This Week In The Arrowverse: 12/10/2018 – 12/16/2018: “Elseworlds” (& “Legends of To-Meow-Meow”)

The Flash 5×09/Arrow 7×09/Supergirl 4×09: “Elseworlds”, and Legends of Tomorrow 4×08: “Legends of To-Meow-Meow” reviews

This week in the Arrowverse . . .

Aw, heck, it’s crossover time! What more do I have to say?

 

Arrowverse - Elseworlds (2)

The Flash 5×09/Arrow 7×09/Supergirl 4×09: “Elseworlds” review

This was never going to top “Crisis on Earth-X”, and it wasn’t meant to.

Last year’s crossover was a massive achievement, a single story told in four parts, bringing together dozens of heroes and villains for the largest, most epic superhero battle that television has ever done, having two long-standing couples finally tie the knot, and giving us the heroic death of a beloved character. It was everything fans could have hoped for from such an event.

And it was also, by all accounts, an absolute nightmare to shoot. The strain on the actors, directors, stunt coordinators, and everyone else involved in the production, putting so many hours into this spectacle, while still fitting in their normal commitments to their respective series? It took a toll.

So, for this year’s crossover, the goal was clearly to scale back the ambition a bit. Most obviously, we’ve gone from a four-part, four-show crossover to a three-part, three-show crossover, leaving Legends of Tomorrow to do its own thing this week. But also, despite all of reality being put at risk by a trans-dimensional godlike entity, this crossover focuses far less on epic stakes and grand battles than the last few have.

Instead, “Elseworlds” hearkens back to the first crossovers the Arrowverse ever did, back when The Flash was in its first season and Arrow in its third. Back then, you didn’t need an apocalyptic threat to bring these characters together for an episode. Any old excuse would do to get them in the same room so we could watch them fight each other, team up with each other, or just bicker and banter with each other, along with some commentary on the differences between Arrow and The Flash (and between Oliver Queen and Barry Allen).

They may not pack the epic wallop of “Crisis on Earth-X” or (to a lesser extent) “Invasion!”, but those early crossovers had a charm of their own. Even in the later, more ambitious crossovers, the best parts were often simply watching these different characters interact, seeing their chemistry together, and exploring who they are in relation to each other. Those early crossovers knew that, if you had that, and threw in some fan-pleasing “heroes fight/join forces” moments, you didn’t need much else.

“Elseworlds” doesn’t go quite that simple, but its focus is once again narrowed down to the two heroes who started this franchise and finding excuses for them to do stuff together. While “Elseworlds” is a fitting name given the altered realities on display, a more apt title for this crossover might have been “Barry and Oliver’s Buddy Comedy Road Trip”. Unlike the last couple crossovers, which focused on the whole ensemble of characters the Arrowverse had built up, “Elseworlds” is quite clearly Barry and Oliver’s story. After the initial setup of their Freaky Friday/Quantum Leap is taken care of, these two spend virtually all of their screentime together, and the story follows them as they travel from city to city, Earth to Earth, and alternate reality to alternate reality, running into a series of largely unrelated adventures along the way.

Swapping lives, escaping from Star Labs, going to the Kent farm, fighting Amazo, traveling to Gotham, breaking into Arkham, being dosed with fear gas, becoming leather clad hoodlums: this crossover is less one long story then a bunch of small ones, built on the premise of Barry and Oliver having to work together and come to understand each other, no matter how hilariously difficult. All the other heroes? Supergirl, Superman, Lois Lane, Batwoman, the original live-action Flash? Those are just the colorful characters they meet along the way.

Some might feel disappointed that the return of the 1990 Flash was over and done so quickly, that Amazo was just a random, one-episode obstacle, unconnected to the main plot, or that Batwoman only got more than a cameo in one of the episodes. And you might be especially irked that Supergirl, whose series provides a third of the crossover’s runtime, is largely a tagalong on this adventure, getting a few good moments, but mostly taking a backseat to the two boys.

If you go in expecting another “Invasion!” or “Crisis on Earth-X”, this event might be a bit of a letdown. But if you accept it for what it is, the largely comedic adventures of Barry and Oliver having their lives thrown together and snarking at each other as they search for a solution, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. There’s nothing as jaw-dropping as the fight against the Earth-X army, or as heart-wrenching as the death of Martin Stein, but this crossover doesn’t aim for those big moments, instead tossing a barrage of delightful little moments at you.

Maybe “Elseworlds” isn’t everything you might want out of a big superhero crossover, but then, if we’d focused more on the big threat and the large ensemble, would there have been room left for the running debate on whether Batman exists? For the pipeline prison toilets? For Oliver’s reaction to a hallway pep talk?

If that “Crisis on Infinite Earths” promo is sincere, next season may see the Arrowverse crossover going bigger and more earth-shattering than ever before, with the promise that “nothing will ever be the same”. So, while we can, let’s all take the time to enjoy the smaller, simpler pleasures of watching Oliver Queen and Barry Allen form the World’s Finest comedy duo.

Stray Observations:

  • Despite being written by regular Flash writers Eric Wallace & Sam Chalsen, the first part of the crossover took almost savage delight in skewering the tropes and clichès The Flash has built up for itself. While everyone following “Barry” out into the hallway for a pep talk is obviously the best, I also adored the weary, “Oh, Barry, what have you done this time?”
  • I previously thought Tyler Hoechlin was just okay as Superman, but he’s pretty darn good in the role here, and absolutely amazing as Evil Superman. Kinda reminds me of Tom Welling on Smallville, who always seemed to take another level in acting ability whenever he got a chance to play the bad guy.
  • Speaking of Smallville, most hilarious musical transition ever?
  • While more just a tease rather than a full introduction to the character, Batwoman looks pretty darn neat, and it definitely did its get-me-hyped-for-a-spinoff job. I’ve heard some people online complain about Ruby Rose’s acting, but I think they’re being way too harsh. She made that “World’s Finest” line sound almost natural; that’s no easy feat.
  • First appearance of the Salmon Ladder in ages, and it’s not even on Arrow!
  • Even for this franchise, running in opposite directions at Mach 7 to slow the rotation of the Earth, thus slowing down time, is one of the most ridiculous pieces of pseudoscience ever. I think only the way Vandal Savage was defeated on Legends of Tomorrow can top it.
  • Obviously, Oliver made some sort of deal with the Monitor to get that blue arrow and stop Deegan, but they’re playing extremely coy about what that might be. Some are speculating Oliver will die in Barry and Kara’s place during “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, but I’ll wait till I hear whether Arrow is renewed for Season 8 to comment on that.
  • The obvious weak part of this crossover was the relationship drama. First Iris and then Felicity got way too dramatic way too easily about their husbands’ actions here. Like, it bothering them is understandable, but escalating it to this-could-undermine-our-whole-relationship! levels feels forced, like having some major relationship drama is something the shows are required to do, no matter how well it fits. Though, I will say, Oliver having that talk that patches things up with Felicity was really quite sweet.
  • What works much better is Kara’s bond with Alex. It works so well, it almost makes you forget that, even if you take away Deegan’s reality rewrite, this still wouldn’t actually be her sister, but her sister’s parallel universe doppelganger.
  • Aside from production logistics, you can see why the Legends were left out of this crossover. Magic books? Freaky Friday scenarios? Villains rewriting reality with “______ of Destiny” artifacts? That’s all old hat for those guys.

 

Legends - Legends of To-Meow-Meow

Legends of Tomorrow 4×08: “Legends of To-Meow-Meow” review

If “Elseworlds” has the unenviable burden of being compared to “Crisis on Earth-X”, “Legends of To-Meow-Meow” has the unenviable burden of being compared to “Elseworlds”. Left out of the big crossover this year, Legends had to do its own thing, something that wouldn’t pale in comparison, and that ties into the theme of altered realities in Legends’s own, unique way.

And damn if they didn’t come through.

Given the show’s basis in time travel, having the timeline change repeatedly as our “heroes” struggle to get it just right is an obvious route to go. Less obvious? Treating each alternate reality like a spinoff series, complete with its own catchy theme song. It’s a perfect example of Legends mixing genuine emotional stakes with pop culture comedy: changing the timeline may have deadly consequences and turn our beloved characters into different people, but it’s framed through the lens of them becoming characters straight out of a different series, whether a Charlie’s Angels knockoff, an ultra-macho 80’s action series, or a Sesame Street style puppet show. The stakes are serious, but the framing of those stakes allows for a lot of big laughs.

What’s most interesting, though, is who this episode chooses to focus on. For a mid-season finale, it’s quite unusual to take the more established characters (the ones who, in a less ensemble-focused show, would be the leads) and relegate them to supporting appearances, playing alternate versions of themselves. The focus is instead on newcomers Charlie and Constantine, with Zari acting as the angel on their shoulders.

This episode can be seen as a rebuttal to anyone who’s complained about Charlie and Constantine joining the cast, as the theme of the episode is that the Legends would literally not be the Legends without them. Maybe a bit strong and overly defensive, but it works here, because our two new Legends had to learn this lesson themselves.

Neither Charlie or Constantine were enthusiastic members of the Legends before this. Constantine insisted he was just a freelance consultant, and in his more candid moments admitted he was only on the ship to outrun his own problems. And Charlie? She was straight up kidnapped by the Legends and only worked with them to avoid a prison sentence. No surprise to see both of them betraying and bailing on the team.

But if they behave selfishly, it’s because they think that their contributions don’t really matter. When Charlie sees that breaking time has turned Zari into a cat, she just sends her back to the Waverider on autopilot, assuming the Legends can fix her up. And Constantine, despite his bravado, seems to assume the Legends will be just fine without him, and that being “out there Constantine-ing” is not something the world desperately needs. For two people so mired in self-indulgence and self-pity, learning that they are important, that they can’t do whatever they want because others depend on them, is a hard pill to swallow.

On the surface, it’s a strange choice to have them grow closer to the Legends after said Legends spent most of the episode trying to kill them. But it works because, while previous episodes have seen them bond with individual Legends, this episode has them realize how much they mean to the team itself, and how much it means to them. Despite their flippant, “history be bloody damned” attitudes, neither Charlie nor Constantine can stand to see the Waverider crew be turned into twisted mockeries of themselves. Almost without realizing it, they’ve come to care about keeping this pseudo-family healthy and intact, and now must realize how important they are to making that happen.

It’s a wonderful sentiment to close out this half of the season on. Along with some of the show’s wackiest ideas and performances yet, hopefully it can last us through long, cold months until Legends of Tomorrow returns in April.

Stray Observations:

  • I saw a clip of the Custodians of the Chronology theme song before the episode aired, and I went in expecting that to be the funniest thing in the episode. But then Sirens of Space-Time started playing, and, nope, that’s the funniest thing in the episode. But then we got Puppets of Tomorrow and the Fairy Godmother as the new Captain Cold, and the scale just got completely broken.
  • Zari, whether played by Tala Ashe, a puppeteer, or an utterly adorable kitty, was pure delight in this. “Do you know where this tongue has been!? Places.”
  • Despite how campy the murderous former-Legends could be, them going down that route makes sense. This group’s never been into the whole “superheroes shouldn’t kill” thing, and if you throw in a “monsters aren’t people” attitude (plus, in the case of the Custodians, a testosterone-overdosed ship), you can see how they might turn out like that.
  • Sara promises John they’ll work together to free Desmond from Hell. Nice sentiment, but she also made a promise like that about saving Zari’s family and fixing her dystopian time period, and look how that panned out.
  • Seeing Charlie’s shapeshifting again was a lot of fun, and I hope they find a way to bring it back permanently.
  • “Elseworlds” joked about the big teamups becoming an annual thing, but Legends (the most meta of the shows) of course leaps straight to calling it “the annual crossover”.
  • We don’t get any resolution for Mona’s cliffhanger from last week, and it’s kinda frustrating we’ll have to wait four months to find out. My theory’s that the Kaupe has turned her into a pseudo-werewolf. Which is too bad, ‘cause Mona really would’ve preferred becoming a calico.

 

MVP of the Week: Oliver “Barry Allen” Queen

Arrowverse - Oliver Flash

Stephen Amell always shines in these crossovers. Whenever Oliver’s around other, more powerful superheroes, all his insecurities come bubbling to the surface, making him puff out his chest (literally!) so he can still feel big. And Amell is amazing at taking this character, who he normally plays so straight, and playing him as so hilariously petty, without ever feeling like he’s out-of-character. Almost makes you wish Arrow let him do comedy more often.

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite alternate reality version of these characters (from these episodes or previous ones)?