This was a pretty exciting week, as it most certainly should be when we’re in the home stretch of the season. Black Lightning aired its first season finale, which was fun, and tender, and full of things that went boom. Gotham and Agents of Shield are building up their respective finales as well, with pivotal moments, ever-rising stakes, and some rather torturous scenes of characters being driven to their limits and beyond. So, exciting week.
1.13 “Shadow of Death”
Thou I walk through the valley of such, I will fear no evil. Probably the best episode title they’ve yet had: foreboding and simple.
Jeff has lived in the shadow of his father’s death for three decades now, and now, as he hangs precariously between life and death himself, we get to see a bit of Alvin Pierce himself. Some memories, including one time Gambi met with him to try and convince him to be more careful, which, we know how that ended, and another when he lectured his son for violent behavior at school and a resulting suspension… and then a moment where Jeff, the grown man, speaks with the spirit of his father. Tender, and touching, and profound, that moment.
Jeff’s afraid of how disappointed Alvin will be because of his violent vigilantism, and also his survivor’s guilt for not helping his father somehow that night when Tobias invaded their home. But Alvin, despite lacking any omniscience, is able to reassure him. He did was he should have when he hid and stayed hidden, stayed alive. And as for the violence and pain, well, his father doesn’t hold that against him, only hopes that it was worth it… but only Jeff can know if it is.
So, a father-son moment, beautiful, but it must end. It’s not Jeff’s time yet, and he can’t stay. So his father sends him on up, back into the living, conscious world, where Gambi, Lynn, Anissa, and Jennifer are waiting anxiously for him.
Up in the waking world, while Jeff sleeps, Lynn never leaves his side, Anissa wants to go pound the enemy to dust and is barely restrained by Gambi’s voice of reason, and Jennifer is just trying to process. Gambi explains to her, and us, what’s been going on. The ASA’s experimentation has yielded some interesting results over the years, including the serum the Tobias takes, making him stronger and age far slower. Syonide is his protege, a girl with a troubled, traumatic past, which he raised into his personal assassin, including he insertion of some carbon-fiber beneath her skin, as a permanent form of body armor. And Khalil’s spine is reinforced with some kind of synthetic liquid metal, but somehow this is making his body produce a neuro-toxin, which they weaponized with his darts. They call him Painkiller now, over in Tobias’ camp.
Speaking of, Khalil is apologizing to Tobias for killing Black Lightning instead of capturing him, but Tobias is not mad at all. The only inconvenience it causes him is having to step up his time table for removing Proctor. That’s what Lala’s renewed life is really for. Tobias killed him and brought him back, crazy and without answers and robbed of his own free will, just to use him as a Trojan Horse. As Proctor can’t find Tobias, his men bring in Lala, who promptly detonates the bomb in his stomach. Now that is twisted, using a man like that.
Of course, Proctor has absolutely no feeling for his men at all, calmly walking away and plotting his next move even before they’ve actually been blown up. He’s just concerned about a time table, as he has about ten hours to get Black Lightning’s DNA and use it to craft a solution that will save the deteriorating lives of all the older metahuman kids he abducted three decades ago, so he can turn them into an army.
ADD moment: not that I buy Trump’s “make America great again” schtick, but, really? They actually went there?
Proctor is so obsessed with getting what he wants that the instant they have a bead on Black Lightning’s location, he immediately sends his soldiers in. They’re reading for Thunder, and they outgun Gambi, but they think Black Lightning is dead, so they aren’t ready for him or for Lynn and Jennifer. There’s a bit of a scare, when it seems that Jeff’s powers are gone, but he’s just a really drained battery, which, one good jolt from Jennifer sorts him out. Jump-start, metahuman style.
So, Gambi and the Pierce family take out the ASA soldiers in short order, and get out just as Henderson descends on the scene with every cop he can get his hands on. Meanwhile, Tobias pounces on the opportunity which Proctor’s unrestrained behavior presents, striking at his base while all his best soldiers are away, and slaughtering everyone to a man. Proctor escapes, being certain to leave everyone behind, but he lacks a case he tried to take with him. Tobias wins, hands down, and the ASA is laid low in two places on the same night.
Detail: it’s not actually the ASA. Proctor’s been using ASA resources, yes, but he’s gone rogue in pursuit of his metahuman army. Gambi realized this when Proctor didn’t call for any reinforcements, and the man brags about it when he’s cornered in the facility with the surviving kidnapped kids by the assembled Pierce family. He’s both unrepentant and stupid in how he presents the situation to the people surrounding him, glorying in how, once Jeff gives him a sample of his DNA and he saves the kids and begins his army, he’ll be welcomed back into the main ASA without so much as a smack on his wrists, especially when he comes bearing the Pierce family secret. That was really not the smartest approach. Gambi just shoots him dead and cleans up while Lynn and the others figure out how to help the kids. Lynn says she knows someone who can help, but we don’t know who yet.
So, the illegal human experiments are finally exposed in Freeland, Black Lightning gets a reprieve, hopefully the kids are helped, and the Pierce family is together, strong, and safe.
Now what was in the briefcase that made Tobias smile so much, as he crowned himself the king of Freeland?
We’ll just have to wait for next season to find out!
4.19 “To Our Deaths and Beyond”
Well. That happened.
With this season’s finale coming up quick, they waste no time piling up the stakes.
Most of the action takes place over with Barbara, Tabitha, Selina, Bruce, Alfred, the divided League… and a resurrected Ra’s al’Ghul. The surviving men of the League use Tabitha to get to Selina to get to Bruce so they can offer his blood – very unwillingly given – and bring Ra’s back, albeit as an undead zombie. Nobody is exactly happy about this, least of all Bruce or Ra’s, but they’re in the thick of it already, so, on with the business at hand.
The League does not truly accept Barbara, as the men see she is of limited ambition and selfishness, and even the women see that she falls far short of what a Demon’s Head is supposed to be capable of. Ra’s himself is severely disappointed when he confronts Barbara, as she’s not doing anything remotely like what he hoped for when he bequeathed the Head to her. So he tries to take it back by force, cutting through Barbara’s adherents with little difficulty. She’s only saved by Tabitha and Bruce.
Putting their heads together for a moment, they know that only one knife can kill Ra’s and only if Bruce is wielding it. Though Barbara thinks she can do the job fine on her own, that still leaves the problem of getting said knife from the local Nanda Parbat embassy. They can’t just sneak in, and they can’t storm the place, so they improvise a little, have Tabi and Alfred distract security while Selina drops in and lifts the knife behind their backs. And then things immediately fall apart, with Barbara and Tabitha taking the knife to kill Ra’s on their own.
Selina is caught between the two sides, as usual. She’s friends with everyone, and they’re refusing to work together. They keep trying to drag her to one side of the line or the other, and she’s wondering why they can’t just focus on the threat coming for all of them. She went with the girls at first because she hoped they had a proper plan, and because she doesn’t want to put Bruce through the ordeal of killing Ra’s all over again. They just barely got out of that particular mountain of emotional and psychological fallout, and that was due to Bruce’s Ivy-enabled hallucinatory trip to his inner self. So, not wanting to start that all over again! But as Barbara doesn’t seem to have anything more than “stab Ra’s and hope it works, despite the guide of previous experience,” she goes to Bruce asking for help.
It’s a showdown between Barbara and Ra’s, the boys vs the girls, and it yields some surprising results. When the knife doesn’t work in Barbara’s hand (no surprise there), and her followers keep Bruce from interfering properly, Barbara manages to actually unlock a portion of the power of the Demon’s Head, standing almost on equal ground with Ra’s, though she had to experience the trauma of her own would-be death to get that far. Then, just when she’s made the power hers, she chooses to give it back to Ra’s, rather than let him kill Tabitha. Of all things, Barbara actually cares enough to sacrifice something she wanted for herself. That is a surprise.
And so Ra’s is restored, fully this time, and not looking to let/make Bruce kill him again. He explains that later, crashing a tender moment between him and Selina, telling Bruce that he had a vision. A cataclysm, the city burning, a terrible ordeal which, if it doesn’t kill Bruce, it will be what Ra’s uses to forge him into Gotham’s Dark Knight.
I am starting to wonder just how many disasters one city can possibly take.
I am also starting to get annoyed by how they went back to the idea of Batman being the bad guys’ idea, ya know?
As for Barbara and Tabitha, they still have the loyalty of the League’s women, even more so because Barbara actually fought, for once, not for herself, but for those by her side, and she made a great sacrifice, giving up the power. In their eyes, she is worthy, and for once, I agree… well, a little, anyway. More like I see something worthwhile in her, which I haven’t seen in quite awhile. …actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever saw anything worthwhile in her character until now.
Over on the more mundane side of things, Lee and Riddler commence their bank-robbing spree. Five banks, all in one night, without a single casualty, and a few million dollars given willy-nilly to the people of the Narrows. (that would not work, but whatever) It’s only the first stage of the plan, though, and they have Gordon to tangle with on one side, and Penguin, with Grundy-Butch in tow, on the other.
Gordon stops by to talk to Lee, and leaves half-convinced that he should go after the company that’s being robbed, but it does give his men a lead on the robbers’ next target, because the bank put all its assets together in one place, a contingency plan put in place after the repeated disasters in Gotham.
Clearly the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” should include an addendum about, “Especially when you see something coming to break them.”
Penguin and Butch are a bit more tricky to deal with. They come to Lee and Riddler looking to get in on the action, and relying on their previous friendships with the robbers to make them feel obligated towards letting them have their way. It doesn’t work, and Penguin leaves Riddler with a barb about how Lee is clearly using him, stringing him along. Riddler himself wonders about that, and Lee is able to playfully tease him about it, in a seductive sort of way, but the doubt persists, so much that he sees Nygma, his alter-ego, in the mirror, a complete reversal of how it used to be.
Stung outside and inside, Riddler goes to Penguin and Butch, betraying Lee… but, then he turns that betrayal back on Penguin and Butch. He just needed Butch so they could get in the vault, steal the money, and burn a bunch of property records for the Narrows. And he makes himself clear: he does not mean to be Penguin’s enemy, but he stands with Lee.
In regards to that last, he tells Lee that he understands how she’s changed, better than Nygma did. The virus changed her, and when she shot Sofia in the head, she let her darkness out again. She likes it, and he loves it so much that he’s willing to be patient for her to love him back in truth.
Unfortunately for the criminal couple, Gordon shows up much sooner than expected. Lee, showing her trust and affection for Riddler with her actions, walks out the front door, shocking the cops and letting Gordon cuff her, keeping him distracted while Riddler drives off with the stolen cash.
So, Barbara isn’t the Demon’s Head, but she still has a new following of female assassins, Tabitha at her side, Ra’s is back and scheming with the benefits of foreknowledge, Bruce can’t take an evening off with Selina with an enemy crashing the scene, a cataclysm is soon to fall on the city (again), Riddler belongs to Lee, whom Gordon arrests… yeah, lots going on, as the clock ticks on towards the true birth of the Batman.
5.18 “All Roads Lead…”
…to Rome, the saying goes, but in this case perhaps one might say “to ruin” or “to the end of the world.”
With Talbot’s compliance programming activated, he searches through the base for none other than Robin. He finds her room on the cameras, looks through her drawings, surprises Robin and her mother when they return, asks questions, then renders Robin’s mother unconscious as he tries to steal her away for Hale and Hydra. Robin didn’t do anything, and I wonder a bit if she’s even capable of actively resisting what happens. To her, everything has already happened, so what’s it matter if she’s abducted, if she’s exiled, if she’s killed, etc.? Fortunately, Talbot doesn’t make it out of the base. Mack and Coulson stop him, and keep him from killing himself either, which was quite the harrowing moment.
This all happens while Daisy, May, and most of the other agents are away, taking the fight to the the enemy. They find Hale’s base and attack, hitting hard, only to find Hale ready to surrender. With Ruby and Strucker gone rogue, they need to work together to save everyone. The villainous couple drive Fitz-Simmons to fix the chamber and infuse Ruby with gravitonium, ignorant of the true danger they face. Hale just barely learned that from Creel, and she informs Shield, but Ruby doesn’t know. The two men who have been absorbed by the gravitonium, their minds remain within it, trapped forever and screaming for release. It’s tearing Creel’s mind apart, and he was in contact with it for barely a few moments. Becoming one with it will certainly be infinitely worse.
Shield arrives in force, but too late. The process is already begun, and though it only runs about 8% of the way towards completion, the damage is done. Ruby wields the power of gravitonium, but she can’t control it, not really, as is demonstrated when she crushes Strucker’s head when she only meant to caress his cheek. Her mind is already being drowned by the shouts of the men inside it, reducing her to a screaming, weeping girl, and a dangerous one. May gets Fitz-Simmons out, but then Yo-Yo arrives, in pain from her robot arms backfiring on her, and seeing not a girl in need of help, but the one who severed her arms in the first place, now wielding the gravity-power that will destroy the world. So she opens Ruby’s throat with her own blade.
There’s a flash, a discharge of power, giving Hale a moment to escape while the Inhuman agents are down. And she, a mother who just watched her daughter die in her arms, goes to the Confederacy, to Kovus, I think the name was, and all but bids him to destroy Shield completely. He wants the gravitonium, and she wants revenge on the people who killed her daughter.
Yo-Yo thinks she saved the world just now. She really didn’t.
So, Shield’s earthbound enemies are all brought low, they managed to save their friends, and they have the gravitonium, complete with the two minds trapped within, but this was definitely not a victory. The worst is about to come, as the finale approaches (and in close concert with the release of Infinity War, which I am so going to see at first opportunity… even if that opportunity isn’t on opening weekend as I would have preferred, but oh well).