Melissa Benoist, Caity Lotz, Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, Emily Bett Rickards, and Candice Patton (Photo: Katie Yu/The CW)

There’s television, and then there’s “event” television. It’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to watch right when it happens — big sporting events, awards ceremonies, series finales, shocking conclusions, and so on. When these events are fictional, they’re often intentionally packed to the gills, designed for promos that include lines like “You won’t believe what happens next,” “Tonight, everything changes,” or basically anything else you’d hear in an ad for Scandal. That can be wildly entertaining! It can also be exhausting and a little try-hard. Two parts into this four-part crossover, “Crisis On Earth-X” is… well, all of the above. That’s not great, but at least it’s not boring.

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It’s difficult to judge how successful this episode of Arrow is, because it’s neither an episode of Arrow nor a complete story. If it’s tough to analyze the first half of a two-parter on its own terms (and it is), it’s doubly hard to look at the second quarter of a four-part “event” with any clarity. This hour has four big jobs: to pick up threads from Supergirl, to lay the groundwork for The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, to check a few character development boxes for each of the four shows involved, and and to make the “event” feel event-like. Relationship drama aside, all four of these shows have to put their own stories on hold to tell this one, and priority one is to make the proceedings as big and flashy as possible.

So welcome back, Tommy Merlyn! The “event” needs you, and so you (and the terrific Colin Donnell) show up on cue, here to shock by unmasking and then shock again by dying. Other than delivering exposition and being the first to repeatedly drop the word “weak,” the effect his appearance has on the story and emotional throughline is pretty much negligible. Felicity even tosses in a “hey, good thing that Fake Laurel has gotten us so used to seeing people we love be evil” to make that perfectly clear. All the same, it’s startling, entertaining, and at least briefly, a big deal. That’s one example of the “event” box being checked, and it’s one of the best, because Tommy Merlyn’s back from the dead and Donnell is back on the show. That it’s also basically meaningless pretty neatly sums things up, thus far.

The other thing checking the event box is, of course, Nazis. Until this story is complete, it’s tough to say how thoughtfully or thoughtlessly it’s been handled by the various writing teams, so I won’t attempt to do so here. If Supergirl’s installment was about the arrival of the Earth-Xers, then Arrow’s is about Earth-1’s characters learning who they are and uncovering at least some of their motivations. So far, the answer to “why are they Nazis?” seems to be simply “Because Hitler won,” and that’s not super satisfying (though thumbs up to both “Oliver in the High Castle” and “Stalag S.T.A.R. Labs”), but the hour also reveals the reason they’ve arrived on Earth-1. It’s not conquest, though that seems to be a bonus. It’s because Dark Kara’s dying, and so they need to take Kara’s heart.

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That’s both an answer and a set-up, so it gets the job done, but it’s unclear what, if any, emotional reaction we’re supposed to have to this revelation. Arrow seems to be threading the needle for more questions about Fake Laurel/Black Siren’s true nature this season, so this would seem like an opportunity to explore that more fully. It’s a nature vs. nurture question, writ large and with inter-dimensional travel: is Kara only Kara because of where her pod landed? Is Oliver only Oliver because of where and when he was born? If that Oliver still had his experiences on Lian Yu, would he be changed personally but not ideologically? This episode doesn’t answer that question, and to be honest, no show in the Arrowverse has even made a start. Whether we’ll get one here remains to be seen, but my guess is, it’s unlikely.

The likelier focus seems to be on the “weakness” of love and human connection. Appropriately, that’s something that’s tied together the current seasons of both Arrow and Supergirl, though more overtly on the latter. Both have seen their heroes grapple with what it means to love other people and their responsibilities to those people and to themselves. Kara Danvers has retreated further and further into herself — while still connecting to the people with whom she’s closest, she’s become more Supergirl and less Kara. Oliver has done the opposite, retreating from the hero to focus on being the man. Other flaws aside, this story is a clever way to tackle both those stories head-on, and while your mileage may vary when it comes to Stephen Amell and Melissa Benoist’s villainous performances, they’re both doing great work as the original versions of their characters. It’s smart, thoughtful stuff, and let’s hope it doesn’t get totally lost in the shuffle.

Stephen Amell as Dark Arrow, Tom Cavanagh as Dark Flash, and Melissa Benoist as Overgirl (Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW)

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There’s a lot of shuffle, though, most of it tied to Oliver and Felicity, the latter of whom doesn’t want to get engaged because the last time that happened she got shot and was paralyzed. They’re not alone in the drama, however: Alex’s panic over her hookup with Sara and the dissolution of her relationship with Maggie follows her around like a cloud; Jax and Stein are going through what amounts to a bad and low-level dangerous breakup; Caitlin’s dealing with loss in her own private way; Barry and Iris just can’t get married; and Cisco’s down for the count. It’s a lot, and if that sounds like too much to cover satisfactorily in an hour, it is. Again, because Arrow’s just loading the cannon for the next two episodes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Still, whether or not it pays off, it doesn’t make for particularly satisfying viewing (though the actors are all working overtime to make this stuff sing, and some, Emily Bett Rickards in particular, succeed.)

That leaves the spectacle of the thing, which is what seems promised by a multi-hero team-up. The results, like so many similarly packed stories, are mixed at best. A sequence in which The Flash, Supergirl, and the Green Arrow all stop a building from collapsing is fun, but hard to follow; a lengthy battle overstays its welcome (though never when Caity Lotz is on screen); a teased Heat Wave/Killer Frost team-up never materializes, and the late appearance of Team Arrow doesn’t mean much, because it’s so difficult to actually see. Not one of them holds a candle to the terrific wedding sequence in Supergirl’s installment.

Whether or not that’s a problem remains to be seen. We’ll soon know how well this thing works as a whole, and what effect, if any, it has on Arrow moving forward. For now, it’s a lot of fun, kind of dumb, and just not as exciting as what came before. Someone has to check those boxes and set up what comes next, and it seems that this time, Arrow drew the “event” short straw.

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Stray observations

  • Here’s the great Caroline Siede’s review of Part 1. Look for Scott Von Doviak and Oliver Sava’s takes on The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, still to come.
  • Salmon ladder watch: At this point, I’ve basically given up hope.
  • So polite of the many characters in the Earth-X exposition scene to go around the circle and take turns speaking like that.
  • I wish he were back for longer, but man, Colin Donnell makes the most of Dark Tommy’s heel turn in that interrogation scene. He’s chewing that language and it’s delicious.
  • “OK, we’re all a little emotional. Here’s what I suggest: I will stop vibrating my hand, you stop breaking my wrist, and and you... be 10% less brooding.”
  • The super-speed gag? So cheesy. I loved it.
  • “His wife? Gross!”
  • Seeing Tom Cavanaugh play evil again is fun, but if they couldn’t get Matt Letscher back, perhaps they could have left Thawne in the box this time? Couldn’t Harrison Wells just be evil on Earth-X? Presumably they could have found out about the others in some other way? It’s just weird.
  • Hot take: Caity Lotz does Arrowverse better than anyone else, and it’s not close.
  • The shot of the battle reflected in Stephen Amell’s eye was unnecessary and so, so cool that I don’t care.
  • “Can’t make an omelet with invulnerable eggs”

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