKA WWJD? Jessica and Kilgrave play house as Kilgrave attempts to win over Jessica, and Jessica wonders if she can find a way to redeem the irredeemable. Along the way, they have it out over what, exactly, their past relationship truly was.

Low point: AKA 99 Friends. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s a filler episode, it does end on an awkwardly shot action beat (really more of a tantrum), and you know his name is Captain America, Jessica. “The flag-waver.” Swear to god, if I rewatch this show and catch her namedropping reality TV stars…

Tips for next season: Maybe try mini-arcs, like Daredevil did. Stretching one plotline over 13 episodes can get exhausting. Well, I imagine it might. For people who somehow don’t watch the entire season in two sittings. Whoever they are. Just avoid Daredevil’s mistake and don’t make the last mini-arc poorly-lit garbage.

And that’s the list. Thanks for joining me, those who did, and feel free to leave comments claiming I’m a fool for under/over-valuing something. I’ll just be over here, sulking about having to wait a week for another taste of Preacher.

I would do another Beyond the Capes section but there’s a lot to cover already and it mostly just would’ve been about Limitless. I liked Limitless and there aren’t a lot of venues to talk about it. But anyway… let’s begin the rankings.

11. Gotham

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I just… I can’t. I hit a point back in October where I just couldn’t be bothered. Limitless is canceled but this one just keeps going… how is that justice…

10. Lucifer

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Premise: Lucifer Morningstar, having abandoned his post in Hell, helps LAPD detective Chloe Decker solve murders (to her chagrin) while angel Amenadiel tries to get him back to Hell.

I only read one issue of the comic this is based on, but I don’t think there’s any way to hear “A spinoff of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is reimagined as a Castle knock-off” and not think it’s a terrible idea. And yet… there is something there. Most of the appeal is in Tom Ellis’ performance, but there’s a cleverness to the writing at times, and Lucifer’s relationship with his sterner brother Amenadiel is entertaining. Especially in the last two episodes.

Strengths: Tom Ellis. The mysteries-of-the-week aren’t 100% predictable. Lucifer and Amenadiel’s weird sibling rivalry.

Weaknesses: One more time for the kids in the bleachers… it is a knock-off of Castle in which the Devil helps the LAPD solve crimes. Nothing I say can change that.

High Point: #TeamLucifer/Take Me Back to Hell. The two-part finale blows the doors off. Finally, the Amenadiel/Lucifer fight and buddy cop movie we deserved. And a potentially interesting (possibly terrible) twist for next year.

Low Point: Manly Whatnots. Lucifer decides the best way to get over his fascination with his partner Chloe Decker is to double his efforts to bang her. It gets uncomfortable and embraces the weaker aspects of Lucifer’s character.

Tips for next season: More mythology. And less running in circles where “Why does Lucifer’s invulnerability wear off when Chloe’s around.” Also, could one of the human characters figure out he’s not just pretending to be the Devil? Just one? That has to happen eventually, doesn’t it?

9. Agent Carter

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Premise: Peggy Carter transfers to the LA branch of the Strategic Scientific Reserve to investigate a new case… one her superiors don’t want her investigating.

I get that this is still an important show to a lot of people. Agent Carter was proudly feminist and examined the institutional sexism of a period of time conservatives love to call a golden age. But none of that changes the fact that the show lost a few steps this year. The “woman in a man’s world” angle got moved to the villain, so that “woman succeeding in a male-driven group” becomes something to root against. More problematic? “Peggy Carter goes rogue from the SSR because, as a woman, they don’t take her seriously” worked like gangbusters. “Peggy Carter goes rogue from the SSR because they’re being manipulated by the Arena Club (what Agents of SHIELD viewers recognize as a branch of Hydra)” is a lesser copy of that. And it weakens Carter as a character, because if she already lived through the SSR being manipulated by the Arena Club (Hydra’s most successful branch, they seem to already run the US), how on Earth did she miss SHIELD being infiltrated by Hydra Proper? But we know she did. We saw Winter Soldier. Also… it’s a little odd that after a season based around establishing Peggy’s worth beyond being Captain America’s girlfriend, so much of this season revolved around her love life.

Strengths: Peggy’s relationship with Edwin Jarvis. Their oh-so-British banter remained wonderful. The newly revealed and delightful Ana Jarvis. The continued employment of Enver Gjokaj. Chief Thompson’s turn back to the light in the final episodes.

Weaknesses: The Arena Club. Never managing to call Whitney Frost “Madame Masque.” Having ratings that low but still ending on a cliffhanger. Forcing a female lead into a romantic triangle. Spending one whole episode on race relations in the 50s then forgetting about it.

High Point: The Atomic Job. For one episode, Agent Carter became a comic heist flick.

Low Point: A Little Song and Dance. Despite a fun opening musical number, this episode ends with Peggy Carter becoming an “acting tough” version of the simpering girlfriend. Shortly after chastising her ally/would-be suitor Agent Sousa for letting his feelings for her compromise a mission, she allows her feelings for scientist Jason Wilkes to compromise an even more vital mission, risking basically the whole world to protect a man who asked her to let him die. She is not shown the irony.

Tips for next season: At the time of writing there is no next season, but we live in an era of unexpected revivals, the fan campaign to save it is passionate, and frankly, Agent Carter always belonged on Netflix anyway. Short seasons, one plotline, it’s a better fit there than on broadcast. So if the miracle comes… don’t waste it. Found SHIELD. Get it done. You can’t blow this on a third “Peggy Carter goes rogue from the SSR” plot. Two was clearly too many. Imagine a season arc where Peggy reassembles the team from the now-disbanded SSR to solve the cliffhanger from season two, and in the process they become SHIELD. Now that would work.

8. Legends of Tomorrow

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Premise: Rogue Time Master Rip Hunter unites a team of heroes and villains to bring down immortal villain Vandal Savage before he can conquer the world… and kill Rip’s wife and son.

I’ll admit… this one took some time to find its groove. But it was a team adventure featuring some of the best recurring characters of Flash and Arrow, featuring Arthur Darville as a time traveler and Victor Garber as… don’t even care. Love him in everything. That said, Vandal Savage (one of DC’s upper B-list villains who they blended with uninspiring 2000s era Hawkman/Hawkgirl villain Hath-Set) never really clicked as a great villain. And not all of the cast are on Victor Garber’s level. But in the back half, the show really took off. And they managed some impressive twists.

Strengths: Everything/anything Captain Cold. Arthur Darville and Victor Garber. Jonah Hex. The final arc. Wentworth Miller managing to out-badass James Spader with the line “There are no strings on me.”

Weaknesses: Reddit made a running gag out of how often Ray Palmer screwed up. Their habitual abuse of the timeline. Vandal Savage being a lovelorn Egyptian rather than a conquest-hungry caveman. Kendra/Hawkgirl and her frequent reminders of having just been a barista.

High Point: Destiny/Legendary. Legends wraps strong with a strike against the Time Masters, an impressive fight against Savage (in three time periods at once), and a name-drop that has me at the very least excited for another round.

Tips for next season: The last two minutes have my attention. Don’t screw it up. Also maybe make the next female Legend a little stronger than Hawkgirl ended up being.

7. Agents of SHIELD

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Premise: The Agents of SHIELD work with (sometimes against) the government to deal with the rising number of Inhumans caused by a leak of Terrigen, while a branch of Hydra schemes to bring back the One Inhuman to Rule Them All from his exile on a distant planet.

Agents of SHIELD still has two problems. They still burn through plot a little too fast, especially right before the fall finale. A lot of interesting stories got wrapped up in manners too fast and unsatisfying in order to clear the deck before the hiatus. But that’s still better than season one, in which they waited for 16 episodes to even have an interesting plot. Second… they still try to connect themselves to the movies when the movies don’t care about them. They’ve had four movie tie-in episodes in three years and only one of them is good.

Strengths: After three seasons and five radical changes to his character, they finally made a decent villain out of Grant Ward, even if it did involve killing him first. Fitz and Simmons coming together was adorable. Their fight scenes remain impressive.

Weaknesses: Apparently nobody told them that the Civil War movie wasn’t about registering powered people. Guess they wrote their tie-in based on the comics. Like I said, they tossed out too many interesting plots at the fall break. The much-ballyhooed Secret Warriors we’d been promised since the end of season two took forever to show up and were seriously underwhelming. Lincoln the electric Inhuman was never interesting as a character, although they found a way to make his powers interesting to watch in the end. They wrote out two of their best characters way too early for a spinoff that didn’t happen. Although, that said… their cast did need some pruning.

High Point: 4,722 Hours. The show breaks from their format to tell us about how Simmons stayed alive on a hostile planet for… well, it’s right there in the name.

Low Point: Emancipation. The aforementioned Civil War tie-in episode written by people who clearly weren’t shown the Civil War script, ending in a fight between Inhuman heavyweights Hive and Lash that should have been epic but was ultimately disappointing.

Tips for next season: The movie division doesn’t care about you, so stop caring about them. You likely can’t tie-in to Guardians of the Galaxy, so don’t bother trying to tie-in to Dr. Strange. Do like the DCWverse, find a branch of Marvel Kevin Feige doesn’t want (he is still hoarding all the big name Inhumans), and go to town. And do the right thing… bring back Bobbi and Hunter.

6. Arrow

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Premise: After giving up life as the Arrow, Oliver Queen finds himself drawn back to Starling City (now renamed Star City) to join again with his old team behind a new name: the Green Arrow. Just in time to try and prevent magic-powered Damien Darhk and his friends in HIVE from destroying what’s left of the city.

Arrow’s fourth season had its highs and lows. Was it as good as second season? No. Was it still an improvement on season three? Yes. Could they have toned down the Oliver/Felicity drama? Sure. Was it as bad as the malcontents in the Arrow subreddit claim? No. Is anything as bad as that toxic wad of Felicity-hating shitposters claims? No. Screw those guys. There are no actual Arrow fans on r/arrow anymore. The show managed to bounce back from a muddled and emo third season with a more focused (eventually) villain plot, better use of most of its cast, and while Curtis Holt is not quite Ray Palmer (and may never be Mr. Terrific, who by the way is named Michael Holt, why do they do that), he was a solid addition to the cast.

Strengths: Damien Darhk. Curtis. The fight sequences. Oliver beginning to work his head out of his own ass. Finally making good use of Thea as a character. Managing to still have an impact with their fourth major death in four years. And of course, John Constantine.

Weaknesses: While I stand by my dismissal of r/arrow and those who lurk there… I will admit that the Oliver/Felicity drama became a little much this year. Also, the flashbacks are beginning to struggle for relevance. Isn’t a little weird that everything that happens to Oliver in the present mirrors something that happened to him precisely five years ago? And a non-trivial portion of their run-time up until the fall finale was gobbled up in prepping characters for Legends of Tomorrow. But then, the main villain plot never really comes into focus until the fall finale. Hell, we spent the first nine episodes of season two thinking Brother Blood was the main villain…

High point: Haunted. John Constantine fit right into the ensemble. More of that, please.

Low point: Broken Hearts. “Olicity” drama hits its peak as they fake a wedding to lure out a villain targeting happy couples. I’m pretty sure Lois and Clark did this plot better back in the 90s, and that is not something I want to say again.

Tips for next season: Pick a side, people. Oliver and Felicity are together or they’re not. Make a choice, stick to it, and find your drama somewhere other than Felicity’s issues with Oliver’s secrets. Also, consider it a red flag when your episode summaries open with “Felicity and friends,” not “Oliver and the team.” And maybe we can wrap up the flashbacks? I feel you trying to stretch out Oliver’s five years in Hell/on the island beyond five seasons’ worth of flashbacks, and I ask you to reconsider. And please, please, please… we need to see Diggle react to Supergirl, given that he still hasn’t wrapped his head around the Flash.

Soon… a look at the top five.

And we continue. We’ve talked about the best characters, now let’s look at who did the best things with said characters.

That was kind of a thin intro. But let’s face it, these get long. Enough jibber-jabber! Somebody hit something!

Best fight!

Thankfully, we are well past the days of spending an entire season building up a fight between Clark Kent and Doomsday only to have it last thirty seconds and involve Clark tackling Doomsday into a hole offscreen. Even effects-heavy shows like Flash and Supergirl know they need decent fight choreo. Which means this isn’t an easy call to make. But I’m gonna give it a whirl anyway.

(Honourable mention: Hive vs. Daisy in Agents of SHIELD for the blend of fight and power use, the one thing I said they were missing last year)

Bronze: Team Waverider vs Vandal Savage, Legends of Tomorrow, “Legendary”

After a full(ish) season of trying and failing to defeat world-conquerer Vandal Savage, the crew of the Waverider finally have a shot at taking him out: which involves fighting him in three different time periods at once.

For a certain definition of “at once.” Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, speedforce, it just works, okay?

(Obviously it’s a little spoilery, it’s the climax of the entire season.)

Silver: Team Arrow vs. the Ghosts, Arrow, “Brotherhood”

Whatever faults Arrow may or may not have had in its fourth season, they still surely know how to put together an action scene. In season four, Green Arrow and his team have been battling Damien Darhk and his mercenaries, known as the Ghosts. One of those limitless armies of faceless minions I’m often complaining about. But one of them turned out to be less faceless than the others, and Team Arrow hits one of their strongholds in order to extract him. Single-take fights, a single-take fight involving a moving elevator, some of the badder-assed moments for Speedy and the Black Canary, and even the Atom gets in on the fun. Hell of a fight.

Gold: Daredevil vs. an entire biker gang, Daredevil, “New York’s Finest”

Look, everything about the third episode of Daredevil’s second season is pretty great. “New York’s Finest” is Daredevil at its best. In the end, Punisher kicks a hornets’ nest full of angry bikers (no, your metaphor is strained!), and Daredevil is forced to fight his way through them after they threaten the building’s super. It’s the season two answer to season one’s infamous hallway fight. It may not actually be a single take like its predecessor, but it makes up for it by being extra badass. And one of the few season two fight scenes that’s properly lit. Enjoy!

Biggest heartbreak!

You’d think it’d be enough to have people in costumes with powers fight each other in awesome ways. But it is not. They also go and create lovable characters, make you feel for them, and then hurt them in terrible ways. Here’s what I’d call the most heartbreaking examples.

There are some mild spoilers. I mean I’ll do my best but they’re gonna happen. Skip to the next section if you’d rather.

Bronze: A Spy’s Goodbye, Agents of SHIELD, “Parting Shot”

At the beginning of season two, we were introduced to freelancer Lance Hunter and undercover operative Bobbi Morse, known to comics fans as Mockingbird. At first, I wasn’t sure why we were bothering with Hunter (Adrienne Palicki as Bobbi made perfect sense). But before long, ex-spouse spies Hunter and Bobbi became two of the show’s strongest characters.

Halfway through season three, a mission to stop the villainous Gideon Malick from extending Hydra/Hive influence into Russia through a coup d’etat goes wrong, when the general Malick is appealing to turns out to be an Inhuman capable of creating a shadow-self to kill people. In order to save Hunter from the shadow, Bobbi does the only thing she can… she kills the general in front of a half-dozen Russian troops. Leading to her and Hunter’s arrest. Coulson does his best to get them out of custody, but to protect SHIELD, they volunteer to be disavowed, cut off from the agency forever.

At the episode’s end, Bobbi and Hunter try to figure out their next move at a bar, when several shots are delivered to them, one at a time, from the rest of the team. They can’t say anything to Bobbi or Hunter, or have any contact whatsoever, lest the Russians get wind of it and re-connect them to American spy agencies, so they give Bobbi and Hunter “A spy’s goodbye.” A final drink (a parting shot, if you will, hence the episode title) and a silent farewell from each team member in turn, ending with Bobbi and Hunter’s oldest friend, gentle giant Mac, tears brimming in his eyes. His probable last goodbye to the people he’s closest with, and he can’t even say anything due to who could be listening. It’s pretty sad, and made all the sadder by the fact that it turns out they won’t be sailing into their own spinoff this fall.

Silver: Alex confesses, Supergirl, “Solitude”

Alex Danvers was forced to do a bad, bad thing, one she knew that Kara wouldn’t be happy about. To save Alex from Kara’s reaction, her boss Hank Henshaw, director of the DEO, takes the blame. This strains Kara/Supergirl’s working relationship with the DEO in general and Hank in specific, and keeping the secret takes a toll on Alex. Eventually, the toll becomes too much, and even as Kara is begrudgingly agreeing to work with Hank again, Alex breaks. Her voice shaking, she tells Kara exactly what happened, then begins to break down as she admits that she let Hank take the fall because she was afraid of losing her sister.

Kara almost walks out, but love overtakes anger, and she gives a comforting hug to Alex, who then truly breaks down. And when Hank tries to leave, Kara shoots an arm out, stopping him, and taking his hand in a silent moment of… thanks? Apology? Or maybe just respect and acknowledgement. It’s a touching moment only slightly undermined by the fact that in the final wide shot, it looks like Hank really doesn’t want to be there.

Gold: The Big Death, Arrow, [episode redacted]

Right from the end of the season premiere, Arrow was warning us that someone was gonna die this year. Someone major. And when it finally comes, towards the end of the season… they made us feel it. Arrow’s known for big deaths, having offed a major character once per year, but between the character’s final moments and the rest of the cast’s reactions, this one hurt. It hurt a lot. And kept hurting for a while, as the aftershocks hit Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.

That’s really all I can/should say.

Worst recurring tropes!

Taking a break from “Best of” for a second, before I get into “best storyline,” because there have been a few recurring story tropes that are starting to bug me. Not my usual go-to trope complaint, Infinite Respawn, it’s really only Damien Darhk that manages a seemingly infinite army of faceless but expendable soldiers. No, there’s some other things.

Bronze: Abandoned plot points

Now, I’m not talking about plot twists here. Those I’m fine with. They keep things interesting. No, this is something else. I’m talking about episodes that open the door for a potentially interesting storyline, but then the writers just say “Nah, fam,” and keep walking. The plot isn’t twisted, it’s just dropped completely. And it happened more than I’d like.

Prime offenders:

  • The Flash: Two characters are given a clear Origin Moment, but as of the finale, the show has actively rejected the notion that they have powers. Look, if you didn’t want her to be Jesse Quick, you didn’t have to keep calling her that.
  • Agents of SHIELD: Simmons is placed in an awkward position: before she’d been swept away to a far-off planet, she and her lifetime friend Fitz had been planning their first date. But on said planet, things very much heated up between her and Will, the handsome astronaut who helped her stay alive. Fitz vows to save Will… but if he does, who will she choose? Well, don’t worry about it. Will’s dead and Fitz gets to have the catharsis of burning the thing that’s wearing his corpse. Simmons doesn’t have to make choices at all.
  • Also, Coulson’s romance with the head of a rival agency sure ended in a goddamn rush but we’ll get back to that.

Silver: “It’s a trap! But what choice do we have?”

Here’s the scenario. The villain has abducted someone close to the hero. They make their demand. Everyone, literally everyoneespecially us in the audience, senses that this is a) a trap, and b) a terrible idea. But the hero tearfully asks what choice they have, and walks right into the goddamn trap. I mean, at least try. At least try, even a little bit, to outsmart the villain. You know they’re going to betray you, and it’s never a desperate person pulling their last job before retiring, it’s always someone truly dangerous, and you’re just, what, falling for it. You couldn’t make a token effort to betray them first?

Prime offenders:

  • The Flash again: Zoom threatens to kill someone close to Barry’s adoptive dad if Barry doesn’t give Zoom his speed. But, see, Barry… if you do give Zoom your speed, he’s going to use it to kill or torments thousands… no, millions of people that you know about, and you won’t be able to stop him. And Barry does it. Zoom even gave up his hostage first! You didn’t even try to double-cross him, and it got a dozen CCPD officers killed and led to the season’s low point.
  • Lucifer: When the season’s only true recurring villain, a corrupt cop saved from Hell to target Lucifer, kidnaps Detective Chloe Decker’s daughter, she’s determined to do whatever he wants. Even though Lucifer makes clear what we all know… he’ll kill them both anyway. There is no way in which Chloe goes alone and walks out alive, but she refuses to even try to think her way out of it. Fortunately, Lucifer ignores her wants and shows up anyway. Unfortunately, since Chloe’s there, he’s not bulletproof, which causes some issues.
  • Arrow: Damien Darhk kidnaps someone close to Oliver to make him drop out of the mayoral race. To his credit, Oliver at least tries to mount a rescue. Sadly, they blow it, Oliver caves, and a supervillain becomes mayor. But at least he tried.

Gold: Women in refrigerators

Named for the time rookie Green Lantern Kyle Rayner came home to find his girlfriend had been murdered and shoved into the fridge, “Women in refrigerators” refers to the unfortunate trope of female characters being killed to service the plotline of a male character. Superman turns evil because Lois Lane was killed, Vesper dying helps shape James Bond into the man he becomes, that sort of thing. We had a few this year. More than I’d prefer.

Obviously spoilers.

Prime offenders:

  • Agents of SHIELD: RIP Rosalind Price, head of SHIELD’s rival agency the ATCU, whose relationship with Director Coulson went from adversarial to adversarial yet flirtatious to authentically flirtatious to blossoming into a kind of adorable over-40 power couple, which is not something network television embraces often… and then it’s over because she’s dead so that Coulson has the necessary motivation to kill traitor Grant Ward. Because agent Hunter being determined to murder Ward at any cost wasn’t sufficient.
  • Agent Carter: Yes, feminist-loved Agent Carter went to the “Women in refrigerators” place. And not a gender-swapped version, because sorry, MRA crowd, “Men in refrigerators” isn’t a thing since it lacks decades upon decades of gender marginalization to back it up. No, Agent Carter did something else… Ana Jarvis, adorable and supportive wife to Peggy’s partner-in-crime Edwin Jarvis, is shot to cover villainous Whitney Frost’s escape. She lives, but we learn her injuries left her unable to have children. We never see her reaction to this news. Only her husband’s. Ana Jarvis’ potentially life-changing sterilization is a story about how it affects Edwin. We sort of expect better than that from Agent Carter.
  • Arrow: No, not what happened to Felicity. Her story is far too dominant in the back half, sometimes eclipsing Oliver’s, to count for this trope. In fact, this one’s kind of fudging the rules… see, they didn’t kill Argus boss and Suicide Squad engineer Amanda Waller to advance Oliver’s storyline. No, they abruptly killed off Amanda Waller for a far stupider reason: because the Suicide Squad movie’s coming up, and DC Films doesn’t like to share. Weak. Sauce.
  • Legends of Tomorrow: I guess since I’m on this subject, the entire plotline is about Rip Hunter’s wife and child being killed, causing him to go rogue from the Time Masters and do everything he does in the first season. So, you know… there that is.

Enough of that. What did storytellers do right this year?

Best Storyline!

It’s kind of all there in the header. So let’s make this quick.

Bronze: Smile, Jessica Jones

While Daredevil broke its second season into multiple story beats, Jessica Jones was still doing the binge-friendly approach of one story spread over 13 episodes. The entire season, save for one filler episode near the start, is Jessica vs. Kilgrave. And sure it drags in places around the middle, but overall, it works.

Silver: The Secret History of Hank Henshaw, Supergirl

When I heard that the head of the Department of Extranormal Operations on Supergirl would be named Hank Henshaw, I was pretty sure I knew where this was going. You may or may not have noticed from all of the everything, but I’m a long-term DC aficionado. You say Ronnie Raymond, I brace for Firestorm. You say the new barista’s named Kendra Saunders, I know to expect wings and a mace. They said Hank Henshaw, and I thought I knew where we were going. I was wrong. The Berlanti And Friends Cape-based Action Fun Factory hoodwinked me, the way they like to do. And instead of what I expected, they did something pretty great.

Gold: Rise of the Punisher, Daredevil

Simply put, the best story on comic book TV, maybe on TV in general, of last year. Daredevil made some mistakes this year, but everything involving Frank Castle worked like gangbusters. Not much else needs to be said.

Next time, the rankings begin.