Surprises, and a surprise death, in Night 2 of The CW's Crisis on Earth-X

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Nov 29, 2017

It was fairly evident The CW was going all out with its latest Arrowverse crossover event, but the final hour packed in enough twists and shocks to fill four season finales all on its own.

Spoilers ahead for Flash and Legends of Tomorrow’s Episodes 3-4 of “Crisis on Earth-X,” which aired Tuesday, November 28, 2017, on The CW.

It has its flaws, but “Crisis on Earth-X” stands as a testament for how to get superheroes right. It’s easy to make comparisons with Justice League struggling at the box office, but there’s no comparison required. This is the Justice League fans deserve (in a philosophical sense, not so much in a movie-sense), and it’s astounding what The CW managed to pull off with a TV-sized budget. The scale was epic, the storytelling was tight, and — most importantly — they got the characters right almost all the way around. There were too many fun mash-up moments to count, and it struck the same type of tone that has allowed Marvel Studios to dominate the box office for the past decade.

It was big. It was fun. It was great. But it wasn’t perfect.

If not “Crisis on Earth-X,” you easily could’ve subtitled this event "Two Weddings and a Funeral" — because it brought the surprises by the truckload in that final hour. Arguably the biggest surprise was the wedding of Oliver and Felicity, who decided to join Barry and Iris during an impromptu ceremony once all the evil Nazis were dispatched. Arrow has spent the better  part of its existence hemming and hawing over Oliver and Felicity’s relationship.

To actually have them get married with no notice — during a crossover event that wasn’t even a proper episode of Arrow, no less — was jaw-dropping. In a good way. They’ve beat around this bush for so long, a surprise wedding was the perfect way to address it head on in a way that doesn’t require wasting a whole ‘nother season planning a wedding, again. It cements Olicity (love it or hate it), and it seems the show is finally ready to move forward with a more healthy relationship at its core, with all the will they/won’t they drama put to rest. Hey, it only took six seasons, right?

 

The other big shock was the death of Legends team member Martin Stein, first introduced on Flash before migrating over to Legends of Tomorrow as half of the superhero Firestorm. The show had been setting up Stein’s exit for weeks as he prepared to retire for a quiet life spent with his daughter and newly born grandchild. They had finally figured out the science required to permanently decouple Stein from Jax to give them their freedom (up until this point, they couldn’t be apart for too long without possibly dying), and the two had reconciled their surrogate father-son dynamic in a touching moment of mutual love and respect.

Then they killed Stein. The death came in a hail of Nazi gunfire, as Stein heroically sacrifices himself to open a gateway home for the show’s central heroes to escape the hellish Earth-X universe. He absolutely died a hero, and as he tells Jax with his dying breath, he’s at peace with the adventures he’s had and the life he lived. Yet the death still felt cheap. There’s a subtle difference in surprise for the story’s sake, and surprise for surprise’s sake. This felt closer to the second than the first.

Why go to the trouble of introducing Stein’s daughter, and then his grandchild, only to snuff him out in the eleventh hour? It felt like the event needed a big death to solidify its “bigness,” and that came at the expense of Stein — a character who already had one foot out the door. But it robbed a good man of a rare happy ending, even though he’d earned it. Yes, life isn’t fair and there’s a lesson to learn from that, but the episode didn’t seem all that interested in teaching it. Instead, it felt like needless tragedy at best. And callousness at worst.

Seeing Jax tasked with informing Stein’s family of his death was positively brutal, as was his breakdown at the funeral. This might have been a story worth telling, but rolling it into a huge event about fighting doppelgänger Nazis doesn’t seem to have been the best fit.

Assorted musings

 

*The fan service and easter egg moments came fast and furious, and almost all of them worked. We got Mister Terrific and Cisco on a spaceship, and Cisco even got a chance to fly it. We got the Flash and the Ray slugging it out with Red Tornado. We got Quentin Lance as an evil Nazi. We got Thawne rolling around S.T.A.R. Labs in a wheelchair. We got an alt-universe version of Leonard Snart, Citizen Cold, who is the most perfectly goody-two-shoes hero you’ll ever meet. Felicity and Iris do their best Die Hard impression. We get the rebel base on Earth-X, which is in a repurposed Arrow Cave. We get a man-of-steel joke from Nate. We get Wynn as a hardened, Earth-X general. We get more Sara and Alex ‘shipping goodness. We get a reference to some future battle between Superman and the Reverse-Flash (perhaps a future crossover will get the real Man of Steel in on the action?). We get a reunion between Snart and Rory (no ghosts required). We get another classic Flash vs. Reverse Flash face-off. We get the Green Arrow killing the Nazi Arrow. With an arrow, of course. And a whole lot more.

*One interesting subplot this event touches on is the question of what can happen if Supergirl were to turn evil. It’s a concept that’s been explored at length in the Superman mythology, and we get a nod to that with Overgirl and Supergirl. Growing up on Earth-X, Overgirl sees herself as a god ruling over ants, while Kara obviously embraced humanity and wanted to become its protector. It’s a fascinating clash of ideologies, and fertile ground for further exploration if Supergirl ever wants to go that route. Heck, even Oliver Queen keeps a Kryptonite arrow handy. Just in case a Kryptonian decides to show up and start playing god.

*With the onslaught of heroes on-screen, it’s easy to forget the few that aren’t there. Namely: Where the heck was Dibny, aka Elongated Man, during all this? He was introduced on the Flash this season as Barry’s new protege, so it stands to reason he’d have been at the wedding, right? Can we at least get a line explaining why he’s not around? It felt like such a strange, random omission.

*The Ray was great. He’s set to headline an animated series, but here’s hoping we see more of him in live action in the future. Hey, the Legends are always looking for a few new heroes, right? Also, what’s up with Snart’s decision to stick around Earth-1? Here’s hoping he has one more trick up his sleeve.

Next week: Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow and Supergirl all get back to normal with some midseason finales.