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Superhero Showdown, Round 4: ‘Gotham,’ ‘The Flash,’ ‘Arrow,’ ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

Check out Round 1, Round 2, and Round 3.

Every week is an extremely busy week for superheroes, but this one was overwhelming, with Marvel’s Civil War rumors for Captain America 3 and WB’s planned slate through 2020 coming to light. For the first time in awhile, perhaps, the tide of nerd-dom might be slowly shifting in the WB’s favor. They beat Marvel to making a female superhero movie, with Wonder Woman planned for 2017, and Civil War could be catastrophic depending upon the take, since that story blew chunks and painted Tony Stark as a manipulative, conniving despot. He was like Norman Osborn with armor. Oh wait. If you want to read more about what this could mean for the MCU, check out my colleague David Youngblood’s take, followed with my less-than-inspired devil’s advocate response.

But enough of that. This column is about superheroes on TV. We’re still a week out before Constantine can hopefully shake up the rankings, but for now SPOILERS for this week’s episodes of Gotham, The FlashArrow and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. follow.

4. Gotham (FOX): “Arkham”

The war that Penguin, or sorry, Oswald Cobblepot (so much more sophisticated), keeps promising hasn’t even come yet, and I’m already sick of it. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), who “might very well be the last good man in Gotham,” is just as sick of his sniveling warnings as I am, slamming him against walls and lashing out false threats. Jim, you’re not going to kill him, and yes, you’re going to take his calls and his information. You’re not fooling anybody, Gotham, as we get another predictable, boring “case,” with investigative work from Gordon and Bullock (Donal Logue) that amounts to Bullock saying “Let’s go see a friend of mine” multiple times, and Gordon shaking his head in exasperation.

Essentially Sal Maroni (David Zayas) and Carmine Falcone (John Doman) are fighting a turf war over Arkham, the precursor to the kind of all-out war that Penguin keeps droning on about. Maroni wants to turn the place into a waste disposal site; Falcone wants low-income housing and a revamped mental facility. Falcone’s clearly the nicer criminal.

Zabryna Guevara’s Sarah Essen is this year’s female authority figure who has no idea how to do her job and only speaks in urgent cliches. She’s Lili Taylor from Almost Human. After a councilman and his body guard are murdered with an eye-gouging weapon (that’s like a less effective cattle prod à la No Country For Old Men), in a city known for political killings, she ACTUALLY says the following: “Smart money says, wrong place wrong time.” After another murder of a councilman, she sees the light: “Two councilmen in as many days. That can’t be a coincidence!” While Gotham City has all kinds of problems, I’m most concerned by how Sarah Essen got to be chief of police.

gotham hakeem richard gladwell

The killer we learn fairly early on is Richard Gladwell (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), because a random prisoner friend of Bullock’s tells our intrepid heroes everything they need to know. He’s apparently well known in the city, and in demand enough to be hired by both Maroni AND Falcone (although that’s never confirmed; maybe Penguin is pulling the strings, or Fish Mooney). What’s hilarious is that Gladwell has a desk job, one that he’s been working at for years, and doesn’t even have a cover, or a different identity. Criminals all know Gladwell by name, and there he is typing away at his desk when Bullock and Gordon come in. It’s comical, but not as much as when Gordon is feet away from finding him in the back of the office, before Bullock calls him away to show him newspaper clippings detailing the councilman murders in Gladwell’s desk, because we still have 30 more minutes of this episode. And apparently because Gladwell keeps evidence of his murders at work, where anybody can find him. They also find some note with the letters “C L M” on it, hinting at some sort of riddle (go away Nygma) and significance. What does it stand for? Off the top of my head, I came up with: Cobblepot Likes Men (I’d love if Cobblepot came out on this show), or Cancel…this show? If only.

At the Clock Tower, Barbara (Erin Richards) finally confronts Gordon about Cobblepot, after she unwittingly meets the guy (and is charmed, because they both giggle at the foibles of men). She’s tired of him lying to her, and when Gordon realizes that Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) told her about Cobblepot, and finds out that Barbara had a romantic relationship with Montoya, he becomes furious. HOW DARE YOU LIE TO ME?! ONLY I CAN LIE TO YOU. Barbara doesn’t call him on his hypocrisy, but at least she tells him to “let me in or let me go.”

And because they have to give Jada Pinkett-Smith screen time, Fish Mooney holds singing auditions; but she’s not looking for a girl, she’s looking for a weapon. Oooh. Even if this was the Marvel universe, that knocks Dazzler out of the running in this perverse sing-off, wherein Fish really just wants a hook up: “Do you like boys or girls?” she asks each of the contestants, and asks them both to seduce her, and then requires Liza and the other singer to fight for the job. Fish Mooney is “cool” because she’s sexy and dangerous; but she’s really just a bored, horny housewife of crime.

Penguin’s too good at his thing. He hired goons to hit Maroni’s restaurant, killing his douche manager in the process, and make it look like Falcone ordered the hit. Because Cobblepot manages to “save” one bag of money, Maroni promotes him to Restaurant Manager (“get the kid a suit!”). I get that Maroni likes to reward his people for good deeds…but I don’t think Oswald’s qualified to be a restaurant manager. Has he even looked at his resume? Does Cobblepot seem like a people person, the front for an Italian restaurant, the first face the public sees? Give him a promotion elsewhere. This will likely lead to at least one scene where the Penguin inspects the “catch of the day” at the seafood market. We also learned never to eat cannolis from the Penguin, which his goons somehow didn’t see coming. Gotham City’s collective IQ got a bump this day.

Meanwhile, Bruce (David Mazouz) has nightmares because his parents are dead and their dreams of a state of the art mental facility in Arkham are in danger! I will admit I loved seeing Arkham Asylum on TV, and they nailed the outside look of the place, and making it the war zone for conflict is a cool idea, but one that I don’t think Gotham will cash in on. I’m really sad this show has been picked up for a full season.

GRADE: D+

the flash

3. The Flash (CW): “Fastest Man Alive”

The Flash is the biggest hit of ALL of these shows, which is frankly, remarkable. And good for The CW; they’ve shown the most consistent and most exciting take in developing superheroes on TV, and the reward has come with ratings that outstrip most of the bigger network’s new shows. An encore episode of The Flash delivered ratings that were almost in line with the first run of this week’s Arrow.

“Fastest Man Alive” builds upon the pilot, and while it doesn’t completely eradicate the annoying overarching trope-ridden monologue, it plays with it in the opening moments, by confirming that yes, we know that he’s The Flash already, and let’s get on with it. Thank you.

Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) is the eyes and ears, or Felicity from Arrow, while Barry is the feet in the burgeoning crime fighting enterprise that has Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) incensed and Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), Detective Father Figure, similarly ticked off. Caitlin Snow has seemingly taken it upon herself to be the buzz kill of the show; she’s like a militant Hermione Granger who hasn’t charmed us yet (so like real early Sorcerer’s Stone version). We have to be sensitive to the passing of her fiance Ronnie in the meteor shower particle acceleration explosion (who didn’t die; he just turned into Robbie Amell/Firestorm), but right now she’s one-dimensional. So is Cisco, and while he sucks, at least he’s enthusiastic.

Barry Allen spends most of the episode wanting to help people, to fight meta-humans, with Caitlin and Joe telling him he’s not ready or he can’t, or it’s not safe. HE HAS POWERS. He literally saves three lives, and Joe’s acting like he ran up his electricity bill. Train him to fight if you must, but don’t ignore the change in status quo. Thankfully, they both have an arc in this episode, one we see a lot of with Joe and Barry in flashback form, and one we don’t see at all with Caitlin, who just kind of joins the Flash Team bandwagon at the end, knowing she’s fighting a losing battle.

The villain of the week is Danton Black (Michael Smith). Michael Smith brings nothing to the role other than a gloomy pale face we can see multiple times, as Danton can replicate himself following the famed explosion (I won’t comment on the “irony” that a scientist who worked on replicating cells, got the powers to…replicate cells, because Cisco does). He’s…Captain Clone! Multiple Man? No, he’s Multiplex. There were some great moments of FX in this episode, as when Danton goes BONKERS with multiples, and when he grew new hands to throw himself off the building, preventing Barry from saving his life. Like last week, Barry can’t defeat Multiplex initially, but once he gets inspiring pep talks from Harrison Wells (“find the prime”) and Joe, he makes really quick work of things, and I don’t mean that as a speed euphemism. Barry Allen’s powers are relative to the number of inspirational pep talks he receives.

Sidenote: While kid Barry Allen’s acting was deplorable, when Joe brings pizza (pepperoni, olives and jalapeno) and offers Barry to help him save his Dad at the end of this episode, I wanted to hug them both. Joe is the Quentin Lance character, except he’s in on it from the start, and his gruffness is already falling away. In order words, he’s gonna be adorable.

Smallville had “the blur.” Arrow had “the hood.” Flash has the “red streak,” because they can’t walk out and just be the superhero, they have to earn it over the course of the first season (or 10, if you’re Clark Kent). Thankfully, in the awesome climactic moments of this episode, Harrison Wells refers to Barry as the Flash, so it’s coming even sooner here, as Flash seems to be taking on the DNA of its hero, with a blissfully brisk pace. Iris West is no Chloe Sullivan, as she picks the Red Streak as her journalism assignment. I could care less, but I’m just happy she started doing work on her own. Apparently Iris and Barry’s one-sided relationship consists of Barry helping her with her homework and then yelling at him forgetting to do so. Like Laurel Lance before her, Iris West is shaping up to be a major disappointment.

So far, I only like three characters: Barry, Joe and Harrison Wells. I’m concerned my Smallville comparisons are becoming too true, as the particle accelerator explosion is just an excuse for a villain of the week. I hope Flash grows out of it much quicker. For now though, Flash has an engaging, likable protagonist, and an interesting quest on hand, and that’s enough.

GRADE: B-

Flash Cards

  • Harrison Wells murders Simon Stagg at the end of this episode in impressively dramatic fashion (both villainous denouements have been my favorite parts of both shows thus far). Stagg is a pretty notable character in the DC Universe, and actor William Sadler has serious credentials in playing notably villainous characters, so it’s a surprise he was cut down so short. Stagg’s daughter is JLA member Sapphire, who falls in love with one Rex Mason AKA Metamorpho. I doubt we’ll be seeing either of them any time soon…but it’s clearly not an impossibility.
  • Danton Black’s Multiplex seemingly fell to his death, but considering his cloning powers, it’s not a leap to imagine him surviving the ordeal. He probably somehow survived and will show up in a Suicide Squad spin-off, because Arrow loves collecting mediocre villains who can’t act, and Multiplex had affiliations with the team in the comic book. He was also the underling of Martin Stein and not Simon Stagg, who is involved in Firestorm’s muddy origin story.
  • In the comics, Eddie Thawne is Professor Zoom/Reverse-Flash. So far in Flash, he’s the douchey guy competing for Iris’ affections with Barry, and also Joe’s partner on the force. So does that mean he’s the yellow streak that killed Barry’s Mom? Or is it Harrison Wells, who certainly seems creepy and Big Bad-ish (and awesome), and might be able to time travel (read: the obvious choice). I love this crazy fan theory that Harrison Wells is Barry Allen from 2024. I had this dark wish/prediction that Barry Allen was really who killed his mother, that the whole thing was a time travel self-fulfilling prophecy because he’s consumed with his quest to save her…that he accidentally kills her. Or something. It won’t be that.
  • WhySoSerious

    You’ve had SUCH an angry slant against ‘Gotham’ from the get-go that I don’t believe it could do anything to win you over, and I really don’t see the point of you including it in further comparisons. Just declare it dead to you and remove it from your column, already.