With so many superhero TV shows out there, writers look for ways to make their latest series stand out. More often than not, keeping things interesting requires plot twists — lots of them. A good twist can bring new depth to a show, ratcheting up the tension. A great plot twist can turn a promising franchise into a must-watch phenomenon. Perhaps somewhere there’s an article about the best twists in superhero TV shows, but this isn’t that article. Instead, this spoiler-filled article catalogs the twists that didn’t work, the ones that made die-hard fans cringe.
While some terrible twists can be overlooked if the characters, one-liners, or even just the fight scenes are compelling enough, these twists turn following the plot into a feat of physical and mental endurance. Before the twist, every show on this list was at one time compulsively watchable. Now, it’s a shadow of what it could have been. Of course, the power of twists works both ways. The same show that one twist wrecks, another can correct, so there’s still hope for the more modern shows on this list — no saving shows like Smallville and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, sadly. Sit back and enjoy our list of the worst twists that ruined great superhero shows.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for many superhero TV shows.
15. CLARK LUTHOR (SMALLVILLE)
Bizarro came to the town of Smallville in season 6. Apparently, one evil Superman wasn’t enough for the writers, so they brought in Clark Luthor for the tenth and final season. When Smallville‘s version of Ultraman crossed over from his dimension, the show already had a bunch of loose narrative threads. It didn’t need another.
In case the dark suits and stone-cold stares don’t tip you off, the show goes the extra mile by having Clark Luthor murder his adoptive brother Lex. The so-called “Dark Clark” storyline should’ve been shut down the moment somebody in the Smallville writers’ room asked, “What if Lionel Luthor raised Kal-El as his son, and Superman had to fight his evil doppelganger?” That should’ve been the end of it. Clark Luthor is Bizarro minus the jagged face and minus the fun.
14. JULIAN’S BIG SURPRISE (FLASH)
The Flash had a good thing going, its best asset being a talented ensemble cast. Then season 3 happened, and became Quantum Leap: Barry Allen Edition, with all timelines centering on what Barry does and doesn’t do. The cost of this shift in focus is that potentially interesting characters get pushed to the sidelines. Case in point, Julian Albert (Tom Felton) should have been a compelling character.
Crime scene investigator Julian Albert is actually Earth-One’s Dr. Alchemy, an avatar and harbinger of Savitar. Julian antagonizes Barry Allen for a few episodes, reveals his true identity, and finally tussles with the titular speedster for a few brief moments. With his arc tidily resolved, Julian becomes part of the team and fades blandly into the background. It’s just as well, because every time he’s on screen, you wish he had been given more to do.
13. IS PENGUIN PSYCHIC? (GOTHAM)
Compared to Legends of Tomorrow with its Time Drive and The Flash with its funky physics, Gotham is reasonably straightforward. That doesn’t make it immune to strange twists, though. The show’s best moments are interactions between Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot and future Commissioner James Gordon and they’re only possible thanks to one heck of a twist. Early on in the series, Penguin gets an impossible read on Gordon.
Gordon gets tasked with offing him to please the crime bosses who actually run Gotham. Somehow, from their unceremonious introduction behind Fish Mooney’s establishment, Penguin senses that Gordon is incapable of killing in cold blood. His sense is right. Gordon fakes killing Cobblepot, effectively writing his own death warrant. The question remains. How does Penguin know Gordon will spare his life?
12. RA’S AL GHUL’S DEATH (ARROW)
Ra’s al Ghul’s bioterrorism plot in Arrow is underwhelming in scope and execution. For a climactic battle, the showdown on top of the dam ends much too soon. Oliver just stabs him and Ra’s keels over, proud to have chosen the “right” successor. Fans are then made to endure Oliver giving a cheesy speech to his team. He turns to Felicity and proclaims his love for her (right in front of Laurel!) and then calls it quits as the Arrow.
So what’s the problem with all this? For starters, Ra’s al Ghul is a terrifying villain in the comics. In the Arrowverse, however, he’s just a centuries-old guy with a sword and an implacable accent who speaks in pseudo-proverbs and tacky truisms. His skills with a sword are strong but there’s nothing remotely scary or menacing about him. He’s the General Grievous of the Arrowverse. What a missed opportunity!
11. OLIVER QUEEN, THRILL KILLER (ARROW)
Early on in his career as a secret vigilante, Oliver Queen kills to protect his identity. When he kills on purpose, it’s typically after some serious brooding on the matter, or else it happens in the heat of battle. For instance, remember how long it took for him to decide whether to kill Slade Wilson in season 2? Skip ahead to season 5, and it’s a totally different story.
Under interrogation by Prometheus, Oliver admits that he kills people because he enjoys it, for the thrill. As a confession, it’s coerced, and if Prometheus were a law enforcement officer and not a suicidal serial-killer, it wouldn’t stand up in court. That said, it’s a bad look, if not for Oliver then for the writers of Arrow. Did they even watch the other seasons of the show before they worked on season 5?
10. ISN’T COULSON DEAD? (AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has some logical issues, chief among them is the fact that Phil Coulson is even alive in it. Loki mortally wounded Coulson in The Avengers, and Coulson dies on screen after a conversation with Nick Fury. The fact is, we see Coulson stop breathing, stare off, and die. Fans had to wait a full 10 episodes before they’d learn the truth about Coulson.
Indeed, Coulson is dead at the end of The Avengers. Then, at some point, Nick Fury and a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors “move heaven and earth” to reanimate him using super-secret sci-fi technology. That’s when they implant false memories of Tahiti. Tahiti may indeed be “a magical place,” but it’s also where the messiest retcon in the MCU happened.
9. RIP HUNTER, AMERICAN EDITION (LEGENDS OF TOMORROW)
Legends of Tomorrow is DC’s superhero-filled take on Quantum Leap, with a touch of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In Season 2, a close encounter with the Time Drive gives formerly AWOL team leader Rip Hunter a case of amnesia, an American accent, and a new identity. In this new reality, he’s a sci-fi director, whose current project is a story about the exploits of Rip Hunter. The twist doesn’t really go anywhere.
For one thing, it’s a transparent narrative change to accommodate actor Arthur Darvill’s busy schedule. In typical Legends of Tomorrow fashion, Rip befriends an annoying caricature of future Star Wars creator George Lucas. That’s another strike against the multiverse’s most punchable rogue Time Master. The show already had one too many cheeky pop culture references bogging it down.
8. COTTONMOUTH’S DEATH (LUKE CAGE)
Luke Cage started out strong with an awesome hero and great villains. That said, as fun to watch as Diamondback and Shades are, there’s no better villain than Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali). By far, the smoothest villain to appear in all of Marvel’s Netflix series (no offense, Kilgrave), Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes lorded over his nightclub like a smooth-talking tyrant.
So imagine fans’ surprise when he was killed off mid-season by Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), his closest would-be ally! Here we thought we were watching the lead-up to an epic Luke Cage versus Cottonmouth showdown. Instead, we’re forced to watch his death by forcible defenestration. Despite valiant efforts from Mike Colter and Alfre Woodard to keep the series interesting, when Mariah pushed him out of the window, the show went with him.
7. BUFFY’S SISTER DAWN (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER)
Nothing can atone for the way Buffy’s little sister was introduced. Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) joined Buffy The Vampire Slayer in season 5’s premiere, and it was the equivalent of someone you’ve known for four years suddenly saying, “Oh, by the way, I have a sister, and she is going to be a big part of my life now.” No, you don’t, Buffy. Yet, for several episodes in season 5, Dawn is just accepted into Buffy’s clique.
Fans were baffled. Given Joss Whedon’s history of (more or less) respecting continuity, it was a virtually inexplicable retcon. “Blood Ties” resolved the discrepancy, explaining that their memories had been magically altered, making them all believe that Dawn had always been around. You see, Dawn isn’t human. She’s the human-looking form of The Key to the Hell Dimension.
6. WALLY’S DEATH (YOUNG JUSTICE)
At its best, Cartoon Network’s Young Justice reminded fans of the glory days of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: Beyond. Its unceremonious cancellation crushed us. With Artemis’s help, Wally West, AKA Kid Flash, plays a crucial role in destroying the Magnetic Field Disruptors. Victorious, the happy superpowered couple shares a kiss. For a moment, all seems right.
Sadly, it doesn’t last. Shortly thereafter, Kid Flash helps the Flash and Impulse use their speed to destroy another of the Reach’s weapons: the gravity-disrupting chrysalis. This time, though, Kid Flash isn’t fast enough and an energy blast obliterates him from existence. Is it tragic and poignant? You bet. At the same time, it’s a contrived and predictable rehash of old tropes, and it kills off one of the show’s more interesting characters. Let’s hope Young Justice: Outsiders, its long-awaited successor, avoids similar narrative pitfalls when it premieres in 2018.
5. OLIVER’S ILLEGITIMATE SON (ARROW)
When writers want viewers to feel invested, they put some defenseless character in mortal peril. Then the hero swoops in at the last possible moment. William Clayton, Oliver Queen’s illegitimate son, is Arrow‘s defenseless bargaining chip. The poor kid gets kidnapped twice, once by Prometheus and again by Damien Darhk. Everything about him says he’s a cheap narrative ploy.
We first learn of the kid and his mother Samantha Clayton in season 2 of Arrow. Then there’s radio silence for an entire season, only for William to appear on screen in the middle of season 4. Then Prometheus takes both of them hostage on Lian Yu, the same island Oliver was stranded on. Oliver rescues William, Samantha dies when the bombs go off, and Arrow fans are left to reminisce about the days when this show was actually really good.
4. GRANT WARD, BAD GUY (AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Grant Ward (Brett Dalton)’s heel turn from Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to a tool of Hive surprised no one. By no fault of the actor portraying him, the character’s snideness grated on fans’ nerves from the first season onward, which admittedly is the point, so he did his job. His downward spiral, however, culminates in a scene that’s shocking for all the wrong reasons.
In yet another instance of Marvel’s writers killing off a female character to emotionally wound a male one, Ward guns down Phil Coulson’s girlfriend, Rosalind Price, in cold blood. We get it, Marvel. Grant Ward is irredeemable. Frankly, the twist isn’t shocking. What’s really shocking is how such an annoying two-faced dirtbag got hired by S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place. Go away, Grant. Nobody likes you.
3. DAVIS BLOOME IS DOOMSDAY’S VESSEL (SMALLVILLE)
Smallville‘s creators found workarounds. “How do we get Doomsday on the show when we clearly don’t have the budget for it?” someone must have asked in the writers’ room. The answer that they came up with was to have a human-looking actor stand in for Doomsday. It’s the oldest trick in the book when you’ve got a creature-feature script that’s beyond the scope of your budget.
There was a ton of hype about the fact that Doomsday would finally make an appearance. And he does, but it isn’t nearly as cool as it should’ve been. Davis Bloome, otherwise known as that annoying guy with the crush on Chloe, is actually Doomsday’s humanoid vessel. When he finally transforms into Doomsday, he looks about as convincing as the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
2. BATDAD (BATMAN: BEYOND)
Bruce Wayne is Terry McGinnis’s father. It may sound like another tired story of how much Bruce Wayne gets around, but it’s actually far worse. As a result of Amanda Waller’s top-secret Batman Beyond program, Terry McGinnis was literally born to be the next Batman. Waller injected Warren McGinnis with DNA-rewriting nanotechnology. Then the tiny robots transformed Warren’s DNA into a copy of Bruce Wayne’s at the moment that Terry was conceived.
The story arc fails on different levels. Primarily, it’s far-fetched even by DC Comics’ standards. Why would Batman’s successor need to be a blood relative? Furthermore, it’s unnecessary. Finally, it’s a nightmare for everyone involved. Not only is a young couple secretly robbed of their progeny, but a boy’s life is deliberately sabotaged. The only saving grace is that it could’ve been even grimmer. Waller’s original plan involved hiring the Phantasm to kill Terry’s parents. Sound familiar?
1. QUENTIN LANCE IS DEPUTY MAYOR (ARROW)
Arrow should be called Quentin Lance Fails Upward. His resume baffles the mind. In season one, then-Detective Lance openly condones vigilantism. His boss takes the appropriate action and suspends him immediately. Shortly after his suspension, Lance blunders his way into a promotion to Police Captain. Apparently, having a serious disciplinary record is no hindrance to getting a promotion at the Star City Police Department.
Eventually, Captain Lance gets himself fired and consoles himself by binge drinking. Then, in a twist that shuns logic and glorifies nepotism, the career screw-up gets the stupidest ultimatum: quit drinking and Thea Queen will give him a gig as Deputy Mayor. Surely, Star City’s taxpayers won’t mind. As a twist, it’s worse than the township electing the shape-shifting barkeep as Mayor in season 7 of True Blood.
Which TV plot twists tied you into knots? Let us know in the comments!
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