Sunday 28 May 2017

Comics to Screen - Supergirl and The Flash season finales

Both The Flash and Supergirl followed up on some powerful cliffhangers from their penultimate episodes to deliver stonking season finales. With SPOILERS, here are my reviews...


Rhea and the Daxamites have invaded Earth. Superman has joined forces with Rhea to destroy Supergirl.

Yeah, that's a pretty strong cliffhanger. It was pretty clear that Superman was going to turn out to be mind-controlled by Rhea, so the reveal of the silver kryptonite wasn't in any way surprising. However, it shows how this series has learnt since its first season, which was continually trying to sidestep the issue of Superman's whereabouts. There's an honest-to-goodness alien invasion going on, a pretty impressively visual one with tons of spaceships. If Superman exists on this world, he's going to be there, and not sleeping somewhere off screen. No, this time, the writers put him right in the thick of the action, but still keep Kara the centre of the narrative. It's all a rather contrived way of getting the two heroes to slug it out, as heroes are wont to do surprisingly often in comics, but it works, and not just because of the exciting visuals. The writers have the guts to let Supergirl win this fight, knowing how much the fanboys will bitch. OK, so maybe the kryptonite did weaken Superman to an extent, and he was just sparing Kara's pride, but it never came across as anything but sincere in Tyler Hoechlin's performance. 

It might be considered a contrived way to prove the feminist angle of the show right, but the reason that Kara wins the fight is not because of a heavy-handed "strength of women" mission. It's because this is her show, and she is the centre of its story. And to make that abundantly clear, the script follows it up with a strikingly powerful speech from Cat Grant (who of course absolutely knows that Kara is Supergirl, she's not galactically stupid). "The thing that makes women strong is that we have the guts to vulnerable." That's why Supergirl can win a fight with Superman on her own show, because there's more than one kind of strength, and on this series, traditionally feminine strength has as much value as traditionally masculine. 

It's a barmstormer of a finale, one that puts Kara through an emotional wringer but never feels too contrived by doing so. In fairness, there are too many characters running around, but again, when there's an alien invasion going on and it's the finale, everyone deserves a moment. What's great is that, as this series has consistently shown, it's possible to have an action adventure show dominated by women talking about problems. While Winn, James and J'onn all get their moments, the finale is owned by Kara, Lena and her monstrous mother, and the villainous Rhea. Of the main female cast, only Alex and Maggie are sidelined, and this is an unfortunate side effect of the number of characters in play. (It might have been a good idea to give some of Cat's pep talk time to Alex, but we should make the most of Calista when we have her.) 

Of the men, only Mon-El is given significant screentime, which is fair.  Chris Wood has been a major star of this season, Mon-El's relationship with Kara has been the spine of her story this year, and the fractious relationship between him and Rhea has been a major driving force for the last few episodes. It's a pity that we don't get more time between Lena and Mon-El, who had some strong moments in the previous episode as they were forced together, but the focus is rightfully on him and Kara. The decision that Kara ultimately makes - to flood the atmosphere with lead to make it toxic to Daxamites - is crushing, all the more so for its inevitability, and Mon-El's stoic acceptance of it affirms how far he's come as a character. 

The finale leaves us with some lingering questions, not least of which is "do the writers not know that lead is also very toxic to humans?" In a FarScape-esque moment, Mon-El's pod is pulled into a wormhole, which could lead absolutely anywhere or anywhen. Most likely, he's going on a trip through the Phantom Zone, and if they're following his comicbook story, he'll rematerialise in the 31st century. There have been rumblings of a Legion of Superheroes series, after all. There's a noble force of White Martians on hand for when we need them, and we're bound to follow up with that - I sense a trip to Mars coming in season three. And then there's that mysterious someone - or something - being launched from Krypton. Season one ended with an unknown arriving in a pod, so this really is the last time they can pull that trick, but it's still intriguing.


Barry has failed. Savitar has killed Iris, and escaped.

For a moment, it looked like they had the guts to actually kill Iris off, devastating Barry and Joe. The get-out clause was one of the silliest moments in the series. And I loved it. The Flash is predicated on tragedy, but Barry's adventures have always appealed more than those of Oliver Queen because of the essential silliness of the concept and the fun the creators and cast have with it. The last season-and-a-bit have moved the series further and further into tragedy, though, and a lot of the fun has been drained out of it. The third season has still been tremendously entertaining, arguably the most consistently well made of the three, but it's been lacking the spark of the series when it started. Barry deserved a win, and to get that in the daffiest way possible felt like the show going back to its principles. HR and Iris swapped places using technology that had been seeded into the storyline throughout the season.

I hadn't been as keen on HR as I was on other versions of Wells, but he's absolutely come into his own in the latter part of the season, almost replacing Joe as the "average guy" for the viewers to relate to. He makes mistakes but his intentions are always good, so it fits his character perfectly for him to make the ultimate sacrifice to fix his own fatal error in revealing Iris's location. (It's also satisfying that the characters finally stop discussing these things with Barry so that his future self doesn't remember what they're about to do.) Of course, it's a bit of a cheat. We knew someone was going to die, and it turned out to be the most replaceable character in the series. Another version of him turned up mere minutes later. We're definitely going to have Tom Cavanagh back as one version of Wells or another. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if having a different version of Wells for each season doesn't become a standard element of the series.

As with Supergirl, this was a very busy episode, and not everyone got the time they needed, but on the whole, most of the characters were well-served. The showdown and eventual reconciliation between Caitlyn and Cisco was handled well, with Danielle Panabaker and Carlos Valdes showing the chemistry they shared back in the early episodes. I've never really bought how manifesting her powers makes Caitlyn completely change personality, so it was satisfying to see her find a middle ground between her ordinary self and Killer Frost. She'll be back, of course, and we'll have to wait and see how that pans out, but I'm hopeful that they've finally made an interesting character out of her.

Huge praise is due to Grant Gustin's twin performance as Barry and Savitar. As the scarred future version of the Flash, he could have descended into pure emo melodrama (as he came close to in episode 19, "The Once and Future Flash"), but he actually makes Savitar into a compelling and sympathetic villain. I was a little disappointed that the headway they made with Savitar didn't pan out. There's a fascinating moral discussion to be had about Barry's ethics when creating time remnants, and the series never really went into it enough for me. Savitar has every right to feel bitter and betrayed. I had hoped that we'd see the two versions of Barry merging back together somehow (hell, the Speed Force can do everything else the writers need), but instead he reverted to villainy as his time ran out. (Don't try to make sense of the time travel "logic" in this episode, it's more obtuse than ever.)

However, what was great was seeing Iris take ownership of her fate and showing more steel than Barry ever has. She's definitely her father's daughter. And while Barry's final fate, stepping into the Speed Force to be imprisoned in Savitar's place, smacks once more of the extreme tragedy the series has been leaning towards, this time it feels right. Barry's decision to sacrifice himself comes across as far more mature than his rash, desperate actions in the past. The character has genuinely matured over the season.

How this pans out in season four remains to be seen. I can't imagine we've seen the last of Barry, but how long it will be before he returns and how Team Flash release him is the question. Of course, the series has the potential to carry on as long as it needs to without him. There are plenty of speedsters who can take his place for a time, although I'm not sure I could stomach a season with Wally as the Flash. Then again, if Jay Garrick is along for the show, maybe it could work. On the other hand, now that we've had the first, second and third Flashes from the comics, should we expect the fourth, Bart Allen, to make an appearance? Barry and Iris still seemingly have a future together, so their grandson turning up from the future isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

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