This is a joint review of Supergirl‘s “World’s Finest” (S1:E18) and The Flash‘s “Flash Back” (S2:E17). It also contains slight Batman v Superman spoilers.
After Batman v Superman, I can’t quite believe just how much I absolutely needed the thorough palette cleanser that was Supergirl‘s “World’s Finest” on Monday and The Flash‘s “Flash Back” last night. I say that as someone who’s not even a big Supergirl fan. I bailed after Supergirl‘s rough start, and was only drawn back in recently by the promise of the unprecedented cross-over with The Flash. The show is much stronger here near the end of its first season that it was at the beginning, but it still has a relatively weak premise (i.e., Supergirl fighting crime under the thumb of her own version of SHIELD or UNIT), ensemble cast and roster of villains. It’s also currently drowning in even more CW-esque romantic melodrama than The Flash.
I’d take all of it over Batman v Superman, though. Supergirl actually has a heart. Supergirl has a moral. According to Kevin Smith, Batman v Superman has neither, and a DC property has to have done something seriously wrong to inspire an eternal fanboy like Smith to say anything negative about it. Plus, Supergirl actually has multi-dimensional female characters, rich relationships between sisters, mothers and aunts (well, maybe not so much that last one anymore) and routine commentaries on what it means to be a woman juggling a work life and personal life. Batman v Superman…um….well, at least Wonder Woman’s fight scene is awesome.
The Flash, meanwhile, has become one of the best family dramas on television, or so Vanity Fair argued last November, “If you strip away the meta-humans and speed-force mumbo jumbo of The Flash, what remains, [Jesse L.] Martin says, is a drama that resembles The Waltons or The Cosby Show [with far viewer sweaters].” The show’s best special effects, as I previously argued, are emotional. Batman v Superman…um…has parents espousing Ayn Rand philosophies, and heroes who bond over their mothers coincidentally having the same first name.
And so it was in Supergirl‘s “World’s Finest” that Cat Grant, in a rare display of emotion, reverted to her maternal instincts and pleaded with her captors Livewire and Silver Banshee to spare her life because killing her would mean taking a mother away from two boys. With Barry’s universe-hopping help, Supergirl heroically defended a crowded city square, and sacrificed her body to protect a helicopter and its passengers. She didn’t even hesitate. She just did it because it was the right thing to do. In the end, she rescued Cat Grant, won back the city’s trust and finally made the first move with James.
And so it was in The Flash‘s “Flash Back” that after traveling over a year into the past to trick The Reverse Flash into teaching him how to run faster Barry returned home and made an effort to be there for his friends. He listened and offered words of encouragement as Harry descended into self-doubt and critically re-assessed the choices he made which caused Jesse to run away. He went to Iris and gave her the gift of a proper goodbye from her fiance, having stolen a moment back in time to record a message from the then-still alive Eddie, clearly hoping that it would give Iris some closure and help her move on with her life.
Neither episode was without flaws. James Olsen being jealous of Barry in “World’s Finest” came off a tad lazy, and Barry’s decision-making throughout “Flash Back” was flawed to the point that it was almost unbelievable, as in you might have literally said “I don’t believe Barry would be that stupid” at multiple times. Furthermore, National City’s re-embrace of Supergirl in “World’s Finest” was somewhat ham-handed, even for those of us who are suckers for the “common citizens rally around the hero” trope [see: Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, The Amazing Spider-Man]. Plus, the less you think about the time travel ramifications of “Flash Back” the better (e.g., everything we saw with Hartley last season from the moment of his capture has been altered or entirely erased, Team Flash’s introduction to the reality of time travel and first glimpse of the white emblem on the Flash costume happened much earlier now, etc.).
However, they were both quintessential hours of Supergirl and Flash, i.e., light-hearted, touching, a bit silly and super fun. Can you really be mad at an episode when Barry used his super speed at one point to simply get everyone an ice cream cone? Did you see the look on Kara’s face?
And that’s a woman who grew up on a different planet and can now fly, shoot lasers from her eyes, freeze anything with just her breath and deflect bullets as if they were just pesky flies. She can do all those things, but the sudden appearance of an ice cream cone in her hand turns her into an Oprah audience member who’s just been told she’s getting a free car.
Is Melissa Benoist over-acting the moment just a tad? You betcha. But she’s also playing the honesty: what Barry just did was unbelievably cool. It’s awesome that he can run that fast. Diggle and Joe in the primary Arrow-verse still can’t get over how amazing it is to see Barry use his powers. “World’s Finest” was Kara, Winn and James’ turn, and the entire episode was about as flawless of a cross-over as could be expected.
As Pajiba said in its “World’s Finest” review:
Berlanti’s team stuck to the story they’ve been telling on Supergirl, and brought the Flash in at a moment when he could serve a legitimate character purpose. And then they sat down and asked what you might want to actually see in a meet up between the Flash and the Woman of Steel? You don’t really want to see conflict or fighting. You maybe want to see them have some discussions about their roles as superheroes. You probably want to see the two team up and use their powers to compliment each other. And you definitely want to see them race
“Flash Back,” meanwhile, was Flash‘s version of Back to the Future II until it turned into something totally different. Like Marty revisiting the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, we saw the events of last season’s Pied Piper episode from a different point of view. Except Barry ignored Harry’s advice and the lessons he should have learned about time travel. He quickly changed things, thus forever altering Pied Piper’s character arc and inciting a riveting confrontation with The Reverse Flash where, for a change, Barry actually had the upper hand.
But then Barry and Reverse Flash worked together, and it was completely priceless, particularly Wells/Thawne’s “No, no, no, don’t say that….and, crap, you just said that” reactions when Barry struggled to explain time travel to his past self and past versions of Caitlin and Cisco:
That’s time travel comedy gold, the likes of which is relatively easy to follow for anyone with a passing familiarity with time travel stories and a deep fondness for all of these characters. More than that, it’s Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and crew playing around with Flash’s own mythology, offering a lighter look at last season’s big bad.
Batman v Superman…um…has dream sequences that might actually be time travel, and time travel moments that might be dream sequences. None of it’s funny, and unless you really know your DC comics it doesn’t make any sense nor does it have any meaningful impact on the story.
What we have here is a difference of influences. The Flash and Supergirl fall under the Greg Berlanti banner. His producing background is in family dramas like Brothers & Sisters and Everwood, but his comic book background is steeped in the Silver Age. As he told KCRW’s The Treatment, “I was so emotionally connected to Barry Allen’s heart and determination to do the right thing that our hope was that we could craft a show that had the same level of emotional accessibility and fun.” Zack Snyder’s industry background is in TV commercials and horror movies, and his comic book influences naturally gravitate toward the seminal pieces which redefined the medium in the late 1980s, specifically Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
So the DC Cinematic Universe is now like a comic book store with clearly demarcated sections:
Over on the Greg Berlanti side, you have a collection of youth-leaning family dramas which are more than a bit silly, frequently flawed and completely uninterested in ever trying to be as mature as Daredevil, Jessica Jones or even Agents of SHIELD. These Berlanti shows want the kids at home to put up Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist posters on their walls, or to ship for Felicity and Oliver on Arrow or Captain Cold and Sara Lance on Legends of Tomorrow. However, the shows also want us to understand and like the characters, and they’re created by people who seem to genuinely love Flash, Green Arrow, Supergirl, Black Canary, Captain Cold and the various other heroes and anti-heroes we’ve encountered across the shows.
On the Zack Snyder side, you have movies which are grimdark to the point of self-parody. They’re more interested in recreating iconic splash page images than creating stories which make sense or characters who have relatable motives or any redeeming qualities. After two movies of this, there’s ample evidence that Zack Snyder might not even like Superman. He’s just re-doing his Doctor Manhattan thing from Watchmen, which is ironic since Alan Moore’s Doctor Manhattan is actually a direct parody of Superman.
And the Berlanti and Snyder universes shall never meet. “I just don’t think it was a good fit. I’m very strict with this universe and I just don’t see a version where [Gustin’s The Flash would work]… that [tone is] not our world,” is what Snyder told New York Daily News when asked to clarify why Ezra Miller, not Grant Gustin plays The Flash in Batman v Superman. “Even if Grant Gustin is my favorite guy in the world and he’s very good, we made a commitment to the multi-verse [idea], so it’s just not a thing that’s possible.”
At this point, thank God we do have that multi-verse. We have the option to choose which interpretation we prefer. I’ll take The LEGO Batman Movie over The Justice League: Part 1 next year, and for the foreseeable future more episodes like “World’s Finest” and “Flash Back” will help wash away the extremely foul taste of Batman v Superman.