Tuesday, November 29, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - The Dominators Arrive and Barry Forms a Team to Fight Against the Aliens in 'Invasion!'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 3.08 "Invasion!"

When aliens called the Dominators attack Central City, Barry speeds over to Star City to ask the Green Arrow for help in stopping them. Realizing the battle against the Dominators is bigger than they thought, they track down the Legends of Tomorrow, and Barry and Cisco create a breach to bring back a secret weapon - Supergirl. They come up with a plan to attack but a shocking secret related to Flashpoint is revealed and suddenly no one is sure who they can trust. Wally wants to join the battle but Iris tells him he's not ready.

This has been a weird season of The Flash so far. Last week's Killer Frost adventure was a ton of fun and so exciting to watch. "Invasion!" continues that trend as the first hour of the four-part crossover with Arrow, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. And yet, the entire main narrative of The Flash this season is deeply rooted in an extremely dumb and selfish thing Barry did in creating Flashpoint. The alternate timeline didn't last for too long. But the ripple effects of that decision are still affecting this entire extended universe. "Invasion!" allows the various shows to discuss this entire story at length and the ramifications it has had on their lives. The audience has seen how it has changed the characters on The Flash. They've experienced more changes than anyone else. But now, Diggle becomes aware that he had a daughter instead of a son while Stein learns that he now has an adult daughter. Of course, the change in Stein's timeline could be a result of his own doing due to a recent interaction with his younger self a few episodes ago on Legends of Tomorrow. It's left unclear who is ultimately responsible for this new addition to his family. But all it does is prop up the idea that Barry made this big mistake that changed all of their lives. Everyone is just now learning the scope of it just as they are about to face off with their strongest foes yet.

An alien race called the Dominators have landed on Earth. With the addition of Supergirl to this shared cinematic universe, it meant that aliens do exist in this world. So, this universe only continues to get weirder and more fantastic - to the absolute bafflement of Diggle whose reactions to all of the crazy things is great every single time. However, Supergirl is off in her own separate world (Earth-38). Barry and Cisco have to open a breech just to get her for this fight. Just because her show is now on The CW doesn't mean Supergirl exists in the same world as the Flash and Green Arrow. That's important because aliens are a vital and plentiful part of Supergirl while The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow have had no interactions with them up to this point. The introduction of the Dominators puts an end to all of it. And yet, Lyla informs the team that the government has known about alien existence for decades. They don't believe the Dominators will do humanity any harm as long as they aren't provoked. Of course, that's not the case at all. They soon kidnap the President and start a war with this planet. The team that Barry has assembled is the only line of defense this entire world has. That's such a great setup for this massive crossover event.

The threat from the Dominators and their motivation for this attack are largely kept to the back-burner though. It's just important that they've arrived and this isn't a threat anyone from this world has dealt with before. The first half of the episode is all about assembling the team. That's just an amazing and really fun sequence. It's great watching characters who typically don't interact with each other all of sudden in the same room. Barry goes to Oliver first and rescues him and Diggle from an attack by Vigilante. Felicity and Thea join in on the fun too because the fight is against aliens! It's a little awkward and hard to understand how the team got a message to the Legends. It's just important that they send a message. It serves no purpose lingering on the how of it all. Plus, Barry brings Kara over to this world so that the team has an actual alien to advise them. It's noteworthy that Kara is played as this indestructible force that the team battles against. Just because she's an alien, she seems to easily beat the rest of the heroes in a training exercise. They seem to do very little damage to her. Despite Oliver's request, it does appear like she holds back. The stakes aren't truly raised in this fight until later in the hour when the team turns against each other.

It's an inevitable twist because of the Flashpoint of it all. Team Flash knows what happened and soon Oliver, Stein and Jax reveal that they know the truth as well. It's further proof that the creative teams love keeping secrets from characters only for things to completely explode when those secrets are outed. Why would Stein and Jax just leave that future message from Barry lying around for anyone to find? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's just important that Cisco finds it which only adds to his rift with Barry. Brooding Cisco hasn't been a great character decision this season. It's always better when he's the upbeat, pop culture referencing guy. His discovery leads to a split in the team that is very important for the events of the episode. Barry's message from the future warns the team not to trust him because of the changes he has made in this world. It's once again the show doubling down on how stupid it was for Barry to travel in time to change his past. And now, the consequences are proven to be much greater than he originally thought. Not only has the present changed but so has the future. The time vault reveals that the newspaper story detailing the Flash's disappearance has changed and is no longer written by Iris West-Allen. Barry and Iris' love seemed fated. They felt drawn together because it was literally their destiny. And now, they are together and the future has changed because of Flashpoint. That's a big deal that will probably become more important as this season of The Flash goes along.

But right now, it's key that Kara leads the team in the fight against the Dominators while Barry and Oliver stay back. The team doesn't trust Barry. Oliver is the only one who shows support. Kara does as well but she needs to be in the field for the rest of the team in this fight. All of this offers a moment for Oliver to talk to Barry about not blaming himself for messing up the entire world. Again, it was a foolish decision that Barry made. Oliver is trying to get him to accept what happened and move forward having learned from the experience. Oliver would love to save his parents from their tragic deaths. Barry didn't know the details but Oliver shares them here. It shows real growth and maturity for Oliver. He has changed a lot over the years. He is no longer blaming himself for everything that goes wrong in his world. Barry has to learn that as well. Well, first he needs to learn not to mess with the timeline like he keeps doing. He seems to get the lesson. But then, things become very action-focused with the rest of the team falling into a trap by the Dominators. They were preparing for them and have a mind-control device. They can literally turn the team against each other. That thematically fits with the overall story The Flash portion of the crossover is telling. It works remarkably well. It's up to Barry to break this connection. It once again pits him in a race with Supergirl. This time she's not holding back. Barry uses that to his advantage while Oliver keeps everyone else distracted back at STAR Labs even though he's slowly running out of arrows. It's a fun sequence that works well while also spotlighting everyone's abilities in some fantastic ways.

And yet, the hour ends with the Dominators proving they still have a few more tricks up their sleeves. They have the ability to just beam up several members of the team. There is nothing Barry or anyone else can do to save them. It's painfully clear that the Dominators take the characters most important to Arrow - Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Sara and Ray. Them being together again could signal an important story for them in tomorrow night's episode which is also the 100th episode of Arrow. The team on Earth will have to do their best to find a way to rescue their friends from these aliens who may be doing whatever they want to the heroes. Meanwhile, Team Arrow will have to find a way to survive surrounded by aliens without any kind of alien or meta-human help. That should make for a tense next chapter in this epic crossover.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Invasion!" was directed by Dermott Downs with story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Aaron Helbing & Todd Helbing.
  • No one on Team Flash is ready for Wally to embrace his identity as Kid Flash and join in this fight against the Dominators. Barry literally assembles a team and purposefully keeps Wally out of it. Of course, Wally runs into danger anyway. He's helpful for a moment before getting injured. He's faster than Barry was in the beginning. But does he heal as quickly too?
  • Wally and H.R. form a partnership because H.R. is the only one on the team who sees Wally's potential as a speedster. That should be an interesting character pairing in the future. Again, I'm still waiting to see what H.R. brings to the team in a beneficial way. He's still just too annoying and unnecessary.
  • No reason is given as to why Nate and Amaya stay aboard the Waverider and don't join the rest of the Legends in the fight against the Dominators. Their absence is notable. But then again, they are characters solely connected to Legends of Tomorrow. They have no bonds to Arrow or The Flash. So they probably won't appear until their actual show - just like the Arrow recruits probably won't appear until the Arrow episode.
  • Also, it's weird to see the Legends lecturing Barry about the perils of messing with the timeline. Again, time travel isn't something these shows do well. Legends of Tomorrow was pretty horrible and inconsistent with it in its first season. It's better now but they aren't all that better than Barry.
  • It's also odd to realize that Iris didn't know that Oliver was the Green Arrow. Barry has known that for a long time. He's now dating Iris. So, it could have come up in conversation. But it's also not surprising considering Iris hasn't been a part of the crossovers before and isn't that important here except for yelling at Wally. It also sucks that that's basically all that Joe does as well.
  • Ray tells Barry that Snart sacrificed himself in order to save the rest of the team. Is that still true in this timeline though? It was an important part of Legends of Tomorrow at the end of last season. But he appeared after that and is scheduled to appear again sometime soon. Again, the logistics of the time travel stuff can be a little too confusing.