Best of Comic TV 2020: The Rankings!

Remember that time John Oliver did a deep-dive into the US bail system, and how it’s weaponized to keep lower-income people, especially African-Americans, in jail? The best way to combat that right now is The Bail Project, a charity committed to paying the bail of those who can’t afford it, so that, say, being arrested for protesting police brutality doesn’t financially cripple you. Visit them at https://bailproject.org/, spread the word, and if you can spare a donation, they can always use it.

Back to it.

Okay, here we go… 21 shows ranked! And let me say… this might have been the highest-quality season since I started doing this. Shows that would have made the top ten easily in previous years, if not the top five, are down where we used to find shows I’d make fun of. There are some very high highs, but none of the low lows that marred previous years. No Iron Fists or Inhumans, or even bland Cloak and Daggers or wildly inconsistent Gothams. The worst we have is “Okay, but not nearly their best work.”

But first, press F to show respect to the following fallen shows.

In Memorium

  • Arrow. How crazy is it that the grand mack-daddy of all superhero crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths, got adapted on network television all because of the success of a show about Green Arrow, of all people? Arrow wasn’t always the best Arrowverse show… actually according to these annual rankings, it wasn’t ever the best Arrowverse show from the first year there were other options… but, as the name suggests, without it, there wouldn’t be an Arrowverse. No duelling speedsters, no spaceship full of time travelling misfits, no annual crossovers putting Defenders to shame over and over… no Beebo. You did good, Arrow.
  • iZombie. In the general scheme of things, five seasons was pretty much just right for their overarching storyline of the zombie outbreak and subsequent conflict with humanity. In another sense, five seasons was never going to be enough time to spend with Liv, Ravi, Clive, Major, Payton, and even ne’er-do-wells Blaine and Don E. This show was a delight, and I’ll miss its core cast for a long time. You were the least faithful to your source material of any show I’ve covered, lacking even a character in common with the comics, but you were special while you lasted.
  • Krypton. I admire Krypton’s dedication to self-improvement. From halfway through the first season, they did their best to find more interesting takes on their story. And they delivered a decent Lobo, a solid General Zod, and by second season a really interesting Brainiac. They were just way too confident they’d have as much time as they wanted to tell the story, and that was not the case. So… are we done with shows about the pasts of famous heroes named after the place they’re from? Smallville lasted a decade, sure, and Gotham made it half that, but Krypton is over after twenty episodes and Metropolis seems to have died in development. So… we’re done?
  • Legion. Some shows can’t run indefinitely. Some shows need a set plan. And Legion was one of those. Noah Hawley brought us a three-act story told over twenty-seven mesmerizing episodes, with a stellar cast and visual flair like nothing else. There has never been a show like Legion. There may never be again, because you can’t be Legion if you’re trying to be like something else.
  • Preacher. To my chagrin, I think Preacher’s legacy will be how weirdly unbalanced the pacing was. The slow-burn first season and the final season’s race for the finish line almost feel like different shows. They spent three years really digging into key moments from the comic run, then when AMC said they had one year to wrap it up, they had to slam on the gas to get to the climax. Still… they delivered an amazing, gonzo yet character-driven adaptation, one which provided some key lessons (including not taking your time in early seasons) for the even-less-probable Garth Ennis adaptation The Boys. I wish it had run another four years, but I’m glad I had it while it lasted.
  • Swamp Thing. We hardly knew ye, Swamp Thing. You delivered the exact Swamp Thing series we needed, a perfect fit to the R-rated tone of every other DC Universe show they’d made (prior to Stargirl). You had great takes on a lot of DC’s magic characters, characters I’m mad I won’t get to see again. Apparently, the only people who didn’t think a dark, horror-themed Swamp Thing was the way to go were the people running your network. Idjits. Here’s hoping the CW reairing it in a desperate bid for fall programming leads to a revival.
  • Watchmen. Series creator Damon Lindelof brought us a collision of the dark side of America’s history and the possible future of Alan Moore’s world of masked crimefighters, twisted masterminds, and one living god with a broken view of time, mixing real-life atrocities and racial tensions with the aftermath of the Watchmen graphic novel, and it was great. He poured every idea he had into this one season… meaning he had nothing left in the tank to keep it going. Like Alan Moore before him, he never envisioned a follow-up. So for now at least, Watchmen ends again as one self-contained story, and we should be thankful we got it.
  • Marvel TV as we knew it. For the past half-decade, there were two sides to live-action Marvel entertainment… Marvel Studios, as run by Kevin Feige, reporting directly to Disney; and Marvel TV, run by Jeph Loeb, reporting to Feige’s former boss Ike Perlmutter. And while fanboys clung to the hope that the Marvel TV characters would appear, or at least be referenced, in any of the movies, people paying attention (such as me, hello) could tell they were very clearly separate worlds that would never mingle. But now Feige has been put in charge of the movies, TV and comics, so Marvel TV as we knew it now yields to Feige’s empire, and everything from before is cancelled. And maybe that’s for the best, because while we might lose the smaller, street-level stories like Daredevil or Runaways, frankly Jeph Loeb brought too much of Smallville’s old “No flights, no tights” aesthetic to Marvel TV, leading to an apparent fear of seeming “comic-booky” that made the whole franchise a little… bland. Basic. Routinely embarrassed of their source material. (Google, find a supercut of Marvel Netflix characters hating their costumes from the comics–no? Damn it.) The fanboys are waiting for the Defenders, Runaways, Agents of SHIELD, and Inhumans to find their way to new seasons on Disney+ or Hulu, but… I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Expect, at best, reboots. Eventually. Probably best to say goodbye to them all now and beat the rush later. So farewell, Cloak and Dagger; bon voyage, Runaways; via con Dios, Agents of– what’s that? Still on? For how many weeks? Huh. First to arrive, last to leave, I guess.

Honourable mention: I don’t include animated series in these things because a) that feels like a hole with no bottom and there are already 21 shows on the list… again…; b) I don’t know how to find most of them; c) I’d mostly be comparing cartoon shows made for pre-teens to Preacher and how do you even do that, even Riverdale was a stretch. But all of that said, if you can find a way to watch Harley Quinn, then do it, because oh my god it’s so hilarious, and also weirdly heartfelt. Do what you have to, but check it out.

Now let’s do this thing.

Next page: The Also-Rans

Best of Comic TV 2020: Here we GO!

Before we get started… I’ve been sitting on these blogs for a week, because given all of the everything… this felt horribly frivolous. But as protests continue, we all need an occasional break, so I’m taking a piece of advice from someone more knowledgeable than I am in these matters (keep listening, keep learning)… release your art, but also take a moment to point people to ways they can keep helping ensure that Black Lives Matter. Today, I present this: this playlist is a way to support bail funds if you can’t afford to donate. Just throw this video on while you read, and make sure you’re not blocking ads because the ad revenue is going to a good cause.

And now, on with the show.

Another TV season comes to an end, and once again I’ve spent twelve months devouring all (well, many) forms of comic book TV, and I’m here to share with you what my exhaustive research tells us is the best of the best! Who had the best fights, elicited the biggest sobs, featured the best casts, and many more!

Specifically of shows that ended their seasons between July 1st of 2019 and June 3rd, 2020. With these specific exceptions.

Walking Dead: I don’t wanna and you can’t make me.

The Riverdale of it all: I am not the target audience of Riverdale. That’s fine. I don’t have to be. There is so much media that is geared specifically towards me that it’s fine that some of it isn’t. But it hardly seems fair to rank shows meant for a younger female audience against shows weirdly targeted right exactly at me, so I’m leaving out all of the Riverdales. That includes Riverdale Prime, Spooky Riverdale (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), and Sex And The City Riverdale (Katy Keene, which could not be less targeted to me).

With that in mind, here’s what we are covering, with links to reviews where they exist.

Sadly, due to Plague Times (or lack of vision by the DC streaming service), a few of those shows didn’t get proper season finales. Which I’m trying my best not to hold against them, but maybe they had a lot of plots going on and maybe I was really eager to get to the point where they started connecting in a more clear way and I don’t know I would have liked to see how they stuck the landing.

Anyhoo, let’s get into the technical awards, starting with what I keep telling you is one of my favourites.

Next page: Biff! Sock! Kapow!

Best of Comic TV 2019: The Rankings!

Okay. Here we go. But first… one piece of new business.

In Memoriam

Every year, some show in the rankings has been in its last season, but never enough to keep the list from growing from seven to twenty-two. But we’ve hit a point where there are enough that they’re killing themselves down to a more sustainable level. Thus, some farewells.

  • The Tick. Oh, The Tick… like always, maybe you were just a little too cult to live. But while you lived, you were nailing it. Wait– you had one fewer episode overall than Iron Fist? No wonder God has forsaken us.
  • Gotham. You were never the best show, not by a wide margin, but there were flickers of greatness… well, pretty-good-ness… that meant you weren’t the worst, either. Well, okay, sometimes you were the worst, but not recently.
  • The Gifted. You may have been the Agents of SHIELD of Fox’s X-Men universe, the red-headed stepchild not allowed to play with the other kids, but you did your best. Still, that Disney buy-out was your death. And come on, man, you did not have the ratings to be ending on a cliffhanger.
  • Literally all of Marvel Netflix. In the beginning, you set a high bar for comic TV, but you never quite matched those first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Until the end you struggled with pacing issues, unnecessary side characters, inability to pick a main villain, and a refusal to do anything too “comic booky.” And yes, you bungled the big crossover. Still, the franchise had more good than bad overall. Even Iron Fist was starting to get its act together. Was Jessica Jones’ third season a fitting send-off for the entire franchise? No, and that’s irrational, it couldn’t have been, that would have required a second, hopefully better Defenders series, maybe involving the “Who can stop Luke Cage, King of Harlem” fight they kept teasing, but “proper send-off” wasn’t on Netflix’s agenda. Disney+ was your franchise’s end. Via con Dios, Defenders.
  • The idea that the Marvel movies and TV shows share a universe. Not even Agents of SHIELD, which is normally first in line to name-drop any event from the movies, acknowledged the events of Avengers: Infinity War. And given when season six takes place, and when Endgame takes place, it would have to. So… guess that’s over.

Now, on with the show! (I apologize if the last two posts maybe drained some suspense out of who’s taking the top spot.)

Next page: From “I can’t be bothered with this” to “Good, not great”

Best Comic TV 2019: Characters!

Okay! Let’s get into the best superheroes, supervillains, and other comic-related characters of the season!

Honourable Mention: Real talk… few of these characters delighted me like the one character who defies every single category I have: Doom Patrol’s Danny the Street.

YOU HEARD ME.
Image: DC Universe

Danny’s a sentient, teleporting, genderqueer street that houses a community of misfits and outcasts, and they’re delightful, and I was so happy the writers embraced the Grant Morrison weirdness of the Doom Patrol franchise enough to include Danny. Their debut episode, “Danny Patrol,” was a blast.

(I may eventually need more non-gendered categories, especially if one of these shows casts Liv Hewson or Asia Kate Dillon or another non-binary actor of their caliber… but not today.)

Anyway, on to characters a little easier to categorize. So easy they don’t even need introductory paragraphs to explain the categories.

Best Female Supporting Character!

Honourable mentions: Carrie-Anne Moss and Rachel Taylor had some good spirals into self-destruction on Jessica Jones; Yara Martinez remained fun as Miss Lint on The Tick; Julie Ann Emery had great edge as Featherstone on Preacher.

Bronze: Rachel Taylor as Trish Walker, Jessica Jones

If you think she finally gets her superhero name this year, you don’t know Marvel Netflix.
Image: Netflix

For the first two seasons of Jessica Jones, and a bit of The Defenders, Jessica’s best friend and adoptive sister Trish pushed Jessica to be a better hero, to use her gifts to help people and fight evil. But after the events of season two, Trish finally has powers of her own. She can finally be the hero she’s always wanted Jess to be. Sure the process that gave her powers has a slight history of also causing homicidal rage, and yes, her need to feel powerful caused all sorts of bad choices in season two, but this should be easy! Right?

Trish’s journey over season three is a rollercoaster, I tell you what, and Rachel Taylor came to play.

Silver: Tala Ashe as Zari Tomaz, Legends of Tomorrow

Even if there were other snarky hackers from the future on TV, she’d still be the best.
Image: CW

Playing a character whose classic hero name they can’t really use anymore, Tala Ashe’s dry wit was a welcome addition to Legends last season, and it remained so this year. But we also got to watch Zari’s tough shell begin to crack, as her survival instincts from the ARGUS police state future she came from began to relax. Her gradual, mutually awkward flirtation with fellow Legend Nate Heywood (spurred by something simple: pretending to be a couple for a heist and then thinking “Huh, we’re both hot, we could just do this”) was consistently adorable, and led to both one of the year’s best musical numbers (see last entry) and an emotional finale where she has to risk having her entire history rewritten to save Nate.

Plus she cut loose on some witch hunters (emotional), impersonated a 70s DJ (funny), and got turned into both a cat and a puppet (legendary). And if all of that weren’t enough, she opened the season with a powerful monologue on how fear took over her society, ending with one small but killer line. Lots of shows tackled fear and hate this season, but few managed as simple and powerful a moment as Zari watching her hijab-wearing mother smiling and laughing with young Zari in a playground, and asking “How could anyone be afraid of her?”

This season may have had slightly too little time for all of its character arcs, but Zari always shines.

Gold: Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor, Supergirl

Pretty please with cherries on top don’t turn evil?
Image: CW

There is a marvellous subtlety to Katie McGrath’s performance as Lena Luthor. She went through a lot of unpleasantness this season, loss and heartbreak and betrayal and more betrayal and a global hunt for her brother, and Katie McGrath managed to convey all the pain and sorrow Lena went through without dropping the cold, hard exterior she’s had to develop as both a successful businesswoman and a Luthor. Not the most open and loving family. Katie handled Lena’s bleak year with incredible nuance.

Katie is masterful at this role. Lena’s heading to a dark place, but I’m hoping she doesn’t go full-villain, because I don’t think I can bring myself to root against her.

Best Male Supporting Character!

Honourable mention: Jay Ali’s take as the tortured Agent Nadeem on Daredevil; most if not all of the male cast of The Umbrella Academy. Unless you consider all the Hargreeves kids to be leads, in which case just Hazel and Hargreeves Sr, I guess.

Bronze: Jesse Rath as Brainiac-5, Supergirl

Seen here using his “Save the makeup department some money” disguise tech.
Image: CW

Last season, Jesse Rath swiftly won me and others over as Querl Dox, aka Brainiac-5, the Legion of Superheroes’ resident super genius. In season four, he takes the departed Winn Schott’s place at the DEO, working as both a DEO agent and secret superhero ally to Supergirl and her band of alien do-gooders when relations between the two groups deteriorate.

Rath’s always done a good and amusing job at portraying Brainy’s alien, calculating nature, existing somewhere between and to the left of Data and Spock, but as he began an awkward flirtation with Nia Nal, who he swiftly recognized as an ancestor of his old teammate Dream Girl, Brainy found new levels of cute.

But what really gets him on the podium came late in the season, as the alien-hating Children of Liberty accidentally unleashed Brainy’s dark side. As anyone familiar with Superman’s rogues gallery knows, the Brainiac line is not filled with pleasant people, and under torture, Brainy lost control of his ancestral memories. After an emotional moment, a darker, crueler Brainiac was unleashed, and Brainy went from cute to chilling.

I miss Winn sometimes, but damn Brainy’s fun to have around.

Silver: Robin Lord Taylor & Corey Michael Smith as Penguin & Riddler, Gotham

TV’s best frienemeses.
Image: Fox

There were definitely a few things Gotham did well, in the sea of things they did poorly. The art design, cinematography, at least half of their villain creations. But if I were to point to one thing that kept me going through all 100 episodes, one facet of the show that made coming back worthwhile through all the Mad Hatters and Jeromes and Jim Gordon never bringing backup, it was Robin Lord Taylor’s performance as Oswald Cobblepot. There is a time and place for restraint in acting, and Taylor understood that Gotham is not it, throwing every inch of himself into every scene he had. But he worked best when part of an unexpectedly great double-act.

Because when Penguin’s plots linked up with Ed Nygma’s? Magic. As begrudging allies, best of friends, or sworn enemies, their scenes together routinely popped. As we bid farewell to Gotham, it seemed fitting to give a final tip of the hat to their two best and most consistently entertaining villains.

Gold: Pip Torrens & Joseph Gilgun as Herr Starr & Cassidy, Preacher

Another “don’t make me choose” incident between costars.
Images: AMC

Last year I talked about how perfectly Pip Torrens captures the cold, vicious, and utterly captivating Herr Starr, chief enforcer for the Grail, Earth’s secret rulers. Well, I’m not going to do that this year.

Because if anything he is surpassing his comics counterpart.

The chilling calmness with which Starr goes through his bloody business is always riveting to watch, and often hilarious. It’s at the point where I’ll be sad to see his joust with Jesse come to an end. And not just because I wasn’t ready for the show to be over after next season.

Meanwhile, Cassidy had some big moments this year, from fighting his best pal Jesse (a few times) over Tulip, even taping himself back together to go an extra round; to a quiet, sad, moment of choice where he realizes there are lines he can’t cross to keep Tulip; to his discovery of Les Enfants du Sang, a group of vampire wannabes led by the first fellow vampire Cassidy’s met in decades. Gilgun found new depths to Cassidy this season, and nailed them all. And he keeps the humour of the character, if his debate with the Enfants over how to kill a Grail infiltrator proves anything.

Starting around 1:46

Next Page: The Captain Cold and Charlotte Richards awards

Best of Comic TV 2019: We Begin!

A tiny slice of the selection.

It’s that time again! Time to look through a season’s worth of comic book TV shows, look at who did what best, and deliver a conclusive ranking, based on my highly scientific standard of “Which ones I liked more, and also you didn’t watch them all so you don’t know I’m wrong.”

So, here are this years’ competitors, with links to blog posts if posts there do be:

(Why are the two seasons of Cloak and Dagger ranked separately but not Sabrina? Because Netflix ordered twenty episodes of Sabrina then released them in two chunks and a Christmas special, while Cloak and Dagger did ten episodes then had to get renewed before they made ten more.)

TV shows are constantly being released. Krypton and Legion started up new seasons in the past couple of weeks, and The Boys is coming up fast. So I have to draw the line somewhere. As such, I’m only including shows that ended their season between July 1st 2018 and June 30th 2019. This means some personal favourites are off the list this year because their finales are still a few weeks or months out, and Game of Thrones reminds us not to build monuments to the living, for they can still disgrace the stone. Or in other words, any show can trip over its own feet at the finish line.

So this year doesn’t include the latest seasons of Agents of SHIELD or Krypton, the final seasons of iZombie and Legion, or what is apparently the only season of Swamp Thing.

Or Walking Dead because I don’t care and you can’t make me care.

Or anything I hadn’t heard of until it was already cancelled, like whatever Deadly Class was.

Allons-y!

Next page: Certainly one of my favourite categories to start us off.

Superheroes in a Dangerous Time, or Fear and Loathing in the Arrowverse

Image: CW

Things are bad out there, you guys. Really bad. The world is dangerously close to climate-based mass extinction, and instead of banding together to stop it, more and more of the world is getting sucked into alt-right, arch-conservative, anti-science, bigoted, “us first” nationalism. The American south is attempting to treat women and reproductive rights with all the care and respect that the Confederacy treated people of colour, and Canadian conservatives are watching it happen and thinking “Say, that gives me an idea.” Nobody’s willing to call a mulligan on that whole Brexit debacle. Disney owns 40% of the concept of entertainment, and the layoffs have begun.

It’s dark out there. But I don’t have a lot of answers for that, outside of STOP. VOTING. FOR. CONSERVATIVES, so today I’d just like to talk about something related to the apparent collapse of human society.

How do superheroes respond to today’s world?

The CW superhero shows, still known as the Arrowverse and not the DCW-verse because we are incapable of coming up with good names*, devoted themselves this question this season, potentially their final season as The Best Superhero Franchise on TV. (The CW shows are of higher average quality than Marvel Netflix was, fight me, but the DC Universe streaming service came to play, peeps. Titans was better than it deserved to be and Doom Patrol is so good you guys.) Each of the four Arrowverse shows (Black Lightning remains separate for at least another half-season) spent their season addressing the state of the world in some way or another, some more nakedly than others.

So instead of a typical review of the Arrowverse shows, I want to look at how each one tackled the state of the world and their home country.

*The Canadian two-dollar coin is called the “toonie,” as the dollar coin was called the loonie, but “dubloonie” was on the table. I will never forgive my country for making the wrong choice.

Allons-y.

Next page: Arrow and the Police State

Gotham: Requiem

Image: Warner Bros

Five years ago, Fox greenlit a series about Gotham City in the years before Batman. Why? Out of faith in one of comicdom’s better supporting casts of flawed do-gooders and colourful villains? Maybe, but as I’ve explained in the past, there were better ways to do that. Maybe it was because Smallville lasted ten years and– ten years. Son of a bitch. I watched that show for a decade. That is not a trivial percentage of my life. I was young and married and full of hope when that started, thinking George W. Bush was as bad a president as we’d ever see… all of that sure changed…

Anyway, five years and 100 episodes later, Young Jim Gordon’s quest to redeem Gotham City but not to a point where it wouldn’t eventually need a bat-themed superhero saviour has come to an end.

Earlier this season, I did defend portions of Gotham, if only to underline all the problems I had with Cloak and Dagger’s first season, but in the end… and we have hit the end… it was unique. Not in its subject matter… “DC Prequel Show Named After a Place” is basically a genre at this point… but in its devil-may-care bonkers approach to the subject matter. Gotham’s willingness to try any idea, no matter how insane or ill-conceived, led to some truly operatic battles between order and chaos, many of them really stupid, some of them bizarrely compelling.

As we say farewell to Gotham and brace for the showrunner’s new prequeller prequel Pennyworth…

We both wish I was kidding.

I thought it worth a look back, through the veil of this 12-episode final season.

If anything else… they made 100 episodes of a show about the origins of Batman and a large amount of his rogue’s gallery that never said “Batman,” “Joker,” or “Catwoman” out loud, and that’s… kind of an achievement?

Next page: The Persons of Interest, or Lack Thereof

The Year in Superheroes

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.)

Allons-y.

Next page: Two Kings

The Arrowverse in Review: Year Two

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.

So far.

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.

Elsewhere…

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.

The Heroes

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.

This one.

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.

The Villains

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

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).

The Good

  • 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 Bad

  • 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 Weird 

  • 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.

The Crossover!

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.

RIP

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.

Parting Thoughts

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.

Vision Vs. Craftsmanship: Gotham Vs. Cloak & Dagger

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.

Craftsmanship

“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.

And yet.

Vision

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.

Couple things.

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.

That Forest

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 villain better 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?