It’s getting close to my annual post ranking the best picture nominees at the Oscars. I just need the Academy to decide what the best picture nominees actually are so I know which ones I haven’t seen yet. Other than A Star is Born, probably.
So while we’re waiting on that… and my Arrowverse Year Three rewatch is ongoing… let’s talk about the year’s superhero movies.
But not a rank ordering. I don’t see the point. There are interesting trends and symmetries this year, but the worst superhero movie I saw was fun, just a little disposable.
(I refer to Ant-Man And The Wasp, but if you thought I meant Aquaman... well, we disagree a little but that’s fine.)
I loves me some superhero shows, I loves me some DC heroes, and the CW delivers me both of those things through a series of shows that, while flawed, I find overall much more entertaining than annoying.
So I wanna talk about ’em. And I have a blog, so I’m gonna, in a series chronicling the highs and lows, successes and failures, twists, turns, and tragedies of what shouldbe called the DCW-verse, or if you prefer whimsy, the Greg Berlanti Mask-Based Action Fun Factory, but remains called the Arrowverse because the internet makes bad choices.
So let’s dig into it.
Year two remains a simple one… just one show, Arrow season two. But it began to set the stage for something bigger, grander, and glorious.
The journey from Arrowverse to Beebo-Verse begins in year two.
Arrow: Season Two
Season two is thought of as one of, if not the very best season of Arrow. It’s based on the five-year-old rivalry of friends-turned-nemeses Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson, although they spend the first nine episodes on Oliver vs Brother Blood so we won’t know what’s coming. It’s an operatic battle of revenge that forms Oliver’s first real crucible as a hero, and there’s only one season of Arrow that can compete with it.
Season seven is… ongoing at time of writing.
In the flashbacks, Oliver, Shado, and Slade are living on Lian Yu, but find themselves being targeted by a group of mercenaries working for a mad scientist named Anthony Ivo who have arrived via a freighter called the Amazo. Ivo’s seeking a Japanese super soldier serum called mirakuru, which I thought was going to be a reference to Miraclo, the drug that gave golden age hero Hourman his powers, but ultimately wasn’t. Just a similar bastardization of the word “miracle.” Mirakuru gives a person enhanced strength, speed, and resiliency, but also drives them a little crazy, and when they inject Slade with it to save his life, he soon turns on Oliver. Thanks mostly to the death of Shado, which Oliver indirectly causes by choosing to protect Sara Lance.
Oh, yeah, hey, Sara Lance isn’t dead. Not in the flashbacks and not in the modern day. They hide this from us for a couple of episodes by recasting her with Caity Lotz, who later takes the character to heights they didn’t even think possible back in year two. We’ll cover that below.
In the present, Oliver graduates from being the Hood to the Arrow, and in Tommy Merlyn’s memory, attempts to give up killing. It’s… a rocky road, as he does arrow-murder the heck out of the Count a few episodes in, but he’s mostly determined to stick to it.
Diggle begins to reunite with his ex-wife. Felicity becomes a full member of the cast, with a clear crush on Oliver that he’s trying to duck around. (They play it fairly subtly at this stage… when Oliver has a questionable hook-up, she asks “Why her?” and only subtext in her delivery makes it clear that there’s a second part to her question of “And not me?”) Comics-Roy Harper classically had issues with heroin, and as a possible reference to that, TV-Roy Harper gets injected with mirakuru, which makes him predictably unbalanced. There is no similar comics equivalent for Laurel, who becomes an Assistant District Attorney but loses the job when she gets hooked on pills. Thea has taken over Oliver’s nightclub, despite not being old enough to drink there, but when she finds out her biological father was actually Malcolm Merlyn (who, surprise, isn’t dead), begins to unravel back into whiny season one Thea. And Detective Lance, a rock we didn’t fully appreciate in season one, has faced a career setback for working with the vigilante, and is now Officer Detective Quentin Lance.
The Rough Spots
I call it “Felicity interruptus.” Every time, every single time that Oliver needs to attend a meeting to protect his company or have a quick conversation to save his personal life, Felicity or sometimes Digg will call/show up with news about whoever needs Arrow-justice that week, and he’ll have to run off. Without fail. Every time. I gave Spider-Man: Homecoming crap for the same thing… if he chooses hero stuff over personal stuff every single time an important personal matter turns up, it gets old and loses impact.
In one case Felicity actively asks him not to go, and to instead sort out his family business so that he, his mother, and his sister wouldn’t lose their home, their nightclub, and their trust funds (who gave the board of Queen Consolidated control of Oliver and Thea’s trust funds? That is eight brands of dumb). Something that could have been accomplished by saying “Call me back when you have a minute” when Oliver said “I can’t talk right now.”
That’s the one that broke me. That’s the worst one they ever did. It might also be the last one they ever did. In season three I believe he runs out of friends and loved ones who don’t know his identity. But it was still a bad, bad trope.
Also, when Thea’s being written better, Laurel develops a pill addiction that is not a flattering colour on her. As soon as Laurel gets clean, Thea starts endlessly whining about being lied to all the time. Which… she isn’t wrong, but there’s being right and there’s being… not insufferable.
Why is the worst written character always a woman? Well… except on Supergirl, but we’re still two years out from that.
The soap opera romance is better this year, though… the only major occurence being some awkwardness between Oliver and Laurel when Laurel’s sister Sara Lance turns out not to be dead and she and Oliver start banging again.
Let’s see… Felicity interruptus, Laurel’s on pills, Thea bitching about being lied to… I think that’s it.
Oliver’s quest towards being a hero begins with his attempt to stop killing people, which, yes, kind of an important step, especially when you consider how many of his season one victims were just hired security as opposed to actual villainous millionaires. So the transition to hero continues, expressed by changing his vigilante name from “the Hood” to “the Arrow,” but I really want to talk about one of the most important Arrowverse leads, who makes their first appearance this year.
Aside from Barry Allen, I mean.
So. Sara Lance. In the flashbacks, Sara’s on the Amazo working for Ivo… in the present day, she’s the Canary, who spent five years with the League of Assassins before returning to Starling City to prey on men who get violent with women. Soon she and the Arrow are crossing paths, and she joins Team Arrow.
Sara continues the trend of “the costume predates the character,” as she is called “the Canary,” but isn’t A-list comics hero Black Canary. That’s still to come. Still, Sara was such a compelling addition to the show that fans couldn’t help but fall for her. Like Oliver, she’s doing her best to put killing behind her. Like Oliver, her past isn’t exactly willing to let her go that easily. Like Oliver, she’s an impressive badass. Unlike Oliver, she manages not to get lost in brooding and self-pity all the goddamn time.
There’s nothing about Sara Lance, proto-Canary, that screams “make her the captain of a time-travelling spaceship,” not yet anyway, but she was a breath of fresh air and the franchise was and is lucky to have her.
This is the first example of an Arrowverse trend… a warm-up villain who sets the stage for the Big Bad to come. It’s also one of the few times that said warm-up villain sticks around for the whole season. It’s Sebastian Blood, played by Kevin Alejandro, formerly of the James Woods legal drama Shark (not the only Shark veteran to sign on this season), and soon to be of my beloved celestial drama/crime procedural Lucifer. Despite the fact that he’s named “Sebastian Blood,” I somehow didn’t figure out that he’d be the Arrowverse twist on Teen Titans nemesis Brother Blood until someone called him that, probably because Brother Blood has never been a Green Arrow villain per se, but there really aren’t so many iconic Green Arrow villains that they can limit themselves to that. He basically works. Kevin Alejandro is a solid performer, and the growing mystery behind Sebastian Blood is well-played.
But the primary villain of Arrow season two is, perhaps, the very best villain the Arrowverse has ever, ever done… Deathstroke.
The season two flashbacks show how Oliver and Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) began to turn from friends to enemies. At the end of the fall finale, it’s revealed that he’s alive, well, and has been in Starling City for some time, plotting some truly operatic revenge against Oliver. Called “Deathstroke” by ARGUS, the Arrowverse’s clandestine government agency of choice, Slade is a physical menace that Team Arrow combined can barely hold up against, and a tactical threat Oliver can hardly keep up with. And it’s all rooted in a compelling performance by Manu Bennett. The complex relationship between Oliver and Slade, past and present, gives the season bite and depth. Plus, flank him with Brother Blood and an ice-cold Summer Glau as Isobel Rochev, and we’ve got a highly effective cabal of villains. I like a good cabal.
Fan service in the Arrowverse comes in three varieties: the good (characters from the comics and geek-friendly guest stars), the bad (characters grossly misinterpreted), and the weird (characters named after comics characters but not even vaguely similar to them).
Two, count ’em, two Firefly vets this season. Sean Maher makes a couple of appearances as the Arrowverse version of Shrapnel (minus the meta powers and exploding body), but far more significant is Summer Glau’s season-long turn as Isobel Rochev, who on the show and in the comics makes a play to steal Oliver’s company.
Bronze Tiger isn’t traditionally a villain. Yes, I certainly know him best as a member of the Suicide Squad, but one of the “good characters who guides the squad” rather than one of the villains pressed into service. And while the episode Suicide Squad gives him a moment of redemption, it will take five years for Tiger, as the show calls him, to begin to move from villain to complicated potential hero. But he’s played by Black Dynamite himself, Michael Jai White, and that’s great.
Early in season two, Oliver and the Canary take on a serial killer named the Dollmaker. This might be the one time Arrow and Gotham both use a villain and Arrow does it better.
Robert Knepper, formerly of Prison Break and Carnivale, soon to be of iZombie, menaces Oliver as the precision-timed villain Clock King.
Can’t ask for a bigger fan service episode than the assembly of the Suicide Squad, on a mission to DC Comics’ fictional European nation of Markovia.
Nicholas Lea of The X-Files helps Moira Queen run for mayor.
The Huntress is back, and still evil. They call her episode “Birds of Prey,” because it involves the Huntress meeting the Canary, but they do not bond or become friends. Failed WB series Birds of Prey did this pairing better, and that’s nothing to be proud of.
Amanda Waller comes to the Arrowverse, with the Suicide Squad in tow… but maybe because this is the CW, they went with a young, skinny Amanda Waller. The New 52 reboot of DC tried the same thing, and it just doesn’t suit the character. Cynthia Addai-Robinson does well enough with the role, but it’s just not… well, she’s no Viola Davis.
The flashbacks… and one present-day episode set in Russia… introduce Anatoly Knyazev, known to Batman readers as the KGBeast. He isn’t called KGBeast for another five years, and he bears little resemblance to his comics counterpart (being more of a tactician than a physical menace), but I do love him.
Speaking of season two fan service that would be corrected five years later… Professor Ivo’s boat is named in honour of comics-Ivo’s most notable creation, the android Amazo, who can copy the powers of the entire Justice League and is not, canonically, a boat. In year two, it’s an Easter egg for comics fans. In year seven, they introduce Ivo Labs, and a proper Amazo android, who in deference to season two is infused with mirakuru. It was a bit of a wait, but worth it.
Slade’s first mirakuru-enhanced minion is named Cyrus Gold, a clear reference to classic comic villain Solomon Grundy, something backed up by Gold’s fascination with the Solomon Grundy poem. Once again… Gotham did this one better. I hate saying that. They keep making me say that.
Diggle’s ex-and-future-wife, Lyla Morgan, has the codename “Harbinger” in the episode “Suicide Squad.” Making her a reference to the comics character Harbinger (real name Lyla), a key player in the mack-daddy of all comics crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths. At the time, we had no reason to believe that they might be working towards a TV version of Crisis. Things… things have changed.
Jean Loring, the Queen family defence attorney, and Starling City DA Kate Spencer both have one thing in common with their comics counterparts, in that they have similar professions. But Kate never fights crime as the Manhunter, and Jean seems unlikely to marry Ray Palmer or… do any of the dark-ass things Jean got up to starting with Identity Crisis. A story DC is probably trying to queitly walk back.
There still isn’t a real crossover in season two, because there’s still only one show… but we have a crossover of sorts in “The Scientist” and “Three Ghosts.” After filling the first third of the season with TV reports on the impending and controversial opening of a particle accelerator at Central City’s STAR Labs, future Flash Barry Allen makes his way to Starling City in the eighth episode… which for the next few years is exactly when the crossovers happen. Barry assists Team Arrow in stopping Brother Blood’s first successful mirakuru minion, gets closer to Felicity than Oliver liked, and returns home to Central City just in time to get struck by lightning after the STAR Labs particle accelerator goes kablooey.
This is more of a proto-crossover than last year’s introduction of the Huntress, because they very much intended for Barry to spun off into his own series. He was supposed to come back for episode 19 as a backdoor pilot for a Flash series, but reaction to his first appearances was positive enough that they decided to make a proper pilot instead. Episode 19 does, however, introduce two of Barry’s future best friends: Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow. And name drops Harrison Wells and Iris West.
There’s always deaths in the Arrowverse, and it’s usually someone you didn’t want to go.
Needless to say, here there be spoilers.
Farewell to Oliver’s mother, Moira Queen. She was complex, rarely entirely trustworthy, but as soon as they revealed that she knew Oliver was the Arrow we had to know her time was limited. Moira Queen is a casualty in Slade’s war against Oliver.
Moira’s final episode also involves flashbacks to a fling of Oliver’s who ended up pregnant. This… this is going to be important down the line.
Isobel Rochev was on Robert Queen’s list.
Arrow season two introduces us to Nyssa Al Ghul, the lesser known daughter of Batman villain Ra’s Al Ghul. Lesser known to the point where even I’d never heard of her. Later Nyssa would be given her own DLC in the Batman: Arkham Knight game, which I have to believe Arrow is responsible for. Nyssa is a very popular character with Arrowverse fans, but sadly actress Katrina Law got busy, so we don’t see much of her lately.
Nyssa’s debut is also the first occurrence of something the Arrowverse is really good at. The Arrowverse has a strong track record with LGBT characters, and they’re great at one specific thing… normalization. People don’t strongly react to a character being gay on an Arroverse show, even one who’s just come out. Being gay or bi isn’t a scandal or a shock or a Condition, references to same-sex relationships aren’t treated differently. Which is how it should be. In “Heir to the Demon,” Nyssa’s first appearance, the entire gang learns that Sara and Nyssa were romantically involved during Sara’s five years with the League of Assassins. Everyone, from her sister to her parents to her past and future lover Oliver, responds with at most a simple “….Oh.” And then they’re fine. Hell, Quentin’s just happy that Sara had someone special for the last five years, he could not care less what gender they were.
I talked to Manu Bennett shortly after Moira’s death aired. I told him that in the moment, I almost felt bad for Slade, because it seemed like he wished he didn’t have to do this. His head popped up, a smile on his face, because this was exactly what he was going for, and he was glad to know it landed. Cool guy, Manu Bennett. Shook my hand twice.
Next time in this series, The Flash becomes the makeshift Superman to Arrow’s pseudo-Batman… something they dig even further into… and a certain British con-artist magician garners attention.
Next time on the blog in general… who knows. I have other projects demanding my time. We’ll see.
Cloak and Dagger is the latest offering from Marvel TV’s latest branch, what I refer to as Marvel Young Adult. Marvel YA currently consists of two shows, Freeform’s Cloak and Dagger and Hulu’s Runaways, which between them demonstrate a house style for the Marvel YA branch. Decompressed storytelling, slow-burn character development, simplistic visuals, grounded characters dealing with fantastical elements being shoved into their lives.
Less charitable terms would include “slow” and “kind of basic,” taking ten episodes to work through pretty simple plot points.
And then there is Gotham.
Gotham is wildly creative in its design and in its villainous characters, often gorgeous in its set design and shot composition. Characters constantly forge and break alliances, make and change plans, and every now and then a maniacal ginger sweeps through to upend everything for a few episodes. It burns through multiple plots over the course of one season, ranging from simple to operatic in scope. And most of them are really, really stupid.
In other words, it’s a wildly inconsistent show with no stable characterizations that has the odd moment or scene of greatness but is mostly a trash fire.
Cloak and Dagger is a grounded, narratively sound show about two young people dealing with real issues like police corruption, corporate greed, and addiction; and also the fantastic, as they both develop magic powers that might mean they’re preordained to save all of New Orleans. So why is it that I struggled to get through its ten episodes so much more than I did Gotham’s latest season? Why am I more excited to see Gotham wrap up than I am to see what Cloak and Dagger does now that all of the origin stuff is out of the way?
I think what it comes down to is craftsmanship vs. vision, and how each show only has one. Cloak and Dagger has craftsmanship. It’s good at building consistent characters and by-the-numbers plot points that, in most but not all cases, build and payoff naturally. They’re just basic and a little dull.
Gotham… well it’s never dull, I’ll give it that. They come up with three ways for all of Gotham to be in peril per season, each big and epic, each gorgeously shot. There are moments, every now and then, usually in a scene featuring Penguin and the Riddler, where the show nearly reaches greatness. However, try to describe any single character arc and you end up sounding like a raving lunatic.
Okay. Let’s throw up some subheaders and look at some specifics.
“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship, and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets.” -Tom Stoppard
So at the lead of Cloak and Dagger are Tyrone and Tandy. Tyrone’s a private school basketball player whose brother was killed by a police officer, Tandy’s living rough and scamming rich douchebags because her father was wrongly blamed by the Roxxon corporation for the destruction of an offshore rig, leaving Tandy and her addict mother broke. And the night Tyrone’s brother and Tandy’s father both died, both thanks in part to that rig explosion, they both washed up on the same beach. And when they’re reunited years later, they discover that the explosion gave them powers. Tandy can summon daggers of light, Tyrone can teleport, and when they touch people, they can see visions of their hopes or fears respectively.
Tandy’s addiction issues are well done and not overplayed, as she goes from being hooked on opioids (I assume, what other prescription pills do you grind up and snort?) to being addicted to a simulation of her father’s voice to freebasing people’s hopes and dreams (our hero, ladies and gentlemen). She’s a tough character to like but easy enough to empathize with. Tyrone is a well-built character, to be sure, and the better of the two. He’s still filled with anger over the death of his brother, and the utter lack of repercussions for the officer involved (who, by the way, is now Bad Lieutenant levels of corrupt), but his parents are riding him to stay on the straightest of narrows lest he die too. His motives make sense, his frustrations are real, his arc speaks to an important issue in the US, and that would all be great, it’s just, it’s just…
No, we’ll get to that later.
Gotham, as I described… well, no fewer than five people have, at one point over the series, launched a scheme of mild to mass destruction in an effort to show Jim Gordon “who he really is,” and it is an ordeal each time and whoever’s doing it is instantly the worst person on the show. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true, it takes a lot to be worse than perpetual nogoodnik Barbara Kean, and not everyone out to prove a point to Jim Gordon manages it.
Ugh. Barbara Kean. I guess the producers like the actress playing her because she has been a train wreck since season one, has almost never been in a good storyline, certainly not as a main character, but she just won’t go away. Death couldn’t do it. Although, really, to be anyone in Gotham’s crime circles you really need to die at least once. It’s like a rite of passage.
They’re so thirsty to bring in as many Bat-villains as possible that they introduced Jerome, the proto-Joker, who commits a series of carnival-themed mass murders while acting as Joker-like as possible (even with a sewn-on face at one point, to homage the recent classic “Death of the Family”), but they never commit to him actually being the Joker, because they seem perpetually unwilling to think more than one story ahead. At one point he magically shows up at Wayne Manor (which has the worst security in the known universe, villains stroll into Bruce’s study all the goddamn time) and literally smashes a more interesting plot point.
Gotham is filled with big ideas but very little notion of how to pull them off.
Craftsmanship is what allows Legion showrunner Noah Hawley to craft a tight and compelling story arc each season. Vision is what makes every frame of Legion a painting, the most innovative show on TV.
And I am here to tell you that for all of Cloak and Dagger’s craftsmanship, it has precious little vision.
Okay. Let me back up to that rig explosion for a second. See, while Roxxon is happy to try to pin everything on Tandy’s father, the real cause was that they were cutting corners to save money while trying to drill for a weird and sinister magical energy like it’s oil.
Let me say that again. They are drilling for a weird and sinister magical energy like it’s oil and if that wasn’t enough corporate greed for ten episodes they are doing it sloppily to save money, which puts all of New Orleans at risk because exposure to this weird energy turns people into rage monsters, and every time some douche in a suit tries to save $50 by ignoring the engineers in charge of extracting the dark and sinister soul-juice mortal man was not meant to meddle with, they risk a citywide rage monster outbreak.
That… that should be the main story. Right? Shouldn’t it? Magical force gives two teens superpowers, same magical force threatens to wipe New Orleans off the map? Only Tyrone’s new girlfriend’s voodoo-slinging mother can point Cloak and Dagger to their destiny? Right?
Then why is it only a thing in episodes six, seven, and ten?
This is the main plot. This is what Tyrone and Tandy have been given powers to prevent. And yet it is at best the C-plot of the first season, and the A and B plots are… so, so basic.
Tyrone is out to bring the cop (Officer-now-Detective Connors) who killed his brother to justice. One cop. One cop who has graduated from shooting unarmed black youths to having some unspecified major role in New Orleans’ drug trade, which is being run by one person who maybe is Detective Connors? I don’t know. It is not clear. I think it’s supposed to be a plot point for season two and God I hate it when shows do that.
So with the secret mastermind of New Orleans’ drug supply off the table until next year, Tyrone’s out to bring down one cop. Just one. One committing so many crimes that you’d think it was only a matter of time before he got caught for something.
There are three really big problems with this taking up half of our season, to the point where Detective Connors is still demanding focus while rage zombies are swarming over New Orleans.
First. One corrupt cop doesn’t exactly live up to the likes of Damien Darhk, Wilson Fisk, the Reverse-Flash, or Kilgrave, does it? Doesn’t even live up to The Hand or Vandal goddamn Savage. An effort to bring down one single cop who killed a black youth back in the day is not something I look for in an entire season of a TV show that opens with the Marvel logo. It is, at best, a two-part episode of Elementary.
By comparison, Gotham is endlessly creative in its creation of villains. Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot is almost enough to keep me invested on his own. Cameron Monaghan’s not-Joker-but-Jokeresque Jerome improves with every outing. But the one highlight I’ll name is Anthony Carrigan’s take on Victor Zsasz, which is possibly… no, definitely… the best version of this B-list Bat-villain ever done. He’s used sparingly but is a delight every time he turns up. Detective Connors is used constantly and wears thin quickly.
Yes, sure, it is extremely difficult for the families of African Americans wrongfully killed by the police to get any sort of justice, but I don’t turn to superhero shows to tell me justice isn’t possible. I have the news for that. And this brings us to point two.
Second. In order to stretch Detective Connors’ schemes out to near the end of episode ten, they need to make the entirety of the NOPD hopelessly, comically corrupt to its very core. There are two good cops in all of New Orleans: Detective Brigid O’Reilly, freshly transferred from Harlem*, and Fuchs, the uniform officer she starts dating. Every other cop in New Orleans is willing to do whatever it takes to cover up any and all crimes Connors commits, up to and including unambiguously murdering other cops. Why? Why is this? Because of the uncle he mentions after he kills Tyrone’s brother, the one who presumably made that go away? Because he’s the N’Awlins drug kingpin they’re keeping in place because hey, at least they know where all the drugs are coming from? Impossible to say. Both of those concepts are hinted at but never explored because Zod Almighty forbid that any actually interesting story points get explored in the first season. No, just put a pin in everything but Connors’ crime spree and Tandy’s daddy issues.
Gotham, on the other hand, leaves nothing on the table. Any plotline could get thrown out in five episodes if the showrunner thinks up something he likes more, so they get right to the meat of it as quickly as they can. Sure the plot is possibly, even probably very stupid, but at least you’re not shouting “Get there!” Well, maybe Party Boy Dick Bruce. That overstayed its welcome fast, but in general my point stands.
But the real problem with painting the entire NOPD as this corrupt is that it saps Tyrone’s plotline of that realism that people are likely to use to defend it.Connors doesn’t get away with killing Tyrone’s brother because of the blue code of silence. He doesn’t get acquitted by a grand jury because the defense stacked it with white jurors. No, the entire NOPD twists itself into a pretzel to cover up his every wrongdoing, even when fellow cops are dying. An entire precinct watches him openly plot to murder Tyrone and fellow cop O’Reilly while they’re in handcuffs and just says “Sure.”
That’s not realism, that’s HR from Person of Interest, the organised crime syndicate operating within the NYPD. Except it’s worse than that because HR hadn’t taken over the entire force, and was taken down twice in three seasons. It’s the cartoonishly corrupt police department of Gotham, the police department that agreed to let Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot take over law enforcement through the issuing of crime licenses. But Jeebas, when that happened, Jim Gordon was able to redeem the entire GCPD in only nine episodes, despite being so terrible at everything he does. Seriously, there isn’t a trap he hasn’t walked gleefully into, a villain he hasn’t tried to fight single-handedly even though it never worked. But even he could redeem a police district by setting a good example.
And the fact that the NOPD is so hopelessly corrupted brings us to problem number three… Connors doesn’t go to jail. He gets swallowed by Tyrone’s powers. Consumed by the “cloak” that his powers manifest. So the moral of Tyrone’s arc is “The system is so broken that the only way to get justice is murder.”
That’s… are we there? Has it gotten that bad? That a show aimed at teens is advocating that murder is the only justice?
I don’t love that**. I don’t know what the real path to justice is, or if there even is one, but superheroes are supposed to leave a little hope that it exists.
*Luke Cage‘s Misty Knight and O’Reilly are established as buds on both shows. Between that and the head of Roxxon saying he has to compete with the Starks and the Rands, there’s more Marvel-universe-connecting than we ever saw on Runaways. But let’s not get excited about crossovers. We all know there won’t be any.
**To specify, I am 100% fine with Detective Connors taking the express train to the Bad Place, I just would have rathered O’Reilly killed him.
And then there’s Tandy
Tandy’s arc is a little less straight-forward, and more tied to Roxxon’s rage zombies. It’s just a little… all over the place. She’s all about grifting, then she’s all about proving that her father wasn’t responsible for the explosion and bringing down Roxxon, then she learns one bad thing that breaks her image of her perfect father… in fairness it was a pretty damn bad thing… and immediately forgets about her dad’s good name (fair, maybe?), the Roxxon assassin who killed her mother’s boyfriend to stop his lawsuit against them (way less fair), and the fact that Roxxon is drilling for magic ooze and being cheap and careless about it which is the entire reason her father is dead. That’s not particularly fair at all. Especially since she forgets all of that in order to become an even worse person than she was before, moving from stealing people’s stuff to stealing their hopes.
It’s not all shoddy writing, though. Not entirely. There is a consistent characterization happening here. Not as rigidly, maddeningly consistent as Gotham’s Jim Gordon, whose character is so consistent he never once learns a lesson about running off to confront a villain without bringing backup, but also not so wildly inconsistent as… everyone else on Gotham. It’s just a bit a slog to get through.
And they know it’s a slog. That’s why the penultimate episode has a framing device in which they keep cutting to one of Tyrone’s teachers explaining the “regression” stage of Joseph’s Campbell’s Hero’s Journey monomyth theory, and how it’s frustrating for the reader/viewer but an important stage in the hero’s story, so we just have to buckle down and get through it.
I) “Regression” is not a stage of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. It’s merely one of the various tropes writers have employed in the “Ordeal” stage. So becoming a worse person than when we met her is not, strictly speaking, a necessary stage of the hero’s journey, it’s just the one they chose, and…
II) Having a character basically step outside of the narrative and explain to the audience that this is going to be frustrating but we promise it’s important demonstrates a deep lack of faith in their own plot point. From the second scene (the first is Tyrone’s new girlfriend Evita’s voodoo-priestess mother doing a rum-based ritual to figure out what, specifically, is dooming New Orleans… I don’t have time to explain that sentence, just read it again and try to keep up), they are apologizing for this entire episode. If that’s something you feel a need to do… then write something else, because your own script is trying to tell you something.
So Tandy is unpleasant. She’s not a natural born hero, she’s an addict given power and it takes her a while to choose to use it wisely. It’s not inherently a bad arc, it’s just really slow, and has an 11th-hour regression that even the show’s writers don’t care for, or at least don’t believe in. She resists being a hero with every fibre of her being for nine and a half episodes. Which is Marvel YA, and kind of Marvel Netflix, all over. They take a story that would normally fit comfortably into a two hour movie and pad and stretch it out into 10-13 episodes. Maybe that’s your thing. Personally, I prefer to have the character decide to be a hero within two episodes and spend the first season learning how exactly to do that through episodic adventures, and that’s something the CW is more than happy to provide me with, but if you’d rather spend ten hours watching Tandy learn to care about something other than herself then hey here that is.
Cloak and Dagger does have a few moments of inspiration. Episode three ends with Tyrone and Tandy experiencing a vision representing each other’s pasts and possible futures, bringing each to the conclusion that the other needs to change their approach. It’s a bravura sequence in a season that has, maybe, three of those. But the issue I’m bringing up is that a big chunk of the vision, certainly most of Tyrone’s vision about Tandy, takes place in this one chunk of forest. A lot of visions take place in that one chunk of forest. Don’t know why.
It’s an attempt at vision. It just… doesn’t quite get there. Not compared to the poison-induced fever dream that convinces Bruce Wayne to stop being a jackass and get back to Batmanning in season four of Gotham.
The Framing Devices
Three times over the course of the season, there’s a framing device for an episode. Three times they cut between the main narrative and Evita having something explained to her, usually by her voodoo priestess mother (honestly, I don’t know what else I have to explain there, I said it perfectly clearly all three times), and once by the possibly alcoholic priest (another story given almost no attention so we can focus on trying to prove Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans might be a bad cop) who teaches English at her and Tyrone’s school. Each one of these framing devices has a serious problem to it.
In the first, Evita’s mother does a tarot card reading on Tyrone and Tandy. Over the course of the entire episode. The problem here is that it’s episode six and we’ve never had a framing device untethered to the main narrative before. Tyrone and Tandy’s plots take multiple days to play out, and throughout all of it, Evita’s mother is just slowly dealing out cards. We don’t know that this isn’t supposed to match the timeline of the main stories, we just think she’s taking forever to do a simple card reading. “I’ve been dealing the cards for years,” she says. “This specific reading?” I ask.
The second we talked about. A side character comes a step away from literally apologizing for the ninth episode. Not even Inhumans did that.
And in the third, Evita’s mother walks us through her belief in the Divine Pairings: pairs of people throughout history who came together to save New Orleans from some major crisis, always through one of them dying. This has been what she’s been spending half of the season telling us, that Tyrone and Tandy are a Divine Pairing, a crisis is coming, and one of them will have to die stopping it. Before I tell you the problem with this framing device, let me give it props for setting each story to a cover of “Come Sail Away” that matches the time period. That was neat.
The issue is not the fact that of course neither Tandy nor Tyrone are going to die, they wanted and received a second season. The issue is that a lot of her examples call her whole theory into question. In order…
Two native siblings, one of which drowns herself to stop a famine, the other of which doesn’t really do anything. That’s not a story about a Divine Pairing, that’s a story about one girl who died to appease a mean, mean god or whatever.
Two brothers have a duel over a woman, one of them throws it, and a storm that maybe would have gotten around to menacing New Orleans coincidentally ends as he dies. Honestly I’m a little surprised anyone, even the voodoo community, bothered to write this one down. It was raining and then it wasn’t and also a rich asshole got shot by his brother. Lumping it in with the others smacks of confirmation bias if’n you ask me.
A messenger in the War of 1812 who was carrying word that the war was over and the Battle of New Orleans could call it a day, and the woman who delivered his message after he’s shot in front of her. That’s… there were a lot of other people in that story, lady.
A doctor that’s trying to cure a plague, and injects his own blood into his lover in an attempt to cure him. And when the final, lethal withdrawal of blood cures the doctor’s lover, the plague in general goes away. Again, that’s one person who did a thing and one person who was pretty enough to motivate him, “Divine Pairing” might be stretching things.
So really it’s no surprise Tandy and Tyrone defy their supposed destiny. The Divine Pairing theory has some holes in it. What we really have, at most, is a dark force that agrees to stop screwing with the New Orleans area if someone good offs themself, and also a possibly apocryphal anecdote about the War of 1812.
You never have to worry about Gotham having a larger meaning it fails to live up to. Mostly from lack of effort on their part to have a larger meaning. Basically they just keep coming up with excuses to say “It’s a new day in Gotham,” and the only way they can fail to pay that off is if the last shot of the finale isn’t Bruce putting on his Batman costume for the first time while Jim Gordon repeats the line.
Random Cloak and Dagger thoughts
To reiterate, Tandy sees a Roxxon assassin kill her would-be step-dad to silence the lawsuit he was helping her mother with, and she just… forgets about it. Moves on. Makes a deal with Roxxon like they don’t have an assassin who cleans up their messes, and won’t risk catastrophe to save less money than she was demanding. That’s beyond Jim Gordon-level foolish, that is season one Iron Fist Danny Rand-level dumb.
Oliver Queen and Barry Allen have made some questionable decisions these past six seasons but they’ve never freebased stolen hopes. That was an extreme regression for the penultimate episode.
While explaining that this regression that sorry, we know you hate, was going to forge Tandy and Tyrone into stronger heroes (well Tandy had nowhere to go but up, really), it also hints that we’re witnessing Detective O’Reilly’s origin as a villain. Guess we’ll see where that’s heading next season. I’m okay with it. The actress was pretty good.
The commentary on US race relations is pretty spot-on. It was just done better on Black Lightning. Which again managed to show that cops can be bad and/or racist without turning the entire police force into Cobra from GI Joe.
It’s early days yet but I can basically guarantee you’re not going to be seeing Tyrone’s name under “Best Male Lead” next June. He’s trying his best but he’s got a ways to go.
Random Gotham thoughts
This is the worst thing Gotham has ever done, and it involves Ivy Pepper, who we’re made to believe from episode one will later be Poison Ivy, despite the fact that even Joel Schumacher knew that Poison Ivy’s name is Pamela Isely. Anyway, in season one and two, she’s a young girl, but twice over the course of the show she’s magically aged-up into older bodies that emerge wearing her old clothes, now small and clingy to show off the new body’s… matured shape. It is also made clear, at least the first time, that her mind didn’t age up with her. Starting in season three Ivy Pepper has the mind of a 12 year old but a body the producers are legally free to sexualize, and that’s gross, that’s a gross thing they did, it’s gross.
I never knew how much I wanted Mr. Freeze to fight Firefly until it happened in season two and it was gorgeous.
Speaking of Mr. Freeze, I appreciate how they dispensed with an old tradition, as Harvey Bullock insists Victor Fries’ name isn’t pronounced “Freeze.” He says “No, I’m good with last names. It’s not ‘freeze,’ it’s ‘frice.'” Turns out he’s right.
Also clever, if sadly short-lived… Ra’s Al Ghul dispatches colourful assassins to reclaim a special dagger from Bruce Wayne. When they fail, and the GCPD becomes involved, he tries a new tactic… he shows up at the GCPD in glasses and a sweater-vest saying “Hello, I’m Ra’s Al Ghul from the Nanda Parbat consulate, may we have our cultural artifact back please?” If the GCPD hadn’t been answering to Penguin at the time it would have worked. And it’s something Arrowverse Ra’s Al Ghul would never have thought up. That’s three times Gotham has done a villainbetter than you, Arrow, get it together.
And finally, my conclusion
Am I saying Gotham is a better show than Cloak and Dagger? No. That’s a not a statement I or anyone could stand behind. Better than Inhumans, sure, better than Iron Fist, yes, but better than Cloak and Dagger,not so much.
It is, however, so much more watchable. Gotham’s good episodes may be vastly outnumbered by the bad ones, but I keep tuning back in because for every plotline that has me screaming in complaint, there’s another where I have to see where it’s going.
Cloak and Dagger… I knew within two episodes where the bulk of this was going, and was very swiftly impatient for it to hurry up and get there. It didn’t help that they leaned into the previous season’s most overplayed and annoying trope.
Cloak and Dagger has very solid fundamentals. But they need to think bigger. They need to commit to a central narrative, and make it one that’s fun to watch now and then.
They need vision.
Until then… No Man’s Land for the final season of Gotham? Where are they going with that?
Okay. So let’s get down to it. Twenty-two comic book series. How do they stack up? And perhaps some hints about why we didn’t hear from some of them during the awards portion. Worst to best, let’s get this party started.
Did somebody bet Scott Buck that he couldn’t make a worse show than Iron Fist?
A cheap-looking blend of boring and annoying, determined to find the least interesting version of some of Marvel’s strangest characters, weirdly reluctant to connect to even the other Marvel show about Inhumans on the same network.
To paraphrase the late, great Achewood, Inhumans failed with a focus and intensity normally seen only in successes.
#21. The Defenders
This still looks more like a failed Law and Order spinoff than a superhero show to me.
This one has fallen the furthest in my esteem since my initial review. In August, I was digging the show’s strengths… primarily the interplay between Matt Murdock & Jessica Jones and Luke Cage & Danny Rand… enough that I was willing to forgive some of its many flaws (aggravatingly slow start, misuse of supporting cast, poor pacing despite being only eight episodes, focusing the plot on the worst parts of the franchise and no they haven’t improved). But as the TV season progressed, I began to turn on the show more and more, because this overly talky, stripped-down, “grounded” miniseries is what Marvel Netflix thinks prestige comic TV looks like, and it isn’t, it just isn’t.
Although the overall franchise bounced back a little since then, and is no longer getting its ass kicked quite so thoroughly by the CW.
#20. The Flash
I swear to Zod this show used to be great.
[Deep sigh] Come on, guys, you are better than this.
They tried to bring back the fun after the Refrigerating-Iris Savitar arc from last year, and for six episodes it was working and working well… then the Thinker arc kicked into gear, and every single thing the show did well from that point on was drowned out by the oppressively and remorselessly grim A-plot. I love so much of this show, but their refusal to cut Team Flash a break made tuning in a chore.
Pull it together, Flash.
(But any dudebros saying that the real problem was too much Iris can go straight to Hell. Why are fandoms so toxic lately.)
I thought I was out but they pulled me back in.
The season’s most improved player didn’t creep up too far, because the greatest problem about Gotham is that it is maddeningly inconsistent, with extreme highs and lows. When it’s good, it’s actually pretty damn good, but when it’s bad it is so very bad, and you never know which Gotham you’re going to get from episode to episode, or even scene to scene. It has some of the best cinematography and art direction of any show on this list but frequently pairs it with shoddy storytelling.
The show cycles through multiple storylines per year, which means never getting mired in something as bad as the Thinker on Flashfor 22 episodes, but also means a plot you enjoy might get tossed out or devolve into some Barbara Kean or Jerome the Proto-Joker nonsense. Actors are made full-cast regulars but might get dropped at any point… like Ra’s Al Ghul, who only turned up for half the season, or Harvey Dent, who was a series regular for nearly all of season two but was only in three episodes. Put these two things together, and it gives the appearance that the writers have no plan. They’re just making things up as they go along.
This year the good parts (most of Penguin, the Riddler, Solomon Grundy, early Ra’s Al Ghul, and even about half of Jim Gordon, who had classicly been stuck in the worst plots) were as good as the show has ever been, and even Jerome the Proto-Joker, a concept I never overly cared for, was surprisingly entertaining. But the bad parts (90% of Barbara Kean, at least half of Bruce Wayne, late Ra’s Al Ghul, anyone trying to show Jim Gordon who he really is– which has not gotten more fun since the last five times it happened) were everything that’s bad about Gotham in its purest form.
Ugh. This Zod damned show. I can’t believe I’m going to watch every single episode of it.
Maybe the best DC Superhero Prequel Show, but why is that a genre?
The mid-point plot twist was a game-changer that made the second half of Krypton surprisingly compelling and sets up a potentially improved season two. This does not, to my mind, make up for the fact that the first half of Krypton was mostly drab nonsense. Until the Zod reveal, it was Smallville that thought it was Game of Thrones, and no show has a right to only be good in its back half.
Oliver Queen can’t get no respect.
Two great… or at least really well cast… villains and a much, much improved Felicity Smoak helped, but a sluggish second act and a season arc that hinged on two of the year’s most annoying and overplayed tropes (all-knowing mastermind and heroes-behind-bars) mean that Arrow has lost ground since its top-four placing last year.
#16. The Gifted
For those who like the X-Men but not any of the X-Men in movies.
The Gifted shows a lot of promise, especially in the Mutant Underground vs. Hellfire Club plot they’ve kicked off. Certainly more promise than an X-Men show in a world without X-Men seemed to suggest. But that potential isn’t quite paying off yet. Improved pacing and making the Struckers more interesting (or less central, either way) could bring this show from “okay” to “quite good.” But man I do not care for Agent Jace, even if Emma Dumont thinks his motives are perfectly understandable.
Some shows on the list manage to EARN teen melodrama.
Is it me? Have I been spoiled by so many shows that favour seasonal arcs over full-series arcs? Is that why I ended up less fond of Runaways?
You know what, no. It’s an insanely crowded TV landscape this year. There’s so much TV on that I somehow still haven’t finished the second season of Santa Clarita Diet and it is so freaking funny this year, you have no idea. So while Runaways was doing well, save for some really clunky dialogue here and there, the fact remains that the first season is essentially a ten-hour pilot.
If you have room in your viewing schedule for a ten-hour pilot, you could do a lot worse. If you don’t, then hey, I get that.
Seriously, how does this show even exist. I watch it religiously but I still don’t understand.
Detractors of Riverdale will point out how ridiculous and overwrought everything that happens is on this noir crime thiller that for some reason stars the Archie Comics characters. Fans of the show will point to the exact same things. Yes, this show is… it is melodramatic to the point of self-parody. By way of a for instance, Betty Cooper had her previously unknown half-brother Chic teach her to be a dominatrix cam girl and they just, and they just, they just moved on like that wasn’t even a thing. “Betty becomes a cam girl! Anyhoo, let’s check back in on Archie joining the mafia.”
It works because it knows what a ridiculous melodrama it is, and they lean into it so hard. From the direction to the cinematography to the set decoration to the acting, everyone knows exactly what this show is and they commit to it. That’s why I don’t ding Riverdale for clunky, awkward dialogue like I did Runaways. Because Archie’s pals and gals sell it. And that’s what makes it so hard to stop watching.
I mean… if you can get past the fact that it is, at its core, this ridiculous. Which I can.
#13. Agents of SHIELD
Yep, it DOES still exist.
And so ends their reign as Marvel’s best TV show. Turns out it’s a hard title to hold when Marvel Netflix actually shows up to work.
Despite that fact that no other Marvel property (save for the comics) will even look Agents of SHIELD in the eye, it does remain an entertaining watch with some delightfully charming (most of the time) characters. That said… of the two halves to the season, “SHIELD in Space” and “Fix the Future” (my titles not theirs), the first one overstayed its welcome by a few weeks, and the second did nothing with one of its central premises. Which is to say, the fact that the Agents of SHIELD might have been stuck in a time loop ultimately had little impact. They broke the time loop with little effort, just because they decided to. Not the strongest choice.
But it was fun watching them write a season like it was going to be their last.
#12. Luke Cage
You can’t burn him, blast him, break him, or convince him to learn about pacing.
So, showrunner, you see your season as a Zeppelin album, something to be experienced in its entirety, rather than a collection of singles. Cool. So that means you don’t care so much about making each episode its own thing. Sure. But you still, honestly I’m also getting tired of saying it, you still need to work on pacing. As much as Alfre Woodard is acting the Hell out of Mariah, the fact remains that her arc runs out of momentum in episode ten. Of thirteen. And episodes ten and eleven reeked of filler, and that was too late in the season for filler.
They improved on a lot of fronts. They have two good villains (three including Shades) and stick to them instead of pulling in a Diamondback for the third act. (It was amusing watching the showrunner try to walk back an admission that he didn’t use Diamondback this season because nobody liked him). Misty Knight was finally well used. It only took them three episodes to get the plot going, not five. Maybe this show was the season’s most improved player, not Gotham… but I continue to live in hope of a Marvel Netflix show that actually knows how to fill 13 episodes.
Also once again Luke Cage manages to be one of the least interesting or necessary characters on his own show. I think about the A-plot and it’s all about Mariah and Bushmaster but also Luke is there. He’d lift right out. Not ideal.
Still, more worked than didn’t. We’re at that point of the list.
#11. The Punisher
You know… if gun-toting white men are what you look for in a hero, instead of a systemic problem with America.
Okay. So. Gun-toting mass murderers are a kind of problematic as far as leading characters go, in this time where the United States has mass shootings once a week. And knowing this, they included the bad kind of disgruntled while male turned domestic terrorist… well that was rough to type… in the form of rat-faced Lewis, the ex-soldier who despite all the support in the world becomes a mad bomber because he meets one bigoted gun-nut who radicalizes him against liberal society. Which, fine, okay, but they sure did waste a lot of time on Lewis when the beginning and end of his arc were the only necessary moments. And hey, maybe implying that every soldier can become a remorseless killing machine once back in society isn’t awesome? Maybe show that there are ways to get past battlefield trauma other than mass murder?
Also, and I cannot stress this enough, making this a second origin story was a bad, bad choice. Frank knew his old commanding officers were involved in his family’s death, he should not have needed Micro to walk him through it in order to care about it again. When your franchise is known for pacing problems the way Marvel Netflix is, don’t waste your first episode dragging your lead back to square one.
I am looking at you, Daredevil season three. Don’t screw this up, Daredevil season three.
Still, pacing issues and too much Lewis aside… Jon Bernthal was great as Frank Castle, Ben Barnes was great as Frank’s frienemesis Billy Russo, and Amber Rose Revah was the best “Marvel Netflix Badass Female Co-Lead” since Trish Walker, so if you aren’t instantly turned off by the nature of the protagonist, there’s stuff to enjoy here.
#10. The End of the F***ing World
Now, THIS is a teen drama we can ALL enjoy.
It’s a little bleak, and gets bleaker, especially as the odds of an “And they get away with it” ending fade the closer they get to James’ 18th try-me-as-an-adult birthday. But it’s still a fun and quick paced watch with two solid leads, who have great emotional journeys, and good supporting cast.
Come on, you’ve wasted four hours on worse, give it a go.
#9. Jessica Jones
Who’s the badass private dick who’ll leave your ass kicked by a chick?
Jessica’s still a treat to watch in action, and the main plot gave her whole new demons to grapple with. Jessica’s great, the villain is great, Jeri Hogarth is super great, solid supporting cast with the exception of Pryce Cheng…
But just because you put all of the pointless wheel-spinning in the first half of the season doesn’t mean there isn’t any pointless wheel spinning. So it’s top ten, but it still takes a tumble from its first season.
The only walking dead anyone needs.
Man this show is fun. Just fun. And such a great central cast… Liv, Major, Ravi, Clive, Payton, Liv and Ravi a second time for emphasis, I am going to miss these guys like crazy when the show ends next year. Even the villains are fun to watch. It’s why I’m glad that four seasons in, Blaine DeBeers has never truly paid for his sins. I need him lurking around launching schemes.
That said… they kind of had the opposite problem as anything ever from Marvel Netflix. The Marvel Netflix offerings struggled to fill 13 episodes (or even eight… Jesus Christ, Defenders…), while this year iZombie could have used an extra nine to flesh out a couple of their central themes more. Bother Love’s zombie supremacist church, Fillmore Graves’ struggle to maintain order, the growing movement to just nuke New Seattle and be done with it, all of these could have used a bit more time.
…Except that might have led to it taking even longer to bring down the corrupt, brain-skimming Fillmore Graves soldier that Liv identified in the season premiere. Not ideal.
#7. Black Lightning
[Insert your own pun about electricity]
Now, this is how you do a 13 episode season, Marvel Netflix. Black Lightning is nearly all thriller with very little filler. The lead works, his family mostly works like gangbusters (his ex-wife is a bit of a drag early on, because saying “don’t be a hero, [main character]” is never a strong choice), Tobias Whale is a villain I’m glad to have stick around for multiple seasons… plus few if any pacing problems, and unlike, say, Luke Cage*, when Black Lightning takes on systemic oppression of African-Americans, they make the systemic oppressors the bad guys.
Look, this close to the top five, I’m going to start running out of bad things to say about shows. Let’s just be okay with that.
*Obviously Luke Cage and Black Lightning don’t need to be in direct competition. There are… [checks spreadsheet] 15 shows on this list with white male leads and they don’t have to battle each other for the right to exist, we do not need to pit the two black leads against each other any more than we needed to pit Supergirl and Jessica Jones against each other two years back. I’m just saying, they each attempted this one thing, but Black Lightning did it better.
Girl of Steel, Heart of Gold
The CW’s most unapologetically liberal and wonderfully hopeful show. Even getting punched into a coma in the fall finale can’t rob Kara Zor-El/Danvers of her compassion for all, even her enemies. Plus the second best A-plot of any CW show. The central cast is all delightful, Mon-El was much improved (and he was pretty fun in season two), Brainiac Five was great, Saturn Girl was decent (so she’s telekinetic now? You are just determined to write out Cosmic Boy)… there are probably ways that Supergirl could push from good to great, but it’s most of the way there most days.
Okay. Top five. We’re into the photo finishes here, people.
FYI, I’m done acting confused as to why this show is so good. I have embraced it.
Man this show is good.
What started as “Castle but instead of a mystery writer it’s the literal devil” has become a brilliant ensemble show that, yes, at its heart, still involves the ex-King of Hell helping the LAPD solve murders, but is also television’s sharpest theological deconstruction. From sympathy for the Devil to the introduction of God’s ex-wife to pointing out the part of Cain and Abel nobody considers (Abel was a dick), now that Lucifer has started playing with the divine, it’s addictive television. And the cast doesn’t have a weak link. Not even the kid.
Sure they forgot about the whole Sinnerman thing for half the season but man this show is good. I am so glad I get at least ten more episodes. (#LuciferSaved! We did it, Lucifam!)
#4. Legends of Tomorrow
The best band of misfits you could ask for.
Few shows capture pure fun like the last two seasons of Legends of Tomorrow. I’m not saying it’s pure good times, they emotionally crushed me at least twice this season (I asked you to stop writing out Arthur Darville, Zod damn you), but every episode delivers at least some high-octane time travel shenanigans. Time Agents Ava Sharpe (the badass who hooks up with Sara Lance and it’s adorable) and Gary (the comic relief one) were good additions, and bringing Matt Ryan’s John Constantine into the show almost but not quite makes up for writing out two of my very favourites this year you bastards. That’s three of my very favourites gone, with only… what’s the count now… five absolute favourites left! (They’ve managed to add three.)
It might, if anything, be a little too glib, but rumours circulate that next season might correct that. Oh, please don’t let this show hit a fourth season slump like Flash and Arrow did, I live for these kooky time travellers.
Just the BEST kind of weird.
Legion is visually and narratively daring and inventive like nothing else on television. A longer runtime for their second outing didn’t create padding so much as gave key moments room to breathe, spending entire episodes on emotional beats that might have gotten condensed to a single scene or montage with only eight episodes. A phenomenal cast, brilliant cinematography, few shows command full and undivided attention like this one, where every frame feels significant.
I just wish they hadn’t done that thing they did in the finale. But they did. So regardless of how it may lead to an interesting and different third season, it’s down to third place for you, Legion.
…I kinda want to rewatch the whole thing. Good thing I’ve never deleted an episode from my PVR.
Back in the 90s and early 2000s I never thought I’d see this show. What a time to be alive.
The one show on this list giving Legion a run for its money in terms of visuals is Preacher. Gotham is trying its best but it’s not there yet. Preacher has addictive scripts, brilliant visuals, and an excellent cast. I need this show to run for ten seasons, each bigger and bolder than the last. If they’d come up with character arcs for Tulip and Cassidy as good as Jesse’s, this would be the uncontested champion. As it is… that title falls elsewhere…
#1. The Tick
The Wild Blue Yonder is your guarantee of good times.
It’s not just that The Tick is almost aggressively fun, or that the whole cast is superb (down to the voice of Alan Tudyk as Danger Boat, Overkill’s sentient boat/lair) and wonderfully well written. It’s that The Tick, above all others, is constantly the best version of itself. There are no filler episodes, no pacing issues, no underwritten Tulips or brutally unsettling finales or unnecessary villain swaps or villains too obnoxiously good at predicting the heroes’ every move. There is virtually nothing I did or could roll my eyes at. It’s just 12 episodes of exceptionally good, exceptionally fun, perfectly crafted television, and by the time it was done I loved it to death. I cannot recommend The Tick enough.
And we made it. Twelve awards given out, twenty-two shows ranked. Remember when this started, and there were only seven? And ranking them was so fast I did a bonus section on Elementary and Doctor Who and whatnot just to keep it going? Man. Simpler times. Well, it probably can’t get more crowded than–
The DC Universe streaming service launches soon, doesn’t it. Damn it.
Well… if there’s no legal way to watch Titans and Doom Patrol in Canada, I probably don’t have to write about them, right? Right?
Round two, in which we tackle the season’s best characters over many categories. We’ve got new faces, returning champions, upsets, and two of the hardest-fought categories there are.
Lots to get through, let’s get to it.
(A kind of significant spoiler for Jessica Jones season two lies ahead)
Best Male Lead!
Good lord but this category was a slugfest. Stellar work from some notable names, any one of whom would have taken gold in past years. But only three(ish) can make the podium.
I guess nothing is technically stopping me from just handing out six titles, “Gold, Also Gold, Still Gold, This One’s Gold Too,” but once you havea format you should really stick to it, you know?
Honourable mentions: I honestly can’t honourably mention these guys enough. What we have this year is seven stellar performances in a race that came down to inches. Cress Williams makes an impressive debut as the titular hero in Black Lightning; Jon Bernthal continues to do great work as Frank Castle in The Punisher; and Dominic Cooper’s Jesse Custer from Preacher was a lock for the podium until our gold medalist pulled some serious moves late in the year.
Bronze: Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, Lucifer
Image: Warner Bros.
This season Lucifer dealt with an identity crisis, made a rival into a friend and had a friend become an enemy, and finally confronted his feelings for his crime-solving partner Chloe Decker, and throughout it all Tom Ellis crushed it. The charm, the rage, the way he slays a one-liner, he’s phenomenal in this role. No wonder he fought so hard to keep it.
Silver: Peter Serafinowicz & Griffin Newman as The Tick & Arthur, The Tick
So, yeah, three-ish. Because one of the year’s better entries hinges not on one hero, but a double-act between an invincible but easily confused hero and his anxiety-ridden but clearheaded partner.
Peter Serafinowicz is note-perfect as the Tick, who makes up with strength and unbending confidence in destiny what he lacks in clarity about who, what, and why he is. And Griffin Newman gives a star-turn as the show’s real central character, Arthur, terrified of what might be his heroic destiny, but driven by a need to see the Terror brought down. The Tick is the heart, Arthur is the soul, and they’re perfect together.
Gold: Dan Stevens as David Haller, Legion
Now… if I were calling this “Best Male Hero,” this might have gone a little different, because David Haller has a few flaws in the “hero” department, strictly speaking. But as the male lead, Dan Stevens brought his performance to a new level. Even putting aside his confusion and hope and rage and grief as the season plays out, even putting aside the subtle but growing hints that David might not be all we think he is, even putting aside “Behind Blue Eyes…” and damn but that’s all some impressive stuff to put aside… I likely would have had to give this one to him based on “Chapter 14” alone, in which David imagines all the other ways his life could have gone. David the remorseless billionaire (who might be more Farouk and than David); David the heavily medicated schizophrenic just trying to get by; David the homeless man screaming at nothing, and all of them are just attempts to distract himself from the powerful grief he’s feeling in the wake of the previous episode’s revelation. And if that weren’t enough, by the finale he’s having entire arguments with buried aspects of himself, meaning there are whole scenes that are just three distinct Davids.
Dan Stevens gave us one of the great virtuoso performances of the season, comic TV or otherwise. I’m a little apprehensive about where the show’s going next season, but I’m confident that Stevens will be worth watching when it happens.
Best Female Lead!
In a perfect world, this category would be every bit as competitive as its male counterpart, but sadly we are not in that world yet. But it’s getting closer. Much closer than year one of this series, to be sure, and if there’s a lack of female leading parts in this genre, it sure ain’t from lack of talent.
Honourable mentions: Simone Missick’s material finally started to rise to her level on Luke Cage; Rose McIvor remains a delight as iZombie’s Liv Moore; Nafessa Williams made Anissa “Thunder” Pierce as compelling a hero as her lightning-tossing father on Black Lightning; Ruth Negga will be a shoo-in for her work on Preacher the second she gets a proper story; and last year’s champion, Caity Lotz, is still killing it on Legends of Tomorrow. There are just a few ladies inching ahead of the pack.
Bronze: Jessica Barden as Alyssa, The End of the F***ing World
Somehow we’re in a place where male protagonists can be serial womanizers and alcoholics like Don Draper or mass murderers like Frank Castle, and that’s all fine, but if a female protagonist is less than perfect then out come the judgements. Other people, women specifically, have made this argument better than me… say, right here, or here… but the unlikable female protagonists of the world deserve as much love as the Don Drapers and Zack Morrises. Because seriously, as a YouTube series I’ve begun following accurately puts it, Zack Morris is trash.
This brings me to Alyssa.
Alyssa is making no effort to be “likeable.” In order to deal with a lack of attention from her mother and the exact wrong sort of attention from her step-father*, Alyssa has built a shell of unpleasantness and hostility, a suit of emotional armour whose physical counterpart is her baggy coat that once was her father’s. In lesser hands, and with lesser material, we might be rooting for James to follow through on his plans to kill her.
But Jessica Barden shows us the pain and fear hidden underneath her angry exterior, the young woman just trying to find a way to exist in a world that doesn’t seem to want her. She makes an incredibly sympathetic character out of someone trying her best to be unloved… well, except by James.
She had me rooting for these messed-up crime-spreeing kids right up until the cut-to-black end. Okay, fine, her co-star Alex Lawther helped with that, but this ain’t his category.
(*If I had a category of “characters I want to see fed into a wheat thresher,” that step-father would be right at the top, under the Thinker.)
Silver: Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Zor-El, Supergirl
Silver medalist three years running. Well, there’s a reason for that. She’s great at her character and her character is great. Her struggles at dealing with the return of her now-married lost love Mon-El; her determination to find a non-lethal solution to Reign, choosing love over hate; her silent and painful shock over events in the finale; “Is this what exercising is like? Why does anyone exercise?”; and of course that hella cute rendition of “Intergalactic Planetary” we discussed last time, all made Kara the DCW-verse’s best lead. Looks like she’s set to play double duty again next season. Well, based on Crisis on Earth-X, she is up for it.
There is just, once again, one person who edged her out.
Gold: Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones
(And to a lesser extent, The Defenders)
Krysten Ritter’s performance as the hard-drinking, anti-social, haunted-by-trauma PI Jessica Jones was excellent in her first season, and one of the best parts of The Defenders, despite her being stuck in some Iron Fist nonsense. This season, she hit new levels as The Killer (goddamn but that villain needed a better nickname) showed Jessica a bleak and horrifying possible future, a frightening look at what she herself might become if she keeps down the path she’s on. Jessica’s emotional breaking point, “AKA Three Lives and Counting,” is a riveting hour of television thanks a combination of Ritter’s performance and someone else we’ll be discussing in a minute.
She is, simply put, phenomenal. Why don’t she and Dan Stevens have Emmy nominations, exactly? All award shows are nonsense.
Except this one.
(Which, again, is not a show.)
Best Male Supporting Character!
They’re comic relief, emotional support, love interests, and minor villains, or some combination thereof. They’re the supporting cast, the fine line between a strong show and some vigilante ranking to themselves on a rooftop.
Honourable mentions: Shaun Sipos nailed Krypton’s best one-liner as Adam Strange, that being “Mr. Strange was my father. Call me Doctor… actually, better stick to ‘Adam.'” Preacher’s Joseph Gilgun deserves a shout-out just for Cassidy’s hotel drug-binge with the angel Fiore (sadly his plotlines were kind of static or reactionary last season); James Marsters put his back into the most interesting character arc on Runaways.
Bronze: Hamish Linklater as Clark, Legion
When we first met Clark in the pilot, he was just an unnamed interrogator for the sinister mutant-hunting organization Division 3. Then in the finale, they walked us through everything he’d been doing since the Summerland Group’s explosive and violent rescue of David in said pilot. Suddenly instead of a nameless bigoted bureaucrat, he was a dedicated soldier, trying to keep the trauma of his… significant injuries from harming his relationship with his husband and adopted son, who loved him and whose hearts broke to see him hurt so bad. Clark refused desk duty when he returned to work. His country was still at risk, the mutants who slaughtered his men were still at large, so if they wanted him behind the desk, it would have to be, as he put it, “a field desk,” because he was going to be out in the field until this matter was resolved.
And when the Shadow King was exposed, he had the strength of character to say “You’re right, that’s a worse threat, I’m on board.”
In one montage, lasting a small fraction of one episode, Hamish Linklater turned a fairly generic small-V villain into a truly sympathetic character, one worth rooting for. Something Agent Jace couldn’t manage in an entire season of The Gifted despite essentially losing his young daughter twice.
This season, as the former Summerland Group has joined forces with Division 3, Clark’s an important part of the team. And he’s a loyal teammate, too… but he never fully takes his eyes off of David. He sees the threat David’s power level presents, and he’s not going to turn his back on it.
Linklater’s performance might not be as big as Aubrey Plaza’s or as theatrical as Jemaine Clement’s can be, but he is consistently solid, always interesting, and it was great having him upgraded to regular. Especially since he may be even more important next season.
David may be our protagonist, but Clark might be the hero we need. Well, Clark and Syd. But this isn’t Syd’s category.
Silver: Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer, Legends of Tomorrow
It’s weird calling Brandon Routh a “supporting character,” since he’s currently top-billed. But the politics of credit order is what it is.
Legends found a new approach to Ray Palmer this season: the eternal optimist. No matter what’s happening, Ray’s got a smile and a can-do attitude, even when they’re visiting his own childhood and learning that it wasn’t as nice as he thought. Only Ray would care about saving a baby Dominator (the alien invaders from last season’s crossover), only Ray would save Nora Darhk’s life in the hopes that she’s not beyond redemption, only Ray could cling to that belief post-torture by Nora and her father Damien, only Ray and his love of musicals (I feel that was new, but sure) could break through Zari’s wall of cynicism.
And they managed all of that without Ray’s relationship with Nora or Zari becoming romantic.
And wow but Brandon Routh is just killing it. The goofy grins, the hope and cheer, the moral quandary over Nora’s fate, the occasional musical number, trying to conceal an alliance with Damien from his teammate, using a Tickle-Me-Elmo-esque doll called Beebo to teach Vikings that climate change is real (ya heardme), escaping captivity and torture and being excited that his team left him a sink of dirty dishes to clean, he nails every bit of it. Brandon Routh as always been good at this character, but this is his best season yet.
Gold: Rahul Kohli as Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti, iZombie
Rahul Kohli’s always been great as Liv’s boss and confidant, Ravi Chakrabarti. He’s got a lot of wit and charm, and brings a great deal of heart to the show. Ravi’s long been one of the best parts of iZombie.
Then this season came along, and Ravi’s attempt at zombie vaccine came with a side effect: once a month, for a few days, Ravi goes full zombie, brain cravings and everything. Which means this season Ravi got to have his personality shifted by some brains. We had nudist Ravi, heroin addict Ravi, and best of all, vain Instagram starlet Ravi, which was hilarious. And aside from that, working with Isobel gave us Ravi the reluctant parent… and opened the door for Rahul Kohli to deliver the most heartbreaking scene in the show’s history. Which is saying something, since three out of five of Liv’s love interests have been killed right in front of her.
This man is a treasure. Can he be Doctor Who when Jodie Whittaker’s ready to move on in 2022?
Best Female Supporting Character!
There may not be as many female leads as we might like, but damn if they aren’t cleaning up in supporting roles.
Honourable mentions: Gemma Whelan as the police detective realizing that maybe her partner’s not worth being infatuated with and that the teens they’re chasing might not be so bad on The End of the F***ing World; Tala Ashe’s dry cynicism as Zari was fun on Legends of Tomorrow; the divine Aubrey Plaza as Lenny in Legion; Wallis Day brought Nyssa-Vex from kind of generic femme fatale to a highlight of Krypton, to the point where I’d actually be fine with her being Superman’s grandmother; Madelaine Petch embraced being a full-blown over-the-top gothic heroine as Cheryl Blossom on Riverdale, and it is awesome; and over on Supergirl, Katie McGrath is still excellent as Lena Luthor, and Chyler Leigh’s ugly-crying superpowers remain as Alex Danvers. She just got nudged off the podium for the first time by some other amazing supporing ladies.
Bronze: Aimee Garcia & Tricia Helfer as Ella Lopez & Charlotte Richards, Lucifer
Image: Warner Bros. Also, sorry for cropping you out, Dr. Linda, you’re good too, but I’m already pushing it here.
Charlotte and Ella– Well why don’t you come over here and MAKE me choose between them.
That’s what I thought.
Charlotte and Ella were both introduced in season two, and are two of the main reasons Lucifer went from guilty pleasure to appointment viewing that year. Aimee Garcia plays Ella Lopez, eternally positive CSI, while Tricia Helfer played the Goddess, Lucifer’s mother and angry ex-wife to God, who occupied the recently murdered body of sleazy defence attorney Charlotte Richards. Ella was simply a ray of sunshine, brightening every scene she appeared in, but “Charlotte” brought the show to a whole new level.
Well, things have shifted since season two. With Goddess now departed from the world as we know it, Charlotte’s soul is back in her un-murdered body, but there are some complications. She has no memory of the year in which Goddess was joyriding in her body, but what she does have is a dim but terrifyingly haunting recollection of spending a year in Hell. Amoral lawyers tend not to make it to the Good Place. Charlotte’s now desperate to avoid returning to Hell, and thus is trying to reform in any way she can… but are good deeds truly good if you’re only doing them for selfish reasons? If your redemption is motivated by self-preservation, is it really redemption? It gives Tricia Helfer a whole new and meaty character to dig into, and she once again excels at it.
Ella, meanwhile, remains an eternal delight. They’ve leaned into how delightful the character is to the point where she got her own spotlight episode, “Boo Normal,” which paid off a few hints about Ella talking to ghosts in an unexpected but much appreciated fashion. Aimee Garcia carried the episode so effortlessly we barely even noticed how little Lucifer was in it.
I’m not saying Tom Ellis isn’t a generous actor, in fact I suspect that he is, but regardless it is not easy to steal a scene from Lucifer. These two, however, manage it regularly. Highly talented ladies playing great characters.
Silver: Emma Dumont as Polaris, The Gifted
(Full disclosure… I did meet Ms. Dumont in person back in April, and found her to be an absolute class act, clever and funny and much friendlier than she needed to be, but I already had all of these opinions by then, so they’re still valid.)
The focus of The Gifted might be the Strucker family, but the show’s beating heart is Polaris. Her relationship with Eclipse, her struggles in prison early in the season, the stakes of her fight for mutantkind’s future being drastically raised by her unborn child, and being one half of the debate over which path is better, Professor X’s or Magneto’s. Given her parentage and mistreatment at the hands of the mutant-hating authorities, she leans a little to Magneto, even if the producers won’t let her say his name. And all of this without the endless hand-wringing we get from Eclipse and the Struckers.
It became clear within a couple of episodes that The Gifted was at its best when it focused on Polaris, and Emma Dumont’s performance has a lot to do with that. She’s stellar. Looking forward to what she gets up to from here.
Gold: Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeryn Hogarth, Jessica Jones
Hey, remember last time, when I said that Jeryn Hogarth’s story on Jessica Jones was the best of the year, how it didn’t even matter how unconnected it was from the main plot, and how that was mostly due to Carrie-Anne Moss’ riveting performance?
So with that in mind, how else was this going to go? Of course Gold goes to Carrie-Anne Moss.
Damn she was good.
The names that came out to plays villains this season. Michael Emerson, Kirk Acevedo, Alexander Siddig, John Noble, Jackie Earle Haley, Signourney goddamned Weaver. An immense amount of talent menacing the season’s various heroes. But who had the menace? Who had the gravitas? Who made evil fun to watch? In short, whose evil scheme reigned supreme?
Honourable mentions: Odette Annable did double duty quite well as Samantha Arias and the worldkiller Reign on Supergirl; Jackie Earle Haley just missed the podium with his spooky and funny turn as the Terror on The Tick; Billy Russo was exactly the force of violent nature needed to be a nemesis of The Punisher; and this is the first time since he started playing the role that Neal McDonough hasn’t made the podium for his endlessly entertaining performance as Damien Darhk, and that kills me a little, because damn but he and Courtney Ford (as Nora Darhk) were a blast.
But given these great villains, what choice did I have? Very little.
Bronze: Janet McTeer as the Killer, Jessica Jones
That spoiler is coming up after the photo, by the way, in case you want to skip to Silver or anything.
In the early parts of the season, Jessica is tracking a killer, one as strong as she is but far more ruthless. After a long and winding road, she and the Killer (god damn she needed a better nickname…) finally come face to face, just in time for Jessica to learn the truth… the Killer is Jessica’s mother, Alisa Jones, who also survived the car wreck Jessica thought killed her whole family, and also ended up with powers after some well-intentioned but ethically questionable experiments by Dr. Karl Malus. But where Jessica is a surly alcoholic with some anger issues, Alisa’s mood swings are far more dangerous. Alisa’s rage turns homicidal with alarming little provocation.
Janet McTeer takes Alisa from a calm and loving mother to a savage, rage-filled monster on a dime, but stays believable in whichever mode she’s in. She sells the rage that makes Alisa a threat, and the love that makes Jessica willing to risk everything to help her, and the sadness at knowing that she’ll always be a weight around her daughter’s neck.
Silver: Navid Negahban as Amahl Farouk/the Shadow King, Legion
Short version… Navid Negahban was so good at this role I instantly stopped minding that Wonder Woman’sSaïd Taghmaoui quit the role for some damn fool reason.
After a season of hiding behind the masks of the World’s Angriest Boy in the World (their phrasing), the Yellow-Eyed Demon, and Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny, the Shadow King finally stepped into the light, appearing to David via their mental channel as his old self, Amahl Farouk. Farouk is a charmer, a sophisticate, and a master of mind games even beyond telepathy and mind control. He knows exactly how to manipulate the players, exactly how to twist David’s allies into enemies… and the cruellest ways to hurt his enemy. Negahban plays him as a perfect blend of gentleman and monster, and this is important… if you truly want to explore the notion that fighting a villain doesn’t automatically make you a hero, make sure it’s a properly villainous villain.
Gold: Pip Torrens & Graham McTavish as Herr Starr & The Saint of Killers, Preacher
Preacher basically split into two halves in season two, and each had a perfectly cast, perfectly menacing villain coming after Jesse Custer and friends.
In the first half, after being teased throughout season one, the unstoppable cowboy terminator known as the Saint of Killers stalks Jesse from Texas to New Orleans, and Graham McTavish makes him absolutely terrifying.
And in the back half, Pip Torrens was perfect as Herr Starr: utterly humourless, utterly without empathy, shrewd, cunning, manipulative, and completely fascinating. Just witness his tryouts to gain his position in the Grail.
They’re both perfect, and I can only hope they’ll be making Jesse and company’s life difficult for years to come.
The Tricia Helfer Award for Rookie of the Year!
Named for the incredible impact Tricia Helfer had on the second season of Lucifer, this is an award for new characters on an established show who really added something to the program. And this year…
Well, this is slightly awkward. It’s Janet McTeer, Navid Negahban, and Pip Torrens again. Same order, even.
I suppose I could hand this out to Tala Ashe (Legends of Tomorrow) or Tom Welling (Lucifer), they were both good, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Fun as they were, they didn’t have the same effect on their shows as our medallist villains. Alisa Jones’ murderous rampage was key to Jessica’s post-Kilgrave character arc; Amahl Farouk gave David’s parasite-turned-nemesis a new and highly engaging face, allowing for real showdowns between them; and the arrival of Herr Starr kicks Preacher into high gear, just like it did in the comics.
So, see above, I guess? Moving on.
The Wentworth Miller Award for Best Guest Star!
For four years of the Arrowverse, seeing Wentworth Miller’s name in the credits meant we were in for a treat. Whether he was a recurring foil for the Flash, a crewman of the Waverider, a member of the Legion of Doom, or a benevolt doppelganger from Earth-X, Miller’s take on Leonard “Captain Cold” Snart was one of the most consistently great things in the franchise. Looks like he’s done now. They left a door open for a return, but he sure seemed to be doing a farewell tour.
So in honour of Captain Cold, a category for those who aren’t major regular or recurring characters*, but drop in for a handful of memorable episodes.
*At the moment. Snart was a regular on Legends for a season.
Honourable mentions: Jon Hamm as the narrator of Legion’s lecture sequences on madness and delusion; Matt Ryan brought his stellar take on John Constantine to a few episodes of Legends of Tomorrow, and it worked so well he’s a regular next season (YAY).
Bronze: Michael Emerson as Cayden James, Arrow
Nobody’s said “Mr. Queen” with quite this much menace since Slade Wilson.
Arrow once again went with a warm-up villain, while the real big bad got everything into place, and it couldn’t have asked for better than Michael Emerson. Cayden James is a crypto-terrorist who blames the Green Arrow for the death of his son, and takes his grief out on the entire city. This is a role Emerson could play in his sleep, after his fantastic roles on Lost and Person of Interest, but he showed up to work every episode he was in. There’s a reason Stephen Amell was excited to have him on the show.
Silver: Adrian Pasdar as Morgan Edge/General Glenn Talbot, Supergirl/Agents of SHIELD
I’ve been a fan of Adrian Pasdar since the short-lived 90s series Profit, which ran for a few weeks when it debuted but would have run for five seasons and a reunion movie in today’s premium cable/streaming market. I’ve been a fan that long because he’s pretty consistently amazing.
This season he stopped by Supergirl for the season’s first act, providing an entertainingly sleazy adversary for Supergirl and Lena Luthor while Reign was blossoming. Then once National City didn’t need him anymore, he returned to Agents of SHIELD for their final act, and here’s where he soared.
Pasdar took General Talbot, both adversary and ally for the past four seasons, and brought him from stern general with brain damage-spawned anger issues to traumatized POW to a good man out for redemption to a formerly good man on a rapid slide into utter madness thanks to exposure to the world-bending element gravitonium. He went from broken ally to all-powerful madman at risk of cracking the Earth like an egg, and Pasdar made it a hell of a ride.
Gold: David Tennant as Kilgrave, Jessica Jones
For one episode, David Tennant returned to Jessica Jones, as Jessica hallucinated her old abuser as a personification of her fears that she’s crossed too many lines to ever come back. After a violent incident, Jessica unravels, torn apart by guilt over her actions and fear that she’s nothing but a killer like her mother (after all, as Kilgrave points out in the line that gave the episode its name, she’s taken three lives and counting). And the more she spirals, the more imaginary Kilgrave pushes her towards the edge. In one episode we’re reminded of everything David Tennant brought to season one. While for Jessica’s sake it’s good he’s dead, it’s hard not to miss that purple bastard a little.
Also his rendition of Trish’s pop hit “I Want Your Cray-Cray” was pretty fun.
Whoof. Long one. Next time the rankings, which should go faster than last year.
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 yetof 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.
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 interms 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.
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?
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”
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.
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
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
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
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?
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.
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 SwampThing, 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 ofSHIELD 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!
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.
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 havedone? 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.
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.
So good arcs, no marginalizing their female characters, and plenty of humour. The Flash must be as good as its heydey, right? Right?
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.
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
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.
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.
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: I come not to praise Lucifer, but to bury it.
Short version: Now that the show has ended its third, and as of this writing, final season (fingers crossed for the #SaveLucifer movement), let’s talk about how it took a silly premise (the Devil helps the LAPD solve murders) and made it into the best procedural on TV.
I lied about not praising it. Deep down I think you knew that.
(Also, they renewed Lethal Weapon without Riggs instead of renewing Lucifer? I know the actor was impossible to work with but Riggs is the Lethal Weapon, that’s why it’s called that. Don’t introduce a new guy, just recast, Murtaugh and some guy is not Lethal Weapon, it’s a garbage show for a garbage network. Whichever Fox exec made that call, know that I hate you and whoever hired you.)
Book One: Genesis
Things were– that “book one” thing was a mistake, I’m not going to be able to keep that going, why do I post these live…
In the Beginning
Saved it. Go me.
They started simple, using only slight pieces from the Sandman-spinoff comic that inspired the show. Mostly the idea of Lucifer Morningstar abandoning Hell to live in Los Angeles and run a nightclub called Lux with help from his ally/sometimes lover, the demon Mazikeen (Maze to her friends). But to sell a show to a major broadcast network, it helps to have a safe, familiar hook. Say… solving murders. So that’s what they went with.
Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis), fallen angel, king of Hell, and poster child for daddy issues and rebellion has abandoned his post to live and have fun among the humans instead of punishing them with eternal damnations and tortures. The one thing about his old life, or at least his former reputation, that he’s hung onto is making deals: he helps out the glamorous citizens of LA in exchange for favours down the line. No interest in souls, just favours.
His brother, the angel Amenadiel (DB Woodside), wants him back in Hell, where their father placed him. Maze, who I mentioned above (Lesley-Ann Brandt), has her own questions about why they’re hanging around LA instead of going home. But when a singer Lucifer had done a favour for is killed outside of his club, he’s outraged that the persons responsible might not be punished. Lucifer joins LAPD detective and former actress Chloe Decker (Lauren German) in hunting down the killer, and finds he has a taste for punishing murderers. And for Detective Decker. Much to the chagrin of Chloe and her estranged husband Detective Dan Espinosa (Kevin Alejandro). Helping out with their investigations is a little trick of Lucifer’s: he can look into anyone’s eyes and compel them to reveal their greatest desire.
“That’s it?” I said. watching the trailer for the pilot. “That’s their hook? The Devil is solving murders and his big advantage is he can make people say what they want? This is a terrible idea. There is no way I’m watching this show.”
Anyway I started watching the show.
And within half a dozen episodes it was clear that I wasn’t going to be stopping any time soon.
First of all, Tom Ellis crushes it as Lucifer. Long-time readers may recall I’ve mentioned this a couple of times. His Lucifer Morningstar has charm and menace, he can make you laugh and cry in equal measure, to quote Community I can see why women find Tom Ellis attractive to the point where I might just as well be attracted to him myself, he is riveting. And so many of his relationships proved reliably fun. His sibling rivalry with Amenadiel, his more traditional rivalry with Dan (or as Lucifer knows him, Detective Douche), the constant sniping with Maze, his newly-found therapist Dr. Linda Martin (Rachael Harris) and her frequently futile attempts to advise Lucifer on dealing with human emotions and relationships, and as mismatched duos of straight-laced cops and unusual consultants go, Lucifer and Chloe were one of the better pairs. Lucifer even makes a fun pairing with Chloe and Dan’s daughter Trixie. And as for my doubts about Lucifer’s desire-powers, his ability to draw out a suspect’s motive for killing (or more often than not, their lack of motive) works just as well, if not better, than consultants aiding the police through OCD, hypnotism, math, or being an agoraphobic who’s good at chess. The show was so much fun to watch it didn’t really matter that it started out as, essentially, Castle but with the King of Hell in place of a mystery novelist.
The main plot for season one was pretty simple. Lucifer and Chloe solve crimes, while Amenadiel’s attempts to return Lucifer to Hell collide withChloe’s recent past: a shootout at a place called the Palmetto that left a cop Chloe insists was dirty in a coma, alienating her from the rest of her precinct. The cop (Kevin Rankin) makes a miraculous recovery, not unrelated to Lucifer’s presence in Chloe’s life, and turns out to have been an even worse cop than Chloe thought, and he’s about to make life difficult for Chloe and Lucifer…
But that’s not what made Lucifer such an addiction. Season two would bring the show to new heights, thanks to one cast addition that changed everything, and one that merely brightened the room.
Behind the Procedures
“Someone escaped from Hell,” Lucifer tells his brother in the closing moments of season one.
“Who escaped?” asked Amenadiel.
It is a daring move for a show this rooted in Judeo-Christian icons to abandon the concept of monotheism, but Lucifer went for it in a big way. In Lucifer’s origin of the universe, the “Big Bang” takes on a whole new meaning, as Heaven and the universe were created by two beings, not just one. But God’s wife… Goddess, I suppose… grew annoyed with his fixation on Earth, and plotted against it so much that Her Husband had Amenadiel lock her away in Hell, where she didn’t exactly enjoy quality time with her son Lucifer. I’m pretty sure they blame all of the Old Testament wrath stuff, floods and plagues and whatnot, on Mrs. God acting out. It was an unexpected take, to be sure, and one that worked much better than Supernatural‘s choice to give God a sister… mostly because Supernatural never quite got around to coming up with a better name than “The Darkness.” Honestly. I know you were bound to run low on ideas in season 11, but damn, dudes. Sorry, where was I, right, Lucifer. Having escaped from Hell, she comes to Earth, taking over the body of the recently murdered high-powered defense attorney Charlotte Richards.
Tricia Helfer joined the cast as Mrs. God, known as “Mum/Mom” to her sons, “Charlotte” to the humans, and various unkind terms by Maze. Also joining the cast was Aimee Garcia as the precinct’s new CSI, Ella Lopez, a devout Christian (but the nice “God loves you and so do I” kind, not the “God loves me specifically so I’m-a judge the crap out of you” kind) with a mild history of car theft.
I mostly want to talk about Charlotte and what she did for the show here but attention must be paid to what a delightful addition Ella was. A constant beam of sunshine and support, a source of humour (not that the show lacked those), a giver of hugs… there isn’t a bad scene with Ella in it, and Aimee Garcia made her absolutely adorable. She might not have been the thematic game-changer that Charlotte was, but damn was I glad to have her around.
They pulled a trick on Lucifer that I’ve seen once before, on the last show I watched to evolve from casual viewing to something I would clear my schedule to watch live: Person of Interest. With Person of Interest, a post-Dark Knight, pre-Westworld Jonathan Nolan pulled a con on CBS. He pitched a simple crime-of-the-week show, in which a reclusive billionaire calling himself Harold Finch recruits a lethal ex-soldier calling himself John Reese to help him prevent violent crimes, with the help of a computer Finch built that can predict crimes and feed him the identity of either the victim or perpetrator.
Simple, CBS-friendly procedural stuff. And then once the show was established, Nolan started writing the real show, and subtly grew it into an amazingly compelling paranoid techno-thriller about emergent AI, privacy in the digital age, government overreach, and what the wrong people might do with total access to our digital footprint. (I’ve spoken to co-star Amy Acker, who’s delightful, and she basically confirmed that’s exactly what Nolan did.)
So, too, did Lucifer use the format of a crime-of-the-week cop & wacky consultant show to lure in viewers before turning into a look at the complex relationships of divine beings, the residual anger Lucifer Morningstar feels for his father, and this new idea of God’s angry ex-wife trying to find a way back into Heaven… and what that might mean for her ex. And everything else.
And it worked like gangbusters. The Goddess Charlotte was fascinating: loving to her sons, indifferent to humanity, scheming with and against anyone in her orbit, and played to perfection by Tricia Helfer, who nailed Charlotte’s scathing indictments of humanity such as “All they do is eat! And later the food comes back changed, and not for the better.” And the show hit new heights when Lucifer and Amenadiel’s little brother Uriel came to town, and the stakes of their mother’s plans became clear. It put Lucifer in impossible positions, gave Tom Ellis incredible material to work through, and along the way gave every single cast member better material as well.
And yes, the weekly murder cases also continued, even if they were overshadowed by the divine melodrama. They are, however, less vulnerable to the trope that affects a lot of procedurals, in which the most recognizable guest star is always, always the killer (looking at you, Elementary). But for the most part, the cases-of-the-week exist to act as a reflection of whatever emotional journey Lucifer is on that week. Often because Lucifer forces them to act as a reflection of his emotional journey, because he can be extremely self-centred and finding a murderer is often just a means to working out whatever’s annoying him that week.
Look, Dr. Linda tries her best, but Lucifer is not great at processing emotions or managing human behaviour.
And, well, if I had one note for the show, it’s that Chloe is relegated to the murder-of-the-week plot, because while she does have a role to play in the celestial melodrama… season one reveals that Lucifer loses his invulnerability when Chloe is around, which proves tricky for him, and season two begins to hint why… since she doesn’t believe Lucifer is who he says he is, she is always at arms’ length from the non-Palmetto central plotlines. Which… isn’t great, as I explained… in…
I haven’t written up Doctor Who series seven yet. Dang. I would have such a good explanation to link to if I had. Well, short version, when a character is not allowed to engage with a storyline, even when it’s about them, it’s not ideal.
But this doesn’t mean Lauren German doesn’t make a meal out of the material she’s given. She absolutely does.
Cain Leaves a Mark
The Goddess Charlotte arc was, simply put, exceptional. Amenadiel questioned his faith in his father, Dan turned to improv to process his feelings over his ending marriage (and ended up sleeping with a literal goddess without knowing it), Linda was first to learn that Lucifer isn’t speaking in metaphors and that her new best pal Maze is a literal demon, Maze found a purpose outside of Lucifer, Aimee Garcia was adorable, and Tricia Helfer owned every scene she was in, it was great. So how would season three follow it? They found a new biblical figure to hang a season on.
Lucifer, having had a couple of key parts of his identity messed with, found himself at odds with a mysterious gangster calling himself “the Sinnerman,” who had taken over Lucifer’s habit of granting favours, only with more murders on the side. In the quest to find the Sinnerman and find out if he’s behind Lucifer’s recent changes, Lucifer stumbles across another person of interest: Cain, the first murderer, doomed to wander the Earth forever, who has been studying Lucifer and his associates and thinks Chloe might be his key to finally dying.
If I had one additional note for season three. After the Cain revelation, the show forgets that there ever was a killer gang lord called the Sinnerman until the last few episodes. Although it’s hard to blame them, even the characters know that “the Sinnerman” is kind of a dumb name, and everyone’s reactions to Lucifer casually mentioning that he ID’d the Sinnerman months ago and forgot to mention it was kind of priceless.
Plus Tricia Helfer was still around, as Charlotte Richards returned to her no longer dead body after spending a year in Hell, and found herself searching for redemption out of fear of going back. Helfer made Charlotte just as fun as Lucifer’s mother in her own way.
Much like his mother, Lucifer‘s relationship with Cain went from frosty to friendly to adversarial, they were allies and enemies and rivals. And along the way, there was a great flashback episode in which Linda’s ex-husband spent years trying to figure out how to bring Lucifer down (“Off the Record,” a season highlight*), Lucifer and Ella went on a road trip to Vegas (“Vegas With Some Radish”), Lucifer and Cain pretend to be married suburbanites (“Til Death Do Us Part”), and everyone was just so much fun… then the last two episodes cut our hearts out right in front of us.
And in the last moments of the season finale, they opened the door to a whole new Lucifer, and it kills me that we might not get it.
*One of the better moments in “Off the Record?” Lucifer reveals the chilling secret of Hell… “You humans… You send yourselves, driven down by your own guilt. Forcing yourselves to relive your sins over and over. And the best part: The doors aren’t locked. You can leave any time.” The damned imprison themselves.
While every season arc ended satisfactorily, from the Palmetto to Mother to Cain, there was so much more for them to do. I wanted to see Ella learn that one of her new besties was, in fact, the very Devil she was raised to fear. How would that affect her faith, already challenged by the end of season three? I wanted to see more of Lucifer’s siblings, especially his sister Azrael, the angel of death, who must have had some thoughts about what her brothers did with her flaming sword.
Neil Gaiman, listed as the creator, because he wrote the Sandman story in which Lucifer quit Hell, inspiring his spinoff comic, was apparently set to play the voice of God. Which might not have been quite as fun as Psych’s Timothy Omundon’s take on someone who seemed to be God in season two’s “God Johnson,” but damn I wanted to see that.
But more than that I just wanted more time with these people. With snarky, clueless-about-humanity Lucifer Morningstar, so perfectly played by Tom Ellis. With no-nonsense Chloe Decker, who never got to learn the secret about her own past. With stern Amenadiel, who showed that even angels can have doubts about their Heavenly Father. With Dr. Linda and Maze and Charlotte and “Detective Douche” and perfect, adorable Ella and even little Trixie.
Even with a few unanswered questions, I have to recommend this show. It was a great ride, and I don’t regret a second of it.
…Right, just a bit of housekeeping for the rankings…
Overall Grade: A-
That Lucifer forgot all about the whole Sinnerman thing for like 11 episodes kinda bugged me, and it wasn’t hard to spot the five episodes that were meant to be part of season two, but this was a damn good season of television, and the finale might be one of their best episodes.
I miss this show already. Someone bring it back to me.
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.
Last instalment: C-list X-Men characters gathered for a tale of family, bigotry, and what it might be like if America’s law enforcement agencies were openly and dangerously racist.
This instalment: DC characters gather for all of that exact same stuff only it’s actually good this time.
Short version: With Black Lightning, the Greg Berlanti Mask-Based Action Fun Factory tries something different, and boy howdy it works out.
As a teen, Jefferson Pierce developed lightning-based powers, which he would learn to use to protect his home of Freeland from local gang the 100. Nine years ago, Black Lightning and the 100’s leader, the super-strong albino and City Councillor-turned-criminal Tobias Whale had a vicious supposedly-final battle which both men limped away from thinking the other was dead. Badly wounded, Jefferson put Black Lightning away for the sake of his young daughters and in hopes of repairing his relationship with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Lynn… against the advice of his mentor and surrogate father figure, tailor/hacker/designer of superhero costumes/possessor of some suspicious skill sets Peter Gambi.
Today, Jefferson serves Freeland by shaping the minds of the black community’s youth as principal of Garfield High School, believing he can do more good steering kids away from gang life. His daughters are flourishing (Anissa is pre-med, Jennifer is still in high school and the more rebellious one), he’s inching towards reconciliation with Lynn, he hopes… but the 100 is stronger than ever, with such control over Freeland the good people of the city are forced into protest marches against the local crime lords. Which is risky business. I mean, think about how the cops respond to protest marches… Anyway, Gambi pleads with Jefferson that the city needs Black Lightning, but Lynn has him refusing to return to action… until the 100 come for his daughters. Jefferson comes out of retirement to save Jennifer and Anissa, but when he’s asked (and rightly so) why only his children were saved, Jefferson makes a choice…
“It is time that people know that Black Lightning is back.”
From there, he’s taking on the 100, their chief pimp/dealer Lala, a still-vicious Tobias Whale, and the sinister cabal that they’ve been reporting to… a cabal with which Gambi has an uncomfortable familiarity.
Also… habitual protester Anissa is developing powers of her own, and has some thoughts about how to use them.
And they’d better get their heroic ducks in a row, because there’s a new drug circulating called Green Light that’s highly addictive, and is giving people powers. Powers mixed with PCP-like rageouts.
Sidebar: Is it part of the Arrowverse or not? Who knows at this point. Black Lightning is its own thing for the first season, but I feel that they’ve left the door open for crossovers with the Flash, Green Arrow, and company should the desire strike them later. They establish that other superheroes exist in other cities, but don’t mention Central or Star City in particular. They name drop Vixen, who exists on Earth-1 with everyone else, but also Supergirl, who merely visits Earth-1 on special occasions.
And those name drops aren’t definitive, since they also established that superhero comics exist in this world, in an amusing Easter egg where Anissa and love interest Grace discuss comic characters the Outsiders, the superteam where their comic incarnations met. So is Vixen a legit hero, or a comic book character? Do the people of Earth-1 know Supergirl from the 2016 alien invasion and the 2017 alt-Earth-Nazi invasion, or are we somewhere else, somewhere with a Supergirl and a Vixen? It’s unclear, and will remain unclear until someone in the Berlanti group says “Screw it, put Black Lightning in the crossover this year,” or Team Flash makes it clear that Black Lightning is on Earth-47 or whatever. Until then, Black Lightning stands alone, but luckily, it’s more than capable of doing so.
What we have here is the bulk of Luke Cage’s debut season polished up and done better.
Cast: There are some strong performers in this cast, most notably Cress Williams as Jefferson and Nafessa Williams as Anissa. China Anne McClain does well as the younger, brattier sister, though I do not comprehend why she’s second-billed instead of Nafessa Williams. Better agent? Anyway, by and large, the Pierce family kills it on a weekly basis, as does Damon Gumpton as the closest thing Black Lightning has to a friend on the police force. He’s neither racist nor on the take, so that’s a big advantage over most of the cops we meet in early episodes.
The 100: How fortunate for the series that Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III exists. Black albino actors who look capable of hoisting a grown man in the air and killing him with one hand cannot be that easy to come by, but Krondon is basically perfect for this role. Tobias Whale is a destructive force, a black man who hates other black men… well not exactly. As he explains to a henchman that’s been screwing things up, “No, I love black people. I hate incompetent, thick-lipped, scratch-where-it-don’t-itch Negroes like you.” If not on network television he might have used a different word than “Negroes.” He’s got a lethal assistant calling herself Syonide (who’s kind of fun to watch in a fight, if I’m being honest); gets his hooks into Jennifer’s boyfriend, a track star named Khalil; and later on has links to a difficult-to-kill gangster he calls the Tattooed Man, who has himself an interesting arc. Tobias Whale builds himself a small legion of super-goons, and they’re all pretty great, save for Khalil, who for the most part is just… eh.
Tobias is also well-developed beyond “evil drug dealer.” His childhood begins to explain how he came to be how he is, and he does have some moral lines. In one memorable scene, he executes a henchman for overstepping. “You killed someone’s mama?” he asks. “Any man that’d do that has no morals, no principles to live by, which means there’s nothing you’re not capable of, including becoming a rat.” And now he’s growing tired of being treated like a henchman by cabal leader/creepy mortician Lady Eve, and has thoughts about climbing the ladder.
Rise of Thunder: Before she even knows her father’s secret, Anissa sets out to become Freeland’s latest hero. There are some stumbles along the way. There’s a regrettable wig, a fun trip to a fetish store for costume pieces when it becomes clear that tights are not good fighting wear for her figure, and guilt over taking on a low-level drug dealer a touch over-zealously. But Thunder becomes every bit the hero Black Lightning is, strong, brave, clever, and she’s a gay hero of colour on top of it all.
Racial tensions: Having showrunners of colour means that Black Lightning joins Luke Cage in having the best examinations of the far-from-perfect race relations in the US. Twice in the pilot, Jefferson finds himself targeted by white cops who take an aggressive approach with black suspects. A government agency was using black youths as test subjects. And they touch on black people hating on other black people for not being, in their eyes, black enough. It’s a stark and honest take on American race relations, which is a nice change from having black people be the bigots. Looking at you, Giftedand Jessica Jones.
Vox Populi: The local Freeland news channel (which seems to be blissfully free of the Sinclair media propaganda machine) does person-on-the-street interviews at several major plot points, giving we the viewers a look at what the average people of Freeland think of Black Lightning and his crusade. It’s a fairly effective technique for conveying public opinion. My only beef is that the text crawl on the bottom of the screen never changes. Which… I guess it means you never have to pay attention to it, so that’s okay. Just saying, if one were to try to slip in a subtle reference to The Flash or Arrow that doesn’t get in the way of their own story, that would have been the place to do it.
Pacing: The multiple acts of Black Lightning’s first season help provide a steady clip for the show’s pacing. The season doesn’t lag the way Marvel Netflix shows tend to. Streaming shows are great for bingeing, but for strong episodic narrative it’s hard to beat broadcast.
Despite the fact that we’re not starting at the origin, but are in fact meeting Black Lightning nine years after he retired, the world of the show feels remarkably natural and lived-in. The history of the characters makes sense, and we understand the key relationships quickly. The people’s love for Black Lightning is crystal clear when he goes to storm Lala’s penthouse apartment, and the doorman not only sells out Lala without hesitation, he opens the door for him with a “Black Lightning! My man!” Someone else offers to hold the elevator, but Jefferson feels like taking the stairs, in order to stomp a few more gangsta asses on the way.
I like how in addition to disguising his voice, Jefferson changes all of his vocal mannerisms, speaking more “street” as Black Lightning. He could teach Barry “reveal my identity to anyone who asks, except my girlfriend” Allen some tricks about keeping a secret identity.
There’s also solid action. Fight scenes have Arrow-level fight choreo (not quite Preacher but miles ahead of, say, Iron Fist), with occasional lightning-based effects thrown in.
The Bigger Bad? Is this show a case of Villain Swap? At first, it’s all about Tobias Whale and the 100, but after Tobias and Black Lightning are briefly reunited, Tobias takes a few weeks off while the show’s attention moves to the ASA (American Security Agency). The ASA is the covert group that created Black Lightning when their attempt at a “vaccine” to make the black residents of Freemont “more docile” (openly and dangerously racist, remember?) accidentally gave people powers instead. Now ASA agent Martin Proctor is back in Freemont and restarting the experiment.
Eventually the show was going to come here. The ASA is a key player in Jefferson’s origin tale. Tobias Whale only became his nemesis because of ASA involvement. Gambi’s ties to the ASA, and through them Lady Eve and Tobias, were going to need explanation. It just… well, for the first few episodes it felt like this was going to be a season two thing. Season one would be Black Lightning taking on the 100, and in future seasons he could move up the ladder to the cartel pulling the 100’s strings. Instead, the 100 stepped aside and Proctor took over as the main villain.
It’s a more natural transition of primary villain than we saw on Luke Cage in its first season, or on Iron Fist every third episode, but it is still a swap of villain, and I did once identify that as a troublesome trend. In this case, though, I choose to defend it: the ASA made for a decent one-arc villain, tying the present say to Black Lightning’s hinted-at past. That’s good for one season. Tobias Whale, on the other hand, is the Nemesis. Black Lightning’s archest enemy.
And you shouldn’t write out the arch enemy in season one. You keep them around so they can go more rounds with the hero(es). And sure, death hasn’t exactly slowed down Reverse-Flash or Damien Darhk (yet), but it’s better to just keep the good villains around.
We get it. Thunder’s powers are linked to her breathing. Maybe you can trust us to remember that for a while? Because her big, echoey, “deep inhalation” sound effect is getting on my last nerve.
The Warriors’ James Remar does what he can with Gambi, but as an actor he is not quite on Cress Williams’ level.
Jefferson’s ex-wife Lynn spends a lot of the season being opposed to Jefferson being Black Lightning. As I’ve said in the past, this is rarely an interesting character choice.
I’m all for exposing conservatives as prone to being awful people, but maaaaaayyyyybe having sinister racist government agent Martin Proctor shout “Make America great again” twice in one episode was gilding the lily just a bit? Trust me, the first one landed.
Either “The Book of Little Black Lies,” in which Thunder suits up for the first time and Jennifer grapples with new knowledge, or “Shadow of Death: The Book of War,” (they’re all the Book of something) in which the ASA finds itself under siege from both the 100’s growing band of meta-villains and the entire Pierce family.
Also worth mentioning: “Black Jesus: The Book of Crucifixion” is less fun to watch than the ones I named, but its examination of the all-too-real threats faced by all African-Americans when confronted by white cops makes it one of the most necessary episodes.
“Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder” is our obligatory ride on the “no, Main Hero, killing is wrong!” merry-go-round. Given that later on, they’ll go the same route as Daredevil season two and decide that “killing is wrong, but if you’re working with someone who happens to kill your enemies, hey, that’s okay,” it’s an awkward moral to push. And Khalil proves himself to be a jackass in Jennifer’s plotline, which is some go-nowhere filler stuff involving a mean girl nemesis whose attempts at cyber-bullying aren’t more effective or more interesting than her failed attempts at physically bullying Jennifer the previous week.
Anissa did use her powers to obliterate a Confederate statue, though, and that pissed off some easily-offended conservatives. So that was fun.
Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce. There are times when they’re simply using Black Lightning to tell Thunder’s origin story, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Tips For Next Season
So Arrow has had at least half a dozen archers. Flash has had nine speedsters so far. Black Lightning uses electricity, and a new generation of Freeland youths are being given powers… so how long until Static makes an appearance? And why stop there? Why not bring in more of the Milestone Comics crowd? The 100 could find themselves at odd with the Blood Syndicate, Thunder could track down Icon and Rocket, Gambi could go head to hacker-head with Hardware... if Black Lightning intends to remain separate from the larger Arrowverse (we’ll see), there’s plenty of options for when you’re ready to expand beyond the Pierce family.
Overall Grade: B+
It’s honour, duty, family, and the shoddy state of US race relations with solid action and decent pacing. Not every piece fits together perfectly, but as first seasons go it’s solid and shows a lot of promise.
Might be the last full write-up for a bit. Most of the veteran shows don’t call for one and I’m not convinced Krypton deserves one. Guess we’ll have to find something else to talk about for a few weeks.
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 installment: the Arrowverse’s Island of Misfit Toys continues to be its best offering.
Short version: Take two partsDoctor Who,two parts A-Team, one part Flash, and a dash of Brooklyn 99, and you get the most fun superhero show on TV.
The Legends are former assassin and team leader Sara Lance (White Canary); inventor and size-changing superhero Ray Palmer (the Atom); Justice Society of America member and protector of Zambesi Village Amaya Jiwe (Vixen); genius physicist Martin Stein and mechanic Jefferson “Jax” Jackson, who combine to become the nuclear powered Firestorm; forensic historian and metallic metahuman Nate Heywood (Steel, on the few occasions they bother to give him a codename); and pyromaniac former thief Mick Rory (Heat Wave).
They’re a band of misfits, outsiders, and one covert war hero (that’d be Amaya) who’ve made a life on the time ship Waverider protecting all of history, ever since they wiped out the last group in charge of that. (In fairness, they did have it coming.) At the end of last season, the Legends managed to prevent the assembly of villains they called the Legion of Doom from re-writing all of reality, but in doing so employed big enough paradoxes that they shattered all of time, causing countless anachronisms: people, animals, and the occasional building displaced in history. As the third season opens, the Legends are still wrapping their heads around the damage they’ve caused, when team founder/former captain Rip Hunter pops up. Seems that in the few minutes since he left the team, he’s spent five years (time travel) building a new agency to protect time and fix all of these anachronisms: the Time Bureau. And they’re quite adamant that they no longer require the Legends’ help, especially Rip’s protege, Ava Sharpe.
Six months of unsatisfying civilian life later (mostly, Nate tries to stay in the crime-fighting game, but tends to get upstaged by Kid Flash), the Legends decide they disagree with this assessment and steal the Waverider back in order to repair the damage they’ve caused.
But it turns out there’s a greater danger behind the anachronisms. Amaya’s people once imprisoned a demon named Mallus inside of the timestream itself, and the anachronisms are loosening his cage. Mallus recruits a new legion of villains to cause further damage to history in order to free him: returning villain Damien Darhk, his now-grown and similarly magically powered daughter Nora Darhk, Amaya’s least noble grandchild Kuasa, and on special occasions (ie. when the budget allows for it), Gorilla Grodd.
The Legends must occasionally avoid, sometimes work with the Time Bureau to find a way to shut down Mallus and what they tragically never called the Darhk Legion before Mallus conquers all of time. Conquers? Destroys? You know what I’m sure they explained but I kinda forget. Evil demon, needs to be stopped, after that I get fuzzy.
Along the way they pick up a cynical, magic totem-bearing hacker from their future named Zari Tomaz, who’s based on a DC-adjacent character whose superhero name they can’t really use anymore, lose a couple of team members to the annual Arrowverse crossover, and eventually bring Kid Flash on board as the Flash writers found it hard to come up with reasons why any threat they wrote couldn’t be stopped by two full-time speedsters by the second commercial break.
Having trouble deciding where to start. So many to choose from.
Fun With History:Legends of Tomorrow has stuck with the one thing that propelled them from the weakest Arrowverse show in their debut season (and this was the same year as Arrow’s least popular season, so ouch) to their best last year: embracing a spirit of zany, time-travel fun. There is very little brooding on the Waverider, just high-energy shenanigans as they blunder through history, hoping that they’re breaking things for the better. (They basically make that their motto.) And they also have even more fun with their historical guest stars.
Back in season one, what few historical figures appeared were just drop-ins. The child that Martin Stein risks history to save from illness turns out to be HG Wells, which means I guess Stein didn’t need to bother? A student in a science class Ray Palmer teaches in the 50s turns out to be Bill Gates’ father. That’s it. That’s literally the whole thing. There was no payoff. No point. In season two, they started actually having fun with their historical figures, and in season three, they doubled down on it. With historical figures scattered through time, they find all new hijinks to get into.
In season three, Julius Caesar tries to recruit a fraternity’s spring break toga party; PT Barnum gets his hands on a sabre-tooth tiger; Helen of Troy sparks a literal war between studios when she turns up in the Golden Age of Hollywood, accidentally damaging decades of technological advancement by stealing a breakout role from actress/inventor Hedy Lamarr; Napoleon Bonaparte must be prevented from getting his hands on a copy of Abba’s “Waterloo”; Viking explorer Leif Erikson decides against bailing on his new discovery North America when his sister embraces a time-displaced, fuzzy, blue, Tickle-Me-Elmo-esque doll named Beebo as their new god of war, I swear I am not making any of this up. Those are all real episodes* and it is glorious.
(*Fine, the Napoleon thing was a background gag they came up with as an excuse to put most of the cast is disco clothes for a week, but still.)
(This isn’t to say that it’s always fun and games. Legends gets sad too. They cut me a couple of times this season, cut me deep.)
#Avalance: The relationship between Sara Lance and rival-turned-ally Ava Sharpe was well developed, and Ava made a fun addition to the show. She won over the audience for a reason. Also I kind of love that if social media can be believed, actresses Caity Lotz (Sara) and Jes Macallan (Ava) are pals now, and ‘ship their characters as much as their fans do. Also nice to be watching a CW show where a romance plot doesn’tincite riots from a portion of the fanbase.
Keeping Up With the Darhks: Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk was a delight back when he was trying to kill Green Arrow, but he’s flourished as a nemesis for the Legends. The faster-paced and goofier atmosphere of Legends fits his style of gleeful villainy better than the dour, grounded aesthetic of Arrow. The sheer joy he takes in villainy makes him too fun a villain to ever want to see defeated forever, and Courtney Ford brings the same level of campy fun to Nora Darhk that Neal does to Damien. Throw in John Noble as the voice of Mallus and it’s a stacked deck of evil. Also, and this is important, Damien celebrates being resurrected with both his powers from Arrow season four and his memories from Legends season two restored by having a fight scene choreographed to 90s jam “Return of the Mack,” and it makes sense in context of the episode. Not so much in this clip but here it is anyway.
But other than being delightful menaces played by top notch actors, the villains are also deeper characters than you’d expect. Damien is driven above all else by love for his daughter, compromising his commitment to the plan now and again, and making him more three-dimensional than he’s ever been. Nora is trying to raise an ancient demon and build a relationship with her father, who she hasn’t seen since he was killed when she was a kid. Kuasa, also back from the dead (apparently?) after the events of the Vixen animated series (which I should try to watch sometime), just wants to undo the destruction of her village… and keep her grandmother from continuing to hook up with that nerdy super-powered historian from the future, which could erase Kuasa’s existence. Mallus… Mallus is a literal demon whose unprisoned existence would be bad, I guess? Look, they can’t all be winners.
Zari and Ray: Zari is a fun addition. Actress Tala Ashe has a great dry wit that worked well for the character. She also played wonderfully off of Brandon Routh’s more upbeat Ray Palmer, who this season was tweaked into a perpetually cheerful, unbreakably positive Ray of sunshine (sorry)with a love of musicals and a faith in people that gets him into a little trouble here and there. Together they’re a fun double act, and this has been Brandon Routh’s most entertaining season as Ray Palmer… which is saying something.
Also Zari was rightly praised as a positive, non-stereotypical Muslim superhero, especially for the episode where she tries to explain to perpetual glutton Mick why she’s fasting until sundown. There isn’t another comic TV show with a hero who observes Ramadan.
New Friends: Matt Ryan’s back as John Constantine! Delightful. I wanted this for two years and now it’s happening. Also Kid Flash moving here from Flash is a decent fit.
WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT WRITING OUT RIP HUNTER. WHAT DID I SPECIFICALLY ASK YOU TO STOP DOING.
Fine, I guess this season they used him similarly to Flynn Rider on The Librarians. He turned up at the beginning, the middle, and the end, and in between was off doing more big-picture stuff while the team chased anachronisms, but I don’t like the way they seemed to be weaning the show off of him. I don’t like it at all.
Okay, fine, sure, with Sara captaining the Waverider and his protege Ava Sharp gradually taking over the Time Bureau, there isn’t a clear need for Rip, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing to… no, no, you cannot make me approve of this.
Moving past that… I love the fun tone, I definitely do, but maaaayyyyybe it undercut the stakes a little? All of time and space was theoretically under threat from Mallus, but I just didn’t feel it, you know? Last season they showed us what a Legion of Doom victory would look like, with Mallus they asked us to take their word for it. (We needn’t discuss Vandal Savage from season one. Ever again.)
…Man, this one is not easy. Which to pick? “Here I Go Again,” where Zari gets stuck in a time loop? They earned name-dropping Groundhog Day on that one. “No Country For Old Dads,” in which Ray, Nora, and Damien have to team up against Younger Damien? Real-life spouses Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford had amazing comic chemistry and it began the road to possible redemption for both Darhks. “Guest Starring John Noble,” (yes that’s what it was called, yes this is real life, apparently) in which the Legends notice that Mallus happens to sound exactly like Denethor from Lord of the Rings, and recruit actor John Noble to con Nora? That’s a lot of highlights and I haven’t even mentioned Rip Hunter and Kid Flash going to 90s Japan for drunk karaoke.
Forget the goddamned “Snyder Cut,” give me an extended edition of that.
But ultimately it has to come down to one of two episodes. I don’t know for sure that they had Leonard “Captain Cold” Snart’s Earth-X doppelganger Leo “Citizen Cold” Snart stick around for two episodes post-“Crisis on Earth-X” to ease the pain of the crossover’s conclusion, but if they did, it worked, and since Wentworth Miller’s take on the various Snarts has always been one of the highlights of the Arrowverse, the season’s high point can only be one of those two.
(“Crisis on Earth-X” doesn’t count, that really played as its own four-hour event, not episodes of each individual series)
But which to pick? “Beebo the God of War” introduces the cuddly giggling toy Beebo that the fans embraced as their new god, has a great planning montage, and involves Leo providing grief counselling via puppet. That’s a tough line-up to beat. But “Daddy Darhkest” has Leo and John Constantine, and one of the better Ray and Zari team ups.
Tough call. But I’m going with “Beebo.” They were on that week.
Also hard. They really brought their A-game this year. I guess… maybe… you know what, I’ll admit it, “Amazing Grace,” in which pre-fame Elvis Presley gains dominion over the dead, ran out of steam partway through. And the white male preacher from 1950s Tennessee being convinced that rock’n’roll music isn’t evil by a black man and a Muslim woman after one speech rang kinda false. That combo would have trouble getting through to white southern preachers now.
There are so many people doing such good work on this show, and everybody except maybe Kid Flash gets a great spotlight episode (Kid Flash comes closest in his recruitment episode, but drunk Rip Hunter overshadows him. Poor Wally. Always the sidekick), but the heart and soul of this show (plus all of the best fight scenes… save for the final duel against Mallus that cannot simply be described…) remains Caity Lotz as Sara Lance. Oh captain my captain, long may she reign.
Tips For Next Season
You know, Constantine was such a fun addition for his two episodes (and two cameos) that you should consider making him a regular– oh, that’s happening? Huh. Okay.
I’ll just have a Coke, then.
(Also there’s a couple of things in the finale I’d like you to walk back, if that’s okay, thanks much)
Overall Grade: A-
My only concern is that they might go a little too far with the wacky irreverence. Like how Happy Endings started overdoing the rapid banter just a smidge in their third season.
Also, you can’t kill two of my absolute favourite characters AND my favourite villain in the same season and get a full A, you just can’t, that’s the way it is. I hold that nonsense against Game of Thrones, and I’m holding it against you. That’s three of my original five absolute favourite characters gone, with only three new absolute favourites added. Yes that evens out to the same number, shut up.
Next time in this feature… either I’ll finally get around to finishing The Gifted, or I won’t and it’ll be time to cover Black Lightning. Only a week left on that one. Maybe hop on Netflix and try it out.