This review contains spoilers.
5.9 Elseworlds Part 1
It’s pretty crazy that an episode of The Flash that started with John Wesley Shipp wearing his classic 1990 Flash TV series costume actually managed to get better from there. It’s even crazier that it wasn’t the most extreme piece of me-specific fan service that the episode pulled off. And the craziest thing of all is just how damn good Elseworlds Part 1 is.
Okay, maybe it’s not that crazy.
These DC TV Arrowverse crossovers are somehow always pretty great. Sometimes they’re a little messy, and sometimes they get a pass because of how utterly joyful they are. But for the most part, these have always managed to be season highlights. Why is that? It’s because of how well defined our heroes and their supporting casts are, and there’s endless fun to be had by bouncing them off each other.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t immediately fond of the way Elseworlds was being sold. The Barry/Oliver Freaky Friday body swap seemed a little too gimmicky. I’ve been here waiting for more Superman, dying to see how they would pull off The Monitor, and more. Why risk it with such an “obvious” hook?
Well, whoops. Because this was tremendous fun. The joke sustained itself for exactly as long as it had to, and it led to multiple genuine laughs, especially the “don’t touch her” (real) Barry to (real) Oliver moment, which felt natural, even ad-libbed.
What I found even more impressive about the early acts was how effectively they played that concept with The Flash supporting cast. The scene where Barry and Oliver are trying to explain things to Team Flash was genuinely confusing, but in a good way. Just as Cisco, Ralph, and Caitlin were having trouble figuring things out, it’s a little disorienting to the audience, too. Both Arrow and The Flash have been running for so long now that a disturbance this great makes you realise just how used to the flow of these shows you are. For a few seconds, I was as confused as Team Flash, even though I had been watching from the opening seconds. It’s a neat trick, and they genuinely pulled it off.
It’s also kind of a statement of intent for how these are going to go. Both Invasion and Crisis On Earth-X, while great, were traditional ‘maximum amount of superheroes team up to inflict damage on an enemy we can understand’ stories. But Elseworlds Part 1 puts the focus on (and celebrates) why Oliver and Barry are so different. Considering that it’s just over five years to the day that Barry was first introduced on Arrow, this was a great way to show just how far both of these characters have come. I’ll be curious to see if the next two Elseworlds chapters can say as much about their respective spotlight characters as this one did, even with everything else going on.
And really, the fact that at the heart of it, this still managed to feel like an episode of The Flash despite featuring Supergirl, Superman, and a villain from (and other nods to) Crisis On Infinite Earths is a tremendous feat of its own.
In fact… I need to talk about Lois and Clark. It took about ten seconds for Elizabeth Tulloch to establish herself as Lois Lane, and I’m immediately sold. I’m a fan of a wide variety of Lois interpretations, but Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher, Noel Neill, and Dana Delaney always loom the largest in my mind (I think Amy Adams was on pace for a terrific modern Lois in Man Of Steel, but she wasn’t given enough to do in Batman V Superman or Justice League, but that’s an issue for another time). Tulloch, in less than 10 minutes of screen time establishes a voice and personality of her own, one that owes a little to those that came before (especially Kidder and Delaney) but one that also feels very much of this particular universe. I can’t wait to spend more time with this version of the character, and I really hope that the CW obliges well beyond these Elseworlds episodes.
Tyler Hoechlin continues to impress as Superman and Clark Kent, too. What I found really interesting here was how they decided to introduce Lois and Clark while in Smallville. There’s a school of thought (one that I subscribe to) that the most ‘true’ aspect of Superman’s character is who he is when he’s in Smallville, around friends and family from whom he has nothing to hide. There’s Superman the hero, Clark Kent ‘the disguise,’ but then there’s also the Clark Kent who lets his guard down, who is the man raised by his Earth parents. It also happens to be the side of the character that has been the least explored on screen, by a considerable margin. We’ve seen those other two sides from Hoechlin in his other Supergirl appearances, but this is his first time as ‘the complete Clark.’ If you weren’t already sold on his take on the character, I don’t know how this episode wouldn’t put him over the top.
I also have to appreciate that while these shows have always managed to make the Arrowverse Superman an absolute powerhouse, and just a cut above the rest of the heroes, he’s never over-powered, and never shows up at the expense of Kara or anyone else he shares the screen with. That’s a remarkable feat with this character, and something that even the brilliant Justice League animated series struggled with from time to time. They really need to find a way to let Hoechlin and Tulloch headline a Superman show of their own.
It really would have been easy to let the novelty of having Clark, Kara, and Lois around derail the whole hour, but once again, this managed to be primarily an episode of The Flash, albeit one with plenty of jokes at the expense of Oliver Queen. But Ollie got his jabs in, too. It always does my heart good when I see other characters calling out the ridiculous ‘secret prison’ in the bowels of STAR Labs, and Ollie in particular is sensitive to that these days. And while Oliver is the butt of many a joke for being a humourless dick in the episode, he’s still the most capable, natural leader of any hero on any of these shows. And he’s not the kind of boring hyper-competent jackass that Batman is in most team situations you find him in. Instead, Oliver is simply the guy who knows how to get shit done, and knows how to motivate people to do it (usually via getting them angry, but never underestimate the power of anger to motivate people to deliver solid work under pressure).
All of these shows have terrific ensembles, and while Legends Of Tomorrow is technically the only ‘team of superheroes’ show of the bunch, they all showcase team dynamics to some extent or another. Seeing Barry, Oliver, Kara, Vibe, and Superman teaming up to fight Amazo, and working out some other stuff on the side is a big deal. If the CW or Warner Bros. TV ever decide that they can’t support all of these superhero shows anymore, I have absolutely no doubt that they could just turn out a Justice League TV series and it would work just fine. In fact… please make this happen.
I suppose if I was being cynical, I could say that this episode relies too much on Barry/Oliver in-jokes, or the novelty of seeing them swap costumes to truly deliver on the weightiness of a reality warping, multiversal threat. But when it’s so well executed, when you can see Grant Gustin and Stephen Amell practically reading each other’s minds in each scene, when Melissa Benoist’s Kara appears to break the tension at exactly the right moments (the looks that Oliver gives Kara are priceless, perhaps matched only by his immediate instinct to blame Barry for the body switch), and you get the bonus of a note-perfect Lois and Clark, well… like I said, I would have to be pretty cynical. We don’t get a lot of time with The Monitor and Dr Destiny (wait… oops… did I just call John Deegan by his comic book villain name? Is that a spoiler?) but I have little doubt that we’ll get to see them reach their potential in the next two chapters.
Am I grading this episode on a curve because my expectations for crossover chapters are perhaps a little different from what I expect from a regulary weekly instalment? Yeah, probably. Do I care when I’m having this much fun? Not at all. All of this and we still haven’t even had our proper first meeting with Batwoman. See you in Gotham City!