[Review] - DCTV: Arrow, And The Flash, Seasons 4 And 1, Episodes 1, "Green Arrow" And "The Man Who Saved Central City"

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television
There are an article I saw online the other day, which asked the question "Is the Flash the new Buffy?" And I immediately thought to myself, no. Resoundingly no. That is the sort of click bait think piece that is good for getting a geek's ire up, but little else. The Flash is a product of Buffy, much like most non procedural TV is a product of Buffy. Popularizing (and gentrifying) genre works, leading to the rise of arc-based serialization, ensemble cast structure. It all can be traced back to what Buffy did at the end of the nighties, in a way that revolutionized how TV shows are structured. It also helped that the multitude of writers that Buffy had left that show to run their own rooms, and carried the ethos forward into their writers rooms as much as fans of the shows did. Greg Berlanti wasn't a product of the Whedon system, but working on Dawson's Creek, he was a contemporary, and would have been part of the reaction to Buffy, and how everyone else had to run to catch up with this new and far more engaging way of doing things.

But really, the reason that The Flash isn't the new Buffy is because The Flash isn't doing anything new. It is mimicking Buffy very well - a much more optimistic and positive show, with health bastions of humour, which focuses on the family of the cast - but it isn't extending itself out of that zone in a way that will ever be revolutionary. And, frankly, neither Arrow or the Flash are as god as Buffy. The writing is good, but it stumbles as much as it soars. And neither show can escape the gravity well that is the soap opera drama system that the CW. But that isn't to say that either show, going into the fourth and second seasons respectively, aren't worth time and attention. Hence why, after three and one seasons respectively, I am finally reviewing them. Well, that, and if I spend another minute with Agents of SHIELD, I would have taken my eyes out with a nail file.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that can't be here if it is to become what it needs to be.


Both of these premieres were about getting the gang back together. Both started off with their heroes on the outside, but for very different reasons. And in fact, they were reasons that would have felt more at home on the opposite shows, which is probably why they felt fresher and more interesting in their current configuration. Ollie, after three years of murdering people, walked away from the Arrow when he realized that he was causing more harm that he was doing good. Barry, meanwhile, insisted on doing the loan hero thing because his actions keep putting the people he cares about in harm's way. And both are forced back into the fold when they realize these bullheaded assumptions aren't true. Which is also a way of saying that both of these shows wasted an entire hour reestablishing the status quo. And oh my lords in the skies and muddy rivers, do I hate the status quo, people. I hate it with a passion that goes unmatched on this or any other Earth. When the status quo is invoked, it takes all my strength to resist Gollum-hissing at my TV, "what is the point of you!"

The Flash is fundamentally a better show than Arrow. It is better written, better plotted, and frankly more interesting. The actors are also better at their jobs - no offence to the cast of Arrow, but you have failed this series on occasion. Melodrama is your friend, but it ain't mine. On Flash, maybe just because it benefits from everyone liking each other and what they do, the character interactions seem far more natural. The benefit of humour, I suppose. Maybe the Arrow is simply waning. It was, after all, strong in it's first two seasons. Or maybe it is younger sibling syndrome; the baby gets all the attention. Whatever it is, of these two premieres, Flash had the most good will going into it, and was the one of the two that I was most disappointed by. Arrow, meanwhile, isn't any better, but promises that it will be at least interest.

Unlike in previous seasons, where the Big Bad (another Buffy contribution) is slowly teased over the first half of the year, this season Arrow put it all on the table straight away: Damien Dahrk, played with gleeful delight by Generally Excellent person Neal McDonough, has arrived in Star City and intended to destroy it with his H.I.V.E. of ex-League assassins. He is also mystically trained. and has his hooks in deep enough that he's already working with Captain Lance, who once again ended up with his arm in a sling. Also, in six months, someone that Ollie loves will die (the producers say this is absolute true, and not a fake out, though they don't know who they are going to kill just yet). So yeah, as a statement of intent, that is pretty intent-ful. Dahrk makes a great first impression, though listening to the dialogue, it is 90% in the presentation. McDonough is having a hell of a time busting loose, and I can't wait to see where he takes the character and his plan, which basically Ra's plan from Batman Begins, making that the latest plot element from Begins that this show has ripped off wholesale.

Meanwhile, on the other side, six months after a black hole threatened to destroy Central City... everything is pretty much fine. Turns out Ronny died (again) helping the Flash close the hole, and because of that, the team broke up and Barry is doing the hero thing all by himself. Over the course of the episode, a meta human reunites the team, who all rediscover the power of friendship and reform just as an ominous threat called Zoom raises it's head (Zoom also gets a tease in the Arrow post scene). Oh, and Henry was released form prison because Wells taped a confession, as well as gave Barry STAR Labs in his will, but then Henry left because Barry doesn't need him around, getting in the way.

All of this made me angry.

Arrow is the series that plays it safe. It plays it crazy, but safe. Flash takes chances. that is what last season taught us. It took LOST five seasons to really embrace time travel, but The Flash went whole hog straight away. So I was expecting the show to keep on at that level. For the black hole to have massive repercussions on the characters, on the time line, on the fabric of reality itself. I was expecting for Barry to return to an Earth similar to, but not entirely his own. I was expecting for there to be larger and more dramatic consequences than a character death that will likely be undone by midseason and a mid of moping. I was at least hoping for the show to avoid falling into the same melodramatic pit that Arrow fell into last season. Releasing Henry, with the explicit intention of not doing something substantial with it, is cheap and empty.

And, because time travel is involved, unneeded. Come with me children, as we dive into the wormhole, and learn a little bit about cause and effect. Exactly one thing changed in the finale last year: Eobard Thawne was erased from history. Not killed, present tense, but erased when Eddie killed himself, thus wiping all of Thawne's actions from time. This means he never came back and killed Harrison Wells. At the very least, this means that Wells and his wife should still be alive. And no one should have a memory of Thawne. Thawne is certainly not leaving video messages to people because he never existed. Additionally, Thawne would never have been alive to murder Norah, meaning that Barry grows up not with Joe, but a full and incarcerated family. And all of that presents amazing dramatic possibilities for Barry to cope with if he comes back from the Black Hole with his memories intact but everyone else is different. And with Cisco's emerging ability to preserve alternate timelines, a way to eventually merge the two. This isn't actually all that wild an idea: Eureka did it. Of all the missteps that series took, rewriting history wasn't one of them, as it created drama rather than squashed it. That the Flash writers opted not to go an interesting route in favour of a familiar one (serieously, every superhero movie or show has already done the "protect the loved ones" story) is disappointing.

So, Arrow is journeying into the mystic, and Flash is face to face with his Earth-2 counterpart. Let's see where this goes, shall we?
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

2 comments :

  1. First, since I've been asking for years, I want to say thank you for reviewing the Berlanti-verse.

    Second, while I agree that Flash should have continued to take chances, and gone ahead with a world that was changed in a consistent manner based on Eddie's death, I'd note that we may yet get there. You're correct that Reverse Flash never came back in time, took over the body of Harrison Wells, etc. So he never recorded a flash drive or killed Nora, etc. But, say, Professor Zoom may have done so. Clearly this isn't exactly the timeline from season 1 - two Al Rothsteins existed...perhaps the same timey-wimey explanation could explain Harrison Wells' actions despite Thawne not existing. We know Earth 2 exists - in theory the entire DC multi-verse should too. In some timeline, these people should have had these past events in their timeline, no? This isn't season one of Continuum, where everything was a neatly closed timeloop. Its certainly a possible resultant timeline, even if its not the one the writers should have chosen if their goal was to make the most interesting, compelling show they could.

    Finally, has Neal McDonough become typecast for "D" alliteratively named comic book characters? And why does his Marvel contract permit him to play a prominent DC role?

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    Replies
    1. Let me respond in kind :)

      First: you are welcome. Let it never be said that asking for something doesn't produce results. Even if those results are years overdue and mostly negative. I kid, I kid. In fact, I am grateful to you. I should have started doing this seasons ago, and it was your type face in my head when I found the first season of Arrow on sale in the spring and bought it. It was with this day in mind. And now, aren't we mighty?

      Second: True. In fact, I hold out a hope that the arrival of Jay Garrick does mean that things are going to get a lot more timey-whimey and that the writers opted to ease us into things. Tom Cavanagh is apparently still a member of the cast, so I'm hoping that Wells-Prime will play a role, or an alternative version of Thawne that didn't get erased. When they announced Zoom as the baddie for season 2 I'll admit I was a little confused. The Flash has never been my favourite character, and I'll admit to always thinking that Zoom and the Reverse Flash were the same character. I knew Thawne and Zolomon were different characters, but I thought Zoom and Reverse Flash were like calling Bruce Wayne Batman or the Dark Knight.

      Thrid: I'm happy to see McDonough cast as anything, alliterative names or not. He is spectacular. As for appearing in both the Marvel and DC universes, none of the actor's contracts can legally prohibit them from appearing in competing materials, at least so far as I know. The only thing preventing Chris Pratt from also being a Green Lantern is just good sense. The Marvel contracts don't even prohibit actors from playing multiple characters within the MCU, according to Zachery Levi (meaning an actor can move from a minor character to a prominent one). The contracts would have a clause that states the actors cannot do anything to undermine Marvel - like, talking shit about them - but legally, the union wouldn't allow Marvel to say "you can't take work just because you portray Captain so-and-so." Which is a lot of words to say McDonough can play whomever he wants, so long as his schedule allows. And that means more McDonough for us. Hooray!

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