[Review] - Arrow Season 4 And The Flash Season 2 Episodes 9, "Dark Waters" And "Running To Stand Still"

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television 
The idea is, now that we're past the crossover episode, and that we're into a holiday break that won't see any new episodes before the premiere of Legends of Tomorrow, that these last two holiday themed episodes of 2015 would get to be their own thing again. It might actually be that we are watching episodes of the shows we intended, instead of the worlds longest and most poorly plotted run-up. And splash me with glitter and call me festive, they did! Episodes of Arrow and Flash that were about Arrow and Flash, and advanced Arrow and Flash arcs, and were focused entirely on Arrow and Flash characters! It's a Christmas miracle! (For maximum effect, please read that last sentence in Mark Hamill's Joker voice).

That's not to say that everything was smooth sailing. In fact, these episodes were excellent exemplars of the prolonged effect that attention spent on the spin-off has on the core series. Because these episodes, but Flash especially, felt cramped. Cramped and rushed in a way that wouldn't have happened if they hadn't wasted last week with a bit of amateur falconry, and dawdled in their own arcs over the past nine weeks. Still and all, these were better and stronger episodes then we've gotten recently, and that's a heck of a way to end the year.

Supergirl update: still pretty terrible, but packed a great eleventh hour reveal.

Hit the jump for spoilers that lost a wheel, and the Joker got away.

Hilariously, what struck me most about these two episodes straight away was how completely inconsequential last week was to both. Neither show made any reference to the events, even in passing. Cisco's girlfriend leaving him, Wells getting shot (!), Ra's showing up to help fight Savage, the team day-tripping to one another's cities, Ollie's son. After wasting so much time setting up the need of the crossover, the fact that those two episodes can be plucked from viewing order, at least at this point, and disregarded entirely is symptomatic of how poorly it was incorporated into the fabric of the narrative. It wouldn't have surprised me in the least with both shows had a couple writers set aside whose whole job was to come up with Legends material to show horn into episodes. Now that the crossover is over with, everything just goes back to normal, like an elastic band returning to it's core shape, though a little distended.

On Arrow, Ollie remembered that he was running for mayor while waging a war on HIVE, and on Flash, Barry was dealing with everyone else's shit. And that's great. That is what these shows, and these seasons should and needs to be about. I want to see a war on HIVE, and I want Barry to be too good a guy not to care about every one of his friends to a degree that would mentally exhaust a lesser person. These episodes also gave the secondary characters time to actually be characters. Poor Iris and Laurel might as well not even be on the show for all the time they get used, and used effectively, but both of them got to carry a bit of emotional baggage this week. I wouldn't go so far to say that either have proven their necessity to the series yet, but that is for the writers to decide. Either make these women important and viable and purposeful, or find writers who can do that. As much as the temptation would be to just cut and run, drop them both as dead weight and allow the series to move on in their absence, that is lazy and demeaning. The harder and better and more fulfilling option is to prove the character's worth, and that their inclusion to this point hasn't just been to satisfy comic canon.

On Arrow, Ollie has a brain fart and decides to call Damien Darhk out. Now, Ollie is a man defined by his terrible, terrible decisions. Essentially, the story of Arrow thus far is a superhero's guide of how not to do things and stuff and life. Ollie murders people, keeps secrets, always seems to chose poorly, gets people killed, and generally makes life considerably harder for himself and others by acting impulsively and emotionally. So, despite the fact that team Arrow hasn't won a decisive victory against Darhk, or even a minor victory against him, know nothing about him, and are woefully outmatched by even his henchmen, Ollie straight up Richard Kimble's the guy, and calls upon Star City to look in every farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse for the husky-eyed fellow (at this point, my descriptions of Darhk are just going to be straight up lifts from season three of Justified). The net result of this action is, again, all negative. There isn't a single positive outcome to any of it, and all of it was avoidable. Either the writers aren't trying very hard, or they are purposefully making Ollie look like a schmuck, because hiding behind "he have to live out lives like normal; we can't let the terrorists win" is a terrible mantra when the guy in question is a dark wizard who can and will undo your world.

Side note - this episode was written and shot long before the Paris bombings (I assume), but there was a lot of parallels between Ollie's speeches and the rhetoric that has been tossed around since then in the real world.

I did have to laugh, because Arrow found one last aspect of the Nolan Batman movies to swipe from. Darhk's assault on the Queen Christmas party was an obviously lift of the Joker seen in The Dark Knight, though it upped the ante by having the baddie take three of the hero's nearest and dearest. Then, they had Ollie just repeat the same pattern he did when Slade took his family, and when Ra's took his family: he offered himself up as sacrifice. There is a difference between consistency and development. After three and a half years of doing this, Ollie should be learning that this stuff never works the way he hoped it would. Do the same thing, every time, usually results in someone with a sword in their chest. Or, riddled with bullets in a fairly accurate James Caan impersonation.

What I did like is that the episode didn't even bother with a cliffhanger regarding Darhk's fate. They have him a foot from a high explosive, and the next scene he's walking through the Field of Dreams. The problem is, they are establishing this character's effectiveness and menace very well, but eventually they are going to have to back off of that and present him with a weakness Team Arrow can exploit. And if he can walk off a building exploding on him, will any informed weakness seem realistic at that point. I assume that the reveal of his happy, normal family life is setting up the idea that a desperate and angry Ollie will threaten them to get to Darhk, but that seems a huge step back in Ollie's characterization. So I'm probably right.

Over on The Flash, there was still a lingering wisp of crossover madness, as Captain Cold got busted out of prison by the Weather Wizard so that he could appear in two scenes and contribute nothing to the plot. I was actually physically upset that Cold didn't show up during the big show down between hero and Rogues to back Barry up and push him firmly into an anti-hero role. Instead, they settled for what was the single stupidest piece of nonsense science I've every seen on any show, ever. There is a difference between consistent pseudoscience, like metahumans or wormholes, and garbage like what they pulled with the presents. Magnets don't work like that. Nothing works like that. All it would have taken was three lines of Cisco discovering that the bombs were all interconnected by a polarizing induction field or any technobabble nonsense that explicitly bonded them together, instead of just blanket claiming that inherent magnetism would draw them into the breach. Or, instead of pulling that ending out of your ass, have Captain Cold show up at the eleventh hour and show himself for what he's worth. One is a lazy ending with no gravitas and last effect, the other is a character defining moment that can inform his future actions. One is bad writing, and the other is good.

And it's a damned shame, because the writing on Flash is usually the better and more reliable of the two shows. These writers almost always go for the character moment rather than the - ahem - flashy option. Most of the time, they find a balance between the two, allowing a gorilla getting punched into an alternate dimension to also have a character effect. But a lot about this episode felt like it was the result of more than a few weeks build up being forced into one episode, because other episodes had to spend time setting up the other show. The opening scene, with Zoom chasing Wells through STAR Labs especially seemed like the tag at the end of a previous episode, setting up a mystery to play through at least a couple episodes, leading to the big reveal of Wells agreeing to work with Zoom again.

In fact, it seems like this Wells/Zoom stuff should have happened weeks ago, preceding Well's development of the Speed Drug he tested on Jay rather than following it. Likewise with the bad pacing was Patty's sudden shift into murderess mode. In her first appearance, the show established her drive for justice. Wouldn't it have been nice if, along with building her up as a giddy and aloof chemistry dynamo against Gustin, they had also worked in a seam of darkness, that drive for justice occasionally presenting itself as something deeper and more menacing? So that when Mardon reappeared and she opted to go full vigilant, it didn't seem like she had been replaced by her earth-2 psycho counterpart, or possessed by the Specter. That it would have felt like an organic extension of her character instead of an abrupt left turn.

Also, while I applaud the fact that the writers kept the focus on Patty and her emotional development and her emotional turmoil, I couldn't help but feel that all of Barry's speeches to her in costume about knowing where she was coming from, what she was feeling, and why that wasn't a valid option would have carried significantly more weight and effect if he had slipped the mask off. But then the emotional journey wouldn't have been Patty rising out of her need for revenge, but instead would have shifted to her reaction to discovering Barry's secret. Serving both would have been next to impossible, and I suppose the right decision was made. But it highlights the fact that Barry really needs to reveal himself to Patty. And I don't just say that as someone who hates the concept of secret identities and feel that all they do is add unnecessary drama to an already inherently dramatic situation. I say that because, scenes like these, it just becomes unbelievable that The Flash would have nearly as much influence over Patty as Barry would.

But discussion of this episode cannot be complete without focusing on the talent of the actors. Again, the Flash proved to be the show with the superior talent. Setting aside the fact that in a week Mark Hamill will be costarring in one of the most profitable movies ever made (that's a guess, but a good one), the fact that he is still willing and a font of enthusiasm over performances like this, where he is obviously having the time of his life, is just a hell of a lot of fun to watch, even if he had less to actually do in the episode then I would have liked. Tom Cavanagh, despite reaching ham territory in his final speech with Zoom, continues to be the bedrock of this show, showing more range and more comfortably with that range then any other character is being asked to attempt. And then there is Jesse L. Martin, who once again seemed like he wandered off the set of another, better show altogether, and made the rest of the cast look like 11th grade remedial drama students. His two pivotal scenes, finding out he has a son and actually meeting him, simply weren't to the usually standard of this or Berlanti's other shows. They were better. Go back and rewatch Martin in that final scene, as he opens the door and realizes who is standing there. Watch him. That is acting. He is experiencing things. He is showing genuine emotion. Watching it sent a surge through me. As much as Cisco is funny, and Barry and Patty have chemistry, and Wells is menacing, it is in Joe that this show's true talent and soul reside.

And that is something that no spinoff can get in the way of.
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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.


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