Photo: Shane Harvey (The CW)
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In our current “everything is a franchise!” world, it can sometimes feel like you’re watching a series of extended trailers for what will end up being even more extended trailers. And it turns out this year’s “Elseworlds” crossover—which started out strong but has had slightly diminishing returns—is mostly just a tease for next year’s crossover event, “Crisis On Infinite Earths.” “Crisis On Infinite Earths” is a massively important comic book storyline, one these Arrowverse shows have been teasing for a while now. I’ll leave the speculating about what’s to come to bigger comic book fans than I. (The crossover won’t take place until fall 2019, so we’ve got plenty of time to prepare.) For now, however, it’s time to examine this crossover event as it comes to a close.

Anyone who was hoping that Kara’s role in the first two episodes was minimized so that she could take center stage tonight will be sorely disappointed. If anything, Supergirl is even more sidelined in this episode than she was last night, where she at least got to have some fun chats with Batwoman. One of Kara’s big moments of heroism in this episode involves bringing a book to Clark, which feels like a real nadir. Later she just kind of gets knocked offscreen for a bit so that the boys can chat. Clark eventually tells Kara that she’s a stronger hero than he could ever be, which doesn’t really land when this episode is way more interested in his heroism than hers. (Lois’ point about women being more rational in a crisis than men was a more welcome observation.) The lack of good material for Kara in this episode doesn’t just come down to the action scenes, it’s also indicative of a bigger weakness with “Elseworlds, Part 3.” What made “Part 1” such a delight was that it spent most of its time on character. “Part 3” gets too caught up in confusing plot mechanics and doesn’t shine in the same way.

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When The Monitor gives him a second chance to rewrite reality, Dr. John Deegan does more than just ineptly try to make himself The Flash. This time around, he rewrites all of Earth-1, transforming Barry and Oliver into non-powered criminals called the Trigger Twins and reimagining himself as a black-suited version of Superman who heads up his own DEO-esque agency that operates out of S.T.A.R. Labs. In place of the Freaky Friday/Quantum Leap setup of the first two episodes, “Part 3” is basically just a take on the Star Trek mirror universe, where everyone who’s normally good is now evil, including Cisco, Diggle, Caitlin/Killer Frost, and most of Supergirl’s compatriots. The problem is, we’re meeting the Earth-1 versions of those Supergirl characters for the first time at the point where their personalities have also been rewritten by a mad scientists. It’s a bit like putting a hat on an alternate universe hat.

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The heart of Kara’s arc tonight (in as much as she has one) is about reaching out to “evil” Earth-1 Alex. Yet it’s hard to tell how much of Alt Alex’s personality is because she exists in an alternative universe where Kara isn’t around (and J’onn isn’t either? Maybe?), and how much is because she’s been rewritten by Deegan. Regardless, we’re essentially watching Kara spend most of this episode locked up in a cell, trying to change the mind of a character we’ve never met before and likely won’t spend time with again. Perhaps the abstract “the Danvers sisters are connected in any universe!” idea worked better for some, but to me it felt a bit like filler. Clark’s final speech tries retcon the whole thing into a storyline about Kara learning she doesn’t need the DEO to be a hero and that her bond with Alex can exist outside their work relationship. But if that’s what the storyline was supposed to be about, I wish we had spent more time focusing on how the experience changed Kara, rather than just on how Kara changed Alt Alex.

Still, I did like how this episode subtly argued that no matter what romantic entanglements they may get involved with, Kara and Alex’s sisterhood is always going to be the emotional heart of Supergirl, in the way that the Barry/Iris relationship is the emotional heart of The Flash and the Oliver/Felicity one is the emotional heart of Arrow. (I guess? I don’t watch Arrow so maybe that’s totally off base.) That idea in and of itself is really lovely, even if the execution left something to be desired.

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Photo: Jack Rowand (The CW)

I definitely don’t want to be too much of a curmudgeon about this episode, however, which is more often than not a lot of fun to watch. The big Superman vs. Evil Superman fight is great, and it’s clear the crossover cut back on the effects budget of some of its previous fight scenes to make that one look as impressive as possible. Even more astonishingly, Tyler Hoechlin now joins the Tatiana Maslany Pantheon of actors I briefly forgot I was watching talk to themselves. The verbal showdowns between the two Supermen were just as great as the physical ones, and, as far as I’m concerned, Superman is welcome to come back for a visit from Argo City anytime he wants. (More on that in a bit.)

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The true star of this crossover event, however, is Oliver Queen. I found that especially impressive given that Arrow is a show I pretty much only engage with during these crossover events, so I have no real built in affection for the character. Yet Stephen Amell was not only the comedic MVP of “Elseworlds,” but its emotional heart as well. In the first two crossover episodes, the talk of Oliver and Barry needing to embrace their true natures (and/or each others’ true natures) felt like generic touchy-feely stuff. But this episode digs into that idea in a really compelling way. In the episode’s best scene, Oliver admits that he isn’t a superhero in the same way that Kara and Barry are. He may take out bad guys and protect his city, but he’s too dark and violent to inspire people in the way that Supergirl and The Flash do. So when he learns that Kara and Barry are destined to die in their attempts to slow down time by speeding around the Earth in opposite directions (which seems like it would just cancel each other out, but sure), he goes to The Monitor and makes a deal to save their lives.

We don’t know what that deal entails, and I imagine we won’t until “Crisis On Infinite Earths,” unless Arrow is planning to explore it this season. But the idea of Oliver’s sacrifice adds some gravitas to the otherwise fairly easy defeat of Deegan. From a plot perspective, it’s frustrating that it’s yet another tease for a future story. But from a character perspective, I like that Oliver keeps the sacrifice a secret from his friends, choosing to take on a dark burden himself so that they can continue to be the sunny, optimistic heroes they are at their best. It’s a far more interesting take on self-sacrifice than just a superhero putting their life at risk.

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Photo: Sergei Bachlakov (The CW)

With the rest of the Arrowverse stuff wrapped up and/or teased for next year, that leaves just the Superman send-off to tackle. As I mentioned, Hoechlin was a huge asset to this year’s crossover and he found an ideal match in Elizabeth Tulloch’s steely but warm Lois Lane. (Their “Honey?”/“Yes, dear?” mid-battle exchange was perfect.) In terms of writing the duo off the show for a while, the reveal that Lois is pregnant and therefore has to spend her pregnancy on Argo City/away from Earth’s yellow sun is pretty clever. And the engagement scene is sweet, even if it seems like it should come as a little less of a surprise given that they just agreed to move to an alien asteroid and raise a child together. I understand why Supergirl wants to clear the decks of constantly having to deal with the question of why Superman doesn’t show up to help Kara during world-ending events. But I really hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Hoechlin or Tulloch in the Arrowverse.

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All in all, “Elseworlds” wound up being a fun if imperfect crossover event, and I think there’s a lot the Arrowverse can learn from it moving forward. For one thing, having the midseason finales air before the crossover, rather than after it, is a much better structure that helps drill home the idea that the crossover is its own independent miniseries. (Although, I still hate the thought of someone binge-watching Supergirl on Netflix next year and jumping right from “Bunker Hill” to “Elseworlds, Part 3.”) I really loved that this year’s crossover was more stripped down than last year’s and that it gave Barry and Oliver (and to a lesser extent Kara) plenty of time to hang out with each other. The Arrowverse is full of wonderfully endearing characters, and hopefully “Crisis On Infinite Earths” will remember that spending time with them is just as important as mind-bending plot mechanics.


Stray observations

  • I’m slightly partial to last night’s Arrow intro being redone with Grant Gustin, but I also enjoyed Evil Superman’s take on the Supergirl intro too.
  • I had written some pretty furious notes about Oliver and Barry putting a bunch of kids’ lives in danger to escape from Evil Superman. Thankfully, the show not only delivered a handwave about the kids not actually being in danger, it also offered some great comedy in Barry feeling like he was going to throw up at the thought of being a bad guy.
  • The MVP of this episode is Carlos Valdes as Evil Cisco. He was so great! On the other hand, real Cisco openly admitting that Kara is his favorite Kryptonian in front of Clark (!!!) was even colder than anything we saw Mr. Ramon do.
  • There was a moment in that final Kara/Alt Alex scene where I thought, “What are the ethics of falling in love with a woman you’ve never met who says she’s your adopted sister in an alternate universe?”
  • Other Supergirl cameos: James is a brawler who goes by Jimmy and brags about being “Superman’s worst pal.” Earth-38 J’onn shows up to do basically nothing and Earth-38 Brainy arguably gets even more of a hero moment than Kara ever does when he takes down a revived version of Amazo. Also, Alt Alex when out a date with a “guy from IT,” who I think was supposed to be Winn. And at one point someone in rewritten Central City mistakes Earth-38 Superman (a.k.a. the real Superman) for Bizarro.
  • “Part Two” seemed to imply that in addition to the Gotham/Batman of Earth-1, there’s also a Gotham/Batman on Earth-38 and he’s “frenemies” with Clark.
  • There was some real Man Of Steel shade in that moment where Evil Superman puts Barry in a chokehold and threatens to snap his neck.
  • I’m not up to date on any of the other Arrowverse shows so I imagine there are a million references I missed, but Twitter informs me that the crime den bartender Gary is from Legends Of Tomorrow. So there’s that.
  • There were so many great moments in this year’s crossover (and I’d love to hear yours!), but I don’t think anything could top the use of the Smallville theme song in the first episode’s introduction of the Kent family farm. My second favorite moment is in this episode when Barry and Oliver show up at the Fortress of Solitude and Clark briefly thinks Evil Cisco is Kara. Oh, and I also loved when Barry warmly greeted Alt Alex only to be attacked because she thought he was a Trigger Twin.
  • The Monitor wound up being a confusing nonentity with a fairly nonsensical plan. Oh well, at least we only have to wait a full year to find out what he’s actually up to!

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