Tuesday, November 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Flash' & 'Legends of Tomorrow' - All of the Heroes Assemble to Fight Nazis in 'Crisis on Earth-X, Parts 3 & 4'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 4.08 "Crisis on Earth-X, Part 3"
The CW's Legends of Tomorrow - Episode 3.08 "Crisis on Earth-X, Part 4"

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.

This "Crisis on Earth-X" crossover event turned out to be a lot of fun. Sure, it turned pretty devastating as well with the death of Martin Stein. But it was also the most effective four-show crossover that this creative team has attempted so far. It worked because they didn't approach the story as four distinct shows where the Arrow characters would be the focus of the Arrow hour while the Legends of Tomorrow characters would be the focus of the Legends of Tomorrow hour. This event does a nice job of introducing stories in the early going and keeping them at the same level of interest throughout all four hours. It allows the piece as a whole to feel unified in a way that works better for the overall story. And so, Barry and Iris are dealing with their wedding getting interrupted by Nazis, Oliver and Felicity are having their own disagreement about marriage, Kara and Alex are trying to deal with their recent romantic struggles, Stein and Jax are trying to break up Firestorm, etc. Many of these stories have been important parts of the characters' respective shows as well. But the storytelling in this crossover event makes it accessible for the people who don't have the time to watch every episode of every show involved. It does a nice job of taking the audience on a journey. Sure, it's odd how Barry & Iris and Oliver & Felicity get married in an episode of Legends of Tomorrow. The question still persists of how people will be able to get all of this information if they are binging on Netflix or viewing on DVD. That's an important question to ask. I'm just really fortunate to be watching it live and seeing the confidence that this creative team has in this specific story.

Of course, things open in a very grim place. So, it's not atypical for an episode of The Flash. That super dark tone has been a consistent criticism of that show - with the more recent episodes trying to do a pretty massive course correction. Arrow is the only show in this franchise that is able to be dark and grim. That's an inherent part of its tone. It became the part of The Flash's tone as well despite it being less necessary and compelling. So, the Arrow writers know how to handle darkness in their serialized stories. But "Part 3" comes from The Flash writers. It stands out because it spends so much time on Earth-X. That's where the more interesting and important story is happening. Yes, things are happening back on the regular Earth. But it's mostly just stalling techniques. Kara's powers are weakened because of a red sun but plot devices need to keep popping up to explain why Eobard hasn't cut into her. Meanwhile, it's established that a message has been sent out to the Waverider to rescue the heroes trapped in STAR Labs. But it sure does take a long time for Nate, Ray, Amaya and Zari to officially join the party. All of this is pretty annoying. Of course, it does provide a solid team-up of Iris and Felicity as well. It's fun seeing them take on Nazis and try to rescue Kara. That's a nice change from the norm - even though the Legends ultimately stage the official rescue in the end.

But things are super grim on Earth-X. Oliver, Barry, Sara, Alex, Jax and Stein are essentially in a concentration camp. Their powers are weakened by collars that also shock them when they refuse to follow orders. It's powerful imagery. Again, having Nazis as enemies is incredibly timely. It's thrilling to watch the heroes simply enjoy the fact that they are punching a bunch of Nazis. Sure, a lot of them are just faceless soldiers. But the familiar faces do back a powerful bunch and make them engaging enemies. It's so charged to watch Quentin Lance's doppelgänger appear as the general carrying out the kill squads. It's a powerful reunion for Sara even though this Lance is disgusted by her sexuality. The show sends such a powerful message simply by stating the importance of sexual identity and religious freedom. These images are familiar and easy to understand the value. But it's still such a moving and striking moment when new allies The Ray and Leo Snart kiss. They are the ones who save the team from these dire situations. They are the superheroes of this world and they just happen to be gay and in love. That's such a great thing to see.

It's then followed by the annoying reveal that the Winn of Earth-X happens to be a douche general in the resistance. He has no time or sympathy for these visitors from Earth-1. Ray and Leo are able to form a quick attachment to Oliver and company. They understand the importance of sending them back to their Earth knowing the threat that comes from Oliver-X and Kara-X. But it's also just a lot of time spent arguing about whether or not this Winn can allow everyone to go. In the end, that's exactly what happens. It produces a fantastic action sequence. One that features Barry and Ray going out to the country to stop an incoming Red Tornado tasked with destroying the whole building. It's one that also features Oliver pretending to be his evil doppelgänger to get inside the facility and open the portal back to their world. It's an action that leads to an alternate Waverider going through. But it's one that quickly goes awry once Oliver is tasked with killing Felicity's alternate self who is still just as compassionate as ever. The fight breaks out and it's thrilling to watch. But it's all building to the moment where Jax and Stein need to separate in order to open the breech. It's a moment where Stein is out in the open by himself and gets shot. It's such a tragic moment. But it's incredibly heroic as well. He's the one who succeeds. He just sacrifices himself in the process.

It's such a gut punch to realize that these are going to be Stein's final moments on the show as well. Legends of Tomorrow has been building to his exit for weeks. It was already announced that Victor Garber was leaving the series a few weeks ago. Everyone has been planing for his retirement. The many smart people of these shows have found a way to separate Firestorm. But now, it's a tragedy that they have to take that cure. Their bond is the only thing that is keeping Stein alive. Even with Gideon, there is nothing more to do. It's just so absolutely devastating to watch. Jax and Stein have been bickering throughout this entire crossover. They are family. They don't know what their lives would be like without each other. And now, Stein has tragically died. He took the cure to ensure that he didn't kill Jax as well. It's so devastating. It's important for this crossover to highlight the personal cost of all of this. Yes, it's satisfying to see the big battles. But the personal moments make it all mean something. As such, it's important to see how hard this hits Sara and the rest of the teams from Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash. The tears start flowing through so much of this story. That was completely unexpected from this crossover. It's so surprising but so moving as well. The shows recognize how big of a loss this is. It's an action that will have consequences moving forward too. Jax is no longer Firestorm. Stein is dead. But they are still both Legends.

Plus, the climatic action sequence of this entire story is pretty terrific. It's this massive undertaking. There is one shot in particular that looks like a complete one take that shows off so many of these characters in battle against the Nazis. It's so nice to see everyone get their moment to shine in the story. Kara is able to tease Kara-X into a fight despite the risks that come from her condition creating a supernova. She gets her out of orbit before her detonation. Snart and Rory are seen fighting side-by-side once more. Ray rides one of Curtis' T-spheres. Killer Frost creates a path onto the villainous Waverider where Amaya and Zari team up to take control. Cisco and Harry fly the Waverider and are able to breech their friends to safety before destroy the other ship. Barry and Eobard speed around for another epic fight that leads to Barry defeating his arch-nemesis once more. Of course, it's incredibly lame how he just allows Eobard to run free because of his no-kill policy. Surely, there had to be some middle ground that allows Eobard to be stopped without having to kill him. That seems like an action that should come back to hurt Barry at some point. Meanwhile, Nate is able to catch Kara as she falls back to Earth. And it all ends with Oliver shooting an arrow into the chest of his evil doppelgänger. Overall, it's such a thrilling sequence that is compromised of even more tiny moments that I probably forget to mention here. It's just so enthralling to watch. The shows manage to deliver in a big way here.

And finally, this still ends with Barry and Iris' wedding. They make the decision to just find a justice of the peace and have a quick, simple ceremony. All of this started with a big wedding. And now, it ends with a quiet, low-key ceremony. One where Barry just brings Diggle over to Central City to officiate. It's disappointing that Diggle wasn't a bigger part of this crossover. That happens mostly for logistical reasons. But it's still always reliably funny that he throws up after traveling with Barry. Plus, that doesn't derail this happy moment. He is thrilled to marry the two of them. They share beautiful vows with each other. They say everything that they were going to say at the altar before all of this happened. Fighting Nazis just made their love for each other stronger. And then, Felicity interrupts all of that happiness in order to ask Oliver to marry her. It's awkward and a little rude. The show plays it as charming because of how close Felicity and Iris got during this crossover. But it still feels like the decision for a double wedding like this should have come before things were halfway done with Barry and Iris. That's a small problem. But still it's a nice heartwarming note to end on. These two couples have loved each other for a long time with the respective shows always finding a way to complicate their happiness. And now, it's just important to bask in the glow of their weddings finally happening.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Crisis on Earth-X, Part 3" was directed by Dermott Downs with story by Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim and teleplay by Todd Helbing.
  • "Crisis on Earth-X, Part 4" was directed by Gregory Smith with story by Marc Guggenheim & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Phil Klemmer & Keto Shimizu.
  • Leo Snart decides to stay on Earth-1 while Ray returns to Earth-X to continue the fight over there. An explanation for this isn't really given. There's no real reason for Leo to stay. It's more likely that the creative team loves having Wentworth Miller around and want him to be in more episodes. Meanwhile, it's more difficult for Russell Tovey to stick around because he has a regular job on ABC's Quantico.
  • And yet, Leo and Ray are a really fantastic couple. They could easily have been lost in the shuffle of this gigantic plot. But their importance throughout these final two hours shines through. The special effects with The Ray are pretty solid as well. Plus, Curtis gets in a great joke about Ray's superhero name just being his first name with a "the" in front of it. And this version of Snart may be the best one yet. It's clear that Wentworth Miller still has a lot of fun on these shows.
  • In more wedding complaints, it's just odd that Joe isn't there in the end. The characters just decide to have it be a private ceremony between them. That's certainly one way to do it. It could have been bigger because all of these superheroes were still gathered and coming off the high of defeating Nazis. But Joe should have at least been there for his children.
  • With time travel and multiple Earths already being established on these shows, it's always possible in the future for Victor Garber to make another appearance as Stein. It's unlikely for the time being though. It's still wonderful that Garber was a part of this silly world for as long as he was. His death here is heart-wrenching but really well-executed as well. I'm really going to miss him. Hopefully, it doesn't bring Legends of Tomorrow down too much.