[Review] - DCTV: Arrow And The Flash, Seasons 4 And 2, Episode 5, "Haunted" And "The Darkness And The Light"

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
It is a little amazing how often these two shows sync up on a week to week basis. Often times, there is a larger theme that binds them together, even if that theme is only superficial. Now, part of that might be directives from on high, or it might be coincidence. But this week, it happened again, as both shows this week were united by the return of a previously thought lost fan favourite, and how that favourite shakes things up for the characters. On Arrow, it was Matt Ryan returning to the role of John Constantine, and on the Flash it was Tom Cavanagh returning as Harrison Wells. Well, a Harrison Wells at any rate.

And as is so often the case, one show faltered and fell over itself, while the other managed to buoy itself above the worst of its tendencies, and deliver an episode that ended up having a lot of heart. I'll give you a moment to come to the unsurprising realization of which was which.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are on the side of the angels.


So, John Constantine. His NBC show was mostly shit. It showed the occasional sign of promise, but it was far too uneven in its lone 13 episodes to be considered anything other than OK at best. It certainly never accomplished anything that created any endearing or lasting impression. We're nearly a year removed since its cancellation, and the only thing I can clearly remember about it was Matt Ryan's habitation of the character. Much like Melissa Benoist over on Supergirl, Ryan was the best thing about his show. So, when news that he'd be taking up the trench coat again for a one-off episode of Arrow, I was surprised and happy. This is what a shared universe affords us the ability to do: forget the bad, and focus on the good.

What I forgot to take into account is that he'd be appearing on Arrow. A show that, seven times out of ten, is no better than Constantine. It's certainly as uneven, and far more given to lapsing into melodrama. Ever since they've run out of plot from Batman Begins to ape (or flat out steal), the show has increasingly floundered. While they seem to still have a seasonal direction, they stutter and flounce so much, like a person repeatedly walking in and out of a room trying to remember what they initially walked in for initially. And no where is that more obvious that in the island flash backs. I've been meaning to talk about this season's flashbacks, but haven't really had the chance. Well, now I do, and its a perfect time to do so. Back in seasons one and two, when the island material was about Ollie, Sarah and Slade trying to survive against Ivo's goons, the island flashbacks had purpose. On one hand, they charted Ollie's trial by fire, and showed rather than told us how he went from being a millionaire playboy weakling to being Tarzan of the urban jungle. But the island storyline informed and augmented the storyline of Star City. What happened in one effected the other, and did so in a finely orchestrated way. Or, at least in a way that made it seem like the writers weren't just making it up as they went.

Now, the island storyline is a ton of bricks the writers choose to throw at their own heads every five minutes. It is languishing in irrelevancy, obviously handicapped by the fact that the writers have no idea where they are taking it, and what they need to do with it. It is a remnant of the original design that should have been stripped away after the conclusion of Slade's storyline. Instead, Ollie's trial by fire has kept going, and increasingly into extremity and ridiculousness. Last season's off island trip was a showcase of how to tread water and undermine dramatic tension. The lesson the writers seem to have taken from this is that, it was the absence of the remote deserted island that made the storyline fall apart. So, now he's back on the island, dogged by yet another military force with yet another nefarious purpose to being on this remote island, which isn't just a random island anymore, but apparently the island from lost, befit with mystical powers (a place in the world that's as old as the world, as Constantine claims). The only thing missing is dinosaurs, at this point.

And so, yeah, Constantine shows up on the island. For one episode. To find a Macguffin with extreme ease that gives him a reasonable excuse to never be on the island again, and also gives him a convenient backstory-connection to Oliver. His shoehorning into the island storyline - a shoehorning that no doubt will never be referenced again - was a bad idea. Not only because it will be the third time this season that Ollie has wandered into the jungle with a prisoner form camp and come back empty handed. Seriously, the writers need to understand that there are other possibly storylines that could happen, and that past once this action (it's not even a cliche, it's so benign and ridiculous) is just lazy writing. But because it means that the precious time Constantine has on the show is largely wasted on backstory that isn't needed.

The modern day thrust of the plot is that, in bringing Sarah back to life, they brought her body but not her soul. This actually comes from a great Green Arrow storyline, by Kevin Smith that saw the Emerald Archer brought back to life years after his death. Bodies without souls become beacons for every bodiless ghoul and demons flouting in the ether (Smith's storyline also tied into Neil Gaiman's introductory issues of Sandman, and is a really great read that owes a lot to the greater DC mythology). A vessel like Sarah should be broadcasting on every mystical wavelength. If Arrow had really wanted to embrace the mystical this season, that should have been the focus of her resurrection. With Damian Dahrk, a magic user himself, in town, than the threat should have been from the influx of mystic minded person drawn to Sarah's emptiness, trying to fill her with every beast from the deep that they could. And thus opening a perfectly organic way to bring Constantine sashaying into town with his own solution, no back story or previous connection or owed debt required. Ultimately, as written, this episode is exactly what Ryan's appearance is: a one-off. A single episode discrepancy that lacks real weight or punch, and whose only lingering side effect is that Sarah is back right and proper this time. It seems like a significant waste of an opportunity.

 Over in Central City, the Flash has a really great episode, based entirely around the fact that Harrison Wells, the man responsibly for ever misery in these characters lives, just stepped back into it from another world. And he's a massive asshole. Cavanagh gets the rare blessing of being able to take his character in an entirely different direction this season, because after going to great lengths (in nearly every line of dialogue) to establish that he's not the Wells from last season but a different Wells, the writers were deft enough to establish him as an entirely different sort of man. Where as Thawn was arrogant and selfish, this Wells is bitter and blunt. Thawn was driven by revenge and need, Wells by disappointment and responsibility. Thawn manipulated every action to serve his need, purposefully creating the people and environment that he needed to fulfill his very specific goal. Wells of Earth-2 is a man beset by accidents and tragedy, attempting to clean up a mess that he inadvertently made and is woefully under-prepared to prevent. And, if all that wasn't enough, now he's stuck in a universe where everyone hates him.

However, and the episode was really wonderful at teasing this one out, no matter what universe he comes from, no one is better at inspiring Barry Allen to greatness than Harrison Wells. Seriously, despite getting mentored by a more experienced Flash, having a supporting family surrounding him, and being genuinely happy and fulfilled in his life, the thing that pushed Barry from good to great was getting Wells back in his ear. One dickish line of encouragement and Barry accelerated to the speed of light (anyone familiar with physics understands the only way for Barry to have created a mirage in the way he did was if he was moving at the speed of light). The growing issue that the series will have is that, as more characters step from Earth-2 into Earth-Prime, and as those characters establish themselves in our world and in the audience's hearts, what will happen at the end of the season when they need to go back. They've already touched on that with Jay not wanting to leave Caitlyn, but its early days and of course they aren't having him take off just yet. But if Wells is an indispensable part of the show (and Cavanagh really is indispensable), where will that leave him in twenty more episodes?

Basically, this was a joy of an episode. Barry and Patty had their first date, and it was adorable, because these characters are adorable, and Grant and VanSanten have great chemistry. Everybody found out about wells being around, and they all came to terms with it. We met Kendra Saunders. Everyone found out about Cisco being a metahuman and no one cared (although it gave Wells a great opportunity to be a dick). essentially, every character acted like a reasonable person, instead of a drama machine. which was refreshing, because that's the exact opposite of how characters act on Arrow. Every single thing is a chance to keep a secret, or act like an ass, or do something stupid just because it creates tension or drama, or a cliffhanger through to the next episode. And they do on the Flash occasionally too. But not here. Not in this episode. In this episode, everyone behaved like you'd expect a person to behave, encountering what they did. And what it did more than anything was highlight how shitty things are when the writers do opt to manufacturer drama. Like Cisco hiding his abilities. Or Barry and Patty acting like fifth graders. Drawing things out rarely makes things better, and is usually just annoying to the audience. So while The Darkness And The Light might not have been a monumentally important episode of the Flash, it was one of the best.
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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. Sadly, I agree with your Arrow critique. And I want to apologize. I asked you to start reviewing it after the second season had just ended, well before the third began. In retrospect, that's when things went downhill. Its like the writers had a two year plan, and don't know what to do now. And I can't take credit for Flash, which didn't exist when I first asked you to review Arrow.

    I have hopes that the back half of this season will be better, once Legends is on its way, since, as you've alluded to before, there's too much setup for Legends. I had a great time just seeing Matt Ryan be Constantine again, but to be honest, he was there to (1) create a White Canary for Legends, and (2) to conveniently find the orb of Horus, so that Legends can have Hawkgirl/man.

    So, there's really no hope of Ryan's character recurring? Because I'd really enjoy an episode of the show where Constantine takes on Darhk. They may be my two favorite characters in the Berlanti-verse right now. Well, them and Grodd.

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    1. De nada, mate. It's still better than Agents of SHIELD. And generally speaking, there is at least one thing per episode that is really good. Unfortunately, as you say, it seems like the writers just haven't gotten a handle on things now that they aren't directly ripping off Batman Begins. But the Flash is usually really fun, so that makes up for the dourness on Wednesdays.

      My sincere hope too is that for both shows, once they get Legends out of the way, things will refocus on their own arcs. Episode 8 is the crossover episode, entitled "Legends of Yesterday" and Amell said that they filmed upwards of nine heroes on screen at once. My hope is that all this Legends stuff will end after the crossover airs, and we can focus on HIVE and Zoom and what matters.

      As for John, EW asked producer Marc Guggenheim about it, and he point blank said no, it was designed to be a one-off. Ryan is currently doing a show on Broadway (which made filming the episode at all difficult to arrange) and he won't be available - this season at least. The episode pulled in a 10% ratings increase over their usual numbers, which is entirely down to Constantine-hype. That's the sort of thing that will induce the producers to bring him back, either on Arrow or Flash. My pipe-dream hope is that, if the Legend's cast is truly going to be fluid, that in a future season they'll go full Trenchcoat Bridge with a mystical cast of characters like Constantine, Zatanna, Swamp Thing, Deadman, etc.

      And I agree, Dahrk is wonderful. Hasn't had much to do, but Neal McDonough is a treasure. As for Grodd, keep your eyes peeled in a couple weeks ;)

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