‘Legends of Tomorrow’, “Invasion!”, and the Pros and Cons of Crossovers

     December 2, 2016

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The massive “Invasion!” crossover has come to an end, and what have we learned? On the positive side, the interactions among cast members of the four shows — Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow — were as delightful as ever. Though Arrow is often the anchor, The Flash usually sets the tone for the crossovers, and so the other shows incorporate its light-hearted, witty banter and a fast-paced action and editing. (Sometimes the editing is a little too fast-paced and I end up feeling as disoriented as Diggle when Barry has transported him somewhere). But on the negative side, the crossovers can also starkly highlight each show’s weaknesses.

“Invasion!” used an alien race from the comics, The Dominators, as the raison d’être for the groups to come together, but in truth the storyline was all about Flashpoint. Flashpoint has been a massive disappointment to The Flash’s storyline, especially since Legends of Tomorrow exists to essentially counteract it. The Legends’ job is to prevent time aberrations and “fix” the past — essentially exactly what Barry was trying to do. To keep some sanity in the narrative, though, Legends has prevented Sara from killing Damien Darhk to save Laurel, and Heat Wave from plucking a past Captain Cold from time to bring him back on the team. It’s important to set these boundaries, because otherwise no action on this show, or any others from its universe, would matter at all.

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Image via The CW

But then came Flashpoint, which broke those rules. Barry goes back and does change something that in turns changes everything. It’s happened before — in a small example, remember when a time tweak Barry made turned Pied Piper into a friend instead of a villain? — but Barry has never learned from it. It seems like the rest of the team hasn’t, either. In a weak plot device during Legends’ “Invasion!” hour, Cisco realizes that him freeing the Dominator in the past caused Earth to be put into peril in the present. Stein’s conversations with his earlier self (something Season 1 Legends set as an unbreakable time paradox rule) resulted in a daughter, again changing the timeline. But in typical fashion for the Arrowverse, it’s arbitrary which of these things matter and which don’t. Did Cisco freeing the Dominator only lead to them returning to Earth years later? They are interested in metas which came from the particle accelerator explosion … so did Cisco’s action also cause that? It’s a rabbit hole.

It’s also easy to say that these are comic book series about metahumans and aliens and I should stop looking for logic, but I’m following the shows’ leads here. The Flash made Flashpoint matter, and then covered it up its emotional implications with a quickly-contrived forgiveness moment in the Legends episode (“we all make mistakes!”). Meanwhile, Legends has actually been far more successful with its own time-jumping story in Season 2 than it was in Season 1, precisely because it freed itself of most of the implications of its timey wimey actions to focus more on character. The result as been fun, but not without resonance. And while I never thought I would say The Flash has something to learn from Legends’ use of time (something The Flash used to do so well), here we are.

Then there are the folks without the ability to change time. Kayti Burt pointed out in her recap of Arrow’s “Invasion!” hour that the show seemed to be voicing its own insecurities when Thea talks to Oliver about not feeling needed as a vigilante when there are people with “real powers” on the scene. And it’s true, Arrow has struggled with its identity since launching The Flash (and subsequently Legends), both of which introduced supernatural elements. But Supergirl trumps them all, which — to me, anyway — explained Oliver’s reticence to include Kara in the fight. She’s not from this Earth-Prime, she’s not even from Earth. Once you start bringing in aliens to a franchise that’s not about aliens, it can start to make a mess. Just ask Indiana Jones.

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Image via The CW

Supergirl, though, has been one of the biggest surprises of this Fall cycle of CW shows. It’s been fun, exciting, emotional, and its move from CBS has suited it incredibly well. When it comes to crossovers, Kara and Barry interacting will never fail to make me smile. But when Oliver told her he needed to reclaim some normalcy and sideline her, I didn’t disagree. It’s a similar problem that The Avengers have (and I don’t mind bringing Marvel into this discussion because the setup of the Legends fight scene with our heroes versus The Dominators was visually pulled right from Civil War). When you have an alien god like Thor, a green giant like Hulk, an all-knowing AI like Vision, as well as tech like Iron Man and Cap have at their disposal that make them appear superhuman, where do the archer Hawkeye and the gun-toting assassin Natasha fit in? You can draw easy parallels to each of the CW’s DC characters here, and it’s the same issue. That’s how you get an episode like Arrow’s 100th, which was a gratifying, nostalgic hallucination through the show’s 5 seasons … until it ended with them escaping an alien spaceship on a pod they can magically fly.

Arrow has worked hard in Season 5 to ground itself and reclaim what made its early seasons so good, but the crossovers can’t help but undo some of that. The same is true for The Flash, which was working through its Flashpoint problems on its own (for better or worse), before the Legends entered the scene. When you introduce the Legends of Tomorrow, you also bring in the ability for anyone to change time, and then change it back, making Flashpoint feel more pointless and forced that it already did. As for Supergirl … it’s fun to have Kara around, but they can’t bring her in every time they have a major threat, even though she will always be the most qualified to face it.

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Image via The CW

The ever-expanding crossover episodes are reminiscent of Legends Season 1, where the show tried to force a focus on villains and threats rather than the banter that distinguished that show more than any other. Where these CW series truly shine is in their character interactions: Mick calling Supergirl “skirt,” Felicity and Cisco having a geek-out over the Waverider, Oliver and Barry razzing each other at the bar about their face-offs, Diggle pointing out that everything happening is completely insane. The DC series on the CW have created really great characters that we care about, and while Earth-ending threats are a good excuse to bring them together, it doesn’t have to be the only way to pair them up (like how Barry and Felicity go back and forth between Central and Star City on a fairly regular basis).

When reviewing each installment of the crossover, The Flash’s hour certainly wins out (which isn’t a huge surprise — even with its problems it’s still the best show). Arrow’s 100th episode coinciding with the crossover meant the crossover episode aspects were sidelined, and it didn’t fit in particularly well in that regard. That put a lot of pressure on Legends of Tomorrow to wrap things up, and as the weakest and least-watched of the bunch (even though it’s improved this year), it reverted to its standard big action set pieces to tell the story without having the confidence to put its own characters at the forefront, or to give us more of those great interactions we had in Flash (even ignoring certain characters completely).

There are things “Invasion!” as a whole did really well, and others it didn’t, with each series’ strengths and weaknesses being highlighted and tested. But with each new expansion, there are things the shows can learn from, and it remains fun for fans (even if it might not be as accessible for those who only watch one or two of the shows). As Barry suggested to Oliver, “we gotta do this more often, get together I mean.” “I don’t know if the world could take it,” Oliver jokes. “I meant maybe without the world being threatened,” Barry clarifies. I couldn’t agree more.

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