A review of tonight’s The Flash — the proper start of a crossover between all of the CW’s DC Comics shows — coming up just as soon as we take one sci-fi problem at a time…
When I’m reading comics, few phrases chill my blood more than “crossover issue.” Even when I happen to enjoy the crossover in question, it frustrates me that the individual series I’m enjoying have to put their own stories on hold for a few issues a year so they can play along with DC or Marvel’s next big event — and that those issues often feel incomplete, because they’re designed to make me want to buy all the other crossover issues of books I don’t otherwise read.
With the various CW/DC crossovers over the years — of which “Invasion!” is by far the biggest, since it involves four shows in one week — I’ve had the opposite reaction: I generally enjoy them more than regular episodes of the respective series because they usually put various angst-ridden story arcs on hold in favor of having fun with the idea of Green Arrow’s sidekicks reacting to the Flash’s speed, or Barry getting Kara and Jimmy some ice cream:
I’ve enjoyed both Flash and Arrow a lot at various times, but all of the Berlanti-verse shows have a tendency to get too bogged down in darkness and/or repetitive villain arcs (all the shows would benefit creatively from doing fewer episodes per season), so here I welcome the individual stories being put on hold in favor of an opportunity to let superheroes be super together.
The Flash‘s contribution to “Invasion!” didn’t entirely fit that pattern. The parts about Iris and the others trying to discourage Wally’s superheroics were fairly dull (as is most of what the show’s done with Wally, who’s blander than someone getting so much story burn should be), and then it was a relief when Barry started racing around to recruit Team Arrow, then the gang from Legends of Tomorrow, and then Supergirl (repeating a scene from last night’s Supergirl which — because that show takes place on a parallel Earth — was otherwise crossover-free) and we got to enjoy all the culture clashes, whether a giddy Thea unretiring because she wants to go fight aliens, Kara getting a close-up look at Oliver’s intensity, or Kara and Mick Rory setting up what I hope will be a long-running Supergirl & Heat Wave spin-off series. All of that was fun, and the action sequences as Barry and Oliver battled their mind-controlled friends managed to look both pretty and coherent at the same time, despite the sheer number of characters and powers on display in any one action beat.
But the creative team also used the episode as a way to finally bring the characters from the other shows into the loop on Flashpoint, and to let them deal with some of the same emotional whiplash that Cisco and the others have had to locally. On the one hand, this was necessary: once you establish that, say, Barry’s time-travel shenanigans resulted in Diggle’s daughter being erased from existence in favor of a son, you have to at some point tell John about it and let him respond to this unsettling news. And, frankly, Barry’s Flashpoint adventure was so colossally stupid and selfish that I appreciate that the writers keep letting other characters call him out on it. This was a terrible thing he did, and one where he should have known better at this point, given the results of previous time trips, and I’ve found myself siding with the supporting characters more and more as, one by one, they start asking why everyone always forgives Barry everything. So this needed to come out, and I’m glad that Diggle, Sara, and some of the others were presented as hurt and dismayed that he had done this.
The problem is that this is a show where Barry is ultimately the hero, and thus the writers have to find a way to get both the other characters and the audience to let him off the hook for this story they would have been wise to not tell in the first place. So this led to the Barry/Oliver scene at the Hall of Justice where Oliver suggested that any superhero would have given into the temptation to do what Barry did, and that because the world is full of people who make choices that affect other people, Barry’s no more to blame for the death of Cisco’s brother or the non-existence of Sara Diggle than if he hadn’t gone back in time at all. Which is all nonsense. Barry screwed up. Barry’s an idiot. He’s been an idiot for a long time now, and the way for The Flash to move past that isn’t by trying to handwave away his idiocy as ultimately harmless, but by having him stop behaving idiotically and/or by having him do something so brave, so noble, and so self-sacrificing that it allows Cisco, Caitlin, and the audience to move past the dumb things he’s done in the past. I want to like Barry, because he’s a good character and Grant Gustin is so inherently likable, but there’s work to be done, and not exactly the kind we got tonight from Oliver.
Maybe we’ll get that sometime in the next couple of chapters of “Invasion!,” though I would expect them to be structured similarly to this one: lots of crossover interaction, but also a fair amount of material unique to Arrow and then to Legends of Tomorrow. And since I’ve only watched the former intermittently this season and haven’t watched the latter since its season premiere (a combination of Peak TV triage and a feeling of Berlanti-verse overload), I imagine the parts I’ll get the most out of are the ones most about the crossover and least specific to each show.
What did everybody else think? If you’re someone who only watches some of the Berlanti series, are you in for the full crossover? And what’s the best approach Flash can take to pull Barry out of the Flashpoint moral quicksand?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com