(Disclaimer: The following article contains spoilers for: The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. Continue at your own risk!)
In this day and age, it seems silly to complain or critique TV & film comic-book properties. Superhero properties have increased in quality and viewership exponentially; so much so, in fact, that they have become tentpole franchises, and embedded in pop culture. However, there is always room for improvement. There is one singular problem that has popped up on Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl — and that problem has to do with individual character arcs.
This problem first became apparent on Arrow in the first season. It has continued since then, and is one of the most frustrating things I have come across in terms of a character's progression (or lack thereof). Across all four shows, the characters of the CW have a tendency to constantly revert back to their former selves, in spite of any progress they seem to make episode-to-episode. The number one offender of this troupe is The Green Arrow himself: Oliver Queen. He is not alone of course; he brings his band of merry men, who also seem to suffer from this same chronic amnesia. Let's take a look at each of the shows, and the characters that this problem effects.
Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), you have failed this city! Well, not so much as 'failed this city' as 'failed to learn anything across 5 seasons'. For all of his achievements, The Green Arrow has failed to learn any lessons about the importance of teamwork. To elaborate; Oliver Queen will have overcome some sort of emotional obstacle in a previous episode, only to tackle the same emotional obstacle in the exact same manner that he did before. This trend of repetitive mini character arcs in any given episode may seem like just regular story telling; however, in the long run, they are hurting the progress of the show (although seasons 3 and 4 arguable already did that own their own).
This season, we've been introduced to The Green Arrow's new team of heroes — but not immediately, because just like in Season One, Oliver goes through a phase of insisting he works better alone. He seems to have conveniently forgotten that any victory he has ever had comes with the help of his team. The argument can be made that he is still mourning the loss of Laurel (Katie Cassidy), and doesn't want to put anyone in danger. But that seems like a moot point, seeing as he has already asked Thea (Willa Holland) to don her suit and help him out.
To better describe this arc on Arrow specifically, I'm going to map out the specific events that occur in order and so you can see if it looks familiar:
- Oliver comes across a new problem
- Felicity convinces him to that he needs help
- Oliver acts like a douche and pushes the people he asked for help away
- Felicity gives Oliver a speech about trusting people
- Oliver learns his lesson, rights his wrongs, and the episode ends
- Rinse and repeat
This specific arc showed up early in this season, and it was a driving force in the episode. The recruitment of Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez), Evelyn Sharp (Madison McLaughlin), and Mr. Terrific (Echo Kellum) was done in the same fashion as every other hero (including The Flash) that Oliver has worked with. Mr. Queen's trust issues never seem to go away. He does get over them by the end of each episode, but across multiple seasons, there seems to have been zero long-term growth.
Oliver Queen is not the only member of the Arrowverse that falls victim to this unrelenting cycle. The Flash has a character or two that does this as well. It does manifest itself in different ways, but at its core, it's the same thing. Let us hop on over to Central City and see what The Flash characters are up to.
The Flash is just as guilty of under-developing its characters as its Star City counterpart. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) himself constantly causes problems with time-travel. The Flash Season 3 has so far been dedicated to fixing the problems Barry himself created when he went back in time and created the Flashpoint universe. However, after the events of Flashpoint, we're seeing a changed Barry Allen — one who seems genuinely repentant about his time-travelling shenanigans, and who's committed to righting his wrongs. He is evolving quite nicely as a character, and this season seems dead-set on finishing off that whole time travel business.
The real culprit for never learning a damn thing is Earth-2's Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). I'm sure that being one of the smartest men in the multiverse makes it had to learn anything new, but he and Oliver are two peas in a horrible pod. In the episode titled 'Magenta', we see the return of Harry and his speed-force infused daughter, Jesse Quick (Violett Beane). Within minutes of their arrival, every single lesson Harry learned about teamwork, trust, and being an overbearing father went completely out the window.
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Last season we saw his tyrannical parenting technique cause Jesse to flee into a world she was unfamiliar with. Unfortunately we can't blame Flashpoint for his amnesia either, since it did not affect Earth-2. Again, 'Magenta' gave us an example of a character arc which filled up the episode, but trod ground the character has already covered.
Even time travelers seem to fall victim to this trope. The Legends of Tomorrow gang are the worst when it comes to committing acts of character sabotage. All aboard the Waverider, as we blast off to see what the Legends are doing across time and space.
Legends of Tomorrow
All bow before the the fury of Firestorm! Well, less fury, more 'petty squabbling'. Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh) have the ability to come together and become the nuclear man himself. They have a psychic connection that allows them to bond in harmony — only, they aren't very harmonious at all.
When Firestorm was introduced on The Flash, Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) and Dr. Stein made up both halves of the Firestorm equation. For the most part, they had a symbiotic relationship. Ronnie's bravery mixed with Stein's pure intellect was a wonderful combination. However, they made the ultimate sacrifice in the finale of the first season of The Flash: Ronnie Raymond perished while collapsing the singularity, but Dr. Stein was saved by The Flash. We came to learn that The Firestorm Matrix can not be sustained by just one person. Team Flash set out and found Jefferson Jackson, and he reluctantly became the other half of Firestorm.
The first season of Legends of Tomorrow saw both halves of Firestorm going through their own personal struggles. Jefferson tried to tackle what it means to be a hero and a teammate, while Stein had to curb his arrogance whilst he was still mourning the death of his friend Ronnie. Jefferson and Stein bicker like an old married couple, but they seem to figure out how to work together and view their differences as strengths by the end of the season.
Fast forward to present day (or technically World War II) to the latest episode of Legends of Tomorrow. The absence of Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) has the team in disarray and desperately in need of a new leader, prompting Dr. Stein to step up to the plate and try to command a team. He quickly starts to implode and, as a result, lash out at those around him. Refusing to rationally talk about his problems with Jefferson, Stein makes things worse. These are the same sort of character defects we've seen him overcome before.
Dr. Stein realizes his error in judgement towards the end of the episode, and appoints Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) as leader of the team. This was a wise decision from Dr. Stein which fits who he is as a character. He is an intelligent and wise man; his arrogance and temper are a part of him but we already saw him overcome them. It is becoming quite tiresome to have the sort of repetitive character arcs that we're more used to seeing on a sitcom than on a superhero show. There must be a better way to push the narrative forward without compromising the characters on a regular basis.
The new girl on the block has absolutely proved herself in the realm of superhero shows. Supergirl had a huge premier on The CW, and is totally reshaping the landscape of the show. When it was on CBS, we saw Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) evolve into a strong and independent woman, as well as a superhero.
Due to all the changes (moving networks is a big one), they are re-arranging things, so the show gets more of a pass on certain character arcs. Last season we saw Kara and Jimmy Olsen (Mechad Brooks) finally get together, only to scratch that idea and go in a different direction. This makes the entire romantic arc from last season null and void. This is largely because Brooks is not a full-time cast member, which makes this narrative choice somewhat understandable.
There is, however, one use of a mini-arc in the latest episode that is not so easily explained. Kara has overcome man obstacles and has become a stronger woman for it. That makes it surprising when all that progress can be thrown out the window. In the episode titled 'The Last Children of Krypton', Kara takes a step backwards when she starts he new job as a reporter. Her new boss Snapper Carr (Ian Gomez) treats her like a disobedient child.
Watch the Snapper Carr introduction below:
She does stand up to him by the end, but it is the same treatment that she fought to move past with Cat Grant (Calista Flockheart) in the first season. On the bright side, Supergirl is a more likable character than the others I have mentioned before, so it's easier to forgive her when her character moves backwards.
All the other characters on Supergirl are pretty well fleshed-out and are evolving in a logical way. At times it seems that Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) is moving backwards, but he is just stubborn. When it comes down to it he moves forward in a very natural way and reacts to each situation differently than the last.
Each season, we get to see The CW characters we've come to love grow. However, when the next season starts, it makes it that much harder to see them revert to their old ways. The problem of character regression obviously not a big problem, but it boils down to lazy writing. When a foil is needed to propel a story forward, the writers seem to be reaching backwards, rather than prioritizing character development. How many times can we focus on Oliver Queen's trust issues, Harrison Well's overbearing parenting, Dr. Martin Stein's arrogance, Jefferson Jackson's immaturity, or Kara Danver's inability to stand up for herself?
On the whole, the shows are leaps and bounds ahead of what we all thought was possible from a CW superhero show. So besides certain characters being slightly annoying, or having too big of a role in a certain show, the mini-arcs are an acceptable flaw in the overall narrative.
These wonderful shows are sure to keep going and spawn many more in their wake. For now you can watch: Supergirl at 8PM/ET on Monday, The Flash 8PM/ET on Tuesday, Arrow 8PM/ET on Wednesday, and Legends of Tomorrow 8PM/ET on Thursday.
Sound Off! Do you agree with the character regression problem? ? Let it be known in the comments below!