With December hiatuses just around the corner, the shows around Superhero TV that had episodes this holiday week spent their time setting up the back half of their seasons by hitting the reset button.
Gotham and The Flash both pulled off mini-reboots, while Constantine (which won’t be getting a back half of the season) actually hit rewind.
At the end of “Lovecraft,” Jim Gordon has been busted down from detective and shipped to GCPD’s version of Siberia, Arkham Asylum, as the mayor’s fall guy. When “Power Outage” wraps up, Barry Allen and others have a new-found appreciation of his powers and Barry comes out the other side more powerful than ever.
Agents of SHIELD pulled a similar mid-season change of direction during its freshman outing last year. After 10 episodes of Coulson and the gang chasing after curious objects en masse and performing dull team building exercises, the parade of guest stars (Bill Paxton, Saffron Burrows, Jaime Alexander, Patton Oswalt, etc.) began in an effort to pump some charisma and tension into the story. The show steadily improved in quality before really being able to release the hounds following the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier.
SHIELD has taken the narrative momentum and not let up. Its Season 2 offerings have been consistently good and even the rare clunker episode has been miles better than most anything from Season 1. It’s a plan that this season’s freshman series are evidently trying to copy.
Gotham’s showrunner Bruno Heller admitted recently that the show dumped a load of iconic characters into the waters as a hook to draw viewers in. Even this week there was a “Hey it’s Poison Ivy! She’s 10, but kooky enough Selena steers clear of her!” moment. Heller said in the interview that from this point on the show was going to focus on character over splashy reveals week to week. Of course he said in the same interview that they were going to show Dick Grayson’s parents on their first date, so Heller’s ideas of “organic” storytelling may be suspect.
The change of tone and scenery might help Gordon, who’s had a tough time connecting to the audience (the addition of Morena Baccarin, won’t hurt either).
No matter how good the mob story line is, as Gordon goes, so will Gotham.
Meanwhile in Central City…
If the Flash’s episode formula was starting to wear on you, don’t worry, because “Power Outage” took that idea and
threw it out the window multiplied it by three.
Instead of one villain, there are three! Instead of Dr. Wells being scary and strange at the end of the episode, he’s that way from start to finish! To complete the trifecta there’s multiple flashbacks AND looks into alternate futures! If there’s a change Flash should make, it’s getting away from this. There’s a crossover episode with Arrow next week, so there’s hope.
Blackout becomes the latest in a line of people doing everyday dumb things when the STAR Labs reactor blew up. He happened to be climbing an electrical tower with his buddies when The Event happened. The friends didn’t make it and he ended up with the ability (and the need) to absorb vast amounts of energy,
In his first encounter with Barry, Blackout discovers he can absorb the Flash’s powers and they taste delicious, so he takes all he can, leaving Barry without speed.
This development runs at odds with Dr. Wells’ mission to make the Flash as powerful as possible in order to preserve a future where Flash seemingly sacrifices himself to avert a cataclysm.
For his part, Barry just misses being the Flash. He delights in foiling his own mugging, speeding up the Starbucks line and generally helping people with his super speed. This is an idea that sets the Flash apart from other modern hero tales.
In The Avengers, Tony Stark calls reactor in his chest that powers all his amazing gadgets a “terrible privilege.” Oliver Queen’s mission to save Starling City from itself is becoming a heavier burden with each passing episode. And that list goes on.
Barry is different. He’s still got the classic pathos of finding his mother’s killer and exonerating his father in the process. Having powers has become much more than that for Barry. It’s his way of helping the world beyond what he contributes as a police scientist and he’s having fun with it in the process.
After a jumpstart on the treadmill, Barry’s physiology goes back to its superpowered state but he can’t access his powers. He is diagnosed by Dr. Cisco with a case of the “yips.” Barry snaps out of it in order to save Dr. Wells, despite Barry being none too pleased with Wells for sending Girder to his death against Blackout in a move to stall for time.
Wells learns the big lesson on the day: a compassionate Flash is a powerful Flash. Something Wells plans to exploit until he needs to use the now dead Blackout’s powers to shut Barry down.
DC roll call: During this big showdown with Blackout Wells rattles off the names of some of those he hurt in the disaster. There’s a damn good chance we’ll be seeing most of these names again.
Jake Davenport and Daria Kim were Blackout’s friends who died and so they (probably) won’t be coming back. The rest are superpowered heroes and villains. Ralph Dibney is Elongated Man. Al Rothstein is Atom-Smasher. Grant Emerson is Damage, Will Everett is Amazing Man. Bea Da Costa is Fire. Ronnie Raymond is Firestorm (aka Caitlin Snow’s fiancé).
Iris no fragile flower: The B plot involved Clock King (villain No. 3 of the night) making his way to Central City PD headquarters and promptly trying to escape taking Joe West and Iris West hostage and shooting Eddie Thawne. Knowing his family is in trouble enhances Barry’s sense of urgency, but Iris takes care of business by sneaking Eddie’s gun and wounding (accidentally) Clock King and saving the day.
Meanwhile in Gotham City …
After close to a dozen episodes Gotham finally gave the audience a closer look at one of its most significant characters - the city itself.
A league of assassins break into Wayne Manor, seeking to silence Catgirl permanently. As badass Alfred holds the bad guys at bay, lil Bats and lil Cats make their escape to the streets of the city. It’s a startling experience for Bruce as he wanders the stalls of Gotham’s black market.
Bruce scores a sweet Ed Hardy hoodie and has a run-in with Ivy before the assassins and cops catch up to them. It was nice to see there’s another level to Gotham’s underbelly other than the one that the cops and the mob occupy. It’s the futures of these people that Batman will one day end up fighting for, so it’s good to see Bruce get a first taste of Gotham’s true plight.
That means she’s an alien right?: After giving back a sack of trinkets she was going to sell and sneaking a kiss, Cat tells Bruce she plans to keep a silver object with strange hieroglyphs on it. Cat didn’t turn to dust when holding it and the camera lingered on it quite a while, so you know it’s going to be important down the road.
When is the spin-off?: I would totally watch a Bullock and the Butler series. Those two are a much better match than Bullock and Gordon. Bullock already has a catchphrase: “Am I the only one in this damn town who waits for backup?”
Meanwhile in Birmingham…
This episode, “Rage of Caliban,” has all the markings that it was supposed to be the second episode of Constantine.
It’s set during Halloween, there’s a lot of recovering of ground about the Rising Darkness, talk about Rene who has barely been mentioned since the pilot, a primer about angelic interference and some off camera ADR from Chas explaining Zed being away at “art class” for a couple of days.
A girl’s parents are brutally beaten but the girl survives. Constantine discovers the spirit of a demonic child is the root of this particular evil. So he has to face his own fears about possessed children to end this curse.
Constantine calls in a favor from a former client and discovers this is just the latest in a string of similar murders over the decades, however the killings have become more frequent since the rise of the darkness.
Young Henry is possessed next and he promptly stars giving his father the John McLane treatment and cracking skulls on the marry-go-round.
After some false starts and investigative dead ends, Constantine chases Henry into a house of horrors. Only when confronted by the young man carrying a fire axe does Constantine finally deduces that the soul that is causing all the mayhem hasn’t been around for centuries. It’s the soul of the very living Marcello Panetti, the vegetative mental patient Constantine visited during his investigation.
Marcello was horribly abused by his parents and he killed them to escape. What he did was so terrible, his soul left his body to continue killing. Constantine speaks the soul’s name to send it back to its rightful home and celebrates with a drink and a smoke.
Mystery fluids: No one was covered in mystery fluids this week, but Constantine gave some ectoplasm a good licking.
Craig Wack is a veteran journalist. Please follow his Twitter.