Archives

All posts for the month June, 2018

Okay, nerds, it’s on. One season, 12 months, 22 shows submitted for consideration… well, “watched” is probably a better term… And now, for your reading pleasure and because I seem to enjoy it enough to maintain a massive spreadsheet tracking everything, it’s time for the biggest edition yet of Tales From Parts Unknown’s Annual Best of Comic TV Award Show*!

(*Not a show. It’s a blog. I shouldn’t have started this by lying to you.)

So, without a bunch of ado, here’s a quick list of this year’s competitors, with links to my write-ups where they exist.

Agents of SHIELD, season 5
Arrow, season 6
Black Lightning, season 1
Crisis on Earth X. Not technically a series, so it won’t be in the final rankings, but it’s really more its own thing than individual episodes of the four CW superhero shows, so we’ll call it separate as far as awards go.
The Defenders

The End of the F***ing World
The Flash, season 4
The Gifted, season 1
Gotham, season 4
Inhumans
iZombie, season 4
Jessica Jones, season 2
Krypton,season 1
Legends of Tomorrow, season 3
Legion, season 2
Lucifer, season 3
Luke Cage, season 2
Preacher, season 2
The Punisher, season 1
Riverdale, season 2
Runaways, season 1
Supergirl, season 3
The Tick, season 1

Woof. That’s a lot. Welp, let’s get this party started. With what I’m going to assume it everyone’s favourite category, based on absolutely no information.

Best Fight Scene!

Because why wouldn’t this be your favourite? We’re talking about some of the most impressive sequences on television in here. And these three stood out.

Honourable mentions: Lucifer unleashing his wings (which he’d spent the season resenting) to protect Chloe and take down the minions of the Sinnerman might be Lucifer’s most visually stunning scene; Crisis on Earth X managed some epic action beats, but the honourable mention goes to Ray Palmer’s entrance for being the entire television season’s best stand-up-and-cheer moment; Black Lightning’s assault on Lala’s condo showed us what the electric hero was capable of.

Bronze: The Obligatory Hallway Fight, Defenders, “Worst Behaviour”

Ever since Daredevil set the gold standard with its epic single-take hallway fight, every Marvel Netflix show feels the need to have a hallway fight of its own. But this time they impressed, not just in terms of choreo, but in use of music (the hip hop beat enters the score seconds before Luke Cage makes his entrance) and in the fact that for a change they made it as well-lit as they could. 

Silver: David vs. The Shadow King, Legion, “Chapter 19”

David Haller and Amahl Farouk have technically been acquainted for David’s entire life, since Farouk used to live in the back of David’s mind, but as season two comes to a close, they finally come flesh face to flesh face for the first time. And what follows is a telepathic duel which… describing it would be a disservice. Merciful Zod but it is a thing and a half to see.

Gold: The Billy Joel Fight, Preacher, “Viktor”

Finding out that his one love, Tulip, has been taken by New Orleans gang lord Viktor Kruglov, Jesse Custer goes on a rampage to find her. A rampage that leads him to Viktor’s chief torturer, who accidentally manages immunity to Jesse’s powers by putting on headphones and cranking Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” This scene… this scene is everything that makes Preacher’s fight scenes the best in the business. It doesn’t even need to be set to “Uptown Girl” to work, but the fact that it is brings it to a whole other level.

Biggest Heartbreak!

Sometimes a show makes you laugh. Sometimes it makes you cheer. Sometimes it thrills you with an action sequence. And sometimes it reaches into your chest and rips out your heart.

I mean obviously there are spoilers.

Jesus. How could there not be spoilers. Meet me at “Best Story” if you don’t want to get spoiled on some painful, painful death scenes.

Honourable mentions: Rip Hunter’s farewell to Legends of Tomorrow involved emotional goodbyes to his former ship’s AI, Gideon, and to Sara Lance, ending in “I should very much like to see my wife and son again,” before he sacrificed himself to buy the Legends some time; the damage done to Trish and Jessica’s friendship by her choice in the season finale of Jessica Jones was pretty heartwrenching. But these are the three that hurt the most.

Oh god. Just writing about them is… could whoever is cutting onions in here knock it off, please?

Bronze: Cain’s victim, Lucifer, “Quintessential Deckerstar”

Image: Warner Bros.

As Lucifer’s third season draws to its climax, Cain is eager to regain the Mark (and accompanying immortality) that he spent so much of the season trying to lose. He’s changed his mind about dying, and thinks the best way to regain the curse of immortality is to kill God’s favourite angel, Amenadiel. But someone else takes the bullet: Charlotte Richards, who’d been seeking redemption ever since she got her body back from the Goddess that had commandeered it last season. Her death cuts the whole cast deeply, but before most of them can react, a miracle happens: Amenadiel regains his wings, absent since early season two. And with a simple statement of “Let’s go home,” he carries Charlotte to her rest.

You’re just going to have to trust me that the waffle iron bracelet is significant, I do not have time to go into that.

Silver: Goodbye to Isobel, iZombie, “Insane in the Germ Brain”

Image: CW

We hadn’t known Isobel long. A teen girl who had had herself smuggled into New Seattle in the hopes of having the zombie virus replace the lethal, incurable disease she was suffering from. Instead, she turned out to be the first case of zombie immunity. Potentially good for mankind, not so good for anyone who wanted Isobel to live to see Infinity War. Ravi and Liv did their best to make her remaining days special, including a date with the star of their favourite show Zombie High, which went better than Ravi approved of… and finally Ravi agreed to teach her to drive. One day too late. After an episode full of Isobel playing dead as a prank, Ravi arrives at Liv’s apartment to find that Isobel isn’t playing this time.

And Rahul Kohli tore our hearts out.

AGH. Why did I rewatch that. Excuse me, I need a minute… it is really dusty in here…

Gold: The Big Death, Crisis on Earth-X

I’m not embedding a video.

I’m not finding a picture.

I can’t. Not this one.

Just know that as one of the original Legends of Tomorrow cast prepared to shuffle off the mortal coil, I was literally screaming “Don’t do this to me” at the screen. In vain. They did that to me.

Fine. Here it isWhy did I do this to myself.

Next goddamn category.

Best Story!

From mini-arcs to character arcs to seasonal arcs, these are where comic TV did its best storytelling Jax wasn’t ready for him to go I wasn’t ready how could anybody be ready no, no, moving on, “Biggest Heartbreak” is done, I’m okay, we’re all okay…

Honourable mention: Thunder’s origin story, from discovering her powers to donning her proper super suit on Black Lightning; the reluctant resurrection of Lenny on Legion.

Bronze: Ray and Nora, Legends of Tomorrow

Image: CW

He’s the world’s most cheerful and optimistic superhero, she’s the daughter of a mass murderer raised to unleash a time demon on all of history, and somehow they brought delightful screwball comedy to what was already one of the season’s most fun shows.

Ray Palmer developed a nanotech gun to bring down magical assassin Damien Darhk, but ends up shooting his daughter Nora instead. This sends Ray, the Waverider’s most decent soul, into a spiral of guilt. See, a couple of episodes back he’d met Nora as a child, when she was a sweet, innocent kid just hoping to stop being possessed by a demon all the time. And considering one of Ray’s best friends used to be a thief and arsonist, and now fights to protect history, how can he condemn Nora to a slow, painful, nanite death when there’s a chance that sweet kid is still in there somewhere? What seems like a classic Ray Blunder is actually a sweet moment of compassion that begins a whole new relationship for Ray and Nora. To her occasional chagrin.

It’s never a romantic arc, but it’s a sweet one, since Ray never gives up hope that Nora can be redeemed, and real-life spouses Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford make a hilarious duo throughout “Daddy Darhkest.” I’m looking forward to where they take it from here, now that Nora’s been signed as a full regular for season four.

Silver: Crisis on Earth X

Image: CW

The biggest CW crossover yet was filled with laughter, tears, character combos I’ve been waiting years to see, impressive action sequences, and thrills, all with a central theme of love and connection. It’s gonna be hard to top, although heading to Gotham and introducing Batwoman is a good start. It was everything a superhero crossover should be.

And now we all try to avoid eye contact with Defenders.

Also fun? Watching what each show did to free up filming time for the main crossover characters.

Gold: Hogarth’s Revenge, Jessica Jones

Image: Netflix

Diagnosed with ALS, Jeri Hogarth is facing an early end… which means this is the exact wrong time to screw her over. Jeri’s spiral into depression and resurgence into revenge is one of the most riveting things about Jessica Jones’ second season, thanks mostly to a stellar performance from Carrie-Anne Moss. So much so that I never once cared how disconnected it was from anything else happening.

Okay… that’s some things shows did well, what did a whole bunch of shows do badly?

Worst Trend

You know what’s worse than a bad plot point? A bad plot point you have to watch five variations of over the course of the year.

Bronze: Siloing

What the hell is Adam Strange doing in Krypton? He’s not a time travel character, Zeta beams don’t send you through time. No, he’s on this show because somebody up the ladder wouldn’t let them use Booster Gold, and they couldn’t just use Rip Hunter because heaven forbid Krypton share a character with Legends of Tomorrow. (Look, I don’t know that Arthur Darville would have done it, but it does seem to film in England, that would have helped.)

Not so long ago everyone wanted a Marvel-style cinematic universe where all their IPs were connected, but as the cracks between Marvel’s TV and film branches grow wider, suddenly everyone’s going the Fox X-Men route, with no shred of shared continuity. The Gifted and Legion will never cross over, just like how Logan, Deadpool, and New Mutants are completely separate.

DC has the Arrowverse, arguably the most successfully interconnected TV universe, but it doesn’t include everything. Gotham and Krypton are in their own separate worlds, the upcoming Titans and Doom Patrol shows will be in their own world which may or may not include Swamp Thing, we still don’t know where Black Lightning fits I know DC’s big on multiverses but this is more continuities than they need.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, the Netflix shows still won’t say “Hulk” out loud, won’t include Avengers Tower in the skyline, don’t acknowledge that they share a city with Spider-Man, and only begrudgingly and very vaguely refer to anything from the movies; Agents of SHIELD name drops the movies whenever they can but gets referenced by nobody in return, not even Inhumans, and man could Inhumans have used the shot in the arm a few SHIELD guest stars could have provided; and Runaways is entirely self-contained, without so much as a Stark Industries billboard to be seen.

Trying to connect film and television universes remains a fool’s errand, but the real problem is that every time they do this, every time they build a new silo that’s forbidden to touch the others, it means certain characters are being locked away from appearing on any other show. These characters are just on The Gifted, these characters are reserved for Marvel Netflix, these characters can only be in the movies, and that creates limitations that rob us, the viewers.

Spider-Man can’t fight the Kingpin (we’ll be lucky if Kingpin meets Luke Cage, and at this point he ought to), Supergirl can’t tell Seg-El that his grandson isn’t his only legacy, Green Arrow will not be leading an all-new Suicide Squad, Professor Xavier’s son and Magneto’s daughter can’t meet each other or say their fathers’ names out loud, Adam Strange is doing his best Booster Gold impression on Krypton, and Marvel’s two shows about Inhumans have nothing to do with each other. There’s no need for them to tie their own hands this way, but they just keep doing it.

Silver: “I’m ten moves ahead and you don’t even know the game”

When Prometheus had spent years setting up a master-plan to destroy Oliver Queen, planning every move to counter anything Team Arrow might attempt, it made for a solid season. When Ricardo Diaz somehow did the same thing without Prometheus’ personal connection to Oliver’s past, it was less impressive. Throw in The Thinker on The Flash, a little bit Starr on Preacher, the seemingly unstoppable Hiram Lodge on Riverdale, and to a lesser extent Sofia Falcone and whoever else is out-thinking Jim Gordon this week on Gotham, and I’m getting a little over nigh-unbeatable masterminds.

Cheers to The Tick for subverting this one. The Terror claims to be another inscrutable mastermind, having planned out every part of the season’s events like a master jazz musician, but it turns out that he’s a jazz musician in the sense that he’s been making this all up as he went and claiming it was a master plan. More of that, please.

Gold: Heroes behind bars

I have never, once, not ever, seen the main character of the show I’m watching get sent to jail and thought “Well this is an interesting turn of events, I wonder what story-doors this will open!” Never. Not even on Orange is the New Black, where the lead character going to prison is the first thing that happens and opened up literally every story they told. I am far more likely to think “Damn it, how many episodes of Jake Peralta in prison are you going to make me sit through? I’ll just catch up when you’re done.”

Ten different comic shows put at least one of their protagonists behind bars at some point. Ten. That’s a lot. Eleven had cops/authorities who couldn’t be trusted. Three made “lead character is under arrest” their season finale cliffhanger. Two framed their lead character for murder. Almost three, but the frame attempt on Alfred Pennyworth didn’t stick.

Some of these were better done than others, some of them made corruption in law enforcement a vital part of their story, but when there are this damned many the good ones get a little drowned out.

Cheers to The Tick for avoiding this one by giving superheros in its world an easy out when dealing with the police.

Okay. Back to the positive to wrap Part One up.

Best Musical Interlude!

New category, because so many shows decided to step up to this particular plate.

Honourable mentions: Legends of Tomorrow for choreographing Damien Darhk’s return to life and magical murder to “Return of the Mack;” Riverdale for devoting an episode to Carrie: The Musical, which I’d heard was a legendary bomb. Still, it’s less special when Riverdale does a musical number, because “Let’s do a song” is Veronica and Archie’s answer to everything.

These three, on the other hand, were special.

Bronze: Careless Whisper, Legends of Tomorrow, “The Curse of the Earth Totem”

Rip Hunter, now a fugitive from his own Time Agency, bonds with Kid Flash over Cisco Ramon’s patented speedster-strength alcohol, manages to steal a time portal from the hapless Agent Gary, and he and Kid Flash escape into history.

“He could be anywhere, any time, causing a whole mess of problems,” says Rip’s ex-protege Ava Sharpe. And where/when was he?

Forget the stupid “Snyder Cut,” which probably doesn’t even exist. Give me a full version of that.

Sure it’s short, but Arthur Darville’s commitment to overdramatic drunken karaoke is killer.

How to improve on that? Make it a montage.

Silver: Karaoke night, Supergirl, “Schott Through the Heart”

What really makes this one work is that several of the cast, including legit Broadway stars Melissa Benoist and Jeremy Jordan, are deliberately singing below their ability (or hamming their way through the Beastie Boys) to make this sequence a true “co-workers karaoke night” and not a “musical theatre kids karaoke night,” Observe, and delight.

Gold: “Behind Blue Eyes,” Legion, “Chapter 19”

Yes we covered this one above in “Best Fight Scene” but it is both and it was amazing. And the song choice turns out to be very fitting. David’s love is vengeance, and they may never be free.

(The captions help, since Farouk is doing his verse in Farsi.)

Yes I embedded that same video twice, and I stand by that decision.

Ahhh. That helped. That took the edge off of all those ‘Biggest Heartbreak” clips. Okay. Next time, the best characters!

 

Okay. One more before the awards and rankings begin. One last-second entry in the race. Let’s do this.

Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.

This instalment: Luke Cage is back with a more coherent season.

Short version: The first Marvel Netflix show to improve in its second outing fixes a lot of its old problems, but chooses not to learn about pacing.

Luke Cage, everybody.

Premise

Following the events of The Defenders, Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Hero of Harlem, is back to trying to bring down his old enemies, Councilwoman-turned-gang lord Mariah Dillard née Stokes (Alfre Woodard) and her chief henchman/lover Shades (Theo Rossi). But before long, Luke’s stuck in the middle of a war between Mariah and a Jamaican gang lord calling himself Bushmaster. He’s as strong and bulletproof as Luke, only faster and with some actual fighting skill. The Stokes family has been wronging Bushmaster’s family for generations, and now he’s out to finish off the Stokes clan once and for all. Which, at the moment, is just Mariah. Also, something about Luke just bugs the guy.

When heads start rolling (literally) and blood starts spilling, how will Luke protect Harlem?

The answer is “gradually.”

Strengths

Misty Knight: After one season of Luke Cage and one of Defenders, it looks like they’re finally figuring out how to write Misty Knight, freshly returned to the NYPD after some time away. As she chafes against a department that doesn’t seem to want her, the aftermath of her partner turning out to be corrupt, an old rival determined to keep her sidelined, and being short an arm in the wake of Defenders, Misty’s having some trouble finding her purpose, and even more trouble finding a way to sort out this gang war within the law. Some of which is aided mid-season by a shiny new robot arm from Danny Rand. Simone Missick does a good job with the role, and between her and Punsiher’s Dinah Madani, it looks like Marvel Netflix might be figuring out the Badass Female Co-Leads they like so much. Maybe even Iron Fist will manage to hahahaha sorry, sorry, I thought I could get through it.

Stokes vs Bushmaster: The real heart of the season’s story is Bushmaster’s blood feud with Mariah, And maybe it has one too many turns along the way, but overall it works. Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi, and Mustafa Shakir surely act the Hell out of it, especially Woodard. Mariah’s fall began in season one, but in season two she is absolutely unhinged and it’s clear Woodard is having a blast with it. In lesser hands, Luke being forced to change allegiance between them over the course of the season wouldn’t have worked, but to me it honestly felt like Luke being backed into a corner, never knowing who’s the lesser of two evils, or how to keep the innocents of Harlem safe.

And Shades goes on a fun journey in the back third.

Racial politics: They don’t hammer us with “Life sucks for black people in America,” but they get their message across, particularly with Luke’s response to Misty questioning his disregard for the law… “When has the law ever helped us?”

The theme of “The name you chose vs the name you were born with” works well across multiple characters.

Mike Colter’s still pretty solid in the role.

The threat of Judas bullets, the one bullet that could kill Luke, is elegantly erased early on. Which is good, because it lets Bushmaster and Mariah prove that there are so many more interesting ways to hurt the bulletproof black man than “better guns.”

This season ends not on a cliffhanger, per se, but an unsettling note, and unlike last season it’s not going to be thrown out during the first episode of a different series. Improvement.

And in his one appearance, Danny Rand is the least annoying he’s ever been. Still slightly annoying, since he can’t get through a scene without bringing up chi and K’un-Lun, but a definite improvement. The Power Man and Iron Fist team-up still works better than Iron Fist’s first season implied it would.

Weaknesses

Pacing, always pacing: In an interview with EW, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker defended the season’s pacing, saying that trying to make each episode worth watching individually is “Brittany Spears shit,” trying to make a “pop album,” while his slow-burn approach is more Coltrane or Led Zeppelin. He’s not trying to make hit singles, he’s trying to make an album to experience in its entirety. And that critics who think he needed a shorter episode count would have “edited Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Well la-de-freakin-dah.

This isn’t a 75 minute double-album, this is a 13 hour TV show, so that does not excuse the pacing problems. Allow me to elaborate. Lightning round!

-In the beginning, Luke’s trying to track down heroin being sold under his name; Mariah and Shades are trying to go legit; to aid with this, Mariah reaches out to her estranged daughter Tilda; Misty’s trying to fit back in to her old precinct despite the missing arm and notoriously crooked late partner; Claire Temple is concerned that Luke’s anger is getting the best of him; and Bushmaster is preparing to take his revenge on Mariah. Does any of that seem like it needs three episodes to cover? Because they sure took three episodes to cover it all. Gotham could have done it in one. Do not let yourself be unfavourably compared to Gotham.
-Also that Luke Cage-brand heroin just vanished. I’m still not sure who was behind it or why.
-Given that every time Luke or Misty tries to go to Mariah for information, all they get is verbal abuse and mind games, the sixth or seventh time it happened it started to get old. That is wheel-spinning nonsense.
-Episode eleven features multiple flashbacks to Bushmaster’s backstory. Episode eleven. That is too late in the game, way too late. Even if any of this was new information (it was not), we would have been well past caring exactly how his hatred for the Stokes clan began. In fact, I was now 100% on board with whatever he had to do to bring Mariah down. “Show don’t tell” does not mean “Tell, and then five episodes later get around to showing.”
-The one-episode team-up of Luke Cage and Iron Fist works well, but it also lifts right out. He doesn’t teach Luke how to fight better, or take on some actual dangerous minion of either side, he just drops by for a week to talk about chi and stillness and have one admittedly fun action scene against random goons before heading back downtown right before Luke really needed backup. Episodes 10 and 11 out of 13 are no place for filler.

If just one Marvel Netflix show properly used 13 episodes, maybe we could talk about jazz vs pop, but as it is, y’all need help. Moving along…

The further collapse of Claire Temple: Claire used to be Marvel Netflix’s MVP. But not lately. She was diminished by Iron Fist, started to recover in Defenders, but… if she’s going to be a thing in this franchise, she really needs something to do besides show up and tell the protagonists that they aren’t heroing right. That’s… basically all she does, regardless of the show. “Don’t kill people, Iron Fist. Be less aggressive, Luke Cage. I have no wants of my own, I serve the male hero’s* arc and then leave.” Her difficulties with Luke’s anger come from a real place, and there is a heartfelt and powerful scene explaining why she can’t be around him when he’s so driven by anger, but her constant pressure on him to reconcile with his father (that’s also a plotline, forgot about that one) seems less like her knowing Luke needs this, and more like Claire projecting her own issues onto Luke and not seeming to care about his feelings at all, and so even if she’s right she went about it the wrong way and never got taken to the mat on it.

*She’s been in all of one episode of Jessica Jones, that’s why I said “male hero.”

Other random notes…
-Hanging a lampshade on your refusal to say “Hulk” out loud does not excuse refusing to say “Hulk” out loud.
-In the finale, Luke says he needs to “make Harlem great again,” which, ew, Black Lightning knew to only have the bad guys say that, and then later they make a very blatant Godfather homage. Pick a metaphor. Trump or Corleone. They don’t mix.
-I don’t understand why Mariah thinks Harlem always supports her and always will when we saw how fast Harlem turned on Luke for losing one fight.
-Alfre Woodard’s performance is good for the most part, but it leaned a little close to Fish Mooney levels of camp. That’s too much camp for this show. She hits Maximum Mariah by episode ten and then had nowhere to take it for the next three hours.
-“There’s a bulletproof black man, Misty, protocol is out the window.” Please. If this was in the same universe as all the other Marvel properties, Luke isn’t even in the top five oddest things that have happened in New York.

High Point

Episode nine, “For Pete’s Sake,” in which compromises are made, deals are struck, parent/child relationships are either repaired or destroyed, Tilda learns a horrifying secret about her past, and Luke and Bushmaster square off for a rematch. Would have made a decent season finale. Their actual season finale is fine, this isn’t another Iron Fist situation where the actually decent finale was followed by an hour of nonsense, but episode nine worked well.

Low Point

Episode eleven, “The Creator,” had me wishing Danny Rand had stuck around. That’s not a great sign. I repeat: the second-to-last (or antepenultimate, which is a fun word) episode is too goddamn late to be flashing back to the villain’s childhood.

MVP

Simone Missick as Misty Knight. They’ve set up some interesting conflicts between her and Luke for next season.

Tips For Next Season

Since they’ve made it clear shouts of “Episodic narrative, figure it out” are going nowhere… You’re going to consider bringing back Diamondback next season. Fight it. Fight that urge.

Overall Grade: Bish

I liked more of it than I didn’t, and they fixed a lot of season one’s problems, but I still dream of a Marvel Netflix show with no nonsense or wheel-spinning.

Okay! Finally time to get down to the annual award show blogs! …What’s that? I said I’d put Gotham back in the rankings? And I still have how many season four episodes left?

MOTHERF–

Image: Netflix

Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.

This instalment: Got a few more quick entries to knock off here.

Short version: And now, five shows with nothing in common except “Based on the comic book.”

Let’s continue.

Legion

Image: FX

Why haven’t I written a full blog about Legion, you might ask? I mean… you haven’t. I know that. Nobody has asked that, I’m just saying you might. It’s an incredibly rich, thoroughly innovative show that isn’t just unlike other comic TV, it’s pushing the boundaries for television in general.

But therein lies the problem.

There is so much to this show. Nearly every episode of season two, and most of season one, has so much to unpack in terms of story, visuals, how Noah Hawley is challenging our every expectation, that I couldn’t possibly cover it in a single blog post. I can sum it up in a speed round or I can do a podcast where we drill deep into every episode. There’s an episode where after David, our central character, suffers a stunning and tragic loss, we break from the story as we knew it to see a half dozen other ways David’s life could have gone, only to realize that all of these alternate paths are David processing his grief. I could spend a whole post on that episode. So for now, here’s the highlights, and simply know that in not watching it you’re doing yourself a disservice.

What are the basics? In season one, at some impossible-to-name point in the 70s or 80s, mental patient David Haller finds love with a fellow patient, Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller), then finds out he’s not crazy, he’s an incredibly powerful mutant telepath/telekinetic (teleporter, question mark?). On the run from mutant-hunting government agents Division 3, David joins the Summerland group, a team of mutants led by Melanie Bird (Amy Smart), wife of another telepath Oliver Bird (a delightful Jemaine Clement), and learns that the reason he’s felt crazy all of his life is that since birth, the malevolent telepath Amahl Farouk, aka the Shadow King, has been living in the back of his mind.

And it all gets even stranger than it sounds.

Season two. After finding out he’s lost a year since we last saw him, David rejoins his mutant friends, who have now gone to work with their former enemies Division 3. The Shadow King, no longer in David’s mind, is out to find and reunite with his old body. Which it’s generally agreed would be bad. Thus, Division 3 and the Summerland mutants work together to hunt him down… but a version of Syd from the future wants David to help Farouk get to his body.

And it all gets even weirder. And makes us question how much of the premise and actions of season one we really understood or can trust.

What went right? Most things. The cast was all strong this year, although Amy Smart got a little sidelined, which is unfortunate. The art design, aesthetics, every frame has a style to it… a style often custom-engineered to make the viewer uneasy. The soundtrack was great, featuring several amazing cover songs.

There’s so much. There’s so much. Jon Hamm narrating lectures on delusion, madness, mental illness as plague, that all pay off… and then keep going a little? And then pay off again. Dan Stevens’ performance. Hamish Linklater’s continuing transformation from generic villain to tragic hero. David’s dance fight against the Shadow King’s posse. Navid Neghaban’s complex, layered performance as Farouk, done with hiding behind masks. Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder as Cary and Kerry Loudermilk. So much. Nobody, nobody is testing the limits of what comic book TV can be like Legion.

That said.

What went wrong? I can’t explain without a certain amount of spoilers. So… read at your own risk.

Season two finale spoilers

Now… this isn’t ALL bad. Noah Hawley’s onto something with one of the issues his finale raises: did we just assume David is a hero because he was fighting a villain? Should we? But I have some issues here. Lots of shows do the bit where the villain turns the hero’s allies against them, and many do it the way Farouk does here. By revealing secrets the hero had kept, and twisting half-truths and some deceits buried inside them to turn allies into enemies. Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Preacher, Luke Cage, Legends of Tomorrow… hell, Gotham does it multiple times a year. But the villain isn’t supposed to be RIGHT. There’s supposed to be a way to walk it back. It’s not supposed to take the one relationship that has been the show’s beating heart since the pilot and make us wonder if it was ever what we thought, or if it were something else, something horrifyingly different. Basically… you can twist a plot so hard that it moves past being a shock and becomes a betrayal. A betrayal of the audience, taking away the narrative conventions that let us keep a grip on all of this weirdness and leaving us adrift.

[collapse]

In short… the finale pulled a cliffhanger that was truly unsettling. And not “How many episodes of Jake Peralta in jail are they going to make me sit through” unsettling, but “Can I still trust this show, or could I ever trust this show?” unsettling.

Still… you can’t love a show for defying all conventions and then decry it for not caring about simple, black-and-white, good guy vs bad guy narratives. Just… they did some things I didn’t care for.

Also “designing an entire season to erode viewer comfort” might not be a strength of the show to everyone.

What should they have done? Well… I don’t want to say “Don’t have done that thing at the end” until I see how season three plays out.

Let’s move on to something simpler.

Supergirl

Image: CW

What are the basics? Our theme this year is “family.” Alex Danvers breaks up with the first great love of her life, Maggie Sawyer, over a disagreement about having kids down the road. Winn Schott confronts issues with his estranged parents, including one supervillain. J’onn J’onzz has an unexpected reunion with his father, only to face losing him a second time to… let’s just call it Martian Alzheimer’s. Lena Luthor and our central character, Kara Danvers, try to cling to the surrogate family of everyone I just mentioned, especially since Kara is still getting over losing her boyfriend, Mon-El. But before long things get shaken up. Turns out Mon-El went to the future, where he joined the 31st century’s greatest superteam, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and he’s come back to the past with two teammates: the hyper-intelligent Brainiac 5 and the telepath of Titan, Imra Ardeen, aka Saturn Girl… aka Mon-El’s wife.

More troubling… Samantha Arias, Lena’s second-in-command and latest member of the Danvers extended family (along with her teen daughter), is slowly transforming into Reign, a Kryptonian killing machine known as a Worldkiller. The name is not a hyperbole. Supergirl and the DEO, along with Lena Luthor, try to save Sam from fully becoming Reign, and in the process save the world.

What went right? The cast is still quite charming. Melissa Benoist is great, Jeremy Jordan is super charming, Chyler Leigh is funny and kickass and has ugly-crying-superpowers. Katie McGrath is still killing it as Lena, although I think she might have gotten worse at hiding her Irish accent. Which… that isn’t actually a negative for me, just saying.

I’m liking the new, matured, more confidently heroic Mon-El, and his Legion of Super-Heroes teammates were very well cast. Imra’s good and Brainy’s funny. [Sidebar: More Brainy next season? Yay! Wait… less Winn? Not yay.] Odette Annabelle, who I’ve liked since Cloverfield and even managed to enjoy in the final, half-assed season of House, does great work in the double role of Sam and Reign. Plus Adrian Pasdar dropped by for a few episodes as Lena’s rival, the corrupt media mogul Morgan Edge. Shame he had to drop off the radar halfway through, but it did free him up to go back to Agents of SHIELD.

The Reign arc has a lot of stages. It’s not oppressively static like, say, The Thinker over on The Flash.

Of all the CW shows that don’t rhyme with “Smack Smightling,” Supergirl does the best at tackling political topics. Race relations, immigrant struggles, LGBTQ+ issues, and a much more successful take on gun problems than Arrow managed last year. Something about the exchange between Lena and James made it feel more like a debate and not simply hammering talking points. It might be Katie McGrath, she can sell a great deal.

Everyone staring as Kara, ready to leap into action, slowly unbuttons her shirt instead of dramatically ripping it open. “What?” she asks. “I like this shirt!”

What went wrong? It does feel like Morgan Edge was there to kill time until the Reign arc was ready for its second act. And once Reign had surfaced, he was sent off to prison. Wished off to the same cornfield as Maxwell Lord and Snapper Carr before him.

They are still working on how to use James Olsen. It’s getting better. James and Lena started hitting it off, causing problems for James when Lena and Supergirl had a falling out.

Sam became besties with Kara and Alex a little quick. Like, right away. I feel like she’d known the gang one episode before everyone was lining up to be surrogate aunts to Sam’s daughter Ruby (I’m also lukewarm on Ruby as a character, though I see her value as a plot point). It was like Danny McBride at the end of Pineapple Express*.

And if the DEO develops earplugs that neutralize someone’s scream power, have them remember to bring said earplugs when they’re likely to run into that person.

*Remember? They all go out for breakfast, and Seth Rogen and James Franco are best pals now, and then Danny McBride says “Can I be best friends with you guys too?” and they say sure, ’cause they’re all high, and suddenly we’re pretending he was an equal part of the movie and not, at best, the Leo Getz to their Riggs and Murtaugh**, and then he’s also on the posters, and maybe it’s just because Eastbound and Down had become a thing, but that’s how they thought they could do a follow-up with just McBride and Franco and it was Your Highness and it was awful and you know Natalie Portman at one point thought “I showed my ass in a thong for this?” I’m sure you all know exactly what I mean. Anyway Sam becoming instant co-best friends with Kara and Lena, while important for the story, felt a little like that.

**Oh, just Google it if you don’t know.

What should they have done? I guess if I were to dig into it, maybe a first act that paid off later in the season, rather than a bunch of Morgan Edge stuff that stops mattering halfway through the year. Oh, and no more villains with magic screaming powers. Especially no more villains with screaming powers that are somehow still a threat after the DEO develops a countermeasure.

Supergirl’s fun and charming and unabashedly liberal. Maybe there are a few more ways to nudge it from good to great, but they’re eluding me right now.

Riverdale

Image: CW

…What even is this show? Why is this show? And why can’t I stop watching it?

What are the basics? Riverdale, the town with pep… no, you know what, you can’t just tell people what happens on Riverdale. Any description of plot points ends up sounding like you’re making fun of the show. I’ll demonstrate. I’ll describe two plots, one of which is real, one of which is a parody, and you guess which is which.

Jughead, as gang leader of the Southside Serpents, challenges the leader of the rvial gang the Ghoulies to a drag race for gang supremacy in order to stem their sale of the party drug jungle-jangle, but Archie gets involved and things go both fast and furious.

In an attempt to win over Veronica’s stern father, Archie gives up football to go out for the wrestling team. When that doesn’t work, he tries joining the mafia and helping defend against Montreal drug lord Papa Poutine.

So… which one is real?

Trick question. They both are. Even… especially the parts about Papa Poutine and jingle-jangle. Jingle-jangle is discussed in serious tones all season and by god the cast commit to it. They take the existence of a drug called jingle-jangle that’s served in pixie sticks deadly seriously. And that, readers, is what ultimately works about this show.

They know exactly what show they’re making. They’re making a trashy soap filled with noir mysteries, gothic heroines, vigilante gangs, hooded would-be serial killers (for all of his menace the Black Hood’s success rate is so-so), and a crime lord trying to corrupt and conquer what we’re told used to be a quaint and innocent town, and for some reason they are doing it with Archie characters. I don’t know why the creative head of Archie Comics went to Greg Berlanti and said “I want to make a hybrid of Veronica Mars and Dark Shadows and I want to do it with Archie characters, want to help?” but I’m beginning to see why Berlanti said “Absolutely I do.”

This show is compulsively watchable. Maybe not always (often?) good, per se, but very watchable. It gets into your head, man. You just need to know where they’re going with this.

That said… Season one started with the murder of a teenager and descended into evil nunneries, Archie banging his sex predator music teacher, gang life, secret drug empires, and a little bit of incest. Keep all of that in mind and then hear me when I say that season two got dark.

I didn’t care for Archie’s slide into darkness. Archie’s unflinching goodness, albeit cut with a certain amount of standard teenage dickishness, was one of the strengths of season one, and now he’s forming posses and starting gang fights and joining the mob. Quite the turnaround.

I also don’t like that evil mostly wins here. Sure the Black Hood is caught, but Hiram Lodge’s Sinister Plan to Rule All Riverdale seems to be proceeding unopposed. Well, except for alienating his family, but that’s neither here nor there, and we’ll see if his wife Hermione stays against him for long. Hiram’s got total control now, and it’s not like Betty and Jughead can just call the FBI. If Arrow taught us anything it’s that the FBI won’t take down a criminal organization that has seized control of a city’s government and police unless they also get to arrest a vigilante who is trying his best.

Sorry to be back on that but goddamn Agent Watson, check your priorities.

Okay. Two more. Let’s put the “speed” back in “speed round” so we’re not doing three of these. Time for zombie murders!

iZombie

Image: CW

What are the basics? Zombies are not out in the open, since rogue elements of zombie military group Fillmore Graves created thousands of zombies in Seattle. The city is now walled off from the rest of the country, and human/zombie relations are not at an all-time high. In between solving murders with her partner Clive Babineaux, medical examiner Liv Moore finds a new cause: smuggling humans into Seattle so that zombieism can cure their fatal illnesses. Creating new zombies is an act which carries a death sentence, as thanks to certain parties skimming brains for the black market, Fillmore Graves is struggling to keep the zombie population fed as it is. Which creates opportunities for Seattle’s OG morally shady zombie entrepreneur, Blaine DeBeers, and his father Angus, who escapes captivity at the bottom of a well, turns out to have gone crazy in said well, and starts preaching to hungry zombies that humans are naught but food. So… that’s not helping keep the peace.

Geez. For a 13 episode season there was a lot going on this year.

What went right?
-Liv’s boss/confidant Ravi’s attempted zombie vaccine from last season means he goes zombie for about five days out of every month, and his eating brains results in nudist Ravi, heroin addict Ravi, and Instagram diva Ravi, and Rahul Kohli was nailing it.
-What a thoroughly entertaining cast this show has.
-All the lampshade-hang meta-jokes from “Yippee Ki Brain, Motherscratcher!”
-Highest on the above list, instead of a cooking montage, Liv grabs the brain-of-the-week and takes a bite. “What?” she asks Ravi, seeing his stare. “I don’t feel like cooking.”
-This exchange, and Ravi’s desperate backpeddling:

What went wrong?
-I don’t remember Liv’s reactions to specific brains being quite this over-the-top. Like Legends of Tomorrow and levity, Happy Endings and rapid banter, or Legion and subversion of narrative expectations, it may be possible to have too much of a good thing.
-With this many plots, it’s not always easy to progress them all equally, or know which one is most important.
-The show seems to think that Liv the human smuggler vs. Fillmore Graves the oppressor was a clearcut good guy/bad guy scenario, but it was a little more complicated. The fact is that Chase Graves was trying to keep Seattle from being nuked into glass to wipe out the zombies, and every time Liv made a new zombie she made it harder to keep everyone fed, grew the unrest, and sent more hungry zombies to be radicalized by Angus’ Brother Love. So… Liv wasn’t entirely in the right here, and they never felt like acknowledging that.
-There was an inspector from Fillmore Graves named Enzo Lambert, who was some bizarre hybrid of Inspectors Clouseau and Javert. He wore a cape and had a ridiculous French accent and was not helpful in solving murders, and I couldn’t figure out why he existed. And then I saw “Daniel Bonjour” in the guest credits and I thought “Is he a comedian I don’t know doing a bit? Does he have a French character and he’s doing that on the show, like how Steve Smith would guest star on shows under the name Red Green?” But it turned out Daniel Bonjour doesn’t even play Enzo, he plays Liv’s new romantic interest Levon, and now I’m even more confused.
-Liv knew in episode one who was skimming brains, so why did it take until episode 12 to deal with him? Jesus.

What should they have done? As we head into the final season, a clear, central story might help. And maybe if Liv eats the brain of a LARPer, she doesn’t have to speak like King Arthur every goddamn sentence. None of the LARPers they met during the investigation did that.

How we doing? 3100 words. Damn. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent so much time on Pineapple Express.

But I’m not sorry.

Zombies naturally take us to…

The End of the F***ing World

Image: Channel 4

I’ve been reminded that this quirky little show, made in Britain but available on the Netsflix, is based on a comic. Probably much more accurately than your iZombies or Lucifers or definitely Riverdale. So it’s germane to the conversation.

What are the basics? Alyssa is a somewhat nihilistic teenage girl, looking to escape an unhappy home situation. She thinks she’s ready to have sex, and thinks that quiet, withdrawn James is a good place to start. James is pretty sure he’s a psychopath, as he hasn’t really felt anything since his mother died years ago. He thinks he’s ready to start murdering, and thinks that unsmiling abrasive Alyssa is a good place to start.

When Alyssa wants to escape her tuned-out mother and creepy, douchey, potentially or even probably abusive step-father, she and James hit the road together, and meet many terrible people while two female detectives, who are trying to adjust to their relationship recently becoming briefly sexual, chase after them. Things get bleak.

What worked? The two leads are quite good, and make interesting, relatable characters out of, on paper, hard to like teens. The detectives work as well. And the writing’s sharp. The eight episodes fly by. And there’s a good character twist for James, and he begins to figure out what his actual issues are.

What didn’t? Man it gets bleak towards the end.

What should they have done? …Well, unlike a lot of comic book shows lately, they were directly adapting a specific story, so I don’t know what choices they had.

Look, it’s eight episodes, it’s pretty compelling, probably worth checking out.

Okay. Think… think we’re good. Think I’ve covered everything. Nothing left but the rankings and the awards– oh dang. Luke Cage is still almost a week out.

[Checks watch]

Yeah, okay, I can wait. Come along, Luke, let’s see if you’ve got a more a more cohesive season this year.

Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.

This instalment: Let’s catch up on a few longer-running shows that don’t warrant full entries. What did they do well? What could they have done better?

Short version: One show played like tomorrow wasn’t coming, while a few others got too confident about renewal.

Let’s begin.

Krypton

Image: SyFy

Not a returning show, per se, but after a decade of Smallville and four years of Gotham aren’t all of these prequel shows basically… no? Well, anyway.

What are the basics? In the city of Kandor on the planet of Krypton, a young man named Seg-El, years after his house was discredited leaving him simply known as “Seg,” is approached by a human from the future named Adam Strange claiming that Seg’s grandson is destined to be the galaxy’s greatest hero Superman, but one of his enemies has travelled back in time to ensure that doesn’t happen. Seg and Adam Strange find what allies they can in order to save Kandor from the approaching Brainiac, Collector of Worlds. At least they’re pretty sure that’s the plan…

What went wrong? Four episodes in I was really willing to give up on this show. It sold itself but claiming that there was much more to Krypton than how the planet died, and then opened by taking us to what must assuredly be the shittiest city in the worst part of Krypton. It is murder-cold outside the city’s dome all of the time, outside of the rich section at the top of the city it seems to always be night, and that’s just the aesthetics. Get past that, and Kandor is living under a theological dictatorship, where someone calling himself the Voice of Rao is enforcing an aggressively mean-spirited caste system. If you’re not in a Guild, you live down in the perpetual poverty and twilight with the Unguilded, fit only to be savagely oppressed by the city military the Sagitari, led by House Zod. It’s four episodes in a nightmare society that seem almost tailored to make us agree that the best thing that could happen to Krypton is dying on schedule. Oh, and they’re absolutely unprepared to handle Brainiac, because the Voice of Rao declared belief in aliens to be punishable by death for you and shame for your entire family, and Kandor’s ruling class said “Sure, that’s fine, be the Mayor, why not.”

Kandor is the city that the other Kryptonian cities would avoid eye-contact with at a party. The best of the Sagitari, Seg’s star-crossed lover Lyta-Zod, has to have a duel to the death with a fellow officer in order to change the official anti-terror policy to something other than “Kill all the poor people.” They created a world barely worth spending time in and then crafted a story about it that will apparently take multiple seasons to tell.

And no, it’s pretty definitively not connected to Man of Steel, Supergirl, or any other current property, because Warner Bros. seems determined to take Fox’s X-Men route as far away from “shared universe” as you can get.

What went right? Spoilers ahoy.

Halfway through the season, they pulled one hell of a plot twist, and it was enough to reinvest me in the whole enterprise. The terrorist leader who Seg had been grabbed by, played by British actor of note Colin Salmon, turned out to be Superman’s nemesis General Zod (Dru-Zod to his friends), son of Seg’s would-be girlfriend. Adam Strange was wrong, Brainiac hadn’t travelled in time at all. It was Zod who’d come to the past to stop Brainiac from stealing Kandor and setting the destruction of Krypton in motion.

“Wait, what was that last part?” asks Seg, before turning to glare at Adam. Turns out Adam had forgotten to mention a major part of Seg’s grandson’s destiny, the whole “last son of Krypton” thing, and Seg and friends were not exactly on board with his plan anymore.

With this, the show turned a major corner, and everything became more interesting. Brainiac took control of the Voice of Rao giving us a better villain and some spectacular CG shots of his ship; Seg’s nemesis, the obligatory scheming asshole Daron-Vex, became less essential; all the women in Seg’s life became even more interesting, as their loyalties and trustworthiness became… flexible; and we learned a few things about how Adam came to be here.

Seg’s one true love, Lyta-Zod, her stern mother Jayna, and Seg’s ordained spouse Nyssa-Vex make for decently fascinating characters, especially once their allegiances begin shifting in the back half. Adam Strange works as a character better than I expected, with my only issue being that he bears little resemblance to the Adam Strange of the comics, but so very much resemblance to Booster Gold. His role in the story is textbook Booster Gold, but for whatever damn fool reason the DC Entertainment bigwigs said “No, use Adam Strange.” Shenanigans.

What should they have done? Well, even though they won me over in the back half, I didn’t love them ending on a cliffhanger. Maybe because the first half was so grating that signing on for another ten episodes still feels like a chore. Now I’m forced to assume they have a multi-season arc planned. Which… ugh. So if they were going to set up this Zod-knows-how-long story, maybe they should have forgotten the rival house/rich vs poor malarky they wasted five episodes on, and gotten to the big question of “Is it worth sacrificing our entire planet?” a little sooner. Or at least showed us a Krypton worth saving. Oh… and bringing in Doomsday? Come on. You managed some excellent shots of Brainiac’s ship descending on Kandor but you do not have the budget for Zod vs Doomsday.

The Flash

Image: CW

What are the basics? Barry Allen’s friends and allies manage to spring him from the Speed Force prison he entered at the end of season three, but in the process unleash a wave of dark energy that creates 12 new metahumans, including Barry’s new partner-in-training Ralph Dibney: the Elongated Man. This was all orchestrated by a hyper-intelligent metahuman named Clifford DeVoe, nicknamed the Thinker, who intends to harvest the powers of the new metas to facilitate a larger plan called the Enlightening. It’s not a great plan. It’s an evil plan.

What went right? The comic relief bits of the season were often pretty funny. Ralph Dibney… shows promise, but I’ll come back to that. Tom Cavanaugh plays no fewer than six variations on Harrison Wells this year, and they’re pretty amusing. Primarily he’s back to the stern Harry Wells of Earth-2, who’s still my favourite of the Wellses (sorry and RIP to HR Wells from last year). Cisco and Caitlin have good arcs, and they finally found a way to make Iris an important part of the team/show.

Which the so-called “fans” on reddit found utterly unacceptable. I didn’t want to think that r/flashtv was as nakedly misogynist as other parts of the site, but give a woman a major role on their superhero show and they lose their goddamn minds. Ugh. I hate fandoms so much. They make liking things feel so dirty.

Also they realized that writing situations that required two speedsters was proving tricky, and promoted Kid Flash to Legends of Tomorrow(Update: and now he’s left. Welp.)

So good arcs, no marginalizing their female characters, and plenty of humour. The Flash must be as good as its heydey, right? Right?

Couple things.

What went wrong? Okay. Okay. Someone out there in the Flashiverse please hear this. After the dark and brooding Flashpoint/Savitar arc last year, you promised a return to the fun of season one. But what we got was the grimmest season arc yet, only with whoopie cushion jokes sprinkled in, and that is not the same thing. Yes, we had comic relief, yes, Tom Cavanaugh and Carlos Valdes (Cisco) were reliably funny, and so was Hartley Sawyer as Ralph when I wasn’t distracted by how he was written (see below). But all of that was background to an oppressively and punishingly dark A-plot, in which DeVoe cannot be stopped by anything for 22 out of 23 episodes. He kills who he wants to, he beats the Flash at nearly every turn, he successfully frames Barry for murder, it gets wearying.

This is becoming a systemic problem on The Flash. If Barry fights his season-nemesis 100 times, he’ll lose 99 of them, and that kind of perpetual loss is a bit much for a full 23-episode season. It was worse here, because at least Reverse-Flash, Zoom, and Savitar didn’t show up to screw with the team on a weekly basis.

So that’s the big problem. Other quibbles now.

Ralph’s arc from drunk PI to legit hero was 90% well done, but I do have one note on that character. This is the Elongated Man.

Image: DC Comics

He’s a skilled detective who has the ability to stretch his body, and roams the world solving mysteries with the love of his life, Sue. Elongated Man on The Flash is, at first, a sleazy PI and womanizer who has the ability to stretch and sculpt his body into different shapes, and sometimes lacks the stomach for heroism. That’s not Ralph Dibney. That’s Eel O’Brian. This guy.

Image: DC Comics

Otherwise known as Plastic Man. I know they’re similar, they have very similar power sets (stretching is less versatile), and both tend to crack wise most of the time. But like Krypton very clearly featured Booster Gold shoved into a crude approximation of Adam Strange, the Flash writers have very clearly written Plastic Man but called him Elongated Man. Yes, Ralph and Barry go way back in the comics so using Ralph makes more canonic sense, but come on. If you wanted to write Plastic Man, just do that. Here’s hoping future seasons sort this out, now that we’re through Ralph’s training season.

Quibble the second… starting with “Crisis on Earth-X,” Team Flash is repeatedly visited by an odd woman seemingly out to have meet-cutes with all of them individually, who writes in the bizarre language Barry was writing in when he emerged from the Speed Force, before his brain sorted itself out. Most notably, he wrote what they translate to “This house is bitchin'” in giant letters. And it’s a language Harry Wells starts writing in when his brain’s on the fritz. I was waiting all season for the payoff, to find out what house was bitchin’, to be told the obvious truth that this was Barry and Iris’ daughter from the future. They finally did all of this… in the closing minutes of the season finale.

Are you kidding me. You spent that much time, over the entire year, setting up a character for next season. I spent months waiting for Future Daughter to race to the rescue against the Thinker, and she just hangs out until the finale cliffhanger? This is what I meant by “too confident about renewal.” Stuff like this.

Also I do not know who told Katee Sackhoff that her British accent was working but hoo-di-lolly it was not.

What should they have done? No fewer than five times they implied that DeVoe, or the Thinker, might not be as unbeatable as he thought. Absorbing all the meta powers was throwing off his intellect, the smarter he got the less he could process or account for emotions, his wife and partner in crime was turning on him, two bus metas had abilities that seemed to be the keys to beating him. Almost none of that went anywhere. He made it all the way to episode 23 with his only losses being Barry eventually clearing his name after the murder-frame, and DeVoe’s wife running out on him.

Villains can be menacing and fallible. To recapture the fun of first season and their sister shows, they have to let Team Flash win a few rounds before the final showdown. Legends of Tomorrow knows this. Supergirl knows this. Black Lightning knows this. Even Arrow gets it from time to time. The Flash needs to figure it out as well, and… excuse the wording… fast.

Arrow

Image: CW

What are the basics? Oliver Queen finds himself under assault as both mayor of Star City and as the Green Arrow when cyber-anarchist Cayden James (the superb Michael Emerson) forms a cabal of high profile criminals in an attempt to bring down the city and its protector. But it turns out one of Cayden’s team, Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo), has his own plans. Plans to strip everything away from the Green Arrow and turn Star City into a criminal hub under his own control. Oliver must find a way to win back his team and some sort of law enforcement support if he’s going to have any chance of taking back his city.

What went right? Michael Emerson was predictably great as Cayden James, and the swap from James to Diaz kept the season from getting mired down in one repetitive plot the way certain others I just mentioned did. Say what you will about Felicity Smoak hijacking Barry and Iris’ quickie, slapdash, “someone just let us say ‘I do’ already” do-over wedding ceremony and turning it into a double wedding, but getting Oliver and Felicity low-key married ended the “Olicity” drama that soured season four and scraped the annoying off of Felicity’s character. Not that the anti-Felicity crowd will be happy, but nothing but the death or irrelevance of all dem dere wimmin folks on their super-hero shows will do that, so screw ’em all. And Cayden’s cabal was a strong gathering of Arrow persons of interest: Laurel “Black Canary” Lance’s evil Earth-2 doppelganger, Black Siren; Oliver’s former pal from the Bratva, Anatoly; Vigilante, given more to do this season than “distract us from figuring out who Prometheus is.” And, of course, Ricardo Diaz.

What went wrong? …There’s a reason everybody else (except the grossly incompetent) only does “Are they a hero without their powers” for one or two episodes, not half a season. In specific, two things…

The second act, where Oliver’s allies and support systems leave him piece by piece, stretched on too long. There were two, possibly three episodes where Original Team Arrow, as they were called, and the new allies from last season who’d split off reluctantly worked together, only to end the episode still at odds with each other, with Wild Dog saying “This doesn’t change anything, Hoss.” He said that a lot. Definitely too much. By the time they well and truly turned on each other, I was just ready for something to change, Hoss.

Second… after Prometheus, and with the Thinker over on Flash, I wish they hadn’t gone back to the All-Knowing Mastermind. From episode one, Ricardo Diaz knew all of Oliver’s secrets and how to dismantle him as mayor and hero. We just did that last year.

Other issues… the finale cliffhanger was a choice that I always respond to with “Ugh, how long are they going to stretch this nonsense out.”

And Diaz gets away? Sure he loses, Team Arrow reclaims Star City, if not the office of the mayor, but he’s still out there. I mean… it’s not a terrible choice? Kirk Acevedo is good at this role, so I don’t hate the idea of him still plaguing the city a little, but given that four out of five previous Big Bads at least seemed to die in the end (one was faking, one got resurrected in one of the season’s better musical numbers), it was an unexpected choice. Made the season finale feel more like a fall finale. It doesn’t seem like the story actually ended, save for Oliver seeing the problems with his crusade and taking a kind of extreme path to correcting them.

An FBI agent more concerned with bringing in the Green Arrow than stopping a criminal enterprise from taking over an entire police force and city council does not seem like an FBI agent good at her job.

And I’m not convinced bringing in Oliver’s son William, who is either a little autistic or just woodenly acted, was a big value add. Although I guess getting Oliver and Felicity married avoided any “how do I be a superhero and a good single father” nonsense.

What should they have done? Instead of being the secret mastermind pulling Cayden James’ strings and scheming against Oliver for the first half, they could have had Diaz just be an opportunistic gangster who sees an opportunity. His line upon killing James and taking over was perfect: “Why destroy a city when you can own it?” That was good. Might have also helped to move his backstory episode up a little, give us a view of who Diaz was earlier.

Also at least two fewer “This doesn’t change anything Hosses.”

Agents of SHIELD

Image: ABC/Marvel

And then there was the one who left nothing on the field.

What are the basics?
“We’re in space,” Coulson told Mack.

“Makes sense,” Mack replied. “Only thing we haven’t done.”

Agents of SHIELD returned to the mini-arc structure that worked so well for them last season, albiet with larger arcs. For the first almost-half of the season, the agents of what was SHIELD find themselves a) in space, and b) a little under a century in the future… a time when Earth has been little more than a debris field for generations, and what’s left of humanity lives on an old SHIELD facility under the harsh rule of the Kree… primarily Kasius and his mostly silent henchwoman Sinara. Coulson and his team must bring down Kasius and find a way back to the past, where they struggle to prevent Earth’s grim fate… except they appear to be in a time loop. As another sci-fi show put it, all of this has happened before and will happen again.

While they’re in the future, a lot of dangling threads get put on hold… Coulson’s deal with the Ghost Rider, the fact that a day or two ago everyone was in a computer simulated world called the Framework where a couple of them were the bad guys, that sort of thing. Once they’re back in the present, however? Every dangling thread gets tied in a neat little bow.

Seriously, everything.

The writers knew that only a mandate from Disney spared them from cancellation last season, and now that they’ve crossed that syndication-happy 100 episode mark, that might not come again. And also their season started later than it ever had, as ABC experimented with The Inhumans. To all of our chagrin. Daisy Johnson, Earth’s most infamous Inhuman as far as Agents is concerned, might never meet the Inhuman royal family that moved to Hawaii while she was in the future, and that’s just fine. Eventually we’ll all forget that Inhumans happened.

But not forgive.

Back to Agents… dangling threads from season one are back, such as the sinister substance gravitonium, which plays a huge role. The Absorbing Man’s back, Hydra still exists, the Centipede program that kinda-sorta filled the episodes before Winter Soldier plays a key role, there is a small parade of past recurring characters… except Ward. Kinda odd that Grant Ward, the only main cast member from season one not still on the show, didn’t even get a guest appearance in episode 100. He can’t have been too busy, he made time for the season premiere of Elementary.

He was the most recognizable guest star, of course he was the killer.

It made for a thrilling back half, especially as they cycled through main villains as everyone jockeyed for position in a fight to control or save what was, for the moment, a still-intact Earth.

Deke, an ally (of sorts) they make in the future who unexpectadly follows them to the past, was a fun addition. Does Deke still exist? Did changing the future erase him from existence? They never really said. He just wandered off and waited to never have existed.

What went wrong? Two things.

First, while back half villains like General Hale and her Hydra assassin daughter (played by Dove Cameron, who the internet feels is notable, but I’d never heard of) lasted just long enough to be interesting then pass the baton, Kasius and Sinara overstayed their welcome. By the end, I was actually shouting “Somebody kill her” at the screen whenever Sinara resumed stalking Daisy. I mean seriously, she was not presenting them with other options.

The main issue is that they spent a lot of time arguing whether their future can still be changed, or since the only way they made it back to the past is that their future selves did all the legwork, the future is fixed, time is a flat circle and nothing they do to save Earth is going to work. What they didn’t do was give any reason why this particular time through the loop is special. Like Flash and Elongated Man finally beating the Thinker, there was no reason why this time it worked when it never had before.

What should they have done? Taken a page from a particularly good Doctor Who episode. Two weeks before the finale, blow up the Earth. In the stinger, cut to Future Simmons recording one extra detail in the plans she and Fitz leave for their past selves. Next week, show us the final days of Fitz and Simmons… but Simmons adds one more detail. Then run the loop faster and faster, the world always exploding, but each time they figure out just a little more of how to stop it. Then in the finale, they’ve finally run the loop enough times that they save the Earth.

Maybe you would have had room for all of that if you’d wrapped Kasius and Sinara a little faster. Just saying.

It would have been just a slightly more satisfying end.

Also… I get why you felt you had to reference Infinity War. I get it. I do. Y’all are thirsty to be part of the MCU even though the film branch will never love you back. But name dropping Thanos twice and referring to “all the craziness in New York,” and only New York, just kinda proved that nobody in your writers’ room saw the Infinity War script. Because only two of Thanos’ minions went to New York, they were there for maybe seven minutes, and they didn’t cause that much havoc. The film spent as much time in Scotland as New York.

Anyway, season six has been delayed so long that all the Infinity War fallout will have been cleaned up in Avengers: In It to Win It by the time we see this bunch again.

Probably shouldn’t have called this a speed round if I was going to talk for 3800 words.

Well… bye.