TV Superheroes Season Wrap-Up

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When I chose the nome de plume “Crusty Curmudgeon” way back when, it was an attempt at self-aware, self-effacing humor. Because I knew that while it would often sound like I was just some grumpy old man who would always prefer the good old days to the present, that wasn’t really the truth.

…Alright, so maybe it’s somewhat true.

But to be fair, I really did like the latest Avengers movie. And I’ve also largely enjoyed the Flash TV show this past season. Up until the finale, that is.

 

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The Flash

What I liked best about this show was pretty much the same thing everyone else liked: It’s lighter tone, which stood in stark contrast to the grim atmosphere that pervaded most modern superheroics (on TV or elsewhere). The one nod to grimness & grittiness was the murder of the Flash’s mom in his backstory.

It’s a plot point that is adapted from “Flashpoint,” a 2011 comics storyline written by Geoff Johns. It’s a bit complicated, but here’s the gist of it: The Reverse Flash goes back in time to kill the Flash and fails and winds up killing Flash’s mother instead. Flash goes back in time to prevent his mom’s murder and this somehow causes a world disaster in the future. So the Flash has to go back in time again and prevent himself from saving his mother in order to save the world.

I’m going to stick to the TV show here, but obviously I hated the story in the comics. My hope, more than a little naïve in retrospect, was that the TV show would fix the flaws of the comic story. Basically, I was hoping that Barry would save his mother and give the show something of a reboot. If you watched the episode, you know this didn’t happen.

Things started off strongly with Barry’s conversation with the imprisoned Reverse Flash/Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne (the villain having been beaten the week before). Barry wants to know why Reverse Flash did all this. His succinct and perfect reply: Because I hate you.

A great start, but things fell apart rather quickly.

Barry’s plan is to go back in time and prevent his mother’s murder. In fact that’s been the plan for pretty much half the season. But suddenly he’s having his doubts. Why? Beats me.

He starts looking for feedback, asking the other characters if they think he should do this. Eventually, he even visits his wrongly-imprisoned father in jail to ask his advice, which amazingly enough is: don’t do it.

Think about this for a second. The guy had his wife murdered, then took the fall for this crime and has been in jail for 15 years (and will remain there for however many more years he has left to live) and he’d prefer to keep things this way. Let his wife die, miss out on raising his son, and suffer in prison for the rest of his life—as opposed to getting his family (plus all of those 15 years of his life) back and bringing the real killer to justice. Now tell me how this makes any sense at all.

The only reason the characters were written to behave this way and say such things is because they wanted to bring drama to the plot. The plot should never dictate characterization like this; it’s like the tail wagging the dog. Characterization always comes first and should be the engine that drives the plot, not the other way around. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll likely have some variation of this mantra already memorized: When a character or characters in your story are required to behave in a certain way (particularly a way that contradicts their prior behavior and/or a way that simply does not make sense) just to service the plot, that’s bad writing.

So naturally when Barry makes the trip back in time, his future self sees him and shakes his head “no.” And Barry decides not to save his mother and shares a melodramatic goodbye with her instead. My heart broke at this scene for all the wrong reasons.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Reverse Flash is about to return to the future in a time machine that Cisco and company built for him. Why? Again: Beats me. Maybe there was some bs rationalization for this that I missed; maybe Reverse Flash had to return to his own time to avoid a paradox or something, but I didn’t catch it. In any case, they spend several episodes fighting this evil villain only to end up helping him get exactly what he wanted all along…? Feels ridiculous to me, but apparently I’m a minority of one on this issue as I’ve seen nothing but praise for this episode everywhere I’ve looked online.

So just as Reverse Flash is about to depart, the Flash comes roaring back into the present and wrecks the time machine, pasting RF in the mush in the process. Very dramatically done, but the plot was so bad at this point I really couldn’t enjoy it. Then RF and the Flash start fighting at super-speed—and again we’ve got gaping plot holes. Didn’t RF need his wheelchair to “charge” his powers somehow? How did these powers suddenly return then? If they had returned, why didn’t he just run through time the same way Barry just did?

Fact is Reverse Flash gets his super-speed back whenever the plot requires him to have it. Again, bad writing guys.

Anyway, RF gets the better of Barry and it looks like he’s going to kill him when Eddie Thawne shoots himself and dies, thereby erasing RF from existence. This should have solved everything—by the contained logic of just this series (not counting the comics or anything else), they clearly established that timelines can be changed. All of Reverse Flash’s evil deeds should have been undone, the end. But instead we get a wormhole in the sky above Central City that serves as the season-ending cliffhanger. I’m guessing Eddie’s suicide created a paradox whereby the suicide would not have happened if Zoom hadn’t existed and gone back in time in the first place. And yet somehow none of the previous time traveling created any such paradoxes… ugh, I’m getting a headache.

This is why time-travel stories are really dangerous. They turn into a mess all too easily.

Ultimately, they may still give me what I wanted: some kind of continuity adjustment/reset that jettisons the murder of Barry’s mother from the backstory and gives us a series of pure superhero fun without the “grim and gritty” crap. But probably not.

Gotham

Back in November I declared that I was “pretty much giving up on this show” but “might check back in later this season if I hear enough good things.” I heard nothing but bad things. Vaya con Dios, Gotham.

Arrow

Arrow was largely a mess this year. It showed potential when we saw Ollie get his ass handed to him by Ra’s al Ghul in the midseason finale, but then it went off the rails. Too many things happened that made no sense whatsoever; not even the wildest comic-book sense. The worst of these offenses was Oliver’s alliance with Merlyn. Why in the hell would Ollie work with this guy when he’s the cause of all the trouble in the first place??? The actual reason is that it needs to happen to keep the plot juicy, even if it makes no character sense. Once again: When something crazy or ridiculous has to happen in order to service the plot, that’s bad writing.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This show was okay through the end, largely. The best thing that could have happened to it was they nixed the idea of a spin-off and kept Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird onboard. She was the best thing about this season and her leaving would have likely sunk the show. Also: We’re getting another season of Agent Carter—yay!

One issue that may or may not be a problem, depending on your point of view: It’s clear that as much as this show references (and is affected by) the Marvel films, the influence is not reciprocated. In fact the show has no bearing whatsoever on the films; to the point where it quite literally does not exist as far as the films are concerned. Coulson is basically still dead in the film universe. I expect this trend to continue. For all the work they’ve done with the Inhumans this season, don’t expect to see any of these TV characters in the Inhumans movie when it comes out in a couple years. Maybe that will ultimately prove to be a good thing; I don’t know. Still perplexing why they would throw away such a golden opportunity for cross-promotion.

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