The title above may be harsh as The CW has been a vehicle for a number of years now for a level of DC comics-based shows that had been previously unprecedented in its breadth and support and, in my mind, has ushered in a new era in super-hero television. So by no means do I want to diminish their important role in where things are today.
But that preamble out of the way, having just slogged my way through the array of DCTV season finales, there is a quality of storytelling issue that is in the least underwhelming and at times frustratingly mind-boggling that I would really like to see addressed. While I am often a faithful audience (I held on faithfully to Smallville right up through the end), we’re on the cusp of a boon of such content that would afford me the luxury of being selective and discriminating in what I watch.
Let’s start with Supergirl: while I was more than pleased to see the CW keep this show from being simply a flash in the pan after CBS decided not to continue it, the show was never flawless. I love the fact that Melissa Benoist is giving female, burgeoning comic fans a positive role model as this show may well be the only one of its kind on network TV that passes the Bechdel test. But here on our show we were not hesitant to point out its foibles last year (e.g., addressing a jumping high-power line by “breaking its neck”, constant mentions and skirting of Superman without showing him on screen). While CW did a great job making the transition from CBS fairly seamless and even made some choices that CBS likely wouldn’t have approached that were very positive for the show, they still fell into the trappings they seem to with many of their dramas: poor interpersonal communication skills, semi-hyperbolic reactions by friends or foes to situations, too conveniently placed plot twists, and unrealistic depictions of technology capabilities. While I was definitely a fan of Alex’s new romance in season 2, I was not a fan of how many times the strife within her relationship felt unrealistic, melodramatic, or easily avoidable by just talking for more than 30 seconds. But the shallow communication seems to be a running trait through all of these shows; it was the cause for extended drama between Kara & Mon-El, J’onn J’onzz & M’gann M’orzz, Lena & her mother, Winn & James, and pretty much any pair of people who had friction between them this season. It’d be nice if discord were occasionally a product of disagreement rather than simply misunderstanding.
Within the finale and it’s lead-up more specifically, there were a lot of plot choices that either were fraught with holes or just felt weird. For instance, both the convenient existence of the positron cannon at the DEO and its convenient destruction just when it could have been used felt, well, too convenient. Further, the reveal that all Daxamites had kryptonite coursing through their veins as a result of the destruction of Krypton had some clear swiss cheese qualities to it in hindsight. Why didn’t the presence of it weaken Kara just by presence? Why didn’t Mon-El’s father seem to show this trait when he bled out from Rhea’s stabbing him? Why did it seem to only be green kryptonite and not an array of different varieties? Why didn’t Rhea’s crumbling to dust exacerbate the problem by expose the embedded kryptonite more? And while addressing kryptonite, how did Rhea seem to have such an encyclopedic knowledge of what the different types would do to kryptonians? These are just a handful of the questions left unclear by the plot choices in the finale and is emblematic of the show as a whole.
Second let’s look at The Flash: while I’ve been onboard and a fan since episode 1 of this show, it too suffers from some of the same pitfalls as mentioned with Supergirl. Where Supergirl relies on alien McGuffins to explain away fantastic technology and powers and weaknesses, The Flash levers heavily on metahumans for most of its hijinks, but also introduces a lot of tech that is weakly founded and usually pigeonholed into establishing slightly more grounded origins for some rather fanciful canon from the comics. For instance, the cold gun, heat gun, and gold gun used by Captain Cold, Heatwave, and Golden Glider respectively all have fundamental flaws in that they seemingly don’t need to be charged, fueled, or supplied any sort of ammo and just function forever while breaking laws of physics and reality (I still don’t know how you freeze a laser array or how doing so disables the security measure). Similarly, there have been numerous plot points over the seasons that are underwhelmingly explained and sometimes contradictory. Take for example this season’s Savitar arc. In the beginning Savitar and Anarchy were using the Philosopher’s Stone to restore powers to people who had metahuman abilities prior to the erasure of FlashPoint. But as we find out later, the Stone is apparently calcified speed force, which does nothing to explain how it’s able to affect matters as it did. It simply served as a deus ex machina for the season to do whatever the writers felt appropriate to the drama they were creating.
In the finale run itself, much of this becomes amplified into an array of plot holes. For instance, it didn’t fully make sense that the accidently suppression of all of Barry’s memories would have the collateral effects of (a) causing Savitar to not remember anything else (why would he even still exist if Barry stayed in that state?) or causing Wally to suddenly not have speed (this was by far one of the more inexplicable plot choices). And as we get to the finale “boss fight”, while I can see how having 3 speedsters vs. 1 is an advantage, it wasn’t really leveraged. Barry, Wally & Jay all gave chase, but there was no plan or coordination to trap Savitar – just running really fast. And while it was a cool scene to see Barry phase into the suit and eject his time remnant, I don’t see how this wasn’t a thing he could have done at some other time prior to the end. But that issue is overshadowed by the cliffhanger ending of Barry suddenly needing to imprison himself in the speedforce because … it was empty? As I understand it, Savitar (a) is from the future, and (b) really only exists because of the events of FlashPoint at the cusp of this and the last season. So why was this prisoner situation not an issue ever before? And why wasn’t there potentially some other way to manage the fallout? They created a the Speedforce Bazooka, a future technology, in the last 4 episodes and Cisco managed to reengineer it in a matter of hours to do an entirely different thing in the finale. Why couldn’t it be re-reengineered to be a speedforce vacuum/battery to absorb the energy bleeding out and syphon it for some other use (or maybe store it in a calcified form)? Why do we need to have an ominous goodbye to the titular hero as a point of suspension into the next season? I can say with certainty that my anticipation of season 4 would have been 10 times higher and more positive if they’d just ended on a happy note of success. But the CW doesn’t seem to like to roll like that.
Finally, I’ll dive into Arrow. While Chase/Prometheus was definitely an interesting (if not predictable) villain for the season and much more compelling than Damien Darhk by contrast, I’m not sure that the ends fully justified the means. It was interesting to get the final arc of Oliver’s five years as a castaway finished up and, while those scenes can often be uneven, they were a little better stitched together this season than in some prior years, and managed to retcon away some of the confusing questions that had arisen in the interim. But in the end, while this show was somewhat better written than it’s CW sibling this year and there was actually some effort to have conversations that lasted more than four exchanges, the endgame of Adrian Chase just didn’t really make a lot of sense. Sure he successfully put Green Arrow in the crosshairs for part of the season, but when those issues were resolved and Chase was captured, he still acted like it was all going according to plan. So either his plan was to fail to make a permanent impact in Star City and be seen as a criminal and then die just to destroy all of Oliver’s friends and an otherwise abandoned island (which couldn’t have been a cheap plan to execute), or he put on a good poker face when up against the ropes. Either way, it’d seem like he could have had an alternate detonator than his own life to exact his final point of vengeance and live to torment another day.
At the end of the day, I still enjoy these shows in spite of how harsh a critic I’ve been. And I cannot deny the influence the mere existence and success these shows have borne on the genre. I have no doubt that the numerous additional superhero shows coming next fall across network and cable television owe a debt of gratitude to the CW for paving the way, and I look forward to sampling many of them as they premiere. But now that they’ve set the bar, I’d like to see them raise it. I’d like to see some of these shows try to break the mold of the stereotypical teen melodrama that so many of their adjacent shows are. I’d like to see character development with depth more akin to the Marvel Netflix shows. I’d like to see comedy on the level of what we see from Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man movies. I’d like to see adversaries that are more nuanced and complex who you might even have a hard time rooting against. Most of all, I’d like to see one of these shows try to be more grounded and realistic, but without reading that to mean gritty and dark. And perhaps we’ll get that one day – the fact that I can point to examples says that we’re getting some of it already. But maybe hoping to see it on the CW is wishing for too much.
I’m sure I’ll be strapped in to watch the next seasons of these shows come fall with a healthy-sized shaker of salt at the ready. But there is a part of me that is watching to see which of these will be the next Gotham – which of these will be first to jump the shark one time too many to stay onboard (something Gotham had done within an episode or two of season 1). I’m hoping it doesn’t happen, but the only real solace I feel I have is to hope for the other new shows to be better so that if I have to jump ship, there’s someplace else to go. At least then I can rationalize my departure as just not having enough time and having to be selective. But I think the CW can do better and I can’t see how trying could be a bad thing for them.
Don’t forget to check out latest podcast episode here: http://superherospeak.com/wp/206-j-d-oliva/