Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire
So far this season, the reasons I’ve liked Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have all been character-based with some very strong interactions between our favourite agents as they gradually move closer and closer back to the way things were last season. In “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire”, our prime example of that is seeing Simmons and Daisy team up to take down some Watchdogs and check in on and maybe even recruit last season’s JT “Hellfire” James in a glorious sequence of events that wound up with the Ghost Rider using his hellfire chains. Ah, Ghost Rider and hellfire chains — together again for the first time.
Generally speaking, though, I have almost no idea what’s going on with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s story. I know there’s some brewing war going on between the Watchdogs hunting down Inhumans that’s either being aided or exacerbated by whatever party Bend it Like Beckham represents, and I know there’s some ghost story building involving Ghost Rider’s uncle, but of the three ongoing story arcs that this season is built on, the only one that comes close to interesting for me is what’s going on with S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, and that’s receiving almost no attention, all the way to the point that I’d almost forgotten that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s once again gone public. I guess that’s supposed to be a big deal, that this major law enforcement division is back, but then why did nobody know who they were back in 2008’s Iron Man? It kind of rings hollow, almost like an oldies band nobody remembers announcing a reunion tour.
Anyway, I have to give Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. credit for its willingness to move forward rather than spend too long nursing its various storylines, and hopefully that means they’ve learned their lesson from… well, almost every ongoing show on TV right now. Having Daisy and Ghost Rider continue to lurk in the shadows, around but never in S.H.I.E.L.D. business would only have grown in annoyance as the season continued, and nice that the show’s moved beyond that by just getting it over with and bringing them into the fold with the rest of our crew.
The action sequences this episode were top notch as were the effects, two things you can’t always count on with a moderately successful network TV show when one of your main characters is an on-fire skeleton man, and between the car chase and Hellfire vs. Ghost Rider, I think this was the first episode of the season I was completely happy with in terms of action, though I would have loved to have seen the two cars go all out with a flying Lola speeding after the hellfire-supercharged Dodge Charger.
Other than that, we also learn that Fitz and Simmons are trying to move in together (!) and the development of AIDA the life model decoy continues, and while the latter news approaches squee levels of happiness (Will who?), the latter just seems like a poor choice of rabbit holes to follow given Westworld’s debut this year. We’ll see how things go.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” episode score
The Flash — Magenta
Oh Tom Cavanagh, how we’ve missed you.
One thing The Flash has too often been guilty of in its three season run so far is don’t-have-to-pay-attention-itis. It’s very easy to watch almost any of its episodes while doing other things like making dinner or doing laundry, and that’s because it’s an incredibly predictable show week to week. That’s a problem with almost any of these monster of the week shows as The Flash basically is with its new bad guys who don’t amount to much every week, but it goes further than that with its various dramas coming to a head in almost the exact same way every week — Barry having girl troubles, Barry never in the same place with Iris, Joe laying down the law, the STAR Labs crew coming up with similar solutions to basically the same problems, the villain’s problems thematically linking with whatever Barry’s dealing with. That continues this week with the debut of Magenta, the multiple-personality suffering mistress of magnetism having issues with her foster father and the reveal that Jesse Wells has become superspeedster Jesse Quick. I mean, fathers who aren’t Joe area always bad, right? And how long have we been waiting for Jesse to get superspeed?
I don’t think I’ll bother summarizing this week’s episode beyond that because it’s all so predictable. It just doesn’t seem necessary. I’ll go ahead and say that my favourite moment of the entire episode was when Wells (having returned from Earth-3 to seek Barry’s help with Jesse’s newfound powers) asked Caitlin to convince Jesse not to use her powers because was all like “I don’t have powers” and then immediately ran away in an hilariously transparent moment. I’ll say my second favourite was when Barry and Iris finally acknowledged that they’re not normal and took advantage of his powers for a date because the Flash is fundamentally a character about the joy of having powers and not letting the weight of responsibility override that. And my third favourite moment was learning that the team had taken to wearing tracking devices “’Cause we kept getting kidnapped!”, which is grade A meta commentary.
But those are all disparate, separate moments that could’ve been a part of any episode, and the worst thing about “Magenta” is that nothing interesting actually happened, and at this point, that’s getting to be a very bad thing for the show. The reason why we’ve been able to stick by the show for this long has been the strength of major events like travelling to Earth-2 or the many huge moments that cracked this show wide open from season one’s finale, but it’s a lot of waiting between those times, and it’s getting to be a little too much to wait so long for this show to do anything interesting. “Magenta”’s saving grace then? The return of Tom Cavanagh’s Dr. Wells. Cavanagh’s so good at selling this show that I almost didn’t care about how bad this episode really was. Almost.
The Flash “Magenta” episode score
Legends of Tomorrow — The Justice Society of America
Man, that was worth it.
To be clear, this week’s Legends of Tomorrow is the same highly uneven, broadly fun, but strangely terrible show it’s always been, but there are a couple of things it got right in this episode, and as it tends to do at the last moment, just before you’re really ready to give up on it, it got those things really, really right.
After saving 1942-era Albert Einstein from the Nazis that would have forced him and his lesser known helpers/equals to set off an atomic bomb in the heart of New York (or something), the Legends are feeling mighty content with themselves, they’re promptly beaten up by the Justice Society of America in a delicious show of force that really shows you why it doesn’t make sense to have a super team where almost no one has powers. Stein and Jax form Firestorm and take to the air in dramatic fashion, reigning down bolts of atomic fire, while the rest of the Legends… don’t get much done against the superpowered Justice Society. The music borders on the ridiculous in the fight sequence, but, starting with the shadow-powered Obsidian blotting out the sky, it really was astonishing to see a broad range of exotically powered heroes go to town on our Legends. Except Dr. Mid-Nite, that costume sucked!
The debut of the Justice Society this week achieved two things for our Legends of Tomorrow. One, it showed them what a real team can do when they work together. Two, it saved the show and reminded me of what’s possible with this show’s premise. I mean, Obsidian? Dr. Mid-Nite? Hourman? What’s happening, what bizarre universe are we all now living in where these incredibly obscure characters not only get screen time but cool moments?
Ostensibly, “The Justice Society of America” was about the two team’s attempts to infiltrate a group of Nazis, and that’s fine, this show has always asked a lot of its audience in the form of things like ignoring the idiocy of one of the characters happening to look like a famous German singer or characters exclaiming “We’re the Justice Society of America!” as if they all live inside an actual comicbook, but what really sunk in for me this episode was that you can’t let things like plot mechanics get in the way of this show, because when it’s good it’s so full of win for geeks like me.
And then wham, we’re hit with a severe case of hemophilia as Sara discovers the horrifying truth of Hank Heywood, time detective. Which is that he can’t go outside to play with the other kids, his blood doesn’t clot right. All of a sudden we go from World-War-II-era superheroics and beating up Nazis to hemophilia? A real-world issue? Realistic character motivations? And it wasn’t jarring but a genuinely meaningful plot development, one that gives this newcomer instant relatability and rich story potential. It’s honestly a moment that finally gave this walking corpse of a TV show a beating heart after a mostly wasted first season, and seeing the Heywoods, Hank and his grandfather, JSA member Commander Steel, share some real moments made “The Justice Society of America” a very rare episode of Legends of Tomorrow — one with two good things going for it.
Also, Hourman’s dead already? Damn, he never got to prove that he’s not a dick yet!
Legends of Tomorrow “The Justice Society of America” episode score
The Walking Dead — The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be
And now what we’ve all been waiting for.
Or not. I’m sensing a real divide between critics and fans with the season seven debut, with media outlets declaring that it “wasn’t worth it” or and “goodbye for real” while fans seem to be more up in arms than ever, all of which makes me think: “Meh.”
It’s almost impossible not to feel conflicted about who died in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”, and I think the [literal] two-part execution this episode was probably about as good as it gets, but that’s only when you consider the Glenn fake out from early last season. A part of me wishes they’d not gone with the fake out last year and they’d just killed Glenn and Glenn alone like writer Robert Kirkman had done in the comics since, without the fake out, it probably would have been a much more powerful episode than what we got, but then I and all the comicbook fans and all the people who already knew what was coming because the Internet would’ve been let down. At this high a level, it’s a bit of a no-win situation, and it’s a reminder that The Walking Dead is the farthest thing from existing in a vacuum, and criticism of the show has to exist at a meta level in addition to what happens in the show itself. It’s an interestingly awkward position, but at this point, the main thing I’m left with is wishing that I could feel as strongly about this show’s big moments as I have when reading the comics, but that’s never happened. Not once.
So anyway, Abraham AND Glenn are dead this week and Carl almost got his arm chopped off (a red herring this show will probably never get tired of). If you’ll recall, last year we predicted the death would fall on either Daryl or Michonne and that, after the fake out, Glenn was probably bulletproof, so at first it was a little underwhelming to see Abraham go down, a middle of the road character who’d only recently gotten some clumsy development, and it was almost gratifying that his death was with such dogged defiance. At that point, “Suck my nuts” may as well have been the title of the episode. But then things started to go south real quick from there, and I started to have a horrible feeling that, unlike the comicbooks, that might not have been all we’d lose tonight. And then Glenn died too. Read here for our feelings on Glenn. The real horror of this scene, and it was true of the comic and tonight’s episode, is that it happened in parts, one hit after another until he was gone, and you’re there every step of the way as we lost more and more of this character we loved. That’s real power. But that’s not what the episode was about.
“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” was about Rick, the destruction of a man and the tearing down of a leader, and regardless of who died, the one image that stayed with me was Rick, on all fours, being dragged around by Negan. We’ve spent the last two seasons learning that all of this show’s villains have been screwing with the wrong people, but this day was about losing two seasons of progress to a few swings of a baseball bat. And the most dangerous thing about all of this is that, but for his killing everyone at a moment’s notice, we would probably like Negan more than any of the rest of our heroes. Hell, we may even like him the best because of all of the killing. He’s a f*cking charming guy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s a f*cking charming guy, and that perfectly captured presence of the character is what made the threat of Negan all last season so potentially terrifying. It’s not about intimidation or shows of force, Negan’s almost a fourth-wall-breaking level of bad guy to our heroes’ paltry attempts to run around in only three dimensions.
But what happened in the episode itself? Kind of sucked. Like I said, it’s about Rick at a time when I think we’ve learned everything we need to about him. It’s manipulative in the same ways we’ve learned to hate The Walking Dead, drawing out its reveals far too long and then leaving an impression primarily through shock. Some might even say it’s verging on torture porn, and if they’d gone through with cutting off Carl’s arm, I think there would be a very valid argument to be made that it crossed that line.
But it didn’t. And it’s okay. It’s not great, but it’s not that bad either, and it definitely stands out from everything else on TV. Some things were in poor taste, but we’ve made it through to the other side and the world is probably slightly better for having seen (or at least known) what happened even if we might be in a truly better place had we spent this past summer thinking more about the implications of Negan’s kills rather than fixating on just who died.
But that dinner scene? It really got to me. And for that, I think it was a decent episode.
The Walking Dead “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” episode score
Legends of Tomorrow was the best show of the week?
Oh the horror!