Monday, November 27, 2017

REVIEW: 'Supergirl' & 'Arrow' - Barry and Iris' Wedding Gets Interrupted by Nazis in 'Crisis on Earth-X, Parts 1 & 2'

The CW's Supergirl - Episode 3.08 "Crisis on Earth-X, Part 1"
The CW's Arrow - Episode 6.08 "Crisis on Earth-X, Part 2"

Barry and Iris' wedding brings the gang together, but things go awry when villains from Earth-X attack the ceremony. All of the superheroes band together with the help from their super friends like Citizen Cold, The Ray, Felicity Smoak and Alex Danvers to take on their most formidable villains yet. Earth's mightiest heroes - Green Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash and White Canary - lead their teams into battle to save the world.

These epic, four-show crossover events on The CW basically require the audience to have a knowledge of what's going on within all four shows. This year the network is airing this event in two-hour blocks across two consecutive nights. It's a change-up in the delivery strategy that is very sensible as well. It allows the story to keep a strong sense of momentum. But it's also important that these opening two hours really don't play as episodes of Supergirl or Arrow. Sure, there are elements to both shows in their respective hours. But there are also moments that play towards The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow as well. There are some pretty big plot developments happening in these hours that will have ongoing importance elsewhere in this universe - like the breaking up of Firestorm. It makes these events required viewing for those seasons - even though it becomes a hassle should someone be binge-watching one of these series after the fact. That makes this crossover event the most complicated one so far. But it's also incredibly thrilling. It's based deeply in the idea that it's just fun to see a bunch of superheroes team up for one massive event once a year. It's cool while being nostalgic to the way the stories used to run in the comic books. Plus, it still holds resonance in the world of 2017. Sure, the creative team is laying it on pretty thick with how bad it is to be a Nazi right now. But these opening hours are a success because of how personal it gets with the characters. Sure, that comes from me having that knowledge of being up to date on all four shows. That allows this to be a very rewarding experience. But it would have been a rewarding watch no matter what because some moments are just so easy to get swept up into.

It's just a lot of fun to see that opening montage where the various teams are (extremely) belatedly sending in their RSVPs for Barry and Iris' wedding. It's a little ridiculous that they are only confirming that they'll come a few days before the actual ceremony. But it's also just so cool to watch Oliver battle ninjas, the Legends fighting in medieval England and Kara even facing off with a Dominator once more. The entry to all of this still starts with Kara and Alex. That focus on Supergirl is still there in the opening moments of this crossover event. The teams of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow are quick to agree to go to the wedding. Kara is more reluctant because of her own recent troubles with love. She has been in the midst of an identity crisis this season. Kara and Alex ultimately go to the wedding. But it's important to see how their recent breakups are informing their actions. Kara lost Mon-El only for him to reappear after spending seven years in the future and marrying someone new. That just happened to her. Meanwhile, Alex broke up with her fiancé, Maggie, because she wanted to have kids. That backstory is important as they attend this ceremony especially as Alex has a one-night stand with Sara. That twist may have been expected. But it sure was great seeing the awkwardness afterwards as well as the two of them fighting side-by-side later on.

It's also clear that Barry is riding high on life at the moment and eager to tell everyone to embrace the love that they have. That inevitably creates problems for Oliver and Felicity. Their love story is just as grand and emotional as Barry and Iris'. In this instance, it seems like Barry has become the teacher and is now giving lessons to Oliver. That's a nice role reversal. But it still ultimately builds to that moment where Oliver asks Felicity to marry him at the rehearsal dinner and she loudly says no. Her reaction is sensible as well. They were engaged once and that was the action that opened their lives to so much more tragedy. She doesn't want to tempt fate again. But it also just seems like the creative team creating just enough conflict in this dynamic so that it can then be incredibly moving later on when Oliver and Felicity decide to get married as well. That just seems a little too forced to be all that effective. It's not as natural or moving as the speech that Joe gives at the rehearsal dinner. That's a fantastic moment. This season of The Flash has had some significant problems. Barry is still a very inconsistent character despite the show claiming to have fixed those flaws. But it's also just so easy to get swept up into this moment. It's just pure and simple. Joe is toasting his kids and thanking them for bringing such love back into his life. His life is now as full as it could be - even though he's expecting a new baby later this season.

And of course, the wedding goes horribly awry. That was expected the moment this crossover introduced the bleak state of Earth-X. Moreover, it would have been weird if Barry and Iris got married in an episode of Supergirl. That feels like an action that should happen in their own show - even though it will probably occur in the next block of this crossover. But the action sequences that occur from this interruption are pretty fantastic. Sure, the production values aren't as high as they can typically be on these respective shows. But it's a case of quality versus quantity. And boy, there are so many great moments in this fight. Every hero seems to get their moment to shine as they are fighting Nazis. Barry and Wally are literally catching bullets. Kara shows off a new supersonic clap. Sara and Alex team up to take down Prometheus-X. Cisco opens a breech for Oliver to jump into for a surprise attack. Mick Rory immediately becomes attracted to Killer Frost when she comes out. It's just a really solid action sequence. It's all building to the episode ending reveal that the villains the heroes are facing here are actually their evil doppelgängers from Earth-X. Well, it's Oliver and Kara's evil doppelgängers. The speedster on their side is actually this universe's Eobard Thawne - who has inexplicably been revived yet again despite being defeated and wiped from the timeline on both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. But that's a good thing too because Tom Cavanagh plays villainy well while the audience doesn't need to see an evil Barry so soon after Savitar.

However, the most surprising reveal may come at the start of the Arrow portion of the crossover with Prometheus-X actually being Tommy Merlyn! That was a truly shocking moment. It's a reveal that plays for the longtime fans of that show. Oliver and Felicity are basically the only two people who actually recognize him amongst this group - considering Diggle didn't make the trip to Central City because he's apparently still recovering from his drug addiction. It's just such a charged moment because the friendship between Oliver and Tommy meant something. Arrow has been trying to suggest lately that doppelgängers don't necessarily have to be evil. They could still be the people they've known from this world. It's not a nuanced argument yet. Oliver is still pretty gullible here because of a familiar face. But it's also just a really rewarding moment for the fans. It's just a brief moment in the grand scheme of things since Colin Donnell has a day job on Chicago Med. It's just enough to establish this new threat from Earth-X. The second hour is probably a little less effective than the first because it has so much exposition it needs to address. The first hour can just bask in the simplicity of character relationships. All it has to do is build to this shocking threat interrupting the wedding. The second hour needs to explain why these invaders from another Earth are here.

Of course, it's still a lot of fun to get to know more about this new conflict. Oliver-X and Kara-X are married and the leaders of the Reich on their world. They have complete control over their planet. For the longest time, it just seems like their motivation is to conquer other worlds. To make other Earths fall just like theirs did. But in the end, it's much more complicated than that. Eobard is worrying that Oliver-X will ultimately choose his wife over the cause. Kara-X assures him that she'll remove herself before he has to make that kind of decision. It's honestly a lot of fun seeing Melissa Benoist play this evil version of the character. The entire story hinges around her dying because of an over-exposure to solar energy. She needs a heart transplant. That's why these Nazis have stolen the multiple objects from this Earth. They need a way to cut into Kara in order to steal her heart. It's a mission that includes multiple confrontations with the heroes from this Earth. It's thrilling when it's just Oliver, Kara and Barry facing off against themselves. That moment ends a little too predictably with the cliche of villains putting innocent lives in danger just to get away. But the final action sequence of the hour goes much bigger. Sara, Alex and Firestorm join the fight as well. They storm the villains' hideout. They battle with Kara-X and Eobard. But Oliver-X has snuck into STAR Labs - just like every villain ultimately does. He battles with Mick Rory, Killer Frost and the surprising arrival of Black Canary, Wild Dog and Mr. Terrific. Of course, it all ends with the heroes defeat. STAR Labs is under Nazi control with Felicity and Iris as the only ones free. And Oliver, Barry, Kara, Alex, Sara, Stein and Jax are taken to Earth-X and made into powerless prisoners. It's an enticing way to close out the story for the night. Seeing that conclusion would make any rational person want to continue watching tomorrow.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Crisis on Earth-X, Part 1" was directed by Larry Teng with story by Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim and teleplay by Robert Rovner & Jessica Queller.
  • "Crisis on Earth-X, Part 2" was directed by James Bamford with story by Marc Guggenheim & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Wendy Mericle & Ben Sokolowski.
  • There will inevitably be some nitpicking about which characters from which shows appear in this crossover story. Kara and Alex are the only ones from Supergirl. There will always be some distance there because they are from another Earth and can't crossover in a casual way. But it's weird how Diggle doesn't attend Barry and Iris' wedding simply because he can't be a superhero right now. Meanwhile, it's odd that Mick Rory attends but not Ray Palmer. That happens largely for the comedy and because the Waverider will inevitably rescue the team soon.
  • It's also a little too blatant to see the action write off certain characters quickly as well. Cisco is knocked unconscious for the entirely of the second hour even though that knock to the head really isn't seen in that first battle. Meanwhile, Wally is quickly shuffled off once again in order to protect Joe and Cecile out of town. These are annoying things that help justify why things aren't ultimately working out for the protagonists in this situation.
  • There's also a pretty weird moment before all of the craziness happens at the wedding where a mysterious guest seems overly enthusiastic about being at this wedding even though Barry has never met her before. That seems like a detail that should be important but is just never mentioned again. Hopefully, that will have more meaning at some point. Otherwise, it just seems odd.
  • And yet, there is just so much natural comedy in these hours as well. At times, these shows can be super dark and grim. But it's fantastic to see Alex be awkward following her one-night stand. It's great that Oliver makes a joke about not having super-speed. It's amusing that Eobard asks Oliver-X to be ten percent less brooding. These are moments that add to the overall story. They deepen our understanding and connection to the characters and their situations.
  • It's very weirdly satisfying to see James die in the opening moments of this crossover. Yes, it's the James Olsen of Earth-X. He's still the Guardian fighting for a better future. But his death signifies the seriousness of this story even though it's not the character the audience interacts with on a regular basis. It's just a satisfying fantasy because that character has never really worked.