So many seasons in, the teams behind the Arrowverse have basically turned the crossover event into an art form. This year, it’s a concept pulled wonderfully from the comic canon, and it’s just as wild, ambitious and wonderfully fun as anything you’d find on the page.
Spoilers ahead for “Elseworlds Part 1,” the latest episode of The CW’s Flash, which aired Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.
Instead of facing off with aliens or alt-alt-universe Nazis, the small screen Justice League is facing a stranger foe this time around. One hour in, and they really don’t even know what they’re facing just yet. Instead, we pick up with a Freaky Friday-meets Quantum Leap story where Barry and Oliver have switched lives. They each have the other’s abilities and skills, but still retail their own memories. No one believes them, understandably, so they jump over to Earth-38 to see if this switcheroo affected the entire multiverse. Thankfully, Kara still recognizes them, and she just so happens to be hanging out with her equally super cousin for the day.
Thankfully, they really don’t spend too much time on the set-up and McGuffin-y details of how this all works. Instead, they get into the meat of what makes these shows so successful — the character moments. We have Oliver hilariously trying to adjust to life as Barry Allen, and his, erm, hilariously conflicted emotions at waking up in bed with Iris. As for Barry, he wakes up in a training session with Diggle, and quickly realizes Oliver actually does have some super powers of his own. He’s inherited all that martial arts training, reflexes and tactical knowledge — which he uses to deck Diggle with a move that would make Mortal Kombat fans proud.
The Arrowverse itself has always strived on the differences between the heroes that make up its series’ leads, finding a slightly darker balance with Arrow; and something a bit more playful with The Flash. There’s a reason the Arrowverse hasn’t tried a story like this until now, and it’s clear in all the in-jokes and gags we find in “Elseworlds.” They’ve really, truly earned it. Actually juxtaposing these characters into the others lives is so much more than a cheap gag. These worlds, these characters, are so entrenched that you can actually tell a story with heart and stakes by flipping their lives.
We see it with Oliver trying to train Barry to be the Green Arrow in his stead, and the conversation they have about how their approaches are almost a yin and yang to one another. Oliver has found his drive be channeling a dark place, knowing every time he draws his bow he’s preparing to whatever it takes to protect his city. Whereas Barry has found his inner-hero by finally letting go of the guilt and darkness in his life, running (no pun intended) toward his friends, his wife, and the things he has to live for and protect. These shows have grappled with these themes before, but a story like “Elseworlds” makes for a fresh way to explore them.
It zoomed by, but is almost certainly an important detail. This reality-altering insanity is causing red skies — a sign fans have been looking for since Season 1, when we learned the Flash would eventually vanish in the future during a mysterous "crisis" event. The writers are obviously planning ahead, and it stands to reason "Elseworlds" could be the first chapter to set the stage for an eventual, full-on Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline. This crossover might be fun, but it seems to be planting some very important seeds that could pay off down the line.
The team starts to put things together by the end of the first hour, after Cisco vibes a look at The Monitor handing off his reality-shaping device to Dr. John Deegan. The pacing was spot on, and spending the first hour just playing in this world was the right call. There are two more hours to fight the bad guy and solve the mystery, and they parceled that out just right. But what the heck is that reality-shaping device?
Oh my, the jokes. The callbacks. Almost too many to count. We have Barry finally shooting Oliver in the back with some proximity bows (a four-year payoff to one of their earliest meetings). Then, for Smallville fans, there was that musical callback with Remy Zero’s “Save Me” blaring as the intro to meeting up with Clark, Lois and Kara in Smallville. Right on cue, Diggle still hurls after going super-fast. Dibny had a great joke, noting all this craziness has happened and it’s not even Tuesday yet. The salmon ladder returns, only this time Barry finally gets to look all jacked and hop up and down it. Oliver puffing out his chest to Superman. We really need a Green Arrow vs. Superman crossover a few years down the road.
We get a take on comic baddie AMAZO, imagined in live action as a highly-adaptive robot who can adapt to any metahuman ability it encounters. Putting it up against the Flash, Supergirl and Superman turns it into an unstoppable killing machine. Thankfully, this near-Justice League is up to task and manages to blow him up. As Cisco notes, its basically a T-3000, and it makes for a quick, mindless, but worth adversary for such a super team-up.
Seeing Oliver’s utter annoyance and confusion at all the love and support Barry has in his life was absolutely hilarious. All the kudos to Stephen Amell for pulling that off. There’s a whole lot more hugging and emotion-talking that Oliver Queen is used to seeing.
We wrap the episode with The Monitor telling our heroes there’s nothing they can do to stop what’s coming — though the peek at his meeting with Deegan does give them their next step, to travel to Gotham City in search of answers.
Next up: The adventure continues Monday night, with the team heading to Gotham City and a run-in with Batwoman on the way.