We’re in the final week of the Fall season for the DC Television Universe! In fact, The CW will conclude 2016 having just finished the most ambitious project in the young network’s history. Supergirl, Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow all crossed over with one another this past week, as Warner Bros and DC brought the late 80s “Invasion” storyline to the small-screen. With it, came the alien menace known as The Dominators. Below are my reactions to each chapter in this first-of-its-kind live action event.
GOOD: Lena Luthor is starting to compete with Alex Danvers for the title of most interesting character this season. The ultimate poker player, Lena’s intentions remained well-hidden throughout the course of the show. First, she kept her mother, Lillian – the Director of Project Cadmus – at arm’s length. Lena’s scorn reinforced her stated goals earlier this year to make LuthorCorp an upstanding corporate citizen. It also buttressed her plea to Clark Kent and Kara Danvers that they not judge her by her last name. Yet, as soon as Supergirl delivered the news to Lena that her mother was the Cadmus head, Lena showed indignation at the charge. She defended her family with a convincing display of hurt. Later, Lena initiated a detente with Lillian and provided her with the necessary materials to make an anti-alien weapon. However, Lena’s cunning came in full bloom in the final act as it turned out she sabotaged the bio-weapon and notified the police. Katie McGrath is fantastically providing layers to this new Supergirl character. She has ambition, vision and vulnerability. I can’t wait to see what impact she has in Spring 2017.
In addition to Lena’s intrigue, a Supergirl review this year wouldn’t feel complete without continuing to praise the evolution of Alex Danvers. This week, not only did Alex and Maggie finally become a couple, but Alex also came out to her mother. Chyler Leigh – week in and week out – is movingly providing a window into the struggle of someone coming to terms with one’s own identity. She has consistently been a joy to watch on screen.
BAD: Unfortunately, as suggested by the installment not sharing the “Invasion!” title, this episode didn’t feel completely part of the crossover. Twice before Barry and Cisco finally arrived on what we now know as Earth-38, we were teased with the appearance of a multiverse breach. The second occasion was particularly frustrating. Just as Cyborg Superman had Kara by the throat and said a line about how no one was coming to save her, another “false” portal reappeared. Considering that Kara was taking on both Cyborg Superman and Cadmus in this episode, it would have been entertaining for The Flash to have joined the plot.
Each moment of dialogue in this episode also seemed replete with emotional drama. Whether it was Kara and Mon-El, Alex and Maggie, Alex and Eliza, Kara and J’onn, or Lillian and Lena Luthor…the tension was like that of a soap opera. Each scene was believable, but it was a lot to pack into one chapter. At moments I wished for a little more comic relief. Even though this was by no means a bad episode, this offering was the first that didn’t seem to top the previous week’s.
GOOD: The “Invasion” plot would get fully underway with Flash. Soon after Barry’s determination that he would need back-up to confront the Dominators, the crossover revealed its best Easter Egg for the fandom – particularly for children of the 70s and 80s. The heroes gathered at a Star Labs property replicating the look of the Superfriends’ Hall of Justice. The integration of Supergirl into the full CW universe also provided much of the comic relief that had been missed from part 1. The reaction of Mick Rory (Heatwave) to Supergirl’s X-ray vision and Sara Lance’s attraction to Kara’s power only added to the fun.
We also learned the full detail of the Barry Allen 2056 message teased previously by Legends of Tomorrow. Barry attempted to confide in Rip Hunter about his creation of “Flashpoint” and his alteration of history. The reveal of this secret to everyone on Earth-1 caused immediate division. The heroes’ alliance ruptured with only Oliver Queen (The Green Arrow) empathizing with Barry. The division would prove fortuitous, in the end, as Barry and Oliver uncovered the Dominators’ mind-control trap, and the duo eventually destroyed the device causing it. But within this brief schism, one of the best moments of the entire mini-series was had. As Barry tormented himself in STAR Labs with projected headlines from the future, The Green Arrow arrived to reset his focus. Oliver recounted the death of his parents for the first time to Barry. He expressed sympathy for Barry going back in time to prevent Nora and Henry Allen’s deaths. In the best lines of the episode, Oliver rejected The Flash’s overwhelming guilt.
“Barry, the world isn’t different because you changed the timeline. Change happens. Tragedy happens. People make choices, and those choices affect everyone else.”
It was an affecting moment for both men, and one that The Flash badly needed. In fact, Oliver would have to starkly confront that very counsel in the next edition as he and the rest of the non-meta heroes were abducted by the Dominators.
BAD: If Oliver was going about the task of rebuilding Barry’s morale in this installment, it was Cisco providing the opposite force of tearing it down. His toxicity around Barry is certainly understandable. But Cisco’s negativism never missed an opportunity to express itself. He denied Barry’s friendship when they first met Kara. Cisco oddly stated to Barry that he wouldn’t be helping him get to Earth-38 if the mission didn’t require it. (Had Barry been previously requesting vacation time on other Earth’s?) When deciding an overall team leader, Cisco went full passive-aggressive and nominated Oliver, going out of his way to profess his trust in him. And lastly, when Cisco discovered the Barry Allen 2056 message, he spoke loudly enough to Barry about it that others could hear. The tactic would force Barry to reveal the truth about Flashpoint. It’s one thing for Cisco to have an axe to grind with Barry, but this revelation stood to unravel the entire resistance to the Invasion – something Cisco had just emphasized was his sole motivation. While I understand that the reconciliation of Barry and Cisco was a major subplot for “Invasion!”, Cisco’s bitterness nevertheless became exhausting to watch.
GOOD: In addition to being Part 3 of the crossover event, the Arrow installment also served as the 100th episode in that show’s history. It therefore had the dual purpose of being an adequate retrospective while still continuing the weeklong arc. The Oliver-centered portion of this airing was easily the most effective. The Green Arrow faced a world in which he and his father never boarded the Queen’s Gambit – the family yacht that fatefully wrecked in the far Pacific. He had a bride-to-be in Assistant District Attorney Laurel Lance. His father, having never committed suicide in the Gambut lifeboat, and his mother, never murdered by Deathstroke, hosted the wedding reception at the Queen mansion. Even Laurel’s father, Captain Quentin Lance, was a proud and beaming father-in-law in waiting.
However, this perfect life began to show cracks exposing it for the illusion it was. Generated by the Dominators, the dream-like world was a shared experience not just for Oliver, but also his sister Thea, John Diggle, Sara Lance and Ray Palmer. Each team member soon began to have flashbacks from reality. They remembered violent deaths, saw wounds and scars on loved ones that would quickly correct themselves, and were threatened by hated enemies whose spectres they couldn’t shake. Oliver and Thea shared perhaps the most poignant moment of all, with Oliver heartbreakingly choosing to wake up from the dream, while the younger Thea chose to stay behind (a decision she eventually reversed).
BAD: While the investment Part 3 made in Oliver’s illusion paid off, the time spent with the rest of Team Arrow trying to track down the abducted heroes didn’t. At times the humor felt forced, such as the Disney crack Cisco made about “Oliver & Company.” In other moments, such as the discovery of a cybernetic villain who just happened to steal the one piece of technology the team needed, the coincidence was heavy-handed. If the scenes with the Queen family and the Legends were the emotional weight, then Team Arrow’s moments needed to be the levity. Unfortunately, this second plotline only distracted from the far more interesting thread.
GOOD: The finale for this crossover event finally delivered the big Heroes vs Aliens confrontation that the CW’s ad push had been teasing since its launch. The powers of Supergirl, Flash, Firestorm and Citizen Steel were on full display along with the arsenals of The Green Arrow, Heatwave and The Atom. Yet, before this showdown could take place, the Heroes decided turnabout would be fair play as they went back in time to a previous Dominators encounter on Earth. Now, Cisco and Felicity would team up with Vixen, Heatwave, and Steel to capture and interrogate a Dominator scout. The plan would go awry, though, as both the Hero squad and the alien target would be apprehended by US government agents. In the government’s custody, the Dominator would be experimented on and tortured. It’s treatment would end up as the reason for why the Dominators would plan their ultimate assault. For Cisco, the reveal of all these consequences to the team’s time travel would force him to revisit his anger with Barry. He now understood Barry’s position. Of all the sub-plots taking place throughout this crossover, perhaps the most gratifying was seeing the eventual reconciliation of Team Flash.
In addition to this reunion, other storylines succeeded for this chapter as well. The relationship between Martin Stein and the daughter that his own timeline alterations created came to a satisfying end. Watching Martin Stein evolve from uncomfortable and distant, to reluctantly cordial, to compassionate and accepting was a heartening transformation. I also found the time travel effects on Felicity Smoak sincerely funny. The physical comedy of both her scrambled speech and nausea were good breaks for the more serious threads of Martin and Lily Stein, as well as the capture and torture of the alien scout. Lastly, the choice to end Part IV with Barry and Oliver toasting the craziness of their lives served as a fitting conclusion, especially considering that the success of Arrow and its first spin-off, Flash, are the reason we enjoy this television universe.
BAD: If there was any false note, it came in a moment of hostility between Oliver and Kara. After the events of Part III, The Green Arrow accosted Supergirl, requesting that she stand down from the remainder of the mission. Oliver suddenly had a visceral negativity toward any alien of any stripe. He wanted Kara to remain away in order to protect his waning sense of “normalcy”. The moment ran against the nature of his character. Oliver, traditionally in the CW Universe, is the cold tactician. In Part 2, he recognized the benefit of having an alien on the team and had the entire Heroes team spar against her. Were it not for Supergirl helping subdue the “CyberWoman” in Part 3 and steal back her technology, the Waverider would not have been able to rescue Oliver and the non-meta heroes adrift in space. Nevertheless, he was suddenly throwing away her participation for this own emotional comfort. It simply wasn’t credible. And as a minor quibble, some work still needs to be done with Citizen Steel’s uniform. Perhaps the helmet could be left behind on future missions. Besides, if his power is his skin turning to steel, why do his clothes really matter?
What I Took Away
Overall, despite the enormity of the challenge, the CW pulled off this four-night project very well. I remained in the story every night, even if it took all four before I learned the motivation of the crossover’s villain. There was great fan service – both for followers of DC with the Hall of Justice, and for the original Arrow as we saw the return of Robert and Moira Queen. I hope this event becomes a December mainstay for as long as Greg Berlanti’s TV empire endures. Supergirl is now finished for the Fall season and Legends will conclude 2016 with next week’s “The Chicago Way”.
Submitted by Jody Money