The CW’s big crossover officially kicked off in tonight’s The Flash (l refuse to count the single scene at the end of last night’s Supergirl) and it was incredibly fun, which is one thing we haven’t been able to say for most of The Flash‘s third season so far. Watching The Flash team up with Supergirl and the heroes from Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow filled me with the same joy I felt watching the series premiere of Justice League 15 years ago.
As you probably know already, this year’s crossover is based on the 1988-1989 DC event series Invasion, which was about a technologically advanced race called the Dominators who form a coalition with other alien races to invade Earth and eliminate the growing metahuman population. Obviously, Earth’s heroes band together and fight back. Tonight’s episode “Invasion!” features some similarities to that comic, but also makes some significant changes. For one, it’s not immediately clear at the beginning of the episode whether the Dominators are part of a coalition and if they’re there for the metahumans. I suspect the Dominators’ purpose is the same in the crossover, but the show will avoid the coalition part because it probably doesn’t have the budget to design different kinds of alien races.
While the first issue of Invasion focuses on the Dominators assembling their allies to invade Earth, the first night of the crossover focuses on the superheroes joining forces once they’re made aware of the Dominator threat. “Invasion!” doesn’t waste any time introducing the Dominators or getting to the good stuff. There’s a confidence and zippiness to the episode that makes the moments where the show remembers it’s season 3 of The Flash (i.e. it gets angsty) more bearable.
After two short scenes that catch us up on Wally’s progress with his powers and H.R.’s plans for reopening S.T.A.R. Labs, we have our first encounter with the Dominators. A satellite alarm alerts Team Flash to something hurtling towards Earth. The Flash rushes to the crash site, where he encounters a space ship. The ship opens and a hoard of Dominators come running out. All Barry can do in that moment is yell “Aliens!”
The next day, Lyla informs Team Flash the aliens are called the Dominators and previously visited the Earth in the ’50s. During their first visit, the Dominators abducted a few people, but eventually left without warning. The Dominators sent Earth a message three months ago, saying they were returning on a mission of understanding and warned the humans not to attack them. Lyla tells Team Flash to stand down and let the governments of the world handle it. Obviously, Team Flash doesn’t do that — because then there wouldn’t be a crossover.
Barry gets to work assembling a coalition of superheroes. His first stop is Starling City, and he arrives just in time to save Green Arrow and Spartan from Vigilante’s bullets. If there’s one thing I’ve always loved about the crossovers, it’s how The Flash episodes always show a lighter side of the Arrow characters. Diggle throwing up after experiencing Barry’s super-speed and Oliver’s frustration with Barry’s interference made me smile so much. After catching up Oliver, Diggle, Felicity, and Thea on the situation, Barry decides to reach out to the Legends.
Team Flash, Team Arrow, and the Legends (minus Citizen Steel and Vixen) assemble at an airplane hangar with an exterior resembling the Hall of Justice on Super Friends. Before the big meeting, Barry and Cisco — who’s still mad at Barry but excited about fighting aliens — hop over to Earth-38 to recruit Supergirl to their cause. Supergirl’s introduction to the team was one of the highlights of the episode. Kara, because she’s über-friendly, immediately memorizes everyone’s names, and Green Arrow is super suspicious of her and doesn’t hesitate to suggest they all spar against her.
If there’s one thing I was surprised by, it’s how the episode was willing to engage with plotlines from the other shows and not spend too much time giving context. It has the benefit of moving things along quickly, but might be confusing to viewers who don’t watch all three shows. Before they start training with Supergirl, Martin and Jax pull Barry and Oliver aside to play them the message from Future Barry they found on the Waverider. In the message, Barry from 40 years in the future tells Rip Hunter not to trust Present Barry because he messed with the timeline. Barry comes clean to Martin, Jax, and Oliver about Flashpoint, and they all agree to keep Flashpoint and the recording a secret (ugh!) because they don’t want to distract everyone. However, Martin has another temporal-headache thing and decides to go visit his home, where he discovers he has a daughter now. (See my colleague Shirley Li’s recap of the last Legends of Tomorrow episode for more information on those pesky headaches).
Future Barry’s recording doesn’t stay a secret for long. Cisco finds the recorder, listens to it, and confronts Barry in front of the entire group. This forces Barry to come clean about the effects of Flashpoint. The Legends are appalled because this is the kind of time shenanigans they’re tasked with stopping. Sara is especially upset; she wants to change the past so badly and bring Laurel back, but she doesn’t because it would be selfish. The news of the changes hit Diggle the hardest when he finds out Barry’s actions erased his daughter from history. David Ramsey perfectly conveys Diggle’s hurt.
News that the Dominators kidnapped the president interrupts this little fight. Because of Future Barry’s recording about Present Barry’s trustworthiness, Barry decides to hang back while the team heads out to find the president. Oliver refuses to leave Barry behind, so Diggle tells Oliver he’s fine to stay, too. This leads to some Barry and Oliver bonding time, during which they visit Eobard’s chamber of secrets at S.T.A.R. Labs. Barry shows Oliver the future newspaper and laments about history being changed, but Oliver tells him the needs to stop beating himself up. He also says the world is different because people made choices and not because of his actions, which is partially true — Barry may have messed with the timeline, but that doesn’t mean everyone didn’t make choices. It’s funny and weird to see Oliver, the Master of Brooding and self-recrimination, being the one to comfort Barry. “You are not a God,” says Oliver, echoing what someone else said to Barry in the last episode. How many times does Barry need to hear this?
The other heroes who went off looking for the president interrupt this moment. The heroes return without the president, who was vaporized and brainwashed by the Dominators. This leads to an awesome fight that sees Green Arrow and The Flash team up against, well, everyone else on the team. I was incredibly impressed by how well the show staged this extended scene. Yes, there was a lot of CGI, but it didn’t bother me too much because the spectacle was so exhilarating. It’s also a nice expansion of The Flash vs. Green Arrow fight in the first crossover. (Coincidentally, Barry does have another case of the feels this time around, too.)
Wally tries to help during the fight, but Supergirl quickly knocks him unconscious. Barry tells Oliver to rush Wally to safety while he distracts Supergirl. Barry leads Supergirl back to the warehouse where the superheroes encountered the Dominators. He leads her on a super-speed game of tag around building, culminating in Supergirl charging toward Barry, who vibrates fast enough that she phases through him and crashes into the device controlling everyone. While the Green Arrow and The Flash vs. everyone setup was fun, it meant the episode didn’t spend enough time showing us the Dominators and firmly establishing them as a threat. I’m looking forward to seeing more of them in the next two episodes.
It doesn’t take long at all for the fun banter to resume once the Dominators’ mind control wears off. Obviously, it’s raining, because that’s what happens after an epic battle. However, the heroes can’t enjoy this peace for too long: The Dominators beam everyone except Barry back up to their ship.
Based on tonight’s episode alone, this year’s crossover is looking like it’ll be the best one yet. The first crossovers were two relatively standalone episodes, and last year’s was burdened with setting up Legends of Tomorrow. This is really the first time Berlanti and Co. can tell a cohesive story, and it seems like it’s paying off. The episode had a nice, fast-paced flow, especially when it came to the scenes we already saw in the trailers (like Supergirl meeting the team). By this point, it feels like the writers are so at ease with these characters that the dialogue and banter between the group crackled like it hasn’t in quite some time. Also, throwing these very different individuals together led to some great scenes, like a hilarious exchange between Supergirl and Heat Wave where Heat Wave, ever the misogynist, says he’s going to call her Skirt instead of Supergirl or Kara because both sound “stupid.”
That being said, the episode did drag a bit whenever it focused too much on the ongoing Team Flash drama. Yes, I understand why Cisco is mad at Barry, but his saltiness was rather grating and isn’t helping The Flash move past the Flashpoint-caused angst. However, my biggest problems were with the Wally stuff. Iris instructs Team Flash to not tell Wally how well he’s doing because she doesn’t want him playing hero. This is to protect him, she says, but it’s a rather annoying bit of nonsense, since we’ve been down this road so many times on the Berlanti-verse shows. Lying doesn’t protect anyone, and it just ends up alienating people even more because they feel betrayed. At this point, one would hope these shows would’ve grown out of this storytelling tick. However, I understand that was here for viewers who might only watch The Flash, and the episode does a good job of appeasing both kinds of fans. Luckily, though, the nonsense doesn’t drag the episode too much: For every anxious scene, there was a funny aside to lighten the mood.
Wall of Weird:
- After Team Flash doesn’t show either of them respect, H.R. joins forces with Wally and agrees to train him. This partnership can only lead to something bad happening down the road.
- “I swear to God, Barry, my life was normal before I met you.” —Diggle to Barry after finding out about aliens
- “Egotistical, but catchy.” —Thea reacting to Sara’s team calling themselves the Legends
- Thea’s reasoning for suiting up again is simply “because aliens” and I love it.
- Ray’s ATOM suit was recently destroyed on Legends of Tomorrow, so it’s weird he rebuilt it so quickly after finding more dwarf star in that show’s last episode. He spent years building the first one.
- Is this the first time Oliver has ever run out of arrows?
- Also, is this the first time we’ve ever seen Oliver and Sara fight? I kind of wish that sequence had gone on longer.