Superhero TV Season in Review Part 2

So last time, I went over my favourite and least favourite characters from the year’s superhero shows: male leads, female leads, supporting cast, and the most controversial of them all, best villain.

I admit… maybe Wilson Fisk was overlooked. Perhaps Daredevil suffered in my rankings because I watched all of it over a month ago, while the finales of everything else (except Constantine) were fresh in my head. I’d totally forgotten about Fisk’s speech in which he realizes he’s been the villain this whole time.

And even beyond that, there’s Wilson Fisk’s international cartel, Captain Cold and the Rogues, Gotham of all things managing to make Victor Zsasz as fun to watch as he’s ever been, it’s been a great year for bad guys, somebody was going to get left out, I’m sure I’m sorry.

I think those were the only oversights, so… wait… no… iZombie is based on a comic book… we’re not calling it a superhero show, are we? Because if we are… well, Best Female Lead would have gone differently. Oh Rose McIver. You are nailing it.

No. No, we’ll assume it doesn’t count.

Anyhoo, round two!

Best fight!

Your average superhero show needs some action. Sadly, not every show gets this. Smallville spent its entire eighth season building up a battle between Clark Kent and Doomsday, and said battle lasted about fifteen seconds. Heroes gave rivals Sylar and Peter Petrelli dozens of powers to play with, then limited their big climactic fight to punching.

Thankfully, those days are gone. For two years, Arrow was the gold standard, but then Daredevil happened, and Agents of SHIELD let Mortal Kombat: Legacy’s Kevin Tancharoen go to work. As a result, onscreen action has kicked it up a notch this season.

Some honourable mentions: Melinda May vs. Melinda May’s doppelganger in Agents of SHIELD’s “Face My Enemy” for a double-dose of extra-cool Ming Na fighting; the Flash vs. the Arrow in The Flash’s “Flash vs. Arrow” (okay, maybe I didn’t need to specify the combatants… I said “Flash” a lot just then) for nailing a fight based around Oliver Queen’s skill and experience vs. Barry Allen’s sheer speed; Arrow vs. an unarmed Ra’s Al Ghul just for Ra’s’ opening line (“I will take your swords, when you’re done with them,”); and pretty much every fight from Daredevil. All of them, always. But here’s the winners.

Bronze medal: Reverse Flash vs. Err’body, “Rogue Air”

Mild spoilers for Flash’s first season.

After an episode filled with self-doubt, betrayal, and defeat, the Flash faces down the Reverse Flash, a man he’s never been able to beat one-on-one. At first, the other was simply faster: but even as Barry works to improve his speed, his opposite number has been fighting the Flash a lot longer than the Flash has been fighting him (wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey), and so at this point in Barry’s career, Reverse Flash is simply the better fighter. So… it ain’t looking promising.

And then, at the last moment, in swoop Firestorm and the Arrow. Me, I’m a sucker for all things Firestorm, as I’ve said, and having the Arrow go a few rounds with the Reverse Flash (with the help of Ray Palmer’s nano-tech) was a treat. Plus there was just something inherently pleasing about seeing everyone come together to take on the Reverse Flash.

Check it out if you like. Although there are potential spoilers for Flash’s first season and Arrow’s third.

Silver medal: Skye vs. Like Half a Hydra Facility, “The Dirty Half Dozen”

A year ago, Skye was just starting to learn how to be a SHIELD agent. She started the first season as a hacker with basically no combat skills. Now, in one single take, we see what nearly a year training under Melinda May can do.

No spoilers, no context really needed, so check it out. This is some John Wick-level stuff right here.

The only way that sequence could have been better is if Skye remembered she has super powers.

Gold medal: The Daredevil Hallway Fight, “Cut Man”

Come on. You’re on the internet. You knew where this was going. Daredevil had the best fight chroeo on anything that could be called television this season, and its crown jewel is the scene in which a bruised, bloodied, clearly exhausted Matt Murdock still punches and flip-kicks his way through at least nine Russian gangsters in one single take.

Let’s just watch it, shall we?

Worst: Flash vs. Clyde Mardon, “Pilot”

This was a tricky one. Like I said, the days of Smallville-style anticlimactic one-punch-and-it’s-done battles with Doomsday or Darkseid, or Heroes never delivering a proper fight between Peter and Sylar, are currently over. Currently. Heroes Reborn is coming, we’ll see what happens.

I considered throwing Constantine under the bus here, but Constantine isn’t based around physical combat. He magic and deceit, you can’t really blame them for not having big fight scenes. Might as well accuse Elementary of not having enough time travel.

But the fight between Flash and weather-powered Clyde Mardon (his more powerful brother Mark would actually be named Weather Wizard) basically came down to Flash running really fast in a circle. And it could have been shot better. But they’ve improved at making Flash’s speed-battles visually interesting as the series progressed.

Best emotional moment!

Nothing like a good old-fashioned feels-bomb. Some of the best Doctor Who episodes can also be the most heartbreaking. And like fight scenes, superhero TV’s attempts at these have also evolved since Smallville.

Potential mild spoilers.

Bronze medal: “I can’t take one more step.” Daredevil, The Ones We Leave Behind

Daredevil gets… kinda dark. Well, that’s not true. It starts dark and it stays dark. And that takes its toll on the central characters. In the back half, a wedge gets driven between Matt Murdock and his best friend Foggy Nelson, a wedge they both accidentally take out on their assistant Karen Page, who ends up alone in what used to be a group effort to bring down Wilson Fisk.

But by the end of the episode, Matt has learned an unpleasant truth about one of Fisk’s allies, and how they finance their operations. And after pushing his friends away (as his former mentor said he would), after suffering defeat after defeat against Fisk, this unpleasant truth is his breaking point. And when Karen, who is suffering from her own trauma, confronts him, he confesses… not that he’s the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” as the media has called him, but that fighting this crusade alone has become too much to bear.

“I can’t take one more step on my own,” he says. And while Matt and Karen are still keeping huge secrets from each other, they reconcile, and Nelson and Murdock begins to come back together. It’s a nice moment.

Silver medal: “I don’t want to die down here.” Arrow, [episode redacted]

Team Arrow loses a valued friend and ally, a painful blow to the entire team. For the whole episode, however, Oliver doesn’t openly react. He doesn’t cry, he doesn’t mourn. He remains the big shoulders, because he knows that his team has no one else to turn to. No one else they can rely on. In his words… if he grieves, no one else can.

Until the end.

Oliver began the season feeling he needed to shed the last remnants of Oliver Queen to focus on being the Arrow, but in one moment, his grief, his fear, his sadness is too much to bear.

The killer hasn’t been found, but the initial shock has died down. The team makes their way out of the headquarters, until only Oliver and his first and closest ally, Diggle, remain.

“John?” Oliver says, his voice cracking. And honestly, it’s odd enough that he doesn’t call him “Dig.” Then, standing over the body of someone he’d been close to, who had been claimed in his crusade…

“I don’t want to die down here.”

Stephen Amell kind of nailed that moment. And yes, it got to me a little.

Gold medal: Basically the whole damn thing, Flash, “Fast Enough”

Flash’s season finale is an emotional roller coaster. Barry finally has the chance to do what he’d never thought possible: go back in time and stop the Reverse Flash from killing his mother. But there are consequences. Martin Stein warns that changing this moment could change everything in the lives of Barry, those around him, or any life the Flash has touched. Which is a lot of them by this point.

Barry seeks out advice from Iris and all of his dads. Joe says Barry has to do it, even though he’s afraid of what he himself would lose: the joys of having helped raise Barry into the man he’s become. Barry’s actual father, who would get his wife and fifteen years of his life back, begs Barry not to do it, and says his mother would agree. Henry Allen is proud of who Barry is, even beyond being the Flash, and is against Barry risking any of that by altering the chain of events that forged him. Iris says to listen to his heart, because why wouldn’t she. And Harrison Wells… has his own agenda.

Every big conversation leading up to Barry’s choice is not just a pull but a yank on the heartstrings, and they nail every one, and the episode is just getting warmed up. As far as heartbreak goes, saying goodbye to the man who’s been a second father, knowing they might lose everything they’d been to each other is the warmup act.

But I can’t elaborate. It’s the perfect end to a stellar season, but it will stab you right in the heart, over and over.

Worst: Barbara leaves Jim, Gotham, “The Mask”

After thinking “I bet if I ask Gotham’s reigning mob boss, like, super nicely, he won’t kill my fiance for trying to arrest him” was a great plan, Barbara Kean has herself a little breakdown, and decides to a) leave Jim Gordon, b) start using drugs again, and c) hook up with Rene Montoya again.

And I didn’t care about a single bit of it. Except by being annoyed that she and Montoya were back together again, because their whole thing was just the worst. Rene Montoya, shining star of Gotham Central, the former Question, should not be stuck in a plotline where she’s trying to prove Gotham’s last honest cop is corrupt because she wants to bang his girlfriend, then becoming an enabler.

God damn you, Barbara, and anyone who wrote for her.

Best storyline!

Stories are neat! Sorry, don’t really have a clever opening for this category. I’ll just… I’ll just start, shall I?

Honourable mention goes to Agents of SHIELD for their introduction of the Inhumans. The story worked well, gave new depth to Skye, and moved faster than any plot from season one. It would make the podium if I honestly believed that it was setting up anything in the movies, be it the source conflict in Civil War or even the actual Inhumans movie. But given that it never seems like the movie branch of the MCU cares even a little what the TV branch is doing, I just… I just don’t.

Bronze medal: Rise of the Atom, Arrow

Given all my various rantings about Ray Palmer on Arrow, I don’t think I need to say much here. Quality origin story for a quality character.

Silver medal: The Long Game of Harrison Wells, The Flash

The twists and turns of Harrison Wells’ schemes surrounding the Flash, his love/hate relationship with Barry, and the mega-emotional payoff were a masterclass in long-term storytelling. That’s really all I can say without spoiling stuff.

Gold medal: “I’m just trying to make my city a better place,” Daredevil

The thing that made Daredevil really excel, and had people demanding to know why I ranked anyone over Wilson Fisk for best villain, let alone Oswald Cobblepot, is that Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk have matching goals. Both are trying to save Hell’s Kitchen, both believe themselves righteous, but they’ve taken drastically different and equally self-destructive paths. Matt is (often physically) fighting the city’s criminals and corruption, while Fisk is using them in an attempt to burn down the city and rebuild it. Both lose allies along the way, though one of them loses allies a bit more deliberately and permanently. Both see themselves as saviours, while being painted as devils.

Having more time to breathe helps make the struggle between Murdock and Wilson much richer than the average movie hero/villain relationship, and it’s a treat to see.

Worst: Theta Protocol, Agents of SHIELD

I’d say something with Barbara on Gotham, but she never really had a “story,” per se. She’d just show up, be a mixture of boring and annoying, do something we didn’t like that felt unmotivated, then disappear for a few episodes and we’d all be happy. She couldn’t even do “be in a bad plotline” right.

Instead, I’d like to toss a few jeers at Agents of SHIELD’s super-forced attempt to connect to Age of Ultron. In the second half of the season, we learn that Coulson’s band of misfits aren’t the only people trying to rebuild SHIELD, and that the rival SHIELD doesn’t trust Coulson in charge. They begin to lure Coulson’s right hand, Melinda May, to their side by revealing the various things he hadn’t been telling his team, including something called the Theta Protocol. What is it? Why hasn’t he told anyone? Will this dark secret project tear apart Coulson’s allies?

No. He was just fixing up the old helicarrier for Nick Fury so that he could swoop in and save the day in Age of Ultron. That established in a thirty second cold open bit, everyone said “Sure, fine,” formed a single SHIELD basically immediately, and got back to dealing with the Inhumans.

They spent three episodes on the Theta Protocol, made finding out the truth a huge deal to May and Simmons, and then tossed it aside in a thirty-second cold open and forgot it ever happened, all so that they could try to give Agents of SHIELD some sort of connection to Age of Ultron. Which is kind of all for nothing, because there is still a goddamn Chinese wall between the movies and Agents of SHIELD.

According to Age of Ultron, the Avengers had been hitting Hydra base after Hydra base for months, probably ever since Winter Soldier. Hydra was the primary nemesis for the first half of SHIELD’s season. You’d think, if the Avengers were fighting Hydra at the same time, somebody on the show, either Coulson or one of the Hydra bigwigs, would have noticed it and thought it worth mentioning.

But they didn’t. And Age of Ultron made no reference or even vague allusion to Coulson or Theta Protocol. So the whole thing ends up feeling like a desperation play to be relevant, a Mary Sue fan fiction where Coulson is totally involved in stopping Ultron even if nobody notices. And then it’s back to our utterly non-Ultron-related plot.

Man these things get long on me… next time, the wrap-up, including my picks for best show.

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