School's Out For Summer (School)
Arrowverse 2021 Season: Week 28
I expected we'd have regular coverage every week this season, and even I looked at the schedule a couple of weeks ago I thought Legends of Tomorrow would keep on running while everything else was off the air in the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming.. Instead either I read the schedule wrong or the CW moved things around as everything was off the air and we got a two week break.
Now the shows are back -- including the second season debut of Stargirl -- so we're just going to look at everything affecting the 'verse this week in an extra-long article:
Stargirl, Season 2, Episode 1: Summer School, Part 1
I have to admit that Stargirl feels like an odd fit inside the Arrowverse. Admittedly it's not directly connected to everything going on in the main 'verse, instead acting as a kind of "Earth 2", with it's own Justice Society instead of a Justice League, to the main series' "Earth 1". That certainly works better than when it was over on the (now defunct) DC Universe app where it resided beside the likes of Doom Patrol, Titans, and Harley Quinn.
Still, even up against the rest of the shows on the CW, it's new home, Stargirl feels awkward. It's very high school, focused on teenage characters as they go through their own trials and tribulations. The needs of these characters feels far removed from the heroes of the main Arrowverse, especially with it airing opposite the likes of Legends of Tomorrow and Superman & Lois (see below). This show literally feels like it exists in its own universe and that does it no benefits at all.
Watching the premiere of Stargirl's second season, I was struck by very distinct Black Lightning vibes, although not with the Black culture aspects. My big issue with Black Lightning, start to finish, was that the show felt very disjointed. That show always felt like it was struggling to tell "big" stories so it bought in hard on serialized storytelling, sacrificing weekly stories (or even weekly conclusions) for the sake of a larger, season-long arc. But then that show never paid off its season arcs like it needed to, leaving it feeling like it was moving in fits and starts without any goal in mind. It sucked.
The season of Stargirl seems to be following a similar path. Instead of giving us a case-of-the-week format for this return of the series the show has gone all-in on a serialized story for the whole season (as evidenced not only by this episode itself but also by the fact that all the episodes are titled "Summer School, Part X" from 1 to 13). This is meant to be one big, ambitious arc and, if this episode is any indication, we're not going to get a lot of traditional episodic resolutions until the finale.
Every superhero show at this point uses the structure of the "Big Bad", some arc-long villain that lingers in the background and pops up from time to time. From episode to episode, though, the heroes go through smaller stories, learning and caring and sharing and moving the overall plot forward. What I'm worried about from this first episode of the second season of Stargirl is that the more traditional milestones of the season, those littler episodic resolutions that help keep the season moving forward, are missing. This episode starts a lot of pieces in motion -- Courtney failing classes because she's focused on her Stargirl life, Yolanda still struggling with killing Brainwave, Rick helping out Solomon Grundy, Beth struggling after learning her parents are getting divorced -- but there's no single story that really gets any kind of resolution here. No case of the week, no smaller milestone.
Instead, what we have is a lot of ideas that are raised but, as of yet, don't seem to go anywhere. I'm not arguing that everything has to be resolved in a single episode, and some of these issues really are season-long in their scope. But right now there's no real direction for the show, no real sense of where it's headed at all, and, as of yet, not much need to care about the events of this season. It reminds me of the same way Black Lightning struggled with its ambitions and I don't like seeing it here, too. It's like the CW is doomed to to repeat its writing mistakes.
In fairness this could have just been a bad first episode and maybe what I'm seeing won't be the thrust of the season -- we could get resolution for a number of things next week and then the show could settle back into a groove. We will see on that front. With the show basically already having most of its episodes in the can, though, it'll be hard for the series to pull itself out of a tailspin if that is, indeed, where it's headed. We'll just have to watch over the course of the season and see if Stargirl finds its way back to being the dumb but fun show of its first season or if this tragic treatment from this episode is the new normal.
Legends of Tomorrow, Season 1, Episode 11: The Final Frame
While Stargirl seems to have big ambitions for its season, Legends of Tomorrow doesn't seem to have any ambition at all right now. Not that it's a bad thing but I do have to wonder just where this season is headed. I thought we were dealing with aliens and a guy that cloned himself so he could play with alien DNA and... well, there was a lot going on in the first half of the season (not all of which worked), this back half has been pretty aimless. Fun, yes, but totally aimless. We have the fun Legends back, which is great, but it's hard to see what they're up to at this point.
This episode finds Sarah, Spooner, Mick, and Astra going to the last alien probe that was dumped at season's start. Inside, instead of an alien that find a cube. A puzzle box, in fact, and once all four of them touch the cube they're all transported into a bowling alley. It's a bowling alley floating in space, yes, but still a bowling alley. There they have to play a game against the lane champions, a game of Cosmic Bowling, with the evil bowlers using the Earth itself (shrunk down and given large finger holes) as their ball. If the Earth is going to be put back, and not made into a trophy in a cabinet for all time, the Legends will have to win at bowling and fast.
Since pretty much the second season on, Legends of Tomorrow has been a goofy show. Where other shows in the 'verse have tried to adapt comic book stories and tell ambitious tales, Legends has been much more comfortable doing parody episodes and telling arcs that end in silliness. Remember, last season's arc where the Legends fight the fates ended with a climactic battle set to the "Thong Song". This is not a show that gives a fuck.
That admirable aspect was on full display as Legends goes Kingpin-meets-The Big Lebowski for "The Final Frame". Having to save the world (quite literally) from evil bowlers is an amusing experience and the show finds plenty of material to play off of (Spooner inspecting the lane before she takes her first bowl was a particularly delightful moment). The writers clearly enjoyed doing something this dumb with the characters and the actors are all, once again, having a blast with their parts.
On it's own this episode is great. I just still am left wondering what the point of the season is. Will the evil cloning guy come back? Are the hints from the last few episodes that Constantine is going made with magic power going to pay off somehow? Or is there no big bad now and the show will just end with four more goofy episodes after this before launching season seven sometime next year? The fact that we're four episodes from the end of the season with no clear goal in mind is a little bothersome. It's the exact opposite issue Stargirl has but that doesn't make it any better.
I enjoy this show and I like having it doing its thing, firing on all cylinders. This isn't a bad episode, or even a bad season now; I just want to know what the end-goal is so I can get ready for it. Right now the end goal seems to be nachos and beer and bowling and... well hey, that sounds okay, too.
Superman & Lois, Season 1, Episode 14: The Eradicator
And now we come to a show that seems to know how to not only setup a larger threat but also give us pay-offs episode to episode. I will admit (and have said this in the past) that the Maxwell Lord story wasn't necessarily the best; having Superman battle an evil Kryptonian feels like a lazy kind of story like we've seen all too often in the Arrowverse (Kara battled evil Kryptonians for three seasons, Oliver battled evil bowman more than once, and Barry has taken on more evil speedsters than we can even count). That said, the emphasis of this season has been on Clark and Lois and their family and, in that regard, everything that's happened this season, and the build up this episode uses for next week's finale, pays off perfectly.
Last episode saw Maxwell absorb all the powers of the Eradicator and, in essence, become the Eradicator himself. He then broke out of prison and disappeared for who knows where. He comes back this episode and reveals his plan by showing up in Metropolis and converting citizens into Kryptonians (without even the need for X-Kryptonite, so there's some power creep for ya). This then sets up the potential for the exact same fate to befall this Earth as befell John Henry Irons's Earth (which we've seen in flashbacks). Evil Kryptonians take over, kill all of humanity (or, at least, the ones they don't covert) and New Krypton is born. Key difference here, though, is that Clark is a good guy (and not the leader of the vanguard) this time around and John is there to have is back. They thwart Maxwell's Metropolis attempt, but then we realize it all might have been a distraction as Lord then shows up in Smallville and drags off Jordan to turn him into the new vanguard of the Kryptonian empire.
This right here is why the plot line works. Maxwell up against Clark didn't resonate because there wasn't a deep connection between them; they might have been half-brothers but they spent their entire lives apart and never once tried to find common ground. Jordan, though, is a character we've followed this whole season. We've watched him bond with his brother, Johnathan, spend family nights in with his parents, and the affection he feels for his family, and feels in return, is palpable. Where Maxwell being a bad guy doesn't land, Jordan being turned into an evil Kryptonian feels very real and very tangible. This is a villain (such as it is) that we care about, in part because we want Clark to find some way to free his son and convert him back to normal.
Meanwhile the show also finds time to pay off a lot of little things. It mirrors the moment when alternate-Earth Lois was killed by evil Superman, but then lets John Henry Irons save her. It lets Lois focus on being a journalist, dealing with the fact that the paper she works at is going under and will likely be bought up by a mega-corp, putting her right back in the position she was in at the start of the season. It moves a lot of pieces around and reminds us about the journey all these characters are on and then shows where they need to go. It works well and illustrates just how the writers have planned things out.
If any part of this episode feels week then it would be the parts with Clark just because he's not actually the focus this time around. Lois has a big plot line, and the boys (Johnathan and Jordan) share a lot of time, but Clark gets to hang out on the sideline a bunch and then, occasionally, punch Kryptonians. He has been the focus of many of the last episodes so I don't necessarily think this is a problem this time. It's just, for a show named Superman & Lois the Superman part didn't matter as much this time around.
Overall, though, this was a strong episode and nicely sets up the finale next week. If only every Arrowverse show could be this consistently good.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse
- Superman & Lois ends next week so expect full coverage for that series. And then Supergirl will come back soon thereafter so we won't be without Kryptonians for at least a little while longer.
- Meanwhile Stargirl will continue but we're not going to add it to our regular coverage. Since it sits just far enough outside the main 'verse we're just going to watch the series and report back with a full season review once the finale airs, as we basically did last year.