Comic TV 2016 Part 2: Blood, Words, and Tears

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.

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