When Aliens Come a'Callin'

Arrowverse Crossovers: 2016/2017 Season

During the off season we like to go back over years past in 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., checking in on major events from the seasons. While reviewing the full seasons at this point would be time consuming (whether we had to watch and review them per season or, even worse, week-to-week), checking in on the major crossovers feels like a good way to see the characters, note major events, and in the process avoid the terrible big bads many of these seasons tended to have.

Arrowverse: Invasion!

This week we're checking in on Year Five of the 'verse and it's notable for a change in how the big crossovers were handled. In years past, the crossovers felt like individual episodes; we'd check in on Arrow and then bounce over to Flash, with stories that were related but not necessarily interconnected. This year's "Invasion!", though, marked the first time a story was truly spread across all the major episodes of the Earth-1 shows (sadly, while Supergirl participated in the crossover, her show did not), creating a larger, more epic crossover event. This would become the crossover format for the next few years.

So let's see what happens when aliens come to Earth-1 in "Invasion!"

The Flash, Season 3, Episode 8: Invasion!, Part 1

The crossover begins at the start of the week with The Flash when a meteorite comes crashing down into Central City. Barry goes to investigate only to discover its not a meteor at all but an alien spaceship and, worse, aliens are already pouring out of it. Team Flash regroups and realizes the threat is too big for them to handle alone, so Barry rushes off and pulls Team Arrow into the mix. Then they call upon the Legends of Tomorrow and, finally, Supergirl, pulling all the major heroes from the various shows into one place. The goal: to find out why these aliens, codenamed the Dominators, have come to Earth and what they want.

Unfortunately, before the team can really even get going a division splits the team apart. Jax and Professor Stein, having discovered a message from Future Barry hidden on the Waverider (in a previous episode of Legends of Tomorrow) bring the message to Barry and Oliver. They hear from Future Barry that Past Barry shouldn't be trusted, that bad things are coming and, somehow, it's all Barry's fault. Barry blames it on Flashpoint, an event that kicked off this season of The Flash where Barry traveled back in time (because speedsters can do that) and changed the past, saving his mother from the Reverse Flash. This created a new timeline but, when Barry changed things back some part of time were altered, and the rise of the Dominators is part of that.

Barry and Oliver decide to keep this information from the rest of the team but, then, it comes out anyway and most of the team is pissed off. Barry sits out a mission where the heroes would confront the Dominators, and Oliver hangs back as well. This actually ends up being a good thing as, when the rest of the heroes confront the Dominators the aliens put a mind control whammy on them. That leaves Oliver and Barry as the only ones that can clear the mind-wipe and save the day.

I noted at the start of this article that the crossover event here feels more like one big episode, and that's true. Events from outside episodes of other shows influence moments here, and the Dominator's storyline ends on a pretty big cliffhanger -- with half the team suddenly beamed away at the last season -- only to be resolved in the next episode of the crossover. Admittedly this is still a very Flash-centric episode, with a subplot about how Wally West (soon to be Kid Flash) isn't respected by the rest of the team, how they won't let him train and become a hero. This isn't a subplot that's really dealt with past this episode as Wally (and, for that matter, his father Joe) don't show up in the other two episodes of this crossover.

And, in another way, this episode very much feels like a Flash episode, specifically in its tone. We're still in the era where The Flash was brighter and happier, instead of deeply mired in the muck like it would be by the end of this season and the years to come. I've missed the light and frivolous Flash, and coming back to an episode like this where the heroes are cracking jokes and having a grand time teaming up was a real joy. Just because superhero shows can have dark moments doesn't mean they can't also be fun and this episode of "Invasion!" finds the fun.

Really, it's a nice balancing act for the show. It feels like both an episode of The Flash but also a key episode of the crossover. Plots move forward, characters learn and grow, but the crossover continues in the next episode organically. I appreciate that (especially since it's something the more recent crossover, "Crisis on Infinite Earths", struggled with). As an opening episode for the crossover, as well as an episode of The Flash, this was a winner.

Notes:
  • This season's Wells turns the lobby of STAR Labs into a museum. In the future, STAR Labs is also a museum. I assume this means it's been a museum for the last few seasons, then, but who's been running it since third season since all the heroes basically ignore it?
  • It's worth noting that technically this crossover started on Supergirl, which aired first the week this crossover occurred, but the crossover was only as a tag ended at the end of her episode, and that footage was reused for the Flash episode, so it barely counts.
  • Barry asks Ray where Leonard Snart (Captain Cold) is, and finds out that Snart died at the end of the last season of Legends. He doesn't ask what happened to Hawkman and Hawkgirl because no one cares about them. They sucked.
  • I forget how dark Mick's back-story is. Burned his family alive and has a criminal career as a pyro. Damn.
  • Oh, and that message from Future Barry? Don't expect any resolution in this crossover. I don't think it actually pays off until much later in the season of The Flash, if it does at all. I honestly forget because it doesn't have any bearing on events past this season. Thanks, Future Barry!

Arrow, Season 5, Episode 8: Invasion!, Part 2

At the end of the last episode, half the team of heroes were beamed into the Dominator ship. Here we discover that those heroes -- Oliver, Thea, Diggle, Sara, and Ray, all of whom originated on Arrow -- have been put into an virtual world (basically The MatrixA speculative future story with superhero and anime influences, The Matrix not only pushed viewers to think about the nature of their own reality but also expanded what filmmakers could do with action sequences and filming. It then launched a series of movies, games, and comics, creating a franchise still talked about today.) and given idealized versions of their lives. Oliver is getting married to Laurel (who isn't dead anymore), and is also in line to take over Queen Consolidated from his father, who is retiring. Both his father and mother as still alive, something both Oliver and Thea are overjoyed about. Sara is come into town to celebrate the wedding, and even Ray, who wants to buy QC, is there to celebrate the nuptials. The only person missing is Diggle who, eventually, we discover is "The Hood", the vigilante working to protect the city.

Pretty soon they all start realizing the world is fake, that this isn't their real lives and that they need to find a way out of the Matrix. Of course, that's easier said than done as they have to fight their way out of the simulation. And, even after that, they're stuck on and alien ship and have to find a way back to Earth. Things just keep going from bad to worse for these stranded heroes.

Meanwhile the rest of the team struggles to figure out what happened to these lost heroes. This requires them to take some of the Dominator tech, hack into it, and use that tech to find a way to hack the Dominator mainframe. Of course, nothing is that easy, so the team first has to track down a stolen McGuffin, steal it for themselves, and then feed it all into the tech so they can hack the ship. That's when they, too, discover that the rest of their team is in space and, now have to find a way to rescue them.

Of all the episodes in the crossover, this one feels like the most self-contained, least consequential episode "Invasion!" That's due to the construction, of course, since most of the team is stuck in an alien simulation that only exists for one episode and won't really get mentioned much again after this. It's a thing that happens, a revisionist take on Arrow's history, but hardly a fresh idea or one that feels consequential. Trapping the heroes in a prison of their own mind is a trope that's been done on any number of sci-fi shows over the decades and, for the most part, those stories are one-off episodes that don't have real bearing on the larger shows. The only time the trope really works is when the hero is trapped in there for a long period of time (months or years) so that, when freed, they are crushed to discover the truth about "reality".

Here, all the heroes basically shrug off this idealized world by the end of the episode. Doing a story like this feels weightless, a touch pointless, even at the best of times. Doing it here in the middle of an alien invasion storyline, makes it feel doubly so. I liked the episode when taken as a one-off but I wish the story had greater consequence to the overall crossover. It's basically a "What If?" for all the A-list Arrow heroes with all the non-Arrow heroes interacting with the Arrow C-squad. It's all Arrow, all the time, making this a very siloed, very inconsequential episode to the larger crossover. A bit of a disappointment, really.

Notes:
  • Oh, right, Laurel died near the end of fourth season. Her being in this episode is supposed to be a big surprise.

Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2, Episode 7: Invasion!, Part 3

With the missing heroes discovered, it's up the Legends to save the day, flying the Waverider into space to save the lost heroes. All gathered back together on the time ship, the heroes plot how to stop the Dominators once and for all, and that's when the Legends hatch a plan to find out what the Dominators actually want. Part of the team -- Steel, Heat Wave, and Vixen -- along with Felicity and Cisco travel back to the 1950s to the previous time the Dominators launched an expedition to Earth. The rest of the heroes, meanwhile, stay in the present to meet with the President about the alien threat. Both halves of the team, though, encounter a nasty NSA agent who is also in charge of all alien affairs for the country. This guy distrusts meta-humans and, via negotiations with the aliens, wants to capture Barry and turn him over to the aliens as a way to stop the invasion. Apparently Flashpoint (remember that?) pissed off the aliens who were already wary of meta-humans, feeling like somehow this was the last straw and, because of Barry, they have to invade Earth. So it's turn Barry over or launch a war.

Back in the past, the heroes rescue a Dominator that was captured by the 1950s version of the evil agent. They save him, heal him up, and release him back to his people in the hopes this will somehow make the Dominators trust the heroes. Instead, though, it only makes things worse (a bit of a shock to Cisco as he's been holding a grudge against Barry since the Flashpoint incident only to realize he just did the same thing, made things worse with time travel). Now it seems like the heroes have no choice but to battle the aliens.

And so they do, in a big climactic fight that has Barry and Kara coordinating around the world, tagging as many of the Dominators with special chips that can then be turned on all at once. These chips are basically agonizers, causing the Dominators intense pain in hopes that they give up the ghost and flee the planet. The chips work, the Dominators experience excruciating pain, and they flee, never to be seen again. The heroes cheer, a party is held, and everyone goes back to their separate shows, a job well done.

Okay, so there are some big issues with this episode and it all comes down to the fact that this episode has to tie up the entire Dominator storyline in just 45 minutes. That means the show has to first establish what the Dominators really want, then try to find a way to negotiate with them, all while also introducing a new villain (the evil NSA agent), and then build it all to a thrilling climax. That's a lot for any one episode to handle and, as much credit as Legends gets for be the best show in the 'verse, it still couldn't handle the strain of all that.

Of course, it would have been much easier if the second episode of the crossover, the Arrow episode, hadn't wasted so much time on it's Matrix-inspired storyline and, instead, had take up some of the heavy lifting here to establish the NSA villain and the needs and wants of the Dominators. Spending the whole second hour of the show on a storyline that doesn't really connect to the larger crossover meant that everything was pushed to the last episode and the show struggles to regain its narrative momentum.

The NSA agent, for starters, is a wasted opportunity. This is a character that could have been built up as a thorn in the sides of Team Flash, someone that could crop up again and again, mucking about in superhero affairs. Instead he's both introduced and eliminated in the same episode, this despite him having 50+ years of history we barely see. He could have been a villain on both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, someone that could have worked from the shadows to cause all kinds of problems. Instead, he's barely a blip, a villain setup here because, what, the aliens weren't scary enough? And then he's shuffled off the show without even getting a name. It just doesn't work. It would have been better for them to not even introduce him at all and put the focus squarely on the Dominators instead.

And the Dominators need the work as, here, they're barely shaded monsters without any real motivation. Oh, they talk about how meta-humans could be a threat to Dominators dominance, but the thing the show never points out is that all the meta-humans are trapped on Earth. They can't leave so why do the Dominators even care? Hell, even the one group of heroes with a spaceship, the Legends, are only concerned with Earth-history. If the Dominators really wanted to ensure meta-humans never became a threat they simply should have stayed on their home world. Out of sight, out of mind, and absolutely no problem. This is the kind of non-issue storytelling that shows so often resort to when, if everyone just stayed home the plot would never happen. It deflates everything and makes you wonder why the crossover even happened at all (aside from rating and, simply, because).

Really, this whole crossover ends in a disappointing fashion. The first episode, over on The Flash, was great, establishing a serious threat and pitting hero against hero. By this third episode, though, it's clear the writers ran out of ideas. Instead of a cool final battle, maybe a fight where the Dominators and the heroes team up to take on the NSA after realizing metas aren't a threat after all, we get a generic battle of heroes versus CGI aliens that's weightless and pretty boring. Using the agonizers against the aliens seems like a temporary fix, something the aliens would eventually figure out and lead them to invade Earth once again. From that perspective nothing was really resolved and, despite the fact that the Dominators never show up again, it feels like the heroes simply kicked the can down the road. A big crossover ends in pathetic fashion. Oh well.

Notes:
  • The one storyline I really liked here isn't even consequential to the main storyline. Professor Stein changed the past in a previous episode of Legends and discovers in this crossover that he now has a daughter. This is an anomaly that should be corrected by Stein refuses; now that he knows his daughter, gets to meet her and work beside her here, he wants her to keep on existing. It's a sweet storyline and a bright spot in the episode.
  • I think the Dominators are only even mentioned twice more in the whole run of the 'verse, and it's when some villain or another uses Dominator tech for nefarious means. The aliens themselves, though, are gone, never to be seen again, which really makes no sense. Seriously, this crossover's ending annoyed me so much I could rant for hours about it.

The Flash, Season 3, Episode 17: Duet

Arrowverse: Duet

While "Invasion!" was the big crossover this season, it wasn't the only one. Of course, characters occasionally bounce between shows (like Felicity visiting The Flash for a bachelorette party), but the other big occasion when a title hero crossover over to another show occurred last in this year in "Duet". This was an episode the producers really wanted to make, a musical episode for the 'verse, especially since apparently both Melissa Benoist (Supergirl) and Grant Gustin (the Flash) apparently starred on Glee, so they had singing chops. Fact is, though, that the episode is pretty bland despite the best efforts of all involved.

Technically the crossover started on Supergirl, just like with "Invasion!". An alien prisoner brought to the DEO broken free of his bonds and puts a whammy on Supergirl, knocking her into a coma before the alien flees to a different universe. Tracking the alien the DEO team realizes he's gone to Earth-1 so Martian Manhunter and Mon-El take the unconscious Kara to Earth-1 to enlist the end of Team Flash. Barry immediately charges off to confront the villain (who calls himself Music Meister) but only succeeds in getting the whammy put on himself as well, plunging him into a coma, too.

Then we cut to Barry waking up in a nightclub only to see Kara on stage, singing her heart out to "Moon River". The two meet up after and learn they're both in the same dream and, while they're themselves, everyone around them (who look like people they know, primarily actors from The Flash since we're on that series right now) are characters in this dream and not real people. Confronted by Music Meister, Barry and Kara (who, it should be noted, don't have their powers) have to find a way to the end of the musical but, if they somehow die in the dream, they die for real. It's time to sing and dance their ways to safety.

Kara and Barry have a great friendship. This was established in their first crossover together, "Worlds Finest", which showcased the chemistry between the two actors. I like the fact that we have two heroes here, both of comparable power, but they're just really good, bubbly friends. There's no romance between them (even in an episode all about musicals and love), just good friendship. Any time the shows can showcase Barry and Kara working together we're all better off for it.

It's just a pity that the episode around their friendship really sucks. This episode has the same issue that the Arrow part of "Invasion!" had, namely that the characters are caught in a dream world that would have very little consequence on their real lives. Sure, both Barry and Kara realize they love their significant others (Iris and Mon-El, respectively), but they could have done that on their own shows without a musical crossover to teach them those lessons. "Duet", despite having the fun of Kara and Barry together, doesn't have any of the weight of "Once More with Feeling" from Buffy. It's like the producers decided to make a musical episode but didn't think through what they really needed to do to make the episode work.

This is clear from the fact that the episode barely has original numbers. The most prominent one, "Super Friend", is also the one bright spot in the episode, a fun little ditty written by Rachel Bloom (of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) that really showcases the joyful friendship between Barry and Kara. Other songs, like the aforementioned "Moon River" and "Put a Little Love In Your Heart" are book numbers, covers that don't really add much to the show but just pad out the run time with music.

Padding is a great way to describe the episode. Nothing that happens for the first 40 minutes of the episode really matter, most of the music is tired and tedious, and then the show ends with moments of romance between the two leads and their romantic partners, moments that could have been handled after a couple of minutes of talking instead of 40 minutes of music and dancing. This is my big issue with musicals, the fact that they take five minutes to handle 15 seconds of plot; "Duet" is that trope stretched over 45 minutes of runtime. As much as I want to like it, and do enjoy Kara and Barry hanging out, the episode is as flat as it's cover of "Put a Little Love In Your Heart": it tries but never really brings it together.