15. The Flash
Off the bat, yes, getting cut three episodes short by Plague Times hurt them, as most plotlines hadn’t resolved yet, but lots of shows don’t manage closure by the finale. Smallville didn’t manage that nine out of ten seasons.
Okay, so, putting that aside, let’s see how quickly I can pros/cons this one. Cons. “Barry prepares to die in Crisis” was a bummer story and didn’t land, because it was a bad bluff and Arrow was doing it better; sinister science group Black Hole wasn’t developed enough to be the linchpin of the post-Crisis plot; and having Barry spend the back half of the season gradually losing his speed was not a great call.
Also is Team Flash getting a little… unwieldy? The core team (Barry, Iris, Cisco, Caitlin/Frost, Joe, and various Harrisons Wells) are all still around at least part-time, but now there’s also Ralph/Elongated Man; mildly telepathic lawyer Cecile; light-powered Allegra; Cisco’s photographer girlfriend Kamilla; tech wiz Chester Runk (too skinny to use his comics name Chunk); and now socialite adventuress Sue Dearbon, known to comics fans as the future Sue Dibney, Ralph’s better half. It’s a lot. Legends of Tomorrow has a smaller cast and they’re an ensemble show. No wonder Cisco and Caitlin take, like, a third of the season off these days.
But Iris trapped in the mirror dimension worked better than I expected since normally “replaced by evil clone” drives me crazy almost immediately; Ralph finally met Sue, and she was delightful in unexpected ways; Eva/Mirror Mistress was one of their better villains, possibly top two, especially from a character standpoint, so I don’t mind needing to wrap her up next season; I love that post-Crisis, Nash Wells became a sort of an omni-Wells; and I loved Frost deciding to build a life of her own, rather than being Caitlin’s battle-persona. Danielle Panabaker is fun as Frost. And one tiny perk of Plague Times? Maybe now we can skip Pananbaker’s maternity leave and get Frost back in the mix faster.
Flash finally stopped struggling with its villains (Thinker was too unstoppable, Cicada ended up going too far the other way, Mirror Mistress and Bloodwork split the difference well), and while it could be bleak at times, it had enough fun to keep me invested all season. Just wish they’d been able to film those last three. And that Ralph and Sue had a spinoff where they roam the world solving mysteries.
Happy! is a solid show and I’m glad to have watched it but man season two just ground me down in places. The cast is great, the action scenes inventive, but it’s all Empire Strikes Back with no Return of the Jedi on the horizon. Funny, but dark. Clever, but bleak. And I could have used a bit more closure on, on, something? Similar to season one, a villain is defeated and a scheme foiled, but there’s a lot of stuff still going on, and a lot of doors opened I really wanted them to walk through.
I guess I can’t be too mad at them for coming up with interesting stories they didn’t get to finish, they didn’t ask to be cancelled any more than The Flash asked to wrap for the year three weeks early with no resolution, but… look, call me Old Testament, but Smoothie does too much evil for that little comeuppance, and I can’t say we ended in a place of closure.
There was just so much going on this year in Supergirl. The immortal aliens of Leviathan* wanted to destroy humanity, somehow, for reasons… Industrialist Andrea Rojas was introducing a revolutionary VR platform called Obsidian, and both was and sometimes wasn’t a Leviathan assassin, and Obsidian was going to help Leviathan somehow… Lena Luthor was trying to mind-control anger and aggression out of humanity because she was still mad about her best friend hiding being Supergirl… Kara at first hated but starting flirting with a new reporter at CatCo, which Andrea was making more of a tabloid… and then post-Crisis, a bunch of reset buttons were hit and now Lex Luthor was back throwing monkey wrenches everywhere.
None of these plots were bad by any stretch, but there were so many that it was hard for any of them to really stand out, especially with several of them almost starting from scratch halfway through thanks to Supergirl being the most affected by Crisis. Leviathan probably ended up the most neglected, because I’m still not entirely clear what their deal was, and that’s a problem, given that every other plot hinged on them.
They did bounce back from losing an episode to COVID, though. Sure there’s still at least an hour of Lex-based resolution to be done, but the Leviathan plot basically wrapped, and that’s more than Flash can really say. And as a bonus, anything involving Jon Cryer’s Lex Luthor has been basically gold. Maybe it’s for the best they didn’t wrap him up… next season both Supergirl and Superman will have shows, and they’d be such idiots to even think about writing out Lex, I am not kidding don’t even think about it.
A little more focus would really have helped them. So many threads to follow. But at least more of them wrapped than Flash and in a less depressing way than Happy! so it’s got that going for it.
*Don’t get me started on burning the name “Leviathan” for this ill-defined bunch when Brian Michael Bendis’ Event Leviathan mini-series from last year would have been perfect crossover fodder. Well, if they hadn’t potentially shut down half of the Arrowverse intelligence agencies, anyway. Maybe they’ll still use it in another season or two.
For a show that, on paper, made no sense and should never have worked, Titans is shockingly good. The frequent cursing stopped feeling like shock value and just felt like “This is probably how they’d talk without censors looming over them.” (Honestly, now I’m mad Gotham couldn’t swear because it feels like Bullock at least would have been dropping f-bombs constantly.) The expanded roles and newly revealed history of Donna Troy, Hawk, and Dove worked well, although it did sometimes shove the season one cast to the side a little. Game of Thrones’ Iain Glen worked better than I’d have expected as a middle-aged Bruce Wayne, and weirdly it was better that he was always Bruce and never Batman. Well, never in costume as Batman, he’s still… you get it.
The second season was a little stuffed, though. Starting the season off with what by all rights should have been the first season finale, before starting an entirely new storyline, got us off on a weird note. Around the midway point, we suddenly had two competing A-plots… Deathstroke and his vendetta against the Titans of old, and Cadmus Labs and their rogue science project Conner, aka Superboy. (Did they make Cadmus and Lex Luthor’s aide Mercy Graves a second major antagonist just to keep a too-powerful Superboy away from the Deathstroke arc? …Maybe. Maybe.) And they’re both good, and they both work, and they both had strong conclusions… but it meant that leading up to the finale we were spending either too much or too little time with Cadmus, and it was weird.
Also having Dick Grayson get over his sulk-fest about his upbringing as Robin and make peace with Bruce only to give him a new sulk-fest that split him away from the other Titans yet again was… not their best move. Dick’s finally, as of the end of the season, in a good place, try not to screw that up this year. Also I’m pretty sure half the team are wanted fugitives at the moment? Maybe touch on what’s happening with that?
So, yeah, room for improvement, but overall an actual good show that works, and I did not expect that after the first trailer back when.
11. Locke and Key
Locke and Key, as I have discussed, brings all the fun of an 80s magical kids’ adventure movie yet packaged for teens and adults. Or maybe it suggests that kids, like youngest Locke sibling Bode, are tired of being talked down to. Whatever the cause, or whoever the target market, they made a compelling first season. Sure, none of the characters are their best selves 100% of the time, but could they really be expected to be? These are young people reeling from a horrible tragedy who find out magic is real, they’re gonna make questionable choices. I still like them, even the mother, who is being gaslit by adulthood’s inability to perceive magic in the world.
The show zips along, knows how to keep its protagonists from becoming overpowered (if not its villain), has a well-done core cast and supporting cast, and draws out the mystery of the magical keys and their history with the Locke family at just the right pace. My only issues are a) they were too confident in their probable renewal (having only one season would have been terrible), and b) casting Emilia Jones, who I know as Doctor Who’s young Queen of Years from “The Rings of Akhaten,” while an inherent positive for the show as a whole, forces me to acknowledge that Matt Smith wasn’t The Doctor just a couple of years ago.
Yes I know that was two entire regenerations ago, but I don’t have to like it.
Next page: The really good