It's the End of the World As We Know It (Again)
Arrowverse 2021/2022 Season: Armageddon
The yearly crossover event of the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming. is the biggest draw for fans each year. Since the very first crossover event, "The Brave and the Bold", the CW has made great hay out of their crossovers as, traditionally, they've also delivered the best ratings for any of their shows. It's like "Sweeps Week" but all superheroes. "Heroes Join Forces", "Invasion!", "Crisis on Earth X", "Elseworlds", and "Crisis on Infinite Earths" have each worked like gangbusters for the Network's bottom line.
Of course, COVID got in the way of all that. Although "Crisis on Infinite Earths" was supposed to mark the end of big crossover events (at least for a time), the network still wanted to do smaller crossovers, and the first was going to be on Superman & Lois and Batwoman. Lock-down requirements put the kibosh on that. Even a potential cameo for Kara on Superman's show couldn't happen. Times haven't changed drastically, with COVID numbers still high and the producers gun shy about putting too many people on one set, so instead of a big crossover event we, instead, get a "crossover" on a single show: The Flash: Armageddon.
The idea of doing a crossover on a single show has some merit: you only need one production team to handle it all. The crossover can have a specific voice because only one set of writers are handling all the episodes. Logistically it does make sense. In practice, though... maybe the Flash wasn't the best show to attempt this on...
The Flash: Armageddon
I've groused enough about this show last season that I don't feel like I need to go into all the numerous ways this series has fallen far, far from grace. The fact is that this is a show long past its prime and, I have to think, on any network not named "The CW" it probably already would have been put out to pasture long ago (along with most or all of the Arrowverse, if we're being real here). Somehow it clings on, though, and I'm sure the CW was hoping that a big crossover even on The Flash would help to goose its ratings. The first issue I have, though: shouldn't a crossover actually involve characters from shows that are, you know, on-going?
The cast of characters that Barry interacts with over the course of this five-part event include: Ray Palmer / The Atom (formerly of Legends of Tomorrow but no longer on the cast), Jefferson Pierce / Black Lightning (formerly of the canceled Black Lightning), Alex Danvers / Sentinel (formerly of the now canceled Supergirl), Ryan Wilder / Batwoman (hey, she has a show going on right now, wow), Damien Dahrk (who was a villain on many 'verse shows that weren't The Flash), Nora Dahrk (who left the cast of Legends of Tomorrow), and Mia Queen / Green Arrow II (of the failed pilot "Green Arrow and the Canaries"). That's one person that is actually in a main show right now, and even she barely features in the crossover for any length of time.
Now, let's not debate semantics here. I raise the point only to wonder whether this whole five-part episode would have been better served if the show hadn't tried to awkwardly shoe-horn in various guest stars when there are plenty of characters in the main cast that could have handled any of the jobs on the show. So let's recap what all happens and see who was actually essential and who wasn't, evaluating this crossover first on its merits as a crossover:
- Episode One sees Barry meet Despero (Tony Curran), a villain (well, he styles himself a "protector") from the future who has come to the past to kill Barry Allen because, a decade later, Barry will try to destroy the Earth. Barry is joined in his first fight against Despero by Ray Palmer who is in Central City to attend a science convention (where he is the keynote speaker). After their fight, which Ray assist in by jumping (at a tiny level) into Despero's belt and screwing with the tech, this sending the villain back to the future (for a time), Barry then has a solo confrontation with Despero where hero and villain agree to a truce while Despero evaluates whether Barry is on the verge of going insane or not.
- Episode Two Barry has to confront a villain, Xotar, who can drive people crazy. Barry suspects that Xotar may be what could drive him mad, via her powers, so he goes out of his way to stop her. Unfortunately she drives him mad, twice, causing him to first attack his team and then attack the city. The latter attack he has no memory of at all. Worse, after defeating Xotar, Barry finds out that Joe died... months ago. Barry has no memory of this. Suddenly. Barry losing his mind seems pretty realistic, so he does the only thing he can think of: he calls up his buddy Black Lightning.
- Episode Three picks up at the Hall of Justice with Barry asking Jefferson to remove his powers, using Black Lightning's electric powers to overload Barry's body like a fuse, blowing out his connection to the Speed Force. Eventually Jeff reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, the rest of Team Flash work to track Barry down. Some believe he's actually crazy while others (Iris included) think he's been duped and framed. In culminates with Iris (aided by the lord of the Still Force) finding Barry just as Despero gets there. His powers depleted, he's sent to the future by Iris so that he can see what actually causes Armageddon.
- Episode Four is set in that future with Barry coming upon the wedding party for Iris and Eobard Thawn, Barry's nemesis the Reverse Flash. Everyone hates Barry, for some reason, and Barry assumes it's because he went insane in the past, so to prove he's still the good Flash he pulls out his costume only to realize he's actually the Reverse Flash now. Eobard then reveals that he's actually the good Flash. Apparently Eobard went back in time and changed events, creating multiple Reverse Flashpoints, erasing Barry as the Flash and inserting himself instead. The only way for Barry to fix everything is to find a way to change time back, and to do that he aligns himself with Damien Dahrk. The evil sorcerer is alive in this timeline while his daughter, Nora, is dead, so eventually Damien agrees to aid Barry to save his own daughter. Barry travels through time, activating Damien's Time Stone, and the magic of techno-babble resets the timeline.
- Episode Five, our finale, sees Barry back in the proper timeline, everything reset and back to normal. However, Despero is still angry with Barry because in the future, to save the timeline, Barry nearly destroyed the Earth... even though, when you think about it, that was a different timeline, Barry didn't really exist as Barry, none of that should happen now, and everything is fine. Plus, Eobard is back, as the Reverse Flash, and he asks for Barry's help so that he's not removed from the timeline (again). So Team Flash suits up to stop Despero while looking for a way to save Eobard (despite their better judgment), stop Despero, and save the day. Oh, and Mia Queen shows up for... reasons.
In short, this crossover is clunky to say the least. Setting aside the plot contrivances (which we will get to), there are very few crossover that actually make sense in the grand scheme of things. The cameo that actually does work is Ray Palmer as he first appeared in the 'verse on The Flash so his character returning home seemed natural. Plus, Brandon Routh is great and I'm sad he was forced out of the universe as a regular player. But that's it. That's the cameo that works.
Jefferson serves a job that Cisco or Chester could have done in trying to remove Barry's powers. In fact, having a friend on the show do it instead of a cameo from a character that likely will never appear again would have given the sequence way more pathos. In the future, Batwoman and Sentinel appear at the part for Eobard and Iris but, again, this doesn't make a ton of sense. There are plenty of people who, over the years, have been closer to Iris than Ryan (who she's never met) and Alex (who has had minimal interactions as well). Kara would have been a better fit (if actress Melissa Benoist was available), or the first Batwoman Ruby Rose (who certainly isn't) or they could have just found other people that were regulars on the show to appear instead. Beyond that, neither character brings their significant others with them to a wedding, which makes this whole sequence even weirder.
One could argue that Damien Dahrk makes sense, I guess, if you want to try and force a magical solution into it. Except, next episode Mia shows up, traveling through time on her own. She could have helped Barry travel around and stop Eobard at each key moment in time, reversing everything the bad guy had done. That would have made Mia seem essential (which she absolutely isn't in her own otherwise, as the last episode completely wastes her) and it would have removed someone that, frankly, was a weird fit on the show. Dahrk and Barry bond over fatherhood, despite the two never having met before, and then Nora shows up (when time is reversed) and everyone acts like they know her and... well it's all just really strange and stupid.
The plot, too, really doesn't work. Despero is mad at Barry because, "the Flash destroys the future." Except, the Flash doesn't, the Reverse Flash does. And that's a future on an alternate timeline that technically hadn't even started yet, and then Despero is pissed because Barry nearly destroyed the future, but it's a future that doesn't exist once Barry resets everything. And that doesn't even get into all the timeline contrivances the show has to make to somehow make all this fit -- he's the Flash until he travels to the future and then suddenly he's the Reverse Flash even though nothing along his personal timeline has changed? Wait, what?
Thing is, on the whole the basic mechanics of the production are okay. Most of the cast actually turns in decent work here, despite the show still basically going, "look at the screen and scowl to show you using your powers more effectively". The idea of Eobard going back and trying to change time is cool on its own, but tying it into another villain, and creating such a mess of reason-cause-and-effect to justify everything makes it all fall apart. The show actually managed to get a lot of good material for the characters when it remained fairly grounded on its central mysteries -- What happened to Joe? What is going on with Barry? -- but once time travel and Eobard show up, even that is pretty much thrown away.
The fact is that this crossover even fails on two different levels. On one, it sucks as a crossover because it does a very bad job of justifying its crossover elements. Very rarely does it serve its guest characters well or give them anything to do that screams, "we need this character around." But as a five-part series of Flash episodes it's also just mediocre TV. It's more watchable than past seasons have been, but that's a very low bar to climb over (frankly the last two seasons threw the bar on the ground completely), but I keep hoping and wondering if, maybe somehow, the show could do better than barely mediocre.
Looks like we're in for yet another late-period standard issue season of The Flash once again.
- We're off for a few weeks now as we await the premieres of Superman & Lois and newcomer Naomi. While Superman & Lois will be included in our regular coverage, Naomi is a special case, an Arrowverse adjacent show that, from the current look of it, won't actually tie into the main 'verse. We'll see how that goes with its first episode, but for now we should assume it won't be in the 'verse and, thus, not part of our regular coverage.