Last night, Flash gave Barry and Kara a reason to sing, and the not-so-legendary knuckleheads on Legends of Tomorrow let the reality-altering McGuffin fall into the wrong hands. But, hey, they also met J.R.R. Tolkien and pretty heavily inspired him to write Lord of the Rings. So, not all bad. Here’s what I thought of the episodes, “Duet (2)” (S3:E17) for The Flash and “Fellowship of the Spear” (S2:E15) for Legends of Tomorrow:
The enduring lesson of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More with Feeling” is that the only way a TV show can approach a musical episode is to ensure that the gimmick is actually in service to the plot. Otherwise, it comes as purely self-indulgent. Based on “Duet (2),” The Flash clearly studied the “Once More with Feeling” playbook and thus delivered one of the strongest episodes in series history, although I fully say that as someone who likes musicals and was thus always going to be more inclined to embrace this episode.
Before I go on, “Duet” deserves a round of applause:
This has been a long time coming. Greg Berlanti first started talking about doing a musical episode from the moment they first cast Grant Gustin as Barry. Then The Flash added Broadway-tested talent like Jesse L. Martin and Carlos Valdes to its cast, and Supergirl recreated the formula by plucking a former Glee co-star (Melissa Benoist) as its lead and surrounding her with at least one genuine Broadway singer (Jeremy Jordan). Add in the multi-show presences of Victor Garber (of both Flash and Legends) and John Barrowman (of Arrow and Legends) and the cry for a musical episode has been so loud for so long that Stephen Amell once had to defiantly proclaim at a convention that there’s no way he would ever take part in such a gimmick.
Classic Oliver Queen, right? Freakin’ killjoy.
To be fair, Amell objected because, well, not everyone in the Flarrowverse can actually sing or has cut their teeth on Broadway. Some people are more Alyson Hannigan in that if they were forced to sing they would grin and bear it but beg for the fewest lines possible. As such, talk of a musical crossover has mostly been exclusive to Flash-Supergirl. The challenge has been to first find a narrative need for them to sing, and then to create a scenario which could somehow bring together not just the more musically inclined Flash–Supergirl cast members but also Legends’ Barrowman and Garber.
Luckily, DC has a villain who is perfect for this: the Music Meister,. In fact, Batman: The Brave & The Bold previously used him for the exact same “we really want to do a musical episode” reason. There, he was voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, and attempted to use his power to control others through song to take over the world. Flash used him (as played by Glee’s Darren Criss) for surprisingly more benevolent reasons, paying lip service to his villainous side (he steals Barry and Kara’s powers, and attempts to rob a bank) before having him pull a Marry Poppins in the third act and reveal he was simply there to get everyone back on their feet and moving in the right direction again. His thwarted bank robbery even served the same purpose since it helped restore Wally’s understandably shaken confidence. A villain-of-the-week who’s not a villain at all? How refreshing, especially considering the doldrums of the same ol’, same ol’ Flash has fallen into this season.
While Music Meister was out doing that in the real world, Barry and Kara were stuck in a fantasy world inspired by their shared love of musicals. Thus, they were forced to play out the script of an old MGM style show which also just happened to be populated by characters with familiar faces (i.e., Valdes and Jordan as night club workers, Barrowman, Garber and Martin as rival mob bosses and the non-singing Candice Patton and Chris Wood as star-crossed lovers). And, wouldn’t you know it, going through this little exercise gave Barry and Kara exactly the post-breakup catharsis they needed.
But back up a second. That’s all how this happened, but where’s the why? Why did these characters need to break out in song to advance the plot? Eh, that part is slightly less successful. On Supergirl’s most recent episode, “Starcrossed,” Kara discovered her relatively new boyfriend Mon-El had been lying to her about his identity the entire time they knew each other. Betrayed, she broke up with him. On Flash’s most recent episode, Barry broke up with Iris or at least asked to go on a break (insert mandatory Ross-Rachel Friends joke) because…because…um…well…oh, who are we kidding, that break-up simply happened because Barry needed to have something to work through in “Duet.”
As such, through the fantasy MGM scenario Kara and Barry encountered star-crossed lovers who looked just like Mon-El and Iris, which eventually resulted in well-staged moments of Kara and Barry realizing big truths about love while talking to their significant others’ dopplegangers. Awwww, you guys.
The “people just say what their feeling” saccharine was strong with this one, but it was supposed to be. This was supposed to be a heart-on-its-sleeve musical, thawing the hearts of the younger-leaning fandoms of both shows, particularly when Barry ended the episode by re-proposing to Iris through an original song (“Runnin’ Home to You”) from the La La Land lyricists, who successful gave Barry and Iris their own theme song. Sure, I was mightily distracted throughout the duration of “Running’ Home to You” by all the wide shots of their insanely amazing apartment (which apparently has a second floor that I only just now noticed!), but the romantic sentiment was not lost on me.
For me, though, the highlight of the episode was “Superfriends,” the Rachel Bloom-penned duet for Kara and Barry. Really, I should be panning this song since it violates the “Once More with Feeling” rule by not actually advancing the plot. Take “Superfriends” out of “Duet” and it’s basically the same exact episode. Barry and Kara would continue on with their friendship completely unscathed. But, come on, we came for the promise of a Grant Gustin-Melissa Benoist duet, and what we got was the bizarre, but delightful sight of them progressing through a song which so clearly belonged on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Thus, they were briefly allowed to express more wit and comic timing than their respective shows regularly ask of them. It was lovely to behold, as was the entire episode.
For those keeping score, the other songs in “Duet” were covers of “Moon River” (which I can’t get out of my head now), “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and “More I Cannot Wish With You” (from Guys and Dolls).
Lastly, would an old MGM musical really have cast Jesse L. Martin and Victor Garber as gay dads to Candice Patton? Of course not, but it’s 2017. Let’s add a little liberal modernity to our classic homage, even if it leaves Barry so flustered he meekly comments “I like musicals” as explanation for how okay he is with gay couples.
“Fellowship of the Spear”
I feel like I’ve used up all my words on “Duet” and now must rush through a discussion of “Fellowship of the Spear” so that this article doesn’t swell to an unmanageable length. However, that would be a disservice to “Fellowship of the Spear,” which continued Legends’ recent streak of mixing in a little genuine drama (seeing her tragic future has left Amara deeply shaken, Mick doesn’t want to be the way he is but is hurt to realize the legends don’t actually view of him as a true partner) with its campy frivolity.
Of course, I’m a nerd who has read Lord of the Rings and loves time travel stories. I kind of want to just ignore the meat of the episode and instead list all of the little ways the script, which put the legends back in WWI where they needed to retrieve J.R.R. Tolkien from the battlefield and enlist his help in destroying the Spear of Destiny, lifted elements from Fellowship of the Ring (e.g., that skeleton with the book was totally supposed to invoke Balin’s tomb, right?). These Quantum Leap-esque kisses with history often force the show’s writers to really bend over backwards to come up with the plausible “why they need to meet this famous person” explanations, but I like to think that what they come up with helps educate the show’s younger audiences on the humble beginnings of some famous creators, i.e., George Lucas at film school, Tolkien as a sickly soldier with some crackpot historical theories.
However, rubbing shoulders with Tolkien was such a relatively minor part of the episode. Instead, “Fellowship of the Spear” marked the long-expected return of Wentworth Miller as a version of Captain Cold and inevitable heel turn from Mick. Just one scene of Miller overacting his ass off and talking like (I wanna say) a 40s-gangster reminded me how much Legends no longer needs him, not with the Legion forming an entertaining trio and the legends finding considerable chemistry together this season. But Snart’s return did bring about about the inevitable tipping point between the legends and Mick. One of the strengths of the second season has been the consistent comedy the show has found in the continual disrespect the team shows Mick, such as the recurring “And save Mick, too?”/”Of course. I thought that was implied” joke in the Revolutionary War episode. However, this was always heading for the moment when that treatment came back to bite them in the ass, when the lack of any effort by anyone on the team other than Amara to actually be friends with Mick led to a somewhat justifiable betrayal.
Based on the previews for next week, the betrayal won’t last long, but for now they’ve at least executed a successful role reversal from last season. Mick is now the one with heroic tendencies and a reluctance to turn on the legends while Snart is the criminal who above all else prizes their partnership and on-going pursuit of the next big heist. Of course, that’s because this version of Snart has been plucked from the timeline from before his character-altering journey with the legends (although Miller’s graying hair somewhat betrays this “he’s a slightly younger Snart” idea), and Mick has had two years with them now.
Either way, it appears as if we are in for an experimental episode next week. Not quite everyone-breaks-out-into-song experimental ala The Flash, but experimental in the what-would-happen-if-the-legends-had-never-formed kind of way. Should be fun.
What did you think of “Duet” and “Fellowship of the Spear”? Were there maybe one too many “life is so easy in a musical” jokes in “Duet”? Exactly how many times can Rip tell people that the spear of destiny gives them a power they can’t possibly imagine? And how exactly would you rank, from best to worst, the 1940s accents employed by the cast in “Duet”? Let me know in the comments.