A Crisis Is Coming
Arrowverse 2018/2019 Season: Week 10
So this is it, the time has come for the annual Arrowverse crossover event. In the past we've seen the rise of legends, an invasion of aliens, and an attack by an alternate world populated by Nazis. This year we get another reality-bending event: "Elseworlds".
Obviously, as this is the biggest event of the season (unless the producers pull a secret rabbit out of their hat at the end of the year), we're going to cover "Elseworlds" as the primary topic this week. Everything else is shunted to the side no matter how fun they might have been (sorry, Legends). So let's dive into a new reality with "Elseworlds".
The Flash, Season 5, Episode 9: Elseworlds, Part 1
This week the CW has rearranged the schedule of the episodes, moving The Flash to Sunday and pushing Supergirl all the way over to Tuesday. While it seems weird from a scheduling perspective, it actually makes sense within the confines of the episodes themselves. We start with Oliver Queen waking up in Central City, in the bed of Barry Allen. Confused, without a clue what's going on, he stumbles out into Barry's apartment and is greeted by Iris, Barry's wife, who seems to think Oliver is actually Barry. And it's not just Iris as everyone in Barry's life -- Cisco, Caitlin, Ralph, and Sherloque -- all think Oliver is Barry Allen. Hell, Oliver has Barry's powers but he still has his own memories. Since no one else will believe him, Oliver runs (super fast) to the only person who might: Oliver Queen in Star City.
That's where we meet up with Barry Allen in the life of Oliver Queen. Much like how Oliver has Barry's life and powers but Oliver's own memories, Barry has similarly found himself in Oliver's life, with his training and past, but with Barry's own memories. The two have a confab and determine that the only way to solve the problem is to go back to Central City, convince the rest of the team that something is wrong, and then figure out a way to solve it. If only the team would listen to them. Instead of believing the story, they knock out Barry and Oliver and lock them in the pipeline. The two heroes are forced to escape and run to the only other person who might trust them: Kara Danvers/Supergirl over on Earth-38.
Getting over to Earth-38, they find Kara who, thankfully, instantly recognizes them. Bringing her into the fold, along with her cousin Clark/Superman, the team heads back to Earth to try and find a way to put everything right. While they're there, though, they also end up having to battle a second threat: a powerful robot, AMAZO, that can copy meta powers. Fighting the robot helps them convince the team of who they are and, in the process, allows each of the confused men to find a way to deal with their new-found powers, at least temporarily. As for finding a solution to the problem, well, that apparently lies over in Gotham City...
I will admit that initially I found the who setup for this crossover a little weird. The changes to reality are caused by the Monitor working with an insane doctor, John Deegan, for reasons that won't be explained until the next episode. All the explanation we get so far is that the Monitor give Deegan a book that can change reality at will and Deegan's first two moves are to (a) give himself a job at Arkham Asylum (thus why we're headed to Gotham in the next episode) and (b) screw around with reality by switch the lives of two heroes. While I kind of understand the first one -- we are given the impression that Deegan has fallen on hard times and just wants respect -- why muck around with the heroes. If anything, but screwing around with Barry and Oliver it sets them on the trail that eventually leads to the doctor. Basic villain 101 should be not to do anything to get noticed by the very people that will take you down.
Also, if he messed up reality and made it so everyone thought Oliver was Barry and vice versa, why not change their memories as well? Sure, maybe the thought was that in the confusion of everything the two heroes would be vastly less effective than they normally are. Or it could be that the Monitor wants them to retain their memories (for reasons that will come clear soon). Suffice it to say, though, that none of it is ever properly explained -- changes to reality happen and yet the heroes retain their memories. There's no solid justification for that without a lot of superhero hand-waving.
And yet, despite this, I found myself really enjoying this episode. Sure, as noted, the crossover plotting was a tad forced, but damn if the episode wasn't fun. Both Amell (Oliver Queen) and Gustin (Barry Allen) have fun in these new, tweaked roles and the writers mine a ton of humor out of the situation. Both characters are cracking joked, poking fun at each other, and just having a blast with this crossover. This episode feels like a direct answer to all the people complaining that, "these shows have gotten so damn serious. Where's the fun?" The fun was apparently getting stored up and was unleashed all at once for this crossover.
Arrow, Season 7, Episode 9: Elseworlds, Part 2
Okay, so the heroes know they have to get to Gotham. Their goal (as illuminated by Cisco and a vision he had of the Monitor, Deegan, and the mystical book) is to find Deegan, find the book, and fix reality. There's only one problem: Gotham is a desperately lawless place, in no small part because its protector, Batman, left years ago and hasn't been seen anywhere since. However, while the heroes get into trouble in Gotham and cause one big mess after another, they do get bailed out by Batwoman, the new protector of Gotham (who we also learn is secretly Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne's cousin). Bats aids the heroes, keeping them alive, and helps them get the book out of Gotham, but only so the heroes will leave as well (they're just too much trouble).
Book in hand, the heroes return to their team and try to find a way to open the book. However, the Monitor gets in the way again, stealing the book back and returning it to Deegan. His reasons: a crisis is coming, something that destroy all realities everywhere, and he has to test each world to find one worthy of saving. He then allows Deegan to make bigger changes to the world, stripping Barry and Oliver of their powers and casting them to the lowest dregs of the criminal underworld. Worse: Superman is on their tails.
While this episode is still fun, and just about as amusing as the Flash opener, I will admit that the plotting of this one is even weaker than the previous episode. A lot of stuff happens, to be sure, but it all blurs by very quickly and not much lands with any impact. Of course, much of that is because the heroes more or less end up back where they started when the whole adventure began. We start the episode with them needing to get the book from Deegan and fix reality and we end with them once again needing to get the book and fix reality. Sure, their situation is worse by the end of the episode, but fundamentally nothing has changed about the story. That means, from a story standpoint, this whole episode is a total wash. Five seconds in, Deegan could have said, "hey, let's change reality further" and nothing that occurred in this episode would have had to happen.
Outside the main story, though, one major thing does occur: the introduction of Kate Kane/Batwoman (played by Ruby Rose) and Gotham City. Although we don't get a lot of time with Batwoman (since she's not the focus on this episode), her inclusion into the story allows the Arrowverse writers to do a fair bit of world building, fleshing out the implications of a world with a Gotham City but no Batman (or Robin, Nightwing, or the like). It allows for an explanation of how other heroes (like Green Arrow and Flash) could have risen up on this Earth without a Batman or Superman to go along with -- Kara theorizes her pod never showed up, but I think the greater implication is that Krypton never exploded to begin with and, maybe, without the lighter influence of Superman to balance out Batman, Bats gave into his own darkness and lost himself, leaving Gotham behind. It's an interesting take on the world, one I hope they explore further in the future.
Of course, obviously the show can't use any of popular Batman heroes aside from Batwoman because Batman is tied up in movie deals, young Bruce Wayne and all his villains are stuck on Gotham, and Robin/Nightwing and his ilk are up on the DC Universe site. I don't know who all is going to show up on the new Batwoman show coming out next year, but we certainly are in for an interesting take on the material simply by grace of this universe contractual limitations.
That said, Batwoman really doesn't serve much of a purpose in this episode either, and just about everything here (solid world building or no) could have been cut and no one would have cared. It reminds me of the big crossover event from a few years earlier, "Heroes Join Forces", which put together the teams from Arrow and The Flash along with Hawkman and Hawkgirl to deal with Vandal Savage. All of this was setup for Legends of Tomorrow, the first season of which continued this plot line. The problem was the crossover strained under the weight of that setup and the episodes never came together. The problem is similar here with the strain of a larger story butting up against a ton of new world building for the Batwoman back-door pilot. It would have simply been better to ditch the Gotham elements, much as I liked them, to focus on the "Elseworlds" story.
- As a side note, John Wesley Shipp was promoted as being in this crossover playing his original character, Barry Allen, from the 1990s The Flash. While that is true (and the inclusion of his world as "Earth-90" was a nice touch), his cameos were barely there appearances. I would have liked more of him in the plot just to make this feel like a real connection between the universes.
Supergirl, Season 4, Episode 9: Elseworlds, Part 3
So now we're in a truly different universe. Barry and Oliver are de-powered criminals, Supergirl is locked up in Star Labs (with her powers dampened enough that she can't escape), and Deegan has remade himself into the Superman of this world (based on Supes' brief appearance on Earth-1 back in the first episode of this crossover). Superman-Deegan now controls the world as its one and only "hero", and everyone worships him like a god. The only way to fix things, then, is to find someone powerful enough to fight the evil Superman-Deegan while the rest of the heroes make a grab for the reality-altering books.
Enter the true Superman of Earth-38. Oliver and Barry convince this reality's Cisco (who is a criminal underworld boss) to warp them over to Earth-38, and once they're there the heroes get Superman to come back to Earth-1 to fight the evil Supes. Meanwhile, Kara's warden is Alex Danvers (the Earth-1 version of Kara's Earth-38 adopted sister), but after talking to Alex long enough, she convinces the woman to let her out of prison. They end up meeting back up with the other heroes, all at Star Labs, and go questing for the book. With the tome in hand, they run it out to Superman-38 who, apparently, knows how to use it to fix reality (in a moment that's mentioned and then quickly hand-waved away). He's able to restore Flash, Green Arrow, and Supergirl to their rightful powers, but then Superman-Deegan gets the book back and tries changing things further.
This back and forth struggle leads Kara and Barry to attempt a move that could, in the process, kill them both. Ollie, meanwhile, goes in search of the Monitor to strike a deal to save his friends, and Earth-1. We don't see what is agreed upon between the two, but suddenly the magical book burns itself out (possibly by Kara and Barry's doing), both those heroes survive the maneuver, and reality is suddenly restored. Everything's great, I guess? Heroes are happy, Deegan (now weirdly mutated by the magic) is locked in Arkham, and the world goes back to spinning once more.
I don't know if it was clear here but I found the resolution of this whole storyline rather lackluster. It all feels like the writers setup a horrible, worst-case scenario at the start of the episode and then didn't really have a strong idea of how to fix it exactly. There's a lot of mumbo-jumbo, a fair bit of waving details away because they're just not important (supposedly), and then a quick resolution without explanation. It's very comic book-y and shallow, leaving me less than pleased by the final result.
Now, sure, the actors do a great job with their characters -- hell, they've all been playing them for years and years at this point -- and the interactions between the heroes are still just as zippy and fun as they were at the start of this three-episode epic. It's just that for a grand finale, nothing really felt grand or final. Sure, this particular threat is resolved, but the show almost immediately teases "Crisis on Infinite Earths" for next year, showing the story isn't really resolved. The adventure is over, but we're left waiting for the other shoe to drop (and waiting a year at that).
And I think back, once more, to the "Heroes Join Forces" crossover and the similarities stand-out so strongly. Both crossovers had a lot of plot to setup, a future event to lead to. In the process, they both lose their way, never quite hitting the marks for the story so that the whole event feels satisfying. I liked "Elseworlds" a lot more than "Heroes Join Forces", largely because this set of episodes was fun (if shallow), but I'm still left wishing they could have handled this event better. Setting up "Crisis" is a big deal, to be sure, but maybe they could have found a way to do it at the start of next season (or, right before that big crossover event) instead of wasting three episodes on it now.
- If they're doing a proper "Crisis on Infinite Earths" story, they better use it to merge all the universes together so I don't have to write crap like "Alex of Earth 1, this world's version of Kara's adopted sister from Earth-38" and the like ever again. Please, CW, make this stuff easier on me.
- Also, and maybe this is a bit nit-picky, but for a crossover called "Elseworlds" I really don't feel like we got a good "Elseworlds" tale. There was no visiting "Gotham by Gaslight" or a version of Earth for "Red Son" or "The Nail". Sure, reality was altered a bit, but it wasn't a really deep exploration of a new Earth the way a DC "Elseworld" is supposed to be.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
- While the big news was the three episode event, we did have a few other happenings to catch up on. The week started with Titans where (as I suspected last week) the big awakening of Starfire, sending her after Raven, is ignored to instead follow the origin story of Hawk and Dove. While I liked this episode for what it was, I really wish it could have come earlier in the season (or been interspersed as a B-plot throughout the season). Plus, were Hawk and Dove ever part of the Titans? I'm gonna have to research this at some point.
- Were it not for "Elseworlds", Legends of Tomorrow would have taken the top slot for episode coverage. This week's episode finds Charlie and Constantine trying to fix the shattered time line they created last episode. It's a fun, funny, brilliant episode that pokes so much fun at both the Legends team and the Legends show at the same time. Seriously, seeing the show do takes on the A-Team, Charlie's Angels, and Sesame Street (with puppets, no less) is a real treat. The fact that they worked it all organically into the show as well makes it so much better.
- Sadly, the end of the week episode from Black Lightning couldn't quite bring it all home. Jennifer and Kahlil are still on the run, fleeing from both her family and the assassin (hired by Tobias Whale) on his tail. Much like last week, though, nothing really happens. Sure, again, there's a lot of running around, and Jennifer gets more familiar with her powers, but at the end of the episode everyone is still on the run, a new assassin is seemingly on their tails, and everyone is still worried about Jennifer. Plus, we still have no clue what Tobias is planning. Come on, Black Lightning, and give us a real story before your season ends!