Aliens! Team-ups! And emotional what-might-have-beens! In this week’s epic crossover, The Flash and Arrow play to their strengths, while Legends of Tomorrow serves as the cleanup crew. Which is pretty much the team’s job with history, right?
The Dominators, big-alien-deal as they are, serve the usual Arrowverse dual-purpose: They bring all the teams together, and they bring a lot of conflicts to a head. If sometimes the sci-fi elements look a little cheesy, the weak spots are balanced out by the tangle of guilt and love and support that ties all these teams together. Each team works and relates differently, and has a different perspective to the others—perspectives that are much needed, particularly for Team Flash, where everything has gotten so personal.
Even with all the heaviness, The Flash has the most fun with this crossover: Barry rounding up the superfriends! (Thea saying she’s in: “It’s aliens!”) Barry suddenly having a hangar, er, a hall they’re going to have to move to if HR gets his way and opens STAR Labs up to tours! Grant Gustin delivering the single word “Aliens??!?” with the most glorious mix of wonder and disbelief! Everybody failing to defeat Supergirl! The mind-controlled superfight! But the show never loses sight of its emotional core conflict: how everyone deals with Barry’s changes to the timeline.
So many great, small moments are tucked in the middle of this episode, once Barry’s choice is revealed to the rest of the team—and once everyone learns about the message from future-Barry, who warns against trusting present-Barry. Oliver chooses to be the one to tell Diggle that he had a daughter; he does that for Digg, because it’s better coming from his best friend, and to protect Barry, because Oliver knows what it’s like to royally screw up. Felicity silently rolls her chair away from Cisco when there’s nothing to say. Oliver takes out his frustration on Supergirl: When he tells her not to hold back, I think it’s both because the rest of the team really needs the practice, and because he needs something to punch. Kara’s role as the outsider here is perfectly played, and not least when she reintroduces all three teams, matching everyone’s names and hero-names—and then turns to where Iris, Caitlin, and Felicity are notably off to the side. It’s a sharp reminder, purposeful or not, of how dude-heavy the fighting teams are.
Meanwhile, the president gets abducted, the team fights over leadership, Lyla reminds us yet again that she’s a very practical badass, and Martin Stein discovers he has a daughter. (Martin also tells Caitlin something one of her friends should’ve said by now: If she goes all Frosty again, they’ll all be there for her.) Amid all the narrative setup, one scene really stands out: Oliver and Barry in that secret room where Gideon is, where Barry calls up the article about his future disappearance. The byline has changed, but the news is the same, and Barry is dwelling on it. Oliver dismisses it—“It’s a weird-looking newspaper article”—and then proceeds to remind Barry that he knows a thing or two about mistakes and regrets.
As much of a hard-ass as Oliver can be, this is his soft side: he understand pain and powerlessness, and he’s built his new life around avoiding those things as much as he can. Barry can’t listen to anyone else who tells him this timeline isn’t his fault, but he can hear Oliver, who saw both of his own parents die. “Change happens. Tragedy happens. People make choices, and those choices affect everyone else,” Oliver says, and while I might not entirely agree that this timeline isn’t Barry’s fault, I think Barry did need to be reminded of all of these things. And so did we: The Flash has shown us a lot of one side of this argument, the side that’s hurting and different and weird because of Barry. This is our reminder that Barry was hurting, his life was different and weird, because of Reverse-Flash. It’s meta-problems all the way down.
At least, until aliens mind-control all your friends and make you focus a little bit more on the here and now. This isn’t the most elegant fight (why is Digg suddenly a terrible shot?) but it has its moments, including a reminder about Flash lightning, and a chance for Wally to do some good (and, inevitably, get hurt in the process). And then Barry Allen’s crappy day ends with aliens kidnapping half of his friends. Happy Tuesday, Barry!
Arrow has a tricky job this week: balancing the crossover narrative with an Oliver-centric 100th episode. If it tips a little more toward the latter than the former, I’m wiling to forgive it, not least because I love the trip down Arrow memory lane. (Such a nice touch with the arrowheads in the open.) This show has never been the same since it lost Moira Queen—and I’m even glad to see Malcolm Merlyn, that nasty scamp. The gang’s all here, though no one really knows where here is.
On The Flash this week, Oliver is super intense, telling Kara not to hold back; insisting on supporting Barry, telling the team to look at one sci-fi problem at a time. He’s the voice of pragmatism; he wants to get the job done. So it’s an immediate and effective about-face to open Arrow with him jogging across the Queen house grounds, then sharing a shower with his soon-to-be-wife, Laurel.
There are so many signs that something is wrong, from Laurel’s presence to Oliver’s total lack of tattoos, and the show wisely doesn’t pretend that this is real life for long. It shows us Oliver, Thea, Sara, Ray, and Diggle in some sort of alien pods, wearing alien pajamas, presumably sharing an alien dream. This world is built from what’s in their heads, twisted and turned into a world where Oliver never got on the Queen’s Gambit. It’s an elaborate dream of the normal life Oliver can never have, and the person he’ll never be. But does he want that anymore?
Outside this crazy dream world, the geek squad and Team Arrow newbs work to figure out where Oliver and company (nice reference, Cisco) are. These scenes are notable mostly for Curtis’s inability to hide how much he’s fanboying over Cisco, Rene’s hatred of metas, and the baffling absence of Evelyn. Just one little line about her would’ve helped! Instead I just kept wondering where she was, since her apparent treachery has yet to be exposed. But then, where were the rest of the Legends? And why did we need to waste time on the throwaway cyberwoman character? Sure, Barry and Kara’s high-five/tag-in moment makes a great gif, but it seems out of character how much joy they take in beating a stranger most of the way to death.
All of this is secondary at best to Oliver’s escape from this peculiar dreamland. Why would the Hood’s lair be in the same place as Oliver’s lair? Why would Felicity still be tech support? (Nice little difference of her hair being down, though.) The answer is simple: The whole world is built from what’s in everyone’s heads, just reshaped in a way that doesn’t have to follow real-life logic. Merlyn can eat appetizers with Thea at a rehearsal dinner and then turn into a villain outside. Deathstroke could be anyone, under that mask. Damien Darhk doesn’t have magic because he’s just a memory. The dream doesn’t matter; it’s just a symbol.
And poor Laurel is the biggest symbol of all: the golden-girl reminder of what Ollie—and Sara—lost. (Sara gets a moment in The Flash when she yells at Barry about how hard it is for her not to save her sister, but her grief could’ve been more present here.) As a theme for your 100th episode, “Oliver accepts the life that all of his choices have created” is pretty grand, and pretty well executed. Once, he might’ve missed all of this—this life in which he has “everything.” But it doesn’t tempt him anymore.
It almost tempts Thea, though, and for a long minute I was genuinely afraid she was going to stay, to disappear into a fantasy life in which her many losses never happened. Sometimes Arrow forgets what it’s put Thea through: thinking she lost her brother, her parents’ deaths, Roy’s departure, Alex’s death, losing her club, and now basically doing everything for her big brother the mayor. But like Oliver, she comes to accept her real life: “Like I said: I can’t lose my family again.”
And then she gets to be part of the most satisfying fight sequence moment of this entire crossover: beating Merlyn, then shooting one of his arrows over to Sara, who uses it to stab Darhk. This! Again! All the time! The gang’s exit from dreamland feels a little rushed and too easy, even with all the fighting, but it was never the point of the exercise: that was to center Oliver, to remind him that the life he has is the one he’s fighting for. And, though it’s a brief scene, to give Sara a moment of acceptance when she hugs Laurel and admits there are some things you just can’t fix.
Whatever the aliens want, the end of Arrow makes it clear it’s about metahumans; it looked like they kidnapped Oliver’s whole gang, but really, they kidnapped a bunch of people who don’t have powers. And turnabout, in these teams, is definitely fair play, so the Legends will go back in time to kidnap a Dominator and see what they can learn.
But not with Kara’s help. I don’t really buy Oliver’s please-stay-out-of-this speech (“I don’t get unnerved,” oh, please, Ollie). But the forthrightness with which Kara says that it sure feels personal is great: she’s not worried about being too emotional, and he doesn’t dismiss them. They’re not seeing eye to eye, but they still treat each other with a degree of respect.
Legends is the show most used to dividing its team into multiple plotlines, so here we have Martin, Caitlin, and Martin’s surprise daughter Lily working in the lab; Nate, Mick, Amaya, Cisco and Felicity zipping into the past; and Barry, Sara, Ray, and Oliver teamed up in the field. I find it hard to believe that Joe, Iris, and Wally just … went home, but at this point there are a lot of people to keep track of, and they got their awkward no-fighting-for-Wally plot during Flash. Not every character gets a fair shake on screen time (where are you, Jax?), which is inevitable with all three teams in play, but poor Caitlin gets little to do besides provide an opportunity for Martin to explain his conflicted feelings about his daughter. She knows science! Let her help!
After Arrow’s emotional hour, this is plot by the buckets, with Glasses the Government Goon giving up bits of intel in the past and the future. Everything comes down to metahumans—and to Barry. The Dominators showed up years ago to determine whether humanity was a threat, and when it wasn’t—yet—made a truce. A truce Barry broke when he used his powers to change the timeline. Dude just can’t catch a break: Oliver may have forgiven him, and Cisco may be on the way, but now even the alien invasion is his fault.
Except that it’s not, entirely. In the past, Cisco sees a chance to show the Dominators that humanity isn’t a threat by setting the captive alien free and sending it back to its people. In the present, Glasses explains that the deal is that Barry, truce-breaker, has to turn himself in, and then the aliens will leave them in peace. Naturally, Barry wants to sacrifice himself, because of all of his guilt; naturally, we know he’s not going to, because this scene is actually about Cisco coming to understand that sometimes even doing the right thing has terrible consequences. Freeing the Dominator left it alive to come back and kill metas.
While some of the guilt and melodrama is a little heavy handed, I’ve got to hand it to Legends for avoiding the idea that any of these choices, any of these abilities or possibilities, are inherently right or wrong. Even changing history isn’t always wrong: Martin changed time so that he has a daughter, and he has to overcome his initial guilt in order to see her as a real person. Cisco changed time by doing something intended to be kind—which turned out to have terrible results. Each moment is its own case; there is no single right answer. You have to make choices, and some of them will be mistakes. “Maybe we do more harm than good,” Nate says, “but this is our chance to find out.”
Which they do, in part, with a device that causes terrible agony for the Dominators. Our heroes may save the day, but this is clearly a setup for the Dominators, having learned that humanity is a nasty threat with or without metas, to come back, bigger and meaner and deadlier than before. Introducing an alien race already made the Earth-1 universe bigger; pissing off that alien race makes the universe all the more dangerous.
But for now, the path is cleared for forgiveness, group hugs, Mick and Sara ogling the president, and Oliver finally accepting Kara, who reminds him that difficult times make us stronger. And we get an answer to the question, “If the world wasn’t being threatened, what would we do?”
Shots, apparently. Or at least a couple of beers for Ollie and Barry, who get the last moment even though this isn’t their show. We haven’t entirely resolved the question of future-Barry’s message (unless it’s been changed by the team’s actions in the past), but we’ve brought everyone together again, and on a perfect note:
“To things not being normal.”
“To life being full.”
Molly Templeton will at least get some Evelyn closure in next week’s mid-season finale. But will it be as satisfying as this crossover?